Once More into the Breach

There’s one day to go before the Hugo nominating deadline and James Nicoll has sounded a final trumpet blast on behalf of Fred Pohl for Best Fan Writer.

As a roaring controversy the question “Is Fred Pohl a fan?” is an utter failure. Everyone answers “Yeppers.” “Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.” “You betcha.” “Sí.” “Ja.” “Da.” Me too. And is Pohl’s blog is fan writing?  That was never in dispute, unfortunately the deafening agreement made it hard to hear my real point, which was encouraging people to make generous and creative choices when filling in their Hugo nominating ballot, giving preference to fans who, unlike Fred, aren’t Hugo-winning novelists, past Worldcon pro guests of honor or former presidents of SFWA.

In a comment below Patrick Nielsen Hayden noted that pros have been writing breezy, personal nonfiction since the Stone Age (well, the days of lithographed fanzines anyway) without swamping the Best Fan Writer category. Patrick, offering Orson Scott Card as an example, supposed that in spite of Card’s large online following he had never been a Best Fan Writer nominee “possibly because his online work doesn’t strike many people as ‘fan writing.'”

There are a lot of popular pros who’ve never appeared on people’s Best Fan Writer ballots. Was that because nobody thought any of them were doing quality fannish writing?

Many wrote for fanzines. With the maturing of the internet in the Nineties they launched forums on GEnie, Delphi, Compuserve, The Well, etc., some of them with large numbers of loyal followers. Now many are active bloggers and have created other kinds of online communities.

Consider one example. Mike Resnick has had an online forum, keeps an e-mail news list, and has written numerous great articles for Hugo-contending fanzines Mimosa and Challenger.  Over the same period of time he’s been doing those things, John Flynn and Jeff Berkwits racked up 5 Best Fan Writer nominations between them. Resnick could win a fanwriting duel against either of them typing with his earlobes! I’m guessing if Resnick had asked he could easily have gotten on the ballot as a Best Fan Writer nominee.

Generally, pro writers don’t ask for this. That has allowed more people who are “only” fan writers a chance to compete for a Hugo.

Why don’t more professional writers pursue a Best Fan Writer nomination? Maybe they think the awards deserve to be given to people primarily identified as active fans. Maybe they don’t want to risk the bad publicity. Maybe some feel it is beneath their professional dignity. Maybe the fan Hugos simply hold no charm for them.

At any rate this is not a neutral subject. Is it honoring Fred Pohl to thrust him into this situation without ascertaining his feelings about it? His blog contains not a word about the idea. But the very fact that he is a fan of decades standing, a veteran writer and editor and a leader in the sf community, makes it likely he has an opinion.  

Now it might be, “Tell Glyer to take a hike, I’d love to have a Best Fan Writer Hugo, God bless you for thinking of me!”

But it might not.

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16 thoughts on “Once More into the Breach

  1. Asking to be nominated for a Hugo is utterly reprehensible. I’m astonished you imply that people would consider any such thing.

    The way all the Hugos work is that people nominate the things they like. The nominee is then contacted by the administrators, who say “Would you like to accept this nomination?” Now normally people say yes so fast their keyboards smoke, but if someone didn’t want the nomination *for any reason*, that’s the moment they’d say “No, thanks.” Terry Pratchett declined a novel nomination a few years ago.

    If Fred Pohl were nominated and doesn’t want a fan writer nomination for the reasons you suggest or any other, it would be very easy for him to decline one. Himself. Then. Quietly, without any fuss.

    But pros are not second class fans, OK?

  2. @Jo: Nobody who’s been turned into an object of one of these everybody-on-the-web-rush-over-and-vote-for-something campaigns can ever do anything quietly afterwards. But otherwise, yes, I’m familiar with the process of declining a Hugo nomination. What I’d rather do is to convince people to vote for fanwriters who only have their fanac going for them.

    Far from being second class fans, pros have the leverage to become highly privileged fans. You’re doubtless aware of the history that followed John Scalzi posting “A Series of Casual Thoughts I Had While I Was Filling Out My Hugo Nomination Ballot and Looking at the Best Fan Writer Category”. So this is not an ideological question to me as it seems to be to you, it’s a practical one. When a famous fiction writer gets on the Best Fan Writer ballot he’s taking the place of somebody I’d like to see honored who has only a fanzine or blog going for him or her. Perhaps by speaking out I can encourage people to think about whether that’s the result they want.

  3. I like to think I look at the matter in practical terms. Suppose we let the boudary between pro and fan slide, by accepting the writing of pros on-line as fan-writing?
    The conceptual damage done is subtle — it defines fanwriting, once and for all, as any non-fiction writing regardless who writes it or where or for what purpose.

    Pragmantically, it pits professional writers against fanwriters like Robert Licthman, Arnie Katz, Eric Mayer — even against Mike Glyer. Keeping in mind that the internet reaches almost everyone on the planet, who will attract more readers?

    Will as many people visit Harry Turtledove’s site as Steve Green’s? I don’t think so. Irrespective of merit as a fanwriter, the professional’s name recognition will draw a hundred times as many visitors. It’s no contest at all.

    Might as well just abolish the fanwriter category as continue to have two categories for professional non-fiction.

