Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hugo amendments

As a former, albeit long-retired, Hugo Awards administrator, my opinion on the Constitutional amendments being offered this year might be worth something. In the end, however, my opinion may not be worth very much.

Amendment B.1.4, "E Pluribus Hugo", is the crowd-sourced solution to the Puppy-sourced problem of slate nominations. This amendment had many cooks. Remember the adage about spoiling the broth? I cannot follow the gist of this thing. It makes my head hurt when I try. I cannot follow the "plain language" explanation of it, either. Remember, we live in a world where even the simple Instant Runoff system we use for the final ballot is too complicated for people - smart people, people with Ph.D.s even - to understand. I know, because they've asked me to explain it to them and gone away dazed. But I grasp Instant Runoff. If even I can't understand this new plan, we're in big trouble.

I accept that the Hugo rules are broken and need to be fixed, and that we need a fix which can't be easily evaded by mischief-makers the next year, requiring another fix and another ... But is this really the solution? Would the much simpler Amendment B.1.1, "4 and 6", do the job? I don't know. Frankly, I'm relieved that I won't be there and have to decide.

Amendment B.1.2 would eliminate the 5% rule. (Look at the amendment for an explanation of what that is.) Rarely if ever implemented when it was new, it seems to have become common recently. What I don't know is, why it was ever invented in the first place. I don't favor eliminating rules unless I know that, because our minds tend to focus on the problems that the rule causes, and without knowledge of why it was created, we can't know whether these problems would be worse than the reappearance of whatever now-solved problems the rule was intended to prevent.

Amendment B.1.3 would create a Best Saga Hugo and make room for it by dividing the Novelette category between Novella and Short Story. So this is two separate proposals in one, joined by a belief in maintaining a parity in the number of Hugos. I favor a social taboo on the increase of Hugos without number, but a take a penny, leave a penny rule seems a little parsimonious.

On Novelette, the makers argue that the middle length of short fiction is in decline. I think this should be established empirically, and I'm not encouraged to accept the makers' assertion on this point by their assertion that short SF in general is in decline, basically because the legacy magazines are. Legacy airlines are in decline too, but flying is booming. So is short SF, just in other places. I would like to hear authors specializing in short fiction opine on whether there are differences in kind roughly equivalent to the current length categories (which were originally established, btw, by the writers' award, the Nebula, and later copied by the Hugos). I've heard differing opinions on that point.

The Saga idea, though, makes me uncomfortable. I'm not at all sure this is what we need. A Connie Willis two-volume series won the Best Novel Hugo a few years ago. I don't know why it got nominated in that form, unless it was that so many nominators put both volumes in one line and refused to devote two lines to it that the administrators gave in. I'm uncomfortable with the lack of definition of "a work appearing in multiple volumes" - what is one work, and what are multiple works with connections? How will nominators decide, and how will they guess what other nominators decide? Did Asimov's Foundation series (which was a saga) and his Empire novels (which were just separate books with shared backgrounds) become a single saga when he attached their backgrounds together with rivets and a ball-peen hammer? I'd be even more uncomfortable if there were a definition, because it'd have to be complicated. I'm uncomfortable with the same saga becoming re-eligible when it expands.

The real problem, it seems to me, is with the length of SF novels. When the base limit of Novel was set at 40,000 words, most SF novels ran 50-80,000. Now they're hundreds of thousands. Books of the traditional length look more like extra-long novellas now. If we're to create a new category, I'd favor hiving off a space from 40,000 to maybe 100,000 as a new category, and letting Novel be books longer than that. Some have suggested a YA novel category, which is what the Nebulas now have. That would solve part of the problem, as YA novels tend to be shorter, but not all of it, and having a division of fiction based on something other than story-length also makes me wary.

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