Benevolent Airships

The discussion continues here….

By Meredith: During the recent Origins discussion, Meredith made a joke about:

Note how none of us started a Benevolent Airships campaign despite the direst provocation of Hugo Voters failing to choose Goblin Emperor.

At which point Kurt Busiek said:

I kinda like the idea of a Benevolent Airships campaign.

Provided it did something, you know, benevolent, as opposed to overly entitled, whiny and destructive.
Like, I dunno, buying Hugo-nominated books and donating them to school libraries, or something.

… At which point we all got carried away. This is the dedicated discussion post for sorting out whether and exactly how we’re going to do this thing. Elisa is currently the lead USA Dirigible, and Meredith is exploring the UK possibilities.

So far, “market research” has been done (the school librarians are enthusiastic) and we’re looking into whether existing book donation charities are willing to partner with us. The previous discussion can be found here and here.

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93 thoughts on “Benevolent Airships

  1. steve davidson: I think the Benevolent Airship should be thought of as a gigantic “mothership”, from which all manner of different aerostats can be launched, making it capable of reaching and servicing every corner of the globe.

    It brings to mind a GSV (General Systems Vehicle) from The Culture, except that it would be a GSA (General Systems Airship)? GSVs are large, independent, autonomous, and self-sufficient spaceships able to fabricate pretty much anything, including other spaceships. The analogous GSAs I’m thinking are large airships able to fabricate books & smaller airships, drones, aerostats etc. to deliver them to the nominated schools.

    P.S. I love the Benevolent Airships idea.

  2. Well…this reminds me of a floating chicken, actually… 🙂

    On a more serious note, I don’t know if you need a smile. How about a friendly eye?

  3. Bonnie McDaniel on May 19, 2018 at 5:39 pm said:

    On a more serious note, I don’t know if you need a smile. How about a friendly eye?

    A single glowing baleful eye….I think I can only make evil pictures 🙂

  4. Just checking back in before collapsing. I was working the commencement ceremonies all day and am completely fried at this point.

    Thank you thank you thank you for pulling everything into one thread. I will try read through everything and give an update as soon as I can.

    I just want to reasure you that I haven’t fallen off the planet.

  5. Dear Meredith,

    OMG, you are a hero of the revolution.


    Dear Cassy,

    The airship that popped into my head was rather pointier than Camestros’s, but I’ve been hanging out with the “Minneapolis in 73” crowd for way too long. Really, I’m fine with any logo.

    On the subject of which books to accept for donation, I jumped the gun because I got all excited by the idea and didn’t read Kurt’s proposal carefully. I think his idea of restricting it to Hugo (and I presume Nebula) nominees and winners might be the way we have to go to avoid a difficult situation.

    Namely, people like me.

    That is, authors who are terribly proud of their babies and have copies of their books to spare, so they want to support the cause. And what author doesn’t think their baby is the cutest thing in the world?

    Who’s going to be the gatekeeper and how will they gatekeep? Because if we let just anyone contribute, with no prequalifying standards, we are going to have to gatekeep.

    Some years ago, at Baycon, I happened upon a nice young local author in the dealers room who had a table of his self-published book. The cover definitely looked self-published (not a compliment), but I picked it up, because he was a nice guy and I like to support people starting out. Then I read the featured cover blurb, which was by a nice very-well-known author. It said, in toto:

    “The author shows an obvious enthusiasm for his subject.”

    There wasn’t anything I could say. It was clear the author was terribly proud of having gotten such praise.

    Not so much.

    So how do we handle it when someone wants to donate a book about which the best thing you can say is that “it shows an obvious enthusiasm…”?

    I’m not throwing this up because I want to avoid being there. We should think this through before we’re faced with that situation. I would not like being the one who would have to tell some generous aspiring author that their charitable donation did not meet our standards.

    Of course, I don’t think MY book falls into that category…

    … but, then, what author does?

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. 
    — Digital Restorations. 

  6. Dear Bonnie,

    “We all live in a yellow floating chicken, a yellow floating chicken, a yellow floating chicken…”

    If the, ummm, beak, were any color but beakish orange-red, it would be far less pulletudinous.

    pax / Ctein

  7. @Ctein
    The airship my brain keeps producing is more like the one from MAD, with the gondola that has a steam engine, wheels, sails, and a rudder. But the balloon part is pointy and has lots of netting….

