The Curious Incident of the Novelette and the Hugo Ballot

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

Something hinky happened with the Hugo Awards Best Novelette category this year.

The committee responsible for one of Science Fiction literature’s top awards decided to contravene both the award’s rules and its precedent to disqualify Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” from consideration, without even telling her.

The Hugo Awards are basically the Oscars of Science Fiction literature. They’re awarded every year at WorldCon, and administered under the rules of the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution. WorldCon members are eligible to nominate Science Fiction or Fantasy stories that appeared for the first time during the previous year, and the five stories in each category to receive the most nominations appear on the Hugo ballot. (More on the voting process here).

Last year, Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” appeared in’s RIP-OFF! Anthology, which was an audiobook. In February 2013, she posted the text of the story, exactly as it was turned in to Audible, on her website (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet, it is freaking awesome and you should probably have it in your life. Go ahead and read it. The rest of this post will still be here when you get back).

When all of the Hugo nominations for the novelette category were tallied up, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” came in third (see the vote breakdown on page 20 of the 2013 Hugo Awards Statistics Report).

And here’s where things get weird. The story clearly had enough nominations to make the ballot. But the award committee decided to declare the story “Ineligible as the 2012 work was an audiobook.”

Well, let’s have a look at what the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution has to say about eligibility:

Section 3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.

So far, so good–The Lady Astronaut of Mars appeared for the first time in an anthology in 2012. Let’s look at the Novelette category:

3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.

My word processor clocks The Lady Astronaut of Mars in at 8,035 words. Definitely a novelette.

The category rules don’t say the words must be published in print format, and nether do the general rules. They say the work must ‘appear for the first time’ in the year prior to the year in which it is nominated. Going by that, it’s pretty clear that audiobooks are eligible to be nominated in the story categories. In fact, the Hugo Awards website clearly says, in reference to e-book eligibility: “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.”

There are these two sections of the general rules concerned with moving works from one eligible category to another:

3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

3.2.10: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a dramatic pre sentation work into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is ne cessary, provided that the length of the work is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category boundary.


(1) The fact that they wrote one rule for moving stories and a separate rule for moving dramatic presentations rather suggests that they didn’t mean for stories to be moved into Dramatic Presentation, or vice versa; and more importantly:

(2) Audiobooks have previously been declared eligible in the story categories. When the Audible anthology METAtropolis came out in 2008, John Scalzi (who edited the anthology and had a story in it) was told that while the entire anthology was eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, the individual stories within it were eligible in the Novella category. Including his novella, “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.”

If disqualifying her pretty-obviously-eligible work wasn’t bad enough, they decided not to give her a chance to make a case for its eligibility–or even tell her at all.

Instead, they left her to find out at a party after the awards.

That’s right: they disqualified her story from consideration for one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, and left her to find out about this on awards night, in front of a room full of people.

What, were they afraid she’d make a scene?

Even if they had done the right thing and talked to her privately, that would still leave the question: what makes Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” different from John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis?”


I wonder.

I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman. I am saying that I don’t believe for one second they would have treated John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the genre’s other well-known white men this way.


Kowal has her own writeup of the incident here, including the emails she exchanged with the committee about this.

Also, based on the comments sitting in moderation, it’s time to remind folks that we have a comment policy. I specifically want to draw attention to our policy on comments that add nothing to the conversation.

46 thoughts on “The Curious Incident of the Novelette and the Hugo Ballot

  1. Mishell Baker

    Not to spoil a good rant, but doesn’t that mean Elizabeth Bear’s story from that anthology would have been eligible that year as well?

    I’m not saying sexism doesn’t exist in SF&F, but I don’t think this is a particularly good example of it. I agree that what was done to Mary was beyond inappropriate, but I’m not sure that calling this sort of thing sexism from a sample of two, especially when the other example also includes a woman’s work, and (unless I’m confused) the award was won by a woman and the category dominated by women this year.

    I think this reveals more about attitudes toward audio than attitudes toward women, and even that is hard to prove from the samples given.

    1. Annalee Post author

      So funny story.

