Actually, It’s About Ethics In Award Nominations
So, as promised, let’s turn to the nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards. Lots has already been said and I’ve no wish to repeat it but here are some good pieces which summarise the issues. The upshot is that this year – as last year – I am going to use No Award a lot but unusually lots of other people might join me. This is why I don’t think the Sad/Rabid Puppies have killed the Hugos; it is easy to influence the nominations but hard to influence the vote as we saw last year with Vox Day placing below No Award. The effect will be massively multiplied this year and after a couple of fruitless attempts, I think the Puppies will just get bored. The question then is how do we get through those couple of attempts with our sanity intact and some works that aren’t irredeemable on the shortlist. To that end I was suggest everyone reads the excellent Plokta proposal:
The problem with the puppy slates is not that they’ve got stuff on the ballot. They’re members of the Worldcon, and they’re entitled to have the stuff they nominated on the ballot, regardless of their decision processes in making their choices. The problem is that they have kept off the ballot some other stuff that most voters would probably prefer to vote for. So what we should be doing is preventing a slate from forcing stuff off the ballot, not from getting stuff on the ballot. The voters can then use their alternative vote preferences to take care of the slate, as happened last year when the slate failed to completely dominate any categories.
I really hope something comes of this but, to be honest, weathering the Puppy storm is the easy bit. The harder part is having a conversation about how we, collectively, nominate works for the Hugos.
Honestly, after last year I never wanted to write about eligibility posts again. It was an important piece and I’m glad I wrote it (and that the editors of Speculative Fiction 2014 are reprinting it, despite disagreeing with it) but the discussion around it was so polarised and productive as to be draining. As I said when last year’s shortlists were announced, I do think there is a connection between author’s publishing their eligibility and the rise of nomination slates but I had no intention of being dragged into it all again this year, an intention only strengthen by seeing it play out again in exactly the same way. However, at the same time, I’ve been increasingly doing my own lobbying as well as mulling over Abigail Nussbaum’s increasingly militant line on awards recommendations:
Last year when the nominees were announced there were several attempts to distinguish between “good” and “bad” campaigning–to argue, for example, that Larry Correia’s Sad Puppies ballot (which gave us Vox Day, Hugo nominee), and the campaign to get all fourteen Wheel of Time novels nominated for Best Novel, were substantively different from, say, my posting my Hugo recommendations on this blog, or John Scalzi recommending me for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. I don’t believe that’s true.
I disagree with Nussbaum – I think there is a substantive difference – but I also think there should be more discussion of these issues. Recognising that this might be difficult, I’d like to propose a framework for this discussion. I’m not saying that this framework is right or definitive but I do hope it is at least helpful. First of all, I think there are three axes to consider: someone’s authority, the extent to which they direct others and their own self-interest. Secondly, the range of each axis is quite large:
1 – Some random person on the internet
2 – Someone with a social media network including Hugo voters
3 – Someone with a large social media network including Hugo voters or an author
4 – An author with a large following
5 – A superstar author
1 – Listing your nominations without comment
2 – Recommending multiple works to consider or posting your own eligibility
3 – Recommending specific works to nominate
4 – Actively campaigning for specific works
5 – Actively campaigning for a full slate
1 – No relationship with the person you recommend
2 – Acquaintance, colleague or part of social network
3 – Friend
4 – Yourself
5 – Yourself and your friends
Finally, the way in which the three interact means there is likely to be a large grey area in the middle. I’m going to suggest scoring six or less counts as ‘good’ behaviour and scoring 12 or more counts as ‘bad’ behaviour with everything in the middle up for discussion. So let’s consider two baseline case:
But what about less clear cases? As linked above, I used a BSFA Review editorial last year to encourage people to start thinking about their Hugo nominations as well as discussion some of the things I would be nominating. My strongest recommendation was for the Best Graphic Story category: “But if I could compel you to go out and read one piece of fiction it would be Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.” If I’d posted this here my authority would be a 2, in a BSFA publication it is probably 3. I’d suggest my direction is also a 3. Compare this to George RR Martin’s recommendation of Laura J Mixon for Best Fan Writer: “So I’m nominating Mixon for Best Fan Writer, and I urge you to do the same.” Not only is his direction stronger, his authority is several orders of magnitude bigger.
As it turns out, both our picks made the shortlist. It is possible Mixon only made it because a member of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate declined his nomination but it seems likely that Martin’s intervention had some effect whereas I’m pretty sure my own effect was negligible. But we’ve no way of knowing. Likewise, it seems likely that John Scalzi’s recommendations for Best Fan Writer last year had some effect: “Abigail Nussbaum is another excellent candidate for a win, in my opinion… These are just four people off the top of my head; there are many more.” However, the direction is even weaker than mine and spread across multiple candidates. I’d also suggest his authority is weaker than Martin’s but this is a good example of how my methodology does a good job of making the highly subjective seem more objective. Nonetheless, I do think this helps expose that there are different shades of grey here. Which finally brings us to eligibility posts. Here I think the picture for Scalzi is very different and, indeed, that is one of the reasons he has been so keen to use his platform to promote others. But, of course, most authors don’t have this platform.
So what does this all mean? Not much; re-label the points on the axes or change the shade of the radar charts and suddenly says something very different. This is very much one perspective. But I hope it does show that there is a continuum of behaviour here that we are all part of and that is it worth talking about the way we behave as a community since, after all, the Hugos are community awards.