Monday, March 16, 2015

A Modest Proposal for Hugo Reform v 2.0

Last year I conducted a thought experiment with the Hugo categories: could I alter them in such a way as to render them intuitive, logical and voter-friendly yet still preserved as much of the current setup as possible? The result was a list that, while certainly an improvement on the "intuitive, logical and voter-friendly" front (in my view), was also...er...a bit long. So round two takes what we started with last year and streamlines things. (If you listened to last week's Rocket Talk, you'll recall this being a major point of discussion.)

Operative in the streamlining process is the principle, articulated by Ian Sales in a comment left on last year's piece, that the Hugos should, ideally, reward creative works or collections of creative works (e.g. in an anthology or magazine). So I'm dispensing with most of the personalized awards (Campbell excluded) and replacing them with awards for things people have produced over the previous year.

Admittedly that's treading a fine line--aren't personal awards, to a degree, rewards for what individuals have done over the past year? To a degree, yes, and in truth I would particularly lament the end of the Best Fan Writer category. But historically it's been one of the most prone to the kind of insider conservatism that dogs the Hugos, and which seems particularly embedded into the personalized categories (Campbell again excluded). Consider this: during a 30 year period (1980-2009), David Langford was shortlisted 30/30 times (100%) and won the award 21/30 times (70%)--including, at one point, an unbroken string of 19 victories. That's mind-boggling and, obviously, a big problem--however deserving Mr. Langford might be.

[This, of course, brings up another question tangentially related to category reform--whether the Hugos need some kind of a "mercy rule." It could work like this: after, say, 3 victories in 5 years a given person or institution would have to sit out competition for the at least one year--possibly more. That would level the playing field and spread the love, so to speak--and a version is already in place for the Campbell, where it works beautifully. "Mercy rules" come with their own problematics, of course, but I think it's something the powers that be should at least consider.]

So that's the idea, at least--to take last year's altered Hugo slate, fix what needs fixing, and see if we can get it down to a more manageable number of categories. So, without further ado, here is your shiny, new--and still "modest"--proposal!


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.
Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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.
In version 1.0, I collapsed novelette and short story, for the simple reason that very few people know or care what a novelette is, and it's annoying (as a nominating voter) to have to try to figure out what fits where. At the same time, I felt it was high time the Hugos bestowed awards on anthologies and collections, which readers really do care about. On second thought, though, I'm not sure we need separate categories for anthologies and collections.

 Reformed Award Categories (2.0):
  • 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/Collection: Awarded for the best collection of 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).
Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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.
The main gripe here was lack of attention to games--I mean, seriously? Games are arguably bigger than film now, and a higher percentage of games released in a given calendar year count (at least in terms of recognizable tropes) as SF/F. Get with the times, WorldCon! No changes proposed here for version 2.0.

Reformed Award Categories (2.0)
  • 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.
Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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 declined to make changes in version 1.0, but--with apologies to all the great editors out there--I'm not sure we actually need these categories anymore. To begin, I really don't think most voters have any clue what goes into being a great long-form editor. And while more do know what goes into being a great short-form editor (i.e. consistently releasing high quality anthologies and/or editing a consistently high-quality periodical), there are already several categories in this re-imagined Hugo setup that reward the work short-form editors do--obviating the need for a personal award here. 

Reformed Award Categories (2.0):
  • Eliminate both categories

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.
Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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.  
It annoys the hell out of me that books compete with blog posts for "Best Related Work." So why not have separate categories here? I can easily think of five essays or blog posts that are award-worthy. No proposed changes for version 2.0. [The 40,000 word delineation is fairly arbitrary, though--I'm open for suggestions as to why a different marker would be better.]
  
Reformed Award Categories (2.0):
  • 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.
 Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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 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. 
In version 1.0, I wanted to reconceptualize this clusterfuck of categories so it would be: (a) intuitive and (b) consistent; with (c) categories that compare like with like; and also ensure that (d) nominating voters don't need insider knowledge of an enterprise's finances in order to correctly assess what belongs in what category. And I also wanted to correct for the nonsensical fact that there's no award for professional fiction magazines, despite their historical and continued importance for SF/F literature and fandom. So I separated out (primarily) fiction periodicals from (primarily) non-fiction ones (punting the issue of whether outlets that do both, like Strange Horizons, Tor.com or Interzone, would count as one or both), and changed the criteria for determining "pro" from "not pro" from the money made to the money paid.

In version 2.0 I've altered the criteria for inclusion in the "pro" category for fiction outlets: instead of being SFWA-certified, now markets only need to meet SFWA minimums for pro-level payment. This seems better, as it utilizes relatively value-neutral industry standards, broadens the field to include new markets and doesn't make an outside organization (which has its own awards) the gatekeeper. I'm also re-collapsing Best Fanzine/Best Blog, because separating them out doesn't seem as important to me as it did last year. Oh, and I've gotten rid of Best Fan Writer because it conflicts with the principle of awarding works not people. As stated above, this is the change I'm most conflicted about, but the fact is that, if this set of changes were to go into effect (however unlikely that may be), fan writers would get rewarded in several of the other proposed categories.

Reformed Award Categories (2.0):
  • Best Fiction Periodical (Pro-Paying): 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 (whether or not it has been certified by the SFWA as a qualifying professional market). Nominees may be published in print, electronically or both.  
  • Best Fiction Periodical (Non-Pro-Paying): This award is for any regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) short fiction market that does not pay professional rates, as determined by the SFWA. 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 periodical, either print or electronic, that pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
  • Best Non-Fiction Periodical (Non-Professional): This award is for regularly published (4 issues more more within a given calender year) fanzine, either print or electronic, that does not pay its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
  • Best Non-Fiction Pod/Videocast: Awarded for any audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.

 Artist Art

 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.
Reformed Award Categories (1.0):
  • 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. 
I believe "Best Fan Artist" receives the fewest votes and has relatively low levels of enthusiasm (including among fan artists), so I collapsed the two in version 1.0. However, even that has to go if we're ditching the personal awards. So I thought a bit about how one could both keep an art award but also generate interest in the categories, and it struck me: book covers. Everyone's got an opinion on book covers! (Hint: abstract design > figurative art.)
Reformed Award Categories (2.0):
  • Best Book Cover: This award goes to the best original SF/F book cover (hardbound, paperback or digital) released in the calendar year.

Statistics

Current Award Categories:

5 fiction
2 dramatic presentation
2 editors
1 related work
4 'zines and related
2 artist
____________________
16 total categories

Reformed Award Categories (1.0):

6 fiction
3 dramatic presentation
2 editors
2 related work
7 periodicals and related
1 artist
_____________________
21 total categories

 Reformed Award Categories (2.0):

5 fiction
3 dramatic presentation
2 related work
5 periodicals and related
1 art
______________________
16 total categories

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