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Monday, September 20, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

The Hugo awards were handed out at Aussiecon over Labor Day weekend. There was a time when I would have read most of the fiction nominated for the award. That time is well in the past, as I hadn't read any of the fiction with the exception of a couple of the nominees for Best Graphic Story (Fables and Girl Genius). I saw three of the five movies -- excuse me, dramatic presentations, long form -- and four of the five dramatic presentations, short form. I haven't read anything by the five nominees for the John Campbell Award for best new writer and hadn't even heard of four of the five nominees for Best Fan Writer. Strangely, I had heard of the guy who won the award for Best Fan Writer.

Frederik Pohl.

Yes, that Frederik Pohl. A writer with four Hugo awards and multiple Nebula awards, including being given the Grand Master Award in 1993.

I've never met Fred Pohl, but I've always enjoyed reading his work. I found his autobiography The Way the Future Was to be a fascinating glimpse into the formative days of science fiction. I've read and enjoyed his novels and stories, ranging from early works through his major award winners. I've even read The Way the Future Blogs, for which he won the Hugo for best fan writer. It's well worth reading. I was even touched by the message Pohl posted on the blog after learning he had won:
To say that I’m pleased to have won this Hugo doesn’t really cover the subject, because I’m not just pleased, I’m tickled pink. So I want to thank everybody who voted in this year’s event, whoever they voted for; to thank as well all the nice people, beloved friends as well as total strangers, who sent me messages of congratulation and affection; and finally to thank the whole world of science-fiction fandom, which I have inhabited since before I quite reached my teens, and to which I will stop giving my allegiance when I stop breathing, but not before.
It was such a heartfelt message that it almost made made me rethink the next sentence. You see, I don't think he should have won the award. I don't even think he should have been nominated for it. He shouldn't even have been eligible for it because Fred Pohl is not a fan writer. He's a pro writing a blog for fun.

I'm sure there are plenty of people -- many of them Hugo Award voters, it seems -- who will disagree with me. They'd probably point out that Fred is writing his blog to share his love of science fiction. I wouldn't disagree with them. They'd probably point out that he's not getting paid for writing the blog. I wouldn't disagree with them, there, either. Despite agreeing with them on both points, I still do not accept the idea that Fred Pohl is a fan writer.

Fan writers have not made a living writing science fiction. Fan writers do not have Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. Fan writers are not, and never will be, named Grandmasters by SFWA. Fan writers will never be the pro guest of honor at a convention. That's because fan writers are fans; first, foremost, and only.

Fred's blog has links to his publishers and links to buy his books from Amazon. While his sales from those links are probably negligible, the entire blog serves as an ongoing advertisement for Pohl's work. I have no doubt he's sold at least a few novels as a result of his blog. I'm not saying that's the reason he does the blog, but the simple fact that he links to his work and makes it possible for you to click straight to Amazon shows that he's aware of the commercial implications.

Fan writers may have links to Amazon on their blog, but the links aren't for books they've written.

I think it's unfair to the other four nominees, none of whom has the name power to attract readers like Pohl's name does. Who knows how many Hugo Award voters had read none of the nominated fan writers and decided to vote for Pohl because they knew who he was. This may very well have been those other four nominees' one and only chance to win a major award. Pohl probably has major awards stuffed in boxes because he doesn't have room to display them all.

If George Lucas made a film in his backyard (I mean besides Episodes I, II, and III) would anyone seriously call it a fan film? Would anyone let him enter it in a fan film contest? If he was allowed to enter and won, would anyone seriously consider it to be fair that he was allowed to enter, much less win? And the answer to those questions is, "No." George Lucas is a professional film maker and can never be counted as an amateur again.

Dustin Hoffman could try out for summer stock theater and there's no doubt the troupe would be happy to have him. But they wouldn't consider him for any amateur acting award at the end of the season and rightly so. Hoffman is a professional, even if he works for free.

I believe those same rules should apply to Fred Pohl. I respect the body of work he's produced over the years and agree he deserves all but one of the honors he has won. He's a writer of science fiction who also is a fan of science fiction. But that doesn't make him a fan writer.

And I'd have thought Fred Pohl could have figured that out.
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