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:
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.