The Audio Book Mess

Monday was one of the most unpleasant days I can remember in all my involvement with Worldcon. Just as I was about to set out for an evening appointment (opening the Out Stories Bristol exhibition on another stage of its road trip around the South West), a tweet came in linking to a blog post that accused this year’s Hugos of fraudulently denying a work a place on the ballot, in direct contravention of the rules of the Awards, the explanation for this travesty being rampant misogyny on behalf of the Hugo Administrators. I had to go and catch a train, and Kevin was in the middle of a long drive across Nevada, so neither of us could do much to address this. I did have some Twitter access on the train, and I spent the journey watching in despair as one after another high profile figure in the publishing industry re-tweeted this allegation uncritically. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolute fucking disaster.

Where did this all come from? Well, back in 2008 John Scalzi edited an anthology called METAtropolis. It had a bunch of really good people in it: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder. As an anthology, of course, it wasn’t eligible for a Hugo, though the individual stories should each have been eligible. The interesting thing about METAtropolis, however, was that it was published as an audio book only (initially, a print version followed the next year). So someone came up with the wizard wheeze of getting it nominated in Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form. After all, an audio book is a dramatic performance, right, not text?

At this time we were still fighting the whole “form v content” battle. There were still people who insisted that an ebook and a paper book were different things, and should have different Hugo categories (and, of course, that fanzines published electronically were not real fanzines and should not be eligible for Hugos). Audio was a whole different kettle of fish. Where did audio books belong? No one knew.

There was a great deal of online chat about the issue, with many people championing the cause of METAtropolis. As a result the Hugo Administrators had little choice but to accept the nomination. I was OK about this, if the argument was that the audio book was indeed some sort of dramatic production with performers and a producer, but the way the work appeared on the ballot, listing authors and an editor, and ignoring the producer, made it clear that a decision had been made that an audio book, of any form, was a Dramatic Presentation.

By the way, in researching this I noticed that Mark Kelly’s otherwise excellent Science Fiction Awards Database does not include any nominations for Dramatic Presentations. That’s not just METAtropolis. Paul Cornell’s nominations for Doctor Who are missing too. I’m not sure why this is, and it is not necessarily Mark’s fault, but it does seem odd to me.

Fast forward now to 2013, and another audio-only production appears in the nominations. It is “Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal. This time the voters put it in the Novelette category. The administrators looked at it, looked at the precedent set by METAtropolis, and decided that it really ought to belong in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category instead where, sadly, it didn’t have enough votes to make the ballot.

Correspondence between Mary and this year’s head Hugo Administrator, Todd Dashoff, is available at Mary’s website.

What Todd and his colleagues decided doesn’t surprise me, especially when I saw that Mary’s initial blog post about the story included directions for performing the characters. If anyone’s audio book story was going to be theatrical, I would guess it would be Mary’s. But there are still clearly grey areas in the rules.

What did surprise me is that John Scalzi was apparently told, by the 2009 Administrator, that the individual stories in METAtropolis were also eligible in the various short fiction categories, in their audio form. In retrospect that seems very odd to me, and John did write about it, but I suspect that piece of information didn’t get passed down through the years. In any case, none of the stories was nominated, so no actual precedent was set.

So we have a complex issue here whereby a work has been ruled a Dramatic Presentation, based on precedent, and moved to that category, where it failed to get enough nominations to make the ballot. There are a lot of issues around exactly how and why an audio book might or might not be considered in a fiction category. I don’t want to go into those now, because there is a more important issue at hand.

What happened on Monday was this post, which picks up the story. It follows up some of the complications of audio book eligibility, but despite this it concludes that Mary’s exclusion from the ballot was a case of outright fraud on the part of the Hugo Administrators, and says so, very loudly.

Why? Because everyone knows that those Worldcon people are a bunch of misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags, of course. What else do you expect them to do?

