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Podcasts and the Hugo Awards

The Hugo Awards are special in the world of science fiction because they are made by, determined by, and administered by the fans. Technically speaking, electronic publications have always been eligible for the Hugos. The year 2009, however, brought two new and exciting developments for those of us who support new media: first, the audiobook METAtropolis (by Joseph E. Lake, Jr., Tobias S. Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder, and edited by John Scalzi) was nominated for a Hugo in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, a first for a straight-to-audio production; and second, the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting ratified a constitutional amendment that added the words “or the equivalent in other media” to various Hugo Award category definitions, thereby formally acknowledging what had always been the case de facto, that electronic publications were eligible.

Recently I was thrilled to see this thread in the hugo_recommend community regarding podcast eligibility for the 2010 Hugos -- and, in particular, the case of StarShipSofa: The Audio Science Fiction Magazine. (Go team!) The consensus seems to be that Best Fanzine would be the best category for a podcast: no one is certain, because no podcast has ever received sufficient nominations to make the ballot. Since this discussion in the hugo_recommend community, a growing wave of support for the StarShipSofa nomination has appeared on John Scalzi's blog under "Science Fiction Award Suggestions." So, if you, like me, are a World Science Fiction Society member and you plan on participating Hugo Awards nominations (open now through March 13), now is a fantastic time to help raise the issue of podcast eligibility in the Hugos -- and, if you like, support StarShipSofa in the process!

[On a related personal note, I've also been gratified to see some mention of another project near and dear to my heart, in this case with relation to the Best Related Work category for the 2010 Hugos, namely The Intersection of Fantasy and Native America: From H.P. Lovecraft to Leslie Marmon Silko, which grew out of my keynote address to the Mythopoeic Society a few years ago and which I co-edited with the wonderful David D. Oberhelman. My sincere thanks and lasting gratitude to all who have supported this book!]

"If America or any other nation turns its back on space, it becomes the caveman who ignores the sight of the first spark. It becomes Columbus content to mark time in a Spanish port. It becomes the Wright Brothers never leaving their Ohio bicycle shop. It spits in the face of wonder – and in so doing denies every noble impulse of humanity."
- Troy Senik, "When Man Looked Up"



( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
Maybe podcasts should have their own award? It's certainly a growing and exciting area...
Feb. 13th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
That would be a fantastic idea! Perhaps if enough nominations are made for podcasts, they will inspire a discussion about creating a separate category.
Feb. 14th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
I'm not sure that's as good an idea as it sounds. Currently we have established a general rule that the medium by which something is published is irrelevant, it is the content that matters. So if a story appears in a book, an ebook, or online it is still eligible. If we start saying that the medium matters then when some new medium comes along people will start saying that works in that medium are not eligible, much like they did with online work when it first appeared.

Dramatic presentations are different because they involve a whole lot of additional skills - acting, sound effects, plus costume, lighting and camera work on video.

Podcasts, of course, can be either, and I foresee a fair amount of confusion as to where a podcast story should be nominated. However, there seems like doubt that StarShipSofa is a fanzine, so good luck to you!
Feb. 14th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, I see what you mean. Thank you for putting that into better context. And you're right: at the moment, I can see how some podcasts and/or specific podcast content might fit in one category, and others in another. There are so many truly excellent podcasts right now making such a tremendous contribution to SF, it excites me to think we might see them represented in the awards that best represent SF fans -- and in the process, encourage new listeners to seek them out. Thanks for your feedback!

Edited at 2010-02-14 03:29 pm (UTC)
Feb. 15th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
Let me point you to this blog entry: http://blufftoninthedriftless.blogspot.com/

The point, in a nutshell, is that podcasting is the new gathering place for the fans, the writers, editors, publishers of the future and that the Hugos, being consumer-based, should recognize these efforts as being places of foment and communal gathering and reward the best of show appropriately.
Feb. 16th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
Thank you for the link! I've linked to this in my next post.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
podcasting is the new gathering place for the fans? Oh, really? Sez who?

Do you remember that brief era when much of the best SF text came out of Usenet newsgroups like rec.arts.sf.fandom and rec.arts.sf.written?

Some of us are actual readers, mostly or completely text-oriented, and find podcasts incomprehensible or merely annoyingly inaccessible. I would would rather see an online "fanzine" win than a podcast, at least until podcasters provide transcripts as a matter of course.

Podcasting is an audio-visual medium, and belongs with radio/TV/film content. There is nothing with the concept of a new Hugo category for "Best SF-Related Non-Fiction Audiovisual Material"; just don't call it a "fanzine" if it can't be read.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
As a reader myself (and author and editor), I welcome experimentation in and the expansion of genre publications in all directions. It seems natural to me that those who love such a forward-thinking genre would be open to new and emerging forms of media.

That said, if there is another category better suited for recognizing podcasts, I am all for it. I was simply passing along the consensus I was seeing in other communities. My primary point is that podcasts have become a vital part of the SF community, and it would be wonderful if they, too, were to be recognized (much as METAtroplis last year brought to our attention the contribution of audiobook productions).

