Fanzines, Semiprozines, Best Related Work, Whatever

Over at File 770 Vincent Docherty, Hugo Award Administrator for AussieCon 4, discusses in some detail as to whether blogs and Website are eligible for consideration in the Best Fanzine and Best Semiprozine categories (if they meet the general criteria of either category). The short answer appears to be yes, although I really do suggest folks interested in the subject head over to File 770 and get Docherty’s detailed response.

This question has some interest to me because a) I’m a Hugo winner for the category of Best Fan Writer, for work I’ve written here, and perhaps because of that b) I’ve been asked by curious folks whether I think Whatever qualifies as a “fanzine.”

My short answer to b) is no, I don’t think it does. I think “fanzine” to a large extent implies a purpose-driven publication, be it online or otherwise; i.e., the point of the thing is to be, as the rules specify, a “generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects.” Whatever isn’t that; it’s a generally available non-professional publication devoted to whatever the hell John Scalzi feels like writing about.

Now, I think I write enough science fiction-related material here to be eligible for the Fan Writer category, which is a good thing considering the Hugo that now resides in my daughter’s room. But Whatever as a whole isn’t enough about that to suggest to me it qualifies in the fanzine category. So I wouldn’t put it forward for consideration as a fanzine, and if it were nominated in the category — which to be clear I would consider a long shot anyway — I would decline the nomination. I do certainly feel a substantial number of blogs and sites would qualify as fanzines, because they are primarily focused on SF/F-related subjects. This just isn’t one of them. Also, of course, Whatever does not qualify as a semiprozine in any way.

(Update: I am informed by those who know, both privately and in the comments, that my definitions here for fanzine are more conceptually restrictive than how the category works in the real world, and that various fanzines have been nominated and have won without a huge percentage of content related to SF/F directly. In which case I’m happy to backtrack a bit, although I will say as a personal matter I’d still be uncomfortable with a fanzine nomination for Whatever in the category.)

A related question is whether Whatever might qualify as a “Best Related Work,” the new Hugo category that arises from the ashes of the Best Related Book category, which I won this year, for a book featuring essays originally presented here on Whatever. My thought on that: I kind of hope it’s not. It seems to me that this category should be for discrete rather than continual works — i.e., projects of a specific and finite scope, as opposed to ongoing and meandering projects.

As an example of what I mean, if on Whatever I decided to do a series of entries composed of subtantial critical commentary on the Best Novel Nebula winners — one a week for the 45 (or so) weeks it took — when it was done, I would guess that the “Traveling the Nebulas” series might be eligible for a Best Related Work nomination, presuming anyone nominated it: it’s on a specific topic; it has a finite length. So a project on Whatever (or any other online site) could be eligible in the category, while Whatever itself isn’t.

Mind you, this is only my thought on the Best Related Work category; I could be wrong about the details of how it’s supposed to work. That said, to my mind it would be a shame if the Best Related Work category devolved into an ersatz “Best Web Site” category. The Fanzine and Semiprozine categories are ones in which Web sites can find recognition; Fan Writer is a category where the blog writers themselves can get that same recognition. I think Best Related Work should be about specific and limited-scope projects.

16 Comments on “Fanzines, Semiprozines, Best Related Work, Whatever”

  1. I would think (naively?) that a fanzine would also have to be published by someone other than the object of the fandom – if Bob ran whatever, then maybe, but since whatever is about scalzi, from scalzi, to scalzi fans (however loosely that last term may be sometimes), I would think that in itself rules it out. Sorry for the extra ego balloon popping :)

  2. Michael Cummings:

    Well, no, that goes to my point, actually, so well-observed. If one was snarky one could call Whatever a “Scalzi fanzine,” although “Scalzi egozine” might be more definitionally correct.

  3. The clear dividing line arises with this simple question: “Do fanzines generally publish photos of the owner’s family and cats, sunsets, and watermelons that look uncannily like beef?”

  4. The “Scalzi Egozine” is actually a very cool sounding. Maybe because you get to use zi twice. I like the idea of Nebula novel insights; it would stimulate a conversation about the genre’s bones. It might be interesting to see how style trends have influenced the award over the years.

