Hugo 2019 – Looking at Fanwriters Part 2

I wanted to do this in two parts, first to look at the packets and then try and look beyond that.

One approach to ranking a set of fanwriters for the Hugo Awards might be to pick the example in the packet for each writer that you thought was the best example of their work and then rank each of those exemplars against each other. I think if I did that, I’d probably put Alasdair Stuart or Foz Meadows highest. But…it doesn’t feel right as a way of evaluating the finalists systematically*.

It fails in a couple of ways:

  • Reviews: longer critical essays or essays with personal insights will on a piece-by-piece comparison win out when judging writing. A good functional review will adopt a more ‘objective’ style of informative writing, which is technically hard to do but whose qualities are less obvious.
  • Broader aspects of fan writing: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry included a link to a Twitter thread in her packet contribution and it is a good example of how fanwriting also includes commentary in formats other than essays. Compiling news, parodies, event comments on other sites are part of the mix.

With reviews in particular both James Davis Nicoll and Charles Payseur write a lot of what I call broad-survey reviews of short fiction. Those are styles of reviews that provide core details about the work, plot summaries and then some insight into the story. With so much short fiction available, this is the kind of fannish work that’s both vital and also runs the risk of being seen as gatekeeping. Delivering reviews that are both fair and informative and in sufficient number to be useful to a reader looking for stories to read, is a difficult task. I look at the scope of what sites like Rocket Stack Rank (for example) manage to review and I don’t know how people manage it. I can barely find the time to read the stuff I’m actively wanting to read!

This kind of review writing comes down less to individual examples and more to the broad brushstrokes — something which is true when considering Best Fanzine also. How effective are these reviews to me as a reader to finding works I want to read? Note, that reviews and essays that border review and criticism often play a quite different role: that of being part of a conversation about a story. The emphasis then is more on a shared experience between the writer and the reader who may have already read the story.

Of course, that particular set of tunnels in this particular rabbit hole I’m in doesn’t get me much further as I don’t think I can rank the broad-survey style reviews of the finalists any better!

The sense of fanwriting as being something that extends beyond essays and reviews is also important. I concluded my other post on the finalists with a conclusion that the packet process itself may distort how we see fanwriting.

  • Bogi Takács — I mainly read eir Twitter account and the insights that gives into somebody participating in fandom with experiences and perspectives different from my own. I think that’s an important kind of fanwriting.
  • Foz Meadows — As well as Twitter has a Tumblr that often looks at fan-ficition and the issues around it. Again, not always SFF neccesarily but another important aspect of fanwriting.
  • James David Nicolls — His Young People Read Old SFF is always entertaining. Now, the bulk of the text in any entry is quotes from the people who read the story, so I can see why he didn’t include an example in the packet but as a project it is an excellent example of fanwriting as a kind of social glue that helps join fans together.
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry — I’ve already mentioned twice her Twitter thread on eugenics in SFF. Other media platforms encourage different styles of writing but also disseminate ideas in different ways.
  • Alasdair Stuart — He’s involved in some many things that I’d worry I’d miss one. I haven’t read his newsletter but that’s another interesting alternative approach, which carries with it some of the classic elements of fanzines (i.e. a subscriber base).
  • Charles Payseur — Drunk reviews of classic Goosebumps! Fanwriting should be fun (at least sometimes) and reflect the many ways we engage with stories whether critically, emotionally or sometimes intoxicatedly.

Oh and am I any closer to ranking these writers? Nope. The dilemma of a strong field is that in the end ranking s come down to small, possibly trivial differences.

*[Also, there is nothing at all wrong with just going with your gut. I’m just heading down my own overly analytic rabbit hole here.]

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15 thoughts on “Hugo 2019 – Looking at Fanwriters Part 2

  1. “I look at the scope of what sites like Rocket Stack Rank (for example) manage to review and I don’t know how people manage it.”

    I take heed of comparative advantage. I focus on work so other people can focus on social stuff. Over all there is more of both than if every tried to work and be social.

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  2. I think that Sjunneson-Henry’s body of 2018 Fan Writing work is quite slight compared to the other finalists, given that the 3 pieces in the packet, while of good quality, are all paid work, and one of them is Professional. The linked Tweet thread is well-done.

