A Hugo for the StarShipSofa

September 2010 – Be warned: in this post I proudly join those quoted below in exploding past the sense of shame a normal person might feel when begging people to vote for them in a popularity contest! Fear not, science fiction fans – the future’s big enough for all of us. Anyway, hearty congratulations to StarShipSofa and all the other Hugo award winners and nominees. I look forward to reading (or, yes, listening to) those I haven’t already read.

As you might deduce from my recent reviews, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. I’ve discovered that the world of genre fiction podcasts is a happening place. These aren’t second-string stories: you can hear current work from good authors. Getting published in audio form on a popular podcast is getting published, period, if many authors’ bibliographies are any indication. Some podcasts, like Escape Pod, are even paying markets (modest though they may be). In short, what started as a way to pass time at the laundromat has blossomed into enthusiasm for the form, despite my occasional difficulty paying attention to the noise in my ears.

One podcast, StarShipSofa, is particularly special. It’s an “Audio Science Fiction Magazine” that features nonfiction articles, interviews, editorials, and other material in addition to the bedrock content of interesting stories. It’s all tied together by host Tony C. Smith, and produced with the help of a team of volunteers. It’s a community effort that keeps you abreast of what’s happening in the SF community.

For that reason, there is a grassroots campaign underway to get the StarShipSofa nominated for a 2010 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine.

Awards are just awards, but the reader-bestowed Hugo Awards really are a pretty big deal. A podcast has never been on the ballot for a Hugo in any category, but a growing number of StarShipSofa contributors and community members argue that the time is nigh to recognize the role shows like the Sofa play in sustaining the genre.

Amy H. Sturgis on the grounds for eligibility:

Technically speaking, electronic publications have always been eligible for the Hugos. The year 2009, however, brought two new and exciting developments for those of us who support new media: first, the audiobook METAtropolis […] was nominated for a Hugo in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, a first for a straight-to-audio production; and second, the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting ratified a constitutional amendment that added the words “or the equivalent in other media” to various Hugo Award category definitions, thereby formally acknowledging what had always been the case de facto, that electronic publications were eligible. [See here for a somewhat stodgier explanation of the pertinent amendment from WSFS representative Vincent Docherty.]

Larry Santoro on podcasts, readerships, and community:

The podcast communities echo the groups that gathered in the 20s and 30s around such figures as H.P. Lovecraft and pals. They are a shadow of the “Futurians,” a group of science fiction fans-cum-writers-cum-agents and editors-cum-publishers who formed the soul of the Golden Age of Science Fiction of the 40s. People such as Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Virginia Kidd, Judith Merrill, Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, James Blish, Jack Gillespie, Cyril Kornbluth and others were the Futurians. [The rhetoric I deployed in annoyance against certain old-school stories certainly does not apply to the rest of the era!]

Matthew Sanborn Smith on why the good ship and her crew deserve recognition:

One of the greatest programs out there comes together from all over the globe every single week because of nothing but love. And whether you’re a contributor or listener, you’re a part of that. If that’s not a fanzine, there’s no such thing as a fanzine. If the Sofa never wins an award it will still have achieved something unique in all of science fiction history: It will have been our home.

But let’s win an award anyway.

Robyn Bradshaw on the experience of enlisting with the StarShipSofa:

Before getting involved with StarShipSofa, I never read genre magazines or went to cons or anything – I just bought lots and lots of novels that I read quietly in my basement “and washed my hands afterwards” (to misquote Robert Heinlein).

Now I am writing promo blurbs, narrating short stories, doing audio reports, emailing/ blogging/ friending/ tweeting all over the place, and working on the show’s next book project.

Kind of makes you want to get involved. I’m not presently in a position to pony up the nomination dues, but I’m going to keep listening to the StarShipSofa, and perhaps one day I will wander down to the spaceport and ship out.

Posted on Saturday, February 20th, 2010. Tags: , .

17 Responses to “A Hugo for the StarShipSofa”

Posted by Robyn Bradshaw on Sunday, February 21st, 2010 at 8:29 AM.

