So a Hugo Nomination Issue That Was Bugging Me

As always with the Hugo Awards, there were various controversies and kerfuffles this year. One that was nagging at me was the fuss around the number of named people in the Strange Horizons nomination. That got heated at times and so I didn’t bring up the thing that was bugging me, mainly because I didn’t think it really applied to Strange Horizons specifically but there was a precedent there that would be an issue in the future.

So I decided to wait until after the voting to keep the issue separate from Strange Horizons specifically. I don’t want this to be seen as a dig at them as they do credible work and are a worthy finalist. However, there is an issue.

Strange Horizons had 85+ named finalists for commendable reasons and I understand their reasoning for all the names. The lowest number of votes to be a finalist in 2021 for the Semipro category was 39 (PodCastle). I think those two numbers are an issue i.e. more named finalists than votes it takes to be a finalist.

That’s not a dig at Strange Horizon’s legitimacy as a finalist as the zine got 124 votes in total, so even with 85 fewer votes (assuming all the SH names voted for themselves) they would have been a plausible finalist. Also, the EPH stats show SH had broad support and I don’t doubt that even if SH had only had a generic “Strange Horizons Team” instead of a list of names, it would have brought the same number of votes to the table.

In this category in particular, the longlist has several very credible outlets including some with finalists in other categories. They clearly have more general support than their numbers suggest in terms of nominations. Clarkesworld got 13 votes and yet in other categories had two novelettes and best editor finalists! So marshalling votes is clearly a problem. [Bad example as Clarkesworld has stated it is no longer a semiprozine]

On the positive side, maybe having multiple names for big group efforts is exactly the right thing to do. If semipro magazines (and maybe fanzines) habitually list all its contributors and they all get to name themselves as finalists then that may really boost the number of people voting in the category. That would be a net gain for the category (ceremony issues aside).

However, everybody would end up having to do it even if they didn’t much care for the idea. If only some zines do it then it creates a voting exploit. A zine with 40 names that bullet vote would have beaten Escape Pod and Pod Castle. 45 names bullet voting would have beaten Beneath Ceaseless Skies [I haven’t checked my maths].

In other words, there’s a precedent there with implications for future voting. I’ll reiterate, not a dig at Strange Horizons nor am I suggesting that this was their motive or that they gained any kind of unfair advantage as they clearly didn’t.

I think there’s three choices here:

  1. Everybody in the semipro category follow SH’s lead. I think that will encourage people to vote in the category not just for the egoboo but an extra motive helps and these down ballot categories need some love.
  2. Rule changes on named finalists e.g. the max number of names per finalist is linked to the smallest number of votes a finalist got at the nomination stage (eg say a quarter of the 6th place finalist, so this year a quarter of 39, so about 10 names). Alternatively, a fixed limit of say 8 names and then it has to be “XXXX Team”.
  3. Do nothing until one day it becomes a more obvious problem.

I don’t think 1, is a bad idea but people need to be clear on the what & why of it.


19 responses to “So a Hugo Nomination Issue That Was Bugging Me”

  1. Clarkesworld got 13 votes and yet in other categories had two novelettes and best editor finalists! So marshalling votes is clearly a problem.

    In spite of Neil Clarke’s reminders that they no longer qualify. Maybe some nominators do know and think the category definition should be different. But probably they still don’t know.


  2. More FUD? Et tu, Camestros?

    Also, a lot of these people (like the SH staffers) don’t join the Worldcon, therefore don’t have a vote to give to themselves.

    They also probably won’t get a rocket if they win. The Worldcon committee will only furnish a finite number of trophies to the winner — let’s say four, as I know was done at least once. Worldcons have sometimes facilitated contact with the trophy maker for winners who wanted to pay for a copy to be made, but the artist doesn’t have to do it if it becomes burdensome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Number of trophies definitely wasn’t an issue with SH’s nom. I can’t remember how many they said they would want, but I know it was less than we’ve seen given out to Uncanny for the last few years.


    • Yeah, I think the assumption here that everyone contributing and listed by SH would also pony up the money to vote in the Hugos is off base. A lot of contributory authors might be thrilled to be part of a win for SH or another zine, as they were to be published in it, but may not be paying to vote for themselves. And staff certainly don’t have to and might not be able to afford to.

      Voting in the Hugos is a luxury so unless SH was going to pay for all those people to register to vote, the listing of 85 names didn’t matter. However, listing 85 names as your team in the nomination gets to be a bit much. It’s not really how magazines and zines work. Only staff should really be named as the people who put the magazine together. And if you have 85 staff members and list them all, it’s sweet but not really fair to the main editors and people who do most of the work putting the magazine together. This is clearly, however, a current issue that needs to be worked out between magazines (and podcasts) and WorldCon.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’d prefer a hard limit of 6-8 names decided upon by the business meeting with regards to the trophies, but up to convention to decide for award ceremony, news releases, souvenir books, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I LOL at “whose names are on the next slide”. The Hugo hosts weren’t about to take up ceremony time to read all that.

    As the saying goes “ain’t nobody got time for that”.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I’m just wondering what would happen if a finalist for Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) took the same approach… the credits for “The Old Guard” included, umm, how many people, exactly?

    (I am generally in favour of people feeling good if they have done something good, but I think there needs to be some compromise with practicality, somewhere along the line.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I thought the only reason to name 84 people was to let them get into the special events and special seating at Worldcon or Hugo finalists. It hadn’t crossed my mind that it was a way to cheat.

    A limit of 2 people per nomination makes sense, although I could see going as high as 3, and 4 wouldn’t be entirely insane. But it makes the most sense to me to just say that two people is the limit.


    • Yeah, it seemed to me the likelier motivations were to protest the ceiling on how many get finalist credit (already complained about by the Journey Planet team) and to compel people to be offered virtual program slots, or receive whatever swag there might be (nominee pins?)

      Liked by 2 people

    • I absolutely don’t think SH saw it as a way to cheat. I want to stress that. Just that it inadvertently creates something that could be exploited by somebody less ethical. I don’t want to lay out steps (or have people suggest them)

      Liked by 2 people

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