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The Helsinki Worldcon has just announced that it will present, on a trial basis, a Hugo award for “Best Series,” in 2017. Personally, I would just as soon see the award stay in Finland and never get a visa, as it were.

Without going into the guidelines, what I see is an annual “Best Novel” Hugo not going to the best novel. In other words, series will be nominated either because their partisans just love it to pieces (and good for them) or because the latest installment sits head and shoulders above the standard previously set for that series. In the first case, you’re nominating a series that no one who hasn’t read it already is going to read before voting. Voting in the “Best Novel” category is already hard enough (no time, expensive hardcovers). This category will have a small voting pool. In the second case, well, there’s already a “Best Novel” Hugo.

It has been suggested (and I suspect the suggestion will prove popular), to limit each series to one win. On the surface, I agree. But there are only so many great series out there, and I fear we would quickly read the state of “American Idol disease,” where once the deserved winners are burned off, the selection becomes less about quality and more about filling slots.

If this must continue (as I predict it will), I would be less opposed if a negotiated settlement could be reached. How about we eliminate a category, like “Best Professional Editor-Long Form”? I appreciate the work that goes into editing books, but I don’t have the faintest notion how to vote that category. I’m sorry, but who pays attention to the editor? How do you even know? At the very least, change it to “Best Professional Publisher-Long Form” so all we have to do is check the imprint.

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I hope to finish my trilogy by the end of the year. It would be eligible. But since it would be disingenuous to seek nominations, I won’t. Really, don’t nominate me. I wasn’t even planning to go. Oh, all right, if you must…

#SFWApro

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I was very happy to (with the invaluable assistance of my better half) procure business cards before Worldcon. After all, I reasoned, if one is going to have business cards, and if the primary reason one has business cards is because people have asked for them at cons, then it makes sense to have business cards before one embarks for the biggest science fiction con one is going to attend all year.* And for one brief, shining moment, my logic (which only rarely matches with Spock’s), seemed sound.

Silly me. (And for that matter, silly Spock.)

Because I gave away three business cards the entire time I was in Kansas City, and only one did I give away at the con.

The first was to a friend, the second to a docent at the National World War I Museum, which we were visiting because I am planning a novel at some point which takes place during the Great War,** and the third on the plane home, to a stranger with whom we struck up a conversation when the subject of my writing came up.

Now, I think I deserve props for getting my card out to people whom one would not normally consider prime candidates, but when you consider that I did not give one out to any of the thousands of (unknown) SF fans at the con itself, I don’t think overall my marketing skills are yet up to snuff.***

But hey, it’s a start.

“Excuse me, buddy, would you like a business card?”

ETA: I am reminded that I did pass out one card to a fellow author at the con (and took hers in return). So now I am apparently so good at this I can’t keep my successes straight. Progress?

———-

*Or, as it turns out, next year, too, because Helsinki is not a likely destination.

**Not to mention that The Invisible City starts in WWI, and I took a picture of a map showing where my hero was when that book began.

***To be fair to myself, I did intend to give one to an editor I was supposed to meet, but it didn’t work out.

#SFWApro

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It is a comment upon current circumstances when I say that my limited participation in Hugo voting this year honestly does not proscribe my ability to air my feelings on the proceedings. In full disclosure, I only voted in one category because I lacked the time to survey the field in more depth, and in fact, I gave that one No Award. Oddly enough, it was not one of the categories pre-empted by Puppies of any stripe.

Nevertheless, the entire process is worthy of discussion. As was the case last year, the various Puppies tried to game the system, but this year voters were onto them and they had markedly less presence on the final ballot. Needless to say, that they had any effect at all disproportionate to their numbers was unfortunate. Not only does the presence of any kind of slate demean the voting, but it actively bars others’ choices from appearing. You can proclaim your candidates’ merits all you like, but if you have to resort to underhanded methods to gain their nomination (even if it isn’t technically cheating), then you forfeit the opportunity to persuade anyone to agree with you because you have eliminated free choice. In the end, you are limiting these works’ acceptance (and sales) because no one wants anything that’s being forced down their throats. Ask any child with a cold.

Now Mr. Beale, who’s behind all of this, would have you believe that “everything is going according to plan”–just like every supervillain cackles two seconds before Captain Justice bursts through the skylight and brings his little foray into world domination to a halt. As will happen here. Voting slates will never be completely erased, but their influence will wane to the point where no one will want to pay for a Worldcon membership simply in order to exercise what little destructive power they have left.

The question, of course, is why do this at all? What do they get from wantonly disrupting someone else’s fun? I have no answer, unless it’s because they lack the imagination to make up their own.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. This, too, will pass. Whether the Hugos themselves matter, that’s another discussion–one that perhaps we will have when the current crisis abates. I look forward to it.