      Back when I was in college, I spent some time doing Quaker plain dress. Skirt, bonnet, the whole nine yards.

      On my way home for the holidays once, I ended up in line at airport security behind a woman in hijab. The TSA agent watching the line told her she’d have to take her hijab off.

      Hearing this, I started taking off my bonnet.

      The TSA agent then leaned around her to tell me that I was okay to leave my bonnet on.

      We both stopped and glared.

      The TSA agent, realizing what they’d just been caught out doing, waved us both through with our hair coverings intact.

      The moral of this story is that privileged people can sometimes provide a shield to less privileged people by making the discrimination obvious and eliminating plausible deniability.

      But my bonnet story is a case of someone who was clearly, actively trying to discriminate against someone else, which isn’t what I think happened here. I think that when the question of METAtropolis’s eligibility arose, Scalzi was the public ‘face’ of that question–just like I became the face of how women in religious dress should be treated at airport security. And in both cases, our privilege came into play.

      I also want to be clear that when I say I don’t think they would have treated a white male author this way, I’m referring both to disqualifying the work and to not communicating that decision to the writer.

      I obviously can’t say for sure that the committee actively decided to let her find out the way she did because they feared her reaction, but it does play rather neatly into a sexist-as-hell meme embedded in our societal consciousness that says that people should give women bad news in public places, to embarrass us out of throwing a tantrum. I really don’t think they would have done that to Scalzi.

    2. Todd Dashoff

      As Hugo Administrator, let me state from the outset that the decision with regard to Mary’s work was in no way related to her sex or any other personal quality. It was made, after discussion with the other members of the Subcommittee, solely on the basis of the fact that Mary’s website stated that “I think it should be an interesting technically because _I wrote it for audio, not print_. Because I also work as a narrator, I’ve become aware of what is easy to read and what is not. I chose to write this in first person, more specifically, I wrote as though I were writing a monologue for stage.

      I kept my cast of characters small and tried to have no more than three characters in a scene, since I think it is hard for audiences to distinguish more voices than that. Even on Writing Excuses, where there are four different people, it’s sometimes hard to tell which of the guys is talking.

      I also have no dialog tags. At all. And I wrote this at the top of the manuscript.

      Note to reader and director. _Because this is audio, please cut all the lines in brackets unless you need them to distinguish characters. I put them in to attribute dialogue lines where I thought there would be some ambiguity or, occasionally, as stage directions for how I’d like a line read.” _ (emphasis mine, to illustrate the reasons behind our decision)

      In addition, the text version of the work did not appear until February 2013, on Mary’s website. Based on this we felt that the work as presented in 2012 more properly belonged in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form category, and we would have declared it a valid nominee in that category had there not been other items which received more nominations. It is not the practice of the Hugo Subcommittee to publicize decisions in advance of the post-con report; for example, we did not publicize that Game of Thrones declined a nomination in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category in favor of a nomination for “Blackwater” in the BDP – Short Form category, for which they won a Hugo.
      It is my _personal_ opinion that the written work as published in 2013 would be eligible for a Hugo next year in the appropriate length category, but I am not the Administrator for Loncon 3, and he will have to make his own decision based on the results of the nominations at that time. To reiterate, this was an edge case, and the decision was made only after consultation among all members of the Subcommittee. I would welcome further clarification of the eligibility of works that first appear in non-print form from the membership of WSFS; I note that the previous instance did not involve reclassification and was the opinion of a third Administrator.


      Todd Dashoff, Hugo Administrator, LoneStarCon 3

      1. Peter Ahlstrom

        Did you determine that because of the things you cited above, The Lady Astronaut of Mars was not a novelette? As the version she published on her website was exactly the same as the version that was made into the audiobook, why would publishing it on her website suddenly make it a novelette?

        If it is a novelette, it should have been eligible as a novelette.

        1. Tom Galloway

          You didn’t read what Todd wrote. The audio version of the work first appeared in 2012. That made it eligible for the Hugos awarded in 2013. The printed words version on Mary’s website did not appear until 2013. Things that first appear in 2013 are eligible for the 2014 Hugos.

