Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Just One Vote 

If I seem nonchalant about not winning the Best Website Hugo this time, it's for several reasons. First, it's because I'm aware that the category is controversial -- for several reasons... including the notion that there might be a single obvious winner (though surely it's presumptuous of me to imagine so) and that this obvious winner would be just another Hugo in the direction of Locus and Charlie Brown. I attended the panel on Monday morning of the con, addressing the question "Is there any point to the Best Website Hugo?", and heard one of the panelists say this very thing. It is a blessing and a curse -- having the support and connections of the most influential news magazine in science fiction history, and by the same token being regarded, no matter what I do, how hard I work, what innovations I create for the website, to be regarded as simply the 'webmaster' for the online presence of that same magazine. (And yes, I've considered changing the name of the site and going it alone... as friends have suggested... but would not do that.) Because of this quandry, I'm just as happy I didn't win this time, because the result this time instead indicates that there is some legitimate competition in the category, thus perhaps increasing the likelihood of making the category permanent.

Second, I was very nervous before the awards ceremony, in part because I'd composed a little speech about the concept of the website category, and was relieved when the winner was announced that I wouldn't have to deliver it -- though by the time the category was to be announced, after sitting through several previous categories, I'd mentally decided to chuck most of the predetermined speech, and deliver a bare-bones thanks to CNB and congrats to the other nominees talk instead. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't deliver that speech; it would have seemed self-serving...

Third is a reason I'll never tell anybody ever. Imagineers among you may speculate.

As I said, I did attend the Monday morning panel addressing the question "Is there any point to the Best Website Hugo?". The dominant fact of the panel was that there were barely 10 people in the audience.... Obviously it's not really a subject of great concern to very many. Hugo boffins, perhaps. I sat in the back row, unrecognized (I'm good at that), determined not to interject any of my own opinions and listen instead to what the panelists said. They included Jed Hartman, editorial contributor to Strange Horizons; Bill Burns, nominee for eFanzines.com; and James Shields, who didn't say much. (Other scheduled panelists were Cheryl Morgan, who was unable to attend the con at all, and Chaz Boston Baden, who didn't show.)

The panel addressed various familiar issues, including the apples & oranges issue -- that various websites can't be compared -- and the timeliness issue -- that voters would look at nominated websites as they existed at the time of nomination rather than as they existed during the official eligibility year... though of course these same concerns could easily be expressed about the artist, editor, fanzine, fan writer, fan artist, and semiprozine categories. In truth, the existing Hugo categories are a hodge-podge mix confusing works and roles; if it were up to me, skeptical about voters' insight into what editors actually do [being one myself, on occasion], for instance, I'd replace the category about editors with categories about best magazine and best publisher... and so on, and so on.

Bill Burns, though he seemed obsessed with the idea of fitting material on websites into existing categories -- Neil Gaiman's almost-nominated site should instead be eligible for best fan writer, for instance, and Sci Fiction's content would be up for the various fiction categories, and for best editor, but not as a site or publication -- a determinedly reactionary attitude, it seemed to me, in contrast to the presumably flexible, forward-thinking of science fiction fans (would he remove the dramatic presentation categories and regard them as simply new-fangled variations of the prose fiction categories? -- to extend this thinking backwards a century or so) -- had a partially valid point, it seemed to me, in that the present Hugo categories don't recognize forms such as publisher or magazine, so why should they recognize website? Instead they recognize roles -- or the role, of editor. But to be consistent, he should be recommending the overhaul of those existing Hugo categories for fanzine and semiprozine and artist and so on... which of course he did not...

Meanwhile, I'm still catching up on emails, new books, new magazines, and so forth. Busy busy.
You are aware, yes, that the WSFS has a work group assigned to look at the whole issue of online publication, online activity, et cet, in regard to the existing Hugo categories?

This is why our proposal to split the editor Hugo didn't address the online issue. I agree with the Business Meeting boffins that the online/Internet issue needs to be looked at in a global way. I certainly think activity like editing LOCUS Online needs to be something we cover in the Hugos. (For what it's worth, you had my vote; good though Sci Fiction is, I use your site every day.)

As a side note, while I agree with your comments about Bill Burns' remarks, isn't it a bit of a cliche to criticise anyone in the SF world or fandom by sarcastically alluding to how people connected with SF are supposedly forward-looking, receptive to new ideas, etc? This weary gambit has been trotted out by every dingbat with a dumb cause they want to sign fandom up for back to the days of Claude Degler, and fandom has rightly developed antibodies against it.
"I'm just as happy I didn't win this time, because the result this time instead indicates that there is some legitimate competition in the category"

That's, um, mighty humble of you. I on the other hand thought the fact that there were 10 great nominees in 2 years indicated there was some legitimate competition. Yes you won a Hugo partially (or more) on the back of Charlie Brown, but try to be a little decent about it to the rest of us, will you?

If you really don't want to win so much, don't accept the nomination. It's better than writing a post that's insulting to everyone else out there who works hard on their sites.
I'm glad to see that the panel attracted some comments, at least. Monday morning possibly isn't the best time for sparkling repartee at a Worldcon.

While it may have seemed that way from the panel, I'm not really obsessed with fitting online material into existing categories, and your suggestion that I would lump the Dramatic Presentation Hugos into the fiction categories is absurd. By the 1960s, when Worldcons recognized that the film medium needed its own permanent Hugo for "Dramatic Presentation", there were sufficient candidates in this medium to justify a new category, precisely the situation we are now in with websites.

But each new medium requires category eligibility definitions fitted to that medium. The point I was trying to make at the panel, which I'll repeat here, is that if there's ever going to be a permanent Best Website Hugo, surely it should be to recognize a work which takes advantage of the medium, rather than one which just echoes the traditional print forms.

As Patrick notes, WSFS is presently considering that very issue, and I'll be most surprised if they don't agree with me at least to some extent.

And if Best Website ever becomes a permanent category, I'd like to see it split into Fan and Pro.
I apologize if I was unclear, Anonymous, but my point was that the argument of those who see no point to a website Hugo category if all it does is go to a Charlie Brown stand-in has surely been weakened by the fact that the winner this year was not a Charlie Brown stand-in.

I didn't say I didn't want to win. I would have been happy to have won. I work hard on my website too.

I definitely agree, Bill, that websites could be judged but what they can do as websites rather than echoing print forms [which one could argue is what Sci Fiction -- despite its beautiful production values and high quality content -- does], and I've outlined my ideas about this before. As for Fan vs. Pro, I'm sympathetic to some kind of split, though I can't help but note the potential irony of putting Locus Online, as I suspect it would be, in the Pro category by virtue of whatever definition for the split is created; I have a day job, and do the website in my 'spare time' after hours and on weekends, while the magazine, a 'semi-prozine', does in fact support Charles Brown and a full-time staff of several people. Yes, I know, 'professional' and 'semi-professional' have very specific, counter-intuitive meanings in our community...
I have some pretense of objectivity, based on 3 generations of science iction publishing professionalism in my family, 39 years of software, and close to 10 years for The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide. I want to see Best Website Hugo Awards as a sign of what the Best is, in any given year, to give me a target at which to shoot. Hmmm, that sounds wrong in the Homeland Security context. How about: to provide an exemplar and goal for improvement of my large but stale web work?
-- Jonathan Vos Post
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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