No, Actually, Let’s Keep the Fan Categories at the Hugos

So, this is a motion that’s being offered at this year’s WSFS meeting at Worldcon: To gut the Hugos of the Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories (pdf link), an idea put forward by one Milt Stevens. If you’re at all interested in this stuff, go read it; I’ll wait.

(If you have no interest in this stuff, then what comes next will probably bore you and you should probably just mosey along.)

Read it? Okay, now let me tell you why this is complete and unmitigated crap.

To begin, the commentary to the motion is deeply confused. The first graph acts as a brief history of fan writing and makes the case for it, noting its long history in fandom, its influence on the field despite being the recreation of a relatively small number of people, and noting that many of its practitioners “would become well-known professional writers.” While it’s important to note that “fan” is not the larval stage of “pro” in the science fiction community, it’s equally important to note that if you wanted to make an argument as to why fan awards were vital to the community of science fiction, this is one way you would do it. So to have it be the first graph in a motion to kill the fan awards is a puzzlement, to say the least.

Now. Second graph, first sentence: “The three categories in question attract fewer voters than most of the other categories and are therefore more susceptible to manipulation.” Oh, really? It’s worth noting this year, in 2013 the nomination phase, the Fan Writer category garnered more nominations (485) than some pro Hugo categories, including Graphic Story and Best Editor, Long Form, and more than the Campbell Award. If these categories garnered fewer nominations than one of these allegedly-susceptible-to-manipulation fan categories, should we not also consider expunging these pro categories as well, since by this logic they should be even more susceptible to logrolling? I look forward to the proposal at the WSFS business meeting to expunge these categories as well. 

But looking at total nomination numbers is a bit of a red herring. If you’re going to allege susceptibility to manipulation, what matters are the numbers to make the ballot cutoff — how many nominations it takes to be last of the top five vote getters in any one category. Last year, in the 2012 Best Fan Writer category, out of 363 nominations (which, incidentally, means that 2013 saw the number of nominating votes in the category increase by about a third — hardly the sign of a moribund category), the anchor position on the ballot was held down by James Bacon, who received 41 nominating votes. Which is more than the votes gotten by the #5 nominee in Best Short Story (36), Best Novelette (37),  Best Related Work (24), Best Graphic Story (26), Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (36), or the Campbell (40), and ties Best Pro Artist (41). Fanzine’s cutoff, incidentally, was 37. Again, if these fan categories are susceptible to manipulation, then so are several of the pro categories as well. Once more, by the logic here, we should consider axing them too.

Fan categories do get fewer votes on the final ballot than the pro categories, but even the category with the fewest votes in 2012 (Fanzine, with 802) garnered more votes than all but one of the categories during the nomination process. Which both mitigates the effectiveness of logrolling, and makes the point that if you’re logrolling, the place to do it is in the nomination phase. Also, the final Hugo ballot is preferential, which further mitigates the effectiveness of logrolling.

What do we learn here? That a) not every fan category is poorly contested, relative to other categories; b) raw nomination votes are not useful as a metric; c) that as a result Mr. Stevens’ assertion is incorrect, both on facts and as a matter of logical construction.

The rest of the second graph boils down to: People now campaign for Hugos, which means that traditional fanzines can get swamped by internet logrolling. This would be a compelling argument if traditional fanzines had been swamped off the ballot. Reality, however, tells a different story. This year shows Banana Wings, The Drink Tank and Journey Planet, traditional fanzines all, on the ballot, along with two blogs. 2012: three traditional fanzines and two blogs. 2011: three traditional fanzines and two blogs. 2010: four traditional fanzines and two blogs.

You know, I’m sensing a pattern here: People are nominating blogs and traditional fanzines. And given that there are more traditional fanzines on the ballot than blogs, the idea that the Internet is swamping out the ‘zines is not exactly supportable.

(Yes, some of these traditional ‘zines above are offered in pdf form on the Internet. Why? Because it’s the 21st century, that’s why. However, allow me to suggest editorial format matters as to what qualifies as a traditional zine.)

