Monday, 13 January 2020

Weimer is a fan writer for whom the word “fan” should be in all-caps

Paul Weimer is an incredibly prolific blogger and podcaster. What’s surprising is the consistently
Outside of fandom, Paul Weimer
is known for his photography.
(Image via Facebook) 
high calibre of his analysis and his positive approach to fan writing. And yet — to date — he has never been on the shortlist for a fan writing Hugo Award. We feel that it’s time to rectify this omission.

Weimer’s contributions are diverse, nuanced, and display an extraordinary depth of knowledge of the genre. Whether he’s discussing books by up-and-coming authors, reminding you of forgotten classics, or analyzing mainstream megahits, Weimer will always provide you with intellectual grist to chew on.

Because of his wide-ranging tastes (e.g., he seems to have blogged about every single subgenre of SFF in the past calendar year), and his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, Weimer is sometimes able to provide context and make connections that would elude many other reviewers.

Over the years, Weimer’s byline has appeared in a plethora of blogs and publications that are almost too numerous to list, but include SFSignal, B&N Blog, Tor.com, Skiffy & Fanty, and SFF Audio. In fact, because he’s published so widely, it is hard to get a handle on just how much the Minnesota resident has written in any given year.

Some of our favourites in 2019 include his review of Rory Thorne Destroys The Multiverse, his analysis of Stealing Worlds, his “Six Books with Us” series at Nerds Of A Feather, his look back at the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1999, and his review of The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein. Whatever your taste, it is likely that he has written a blog post that will appeal to your interests — in 2019.

Although not strictly relevant to the award of fan writer, we would be remiss if we did not mention Weimer’s other longstanding contributions to SFF fandom. On top of his volunteerism at conventions, he is one of the administrators of the Down Under Fan Fund.

Weimer is a constant presence in the SFF Twitter community who uses his platform to promote marginalized voices, to advocate on behalf of new writers, and to add positively to the discussion. We’ve previously written about how important the fan writing category is in the Hugo Awards, and when we say that, we’re thinking of people like Paul Weimer.

Weimer is a fan writer for whom the word “fan” should be in all-caps.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Movement of Goods In Science Fiction

Space-based science fiction places a lot of attention on the transportation of goods.
The interplanetary transport Pachyderm
from the movie Space Truckers is just
one of many, many examples of how
interstellar civilization is depicted as
being similar to our globalized economy.
(Image via highdefdigest.com)


Whether it’s a Lissepian captain hauling self-sealing stem bolts from Deep Space 9 or the crew of Firefly delivering cattle to the colony of Jiangyin, we are often presented with depictions of how goods are moved from one location to another.

This focus is probably a reflection of the modern neoliberal consensus that globalized trade is a good and necessary thing, and is a trend in science fiction that is worth questioning.

The large-scale movement of goods only makes sense if there is a strong economic incentive; if it is cheaper to build something in one location rather than another, if the skills to build something are only available in one location, or if the resources are only available in one location. When you see the depiction of merchant space ships travelling on regular runs between two locations, it implies that there are entire planets where it is cheaper to build something, and markets looking to buy those things.

Is inter-jurisdictional trade really that scalable? Between real-world nations, whose populations are measured in millions, there might be a specialized need that cannot be filled by the manufacturing base of a smaller nation. But with planets that are often depicted as having populations that number in the billions, it’s hard to imagine a need so specialized that they don’t have the capacity for local manufacturing.

With the exception of newly established colonies, interplanetary trade often seems to happen without the existence of one of the required antecedent factors. If the writer’s intent is to mirror our globalized economy, either for worldbuilding or plot effect, it would be helpful to see the justifications mirrored as well.

Planet-to-planet trade modelled after our globalized economy is a recurring theme in almost every fictional interplanetary community; the Democratic Organization Of Planets in Futurama, the Galactic Empire in Foundation, the Imperium of Dune, the Interstellar Alliance in Babylon 5, the Minmatar Republic in EVE … the list goes on. In science fiction with less advanced technology (no instantaneous transport, no universal replicators) rarity of resources such as dilithium or unobtanium sometimes serves as justification, but this doesn’t explain the overall “globalization” of the economies we see in SFF.

