The Coming of the Ent March

So, Hugo Awards once more. I was tempted to talk about piracy again, since I found out this week exactly how hard that’s hitting my sales, but piracy is like any other crime: Most of the perpetrators refuse to see themselves as having done anything wrong, and will often accuse the one they’re pirating from of being “wrong” for being upset at stolen from. So saying anything is like shouting into a void. Which does say something nice about the current Hugo Awards. All the controversy aside, at least something’s changing here.

Which is what I wanted to talk about, but not with this year’s Hugo Award. No, I’m talking about next year’s Hugo Award. Because regardless of what happens this year, it’s only the first act of what’s to come … And that’s where part of the whole debate begins, I believe.

I’m going to be looking at a few comments here in writing this, both from last week’s infamous post (still getting hits after all these days) and from other posts I’ve seen around the internet, but there’s one ultimate conclusion that I’ll be moving towards with this: This year—2015—will not be the year of the Hugo with an asterisk next to it. At least, not for the reasons that so many vocal individuals are espousing. You’ve probably seen the comments somewhere. ‘The Hugos of 2015 will forever have an asterisk next to them for unfair shenanigans!’ or some such like that. Basically, the sentiment is that the SPs have ruined the Hugos this year, and that’s going to leave a black mark on this year forever more, but next year things will be “fixed” and the problem will be gone.

And there’s the kicker. Next year.

Here’s the thing. If the insular crowd is upset that the Hugos aren’t going the way they want them this year … next year they’re probably going to have to curl up in a ball and practice breathing into a paper bag. Why? Well, let’s look at a comment from last week.

I still feel the Puppies are barking up the wrong tree and, at best, act from assumptions antithetical to the roots and mulch up from which the forest, against which they lift their legs, has grown.

Okay, that’s fair. You can believe what you want, and in fact, maybe that is what the puppies are doing—peeing on the trees in the forest of Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. Which will cause … what, exactly? That’s where things get interesting.

See, one of the reasons that the Hugos have been able to become what they are right now in the first place is that they have slowly become a very small portion of the forest. How many people read Sci-Fi/Fantasy every year? I’ve seen some numbers thrown around, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just pick a low-ball and say 1 million worldwide. We can all agree this is a very small number, and far from accurate, right? Good. Because that’ll make this next point a bit more jarring.

In 2014, there were 3,587 ballots casts for the Hugo Awards (source here). And that was a high year. There were 1,848 votes casts in 2013. 1,094 in 2010.

Even out of a million fans worldwide (again, a low number), we can see a problem here. At it’s highest (2014) Hugo voting has is representative of exactly .003587 of total audience. That is, to say, .3587%. Not 3 percent. Point three percent.

Congratulations, Hugos. One way or another, you represent a collective of voting power over what becomes the “Best” Sci-Fi/Fantasy of the year that even calling you the 1% in an occupy-like statement is too generous.

Clearly, this is an issue. Especially considering that some of those who have been most dead set against changing it also seem to be those who—and I may be wrong here—would look at any other situation where less than half a percent of the whole was making all the decisions and scream bloody murder. Maybe I’m wrong, after all, I suspect personally that some who scream that everyone should have a voice in reality subscribe to the theory of “Everyone can have a voice as long as my voice is the one that’s listened to.”

But what does this mean? We’ve got a huge population of readers that aren’t at all involved in the process of nominating and voting on what they believe to be the best every year. And for an award whose mantra is “The awards are run by and voted on by fans.”

Sure, they might be fans who are doing it. But only a very, very small portion of them. So small, in fact, that the entire current voting population falls into the margin of error size of the whole. Which kind of throws the validity of “… excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy” into question, doesn’t it?

And this is where the SP have a point. The Hugos cannot be representative when so few people are voting. There are so few voters on even the best year that the closest sense that we have that any of the votes are actually right are the public reactions. Which, quite frankly, are mixed. I’ve definitely had cases before when discussing books with readers where I’ve brought up the Hugo Awards, only to be met with a blank-faced “So?” because that individual has never agreed with or enjoyed anything produced by the Hugos.

