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February 06, 2007

A Series of Casual Thoughts I Had While I Was Filling Out My Hugo Nomination Ballot and Looking at the Best Fan Writer Category

(Preface Note: The following entry will be all but incomprehensible to non-SF geeks. You've been warned)

Initial Condition: Looking at the Best Fan Writer category on the Hugo Award nomination form
----First Thought: Who besides Dave Langford should get the award this year?
-------(Parenthetical thought: Not that Dave Langford isn't a lovely fellow)

Ameliorative Action: Read eligibility information to see if it jogs some names
----Eligibility Criteria: Category is open to any person who
-------* Writes in a fanzine, or;
-------* Writes in a semiprozine, or;
-------* Writes in generally available electronic media;
-------* In 2006.

Lateral Observation: By this description, I am eligible to be nominated in the Best Fan Writer category
----Check Eligibility Criteria:
-------* Am I a person? Yes
-------* Did I write in a fanzine in 2006? No
-------* Did I write in a semiprozine in 2006? No
-------* Did I write in generally available electronic media in 2006? Yes
---------* "Whatever" is published in the electronic medium;
---------* "Whatever" has readership >20K/Day, i.e generally available;
---------* "Whatever" not written for profit (although this not strictly specified for catgeory);
---------* SF/F-related topics frequently essayed in "Whatever"
-----------Ironic Note: This entry prime example

Secondary Lateral Observation: Not only am I eligible, but many pro SF/F writers are also eligible
----Examples of other pro sf/f writers eligible (not limited to following field)
-------* Elizabeth Bear
-------* Patrick and/or Teresa Nielsen Hayden
-------* Nick Mamatas
-------* Tobias Buckell
-------* Cherie Priest
-------* Hal Duncan
-------* Indeed, anyone with a blog who writes on SF/F themes

Initial Conclusion: Entertain the idea of nominating sf/f pros who are bloggers for Best Fan Writer

Point in Opposition (PiO) #1: Best Fan Writer Hugo meant for fans, not pros
----- Hence the category name: Best Fan Writer

First Rebuttal to PiO #1: WSFS Constitution does not make that distinction for category eligibility
----- Category open to "any" person
------- Pro sf/f writers subset of "any"
-------- Pros also quite frequently come from sf/f fandom; i.e., are fans

Second Rebuttal to Pio #1: 20-time category winner Dave Langford a professional SF writer
----- Langford has written/co-written at least three novels;
----- Langford winner of 2001 Best Short Story Hugo, a "pro" category;
----- Langford nominee for 2006 Best Related Book, a "pro" category

Point in Opposition #2: Opening up category to pros damages character of category
----- There are fan awards and pro awards for a reason; pros shouldn't dip into fan categories

Rebuttal to PiO #2: Other fan categories make allowances for fan/pro movement
----- Fan artist category notes someone nominated for Best Artist category is ineligible that year for Fan Artist, implying fluidity between the categories

Point in Support: Best Fan Writer category desperately moribund
----- Same winner in category since 1989
----- Only four winners in 30 years
----- Nominating well-known pros could make the category more competitive
----- Conversely, it could motivate nominators to look at a wider cross-section of fan writers

Final Conclusion: Definitely entertain the idea of nominating sf/f pros who are bloggers for Best Fan Writer
----- Did I nominate myself? No
----- Did I nominate others? Maybe


Posted by john at February 6, 2007 01:58 AM

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Mary Kay | February 6, 2007 02:45 AM

Doesn't matter if they are a pro writer if they also write fannishly. It's for fan writing. Which is what it should be called instead of fan writer.

Though of course there are no published definitions I am aware of which preclude one being *both* a fan writer and a pro writer.

MKK--2008 Hugo administrator

Mike Scott | February 6, 2007 02:46 AM

Point in Support: The late Bob Shaw won a couple of Best Fan Writer Hugos, well after he'd become a professional. Wilson Tucker, Alexei Panshin and Terry Carr also had professional careers going at the time they won Best Fan Writer.

Martin Wagner | February 6, 2007 03:08 AM

Screw it, nominate me. :-D

Ray | February 6, 2007 05:11 AM

I rekon you did not over sleep this day...

Jenny Rae Rappaport | February 6, 2007 05:15 AM

You could nominate me, although my blog really deals with agenting posts more than specific SF issues, unless I have something to say about them. Although lately, it has become a den of kitten love... and we all know kittens are a very SFnal content, right? =)

Arthur D. Hlavaty | February 6, 2007 07:16 AM

Fan writers are like vampire slayers: In each generation there is only one.

dichroic | February 6, 2007 07:39 AM

Whatabout nominating noy-yet-professional writers who blog extensively and well about sf/f? The examples I can think of offhand are probably now counted as pros, but for a coupl eof them that's only been true for the last year or two. I'm sure there's another crop of talented bloggers right behind them I just haven't discovered yet.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 07:57 AM

Congratulations; you have successfully recapitulated an ancient argument.

On the one hand you have the people who think fandom and fan activity are merely aspirational prodom; for them, it's obviously unfair that professionals should compete for awards "meant for fans." In this worldview, the terms "fan" and "pro" are states of being, mutually exclusive tribes.

In the other worldview, fan activity is valuable for its own sake, and fandom isn't the Junior League for professional science fiction. It's its own thing, in its own right. We don't "move between" being fans and being pros; "fan" and "pro" are terms describing things that we do, not things we are. Of course the guy who writes The Whatever is eligible for Best Fan Writer; it's retarded to think otherwise.

By and large, in the history of the Hugos and the Worldcon, the second outlook has prevailed. You correctly spot the one spot in which it hasn't, that codicil to the Best Fan Artist definition. You're also right that the Fan Writer category could use some shaking up, and that there are a lot of people writing eligible online material who ought to be considered.