  8. Dear PJ,

    Which reminds me of a lightbulb joke…

    Q: How many art directors does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: Hmmm, does it HAVE to be a lightbulb.

    pax / Ctein

  9. Ctein: I think his idea of restricting it to Hugo (and I presume Nebula) nominees and winners might be the way we have to go

    That depends on what the goal is.

    If the goal is to provide quality YA SFF, then the Hugos and Nebulas (with the exception of the Andre Norton and the soon-to-be-named Lodestar) have done a poor job of recognizing YA.

    If the goal is to provide SFF which is accessible to the more advanced members of the YA demographic, then the Hugo and Nebula finalists would do fairly well at that.

    But if the goal is to provide SFF which is accessible to the majority of the members of the YA demographic, then a different selection metric is probably needed.

  10. Dear JJ,

    I get your point. I’m good with any selection metric. I’d hate to see the idea founder on this point.

    pax / Ctein

  11. Ya’ll get that Benevolent Airships was [attribute] [noun] that both came from The Goblin Emperor, right? 🙂 I don’t recall if Monette/Addison ever described the airships in detail, though. I really like the books-basket hanging underneath in Cam’s art.

    Just something to put the selection and quantity of books in perspective: There are 4000 secondary schools (USA translation: high schools) in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland. There will be an order of magnitude more than that in the USA. I really, really don’t want to discourage people from throwing ideas around, but I think that for the first year, at least, we’re a lot better off looking at a more limited scope of books – even if we aim at poorly funded schools or (UK) schools with a high number of free school meals eligible students, instead of trying to cover all schools everywhere.

    Bu please do keep sharing ideas and hopes. If this works out, we might be able to turn it into a multi-year thing, and if we do that then we can start expanding. Alternatively, if it’s wildly successful we can set up stretch goals for this year – but I think we need a base book goal first. Personally, I’m pretty okay with that being the not-a-Hugo YA finalist list, but since we’re not locked in yet then now’s the time to hash it out if there’s any serious objections. (That being said, those + the Best Novel finalists were what got run by the school librarians, so bear in mind that moving away from the Hugo Awards entirely might not be a good plan in the UK.)

    I am keeping track of all the other suggestions so that if we do get to the point of looking at stretch goals, we’ll be ready.

    Note that this isn’t me going “well let’s do what I want and who cares if there’s stuff other people want” – I would absolutely love to add the Best Novel finalists, a selection of previous Best Novel finalists (GOBLIN EMPEROR), carefully vetted Graphic Story (the teen-friendly ones), selected Related Work, STEM non-fiction, various people’s favourites, the longlist short fiction anthologies, etc etc pretty much everything people have suggested and some more – but I’ve also watched enough crowdfunded and crowdsourced campaigns to know that it’s really easy to start ballooning your goals to the point where you can’t fulfill your promises. I would rather that didn’t happen to this.


    I’d assumed you were still buried in work or recovering from it. 🙂 Don’t push yourself too hard.


    Your art is very much appreciated! Also, the latest one is incredibly cute.



    @steve davidson

    Thanks for the offer of space!

  12. Meredith on May 19, 2018 at 10:09 pm said:
    Ya’ll get that Benevolent Airships was [attribute] [noun] that both came from The Goblin Emperor, right?

    I’d just been thinking that. And maybe something of the TGE should inform choice of books?

  13. If the goal is to provide quality YA SFF, then the Hugos and Nebulas (with the exception of the Andre Norton and the soon-to-be-named Lodestar) have done a poor job of recognizing YA.

    This is why I initially suggested “school libraries” rather than “children’s libraries.”

    I didn’t want to limit it to YA.

    I’m not driving the bus, of course, so whoever is can make those determinations. But I read a lot of regular old SF and fantasy in my school libraries, not just stuff labeled for young readers.

    No knock on YA whatsoever — I like a lot of YA — but my inclination wouldn’t be to limit the Benevolent Airships to YA-or-YR.

  14. I’d be strongly in favour of it being YA+Best Novel if funds allow; that’s what I originally ran by the school librarians at the beginning. And, after all, twelve books isn’t so very many.

