Electrocuting the Hugos

James Patrick Kelly, since you have so generously tried to give us a clue, it’s only fair to offer you three in return.


Don’t just sit home smiling at your own cleverness as you write condescending crap like:
“Is there anyone out there who considers the world wide web ‘an exceptional circumstance?’ In my twenty-first century, it has become as commonplace as sliced bread and infomercials.” This is the kind of blogly “argument” now presented everywhere in counterfeit of real political debate. Why waste time on the merits when there are straw men to set ablaze? Really, no active sf fan thinks the Web is anything less than one of the most important media distributing science fiction and fanac. Why even go there? You damage your credibility when you don’t write the truth.


Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that somebody has to vote for the changes you want?

“While I agree in principle with the need for conservation of Hugos, my solution would be to cut some of the soon-to-be-obsolete print categories in order to make room for digital replacements.”

I’m guessing it won’t help to pass your rule changes to douse yourself with political gasoline by championing the elimination of Hugo categories regularly won by (a) the #1 trade magazine in the sf field and (b) fanzines that are popular with folks who actually show up to vote at Worldcon Business Meetings. If somebody has a problem with the number of categories, make them waste their political capital shortening the list. That’s a distraction from your real issue.

You also might want to reread your comments about Emerald City’s Fanzine Hugo – if you think the voters awarded the Hugo to a website (rather than a fanzine delivered by a website), why would you want to kill an example of a category that already delivers the result you want?


“It is that the Hugo awards are now seriously flawed and will become increasingly irrelevant until they are regularly given for websites….

“If I were elected Supreme Being, I would decree that there be no less than five digital Hugos: Best Fiction Site, Best Non-Fiction Site, Best E-zine, Best Opinion Site, and Best Blog.”

Expanding the Hugos to cover web-delivered subject matter is the right thing to do, but your current proposal makes about as much sense as adding five magazine categories. The Web is just a delivery technology, like a household appliance. Nobody gives Hugos to radios, we give them to people whose stories inspire our imagination.

Harlan Ellison convinced the 1972 Business Meeting to put back the fourth fiction Hugo – at the time, Best Novella and Best Novellette were merged in the Best Short Fiction category. His most powerful argument was that fan recognition helped the careers of good writers. Because of the unique interaction of sf fans and writers, he wasn’t talking about being nice to strangers but asking us to help people who are part of our own sf community. He felt another Hugo would marginally improve their chances to make a living by increasing the recognition of their work. Years have passed since Harlan won that vote, but fans haven’t changed that much. Helping people is still the most potent argument you could make.

So what people are getting shortchanged because their web-delivered content doesn’t have its own Hugos?

Not fiction writers – you may not know that the verb used in the general rule for Hugos is “appearing,” not published:

“3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.”

The four fiction categories are defined by word lengths alone, not by the medium used to deliver those words. And Worldcon committees already collaborate with story publishers to make Hugo nominated fiction from any medium available on the Web during the voting period.

Nonfiction, opinion and blog writers? You’re not going to want to hear this, but your column in Asimov’s is no different animal than what we call sercon fanwriting. The Best Fanwriter category is already open to people whose writing appeared “in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.” Congratulations — you’re eligible to compete against Dave Langford! (Psst – I’ve tried it. It isn’t easy!)

Websites, then? Maybe, but is that all you’re really trying to reward? Fandom stopped giving Hugos exclusively to pro magazines when we realized we wanted to give Hugos to great fiction editors more than to a particular magazine or publisher. Since Best Prozine morphed into Best Professional Editor, the rule has included a minimum “press run,” but the existing category could easily be made web friendly by redefining it to cover anyone who edits any science fiction that appears in a year.

You probably would still want a Best Website Hugo, for some of the same reasons we created art and drama categories — at least my own view is that websites are a mass artform. But see, you don’t need five webzine Hugos.


Nobody can replace you in democratic processes. If you believe in a revolutionary approach to the Hugo Awards, simply walk into the Business Meeting and make the motion. It doesn’t take anything more than that. It also can’t be done any other way.

Hugo categories are not passed by Congress or announced by the Pope, Worldcon members vote them into the constitution of the World Science Fiction Society. They can be added, subtracted and changed by a vote at any year’s Worldcon business meeting (with changes taking effect after a ratifying vote at the following year’s meeting.) Business meetings are run by democratic process, like a town meeting. Any member can come and submit motions or cast a vote. And by virtue of the respect you enjoy as a leading writer in the field, your voice will find a receptive audience.

This does not mean your ideas will automatically be passed. Just don’t assume any resistance to website Hugos comes solely from traditionalists. There are also plenty of people who simply feel “We don’t need another Hugo to give to Locus every year….”

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