Steve Buchheit | February 6, 2007 08:09 AM

If Boy Toy Boitano can skate in the Olympics, I see no reason why writers who get paid professionally for some of their writing can't be acknowledged for their fan writing (which may or may not make money).

I'm not sure about the Whatever, though. Some of the Whatever is also used to discuss and promote said writer's professional output and may constitute a conflict of interest. Although, He Who Bestrides This Category keeps talking about "That Book" as well, so that maybe a moot point.

What the heck. Either the rules need changed or it's open to everybody for the work in fandom. All the pros I've met so far are also big fans.

Matt Jarpe | February 6, 2007 08:44 AM

Final Final Conclusion: Dave Langford wins anyway.

Andrew | February 6, 2007 08:44 AM

Maybe we should split the Best Fan Writer Hugo into two parts:
1) "Is Dave Langston still doing Hugo quality work?" If so, gets a Hugo.
2) "Who besides Dave Langston is doing great fan writing?" Winner of this vote also gets Hugo.

For even more fun, what if someone won "Best Novel" and "Best Fan Writer" in the same year?
I don't know the dates on these, so I don't know if they're simultaniously eligable, but Naomi Novik has some really good fannish writing out there, as well as her professional book series that began with His Majesty's Dragon.

Gary Pilkington | February 6, 2007 09:09 AM

I am mildly confused by this... perhaps it is the hour of the day, perhaps it is me, perhaps it is the wording of the ballot. I am wondering if the issue is the word "fan". Can a professional writer be a fan? Yes. Then they should be eligible for the award. If it is the intention of removing professional writers from contention, perhaps it should be altered to read "Best Amateur Writer" or "Best non-Professional Writer" or some such. I dunno... Like you John, I am sure Dave Langford is a nice guy. I too would like to see someone else win the thing.

On a side note... wasn't there an issue with Michael Whelan a number of years back? Similar in that he seemed to win every year? Perhaps that is the real issue... the same person winning every year. As an earlier commentor noted, if Langford is doing Hugo quality work, why shouldn't he get the award?



j-_e_richards | February 6, 2007 09:19 AM

At one time the filk world tried to organize ourselves (I know, I know, oxymoron) and nominate filk writers in the fan writer category. But for good fanish writing check out Tom Smith tomsmithonline.com (no, no this isn't Tom Smith, but someone who has enjoyed listening to him for many years...)

Jon | February 6, 2007 09:42 AM

But i-_e_richards, best filk is an oxymoron.

Jon | February 6, 2007 10:06 AM

But i-_e_richards, best filk is an oxymoron.

Chompa | February 6, 2007 10:48 AM

Just finished Old Man's War and loved it. I'm a surfer of various blogs and read about you on Wil Wheaton's blog and picked up the book.

I've not been captivated by a sci-fi novel like I was by OMW in a long, long while. Congrats! I'm looking forward to reading Ghost Brigade and the rest of your novels.

Charlie Stross | February 6, 2007 11:21 AM

The sound of the other shoe dropping:

I can hear the "Orson Scott Card for best fan-writer" campaign from here.

(Runs for cover.)

JC | February 6, 2007 11:35 AM

Andrew bringing up Naomi Novik raises a question that I have. Since the Best Fan Writer award is actually for the best fan writing, does that imply that it is intended to reward non-fiction S/F related writing? Or is that explicit?

S/F fiction which appears in a fanzine or a semiprozine is already eligible for the various fiction categories, right?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 12:08 PM

Answering several different comments in one post:

"I see no reason why writers who get paid professionally for some of their writing can't be acknowledged for their fan writing (which may or may not make money). I'm not sure about the Whatever, though. Some of the Whatever is also used to discuss and promote said writer's professional output and may constitute a conflict of interest."

This would appear to depend on a concept of "conflict of interest" with which I'm unfamiliar. People in the science fiction community have been writing fanzine articles--sometimes serious, sometimes formal, sometimes earnest, sometimes funny--about aspects of their professional work since the invention of science fiction fanzines in the early 1930s. What "interests" are in conflict here, and what would this conceivably have to do with whether such writing was "fan writing"?

"For even more fun, what if someone won 'Best Novel' and 'Best Fan Writer' in the same year?"

Dave Langford won both "Best Short Story" and "Best Fan Writer" in 2001. The world failed to come to an end.

If it is the intention of removing professional writers from contention

To repeat the point: that's never been the intention.

"Since the Best Fan Writer award is actually for the best fan writing, does that imply that it is intended to reward non-fiction S/F related writing? Or is that explicit? S/F fiction which appears in a fanzine or a semiprozine is already eligible for the various fiction categories, right?"

Fiction that appeared in nonprofessional venues is certainly eligible in the appropriate fiction categories. The fiction Hugos aren't set up to reward only "professionally published" work. If the Hugo voters wanted to give the Best Novella Hugo to something published in a mimeographed fanzine or on a public LiveJournal, they'd be entitled to do so.

The Best Fan Writer Hugo isn't for specific work but for a body of work in the specific year. No, it's not only for non-fiction work. (Although everyone who's ever won it has done so with a body of work that was primarily nonfiction.) Yes, this means someone could theoretically win "Best Fan Writer" and one or more of the fiction Hugos for the same work. Any time you mix "specific work" and "body of work" awards in the same system, you're going to run some risk of perverse results; this particular perverse result, however, has never happened and, for that matter, never threatened to happen. As longtime Hugo mavens will tell you, the aim has never been to build an awards system that covers, with scientific precision, all imaginable SF-related creative effort.

Carl V. | February 6, 2007 12:19 PM

I have a problem with any award that is won by the same person over and over and over again. I simply cannot believe that year in and year out the same person can always be better than the other 'fan' writers out there. If nominating other professionals opens up the category some then I'm all for it.

