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On the Net: Bring on the Digital Hugos by James Patrick Kelly
 

 

Bring On The Digital Hugos!

Interaction announced today that in addition to the usual categories, the 2005 Hugos will include an award for Best Web Site

Press Release from the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention

déjà vu

Here we go again. You may remember that the very first Hugo for a website was given in 2002 at the San Jose WorldCon. The winner was Locus Online. For those of you who came in late, the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, better known as the Hugos <http://www.wsfs.org/hugos.html>, are voted by past and present members of the WorldCon in a two stage ballot. Nominations for this year’s ballot will be closed by the time you read this and the final ballot should be posted on the web. Passports are in order if you want to attend the WorldCon this year: Interaction <http://www.interaction.worldcon.org.uk> will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 4-8.

The proposed Hugo for Best Website of 2004 is not a "regular" Hugo; it’s "special." According to Section 3.3.14 of the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society <http://www.wsfs.org/bm/const-2002.html#hugo> "Not more than one special category may be created by the current Worldcon Committee with nomination and voting to be the same as for the permanent categories. The Worldcon Committee is not required to create any such category; such action by a Worldcon Committee should be under exceptional circumstances only; and the special category created by one Worldcon Committee shall not be binding on following Committees. Awards created under this paragraph shall be considered to be Hugo Awards." Thus, although the committee that ran ConJose in 2002 decided to give the first website Hugo, their experiment did not oblige either Torcon <http://www.torcon3.on.ca> in 2003 or Noreascon <http://www.noreascon.org> in 2004 to continue the award–and, in fact, those conventions declined to do so.

 

exceptional

The phrase that leaps out at me from Section 3.3.14 is "under exceptional circumstances only." Is there anyone out there who considers the world wide web "an exceptional circumstance?" In my twenty-first century, it has become as commonplace as sliced bread and infomercials. Consider that all of the recent WorldCons have used websites as the key tool to communicate with their members. You can nominate and vote for the Hugos online, register for the masquerade, make your hotel reservations, scope out panels and preview restaurants. No, the exceptional circumstance referred to in Section 3.3.14 aren’t the existence of the web. It is that the Hugo awards are now seriously flawed and will become increasingly irrelevant until they are regularly given for websites.

Of course it is no easy thing to change a fannish institution that dates back some fifty years. Change, however, has always been part of the Hugos. The first awards were given in 1953: back then there were only seven categories, some very different from today’s: Novel, Professional Magazine, Excellence in Fact Articles, Cover Artist, Interior Illustrator, New SF Author or Artist, and Number One Fan Personality. Movies–later changed to the Dramatic Presentation category to include TV–were not recognized until 1958. And as recently as 2003 the Dramatic Presentation category was divided in two, Long and Short Form, to save Buffy <http://www.buffyguide.com> from being bludgeoned yet again by the Lord of the Rings <http://www.lordoftherings.net>.

However, some would probably argue that there are already too many Hugos. It would be folly, they might say, to create yet another category, much less give away multiple website awards. While I agree in principle with the need for conservation of Hugos, my solution would be to cut some of the soon-to-be-obsolete print categories in order to make room for digital replacements. What’s that? I can hear howls of pain already! But recall Cory Doctorow’s <http://www.craphound.com> Two Certainties, which we considered in this space several installments ago. They are 1. More people are reading more words off more screens every day. 2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off fewer pages every day. I’m sure you can do the math.

From the perspective of, say, ten years hence and viewed with the insight of the Two Certainties, current Hugo categories such as Semiprozine and Fanzine may seem as quaint as the Number One Fan Personality category of 1953. Indeed, if we look at the recent history of the Fanzine category, we can see the beginning of the shift from dead trees to digits. For although Noreascon chose not to give an official website Hugo last year, it nevertheless awarded a Hugo to a website. The excellent Emerald City <http://www.emcit.com/index.shtml> copped the silver rocket for Best Fanzine.

 

pretend

Let’s be clear here. I applaud Interaction’s decision to give that second "special" Hugo to a website. But I see it as a stopgap measure that does not begin to acknowledge the riches to be found on the web. The five sites that will make it onto the ballot will inevitably have as much in common as apples and oranges–no, make that apples and tigers and toenails and DVDs and molybdenum. If I were elected Supreme Being, I would decree that there be no less than five digital Hugos: Best Fiction Site, Best Non-Fiction Site, Best E-zine, Best Opinion Site, and Best Blog. Alas, I hold undisputed sway over this column only. But since Sheila lets me do pretty much as I please here, let me present to you (in alphabetical order) my hypothetical nominees for the Digital Hugos of 2004.