Thanks so much for the support!

Posted by "Orange Mike" Lowrey on Monday, February 22nd, 2010 at 2:25 PM.

podcasting is the new gathering place for the fans? Oh,
really? Sez who? Do you remember that brief era when much of the
best SF text came out of Usenet newsgroups like rec.arts.sf.fandom
and rec.arts.sf.written? Some of us are actual readers,
mostly or completely text-oriented, and find podcasts
incomprehensible or merely annoyingly inaccessible. I would would
rather see an online “fanzine” win than a podcast, at least until
podcasters provide transcripts as a matter of course. Podcasting is
an audio-visual medium, and belongs with radio/TV/film content.
There is nothing with the concept of a new Hugo category for “Best
SF-Related Non-Fiction Audiovisual Material”; just don’t call it a
“fanzine” if it can’t be read.

Posted by Jim on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 at 1:47 AM.

Hi, Orange Mike! Thanks for sharing. I see you posted the exact same comment in a few other places, which is distasteful, but I’ll give an earnest answer to your cut-and-paste campaign statement.

Love is not a zero-sum game. My newfound appreciation for spoken SF detracts in no way from my deeper affinity for the written word. I do not remember Usenet science fiction groups because at the time I was busy checking out and reading great books from the library.

I readily grant that categorizing a podcast as a “fanzine” is a stretch. Shoehorning different media into the traditional Hugo rubric is problematic, although I think the amendment Amy describes dispels some doubt.

I maintain that the StarShipSofa warrants recognition, including for its role in “fandom”. I am, by my own incontrovertible and unabashed authority, a fan of science fiction, and I have learned of others fans, events, and trends in the genre via the podcast. QED.

Posted by Steve BIckle on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 at 7:23 PM.

I can’t read a book or magazine whilst driving, washing up, digging
the garden, fixing the blinds or during a myriad of other menial
tasks that don’t fully occupy the mind; but I can listen to
podcasts such as StarShopSofa, EscapePod, The Drabblecast or a
Podiobook. Because of this I’ve bought more SF books than I have
since I was a teenager. I’ve learned of fantastic new authors and
bought their works. Podcasts do not displace the written word they
complement the written word much like those paper fanzines used to.

Posted by Jim Mowatt on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 10:43 AM.

One of the things that worries me about this campaign is that none
of the other fanzines seem to be mentioned at all. Does this mean
that the people who intend to nominate Starship Sofa haven’t read
any of the other fanzines. If that is the case then why would you
consider Starship Sofa is the best fanzine? What makes it better
than, say, Journey Planet or Plokta? Have you assessed the field
and decided that this is the best one for a particular reason?
Maybe such an assessment has taken place but I haven’t seen the
evidence in any of the blog postings or Livejournal postings.

Posted by Jim on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 12:33 PM.

That’s a fair concern.

I can’t speak for other people, but my familiarity with traditional fanzines is limited – not because of disinterest or disdain, but because of lack of exposure. I discovered StarShipSofa and its community as a result of my own casual browsing, but Plokta or Journey Planet never came to my attention until now. Getting the word out is arguably a big part of being great. (That said, I will definitely check these out!)

The perception of stagnancy, be it deserved or not, is also a strike against some fanzines. For example, as far as I can tell, the last issue of Plokta came out about 8 months ago. I catch up with Tony and the ‘Sofa crowd once a week.

I am curious if this podcast-as-fanzine debate is indicative of some larger trend. Perhaps the set of people who consider themselves serious SF fans is growing from those who attend conventions (e.g. the Worldcon roots of Hugo voter eligibility) to the larger set of people whose participation takes place primarily online. The diversity of formats introduced by this change could be interpreted as dilution by folks who’ve been involved in fan culture all along.

What do you think?

Posted by Jim Mowatt on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 12:59 PM.