FS | February 6, 2007 12:20 PM

As a fan of Langford, I think it's reasonable to assume that he wouldn't mind someone else winning.

Bruce Adelsohn | February 6, 2007 01:45 PM

Another datum in the Pros Are Fans, Too discussion: there was a con (and damned if I can remember which one it was; I can't find documentation online, but I was there), many years ago, in which the GoH was the late Hal Clement; the Artist GoH was George Richard, and the fan GoH was Harry Stubbs. The kicker (as many of the folks here already know) is that they were all the same man. The GoH speech was all sorts of fun, with Mr. C removing layer after layer of appropriate T-shirts until he got to a consummately fannish one at the end, answering which of his three identities was his favorite.

There is precedent for a solution, albeit imperfect, to an award being won consistently by one nominee. The Playboy Music Awards had (have? I've stopped reading the magazine) a policy under which any winner who repeated as winner a set number of times in a category (five, I think, or three) was awarded membership in a Hall of Fame, and was thereafter ineligible to win that category. I think that would work in this very specific case, and possibly for something like Best Pro Artist. (If nothing else, it would, in some cases, get past the longstanding issue of some nominees being considered based on their past work, not their current efforts.) I'd argue strongly against this solution for awards for individual works -- if someone can write ten Hugo-winning novels, more power to them, especially if they're all deserving winners -- but it might work in cases such as the ones on the table.

Not that I'm in a position to do anything about it; I'm just sayin' :-)

Steve Buchheit | February 6, 2007 01:52 PM

PNH, "This would appear to depend on a concept of "conflict of interest" with which I'm unfamiliar. "

While John specifically writes Whatever to be about whatever, a quick survey of the last 10 entries shows 4 directly tied to his professional work (On Speaking Aloud, Holy Crap, Speaking of TSD..., The Sagan Diary: The Audio Version) and one tangentially tied to his professional work (Boskone Schedule). There are also two threads about the Hugo/Nebula (although both of these are intentionally not about his work, one is by comment direction and the other is more directed towards the inner workings of the nominations).

So, about 50% of the most recent posts are about John's professional work and one post (Holy Crap) clearly indicates (or at least takes credit) for the affect of another post.

Would the Whatever then be considered "Fannish" writing, or "promotional"? Of course, this is a limited sample, but John does use the Whatever to directly promote his professional work, more than Langford uses Ansible to promote his professional work.

Diatryma | February 6, 2007 02:04 PM

My stupid spur-of-the-moment definitions, subject to change:
Pro writing is fiction. Novels, stories, movies, whatever-- fiction.
Fan writing is about fiction or things pertaining to the fiction. So it covers academics writing about Shakespeare and Le Guin, Making Light, a host of Livejournals that touch on literature in the most inclusive sense, columns about everything. Fan writing isn't fiction; if it were, it'd be somewhere along the amateur-pro continuum. 'Fan' isn't on there. Fan writing is *about*.

PixelFish | February 6, 2007 03:50 PM

I've been curious about the Fan Writer Hugo and the Fan Artist Hugo ever since I learned of their existence. But I always thought they were counterparts to the professional categories. I think it's neat that the professionals identify as fans, and as noted, it doesn't seem to make much difference in the Fan Writer category but in terms of the Fan Artist, how does that work? Diatryma's version doesn't make much sense for art, because while you can design art that deconstructs and is about other art, it's not usually considered "fan art" per se, is it? I genuinely don't know, so those who want to enlighten me are welcome.

Johnny Carruthers | February 6, 2007 04:17 PM

I don't mind nominating you for Best Fan Writer. I will nominate and vote for ANYone besides Dave Langford. (And I have stated more than once that if the category is so moribund that no one else can win, maybe it should be done away with.)

John Scalzi | February 6, 2007 04:19 PM

Well, I wouldn't stop people from nominating me, if they liked. I just didn't end up nominating myself.

Mark | February 6, 2007 04:19 PM

Another crossover note. Alexis Gilliland, a Washington Science Fiction Association stalwart, won four best fan artist Hugos in the 1980's. He also published at least seven novels in the same decade and won the Campbell in 1982. So, as mentioned, it's the activity, not the "status".

Having said that there's something vaguely disturbing about writing in a blog appurtenant to a pro writing career winning best fan writer. I'm not quite sure why I feel more comfortable about someone who started in the subculture and had a fan writing career going before they professionally published being nominated for fan writer but I do. Have to analyze this further.

In any case this years winner will be either Mr. Langford or Japanese.

Diatryma | February 6, 2007 04:27 PM

Oh, yeah, fanart. That introduces a different type of 'fan', I guess, one synonymous to 'amateur' or at least somewhere along the amateur-pro continuum.
But art does complicate things no matter what. "SFF" isn't a genre of art the way it is of writing, or have I missed something? My impression, and it is not from a great amount of information, is that most of the art is attached to writing to begin with.

Diatryma | February 6, 2007 04:31 PM

Wait, scratch the previous comment. I really don't have any idea what I'm talking about. I've already had an argument with myself about the definition of 'fan' pertaining to art and possible alternatives, and... yeah, I shouldn't talk about stuff I don't know.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 04:43 PM

Steve Buchheit, you still haven't explained where "conflict of interest" comes into it. Where's the conflict? What ethical problem is raised when John writes informally about his writing life in a giveaway medium, any more than when Frederik Pohl or Michael Moorcock or Robert A. W. Lowndes did it?

I think you may not be grasping that "conflict of interest" is actually kind of a serious accusation. Perhaps you need to find a better phrase for whatever it is you're actually trying to describe.

Muneraven | February 6, 2007 05:39 PM

I would actually hate to see a published writer of commercial SF/F fiction win a Hugo for fan writing. Here is why:

1. I think the original intent of fan awards was to honor those who are unquestioningly devoted to SF/F but who do not create SF/F themselves. I think there is something very special, very lovely, about people who work hard for free to promote something they themselves did not have a hand in creating.