  4. @Taral: This is how my point disappeared before, because you turned it into a legalistic discussion despite it making no objective sense to claim that fannish writing by a person who has sold a novel is in a different category from anybody else’s.

    What can be objectively shown is that most popular sf writers who have done as much as anybody to deserve a Best Fanwriter nomination have not lifted one finger to make that happen (some have specifically discouraged the idea) and as the years passed sf writers have very rarely been nominated. I don’t think the explanation is the specious argument that nobody thought any pros did fannish writing before John Scalzi came along. I suggest it’s been a reflection that many people in the sf community accepted it should be possible to give certain Hugo Awards to people whose contributions are almost entirely in the area of fanac. But the community is not static and unless someone advocates this idea online why would anyone doubt it’s a great suggestion to make Best Fanwriter a valedictory for novelists who blog?

  5. Scalzi and Pohl write fannishly in blogs. I write fannishly in fanzines. We do it for fun.

    Still, I’d like Best Fanwriter kept out of the hands of pros, even though many of us are still fans, too. Fans get precious little recognition as it is. I’ve never won a Hugo, but that doesn’t play a role in my being either a fan or a pro.

    Awards are pleasant, but life is the point.

  6. It’s always been fairly clear when pros wrote with their “fan” hat on though. When Greg Benford or Dave Langford wrote for fanzines, nobody questioned that it was fanwriting. I argue that it’s not so easy keeping the distinction alive when writing is on a website.

  7. I don’t think it’s really useful to continue with an award which the pool of potential voters don’t appear to understand. Better to strike the fanwriter award from the record and replace it with some sort of non-fiction short-form category. I suspect many worldcon attendees will appreciate the opportunity to reward professional authors such as Fred Pohl and John Scalzi for their non-fiction work without the concept of fanwriting muddying their understanding.

  8. “When Greg Benford or Dave Langford wrote for fanzines, nobody questioned that it was fanwriting. I argue that it’s not so easy keeping the distinction alive when writing is on a website.”

    What would be problematic about defining “fanwriting” as unpaid writing addressed by someone active in sf fandom to an audience of sf fans?

    I’m highly skeptical of definitions of Fannish Authenticity — a concept I’m only using for argument’s sake here — that rely on variations of degrees-of-separation-from-uber-First-Fans, or on what are essentially religious beliefs about what does and doesn’t make someone Sufficiently Of The Fannish Essence or not. I think all such definitions are swiftly logically destroyable.

    But it’s simple to suggest that writing for and by people who are fans, regardless of what else they do, is fan writing.

    Whereas tests based on either content, or some sort of ineffable magical aspect of the author (“fannishness”), are hopeless.

    Of course, in practice, no one is — so far as I know — proposing any sort of official rule, so in the end it’s simply a matter of, as always, individuals choosing to vote as they please, so any argument doesn’t seem terribly earth-shattering in any case. People have individual notions of who deserves a Best Fan Writer Hugo: film at 11.

  9. I don’t see myself as going into any sort of night Mike. I do all my fannish voting via the FAAn Awards because these are awards voted on by people quite interested in fanzines and their contents. On the other hand the Hugo Awards are by and large voted on by people with little or no interest in fanzines and their contents. I think therefore it makes sense to retool the Hugos and give the worldcon attendees awards that match their interests.

  10. @Kim: I’d like to think you are right about the FAAn Awards. So how come the two most recent Corflu committees have struggled to get more than a trivial number of voters to participate? A Corflu membership isn’t required, so there’s no financial barrier as there is with the Hugo Awards. Yet the number of FAAn voters last year equaled just a fraction of the con membership. That means not even most Corflu members participate. I have to wonder if longtime fanzine fans have moved beyond having an interest in awards? And I’m not saying they shouldn’t do as they like, simply trying to understand what that is.

  11. Just to make things clear Mike, I was explaining what I do because you comment about disappearing into the night seemed to assume I had opted out (at least that’s how I read it). What you think about that choice isn’t relevant because I’m pointing out your erroneous assumption, not debating whether my choice is a good one. If you want a debate on the FAAn awards I suggest you ask Gary Faber for his opinion. I’m sure he’d be more than willing to discuss a topic like that till your fingers bleed.

  12. “If you want a debate on the FAAn awards I suggest you ask Gary Faber for his opinion. I’m sure he’d be more than willing to discuss a topic like that till your fingers bleed.”

    As it happens, I have absolutely no opinion about the FAAn Awards, having pretty much never paid them attention to them subsequent to the original Seventies incarnation.

    I don’t mean that in the least as any kind of insult or criticism of those who do vote, or are enthused about the Awards.

    I simply:
    a) have been sent and seen very few fanzines in the past decade and a half or so, and have paid very little attention to fanzines in the past decade; and:
    b) lost enthusiasm for the Awards in the first go-round when I found, counting them, that the number of participants was so low compared to the various ways people made their nominations that the counter could choose the winner pretty much by whim of choosing a particular interpretation of how to count or not count, say, votes for two co-editors, or two titles by the same editor.

    Beyond the above, I have no opinions about the FAAn Awards to go on about.

  13. Actually, I’m pretty puzzled as to why Kim Huett thinks I have any more opinion about the FAAn Awards then the above, which truly exhausts everything I can think of I have to say about the Awards. I’m curious what further opinion I’m implied to possess.

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