Also, just in case any of the guilty parties happen to have some sort of excuse handy for what they have done, the author of the post explained that what they were guilty of was subconscious misogyny. That is, they may not be aware of what they are doing, but being misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags they were guilty anyway. It is a sort of Original Sin. You can’t escape.

Quite apart from the accusations leveled at the Hugos, this sort of thing upsets me a lot. That’s because I have spent quite a lot of my life being told that I do not know my own mind, and that I have all sorts of subconscious neuroses and perversions that lead me to think that I am a woman, whereas ‘really’ I’m not, because other people say so. I cannot begin to tell you how annoying that is.

Also, the assumption that everyone involved with the Hugos is some sort of balding, bearded, beer-bellied old man (probably a Christian Fundamentalist Libertarian with a collection of guns even bigger than his collection of Heinlein novels) gets old very quickly. Sadly I know what happens if I’m getting yelled at by some feminist online. If I stick my hand up and say, “excuse me, female here”, someone will tell me, “but you are ‘really’ a man”. I can’t fight this sort of thing, I just end up getting insulted and dismissed.

Back to the issue in hand, however, and there is one thing that Todd & co. did not do well. Given that they found it necessary to move Mary’s story between categories, they should have had the decency to explain it all to her on the night, in person, not force her to exchange emails with them after the convention. In the absence of any other information, that seems plain rude to me.

What they should not have done, despite all of the yelling, is tell anyone before the vote what they were doing. Why? Well, what would happen if that sort of thing were standard practice? Let us suppose, for a moment, that the person in question was not Mary, who is a calm and reasonable sort, but John Ringo, who has recently been claiming that he too has been unfairly denied nominations.

Suppose, then, that a Hugo Administrator wrote to Mr. Ringo explaining that his story could not be considered as a novelette but would instead be in the BDP: Short category. Is it possible, do you think, that Mr. Ringo might kick up a big stink and demand that the decision be reversed? And that there would be a massive online flame war as a result? And that the whole of that year’s ballot would be tainted by accusations of cheating? I think it might be. Which is why Hugo Administrators are very reluctant to deal with this sort of issue beforehand.

Remember also that these days the vast majority of votes come in electronically in the day or two before balloting closes. Even if the Administrators had wanted to warn Mary of the problem, there would have been only a couple of days between them finding out that there was an issue to be dealt with and the end of voting.

This brings us to what I think is a better gender analysis of the whole issue. When John came out with METAtropolis he knew that there were questions of eligibility, so he talked about them openly. Some of the authors did too. The net result was that they proactively created a climate of opinion in which the Hugo Administrators had little choice but to allow the nomination in BDP: Long. It was a very boy thing to do.

Mary, on the other hand, appears to have been fairly quiet about the whole thing. I don’t recall her pushing hard for a nomination, and certainly not doing so specifically in Novelette. She appears to have politely sat back and let the process take its course. Also, even if she had done so, she would have got fair less exposure for her campaign simply because people pay less attention to what women say.

Now, of course, it is a different matter. The story was made available in print this year and should be eligible for Novelette next year as normal. Everyone now knows about Mary not getting a nomination this year, and I am pretty sure that she’ll remind the voters when the time comes. For the reasons explained above, I doubt that Loncon 3’s Hugo Administrators will say publicly what they intend to do, but they would be very foolish not to allow the nomination.

Well, I say that. Others appear to disagree, and think it is inevitable that the story will once again be unfairly excluded, this time by Loncon 3, directly reversing the decision made by Lone Star Con 3. Why? Because misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags, of course. It is only natural that they will do the most Evil thing possible.

By the way, if you suspect that the above means that we are slowly drifting into a situation whereby borderline issues of eligibility for the Hugos are not determined by the WSFS Constitution, or by the Hugo Administrators, but by whether or not the authors concerned can mount an effective enough advance online campaign to force the Administrators’ hands, well, I suspect you are right. And I’m not sure it is very healthy either.