 

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Well, that was interesting. First let me say that my first time in Kansas City will likely be my last, but not through any fault of KC’s. The beer is good and the barbecue is delicious–what else do you need to host a Worldcon? “A convention center”? Well, if you insist. But the first two are more important.

So what was the con like, you ask? Very nice. I don’t normally attend a con for the panels any more; I’ve been to too many of both that were much the same as their predecessors, but this time there were a surprising number that I thought sounded interesting, even if some did not turn out the way I had hoped…

And yes, I’m talking about that panel. The now-infamous “State of Short Fiction” panel that precipitated Dave Trousdale’s ejection from the con. Reportedly, there were other infractions other than hijacking the panel (which he did), grossly insulting fans and writers (which he did indirectly), and robbing the audience of the chance to hear the thoughts of some of the premier short-fiction editors in the business. I don’t know about anything that happened outside of the panel, but I do know that he made the statements about “special snowflakes” that are attributed to him, and he did dump a load of “pearl” necklaces on the table so that anyone offended by his remarks could wear them for clutching purposes. (What is it about pearls and SF and controversy?) He also began to read from a prepared statement about the decline of SF because of political correctness, but the other panel members cut him off. Although there was some shouting, it came from the audience. All in all, regardless of the full extent of his transgressions, from what I personally witnessed, Mr. Trousdale’s ejection was his own doing,

All in all, although exciting, it was pretty much a waste of time. Which was not the case in the other controversial panel.

I was also in attendance at the “Jane Austen and Mary Shelley” panel which eventuated Mary Robinette Kowal’s loss of membership. Yes, she did offer audience members alcohol, and they did take it, but she hardly hijacked the panel (quite the opposite). And she was scarcely acting as a bartender; it was friendly gesture to encourage questions (which it did), not a cheap gimmick to make a point. Nevertheless, she was censured, and she took it like an adult.

So two panels, one a circus, the other a Dorothy Parker roundtable. And I was present for both of them. Both resulted in the moderator being removed from the con, which only shows that the rules (regardless of the complaints of some who were not there) were administered evenly.

It also illustrates today’s lesson: Don’t let me into your panels if you want to stick around for the rest of the con.

Next: The Hugo Awards

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In case you weren’t aware of it, DragonCon is a hugely popular annual SFF/book/movie/comics/gaming convention held every year in Atlanta. It’s become big enough to push the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon“) away from its traditional home on Labor Day weekend. And now it’s starting its own line of awards, called, appropriately if rather unimaginatively, the Dragons.

“Another trophy,” you say, possibly enthusiastically, perhaps dismissively, maybe with a touch of boredom. Or maybe you say it with an appraising tone, as do we authors who think, “Hey, there’s another award I can aspire to (and probably never win)…” Regardless of your personal reaction, the awards are here and presumably they’re going to stick around a while. (America’s thirst for awards ceremonies is almost as impossible to slake as its thirst for reality shows, or sleazy political drama. If it ain’t a competition, we’re not interested.)

All of these reactions are quite understandable. What I don’t understand is those who believe that this development somehow spells trouble for the Hugo Awards given out every year by the aforementioned Worldcon. One would assume that those who espouse this view are associated with the Sad Puppies, but I have no evidence thereof. (Like Donald Trump, I could say the Sad Puppies are involved, but I don’t have any proof, so I won’t say “the Sad Puppies are involved.”)

Anyway, the idea that the SFF field isn’t big enough for two awards seems, well, as rampant as support for a candidate with no experience, no platform, and a slight tendency toward passive-aggressive campaigning against his competition, the press, and anyone who is not demonstrably American. I mean, have the Hugos been supplanted by the Locus Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Tiptree, the Arthur C. Clarke, the Philip K. Dick, the Sturgeon, the Heinlein, the Saturn, the Skylark, the Parsec…? Heck, no.

These folks seem to think that the Hugos are dead because only Worldcon members can vote for them; a more widely-sourced award would render them meaningless. The problem with this concept is obvious: The awards are not mutually exclusive. You could win a Hugo and a Dragon. And even if you only win one or the other, both can have value to the reader, which is all that counts.

It is true that Dragoncon could supplant Worldcon, because it’s so much bigger. People who prefer Worldcon often do for that very reason: an 80,000-person convention is a nightmare. Comic-con is a nightmare, and that’s only 50,000 people per day. On the other hand, Dragoncon pays its guests, which Worldcons simply cannot do. It might be that if the Dragon becomes a widely-recognized arbiter of quality, nominated authors will find it incumbent upon themselves to make the journey to Atlanta to be seen.

There are, of course, problems with that, and only time will tell if they can be resolved. But Worldcons would still continue; they are world-wide, after all, and not everyone can or will go to Atlanta in September. It’s very possible, though, that this would result in more international Worldcons (i.e., outside of the United States). That in turn could make attending authors more visible in other  countries, which have burgeoning SFF communities hungry to meet their idols, making its own marketing opportunities.

