2014 Aurora Related Things and Status Update: Table Flip Edition

I see that the CSFFA has sent around their 2014 Aurora notes/reminder e-mail. Although I could also have figured that out based on the sudden uptick in notifications and requests for additions to the 2013 lists. Incidentally, if you sent me something then I’ve added the information in. If you don’t see the information you wanted added to the list now up, then please ping me again (it means I probably didn’t get the e-mail you sent). And if the information you wanted added is up, but you haven’t heard back from me that’s because I just haven’t had time to respond to everyone right now. Largely because of the many things I’ve got on the go at the moment.

Speaking to same, 2013 is going to be the last year I compile the Aurora lists for. Though I will be leaving the site online. But between everything else I’m doing I simply don’t have the time to devote to this.

I’ve got my freelance work (i.e. my livelihood) to apportion sufficient time to. Three anthologies (possibly more if other pitches get picked up) to put together for 2015. The 2014 FoMSSC to manage and wrap up, and then the next iteration of the contest to start later in the year (and other volunteer activities related to the Friends of the Merril Collection as well). Review work. Also my own writing to give time to. And somewhere in there I’m trying to have an actual, you know, life.

Not to mention that, with the exception of anything tied to the Friends of the Merril Collection (and only occasionally the reviewing), all of the above activities generate some form of income. Running the CSFL does not. Also, compiling the CSFL means I spend more time checking qualifications of work rather than actually getting to read the majority of it, and also means I have to ignore and/or sideline a great deal of non-Canadian content during the year to do it. About which I am decidedly uncomfortable (exclusion or devaluation as a byproduct of promoting something else is still exclusion). And at this point I would rather be putting my energies elsewhere.

Oh, and I’m also pissed off with the CSFFA right now. And, I suppose, also with the ongoing, largely systemic issues inherent to the Aurora Awards themselves. Which are, in some ways, interrelated. Also partly discrete problems. It’s … messy.

Now, it is possible that some of you reading this are going “But what systemic issues?” (while many more of you already know exactly what I’m talking about). And I thought about answering that at length.

I considered doing a breakdown of the problems with the awkward, unnecessary, and badly balanced (also, from conversations, confusing to many) vote runoff system.

I considered discussing how the monetary disincentive to vote gathering/vote farming (i.e. the basis behind instituting a membership fee to join the CSFFA) is currently too low a threshold to actually prevent vote gathering/vote farming on the part of nominees (eligible or balloted).

I considered talking about the long standing issue of (largely regional) block voting and clique mentality that the Aurora nomination and voting system encourages, not least of all because the three major Canadian speculative communities are organized along East/Central/Western lines.

I considered pointing out that the often overly narrow focus on full genre SF/F/H disallows the inclusion of much more interesting (and often more diverse, see the PoC argument below) works from the Magic Realist, Surrealist, Interstitial, Fabulist, Fantastika, Weird, and New Weird communities active in Canadian fiction. Hell, even Horror often fairs quite badly because of that. And a large part of that is backlash against the perceived (largely idiotic) argument we claim between “genre” and “literary” fiction. The actual nature of the “divide” resides in the fact that there are deeply stupid and decidedly pretentious people on both sides of the purported divide. There are people in lit who are dismissive of genre, there are people in genre who are dismissive of lit. It is not systemic, neither is better than the other, and I am deeply tired of listening to a great many people whine like infants about why whatever movement they’re not tied to is apparently the devil in a seersucker suit come to devour their babies and undermine the magnificence of their work. They’re both fucking marketing categories, people. Speculative content doesn’t magically stop at the water’s edge, and many literary publishers produce work with speculative elements that we conveniently don’t note, or ignore because it’s not substantially genre enough. And the Aurora is reflective of that in that the Award has a troubled history with not looking too deeply beyond overtly “genre” work.

I considered, in light of points like the one above, discussing arguments like Matt Moore’s that for the Auroras to be taken seriously we need to take them more seriously, and redress those problems. Then decided it wasn’t worth it because there’s a damn good reason very few people take the Auroras seriously: First, the Award is horribly, disastrously broken, as I’m in the process of delineating. And, second, many of the people who vote for the Auroras (based on the ballots year to year) don’t read anywhere close to widely. And without the depth of the field taken into consideration, and diverse works ending up on the ballot, of course the Auroras look like a fan club for a pool of repeatedly nominated content creators.

