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A Comparison of Two Complaints: The Hugo Awards vs The Clarke Awards

With the announcement of the Clarke Award shortlist closely following that of this year’s Hugo nominees, award kvetching season is well underway. For a great round-up of the discussions on both awards, I recommend Cora Buhlert’s posts here and here. In the comments to my post last week (where I wondered about the Hugo Awards’ purpose and audience) I claimed that a juried award (such as the Clarke Award) is likely to:

…give rise to a different kind of debate than that which the Hugos gives us every year. There would be less debating the process and more debating the judgment. Debate wouldn’t be lesser – if anything, I suspect it would be even more strident and vocal…But the focus of the debate would be more on the merits of one work over another, helping to push the genre in new directions.

The Clarke Award is the kind of juried award that we were discussing. And this year’s Clarke shortlist is certainly sparking some controversy. Considering my essay last week, I think it would be interesting to compare the controversy elicited by the Clarke and compare it to that of the Hugos.

The Many Layers of the Hugo Awards Controversy

As always, the Hugo Awards Controversy is like an onion (or possibly a parfait) with many layers. Some of the objections relate to the merits of the nominated works (why this book and not that book?). Some relate to a perception of systemic bias (why books by these groups, rather than books by those groups?). Others focus on the systems and processes which produce the nominees (why this procedural rule, and not that rule?). Underlying all of these questions is a question which I see repeated time and again in these discussions (and which I personally think is most important for the Hugos going forward, as I intimated last week): what community does the Hugo Awards truly represent, speak to, and serve?

As I’ve said before, I think that such questions and discussion are both unavoidable and healthy for the field. What I find striking about the Hugo Award controversy is the degree to which it focuses on systems and procedures. When we claim that the “Hugos are broken” we are indicting both the system that governs it and the fan culture which produces and maintains that system. Whether one agrees with that indictment or not, it is the system which has been indicted – not the works eligible, voted upon, or nominated.

Where the Hugo discussion has gone beyond the systems/procedures, it has turned its attention to the culture which administers and awards the Hugo Awards (particularly note the discussion by Renay at Lady Business here and Jonathan McCalmont here). And here, I think, is where the discussion becomes most contentious.

The contention here centers around the different participants’ often unstated assumptions about the Hugo Awards’ purpose (see my essay last week, and Paul Kincaid’s essay from Sunday), and about the population represented by the Hugo Awards. The disagreement between “online fandom” and “traditional fandom,” as evidenced in the comments to Jonathan McCalmont’s post, is illuminating.

How does this controversy differ from that surrounding this year’s Clarke Awards?

The Men’s Only Clarke Award Shortlist

First, the important context: the Clarke Awards are a juried award with a remit to select the best British science fiction novel in a given year from submissions received from genre imprints. This year’s five-person jury was composed of four women and one man, and had to select the shortlist from 82 eligible submissions. This year’s controversy stems from the fact that the Clarke Award shortlist features six novels written by men and precisely zero written by women.

What I find particularly interesting about the controversy surrounding this year’s Clarke Award shortlist is that opprobrium is clearly not focused on the administrative system which produced the shortlist. Instead, the grousing can generally be grouped into three broad categories: the first focuses on the merits of shortlisted works (why this work and not that work?), the second focuses on the publishing system which produced the longlist (why were only 20% of the books submitted by publishers written by women?), and the third focuses on the arguments underlying the jury’s selection (by what criteria was the shortlist selected?).

The fact that UK speculative fiction publishing seems to discriminate against women authors is notable, and worthy of discussion. The “controversy” that arises from this year’s Clarke Award does well to shed light on this fact, and to hopefully encourage publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers to change that (consider this comment from Farah Mendlesohn on the role of booksellers in this process, and this post from Martin Lewis about Clarke Award statistics). The Clarke Award also raises troubling questions for speculative fiction publishing across the pond (or quite frankly anywhere) in terms of our own (often troubled) relationship with gender. Any introspection that results from such controversy is valuable in that it fosters greater inclusion in the field while simultaneously presenting the field as mature and introspective.

The debates sparked by the Clarke Award are entirely different in both tone and content from those surrounding the Hugo Awards. For one, there seems to be both less defensiveness on the part of award stakeholders and less frustration on the part of the complainers. For another, the discussion is devoid of procedural or representational concerns. The concerns of this debate are: the criteria by which works get judged, the definition of the field, and the biases inherent in that underlying field.

What the Difference in Debates Suggests

For one, I think it bears out my prediction from last week (quoted above). The Clarke Award focuses attention on the field in a way that the Hugo Awards do not. The Hugo Awards focus our attention on the cultural and procedural intricacies of fandom. To be clear, I do not advocate replacing the Hugo Award with a juried award (that would be both impossible and I believe impractical). Both have their place, and both are valuable.

However, if the goal of either the Hugo or the Clarke is to select the “most worthy” titles from the field and to communicate their worth to stakeholders inside and outside of that field, then I think the Hugo Award falls short. As I discussed last week, the Hugo Awards seem to have become largely irrelevant outside of a very narrow group of stakeholders. The Clarke Award – by contrast – evokes the envy of Man Booker Prize judges.

Both awards are problematic, and both awards generate controversy. This is as it should be. But if we love speculative fiction, where would we rather that controversy were focused? On award procedures, representativeness, and factionalism? Or on the merits, substance, and sociocultural context of the work itself? What conclusions might an outsider peeking in at these debates draw about our field? Would they want to join the conversation? Would they perceive speculative fiction as mature, welcoming, and culturally relevant?

That outsider perspective matters. It is tempting for us to hole up in our fandom bunker and make the claim that those who wish to join the conversation are welcome to do so. That is a defensive, passive position that demands an acceptance of pre-existing power structures, in-group language (fen? GAFIATING?), long-standing relationship dynamics, and procedural inertia. It has nothing of outreach to it.

If we want the field to grow, if we want new voices, new perspectives, and new buyers readers fans, then we must speak to those outside groups. We must woo booksellers, reviewers, teachers, librarians, creators, and readers. Awards are a tool (one of many) for doing this, and traditional awards like the Hugos are exceptionally well-positioned through their longevity and standing in the field to do this job well.

But is that what the Hugo Awards are for? A comparison of the stated goals of both the Hugo Awards and the Clarke Award are telling in this regards (emphasis mine):

The Clarke Award

The Award was originally established by a generous grant from Sir Arthur C. Clarke with the aim of promoting science fiction

The Clarke Award web site.
The Hugo Awards
(no stated goal or mission) The Hugo Award web site, in particular:

If the goal of the Hugo Awards is to celebrate and promote the field, then let us try and move the discussion forward by engaging in a discussion of how best to do so. Parliamentary procedures and governance structures are an important part of this discussion, but perforce the time to discuss their role comes after a consensus has been reached on shared goals. If we can’t agree on where to go, how are we to figure out the route to get there?

The Clarke Awards – for all of their controversy – at the least have a clearly articulated mission that is unquestioned by those within and without the community. The Hugo Awards don’t even have that. If the goal of the Hugo Awards isn’t to celebrate and promote the field, then please let us stop pretending to ourselves that it is. By maintaining the pretense, we do current fans, the artists, and future fans a disservice.

Most significantly, we likely consign the Awards to cultural irrelevance.

49 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bob Blough #

    Excellent. I think there is a place for both here in America as there is in Britain. Both would serve different causes. To tell you he truth the more Hugo-like BSFA is usually the one I agree with the most. Nebulas have no opposite in Britain, but I think we should add “The (add word/name here) Award” that opens up the SF world to the existing world. But the ACCA took a huge grant from a man who didn’t expect the award to be for the type of SF he wrote in order to get started at all. So, who’s willing to pony up the money to get us that kind of award?

    April 9, 2013
    • That’s the trick, isn’t it? Any award is difficult to administer, maintain, and promote and that difficulty translates into both time and money. Regardless of the questions one can raise about the current slate of awards, they are lucky to have committed, passionate people driving them. I’m not 100% convinced that the field needs another award, but I do think discussing ways to improve our current ones is worthwhile. Exploring what they do well, and where they can stand to be improved is an important part of that process.

      April 10, 2013
  2. Your observation of no stated goal/missions for the Hugo Awards is telling, I think. Not that the world needs another over-thought, committee-produced mission statement filled with buzz words and vague sentiments, but it can be useful to have a simple definition to aid focus and establish parameters.

    One thing I find interesting about the response to Jonathan McCalmont’s post (and Justin’s post before it) is that the crisis communications response* was to overwhelm the discussion. Generally, in a crisis communications situation, organizations have four primary ways they will respond:

    1. Go silent and ride out the storm
    2. Go on the offensive and blast back with your own messaging and try to overwhelm the competing narratives; generally in order to do this you saturate the media landscape that your primary audiences
    3. Attempt to redirect blame to someone else (either a scapegoat within the organization or another organization, etc.)
    4. Listen to what is being said, own up to the issues involved, explain how you are going to fix them, and follow-up on those promises

    Most organizations find it very difficult to do #4. It takes some savvy PR advice and a CEO/senior management team with confidence, an awareness of the situation and how the organization is being perceived, and a desire to genuinely engage with those who are angry/confused/pushing for change.

    The messiness of the Hugo’s PR response (and it has been a messy one) is a natural byproduct of a fan-created award and a structure that is fairly diffuse. I personally find it preferable to some scripted corporate approach or complete and utter silence**. On the other hand, it doesn’t do anything to change perception (and in some cases actively damages perception). That image damage may be worth it if the goal is to preserve a certain flavor to the awards. It may not, if, as you suggest, the goal is to bring in new groups who value it and participate in it. But that bring us back to the main point of your recent points, Chris: it really all depends on what the primary goals of the Hugos are.

    * I work in higher ed marketing and communications and so that’s the lens through which I see it., but I think it’s a correct one: crisis communications occurs when an organization is bombarded with narratives about it and/or its actions that deviate from the image the organization wants to project. I think that’s clearly what has happened here.

    **Although only #1 and #4 are ever successful, and only #1 if the people who are angry/confused are clearly out in left field and the whole thing blows over quickly.

