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March 2017



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the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people

There are a number of proposals being brainstormed in the various fandom internets (remember: anarchy--lots of people working and talking in tandem) towards amending the Hugo voting procedures to prevent slate voting from completely dominating the award. I don't think any of them are particularly workable***. One of them, the idea of presenting an opposing state, is not just an awkward kludge, but a radically bad idea for a number of reasons, not the least of it being that it's still unethical to game the system even when people I like are gaming it.

But there are more practical reasons to avoid slates. One is that when you create a slate you participate in shutting out the popular voice and the emergent story. You're turning the Hugo Awards into an echo of American two-party politics, completely divorced from the actual desires of the electorate and creating a "less of two evils" approach that will be even more effective at removing any actual value from the shortlist than a single slate does.

And then the next thing you know, everybody is making slates, and I'm pretty sure you can see the non-constructive anarchy that results, and as the apocryphal said, "Fuck that noise."

So I reiterate: I will never participate in a slate, and I will never vote for a work that is nominated as a result of a slate. Slates are a wrecking tool, and I don't see how they can be used in a constructive fashion. The Hugo Awards are designed to be a consensus process. It's why they use Instant Runoff Voting rather than first-past-the-post.

See kevin_standlee, one of the more experienced Hugo administrators around, for details on how the process works to prevent abuse here. The Hugos are designed to take the five (or four, or six) most popular candidates and choose the least generally disliked among them.

Maybe we should change the award name to "Least Generally Disliked Novel," but that's neither here nor there.

I have a more basic reason for feeling that twiddling with the Hugo system is a patch at best. And it's this: as a tabletop gamer and game-master of 32 years, I can tell you that the munchkins and the min-maxxers will always be with us, and attempts to build an ungameable system actually result in more gaming of it. They also result in the social normalization of gaming, because what you wind up with is systems that are so complex that only people really dedicated to min-maxxing them can get functionality out of them at all.

What does work to prevent gaming the systems?

Community standards.

I've said for years that if anybody wanted to spend $4000, and were clever about it, they could have a Hugo award. Less, in certain categories. It's been tried. (I refer you to Peter Nicholls' cogent writeup of the New Era Publications/Black Genesis Hugo-fixing conspiracy* of 1987. That was not the first time.)

Why don't we all do it?

I have four Hugo awards. Two are for fiction; two are for fan work.

I actually did pay for one of them, the 2013 Best Fancast Hugo, because Lonecon (the San Antonio Worldcon) could not afford bases for all the winners, so several of us shelled out of pocket after we learned we'd won because the award meant that much to us.

A Hugo award isn't cheap, by the way.

But it cost me considerably less than $4000.**

There are people in this world who make a very fine living from their novels who would love a Best Novel Hugo. Some of them could buy and sell my entire family. Some of them are smart enough to get away with it, unlike New Era Publications.

Hell, I'd like to win a Best Novel Hugo one day. I know for a fact that scott_lynch would.

So why don't they do it? Why don't I do it?

Because for the award to mean something, it has to be earned. It has to mean the respect and the admiration of our fellow fans****. *****

Hugos don't come with any money. (Many other major genre awards, such as the Tiptree and the Dick, do come with a nice check.) They don't really boost your sales. (A Best Novel Hugo will sell a few more copies of that particular book, and they can certainly get some translation action going over the long term.)

So why do we treasure them?

We treasure them (and I treasure my fanac Hugos as much as my fiction Hugos) because they mean that fandom noticed we did something pretty damned okay. They're a shiny gold star, and they're peer-awarded. It's a big deal.

I'd hate to think I'd been awarded that shiny gold star not because of the merits of my own work, but because somebody twisted arms to get it for me.

But when we try to game the system through slates (which are a form of minmax, oh yes), we violate community standards and we also create the twin unethical situations of depriving others of their voice (in the sense of having their votes count) and their just rewards (in the sense of having votes for them counted).

I consider slate balloting to be a form of theft, albeit one that's within the rules******.

So. How does the gaming community respond to munchkins?

Well, we make fun of them. We refuse to play with them. We refuse to share our resources with them. We volunteer to do jobs that the lazy bastards who want to game the system are too lazy to do, and thereby we enter the conversation of the community. We make ourselves useful. We join the Worldcon and we vote and do work to support that community in the long run.

(The Worldcon is a community, by the way. There's a reason you buy memberships to a Worldcon-or any fan con--and not "tickets." You're not paying for the privilege of attending an entertainment or to vote in an award: you are paying to support a community. A Worldcon membership is dues, not admission.)

Human society works in general because it's useful, and because it has been useful in the past. There are those who take advantage of the general good-will of others, and our societal defense against those people is to deny them the benefits of association with the rest of us.

Shunning, mockery, and volunteerism are also well-established strategies for dealing with troublemakers in any situation that is mostly governed by consensus, be it a tribe, a family, or a fandom. Or a gang of kids in the local park. I believe that in the long run, fandom and the Hugos will come out of this fine.

Or at least as fine as we always are, complete with moon men and obstructionists and contrarians galore.

*Actual conspiracy, not hyperbole conspiracy

**Hundreds for bases, not one red cent for votes.

***Some disenfranchise long-term voters (no); some are overly complex or just as open to concerted gaming as the current system.

****Or at least that you're the least-disliked of the best.

*****Now, minmax and munchkining are not against the rules. If they were against the rules, the Hugo Committee could take action to remove the cheaters from the ballot. The entire goal of minmaxxing is to get away with exactly as much as the rules permit.

******What is permitted and what is ethical do not always intersect. This is why we have judges.