Chicon 8, the 2022 Hugos and the Business Meeting

Chicago was the first city in the USA that I ever set foot in, aged 5 in 1972, on a family visit to my father’s old friend Emmet Larkin. My only previous visit as an adult was in 2016 for SMOFCon, when I also saw Hamilton. In 2016 we were out by the airport for most of the time; this year we were in the Hyatt Regency, right beside the meeting of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

May be an image of skyscraper

This is actually an extraordinary feat of engineering. In the late nineteenth century, the river channel was re-shaped and a connecting canal built with the Des Plaines River, leading to the Illinois River and the Mississippi River basin, so that the Chicago River now flows out of the lake rather than into it. Most of the water in the picture will go all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, 1500 km to the south. Though I suppose some of it will go the other way, through Lake Huron and Lake Erie, over Niagara Falls, through Lake Ontario and into the Atlantic via Canada, which is 1600 km as the crow flies but a little further as the river flows.

Back in March 2020, as the pandemic was closing in and I was one of the Deputy Hugo Administrators wrestling with that year’s Hugo nominations, I reached out to Kat Jones, who was also on the Hugo team that year, and said that, if Glasgow were to win the 2024 Worldcon bid, I would likely become the WSFS Division Head, and if so, would she consider being that year’s Hugo Administrator? Kat replied with a provisional yes, much to my relief.

A few months later, in October 2020, Kat reached out to me in turn. She had just been appointed the Hugo Administrator for 2022, and wondered if I would consider joining the team as her deputy? At this stage of course we had no guarantee that there would be an in-person Worldcon ever again – CoNZealand had had their disastrous virtual ceremony two months before. But I agreed anyway, in hope that we would be able to attend, and so it proved.

We had a great team this year, with the committee also including WSFS Division Heads Jesi Lipp and Brian Nisbet. I have known Brian for twenty years, but this was the first time I had really worked with Jesi. We discovered that we are actually seventh cousins twice removed, sharing ancestry with Grover Cleveland, Fritz Leiber and Shirley Temple. It’s a small world.

All in all, this was definitely the smoothest of the four and a half Hugo processes that I have been involved with. (2017, 2019, 2020, part of 2021, and this year; not having a global pandemic does help). We now have robust software solutions for tallying nomination votes and counting the final ballot; we have a good eligibility verification process; we generally (with inevitable glitches) had good communications with the rest of the convention and with finalists; and there was no big screw-up on the events side. Many small screw-ups on many smaller things, of course, but that is normal.

BK Ellison’s trophy was the first time I had been involved with a base design which includes a stand. (The others were all more plinth-ish, if that is a word.) We all fell in love with it as soon as he presented his initial design: it nicely captures the Chicago flag and the convention theme, “Take To The Stars”.

The Sekrit Hugo Cupboard was very close to the main hall where the ceremony was taking place, which made things a lot easier, though it was also right beside Registration, which made us a lot more cautious. Walking between the two on ceremony day with the envelopes containing the winners, I happened to bump into a bunch of finalists who turned a little pale when they realised what I was holding. I was very pleased to meet Arkady Martine at the reception beforehand, knowing (though she did not) that she had won Best Novel for A Desolation Called Peace (the only one of the three winners who I had voted for who was actually present). Concealing the awards from curious eyes backstage before the ceremony took a little McGyver-style ingenuity, but we managed it.

The ceremony, conducted by Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, was efficient, funny and professional. (As James Nicoll put it, “almost as [if] the the ghost of a ceremony neither fast-paced nor entertaining was on people’s minds”.) It was slightly awkward that the presenters themselves won in two categories, but of course they had been selected long before the nominations opened, and other presenters were brought in for the relevant bits. (And they did not know in advance that they had won.)

I’ve written up my take on the results already, so just to repeat, this worked out very well; credit to the entire team, most of all Kat Jones, also Jesi Lipp and Brian Nisbet; Cassidy and their deputy Theresa Hahn for finalist liaison; David Matthewman and Chris Rose (and ultimately Eemeli Aro) for software and tech; Terry Neill on Help Desk and much else; Chris Ragan and Jed Hartman on the Voter Packet; Alissa Wales on eligibility; BK Ellison for the Hugo base and Sara Felix for the Lodestar trophy; John Brown and team for the ceremony, and Helen Montgomery for running the convention.