I considered, then, discussing that the Auroras were a very narrow (and consequently false) representation of the state of Canadian speculative fiction. That they continued, largely, to represent old guard SF, with occasional bursts of clarity and wider vision. That the Auroras were occasionally looking at a fuller field, as the Sunburst, the ReLit, and other Canadian award structures at least try to do, but that the Aurora was ultimately failing. And, of course, the idea of communal vote by fanbase is very appealing, isn’t it? Except that I use the term fanbase advisedly. The Aurora voter base is, largely, equal parts critical, widely read voters, and equal parts narrowly voting True Fen. And, of course, everything else in between, because people, especially in groups, don’t actually fit comfortably into direct, perfectly equivalent ratios. Not in practice, anyway.

I considered, in light of the presence of True Fen (who have a habit of disparaging, shaming, or villainizing that which they decry) in that mix, rehashing my point that the No Award ballot is a useless, superfluous, and ultimately harmful function on the ballot, because a) True Fen will use it to downvote those things on the ballot that hurt the chances of their supported candidate(s) winning, and b) vindictive content creators (because we don’t have any of those in this country) who don’t make it onto the ballot will use it to sabotage the work of those who did. And now that we’ve covered the bulk of why the No Award function is harmful, why do I also say it’s superfluous? Because if you think nothing was worth nominating in a category you don’t fill anything in in it. If you think only X items were worth nominating in a category you fill in nothing below those. If you feel nothing is worth getting ranked beyond X items on the final ballot then you only rank up to X many. And the absurd argument that we need the No Award option because the Hugos have one is rooted in the fallacy that the Auroras are the Canadian equivalent of the Hugos. They’re not. The Auroras are much closer, in function and result, to the Stokers: the Auroras may not be possessed of an adjudicating panel, but they come with the Stoker’s millstone’s worth of larger problems (especially speaking to the issues around clique mentality, block voting practices, and vote gathering/vote farming).

I considered once again discussing the uneven distribution of categories, resulting in several discrete categories worth of work (critical/academic work, magazines, anthologies, and collections) all being forced to compete against one another. And how that was patently ridiculous. As is the argument against separating those categories out because it leaves too few items to vote on in each category. If you are really concerned about having too few items to vote on on the final ballot then lower the required vote threshold for inclusion from 5 down to 3 and expand the number of slots per category on the nominating form up to 5 from the current 3. Given the number of changes that have been made to other categories systematically (splittings/mergings/tweaks), it’s time to actually address some of the fundamental problems with the category divisions instead of the cosmetic ones.

I considered discussing how ridiculously fucking white the Auroras are from year to year. Obscenely so. And that one’s always the proverbial white elephant in the room, isn’t it?

Don’t think it’s an issue? Okay, let’s take take the 2013 awards (using works eligible from 2012), which is a representative year in terms of the numbers, as an example:

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– Oh, and so everyone can follow along, here’s the 2013 Aurora Results in Grids pdf again –

2013 Aurora results in grids

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[Edit: Deborah Linden pointed out, quite rightly, that I forgot to count Errol Elumir in the list of PoC content creators discussed below. So I've now accounted for Errol as well. Sorry about that, Errol :/ ]

[Edit (2): Derryl Murphy's comment below (part of which I'm holding off addressing here until some behind the scenes conversations are finished) had me re-examine the numbers I've used below. After doing so I realized that I had forgotten, when doing the original tallies, to account for duplications of nominees on the voting (short) and nominating (long form) ballots. This needs to be addressed, because when I do that, the numbers get both better, and worse:

The PoC/non-PoC gap shrinks slightly, sure. But only because accounting for duplicate names on the ballots means there are actually far fewer content creators represented on the ballot than the total number of nominations would suggest. The duplications of nominees occur because (many) content creators were nominated muliple times on the nominating ballot, and several content creators ended up with multiple nominations (sometimes in the same category) across the voting ballot.

So, in effect: an even smaller representation of the field is present on the nominating and voting ballots than just looking at the total numbers would suggest.

The duplications (counting the nominated item Helen Marshall withdrew in the Best Poem/Song category) break down as follows:

On the voting ballot, the following people had multiple nominations: Marie Bilodeau (2), Leah Bobet (2), GMB Chomichuk (2), Sandra Kasturi (4), Kari Maaren (2), Helen Marshall (5).

On the nominating ballot, the following people had multiple nominations (this list includes the numbers above in the voting ballot duplication tally): Kelley Armstrong (2), Renée Bennett (2), Marie Bilodeau (2), Leah Bobet (2), Graeme Cameron (2), Peter Chiykowski (2), GMB Chomichuk (2), Suzanne Church (2), Lar DeSouza (2), Susan Forest (2), Peter Halasz (2), Karl Johanson (3), Sandra Kasturi (4), Randy McCharles (3), Kari Maaren (2), Helen Marshall (7), Nina Munteanu (2), Stephen B. Pearl (2).

