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.

Space Exploration Unconference
Coming to San Diego

The San Diego Space Society invites interested people to help design SpaceUp, the world’s first space exploration unconference. Leading the list of things to be done is picking a date for the event in the late February/early March 2010 range.

Participants will decide the meeting’s topics, schedule, and structure. Everyone who attends SpaceUp is encouraged to give a talk, moderate a panel, or start a discussion. Sessions are proposed and scheduled on the day they’re given – (so, even more last-minute than the Loscon program — and I didn’t think that was possible!) Attendance will be capped at 200.

The organizers include Chris Radcliff, author, technology speaker, and frequent unconference participant; Jesse Clark, founder of the San Diego Space Society who previously worked for NASA; Jeff Berkwits, a freelance writer and publicist, Hugo-nominated editor of Amazing Stories; Edward O’Connor and Patrick Crowley who helped organize BarCamp San Diego unconferences; and members of the San Diego Space Society, a chapter of the National Space Society.

Further information on SpaceUp is available at SpaceUp.org, via the SpaceUp Twitter feed , or on the SpaceUp Facebook page.

The Apprentice

Trufen.net’s story of the day announces Jeff Berkwits will be the new editor at Amazing and that Ted White has already determined Berkwits lacks the necessary skills for this job.

Say what you will about Ted and his crystal ball, I’m sure he’s right. Ted has edited pro magazines, he ought to know. What’s more, I have a little experience in this line myself. It’s just that I was lucky enough not to get the dream job.

Berkwits is embarking on a desperate gamble that all his gifts as an editor and writer can be trained up fast enough to make the crucial difference in Amazing’s commercial survival. And he’s the kind of promising novice a scuffling prozine publisher will inevitably turn to.

When Jim Baen was leaving Galaxy in the 1970s, out of the blue Jerry Pournelle told me (entirely seriously) that I should apply to take over the job and that he’d put in a word for me. Well, I thought it over logically for about twelve seconds before getting swept up in the dream. I wrote the best application letter I could and mailed it off to Baen at Galaxy. Then I waited. Then I heard nothing. Then I read in Locus that Hank Stine had been hired as Baen’s replacement.

In hindsight one can see that Galaxy was already on the verge of a financial tailspin that could not have been halted by the resurrection of John W. Campbell. Hank Stine merely received the privilege of riding the bomb down to the target, like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

However, Stine was editor of Galaxy long enough to find my job application in his in-box, scrawl an insulting answer on the back in red pen, and mail it back to me. Really, it was a hilarious and pathetic gesture. Didn’t he have bigger things to worry about? Yes Hank, you were right, I did not have any credentials to aspire to that job.

In the mind of a science fiction fan, editing a prozine is a dream job. Who could turn it down? But I exaggerated when I said I was lucky not to have been picked. One of the things that distinguishes a fan is looking for external validation, and wouldn’t I have “proved” something to the sf community even by editing Galaxy into the ground? Er, don’t answer that.

As for Berkwits, I wish him luck and success. Been there. Almost did that.