Monday, February 3, 2014

A Modest Proposal for Hugo Reform


Not long ago, I wrote my Hugo draft ballot, further letting it be known that this Hugo skeptic would be voting in 2014. But in both the drafting process and subsequent conversations, it came to my attention that very few people intuitively understand a large portion of Hugo award categories, myself included. So as part of on-going conversations on how to reform the Hugos, I'd like to suggest some sensible (and in some cases long-overdue) changes to the award categories.

Now, I am under no illusions that the WorldCon Awards Committee will see this blog post and say "oh my God! That random blogger is right--we've been doing it all wrong the whole time!" Organizations tend to do things the way they've always done things, because organizations are institutions and institutions by nature reinforce path-dependence. But I do hope to add to the conversation on Hugo Reform, and to do so in the most constructive way possible. You see, unlike the members-only Nebulas or the juried Clarke Award, the Hugos are run by fans (WorldCon members, to be precise, but WorldCon is a collection of dues-paying fans). As such, dues-paying fans like myself can, theoretically, make changes to the way the Hugos are run.

It is also possible that, one day, I might be involved in some sort of blogger-run alternative to the Hugos. Conversations have been had, and mentions have been made, but to date no action has been taken. But if it does happen, one day, these suggestions would serve as my proposal to the hypothetical committee.

For now, though, let me present the current slate of award categories by theme, followed by a critique--provided I have one (I don't always). Then I'll present an alternate slate of award categories based on that critique. In some cases, I pare the original list down; more often, I expand it.

All of these suggestions are, well, just that--suggestions. I hope to stimulate conversation, or to add to existing conversations. As such, I'm ready and excited to hear counter-proposals.

Awards for Works of Fiction

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Novel: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.
  • Best Novella: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
  • Best Novelette: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words.
  • Best Short Story: Awarded for science fiction or fantasy story of less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.
  • Best Graphic Story: A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic.
Mostly fine, except that no one knows what a novelette is anymore, and even fewer care. I guess I can think of worse things than maintaining an anachronistic category to reward writers of short fiction, but I'd rather streamline the short fiction awards and also add a couple awards to honor the best collections and anthologies of the year--which are currently neglected by the Hugos.

Reformed Award Categories:
  • Best Novel: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.
  • Best Novella: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between ten thousand (10,000) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
  • Best Short Story: Awarded for science fiction or fantasy story of less than ten thousand (10,000) words.
  • Best Graphic Story: A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic. 
  • Best Original Anthology: Awarded for the best collection of original, previously unpublished short science fiction and/or fantasy.
  • Best Collection: Awarded for the best collection of previously published short science fiction and/or fantasy.
  •  
Awards for Dramatic Presentations

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials).
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must be less than 90 minutes long (excluding commercials).
I looked it up and, in nearly every single year, every single one of the nominees for Long Form are films, while all the nominees for Short Form are episodes of TV shows. Video games, it would seem, get crowded out because they don't really fit anyone's practical definition of "dramatic presentation"--at least, not in the sense a film or TV show does. Yet video games are a very important part of the SF/F world now--a uniquely interactive part, the experience of which isn't really comparable to scripted fare. So let's separate that out--and hey, open it up to performance art too, I guess. That would move the awards closer to the reality of the genre as it stands today, and as it is relevant to much of its consumers.

Reformed Award Categories:
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Scripted - Long Form): This Award can be given to any dramatized production that is scripted, including film, television, radio, live theater, or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials).
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Scripted - Short Form): This Award can be given to any dramatized production in any medium that is scripted, including film, television, radio, live theater, or music. The work must be less than 90 minutes long (excluding commercials).
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Interactive): This Award can be given to any dramatized production in ant medium that is interactive, for example video or computer games (or performance art!), of any length.

Awards for Editors

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Editor (Long Form): This is the first of the person categories, so the Award is given for the work that person has done in the year of eligibility. To be eligible the person must have edited at least 4 novel-length (i.e. 40,000 words or more) books devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy in the year of eligibility that are not anthologies or collections.
  • Best Editor (Short Form): To be eligible the person must have edited at least four anthologies, collections or magazine issues devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which must have been published in the year of eligibility.
 I'm fine with these. No need for changes.


Awards for  Related Works Non-Fiction

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Related Work: Awarded to a work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year. The type of works eligible include, but are not limited to, collections of art, works of literary criticism, books about the making of a film or TV series, biographies and so on, provided that they do not qualify for another category.
I think, at this point, we need to recognize that this category is actually given to non-fiction books on SF/F literature (though occasionally a book on SF/F film or TV gets a nomination). So let's do that. And, while we're at it, let's award a short form piece too. After all, wasn't Paul Kincaid's 2012 essay for the LA Review of Books kind of, er, important? This would be a nice way to honor the really thoughtful critical pieces that we do all read a lot of.

Reformed Award Categories:
  • Best Non-Fiction Work (Long Form): Awarded to a non-fiction book related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom of forty thousand (40,000) words or more, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year. 
  • Best Non-Fiction Work (Short Form): Awarded to a non-fiction essay, review or critical piece related to the  field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, of less than forty thousand (40,000) words, and appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year. 