And, looking at the numbers below, I realize I actually missed a couple of people on the original count (miscounted shared nominations), so the numbers below get amended for that too:]

There were Out of 69 names 72 total nominees (counting all names individually where joint nominations occur) on the voting ballot (above the cutoff),. Accounting for duplications of nominated individuals, there were 62 total nominees, of whom were 4 5 were PoC: Alina Pete, Halli Villegas (shared nomination with Sandra Kasturi), Calvin D. Jim (shared nomination with Ace Jordyn and Renée Bennett), Errol Elumir (shared nomination with Deborah Linden), and Andrew Gurudata.

If we go by the long form version of the ballot (including all the nominated works that got 5 or more votes but didn’t get enough to be in the top 5, or 6 if tied, slots, and thus don’t appear on the voting ballot) there were then out of 144 names 146 total nominees. Accounting for duplications of nominated individuals, there were 119 total nominees, of whom 7 8 9 were PoC: add Nalo Hopkinson, Michelle Sagara, Hiromi Goto, and Xianny Ng (who shared her nomination with Sayata Gabbs and Theresa Frazao) to the above list.

(If I’ve missed anyone, please note that in the Comments below so I can amend the numbers.)

That is absolutely not reflective of the ratio of PoC to non-PoC spec content creators doing exceptional work in this country.

What it is reflective of is the way in which the Canadian spec communities (especially the SF community) are organized in terms of visible representation. North American SF/F/H communities have a long history of not making PoC content creators welcome. This particular brand of bullshit–numbers like the ones above–is the result. If you prioritize promoting the people you know, who happen to be white, because most if not all of your clique is white, you get awards ballots filled with white people. Shocking, I know.

Hell, off the top of my head, speaking from a perspective of purely critical evaluation, there are several PoC content creators whose 2012 work should have been on the ballot in place of a number of things that did make the final ballot. (And in several cases the people below did have their work represented on the long form nomination list.) They are, in no particular order:

Nalo Hopkinson
Michelle Sagara
Hiromi Goto
Amal El-Mohtar
Indrapramit Das
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I challenge you to look at any name on that list and say “Oh, no, their 2012 work wasn’t good enough to merit inclusion on the ballot over some of these other things that made it on there.” At which point you are lying, tragically, to yourself.

It is also possible that something from the other PoC writers who had work out in 2012 (of those who I remember having work out that year, but am not sure I got a chance to read), including Tony Pi, Karin Lowachee, Melissa Yuan-Innes, and Derwin Mak, among others, might well have been better suited to having work on the ballot than some of the things which made the cut.

And I’m not speaking without familiarity for the works in question that did make the ballot. I had already read/was familiar with many of the things on the nomination list when that was released. I then went and familiarized myself with everything else. And speaking, again, from a purely critical perspective (editor and reviewer caps firmly on, as it were; and possibly piled one atop another given that metaphor), there are several things from 2012 on the voting ballot that should never have been there in the first place.

And before anyone asks, no, I’m not going to name the works I’m talking about. I already feel bad enough saying that some of the things on there were not worthy of being there without actively shaming others. I mean, really. Even I have limits, people.

(Well, I’m comfortable being upfront about the fact that I don’t think that either I or Ron should have been eligible in the Best Fan Related Work category for our services in aid of the Award itself–which is part of a larger point, and I’ll go into it not too far below.)

I considered talking about all those things. And more.

But the truth of the matter is I just don’t fucking care anymore. For two (three?) years I have tried to help promote the Auroras, and bolster the idea of communal involvement in awarding exceptional work its proper due. I love communal involvement, and I love helping garner exposure for fantastic, challenging, or otherwise worthwhile work, so it made sense to jump into this with both feet. But the system remains broken, and there seems to be very little intention of fixing the underlying problems with it.

And, you know, in many ways the straw that broke the camel’s back for me regarding this was when I was talking with Cliff Samuels (the current Aurora Award Administrator) right around the time the 2013 nominating ballots had been tabulated and the voting ballot was being assembled.

And before we get any further into that point, you need to understand how the CSFL began, and my original position on having it be eligible for anything. So, for those who don’t know, I started the original version of the CSFL (on the FoMSSC website) after the Canadian SF database had been having problems for a matter of several months and people weren’t able to update their own work for inclusion on the list. So the CSFL began, much as I tried to expand its purview later, as a way of aiding the Aurora Awards process.

