Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hugonian politics

Yesterday I wrote on the place of women on this year's Hugo ballot. Today I have some thoughts on the process that I haven't yet seen voiced by anyone else.

I think there are two separate issues here, that should be distinguished even by those who condemn the Puppies on both, because they're distinct problems needing distinct solutions.

One of these is the substantive issue of the nature and quality of Hugo nominees. My feelings on this are actually rather murky, in part because I fail to understand exactly what the Puppies' complaints are, and I'll deal with this later if at all.

The other is the procedural issue of slate voting for the Hugos. I hope that those condemning this procedure would feel the same were the slate of an opposite political complexion, though I have no confidence that all of them would.

Let us be clear that voting by the popularity of the name on the ballot, rather than the quality of the work, is far from unknown in Hugo history, and that informal boosterism to get nominations also has a long pedigree.

But the only time before the Puppies that there was a successful formal campaign to nominate a work - a volume of L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth for Novel in 1987 - this was widely derided and the book came in behind No Award on the final ballot. Last year's Puppy nominees did badly also, the most notorious of them, Vox Day's novelette, also finishing behind No Award.

And this year was the first time an entire slate of nominees for most of the places on the ballot was offered. Let's be equally clear on that. There is all the difference in the world between the long-standing tradition of informal lists of "Good Stuff to read" that don't even match the number of slots on the ballot and a formal slate bearing the introduction, "They are my recommendations for the 2015 nominations, and I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are."

And, with few exceptions, that slate, with help from its largely overlapping colleague, dominated the entire nominated ballot. I think the statistics, to be released later, will prove that this wasn't because there were more ballots from Puppies than non-Puppies. I think it was because the first ballot is "first five past the post" and the Puppies were organized and voted for a slate, while the non-Puppies voted as individuals and scattered their vote.

There have been various procedural rules changes proposed to deal with this, but they all seem rather complicated. And, as so often with military and police operations, the planners seem to forget that they're not fighting a natural disaster or wild animals. Their opponents are intelligent agents who can modify their plans in response to yours. When the French built the Maginot Line, the Germans simply went around it.

Slates and elections are a political issue, and I'm a political historian, so I ask myself: when in history has a non-partisan polity been transformed by the abrupt introduction of a slate?

Answer: New Zealand, 1890. British Columbia, 1903.

Prior to those dates both British colonies, as they then were, had very small settler communities, as the Hugo-voting fannish community is small. Voting for the colonial legislatures was non-partisan and done on a personal basis. (B.C. was part of the Dominion of Canada, which had federal political parties, but the political affiliations of B.C. politicians on a federal level had no impact on provincial politics. Still doesn't, for that matter.)

There were political tendencies and opposing policies, to be sure, just as there are in fandom. As George R.R. Martin has pointed out, the Puppy Wars are a continuation of the Old Wave v. New Wave struggle that dates back in the SF field over half a century now. Many individuals have planted themselves firmly on one side or another of that divide, and received or been withheld votes on that basis, but it's never been consistent, formalized, or all-encompassing.

Same thing was true in the colonies. Opposing governments succeeded each other, but individuals worked with other individuals on any basis of agreement they could find, and often the same people would be found voting for or against succeeding groups.

And then, in the years I mentioned, somebody in each colony formed a slate. Founded a formal political party. Ran candidates in an election with the party label. And won.

What did the opposition do? Well, they had to form a political party too. (In B.C., this actually happened just before the 1903 election.) And from then on, politics in these polities was conducted on a political party basis. Like it or not, the era of personal voting was over.

That may be true for the Hugos. I think there are two courses of action here.

1) You can try to rewrite the rules to ban slates. I don't think you will succeed. Slate advocates will find a way around the rules. Maginot line. The fathers of the U.S. Constitution thought they had eliminated political parties, and they were pretty smart guys, but in that respect they failed.

2) Or you can form a counter-slate. Many people are doing so, even among those who claim to oppose a counter-slate. They're launching a campaign to vote for No Award. That doesn't help them with next year's nominations, but for the current election, No Award is their counter-slate candidate, whether they think of it as one or not.

That's it.

No comments:

Post a Comment