In short, even the flow of Spice can’t entirely explain a complex interstellar trading economy.
In Dune, the need for Spice still can't
explain why they have a trading economy.
 Bene Gesserit sisterhood may not be
exactly as depicted here.
(Image via spicegirls.fandom.com)
As an example, lets look at Star Trek and Deanna Troi’s home planet of Betazed. If Betazed needs self-sealing stem bolts, they could either have a local manufacturing operation, or they could have them shipped to the planet.

While Starfleet ships may travel at higher warp speeds, freight transports are rarely depicted as going faster than warp five. Depending on the Star Trek resource book you look at, this is approximately 200 times the speed of light, or a bit more than a week to travel each way between Earth and Alpha Centauri. The travel time for such a freighter to get from Earth to Vulcan would be more than a month. Even if Betazed is trading with their nearest star system, the cost of transport is going to be significant, to cover ship depreciation, crew salaries, fuel costs, etc. This would demand a high-profit, highly differentiated product — one that is never mentioned.

Conversely, local manufacturing should in fact be economically feasible. In 2372 (when the trading of self-sealing stem bolts is depicted in Deep Space 9), Betazed has a population of more than 5.6 billion people. Even if the self-sealing stem bolts can’t be made by the universal replicator, one would assume that the factory in which the bolts are made could be set up relatively inexpensively, since much of the facility could be replicated. This leaves labour costs as the remaining barrier to production.

We've never heard any Ferengi rules
that prohibit keeping indentured workers
in conditions of absolute destitution.
(Image via memory-alpha.fandom.com)
Globalization works in our present-day economy because capitalism maintains pools of labour in destitute conditions, and is thus able to offer goods at cheaper rates to those in walled-off prosperity zones. By extension, the existence of large-scale systems of transportation for manufactured goods in a science fictional setting implies the existence of planets with populations that are mired in subsistence poverty or slavery.

This relationship between interstellar trade and slavery is occasionally made explicit, though the criticism of such systems is varied. Star Wars has included several depictions of slavery, and the close relationship between that slavery and interestellar trade. Notably, the recent movie Star Wars: Solo. But in Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, slavery on Tatooine is depicted as something tolerable to the upper-class ‘good’ characters Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Cult classic SF TV series Firefly grapples with these issues more successfully in the episode Jaynestown, where we are introduced to disenfranchised indentured workers who mine resources on a slave planet. Likewise Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit includes a planet with a slave culture, though a direct link between interstellar trade and slavery is not made explicit. Other reputable characters avoid the planet and express distaste for the practice, but there must be a large enough market accepting or unaware of slavery for the planet to exist. One wonders how many of the goods on Port Coriol have been produced by slaves.

Despite the fact that these systems would be untenable without a large underclass, science fiction spends a lot of time in walled-off prosperity zones. Earth in the United Federation of Planets is a sparkling gem, where there is no want that cannot be satisfied. People might work but only insofar as they want to. Once labour goes from meaningful to menial, they can simply stop and experience no hardship. Compare this to Arvada III where Beverly Crusher developed a passion for medicine as a child when her grandmother was forced to use roots and herbs to treat a medical crisis. The trade that occurs between these planets seems to benefit Earth a great deal while leaving Arvada III wanting. And in such a power imbalance, it’s no wonder that Earth is able to secure advantageous terms of trade. The threat of withholding trade includes the implicit threat of destruction. But the unfairness of this trading relationship is never made explicit, or commented on.

The plethora of cargo transports seen in science fiction is driven in part by a narrative need; transportation by default means characters move around, and this allows readers to explore a broader fictional universe. If you need a young man to go from a desert planet to a lush green planet to meet with a princess, it’s convenient if there is a YT-1300 Corellian freighter on which to book a ride. Blue collar work that is fixed to a specific location — such as most manufacturing or resource extraction jobs — rarely meets the needs of science fiction storytelling.

