Sunday, September 2, 2018

WorldCon 76 Takeaways

Swag we got as Hugo finalists.
Last month, Eric and I attended WorldCon 76 in San Jose, California. This is just a summary of things of interest that happened there.

The Hugo Awards


Our function at Rocket Stack Rank 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.


Greg, Mike Glyer of File 770
Rocket Stack Rank itself was a nominee for Best Fanzine, finishing 6 out of 6 but beating No Award. Given the fallout from last year's events, this was actually better than we had expected. We do enjoy the extra events and attention that come with being a finalist, and we thank our loyal fans who nominated and voted for us. You folks make it all worthwhile!

We offer our congratulations to Best Fanzine winner File 770 and to all the other finalists.

Length of Novella

In Helsinki, Nicholas Whyte and I cosponsored a measure to simplify the eligibility requirement for Best Novella, which passed by acclamation. Under WSFS rules, it had to be ratified by the Business Meeting in San Jose to take effect, and I'm pleased to report it was adopted without debate.

Under the eligibility rules in Section 3.2.8 of the WSFS Constitution, a work that’s overly long (or short) for a category can still be eligible if it’s within 20% of the required length. There used to be an exception to that rule that only applied to novellas, limiting this margin to 5,000 words. Our measure simply repealed the special rule. The margin is now 20% for all works, regardless of length.

The point of the change wasn't to very slightly extend the range of novellas (from 45,000 to 48,000 words), although that’s nice (there are almost no novels shorter than 90,000 words anymore, so upping the range for novellas makes sense); the point was to simplify the rules.

The new rules will apply to works published this year, eligible for the 2019 Hugos to be awarded in Dublin, Ireland next August.

Rocket Stack Rank

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Julie, Sean, Greg, Eric at the Hugo Awards ceremony.
We have family and friends in the Bay Area, so we went down a week before the conference started to spend time with them. We also found time to check out the Monterrey aquarium.

We brought Eric's sister, Julie, and her husband, Sean, to the Hugo Finalists Reception and they sat with us during the ceremony. They both loved meeting the famous people and getting treated like celebrities when the crowd cheered us (and the other finalists) as we all took our seats.

Meeting People

File 770 dinner meetup on Friday night.
We hadn't expected a lot of people to want our ribbons this year, but we surprised ourselves by giving away almost all of them. Next year we'll need to come up with a new design.

We attended the Stroll with the Stars every morning and met quite a few of our fans there. We also attended both File 770 meetups, which were good fun, as always. We tried attending some of the traditional evening parties, but all the ones we visited were so crowded we only stayed a few minutes.

We did enjoy George R.R. Martin's "Hugo Losers' Party," but had to leave early after a woman who apparently had too much to drink tripped and poured an entire glass of red wine all over my back. Perhaps parties are just not our thing. Miraculously, my dark gray suit was not stained, though my white shirt was a loss.

New Ideas

We always learn things from the people we talk to at conventions and we usually get ideas for things to change about Rocket Stack Rank.

Best Editor, Short Form

Not everyone has noticed it, but we currently have a feature to let users keep track of stories they liked during the year. On a panel, I mentioned that we'd like to extend that feature to help people choose candidates for best short-form editor simply by showing them which editors were responsible for the stories they had liked. (We could do something similar for the Campbell Award.) 

People liked this idea so much that one of the other panelists told us we should go straight back to Seattle as soon as the panel was over and work on that feature to the exclusion of all else until it was done!

"We Need to Talk to Each Other"

Many, many people talked about how toxic fandom has become, with people being thrown off of panels and even banned from conventions on the basis of "Twitter storms"--often with no opportunity to even defend themselves. I heard suggestions like "we need to be kind to one another" and "we need to give people the benefit of the doubt" but I think Ben Yallow had the best suggestion: "We need to talk to each other."

Before joining a Twitter storm or signing an "open letter" condemning someone, we should always ask, "did anyone talk to this person? What did they have to say for themselves?" And if they offer an explanation or an apology, we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than instantly dismissing them as dishonest.

This wouldn't fix everything, of course, but it sure would be a step in the right direction.


This year I sat on three panels:

Evolution of the Fanzine

Steven Silver, Greg, Chris Garcia, Vance Kotrla
I was a bit apprehensive about this panel since a) I know lots of people don't consider online publications to be proper fanzines at all, b)  I myself have worried about whether a publication overwhelmingly devoted to reviews really ought to qualify and c) I don't know a lot about this history of "real" fanzines.

Everyone on the panel was a finalist for Best Fanzine this year, but Steven Silver immediately put everyone at ease by assuring us that there was no rivalry "because everyone knows File770 is going to win big." (And he was right!)

The audience for this panel had lots of people with many decades of experience with fanzines, so we had a lively but always cordial discussion. I was pleased to learn that even the folks who'd done fanzines back in the days of mimeograph machines all seemed to agree that online publications were definitely the future, particularly in terms of their ability to immediately involve fans via comments that don't need to wait a month or more for publication. They worried that blogs in particular lack some of the feel of a fanzine, which has an arrangement of related stories. (At RSR, we'll think about how a content-management system might capture that for an online publication.)

I was very pleased when someone in the audience told me that Rocket Stack Rank fit into a long tradition of "Review Fanzines," of which Tangent is another surviving example. That made me feel a lot less like an impostor.

For the future direction of fanzines, I talked about a handful of features Eric and I have debated adding to Rocket Stack Rank. Far and away the most popular was the suggestion that we augment the "My Ratings" page to help people nominate for Best Editor Short Form. The idea is that if you've gone through the year using the existing system to mark stories you liked, by the time the year is over, we should be able to show you which editors you liked. We'll try our best to have that in time for next year's nominations.

Author vs. Fan Ownership

John Scalzi, Renay Williams, Foz Meadows, Eric Kaplan, Greg
Somehow I thought this panel was going to discuss "Textual Violence," which is the idea that reviewers (and readers in general) have no right to express opinions about a story if the author disagrees with them. Instead, it turned out to be about fan fiction.

That was a bit of a problem, since I've never read or written fan fiction, and Eric Kaplan (producer of "The Big Bang Theory") was in the same boat. But it ended up being a polite dialogue between us and Foz Meadows and Renay Williams, who are deeply into fan fiction--helped by John Scalzi's peerless moderation. (And the audience, who all apparently got the memo and knew exactly what this was going to be about.)

Some points that came out:
  • People who write fan fiction consider it a perfectly valid form of art, and they write it because that's what they feel called to write.
  • It's not just about sex (slash fiction).
  • Under some circumstances (e.g. when it amounts to satire) fan fiction can survive a copyright challenge in the courts.

Getting Zoomed! Virtual Technology on the Rise

Bill Parker, Greg, Veronica Belmont, Norman Cates
This was my last panel, and I worried about it a lot. The description said it would be about Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence, and I'm really only an expert in the last of those. So I studied up for it a bit, including spending time chatting with my brother-in-law, whose company actually makes VR hardware. It didn't help that WorldCon failed to name a moderator for the panel.

As it happened, things went very well. Veronica stepped up to moderate, and it turned out that none of us individually was an expert but collectively we had excellent expertise across the whole area.

We generally agreed that SF stories (and SF movies in particular) are giving the public an exaggerated idea of what's possible, but what's possible is actually pretty cool in its own right. We're not going to have VR where you can taste, smell, or feel things in the near future (except maybe in very limited contexts with expensive, special-purpose hardware), but the ability to create 3D worlds you can walk through and manipulate by waving your hands is still going to be exciting.


Things went well, and we're happy we went. Future WorldCons would do well to put panel members in touch with each other by e-mail (As Helsinki did) well before the convention so they can talk the issues over and avoid problems like not knowing what a panel is really going to be about.

4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Yeah, letting a potential panelist know what a panel is supposed to be about sounds like a good idea.

  2. Bad luck at the Losers Party with the red wine.

    Good to hear you had an overall enjoyable time.

    1. I'd have happily stayed at the party much longer, but sticky with red wine, I just wanted to go home right about the time George started his speech. On the bright side, it helped me stick to my diet. :-) (Down 13 pounds since June!)