An Announcement and an Editorial

announcing our impending Kickstarter campaign and discussing the discussions about over-looked art in the field.

Hopefully you have seen our preliminary announcement of a Kickstarter Campaign for Amazing Stories.  If not, you can read the original press release here.

I’m very pleased with the response we’ve received within the past 12 hours!  We’ve gotten numerous congrats, numerous offers of assistance and even some requests for subscriptions, particularly from notable individuals in the field.

It’s quite nice to wake up to a morning of positivity.  It makes living in the frozen north a bit more bearable (even when my “programmable” thermostat is misbehaving.  Actually, my fault.  There’s a glitch in my first pass at the coding.  But then what can you expect when the buttons are the size of ant heads and the lettering even smaller?)

Positivity.  Looking to the future with a positive bent is one of our goals with the magazine.

I remember how eagerly I anticipated the arrival of Amazing at the newsstand*, and later, in my mailbox, during the 70s and into the early 80s.  Ted White did (ahem) an Amazing job of packing each issue with multiple stories that were all worth reading – every one! – with quite a few standouts, while operating under budgetary constraints that would have made others quit (and did).

My dream is to be able to pass on that same unbridled sense of wonder that I was privileged to experience – the anticipation of cracking the covers, the thrill of being taken to previously unimagined places, the happy disappointment of realizing that every last word had now been read and it was time for the process to begin anew.

I hope you’ll join us on this journey.

*newsstand: a store or a stall where numerous periodical publications, tobacco and candies were sold.  Also, usually had a payphone.

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I was reading some Facebook posts on the subject of over-looked categories of science fiction that were not “properly” included in the Hugo Awards.  I was originally going to respond on Facebook, but then I realized that a lot of the commentary revealed a continuing misunderstanding of what the Hugo Awards are all about, how they are organized, how they are managed and decided that these issues needed to be addressed more directly.

The original subject (“why don’t the Hugo’s recognize X?”) is the starting point, but not the target of this post.  I agree with the general protest that there are numerous categories of science fiction art that do not receive the kind of attention that many in the fan base seem to think they deserve.

But I am disturbed by the tone of many of these comments.

Much of the discussion seems to take the position that there is either something wrong with the Hugos that results in these omissions, or, worse, that there is a deliberate, secret plot behind it all.

Call it Cabal-lite and you’ll have some idea.

No doubt some of these thoughts have been colored by kerfuffles past, which is doubly problematic because it means two things:  first, that some messaging from the anti-Hugo crowd has managed to persist and second (and worse), that many of those looking to engage with the Hugos have read some shit on the internet and have not bothered to do their homework.  It’s one thing to spout conspiratorial nonsense and another thing to believe it.

Which means that it is once again time to review some aspects of the Hugo Awards, how they are run, how they are managed and the organization behind making all of that happen.  The information provided below is factual and verifiable, if you will bother to take the time.

The Hugos are not the only award in the sf field.

The Hugos are managed by volunteers who put in a lot of effort

No one involved with the Hugos has, as their intention, the deliberate dismissal of any art form, let alone any particular expression of science fiction.  They certainly have individual likes and dislikes, but instead of working to eliminate what they don’t like, they choose to spend time with the things they do like.

The Hugo methodology is cumbersome to some degree and time consuming to some degree, but there are good reasons, based on long experience, for handling things the way they are, which, I will also note, includes change…and substantial change over the years.  (In 1955, the first year the awards were formalized, there were only 7 categories and they were determined by paper ballot at the convention, no nominations, no finalists.  Today, there are 17 categories, an electronic ballot, nominations, finalists, reader’s packets, an intense vetting and review system…).  See A Short History of the Hugo Award Process for the official word.

The Hugo awards were created as literary focused awards.  fanzines, magazines, novels and stories.  it should not be a surprise that it takes longer/is harder to add non-literary categories…or even that some non-literary forms have been entirely overlooked.  (This does not mean that non-literary works are deliberately overlooked.  They have, in fact, been steadily added over the years.)

In fact, all of the original 7 award categories in 1953 are literary-related,  Best Novel, Best Magazine, Excellence in Fact Articles. Even the #1 Fan Personality category (Ackerman won) is a reflection of how much time and effort 4SJ put into fanzines and letter writing.

In 1959, when the nominations process was initiated, there were 8 categories, all but one (Best Movie) devoted to the presentation of literary SF.

In 1964, when the processes that are now in effect were formalized, there were 7 categories, again, all but one devoted to the presentation of literary SF.

The WSFS Constitution was written and accepted that year.  This does not mean, however, that the awards themselves have been petrified since then.  There’s been enormous change, perhaps best exemplified by the recent addition of the Best Series category which becomes a formal category this year.  For at least 5 years (at least 5 years!), a dedicated group of fans has been steadfastly arguing for its addition.  The formal process itself takes at least two years (voting, ratification).  It’s addition reflects the changing landscape of SF publishing that has put increasing emphasis on the series, which itself has been going on for much longer than 5 years.