Now, when I first put together the list, I didn’t think it would be appropriate for it to be nominated for anything, and I was at that point trying to figure out if the Sol Rising newsletter should be, and how. And the newsletter did, in fact, turn out to be eligible, and that was all well and good. And then as time went by I was talking with people and the consensus seemed to be that the list was so much work that why shouldn’t it be eligible? Sentiments that were well-intentioned, but that glossed over the fact that doing this in support of the Award made being recognized for that more than a little nepotistic (by which I mean that I do not think that, ultimately, it was appropriate for the CSFL to be nominated for an Aurora, nor for the voter package work to be so, nor even for the Aurora pin design to be eligible for an Aurora). That first year, the list turned out to be too new to actually end up being eligible, so that was fine. And it came down to whether or not it was eligible for the 2013 balloting, by which point I was looking at the thing in the light of “Well, I’ve done all this work. Maybe it would be nice to be up for an award for it?” And I was at that point actively saying to others “So, this thing I’m doing is eligible if you want to nominate it.”

Sometimes I don’t think these things through as thoroughly as I should.

Because, of course, by that point Cliff and I had had a fair number of phone calls talking about the Aurora Award, the material on it, the structure, and possible changes to it, as well as my concerns with aspects of it, and related discussions. So I was, in effect, having indirect input into the Award itself. And, as it later turned out, enough nominations had come through on the 2013 nominating ballots that the CSFL ended up on the voting ballot.

Which leads us back to the phone call I had with Cliff about that. See, the first thing Cliff said to me during that phone call, right after letting me know that the CSFL was nominated in the Best Fan Related Work category, was that Cliff was hoping Ron Friedman (who had, for two years running at that point, put together the Aurora voter package with all the sample/full material) would win the Aurora for the category because Ron was joining the CSFFA board the next year (2014) and so wouldn’t be eligible for the nomination for doing it again. [Edit (3): According to an e-mail sent by Cliff, subsequent to this post, Ron has been on the CSFFA board since 2012, which makes me think that Cliff meant someone else was joining the board in 2014 and said Ron's name by mistake, since we were just talking about him.] 

Now, you can take that as you want. But I heard that as “The awards are pretty much there to hand out to whoever we want as long as it’s not an important category, right? Because that person did nice work for us, even if there’s a clear conflict of interest in the offing. And wouldn’t it be nice if that recognition could happen before it becomes, you know, an actual conflict of interest, as opposed to just a philosophical one.”

Said conflict of interest also applying, properly, to me and the work I did in aid of the Aurora Award re the CSFL. Which made me, when the time came, very happy that I did not win an award for doing so. Though if I’d thought about it fully enough at the time I should have just, during that phone call, told Cliff I was denying the nomination. But I didn’t think of that option then.

Incidentally, re Ron receiving the Aurora Award in that category, no, I’m not calling foul on the voting process, in case that’s what some of you are wondering. My problem lies with the principle of the thing. And with the larger issue it speaks to. That sense that Matt, and others, have articulated that only a small number of people take the Auroras seriously. Which is true. Things like this, are why. Not because we, the voters, do not take it seriously (though we don’t), but because the CSFFA does not treat it like a serious award.

So why should anyone else?

Despite having said all of that, there is more I could go into. I haven’t done a full breakdown of the numbers this year (the ones represented in the results grid above) because it’s just too depressing. As usual, it shows that a lack of clarity in how nomination preferences (are supposed to) work hurt potential nominees. As well as highlighting very clearly the diversity gap in the Auroras. And the vote runoff system is a bloody nightmare.

If anyone wants to take those numbers and run with them, go for it. The results grid is meant to be spread around.

So, the end result of all this rambling?

I will not be supporting the Auroras with my money (I will not be re-upping my membership in the CSFFA this year), and will consequently have no involvement in the nomination or voting process this year. I will refuse any Aurora nomination for my own work (in any capacity), so please do not nominate me for anything so you don’t waste your vote if you’re participating in the 2014 Auroras. And the CSFL will remain online, and I will continue to amend/update 2013 works so that there is information for those who do wish to participate in the Auroras this year.

Now, those are all personal decisions. I’m not calling for the dismantling of the Aurora Awards. I’m saying they need to get their shit together. And until they do I am removing myself from any involvement with them.

Frankly, I would very much like the Aurora to be fixed. I’m just tired of trying to be part of that process (externally, I grant you) and seeing nothing get done. At this point the Auroras probably need a complete overhaul. And I’m not sure that would be a bad thing. The system is so hopelessly broken, and so easily abused, that perhaps a global reset is the best answer at this point. I don’t know.

I leave that to those of you who wish to enter or remain in the fray.

I also leave you with the Epic Tea Time With Alan Rickman video, from David Michalek’s Portraits in Dramatic Time project. Because you were all nice enough to listen through that rant. The video is highly appropriate to the tone of the post. And Alan Rickman is, as ever, awesome, and really a rather marvelous note to end any argument on.

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