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A Reply to Kevin Standlee on the Hugos

By / June 30, 2015 / no comments

So, one of my posts on What is Wrong with the Hugos was picked up at File 770, and predictably Kevin Standlee condemned me.

I say predictably, because for several years now every time someone has suggested that things are not quite right with the Hugos he has waded in to say they are wrong. This time round this is, in full, how he responded at File 770:

Sigh. Paul on BestScienceFictionBooks.com essentially wants a Strong Leader running things, and that single person can make arbitrary decisions quickly. Of course, wanting to do what the members want to do is irrelevant. Only what the Strong Leader says is important.

He elsewhere says that the business meeting procedures are the same as that of the civil service, which shows just how little he knows about any of it. He just wants a Boss to make it all better and do things his way. (That of course is how the Locus Awards work. In the end, a single individual human being makes the decision about the rules, and nobody has any appeal from her decision.)

Mind you, I’d like to see a debate between Paul and the people who screamed about the prospect of reducing the number of short fiction categories. Paul essentially appears to dismiss short fiction as irrelevant.

There are alternative ways of running WSFS, but all of them end up taking the right to directly participate in the process out of the hands of those members who want to participate. There are logical cases to be made for changing the governance structure. I’d like to see people propose new governance structures and try to back up their arguments, other than to say, “What we have now is Bad!”

Let me respond to that point by point.

1: No, I do not want a “Strong Leader”, and that is not what I said. What I want is a more responsive organisation. Every award that I know of has a mechanism in place that would allow for a change in the rules between one award presentation and the next. Some of these amount to a strong leader, most do not. None of them takes at least two years to put in place any rule change.

Situations change, and in our modern digital age they change very rapidly indeed. It surely makes sense that awards should be able to respond just as rapidly. As it is, whatever might be proposed at the next WSFS meeting cannot take effect until after it is ratified at the following WSFS meeting in 2016, which means it will be the 2017 awards before there is any actual change. If the Sad and Rabid Puppies behaved within the rules this year, as indeed they did, then they have free rein to do exactly the same next year. That does not strike me as an award process that is fit for purpose.

Here’s is a proposal to make the award more responsive without a “Strong Leader”, (it may not be the only possibility or the best, but it is at least a notion that could be considered): I have seen a number of proposals online for possible changes to the Hugo rules. Why not provide a venue online where these proposals can be thoroughly debated by all interested parties, so that when the next WSFS meeting comes along all that is needed is for the proposal to be ratified or not by the meeting, and lo, the rule change is made, there and then, within the year? As it is, whatever debate has gone on previously, the proposal can only formally be made at the next WSFS meeting, by those who can attend the Worldcon (an expensive commitment, especially if it is on a different continent), and will then only be ratified by those attending the next WSFS meeting at the next Worldcon (yet another expense). By moving the debate online and making the WSFS meeting a ratification body, I think you would actually make the Hugos more democratic, not less.

So no, Kevin, I do not want a strong leader.

2: Am I imagining the fact that WSFS have repeatedly trumpeted the fact that they follow Robert’s Rules of Order? And isn’t Robert’s Rules of Order the procedure widely followed by parliamentary bodies and civil services?

3: What on earth gives you the impression that I dismiss short fiction as irrelevant? That is emphatically not what I said, and it is not what I believe. I said that the current distinction between novella, novelette and short story is far from transparent; that short of counting the words most readers probably have no idea whether a work fits in one category or the other. I also said that the current proliferation of venues for short fiction, and the clannish breakdown between different areas of sf (of which the Puppies are one manifestation), would make it increasingly likely that works would fail to make the 5% rule. Those are reasons, as I see it, to rationalise the short fiction categories (I am tentatively in favour of the current proposal to eliminate the novelette category and redefine the novella and short story); but that is not to dismiss short fiction as irrelevant. Quite the opposite.

4: Yes, there are alternative ways to run WSFS, but WSFS itself seems curiously reluctant to consider any such alternatives. The first step in reform is to identify those areas that need reform. And reform certainly should not take power out of the hands of members: I would prefer to make it even more democratic than it is. But, of course, you have created a straw man to attack rather than give any weight to my criticisms.

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