Other aspects of the story are of some interest. The post contains some creative interpretations of the WSFS Constitution that will help frame correcting amendments, and which the Nit-Picking and Fly-Specking Committee (yes, there is such a thing) will want to take a look at to prevent any further misunderstanding. The post also quotes the Hugo Awards website as saying, “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.” I do believe that I wrote that, and of course I was talking about digital books at the time. Kevin and I need to go through the site with a fine toothed comb looking for other potential issues like that.

Of course it would have been nice if the author of that post had come to us with questions. The Hugo website does have an email address, and we are happy to answer enquiries. But I guess there was no point in her bothering. After all, we are misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags and we would only have lied to her, if only subconsciously.

Meanwhile the upshot of this is that it appears that all audio books are doubly eligible, as both stories and dramatic presentations, provided that the text is published as text somewhere. The net result of the ruling is that lots of people are suddenly eligible for more Hugos, and a whole lot more works are going to go into the BDP categories. Odd, then, that the whole thing is being spun as a means of denying people eligibility.

Then again, fandom is ever creative. One of the responses to Monday’s debacle was that we should add a Best Audio Book category. Or perhaps several of them, dependent on length. Because, of course, if you have a great deal of confusion as to which of two categories a work is eligible for, the right thing to do is apparently to add a third category it might be eligible for.


It always upsets me when we have this sort of confusion affecting eligibility. I wish we could have nice, clean, simple rules, but the real world doesn’t work like that. Nor does fandom. I did once think that we could get audio accepted as just another format, but then we had the Best Fancast Hugo, which put format ahead of content, so the whole thing is up in the air again.

It upsets me far more, however, to see the Hugos dragged through the mud like this. Individual rants are fine, but having those rants re-tweeted uncritically by people with vast numbers of followers does untold damage. Only a small fraction of the people who saw those tweets will read the offending post. Only a fraction of those will ever read Mary’s post with the explanation, or this one of mine. Most people will say, ”too long, didn’t read”. The one thing that almost everyone will have taken away from this debacle is, “the Hugos are corrupt and misogynist”.

The bottom line here is that if you run awards, any awards, it is important that the public have respect for the people involved in making important decisions. That’s the same whether you have a jury, or a group of Administrators who interpret the rules and count the votes. If you have a situation where, any time you have a disputed decision, the immediate reaction is not to treat that decision as viable but contentious, not even as a lapse in judgment, but as evidence of a deep moral failing on the part of those responsible, well then your awards are worthless. And that, dear readers, is pretty much where the Hugos ended up on Monday.

Why is this my problem? Well, Kevin and I are both on the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee. While we have no say in what Hugo Administrators do (and some of them have been quite hostile to our work), it is our job to ensure that the public has confidence in what they do. We need to be able to explain the rules clearly, and give people confidence that those rules are being applied fairly. In that task, we have failed utterly. If we were working for a proper corporation we’d be finding our belongings in a cardboard box on the sidewalk outside the office around now.

I don’t think that the speed of the Internet is an issue here. The willingness of people to believe anything bad about the Hugos, regardless of how absurd or fantastical the accusation might be, is clear evidence of a much deeper problem that we’ve failed to deal with effectively.

I really don’t know what to do about it. I don’t have the sort of platform that can counter such allegations. Neither does Kevin, or anyone else involved with Worldcon. Besides, as a misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbag, and an old white man to boot, I am not to be believed. The whole, “guilty until proved innocent, and actually guilty anyway because I am the sort of person who is guilty simply because of who I am,” is incredibly wearing.

I guess I’ll do what I can. I will certainly help Mary frame some motions for next year’s Business Meeting. But I doubt that will help much with the larger issue. I don’t think anything can. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

33 thoughts on “The Audio Book Mess

  1. Gah! I totally did not intend to step into the quagmire. I have tons of sympathy and respect for you and all the work you do. It makes me so sad and angry to see all the crap you get from all sides for your efforts to better fandom.