          Todd states that in his personal opinion, since he is not repeating his role as Hugo Administrator, it should be eligible as a novelette for the awarded in 2014 Hugos. I infer that had it gone up on the website in 2012, it would’ve been eligible for the 2013 Hugos. But it will be up to Dave McLarty, the admin for the 2014 Hugos, to make the actual decision on that.

      2. Jon Marcus

        Mr. Dashoff,

        I believe I understand your (the committee’s) decision-making process. I disagree with it, but I don’t think it’s black-and-white either way, and believe it was made in good faith.

        What I don’t understand, and have not seen addressed, is why this decision was never communicated to Mary. This lack of communication seems to me both opaque and thoughtless. Those concerns have been raised here, in Mary’s emails to you, and in other places on the web, but have yet to be acknowledged, let alone addressed. I hope that will change.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal

          I just dropped by to read this, and I’m more confused now. It sounds here as though the trouble was with my intent when writing.

          But the email Mr. Dashoff sent to me seems to indicate that they thought the contentwas different.

          When the nominations were received, the subcommittee went back and looked at the website and your comments, which included the statement that the ORIGINAL item had included stage directions for how to present the various characters in the story. The printed version that appeared in (if I remember correctly) February 2013, which we suspect many nominators saw before submitting their choices, did not contain these directions. Since for the purposes of eligibility at LoneStarCon 3 the eligible item is the Audible presentation, we felt that the additional stage directions made it a different work from the story that was printed on the website and more correctly should have been located in the Best Dramatic Presentation category.

          (The text was exactly the same, minus two stage directions, [Dorothy as child] and [snorted].)

          So is the determining factor authorial intent or content?

      3. Meg

        No one is saying you *purposefully* treated her work differently because of her gender. However, they are suggesting that when the same situation came up with a male author a different determination was made in part because he was shown extra respect. Respect that you didn’t give to her.

        Intention has nothing to do with whether there is gender bias.

        1. Tom Galloway

          No, the report doesn’t say that the Admins decided where GoT went last year. It says, for the episodes that got enough nominations to make BDP-SF “[Ineligible – Nominated in Long Form]”. That could mean the Admins decided that. It could also mean that, like this year, they asked George and this year’s Admin happened to use a more specific phrasing (since if they did ask and George accepted the Long Form, the episodes became ineligible for Short Form).

          I strongly believe the Admins saw these two situations as completely different. In GoT’s case, it was “which of two categories, which it is potentially eligible in both and got enough nominations in both to make the ballot, does GoT go into” [note: I actually disagree with this. Barring a significant format change vis a vis how the story is told, I think once a series is in LF or SF it should stay there. But that’s a ruling in and of itself].

          In LAoM’s case, a decision was made that it wasn’t in the correct format for the (written, at least for everything that has ever made the ballot) fiction categories and so was only eligible in BDP-SF. There was never any question that GoT was in Dramatic Presentation, just whether it was a small apple or a big apple. LAoM was being considered as orange to apple, with the written fiction category the orange.

          The point being, you can agree or disagree with either decision. But, in my opinion, they were made and carried out for very different reasons and trying to conflate the two is irrelevant.

      4. Susan H

        It is not the practice of the Hugo Subcommittee to publicize decisions in advance of the post-con report; for example, we did not publicize that Game of Thrones declined a nomination in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category in favor of a nomination for “Blackwater” in the BDP – Short Form category, for which they won a Hugo.

        Mr. Dashoff, could you please clarify this statement? As I read it you have made it clear that you do not wish to PUBLICIZE decisions in advance — yet you must have spoken, at least privately, to someone able to “decline a nomination” for Game of Thrones in a specific category. So the committee, while not speaking publicly, set precedent of being able to speak privately to nominees.

        Why, then, did you or your committee not speak, privately, to Ms. Kowal before making this matter public?

        I am not asking you to address the validity of declaring the work ineligible; I am asking why you are willing to speak to SOME nominees privately, but not others.

        1. Tom Galloway

          Because the administrator(s) are required to contact whoever makes the final ballot as to whether they accept the nomination. In the particular case with George this year, since a work can’t be on the ballot in more than one category, he had to withdraw at least one of the two nominations.