But that being said, the predominant depiction of transportation as opposed to manufacturing within space opera has implications for the futures we collectively imagine. Because all forms of economic activity have impacts on society, the primacy of transportation within space opera needs to be examined and challenged. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Ebullient Imagination of Stealing Worlds

Optimistic and replete with ebullient imagination, Stealing Worlds is a compelling techno-thriller
Karl Schroeder's at his best
when proposing new ways to
organize political power.
(Image via Goodreads)
elevated by first-rate near-future world-building.

At one level, the plot is a fairly linear whodunnit; On the run from shadowy figures, protagonist Sura Neelin finds refuge in an augmented-reality game world that allows her to hide in plain sight. As she learns more about her new-found community, she investigates the circumstances around her father’s death.

But at another level, it is the story of revolutionary societal change. It is on this second level that the novel succeeds most fully.

Stealing Worlds is a highly political novel, not in a partisan sense, but because it offers thought experiments about how power structures can be organized. While the book depicts a global capitalist structure that continues to erode human freedom, Schroeder also envisions self-organizing communities that work in the interstices of the modern world. New technology and tools evolve to allow for the exploitation of idle and forgotten resources, to the benefit of those left behind or targeted maliciously by those in power.

The most interesting innovations in the novel, however, don’t come from the technology of augmented reality, but from cleverly imagined legal constructions. Schroeder’s idea of giving legal life to inanimate objects and abstract ideas is the most intriguing part of the story. To accomplish this, Artificial Intelligences (AI) are programmed to operate on behalf of eagles, forests, and other entities and to bargain with people to meet the needs of that legal entity. For example, an AI responsible for the legal personhood of a forest might negotiate the sale of lumber to pay for reclamation or protection. More complex ecosystems might comprise numerous, smaller AI actors that coordinate the survival of, for example, a boreal forest by ensuring the rivers are clean, the animals are not overhunted, and enough habitat remains to support life. Using markets to place value on natural resources isn’t a new idea but this agency provides the natural resources a mind-blowing role in the process.

Schroeder demands more than a passing level of technical knowledge. For example, basic levels of
A futurist by trade and
training, Schroeder brings
intellectual rigor to near-
future science fiction.
(Image via KarlSchroeder.com)
blockchain and cryptocurrency literacy help. While this may turn off some readers, it will make the work more engaging for others. Impressively, Schroeder doesn’t condescend, but builds and explores these concepts for a wide range of readers.

The novel has a clear separation between worldbuilding and adventure. Sura’s path weaves between investigating her father’s death and learning about the hidden world of augmented reality. While reading the thriller portions of the novel, we were left wanting more of the intellectual story and the sharp critique of our world. When delving into the world building, we occasionally forgot entirely about the narrative because we got lost in Schroeder’s irrepressible imagination.

Often, when reviewers focus their praise on a book’s worldbuilding, it is a sign that the book might have significant flaws in other areas. In the case of Stealing Worlds, it is an indication that the novel is possibly the crowning achievement of one of science fiction’s most accomplished — and optimistic — futurists.

The fact that Schroeder proposes a believable and positive vision of the future puts this among our favourite novels of 2019.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Yearning For Policy-Intentional Science Fiction

There will come a day when novels about climate change will be marketed as historical fiction instead of science fiction.

That day is probably closer than most of us care to realize, which is why all near-future science fiction is naive if climate change is ignored.

This is both a burden to the genre of science fiction, and a set of related opportunities: The opportunity to credibly predict the ramifications of a warming planet; the opportunity to envisage effective climate change mitigation strategies; the opportunity to build a public narrative that
Paolo Bacigalupi's The
Water Knife
is one of the
most underappreciated
novels of the decade.
(Image via Amazon.com)
engenders positive policy changes.