2. Yes, a pro can be a fan. However, if I were introducing Peyton Manning to a stranger, a guy who is unquestioningly a football fan, I would be unlikely to say "Meet Peyton Manning, he's a heckuva football fan." The fact that he is a professional football player is far more significant and is quite an achievement. The same goes for published SF/F writers. It may not seem like so much of an achievement when you are living the day-to-day unglamorous grind of writing, but come on: If you have books with your name on them, you have accomplished something pretty cool. You are probably still a fan, to be sure, but once you are a published writer THAT achievement supercedes the fact that you participate in fandom in the eyes of most people.

3. I think a good part of the reason many published writers blog is to promote their own work. Nothing wrong with that at all, and good blogs often have a wide range of topics. Still, it feels CHEESY to award a FAN Hugo to someone for something that is a good part self-promotion.

This is just my two cents worth, and I am far from experienced in SF/F fandom and in all the professional aspects of this genre. I am a lifelong SF/F reader but I have never been heavily into fandom (eeek...its so SOCIAL). Still, I love the enthusiasm of SF/F fans. I started out writing "literary" stories, and believe me, nobody is dressing up like Alice Munro's character creations at the yearly MLA convention (t'would be MUCH more fun if they did).

I think this category needs updating and clarifying badly. I think blogs and message boards that exist primarily to promote SF/F in general need to be differentiated from those that exist partially to promote one or more authors' work.

And btw, why the heck has only one guy won for so many years? I have no doubt he is remarkable (note to self to Google him, lol) but he can't be the only person doing good fan writing.

Anyway...interesting topic and comments. I always wondered what the criteria was for fan writing and fan art. It really is kind of vague.

Andrew | February 6, 2007 05:39 PM

Patrick, can you explain what the "Best Fan Writer" is intended to cover?

If we assumed that all SF/F authors were fans (probably not 100% true, but likely close), it could just be another way of saying "Best Author, all forms". But no one actually seems to think that.

David Langford | February 6, 2007 05:59 PM

FS: As a fan of Langford, I think it's reasonable to assume that he wouldn't mind someone else winning.

This is true. And yes, I could use some shaking up.

[Not googling on my name, honest. But my spies are everywhere.]

John Scalzi | February 6, 2007 06:01 PM

Spies! Treacherous spies!

Note also there is some small irony in bringing this up this year, as I suspect the Japanese nominators this year will nominate a slate of Japanese fan writers, one of whom is likely to give the estimable Mr. Langford a run for the award, being the convention is in Japan and all.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 06:09 PM

"I would actually hate to see a published writer of commercial SF/F fiction win a Hugo for fan writing."

From the way you put it, it sounds like you're not actually aware that this has happened over two dozen times. Nor were all of those Hugos to Dave Langford. Three out of the first four Best Fan Writer awards went to people who were already also selling fiction to professional markets: Alexei Panshin, Ted White, and Wilson "Bob" Tucker.

"I think the original intent of fan awards was to honor those who are unquestioningly devoted to SF/F but who do not create SF/F themselves."

You are quite definitely mistaken in this belief.

"Yes, a pro can be a fan. However, if I were introducing Peyton Manning to a stranger, a guy who is unquestioningly a football fan, I would be unlikely to say 'Meet Peyton Manning, he's a heckuva football fan.' The fact that he is a professional football player is far more significant and is quite an achievement."

You are bringing into an argument a definition of "fan" that doesn't map onto the actual world of professional SF and SF fandom. Your average self-defined "football fan" is a spectator. SF fandom, at least in its longer-established forms, isn't about being a spectator; it's about being part of the conversation. As you yourself observe, it's social. It's not about sitting on the bleachers and watching from a distance.

Steve Buchheit | February 6, 2007 06:10 PM

Patrick, "'conflict of interest' is actually kind of a serious accusation."

I didn't mean this as an accusation. As an actual politician for whom "conflict of interest" is actionable (as in "we, the jury, find...") I guess I should make myself clear. This is all IMHO and I'm sure I am showing my ignorance of the Hugos and their history.

I also apologize for talking about John in the third person in his own house.

As a side note, I personally think John is a great guy. I wouldn't have bothered him so much at Confusion if I didn't think so.

John is a great fan. Reading his stuff here, reading his books, being in conversation with him, and seeing him in action, John is a BIG fan of SFF. If he's nominated for all his writings and actions for fandom, I can definitely see voting for him (I'm not an elector, so I have no vote). But I think the original post was about nominating John for the Whatever.

The Whatever, IMHO, isn't about SFF. There's a lot of fan stuff here, there's also a lot of self promotion. I don't begrudge John that, he's doing great things and here's a place he can talk about it. That's also not saying that he's using the forum to crow about his accomplishments. From what little I know of John in person, he doesn't do that without a wry grin on his face. And while this blog isn't as general as his other blog, my experience here is that the Whatever is not directed toward SFF, it's about whatever John wants to discuss. Here I can say that the third part of the content here, the majority, has nothing to do with SFF.

If I had to qualify what the Whatever was about, I would say, "Fun." If you tied me to a chair and made me choose between saying it was either "Fan Oriented" or "Promoting John's professional work", while it may only be at 50.1%, I would have to choose the later. But that's me and my humble opinion. I don't think John specifically writes the Whatever for either purpose. I think it just so happens that there was a lot of good news for John's professional SFF work this year.

So with that, thinking that the Whatever is more focused on John's professional work, however minor the tilt is that way, would disqualify it, at least in my head.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 06:22 PM

"Patrick, can you explain what the 'Best Fan Writer' is intended to cover?"

