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.)