    Three of Stuart’s five pieces are also paid work, and I am particularly unimpressed by the fact that he has deliberately removed the site of publication for the one which is Professional. He has a good body of unpaid Fan Writing on his personal site, yet only two pieces of it included in his packet.

    Three of Meadows’ five packet pieces are also paid work, despite having a good body of unpaid Fan Writing.

    Two of Payseur’s eight packet pieces are paid work, but he also has a significant body of unpaid fan work.

    Three of Takacs’ numerous packet pieces are also Professional, but e also has a significant body of unpaid fan work.

    Nicoll has included a massive amount of unpaid fan work in his packet, and left out all of his Pro work, for which I thank him.

    While I recognize that paid work in non-professional venues such as Semiprozines is technically eligible as Fan Writing, I consider Fan Writing to be something that a fan contributes to other fans out of love and generosity. If I were feeling particularly churlish, I would judge the finalists based purely on the unpaid work they’ve included in the packet. However, I have decided to judge them based on the quality and quantity of unpaid work I can find for them, disregarding all of their paid work.

    I was extremely unhappy that last year’s Fan Writer award went to someone for Professional writing. I would like to see the definition for this category revised to eliminate work which has been done for paying venues. In lieu of that, I will make my personal protest by not considering such work when I rank the finalists on my ballot.

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    1. Volume is an odd thing isn’t it? I thought about writing about that as an aspect of the category. On the one hand suggesting that volume of work matters seems odd for a writing award but in this category there is a sense that how much you write matters, probably because it’s an overall award.

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      1. In terms of some things, volume might not matter, but I think for Fan Writing — which is for a body of work done during the award year — it’s certainly a consideration. If you think of Fan Writing as a labor of love and a gift to other fans (which I do), then both the size and the quality of that gift are important.

        Someone could write the most amazing fan essay in the world, and while I might be moved to nominate it for Best Related Work, I wouldn’t be willing to nominate them for Fan Writer if that was the only eligible piece they had written during the year.

        Similarly, if someone had written 500 blog posts during the year which amounted to brief synopses of all the works they had read, I wouldn’t be willing to nominate them for Fan Writer because the value of that contribution is, to me, much lower than the value of 12 lengthy, well-thought-out reviews which engage deeply with the works they’ve read.

        And of course, I judge Fan Writing by how it affects me personally. The contributions of someone who writes exclusively about anime, for instance, aren’t going to have the effect for me that the work of someone who writes novel reviews will have.

        As with all Hugo categories, each voter has to make judgments which would ideally be objective — but by necessity, those judgments will be completely subjective, and based on what they like and what is important to them. But that is exactly what makes the Hugo Awards a recognition based on “what is most liked by a certain group of people (aka Worldcon members)”.

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    2. I also feel that paid work is not fanwriting and ignore paid work, when evaluating fanwriters. Five of this year’s finalists do have a significant body of fanwork, but one has only very little. And while I don’t mind fanwriter finalists linking to paid work in their packets, IMO the packets should include only actual fanwork. But five of six finalists included paid work in their packets and apparently there is no rule against this, though I remember some upset when a work by one of the fanartist finalists was declared ineligible and omitted from the packet.

      Regarding volume, I value quality over quantity, but I wouldn’t nominate someone for best fanwriter on the basis of just one or two essays, even if they’re good essays. Nor am I going to nominate someone for best fanwriter, if all of their work is for paying venues.

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  3. Taking a bit of a step back, what’s the point of fan writing? Or at least, the sort of fan writing Hugo voters want to honour?
    I think I personally want people who have the same broad interests as me (mostly SF books but then other SFnal media) who get words down on paper expressing their interesting opinions better than I can generally manage. But that really covers reviews and essays, and there’s also the element of contributing to the indefinable ‘community’ that needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.

    (I was going to try and make some categories that fitted my idea, but I can’t get them to make sense yet, which possibly means I’ve gone down a dead end!)

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  4. For the record, the effort to read and review for Rocket Stack Rank pretty consistently amounts to the equivalent of reading one novel a week and writing one novel a year. That is, I read about 100,000 words of short fiction per week and my reviews (not counting the parts that are machine-generated) come to about 100,000 words per year. That’s enough to cover the 10 main magazines, the major original anthologies, and all the Tor novellas plus one-off stories that people point me to. Being retired helps, but I think almost anyone could make time to do the same thing, if it were a priority.