  2. Thank you Cheryl – a great post, and I share a lot of the sentiments (and frustrations).
    I would like to clarify one thing however, which adds even more context – the statement John Scalzi made in 2009 about the eligibility of Metatrapolis sections in the fiction categories did not, as I understand it, come from the Administrator, and was NOT a formal ruling by the Hugo Sub-Committee (HSC). His comment on Jan 9, 2009 was “I have since been assured by people who would know that, indeed, audio presentation qualifies as publication”.

    Now, as you but your readers well know, the HSC doesn’t make rulings except on the potential shortlisted nominees, after the initial count is done – which happened in March. And the Administrator from 2009 (Jeff Orth) has stated today that he did not say this to John. My assumption is that John spoken to other people who may well be well informed, but were not the Administrator OR the HSC.

    I also gather that the individual stories did receive nominations in the fiction categories, ending up variously between 15th and 40th (approx), but since these did not put them on the provisional ballot, there was no need for the Administrator would decide whether they should have been eligible.

    What we have therefore is a precedent, as you say, from Metatropolis being assigned to BDP, but we actually have no precedent for saying the constituent stories were also eligible, and hence the claim that this year’s Administrator went against the precedent and rules is doubly wrong.

    Anyway, the point is that many people are quoting Scalzi as saying he had a ruling from the Administrator, and that’s not what he actually said at the time, nor is it what happened.

  3. I just have to point out that what Mr. Dashoff initially said to me was that they felt that content of the reprinted story on my site was different from the content of the audiobook.

    The bolded emphasis below is mine. The caps are his.

    When the nominations were received, the subcommittee went back and looked at the website and your comments, which included the statement that the ORIGINAL item had included stage directions for how to present the various characters in the story. The printed version that appeared in (if I remember correctly) February 2013, which we suspect many nominators saw before submitting their choices, did not contain these directions.,/b> Since for the purposes of eligibility at LoneStarCon 3 the eligible item is the Audible presentation, we felt that the additional stage directions made it a different work from the story that was printed on the website and more correctly should have been located in the Best Dramatic Presentation category.

    Based on that, it looks like the trouble was not the format, but that they erroneously thought that there was a content change between the two versions.

    As it happens, the version on my website is the exact text that appeared in the audio, including the stage directions. There were only two, [Dorothy as child] and [snorts]. The question then is, do those four words make “it a different work?”

    1. I understood they also took account of your Blog comments about the intent when you were writing the story. I think several factors led to the committee concluding that the work was better in BDP, including the limited precedent from Metatropolis, the mention of stage directions and some of your comments. That does not mean that in hindsight the judgement was right or wrong; I am just noting that it was the combination of those factors that I think swayed their thinking.

  4. Thanks for this Cheryl. I’ve been picking bits and pieces of this up over the last few days from, mostly, James Nicoll and Kevin posting on LJ but it’s good to see it all laid out like this. I know it’s going to take a while to get any real settlement on where audio books stand because of how the system works but this could be a good jumping off point to get the discussion going before it goes to the business meeting at Loncon.

  5. There is the saying “if the choice is between conspiracy and fuck-up, choose fuck-up every time” and this appears to be a monumental fuck-up. I think most people nominating would regard a category that started with the words “Any television program or other production” was NOT the right one for nominating a story in an audiobook. For most people an audiobook is still a book, and the contents are stories not episodes. Indeed, most audiobooks are just a novel read aloud. To move the story to BDP based on the addition of a few stage directions seems as logical as moving a book to Best Graphic Story based on it having an illustration at the start of each chapter.

    Slate some blame home to the people who think precedent – which doesn’t show up in
    the Hugo rules (aka WSFS constitution) – is a good way to deal with things. No wonder people cry conspiracy when things like this are decided in the dark according to “rules” that the public don’t see. If a problem crops up then in the long term it needs to be addressed by the Business Meeting, not left with whatever the subcommittee thought was expedient at the time. It should have been addressed at the 2009 or 2010 BMs, not left to fester.