It is this last opportunity that we would like to discuss. There is a need for policy-intentional science fiction that is rooted in the most accurate available forecasts.

The sub-genre of climate fiction (or cli-fi) offers some notable examples that genuinely tackle the human-caused warming of the planet; Paolo Bacigalupi, Saci Lloyd, Barbara Kingsolver and Kim Stanley Robinson have ably attempted to bring the issue into focus within science fiction. Is the general public’s reticence to embrace these works simply a general disinterest with science fiction or a more reactionary resistance to accept climate change science?

It has been argued that one of the most important roles of science fiction is to provide the self-defeating prophecy. That is, to build fictional predictions so compelling — and so well-realized — that they affect the public consciousness and, sometimes, force political responses. Orwell’s 1984 is often held up as the case example of this, having perhaps persuaded generations of voters to reject authoritarian politicians.

Sadly, there does not seem to be a book of comparable impact for climate change. When politicians refer to science fiction about climate change, it is often with derision.

The climate change novel most cited by politicians in Washington seems to be the lamentable State Of Fear by climate change denier Michael Crichton. The book depicts eco-terrorists faking the evidence for climate change. In fact, State of Fear has been cited in congressional records more often than the combined totals of all books by Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi and Barbara Kingsolver.

Senator Jim Inhofe suggests that a
conspiracy of scientists are faking
the case for human-caused climate
change and cites SF novel State of Fear
as evidence for this claim.
(Image via Politico)
“Dr. Crichton, as I said, is a medical doctor and scientist.
He very cleverly weaved a very compelling presentation
of the scientific facts of climate change 
— with ample footnotes 
and documentation throughout, I might add — into a gripping plot.”
 Jim Inhofe (R - OK) January 2005

It is clear that — as in most crises — the poor, the disenfranchised, and the ethnically marginalized will bear the worst brunt of the consequences of climate change. Which is why it’s interesting to note that in their lists of novels about climate change, several mainstream sources neglect authors who can speak to those perspectives. We would suggest Moon Of The Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice deserves to be recognized as a vital, vibrant and essential text that should not be omitted from such lists, as is Omar El Akkad’s American War.

It is shocking to us that cli-fi remains a surprisingly small sliver of the overall science fiction field. It’s a niche that warrants an obligatory panel discussion each convention, but which is often overshadowed by subgenres like steampunk and space opera. A review of programming at the latest Worldcon corroborates this (e.g., discussions of Doctor Who and of superheroes far outnumbers discussions of climate), as does a scan of novels published by the major science fiction publishers in 2019.

This dearth of reality-based cli-fi can be seen in public discussions. The climate change narratives that seem to be top-of-mind for members of the mundane public are exceedingly problematic from the perspective of presenting a believable warning about the effects of climate change. The Road; The Day After Tomorrow; Snowpiercer; Oryx and Crake; State of Fear; Waterworld. Many of these are enjoyable works of fiction, but they can inadvertently serve to undermine understanding of climate change and delay urgently needed action.

Stephen Baxter (an author respected by this book club) offered possibly the most egregious example of this trend in his books Flood and Arc — which depict oceans rising unabated until the world has no more dry land at all. The beginning of the first volume is compellingly real, but this warning is
Waterworld is so risible it discredits
the idea of climate change, much to
the detriment of good policy.
(image via IMDB.com)
quickly submerged by scenes of complete fantasy.

Waterworld, as fun as it is, may be the most extreme example of alarmist (and unbelievable) depictions of rising ocean levels, and unfortunately one of the most iconic. The effects of climate change in Waterworld is almost as nonsensical a fantasy as the science-denial fantasy that the Earth isn’t warming at all. The broader public is being fed competing nonsensical narratives — making it more difficult to parse fact from falsehood in the mundane world.

Projections of how climate change will impact society should be influencing policy. This is an important burden that science fiction should be taking up. There needs to be more policy intentional climate change-related science fiction, and the more it is based in real-world science, the more seriously it is likely to be taken.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Politics of Site Selection

In the lead up to this summer’s site-selection vote for the 2021 Worldcon, a small but vocal contingent of fans argued that the convention should not be awarded to any host city in the United States. 