So maybe this is all a good and necessary thing. One thing that it is not, is a competition. And please don’t let it become one. Being a writer is hard enough as it is.

#SFWApro

 

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It’s often said that “Life imitates art.” But as I posited in my last post, that doesn’t normally happen in SF. And yet, here we are: We have a presidential campaign that imitates a Hugo campaign.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Donald Trump campaign v. the Rabid Puppies.* Lately (and not-so-lately) it has become the fashion in certain quarters to wonder if the Donald is trying to lose the nomination.** I mean, the things he says…about women, immigrants, war heroes… Is there a non-white male group he hasn’t tried to alienate?

And then there are the Rabid Puppies. Now these guys I’m sure are in it for the laughs. It’s another example of someone trying to tick everyone else off, and I can’t see that it’s serious. It’s just a way to “stick it to the Man” (assuming in this case there is a “Man”) and see how much fun can be had. It’s “Bart Simpson Goes to Worldcon.”

The surprising thing in both instances is how well it’s worked. Last year the RPs pretty much swept the Hugo nominations, to everyone’s surprise, which lead to a conclusion that no one is proud of. This year Trump has lead the Republican field for months, and if he gets the nomination, I don’t think the results will make a lot of people happy.

But maybe this is all to the good. Systems that lie in place unchallenged for too long become complacent; people adjust to the status quo, never noticing that maintaining the status quo, over the long term, is called “stagnation.” So once in a while you have to stir things up. People don’t like it when their comfortable status quo is stirred up, particularly those who have made it to the top of the heap. (This doesn’t mean that the stirrers are necessarily right, merely necessary.)

Is it painful? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. Is it necessary? Unfortunately, yes. And even more than that, it’s inevitable. But the result is that people realize that the system does not operate on auto-pilot, that it needs attention, just like in all those stories about generation starships that encounter problems a hundred years later and somebody has to exceed himself to fix them. We haven’t reached that point; we only have to rouse ourselves a little bit, pay a little attention, and a new, perhaps better, status quo can be achieved. It may not be quite the same, but that’s how the system works.

 

*Last year, I could have included the Sad Puppies, but they claim to have reframed their narrative and I have no reason to doubt them.

**This is not an invitation to discuss political issues. Thank you.

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It being that time of year (in both worlds), I find it natural to wonder (because I have a very unhealthy imagination) whether it would behoove us all to restructure the Hugos to be more like the college football championship playoff series, and if so, how one would do so. (If you don’t give a short-circuited lightsaber for football, do not despair, all will be made clear.)

In football (generally speaking), all of the eligible teams in the country are ranked on a weekly basis by a committee of knowledgable and influential football pros/fans which considers win/loss records and strength of schedule. At the end of the season, four teams are picked for the play-offs, which take place in two stages: the semi-finals and the championship. Simple. In the Hugos, eligible works are nominated by members of the Worldcons (present and immediately past), and five or six reach the ballot, where the winner is selected by a system so convoluted that several (secret) master’s (of fandom) degrees have been awarded for papers explaining it.

The football playoff system is the result of decades of trying to determine a fair way to pick a champion, and although in its infancy, seems to be working. The Hugo system is the result of decades of the same process without significant difficulty, until recently when it seems not to be working. You can see the similarities. A playoff system is a good solution for both.

Witness the advantages (for the Hugos and fandom): A committee of knowledgable pros and fans sifts through all 10,000 possible nominees every year as they are published, and rates them monthly. Think of the time savings for the rest of us! Who would bother to read a story that has no realistic chance of winning? At the end of the Hugo season, a final list of four is published in each category, which constitutes the Hugo ballot. “Okay,” you’re saying about now, “that only replaces fan nominations with a selection committee. How is this better?” To which I reply, “Wait. There’s more.”

The fans do not vote for the stories on the Hugo ballot. There is no vote.

Each author is allowed to select one main character from  his story. Each such character is then inserted into a playoff round against a character from another story in the same category. (Yes, this only works for fiction, but it could work for Best Editor and Best Artist, too, and we could televise it.) Those characters then compete on the basis of pre-selected criteria, such as Depth of Characterization, Likability, and Character Growth. The semi-final winners would then face each other and the ultimate victor would receive the Hugo.

Think of the fun we could all have by comparing stats every week. Think of the arguments over All-time Best in the area of Thematic Relevance. The mind reels.

And the sponsorships! “The Apple Hugos.” “The Blizzard Entertainment Hugo Pre-Show.” With that kind of money, the Worldcon (presented by Bank of America) wouldn’t even need to charge for memberships!

Over the years, certain authors will be seen to attract more lucrative sponsorships, and, naturally, they will receive more nominations. More nominations = more sponsorship money = cheaper Worldcons. Meanwhile, we would be able to argue to our hearts’ content with no responsibility to vote. What could be more American?

 

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