    For me, although I completely understand the people who don’t want to be limited by it (I certainly have my own not-nominated favourites), part of what excited me about this was the idea of sharing not only great books (YA or otherwise) but also this fantastic hobby and fantastic community that the Hugo Awards have given me; the idea that books can be more than a solitary pursuit, they can be a collaborative fannish effort to make something enduring and respected and wonderful if only you reach out for it. So, that’s why I’m mainly focusing on those for now (aside from needing to start somewhere), and why I think that supplemental materials to support library-organised reading groups are a good idea, and why my quiet hope for maybe-one-day is to allot some funding to sponsoring some supporting memberships for the fannish adults of the future to use to nominate and vote.

    School libraries mean a lot to me, even though I was a home ed kid and never had one of my own, because I grew up watching a librarian put her heart and soul into one.

  15. Would Hugo Best Novel, the new YA Best Novel, and equivalent national fannish SF award winners in the countries we’re doing this in because reasonable plan?

    I’m thinking, don’t try too much as we’re starting up. Get the basics of doing it workably down, and then decide if expanding our coverage is useful.

  16. Eisner award would be great for comics and even goodread awards would show that it is a book that people will read – which is the important thing.

  17. @Lis

    Well maybe if you include the Clarke Award (which isn’t the national fannish award in the UK). I would also look at the Nebula & Norton. However it isn’t just going to be a case of just going uncritically with those; we will still probably want to go for books which are likely to be read more often than not.

    When I was growing up the school I went to didn’t have any recent fiction in its school library. However I was a regular in the local library in the town (approx 2500 people) where I lived and made heavy use of ILL which was free in those days as I quickly exhausted their selection. So I always had a fantastika book or some kind on me.

  18. We can’t possibly put books in every school library in the US and UK; no matter how benevolent our hearts are, our wallets simply won’t handle it. <wry> So I’d suggest focusing where possible on poor and underfunded schools. Of course I don’t have the faintest idea how one would go about doing that, other than hooking up with 501(c)3s and UK charities that already focus on poor and underperforming schools.

    After all, well-funded school libraries will already be preferentially stocking award-winning books (let’s not forget the Newberry and the Caldecott!); it’s the poor schools that can’t afford to get them. And while I personally would like this to be fantasy and science fiction books, honestly, high-quality books of ANY genre would be a godsend to such libraries.

  19. My wife, who is an artist/graphic designer, made a few quick sketches.
    here is the Dropbox folder.

    As to what we should be donating, I do think some amount of gatekeeping is required. Hugo and Nebula YA nominees are a good start, but there are some other award winners (TGE, Ancillary Justice, etc) that are similar to my reading stack as a kid.

    I don’t think we are capable of putting books in every school or library, but we can try to do so in our own areas. We may need to look at this as a fleet of Benevolent Airships.

  20. US teachers who educate in schools with high student poverty rates are eligible for student loan forgiveness after a certain number of years. Not sure if this helps but a listing of schools eligible for such loan forgiveness is here:

    Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory

    It’s not the most friendly resource, requiring search by state and school year, but might be a resource to help identify schools to target.

  21. Eisner award would be great for comics and even goodread awards would show that it is a book that people will read – which is the important thing.

    Why not start with modest goals?

    Even if you just stick with book-format winners, here’s what the Eisners add in 2017 alone:

    • Best Graphic Album—Reprint: Demon, by Jason Shiga (First Second)
    • Best Reality-Based Work: March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
    • Best Graphic Album—New: Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, by Jill Thompson
    • Best U.S. Edition of International Material: Moebius Library: The World of Elena, by Jean “Moebius” Giraud et al.
    • Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, by Sonny Liew
    • Best Comics-Related Book: Krazy: George Herriman: A Life in Black and White, by Michael Tisserand
    • Best Academic/Scholarly Work: Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, by Carolyn Cocoa
    • Best Anthology: Love Is Love, edited by Sarah Gaydos and Jamie S. Rich
    • Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8): Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clinton
    • Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12): Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier
    • Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, Colorful Cases of the 1930s, edited by Peter Maresca
    • Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books: The Complete Wimmin’s Comix, edited by Trina Robbins, Gary Groth, and J. Michael Catron

    And that’s ignoring Best New Series, Best Limited Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Digital Comic, Best Humor Publication, Best Publication for Teens and a few others, all of which are available in book formats, even if the award didn’t go specifically to the book edition.

    I like comics (but then, I would, wouldn’t I?), but why not start with a few books that are in the wheelhouse of File770 — a group of fans that pay rather more attention to prose SF and awards like the Hugos and Nebulas (which include some comics already) — rather than try to build something unwieldy before even getting the airships off the ground?

