Like a passenger liner when the gawkers rush to one side of the deck, the internet tilted toward Aidan Moher’s A Dribble of Ink blog the day he posted the 2011 Hugo nominees along with several pithy comments.
What he said about the fan nominees touched a few raw nerves:
Maybe I’m exposing my ignorance here, but beyond StarShipSofa, I haven’t heard of a damn one, nor am I familiar with any of the writers. My beef, obviously, is the lack of presence of blogs, bloggers and online writers. Where’re the Nialls (Harrison and Alexander)? Where’s Abigail Nussbaum or Adam Whitehead? No nod for SF Signal? Really?
Three of our Best Fan Writer nominees, James Davis Nicoll, Steven H Silver and Chris Garcia weighed in (this sentence wants to end “all on the same electric day” as they say in “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and I find myself powerless to prevent it.)
It’s a good rule of thumb that if people rush to defend something then that thing probably needs a defense. Which is to say, since the fans behind the Hugo rules changes explicitly claimed they were throwing open the gates to electronically-distributed fanac it’s reasonable to ask whether it worked. Bloggers James Nicoll and Frederik Pohl made their first appearances as finalists in the Best Fan Writer category last year, but Nicoll is the only blogger nominated this year (though Silver and Garcia are widely represented online in other ways). And why has the list of Best Fanzine nominees changed only slightly faster than the faces on Mount Rushmore? Keep that question in mind, it’s a good one, I’ll return to it in the next post.
A Hearing Problem: But I’ll begin where Moher began, with his provocative declaration “I haven’t heard of a damn one” of the nominees (besides last year’s Best Fanzine winner.)
Don’t most fans begin by using awards shortlists to find more of the kind of stories we like? After I read all the Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Aldiss etc. on the library shelves, if I had money to buy books I’d look for writers identified as Hugo and Nebula Award winners, treating that as a seal of approval for the ones I didn’t already know. A lot of readers have done that.
Yet once we come to regard ourselves as veterans of the sf field, something changes. We are less likely to welcome the Hugos and Nebulas as an introduction to unfamiliar talents and more likely to judge the shortlists on the basis of whether they validate our subjective opinions about the writers we already know.
This is no less true in the fan categories. When something we’ve never heard of gets nominated for an award in a field we purport to follow, that’s now considered an offense instead of an opportunity.
I’ve had these feelings myself. In 2008 Pixel took second place in the Fanzine Activity Achievement Awards. What? I’d never heard of it! However, I knew better than to get on my high horse and announce, “Dang it, I’ve never even heard of Pixel!” Fannish fanzines comprise a much smaller universe than the internet, much too small for anybody who purports to be a follower to get away with that sort of thing. Instead I said nothing and remedied my ignorance by reading all 15 issues at eFanzines. Dave Burton’s Pixel was, indeed, one of the very best fanzines, filled with excellent writing by Dave Locke, Eric Mayer and others. But for my need to supply a bad example here, I’d never have mentioned such a hideous gap in my knowledge of the field.
Isn’t it a better idea, when something that’s never been on our radar gets nominated for a top award, to call in the radar repairman? At least try to take it in stride.
There are still between 100 and 200 fanzines produced in magazine format by sf fans. There are probably twice that many blogs that deal with literary sf and fandom (I’m counting those by pro writers but not the media-focused and commercial ones). Very few fans have time to keep up with the whole universe of zines or blogs, let alone both. Unless someone is putting in that work, what can it really mean if he or she has never heard of an award nominee?