In the end, only about twenty or thirty of the 878 site selection ballots indicated a preference to deny the convention to Washington D.C. (including one voter who explicitly cast their ballot for “Anywhere NOT in the United States.”).

This is not a position that most members of this book club endorse, particularly since a large portion
Clearly the existence of Jedward wasn't
enough to disqualify Ireland from hosting.
 (image via Eurovision.TV) 
of the existing fanbase lives in the United States. Even at Worldcons held overseas, Americans often make up the bulk of the attendance. For example, despite the geographic proximity of the United Kingdom, only 1,044 British citizens attended Worldcon 77 in Dublin, compared to 1,582 people who crossed the Atlantic from the United States for the convention. 

This raises the question of the carbon footprint of Worldcon — might the appropriate choice be to choose convention locations that reduce the amount of flying involved? Making environmental choices would prioritize U.S.-based hosts. If Hugo-winning TV series The Good Place has taught us anything, it’s that few choices are clear-cut good or bad. 

So when should government misdeeds become disqualifying for a potential Worldcon site? Since the arguments to avoid the United States centred around political issues, perhaps the question to ask is, “Under what conditions should the Worldcon membership reject a host country?” 

Perhaps the WSFS could convene a committee looking at various measures of political freedom that could be used to craft minimum requirements for a nation to host Worldcon. Some obvious, base, criteria should include safety, accessibility, civil liberties (such as free speech). Even these simple criteria, of course, are subject to interpretation and discussion. 

For the purpose of discussion, then, the United States of 2021 is less likely to meet security requirements than the United States of 2015 was. Hate crimes (particularly those against latinos) have seen a sharp increase in the past few years, so evidently attending a Worldcon in the United States is now less safe for members of marginalized groups. It is even conceivable that there might come a day when we would actively campaign against hosting any events in the U.S.A. (For the record, neither 2021 nor 2022 is likely to be that day.) 

The frequency of Worldcons being held outside of the United States has increased significantly in the past decade; almost half of all non-American Worldcons have occurred in the past 20 years. Next summer’s Worldcon will mark only the second time that there have been back-to-back non-U.S. Worldcons, and the first time that there have been back-to-back non-North-American Worldcons. This is an interesting development, as it indicates the growing internationalism of fandom, but it also means that a Worldcon might end up being hosted by an undemocratic nation. Would any of us want to attend a Worldcon in North Korea or the Sultanate of Brunei? 

These are obviously ridiculous examples, but it is the marginal cases such as Brazil, Hungary, or Mexico that we should really think about. These are countries that could realistically host a Worldcon and have the sort of fan populations that might consider putting together a bid. But for reasons of personal safety, risk of hate crimes, or government censorship, we would argue they might be less suitable as hosts than the United States. 

It is interesting that the Freedom Of The World Index, ranks the United States as the least free
Chengdu is known for giant pandas,
ancient irrigation systems and the
persecution of religious minorities.
 (Image via internasia.com)
country that has hosted a Worldcon, although the 2023 Chengdu bid would undercut that dubious distinction. 

If the options are “Hold a Worldcon in China, or don’t hold a Worldcon at all that year,” we do not know which option we would choose. But thankfully, that’s not a question that is being asked of site selection voters, as there are two reasonable competing bids for 2023. 

Recent global declines in democratic governance and the rise of authoritarian leaders, combined with the increasing globalization of science fiction fandom means that the question of what conditions qualify a country to host Worldcons is now one that members should begin debating. 

We believe that although the anti-D.C. crowd were premature in suggesting a boycott of the United States, they are right in arguing that the human rights and civil liberties record of a host nation should be significant factors.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

When You Can't Go Home Again

“Generally speaking, a refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to 
cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely.” Wikipedia 

One of science fiction’s strengths is its ability to engender empathy while expanding our definitions of what it means to be “one of us.” From Asimov’s thought experiments about the rights threshold for machines to Star Trek’s use of Spock to explore neurodivergence, science fiction encourages readers to see the strengths of diverse and inclusive societies.