    BTW the rules don’t appear to allow nominations to be moved between categories except for length (3.2.9, 3.2.10) or if nominations occur in multiple categories (3.8.2). Did anyone nominate the story in BDP? If not, there doesn’t appear to be a rule allowing the committee to move works to a category other than the one they are nominated in.

    1. It may be obvious to you that an audio book is not an dramatic presentation, but back in 2009 lots of people were adamant that an audio book was a dramatic presentation.

      Equally, when we had the debate over the Fancast Hugo, lots of people were adamant that if you took a paper or electronic fanzine and recorded someone reading it out, that created a totally different work that had to be put in a separate category.

      As to fixing it in the Business Meeting, I believe that we tried. I don’t have the records to hand (Kevin might), but I think I remember that when we did all of the amendments to ensure that digital texts were eligible alongside paper we tried to include audio as well and it got voted out.

      I’ve seen this “no nominations in BDP” thing elsewhere. Can I ask how you know this to be true?

      Assuming it is, however, how would you fix it? What would you do if a bunch of fans nominated a novel in short story because they knew it took fewer votes to get on the ballot there?

      And if you think that’s far-fetched, remember that last year a bunch of fans voted a music album into Related Work, despite clear precedent that such things are dramatic presentations.

      1. The “no nominations in BDP” was a question really and pointing to another possible problem. Compare that to section 4.2 in the Ditmar rules ( to see how we get around clueless or devious fans. (have a look at 6.5 too, and wonder why that one might be there 🙂 )

        Maybe we just try to break the system more often here, but part of the workload that the Ditmar sub-com takes on is to review the nomination and voting process each year and iron out any anomalies. Decisions are still made on the fly, but after the con is over we work out what needs to be addressed and make sure the amendment is presented at the following business meeting. It is an ongoing thing and we can’t anticipate every situation but we try never to get caught the same way twice.

        Of course our business meetings are much less sparsely attended and the sub-com usually manages to hold sway when it comes to tweaking the Ditmar rules. I appreciate that the cat-herding aspect would be much greater at Worldcon and you can’t always make them see sense but “precedent” is a very poor substitute for a clearly written rule.

        BTW, looking at the rules as published on the lonestarcon3 site, rules 3.11.1, 4.2.2 and 4.5.4 all refer to 6.3 (electronic voting) when I think they mean 6.4 (tallying of votes).

        1. That missed cross-reference between 6.3 and 6.4 was finally noticed this year. (We think it may have been there for several years.) It’s in the list of things that this year’s Secretary is directed to fix under her existing authority to clean up cross-references, numbering, etc.

    2. I am a big consumer of audio books as is my partner: both of us choose in part on the basis of the reader, and audible allows you to search by reader as well.

      So if asked I’d nominate an audio book as a performance and did for Lenny Henry’s delivery (its so much more than “reading”) of Anansi Boys.

      But as I write that I wonder if UK fans, many of whom are die hard Radio 4 listeners, might be more likely to think of an audio book as performance?

      1. In my opinion, it should be possible to nominate (in this case) Lenny Henry’s reading for best dramatic presentation AND Anansi Boys for best novel, even if you’ve only listened to the audio book version.

          1. I disagree. I think content matters more, and that’s why, by default, audiobooks should be in the fiction categories along with printed books. In my view, those are basically the same content, ie. the same words, just in different form that doesn’t matter as much.

            Then, in case some reading is so spectacular, that you see it being a performance on its own right, that could go into the BPD category.

        1. I’d agree with that, but it was clear from what happened with METAtropolis that fans wanted the BDP award to go to the authors, not to the narrator(s) and/or production crew.

          (In that case the authors did self-narrate, but they were listed on the award as authors.)

          1. Well, it’s not the first or surely the last time I think “the fans” are wrong. 🙂

            (And, the original subject of this post clearly proves that it doesn’t always matter what the fans want; they wanted Mary’s audiobook to be nominated in best novelette.)

