Gatekeeping and the Hugo Awards, and why we all need to attend the Business Meeting this year.
The Hugo Awards are given annually at the World Science Fiction Convention, which moves around the world (although statistically, it mostly moves around North America, and it's always exciting when it actually goes somewhere else) according to the votes of the membership. These awards represent the best of the science fiction and fantasy world, or at least the best things that a) attract the right kind of attention ("Hugo bait"), b) get enough votes to be nominated, and c) get enough votes to win. (Sometimes I wish we called the award "So You Think You Can SF/F," said "most popular," and let Cat Deeley host the award show.) Items b) and c) are not always the same thing, because of the migratory nature of Worldcon; a book that is vastly popular with the residents of San Francisco, California, may not win when it's voted on in Volgograd, Russia, even though it made the ballot.
The Hugos are both nominated for and voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention, attending or supporting (this is an important distinction, and we'll be coming back to it). This means that if, say, you can't fly to Russia, but you really want to have a say in the Hugos, you can buy a Supporting Membership for a reduced rate, and still cast your ballot into the uncaring wind. Historically over the last ten years, Supporting Memberships have generally been between $40 and $60, and this revenue is important to the operation of the Worldcon. But it's still a lot of money. I know there were years when I did not pay for voting rights, because I couldn't afford it. There have been some suggestions in recent years that we institute a "Voting Membership" tier, where you pay less, don't get any of the physical perks (like the program book), but do get voting rights.
There are some people who really don't like that idea. Follow the link to see Cheryl Morgan's beautiful deconstruction of the proposal to forbid Voting Memberships from ever becoming a thing, but here is the bit that spoke most honestly to me:
"Without cheaper supporting memberships, it might seem that Hugo voting cannot get any cheaper, but that’s not the case. There is nothing in the WSFS Constitution that would prevent a Worldcon from adopting a new class of membership: a Voting Membership. It would carry with it no rights other than voting in the Hugos, and would therefore be pure profit for the Worldcon. If it was priced suitably, it could result in a significant additional source of income, as well as increasing participation in Hugo voting.
The purpose of this new motion is to prevent Worldcons from ever creating this sort of membership.
"That is, its purpose is to prevent the 'Wrong Sort of Fan' from participating in the Hugos: young people, poor people, people from countries where $60 is a huge amount of money, and so on.
"The commentary on the motion is a piece of ridiculous sophistry. A membership is a membership. There is no reason why creating a new type of membership would be a 'distortion,' unless you have the sort of mindset that holds that allowing people who are poorer than you to vote is a 'distortion.'
This motion is an attempt by people who already have voting privileges to prevent those privileges from being extended to others."
But that's not all the fun that's happening right now. There is also a motion to do away with the Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer, and Best Fan Artist categories. John Scalzi has beaten this suggestion with a stick to see what would fall out; what fell out was a bunch of wasps. Because look.
I started organizing conventions when I was fourteen. I have worked every level, from grunt to chairperson. I have stayed awake for three days solid to help people have a good time. I have elevated masochism to an art form, and I enjoyed it, because I am a fan. Fans are the lifeblood of this community, and one of the things I have always loved and respected about the Hugos is the way that they recognize people for their fannish accomplishments. Yes, they're all creative fannish accomplishments, because the Hugos are a creative award, but they are still being held up with the greats of our genre, as greats of our genre, for being fans. If that is not one of the most devastatingly inspiring notions ever, I don't know what is.
Jim Hines winning Best Fan Writer last year did not in any way reduce the honor of Betsy Wolheim winning for Best Editor (Long Form). If anything, it elevated them both, because here is our industry saying "we need you both to survive." Mark Oshiro's nomination for Best Fan Writer this year did not in any way reduce the honor of my being nominated in several professional writing categories—and whether we win or lose, we will always have shared a ballot, we will always have this in common. We are of the same community. We elevate each other.
Please, if you are attending this year's Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas, join me and others at the WSFS Business Meeting to help us vote these measures down. The first will be Friday morning at 10am.
We have the power to keep this from happening. It's not the power of Grayskull, but I still think it's pretty damn neat.
Let's keep these awards for everybody.
ETA: Here's a great historical perspective on the "Fan Hugo" argument, from Chuq Von Rospach.