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 
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 

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.

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