This can be contrasted with the effort to add a Young Adult category, which finally found success as an additional “not-a-Hugo” award, presented at the Hugo Award ceremony.  This category has been supported by equally dedicated fans, perhaps for far longer than those looking to add a series award.

The common thread between these two efforts is the democratic process.  Further, it is a democratic process that seeks to accommodate BOTH majority and minority interests, which are reflected in my personal positions on both categories.  I’ve been against both from the beginning, feeling that the awards are getting too cumbersome and, further, feeling that “series” is not something we want to encourage (I view it as yet another example of marketing’s intrusion into the art) and feeling that YA is just a marketing category that does not need separate recognition.

Did I “lose” because both were eventually voted in as categories?  No, I didn’t.  My voice was heard (and echoed by many others) and if I don’t want to support those categories by nominating and voting, I don’t have to.  The rest of my votes in other categories will still be counted.  Meanwhile, it was discovered that enough voting members wanted a series category – through TWO votes, spanning TWO years.  It was also discovered that almost enough members wanted a YA category – but not enough could agree on exactly how – to warrant its inclusion as an award given out at the Hugo Awards ceremony. I’m satisfied that my position was the minority one, and, you know what?  I can live with that.

Similarly, the community that surrounds the Hugo awards has evolved with the same interests and concerns.  Interests and concerns that have also changed with the times.  Perhaps not as quickly as some would like, but if there’s one thing that WSFS’s methodology has demonstrated over the years, it’s that they lead to broad consensus.  Go fast and break things is not the WSFS motto.  It’s more like Go Slow and Make Sure You’ve Heard From Everyone.  Taking your time to get things right may be frustrating, but it is not evidence of a cabal.

That community is, deliberately, an open membership organization, granting full rights even to first time supporting members*.  It is a community that rewards engagement and enthusiasm.  It is a community that wants to do the right thing by all of its members.  These are not just words.  Go watch some of the WSFS business meeting videos and you’ll see a lot of intensely interested, engaged, emotional and terribly, terribly intelligent individuals, from around the world, VOLUNTARILY spending their vacation time to passionately argue these issues.

What some people have labelled a cabal, I see as one of the few truly democratic organizations, open to anyone with an interest, operating anywhere in the world.

WSFS and its awards have survived for almost 80 years operating in this fashion – maintaining a democratic, non-commercial entity, in the face of external pressures that can and have destroyed similar organizations.  The ways in which it operates are largely responsible for that.  It would be relatively easy for a monied interest to suborn such an organization.  In fact, it almost started out that way, until Donald Wollheim declared that Fandom was for everyone, not a tool for commercial interests, and he was so obviously correct that the Science Fiction League (a marketing construct created by Hugo Gernsback and supported in the pages of Wonder Stories) closed up shop in favor of the independent, non-commercially oriented fan clubs.

In concluding, let me say this: if you want to take advantage of a democratically run organization, you have to accept the likely consequences of participating.  Sometimes your view will win, sometimes it will lose and sometimes you will get half a loaf (and maybe even the smaller half).

If you think that something you are passionate about in the science fiction field warrants a Hugo Award, you also have to accept the fact that others may not feel as you do.  It may very well be that your passion has been overlooked.  It might also be true that there are good reasons for that (I doubt there are very many fans of macaroni sculptures of famous SF authors).  It may be that it is deserving of an award category.  It may also be true that it isn’t deserving of a category for good and logical reasons. (The category can’t be properly defined, there are other awards already, the logistics of vetting may be non-viable.)

What these things don’t mean is that you are wrong, or bad or should be outcast for holding this passion.  An overlooked category is overlooked because…it’s overlooked.  If you are passionate about it, guess what?  It’s YOUR job to raise awareness.  Maybe there are enough SF author macaroni sculpture fans out there to effect some change, and even if you don’t win your bid to add a new category to the awards, you’ll have found numerous fellow fans to share your passion with AND have awakened the rest of the community to your interest.  Maybe you can re-do that vote again in a few years.

But please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because there’s no Best Macaroni Sculpture of an SF Author’s Head category, everyone in fandom hates macaroni sculpture.  Maybe some do (the fallout from a terrible youthful experience), but chances are most don’t have a clue there is even such a thing, and I guarantee that at least up to the writing of this post, there is no coordinated effort to undermine the creation of macaroni art within science fiction fandom.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at the idea that perhaps the Hugo Awards need to be revamped from the ground up.

*with the exception that you can only vote at the Business Meeting if you are physically present, which you can do by converting to full membership and attending

 

 

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