Shy, Retiring John Scalzi

John Scalzi is running for President of SFWA. His announcement on Whatever lists changes he wants to lead the writers’ organization to make. They sound good to me, although I’ve never been part of the conversation to know whether they’re popular suggestions or why the changes haven’t already been made.

John outlines his career as a professional writer in case anyone is unfamiliar with it, which seems possible only if the person has been living under a rock for the past 5 years. It’s quite a remarkable record. In fact, John must have felt he needed to tone it down because he uncharacteristically hides his light under a bushel when it comes to the Hugo Awards:

In the genre my work has been nominated for seven Hugo Awards, including three Best Novel nominations (in 2006, 2008 and 2009). I have been awarded two Hugos.

Two Hugos, absolutely true: the 2009 Best Related Book Hugo, and the 2007 Best Fan Writer Hugo. Think about it. When was the last time SFWA elected a Hugo-winning fanwriter to run the organization? Exactly, never. This could be history in the making.

Not that I want to cheat former SFWA President Robert Silverberg (1967-1968) of any credit he deserves in this line, but his 1951 Retro Hugo for Best Fanwriter was voted to him more than three decades after he left office. He didn’t have the award on his resume when SFWA members chose him to lead them.

And if Jo Walton has her way I’ll eventually have to qualify this bit of science fictional trivia with a second note. Jo recently told readers of her LiveJournal that she’s nominating another past President of SFWA, Fred Pohl, as Best Fan Writer:

James Nicoll just pointed out that Fred Pohl’s awesome blog which I’ve mentioned here before would be eligible to be nominated for the fan writer Hugo. Yes, it would. And I’m so going to nominate it.

Isn’t that special?

19 thoughts on “Shy, Retiring John Scalzi

  1. I’m slowly gaining an impression that the greater part of contemporary fandom has little idea what fan writing is — that fan writing is merely non-fiction writing in fact.

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  3. All very true. So haven’t you stopped to wonder why has he never been nominated for Best Fan Writer in any of the 40+ years the category has existed? Certainly not because his writing isn’t good enough. Nor that he failed to write about fandom — surely we all remember his autobiography “The Way the Future Was.” The real question is whether a long-time pro like Fred Pohl would take the nomination as a compliment. This enforced egalitarianism is not always welcomed by pros. Recall that Harlan Ellison turned down his Best Fan Writer nomination.

  4. I think pros can be fans, but that doesn’t mean they inevitably are — clearly Ellison doesn’t feel he is, and that’s fine. I suspect however that Fred Pohl knows perfectly well that he’s both, the same as Terry Carr, Dave Langford and John Scalzi.

    I’m wrong, and if he were nominated, he could perfectly well turn it down. He’s getting one of my five nominations anyway.

  5. “Not that I want to cheat former SFWA President Robert Silverberg (1967-1968) of any credit he deserves in this line, but his 1951 Retro Hugo for Best Fanwriter was voted to him more than three decades after he left office.”

    And with the greatest of respect to Silverbob, that was an absolutely ridiculous and ignorant award. In 1951 Silverberg was 16 years old, and a neo, and SPACESHIP was still a crude and juvenile zine and it simply wasn’t very good at all yet. Within the next couple of years it became a rather good, though not outstanding, fanzine, before Bob moved on, but in 1951 there’s no possible way anyone truly remotely familiar with the fanzines of the time would put Silverberg in even the top ten fan writers. The voters simply weren’t, overall, sufficiently familiar with fanzines of 1951, and voted on Bob’s name.

    I’d have to say that, again, with the greatest of respect for Robert Silverberg, that in 1951, Silverberg would have to be fifth as a fan writer out of
    * Robert Silverberg
    * Bob Tucker (aka: Wilson Tucker)
    * James White
    * Walter A. Willis
    * Lee Hoffman

    Issues 20 and 22 from 1953, fwiw: http://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Spaceship/index.html

    But compare to Slant of that era, or Skyhook, or Quandry or Spacewarp.

  6. “So haven’t you stopped to wonder why has he never been nominated for Best Fan Writer in any of the 40+ years the category has existed?”

    Nope: because he wasn’t doing much that could be considered “fan writing” in those years.

    “Certainly not because his writing isn’t good enough. Nor that he failed to write about fandom — surely we all remember his autobiography “The Way the Future Was.”

    Mike, you seem to be missing the clear distinction between professional writing and amateur writing. An autobiography published by a major publisher is most definitely professional writing.