Given that many of the problems of the 21st century are rooted in a deficit of empathy, fiction grounded in radical empathy — showing compassion to those different from us — is more important than ever.

And that’s where Cory Doctorow’s novella Unauthorized Bread, and K Chess’ novel Famous Men
Unauthorized Bread might
be Doctorow's finest work.
(image via Goodreads)
Who Never Lived
both come in. Both of these new works tackle refugee stories of cultural misalignment with an empathetic lens.

In Unauthorized Bread, the refugee protagonist Salima struggles to make sense of a society weighed down by copyright overreach and a ubiquitous system of digital rights management. Thanks to Doctorow’s expertise on this subject, it’s easy to believe that kitchen appliances might only work with brand-specific consumables, destabilizing perhaps the most sacred of cultural signifiers: How we make and break bread.

Salima provides an outsider’s point of view and is thus able to question the underlying assumptions and defaults of a society that has lost the ability to make choices about one of life’s basic necessities.

While some aspects of Salima’s personality will feel familiar to Doctorow fans, as she is a plucky, can-do attitude technophile, she is also highly observant and reflective, encouraging the reader to consider how technology can serve to both alienate and create community within cultural groups.

While Salima finds some sense of belonging in her new home, the refugees at the heart of K Chess’ Famous Men Who Never Lived remain culturally adrift. The novel explores the lives of Vikram Bhatnagar and Helen “Hel” Nash, who have fled a nuclear apocalypse in a parallel world and find themselves in a New York City that marks and marginalizes them as Universally Displaced Persons (UDP).

Although some UDPs are able to successfully integrate in some ways (e.g., careers), most remain
Whether they're from a parallel timeline,
from another planet, or from anywhere else,
refugees are welcome in our community.
(Image via UN.org
othered and are treated with condescension and prejudice. Vikram, a former PhD student, has found his training doesn’t transfer to the new world. Former surgeon Hel’s certifications have lapsed, and her knowledge is no longer useful.

The book is at its strongest when focusing on the human aspect of this displacement: the cultural touchpoints that only the refugees know; Hel’s mourning for the family she’ll never see again; and the inability of some to find ways to make their skills transferable to the new world’s job market.

While neither of these authors were refugees, their decision to write about the refugee experience might be seen as an empathy-driven extrapolation from the current migrant crisis. Both works are strengthened by a focus on dislocation and we are pleased to be able to put them on our 2020 nominating ballots.

In general, it feels like the depiction of refugees in mainstream science fiction — and the empathy shown towards the plight of displaced persons — has improved over time. There is also a recognition of intergenerational traumas and residual cultural practices, as in the exodan fleet of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers novels.

Historically, however, many refugee narratives failed to depict the difficulties faced by their real-
It is rare to see Superman experience
the cultural dislocation that many real-
world refugees face. Still it's gratifying
when writers recognize that he would
understand the refugee experience.
(Image via Twitter
world counterparts. The obvious example is Superman, the prototypical displaced person of science fiction. He is raised to be culturally American and is depicted as a perfectly assimilated citizen, a refugee that doesn’t struggle with linguistic barriers, misunderstanding of local cultural practices, finding employment, and other types of social rejection.

Works like Battlestar Galactica and The Songs Of Distant Earth might reflect some of the emotional dislocation experienced by refugees, but the characters in these stories arrive in places that are uninhabited, conveniently omitting issues related to cultural dislocation.

Screen science fiction that depicts refugees includes Alien Nation (1991), District 9 (2009), The Refugees (2015), and The Crossing (2018). But in each, an argument could be made that the focus is placed less on the experience of refugees, and more on the impact of members of the dominant culture into which the refugees are arriving. For example, human Matt Sykes is top-billed in Alien Nation, while his non-human newcomer partner George Francisco is the sidekick.

