Along Came Jones

Renowned horror editor Stephen Jones went home from the British Fantasy Awards ceremony at Fantasycon and immediately wrote “Putting the ‘Con’ Into Fantasycon”, casting a pall of suspicion over the results.

He began with the nominating process:

I guess the “fix” was in months ago. The preliminary ballot was posted on the Society’s website before most of the membership had any idea that they actually could start nominating, and it was arbitrarily decreed by the present Committee—without any discussion with the membership—that for the first time ever only electronic ballots would be accepted and that any postal votes would be ignored.

Jones implies the deadline for British Fantasy Society members to nominate (February 14, according to the BFS website) was so early it restricted participation. Certainly the history of another award, the Hugos, shows an early deadline curtails voting — when there was a March 1 deadline in 2008, only 483 nominations came in, compared to hundreds more at the next several Worldcons.

On the other hand, Jones’ implication that eliminating paper ballots disenfranchises people isn’t supported by the Worldcon’s experience. In 2011, with both electronic and paper voting available, Hugo voters showed an overwhelming preference for electronic voting and cast only a trivial number of paper ballots.

Jones devoted his most savage comments to a pattern he observed among the BFA winners, implying several involved a conflict of interest between British Fantasy Society Chairman David Howe and Telos, a small press imprint in which Howe is a partner. Telos won the Best Small Press Award and published two of the award-winning stories. Jones also noted that Howe’s domestic partner, Sam Stone, won in yet another category.

Here are Jones’ key phrases along that line:

Early on, current BFS Chairman David Howe made it clear that he would take the awards ceremony away from the convention and run it himself (not all that surprising since the awards are actually presented by the Society, although they are voted on by members of both the BFS and FantasyCon)….

Simon Clark had already gone when it was announced that he had won it for Humpty’s Bones from small press imprint Telos (remember that name, it will be cropping up again soon)….

By now it was obvious that the awards were not being presented in their normal—or published—order. I’m sure that those conspiracy theorists amongst the audience must have wondered if this was to prevent a pattern from emerging . . . .

The Best Short Story award went to Sam Stone. She cried a lot, thanked her partner—David Howe—and told us what a surprise it was to win. Presumably, David had not told her over the washing-up, nor had she sneaked a peek at the plaques he had brought down to stick on the award statuettes.

But just when Jones hooked his readers with these hints of scandal he changed course and began blasting the bad taste of BFA voters, in the process undercutting his credibility. For the only reason to blame the voters is if they actually chose the winners, by the ordinary democratic process, which is contrary to the impression Jones had labored to create:

Of course, the members of the BFS and FantasyCon are absolutely entitled to vote for whomsoever they want to. Although I suspect it helps if, say, you restrict the voting process and possibly urge all your friends to vote for you and each other. That’s what happened to the HWA Bram Stoker Awards until they became such a laughing stock in the field that the nomination process has had to undergo a major overhaul.

To put it bluntly, this year’s results made a mockery of the British Fantasy Award and everything it has always stood for. Even if you ignore the embarrassing ceremony and clichéd platitudes, few of these awards actually reflected genuine quality or what is happening in mainstream genre publishing today.

Maybe that also reflects the tastes of the BFS membership? Perhaps the majority do not read outside the small press anymore? Maybe they no longer have good taste or any critical acumen?

In the end, readers must ask themselves whether Jones has proven anything besides his own dissatisfaction with some of the BFA winners.

7 thoughts on “Along Came Jones

  1. You may want to take a look at the tweets for the last few days of @mrtonylee (who presented the Best Graphic Novel BFA). Apparently the results weren’t the only thing some people were grousing about.

  2. They eliminated the paper ballot entirely? That doesn’t sound cricket to me. While the overwhelming majority of people may prefer to email in their ballots — I did — there are nevertheless plenty of people still who have no computer or at least no internet access. Marc Schirmeister for one. John Hertz is another, who at least feigns having no access to email. The irony is that both of them are far more likely to have worldcon memberships and vote on the Hugo than I am, John in particular.

  3. I was one of the people involved in drafting the wording now part of the WSFS Constitution that explicitly authorizes e-voting, and I was one who insisted that paper ballots always be permitted, even if most voters want to vote electronically, as they clearly do.

    There’s no guarantee that a Worldcon will conduct its Hugo voting electronically, although there will of course be strong pressure to do so, but a paper ballot is all that’s actually required.

  4. I read Jones’s questions there as rhetorical questions expecting the answer “NO!” — that *maybe* the membership doesn’t read outside of the small press and has these tastes… but does that seem likely?

    (I am not expressing an opinion on the controversy but only on what I think is your over-literal reading of Jones’s intended irony.)

  5. @Jo: My irony detector is not always as finely tuned as it might be. If Jones had confined himself to the comments you mention I would agree that’s all there is to them.

    These arch statements about the bad taste of the voters conveyed, in addition to their surface meaning, a shame-on-you message to nonvoting BFS or Fantasycon members he presumes to share his tastes who allowed the (also presumed) minority to give the awards to the wrong works/people.

    However, what preceded those comments was a whole train of insinuations that several awards were a product of some kind of corrupt influence (never mind Jones’ disavowal of making any such accusations buried at the end of his article). I felt it was important to point out that Jones was trying to have it both ways — raising suspicion that voters’ real choices might have been set aside, while in the same breath blaming the voters for the results.

    I was especially bothered by this inconsistency because Jones is someone whose hints about improprities most people would pay attention to. He worked on the concom. That made him was privy to the voting results for the Karl Edward Wagner Award (not discussed in my post, but in Jones’s) given by the BFS and Fantasycon committee, which he also describes as suspicious. And he is one of the leading pros in the field. I’d hate to think he is having this impact and doesn’t really believe the things he’s inviting others to believe.

  6. I wonder how many of the people who go to the British Fantasy Convention don’t have access to the internet, versus those who nominate and vote for the Hugos. There’s not that much overlap between attendees of the BFC and the worldcon, in my opinion.

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