    Writing in a personal journal (which is what Pohl’s “blog” is, strictly speaking rather than a blog, the distinction being founded on whether one is primarily writing with little or no linking, or whether one is actually largely logging and commenting on other stuff on the web), on the other hand, when you’re not paid to do so, is purely amateur and for the life of me I can’t see how Pohl’s journal wouldn’t count as fanac.

    (Although I’m not at all comfortable with the notion of counting blogs as “fanzines.”)

    “The real question is whether a long-time pro like Fred Pohl would take the nomination as a compliment.”

    I would be astonished if he didn’t.

  7. The guy started a blog in his late eighties on which most of his posts are about his love for fandom, the history of how he get involved with fandom and science fiction and so on. He’s about the only living link with First Fandom still present – honouring him for this work by nominating him for a fan Hugo does not seem an insult to me and I doubt very much he would think differently. Doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to win it too, but the nomination is at very least a signal that some people in fandom love and appreciate what he’s doing. Good on Jo to do so.

    The idea that pros are pros and fans are fans and they’re separate species is a filthy modern heresy (for some values of modern). Pohl surely is somebody who knows otherwise.

    (And I can understand why Scalzi would concentrate on his pro achievements rather than his fan credentials when running for president of a professional organisation. Also, Scalzi may be a succesful writer and large online presence, but don’t overestimate such fame; SFWA has never struck me as a particularly internet aware organisation, while it’s easy to not encounter Scalzi as a major writer if you’re not clued in to him.)

  8. Frederik Pohl’s current blog is rambling, affable, inviting, personal, not terribly preoccupied with formal structure, and full of anecdotal writing about subjects of interest to science fiction fans. If that’s not fan writing, I don’t know what fan writing is.

    As for whether Pohl would be offended at such a nomination, I note that he was evidently delighted to be Fan Guest of Honor at the 1980 Norwescon.

  9. I modestly suggest that the difference between Harlan Ellison’s and Fred Pohl’s attitudes towards reminiscing about their pre-professional days in fandom tells all we need to know about their likely reactions to a Best Fan Writer nomination.

  10. I think the main harm that can be done to the fan Hugos by professional writers (like Silverlberg and John Scalzi) being nominated for their blogs is that they won’t be judged on merit. Their reputations can draw literally tens of thousands of readers to their blog sites, who never heard of any “traditional” fan writer, and will never check out websites of other fanwriters. It is like expecting File 770 to compete for the NY Times for readers, and is the reason why fan and pro Hugos have been kept separate.

    It causes no end of problems, assurely. Many pros are also fans and write for fanzines. They may also write very similar essays for websites (such as the Tor page) and prefaces in books that would fit just as easily in any fanzine. The distinctions are subtle, but have had to be made.

    The internet introduces a whole new round of such difficulties, and as yet there seems to be no sure guide around them.

  11. Gary Farber is wrong when he calls the 1951 SPACESHIP “crude and juvenile.” That it was when I began it in 1949, but by 1951 it was one of the best mags in fandom. However, when I accepted the retro-Hugo as best fan writer I pointed out that in a field that included Tucker, Willis, Hoffman, and White I was in no way deserving of that retro-award (but, what the hell, I would take it anyway!) You could look it up.

    I had won a Hugo when I became President of SFWA, though — eleven years earlier, Most Promising New Writer.

    And Fred Pohl was a fan before he became a pro. And still is one, although he’s quite a pro, too.

  12. @Gary: So do we look at the question from a rules-lawyering perspective, or a fannish/cultural perspective? Fred Pohl has been writing fannish material all along, but yes, he got paid for it. But some of it was fan writing according to the rules.

    One would think there is a “clear distinction between professional writing and amateur writing,” but the Hugo Award rules deliberately blur the meaning of these terms. In fact I’m surprised by your comment here when you have correctly pointed out in comments to other people’s blogs that under the current Hugo rules (1) fanwriting is what appears in fanzines, and (2) payment for material (by itself) doesn’t disqualify a publication as a fanzine. Or if we look at the rules prior to 1984, what we now think of as semiprozines like The Alien Critic and Algol/Starship were often nominated for Best Fanzine, and you’ll find any number of pieces by Fred Pohl in the issues of these zines.

  13. @Martin: The easy route is to try and turn this into a referendum on whether Fred Pohl is a fan, but the issue is more subtle than that. Why, with the newly liberalized Hugo rules extending a wide open invitation to recognize and reward electronic fanac, would well-informed members of the sf community be unable to fill a ballot with names of fans who deserve acclamation without resorting to one of the most famous and honored people in the genre?