          My assumption is that since Mary’s story was judged to be eligible for Dramatic Presentation-Short Form and it didn’t have enough nominations to make the ballot in that category, there was no requirement to notify her. Once ruled ineligible for the written category, the story was no longer (or, depending on when the decision was made, never was) on the ballot.

        2. Susan H

          (I’m trying to reply to Tom Galloway at 3:01, but there is no reply box in his comment)

          Tom Galloway
          on 2013/09/11 at 3:01 pm said:
          Because the administrator(s) are required to contact whoever makes the final ballot as to whether they accept the nomination. In the particular case with George this year, since a work can’t be on the ballot in more than one category, he had to withdraw at least one of the two nominations.

          My assumption is that since Mary’s story was judged to be eligible for Dramatic Presentation-Short Form and it didn’t have enough nominations to make the ballot in that category, there was no requirement to notify her. Once ruled ineligible for the written category, the story was no longer (or, depending on when the decision was made, never was) on the ballot.

          Mr. Galloway, are you now speaking for Mr. Dashoff? Were you on the Hugo Subcomittee this year? Are you speaking from your direct knowledge of this incident in your statements above?

        3. Tom Galloway

          Note that the second paragraph of my comment starts with the words “My assumption is…”. I stand by that.

          The first paragraph refers to factual matters; the WSFS Constitution (which governs the Hugo Awards) states:

          Section 3.9: Notification and Acceptance. Worldcon Committees shall use reasonable efforts to notify the nominees, or in the case of deceased or incapacitated persons, their heirs, assigns, or legal guardians, in each category prior to the release of such information. Each nominee shall be asked at that time to either accept or decline the nomination. If the nominee declines nomination, that nominee shall not appear on the
          final ballot.

          Interestingly, another part states:

          3.8.2: The Worldcon Committee shall determine the eligibility of nominees and assignment to the proper category of works nominated in more than one category.

          This is a bit tricky with respect to Dramatic Presentation, as opposed to the written fiction categories. Given that something was nominated both as a series telling a single serialized story (with perhaps some extra points for being the adaptation of a single novel) and as an individual episode within that series, in the two separate BDP categories, it would appear that one option would’ve been for the Admin to make the decision as to whether GoT should go in Long Form (in which case individual episodes aren’t eligible in Short Form) or in Short Form, in which case the series isn’t eligible in Long Form. On the other hand, it’s also reasonable for the Admin’s decision to be “Let George decide which one he wants in vis a vis which nomination he opts to accept”. Personally, I disagree with the decision made for not relevant to the discussion reasons, but something related to that is why I will almost certainly never be asked to be the Hugo Admin.

        4. Susan H

          Let’s not get too far off track here. I don’t think this is the place to debate Hugo rules, and in my initial response to Mr. Dashoff I was explicit that I did not want to “address the validity of declaring the work ineligible”.

          While I would like to hear from Mr. Dashoff or someone on the committee, let’s look at your points now.

          You have cited a rule that requires the committee to notify nominees.

          You have not cited one that says they can not speak to potential nominees about issues.

          I do not see such a rule in the WSFS constitution.

          AND from Mr. Dashoff’s statement they appear to have spoken to the GoT nominees (in an apparently borderline case) to choose what category they would be in. Why did they not speak to Ms. Kowal?

          (As a note, if you read the 2012 Hugo report, it appears that that committee declared the GoT single episodes ineligible in Short Form and moved the season as a whole to Long Form. No note there about the GoT folks declining one in favor of the other; a committee decision).

          The appearance here is that some nominees in questionable circumstances got spoken to ahead of time. Another one did not. Why?

        5. Tom Galloway

          Again, my assumption as to why they contacted George and didn’t contact Mary boils down to this.

          GoT made the ballot. After doing the nomination count that determines what’s on the ballot, the Admin is required to contact the people *who made the ballot* as to whether they accept or decline the nomination.