The fact that traditional ‘zines and blogs happily coexist on the ballot — not to mention fan writers who write for ‘zines and fan writers who write on blogs (or both!), and fan artists who do the same — makes Mr. Stevens’ third graph assertion that “Efforts at compromise have failed” a genuine headscratcher. One: Dude, look at the actual ballots. They pretty well show that in the real world, fandom encompasses both tradition and innovation, and everything in between. Two: Compromise by whom, to what end? Where have these secret talks to bring to an end this long, dark battle for the soul of the fan categories been held? Why was I not informed? You know, I do have a Fan Writer Hugo. I feel like I should have been briefed, if only as a courtesy.

Mr. Stevens suggests there are two antagonistic camps: those who only want traditional fanzines, and those who only want new-fangled anarchy. But what about those of us who like both? What about those of us who see it all as part of the fan activity spectrum and like it all? You know, I get Vanamonde sent to me whenever John Hertz gets around to it, and I enjoy it. I’ve contributed to a couple of Chris Garcia’s fanzines. And obviously I read a lot of blogs — heck, I write one! Where is the seat at the table for the partisans of “it’s all good”? Mr. Stevens’ formulation does not appear to to make room for us, or indeed even seems to consider the possibility that we exist, and that we might wish for the fan Hugos to continue unmolested by unyielding partisans.

To be sure, there may be people who are as Mr. Stevens suggests, so tied into a worldview of fandom that their solution to not getting their way all the time is to nuke everyone who opposes them and then salt the earth so that nothing ever grows there again. These people should probably grow the fuck up. Hissyfits are unbecoming in actual adults.

And ultimately this proposal of Mr. Stevens seems to be exactly that: A monumental hissyfit, built on bad assertions, an “us vs. them” mentality, and a desire to stomp off with the bat and ball. My thought on this is simple: Mr. Stevens, it’s neither your bat, nor your ball. Or more to the point, it’s not only your bat and ball. It belongs to everyone who wants to play.

Now, let me speak personally, here. I have a Fan Writer Hugo. And you know what? I was delighted to get it. It said to me that I, who had come into fandom late and from the outside, had been welcomed into it. It was, in a very real sense, my stamp of citizenship. It meant more to me than I expect most people know. I am proud to have won it. I am proud that every year since I have won it, it has gone to a new person — and that this year, no matter who wins it, it will go to someone else new as well. For the past several years the Fan Writer Hugo has reflected the state of fan writing: Varied, vital and well worth celebrating.

Likewise, the Fanzine Hugo has been won by a different publication each year since 2006 — sometimes by a ‘zine, sometimes by a blog, but always by a publication that is worth reading and which tells us something about the community we belong to. Fan artists are no less integral, and the field each year includes artists whose work reflects their place in and view of our community.

It would not only be an act of monumental pissiness to kill the fan Hugos, it would be an act of supreme contempt directed at the community — a way for a disgruntled few to say to a larger group, you don’t count like we count. It’s stupid, it’s spiteful, it’s short-sighted, and ultimately, it’s sad. It would cut the heart out of current fandom, and the legs out from under any fandom that would follow.

I hope this proposal, built on bad logic and bad faith, dies the death it deserves at the WSFS business meeting. And I hope we keep celebrating the fan writing, publishing and artistry that is the expression of the love we feel for the field and for the community, for a long time to come. It matters.

Update, 9am, 8/9/13: For those asking “yes, but what can I do?” Well, if you’re attending LoneStarCon 3 this year, go to the WSFS Business Meeting (you can!) and vote it down (you can do that, too!). The dates and times of the business meeting will be available in the program when you get there. I believe the first is on Friday at 10am, but these things are fungible, so double check when you arrive. I am not personally arriving until late Friday, so if anyone who is going to that meeting wants to use this piece to bolster their argument if necessary, go right ahead. I also understand at the Friday meeting it can be punted out of further discussion, which would be nice.

(And yes, I understand that from a certain point of view I’m just trying to use the Internet to logroll you all into voting the way I want. I am the worst person ever.)

