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“If I Can’t Have a Hugo Fan Award, Then No One Can!”

August 2, 2013

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!

CreeperCanine

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.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2013 5:58 pm

    >>This campaign to dismantle the Hugo Fan Awards lest they fall into enemy [hands] 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.

    Yes, yes it is.

    “Those dirty bloggers haven’t paid their dues. They haven’t spent years in the Fanzines. They aren’t real fandom”

    I think its implied that the historical place of Fanzines must be kept in perpetuity, even as the world changes around it.

  2. Mike Glyer permalink
    August 2, 2013 7:04 pm

    It’s hard to see how you “completely disagree” with my expressed point of view since it is hardly dissimilar from your own. I wrote in opposition to this motion and I object to being represented as though I am an advocate of this, or any of the other reactionary viewpoints condemned in this post.

    Some of your perceptions are flat wrong. “Refuse to let the awards be abused” is by no means synonymous with your phrase “happy to walk away.” Milt is not happy to walk away. My impression is that Milt would like to pull the house down around him ala Samson.

  3. August 2, 2013 7:11 pm

    Ugh. This whole thing is disgusting; everyone advocating that the Hugo Award should compensate for the failure of traditional fanzines to do proper outreach to new fannish communities and pull in new fans is super off-putting. It’s not the job of an award structure to support an aging medium. Yes, that’s how to solve the problem and lack of accessibility traditional fanzines are mired in — tell the younger fans like me that they don’t belong, that the projects and resources that helped them find their way when they were new simply don’t count. Slow clap.

    I love fanzines and think they’re incredibly important, but the amount of toxicity from that camp, their aggressive, dismissive behavior of “new” styles of fannish engagement have put me off all of them. I’ve run projects like that, newsletters and similar, and it sucks when your time of relevance ends, the fandoms scatters in ways that a project can’t keep together anymore, or technology changes to render your work obsolete. You can keep going for a little while if your adapt and change, but you HAVE to adapt and change. The answer is not to throw a tantrum, close the door, and tell people if they won’t continue to make it about YOU and how YOU work and YOU want to engage in fandom, to GTFO. If silencing people is their proposal, then I really, really hope there are people at that business meeting that will advocate for fans like me who cannot attend. I surely hope this “democratic process” people keep raving about with shut proposals like this down right out of the gate.

  4. August 2, 2013 7:31 pm

    Mike : We share disagreement with the motion, but we disagree on the message the motion sends. What is “abdicating our influence” if not just walking away from the table? I agree that he doesn’t want to walk away that’s precisely what has pissed me off… I can’t think of a position more toxic and selfish than wanting to dismantle a social institution because that institution might be headed in a direction you don’t like.

    I share the annoyance with people log-rolling their way onto awards ballots but fan bloggers are so totally not the real enemy here.

  5. August 2, 2013 7:37 pm

    Hi Renay :-)

    Given that I wrote something about fandom just yesterday, I wasn’t planning on writing anything else for a while but seeing that proposal in my inbox this morning just filled me with feelings of rage and disappointment.

    I used to think that the Hugo Awards’ aversion to blogs was just a result of ignorance and traditional fans failing to engage with a new medium but I think the campaign to gerrymander the Hugo Award categories shows not just ignorance but real fear and loathing.

    I’m still hopeful that the proposal will not come to a vote and even if it did, I suspect the conservative nature of the WSFS would ensure that the fan hugos remained but I think there is something incredibly sad and ugly about a culture that would literally rather destroy itself than engage with younger people. How did it come to this?

  6. braziman permalink
    August 2, 2013 8:29 pm

    There’s every reason to object to the motion itself, but as we are trying to explain our perceptions of its message to fandom, I think our difference reflects what we each believe is possible.

    Milt thinks (or at least, did so at the time of our conversation) that it is politically possible to get the fan Hugos repealed. You may think that is possible, too, otherwise why would you be so upset about the motion?

    I feel certain it could never happen. I believe most fans who go to Worldcon business meetings are committed to keeping the fan Hugos going (if not all on the same terms, because there is no monolith when it comes to this subject).