    The hardest part is usually coming up with the short, spoiler-free “blurb” for each story. Something that gives the reader a good idea of what to expect but without spoiling the story or selling it short.

    Of course all the cross-referencing with other reviewers, analysis of the data, selection of outstanding stories of special interest, and general articles are all extra, but it does help that there are two of us.

    As far as Best Fanwriter goes, I always thought that was judged by general-purpose articles, not reviews (as opposed to lengthy, critical analyses). And I agree with JJ that it shouldn’t include work that was paid for.

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    1. The way I understand the fanwriter category, it’s for any kind of fannish writing, so critical essays, reviews, interviews, fanfiction, humor pieces, link/news round-ups and even Twitter (e.g. I nominated O. Westin of Mirco SFF this year) count. In practice, Hugo nominators tend to prefer critical essays over other forms, but there are always exceptions, e.g. Chuck Tingle, Alexandra Erin, who narrowly missed the ballot during the puppy years, or Cam.

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      1. Ah, I really like the Micro SFF account, but I can’t bring myself to include the production of straight fiction in fan writing.
        (Although maybe the sort of parodies or satires that’s effectively just making a non-fiction point through fiction would be okay for me)
        I do wish there was a category where that sort of work fitted more naturally though.

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    2. Greg Hullender: As far as Best Fanwriter goes, I always thought that was judged by general-purpose articles, not reviews (as opposed to lengthy, critical analyses).

      On the contrary, Fan Writers who write good reviews (as opposed to the synopses masquerading as reviews that a lot of book bloggers put out these days :roll:) have always been among the people recognized by the category. And the good reviewers tend to be the ones I nominate for Fan Writer, and who get to the top of my ballot — along with the people who provide other resources which make it easier for me to wade through the deluge of what’s published, to find things that I will enjoy. (This is one reason why I produce all those lists which make it easier to identify which works and creators one wants to nominate for the Hugo Awards — because that is the sort of resource which has a lot of value for me.)

      One of the things that really surprised me when I started dipping into the older-style fanzines was how many of them are full of what I call “navel-gazing” (technically, they’re called perzines, but a lot of the fanzines do this, too) — where the author/editors have written lengthy pieces about themselves, their thoughts, and their experiences on subjects that have nothing to do with SFF fandom. Occasionally some of these are really interesting, but a lot of them strike me as pompous bloviating by people who perceive themselves to be far more interesting and erudite than they actually are. And “pompous bloviating” is actually a good description of a large majority of the Letters of Comment (LOC) which appeared in the old-style fanzines: the “art” of talking smack about other fans, which was once considered the pinnacle of Fan Writing (the FAAn Awards still have a category for Best Letterhack). I “get” that there is an audience for that sort of writing; it just doesn’t include me.

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      1. I was struck by the sheer amount of pompous bloviating in the old fanzines I looked at for the Retro Hugos. Lots of endless feuds in the letter columns and a lot of navelgazing examples of fandom talking about itself. There was interesting content in some of those old fanzines, e.g. very earnest musings on how science fiction can help to make a more peaceful and democratic postwar world, an obituary for Abraham Merritt, a report about Boskone, a discussion whether Heinlein’s “Coventry” is a concentration camp or not. I even found the interior art featuring naked women, drawn by people who has obviously never seen a woman close up, strangely amusing. Oh yes, and I noticed that a beloved fanwriter apparently had dyslexia.

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      2. Thanks for saying this, Cora, it’s nice to know that it’s not just me. 🙂

        Of course, this type of “fan writing” also exists on the internet now — I stumbled across a blog example of it, by an old-time fan, a few months ago while doing some research (and it was complete with the snarky LOC in the comments; I just rolled my eyes. 🙄 ). it’s just that it’s not the sort of thing most Filers are interested in, so we rarely see links to such blogs or have our attention called to them.

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      3. I’m not surprised that it’s still around, though you’re probably not likely to see that sort of thing, unless you’re specifically looking for it. Though come to think of it, the tone of some of the puppy blogs is similar.

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