    April 9, 2013
    • #4 is great if you really believe the criticism is valid. What if there’s a fundamental gap where you own the criticism but you don’t agree that it’s a problem?

      April 10, 2013
      • Then you go with #1. You just ignore it, and let the controversy burn out. Luckily, people tend to have short attention spans. But it doesn’t matter so much if the criticism is valid or not: if the audience(s) you care about see a problem, then it’s going to have an impact on your image.

        You may be able to work in some clarification of the facts, but you have to be very careful how you do that, and it’s very hard without coming across as defensive or obfuscating or combative. You may be able to reassure your core audience and dismiss those criticizing you, but it’s much harder to do that with the internet since any communications you produce will likely leak which only adds more fuel to the cycle.

        That’s all a bit unfair, and it’s why I do have some sympathy for those who are involved in WorldCon and Hugo planning/governance. It *is* easier to criticize than to build. But from my outside point of view, much of what I’m seeing is a classic pattern of what happens when organizations don’t know how to deal with the crisis communications situations that arise in the era of the internet.

        April 11, 2013
    • I think one of the key misunderstandings of the “defensive” behaviours is that they are somehow originating in a conscious, explicit discussion. You give a fine discussion of how a “real organization” would respond to a crisis: but Worldcon / WSFS is NOT a real organization, just a collective of individual opinions. Of course I would not deny that there are some pretty pervasive attitudes that cohere across a bunch of fairly visible people – and that creates the impression that what we’re seeing is an “official” response. #4 would be an ideal response to asserted problems but I think the structure of the organization simply makes this option impossible. There is no command and control / decision making body that can do this. There is noone who can speak for Worldcon on these issues with *executive* authority.

      Of course the Business Meeting controls the constitution and the definition of the awards but the Business Meeting happens for 8 hours a year, during Worldcon. For the other 360 days of the year there is noone who could turn around and say “yes, we will do something”.

      When I look at your four options, what is unfortunate is that individuals acting independently and with no authority – random fans on either side of the argument – can easily show behaviours #1 #2 and #3. But #4 is unlikely, because while the first three can be emergent patterns of behaviours arising from the individual posts of lots of similarly minded individuals, #4 only really works if someone has the authority to commit to do something.

      April 10, 2013
      • I think you have touched on a major source of contention/frustration on both sides in the debate – and it is one which in both cases arises from the best of intentions and is then further compounded by (sometimes) years of mutual misunderstanding and a hardening of positions which aren’t – at their core – mutually incompatible.

        I would argue that in light of this longstanding difficulty, the WSFS/Worldcon/Hugos should attempt to find some systematic way of responding to this. Yes, the fans and constituents can (and will, and should) voice their opinions as stridently or calmly as they care to. Yet if we want to maximize the relevance of both the Hugos and Worldcon, I think we should try to find some way of engaging on an instutional level (however diffuse that organization is).

        This means coming up with new ideas, considering new structures, or modifications to existing structures. It means change, and that is always difficult. In this case, it starts with an open discussion of ways to engage.

        To be fruitful, this is not a discussion that can/should happen in a vacuum. Those of us new the community/process deseperately need the historical perspective of what has been tried, what has been debated, what has worked, what hasn’t, etc. That is valuable insight that we newcomers lack.

        For example, considering the aggregate budgetary surplus that has been amassed by past Worldcons, has there ever been discussion of some Worldcon/Hugo marketing structure that would be independent but supportive of individual Worldcons? (sort of like an “ambassador” function for the Worldcon / Hugos?) To be clear, I don’t know if this is a good solution, or even a workable solution, or simply a naive common-sense question that falls apart on closer consideration. But it is not a question that I’ve seen posed in my readings on the subject.

        But such ideas can and should be discussed on their merits. It would be helpful for such discussions to engage with both current and potential stakeholders. I don’t think the business meeting is a conducive venue for the exploration of such ideas, both because it is perforce limited to current stakeholders and because the format of such a meeting doesn’t allow for the consideration and consultation consensus-building requires. But what such a process can do is to formulate arguments and proposals that can then be put forward to the business meeting. If the process of developing proposals is well-organized and has truly built consensus, then by the time of the business meeting a straight up/down vote should be workable because the participants will be familiar with the arguments on both sides.

        I am no more supportive of outsiders telling the Hugos “Fix thyself” than I am of Worldcon telling outsiders “There’s no way for us to improve”. Naive as it might be, I believe there has to be a middle ground here. The WSFS has done an admirable job of assembling mechanisms for plurality and democratic representation within its constituency. What the current controversies suggest to me is that maybe it is time to consider explicit mechanisms for handling outreach. That is a different function, and requires different mechanisms to be effective.

        April 10, 2013
      • That’s exactly right. It’s why I see this situation as a natural byproduct of what the Hugos are and how they (and Worldcon) is governed. The problem is that these days none of that matters. The Hugos have a certain amount of power in fandom. They have meaning. They have a brand. Brands can lose relevance or have their accreted meaning changed, and all of that can happen in ways that are entirely out of an organization’s control.

        Now, so long as these crisis communications situations don’t erode the cultural capital of the Hugos too much, then it’s all just a tempest in a teapot.

        April 11, 2013
    • Thanks for the perspective! I’m not 100% convinced that the current debate around the Hugo Awards quite reaches the levels of “crisis”. This type of debate crops up just about every year, and has done so for a very, very long time. That has its good sides, and its bad sides.

      On the one hand, it makes it very easy for a particular method of response (whether #1, 2, 3 or 4) to become habitual, which risks making the tone perceivable as exclusionary (particularly to outsiders new to the field/award).

      On the other hand, it also decreases the urgency with which cohesive responses need be constructed. As I believe Kevin Standlee pointed out in a comment to last week’s post (and has pointed out elsewhere), the procedural impediments to changing the Hugo Awards exist for good and valid reasons, especially when we consider the diffuse and democratic nature of the award.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know how to (or even if it is possible to, or wise to) enable such an organizational structure to actually *respond* cohesively to criticism. Yet with criticism of a particular sort (especially that of representation) coming up again and again, I think it might be wise to explore ways in which that interaction can be made more systematic.

      April 10, 2013
      • Crisis Communications as a PR concept sounds a bit more dramatic than it sometimes is. I framed it that way because it helped me make sense of why exactly some of the responses to the discussion of the awards have played out the way that they have. As you point out, and I allude to, I don’t know that we can expect a coherent, sophisticated communications strategy because of how the WorldCon governance is structured.

        April 11, 2013
  3. “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.”

    I think that’s a goal. To recognize excellence in science fiction and fantasy. Now, granted, it’s a vague goal. It doesn’t define “excellence.” But you’ll find every fan has a different definition of “excellence.”

    And I have to say, after giving your column a lot of thought, the Hugos exist to serve Worldcon. For good or for bad. They’re serving Worldcon pretty well, though.

    I know a lot of pros who really care about the Hugos they won. Hell, the stereotype of media people not caring about the Hugos isn’t even universally true. Steven Moffatt, when he was a writer and not a showrunner, went on stage a few years ago at the opening ceremonies of Gallifrey One, North America’s largest Doctor Who convention, and said “Say it with me! ‘Hugo!'” The crowd (many of whom never go to any other conventions, but who participate heavily in online fan communities) went wild. Talking up LonCon 3 as “The convention that awards the Hugos” at this year’s Gallifrey One got a lot of young fans excited, some even considering traveling from North America to their first Worldcon, a Worldcon on another continent that they’re going to have to save up months for.

    So, I guess in some circles the Hugos are getting people to look outside their fannish bubbles. That sounds like relevance to me.

    April 10, 2013
    • You raise some great points!

      To your first point about goals: If the goals of the Hugo are to “recognize excellence” in the field and to serve Worldcons, then that is a perfectly reasonable (albeit as you point out, vaguely stated) mission. Personally, I think the Hugos are more important and significant than that, and that they can and *should* play an ambassadorial role for the field. But even if we put my belief in their ambassadorial value to one side for the moment and limit their mission to a) recognizing excellence, and b) serving Worldcons, that raises two subsequent questions which I think deserve periodic re-examination:

      1) Considering that the mechanism by which Hugos “recognize” excellence is through a popular vote, which populations should participate in that vote to ensure the results legitimately reflect the community’s views?

      2) How should the Hugo Awards / Worldcons interact with those populations to encourage their participation/engagement?

      To your second point about investment, I completely understand! As I suggested last week, I think the audience best served by the Hugos is current and aspiring professionals working in the field. That is neither a complaint, nor a backhanded complement. It is also (notably) compatible with both the goals you mention and the ambassadorial values I prefer.

      It is also encouraging that the Hugos are able (to some extent) to bridge subgroups within fandom. That is both laudable, and it certainly speaks to their relevance within broader fandom. I do wonder, however, where that ability to engage ends. For example, organized Doctor Who fandom may engage with the Hugos, but what about the less-organized, more diffuse fandoms around YA, or the literary community that doesn’t identify with any fandom? Do we engage with those groups? If so, do we engage well? And if not, can or should we do better? And if we can/should, then how best to do so?

      April 10, 2013
      • “1) Considering that the mechanism by which Hugos “recognize” excellence is through a popular vote, which populations should participate in that vote to ensure the results legitimately reflect the community’s views?”

        The “recognition” part is giving out rockets. What we’re arguing about is how the awards determine “excellence,” and who the “community” is. The “how” portion is simple and defined, and easy to nitpick. The “who?”

        I don’t believe a single SF community exists anymore. Then again, I’ve spent the last 20 years (how did that happen?) playing with different fan communities young and old, new and old, online and in-person, The single cohesive SF community fractured a generation before that with the popularity of Star Trek and the explosion of popular/mainstream SF.

        Worldcon is the oldest ongoing fannish community. and, yes, there are some people who lament or even deny it’s not the only community. It is the community, though, that put the work in to create and maintain the Hugos.

        “2) How should the Hugo Awards / Worldcons interact with those populations to encourage their participation/engagement?”