          A decision was made that Mary’s story did not qualify as a written fiction work, but did qualify in Dramatic Presentation – Short Form. It did **not** have enough nominations to make the ballot in DP-SF. Thus, the story was *never on the ballot*. You’re presumably thinking that getting enough nominations in a fiction category to be on the ballot put her on the ballot. It didn’t, any more than if the GoT episode had gotten enough invalid nominations in, say, Best Novella, to otherwise make the ballot in that category. Since the work was considered ineligible for the category, those nominations don’t put it on the ballot.

          To be concise; GoT: Made the ballot. Admins required to contact. LAoM: Never made the ballot. Admins not required to contact.

        6. Susan H

          You’re presumably thinking that getting enough nominations in a fiction category to be on the ballot put her on the ballot.

          No, I am not thinking that, and I will thank you to not make presumptions that imply I haven’t paid attention to the process and gone and looked at the rules and records.

          Nothing is on the ballot until it gets enough votes in an appropriate category (subject to being moved under 3.2.9 and 3.2.10) and the committee rules it valid (3.8.2).

          You, earlier, said that GoT could only be in one category. It was not “on the ballot” until it was put into one category. It appears the committee ASKED the nominee what category it should be in.

          This came up for GoT in 2012 and the published report ( shows the committee ruled it ineligible in Short Form. So it was only on the ballot in Long Form. It was not “declined in favor of…” as was the case for this year.

          This year the committee appears to have ASKED and let the GoT nominee state what category the work belonged in. So again, I ask the COMMITTEE: why wasn’t this done for all borderline nominees?

        7. Annalee Post author

          Mr. Galloway,

          Susan H asked Mr. Dashoff a question, and since he’s already commented here, he’s clearly capable of answering it for himself if he wants to.

          Since I’ve spent all week being told to stop making assumptions about him that I’m not even making (namely that he’s some kind of mustache-twirling woman-hater who did what he did because he was trying to get one over on Kowal in the name of, I don’t know, cooties), I hold you and everyone else here to not making assumptions about him either. If he wants to answer Susan H’s question, he can do so himself.

          You’ve been doing a lot of presuming in this thread about what other people are thinking/reading/understanding, and I’ve already asked you to stop once. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to anyone else’s.

        8. Todd Dashoff

          The same work cannot be nominated in two categories. Since the nominated G o T episode is part of the entire season, we were required to ask the nominee (in this case George, who consulted with the others involved in production) which of the two items he wished to keep on the ballot. He selected the individual episode. Thus the report of nominations notes that the nomination in BDP-L was declined, and the item getting the next highest vote total was moved up to the last place on the ballot.

          We are required to ask _nominees_ if they accept their nomination(s); some have in the past declined to have a work on the ballot. Seanan McGuire had two (different) works on this year’s ballot in the same category; she was within her rights to decline one or both of them, depending on how she felt they would affect her chances to win.

  2. Lisa Geoffrion

    Has this kind of thing happened before? I mean, someone, anyone, being disqualified for a Hugo without being notified? And who made this decision? What do they have to say about it?

    The fact that audiobook stories have been previously been judged eligible makes this whole issue a no-brainer. WTF, Hugo judges?

  3. Annalee Post author

    Just to be clear, because I’m seeing some comments on twitter about how I’m making this all about gender, here are the issues I see here, in descending order of importance:

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal got robbed of a Hugo nomination.

    2. She got robbed in an opaque way that prevented anyone from finding out until it was too late to fix it.

    3. The particular way they handled the situation–by which I mean not telling her at all–was extremely disrespectful, and it was a particular kind of disrespect that is more often leveled at women than men.

    Regarding the issue of audiobooks more broadly, I think it would behoove the World Science Fiction Society to make a clear ruling regarding their eligibility, so that one Hugo Committee isn’t deciding one way and the next committee another way. Given that the current rules seem to favor them being in the story category, and that allowing them to be eligible separately as stories and as dramatic presentations would open a gigantic can of worms that no one wants on their plate, I think they should rule in favor of eligibility.

  4. Christopher J Garcia

    I agree, they should have at least told Mary that she would have made the ballot but was ruled ineligible in the category. I don’t know of a case of something being ruled ineligible before the nominee being informed, so this might be the first time. I do know of times when a nominee has been asked wether or not their work was eligible for a particular year, but not a case like this.