I would not dispute that SF podcasting is a lively and vibrant
area. I would not dispute that it is a fannish activity. I would
not dispute that there are many great SF podcasts. I’m listening to
Starship Sofa at this very moment and also enjoy Drabblecast,
EscapePod and Clarkesworld. I do wonder though, about whether SS is
a fanzine and whether it’s part of the world of fandom. There’s a
thriving commmunity called fandom which cherishes that community
and cherishes its fanzines, parties, conventions and ongoing
communication through Livejournal and Facebook. Along come some
people who cherish a whole bunch of different things and they say
we want one of those awards you have in your community. I’m glad
the debate is happening but it’s early yet and I have as yet no
solid opinion but my initial gut feeling is that it’s not the right
award for SS no matter what the new wording in the rules says. That
may change as I formulate a more considered opinion. I’m on a panel
at Odyssey in a few weeks time and that panel will be discussing SF
podcasts. It’ll be too late for nominations then but I do hope some
of the people who nominated Starship Sofa will be there and maybe
we could discuss it at the panel.

Posted by Jim on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 1:37 PM.

Again, I think it’s important not to interpret enthusiasm for what’s new as intent to rudely dismantle a cherished culture (applicable here and in general). But, as I acknowledged in my reply to Mike, I agree that it’s tough to fit a podcast into the current Hugo system. Is there a more appropriate award, or a workable way to create one?

Anyway, there aren’t really two mutually exclusive communities that value “a whole bunch of different things”, right? Everybody’s on the same team – we like science fiction, new ideas, and related discussion. So, maybe it would be helpful to ask what defines a fanzine: the payload, or the delivery mechanism? And if it is the media – text – then what is the common category for that sort of fiction+fact+opinion content?

Posted by Matthew Sanborn Smith on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 9:17 PM.

Hi Jims. Lots of good points here. Part of the reason we’re
campaigning for the Sofa is to see if it is even eligible for a
Hugo. Other great science fiction podcasts might not be perceived
as fanzines, but as semi-prozines, related works or what have you.
The case can’t go to court if no podcast gets enough votes to even
be noticed. And we choose StarShipSofa because we’re not going to
push for a podcast that we like less. As far as other fanzines go,
I like Ansible (which obviously doesn’t need a campaign) and I love
SF Signal, which I imagine is not considered a fanzine by many,
though it feels like one to me. I don’t think I’ve read other
fanzines. So some people may say I’m a weasel for saying the Sofa
is the best. I’m okay with that. I’m getting used to that. I’m
happy to check out others and I’ve bookmarked the ones that you’ve
mentioned. If it makes my detractors feel any better, I don’t get a
vote because I don’t have a membership. I’ve been told that a
person had to be a member before January 31st in order to nominate
anything. We began this campaign well after that date. The nominee
voting isn’t going to be overrun by mindless hordes streaming from
the Sofa’s cushions. And we hold no guns to any heads. We want
people to know that they CAN nominate the Sofa. We can’t force
anyone to do so. Yes, people can get memberships now and
participate in the final voting, but if the Sofa isn’t nominated,
there’s nothing to worry about. If the show gets enough votes the
Hugo lords might then decide it’s not eligible. And I encourage all
arguments for and against it so that people have some things to
think about if it comes to a ruling. From Jim Mowatts’ comments on
fandom I get the sense that he feels StarShipSofa fans have not
been science fiction fans or part of pure fandom. I assure you all
that StarShipSofa is not a cooking podcast or a fly-fishing
podcast. Nor does it have the power to make non-fans listen to it
in order to turn them. I’d imagine that most of us have been fans
of science fiction for many years and flocked to the show when we
discovered it. I would also imagine that anyone who is eligible to
nominate is somehow associated with one Worldcon or another and so
is probably a part of your crowd already. If that crowd doesn’t
support the show, it won’t vote for the show. Lastly, and to the
same comments on fandom, I have to say that there are thousands of
fans who don’t attend cons, or write to their favorite magazines,
or jump on forums or blogs. Those people are still fans. I’ve been
a fan for over twenty-five years and I never felt at home with a
group until I joined the StarShipSofa forums. There are hardcore
folks in science fiction fandom, folks who know everyone, hit cons
and join movements. These people don’t know who I am. They’ve never
seen me or heard of me. Nevertheless, I’m still a fan, because I
read science fiction stories and I like them. That’s all it takes
to be a fan. And there are thousands more outside of the center
just like me. If the show does get nominated and the unwashed
masses who bought memberships between February 1st and March 13th
put the Sofa on top, it won’t be put there by people who hate
science fiction. The people who hate science fiction have never
heard of the show or the Hugos and wouldn’t break step to spit in
our direction if they did hear about us. Only science fiction fans
are going to vote for the winner, whomever that may be.