        Even the Worldcon community is fractured. Even subcultures of subcultures are fractured. For example, SF costuming is fractured. Running Costume-Con 26 a few years back, we ran into the question from many anime cosplayers “but what about an anime masquerade?” They couldn’t get their brains around the idea that most of their favorite anime was F&SF (Naruto, One Piece) or historical (Rose of Versailles). Only a tiny fraction of anime & manga, sports anime like Prince of Tennis or slice-of-life stories, didn’t have a competition it explicitly fit in, and we would bend the rules for that. They had a place at the table, they were just unready (or, in a few spectacular cases, unwilling) to recognize it.

        I can only tell you what I’ve done regarding Hugo participation, and I’m going to refer you over Aidan Moher’s blog for more details. But here’s the short version:

        About 6 years ago, when LiveJournal was still big, I set up an LJ community for the recommendation of Hugo-worthy works, year round, as people were discovering them, not just for nominating season. It’s open to anyone (and is moreso today, with federated OpenID and Facebook participation), and explicitly open to people who aren’t Worldcon members. It’s still, by far, the best technical solution for discussion during the year and reference during nominating season.

        “For example, organized Doctor Who fandom may engage with the Hugos, but what about the less-organized, more diffuse fandoms around YA, or the literary community that doesn’t identify with any fandom?”

        YA is a tough nut to crack. There are publishers and booksellers who don’t have consistent definitions of YA, and sometimes make marketing decisions their authors don’t agree with. There are YA authors who don’t want a YA award, because they don’t want their work ghettoized out of Best Novella (or Novel, but YA works are more often shorter than novel-length). There are the actual teens who already are suspicious of anything their parents like. There are the teen fans who outgrew YA early.

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about this, but I am saying the “easy” answers are deceptive. I believe in a YA award, but I think we have a way to go in defining it. I’m in the “having a single work eligible in two categories maybe isn’t such a bad thing” camp. I think that’s the best way to satisfy all the stakeholders, but that’s a distinct minority opinion at this point.

        April 10, 2013
      • Sorry, that probably should be “lament or deny that any other fannish communities even exist” in the middle there.

        April 11, 2013
      • “I don’t believe a single SF community exists anymore.” and “…the ‘easy’ answers are deceptive”

        Boy, is that right! Those are both underlying factors exacerbating this debate. I tend to think of it as either concentric circles or a type of bubble map (it may not be an accurate representation, but rather a sort of mental model).

        We have the core Worldcon constituency, which is relatively organized, has long-standing traditions, a shared identity, and (for all of its fractious debates and competing priorities/interests) fairly well established lines of internal communication. Beyond that, we have varying other relatively organized constituencies (e.g. Dr. Who fandom, anime/manga fandom, cosplay fandom, etc.) that I suspect share two key characteristics: they are relatively organized within their own “fannish bubbles” (which, to be clear, I only mean descriptively), and have a relatively high degree of overlapping participants with that core Worldcon constituency. Beyond that, we start getting into the far more nebulous territory of “passionate” fans, but whose organization tends to be far less centralized and emergent. Here, I’m thinking of book bloggers, the GoodReads community, the self-pub author community, subfactions on Reddit, etc. While these groups have strong lines of internal communication and are extremely engaged, they aren’t unified by an event in place and time the way much of con-going fandom is. Beyond that group (or group of groups, rather), we have more casual fans who tend to be consumers of SF/F but do not engage in the dialog. And beyond still that grouping, we have potential fans who are broadly ignorant of SF/F, its works, or its traditions.

        Right now, it seems that Worldcon / the Hugos do a decent job interfacing with the first two (the Worldcon constituency, and organized fandoms). That is only natural, considering the high degree of overlap. However, we do a weaker job of interacting with the less centralized groups (book bloggers, etc.). At the least, there is some modicum of engagement, however contentious it might often be. The good thing there is that those communities tend to have some awareness of the Hugos and (I suspect to a lesser extent) of Worldcon. Which means that the challenge is to “merely” find mechanisms of engagement, rather than to educate and find those mechanisms. Easy, right? 😉

        As we get more and more nebulous and decentralized, however, we run into a greater problem of ignorance. There, the challenge becomes one of simultaneously creating mechanisms for communication while informing and educating at the same time.

        Your LJ initiative is a great step in the right direction, and I think provides a good outreach model to build on. Its limitation, however, is one of awareness. For example, I’m new to the community but I like to think of myself as fairly well-engaged with it. I follow much of the online discussion, engage in a lot of the critical/analytical discussions, and have done so fairly vocally for the last several years. If I’m not yet a member of that core Worldcon constituency, I’m at least closer to its borders than a lot of others out there. But until this year, I was unaware of that LJ’s existence.

        Were it somehow tied more closely (or actually integrated with) the Hugo Awards web site, and further promoted more broadly amongst that next “ring” of fans (by which I mean book blogers and other online groups), I think it would help build better lines of communication between those different constituencies. I think providing those disparate groups a clear message of “We’re interested in what you have to say” would do a lot of good, and would be a great place to start.

        To be clear, the Worldcon constituency already says that. And then gets (justifiably) testy when it isn’t acknowledged by critics. The problem is that while we’re asking folks to engage, that message isn’t actually reaching far enough.

        This is one area where I think the professionals in the Worldcon constituency (the authors, artists, and editors, etc.) can actually do a lot of good. Their engagement cuts a wide swathe across those audiences, and those fans are engaged with their work. Many authors already reach out to their fans and talk about the Hugos (albeit some get criticized as stumping for votes, but that’s a whole different issue). The problem is that when they go out and “promote” the Hugos to their audiences, they have difficulty pointing them towards shared and coordinated channels for interaction. That LJ (or a section of the Hugo Awards web site modeled after it) could be one such channel. But that means educating the pros in the Worldcon constituency and encouraging them to do so.

        April 11, 2013
      • Chris, my experience suggests that even strongly active and participatory fan communities are far less organized and unified than you’re assuming. I need a bit more time to put together some intelligent illustrations. But the tl;dr version is organizationally engaging communities isn’t nearly as successful as personally engaging people.

        April 11, 2013
      • No rush, Andrew! To be clear, I’m actually assuming that all of these communities are incredibly diverse and chaotic. It’s a question of diplomacy, and you’re absolutely right that it will boil down to personal outreach. But I think that the effectiveness of that personal touch can be increased with the right organizational support. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your thoughts!

        April 11, 2013
      • Example 1: Worldcon fandom.

        We’ve got probably around 1000-1500 “core” members, the people who will go to every Worldcon regardless of how hard or expensive it is to get to. Maybe another 1000 who will go 3 of 5 years, but will bow out of the really difficult/expensive destinations. Then we’ve got a large stack of “neighborhood” members who will go if it’s within 6-14 hours’ drive (yes, this is a North American thing, and, of course longer drives cut out more people). There are people not already engaged in Worlcon fandom who get excited by “I’ve never been to Worldcon, but it’s driveable!” Let’s say an regular attendance between 4000-6000 people means there are about 8000 people engaged. But they’re all engaged individually. Even at the “core” there are a bunch of separate communication streams (Facebook, Twitter, LJ, Tumblr, Pinterest, personal blogs/RSS readers) that only overlap for a few social media junkies (that would be me, except Pinterest). There are a lot of subgroups that just don’t interact at all until they’re at con, and in a few cases try not to at con. You would not believe how offended some people were when Kevin (my Kevin, not Standlee) and I booked a can’t-miss masquerade half-time show featuring charming and popular writers and artists for Reno (2011) because then, horrors, they would have to attend the masquerade!

        So, of that, there are probably 600-800 people who engage in conrunning. Again, there are the people who are regular Worldcon committee members, probably about 300-400 of those folks. There are the conrunners who will help out with just about any con in their backyard. There are the new people who are excited to help on such a big project, and the crazy folks who are new and throw their hat into the ring to try running a Worldcon (I’m looking at Eemelie Aro and Adam Beaton). A lot of the folks in the 10-years+ experience range are active on LJ, because that was the big social network that was garnering “greater” or “wider” fandom’s attention at the time. A lot of the folks in general are on Facebook, because it’s too damned convenient. Some of the folks are on SMOFs mailing list (I’m not, I value my blood pressure). Some of the under-40 folks started SJOFs group on Facebook (Secret Journeymen of Fandom, but they’ve dropped the “S” and now they’re just Journeymen of Fandom). There’s a lot of interaction, but it doesn’t all overlap.

        Beyond that is the business meeting gang. It might be around 120 regulars, and many of them are not conrunners (conrunners often don’t have time for the business meeting, they’re too busy running the con). There are a few good and trusted parliamentary wonks who ensure the meetings run fairly, smoothly and on time. Most, but not all, of the business meeting gang are on SMOFs mailing list. I find it more productive to engage personally with the people who are helpful in getting things done (and I count Kevin Standlee in that subset) and not deal with the herd. Then again, there are people associated with the list who drive everybody crazy, but whom I’ve watched be paragons of sense and reason in other arenas.

        So Worldcon is a 8000 person community, or a 4000 person community, or a 800 person community, or a 120 person community depending on how you slice it. Or maybe it’s a bunch of 100-200 person communities all coming together. I’m thinking the latter, all but the smallest conventions have been, in my experience, communities coming together with other communities.

        Want to mine this vein a bit more, or look into Anime and Doctor Who as different examples?

        April 11, 2013
      • First, I want to thank you so much for sharing this breakdown of the Worldcon constituency! I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years in the online media research industry, so I’m a big believer in using data to shape strategy. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to mine this vein a little deeper before diving into other constituencies (I want to make sure I understand the Worldcon context a little better):

        1. What does the industry pro (authorial, editorial, artistic, creative, etc.) / non-pro (fan/consumer/etc) breakdown look like at typical Worldcons?

        2. What portion of overall Worldcon membership are repeat members vs first-time members?

        3. What portion of that “neighborhood” group are first-time members? And do you have a sense of how likely those first-time “neighborhood” members are to become repeat members?