    Will it be considered as a written work for 2013? I’ll nominate it (I really enjoyed it once I read it!) and the administrator will have to make a decision, and I’m betting it will be towards it being eligible as a written work in 2013.

  5. Sean Wallace

    As someone who publishes a series of year’s bests anthologies for almost six years now, we initially had this issue some years ago but ours is not the year’s bests audio selections, it’s simply the year’s bests, regardless of venue or format. So, for example, Rich Horton did reprint a story or two from Rip-off! for this year’s volume, covering last year, and I’ve done the same in the past. I’m a little surprised that in this instance that Mary’s story would be disqualified, when the category is for the best novella, with no distinction as to venue or format, when the rest of the field, including Nebula Awards, year’s bests anthologies, and more, have already tackled this and move on . . . ?

  6. Laura

    I know the members of the committee and I can tell you that they treat everyone fairly including white men especially since several members of the committee do not fall into that category. I feel your article has many valid points, but your comment about the issue being a racial/gender issue is wrong and insensitive to the race/gender of the committee members.

    This issue should not happen again and I am glad it was brought to light so WSFS can take steps to fix it. However, I don’t feel we should make claims against a group of people especially since there is no proof that Mary’s race or gender had anything to do with this.

    1. Annalee Post author

      As I said in the original post, I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman.

      At no point do I think the committee sat down and said “well, if Patrick Rothfuss were in this situation, we’d approve it, but since it’s Mary Robinette Kowal, we won’t.”

      But these issues have an insidious habit of crawling into our brains and changing the way we look at things without us even realizing it. Women are not immune to this. People of Color are not immune to this. It’s very difficult to fight against, and even if we’re trying really hard, we will all occasionally mess up.

      I look at the way this was handled, and I see connections to a larger system and pattern of behavior in our society. That doesn’t require anybody cackling to themselves about how they’ll show those uppity women. It’s just a series of little choices.

      Like not paying Kowal the respect of looking her in the face and telling her she was removed from the ballot, when a few years prior, John Scalzi, in the exact same situation, was preemptively qualified before he was even nominated.

  7. NickPheas

    Pretty much agree with everything Annalee says. I’m not convinced that sexism played a direct part, it’s unprovable. Had there been a Neil Gaiman story in the same state, then would it have been similarly rejected? We’ll never know.

    Still: If I read this correctly the story was nominated and appeared on the ballot. And then Todd (and others) changed his mind about whether it should have been on the ballot, whether people who had voted for it in good faith should have been offered that choice. If so then that’s just plain dropping the ball. The time to look over the nominations and make sure that they comply with all the rules if before the ballot is published.

    And the comparison between “A nominee decided to decline the nomination” and “We decided to only let someone know that her apparently valid nomination had been squelched in a big room in front of all her friends, when she’d got a special frock for the occasion” (I’m guessing about the frock) is kind of feeble.

    1. Tom Galloway

      You read it incorrectly. The Hugo process goes like this;

      1) Nomination period. Worldcon members fill out a form where they can list up to five nominees for each category.

      2) Nomination processing period. That year’s Hugo administrator counts the nominations. S/he also tosses out any obviously wrong nominations; say, Star Trek: Into Darkness as Dramatic Presentation Short Form or as Novella, etc. If I were doing it, I’d put questionable, non-obviously wrong, nominations off to the side to see if they need to be thought about. For example, if the audiobook only got 2 nominations, it’s not going to make the ballot anyway, so why worry about it?

      After doing a count, and checking it, you have a ballot with (usually*) five choices in each category. Now I’d consider the questionable cases, with the first consideration being “Could this affect the ballot”? If not, toss it. Otherwise, make a decision. You now have to contact the nominees as to whether they want to accept the nomination (nominees have been withdrawn in the past). If something’s withdrawn, bump up the next highest nominee (usually*), and check with that nominee if they want to accept. Note that nowhere in the process nor the WSFS Constitution does it say word one about notifying about an ineligible work or that a work didn’t make the ballot.

