In the old days there used to be this convention for movie musicals. A group of plucky, talented kids would be down in the dumps after they were rejected or something. They would discover that among their group they had a brilliant songwriter, an awesome singer and a pair of dancers. One would say, “Saaay, my Dad’s got a barn. Let’s put on a show!”
I think there is a group of people on the periphery of the Hugo business who see the internet as a big old barn, and they should put on a show.
The last thing I read about this was on a blog called Superversive, and the post was titled “The Internet Will Kill the Hugos,” by Ray Blank. Among other things, he doesn’t like that the Hugo award is tied to an annual convention called WorldCon. He says that memberships into the World Science Fiction Convention organization go to subsidize a convention.
He’s not wrong. The cost of a WorldCon is about $1 million US, and that’s considering that nearly all of the work –scheduling, contract negotiating, membership, communication and coordination and so on is provided by volunteers. The Hugo nomination and selection process is managed by volunteers. Clearly, though, the cost of memberships is what covers the expenses of the conventions.
Anyway, why should the Hugos be tied to an event? And why should people have to pay to vote for the Hugos? “This is an award supposedly given by all fans, wherever they are,” he says.
That is incorrect. It is not “… given by all the fans.” Here’s what the World Science Fiction Convention has to say about the Hugos and why memberships cost:
“Well, the simple answer is that the Hugos are awarded by WSFS members and, just like most other clubs, you have to pay to be a member. Your money goes towards helping finance the awards and the convention that holds them.”
The awards are chosen by all the members. The members, not some larger and more abstract group of “all the fans.”
The FAQs go on to discuss concerns about ballot stuffing, and a desire to have voting fans who are people who really care about (and read) SF.
WorldCon has two types of members; participating members, who plan to attend the convention, and supporting members, who pay a fee ($40 US this year) because they only want to nominate and vote. The votes of the participating members and the supporting members have exactly the same weight and count exactly the same. There is no “privileging” a participating member over a supporting member; hence, no real problem with connecting an award to a Con. What is connected to the Con is the award ceremony, which is held at the physical convention.
Could the supporting membership be cheaper? I think so. Would that necessarily bring in more supporting members? I thought it would at first. Then I offered to give some people memberships, and several of them politely declined. Even when my offers were anonymous, offered through the third party, I only had a couple of takers.
Many folks felt intimidated by the process because they “hadn’t read enough” of the new work, they said. This is not an issue of economics or American privilege; this is about outreach. I think the “American-centric” nature of the organization and the process is an issue, one that the two splinter groups this year exacerbated with their restrictive slates. For all the talk of a “global” award, their slate entries, especially in the category of novella, plainly narrowed the writing world down to two or three people.
I’m digressing a bit though, because one point seems to be that you could uncouple the Hugos from the convention that birthed it (WorldCon) and just do the whole thing over the internet, and somehow this would make it more egalitarian, global and fair.
Certainly, someone could have an award that lives entirely on the internet. Who wants to have to fly somewhere, stay in a hotel, take selfies with favorite writers, bloggers, actors and artists? Who wants to dress up in costumes? Who wants to listen to thoughtful people in a field you love sit at a table and yak about things you’re interested in? Who wants to jump on Twitter and tweet “OMG! SR Delaney sat down RIGHT NEXT TO ME!” Who wants to do that? Oh, well, maybe lots of people, as attendance at things like LonCon last year, WisCon, and of course ComicCon demonstrate.
I agree, though, that you don’t have to tie an award to a con if you don’t want to. But why does it have to be the Hugos? Just let the Hugos die the lingering death you believe they’re facing. Since the new technology makes this all very easy, why not just create your own fan award? For the “true” fans. You know. Your batch of fans. It’d be like American Idol or the People’s Choice Awards.
And there’s hardly any work at all! Oh, wait. Maybe there’s some.
Someone, somewhere, would have to set some eligibility rules. Right? I mean, we want our all-internet All the Fans Award to have meaning. And, as someone whose job for many years had the word “eligibility” in the title, I can tell you that once you have rules, you have to measure candidates against those rules.
