Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Why Administrators Aren't Activists

I'm going to promote a comment in an unrelated entry to a top post and respond to it here.

Barry Deutsch asks:

In a comment on File 770, you wrote:

Are you saying that you want the Administrator to decide, “In my subjective opinion, [named work] is not eligible”? The last time an Administrator did that in that category, the WSFS Business Meeting responded with a constitutional change to the category definition that in effect told the Administrator, “Don’t do that again. Let the voters decide whether something actually qualifies for this category on subjective grounds. Your job is solely technical, including things like ‘was it published in the correct year?'”

If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to read more about this. Can you give me a little more information - such as, what the work in question was, and what year the WSFS Business Meeting responded, and what the amendment was?

There are two cases that come immediately to mind. (ETA: Plus a third pointed out to me after I originally posted this.)

1. 1989 and A Brief History of Time (Scroll down and click "further detail" for a bit more information.)

In 1989, Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time had sufficient nominations to make the final ballot. The Administrator ruled it ineligible, as the definition of Best Non-Fiction Book (the title of the category now known as Best Related Work) at that time said that the book had to be about "science fiction, fantasy, or fandom," and thus the Administrator ruled that science books weren't eligible. This decision was controversial. There were attempted changes to the WSFS Constitution that year that were eventually rejected, IMO mainly because nobody could agree on a consistent proposal.

It took several years of argument, but eventually the 1996 WSFS Business Meeting passed (and the 1997 meeting ratified) the change of the category from "Best Non-Fiction Book" to "Best Related Book," thus:

Any work whose subject is related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time in book form during the previous calendar year, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text.

Note that ABHOT would have been eligible under this wording.

2. 1993 and the Relocation of Works.

In 1993, there would have been only three works in Best Short Story due to the 5% rule. We (I was one of the Administrators) elected to use our authority to relocate works between categories and moved two shorter novelettes into Short Story. The 1994 WSFS Business Meeting (Item 13ff) passed (and 1995 ratified) changes to the rules reducing the ability of Administrators to move works between categories.

There are other cases, but these are the two off the top of my head where the message from WSFS to Administrators has been, "Your job is to count votes and check eligibility. You are not to make subjective judgments. If the voters put a work in a category, you had better have better reasons than you've shows so far for moving or disqualifying them." Note that during this time, no technical disqualifications (wrong year, usually) have been seriously questioned.

ETA: Cheryl Morgan points out to me the matter of "The Lady Astronaut of Mars," originally published in audiobook form only. The 2013 Hugo Awards Administrator disqualified it as a novella (where it had the third-highest number of nominations) on the grounds that because it was read instead of printed on paper or electrons on a web site or suchlike, it wasn't eligible for the "written fiction" categories. (See page 20 of the details of the 2013 Hugo Awards.) Fortunately, the 2014 Administrator did not compound the error by ruling that the print publication of the story (in 2013) was not eligible because the previous audiobook publication (in 2012) exhausted the work's eligibility, and it won the 2014 Hugo Award. The 2014 WSFS Business Meeting passed (and 2015 ratified) "A Story by Any Other Name" (see p. 11 of the minutes), which explicitly made audiobook publication equivalent to print. To me this is another case of WSFS telling the Administrator to not be an activist and to stick to counting ballots, checking word counts, and confirming publication dates.
Tags: business meeting, hugo awards, wsfs

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