        4. Do Worldcons collect any sort of demographics (age in particular) regarding members?

        April 11, 2013
      • So the bad news, I don’t have hard data on lots of this, just observations. In the few cases where I have hard data, it’s not necessarily representative. We’re getting into “how disorganized can organized really be?” territory. There’s an irritating resistance to data collection, marketing and promotion (it’s all evil, don’t you know? it’s only going to be used against us, don’t you know?) among fans. LA.con.IV in 2006 did a bunch of analysis on their data after the con, but very little of what I know of that is related to your questions. It was more about “When do we sell registrations?” “Where do we sell registrations?” and “How do we know we’re on track for our goal attendance when we do this again?”

        “1. What does the industry pro (authorial, editorial, artistic, creative, etc.) / non-pro (fan/consumer/etc) breakdown look like at typical Worldcons?”

        I honestly don’t know.

        Worldcon registration doesn’t differentiate between pros and fans. It’s really just the guests of honor who are elevated in any way. I think this is one of the areas where, from a cultural standpoint, it’s a great thing, but from a planning standpoint it’s a bit of a problem.

        I have heard industry folks who don’t engage much/well with fans wax rhapsodic about the convention-with-a-convention where a few hundred (never a solid number, just a vague suggestion) pros do a lot of business and a lot more drinking. I also know pros who engage with everyone, mixing industry schmoozing with fan schmoozing. Any percentage I could throw out would just be a wild-ass guess.

        Also, a lot of pros who attend Worldcon are as much fans as they are pros. A lot of pros got into genre through fandom (convention or not). There’s nothing funnier than watching a pro (particularly one who didn’t come into genre via conventions) lose their shit over meeting Neil Gaiman or George R.R. Martin.

        So I can say it feels like more pros total attend Worldcon on their own nickel than an average local or regional in North America (but not, say, World Fantasy or World Horror, two heavily industry-oriented conventions), and it might be a higher percentage than an average local or regional in North America, but that’s all guesses. I also don’t have the east-coast experience of conventions convenient to the New York publishing world, and I know that they get more pros than, say, Wisconsin or Texas.

        “2. What portion of overall Worldcon membership are repeat members vs first-time members?”

        Again, something difficult to track. I’m not sure there’s any real data. Every Worldcon is an independent organization, and there’s not a lot of continuity in membership databases. There’s a serious interest in this, too. People have discussed the idea of offering a “first-timer” discount registration rate, but the folks with visibility into registration pointed out this would have to be based on the honor system. Unfortunately Worldcon attending registration is expensive enough I could see people being less than honorable to save $100.

        Costume-con is similar. We only recently (5 years ago?) started asking Costume-Con members to opt into sharing their registration information with future Costume-Cons. Costume-Con now asks registrants to volunteer their first-time status, and makes “first-time member” badge ribbons available to newcomers, should they be interested in admitting they’re new (some people aren’t). CC gets better data that way. We’re also doing the opt-in sharing for this year’s Westercon registration (a first, I think), but we didn’t ask the “my first Westercon” question.

        Geri Sullivan walks around the Worldcon with a batch of stickers for people to mark their badges. Each penguin is one Worldcon attended (so everybody can have one). I don’t remember what animals she uses to indicate V and X. But not everybody participates (Geri can only meet so many people) and the information doesn’t feed back anywhere. It’s a small, anecdotal sample, and Geri has been active a long time. Most of Geri’s friends end up with mythical beasts so their badges don’t look like March of the Penguins.

        “3. What portion of that “neighborhood” group are first-time members? And do you have a sense of how likely those first-time “neighborhood” members are to become repeat members?”

        I’m not sure how many locals are first-timers. It’s the same data problem. That said, except for in conrunning-dense areas it’s easy to wait a decade between cons in your local area. Even in California we often go 5-8 years between Worldcons, and California is huge and populous, with several metro areas and groups capable of hosting a Worldcon. So a second-timer who hasn’t made a Worldcon in 12 years is almost as new as a first-timer.

        I do know ConJose (San Jose, California, 2002) had almost 1,000 more “at the door” registrations than they anticipated (very good for what was a flagging budget), and most of those folks were likely first-timers. Repeat attendees plan to pre-register to save money. Then again, we’re Geek Central in the SF Bay Area. Abnormal numbers, while unpredictable, aren’t unexpected.

        “4. Do Worldcons collect any sort of demographics (age in particular) regarding members?”

        Not that I know of, and a lot of fans react to this kind of data collection as an invasion of privacy. When I was in the midwest, and consuites had free beer, conventions asked for year of birth at registration so they could pre-print non-drinking (under 21) and drinking (21 and over) badge indicators. On the west coast, where only a few (very small and tightly-knit and/or specialist) cons have alcohol (or other reasons for checking age) people totally freak about anything age-related, because there isn’t a legal need.

        So age demographics are purely anecdotes and guesses. Well, except Art Widner and Dave Kyle, who were both at the first Worldcon and have been coming ever since. Everybody knows how old they are.

        So I can say it feels like the majority of the attendees are in the 45-65 range (and I’m at the bottom of that range), but that’s the weakest guess I’ve given here. I can say from hosting parties that most of the people attending parties at a Worldcon who aren’t drinking aren’t doing so for some reason besides being under 21. It’s a very different feel than a Doctor Who convention or a furry convention (both of which are thick with 20-30 year olds) or an anime convention (where 28 is geezerhood).

        April 12, 2013
      • Oh, there’s also a strong resitance among many Worldcon attendees (not just conrunners and business meeting wonks) against being characterized as “consumers.” Many attendees do things, big and small, to make their mark on the convention.

        People spend money and time to create costumes to wear around the halls and present at the masquerade. Sure, to some degree they’re doing it for attention, but they’re also adding to the atmosphere of the halls and providing content for the biggest event of one of the convention’s nights.

        People spend money and time to throw parties so other fans can have a good time after all the official activities are over.

        People spend time and money designing and printing silly and clever badge ribbons so they can make things more fun.

        People spend time and money putting together fanzines specifically for the convention, and sometimes spend time at the convention doing “fanzine in an hour.”

        People send items for exhibit, in some cases sending and assembling and installing whole exhibits themselves.

        For many attendees, Worlcon is as much about the fan experience as it is about meeting and schmoozing with pros.

        More of this? More questions? Or should we examine my admittedly North American view of Doctor Who fandom?

        April 12, 2013
      • More data! More data! Always, more data! (Just kidding, seriously I really appreciate all of this information since it is helping me to understand the community and the communications vectors which – so far – I have mainly been able to observe online and from a slightly outside perspective. The last thing I want to do is to make suggestions/arguments that have no grounding in the reality of Worldcons/the Hugos, their constituents, or their shared values.)

        I’m also going to respond to both of your last comments in one response, rather than in two: I completely understand both the logistical and cultural difficulty with collecting longitudinal and demographic audience data, particularly given the independence of each Worldcon. Collecting longitudinal data would be helpful for future Worldcons, as it would help them to plan better, budget better, and execute on their plans better. But at the same time it has to work for the broadly-shared ethos of the constituency (I’ve run into similar cultural issues doing market research in various countries, and in my own work on some non-profit boards). So I’m not particularly surprised about the relative dearth of hard data, but I figured I had to at least ask. 🙂

        Secondly, I completely understand (and actually agree) that fans shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as “consumers” – certainly not when they’re willing to invest of their time and money to participate in cons. It is one level of engagement to passively sit in a movie theater and watch The Avengers, and a different type of engagement entirely to cosplay Iron Man. My interest in the pro / non-pro split actually stems from a desire to understand the outreach potential inherent in different Worldcon constituencies.

        I suspect that many professionals – who are actively promoting their books and engaging with their own audiences – have the ability to reach across a far wider set of “fannish bubbles” than most non-professionals, simply because the pros engage both with their friends in and outside of organized fandom, as well as with non-participating followers of their work. Those of us who aren’t professionals probably have a smaller average reach.

        Anyway, I’d love to see your thoughts on Doctor Who and/or anime fandoms. We seem to be working our way outwards from that core Worldcon constituency, so I’ll be happy to chime in with my thoughts on the various communities just beyond the borders of “organized fandom”, but which currently seem to have little engagement with Worldcon (or with other genre cons, for that matter).

        April 12, 2013
      • I don’t consider Worldcon a core, I consider it a bubble among bubbles. It’s just an enduring (some might say “old”) bubble and that endurance has given it influence.

        Doctor Who fandom in North America definitely departs from that endurance in interesting ways. Back when the original series hit North America (Baker era, for most people), there was the North American Doctor Who Appreciation Society and the Doctor Who Fan Club. I believe both are defunct.

        There were a few North American British SF conventions while the show ran, TimeCon, ORAC and a few others that I know of. My husband and a bunch of my friends were (long before I lived in California) involved in some of those cons. Most of them only ran 2-3 years before ending. Kevin Standlee was in a college SF/Who club at Chico State that did fan video productions. Some of those can be found on Youtube.

        The Time Meddlers LA started a convention, Gallifrey One, the year McCoy was finishing his last series, the show was canceled before the first con. It almost crashed its first year, but it recovered and is celebrating its 25th anniversary next spring. Robbie Bourget, Gallifrey One’s chair, co-chaired the Montreal Worldcon. Gallifrey One draws Doctor Who fans from around the world, including a lot of British fans and pros.

        To support the convention, Gallifrey One set up Outpost Gallifrey in 1995, a web forum and convention website. It got big, and while some folks called it the premier Doctor Who site in North America, it was more likely the premier international Doctor Who site in the English-speaking world. While Gallifrey One averaged 400-800 people during the dark years, Gallifrey Base participation was much higher.

        Since audio dramas, fan videos and the various novel series were the only way to get a Doctor Who fix until 2005, (old) Who fandom fundamentally changed. A bookseller I know, who has been doing this longer than I care to think about, noted that fans who don’t read don’t last, and drop out. Where many media fan communities lost members to disinterest and faded away, Who fans held on. Convention attendance had a slow growth curve, Gallifrey Base participation had a steady growth curve. Conventions featured not just actors from the show, but writers, directors, people from behind the scenes. It helped that the novel series attracted some great young writing talent, many of whom were drawn into the new series.

