“If I Can’t Have a Hugo Fan Award, Then No One Can!”
Though ostensibly a place where convention-runners can share ideas and resources, the Secret Masters of Fandom mailing list also serves as venue for discussing potential changes to the Hugo Awards prior to the World Science Fiction Society business meeting at Worldcon. One of the ideas currently under discussion is a proposal to scrap all of the Hugo Fan Awards including Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist. The original proposal, made by someone called Milt Stevens, opens with some throat clearing about amateur journalism but then moves on to the meat of the proposal:
The three categories in question attract fewer votes than most of the other categories and are more susceptible to manipulation. While it was traditionally considered unethical to campaign for yourself for the Hugo, it is now being done every year. Traditional fanzines only have a circulation of a couple of hundred, so it is fairly easy for a log rolling effort on the internet to get a nominee on the ballot and possibly win.
Efforts at compromise have failed. One group says that fanzines are words on paper only, and nothing else can be allowed. Another group thinks fanzines and fan writing are anything the voters can imagine and will tolerate no limitations whatsoever. There is wide dissatisfaction with these three awards, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away.
Abolishing these three categories seems better than giving awards that create continuing dissatisfaction.
Mike Glyer (who has won nice Hugo Awards for his fan writing) said of the proposal in a recent blog post:
When Milt and I discussed his idea a few months ago, I argued that the implicit message in his motion was not that fanzine fans refuse to let the awards be abused, but that we quit, we’re abdicating our influence over the future of this subset of the Hugos. And other fans, semipros and bloggers who already feel entitled to control the awards will just tell us don’t let the door bang our butts on the way out.
I completely disagree with Glyer. I don’t think this proposal sends a message that traditional fandom is happy to walk away from the fan Hugos, I think it sends a message that traditional fandom is so reactionary and controlling that it would rather destroy its own institutions than allow them to change of their own accord. Clearly, if traditional fandom cannot absolutely guarantee a monopoly on fan awards then there shouldn’t be any fan awards at all!
The backstory for this proposal is that many members of the Worldcon community feel that the nature of fandom is changing and that these changes are putting a lot of pressure on the traditional fanzine scene. Once absolutely central to fannish communication and engagement, the world of traditional fanzines is currently struggling to renew itself as a lot of the people who might once have set up their own fanzines are now setting up social media presences and blogs. Indeed, while the online repository of traditional fanzines continues to show a steady stream of new publications, most of the people currently active in the world of traditional fanzines have been around for quite a long time and their material naturally tends to reflect this particular perspective on fandom and genre. Even worse, read enough fanzines and the same dozen or so names tend to turn up on articles and letters of comment alike.
Faced with the prospect of surrendering their Fan Hugos to either professionals-who-blog or bloggers-who-ain’t-real-fans, people in the traditional fanzine scene have attempted to tighten the rules around the Best Fanzine award in an effort to hinder cultural progress. However, as this year’s nominations for SF Signal and Elitist Book Reviews suggest, this campaign has been an absolute failure hence the desire to dismantle the Hugo Fan categories and spin paranoid fantasies about treasonous allies and do-nothing award administrators:
It’s also too bad that the debate over the motion will inevitably make fanzine fans look more like jackasses than we already do, having just spent the last two years getting our alleged political allies to help us reconstitute the Best Fanzine category as we supposedly wanted it to look. Something they were happy to do because they had no intention of asking Hugo Administrators to enforce the result
Let me be clear: I very much like traditional fanzines, I think that their small circulations and Letters of Comment with regular respondents create a sense of intimacy that is completely unrivalled by any alternative platform. Yes, you can build a blog and include all the content you might have included in a fanzine but the way a blog appears and the way it feels to the reader are very different to fanzines and I can really understand why you would read traditional fanzines but not blogs. In fact, I would even go so far as to recommend that non-traditional fans write a letter of comment to a random zine (in much the same way I did) purely in order to see what happens… it really is quite a unique experience. However, while I totally understand the attachment to traditional fanzines, I do think it is necessary to acknowledge that times have changed and that some people use different venues and formats for their fannish activities. Attempts to restrict Fan Hugo Awards to traditional fans has served only to alienate a generation of fans who grew up in a different time and learned to use a different set of tools.
Reading the responses to the original proposal, I am somewhat taken aback by the paranoid and regressive attitudes on display. One SMOF echoes my characterisation of a fanzine scene that has grown out of touch with much of fandom but he concludes that dwindling interest in the award is a sign that:
WSFS is no longer competent to award the fan Hugos in their current form.
And that the emergence of non-traditional fanzine titles in the fanzine category amounts to:
Vandalism (that) distorts the result
Looking beyond such histrionics, many people on the SMOFs list appear to take it as read that it is the job of the Hugo awards to help traditional fanzines to find an audience. One fan begins their response on a note of administrative caution:
My problem with this line of reasoning is that it will occur every time something that isn’t a traditional fanzine wins best fanzine. When a podcast won Best Fanzine, WSFS introduced Best Fancast in response to faneds’ wails. When a blog won Best Fanzine, those same faneds started campaigning for Best Fan Blog/Best Fan Website. We can’t keep just introducing new categories in a desperate attempt to keep fanzines relevant in 2013; a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Only to add that, while a line most definitely needs to be drawn, it does not need to be drawn here as he:
would support the introduction of Best Fan-Related Work, alongside amendments to the WSFS constitution that more closely defined what a fanzine is in order to exclude websites and move them to the Related Work category. That would mean the problem stayed fixed and we didn’t have to trend towards an infinite number of fan categories in order to preserve the fanzine.
Why is it the job of the Hugo Awards to preserve the audience for traditional fanzines? If the traditional fanzine scene is struggling to find new readers and new writers then I would argue that it falls to traditional fanzine editors to seek out new audiences and find a way of relating to a wider cross-section of fandom. If traditional fanzines are no longer relevant to the modern fan then I think the job of the Hugo Awards should be to recognise the things that are relevant. No section of fandom should have a guaranteed monopoly on Hugo awards and this latest attempt to dismantle one of fandom’s oldest institutions lest it fall into younger foreign hands is yet more evidence of the profound spiritual sickness affecting traditional fandom.
The editor and anthologist Jonathan Strahan recently described me as an “angry young man who says fuck a lot” but while I am angry and may indeed enjoy swearing, I will be 37 at my next birthday and the only place I would ever be described as a “young man” is in science fiction fandom. People often dismiss the ‘greying of fandom’ by pointing to people in their 30s and suggesting that their presence on the scene proves that fandom is renewing itself. The only problem with this assessment is that they are an entire generation out of step: Where are the angry young teenagers who say fuck a lot? They’re in the fandom next-door!
Strange Horizons recently published an excellent column by Renay from Lady Business who argued that traditional SF fandom is a lot less welcoming than the fandoms of YA, Sailor Moon, Teen Wolf and Final Fantasy. Renay has now acquired a following and she admits that the scene has improved a bit in recent years but she still doesn’t feel completely at home:
I still often feel sidelined, ignored, and on the whole like I don’t belong for whatever reason: my unshameful claiming of my gender, my contempt for the feeling I get from older (often male) fans that how I do fandom is wrong, my anger and lack of “civility”—the Cult of Nice for the Patriarchy.
Renay is the kind of passionate and insightful writer who should be a natural Hugo nominee. We should nominate her because she is a great fan writer and because having people like her on the Hugo Award shortlists might encourage other young women to come forward and join the conversation. This campaign to dismantle the Hugo Fan Awards lest they fall into enemy fans is not just toxic, selfish and reprehensible, it is an attempt to slam the doors of fandom shut in the face of yet another generation of passionate and devoted fans.