    So I chose the phrase “abdicating our influence” because I believe an attempt to repeal has no practical possibility of succeeding (nor would I want it to), therefore the fan Hugos will continue, with people further soured on the idea of listening to what fanzine fans might offer about issues that arise in the future. (Whereas if the awards were ended, there would be nothing in that context left to “influence.”)

    If somebody thinks a fanzine is a magazine — well, I agree that’s true. I’d be happy to see apples compete with apples and not with the rest of the garden. But it’s not my mission to keep blogs out of the best fanzine category if people are determined to turn it into a wide-spectrum category with an obsolete title referring to fanzines. And I will also defend fanzines as having just as much reason as ever to be included in the mix for the award.

    However, I can’t think of an example among the dread “traditional fanzine fans” who thinks fanwriting isn’t happening in blogs, or that it shouldn’t compete for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. The issue there not whether a blogger should be in or out, but whether somebody who is “just a fan” can compete with the 500-lb. gorilla who’s in the midst of a great career as a novelist. I am frustrated about that, anyway. Though I suspect one of the forces at work is that people want to give awards to somebody they feel they already know. It’s easier to get a critical mass of nominating votes from from constituencies than from from individuals who make wide-ranging surveys of potentially eligible items.

  7. August 2, 2013 9:52 pm

    Ah yes… I see what you’re getting at now.

    What you’re saying is that attempting to blow up the Fan Hugos would be a signal that the defenders of traditional fanzines have left the political stage and abandoned all hope of successfully gerrymandering the awards to preserve their historical monopoly on the awards.

    If the real problem is with professional authors rather than fannish bloggers, why the political marriage between the people opposed to self-promoting authors and people who clearly have a problem with the internet? As far as I’m concerned, a more logical partnership would be the one between traditional fans wanting to keep professionals out of fan categories and younger fans seeking recognition for their own forms of fanac.

    “We’re doing it for love, not careers” seems a much stronger rallying call than “We don’t like people with blogs!”

  8. braziman permalink
    August 2, 2013 10:52 pm

    You’re not really much into listening, are you Jonathan.

  9. August 7, 2013 1:15 pm

    I don’t have time to read this as thoroughly as I’d like, so I’ll say this for now: this pisses me off.

    I’ll also say the following:
    If fanzines only have a few hundred readers, then it’s likely they’d get mowed over by a reasonably popular blog or other medium *anyway.* The problem with fanzines in their traditional form isn’t necessarily that they’re unpopular, but that they are absolutely HORRIBLE at advertising themselves. The only time I ever hear about traditional fanzines in the blogsphere, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. are when they appear on the ballot. Every single year, the Hugo Awards finalists come out. And every single year, a lot of people still haven’t a clue why the traditional fanzines are there, because nobody is talking about them in their circles. There’s no outreach. Half the people I know who are readers (who aren’t embedded in the Hugo discussions) would look at me cross-eyed if I said “have you read Journey Planet?” They’d probably just say, “Is it a good book?”

    That’s the problem. If the fanzines can’t evolve even a little bit, then the natural process of Internet democratization will eventually leave them in the dust (unless, of course, the people behind the Hugos find some way to make the awards even less relevant than they already are).

    *rant over*

  10. Rick Kovalcik permalink
    August 9, 2013 9:29 pm

    When you say things like “someone called Milt Stevens”, I can only think you have no idea what is going on or who he is. That is not to say I agree with him. But, it’s as if you were talking about American Architecture and said “Someone called H.H.Richardson designed a house in Waltham (Massachusetts) that has fallen into disrepair. I don’t see why we are talking about preserving it.”

  11. August 10, 2013 7:07 am

    Rick –

    I have never heard of Milt Stevens and neither has Google (unless he’s a dead trombone player). However, I tend not to judge ideas on the basis of my relationship with the person who utters them and so even if I did know who he was I would still think that this was an incredibly stupid and destructive idea.

  12. kastandlee permalink
    August 11, 2013 3:56 am

    Milt Stevens was co-chairman of L.A.con II, the largest Worldcon ever held to date. He does not have a significant online presence of which I am aware, but that hardly means that he does not exist. In this photo of past, present, and future Worldcon chairs taken last year, he is the next-to-last person on the right in the middle row, wearing a greenish shirt.

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