        So there’s some distributed organized club activity (LA, SF Bay Area and New York are the long-time active clubs I know of), some distributed convention activity (Visions in Chicago launched and ran a few years), and a lot of online activity.

        We have a small but influential overlap between Worldcon and Doctor Who fans. The bubbles intersect just a little bit. But we’re still talking most of the active people in North American Who fandom being born between 1960 and 1980, and somewhat skewed to gay men.

        Everything changed with the new series, but it also didn’t. There was a huge influx of people in their 20s, a huge influx of women, the convention had a fast growth curve, the web forums were spun off to a new service, Gallifrey Base, but there wasn’t really a generational conflict. Costuming exploded. Silly badge ribbons exploded. Colin Ferguson noticed organized Who fandom.

        Oh, and podcasting took off. Tachyon TV, first a fanzine, then a blog, morphed into a podcast. DWNY and the Gallifreyan Embassy started Podshock. A trio of Canadians started Radio Free Skaro. So now there are podcasts and web forums to connect fans.

        And Twitter took off. Gallifrey One’s hashtag has activity almost every day of the year, not just during the convention.

        Gallifrey One attendance is capped at 3,200 members now, and it sells out in less than 2 weeks.

        So we have an intensely connected active chunk of Doctor Who fandom (not counting all the people who just watch the show, and it’s almost as big a cultural phenomenon here as it is in the UK). They get excited about meeting not just actors, but writers, costumers, musicians, directors, effects artists, everyone who makes the show what it is. Louise Page was shocked that she, a lowly costume designer (the costume designer for David Tennant’s run) was popular. June Hudson (costume designer from some of Tom Baker’s tenure) and Dick Mills (BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer and musician) generated a lot of excitement this February when they were guests.

        Sure, there are the gangs of girls who hate particular companions and their feuds with the gangs who love them. But it’s big enough and cohesive enough the crew takes notice, “Outpost Gallifrey” got a shout-out in the Barrowman/Tennant/Tate “Ballad of Russel and Julie” video done for Davies’ and Gardner’s exit from the series. We have British fans who come to Los Angeles every February (I think partly for the company, partly for the weather). We have North American fans who plan British vacations when the weather there is a bit nicer.

        Where does that bring us?

        Long-time well-known Doctor Who fans with Worldcon and Eastercon connections. Conrunners who support not just Doctor Who conventions, but other local conventions. British Doctor Who fans who like conventions, and who travel to North America for them. Anglophile North American fans looking for geeky excuses to vacation in Britain. A convention that (for better or worse) reflects their taste in television, giving Doctor Who Hugo Awards.

        And, the big thing, fans who look beyond Doctor Who to other genre works.

        This makes it extremely easy for people working on and promoting LonCon 3 (2014 Worldcon) to connect with Doctor Who fans (particularly in person at Gallifrey One), and get them to engage. A LonCon3 tea party, in the heart of prime program time on Saturday afternoon, packed in the attendees. We’re talking a tiny fraction of total attendance at the con, but still enough to fill the parlor for 3-4 hours.


        April 12, 2013
      • Thanks again for the history of Doctor Who fandom in North America. It’s a community I haven’t really interfaced with, so I appreciate the insight. I do have several questions, just to make sure that I understand some of the group dynamics involved inside North American Doctor Who fandom and between that bubble and the Worldcon bubble.

        (Also, as an aside, I recognize that Worldcon isn’t a “core” to fandom in any real sense: organized fandom is so amorphous and diverse that it doesn’t really have anything so straightforward as a core. However, since the genesis of this discussion was how to improve Hugo/Worldcon outreach, I’m focusing on building out from the passionately engaged community Worldcon already has. Got to start somewhere, and it’s better to start from one’s strengths, and I think Worldcon’s greatest strength is its already engaged community.)

        Anyway, back to Doctor Who fandom. I’d like to understand a little better the interactions and dynamics within that group.

        Just to make sure that I understand correctly, Gallifrey Outpost (which you mention earlier in your comment) eventually morphed into Gallifrey Base? Am I reading that correctly?

        On the Dr. Who forums (Outpost and the later Base), is there active discussion of the Hugo awards and/or Worldcon? Or is it more the case that people active on forums discussing Dr Who are also active in other venues discussing Worldcon / the Hugos? If the former, that makes it an interesting outreach model from which I think we can learn lessons applicable to Worldcon / the Hugos and other fannish bubbles. If the latter, that is an equally interesting data point, but I’m not sure it brings us closer to finding a better outreach approach for Worldcon / the Hugos. If both, then that too is an interesting data point, and I suspect the strongest possible way for the Worldcon bubble to interface with other fannish bubbles.

        Equally, do you find that people initially engaged with Dr. Who forums eventually are drawn from discussions there to venues more focused on Worldcon / the Hugos? (e.g. your Hugo discussion LJ, perhaps?).

        April 13, 2013
      • I’m not personally engaged on Gallifrey Base. I’m a web-forum hating luddite who wants my content pushed to me. Gallifrey Base is only visible to members, so I can’t speak to details about what happens there.

        Outpost Gallifrey was Gallifrey One’s web forum. It underwent a few major changes 2006-2009 (including being rebranded “The Doctor Who Forum”) before it was finally shut down by the convention. The Outpost Gallifrey support team and Chicago TARDIS (a newer convention) put together a transition plan and launched Gallifrey Base, a replacement forum site that most of the Outpost Gallifrey users migrated to. There’s a surprisingly accurate Wikipedia page about all of this. Then again, Doctor Who is something Wikipedia is often suprisingly accurate about.

        In any case, Outpost Gallifrey and Gallifrey Base both had very significant international participation and international impact. It’s been reported quite a few British television reporters and reviewers are lurkers on Gallifrey Base and use it to gauge fan reaction.

        But I don’t know how much Hugo/Worldcon discussion happens on Gallifrey Base, except that there’s an excited reaction when the results are announced and Doctor Who wins.

        April 13, 2013
      • Gotcha. I might swing by Gallifrey Base and register just to take a look at the discussion. I’m not much of one for forums either, but feel like some further research might be helpful. You had also mentioned anime fandom as being another interesting case to explore. Care to elaborate on that, or should I outline my thoughts on some of the less organized online bubbles that currently seem to have very little overlap with Worldcon / the Hugos?

        April 13, 2013
      • Anime is going to be a very different story. Then again, Doctor Who vs. Worldcon fandoms were kind of different stories. In some ways it’s much more strangely personal, in other ways it’s just strange. Just a warning: this is probably going to ramble…

        Anime fandom is a very young fandom. Few conventions (Anime Expo, Fanime) predate 2000. Few large online communities predate 2000. Anime also isn’t a giant bubble, it’s thousands of little bubbles.

        Anime fandom before 2000 was a lot like Doctor Who fandom in the dark years, a bunch of very dedicated fans trading fan-subtitled and non-subtitled videos that just weren’t available commercially in the states. There was anime on TV, but it wasn’t the mainstay of several cable networks like it is now. “Obscure” anime (stuff that wasn’t Robotech or Sailor Moon) was pretty much limited to video rooms at Westercons, Worldcons, and some local conventions, primarily on the US west coast, but surprisingly also in Des Moines, Iowa (there’s an importer headquartered in Des Moines).

        DVD really changed the anime consumer experience, packaging dubbed and subtitled options in a single package, satisfying both the dedicated fan and the new/young fan. An anime DVD collection was, I think, my second DVD purchase. In 1999, that was unusual, but around 2000 the major Japanese studios started packaging a lot of their shows for American DVD sale.

        In the late 90’s, I was involved in YSML (the Yaoi/Slash Mailing List) and Aestheticism (a Boys Love manga mailing list started by a woman stationed with the US military in Japan). This was a small, tightly-knit community, totally unknown to the average anime fan. Several of the movers and shakers on Aestheticism started YaoiCon in 2001 (I think), and I attended several years (2002-2008). It was a very participatory fandom, centered on fanfic, self-published fan comics, artwork and costuming. The con and community was definitely a bubble, welcoming to anyone who had an interest and actively promoting at general anime conventions.

        We went to Fanime a few times, mostly to shop in their dealers’ room. We found a very consumer-oriented fandom. A lot of other folks were also there only to shop in the dealers’ room. And, for us, shopping could be as easily accomplished online from the sale pages of the major importers/distributors.

        In 2003 we were asked by the masquerade director at Anime Expo (Los Angeles) to come down and judge “craftsmanship” in their competition. Marissa was working to repair the damage caused by a few people who did a really bad job running the competition. We spent a lot of time talking with her about rules and fairness and rebuilding trust with the attendees and entrants. In the end we couldn’t be judges for her (scheduling conflicts) but we did refer some people who did a great job. We learned a lot about the culture, though. Even then anime fandom had started to skew young. The costume/cosplay crowd tended to be college students, and when they graduated and took an entry-level job they lost the flexibility (or parents’ money) that allowed them to dedicate so much time to their art. As such, there was a lot of “churn” and many people dropped out by 24-25. This is still before anime was the mainstay of cable TV networks.

        In 2005, some friends involved in Worldcons and Los Angeles SF conventions decided to start a new anime convention, AnimeLA. They wanted to apply the lessons from years of running SF conventions to create a less trade-showy kind of convention experience that was common at many (particularly large) anime conventions. We were asked to run the cosplay competition, but couldn’t. We did for 2006 and 2007, primarily to help build bridges between anime and general F&SF fandom in advance of our Costume-Con in San Jose in 2008. AnimeLA was all about building connections, and the original gang did a great job of training up young convention runners in the traditions of general F&SF conventions. Many went on to helping with LosCon (the LA general SF convention), Gallifrey One and the 2006 LA Worldcon.

        AnimeLA was also after the huge explosion of anime on television, and the attendees, already young, started skewing seriously into the middle and high school demographic (this was reflected at pretty much all other anime conventions). The already-apparent churn shifted with that, and convention-attending anime fans older than 25 became a small minority. I’ve got more than a few friends who started getting the “who are these creepy old people” stares and vibe from other convention attendees when they were only 28.

        And then there’s the real weirdness.

