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What Rubbish

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It would appear that those who failed to game the system of the Hugos don’t read their own PR. Over at Black Gate there is a proposal for a new (name as yet to be determined) award. At first blush I say, “good on ’em.” If they don’t think the Hugos represent what they think should be praised in SF, I’m for it. We have lots of awards. The Rhysling (for poetry), the Prometheus (Libertarian), The Sidewise (alternate History) the Heinlein, the Asimov, The Locus, The Nebulas, the Nortons… regional awards, professional awards, really narrow category award (the Official Star Wars Film Awards).

One more award, is fine with me. It’s a good thing. I support fans getting together to express joy in what they like. It’s why I attend cons. It’s why I work on cons. It’s why I kick money to groups bidding for cons. It’s why I sit in bars with my friends and we end up talking about cons, and it’s why I write about cons. I’m a fan. Which is why I find this proposed award to be ridiculous.

The (insert name here) Awards

We the undersigned believe that those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: “Does it tell a good story?”

Therefore, we propose a new series of awards, to be named The (insert name here) Awards for Storytelling in Science Fiction and Fantasy, or the (insert name here) Awards for short.

The (insert name here) Awards will be granted as determined by SF/F fandom as a whole through a nomination, qualification, and election process managed initially by a committee of volunteers from across fandom. A Foundation shall be established and obtain recognition from the US Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit corporation under the provisions of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the Foundation’s Board of Directors shall assume management of the Awards once it has done so.

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

For those who don’t know the backstory, some three years ago an author complained that he wasn’t getting his due as a writer. The people nominating for the Hugo Awards weren’t putting his name in the ring. The Hugos are an open award. Anyone who has an interest can take part, by being members in good standing of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), which body oversees, and awards, the Hugos. They also throw a big party, once a year, in various places around the world.

Attending the party isn’t mandatory. Paying the annual fee (not really dues, but sort of like dues) and casting ballots are all one need do to be a part of the process. So this author wasn’t getting recognition from the 1,500-3,000 people each year who nominate. It hurt his feelings, and he told people about it, in the hope they would nominate him. Not enough of his fans managed to do this.

The next year the ante was upped, more people got involved, a list of works was bandied about, and a couple of them got on the ballot. They lost. This year’s awards were dominated by the factions which had come to be known as, “The Puppies” They put up two slates, and pretty much rammed them through. They lost. Fandom is no stranger to feuds. We’ve been having them since well before the first worldcon (where one group of fans excluded another group of fans from attendance). We’ll be having them long after this has become, like Nycon 1, a footnote in Fannish History.

The big argument they made was, “The Hugos don’t reflect what the fans want” conspiracy theories, Secret Masters of Fandom, Industry Collusion, vote-rigging, secret slates, bribes: all these things have been used to explain why the stripe of SF they like hasn’t been winning. They also argue that it’s all about LEFT WING SOCIAL JUSTICE POLITICS, not THE STORY!!!!!

I don’t buy it. I think it’s that the people who plunk down their ~$50US for a supporting membership, so they can vote, like stories a bit different from those the Puppies favor, and they outnumber the number of puppies willing (absent A Cause) to plunnk down that money; at least to an extent which means the Puppies tastes aren’t strongly represented. Guess what… my tastes are underrepresented too. It’s what comes of having one voice among many. If I were giving out The Terrys, I could have 100 percent representation. If I picked really good books the award might even end up being prestigious.  But it wouldn’t be the Hugos.

In some ways the Hugos are counterintuitive, unlike the Nebulas they aren’t selected by professional writers. Nor are they selected (as the Campbells are) by academics, experts in the field; and experts on writing, as a craft. They are the consensus of dedicated followers. Dedicated, because they pay to take part. Dedicated because, as the award has gained cachet, they have adopted the ideal that the books must be “good”*, and try to select the books they think the best of the what they’ve read in the previous year†. That’s what the Hugos are. A fan award, for fans.

I think, actually, that’s why they work. Look at that list of SFnal Awards. How many books have, Winner of the International Fantasy Award (which started in 1951) plastered on the cover? What about Pilgrim Award winning Author? Not many. Why? At a guess, it doesn’t reflect what people buy. The Hugos are prestigious because they are a fan award, and they are a fan award which speaks to a wide slice of Fandom.

Which brings me back to the “As yet unnamed Award”. The Puppies say they are unhappy about “the politics” they believe have been introduced to the Hugos in the past 15-20 years (apparently not noticing the subtext in Startide Rising [Best Novel, 1984], which I mention because that was the first year in which I voted for the Hugos).

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

What? 1: The begged question is the implicit assertion that the Hugos aren’t being voted on in that way. 2: Who is going to vet the voters, to make sure they only look at the “quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion”. 3: What makes it SF/F (Lucifer’s Hammer was nominated for a Hugo… the only SFnal elements in it were…. a comet hits the earth. That’s it. A comet hits the earth. Oh yeah, some of the characters talk about space exploration as a moral imperative, and a shout out to Asimov’s Foundation gets made while a couple is busy not having an affair in the foothills of the Sierra’s, and looking up at the stars, but SF, qua, SF? Not so much.)?