One other point. Best Editor, Long Form looks like the weakest of the current categories, with the highest vote for No Award and with no less than five nominees either turning out to be ineligible or withdrawing for other reasons. I will have more to say on this in due course.

The Business Meeting

Most of this post is going to be about the 2022 WSFS Business Meeting, because after the Hugos that was my biggest concern. I do not love the Business Meeting. It is tremendously demanding of participants’ time, especially when you have other commitments (like, for instance, running the Hugo Awards). There are some participants who appear to delight in finding procedural devices to simply use up time without achieving anything, which frustrates those of us less familiar with the rules who actually do want to achieve things. In a professional environment, the Business Meeting’s persistent failure to keep to its own time commitments would not be tolerated. I do not know if it is the fault of Roberts’ Rules of Order, or of the particular sub-culture of the WSFS Business Meeting, or both, that such behaviour is rewarded and not deterred, but surely there is a better way. For now, we are stuck with it.

Having said that, I personally had a good Business Meeting in 2022. Jared Dashoff and Jesi Lipp as presiding officers did their best to keep things on track, despite the difficulties imposed by structure and culture, and succeeded as often as not. And mostly the things I wanted to happen (or not) did happen (or didn’t).

Before the convention I had published some commentary on the Hugo Awards Study Committee and its proposals (here on File 770, mirrored from here) starting with the proposition that the Committee itself should be abolished. This took up half an hour of the preliminary business meeting on the Friday (from 1:17 on the video). The outgoing Chair of the Committee made his report; I made my speech opposing the renewal of the committee; and rather surprisingly, there were no more speeches in favour of either continuation or abolition – the remaining time was filled with procedural wrangles which I found difficult to follow, including a proposal that the cameras should be turned off. (Why? I had already said my piece. Were they planning to say Dark Things about me? Did they think that my non-existent allies and minions were primed to say Dark Things about them?) As the vote was called, I accepted that I would probably lose by a small margin. To my surprise, I won by about three to one, and the Committee was dissolved. (For more detail on the Friday see Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee.)

Much less to say about Saturday (more from Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee). In my absence (I had an actual program item to go to) the Business Meeting passed resolutions condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine and the GoH status of writer Sergei Lukanienko at next year’s Worldcon. The most important thing for me personally was getting elected to the Mark Protection Committee, which works to preserve the intellectual property of the terms WSFS, Hugo, Lodestar, etc. Several years ago I helped the MPC in a dispute with the Flemish broadcaster which planned to set up its own Hugo Awards in memory of the great writer Hugo Claus. In the end VRT backed down and decided to call the awards the “Hugo Claus Awards”. I am not sure if they ever got around to awarding them. I’ve also had my differences with the MPC over some recent issues, and felt it would be better to be on the inside. Also, the E Pluribus Hugo voting system, which faced a potential sunset clause, was reratified with permanent effect.

Sunday started very happily with the declaration of the Site Selection vote for 2024. Glasgow won by a huge margin (as the only candidate). Here’s the promotion video – I am briefly visible at 3:06, but the whole thing is a joy.

An attempt to suspend standing orders in order to yell at Chengdu 2023 was rapidly quashed. Then, at last, we were onto constitutional amendments. The first of these dealt with the conditions under which a Hugo category might be won by “No Award” if the number of votes for finalists is less than 25% of the Hugo total. The Study Committee had proposed a further refinement, but Olav Rokne and others very sensibly had proposed instead simply to abolish that provision of the constitution, and after a half hour of debate they won, as I had hoped. There are still two remaining ways in which a category can be No Awarded, but I hope that they will be rare.

At this point I had to leave to do Hugo wrangling, just as the bit I cared most about hit the agenda: the amendment to clarify the definitions of the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist Hugos, which is the single most urgent issue facing Hugo administrators. The wording put to the meeting was largely mine, but I am happy to admit that it was not perfect, and it was referred to a new committee chaired by actual artists, exactly the sort of specialist consultation which helped the Best Game category over the line. As long as we end up with definitions which are more inclusive and less work for administrators, I will be happy, but it will take at least another year. The proposed new Best Game category was passed with nine minutes of debate and a large majority; of course those nine minutes were the culmination of years of intense discussion in the wider community. It now needs to be ratified in Chengdu. (Fuller reports, again, from Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee.)

