Thursday, August 25, 2016

MidAmeriCon II Takeaways

Eric and I attended MidAmeriCon II last week: our second-ever WorldCon. We had a good time, met some interesting people, and learned a few things. I'll discuss things of interest to readers of short fiction and fans of the Hugo Awards first, and I'll leave the personal stuff to the end.

The Hugo Awards


Our function is to make it easier for people to find good short fiction and other information that could help them make informed nominations for the Hugos and other awards. We are not here to tell people how to vote. For that reason, we didn't offer suggestions for the final vote--not even a "this is how we're voting" post. For the same reason, we aren't going to evaluate the stories that actually won the awards. We offer our congratulations to all the winners.

New Nomination Rules

We attended two of the business meetings so we could vote for E Pluribus Hugo (EPH) and other measures aimed at makeing the nomination process more robust against slates. In our view, the outcome was the best that could be achieved, given the measures actually on the table.

E Pluribus Hugo (EPH)

We all learned that the net impact of EPH will be to preserve, on average, one slot for organic (non-slate) nominees per category. That disappointed a lot of people, who felt we'd been led to believe last year at Sasquan that EPH would limit slates to a single slot per category. Because rule changes take two years to approve, the alternative to approving EPH was to have nothing at all to protect us from slates in 2017, so it's not a surprise it passed.

5 of 6

This measure allows members to nominate five candidates per category but produces finalist lists of six, not five. This had originally been approved as 4 of 6 at Sasquan, but amendments to make something a "lesser change" are allowed. This works nicely with EPH, and has the effect of providing a second slot for organic nominees. 

Between the two of them, no slate should ever be able to sweep the ballot again. This is huge, because the awards had been at risk from someone offering a slate of complete garbage, sweeping the nominations, and forcing the membership to give no awards in all (or almost all) categories. That's what "burning down the awards" really meant, and it will no longer be possible.


This was a new amendment which simply changed the weighting for EPH to reduce the power of the slates, on average, by one nominee per category. With EPH+ and 5 of 6 together, even a well-organized slate should only be able to capture three of the six slots per category. If slates lose strength due to the loss of their ability to sweep ballots, it's possible they might be limited to only two or three entries across the whole ballot by 2018.

Three-Stage Voting (3SV)

One of the big motivations for slating appears to be for authors and publishers to gain the ability to put "Hugo Finalist" in their promotional material. The only way to stop this kind of slating is to provide some mechanism to remove poor-quality slated items from the list before they become finalists. Three-Stage Voting (3SV) adds a step between nominations and the final vote. Members would see the top fifteen nominees (in alphabetical order) and would get to vote each of them up or down. Any nominee would be removed from the list if all the following conditions were met:
  • There were at least 600 downvotes. (This prevents the biggest slaters from using it as a weapon, since they appear to have no more than 400 hard-core supporters.)
  • There were at least three downvotes for every two upvotes. (60% downvotes.) This is meant to prevent works from being downvoted just because they were unusual.
  • Downvotes amounted to at least 20% of members eligible for the final vote. (This seems like overkill, given the 600 limit.)
The usual process would then continue, using the top-15 list as amended. Our biggest concern with 3SV is that the conditions may be so hard to meet that nothing will ever end up being removed from the ballot, but we're cautiously optimistic.

Eric and I supported all four of these measures, voted for them, and were pleased that they all passed. EPH and 5 of 6 will be used for WorldCon75 in Helsinki next year. EPH+ and 3SV will have to be approved in Helsinki, and if they are, they'll be used in San Jose in 2018. 

Rocket Stack Rank

Best Fanzine

Considering that we were only in existence for four months last year, we were surprised and delighted to find ourselves in ninth place for Best Fanzine in the Hugo 2016 Statistics. We're honored that sixty-six people liked us well enough to nominate us. Thank you.

Other than that, it's difficult to determine what effect, if any, we had on the nominations this year. That's a good thing, because it means no one treated our suggestions as a slate.