Now, does this mean we should ignore all the prior Hugos? No, we shouldn’t. But it does point out that something is wrong. Currently the Hugo voters are the half-percent. A collective few who can basically vote whatever they want. Some have pointed out during this current debate that as few as thirty votes can be all it takes to win. Thirty votes. To represent a million readers.

Now, if we do some numbers playing with statistics, we can see that it is possible for the Hugos to be representative if enough of a spread of voters are involved. The problem is, the Hugos are in a situation where that does not appear to be the case, where an influx of readers or fans of one author who has used every means available to plug his work can be the one who takes the award home. With the awards determined by so few, all someone needed until now was just fifty fans, and that could be all the difference.

Right, right, to the point.

Looking back at the comment above, talking about the puppies lifting their legs on the forest. Here’s the thing: Most of the current insulars are against this not because it’s ‘an affront to Sci-Fi/Fantasy,’ but because they don’t want the forest to wake up. Right now, they’re comfortable. They’ve got things the way they like it. It’s why you have statements coming from the insulars like this one:

The Hugos don’t belong to the set of all people who read the genre; they belong to the worldcon, and the people who attend and/or support it. The set of all people who read SF can start their own award.

Now wait a minute, according to the Worldcon site, we have this:

The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They were first awarded in 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. The awards are run by and voted on by fans.

So anyone who is a fan of the genre, which is Science-Fiction and Fantasy, according to the official site is welcome to vote, as they are fans, and as long as they buy the membership. So why are the insulars so adamant that these fans not come to the worldcon voting process?

Because they’re scared. Scared of Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans like the one I talked to the other day. I was hanging out on one of the writing IRCs I lurk on while working, and a reader of my other blog popped in to say hi and to let me know that he was really enjoying the Hugo packet, and was looking forward to placing his votes as he finished each section. Up until he’d read a post I made on the tropic on my other blog, he had not been aware that anyone could participate. Once he was told that it was, he went out and bought himself a membership and was reading through the material and voting on it.

He’s not a SP or an insular (in fact, judging by the comments made on my other blog, he’s suspicious of both). And you see, whether or not he’s one or the other doesn’t really matter. What he is is part of the forest, the forest that the puppies ‘lifted their legs against.’ And he’s not mad … no more than the average person would get mad at a puppy that relieved itself on your foot. However, what he is now is awake. He’s aware. And he’s voting!

And that’s what the insulars are truly afraid of, and why this year isn’t really the big year for an asterisk. Next year will be that year. Right now, the insulars are shouting as loud as they can, trying to drown out the barking puppies. And you know what? To most Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans, it’s just noise.

But it’s noise that’s waking them up. Making them look around and say “What’s going on here?” It’s noise that’s drawing attention to the Hugos, alerting the silent readers who before, like the reader of my other blog, never even knew that they were allowed to participate. And regardless of who they agree with … a lot of them are going to say “Oh, cool,” and get in line for the chance to support their favorite works.

That‘s what the insulars are afraid of. The Hugos have been a large award for a long time, but they’ve also been voted on by a phenomenally small group of people for an award that’s suppose to represent Sci-Fi/Fantasy as a whole.

And I’m not saying we should string them up for it. The world used to be a very large place, with news taking time to reach the other sides. The Hugos did what they could, but along the way they became a small group that controlled something big, because there wasn’t a way for those who weren’t right nearby to be as involved.

Now? The world is small, and it’s much easier for those who are not “trufans” (and I’ll admit, I still think that’s a very poorly chosen term, even in proper context) to get involved. The Hugo Awards can actually be a representation of more than just .3587% of the fandom it claims.

To the insulars, the people who like the way things are now? That’s a scary prospect. Because I’ll admit, the SPs have a point when it comes to sales numbers. There are quite clearly a lot of Sci-Fi/Fantasy readers out there who aren’t involved in any way outside of just being fans. They don’t care about “sides,” and they don’t care about hitting the proper “progressive check-boxes” or “bullet count” or whatever. They read, they enjoy, they buy more. But they haven’t voted. They’ve been asleep.

