Whether tis Nobler…

The past two weeks have seen both George R.R. Martin AND Theodore Beale “giving me credit” for “organizing” the No Award counter-offensive to last year’s puppy assault on the Hugo Awards.

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  (Elvis has now left the building).

Seriously though.  Some boilerplate:  There was no organized counter-offensive.  (Repeat after me – “there is no cabal”.)

Beale’s mention – meh. GRRM’s laying the blame for the success of No Award at my feet – problematic.  For reasons both personal and voting-related.

I like Mr. Martin.  I particularly admire and am grateful for his unstinting support of fandom over the years.  (By way of example:  he has consistently attended Worldcon even when other, higher-profile conventions have been scheduled for the same weekend.  His stated reason for doing so is “He is a fan”.)  I find him to be, in  many respects, a fine example of the kind of fan-turned-pro that I grew up with, people like Asimov, Bradbury, Clement, Buchanan, Gerrold, others.  They KNOW where they came from, they recognize and acknowledge the support the community has provided to them, they embrace the culture and they pay things forward.

I’m uncomfortable being at odds with him.

On the voting front though, we’re at odds.  We are not at odds when it comes to the general concept of “do not mess with the Hugo Awards”.  Our conflict is based on tactics, not strategy.  Mr. Martin believes that the only consideration ought to be whether or not a work is worthy of a Hugo Award, and further, he believes that this position should trump any anti-slate considerations. Anything less can potentially negatively affect deserving nominees who happen to be on slates.

I on the other hand believe that slates are the primary issue and taking an effective and long-lasting stand against their use and acceptance ought to be the main focus.

As was predicted during and shortly after the conclusion of last year’s Hugo Awards, this year the slaters have chosen the obvious tactic of including works likely to be considered worthy of awarding by those who voted against the slates last year.  (Speculation abounds that this may be deliberate.  No.  Really?  Speculation also abounds that the slate items publicly disseminated by Beale are different for what is being “recommended” in private emails.)

And as expected, this tactic has placed voters in the uncomfortable position of trying to decide which way to jump.

During the interregnum, I suggested that the best way to counter that tactic was for those likely to be nominated to publicly repudiate slates – before it became an issue.  A small handful of authors did so.  Most remained silent or suggested that they wanted to stay above the fray.  I’ll not argue with that concept at this point in time as it is moot – the nominations are upon us. (Other than to note that I do not see works by any of those authors on any of the slates – which may change as the slates evolve.)

Which brings us down to the question of tactics.  Deciding which way to go, I will suggest, is an ethical choice, one whose goal is to “do the least harm”.

First we must remember that there are two stages here – nominating and the final vote.

Anyone and everyone nominating can put five selections into each of the numerous categories.  The only real ethical quandary any nominator will encounter at this stage is if a work they’d have independently nominated is also found on a slate.

The argument has been advanced that leaving something you would normally have nominated off of your ballot because of its presence on a slate is allowing the slaters to control your vote.  And at first blush that would seem to be the real problem.  But it is not.

The real choice is whether or not you want to support and encourage campaigning for votes into the future.  Regardless of whether or not EPH is ratified this year, success (claimed or real) of the slates will be used to gain support for campaigning.  Those with an economic interest will see that there IS a way to buy votes that has been successful.  The number of participants will increase, as will the number of those willing to spend money on their efforts.

The exact same fannish vulnerability that the puppies exploited to begin with will be used again and again to manipulate the rules until one of two things happen:  The Hugos are rendered worthless (the stated goal of one puppy faction) or they become an award that goes to the highest ‘bidder’.

So lets examine which option does the least harm.

A voter not putting something on their ballot that they think worthy because it is on a slate potentially “harms” two people.  The voter and the non-nominee.

The voter is harmed because they are allowing a consideration beyond worthiness to enter into their decision.  This is, in fact, something that happens all the time.  The subject matter may influence; personal experience may influence, prior works may influence, other perceived past injustices may influence.  The presence of other worthy works may influence.   We may be unaware of these influences, but we do not vote in a vacuum. (I believe that the number of voters who have added a work to the bottom of their ballot based on “what the heck” is not uncommon.)

Presence on a slate is just one of many other factors that voters will take into consideration.  Slate presence is not the only external factor, only an additional one.  The ‘harm’ done by considering it is minimal, and equivalent to the ‘harm’ done by any other influence not based strictly on Hugo Worthiness.  (Which is what, exactly?)

The non-nominee is only POTENTIALLY harmed.  There is no guarantee that they will make it to the final ballot.  If they make it to the final ballot, there is no guarantee that they will win.

Additionally presence on a slate will, to one degree or another, work towards the probability that a given work will not win.  Presence on a slate is a guarantee that some will vote for it because it is on a slate and others will vote against it because it is on a slate.  Given the results from last year, it is highly probable that nominees from slates will be greatly contested.  (They probably won’t win, though they may very well end up above NO Award.)

This would seem to suggest that those ignoring the slate and voting based on “worthiness” will be wasting their votes.  Or, rather, their vote for worthiness will more likely be rewarded in the final tally if they nominate worthy works that are not on slates.  If you really want to give a worthy work the best chance possible of winning, choose to nominate something that is not on a slate.But I was discussing harm, and voting to do the least possible.

On the other side, who is harmed if slated works get nominated and/or win?  It is the entire community and the awards themselves that are harmed.  Thousands of fans will have been manipulated into supporting the concept that campaigning and organized voting works, and works well.  More harmful, the message will be that those who aren’t included in a campaign stand absolutely no chance.  EPH will not come to our rescue, voters wanting nothing to do with slates will eventually stop participating.  Publishers will HAVE to enter the fray if only to protect their own interests.

To quote the obvious:

Sometimes we have to make hard decisions.  We usually hate it when those kinds of decisions are forced upon us by others, especially when those others represent ideas we find abhorrent.  In this case there are really only three stark options:  do not participate; vote for worthy works and support campaigning; vote for worthy works that don’t support campaigning.  Of the three, the latter does the least harm.

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