Give ‘em the axe!

That’s what Milt Stevens will be asking voters to do at the 2013 Worldcon Business Meeting – delete the Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer, and Best Fan Artist Hugo categories from the WSFS Constitution.

Stevens shared the text of his motion with readers of the Smofs listserv and justified it by saying these categories are “susceptible to manipulation” because they get fewer voters and are chronically influenced by people campaigning for themselves. He also expressed frustration with fans’ irreconcilable differences over the definition of a fanzine —

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.

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.

(Yet I’m intrigued how much Milt has in common with Aidan Moher, who makes some of the same criticisms about the Hugo electorate. Of course, Moher wants to give all the fan Hugos to bloggers, so never the twain shall meet…)

I disagree with the proposal to repeal the fan Hugos because I feel our best interests involve keeping fanzines in the mix for these awards. There are still large numbers of fanzines being published and there’s no reason to legislate the irrelevance of this healthy brand of fanac.

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 the movers, including Rich Lynch, said the rules change was actually supposed to have.

Like it or not, for fanzine fans the Hugos resemble the joke version of the Laws of Thermodynamics — you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. So, since we can’t get out, we should not be abandoning the influence we still have left.

Update 08/01/2013: Corrected which set of natural laws the joke refers to, per comment.

Scoring the Proposed ‘Zine Hugo Amendments

What any fan thinks about the Semiprozine Committee’s and Rich Lynch’s proposals to change the fan publishing Hugo rules will inevitably depend on what he or she thought needed to be fixed in the first place.

So I’ll lead into my comments by listing what I believe, with a brief explanation:

  • Audio and video presentations should be ruled out of the fanzine category.

Text-based publications should not be grouped with unrelated items for the same reason we don’t lump novels and dramatic presentations into a single category.

  • Zines that pay contributors, owners or staff, which otherwise qualify in the fanzine category, should compete in the semiprozine category.

I advocate this as a way of creating an enforceable definition of semiprozine.

  • All rules must define the terms they use – professional, nonprofessional, issue, “equivalent in other media.”

The current rules define none of these terms. People cannot be sure what is eligible in the fanzine category, which deters participation.

  • No standard of performance or measurement ought to part of a rule unless the data needed to evaluate it can be easily obtained by the Hugo Administrator.

There must be practical means of enforcing any rules. Fandom neither wants nor rewards activist Hugo Administrators.

I. The Committee’s Report: Did the Semiprozine Committee report deliver? Let’s see.

The majority report proposes four changes.

(1) New criteria for semiprozine:

Amend the sections 3.3.12 and 3.3.13, by replacing them with:

3.3.12: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria:
(1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(2) was generally available only for paid purchase,

(Cited sections are in the WSFS Constitution.)

The proposed amendment’s most impressive feature is that it discards the antiquated criteria regarding printed copies and advertising space. I’m satisfied the two remaining criteria are the best litmus tests for semiprozines – payment to participants, copies primarily available to purchasers. And these are performance/measurement-based criteria a Hugo Administrator can evaluate from readily-available information.   

Interestingly, the Committee’s proposal eliminates the right an editor currently has to move a zine into semiprozine category by declaration. As a result, Langford’s Ansible would be welcomed back to the fanzine category.

The amendment’s main shortcoming is its failure to define “issue” and “the equivalent in other media.” One virtue of Rich Lynch’s proposal (discussed below) is that its terms are defined.

(2) Best Fanzine modified: The Committee has made neutral changes to the Best Fanzine rule to conform it to the revised semiprozine criteria:

3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria: 
(1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, 
(2) was generally available only for paid purchase,

The old rule excluded anything that qualified as a semiprozine; the new wording serves the same purpose.

Unfortunately, the Committee has done nothing about the eligibility of podcasts and its report explicitly states StarShip Sofa will continue to qualify as a fanzine under its version of the rules.

(3) A definition for “professional publication”: The Committee proposes to put a working definition of “professional publication” back in to the WSFS Constitution. Their intentions are right on target, the rules have been in want of a new definition of “professional” since the old one was erased as a side-effect of other changes.

However, the reason a definition of “professional” is needed is not to keep Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF out of the pastures of fandom. Almost none of the “pro” Hugo categories – for fiction, editing and art – actually includes “professional publication” as a condition of eligibility. Best Professional Artist alone has that requirement.