Pretty clearly it was originally intended to cover writing published in fanzines. Later the definition was refined to clarify that freely-available online writing was eligible as well. (I was in fact one of the people involved in that reform.)

"If we assumed that all SF/F authors were fans (probably not 100% true, but likely close)[--]"

Far from 100% true.

Also, to repeat myself, "fan" and "pro" are kinds of things that we do, not things that we are. "Fan" is not the larval form of "pro." (Fans are better socialized, for one thing.)

"[--]it could just be another way of saying 'Best Author, all forms.'"

Well, yes, by a certain kind of Venn-diagram programmer logic, sure.

"But no one actually seems to think that."

Because most people have common sense. Also because most professional writers don't, in fact, engage in the kind of energetic informal commentary on the SF scene that most Hugo voters associate with the term "fan writing."

A lot of people in this comment thread need to remember that, like a lot of things in life, the Hugos were created by a particular community to serve its needs. They weren't beamed down to Earth by superevolved aliens, and many things about them are going to be a little puzzling if you're not part of that community and don't care about its little quirks.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 6, 2007 06:38 PM

Steve, I'm not arguing that John ought to win the Best Fan Writer Hugo; I'm just saying that you have yet to make a coherent case as to why not.

If you think John writes more about his professional work than you prefer, you're perfectly entitled to that preference. My point is this: historically, lots of highly-regarded fan writers have written at length about the processes and challenges and triumphs of their professional lives. For instance, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the fanzine variously known as The Alien Critic and Science Fiction Review consisted almost entirely of various professional writers of the day gabbling on about this stuff, often far more contentiously and less engagingly than our host does. For this, TAC/SFR's editor, Richard E. Geis (himself a published author) won eleven Hugos: four for Best Fanzine, and seven for Best Fan Writer.

Again: Not saying you're unentitled to use any criterion that you prefer. But do be aware that there's nothing new about fandom acclaiming "fan writing" that includes a lot of chat about the writer's professional work.

Andrew | February 6, 2007 07:15 PM

I think Steve is saying that the Whatever is closed to advertising copy than it is "fannish writing". No matter how wonderfully written the tourist brochure for Naples, ME is, it will never win any literary awards.

Pretty clearly it was originally intended to cover writing published in fanzines. Later the definition was refined to clarify that freely-available online writing was eligible as well. (I was in fact one of the people involved in that reform.)

Good thing that revision got pushed through, or it would probably be abolished as soon as Dave retires. I don't know if anyone has something that resembles demographic data on fans, and especially on fandom over time (leaving aside what "fandom" is), but for myself, the only time I've ever seen a Fanzine was at Torcon3, where my volunteer hours were spent in the Fanzine Lounge with a stack of assorted stapled printed works, a couple dozen people who drifted by, and my only real task to keep the bathtub/icechest stocked with homebrewed beer. I'm obviously not the only example in this case, but if the award is going to have anything to do with what younger fans are aware of it'll probably have to be won by somebody's livejournal.

Scorpio | February 6, 2007 07:32 PM

I do believe that the last Hugo Bob Tucker got was for fanzine activity -- a Retro Hugo.

George E. Martin | February 6, 2007 08:49 PM

Here are four links which will cause the comment to be dropped in the moderator's queue if I understand John's rules. (Could have split them across two "comments" but that's sort of unsocial also.)

This is meant to provide some a *few* references to Fanish type writing for those few people reading this thread who might be interested. There are many more to be found and inclusion or exclusion does not indicate any sort of judgement.



And a couple of electronic published fanzines


http://news.ansible.co.uk/ (That Langford fellow who was mentioned.)

Steve Buchheit | February 6, 2007 09:37 PM

Patrick, well, I think John began the discussion by talking about his writing here on Whatever. If I limit my experience of John to just that, as I said above, I think Whatever posts about SFF are slightly more about promoting John's work. I may only be in a secondary way (as in not direct plugging, "go out and buy my stuff"), but still it has a promotional side to it.

You say historically people have won the fan writing Hugo for talking about the work and the life of writing. I will most certainly admit you know more than I do about the Hugos (and the fan, professional, and history of SFF). With your job and history in the field, I would hope so. Being "new" I may have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm willing to admit that. What might in my ignorance be a clear difference, to your experience have been resolved on the opposite side of the argument. Or what I may think is pertinent, to you it could be completely non-germane.

So my question is, did those people also use those fanzines as avenues to promote their own professional works? Since I don't think I've been clear before, what I mean is did those authors writing the fan articles promote themselves and their books in their own articles? In some way, I think they couldn't avoid it (any publicity is good as long as they spell your name correctly). But John has given us links to order his books, told us when they are on sale, and pointed us to reviews that praise (most of the time) his work. While that's not direct "advertising copy," as Andrew said, it is, to use the vernacular, self-pimping. (There's nothing wrong with this. I like John's writing. TAD is finally on deck for me to read and I'm really looking forward to it.)

Does this fit within your definition of Best Fan Writing? Since you helped define the category, I really want to know. I hope to be a voting member sometime in the future and I would hate to cast a vote (or withhold one) in ignorance. Is the category decoupled from the venue and meant to be more of a recognition of fan activity in written form (for the individual as different than the market/zine/website)? If that's the case, should voters only consider the fan aspect of the individual?

Kevin Standlee | February 6, 2007 09:53 PM

First: The rules for the Hugo Awards are in the WSFS Constitution, so anyone who wants to do can look up the definitions for themselves.

Second: Patrick is making some excellent points, and I include a "what he said."

Third, and most importantly: WSFS doesn't try to define "what is a fan?" In fact, as of this year, it stopped trying to define "professional." That means the voters get to decide.