Thank you for your feedback.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
I cannot listen to "audiobooks", and find them annoying beyond description. If I wanted to listen to radio dramas, I'd listen to radio dramas. I want to
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I cannot listen to "audiobooks", and find them annoying beyond description. If I wanted to listen to radio dramas, I'd listen to radio dramas. I want to <b<<i>read</i></b> SF by good authors like those who contributed to that project.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
And that choice is up to you. The emergence of new media does not preclude traditional media.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
But calling a podcast a "fanzine" is like calling an "audiobook" a "book": a so-called audiobook is not a book, it is a sound recording, and thus eligible for the "Best Dramatic Presentation" Hugo, not the "Best Novel" Hugo. Similarly, a podcast is not a fanzine, it is an SF-related audiovisual presentation, and thus not eligible for any of the current Hugo categories. Instead of trying to hijack the Fanzine Hugo from the publishers of actual fanzines, you should be lobbying for a new Hugo category to accommodate this new medium. (Let me guess: you don't read or contribute to any actual fanzines, do you?)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
Similarly, a podcast is not a fanzine, it is an SF-related audiovisual presentation, and thus not eligible for any of the current Hugo categories.

Go have a look at the current WSFS Constitution, especially:
3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.

The underlined section was added by a constitutional amendment ratified by last year's Business Meeting. This is the first year in which it applies, and it's the wording that's on the Hugo Awards ballot this year. Whether it actually includes podcasts will be up to the administrator to decide, assuming enough people nominate it. It's certainly clear that the legislative intent was to make it explicit that ink-on-paper publication was not the only medium that made "fanzines" eligible.

Personally, if I were administering the Hugos this year (I'm not), and if it got enough nominations, I would not feel I could disqualify the work, given the current wording explicitly authorizing "other media."

So I don't think they need to be lobbying for a new category, especially inasmuch as the immediate response would almost certainly be, "there isn't enough material to justify a new category."

I think the ground may be shifting under your feet. Possibly you might want to lobby for removing the new wording if you feel this strongly about the subject.

Feb. 22nd, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
Thank you for the clarification! It's most appreciated.
Feb. 26th, 2010 08:39 am (UTC)
Re: Hugos, Podcasts and the StarShipSofa
I agree completely, and think this is a great move for the Hugos.

Podcasts, by the way, are also excellent venues for reviews and interviews relevant to science fiction. Here, for example, is an episode of my Light On Light Through podcast from this past September, in which I interview Robert J. Sawyer.
Feb. 16th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
Please believe me when I say that the Starshipsofa is by far and away a work of class. The stories and time and effort put in to this show are to be marveled at. We are talking top ranked authors how support this show. Its a free and believe me worth you time and energy to listen to it. It has build up a real grass routs following of faithful followers and deserves a wider audience. Please listen and enjoy.
Feb. 16th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Starshipsofa
Oh, I will be listening.
Feb. 17th, 2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Starshipsofa
Thank you for your support!
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 26th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
EH's posts are always link-worthy :)
Feb. 17th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Hope you don't mind a supportive re-post
Hello Amy,

I'm sharing the below with a few blogs in hopes it helps the cause. Hope you don't mind. :)

I just wanted to chime in about my own experience with terrific podcast StarShipSofa: The Audio Science Fiction Magazine, and how it has turned me from an isolated fangirl into community contributor. I guess I’m an example of a voice that would never have been heard in connection with the science fiction genre – that is, if I hadn’t hopped aboard the StarShipSofa back in 2006 and found the gumption to send Tony that first email. And I’ve become a more engaged consumer of the genre ever since! Before getting involved with StarShipSofa, I never read genre magazines or went to cons or anything – I just bought lots and lots of novels that I read quietly in my basement “and washed my hands afterwards” (to misquote Robert Heinlein).

Now I am writing promo blurbs, narrating short stories, doing audio reports, emailing/ blogging/ friending/ tweeting all over the place, and working on the show’s next book project. You could say I’m in it up to my eyeballs and nine ways from Sunday! And I am by no means the only one – the crew of the good ship Sofa is verging on the huge at this point, with contributions large and small, and all out of our sincere enthusiasm and appreciation for this great show. This is exactly what Larry Santoro, Matthew Sanborn Smith, Amy H. Sturgis and so many others are talking about – the emergence of a whole new kind of Futurians network: passionate fans coming together just for the joy of it, using the latest technologies at hand, and actively building the genre and its culture! If that’s not Hugo worthy, I don’t know what is . . .
Feb. 17th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Hope you don't mind a supportive re-post
Thank you Amy, and see you on the Sofa!

posted by Robyn Bradshaw

Feb. 17th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Hope you don't mind a supportive re-post
Thank you so much, Robyn!
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for picking up this thread! I'm really excited to see the growing interest in nominating Star Ship Sofa for Best Fanzine.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much - you're the one who started the ball rolling! I think it would be fantastic for SSS - and, for that matter, for podcasts in general. I'm grateful to you for raising the issue - and for supporting SSS!
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
I don't know enough about Starship Sofa to know which category it belongs in, so perhaps you could clarify:

Does anyone working on it get paid anything? (One cent is enough.)
Are there over 1,000 downloads per issue?
Does it contain advertising?
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:06 am (UTC)
I kept away from commenting on sites for the Hugo's but I think it's best if I answer as I'm the only one who really can answer that.

