How the Hugos Avoid Conflicts of Interest

The British Fantasy Awards became mired in controversy when Stephen Jones charged a conflict of interest between the administrator and several winners. That prompted a few fans to suggest fixing the BFA by borrowing rules from the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo Awards do have an excellent reputation for avoiding such conflicts, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s because of the superior draftsmanship of the rules. The real reason is that over the years many different people have steered clear of conflicts that the rules do not prevent.

What Is a Conflict of Interest? A conflict of interest exists when anyone exploits his/her official capacity for personal benefit.

The Hugo Awards are run under a set of rules that is extremely wary of conflicts of interest. The WSFS Constitution excludes the entire Worldcon committee from winning a Hugo unless these conditions are met:

Section 3.12: Exclusions. No member of the current Worldcon Committee or any publications closely connected with a member of the Committee shall be eligible for an Award. However, should the Committee delegate all authority under this Article to a Subcommittee whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee, then this exclusion shall apply to members of the Subcommittee only.

To avoid disqualifying the whole Committee – upwards of 200 people, most having nothing to do with the Hugos – the Worldcon chair generally appoints the fans who count the votes and apply the eligibility rules to a Subcommittee. So if some minor member of the concom wins a Hugo, as I did while serving as editor of L.A.con II’s daily newzine in 1984, it’s no problem.

From the beginning the WSFS Constitution (1962-1963) has banned all committee members from eligibility for the Hugos. To my knowledge, the rule was modified in the 1970s by adding the option of an autonomous Subcommittee. People thought it should have been unnecessary for Mike Glicksohn to resign from the TorCon 2 (1973) committee rather than forego the chance for his and Susan Wood Glicksohn’s Energumen to compete for the Hugo, which they indeed won.

The modified rule has worked to everyone’s satisfaction for a number of reasons having little to do with its precision. Worldcons once were commonly led by people also involved with Hugo contending fanzines, which has rarely happened in the past 40 years. On those rare occasions the people involved have taken it upon themselves to avoid any conflicts.

For example, many fans involved with running Noreascon Three (1989) wrote for The Mad 3 Party in the years leading up to the con. Edited by Leslie Turek, TM3P was nominated for Best Fanzine in 1988, withdrawn in 1989, and won a Hugo in 1990. Noreascon Three did appoint a Hugo Subcommittee, of unassailable integrity — in my mind, if TM3P had competed in 1989 and won a Hugo there would have been no reason to doubt the result. The committee, however, felt they needed to go beyond what was required in the rules to preserve an appearance of fairness and TM3P was withdrawn.

When I chaired L.A.con III (1996) friends reminded me that I could remain eligible for a Hugo by delegating responsibility for the awards to a Subcommittee. I felt invested in and responsible for everything that was happening with the con, so for me it was never an option to act as if the Hugos weren’t a part of that. I did appoint a Subcommittee – and put myself on it, announcing that I was withdrawing from the awards for 1996.

So the anti-conflict rule works because people make it work. It is not an infallible rule. In fact, I agree with a comment made by drplokta on Nicholas Whyte’s From the Heart of Europe that it would be hypothetically possible for something similar to this year’s BFA situation to play out in the Hugos without violating the rule.   

[Hugo Subcommittee members’] partners are eligible though, and I guess if a Hugo subcommittee member ran a publishing house then the books that they publish would be eligible, since the nomination would be for the author and not for the publisher.

In short, it’s a good rule to have, but it’s not all-encompassing as some have assumed in recommending it to fix the BFAs. 

The Hugo Awards Conflict of Interest Trivia Quiz: When I made my decision to withdraw in 1996 I doubted that other Worldcon chairs had ever faced the same choice. But they did. I’ll share what I’ve discovered in the answers to this two-question trivia quiz.

Question 1: How many times has the chair of the current year’s Worldcon won a Hugo?

(a) Once
(b) Twice
(c) Never

There’s been such controversy about the chair of the British Fantasy Society’s close association with 5 of this year’s award winners — for example, he is a partner in the publisher that won Best Small Press – that you’d have to assume it would be impossible for a Worldcon chairman to win a Hugo at his own con without raising a historic stink, right? Wrong.

Answer to Question 1: Once. Loncon I (1957) was chaired by Ted Carnell. The winner of the Hugo for Best British Professional Magazine was New Worlds edited by John Edward Carnell. The same person.

Ted Carnell is the only chair to win a Hugo at his own Worldcon. And it appears everyone was content. Harry Warner’s history of Fifties fandom, A Wealth of Fable, doesn’t contain the least hint of controversy. Neither do any of the conreports from Loncon I collected on Rob Hansen’s website.

Sometimes in the award’s early days the chair of the Worldcon administered the Hugos and counted the votes. That may not have been the case in 1957. The progress reports directed members to send their Achievement Award ballots to the convention secretary Roberta Wild. The chair winning a major award might still have been questioned but I’ve found no record of any complaint. In all my time in fandom I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about that having happened.

Ted White, the 1967 Worldcon chair who responded to some questions for this article, agrees: “I have never heard anyone say anything disparaging about it either.  It was a bit too obviously deserved. Fandom was a lot smaller then, and even smaller in the UK.  Carnell wore several hats.  I met him in 1965. A quiet, unassuming, gentle and generous man.”

Question 2: How many times has a Worldcon chair won a Hugo the year before or after their con?

(a) 2
(b) 4
(c) 8

Answer to Question 2: 4 times.

Many Worldcon chairs and their committees were connected with award-winning fanzines over the years. Before the Internet that was the best medium for building fannish communities and wooing voters.  

(1) Wally Weber was a co-editor of Cry of the Nameless, the Best Fanzine Hugo winner in 1960, the year before he chaired Seacon (1961). Cry was not a nominee in 1961 but was back as a finalist in 1962. So was the zine kept out of contention the year they hosted the Worldcon? Wally Weber isn’t certain but he thinks they might have:

As for the 1961 Hugos, I remember a discussion and decision that Cry be disqualified due to the unusually large percentage of the eligible voters being from the Seattle area and who had never read a fanzine other than Cry. Unfortunately my memory is often more creative than accurate and I have no documentation to back that up. I do not even remember who participated in making the decision. I don’t even remember how the voting was done or who counted the ballots. Did we have official ballots? I would think such a decision would have been mentioned in one of the progress reports if, indeed, there actually had been such a decision. Maybe votes for Cry were just discarded during the counting processes.

(2) The 1961 fanzine Hugo winner was Earl Kemp’s Who Killed Science Fiction. The next year Kemp chaired Chicon III (1962). However, as I’m sure you already know, Who Killed Science Fiction was the most famous one-shot in the history of sf. It obviously wasn’t a factor in the Hugos when he chaired the Worldcon.

(3) George Scithers chaired Discon I (1963) in Washington, D.C. He edited Amra from 1959 to 1982. It won the Hugo in 1964. Since it had never been nominated for the Hugo in any prior year it’s difficult to guess whether he took any special steps to keep it off the ballot when he chaired the Worldcon in 1963. None of the committee members who might know are still with us – Scithers, Bob Pavlat and Dick Eney. One thing we do know is that he wouldn’t have permitted his zine to be placed on the ballot because he’s one of the people who helped write the anti-conflict rule into the original WSFS Constitution of 1962-1963.

(4) Ted White co-chaired NyCon 3 (1967), the Worldcon which originated the Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist Hugos. He also worked for F&SF at the time. Ted says: “F&SF withdrew itself; this was not a NyCon3 committee decision. Ed Ferman [the editor] had a nice sense of propriety.”

Ted says he didn’t take any steps to stay off the ballot in the fan categories the year he chaired the Worldcon. “I did not withdraw myself from the Fanwriter category (nor make any announcements to that effect) because I did not regard it as necessary. I wasn’t nominated that year, obviating the question.  My win the following year surprised me.” However, he probably did not need to make any announcement: people would have been aware of the anti-conflict rule in the Constitution.

White and F&SF both won Hugos the following year, 1968.

[Special thanks to Robert Lichtman and Ted White, as well as Darrell Schweitzer, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Michael J. Walsh, Elinor Busby and Wally Weber for their assistance in researching this article.]

Scithers Estate Sale

You have two more days to bid on artwork once displayed on walls and shelves in the home of the late George Scithers. The Ebay auction of 47 items ends June 6.

There are art prints of warships (George was a fellow aficianado of the Battle of Jutland), and a copy of Ken Marschall’s “The Final Moments” showing the Hindenberg arriving at Lakehurst. And lots of vintage sf art of the kind once readily available at Worldcon art shows — by Roy Krenkel, George Barr, Don Simpson and Scott Dollens. Getting the most action of all is a unique Rumph mug of Isaac Asimov — it has been bid up to $861.89 already.

Jane Frank of Worlds of Wonder Art is handling the sale. She wrote online:

Nothing has been held back. ALL items given to me to represent have been listed, and with starting prices as LOW as I could make them – given the estate’s desire to sell every item THIS WEEK, and my need to insure that the estate is not short-changed by undervaluing works by artists with proven market value.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Martin Gardner Dies

Famed mathematical puzzle master Martin Gardner died May 22 reports the New York Times. He was 95.

While I was in high school my father subscribed to Scientific American. I always looked forward to Gardner’s latest “Mathematical Games” column, something not easily explained for I spent a summer repeating Algebra 2 never having figured out when the train leaving Baltimore at a given time and speed would collide with the train leaving from New York. His famous column ran from 1956 to 1981. Gardner also wrote a “puzzle” story column for Asimov’s during George Scithers’ tenure as editor.

Gardner had a huge range of interests and many areas of expertise. Two prominent examples were evident in his literary research about the works of Lewis Carroll and his homages to L. Frank Baum.  

His The Annotated Alice, originally published in 1960 and upgraded in two sequels, enjoyed a tremendous word-of-mouth reputation among science fiction fans in the 1970s.

He was a founding member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. He also wrote Visitors from Oz (1998), a collection of stories based on Baum’s creation.

Coincidentally, Gardner was a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders which recently lost another member, George Scithers himself.

Scithers’ Passing Noted in Philly Paper

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s obituary for George Scithers whimsically explains that he gave up editing Asimov’s and Amazing rather than relocate, and edited the revived Weird Tales at home because…

If Mr. Scithers was going to live with ghosts and goblins, he wanted their sepulchral stench to be softened by the aroma of hot-from-the-grill cheesesteaks, sitting at his elbow.

Rather more newsworthy is the Inquirer’s report that Scithers’ funeral service will be at Arlington National Cemetery on a date yet be determined.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the link.]

George Scithers (1929-2010)

One of the very few fans who did it all, George Scithers, died of a heart attack on April 19 at the age of 80.

He was a small press publisher, fiction writer, prozine editor, Worldcon chair, and Hugo-winning fanzine editor.

His plaid jacket was almost as well-known as Ben Yalow’s bow tie. Scithers was Fan Guest of Honor at the 1979 NASFiC (NorthAmericon) and the 2001 Worldcon (Millennium Philcon)

It was as an editor Scithers engraved his mark on the science fiction and fantasy fields.

Scithers was the founding editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (1977), for which he won the Hugo twice, in 1979 and 1981. After he departed Asimov’s (1982), Scithers edited Amazing until 1986 and thereafter was active in the revival of Weird Tales.

It’s in every prozine editor’s interest to cultivate new talent, but while Scithers was at Asimov’s that was his profound mission and made him highly visible at conventions and in workshops.

He published a fanzine, Amra, devoted to sword-and-sorcery fiction (indeed, the term first appeared in its pages.) It won the Best Fanzine Hugo in 1964. Although Robert A. Heinlein never wrote anything for the zine, he dedicated Glory Road to “George H Scithers and the regular patrons of the Terminus, Owlswick, and Ft Mudge Electric Street Railway” (the latter being a press name for Scithers’ fanac) because the book was inspired by Scithers’ postcard asking the question, `What happens after the Hero wins the hand of the princess and half the kingdom.’”

Scithers chaired Discon, the 1963 Worldcon, attracting 600 fans to Washington D.C. Afterward he wrote The Con-Committee Chairman’s Guide: The Story of Discon I (1965), reflecting the kinder and gentler days of single-track programming. When I was working on the Nolacon II program in 1988 Bruce Pelz showed me Scithers’ remarks: “For the Discon, we set up most of the convention program in July, which seemed early enough to us…” I had a long, hysterical giggle.

Before embarking on a career in sf, Scithers was a West Point graduate who retired as a lieutenent colonel, a Signal Corps officer who had seen service in the Korean War. He was still in the service when I first met him.

Scithers founded specialty publisher Owlswick Press in 1973. Its eclectic titles included To Serve Man, the cannibal cookbook.

He also edited numerous anthologies, the latest being Cat Tales: Fantastic Feline Fiction (2008) and very recently Cat Tales 2, according to John Betancourt.

In 1992, Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer won a World Fantasy Award for their work on Weird Tales. At the 2002 World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, both Scithers and Forrest J Ackerman won World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Awards.

John Betancourt reports that cards may be sent to Scithers’ longtime partner, Larry Fiege, at 218 Blandford St., Rockville, MD 20850-2629.