    Does Fred Pohl need a fan writer Hugo? What does it add to his fame? That’s the question — not whether it’s a legal nomination so no rule stops people from listing him.

  14. Not only does Bob still produce a FAPAzine, he just ended a two-year term as FAPA president. (I was elected in his place, just in time for the post to be dissolved, which must rank as the shortest ever term in office.)

    Patrick wrote: “Frederik Pohl’s current blog is rambling, affable, inviting, personal, not terribly preoccupied with formal structure, and full of anecdotal writing about subjects of interest to science fiction fans. If that’s not fan writing, I don’t know what fan writing is.” I could not agree more.

  15. Taral writes:

    “I think the main harm that can be done to the fan Hugos by professional writers (like Silverberg and John Scalzi) being nominated for their blogs is that they won’t be judged on merit. Their reputations can draw literally tens of thousands of readers to their blog sites, who never heard of any ‘traditional’ fan writer, and will never check out websites of other fanwriters.”

    John Scalzi makes a poor Exhibit A for this argument, because he was a widely-read blogger with “literally tens of thousands of readers” years before he became a well-known SF author.

    “It is like expecting File 770 to compete for the NY Times for readers, and is the reason why fan and pro Hugos have been kept separate.”

    A very debateable assertion. My own sense is that Hugos like Best Fan Writer and Best Fanzine have been “kept separate” because fanwriting and fanzines are different kinds of things from novels, short stories, movies, and the other things for which we give out Hugos. They are emphatically not “special”, junior-league Hugos. We believe that “fan” and “pro” are words describing things that we do, not things that we ineluctably are.

    Confusing this issue for many years, of course, was the Fan Artist Hugo, which long operated under the “Gaughan Rule” forbidding any individual from being a finalist in both the Pro Artist and Fan Artist categories in a given year. This was repealed in 2007.

    “The internet introduces a whole new round of such difficulties, and as yet there seems to be no sure guide around them.”

    SF professionals were committing fanac, and being nominated in fan Hugo categories, for decades before the internet was a factor. In the early 1970s, Dan Goodman and various others fretted about the threat posed by Terry Carr being nominated for Best Fan Writer.

    The idea that the “reputations” of well-known pros will automatically “draw literally tens of thousands of readers to their blog sites”, eclipsing other worthy fanac by non-pros, is borne out by neither ancient or recent fannish history. Orson Scott Card–a writer whose sales exceed John Scalzi’s by orders of magnitude–also has a popular web site. He’s been posting original writing and commentary to the internet longer than Scalzi has. Yet Card has never been a finalist for Best Fan Writer, possibly because his online work doesn’t strike many people as “fan writing.”

    Scalzi won a Best Fan Writer Hugo because his online writing has the virtues many voters esteem in fan writing: it’s inviting, breezy, and discursive, ranging over a wide range of subjects of fannish interest. His Best Fan Writer Hugo is not a harbinger of pro writers taking over the fan categories, any more than Dave Langford’s twenty-something fan Hugos are.

  16. Martin Wisse:

    “And I can understand why Scalzi would concentrate on his pro achievements rather than his fan credentials when running for president of a professional organisation.”

    Well, when I was running for SFWA president in ’07, I was simultaneously Fan writer-Hugo nominated, and I remarked at the time that I thought it was pretty cool to be seen as a fan and a pro at the same time, so in a general sense I have no problem being seen as both. I lost the ’07 election, but it wasn’t because of being recognized as a fan writer.

    I wouldn’t read too much into me not naming the specific two Hugos I won; I just didn’t want to natter on after the point was made, and I had other things to mention in the paragraph. I didn’t mention I’m a NYT Bestseller or that my work’s been sold in 15 languages in the candidacy letter, either, although professionally that’s not a bad thing to note. But one does try to straddle the line between pointing out relevant professional achievement, and bragging on yourself pointlessly.

    But yeah, I would be delighted to be the first Fan Writer Hugo winner to be at the head of SFWA. Nearly every SFWAn is also a fan; it’s part of who we are. I mean, hell. I initially joined SFWA to be in the company of those whose writing I admired — I had the qualifications to join, but I joined as a fan. I still occasionally go “Dude, I’m talking to ROBERT SILVERBERG.” (he’s generally polite when I squee.)

    Pohl: I think based on the writing on his blog he’s eminently qualified for the Fan Writer nomination, and the quality, variety and enthusiasm of the material he’s put up wold make him a worthy winner aside from any reasons people might vote for him (and people very often have other reasons for voting for folks, independent of the work in question).

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