The real need for defining “professional” is to disqualify ineligible entrants from the semiprozine and fan categories by giving constitutional meaning to the antonym “non-professional publications.”

The Committee’s definition is in this proposal:

Add a new section: 3.Y.Z: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:
(1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
(2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

The proposed language sounds very precise, which is of little help because in practice the rule will depend on voluntary compliance, being impractical to enforce.

Consider: Semiprozines aspire to commercial success, whether or not they depend on it. If lightning strikes, what then? Charlie Brown once told me he depended on winning the Hugo every year to drive Locus’ subscription sales. That leads me to believe no semiprozine publisher will want to give up the market appeal of a succession of Hugo nominations.

In Charlie Brown’s day the print media criteria were sufficient to classify Locus as a semiprozine. Nobody had to ask him for income information to apply this new one-quarter test, which presumably would lead to Locus being reclassified as a prozine. Can you imagine how Charlie would have answered? Business reasons and privacy motives will keep prospective nominees from cooperating with the enforcement of this rule.

(4) The Hammer? The Committee already anticipated my last criticism with its final proposal:

Add to the end of Section 3.9 (Notification and Acceptance): 
Additionally, each nominee in the categories of Best Fanzine and Best Semi-Prozine shall be required to confirm that they meet the qualifications of their category.

But what will that mean in practice? The rule doesn’t define what prospective nominees will be required to do to confirm eligibility. Does that mean continuing the policy of self-certification with polite “do-you-think-you-are-eligible?” e-mails of the sort this year’s Hugo Administrator sent out? If the plan is to take everybody’s word for it, there’s no need for this rule.

Saul Jaffe’s minority report, appealing for better draftsmanship, is on target. If it is not fairly obvious who is eligible in a category there is a major problem with the Hugo rule, because it will never be cured by enforcement.

II. Rich Lynch’s Amendments

The latest version of Rich Lynch’s proposals I know about are on his LiveJournal:

Proposed WSFS Constitutional Amendments to keep the Fanzine Hugo non-professional and limited to words on paper or video screen.

(Note: strikeouts indicate proposed deletions and underlined text proposed additions.)

3.3.12: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) one (1) of the following criteria:

(1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue,
(2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(3) (2) provided at least half the income of any one person,
(4) (3) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising,
(5) (4) announced itself to be a semiprozine.
Audio and video productions are excluded from this category.

3.3.13 Best Fan Audio or Video Production. Any generally available non-professional audio or video production devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has had four (4) or more episodes or podcasts, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year.

3.3.13 3.3.14: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine. Audio and video productions are excluded from this category, as are publications that pay their contributors and/or staff monetarily.

Lynch’s amendments make changes I support. They

  • Identify semiprozines and fanzines as reading experiences — words on a page (appearing on paper or screen) — by ruling audio and video productions out of the category
  • Define semiprozines and fanzines as periodical publications – appearing in discrete, individual issues (similar to a magazine)
  • Limit eligibility for Best Fanzine to amateur zines by restricting those that pay contributors or staff

Some other features trouble me. His Best Fan Audio or Video Production amendment creates a new category for podcasts, videocasts, etc. – like last year’s winner StarShip Sofa – that would be excluded from the Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine categories if his changes go through. I think that idea for a new award category should be left to find its own supporters, and not be packaged as though it is a goal of fanzine fans. It rings a false note.

Lynch’s semiprozine definition fails to go far enough, leaving in place outdated print media criteria (average press run), criteria an external observer can’t check (income), or have no practical application for blogs and websites (15% of space occupied by advertising). However, Lynch would argue my last complaint isn’t a problem — he interprets his amendments to rule websites and blogs out of contention in the zine categories.

III. Thinking Out Loud

Rich Lynch has my thanks for advancing the public discussion of these issues with his motions. And they are the only proposals to plainly state that fanzines are text-based and should not be competing with items that resemble dramatic presentations.

While I like several of the Semiprozine Committee’s ideas for changing the semipro and fanzine category definitions, more needs to be done. I’d like to see the “issue” definition problem solved by including Lynch’s chosen word “periodical.”  And I would like to focus the zine categories on text by adding Lynch’s phrase “Audio and video productions are excluded from this category” to the Committee’s semiprozine and fanzine rule proposals.