An analogy from the world of the mundane courtroom seems to work well here. There are matters of "law" on which, in a courtroom, the judge rules. There are also matters of "fact," (such as "Did the defendant commit the crime of which s/he is accused") on which the jury decides. When it comes to the Hugo Awards, there are a relatively small number of "matters of law," which include things like "How many words are in that story" and "when was it published." These are things upon which the Hugo Administrator makes rulings and (very rarely) disqualifies works. Everything else, including "Is this fan writing?" is a matter of fact, which means it is up to the individual voters/nominators to decide whether or not it qualifies.

This is also sometimes known as the principle of vox populi, vox dei.

So yes, pros can be fans, and fans can be pros. They are overlapping sets, not mutually exclusive ones.

Kevin Standlee

Former Hugo Awards Administrator

Kevin Standlee | February 6, 2007 10:02 PM

Steve Buchheit wrote:

Does this fit within your definition of Best Fan Writing?

The definition of the category isn't very complicated:

3.3.13: Best Fan Writer. Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year

The writing certainly meets the technical qualification of appearing in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year. Therefore, it comes down to this: Do you, the person casting a nominating ballot, think the writer is worthy of receiving a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer based on what he wrote? It's absolutely a judgement call.

Kevin Standlee | February 6, 2007 10:14 PM

Muneraven wrote, among many other things that Patrick covered more than adequately:

I think this category needs updating and clarifying badly.

Why? Do you not think that the voters are capable of making distinctions of quality by themselves?

In any event, how would you propose rewording the definition?

If you're a member of this year's Worldcon, you can even propose the change yourself. I'm Chairman of the WSFS Business Meeting; that's where the rules get made and changed. (Patrick was one of the leaders of a group that proposed recently-ratified changes to the WSFS rules, incidentally.) If you want, I'll help you present the proposal in the correct form for consideration. WSFS is actually very democratic, although, yes, you do have to join and attend the meetings, and yes, Japan is a long way away.

Steve Buchheit | February 6, 2007 10:20 PM

Kevin Standlee and Patrick, I just finished reading that. Obviously my definition of "Fan Writing" is overly strict/rigid compared to the WSFS Constitution. So, yeah, with that definition, John would certainly qualify for nomination.

I think it's strange that the Fan Artist has more restrictions than Writer (i.e. can't also be nominated in the Pro category).

Is this definition, the openness, a result of deliberate intention or the rule making procedure? I remember some of the debate over Editor Hugos in past years, so I know the rule making process is several years long. But I also know from being involved with legislation that sometimes things are "intuited" about the law, and then there is how the law is actually worded. Since I don't know the history of the rules, is it intentionally left this open being a product of Fandom (and they "know their own"), or by intentionally casting the widest net to garner the largest number of potential nominees?

Seth Breidbart | February 6, 2007 10:50 PM

Fan artists can be the same way. Back when Rick Sternbach basically owned the magazine covers (in the mid-1970's) he did plenty of fan art as well, from "Ace Rates" (cartoon restaurant mini-reviews on napkins) to the Giant Space Marshmellow Analog cover.

Kevin Standlee | February 7, 2007 01:02 AM

Steve Buchheit wrote:

Obviously my definition of "Fan Writing" is overly strict/rigid compared to the WSFS Constitution.

I think a lot of people think it's the job of the Hugo Award administrator to disqualify nominees and void people's ballots. It isn't. Administrators tend to be pretty inclusive. And when works are disqualified, it's almost inevitably for a technical reason like "It was published three years ago, so it's not eligible this year."

As I recall, the last time an administrator disqualified a work due to it not meeting the category definition, it was A Brief History of Time on the grounds that the Best Non-Fiction Book definition at the time said that the book had to be about "Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Fandom," none of which ABHofT covers. The reaction of the WSFS Business Meeting? They amended the definition of the category to include the catch-all phrase "or related subjects." This sent a message to future administrators that they should be very leery of trying to exercise any sort of qualitative judgment -- that's fairly jealously reserved to the voters.

I think it's strange that the Fan Artist has more restrictions than Writer (i.e. can't also be nominated in the Pro category).
That is, I think, a reaction to Jack Gaughan winning both Artist Hugos in 1967 (the rules were different then. The WSFS Business Meeting decided to add a rule that prohibited you from being eligible in both categories simultaneously. Nobody has ever tried to remove it.
Is this definition, the openness, a result of deliberate intention or the rule making procedure?
Yes to both. WSFS rules are, to a great extent, drafted and voted on by people who do not trust anyone except themselves. That is, the individual members trust their own judgment, but not that of anyone else, and especially not of any particular Worldcon committee. Therefore, WSFS reserves as much authority as it possibly can to the members, and reserves as little as it can to the Worldcon committees, the Award administrator, or the tiny bit of permanent WSFS structure. Remember that WSFS isn't a corporate entity and has nearly no ongoing structure or central authority. If you know your American history, the government of WSFS is very much like that of the USA under the Continental Congress -- a bunch of independent groups who don't trust each other and definitely don't trust any central authority.

(Which, by the way, makes me the rough equivalent to the President of the Continental Congress, as I am the current chair of the only permanent WSFS body, the Mark Protection Committee that manages the service marks of WSFS.)

Most rules end up being ad hoc additions or reactions to specific acts, like Gaughn winning both Artist Hugos or the Hawking book being disqualified on an administrator's judgment call.

I remember some of the debate over Editor Hugos in past years, so I know the rule making process is several years long.
At the minimum, two years. Because nobody trusts anyone else, and because nobody trusts any individual Worldcon from going off half-cocked, the process for amending the WSFS Constitution requires that a proposal be passed by one Worldcon's Business Meeting and then ratified by the subsequent year's meeting. While it's probably not that difficult to "pack" an individual meeting by rounding up a bunch of your friends, the rules assume that you (a) can't do it two years in a row and (b) won't be able to keep doing it every year -- the latter because if anything that is sufficiently far outside of the mainstream ever were pushed through, you can bet that as soon as its advocates turned their backs, the rest of the members would change it back to the way it used to be.