Slate Estimate: Too Small

Back in April, we published an Analysis of Slate Voting for the 2016 Hugos, in which we estimated how many slate voters there were, based on the nomination results published at that time. Comparing that to the actual results, it appears that we far underestimated the number of slate voters, estimating 205 vs. the actual total of about 350. I've identified a mathematical error, and correcting that would have generated an estimate of 270, which would have been more reasonable, given the amount of uncertainty involved in this sort of calculation.

People Who Declined: Nailed It!

We also predicted that a number of people from the slate had silently declined their nominations. I'm happy to say that that prediction was 100% accurate. We predicted all the people who declined and we did not falsely predict any. Our only mistake was "predicting" Bryan Thomas Schmidt would decline after he had already been removed from the slate.

MidAmeriCon II Experience

Meeting People

We were very pleased to meet a lot of our fans. Because of the tight scheduling between panels, those turned out to be poor places to try to meet people. The daily "Stroll with the Stars" every morning turned out to be the best for that, with literary beers and coffee klatches second.

The dedicated meetings for File770 fans were also fun, and we were happy to meet in-person a number of friends from our favorite Hugo-winning blog.

Even if they weren't great places to meet people, the magazine-reading-group panels were probably the most fun for us, since we got to meet a number of editors and authors in person. 

A high point was when George R.R. Martin thanked us for the work we're doing here "talking about the stories and not the politics." That'll continue to be our goal.

In general, most people had never heard of us, which is to be expected given how new we are. It also means there's lots of room to grow. We managed to give away about half of our ribbons, many to people who never heard of us before, and only one person declined to take one.

Most Exciting Panel

We both attended Dave Truesdale's panel on "The State of Short Fiction." For whatever reason, Dave decided to turn it into a panel on "Is Political Correctness Destroying Short Fiction?" There was some shouting and some pearl clutching (literally), but it quieted down, and the panel ultimately concluded 4 to 1 that political correctness doesn't really have any significant effect on editors or authors of short fiction.

I posted a summary to File770 shortly afterwards. The big guy who tried to shout down Neil Clarke posted his own account and a more extended explanation later. If you listen to the recording that Truesdale made (about 600 seconds into it), it should be clear that the shouter just didn't want to let Clarke speak and was screaming at the top of his lungs. We were just a row or two away, so it was quite scary. To Truesdale's credit, he himself got the man to quiet down--to thunderous applause from the audience.

Food and Attractions

Kansas City probably has the best barbecue I ever ate in my life. They have great steaks. And I got to be very fond of their Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat beer.

It's a beautiful city, very walkable, and not too crowded. We found time for the Money Museum, the Hallmark Cards Museum, Union Station, and the riverfront, but our favorite attraction had to be the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which boasts an 1856 steamboat which sank with a full load of cargo intended to stock 50-odd general stores--all lovingly restored, giving a unique view into how people actually lived 160 years ago.

6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Congratulations on your longlisting, it's a testament to how useful many people must be finding RSR.

    1. Thanks! I'm still finding it hard to believe. :-) Our goal for the first year was just to get the site up and figure out what we really wanted to do with it. We didn't expect to draw very many readers until year 2.

  2. Congratulations on the Hugo long-listing in the category of Best Fanzine. RSR is a very useful site. Very practical in terms of sourcing short fiction and getting an idea on whether something is worth buying and reading.

    I agree with the Hugo voting reforms that got passed.
    I've been following it on File 770.

    However, any new processes and reforms that come in, will still be reliant on as many fans nominating as possible.

    Glad you both had a good time in Kansas.

    1. Yes, it's still going to be important for as many people to nominate as possible. Toward that end, I think there are a few things they could do about the process to make it better for people. But one thing at a time.

  3. I am always pointing people to your site, if only to get people into the habit of reading short stories on a regular basis. Glad the 4 of 6 passed as I plan to go to Helsinki and did not want to fly all the way there and vote "No Award." Thank you again

    1. Thanks! We really appreciate it. Hope we see you in Helsinki!