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More on this month's bookslut column

It appears that this month's SpecFic Floozy column touched a nerve. Good, says I. Not because I like to irritate people (although it is a bonus) but because it might provide an opportunity for discussion about the Hugo nomination process.

The full letter, which I'm about to excerpt from, is linked here. Quotes are in itals. Jessa's intro is blue. My response is in plain type.

An anonymous reader responds to this month's Spec Fic Floozy column:

It's always so heartening when a reader has enough courage to put his or her name with his or her convictions.

In her recent column about the Hugo awards, Adrienne Martini described the committee of this year's Worldcon as "bastards" because she didn't like the list of nominees.... The Hugos are a popular vote award, with thousands of people eligible to vote each year, and anyone allowed to join them. If anyone deserves to be the target of Ms. Martini's ire it is the voters, not the Worldcon committee.

This is the one thing in the column that I would have written differently. Contrary to Anon's belief, I do know how the Hugo process works and should have done a more accurate job of explaining it to the readers of my column.

So I'll do so now:

The Hugos nominations are made by the paid members of that year's WorldCon. Anyone who ponies up $50 can nominate and vote. The $50 fee is the smallest amount one can pay and still be franchised.

There are lots of good and noble reasons for the fee, which Jed Hartman and others explain for all.  Hartman also points out that even of those who have paid for membership to any given WorldCon can actually be bothered to nominate and vote on the Hugos, which says more about the electorate and their belief in the process than I possibly could.

Hartman also suggests that anyone who is unwilling to pay $50 to be involved with the process should, in essence, not bitch about it. And that seems to be the largest issue that Anonymous has with my column -- that I shouldn't complain because I didn't participate.

In a way, Anonymous is correct. I didn't participate in the process. If I had an extra $50 floating around, which is unusual, I'd spend it on books rather than use it to buy my way into an organization whose most vocal constituents -- the ones who actually vote -- have made it pretty clear that as a group they don't give a damn about my voice.

(Or, in some instances, tacitly agrees that my gender is still OK to grope if you are a wacky old man. I'm not saying that I want a fruit basket or any other special privileges -- but the Hugo voters and ceremony attendees haven't really created a gender-neutral environment, despite their protests to the contrary.)

While there are organizations like Broad Universe  whose raison d'etre is to  increase awareness, mentor women, etc., the Hugos are still the most public face that the genre has. For many reasons, that face is mostly white and male. And, incidentally, is able to buy his or her way into the discussion.

...Ms. Martini is calling a group of Japanese "bastards" because they did their job in reporting how a group of predominantly American fans voted. Goodness only knows what they will think of us if they feel Martini is typical of American attitudes.

I strongly suspect that the Japanese are smarter than that and know that one person isn't representative of an entire culture. Anonymous would rather not give them that credit.

Feminism will never get anywhere just by whining. You have to act. So I'm hoping that in future Martini will put her anger to some use and participate in the process. And perhaps also use her position of influence as a high profile reviewer to recommend top women writers, and encourage other people to vote for them.

Leaving aside the idea that I am a high-profile reviewer -- do you mean using my position to advocate for works like this? Or this? Or this? Or this? Writing a column about the process and the ballot seems to be an excellent way of putting my anger to use. It is leading to this discussion, if nothing else, and it is a discussion worth having. Or was I only supposed to put my anger to use in non-public forums, like a good little girl?


One small note: I was at last year's ceremony, and saw the groping incident. I'd say the audience reaction was shock. (It certainly was mine.) There was no laughter or appluase, just sort of a quick gasp in unison. And then Connie Willis decided to handle the incident for the moment by downplaying it and we followed her lead. Judging by the online discussion I saw afterward, I'd say most people in the SF community (not everyone, but it never is)agreed that it was very much not OK. This is all just my perception, and I can't speak for anyone else's, but that's how it felt to me: simply too big a shock to respond with outrage right away.

Thank you for your comments. Conversations like this are a wake up call to people like me, who work in isolation most of the time, don't have the bucks to participate regularly in the "con culture", and assume that if my works aren't nominated for anything a) they're not good enough and/or b) I don't schmooze enough. In either case, I just keep plugging along. I really need to get my head up above the trench line and see what's going on.

I'd be interested to see the demographics of World Con, and of those who take the time to vote and nominate. Are there less women, or are less women participating? Are there women participating and voting for the white male books along with the male crowd? It would be interesting to know.

Well, I'm a woman, and a nominator, and I have to admit that my novel nominees were all male, although none of them ended up on the ballot. I nominated:

The Last Witchfinder (woman protagonist, male author)
Shriek; An Afterword (woman protagonist, male author)
Odyssey (mixed cast, male author)
Vellum (heavily male cast, gay male author)
The Patron Saint of Plagues (male protagonist, male author)

I realize I also nominated all male in Novella (substituting John Barnes for Michael Swanwick), although I nominated a couple women in novelete and short story, and was sorry to see them not make the cut.

I just wasn't thinking about the authors when I nominated, I guess.