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Kat Richardson

Fun fact: Kat Richardson and I claim the same hometown of Claremont, California, and even lived there at the same time. And now she and I write in the SF/F genre! Coincidence? Well, yes. But still very cool. Kat’s kickass Greywalker series has a new installment, Possession. She’s here to give you the scoop.


“Ghosts have a bad habit of speaking in riddles—their minds are focused on different things than ours are and without their context, nothing they say makes sense.” Possession, p. 94

I write about ghosts, monsters, and dead people a lot. It’s not that I’m morbid, I just think they’re interesting tools for telling stories about bigger problems, not to mention… well, creepy! Often, I write about magic as the power of belief and how what a person or group of people believe can take form and wreak havoc. The real world is full of this kind of phenomenon that grows out of the actions of a few and infects many, putting them into control where before they perceived themselves as powerless (be that good or bad). But I got to thinking a lot, while I was outlining Possession, about the flip side of that—about losing control, losing your self and losing—or gaining—faith.

Let me digress just a little: two years ago my mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and I became her Health Care Advocate, defender, chauffeur, treasurer, assistant, secretary, and dogsbody. I was spending a lot of time in hospital wards, outlining or writing books on my laptop while waiting for her to be released from whatever procedure or therapy she was undergoing at that point. I thought a lot about loss of control and loss of self as Mom got more and more dependent on me or others and her mind often wandered or locked up and wouldn’t let anything out when requested, or remember anything, no matter how much we tried to trick it into working normally again. It wasn’t having any and Mom and my sister and I had to muddle along with what we could collectively manage between the three of us—which wasn’t that much since we weren’t terribly close before this. Our collective memory was thin, out of date, and brittle.

So when I got to writing Possession, those were among the thoughts in my mind—loss of control, loss of self, and loss of autonomy, as well as just what a family may or may not be, however fractured and brittle.

I’d done several books with vampires, but I really wanted to give them a rest and work more with ghosts—which are pretty great symbols for loss of ability, loss of memory, and loss of autonomy. The idea of old-school séances and hauntings was high on my list of nifty things to do in the new book, but I wanted to use that sense of being unable to help yourself—that ultimate loss of control—that spirit possession implied. An otherwise normal person who suddenly cannot communicate or use their own body because someone or something else has control of it. It’s a horrifying thought, isn’t it? Allegorically, it’s powerful in political and social terms as well and there’s been a lot of news items in the past couple of years that have turned on the subject of autonomy and control. The theme kept cropping up.

In addition, the protagonist of the Greywalker novels has always had issues with being—or believing she is—in ultimate control of her life and destiny. When she discovers that she’s not, truly, in complete control, she’s initially angry and rejects the situation—the way my mother was angry about developing cancer and being at the mercy of doctors and protocols with no guarantees and no way to help herself but to let others do it. When the vegetative patients in the story begin to display strange behavior, their families are equally frightened and refuse to believe or even talk about it. One begins to lose her faith in God when nothing she or her church can do is any help; she has to sit by and watch her sister disappear in the storm of communication from the dead that means nothing to her. She enlists the protagonist to help her sort the important information from the chaff in hopes of saving what remains of her family, even if doing so flies in the face of her religion.

The protagonist has her own parallel issues. She’s got a handle on what her powers are, but she’s not very good at understanding or nurturing relationships, so she’s not always able to communicate in appropriate ways with the people she considers friends or family. A lot of the plot turns on problems of communication and self-determination or control—problems I saw in real life everywhere I looked. I felt these were important issues, even if they were cloaked in allegory and masquerading as ghosts.

Silence and stillness may not mean someone has nothing to say, but that they are unable to say it until they are empowered. The key to breaking the communication barrier isn’t yelling louder, but finding out why someone doesn’t speak up and removing that obstacle, having empathy and creating connections that allow communication to flow so that the silent ones can speak.

And that’s the little Big Idea lurking at the bottom of Possession. Of course there’s a lot more going on in the book, but if I told you everything, you wouldn’t need to read it. And John would never let me post here again because, well… 106,000 words is a bit excessive.


Possession: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Exit mobile version