August 9th, 2013


Gatekeeping and the Hugo Awards, and why we all need to attend the Business Meeting this year.

All right: here's the skinny.

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.

A tribute has been chosen!

corucia, you are the winner of a shiny new autographed copy of Jim Hines's Codex Born!

Please email me via my website contact form inside of the next 24 hours. I will pass your mailing information on to Jim, and a glorious gift will appear in your mail within the next ten days! If I do not hear from you, I will sadly have to select a new winner.

Thanks to everyone for playing!

Paying to vote in the Hugos: why it has to happen, and why we should acknowledge that.

All right: we're getting some semi-heated discussion about the idea of a "Voting Membership" for the Hugo Awards. This proposal assumes the following:

1) That some people who want to vote, fairly and by reading/watching as many of the nominated works as possible, are prevented by the cost of a Supporting Membership.
2) That there is thus an untapped source of revenue for Worldcon, in the form of the Voting Memberships, and that this would be a large enough group to make up for the decrease in Supporting Membership sales.
3) That this would not interfere with the Hugo Voter's Packet.

Some of the concerns are as follows:

1) That the potential for voter fraud would increase with the reduction in initial price (IE, someone who was trying to vote-fix could buy three $40 memberships for the cost of two $60 memberships, thus allowing for a higher number of false/purchased votes).
2) That the decrease in Supporting Membership sales would not be countered by the increase in Voting Membership sales (Mary and John always buy Supporting Memberships, for $60, so they can vote; now that they can buy Voting Memberships for $40, they do that instead; Worldcon has essentially lost $40 in revenue).
3) That reducing the price too much would cause publishers to rethink participation in the Voter's Packet.

All of these concerns are valid.

The Hugos, like everything else about Worldcon, are a volunteer organization. They are not run by a fully trained team of crack voter fraud investigators; they're run by fans like you and me. Anything that increases the chances of voter fraud is something we need to seriously think about, for which reason I would not recommend reducing the cost of voting rights below $40—although I would also at that point suggest the creation of a "school age" voting membership, which costs $20 and is only available to fans ages 14-20 (high school and start of college). Trust me, when I was a senior in high school, $20 was a fortune, and I was not committing voter fraud. But I was growing into someone who would absolutely support and believe in these awards. Could someone buy themselves a Hugo? Yes. But someone could buy themselves a Hugo now. If Oprah wants a Hugo, she can buy it. People will gossip, and the community will find out, but Oprah will have her Hugo.

Now the finances are an important consideration. A lot of each Worldcon's seed money, according to my understanding, comes from Supporting Memberships and pre-Supports. If you take that away, we could wind up in a situation where there are no Hugos, because there is no Worldcon. And if the idea that the convention costs a lot of money, consider this: they have to make rockets, and Hugo rockets ain't cheap. They're incredibly high-quality pieces of statuary, produced in far too small a number to start getting "mass production discounts." (When I print a CD, for example, the first disk costs about $2,000. But the next 999 are free.) So in order to open the doors wider, we're threatening the income that keeps the infrastructure of the awards stable. That's part of why I don't recommend rushing into anything: I just think the conversation is a good thing to have.

Finally, there is the voter's packet, and that's where things get hinky. There's no guarantee, year to year, that the packet will exist; publishers are under no obligation to allow their works (often their most popular, and hence most potentially profitable) to be given away for free, and that's what this essentially is, since neither they nor the authors are seeing any royalties from this distribution channel. I am okay with that—for me to have gotten on the ballot in the first place, a lot of folks have to have read my stuff—but I don't make the final call. So what happens if we say "Voting Memberships are $40" and the publishers say "Great, you can't have our books"?

I don't know.

I know the first thing would be the authors getting punished. Orbit chose not to make the books by their nominees available in all formats this year, and while I do not criticize them for that choice, it did result in my receiving email that flat out said "I was going to vote for you and now I'm not because I hate this file format." People can be petty when thwarted, and I guarantee that if four authors have their books in the packet and one does not, that fifth author is losing, as well as taking a lot of shit. I don't like taking shit. I have plenty.

So what we need is a) a price point that does not cause the Worldcon to lose money to the point where it becomes unstable, and b) does not upset publishers, while also c) allowing fans who really want to be a part of this process to participate. And that's why I don't want to see the amendment that would keep this from ever becoming possible to go through. Not because I think the Hugos should be free, or want to see it turn into an even bigger popularity contest than it already is: because I think it's important to encouraging participation in the awards from an ever-growing number of fans. Whether it's saying "individuals can cede their voting rights to the convention to be re-sold for a lower than Supporting rate to low-income fans" or "teens vote cheap" or "we need time to think," I believe that thinking is what needs to happen. Not closing off the conversation when it's just getting underway.