Civics Lesson

Cheryl Morgan begins her post titled “On Fan Categories”

Having listened to the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast, I feel the need to point out that the fan categories in the Hugos are not, and never have been, defined by content. You do not have to write about fandom, or write in a “fannish” way (whatever that means). All that is required is that you do what you do out of the goodness of your heart, and for the good of the community (at least as you see it) rather than being paid to do it.

In respect to the Best Fan Writer Hugo, Cheryl’s first two sentences are spot on. The third expresses a lovely sentiment about amateurism, a requirement stripped from the Hugo rules many years ago. I was surprised to see Cheryl, in particular, making this misstatement.

Eligibility for the Best Fan Writer Hugo is defined in the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.15: Best Fan Writer. Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.

Those same rules say a “fanzine” is a publication that does not pay its contributors other than in copies. In contrast, a “semiprozine” does pay other than in copies. Pays in money, generally.

And writers who have appeared in either type of publication during the previous calendar year are eligible to be nominated for Best Fan Writer.

I assume it’s simply a mistake, though one that struck me as odd given Cheryl’s history as a champion of the semiprozine category. When Ben Yalow and Chris Barkley tried to abolish the category in 2009, Cheryl did as much as anyone to preserve its existence.

The balance of her remarks are familiar axe-grinding, though with a more grandiose strategy:

I should add that one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this because when I started out people tried to bar me from the fan categories on the grounds that my work was “not fannish”. You may find this hard to believe, but back in the 20th Century many people thought that book reviews were an inappropriate subject for fan writing.

Some of the same people having hurt my feelings now and again, I could supply a list of the names she probably has in mind.

However, having begun with an exposition about the fan Hugo rules, Cheryl here invites the uneducated reader to mistakenly draw a line between that discussion and the allegation that people “tried to bar [her] from the fan categories.” Someone needs to say that is an unjustified connection. For somebody to say they don’t like Cheryl’s writing is one thing. (By the way, I ordinarily find her writing very interesting, whether or not I agree.) However, getting “barred” would involve an abuse of the rules or the interference of a Hugo Administrator for which no evidence has been provided.

13 thoughts on “Civics Lesson

  1. Without speaking to her about it, I expect what she means is that there were some very annoying and noisy people who wanted the Hugo Administrator to rule her as ineligible for the categories because she wasn’t the Right Sort of Fan.

  2. Thanks for providing another evidence-free argument, Kevin. That always helps.

    I read what the “very noisy and annoying people” had to say the first time around, over a decade ago, and they wouldn’t know who the Hugo Administrator was, much less ask for a ruling.

  3. And as far as evidence goes… well, some of it was so nasty that (to name one example I know of), Noreascon 4’s chair ordered it removed from their web site, and it was from a (now-deceased) fan who was The Right Sort of Fan who was viciously affronted that the wrong sort of person won. I’m willing to talk to you about it in person, but I’m not going to post it; that was that mean.

  4. I know who you mean and I don’t agree that the late rich brown, author of many an anti-Cheryl screed, was trying to kick Cheryl out of the Hugos. That’s just missing his point. rich held the fan Hugos themselves in contempt and belabored Cheryl’s win as supposed evidence for his case.

    Was there ever a Best Fanzine Hugo winner that met with rich’s approval?

    And wasn’t that his point?

    He definitely wasn’t very nice in his comments about Cheryl – which no one can deny because rich said he didn’t intend to be. (See eI #18.)

  5. BTW, Cheryl tells me that she didn’t bring semiprozines into the discussion because it causes people’s eyes to glaze over. At most, it’s a minor footnote to the main gist of her argument.

  6. I considered it evidence of an agenda-driven carelessness. Similarly, that her experience with negative comments about her fanzine might be connected with the actual Hugo rules administration.

  7. It doesn’t really matter if you’re technically correct if most readers stop reading the moment they see the word “semiprozine” because no matter how many different ways you try to explain it, they don’t get it. Perhaps you would have been happier if there was a footnote that said “In some cases that are difficult to explain, material that qualifies as ‘fan writing’ can in fact be done for compensation; however, the full description of the complex rules involving this are outside of the scope of this discussion.”

    This sort of neepery is why my writing on the subject tends to be full of hedges and footnotes, because the slightest minor “error” will be seized upon and declared to invalidate the entire argument.

  8. Did I just read Kevin Standlee say “It doesn’t really matter if you’re technically correct….”? A total eclipse and frogs raining from the sky in five…four…three…

    Besides, if it was happiness I was looking for, would I be writing about the Hugos?

    You can keep things simple by emphasizing that it’s the writer not the material being nominated for Best Fan Writer. The person needs to have had material in a semiprozine or fanzine that appeared in the previous calendar year. Venue, not payment, is the criterion.

    Whether everybody will agree an eligible person has done “fan writing” — well, they never have, we know that.

  9. Yes, you did, because if nobody reads what you’ve written because they can’t understand it, you might as well have not have written it at all.

    This is why so much of what I write ends up including weasel words like “generally” and “subject to exceptions” and “in most circumstances.” I don’t necessarily like having to do that, but when people decide that one misplaced comma means the entire book is invalid, that’s what I’m forced to do.

  10. Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, your own blanket statement isn’t correct, either. It’s true as far as it goes, but it leaves out an entire class of venue. Does that mean that your entire thesis is invalid?

  11. Probably. Not all “generally available electronic media” fit into semiprozine or fanzine anymore. But that’s only worth a footnote, right?

  12. “Besides, if it was happiness I was looking for, would I be writing about the Hugos?”

    That line should have an entry on the Deapan Snarker page of TV all by itself.

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