In practice, major changes usually take several years of convincing enough of the "regulars" (around 50-100 people regularly attend the Business Meeting) that your proposal has merit.

But I also know from being involved with legislation that sometimes things are "intuited" about the law, and then there is how the law is actually worded.
Well, there is some stuff that is a matter of precedent, and those precedents are not well recorded. Many of them are a matter of oral history. Mark Olson has from time to time said he wants someone (while looking at me pointedly) to start accumulating the Hugo Administrators' rulings so we can look at the accumulated precedents and show them to new Administrators. This will reduce the chance of an Administrator making a ruling that clearly cuts against precedent without at least being aware of what s/he is doing.
Since I don't know the history of the rules, is it intentionally left this open being a product of Fandom (and they "know their own"), or by intentionally casting the widest net to garner the largest number of potential nominees?
I'd say more the former than the latter. There's a basic assumption that voters are not idiots, and that the electorate taken as a whole will show reasonably good judgment. You know, if we didn't assume that, we shouldn't even be presenting the Awards, I think.

Rick Katze | February 7, 2007 02:25 AM

I think that Kevin properly stated the current situation.

Why does Dave Langford regularly win. He's a good writer, has a strong base of support, is familar to many voters and, until someone is demonstrably better, he is likely to continue to win.

Eventually he will lose. Whelan was expected by many to win in Winnipeg. He didn't. Eggleton won and won regularly for a few years.

Rick Katze
Another former Hugo Administrator

Colin Harris | February 7, 2007 05:05 AM

There are many fine points made here and I would especially add a "what he said" to those from Patrick and Kevin.

I think the wider and most interesting issue here is about a progressive breaking down of barriers through the growth of electronic communications. Go back 20 years and things were simple: there were professionally published books and magazines released by corporate entities with paid contributors, and there were personally published fanzines produced on an amateur basis and posted / manually distributed for free. So the fan/pro distinction was clear in terms of content, style, medium and commercial context. And the purpose of the fan writer Hugo, like all of the fan Hugos, was to acknowledge that the fannish activities which make the SF community unique are worthy of recognition by and of themselves. (Patrick emphasises this very well above - fans are NOT larval pros, although some individuals do cross or span the boundaries).

In those past times, some pro writers - like Langford - actively produced or wrote for fanzines; but it was a minority. The Internet has changed that, especially as we move to web 2.0 (from one-way sites towards blogs, so that writers not only have sites promoting their work and blogs with their content, but frequently contribute articles and commentary to other blogs as well - creating the "body of work" that the fan writer Hugo is targeted at).

Hence there is absolutely no reason why blogs will not start appearing on the fanzine list or why pros who blog should not start winning the fan writer Hugo. The only limiting factor is the vox populi mentioned by Kevin. That is, I believe that the community as a whole will digest the changing nature of "the world" and a tacit consensus will emerge (as shown by who makes the ballot) as to what the voters feel to be "appropriate". And any change to the legislation will typically follow this, not lead it; the WSFS business meeting does not like to second guess voter preferences, but it will usually act to formalise a new reality once voting patterns have established it.

Colin Harris
Co-Chair, 2005 Worldcon

Therese Norén | February 7, 2007 05:06 AM

FWIW, I write a fanzine. (Or two or three, depending on how you count.) Fanzines are, without a doubt, fan writing. My last fanzine had articles about fandom and children, con banquettes, learning to bake for a LARP, some baking recipes, being a mailman, SFF books about mailmen, Farah Mendlesohn's GoH speech, the Best Novel Hugo nominees for 2006, keeping breast milk sterile, and books and magazines I've enjoyed lately. (In other fanzines, I've written a lot about my professional life.) Fan writing has never been exclusively about SFF or fandom.

Steve Buchheit | February 7, 2007 07:45 AM

This is why I think the internet is so great. Thanks for the education everybody.

Alison Scott | February 7, 2007 01:23 PM

I just wanted to add that I'm quite shocked by the idea that fan writing should be about science fiction or fantasy. Because, you know, the fanzine I co-edit has won the Hugo twice and been nominated countless* times, and we sometimes go whole issues without mentioning the fiction even in passing. But I don't think many people seriously argue that it should therefore not count as a fanzine; it has a goodly chunk of fan nature of various types.

*i've forgotten...

Kevin Standlee | February 7, 2007 01:42 PM

I agree with Alison. Fan writing can be about science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, and that includes all sorts of related subjects, since fanac is "what fans do." Yes, it's a circular definition. It always has been.

Mind you, a "sercon" fanzine that mainly is about science fiction and fantasy is still a fanzine, and the writing there is still fan writing. But writing about all of the other stuff doesn't disqualify it.

Certainly the electorate thinks that PLOKTA counts as fan writing, because they've given them the Hugo Award twice (and not just because they had some sort of "home pitch" advantage, either, given that one of those wins was in Anaheim).

Colin Harris | February 7, 2007 01:49 PM

To Therese and Alison: absolutely. In fact I have always thought that it's an interesting question to ask how one defines a fanzine, or fan writing, given that it's not based on SFF or fandom necessarily. I believe that in fact the essence of the definition has to be based on it being amateur writing linked to the fannish community in some way, through its intended audience and at least to some degree through its content.

This linkage must be a key part of the definition ... because if I read a blog or writing from someone wholly unconnected with the community, I would not nominate it for a fan Hugo, even if the writing was word for word identical to pieces in e.g. Plokta - talking about corsets, schools, new digital cameras or whatever.

I am very pleased that noone has tried to formalise this definition because of course it would be impossible to tie down, but nevertheless I am sure this is the heart of it.