        About 2002, the terms “masquerade” and “costuming” started getting replaced by “cosplay.” What people were doing at conventions didn’t change, the name just did. But all the churn meant new fans thought they were doing something special and uniquely Japanese that’s different that what all those old folks at SF conventions do.

        It’s not, and that belief shows a profund misconception about the place of costume and fancy dress in Japanese culture. Cosplay in Japan was inspired by a computer gaming magazine publisher’s experience at the 1984 Worldcon in Los Angeles, which is one of the reasons it’s a contraction of two English words. A friend of mine interviewed him about it at Denver’s anime convention a few years ago. Cosplay in Japan bears little resemblance to what western anime fans do at conventions, so it’s not even really a reimportation.

        It’s a lot like the people who lament that genre has gone mainstream and is popular. Anime is mainstream and popular, but fans want to believe they’re outsiders and their affiliation with their fan community makes them special and different.

        So organizationally engaging with “anime fandom” is really difficult. There isn’t a monolithic community. Personally engaging isn’t even terribly effective. Everyone (well, the vast majority) is perpetually “new.” In some cases “new” and willfully ignorant. Maintaining any sort of long-term relationships is difficult. If you can’t embrace the churn (and, really, only other anime conventions and communities can, it’s culturally shocking to most other fan communities) you’re out of luck.

        April 15, 2013
      • Thanks for this insight! I do have a couple different questions relating to anime fandom and their interaction with Worldcon:

        1. Does anime fandom have any kind of centralized (or at least concentrated) online platforms similar to Gallifrey Base?

        2. Have past Worldcons offered any type of programming / events (outside of the masquerade) targeting the anime community?

        3. Is any portion of the anime community represented amongst Worldcon-goers? Or is the overlap rather thin? If particularly thin, do you have any sense for the kind of overlap it is? (i.e. skews older, skews towards conrunners, etc.)

        April 16, 2013
      • Any thoughts or questions on my experiences with anime fandoms? If you want I can pull out one more fannish subculture, but I’ll warn you it’s weird and misunderstood…

        April 16, 2013
      • Thanks, I just replied with some questions about your experiences w/anime fandom (sorry for the delay, I didn’t get a chance to reply ’til now). And sure, if you want, I’d love to hear about another fannish subculture – even if it is weird and misunderstood, more data/insight is always good.

        April 16, 2013
      • “1. Does anime fandom have any kind of centralized (or at least concentrated) online platforms similar to Gallifrey Base?”

        Anime fandom was huge on LJ when LJ was huge, but it’s drifted off. A lot of fans are on Facebook (big-name cosplayers have taken to creating “pages” to separate their cosplay personas from their real-life friends), but everybody is on Facebook and Facebook is a collection of bubbles. Twitter is mobile-oriented, and anime fans are all about their cellphones. Tumblr is photo-oriented, and anime fans are very image-oriented, same for Pinterest, Instagram, Hipstamatic and a boatload of other mobile-friendly photo sharing sites. is a huge cosplay-focused web forum.

        Anime fandom is too huge to be supported by a central or concentrated online platform. The youth and churn tends to find new fan groups in the hot new services the kids are using(TM). Often before the older fans realize they’re being left behind.

        It really is thousands of bubbles, not a single community. That said, it’s also the fannish online/RL singularity. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is a way of life, and self-worth (particularly for cosplayers) comes from seeing yourself online in convention or event pictures the next morning.

        “2. Have past Worldcons offered any type of programming / events (outside of the masquerade) targeting the anime community?”

        Worldcon used to offer anime discussion panels. In the early days general SF cons were really the only place that happened, anime cons didn’t exist. As anime became more mainstream, the fans became more about celebrities (voice actors, primarily). Worldcon is more about fans than about celebrities (culturally, there’s a resistance to spending membership dollars on appearance fees, something writers don’t care about but actors do), so the kind of programming modern anime fans want isn’t likely to happen.

        Worldcons used to offer anime video rooms. That said, a friend of mine who is still very active in anime fandom pointed out the need for anime video rooms has pretty much been killed by crunchyroll and other widely-available web and cable anime outlets.

        And, of course, the Yokohama Worldcon in 2007 had a lot of Japanese-culture related F&SF programming. Then again, in Japan, anime and manga are just media. An anime con in Japan would be like a “movies” or “television” con here in the States.

        “3. Is any portion of the anime community represented amongst Worldcon-goers? Or is the overlap rather thin? If particularly thin, do you have any sense for the kind of overlap it is? (i.e. skews older, skews towards conrunners, etc.)”

        It’s thin. It skews older. Young by Worldcon standards, but positively elderly by anime fandom standards. Say thirtyish and up.

        April 16, 2013
      • Thanks for this! I do have another follow-up question, if you would be so kind: you mention that US anime fandom tends to be fairly celebrity-focused in its programming preferences. Does this mean that US anime fandom doesn’t feature critical discussion of the works in question? Or that it lacks the media-announcement orientation more typical of Comic Con? Or that either of these two types of programming take a far distant third/fourth/fifth after celebrity personalities and cosplay?

        April 17, 2013
      • There are a lot of anime conventions, and they all differ.

        The big conventions do seriously feature media-announcement programming. I tend to link that to celebrity programming, though. Celebrity programming is a big deal at all but the smallest and most niche anime conventions, moreso than fan programming. Anime fandom is much like other media fan subcultures in that way.

        Cosplay is huge. I don’t know that there’s a better way to put it. But, except for the cosplay competitions, it’s more an ad-hoc or “birds of a feather” kind of thing. Some conventions have how-to programs on costuming, many just have “FMA cosplay get-together” “One Piece Cosplay get-together” “Zelda Cosplay get-together” and other cosplay social meetings for associated with a particular property, series, studio or artist.

        “Critical discussion” just isn’t the same when half (if not more) of your convention attendance or online community membership is high-school age. Anime is mainstream enough it’s hardly nerdy, they’re pretty representative of overall high-school demographics, a mix of honor students, average students and slackers. It’s less a “critical” oriented fandom and more a “squee” oriented fandom. “Squee” did originate in anime fandom, after all.

        April 17, 2013
      • Okay, thanks for this.

        You mentioned one other somewhat “weird” fannish bubble that you thought might be relevant / interesting to explore as a further case study. Care to expand on that further, or does it make more sense for me to dive into the online bubbles I think Worldcon / the Hugos could better interface with?

        April 18, 2013
      • Oh, media announcements at anime conventions are different than Comic-Con. Comic-Con is Hollywood studios promoting new releases. North American anime cons have importers announce releases, but they’re translated rereleases, Rarely are production companies announcing something truly new, and if they are it’s going to be a while before American audiences see it.

        April 17, 2013
      • I’m going to bump out a level, the reply-ordering has been getting bizarre. I also decided to think for a few days before replying.

        1. Fandom on LJ is huge and not cohesive, except when LJ’s owners screw something up. A screw-up that targets fan activity unites the fans for a few moments, but only until the threat has passed, and only then do you get even a hint of the iceberg. Overall, the mass of fans on LJ dwarfs folks who are in any way engaged with Worldcon/Hugos.

        2. SFSignal has a very high profile with Hugo voters, and through the tidbits feature it extends a lot of that visibility to other bloggers.

        I’ve read a lot of book bloggers’ entries on the Hugos (particular thanks to SFSignal and Cora Buhlert this year). I’ve participated in discussions where the author and commenting community appeared open to discussion. I’ve tried to avoid commenting on obvious/admitted polemics.

        I can’t speak to book bloggers’ perceptions. I’m not one, and I’m not new. I can speak to perceptions of book blogger expectations and arguments, but they’re all over the board (I don’t see unity looking in on the book blogger world), and they’re only my perceptions and the perceptions of the people I’ve spoken with about the issue. So my comments are going to bounce around a bit. They also may come off a bit more ranty than I actually feel.

        Book bloggers who come in with “new” ideas aren’t necessarily being seen as assailing fannish traditions. Sure, for some people everything assails fannish tradition, but I write those folks off. A lot of us are interested in new solutions to old problems, and new solutions to new problems (like the recent adoption of e-balloting). Sometimes the reaction is just “That idea isn’t as new as you think, and unless you’ve got a totally new take on it, we’re already tired of hearing it.”

        Book bloggers who expect “engagement” to mean more than “sure, let’s have a discussion in your comment section and then we’ll make up our own minds” come off as entitled. Sorry. If they want further engagement, they have to take the next step.

        Book bloggers who argue quality rather than taste or recognition in popular-vote awards discussions come off as snobbish. Sorry. Arguing in favor of juried Hugo awards to solve the perceived quality problem is one of the few truly “assailing fannish tradition” arguments that’s been made, but it hasn’t been that common this year. There’s just been the general quality lament.

        Book bloggers who characterize “greater fandom” or “wider fandom” as reflecting their tastes come off as deluded. Sorry. This is the classic lurker fallacy, and it dates back to Usenet. Sure, there are a lot of lurkers, but not even a blog’s commenting community always agrees with the author. The bigger the community, the more obvious that is (just read Scalzi’s comment section). Organized fans make cats look easy to herd, and lurkers don’t even have that degree of community engagement.

        That ties into another perception. Book bloggers who argue that greater democratization of the awards will result in their tastes being better reflected because of “quality” also come off as deluded. Sorry. I will often argue for finding ways to extend the franchise, but I understand that my tastes at the nominating stage are less likely to be reflected. Just look at any televoted reality show. Survivor. American Idol. Eurovision Song Contest.

        Book bloggers who argue that bureaucracy is getting in the way of their revolutionary changes come off as misinformed. The way Worldcon’s democracy works is kind of antiquated and odd, having more in common with Athenian democracy than modern representative democracy, sure. But it’s more arcane than byzantine. There are rules, but there isn’t a layer of bureaucrats complicating the machinery. Consensus is important, and it’s illustrated in no better way than the YA award discussion. In spite of assertions otherwise, by no means is there consensus that there should be a YA award (the serious arguments against being that Hugo voters probably have little in common with actual young adults and that some YA authors don’t want their works ghettoized out of the running for a “regular” Hugo), and among those who agree there is no consensus of how it should work (how is “YA” defined, and should works be eligible in more than one category).