I'm still really surprised at Naomi Novik getting on, though. I read Temeraire and really enjoyed it, but it was pretty darn fluffy, I have to say.

Hi, Lynn! Good for you.

I think BroadUniverse has some demographics posted.

For me, this has all been a huge nudge to pay more attention, if nothing else. No, I don't believe it's a conspiracy or fear of boobies or whatever -- but I do think it is valuable to ask questions about the process.

BroadUniverse does have numbers here:

Yeah, I had a similar line of argument ("don't bitch if you didn't vote") directed at me when I expressed my concern over the initial version (rather than the amended one) of the best dramatic presentation long form short list.

Clearly this is a "pat" response from people involved in Worldcon and as a result it gets trotted out whenever an SF fans complains about anything.

My problem with it is that I don't think the argument works in the context of politics (from which it's culled "didn't vote? don't bitch") because whether or not your participated in the process has no effect upon the truth-value of the complaints they're making.

When you move that line of argument from a system in which there's near universal suffrage to a system where you have to pay to be a member and it starts to become really quite ridiculous.

How is it any different to a corporation telling people that they can't complain because they could very well buy shares and vote at shareholder meetings.

Whether you do or don't own stock, do or don't vote and pay or don't pay to be a member of worldcon, if you have criticisms to make then it's the content of the criticisms that makes them valid or invalid, not your democratic engagement with the process.

I'm the person that told Jonathan that I think his complaints have far less value because he doesn't participate in the process. And I still believe that. None of you folks complaining that the Hugo Award voters didn't nominate the things you think they should nominate are so poor that the $50 supporting membership is a significant barrier to entry.

> When you move that line of argument
> from a system in which there's near
> universal suffrage to a system where
> you have to pay to be a member and
> it starts to become really quite
> ridiculous.

So are you saying that you would have nominated if it didn't cost anything? Have you voted in the Locus Awards? They don't cost anything. Or are you just going to complain when other people don't do what you want them to do?

> How is it any different to a
> corporation telling people that
> they can't complain because they
> could very well buy shares and
> vote at shareholder meetings.

It isn't, not very much, although the amounts of money are likely different. There are few corporations in which you can invest as little at $50 in to have such a large stake in the decision-making process. (For the Hugo nominations, $50 would have bought you about 1/450 of the total process, although it's only about 1/7000 of the total eligible electorate.) I agree with the analogy other than the entry barrier is higher because it costs more. And that's important. For you, it seems that anything that costs you any time or any money at all is too much. I say that the amount of money makes a difference.

> Whether you do or don't own stock,
> do or don't vote...

I have always said that the level of difficult of entry makes a difference. For example, it would be very difficult for you to vote in a US mundane election, just as it would be very difficult for me to vote for an UK one; therefore, our perspectives on each others' elections shouldn't have "didn't vote/don't complain" applied to them. I'm concerned with people who _could_ be engaged relatively easily but choose not to do so.

> and pay or don't pay to be a member
> of worldcon, if you have criticisms
> to make then it's the content of the
> criticisms that makes them valid or
> invalid, not your democratic
> engagement with the process.

Fine. Just don't expect people who are engaged with the process to take you very seriously.

It would be different if it were actually difficult to become democratically engaged in the process, but it's not. The membership dues to join the World Science Fiction Society are not a significant barrier to entry.

Now, believe it or not, I'm not thrilled that memberships cost as much as they do. I have advocated (from the inside) that finding a membership classification costing around $20 (with a significantly reduced level of material so that the administering convention doesn't lose money; probably e-voting only and no paper publications) would be a good thing. There's nothing stopping Worldcons from offering such memberships, although if you want to force them to do so, you'd have to change the society's rules, which does again oblige one to join and get involved.

If you won't actually get involved, you're likely to be perceived as just a whiner and are likely to get tuned out.

And, more to the overall point, this whole argument sounds to me like, "I want other people to do what I tell them to do without me actually having to do anything, like, difficult or anything." That sounds like whining to me.

As I said to Racheline Maltese on Gather, you're looking for a problem that doesn't exist. I might have believed this theory 30 or 40 years ago, but the genders are fairly equal today. When I've coordinated writers workshops for the six Worldcons I worked on, I never had a problem balancing the sexes of the professionals providing critiques. As another Gather member said, one year does not a trend make. Joanne Rowling won best novel a few years back--to the chagrin of several industry pros--and Lois McMaster Bujold has been a perennial favorite on the ballot in the past.

In addition to Naomi Novik, I see that Julie Philips, Ginjer Buchanan, Sheila Williams, and a few women in the fan categories were nominated as well.

The real problem is getting the eligible folk out there to submit their nominations. Nippon 2007 gained at least 1,000 members when it won the site selection bid in 2004. Members of last year's Worldcon, L.A.con IV, were also eligible to nominate, bringing the number up to at least 7,000 people. Yet only 409 nominating ballots were cast—and many of those ignored all but the dramatic presentation categories.

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