Posted by Matthew Sanborn Smith on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 9:19 PM.

I really wish those paragraph breaks had held. Also, to Jim Mowatt,
I am very interested in that podcast of yours and will begin
downloading soon.

Posted by Jim on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 at 9:45 AM.

Sorry about the paragraph breaks – I’m not sure why that happens. If you or anyone else (Mike, Jim M.) care to specify where they should go, I’d be happy to add them.

Posted by Church on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 at 8:42 AM.

Y’know, this whole debate reminds me of the ‘is Wizard Rock Filk?’
question. Both in the obviousness of the answer, and the
territorial defensiveness of the fen.

Posted by Jim on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 at 9:56 AM.

Having never heard of wizard rock or filk, I was amused to see what that question was all about. I think the comparison is apt.

Posted by Grant Stone on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 at 8:27 PM.

So, if a podcast can’t be a fanzine, how come there’s at least one
podcast already listed on efanzines.com that’s been running since
2006? http://thevoicesoffandom.com/ From the page: Over the years,
Fanac (Fan Activities) has taken many forms and provided outlets
for creative expression and community participation within science
fiction fandom. TVoF is simply our high-tech attempt to keep up an
‘old family tradition’! Our contining ‘mission’ is to collect audio
interviews and audio clips, either newly recorded or historic
artifacts, spoken word or music, for the entertainment of
interested science fiction fans everywhere! The site includes rare
clips, interviews, stories of ‘fan history’, readings of fan
writings, music, filk room recordings and voices of fans in the
ongoing Fandom Oral History project. There’s also a link to a fan
photo gallery and a TVoF podcast too! WHY? Because it “sounds like
Science Fiction”… that’s WHY! So Voices Of Fandom is continuing
the old family tradition but other podcasts are not?

Posted by Jim Mowatt on Sunday, February 28th, 2010 at 5:14 AM.

Lots of good comments. I was talking to lots of people yesterday at
Picocon (small convention run by students at Imperial College,
London) and podcast listening in SF fandom is definitely on the
rise. More seem to listen to popular Science Fact shows than short
fiction though and many people still prefer to read words than
listen to them. I remember one person saying that he gets impatient
with stories being read aloud as they’re just too slow. It’s
fascinating how different people view different media. However,
Starship Sofa was mentioned several times and this is all to the
good. Fanzine Hugos were mentioned and many seemed to think there
should be a different category for podcasts and that even SF
podcasts should have many different categories. There’ll be a
podcast panel at this year’s Eastercon in London
http://www.odyssey2010.org/ which will be at the Tetworth room at
7pm on Friday night. I think the format at the moment is to pick 4
SF podcasts to talk about and then throw the discussion open to the
floor but I suspect we’ll also be discussing Starship Sofa and the
fanzine Hugo. I’ll be interested to hear what people think. Matthew
– I hope you enjoy my history podcast, Historyzine Kind regards Jim

Posted by Jim on Sunday, February 28th, 2010 at 9:31 AM.

We definitely live in interesting times for media. Podcasts aren’t a direct substitute for the written word; I can only really listen to them while engaged in the sort of chores Steve describes. Lately, I’ve found myself wanting to return to a few stories I’ve listened to, but to read them at my leisure. (In contrast to the person you met, I sometimes find spoken stories too fast to fully enjoy!)

I appreciate that you’ve had a chance to sample the opinions of some other fans. Ultimately, it is really up to the whole community to decide what floats or sinks where in fandom. I’ll be interested to hear more about your podcast panel!