Now, with all the shouting and yelling, they’re waking up. To be honest, and in my opinion, by making a huge spectacle of themselves with the shouting and ranting, and being as vocal as they could with articles in places like Entertainment Weekly, the insulars have screwed up big time. Why? Because they made noise. Lots of it. The puppies weren’t the only ones peeing on the trees. The insulars were screaming, yelling, and banging pots and pans together, mindless noise echoing through the forest. Ostensibly to keep their own side buoyed and to stir more support out of the bushes, but here’s the thing: Most of their vocal, faction-dedicated fans seem to have already awake, and though doubtlessly they’ve gotten more to scurry out of the bushes in the process, the trees have started waking up at the racket and the warm damp spots on their trunks.

The Sad Puppies are puppies. The insulars are … well, lets go with … angry foxes? Why not? Sad Puppies and Angry Foxes.

The fans of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, on the other hand, are Ents. Slow to move, ponderous to make a decision, and generally content. Until all this noise started. Now the Ents are waking up and looking around at the forest that’s being advertised as “theirs.” Will they like it? Or will they descend on it in a fury and uproot everyone as they roll it back over to their control?

That’s why I think this year will have nothing on next year. You want an asterisk on this year? You’ll lose your head next year if the fans keep moving like this. I’ve heard reports this year that worldcon has 9000 memberships? How many will it have next year, when the ball’s really rolling? 20,000? 30,000? 50,000? A five percent representation?

And you know what? I want it to roll like that. Let’s get the fans involved. Enough of this .3587% nonsense. Look, I’m not saying the prior years were bad, yadda yadda Worldcon did what it could, and there are plenty of Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans who are also “trufans.”

But after this year, I don’t think the fans will be as content to let the trufans run everything.

The Ents are waking up people. Congratulations. They’re still yawning and looking around, but they’re waking. This year only a few are stepping forward, as most weren’t awake before the Hugo Nomination date had passed. Next year though?

The Ents are going to freaking march.

And it’s going to be pretty awesome.

6 thoughts on “The Coming of the Ent March

  1. *Thumb up.*

    Although, perhaps Angry Boars would be better suited than Angry Foxes. After all, boars tend to make a ruckus and a mess in forests, and at least this year the ‘Angry Foxes’ have not really show cunning intelligence I expect from foxes. (Bias based on nothing but old Finnish children tales.)


  2. I’ve managed to hit a lot of different fandom-type conventions over the last decade or so. One of the really interesting things is to watch the various different demographics, the people who show up at each convention. It was a educational experience for sure. One of the biggest things I noticed was the World Science Fiction convention. Compared to nearly every other con I went to, the two Worldcons were small and primarily older and, well, let’s just say classic science fiction fans. White gentlemen and ladies 40 and older. Not exclusively, but that was what stood out to me. Worldcon and the local (at the time) scifi con I visited were the few cons where I was actually younger than the majority of people I encountered. Compared to, say, anime cons it was quite the drastic contrast. My theory is that most of the things that drew people to scifi/fantasy decades ago have been so absorbed into other things that younger fans are getting it from other sources. There really isn’t a isolated scifi/fantasy fandom anymore that you need to get that speculative fiction from.

    Which just really supports what seems to be a major point of your post. The Hugos, where you have to pay 50 bucks to vote in, centered around a convention that really does seem like a monoculture compared to most other fandom conventions I’ve been to. Not exactly a great foundation to build on.

    Now, the last Worldcon I went to was several years ago. Was… The one in Colorado? Something like that. I’ll be going this year so it’ll be interesting to see if my memories of the demographics hold true. My experiences at the various cons are also a bit skewed by working the dealer’s room almost exclusively. So only get to see the people who actually go to buy or just browse the merch. Still think it’s been interesting to see the broad strokes of things though. The other convention that I wasn’t the upper age in? Steampunk con. I think the small Steampunk con I visited twice was the most diverse in age/gender/etc. Well, maybe the comic-con was the most. But after going to one, I don’t really consider that a fandom-type convention.

    Anyway, sorry to hear piracy is still causing you trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

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