        Finally, there’s a new common thread I’ve noticed crop up in a lot of online interactions regarding conventions. This isn’t just a book blogger thing, and it isn’t just a Worldcon thing. I’ve watched a lot of discussions that, when boiled down, ended up being “I am offended that these convention organizers are organizing their event for the attendees. Why aren’t they organizing the event for me?” And that’s the argument, as an event organizer, I just can’t accept.

        May 1, 2013
      • First, my apologies for taking so long to respond to this – it somehow slipped through the cracks during offline craziness over the past week.

        That being said, I don’t disagree with any of your points. The rhetoric and the complaints about the Hugos/Worldcon raised by the book blogger community are symptomatic of an underlying disconnect between the Hugo/Worldcon’s current constituency and that book blogger community. Now, one can argue whether either party should try to bridge that gap and engage with the other, but I personally think that doing so would be to the benefit of both communities. That is the underlying assumption that I’m coming from, and it underpins every suggestion I have.

        I think that a large part of that disconnect stems from a mutual perception on both sides of the divide that the other side has “dug in for the fight.” On the one hand, the Hugo/Worldcon constituency falls back on a (valid and logical) argument that the Hugos are open to all supporting members, and that if the book bloggers want to whinge about the Hugos, they should engage and participate on the Worldcon’s terms. On the other hand, the book blogger community claims that the Hugos/Worldcon’s invitations are insufficient enticement (for economical, geographical, cultural, perception, etc.) reasons.

        Looked at in this fashion, this divide is an all-or-nothing proposition. The Hugo/Worldcon’s posture says “pay up and participate, or don’t” while the book bloggers respond by saying “I [can’t/won’t] pay up and participate, so the Hugos/Worldcon are excluding me.” Both parties have every right to take such a stance, and I can’t really fault either in their conclusion (however misguided or ill-considered each side’s supporting rhetoric may be). Naturally, each side views the other’s arguments as defensive, and that just serves to get everyone’s hackles up.

        I think that there’s a more constructive way to approach the discussion, and that is to ameliorate its all-or-nothing nature. The Hugos/Worldcon’s efforts to reduce the cost of supporting membership is already a very powerful step in that direction (which I think the more thoughtful of the critics recognize), yet the book bloggers’ contention that more can be done is not an unreasonable claim. Because the book blogger community is so diffuse and fragmented (even when compared to the already-fragmented Hugo/Worldcon constituency), it will be difficult for a practical solution to emerge from it. There’s no institutional/organizational body (or set of independent bodies) who has any kind of governance structure to aggregate opinions and direct resources (human or financial) in any meaningful capacity.

        While the Hugos/Worldcon have their significant organizational challenges, and while it might seem counter-intuitive, they are actually more systematically organized and so able to better coordinate efforts than the book bloggers. The Hugos/Worldcon may move slowly, but at least they have systems to direct that movement. The book bloggers are far more amorphous. I sometimes think of it as the difference between a democracy and an anarchist confederation of convenience.

        I see your Hugo-discussion LJ as a very good model for engagement with the book blogging community, however without the institutional support of the Hugos/Worldcon then its representational legitimacy is significantly weakened. What I think would work better is for the Hugos/Worldcon to extend an olive branch to the book bloggers (and to the other fandom groups that we’ve touched upon, and those who I mentioned but haven’t gone into great detail on like the GoodReads community and the self-pub community). The nature of such an olive branch could have three components:

        1. A declaration of a willingness to engage. Because of the years of unfortunate and contentious rhetoric on both sides, a certain degree of entrenched identity dynamics are interfering with meaningful engagement. An unequivocal declaration of a desire to engage may seem like diplomatic fluff, but it can’t hurt and would likely be appreciated by large segments of the book blogger community (especially if backed up by components 2 and 3 below). Gestures matter, sometimes.

        2. A platform for online engagement. If the Hugos/Worldcon were to provide a central platform on which the book blogger community could engage with the Hugo/Worldcon community without necessitating the cost of supporting memberships (or travel, etc.), then the book bloggers’ principal complaint (that their voices are excluded) would be addressed. Such platforms exist already (e.g. your LJ, the book bloggers’ own blogs, etc.) but they are by their natures fragmented and lack the legitimacy of an institutional association with the Hugos/Worldcon. There’s no meaningful “home address” for Hugo/Worldcon discussion on the Internet, and such a platform would provide one.

        3. A systematic approach to engaging with the broader community both on the platform and beyond its borders. The “if you build it, they will come” approach won’t work for such a platform, even given the imprimatur of the Hugos/Worldcon. However, when coupled with a systematic approach to promoting the Hugos/Worldcon and engaging constructively with the community on that platform, on book blogs, and on other fannish forums (for disparate bubbles of fandom), I think that it might attract a fair bit of legitimacy and attention. Over time, and with some good diplomacy, such a central platform could become a constructive locus of discussion.

        To actually accomplish any of the above is no mean feat, of course. It necessitates several important things:
        a) An institutional decision on the part of the Hugos/Worldcon that will survive beyond any individual Worldcon.
        b) The institutional support (resources human and financial)) from the Worldcon constituency that extends beyond any individual Worldcon.
        c) The organizational support (financial and logistic) for such a centralized platform that is independent of any individual Worldcon.
        d) A team that is committed, passionate, and has the time to engage in meaningful diplomatic outreach over an extended time period.

        Of course, I am well aware that any one of those four requirements is hard to achieve with the Hugos/Worldcon governance as it is. But Worldcons have pulled off such long-term projects before – the Hugo Awards are an example of exactly that. In today’s changing media environment, I think that for Worldcons to continue their success, for the Hugo Awards to maintain their legitimacy/importance to the field, and for the Hugo Awards/Worldcons to reach new audiences, such efforts would be tremendously helpful.

        And I really think it should be possible, though that hope might be a bit naive. 🙂

        May 9, 2013
    • Yeah, I’m trying to figure out how to write up engagement in/with furry fandom. It’s a subculture that started with some of the big-name fans and artists of the 70’s and 80’s and was a big part of west coast F&SF fandom until the late 80’s, when it took a left turn and grew into something else. Its evolution from the late 80’s on is tightly connected with online activity, from the USENET days through LiveJournal and dedicated community portal sites.

      April 18, 2013
      • Sounds good. I’m going to write up my thoughts on three fairly separate subsets of online fandom that seem to have limited (or contentious) relationships with Worldcon / the Hugos. Unfortunately, I just got home on Friday evening (it’s approaching 8pm over here) and I’m about to step out again, so I probably won’t actually get a chance to post my write-up ’til either later this evening or more likely tomorrow.

        April 19, 2013
      • As much as I had hoped, I think I can only encapsulate things down very generally. I’ve already mentioned that we’re talking about a group that budded from general F&SF fandom (they were active in 80’s fanzine fandom and west coast convention fandom), but separated.

        There were a few ugly train wrecks in the late 80’s. Most originated with general fans and convention organizers who perceived furry fandom as “taking over” their turf. It’s kind of like the anti-Trek (and anti-media) attitudes of the 70’s, but this wasn’t a community with a media-fan style growth curve. This was exacerbated by, in some cases, the furry parties at F&SF conventions mostly being populated by the furry fans who couldn’t fit in elsewhere in the convention.

        These days, it is an intensely social subculture, both online and in real life. In the San Jose area, there are furry dinner groups nearly every night of the week, often big enough to take over the restaurant they’re hanging out at. Online community portals like FurAffinity are structured around sharing art (graphics, writing, costume, music), rather than just discussion. It’s a very creative and participatory fandom, not a consumer fandom. It does a better job of holding up the ideals of Burning Man than Burning Man does.

        Engaging with furry fandom, on the other hand, is touchy. There has been a lot of negative media attention (much of it only tenuously connected to facts). Between that and the events that drove furry fandom to split from general F&SF fandom, there’s a personal worldview among furries that they’re pariahs. That drove another ugly political battle, between “burned furs” who argued that furry could just be respectable if all the undesirable elements were kicked out, and the rest of the subculture who said “if this is what we have to do to be respectable, we’ll just accept being pariahs.” It’s a very difficult sell, unless one is part of the community, convincing them their input and participation in the more general community is desired.

        There’s also a significant serious (literary/critical/acadmic) question about the place of furry works in genre. There are a lot of furry-themed works that are very much modern slice-of-life stories. Sure, the people are animals, but the stories don’t follow a fantasy or science fictional style or craft. They’re just about ordinary (furry) people in an ordinary modern world that is only slightly different than ours.

        April 22, 2013
      • Thanks for the breakdown of furry fandom and its history. You mention how furry fandom sort of broke off from general F&SF fandom awhile back, but I’m curious as to today’s interaction between the two communities.

        Are there still areas of overlap (particularly at Worldcon)? Or are they broadly separate at this point due to the self-identity, social group history, and genre convention/critical issues you allude to?

        April 23, 2013
      • Now for the completely wacky, I just got back from RoboGames 2013. It’s an event full of professional and amateur engineers who spend their time building mechanical devices to do things (the best known being the style of remote control combat robots featured in BattleBots a decade ago).

        Most of these folks are very geeky, and very active, but totally disconnected from any F&SF online communities and the convention circuit.

        April 22, 2013
      • I realize I was unclear about the outcome of the “burned furs” stuff. It turns out the “burned furs” were a small but loud online clique who thought they were representative of greater furry fandom, and the undesirables, the freaks and perverts, were a small group making them look bad.

        When all was said and done, most of the furry community turned out to have a pretty serious “live and let live” attitude. Rather than declaring people undesirable and kicking them out to gain respectability, they engaged in community activity and good works to gain respectability. Critters by the Bay, a large mascot/fursuit club does incredibly popular and successful mascot appearances at hospital childrens’ wards and community events with the full cooperation of the community. Further Confusion (the Bay Area’s furry convention) is a charity fundraising powerhouse, and works very hard to strike a balance and ensure an appropriate separation between the innocent and the adult. A group (I think originally centered in SoCal) started the Anthropomorphic Literature & Arts Awards (the Ursa Major Awards).