    3. Paul I’m struggling how you can describe this as a monumental fuck-up in terms of the intent of BDP being obvious. Simply because in 2009, the majority of nominations for Metatropolis were in BDP, and this year for Mary’s story, the majority of nominations were in Novelette. So if the voters don’t find it obvious, why be so hostile to the Administrators? I’m involved in a long discussion about this elsewhere and the truth is that there’s a pretty even split between people who feel that a story is a story, and people whose personal experience is that an audio presentation is qualitatively different from reading a text.

      I am afraid you’re falling into the trap where you have a strong personal conviction about what an Audiobook is and therefore you feel it’s dumb when the Administrators don’t find it equally obvious. Please allow that others have a different conviction, or find it much harder to decide.

  6. Sigh. Hopefully it’ll shake out with fiction (whatever the format, including audio) in fiction categories, nominator preference being more respected, and weak barely-precedents (anthology versus novelette) not overly relied upon. (It’s not like there’ve been a lot of audio-only stuff to form a precedent.)

    To those (not necessarily here; I read That Other Post and comments, plus MRK’s and those comments) who say “ZOMG WE MUST RECOGNIZE AUDIOBOOKS!!!1!” . . . no, not every concept should get it’s own unique Hugo category (certainly not based on format–I’m looking at you, Best Fancast).

    1. P.S. In case my late-night brevity is unclear: I’m not saying audio works shouldn’t win Hugos. I’m saying, there are categories for them already. 😉

  7. I’m firmly in the “how can some people be so stupid that they think the medium makes that much difference that an audiobook can’t be compared to print in the same category (or a podcast, regardless of its content, can’t be a fanzine)” camp here. But, regardless of that:

    I wish you didn’t beat yourself up so hard about this. There are plenty of values between “total success” and “utter failure”, and in my opinion, the work done by you and Kevin has been an invaluable asset in promoting and explaining the Hugos, and without it we’d be in much worse shape. Even if you can’t win every time or with everyone. Please remember that your work is very much appreciated by many.

    1. See my response to Paul above about form v content. I agree with you, but huge numbers of people do not.

      As to why I am so hard on myself, everything that Kevin and I do on the HAMC is under the microscope. I got kicked off in 2010. There was a conspiracy to kick Kevin out this year that only just failed. Every failure like this gives more ammunition to the conservatives who want to retreat into their bunker and keep the Hugos to themselves until they die. This whole affair has been a massive setback for the cause of openness and transparency.

      1. “huge numbers of people do not”

        Oh, I know. I’ve seen some of the discussions. I’m just baffled about how that can be. And even more so that there seems to even be somewhat of a consensus on the “wrong” (IMO) opinion among many of the Business Meeting regulars (based on what I’ve seen on the SMOFs discussion list).

        I’ve also seen a little of what’s been aimed against you and Kevin, and I think it’s despicable. I don’t know of anything significant in practice that I could do, but wanted to express my support for the good work you’ve both done.

    2. Ah I was so obsessed with audio versus “print” that I forgot to comment on this. Totally agreed with your second paragraph! (Well, with both paragraphs, but I should’ve thought to express appreciation, too.)

  8. Pardon my asking, but why don’t they just create new categories for long and short form audiobooks? Sure, the content is the same, but Neil Gaiman reading Neil Gaiman in his Neil Gaiman voice should have a chance to compete with John Hodgman reading Frederic Brown in his John Hodgman voice, or whatever other wonders the audiobook trade has to offer. I just adore audiobooks, and frequently buy both formats when they’re available.

    This is not the preferable solution, but it’s probably the best one left. Now, I would just suggest that a novel is a novel, whether printed on paper, transmitted digitally, or read aloud, but unfortunately, the opportunity to implement that solution appears to have been obviated by precedent.

    It’s entirely dependent upon one’s philosophical view of the nature of a work of fiction, but those are your solutions. Pick one. It’s patently unfair, if you’re going to consider awarding audiobooks at all, that you should force them to compete with film.

    1. Why is it unfair? We already put movies and long television shows in the same category, and they also compete against stage plays, radio broadcasts, concept albums, and other similar works. The concept album Blows Against the Empire was nominated for a Hugo award in 1970, as was the Firesign Theatre’s Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers; Phil Foglio’s slide show The Capture was nominated in 1976.