The final session of the Business Meeting on the Monday considered the last three amendments proposed by the Hugo Awards Study Committee. All of these were bad ideas; one was kicked to a committee and the other two defeated. The first was the attempt to hardwire definitions of Fan and Pro into the Constitution, a proposal which the HASC leadership themselves admitted was not really ready for ratification and which had been proposed to the Business Meeting without the knowledge of most of the Committee members. To my frustration, this was referred to the same committee which had been set up the previous day to refine the Artist categories; they may or may not choose to do anything with it, but I felt shades of 2017, when my proposal to set up a committee to look at the Artist categories was transformed into the Hugo Awards Study Committee as it came to be. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

I stood up and proposed that the Business Meeting’s recommendations to the Artist committee on this point should include consideration of whether a global change is necessary at all, or whether a category-by-category approach might be better.

To my surprise there was a passionate but incomprehensible speech against my proposal, followed equally surprisingly by Dave McCarty (at 42:32): “Everybody note the time! I am about to say that, in general, I agree [on this issue] with Nicholas Whyte, and that’s really freaking rare.” The meeting included a fair amount of sensible stuff in its recommendations to the committee, and one or two silly things, so that’s that. (They are detailed by Kevin Standlee; Alex Acks had gone home by now.)

Finally came the Hugo Awards Study Committee proposals to further restrict eligibility for Best Series by over-riding the wishes of voters and making administrators’ lives more difficult. I spoke against the second of these (at 1:14:14), but it was clear from an early stage that the Business Meeting as a whole had lost patience with the HASC, and both proposals were defeated by substantial margins.

Apart from getting itself abolished, the HASC overall managed to get only two amendments passed (Best Game, which had originated elsewhere, and another very technical one on low-participation Hugo categories), with three rejected outright and another two referred to committee. The HASC had lost internal support from its own members, including me, and then failed to move the Business Meeting. As I said above, it had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it did not work out.

Other stuff

I spoke at one panel, and attended another and a couple of Table Talks (Kaffeeklatsches without the coffee). The panel which I spoke at became somewhat chaotic – we had received mixed messages as to whether it was meant to be in hybrid format, tried that out and failed, ultimately splitting into a virtual and a physical panel. I very much enjoyed talking to Olav Rokne and L.D. Lewis about award culture, but wished we could have had more from Farah Mendlesohn and especially Mame Bougouma Diene. I am not impressed with Airmeet, and would have preferred to stick to Zoom, which we are all familiar with. The Table Talks that I attended (virtually with Neon Yang, physically with Fiona Moore and Jason Aukerman) were great fun but a bit sparse; I was 50% of the audience for the first two, and 100% for the last. I very much enjoyed the panel discussion of Titus Groan where I said a few things from the audience.

The space for hanging out was generally fine, and I enjoyed the parties that I went to. I found the background noise in the Big Bar generally too much for my middle-aged ears, but there were alternatives, and Dell Magazines kindly took Kat and me outside for a drink one evening to discuss the Astounding Award and other matters. Kat and I also dined on the north side of the river and got thoroughly lost in the scary northshore car parks on our way back, eventually reaching safety by way of the Sheraton Hotel basement. To be honest, most of my time was spent dealing with the Hugos, and after all that’s what I had signed up for, but I had many chats and a few meals with old friends (and some new friends).

I had originally planned to participate in Chengdu next year as a senior adviser, but something else has come up which will absorb most of my fannish energy (announcement soon) and I’ve stepped back from Chengdu and do not expect to attend. So I’ll hope to see you in Glasgow in 2024, where I will be WSFS Division Head and Kat Jones will again be the Hugo Administrator. Join up, if you haven’t already.

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1 Response to Chicon 8, the 2022 Hugos and the Business Meeting

  1. RF99 says:

    I remain relieved that I only have to wrangle ~ 1000 people over two days and I’m at least encouraged to hit ~ 1/6th of them with swords.

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