We’ll see how it all plays out next week at the 2011 Business Meeting.

Thank You So Much!

My deepest thanks go out to everybody who supported File 770 for the Best Fanzine Hugo. It’s very much an honor to win, and a pleasure to know fans like what they’re reading in the zine and here online.

And it was great to experience that moment together with my wife, Diana. I’d have loved for her book to win, too, but we have been very happy to hear from people here at Denvention who came up to tell her how much they enjoyed it.

Challenger #28 Online

Guy H. Lillian III has posted a new issue of Challenger, his Hugo-nominated fanzine. It’s a tremendous zine, with outstanding articles by Resnick, Benford, Toni Weisskopf, James Bacon, and Joseph Green.

My contribution is “Flashman at Klendathu.” Guy invited me to pay tribute to George Macdonald Fraser, author of the popular series of Flashman historical novels, who had recently passed away. As a fan’s imagination is prone to do, mine wandered from the stack of books Fraser had actually written to the novels we now would never see – such as the oft-hinted adventure that would explain how Flashman ended up fighting on both sides of the American Civil War. I knew I’d miss Fraser’s sharp wit and his gift for deflating pretensions about the glory of war. The free association set in motion by those thoughts at last made me wonder what Starship Troopers would have taught about military life if it had been Flashman telling the story instead of Johnny Rico. “Flashman at Klendathu” fills in that blank. (And the Charlie Williams illo is perfect!)

A final word: The Challenger website has announced a contest for the best-designed favicon, the little image that appears next to the URL address line in your web browser (if the site has one loaded.) Entries should be sent to challzine@gmail.com by the deadline, which somewhat arbitrarily is before “The next issue of Challzine — or December 31, 2008 — whichever comes first.” Entries will be displayed in the next issue and voted upon by the readers.

Monrovia Couple in Good Company

Azusa Pacific University’s Media Relations people have been an enormous help in attracting attention to Diana’s book, The Company They Keep. Thanks to their press release about her Hugo nomination, a local paper sent reporter Evelyn Barge to interview the two of us for an article that appeared April 24.

I liked Evelyn’s well-written article very much, because most of the focus was on Diana and her book — and there was no taint of “crazy Buck Rogers stuff” at all.

Staff photographer Sarah Reingewirtz came by a couple days after the interview to shoot the pictures. She had Diana and I pose in our shared office: I was surprised that she was able to make our fannish mess appear so photogenic. She took another series of photos with me gazing profoundly at my Hugo rockets’ reflection in a mirror. Does it remind anyone else of Jan van Eyck’s use of the mirror in his “Arnolfini Wedding” portrait?

There was one error in the article, for which I am to blame: “But this year, the Monrovia couple have both of their names printed on the ballot, only the second time in the 55-year history of the Hugo Awards that a married couple have been nominated in the same year for independent projects.”

I remembered that in 1977 Kate Wilhelm got nominated for Best Novel and Damon Knight for Best Short Story. However, when the question was posed to the Smofs list, Mark Olson immediately pointed out the many nominations for independent work by two other couples, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.

In 1989, 1990, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 David Hartwell was nominated for Best Editor, while he and Kathryn Cramer also were among the editors of Best Semiprozine nominee New York Review of Science Fiction.

Then, in 1993 and again in 1994, when Kristine Kathryn Rusch was nominated for the Best Editor Hugo for her work on The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, also got a Best Semiprozine Hugo nomination for Pulphouse (edited in 1994 with Jonathan Bond).

Other couples may belong on the list. There are several instances where spouses co-edited a Hugo-nominated fanzine, and in the same year, one was nominated for Best Fan Writer. Did Charlie Brown do fanwriting outside of Locus? (Not that I recall.) Did Susan (Glicksohn) Wood write elsewhere than Energumen in the years it was up for the Hugo? (Probably, but the Internet is of limited help in researching fanzines published as long ago as 1972.) What about Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who was a fanwriter nominee in 1984, the same year Izzard was up for the Hugo? (Quite possibly – let’s find out.)

The newspaper headline remains true: “Monrovia Couple in Good Company.” A lot of good company…