        “We’re all freaks, but that doesn’t mean we’re not good people” is the order of the day, but there is still suspicion of outsiders’ motives in engaging.

        At this point, the people involved in “burned furs” are just footnotes.

        April 23, 2013
      • Again, the engagements between general SF fandom (and I include Worldcon under that banner) and furry are individual, not organizational. There are the people who never let the splits and feuds take them away from either their love of F&SF or furry, and who continued to participate in all sorts of fanac. There are the people who hear, from their friends, that this event that’s a bit different than what they’re used to is going on and they might want to attend. In SF Bay Area convention fandom, there’s a huge overlap. In Chicago there used to be a huge overlap. DucKon (after DuPage County, not ducks) was (is?) a general SF con that had a huge furry presence in the late 90s (well after the first few big splits) and I don’t know if the advent of Midwest Fur Fest has siphoned off people or if they’ve just both grown together.

        But, since Worldcon moves, there isn’t necessarily a large long-term engagement between it and geographically clustered furry communities.

        April 24, 2013
      • Gotcha. Thanks for this explanation, and for all of the background on these various facets of convention-going fandom.

        The online “bubbles” that I’ve seen share certain characteristics with the groups you’ve described, but they likewise have a lot of their own ideosyncrasies.There is some overlap between them, but that overlap tends to be sporadic and individualized to a significant degree.

        Furthermore, the “active” portions of these groups (those who engage in forums, blog posts, blog comments, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) are likely dwarfed by the “lurker” segment that prefers to read / observe. Based on unrelated research I’ve done on online social engagement (day job stuff</font), I wouldn't be surprised if the ratio runs about 10 – 15% participant, 85 – 90% lurker, though I don't have any hard data about these particular cultural groups.

        In general, I see four relatively distinct "bubbles" of online fandom with varying degrees of engagement with Worldcon / Hugos. These bubbles are pretty much defined by the primary platforms they use to interact.

        While everyone uses Twitter, Facebook, or both to interact within and across these bubbles, the community interactions on their defining platforms tend to be a little more insular. I suspect every single one of these communities would bridle at that suggestion, but I view that as a natural consequence of community (and cast no concomitant judgment).

        Before I get into my discussion of the particular groups and their interactions with the Hugo Awards/Worldcon constituency, I would like to stress one fact above all others: I cast no judgment on anyone in this process. I lament whenever anyone (in any fannish bubble) gets contentious. I have many friends who have invested greatly of themselves to support Worldcons and the Hugo Awards, and I have friends who have felt greatly excluded by the Worldcon/Hugo community while investing tremendous amounts of time and energy to further the genre they love. I’ve watched the back and forth for years, and have always tried to understand the nuance of the arguments on all sides. My perspectives which follow are my limited attempts at that understanding from the perspective of a relative outsider and relative newcomer to the field. They are also generalizations, which of course are always dangerous. If I am wrong in my interpretation, or wrong in my assumptions, then by all means please correct my misunderstanding. I want to be clear: I cast no aspersions on any member of any community in this dynamic, and I hope to further the discussion in the best of faith.

        Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, here are the first two online groups that I see:

        1. The LiveJournal Community. The first online bubble (and arguably best-engaged with Worldcon) I think of as an amorphous collection of SF/F/H writers and fans who tend to have some fairly strong connections to convention-going fandom. You mentioned LJ as a sort of online hub for segments of the Worldcon constituency, and that constituency naturally reaches outside of itself to some extent via the LJ platform.

        Most of the fans I know who are active on LiveJournal are fairly well-informed about the Hugos, and about Worldcon. Even if they personally have never been, odds are some of their friends on LJ have. What’s more, many of their LJ friends are repeat Worldcon attendees / Hugo voters, or are otherwise engaged with convention-going fandom.

        However, once we pass LJ’s borders into the world of blogging platforms (whether WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, etc.) the environment gets a lot more fragmented. And here is where the first “contentious” communities crop up.

        2. Book Bloggers / Book Blog Readers. There is a large and vibrant community of book bloggers out there – many of whom specialize in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This group tends to skew relatively young by the Worldcon standards you described (this group tends to be below 45 and I suspect may even skew younger than 40, and even younger than 30 in some sub-groups), and tends to share one defining characteristic: their passionate focus on genre literature.

        These are the folks who regularly post reviews on their blogs, writing hundreds or thousands of words every week about the genre. Some in the community post hundreds of words daily. These folks invest a veritable fortune on books in addition to the ARCs and galleys they get from publishers eager for the buzz they produce. Their discussions range (sometimes within the same blog) from serious, considered critical analysis to enthusiastic and scarcely articulate squee (I don’t think that’s a bad thing, nor that the two are mutually exclusive of each other).

        These fans make a gargantuan investment of both money and time out of their love for the genre. And they also tend to be very well-informed about the genre, primarily because of the volume of reading they have done in it.

        This group itself has many sub-groupings within it. For example, speculative fiction bloggers like A Dribble of Ink’s Aidan Moher, Pornokitsch’s Jared Shurin, or SF Signal’s John H. Stevens may be on the Worldcon constituency’s radar (or at least on the radar of a significant portion of that constituency) because of how central SF/F is to their blogging, but there are a great many very influential bloggers out there who are less exclusively focused on SF/F, but who still engage heavily with it.

        For example, Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books are two of the largest and most popular book blogs out there. Even if they don’t specialize in SF/F (they both have more of a romance focus), their reviews and community often discuss works solidly within speculative fiction’s remit. Even if their commentariat has never heard of Worldcon, their communities are already engaged with the genre…just not with the genre’s long-standing social venues.

        The more speculative fiction-focused a given book blog is, the higher the likelihood that its community is aware of the Hugo Awards and Worldcon. However, many (I daresay most) of these passionate, active, engaged fans have not attended one. In many cases, that is due to distance or finances. However, distance/finances are not the only barrier.

        The book blogger community generally is a group that is well-aware of the Hugos/Worldcon and of their importance to the genre they hold so dear. It is a group that actively searches for some way to constructively engage with the Worldcon constituency. And culture shock subsequently ensues, with annual controversy arising every time the Hugo shortlist comes out.

        The particular nature and genesis of this culture shock is complicated – as any such culture shock always is – and I mention it with no small degree of trepidation. It isn’t the Worldcon constituency’s fault, anymore than it is the fault of the book bloggers. It is simply a case of differing priorities and values approaching like magnets…only to find that they have equivalent poles which mutually repel.

        In this particular case, I think a great deal of misunderstandings arise from the value each group places on different priorities. The Worldcon constituency – with its long-held traditions, carefully constructed democratic processes, and social conventions built over decades – places an understandable premium on the social facets of Worldcon. These traditions naturally tie the Worldcon constituency (and broadly, much of convention-going fandom) into a healthy community of individuals who enjoy some of the same things. The existence of and frequency with which these convention-going constituencies employ fanspeak in their offline and online interactions is a great example of this.

        Fanspeak is a wonderful linguistic construct and I think works very much like a Thieves’ Cant or Cockney Rhyming Slang. From the inside, fanspeak helps to bind convention-going fandom together, fostering a shared understanding and mutual acknowledgment of tradition and the community’s uniqueness. All fen can grok it.

        But from the outside – particularly from the perspective of a book blogger who has heretofore not interacted with convention-going fandom – it can border on the indecipherable. That’s not because the book blogger is ignorant of speculative fiction, or because they are any less passionate about the genre. It’s just because they are new to convention-going fandom.

        What follows is a natural clash of competing priorities:

        To the outsider wishing to interact with the Worldcon constituency, that constituency seems to be intent on preserving its traditions (traditions which – due to the book blogger’s unfamiliarity with the Worldcon community’s history and traditions – keep the blogger from feeling welcomed into the community).

        To the Worldcon constituent looking out, the outsiders want to come in and upend the stable traditions that fandom has (nobly) fought for years to build consensus around.

        When vocal personalities (on both sides of the divide, and I believe with the best of intentions) get involved, that kind of division can get even more contentious. Eventually, it dissolves into mutual mud-slinging which is sad, unconstructive, and does the genre no favors in outreach beyond speculative fiction’s core readers.

        One can make the argument that it is up to book bloggers to learn the ropes of Worldcon social convention. But one can equally well make the inverse argument that it is up to the Worldcon constituency to extend a welcoming hand. I think that both arguments are correct.

        This dynamic is – I think – most pronounced on the Worldcon / Book Blogger line, probably because the gap between these two bubbles is actually so small. However, a similar dynamic also shows up to a lesser degree between the Worldcon constituency and two other significant online fan groups: the GoodReads community and the Amazon Self-pub community, which remind me to some extent of the Anime/Dr. Who fandom and furry fandom dynamics you described. (I can get into those dynamics shortly, but first I wanted to tackle the most “controversial” bubble).

        I think that work can be done institutionally by the WSFS/Worldcon(s) and individually by members of both Worldcon and (the even more fragmented) book blogger constituencies to create more healthy and constructive forms of interaction. But before I get to the other online communities and to my thoughts on ways to facilitate better outreach overall, does my conception of the relationship between the Worldcon Constituency, the LJ community, and the book blogger community generally hold water (at least for the purposes of discussion – I realize I’m over-generalizing a great deal of nuance)?

        April 25, 2013
      • (weird post ordering)

        April 24, 2013
      • Oh, and there’s an active and ongoing Worldcon outreach project to engage F&SF comic book fans:

        I supported the first year (SF Wondercon/Reno Worldcon) as a book-pusher at the Wondercon booth.

        April 25, 2013
  4. I’m not much interested in the yackity-yack over the various nominations for awards. SF/F/H has so many awards it’s nearly getting ridiculous. These genres are nearly getting over-burdened with awards, like the movie industry. That said, the nomination often do bring some books to my attention that they otherwise would not.

    As for the Clarke and Hugos this year, I think the Clarke awards are by far the more interesting set of novels. Personally I like the Locus Awards best of all. The Locus Awards give the best annual perspective of what’s important in these genres.

    April 10, 2013

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