    If it’s a big old success and there’s funds/time/volunteers enough to expand, it can always expand.

    But if it started with novels that are Hugo/Nebula/not-a-Hugo-YA nominees or winners, that’s already a long enough list to start with, and might be better pared down than expanded, at least until people know what kind of support the BAs can actually count on.

  22. I think it is mostly me who hasn’t understood how this is supposed to work. Is it supposed to be a main list that someone makes up from the Hugo’s/Nebula and everyone should only pile in money so those books are sent? Or is the idea that we choose a few libraries and people send their favourites from among the nominees to different awards?

    If the latter, then I think Eisner is a good idea. If the former, then there isn’t much about individual choices and something simpler is better. I do know that I’m extremely lousy at trying to limit myself, so the latter is most likely best.

  23. Is it supposed to be a main list that someone makes up from the Hugo’s/Nebula and everyone should only pile in money so those books are sent? Or is the idea that we choose a few libraries and people send their favourites from among the nominees to different awards?

    Beats me. I’d been assuming something more like the former — a group effort to spread SFF goodness, as chosen by fandom, to places it could be discovered. A way to get behind a set of books and thus make a difference that could be felt.

    If everybody sends their on favorites, that’s perfectly admirable, but it doesn’t seem to need an organization — everyone could just pick a library and donate. I donate stuff to my local library on a regular basis.

    But I guess we’ll see what it shapes up into.

  24. @Hampus

    Well, we’re still working out the details, I think, so there’s not much confusion to be had (or a lot of confusion, depending on how you look at it). If we end up working through existing charities – which seems likely at least in the USA, where there are more options – then it will probably end up a fundraising effort for specific books. It’s a matter of scale; one library, everyone can pitch in with their favourites. One hundred (or four thousand – and yes, I agree Filers couldn’t manage that alone, but fandom and sponsorship and negotiated discounts might) libraries, it makes more sense to have a more limited scope of books, if only so the people working on logistics don’t get buried under the strain.

    (As far as Eisners go, after you suggested them I was looking into the Teens category as an expansion possibility. Hugo Graphic Story is a bit… adult. Bitch Planet and Sex Criminals, for example, maybe not something school libraries could get away with.)

    I’m looking at the proposal I need to either send out to relevant charities or, if they don’t have the bandwidth, convert into a mission statement. “We aim to provide Hugo-nominated works to school libraries” is nicely focused and soothes my nerves as to first-year organisation stress, but “We aim to provide Award-nominated and critically acclaimed science fiction and fantasy works to school libraries” gives a bit more space for future expansion. Although I believe depending on how a UK charity is structured, that future alterations can be put to a vote…

  25. “If everybody sends their on favorites, that’s perfectly admirable, but it doesn’t seem to need an organization — everyone could just pick a library and donate. I donate stuff to my local library on a regular basis.”

    I kind of need a kick in the butt to give sometimes and I think it is more fun to donate in a group, so I like some kind of organization regardless of how the books are distributed.

    But having thought a bit more about it, I think you are right. If this is something we hope will last and grow over the years, then it is most likely smart to start with a small well defined mission for books we know will have support.

  26. Hampus, exactly what you said. It’s the kick in the butt I need to do something good and useful.

  27. @Elisa – I am in SE Michigan and more than willing to help. The librarians I have talked to are all receptive to this idea.

    My wife and I are currently reaching out to local charities to see about combination of labor. We are also pinging some of our conrunner friends about possible ways to do donation drives. Nothing set in stone, mind, just initial legwork.

  28. I apparently failed to ticky properly on this, and I expect I’ll need to keep better track than I have.

  29. Reading through the thread, there seems to be a solid idea of what to donate (Hugo and/or similar award recognized books) but I don’t see a consensus about how to prioritize where to send donations or how much per location (10 books to 1 school or 1 book to 10 schools). (I may have missed it with the copy/paste threads.) That might help identify good distribution partners amongst already existing efforts.

    Personally, I’d like to see them go to underfunded schools with large communities of color, but while those two often overlap, they’re not the same thing and I’m not sure which I would give priority to.

  30. Viverrine, at least to start I expect they’re going to go to a patchwork of schools via already-established charities. Because, frankly, that’s the fastest and easiest way to get this airship off the ground.