Awards for 'Zines and Related Periodicals and Related 

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Semiprozine: This is the first of the three serial publication/work categories. To qualify, the publication must have produced at least 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility (this being similar to the requirements for magazine editors in Best Editor, Short Form), and meet additional requirements as listed below.
    Semiprozine is the most complicated category because of the need to define semi-professional. A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits. To qualify a publication must not be professional (see above) and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
    1. The publication pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
    2. The publication was generally available only for paid purchase.
  • Best Fanzine: This Award is for anything that is neither professional nor semi-professional and that does not qualify as a Fancast (see below). The publication must also satisfy the rule of a minimum of 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility.
  • Best Fancast: Awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Fan Writer: This is another person category. Note that it does not just apply to writing done in fanzines. Work published in semiprozines, and even on mailing lists, blogs, BBSs, and similar electronic fora, can be including when judging people for this Award. Only work in professional publications should not be considered.
Dear WorldCon: I'm sorry, but this is a complete clusterfuck. You have created categories based on level of compensation, which stupidly requires voters to inquire as to the financials of the outlets they see as worthy. If that wasn't bad enough, you curiously ignore "professional" markets--even though you exclusively reward "professionally-compensated" individuals in most of the other categories (Novel, Novelette, Novella, Short Story, Long-Form Editor, Short-Form Editor, Professional Artist, Best Related Work, Best Dramatic Presentation--Long Form, Best Dramatic Presentation--Short Form). I mean, why is it okay to give an award to Disney megablockbuster The Avengers but not, say, Asimov's--a low-revenue, low-profit institution that has and continues to be a vital linchpin for the actual SF/F literature you purport to celebrate?

Then there's the lack of clarity: Best Semiprozine could possibly reward a primarily fiction outlet, like Clarkesworld, or a primarily non-fiction outlet, like The New York Review of Science Fiction. Are these things comparable? Really? Wouldn't it be better to split the fiction-first from the non-fiction outlets?

From that starting point, I'd also like to suggest that, if we are going to use money as a guide for categorizing the fiction-first outlets, it would be better to look look at the levels of compensation paid to authors than the revenue/profit margins of the outlets. Frankly, there's no good reason why we should avoid comparing pro-paying, SFWA-qualifying fiction markets that don't qualify for Best Semiprozine (like Asimov's or Clarkesworld) to other pro-paying, SFWA-qualifying fiction markets that do (like Strange Horizons). It's not like Strange Horizons (or Apex or Beneath Ceaseless Skies) is exactly hurting for top-flight content. Oh, and we could create a reward for fiction-first outlets that aren't SFWA-qualified too--which could provide the signal boost they need to make the jump (and it's in everyone's best interests for there to be more qualifying pro-level fiction outlets; after all, short fiction markets serve as the incubators for tomorrow's stars of the long-form).

As for non-fiction, well, okay, here maybe it does make sense to keep a distinction between outlets that make and pay money (like Locus or Tor.dom) and those that do not/cannot, like most blogs or traditional fanzines. But for the love of God, let's make the distinction more intuitive, and kill this "semipro" nonsense in the process. Kill it dead! I also think we have an opportunity here to solve a vexing division among Best Fanzine voters: print vs. electronic. While I'm not crazy about the artificial division between primarily-print and electronic outlets, I'm also sick of this slap fight. So let's go ahead and solve that.

(Oh, and keep Best Fancast as is, only with a name change. Ditto Best Fanwriter.)

Reformed Award Categories:
  • Best Fiction Periodical (SFWA-Qualifying): This award is for any regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) short fiction market that pays professional rates, as determined by the SFWA, and has furthermore been certified by the SFWA as a qualifying professional market. Nominees may be published in print, electronically or both.  
  • Best Fiction Periodical (Non-SFWA-Qualifying): This award is for any regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) short fiction market that has not been certified by the SFWA as a qualifying professional market--though non-qualifying outlets that pay professional rates also qualify. Nominees may be published in print, electronically or both. 
  • Best Non-Fiction Periodical (Professional): This award is for any regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) non-fiction that pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
  • Best Non-Fiction Fanzine (Non-Professional): This award is for regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) traditional primarily-print fanzines that do not pay their contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
  • Best Non-Fiction Blog (Non-Professional): This award is for blogs and other electronic-only fanzines that do not pay their contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication. 
  • Best Non-Fiction Pod/Videocast: Awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Non-Fiction Writer: Note that it does not just apply to writing done in fanzines. Work published in semiprozines, and even on mailing lists, blogs, BBSs, and similar electronic fora, can be including when judging people for this Award. Only work in professional publications should not be considered.

Awards for Artists

Current Award Categories:
  • Best Professional Artist: Another person category, this time for artists and illustrators. The work on which the nominees are judged must class as “professional” (see above for a discussion of how “professional” is defined).
  • Best Fan Artist: The final category is also for people. Again note that the work by which artists should be judged is not limited to material published in fanzines. Material for semiprozines or material on public displays (such as in convention art shows) is also eligible. Fan artists can have work published in professional publications as well. You should not consider such professionally-published works when judging this award.
This is not my domain, to be honest--after all, I generally prefer graphic design over art in book covers, and though I appreciate good art as much as the next person, the art I am attracted to tends to be modern fine art, and as such either has nothing to do with SF/F or shares thematic content but operates in a different world from SF/F. But, like Ian Sales, I find the distinction between "professional" and "fan" increasingly problematic--and again have to wonder why WorldCon insists its voters scrutinize financials before sending in their noms. So here's a very "soft" suggestion to simplify, which will offset one of the extra categories I've introduced. I'm also open to Ian's suggestion that we replace these person-based awards with works-based awards, and give it to the best piece of art produced in a given year.

Reformed Award Categories:
  • Best Artist: This award goes to a personal who has produced at least one piece of art relevant to SF/F in the calendar year.




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