Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Hugo Category Hijacking

Up-Front Disclaimer: I am not one of the 2015 Hugo Award Administrators. I will not be ruling on the eligibility of any works for the 2015 Hugo Awards. I am not on the 2015 Hugo Awards Administration Subcommittee. I do not have any insider information on opinions of any of the members of the 2015 Hugo Awards Administration Subcommittee. On the matters addressed in this article I do not speak for the 2015 Hugo Awards Administration Subcommittee, the 2015 Worldcon, the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee, the World Science Fiction Society, the WSFS Mark Protection Committee, or any other entity other than myself personally.

There are people who feel very strongly that a given thing should win a Hugo Award. That's good because it means the work that many people have done to promote the award means something. It's bad when they try to shoe-horn things into a category where they don't belong — particularly when there isn't a category into which a given work actually falls, but they insist that There Must Be A Way.

There is something called the Women Destroy... project, to which I've donated and thought to be a worthy cause. It consists of both non-fiction and fiction works, and the pieces have been variously published online and in issues of Lightspeed magazine. There are people who insist that it must be on the Hugo Award ballot and have seized upon Best Related Work as where it belongs. While I understand why they might think so, and indeed when first asked about it, I couldn't quite figure what to do with it, but the more I've thought about it, the more I think that Women Destroy... as a single work is not eligible in any Hugo Award category.

Let's start with the definition of Best Related Work from the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.5: Best Related Work. Any work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.
Now, here's my chain of reasoning about why Women Destroy... isn't an eligible work in this category:
  1. There is no Best Fiction Anthology category. Some awards have such categories, but the Hugo Awards do not. The individual fiction works in an anthology are eligible in their own "story" categories, but the work as a whole is not eligible. Fiction Anthologies are not eligible in any category.

  2. Individual non-fiction articles are eligible in Best Related Work and have won. See "We Have Always Fought" in the 2014 Hugo Awards.

  3. Somewhat anomalously, collections of non-fiction articles appear to be also eligible in this category, and have also won, such as The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction in the 2005 Hugo Awards and Chicks Dig Time Lords in the 2011 Hugo Awards. There's never been a case when a collection made the final ballot along with one of its included articles, and I expect the administrator would be faced with a difficult situation if both received sufficient nominations to make the ballot.

  4. It seems likely that a non-fiction collection that happened to have a single fictional work in it would be eligible, because it probably wouldn't fail the "is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text" test. It seems implausible to me to claim that the fictional contributions to Women Destroy... are merely incidental to the nonfiction collection.

  5. In the past, graphic novels and illustrated prose fiction have won the categories that are the ancestors of Best Related Work (Best Related Book, Best Non-Fiction Book). That's because for complex and probably fallacious reasons, such works were classed as "Art Books" and thus nonfiction. But it's irrelevant today as a precedent because there's now a Best Graphic Story category into which works of graphic fiction go while actual art books stay in Best Related.

  6. There's a general principle in the Hugo Awards (not explicitly stated) that a given work can only be eligible in one category. Therefore, if a work is eligible in category A, it's not simultaneously eligible in category B.

Applying the above, I conclude that Women Destroy... is a collection or anthology of both fiction and nonfiction works. Each of the individual works is individually eligible in a category, and it is not in my opinion noteworthy primarily for the nonfiction aspects of the collection. (That doesn't mean those nonfiction works aren't noteworthy on their own; I'm saying that they're not the primary point of the collection, with the fiction works being only incidental.) Furthermore, the way in which is packaged (setting aside the online elements) are as parts of a Hugo-Award eligible periodical publication. With every piece of the collection individually eligible, the work as a whole is not eligible.

I admit that there is no clear-cut ruling from a Hugo Administrator on this. That's because Administrators generally won't rule prospectively on such things and will wait until a work gets enough nominations to make the shortlist. However, what prompts me to write this article is people who are calling for people to nominate Women Destroy... and "dare" the Administrator to disqualify them. There is IMO an implication here that a social media campaign can force Hugo Awards Administrators to do their bidding and could overturn an administrator decision that goes against them simply by screaming on the internet.

Those people who want there to be a Best Anthology Hugo Award should be campaigning to get WSFS to add such a category, coming to the WSFS Business Meeting, and proposing those changes. I'll help them write the proposal. But simply posting on Twitter that they should hijack an existing category because a work they like Really Deserves a Hugo Award is not such a good thing.

Let me put this another way: If a work that is mainly a fiction anthology that also has some nonfiction works published in it forces its way into Best Related Work solely due to online campaigning, particularly if the Administrator disqualifies it and then reverses the decision due to a social media campaign, I expect that there will be a WSFS Constitutional amendment introduced this year that says, in effect, "That was the wrong decision, and future Administrators should not make that decision again." It would not be the first time that the WSFS Business Meeting has implicitly criticized a past Administrator's decisions, including ones I co-authored. I could be wrong about this. I just think it a likely possibility based on my experience of watching how the Business Meeting behaves on things like this.
Tags: hugo awards, worldcon, wsfs

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