      The major type demarcations we’ve made in the Hugo Awards have been Prose (the four written-fiction categories), Illustrated (Graphic Story), and Dramatic (the two dramatic presentation categories). Although I can see cases for audiobooks to be placed in either the prose category or dramatic presentation categories of its length, I don’t see why there is any need to create an entirely new “kingdom” for them.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. But it seems to me that given the precedent set, unless they want to reverse an earlier decision, it’s probably the most logical/fair/likely-to-be-met-with-other-than-derision option left.

        Audiobooks, insofar as they should be considered as works apart from the originating work (or in the absence of an ‘originating work,’ as anything other than ‘print’ versions of the same length work), are their own genre–they are not transmitted like radio or television or podcast, they are not typically ‘dramatised’ after the fashion of a dramatic presentation like a play/radio play/tv show, nor are they publicly exhibited like film or stage drama. They do not typically contain a ‘cast,’ as such. If different voices are required, one person provides them. As a mass-market concept, it’s something new. There’s nothing wrong with adding new categories for new forms. It’s the future. 🙂

        1. Wait, are you saying that an audio book is a different thing if you listen to it privately than if you hear it as a podcast or over the radio?

  9. I had been thinking of saying something about this elsewhere but finally (mostly because of time constraints) didn’t. However, much of what I would have said has been covered either by your post or the comments so far, so I can mostly take that as read.

    Firstly – yes, the Hugo Administrator’s decision was fairly clearly in accordance with WSFS rules, and any likely interpretation of them by an outside court should someone decide to take legal action. Also, subject to the parameters implicit in the previous sentence, there is a fairly clear tradition of allowing Hugo Administrators a fairly large degree of freedom in interpreting WSFS rules, subject to consulting their Worldcon’s Hugo awards committee in cases where their interpretation might be controversial. This was all clearly done. However, this was a case where there were precedents each way (even without the 2009 one, which I was either not aware of or had forgotten), and where the possibly prime but usually unspoken one – don’t take a decision that risks being overturned by the Business Meeting – pointed both ways.

    On balance, between respecting nominators’ views of which category a work belonged in and their own (and the committee’s) view of whether the work could belong there (whether in absolute terms or because it was a better fit to another category), I very much think that in this case the Administrator called it wrongly, even given the related but not entirely similar precedent. There is no published indication of how many nominations The Lady Astronaut of Mars got in BDP Short, but – given that this number was not published – it clearly got less than a third of those it got for Novelette and could even have got none at all. This was not a case where nominators were seriously split about where the work belonged, or one that seems to have been in more than glancing conflict with precedent.

    However, there have clearly been conflicts over the years – within Business Meetings, WSFS subcommittees and online groups which must not be named – between people who believe that interpretation of WSFS rules needs to move with how most members would currently read them and those with more originalist views. If the nomination had been allowed, there would probably have been protests from the latter group at the Business Meeting, though I would have been surprised if a majority of the Business Meeting had supported them. However, while I am not familiar enough with personalities to put names to most of those on either side of the arguments, the one individual (not the Administrator) on this year’s awards committee whose position I think I can identify comes across to me as a fairly consistent WSFS originalist. And the decision taken this time was one which would definitely be controversial but for which the protests would get delayed until next year’s Business Meeting.

    Originalism is certainly an intellectually coherent position, and one which need not be intentionally (or, with some limited flexibility, actually) reactionary. But it does tend to privilege fairly strongly the views of past decision-makers when a decision is to be made now – and it is unlikely to be attractive to people who have good reason to believe that the past was biased against them.

    1. I understand that the Hugo Subcommittee was unanimous in the ruling made this year. Knowing the people I would say it had a mix of people who veer towards sticking to the original intent and people who veer towards current interpretations – although I don’t believe the views of any of the people are quite as binary as your tagging suggests.

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