All and any funds made go into running the show. If they didn't... it would stop, my wife would see to that.

I have Donations that come in each month that go into running the show.

I also put out a book last year - StarShipSofa Stories, a fanzine you might even say! Some of the stories I have played on the show, I went back to the authors and asked if I could put them in a printed version and use that to raise funds in order to keep the show going. It was also a celebration of Aural Delights reaching show 100.

Not once in the history of StarShipSofa have I paid an author or an artist money to use their work. I have always been allowed by artist and writers to use their work for free. What I can't give them in cash revenues I make up in exposure. Maybe one day I could move up to paying writers.... nothing would give me greater pleasure. But at the moment... everything is donated from stories to narrations, from art work to web design... the sales of the book enable StarShipSofa to survive.

There were adds at one time played on the show, but again this was a while back, and again, it went into supporting the show but... you guessed it... that didn't work either. There's nothing like that now.

Feb. 24th, 2010 10:08 am (UTC)
If there are no adverts and no one is paid, then it definitely belongs in Best Fanzine.

Except that if the circulation is over 1000, you could move it into the Best Semiprozine category simply by declaring it to be a semiprozine.
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)
Our biggest show was No 110 Cory Doctorow with 8,000 in the month it came out, so I guess we could go to Semiprozine if we ever wanted to.

Like I say... we've ran adds in the past but that's stopped now. All we have are monthly donations and the book. These simply provide a means to carry on doing what we are doing.
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC)
Wow, 8,000 is a lot. In that case you may need to know that if your average circulation goes over 10,000, then there's a case to be made for deeming you to be professional and moving you to Best Editor Short Form. (Fanzines and semiprozines are required to be "non-professional", but that term is not currently defined in the WSFS constitution. However, until recently it was defined thus: "A professional publication is one which had an average press run of at least ten thousand (10,000) copies per issue.")
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:26 am (UTC)
8,000 was our best. It averages out around 5,000 to 6,000 for a typical show after a month's airtime.
Feb. 24th, 2010 12:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, until recently 10K was the semiprozine/professional publication boundary. But, as you say, it isn't anymore. WSFS gave up trying to cope with electronic publication when it rewrote that section of the constitution.

"Professional" isn't defined technically. Whether a work is "professional" or not is now left to the judgment of the voters, and is no longer a technical ruling of an Administrator. In legal terms, it's a question of fact (jury decision), not of law (judge ruling). That "10K rule" was also showing itself to be a problem in that people were claiming that their Campbell Award eligibility wasn't being triggered because they'd sold a novel, but they only printed 9000 copies of it, or something like that.

I know I'd be unhappy if an overly-simplistic technical ruling was used against a single nominee without being applied equally to all nominees. The line of reasoning you appear to be pursuing could easily lead to every fanzine that is electronically distributed in any form being ruled to be at least a semiprozine.

Definitions that worked when the only way you could distribute something was to make physical paper copies of the object and move the paper copies around don't work anymore, but we haven't come up with any other technical rule that can be consistently enforced.
Feb. 24th, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC)
I don't think you can use "downloads" = "circulation." By that criteria, just about every fanzine distributed on a web site has a circulation >1000. Except that, as you know, lots of those "copies" aren't real people.

The written rules about "circulation" don't work for electronic publication. Surely you don't intend for every zine published on efanzines.com to be accused of being a semiprozine just because the web is full of 'bots, do you?
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Starship Sofa
I still haven't quite made up my mind about Starship Sofa being a fanzine or not. It's certainly not the sort of thing I would usually call a fanzine. I do enjoy it but most of the fanzines I read concentrate more on fanac than on SF stories. Fanzines are usually more concerned with fans than actual stories and would usually contain a letter of comments section. A letter of comment is the traditional way of paying for receipt of your fanzine.
However one of the regular winners, Ansible is more a combination of SF news and fanac rather than focussing on just the doings of fans.
Although Starship Sofa does include some community stuff it's mostly SF stories so feels more like a prozine or semi-prozine to me.
This isn't to diss SS at all as I listen to it regularly and there is much in there that I enjoy but it really doesn't feel like a fanzine.
Mar. 2nd, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Starship Sofa
I definitely understand what you mean; it's a fine line distinguishing between one category and the other (such as fanzine and semipro, etc.). I found Cheryl Morgan's post and the resulting conversation here to be useful, but I certainly understand why there's still debate about it.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )