August Books

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 34)
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman
QI: The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
William Cecil, Ireland and the Tudor State, by Christopher Maginn
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day
The Life of the Bee, by Maurice Maeterlinck

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 15)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll

sf (non-Who): 5 (YTD 56)
The Moon Stallion, by Brian Hayles
Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
Pelléas and Mélisande, by Maurice Maeterlinck
The Fall of Arthur, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Blue Bird, by Maurice Maeterlinck

Doctor Who, etc: 6 (YTD 39)
Decide Your Destiny: Claws of the Macra, by Trevor Baxendale
Decide Your Destiny: Judoon Monsoon, by Oli Smith
Decide Your Destiny: Empire of the Wolf, by Neil Corry
Short Trips: Transmissions, ed. Richard Salter
A Life of Surprises, ed. Paul Cornell
The Shining Man, by Cavan Scott

Comics: 3 (YTD 17)
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 1, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 2, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez
Moomin: The Complete Comic Strip vol. 7, by Lars Jansson

4,500 pages (YTD 40,400)
4/21 (YTD 47/163) by women (Day, Stockett, Mogavino x2)
1/21 (YTD 15/163) by PoC (Hamid)

Reread: 0 (YTD 8)

Reading now
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Synners, by Pat Cadigan

Coming soon (perhaps):
The Famished Road, by Ben Okri
The Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock
Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible, by Julia Keay
1434: The Year a Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, by Gavin Menzies
The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert A. Heinlein
Caprice and Rondo, by Dorothy Dunnett
Antarès, Tome 2 by Leo
The Last Castle, by Jack Vance
Thorns, by Robert Silverberg
A Man of Parts, by David Lodge
A Crocodile in the Fernery: An A-Z of Animals in the Garden, by Twigs Way
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
Virginia Woolf, by Hermione Lee
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
Dear Old Dead, by Jane Haddam
Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe, by Michael Moorcock
Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle
Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes on Science Fiction and Culture in the Year of Angry Dogs, by Philip Sandifer
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories, ed. John Joseph Adams
The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw, by Kurt Busiek
The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
How The Doctor Changed My Life, ed. Michael Coen
Life During Wartime, by Paul Cornell

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Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Synners, by Pat Cadigan

Last books finished
A Life of Surprises, ed. Paul Cornell
QI: The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
William Cecil, Ireland and the Tudor State, by Christopher Maginn
Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll
The Shining Man, by Cavan Scott
Moomin: The Complete Comic Strip vol. 7, by Lars Jansson
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day

Next books
The Famished Road, by Ben Okri
The Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock
Short Trips: How The Doctor Changed My Life, by Simon Guerrier

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What I will tell my daughter about her name

Tony de Brum, former vice-president and foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, died yesterday. I was tremendously privileged to have helped him a bit with his campaign against climate change; he was a great man from a small country.

Another much younger leading politician from the Marshall Islands, Mattlan Zackhras, died earlier this month. The Marshallese poet Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner wrote this moving tribute to them both.

What I will tell my daughter about her name
(dedicated to Mattlan and Tony)

is the name of a land in the Marshalls
where your mother’s family is from

We named you knowing
it has one of the few pools
of freshwater

I have not been
to Peinam

You are an unknown land
one I will spend my life journeying to see

Our relationship will be salt and waves
but you will always be
refreshing, a thirst
that was quenched

They say there are no mountains
in the Marshalls
the land that is close
to an expiration date

But I will tell you the mountains
were men
giants who walked across the sea
sounding the call for the world
to hear our story.

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A Mutual Friend, by Terrance Dicks

(From the 2002 anthology A Life of Surprises, ed. Paul Cornell)

Bernice Summerfield, badly hung over and desperate for coffee, collected her mug of double espresso from the Starbucks counter and looked round for somewhere to sit before she fell over.

Starbucks were the same the galaxy over, it seemed. Even in her time.

The cafe was full. Not an empty table. She looked round for a table to share. Ignoring the welcoming smiles of a number of hopeful young men – nice to know she still had it though – she chose a window table, where an attractive dark-haired woman sat alone, scribbling into a notebook.

‘All right if I sit here? I can see you’re working, I promise not to chatter.’

The woman looked up, smiled and nodded, and went back to her notebook. Thankfully, Benny sat down. She took a swig of coffee, followed it with another, and began to think she might live. She drained her mug and looked up to see the woman smiling at her. It was a nice smile.

‘You look as if you needed that.’

Benny nodded. ‘I’ll say. And I need another.’ She saw the woman’s glass mug was empty. ‘Let me get you something.’

The woman hesitated then said, ‘Thank you. Lemon tea please.’

Benny made her way to the counter, got served and carried the cups back to the table. She sat down and passed over the lemon tea.

‘Thank you.’ The woman raised her glass. ‘Cheers!’

Benny shuddered. ‘Don’t say that. It was too many “Cheers!” last night that reduced me to this state.’

‘I promise not to chatter too, if you’re in need of peace and quiet,’ said the woman solemnly.

Benny grinned. ‘That’s all right, I’m starting to come round.’

She took another swig of coffee, thinking of the night before. Bored and restless, not an uncommon state for her, she’d persuaded Jason to dig out his time ring and together they’d come back to twentyfirst century Earth. Things had changed – for one thing, the pubs were open all day now. Jason had sodded off to buy a complete set of Britney Spears CDs as requested by Brax (don’t ask), and now she was on her own. But Benny made friends easily, especially after her third drink. And she’d fallen in with a cheerful crowd of young ravers, accompanying them from pub to pub and on to several clubs. She’d woken up late next morning on the sofa in someone’s flat, to hear her unbearably cheerful young hosts discussing a lunchtime visit to the pub. Feeling distinctly fragile, Benny had made her excuses and left.

‘Big night out?’ asked her companion sympathetically.

‘I’ll say,’ said Benny, thinking back over as much as she could remember. Had she really danced on the table in that club? And tried to punch out the doorman at the next one?

‘A word of warning,’ she said broodingly ‘Stay away from those alco-pop thingies, they’re not as innocent as they look. They say “pop”, but really, all the time they’re thinking “alco”.’

‘I’ll bear it in mind,’ said the woman calmly. Benny sighed and swigged more coffee. ‘I think I’m getting past this sort of thing.’

‘What sort of thing?’

‘The party animal lark. Time was I could whoop it up all night and dance all day. Not any more though.’ The woman smiled.

‘Happens to us all. I sometimes think I’m slowing down a bit myself.’

Bernice surveyed her companion frankly. True enough, she was no longer young, but she was still strikingly good looking, her dark-red hair worn with a fringe. And although she seemed outwardly calm and poised, there was a twinkle in her eye, a hint of devilment, that suggested a livelier personality not far under the surface. Bernice sensed a fellow spirit. She nodded at the notebook.


‘Is it so obvious?’

‘Just a guess.’

‘I’m hoping to have a programme on the telly in a while. But for now I’m freelancing. What about you?’

‘Oh this and that,’ said Benny vaguely. ‘I’m an academic. I suppose. I wrote a couple of books on archaeology. Well, wrote one and started another. I’m busy. I travel a lot, okay?’

The woman seemed to be having trouble not laughing. ‘That must be interesting.’

A kaleidoscope of experiences flashed through Benny’s mind.

Murderous gangsters in thirties Chicago, bloodthirsty vampires on a bleak alien planet. An Ogron private eye and a curiously charming demon Crime Lord. Giant ants running a university, guarded by bloodsucking bugs. Squat dome-headed warriors and glowing giant jellyfish…

How could she tell this nice English lady reporter of all the things she’d seen or done? Someone whose greatest worry was spelling the vicar’s name wrong when reporting the village fete!

‘It’s certainly been interesting.’ she said. ‘Scary too, sometimes.’

‘I used to travel a lot at one time in my life,’ said the woman unexpectedly. ‘With a particular friend. He was an academic too.’

‘What line?’

‘Difficult to say. Almost everything really. He was a sort of troubleshooter. He… fixed things.’

Benny looked at her with sudden interest. ‘I had a friend like that once. He got me into a lot of trouble. And out of it. What was yours like?’

‘Brilliant. Charming. Bad-tempered. Mysterious.’

‘What did yours look like?’

‘Silver-haired man of distinction for a while. Then he changed suddenly, and ended up all teeth and curls.’

‘Had himself a makeover,’ said Benny. ‘Who says men aren’t vain? Doesn’t sound anything like mine, though. What happened to him eventually?’

‘You might say he dumped me,’ said the woman calmly. ‘He got an urgent call home, something to do with his job. He dropped me off and disappeared.’

‘Ever see him again?’

‘Just once, briefly. He took me to a sort of family reunion. Then he brought me home and disappeared again.’

‘Tough,’ said Benny sympathetically.

‘It was for a while. It was all a long time ago. What happened to your friend?’

‘We just drifted out of touch. I often think about him though, keep expecting him to pop up again. He was a funny little devil, but I was fond of him.’ Benny smiled.

‘Funny how it’s the ones you can’t pin down who stick in your mind.’

‘Isn’t it always?’

Benny drained her mug. ‘One more of these and I’ll be ready to rejoin the human race.’

‘Let me get it. Double espresso, right?’

Benny watched as she went over to the counter, a fantastic suspicion forming in her mind. Could it possibly be the same…? No, it couldn’t, she decided. After all, there were plenty of charming, charismatic and callous men in the cosmos. Just because they’d both run into one, it didn’t have to be the same one… Did it?

The woman returned and put a steaming coffee mug in front of Benny. ‘That should complete the cure.’

‘Where’s yours?’

‘I have to be off. Got a dodgy model agency to investigate.’

‘Pity. Well, nice talking to you.’

‘Same here.’

Benny held out her hand. ‘We never even introduced ourselves. The name’s Bernice Summerfield. Benny to my friends.’

They shook hands. ‘Sarah,’ said the woman. ‘To my friends.’ She hesitated, then said, ‘If you do run into the Doctor again, give him my love.’ She smiled at the astonished Benny and turned away. Then she turned back. ‘Oh, and a word of warning to you. If he offers you a trip to Metebelis Three, famous blue planet of the Acteon galaxy – don’t go!’

‘I’ll bear it in mind,’ said Benny.

She watched as the woman turned and left the restaurant, disappearing into the crowded street.

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Five sf novels that stay in my mind

There’s been a nice sequence of posts in the last few days (Victor Milán, Steve Wright, Kyra of File 770) listing five sf novels that they feel are neglected. I thought I should join in, and running through my LibraryThing catalogue, these are the least popular novels that I have rated with at least four stars, in alphabetical order by author. I cannot claim that they are all highbrow – one is on the list just because it was fun, and the other because I thought it a good novelisation of a TV story. But I commend them all to you.

Revise the World, by Brenda Clough

This is a novel-length expansion of “Maybe, Some Time” and “Tiptoe, on a Fence Post”, Brenda Clough’s two short stories about the revival of Captain Oates, of Scott’s Antarctic expedition, by researchers in 2045. (The first story was a Hugo and Nebula finalist.) The novel takes Oates through his culture shock at the gender and ethnic emancipation of the twenty-first century, through a passionate love affair and then a daring rescue of his lover from an alien planet. It is actually much better than that makes it sound, with Clough’s memorable depiction of Oates as fish-out-of-water the best part of the book, though her alien intelligence is unusual and memorable also.

Time Bangers: One Does Not Simply Walk Into Tudor, by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague

Look, this is just jolly good fun. Our heroines, historian Beth and scientist Tawny, decide that they have had enough of their boring twenty-first century thirty-something lives and go back in time to the court of King Henry VIII in order to shag him, with frankly hilarious consequences. I found this really funny and enjoyable – my favourite chapter title is Chapter Ten, “In Which Beth Explains The Retrospectively Obvious Hazard Of Substituting TV Dramas For Research”, but there also a handy index of erotic scenes at the beginning for those misguided readers who want to skip the bits in between the sex. The authors obviously had a great time writing it, and I was very entertained which is the main point.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Revenge of the Slitheen, by Rupert Laight

I’m something of a conoisseur of (and indeed apologist for) Doctor Who novelisations. Only a minority of the Sarah Jane Adventures were published in novel format, the first season being best represented; Revenge of the Slitheen was the first story of the first regular SJA series afterr the pilot, introducing Clyde to the established characters (Sarah, Luka, Maria, Mr Smith) and bringing back the memorably farting Slitheen from the parent show.

The book is somehow more confident than the televised version, and the fact that Clyde is a new character and the hook of the new school for all three kids combine with Laight’s more confident writing to make it a rather good example of a favourite sub-genre of mine.

The Last Man Aka No Other Man, by Alfred Noyes

I thank Kyra of File 770 for alerting me to this. Almost all of humanity is destroyed by a Doomsday Weapon at the very beginning, the hero spends many chapters exploring dead cities and finding the heroine, and they must then deal with the villain (the hero’s surname is Adams; the heroine’s first name is Evelyn).

It’s pretty heavily steeped in the writer’s Catholicism and hostility to war; there is a lot of poetry (including some very coy use of Theocritus in the original Greek when the central relationship is consummated); the twist at the end appears to be a case of direct divine intervention. But it’s nicely done. The author is best known for his ballad The Highwayman, first published many years earlier in 1906.

Gráinne, by Keith Roberts

The BSFA Award winner for 1987, but one which has only 22 owners on LibraryThing and only 51 on Goodreads. One of those books that I really enjoyed reading, but can’t quite explain why. The whole thing is told as flashback by the narrator, possibly undergoing psychiatric treatment; Gráinne is his former lover, his challenge and his inspiration for moving from a Middle England upbringing to creative heights inspired by Celtic myth; there is some social commentary along the way, but the real point is how the narrator/protagonist achieves his full creative powers through interaction with the entrancing Other.

I’ve seen a couple of reviewers stating that this is all about the relationship between Ireland and England. It’s not really; it’s driven by changing English perceptions of Ireland and Celtic heritage (as my excerpt above demonstrates).

If I had excluded Time Bangers, pulp, and media tie-ins, the next two novels on my list would have been The Moon King by Neil Williamson and Marcher by Chris Beckett.

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Sunday reading (two weeks)

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
QI: The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
A Life of Surprises, ed. Paul Cornell
William Cecil, Ireland and the Tudor State, by Christopher Maginn

Last books finished
Decide Your Destiny: Judoon Monsoon, by Oli Smith
The Moon Stallion, by Brian Hayles
Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
Decide Your Destiny: Empire of the Wolf, by Neil Corry
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 2, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez
Short Trips: Transmissions, ed. Richard Salter
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Next books
Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll
Moomin: The Complete Comic Strip by Tove and Lars Jansson
Synners, by Pat Cadigan

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2017 Hugo Voter’s Packet Debrief

(Note by Nicholas Whyte: In the log of Hugo Administrator decisions published a week ago, we referred to the debriefing document compiled by this year’s Hugo packet coordinator, Jo Van Ekeren. I’m publishing the summary here at her request. The full debrief includes ten more documents, most of which are templates, and will be shared with future Hugo administrators.)

Mandatory tools for the Hugo Packet Coordinator:

  • Microsoft Word (or Word-compatible word processing software able to save files as PDFs; proficiency in advance recommended)
  • Calibre e-book conversion tool (free; can create a multitude of formats, including EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and RTF; proficiency in advance required)
  • Adobe Acrobat (not free; permits cropping, editing, and splicing of PDF documents; proficiency in advance helpful, but can be learned pretty easily)
  • Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFdb): fan-sourced website of SFF works, cross-indexed by Title, Author, and Publisher (this resource is not always perfectly up-to-date as there can be a delay in volunteers getting information entered; however, what is there is usually pretty meticulously accurate)
  • Master Contact List (this is a cumulative document which includes names and contact e-mail addresses for authors, artists, editors, and publishers from past Hugo Award years)

Things I wanted to change or improve, and how I did that:

  • Lack of instructions for e-book novices: to assist Hugo voters who may be relatively new to e-book formats and devices, I created and included a README file which provided descriptions of the various filetypes and the devices which use them,with links to free reader software for them, and included this file in every category packet. In the case of a Series entry which was provided through NetGalley, I created a special document with instructions on how to download and access those books.
  • Missing entries: not having at least an excerpt, if not the full work, of everything in the categoryhugely disadvantages the works which are missing. I was ultimately able to get either an excerpt or full text from all of the fiction and related work finalists – but if I hadn’t, I had intended to include for those works a 1-page PDF with a URL to an online excerpt if one was available.
  • PDF-only entries: not having readable – or any at all – EPUB, MOBI, and/or PDF versions, when they are not that hard to create if you have the right file to work from. In a few cases, I requested a DOC or an RTF from some of the Fan Writer and Fanzine finalists, and created EPUB, MOBI, and PDF from that.
  • Unreadable PDFs: the PDF versions of things, especially the print galley proofs, invariably have a lot of whitespace around the text, and are unreadable on any device smaller than a desktop computer, because PDFs do not “flow” in e-readers, so I did a lot of cropping, reformatting and/orconverting on the files I got. Often the EPUB and the MOBI will be well-formatted, with cover, but the PDF will be a poor-quality text document in typewriter font. In those cases, I archived the original PDF, and created a new version by converting from the EPUB. Adobe Acrobat was indispensable for this; PDFs are notoriously non-editable with anything else. If the PDF is protected by the creator, even Acrobat can refuse to allow changes, but I had few problems with this (possibly because I have a 15-year-old version which does not recognize newer forms of locks).
  • No covers: in the cases of PDF-only files for novels and related works, I put a cover on, but also a “Hugo Voter Packet Copy” declaration on that cover, so that the publisher would not be upset.Some of the short fiction had covers, and some did not; for those which did not, I prepared one using the cover of the magazine in which the story had appeared, added the title and author of the story, and then e-mailed it to the editor/publisher asking permission to use it. These covers were all approved by those people without hesitation.
  • Document Properties not being set on files: this has especially been a problem with PDFs, where the Title and/or Author which show up in e-readers are blank or wrong. I ensured that all files had the correct Properties (with the exception of 2 of thefiles, which were so locked-up that I couldn’t even do that).
  • Inconsistent file-naming standards: in the past, whatever name was put on the files was the name that went into the packet. I standardized the filenames on all works as

    Lastname, Firstname I – Work Title

    Within categories, the Work Title was also standardized:

    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Editor Long Form Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Editor Short Form Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Semiprozine Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Professional Artist Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fanzine Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fancast Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fan Writer Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fan Artist Selections

    The exception to this was when I got actual issues of Semiprozines and Fanzines, which were titled by their issuance month/year.
    Note that I labeled these “2016” because they were 2016 work, even though it was for the 2017 Hugos.

  • Different filetypes: in cases where I got a PRC file instead of a MOBI file (they are read by the same readers), I archived the PRC and created a MOBI file from the EPUB, so that all files would have the .mobi suffix and filetype, to avoid confusion.
  • Having to download more than necessary: to avoid voters having to download more than necessary, for most categories, separate packets were created for EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats. (Voters had the option to download all 3 packets, if they wanted to do so.) In cases where only a PDF was provided, this was included in all 3 packets.
  • Unnecessary nested folders: I can see how this happens as part of the process of creating the various packet bundles and then zipping them, but it’s a pain for voters when they do the unzipping, so the only places I had subfolders was where they were really needed, such as in the Editor Short Form category, where several Finalists each submitted numerous works.
  • Excerpts not being clearly marked as such: voters not realizing that an excerpt is an excerpt instead of the full work, and getting unfairly upset at the work because of no advance warning that it’s an excerpt. I put “Excerpt” labels on the covers of these works, and included “excerpt” as part of the filename.
  • Passwords on documents: this had been an issue in the past, because not all e-readers will open documents which have passwords. I was prepared to try to persuade publishers/editors to copy- and print-protect documents, but not use passwords; however, this issue thankfully did not come up. (I don’t recommend suggesting watermarks, which often impair readability, but some of them will include watermarks anyway, and that can’t be helped.)
  • Lack of substantive information on what the Short and Long Form Editors have actually done: I tried to remedy this by creating documents with lists of long and short works edited, pulled from ISFdb (in addition to whatever selections they submitted).
  • Accessibility issues, part 1: tinted backgrounds. I asked one Finalist to remove the tinted backgrounds from their various e-book formats. They were reluctant to do so because they liked the “artiness” of it. I pointed out that the tinted background reduced contrast and readability for people with vision impairment (as well as making the e-books 10 times as large as they would have been otherwise), and they did remove it.
  • Accessibility issues, part 2: text which cannot be “read” by text-to-speech software. There were a couple of files which included some images of text, rather than actual text. I edited these files and replaced the images with matching text to make them readable by text reading software.
  • Accessibility issues, part 3: watermarks. Several of the files had watermarks so dark that it impaired readability. Given that these were all files which had taken a lot of time and e-mail exchanges to get, and they were only received right before the release date we had chosen, I did not go back and ask the providers to make the watermarks lighter because I was concerned that we would not receive better versions in time for packet release (if at all). I recommend that future Packet Coordinators consider including a sentence or two in the work solicitation e-mail requesting that if watermarks are used, to please ensure that they are not so dark as to impair readability. However, I am concerned that this would prompt editors and publishers who had not previously inserted watermarks to start doing so. Perhaps this sentence could be included only in messages to editors and publishers who have inserted watermarks in the past.
  • No information for the Dramatic Presentation Finalists: I tried to remedy this by creating documents with a poster or screenshot from each work, followed by the credits, and links to trailers, websites, IMdb, and Wikipedia.
  • The new Series Category, and lack of a way to evaluate it: I created a “Reading Order” document for each Series containing both the long and short fiction titles, and sent these to the authors for approval/ corrections. (One finalist provided their own, along with their packet submission, so I just used that.)
  • Lack of consistency in how the Artist works are presented to voters: I think it’s very important that the works be presented on as level a playing field as possible – so that it’s the works themselves, and not the presentation, which is being judged. One Pro Artist who has been a Hugo Finalist many times always presents their work in a pretty impressive way. Other Finalists don’t have the advantage of that experience, or of having seen how works have been presented in the past, and their work ends up looking less professional in comparison, simply because it doesn’t have the nice framing. That’s just needless disadvantage, and I tried to fix that this year by setting up a standard black background document on which each individual work is framed. To avoid a question of unfairness, I did offer the artist who provided their own framing the opportunity to have the same framing as everyone else; not surprisingly, they declined and chose to keep their own framing.
    Note: if this is going to be done for the artists, it has to be done well.

  • Small art sample packets: With the help of the ISFdb, I also pointed out to several of the Artists additional eligible works they did not include, because they don’t understand the very complicated eligibility definitions, and let them add those works if they wished to do so, so that they could have a sufficiently representative portfolio.
  • Inconsistent and/or minimal information on Fancasts: I pulled a complete list of 2016 podcasts from all Finalists’ websites (with one exception; see next item). In their submissions, most of them provided info on 1 to 3 of their 2016 podcasts they wished to highlight. One of them provided a “Best of” podcast spliced from various 2016 podcasts, and a transcript of that – which I thought was a fantastic idea, and which should be suggested to future Finalists in the packet submission solicitation letter.
  • No submission received: The only Finalist which did not submit something was one of the FancastFinalists. I looked at their YouTube channel and realized that attempting to identify and create alist of their 2016 videos was going to be an hours-long, arduous task, and given that we had received no response to several e-mails from me and the Hugo Admin, figured that including a document with a logo image, a hyperlink to the YouTube channel, and a brief description of the podcast was sufficient additional information.
  • Eligibility Issues encountered: after consultation with the Hugo Admins, an explanation was sent to the Finalist of the issue and what the resolution was going to be, and the Finalists were all quite gracious about understanding:
    • Short Form Editor including stories they published but did not edit
      resolution: they resubmitted a document without those stories

    • Short Form Editor including a short Novel they edited
      resolution: the Novel was not included in the packet

    • Short Form Editor including an entire issue of a magazine in which they had an editorial published
      resolution: an extract with only the editorial was included in the packet

    • Professional Artist including two works from an non-eligible publication
      resolution: these were not included in the packet

    • Campbell Finalist requested inclusion of non-fiction work in the packet
      resolution: this was not included in the packet

    • Campbell Finalist including a story from a non-eligible market, and a poem
      resolution: these were not included in the packet

    • Fanzine creating a online web page with links toreviews of 2016 works which included a vast majority of reviews written in 2016, but a handful written in 2015 and 2017
      resolution: let them know that I was going to let it slide, but that a future Packet Coordinator might not, and if there had been more of them, I wouldn’t have either, and suggested this might be something they wish to take into consideration in future as far as the timing of posting reviews

    • Explicit Content: The porn novelette was placed inside a subfolder which included “Note – Explicit Content” in the folder name. The Fan Writer whose work included cartoon nudity and explicit verbiage agreed to create an online page on their website, and a document with a link to that webpage was included in the packet (at my recommendation, this URL was added to their robots.txt file, so that it would not be indexed by search engines).
    • Editor Long Form: My original e-mail to the finalists referred to novels edited during the year, and it was called to my attention that the definition actually specifies novel-length works which were published during the eligibility year, and that those works could be either fiction or non-fiction. I sent a revised e-mail to the Editor Long Form Finalists to reflect these changes
  • Packaging errors which had to be fixed:
    • The Design/Marketing team wanted to approve/change the README document after most of the zip files had already been uploaded
      resolution: DevOps went through and replaced the document in all the zip files

    • The Novel EPUB packet included a PDF of a different work instead of the EPUB of a missing work
      resolution: repackaged the correct set, and DevOps replaced the download file

    • A Series subfolder in the MOBI packet contained the EPUB files rather than the MOBI files
      resolution: repackaged the correct set, and DevOps replaced the download file
  • Recommendations for future years:
    • A tracking spreadsheet should be created in advance, which can be used to note Finalist position acceptances, dates e-mails are sent, dates content is received, what content is received, Hugo ceremony attendance and absentee Finalist representative information, etc.
    • The e-mails to the Finalists can all be prepared ahead of time and sent as soon as the public announcement of the Finalists has been made.These e-mails will have the same basic content, but need slight changes to be applicable to each specific category. I made a special effort to really tailor these e-mails with explanations and suggestions to guide the finalists in creating their submissions, both to help avoid past issues, and to ensure the best possible submissions which would aid voters in making their decisions.
    • The Dramatic Presentation Long and Short, Editor Short Form, Fancast, and Series credits can (and should) all be pulled in advance from various websites. Once the Finalists have been announced, the Series Reading Order should be sent with the packet submission invitation to the authors for review and corrections, if necessary.
    • As much as possible, files should be reviewed for eligibility, readability, and validity as soon as they are received. If a DOC, RTF, EPUB, MOBI, or PRC file is received, it is possible to create EPUB, MOBI, and PDF versions. If only a PDF is received, then it’s a case of either requesting one of the other types if you think you can get it, or just going with the PDF.
    • Persistence and patience are required. I think that around 60 e-mails were exchanged with 12different people from one publisher, just for 3 works, which we were finally able to get. People will forget that they need to prepare a submission, and some of them will have to be reminded more than once. Saying “We’d really like to have your work included in the initial packet release with the other Finalists” in the reminder generally helps, because they realize that not doing so may disadvantage them with voters.
    • In my last thank-you to them, I asked all of the comic execs and the publishers and editors to add to their Safe or Approved Senders list, to head off Hugo notification e-mails going to Junk Mailboxes next year. I recommend doing this every year with the following Worldcon’s domain URL.
    • The Master Contact Document should be updated to include any new people and contact information, and any changes to existing information, then forwarded to the following year’s Hugo Administrator.
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The Adminstrator’s Worldcon – part 2 of my 2017 Hugo memories

(Part 2 of 2)

(The Messukeskus, by Ian Moore)

I almost didn’t make it to Worldcon 75. My taxi was 15 minutes late picking me up from home, and then encountered serious traffic en route to Zaventem airport. I was far too late to check my bag and brought it through security, where I almost came unstuck because of the Official Hugo Glue, which Dave McCarty had given me at Smofcon in December and I now needed to give back to him. (In fact we did not need it, as the artist who created the bases had engraved the winners’ plaques and attached them to the bases herself.) Five different security officials inspected the Official Hugo Glue Gun (which fortunately in Dutch is not a gun but a “lijmapparaat”, glue machine) before I was allowed to go on my way. The captain of my plane then scolded me, entirely fairly, for bringing “hand luggage” which was, in his words, “way too big”. But he did not throw me off, and I arrived in Helsinki.

(Maybe I should have chosen some other means of transport than Finnair?)

Apart from the massive storm on Saturday night, the weather in Helsinki was lovely, and I had a very nice walk from the railway station to the City Hall on Tuesday, detouring to inspect the three statues by Victor Janssen for which his daughter Tove modelled. One is in the park just northeast of the railway station building, one is in a nook off the southwest corner of the Esplanade, and one is at the eastern end of the Esplanade. The first was made when she was still a teenager; the two mermaids date from the time shortly before she began writing the first Moomin stories (she is the larger of the two in the last sculpture).

The newly elected deputy mayor of Helsinki, whose Afghan parents successfully sought asylum in Finland when the Taliban took over in 1993, hosted several hundred of us at an excellent reception that evening. A number of us then convened at a karaoke bar, where my division head Michael Lee filmed me duetting on Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with his deputy Kate Secor (video only visible to Facebook friends of the three of us). I managed to avoid doing an encore.

Kathryn and I started Wednesday by actually putting the cards announcing the winners in the envelopes. To preserve confidentiality the Finnish printers had prepared 126 cards (six finalists and “No Award” for each of the 18 categories). With Oscars in mind, we checked each card three times before sealing its envelope. Suddenly it all felt rather final.

(I also headed downtown again to Suomen Pukuvuokraamo Oy to hire a suit for the Hugo ceremony – strongly recommend them for anyone needing to hire formal wear in Helsinki.)

The usual practice has been for the Hugo administrators to hold an open competition for the Hugo base design. I felt very strongly that this year it should be a purely Finnish process, and therefore delegated it back to the Finns. They ran a competition open to Finnish residents only, and came up with a beautiful and economical base designed by Eeva Jokinen
(Picture by Eeva Jokinen)

Most of the rest of Wednesday was spent physically assembling the Hugos. 45 rockets had arrived from the Devon foundry once owned by the late former Worldcon chair and British super-fan Peter Weston; 40 bases from Eeva Jokinen. But we realised on unpacking that we had no bolts to attach the one to the other (Eeva had at least supplied washers). So Kathryn and I had to borrow a car (belonging to our other Vice-Chair, Karoliina Leikomaa) and scour the streets of Päsilä looking for bolts.

The chap in the first shop we went to looked dubiously at the one bolt we had, and compared it with his stock. He shook his head. “That is not millimetrical”, he told us, and referred us to another establishment. (Indeed – the bolt specification is 5/16″-18.) This turned out to be Ruuvi-Säve Oy, in the basement of a building fairly near the convention centre, where the necessary material was indeed available. The proprietor is a short bearded chap in an underground workshop. I will say no more, except that he was very helpful.

We developed quite an assembly line to put the Hugos together in Jim Beatty’s room, realising that we only needed 21 for the actual ceremony – the Campbell Award is not a Hugo, but three categories had two acceptors and we also needed to present one to the sculptor. It took the rest of the afternoon, but they looked fantastic. Kathryn got a great picture of them on Jim’s desk, reflected in the mirror. I posted the top half of it that evening, to tantalise people; here is the full image.

(Picture by Kathryn Duval)

Jim, whose hotel room we co-opted, is the father of the Hugo ceremony coordinator Joshua Beatty, yet another of Colette’s contacts, who had never been to a Worldcon before but spends a lot of his time organising events in the DC area. We also knew we would be working with the convention’s Toastmistress, Karen Lord (whose Redemption in Indigo I hugely enjoyed when she was up for the Campbell Award). The synergy was great from the start.

The December 2016 Smofcon meeting in Chicago was pretty useful for our initial planning – the organisers of MidAmeriCon II’s Hugo ceremony did a presentation on their own planning process, and Colette and I patched Joshua (and Maciej Matuszewski, Helsinki’s Events DH) in by Skype. We decided as a result that we would continue MAC2’s break with tradition, and present the awards in a different order to that in the constitution – basically moving Best Series and the Campbell Award to the end rather than the beginning of the ceremony, to make it flow better; we already knew that it was going to be long.

I also proposed that 1) we get the Guests of Honour to present the later awards (which is normal enough procedure), 2) we get a Finnish politician to present Best Novel (and Jyrki Kasvi, the Green MP who had campaigned in Klingon, was an obvious choice), and 3) that George R.R. Martin should present the Best Series Award. GRRM himself then suggested that we should invite Game of Thrones actor Sibel Kekelli to present one of the Best Dramatic Presentation categories, which was obviously a good idea. After that I largely left Joshua to it, as he clearly knew what he was doing.

One completely external event – on the evening of Sunday 26 February for locals, but I read about it live as I was getting up on Monday morning in Belgium – had a major impact on our thinking: the débâcle of the Oscars ceremony, where the wrong winner was announced for Best Picture. This is inherently less likely to happen for the Hugos, where it’s rare for anything or anyone to be a finalist in more than one category, but problems have happened before and we decided to take strong preventative measures. Every envelope would be physically attached to the right position in the ceremony script with adhesive tape, and would be clearly labelled with the relevant category and finalists; and the cards indicating the winner – and only the winner – would also be clearly labelled by ballot category. As it turned out, these precautions were wise.

A completely unexpected intervention then came from Guinness World Records, who informed us that they had determined that the Hugos should be recognised as the longest running sf award, and they proposed to present a certificate to this effect at the ceremony. Walter Day came over from the US for this purpose, and we had a nice little video from Craig Glenday, the Guinness Editor-in-Chief.

One last-minute change to the ceremony came when Claire Wendling, one of the Guests of Honour, fell ill just before the convention and could not come at all. Looking through the members, we agreed that Maura McHugh would be the most appropriate replacement to announce the Best Graphic Story category, and she agreed. Unfortunately I failed to spot that the script for that part of the ceremony had omitted the artists and listed only the writers, though at least the slides on display had everything; a mistake for which we justifiably got some flak.

I had tapped Ian Moore to run the PowerPoint display during the ceremony, but Joshua eventually decided (probably rightly) that he wanted to take responsibility for that himself. Instead Ian found himself doing an extensive last-minute check of the In Memoriam scroll. (I think I have known Ian for longer than anyone else at Worldcon 75, with the exception of Cheryl Morgan who I first met around 1985.) We caught most of what needed to be caught, though I apologise in particular to Mary Kay Kare for the mis-spelling of Jordin’s name which crept in at a late stage.

At the last moment of preparation I got sidetracked, and Kathryn took charge of transporting the Hugos, and the Campbell Award and regalia, down to the ceremony and arranging them in the right order. Some sandwiches were hidden backstage for us, which was just as well as there was not much to eat at the pre-Hugo reception (otherwise expertly coordinated by Heidi Lyshol). And then, we were on.

I had not read the final version of the script and was taken by surprise when, immediately after I had been introduced by Karen Lord, Imperial Stormtroopers appeared on the stage with Jukka Halme, the convention’s Chair, as their hostage. It was very funny though. That of course meant my phone went to sleep and I had to fiddle with it embarrassingly to retrieve my own remarks. Kathryn and I then introduced the base with Eeva, and formally received the Guinness certificate from Walter Day.

(Worldcon 75 picture of Walter Day and me, with Daria Medved – who had also been tremendously helpful with DevOps – in the background)

And then I sat back, shuffling between backstage and an obscure seat in the wings and aware of what could have been better. The livestreaming did not work (I understand that this was force majeure, but don’t know any more). I’ve mentioned the Best Graphic Story slip above. There were very few printed voting reports available to distribute after the ceremony (this was entirely my fault). I had not realised that Ted Chiang was present at the convention, and it would have been great to involve him in the Hugo for Arrival. And of course one presenter actually did open the wrong envelope. Fortunately, thanks to the precautions we had taken, he realised what had happened immediately, put the card back and swiftly turned to the right envelope. It could have been worse.

But otherwise, what was a long ceremony went smoothly and (as far as I could tell) enjoyably, with all of the winners delighted (we had 10 of 18 categories represented in person, another 4 with designated acceptors, and 4 with prepared remarks read by the Chairs team and Karen Lord), and people were congratulating me on it for the rest of the weekend (I told every one of them that Joshua deserved all of the credit, along with Karen). I understand that the video will likely be online at the end of next week.

The Hugo Losers party was truly epic. Worldcon 76 in San Jose, together with George R.R. Martin, had booked a steampunk pub in downtown Helsinki and filled it with Hugo winners, finalists and staffers. The gin flowed freely. I had a real blast. As mentioned earlier, my two work colleagues both came to the party as well. One of them is a fan of Charles Stross, so he was happy.

The other is a fan of Hamilton, so she was happy.

(Photo by Catie Murphy)

I stayed until about 3 am and Catie Murphy then forced me to go home.

We had made the early decision to hold the Hugo ceremony on the Friday night, night 3 of the Wed-Sun convention, rather than the traditional Sunday, night 4 of a Thu-Mon convention, for a number of reasons. I think in retrospect that while it was worth experimenting, it did remove the momentum towards the last evening that the Hugos can often provide – the Masquerade just doesn’t attract the same level of attention. I would make a pretty firm recommendation to future Worldcons to keep the Hugo ceremony on the last evening.

I had given very little thought to how to actually transport the Hugos to their eventual recipients. Fortunately Joshua, combined with Phil Davies of the Con Office, took this on with his usual efficiency; and while I did spend some time on Saturday and Sunday sorting out minor details, it seems likely that all but one of the awards will have reached their intended destinations by the end of this week.

Apart from that…

It’s always tough getting to programme items if you are on staff at a Worldcon. I was a speaker on four panels – one on Fantasy and Freedom of Movement (a few seconds are around the five-minute mark here, Finnish write-up hereThe War on Sciencethe future of the Hugos. As usual, fellow panellists and audience were up for a good conversation.

I attended only one talky programme item other than the four I was on. This was a brilliant presentation by Sonja Virti of the illustrations drawn by Tove Jansson in 1962 for a Swedish translation of The Hobbit. In a lovely bit of “but of course they would have known each other”, she was invited to do the job by Astrid Lindgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking. Sonja presented the links with Tove Jansson’s illustrations of her own work, particularly “Who Will Comfort Toffle?” (which I admit I haven’t read) and also looked at how her reading of The Hobbit differed from that of other artists, including of course Tolkien himself. Jansson’s Gollum is a huge, troll-like figure; it was not until 1966 that the English version of The Hobbit was revised by Tolkien to describe Gollum as “a small, slimy creature” – of course, it’s clear from The Lord of the Rings, but presumably Jansson (and Lindgren?) were unaware of it. Only the Swedish and Finnish editions of the Hobbit are permitted to use Jansson’s illustrations by the Tolkien estate.

(Gollum and Bilbo as portrayed by Tove Jansson)

(Incidentally, did you know that the Queen of Denmark illustrated a Danish translation of The Lord of the Rings? Well, you do now.)

My only other programme item was a fiendishly difficult quiz on A Song of Ice and Fire where my work colleagues and I linked up with Tav from California and did very badly. My colleagues on the other hand went to loads of programme items and enjoyed them all.

For the first time in Worldcon history, we had to cap membership sales; the total number of warm bodies was over 7,000, more than Loncon and the second highest in Worldcon history. According to an old friend the convention was all over the Finnish media. (I managed to nip downtown on the Saturday to see her; she is a former MEP and Finnish minister for Europe, and held a senior international human rights job until last year. She bought me a nice cup of tea in the Aalto museum.)

It was my third Worldcon but my first time attending the WSFS Business Meeting, which has the power to amend the Hugo rules. I spoke six times altogether – Thursday at 1:05:25, Friday at 37:24 and 49:49, Saturday at 1:20:30, 1:46:50 and most substantively at 2:22:50. It is quite a drain on time for other things – most of the morning on four of the five days. Fortunately Twitter coverage made it easier for me to spot when to slip in for the parts that concerned me most. I had resolutions on the table on all four days, all of which passed, except for the proposal to move to Three-Stage Voting (which I had anyway changed my mind about in the meantime).

As a result of one of those resolutions, I have been appointed to a committee, chaired by Vince Docherty, which is to look at the Hugos in the round and propose any changes which it may deem necessary to the 2018 WSFS Business Meeting (this being an amendment of our original proposal to just look at the Best Artist categories). I won’t be in San Jose myself, and I hope that anything that is proposed and passed there is robust enough to get ratified quickly in Dublin. In general I hope that, after the drama of the last few years, the Hugos can settle down again soon.

My mind was so fried by five days of convention (and two years of preparation) that I missed my plane home on Sunday night. I could make excuses, but really it was the rookie mistake of getting the departure time wrong. I did at least realise what had happened in time to shift my reservation to the following day, enjoyed the evening parties that I had expected to miss, begged a spare bed for the night and flew home early on Monday morning, tired but happy, and four hours late for our two-day drive across England and Wales to Ireland. My suitcase, containing a number of spare trophies and my own souvenir Hugo base, did not make it onto my flight; I can only imagine the consternation among the security staff when they X-rayed it and saw six two-foot metal rockets inside. However, it too made it back to Belgium in the end and is sitting in my office waiting for me as I write.

All in all, I enjoyed working on Worldcon 75 more than I had Loncon 3. I was in a better place in my family and professional life, which probably helped. The burdens of internal co-ordination and external liaison were much less as an Area Head than as a Division Head. Most of the team were a sheer unadulterated joy to work with. (I haven’t yet mentioned the great Outreach staff, led by Outi Sippo-Purma and my old comrade Paul Taylor, including Val Grimm, Jessica Elgenstierna and Nina Törnudd on the press side and Fia Karlsson on social media, who made sure the outside world actually heard about us.)

And I am doing it all again. One of the threads of my ongoing conversation with Vince Docherty was his role as head of the WSFS Division for the Dublin Worldcon in 2019 (official name: Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon), and the outcome of that was that I have accepted the role of Hugo Administrator for that year too (Dave McCarty is doing it next year). I had six conversations about it on the Sunday of Helsinki, including with my new deputy, Niall Harrison, who shares my deep love for the Hugos, is super-organised, and is only one timezone away from me. We will have the same voting system as this year, and at least 19 categories – this year’s 18 plus the new Young Adult award, plus another if the Dublin 2019 committee should so decide.

See you there.