Let’s say the All the Fans Award is for the “Favorite SF Book* of <year>.” I left that very open – no elitist words like “best.” Just the world’s favorite. I narrowed it to a particular year because probably you want to give the award year after year. Okay. Let’s say the eligibility requirements are 1) it has to be a book, and 2) it has to have been first published in the award year. (Again, the Hugos awarded in 2015 are for works first published in 2014.)
Someone, a person, would have to confirm that each nominated work was a book. That… hmmm, well that might be easy. You might have to define book.
Next, someone would have to confirm that the book was published for the first time in the award year. Now we need to do some refining of our simple rules. How do we define “published?” Once “published” is defined, a person will have to go vet every single work that got a vote. They won’t have to do that for each vote, just for each work, including the War of the Chocolate Unicorns**, a self-published work that got two votes. What if The War of the Chocolate Unicorns appeared first on the author’s blog, serialized, in 2010? Does it qualify as first-published in 2014?
This is time-consuming and you’ll probably need more than one person; maybe a committee. Thank God it’s on the internet and they don’t have to be in the same area, or talk, or meet, or have coffee or anything! It’s just so much easier. And certainly there are analytical tools that will help you. It would be nice if after this Herculean labor was done, there would be some way to gather your committee together and honor them, like a party or a… Nope, sorry, forgot. Don’t want it tied to an event.
Now that you’ve vetted the works, you need to make sure it’s been one fan, one vote, right? Presumably you set up some kind of safeguard to limit it to one fan, one vote. But those internet people are clever! I bet some of them figured out a way around that. Do you have a second level of security, to screen out the ambitious author of War of the Chocolate Unicorns, who changed Usernames and IP addresses and voted 427 times?
Maybe I’m too worried about that “one fan, one vote” thing. Maybe it should be like those “vote up” things the snack food companies do. You have three days; vote as many times as you want! Except… don’t all those “contests” already have a group of candidates you’re voting on? And hasn’t American Idol already chosen the contestants?
Hmm. This is sounding like a lot of work.
So, yeah, it’s a lot of work and you put together a committee to work hours and hours on it for no pay, before and after (okay, and sometimes during) their paying jobs, and now you have your winner. You announce the winner of the All the Fans Award for Favorite SF Book of 2015… over the internet. In a podcast, maybe. No, you livestream the announcement from your home office! And you send the winner a file so they can print out their award, like we do for NaNoWriMo. And maybe they get a badge they can put on their social media sites.
Or, you know. You could just vote for the Hugos.
Lots of writing awards outside the SF field are juried awards. The awards are made based on a set of standards, chosen by a panel of experts. We don’t always like that. Experts in the arts and humanities sometimes get caught up in their own enthusiasms, their own closed worlds, and it shows in their choices; but it still means that those works were tested against a standard. The award has meaning. It isn’t the biggest collection of clicks. (No, I wrote clicks. Read it again.)
Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) host an award called the Nebula. The membership requirements for SFWA are more stringent that WSFC. You have to have made money from writing work in the field and there are dollar minimums. SWFA is a professional organization whose goals and principles are different from that of WSFC, which is a fan organization. Oh, and you know what? SWFA has a membership fee.
For the Nebulas, any qualified member can nominate a work during the nominating period. The six nominees with the most nominations in each category go onto the short list, and the entire membership votes on the short list.
The WSFC uses that same technique with a much larger pool. It’s democratic – more purely democratic than presidential elections in the US because there’s no WSFC electoral college. Because the only voting requirement is buying a membership, this election process is subject to manipulation, as we’ve seen in 2015. Any democratic system can be manipulated. One solution to vote manipulation is to increase participation, diluting the influence of the manipulators. WSFC memberships broke 10,000 in 2015, with more than 50% being supporting memberships. Apparently, people aren’t “tied” to an event in Spokane. Apparently, people want to vote and aren’t confused about what they need to do to accomplish that.
But you think the Hugo’s time is past? Don’t see why you should have to pay to make your opinion known? Well, your dad’s got a barn. Go put on a show. Maybe, thirty years from now, the All the Fans Award will be the One True Award and it will be on the digital covers of all those winning books. I wish you the best.
*So, I was writing this tongue-in-cheek as they say, but now I really want to hold some sort of voting thing for Favorite SF Book of the Year.
**Originally I used War of the Unicorns, because there was no way that could be a real title, right? Then I thought maybe, just maybe, I should check Amazon and, oh, Good Lord.