Best Fiction Site: Electric Story <http://www.electricstory.com>, Fictionwise <http://www.fictionwise.com>, Infinity Plus <http://www.infinityplus.co.uk>, SciFiction <http://www.scifi.com/scifiction>, Strange Horizons <http://www.strangehorizons.com>. Comments: Electric Story, Fictionwise, and Infinity Plus are all reprint sites, but offer treasures that are unique in all the web. The economics of paper publishing make it difficult to keep short stories in print. I look to these excellent sites to help preserve the history of the genre. SciFiction is the highest paying fiction market, and as such attracts many of the best writers working today. Strange Horizons is a web publishing phenomenon. Seemingly under-capitalized, it has flourished thanks to the selfless dedication of its staff. Many of tomorrow’s stars appear on this site regularly. I might easily have listed Strange Horizons in the best E-Zine category, but it feels right here.

Best Non-Fiction Site: Locus Online <http://www.locusmag.com>, SF Crowsnest <http://www.sfcrowsnest.com>, SF Revu <http://www.sfrevu.com>, SF Site <http://www.sfsite.com/home.htm>, SF Weekly <http://www.scifi.com/sfw>. Comments: Okay, so my definition of these categories is fluid. While all five nominees here report genre news, some are updated daily, some monthly. Moreover, they all offer review and opinion. So why aren’t they in my Opinion category? Because I say so, that’s why! Besides, they seem to be roughly of a type. If you absolutely positively have to stay up-to-date on breaking news in science fiction, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better site than Locus Online. However, SF Crowsnest, which bills itself as Europe’s most read science fiction site, catches many stories that Locus Online misses. While SF Site and SF Weekly do a fine job of covering the news, I read them mostly for their reviews and columns. SF Revu doesn’t get quite as much respect as the other nominees in this category, which is a shame, because it is every bit as polished.

Best E-Zine: Fantastic Metropolis <http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com>, Ideomancer <http://www.ideomancer.com>, Mars Dust <http://www.marsdust.com>, RevolutionSF <http://revolutionsf.com>, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America <http://www.sfwa.org>. Comments: Before we begin to discuss this category, we have to deal with the problem of SciFi.com <http://scifi.com>. If this 272.16 kilogram gorilla of a site, sponsored by television’s SciFi Channel, isn’t an E-Zine, then what is? The problem is that if I consider SciFi.com as a single entity, then I have to pull two of its outstanding subsidiary sites, SciFiction and SF Weekly, from their respective categories. And since they are two of my very favorite sites on all the web, I can’t quite bring myself to do it.

My idea of E-Zines is that they’re sites that combine fiction, non-fiction, reviews, criticism . . . in short, a little bit of everything. Of my five nominees, Mars Dust and RevolutionSF manage this with a dollop of attitude and a predilection for popular culture; they range the farthest afield from material traditionally considered to be in the genre. Fantastic Metropolis is one of our most eloquent advocates for a literary sensibility of the fantastic. I could just as easily have put Ideomancer in the fiction category with Strange Horizons, but it’s here in part because it comes out in quarterly issues. The cool thing about Ideomancer is that it’s published in Adobe’s pdf format, which downloads nicely onto my Pocket PC. Webmasters, this is a feature well worth considering! Sure, it’s a stretch to include the SFWA site here, but I had to put it somewhere, because it’s simply one of the most useful SF sites around. The essays are universally instructive, the fiction portal is comprehensive, and the news feature perks along nicely.

Best Opinion Site: Ansible <http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Ansible>, Best SF <http://www.bestsf.net>, Emerald City <http://www.emcit.com/index.shtml>, Internet Review of Science Fiction <http://www.irosf.com>, Tangent Online <http://www.tangentonline.com>. Comments: As I write this, both Tangent Online and Internet Review of Science Fiction are–temporarily, I hope–without editors. But even if the unthinkable happens and they fold, both deserve recognition for the splendid critical work they published in 2004. If there were an award for the Best Site You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, I’d give it to Best SF. And of course past Hugo winners Ansible and Emerald City are two of the finest fanzines on the web.

Best Blog: Boing Boing <http://boingboing.net>, The Mumpsimus <http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/c>, Futurismic <http://futurismic.com>, SFSignal <http://www.sfsignal.com>, Charlie’s Diary <http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blosxom.cgi>. Comments: Wait a minute! Blogs? Jim wants to give Hugos to blogs? Yes, I do. It says here that blogs are destined to move to the center of science fiction fandom. Soon, like maybe the day after tomorrow. Next Sunday at the latest. My nominees include three marvelous link-based blogs, Boing Boing, Futurismic, and SF Signal, and two of the most thoughtful personal blogs on the web, The Mumpsimus and Charlie’s Diary.

 

exit

Time for the obligatory moment of disclosure: I have stories on Fictionwise, Infinity Plus, SciFiction, and Fantastic Metropolis, essays on the SFWA site and interviews up on Locus Online and SF Weekly. But hey, I love all of these sites and know and respect many of the good people who make them possible. This should hardly come as a surprise. This is, after all, a friendly genre and I am your internet columnist!

So there you have it. Let’s see about getting some of these folks the Hugos they deserve, shall we?

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"On the Net: Bring on the Digital Hugos" by James Patrick Kelly, copyright © 2005 with permission of the author.

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