  31. Right, but which charities? There are a number of school donation charities that have different focuses. I think those details matter just as much as what books to donate.

  32. Some thoughts (mostly questions I think need discussed and agreed upon. This is off the cuff so I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, need addition, or require modification):

    Benevolent Airships

    1. Mission
    To provide books to low income / impoverished students.

    2. Scope

    2.1 Limit to middle school / Junior High Level [11 to 14 age range]?

    2.2 Worldwide distribution?

    2.2.1 How are funds or efforts allocated to different regions?

    2.3 Limit to genre(?) or include science texts, etc?

    2.3.1 Who selects the books? Are there partners willing to abide by the limits we set?

    3. Means

    3.1 Possibility 1: Partner with existing charity networks

    3.1.1 What charities? How are we selecting?

    3.1.2 Do we just donate in Cash to these charities?

    3.1.3 Do we instead donate materials (actual books)?

    3.1.3(a) Does anyone accept book donations?

    3.1.3(b) Do the books need to be new or is used acceptable?

    3.1.3(c) Who is coordinating the booklist?

    3.1.3(d) who is coordinating collections?

    3.1.3(e) Are we doing outreach to publishers?

    3.2 Possibility 2: Organize as direct charity without existing network as middleman.

    3.2.1 Formally incorporate or perform as a series of ad hoc pushes?

    3.2.2 A lot of the same stuff as 3.1.3

    3.2.3 Who selects the recipients?

    3.2.4 Do we set up a solicitation site for schools to request donations? Who decides?

    3.2.5 Do we send letters to schools to publicize or offer donations?

    4. Organization and Miscellany

    4.1 Who is the treasurer?

    4.2 How are funds raised? (GoFundMe etc?)

    4.3 Who are the regional coordinators?

    4.4 Who is responsible for outreach to charities or schools?

    4.5 Who is responsible for outreach to publishers?

    4.6 Do we need form letters for partners and recipients?

    4.7 Who is the executive committee and how are they selected? Alternately, what is the decision making process?

    4.8 Who is drawing up a logo? How do we select?

    4.9 Should we ask Mike to make this a sticky topic? Are we serious enough to highlight it yet?

  33. 2.3.2 Are we providing supplemental materials such as lesson plans or reader questions?

    2.3.2(a) commercial or self developed?
    2.3.2(b) how selected or who vets?

  34. (Mini-check-in to say I’m having a health-fail and am not braining gud.)

    @Stoic Cynic

    Thanks! I have a similar list but mine has a lot more slang and idiosyncratic shorthand and excessive punctuation, so it’s really useful to have a cleaned-up version for the thread.

  35. @Meredith

    Sorry to hear about health fails! 🙁 Be well and get better quickly!

  36. @Stoic Cynic

    Thank you for drafting up a brainstorming list. I think these are excellent discussion points. One item to consider regarding selection of recipients is that–strange as it may seem to think about–we should have an indication of positive interest from the school/library in question. I know that one thing I hear from friends who are librarians is “there’s a lot more to book acquisition than just being handed some books.” So whether it involves the idea of supporting existing channels (which no doubt have this aspect already incorporated) or involves making the offer known and dealing with individual requests, we want to know that the people we’re sending books to genuinely want them.

  37. Definitely a good point Heather!

    A suggestion for the group: a list is good for a framework but a long list can be daunting if we try to do everything at once. At the same time I’m sure more questions will come up too as we zero in on what we are doing. Should we maybe take the questions a block at a time, give a day or so for everyone to comment on the current day’s two or three questions, and then maybe allow a day for a vote? Eat the elephant, as such, one bite at a time. It might keep momentum going though take a bit of time too…

    Just a thought.

  38. Between Hugo reading, ordinary health-urgh, and the heatwave* I haven’t had the spoons to keep working on this, but I hoped (stupidly, maybe) that I’d be able to recover and get my butt in gear. As it stands, I’m only barely a step above enforced bedrest, and I very much doubt I’ll be better in anything like timely fashion. I’m going to have to hang up my UK Dirigible hat for the foreseeable future, although I would still like to help in whatever ways seem useful and doable for the USA version. Or a UK version, if someone feels like taking that on. I just can’t manage taking lead.

    I’m a bit upset about it, but it is what it is, and I always knew it was a long shot.

    *One of my health-things does not like heat, at all.

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