On February 16, Matthew Sanborn Smith ignited a controversy by advocating that people nominate StarShipSofa for the Best Fanzine Hugo:
Because of a rewording of the rules, The StarShipSofa podcast could be eligible for nomination for the Best Fanzine Hugo. Wait. Could be? The truth is, we can’t know for sure until we get in somebody’s face and force the issue by actually scoring nominations from lots and lots of people. You happen to be one of lots and lots of people.
The idea stirred up resistance in some familiar corners of fandom, partly because unlike most fanzines StarShipSofa presents fiction, making it comparable to last year’s winner Electric Velocipede, and partly because StarShipSofa is done as an audio podcast, therefore (of course) is not in the form of text.
The idea also has its defenders. On Cheryl Morgan’s site both sides got a thorough airing.
Their discussion interested me quite a bit. In one of the exchanges Chris Garcia commented, “But still, I can’t think of any way in which a Podcast isn’t a dramatic presentation or that a Podcast IS a fanzine.” And Cheryl Morgan, defending the eligibility of a podcast magazine for Best Fanzine, tried to convince Chris to rethink his argument by challenging him with this extrapolation: “And what would [you] say if Tony used a speech-to-text converter to put transcripts of Star Ship Sofa episodes online as text? Would that suddenly make it a fanzine?” I was fascinated by the whole philosophy-of-fanzines debate.
But when I’d finished reading I wondered if something important had been overlooked. Matthew Sanborn Smith’s fervently desired constitutional crisis can’t possibly arise because Hugo Administrator Vincent Docherty won’t be forced to decide if a podcast is eligible. Here’s why.
People who nominate StarShipSofa are simply writing down “StarShipSofa” on their ballots. They are not writing down “StarShipSofa — only the podcast, nothing else.” Where the podcasts are posted is http://www.starshipsofa.com/, an extensive, regularly updated website — which seems unquestionably eligible for the Best Fanzine Hugo under the new rules. Even if Vincent Docherty has a problem with the eligibility of a podcast (no way of knowing) he has no reason to let the existence of the podcast prevent him from attributing the nominating votes to the perfectly eligible same-named website.