The Rationale

The rationale for the (insert name here) Awards is simple. Over time, the Hugo voters have considered other factors than the most fundamental when evaluating a work. They have chosen works based on their political emphasis, or the race or nationality of the author, or other criteria aside from that which defines SF/F. Attempts to turn the Hugo Awards back to the foundations of SF/F have been met with derision and outright hatred. Despite their previous claims to the contrary, the Hugo Awards voters and others now say that the Hugos represent the World Science Fiction Society’s choices, not those of fandom at large.

If this were true… well they’d have facts. There would be evidence. There has not been any presented to date, and (barring a mass confession on the part of the voting public) there is no way to say those criteria have become the way the Hugos are chosen, much less the way they are nominated. Nope, that requires a long, and careful; and amazingly secret/effective conspiracy. I’ve been in Fandom one way or another, since 1976. I worked Worldcons, WesterCons, LosCons, Arisia, filkcons. I’ve attended, hell, I can’t remember, how many local, regional, etc. conventions. I’ve got friends who are Smofs, and authors, and editors, and artists and neofans, and First Fans, and APAfans, and MediaFans and FilkFans, &c., &c., &c.. Somehow, with my tendrils in lots of pies I’ve never sniffed the least hint of this conspiracy. Not in 40 years of being in fandom, coast to coast, at from the bottom to the top.

What is actually happening is a difference of opinion. This group thinks the books that won are bad books.  They don’t understand how a majority of fans could like them well enough to give them Hugos (really, go read the comments, it’s what the specific complaints boil down to)

As to the Hatred… the jury is still out. A lot (an awful lot) of fans hated the system gaming††. They joined together to repudiate that. If saying, “we think this undermines the integrity of the award” is the same as hatred… well that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How then will the “As yet unnmamed awards” prevent this sort of drift (away from “pure story”)

The Mechanics

The nominees are then considered by the Judging Committee. The judges shall evaluate each work solely by its storytelling. The judges may disqualify any work they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story. They may disqualify no more than three nominees in any category. The disqualified nominees will be replaced by reprocessing the nominating ballots from the beginning as though those nominees had never been submitted; the judges may not disqualify the replacement nominees. This power is expected to be used very sparingly, as the awards are intended to reflect the choices of fandom at large.

So, Fandom At Large, as graded by The Judging Committee, will choose “the best SF story telling”, which will be categorised in much the same way as the present Hugos. The elephant in the room is… Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The Eligible Voters

To become an eligible voter for the (insert name here) Awards, a person must be vouched for by one or more existing eligible voters. This is defined as having a trust level of 1 or greater. When first registering to vote, a person’s trust level is 0. An existing eligible voter whose trust level is 3 or greater may raise or lower the trust level of up to three other people by 1 each, and this number rises by 1 with each additional trust level until a maximum of a trust level of 10 is reached. The undersigned, as well as prior recipients of a (insert name here) Award and current and past members of the Foundation Board of Directors and Judging Committee, may raise or lower the trust level of any person by 1. A voter may not raise the trust level of anyone who raised his own, nor of anyone in the chain of trust leading back to those holding unlimited trusting privileges.

All registration and trust level processing shall be done automatically by the (insert name here) Award website. All records of trust levels being raised or lowered shall be retained for a period to be determined by the Foundation Board of Directors; this period is intended to be limited only by practical methods of data storage.

Nope, no politics there. One of “The RightFans” has to vouch for you. The more “RightFans” vouch for you, the more people you can then vouch in. This is a Tree House Fort, writ large. It’s High School Cliques as Honor Society. It’s the Antithesis of “fandom at large”, which is what they claim to represent. They have blackballing too. If someone things you are a “WrongFan” they can “distrust” you. Who will vouch for the people they hate? That’s the test of any system which purport to inclusion. How does it deal with those who are disliked? WSFS says, “pay the money, cast the vote”.

If you want to change how WSFS does things, come to the con, attend the business meeting (and one need not do that to put a piece of business before the meeting).

“The Puppies” don’t want to do this.  They have said Real Science Fiction™ has ENEMIES IN HIGH PLACES. They can’t work inside the system, because The System is hopelesssly corrupt. If this is a Puppy Dominant group are they going to let them in? Why should they? How could they? Unless the Board of Directors appoints them, and puts them in a place where they can’t become “untrusted”, there is no way to prevent the mob from running them out of town.

It’s not about “Quality of Storytelling”, as the comments discussing the award make plain (complete with discussions of how to maintain the ideological purity of the voting pool). It’s about not liking who has been winning, because they think the stories are political. Which is why I don’t think, even if they can decide on a name, and get them off the ground, they will go much of anywhere. It’s not about the stories. It’s about what they see as a culture war. While it may make for exciting times, it rarely makes for good fiction.

 

*A term of dubious merit
†Any examination of people discussing what books to nominate (and such discussions have gone on for decades) has a least a few people who aver they don’t nominate because they don’t read widely enough; who are told, almost universally, to vote their heart. If enough other people are of a like mind, then the book is worthy of nomination.
†† (and there is a lot of active dislike, repugnance; and yes, no small amount of hatred, for at least one of the Puppies, but his hatred of Fandom in general, and some specific fans in particular, is well known, and of long standing. That some reciprocate his feelings is unsurprising.

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