For a more egregious example, consider the post-apocalyptic TV series Jericho (2006), where an entire episode focuses on the havoc caused by a large group of refugees that passes through town.

Refugees in science fiction is a broad enough topic that it would be near-impossible to fully delve into every example; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Bio Of A Space Tyrant, Men In Black, Movement and Location, and American War would all qualify.

There are currently more than 70 million people recognized by the United Nations as having been displaced from their countries of origin. Of those, more than 30 million fit the UN definition of refugees. It has never been more important for science fiction to be an engine for radical empathy in support of those displaced due to war, climate change or other disasters.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Superman Clause

There’s a clause in the WSFS Constitution that allows WorldCon members to add a year of eligibility
Ever wonder why Superman 2 didn't
score a Hugo nod? It came out late in
the year, and fell between the cracks.
(Image via IMDB.com) 
to works that might be nominated for the Hugo Award.

It’s an important rule. It should be used more often, and Hugo nominators should pay attention when it is invoked.

The rule was originally proposed by Catherine Filipowicz and Leslie Turek because of Superman 2. The well-loved second Christopher Reeves Superman movie was released in December, 1980 on only a few dozen screens and failed to make the awards ballot in 1981. Obviously, relatively few Hugo nominators would have had a chance to view the film before the nominating deadline.

Here’s the rule that we now like to think of as the Superman 2 Clause:

3.4.3: In the event that a potential Hugo Award nominee receives extremely limited distribution in the year of its first publication or presentation, its eligibility may be extended for an additional year by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the intervening Business Meeting of WSFS.

Ratified in 1982, the amendment was first in effect for the eligibility year of 1983. Despite having been on the books for more than 35 years, Rule 3.4.3 has been invoked only about a dozen times by our count (though records aren’t available for some of the intervening years):
Both the movie Predestination
and Jay Shaw (who designed
this movie poster) deserved
attention from Hugo nominators.
(Image via Mondo) 

  • Stet 9 (1999) ⁠— Fanzine
  • True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Up Through A House Of Stairs (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (2008) — Best Related Work
  • Summer Wars (2010) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • I Remember The Future (2014) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Predestination (2014) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Kimi No Nawa [A.K.A. “Your Name”] (2015) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Prospect (2018) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (2018) — Best Related Work
We find it interesting that despite the high quality of these works, only the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction was actually placed on the Hugo Ballot (and it won a well-deserved Hugo trophy for Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn).

In addition, it’s surprising to us that so many of these works failed to make the Hugo shortlist, since there was clearly a constituency willing to go to bat for them at the business meeting. This may indicate that there is a schism between business meeting attendees and the Worldcon membership at large. Or perhaps it indicates that there is insufficient awareness among the Worldcon membership at large when works have had their eligibility extended.

In the interest of signal-boosting the WSFS business meeting decisions at WorldCon 77, two works have received extended eligibility for 2019: Prospect and The Worlds of Ursula LeGuin. Even though both were released in 2018, they can be nominated for Hugo Awards in their respective categories this year, and we intend to put them both on our ballots.
Prospect can be nominated for the
2020 Hugo because its eligibility
was extended through a WSFS vote.
(Image via Amazon.com) 


In the case of Prospect (for which, full disclosure, members of this book club championed the eligibility extension), the movie received only 23 screenings in 2018, and didn’t become available widely until right around the date of the Hugo nominating deadline. It is, in our opinion, exemplary both in its filmmaking and its contribution to science fiction.

This provision exists to help Hugo Award nominators access and assess books, movies, short stories, etc., even when initial distribution is limited. This is a vital tool, especially for dramatic (and likely independent) presentations that are sometimes only initially available at film festivals, and only become well-known months later.

It’s important for all of us to help shed light on lesser-known works, especially when so much of our media is controlled by a few large corporations. We look forward to doing our part by seeking out and leaning on 3.4.3 when it makes sense to do so.