Ray | February 7, 2007 06:08 PM

I am sorry to say that it sounds like you all are really taking this thread far to seriously. Please get back to basics.
1) Fans purchase the media of the artist. So to get a "fan" award in itself seems kind of....stupid? Perhaps the fan award should be defined on how much money they spend.

2) If 1 is true then distribution mediums should get the award. Or really...the award should go to all fans regardless of magazine writers, bloggers or whatever.

Ya'all sound way to busy defining conditions of being a fan than what a fan actually is.

Ben Yalow | February 7, 2007 07:16 PM

The key post here is Patrick Nielsen Hayden's post of Feb 6@7:57AM; everything else is just supporting commentary.

Fan writing is just that -- it's done by fans about stuff of interest to other fans, and isn't professionally published. And when I say "by fans", it doesn't mean that person isn't also a professional writer -- but that's another aspect to the person and irrelevant to the question of whether that person is a fan. Although, as it turns out, the three people who I consider to have been the finest fanwriters of their time (Willis, Carr, and Langford) all were published professional writers (although Willis' only book was a professionally published/edited collection of his fanwriting). And the Willis book (_The Improbable Irish_) is a clear example of why fanwriting is so hard to define, except as writing written by fans for fans.

As to why Pro Artist isn't allowed to overlap with Fan Artist, although there is no such disqualification for fan writer, it's an artifact of a bad decision that the WSFS Business Meeting made in amending the Constitution after Jack Gaughan won both in the same year, and some people felt that was unfair. Most people now feel that was a wrong decision, but there hasn't been time to fix it. But, during the debate on the change to the editor categories, it was clearly mentioned, and I think it's now likely to get changed.

A short digression on how the Constitution gets changed. It gets done by the Business Meeting at the Worldcon, which typically runs for about 6 hours, divided among 2-3 sessions. So time there is rather limited, and so the people who are likely to bring up business try to avoid having too many things that would take up too much debate time come up at once. And, over the last decade, the major changes have included the lead time and rotation plan for the Worldcon, the newly ratified changes to the editor categories which split the category, the split of Dramatic Presentation into Long and Short, and now a change that's coming up for ratification to Pro Artist (which occupied hours of time spent at the business meeting, and an ad-hoc committee appointed by the meeting to try to work out a workable compromise between a number of different viewpoints). So nobody wanted to bring up a different change, that would tie up more meeting time. But, since I suspect that it's relatively non-controversial, I expect to see an "amend 3.3.14 by striking the last sentence" motion made soon.

End digression.

But fandom is strange that way. It consists of people who (a) read SF, or (b) used to read SF, or (c) are a part of the fannish community, which they were introduced to by another fan. Most fans still fall in (a) -- but reading SF is neither necessary nor sufficient. But it's usually the bait that draws you into the community in the first place. And you stay for the community.

But that makes "fan" a hard term to define. And therefore "fan writing" is equally hard to define, since it has "by fans, for fans" as part of its definition.

Fortunately, the Hugo Administrator, as well as the Business Meeting that writes the Constitution, comes from fandom. So the unwritten assumptions implied by "fan writing" are drawn from a common basis of knowledge. But it makes it harder for someone from outside the community, looking in at a culture that's been developing for three quarters of a century, to understand the terms of reference.

So all you can do is point at examples, and say that "a fanzine is something like this", and hope that the things in common between Richard Geis' SFR, and Ansible, and PLOKTA, and Mimosa sort of help clear up the confusion. Or go to efanzines.com, and read lots of contemporary fanzines, and try to make sense of how they all fit together.

It's worth it. There's a lot of really good writing there.

And if it all makes sense, and you want to join in -- welcome to fandom.

Lis Carey | February 8, 2007 12:45 PM

1) Fans purchase the media of the artist.

Um, no. That's not the definition of "fan" that applies in science fiction fandom. Never has been. Really.

Fans are people who enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and/or fannish activities. What they do in their working lives is irrelevant to the question of whether or not they're fans. Many fans are scientists, teachers, librarians, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs--okay, I confess, I don't actually know of any Indian chiefs active in fandom. Others are writers, artists, or editors. What makes them "fans" is taht they're active in fandom. Period. Also being sf professionals does not disqualify them as fans, and does not make them ineligible for, or inappropriate recipients of, fan Hugos for fannish activity.

Lots of sf pros over the decades have also produced impressive bodies of fannish writing or fannish art. You can distinguish from their pro material by its subject matter and audience: it's aimed at other people active in fandom in one way or another, and not primarily at people who buy their books in bookstores or from Amazon. Most non-fans would find large parts of David Lanford's Ansible, winner of many Hugos, simply incomprehensible, while to fans (who are part of the community it's reporting on and directed at), it's an interesting and entertaining newszine. That Langford's also a pro not only doesn't change the fact that it's fannish writing; it isn't even relevant to the discussion.

Mike Glyer | February 9, 2007 01:15 PM

The Hugo Award categories really have two definitional systems. The first is the black letter rules, which only go so far in sorting out the intended recipients from the unintended, as the discussion has shown. The second is the body of voters -- the subset of members of the Worldcon who exercise their voting privileges.

It is has occasionally happened that an ineligible work or person received enough votes in a pro category that the Hugo administrator had to sort it out. I don't recall an example in the fan categories. (There have been a very few ballot-stuffing controversies affecting both ends of the fan and pro spectrum, but that is a completely different administrative problem.)

The fan categories are defined so inclusively that anything enough Hugo nominators could agree upon to make it one of the top 5 finalists is very likely to be eligible. Harlan Ellison once refused a Best Fan writer nomination decades ago -- but he was certainly eligible that year.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 3, 2007 11:57 PM

"Fans purchase the media of the artist."

Commenter Ray is evidently unable to process anything said in this conversation that doesn't model the "fan" / "artist" relationship as one composed entirely of commerce.

All that is solid melts into air!

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