  5. “Semiprozine” sounds like a prescription medication.

    (I swear I hit the submit button, but then my comment didn’t appear after several refreshes. If it appears twice, I apologize heartily and blame my crappy work computer and their crappy nerfed internet connection.)

  6. The Anthony Awards (roughly equivalent in the mystery world to the Hugos – voted on by the attendees of Bouchercon) has devolved to a “Special Service Award,” which seems to cover bloggers, fanzines, critics/reviewers, shop owners, librarians, academics, etc. All of the other awards are definitely pro.

    Seems like a good way to handle it. Have a catch-all and spin off new awards categories if it seems to have become an ‘X’ award.

  7. Actually, John, were you to publish the kind of writings in your “Whatever” posts by putting a bunch of them on paper, collating and stapling the pages up, and then sending the result out to a bunch of your SF-reading friends – in other words, using the format of a traditional fanzine – you would be publishing a well-established type of fanzine known as a “personalzine” or “perzine.”

    Perzines coming from within the SF-fannish community would be considered eligible for the Hugo, even though they often have little or nothing in them about science fiction itself. It is that which the term of art “related subjects” is intended to cover.

    So then, given that a blog can be a fanzine, which Vince’s statement confirms to be so, the pertinent question is not whether Whatever is a fanzine, but whether you are a fan writer. (Not every blog on the web is eligible for a Hugo, just as not every small mimeographed magazine is. They have to be about SF or part of the community.) And I think that was definitely answered when you won your Best Fan Writer Hugo.

    – David Bratman, former Hugo Administrator

  8. Fanzines don’t have to contain science fiction-related material to be eligible for the Hugo; they have to be published by SF fans. I’m one of the editors of Plokta, which won the Best Fanzine Hugo in 2005 and 2006, and we publish a lot less science fiction-related material than you do.

  9. Is the term “zine” really still in use? I had no idea. I thought it had gone the way of “surfing the web,” which is to say “no one says that anymore.”

  10. John, the happiest result would be if the rules work as you describe them in the last paragraph, even though the changes weren’t crafted to produce that result or, really, any clearly defined classifications at all, which is the problem.

    If people can be persuaded it’s a good idea to reward single-author efforts via Best Fan Writer and multiple-author efforts in the other categories that will overcome some of the deficiencies in the rules.

  11. Mike Glyer:

    Agreed. I was myself not really for changing “Best Related Book” to “Best Related Work,” because I think there’s something to be said about focusing on the scholarly/distaff side of SF lit. But if it can be the same sort of thing, just with a wider range of media, that’s not bad. But again, if it just devolves into “Best Web site,” that’s no good for anyone.

    Mike Scott:

    “Fanzines don’t have to contain science fiction-related material to be eligible for the Hugo; they have to be published by SF fans.”

    If that’s the case, of course, then Whatever probably would be eligible, although as a personal matter I would still not front Whatever for Fanzine consideration and would still likely decline a nomination for it in that category.

  12. David Bratman, that was a very good idea. If John wanted to make a batch of these zines, I’m sure enough people would pony up for a signed, limited edtion hard copy of selected blog posts to pay for the project. The topics could be batched to cover sf. I second the idea and I would like to buy a copy. Some Glossy cover art would be nice. Maybe have a contest for the cover art.

  13. “Gray Area,” if that’s a sly reference to John’s book “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded”, that proves my point. A printed fanzine has to be a periodical appearing in multiple issues; “Your Hate Mail” is a book instead, so it went into the “Best Related Book” category, where it was eligible regardless of its specific SF content, and we all know what happened then.

  14. David, sorry, but not a sly reference. I don’t know about the “best related book” issue, but I’ll look it up.

    I didn’t think about the periodical aspect, but that would be okay. John has enough of a fan base that they would pay for it. And it’s not an expensive venture, not if it’s stuff gleaned from his own blog. And maybe some selected illustrations. Athena would love to staple the collated zines and stick them in envelopes. Or maybe not.

    As long as there is a catagory Scalzi can go after, why not? If someone is going to get an award I’m all in favor of him getting it. Can you ever have too many awards?

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