      3) Send out ballots.

      4) Count filled in ballots via preferential system.

      5) Give out Hugos

      6) Publish stats on how many nominations works received, the vote history in the various final ballot rounds. what other works received a reasonably substantial number of nominations, what nominations were declined, etc. Since the work was not on the ballot, I’d guess that Mary expected to see it at this point listed with works that didn’t get enough nominations to make it on. So while it was a surprise to her that the audio version had been ruled ineligible, she presumably was expecting to see it in the list of non-final ballot nominees. I don’t see either as shameful.

      *Usually, since there could be a tie for the fifth slot (I’m sure there’s been a year when a fiction category had 7, maybe eight). There’s also a rule that to make the final ballot, a work must get at least 5% of possible nominations. So if 100 people nominated for, say, Best Short Story and only 3 stories had 5 or more nominations, only those three would be on the ballot…which happened this year.

        1. Tom Galloway

          You realize that items have been withdrawn in the past, and the next item in line (if it qualified under the 5% rule and if it wasn’t a tied for fifth item being withdrawn) was bumped up on the ballot in each case.

          i.e. Not just the way I’d do it, but what, y’know, *actually happens*.

        2. Philip Weiss

          You were arguing that someone read the process incorrectly. Now you are arguing that the administrators don’t actually follow the rules.

          I’m sure you’ll understand why that doesn’t actually mollify everyone who is concerned that the Hugo administrators decided to not follow the rules with respect to Ms. Kowal’s story.

        3. Tom Galloway

          Philip; you either have no clue, or you are deliberately misreading what I wrote and conflating separate points. I decline to continue playing that game with you.

        4. Annalee Post author

          I think it’s clear that the Hugos, like many other awards, are run on a combination of rules and precedent. I’m positing that in this case, both were violated. So the fact that bumping people up when someone is disqualified is precedent rather than rule is a bit of a red herring.

          That said, comments that start with ‘you didn’t read,’ or ‘you have no clue’ are usually found to be in violation of our comment policy. I’ve been allowing comments on this post that are as blunt as the original post, provided they add to the conversation. But at this point I think it’s time for folks to move along from this particular subthread.

          (Edit to add, just to be perfectly clear: you’re over the line, Mr. Galloway. Further comments implying that people who disagree with you are being willfully obtuse or are not reading will be deleted, and your last one is only staying up because I want to be transparent about the fact that I messed up and let it stand).

  8. Sean Wallace

    Can you delete my second duplicate post, the one in moderation, along with this one? :)

    1. Annalee Post author


      I trashed your duplicate :). Sorry for the technical difficulties today.

  9. EROSE

    I think the mere fact of this debate (and others of this kind) is clearly justified by the fact that so few people seem able to tell the difference between a nuanced question and “this is because she’s a woman.”

    It’s a perfectly reasonable question: if the situation was handled one way for a more ostensibly privileged member of a community and another for a less ostensibly privileged member, what role did the privilege differential play in the weighing of factors? Especially if we appear to have ignored an applicable precedent in making the second decision?

    The mere fact that so many people can’t differentiate between an accusation and a critical question shows me how few people do ask themselves this type of critical question. And that’s a problem.

    1. Tom Galloway

      Different people administer the Hugos each year. Borderline cases can had different interpretations. As an example, Phil Foglio was nominated for Pro Artist in 2009, when his pro artistry was seen in the free webcomic Girl Genius. But, presumably because that made up a majority of Phil’s income that year, admittedly via printed reprints and indirect methods, the nominators and/or administrator put him in Pro Artist rather than Fan Artist.

      Cut to the 2011 and 2012 Hugos. Randall (xkcd) Munroe was nominated in both years for Fan Artist, despite being in the same
      situation as Phil. Inconsistent? Yes. And a number of people, including myself, felt a mistake was made with Munroe. Nothing gender related about it.

      1. Annalee Post author

        Switching people from one category to another is hardly the same thing as removing them from the ballot entirely.

        For one thing, a person who’s been switched from one category to another will see that when the ballot is released.

        For another, they’ll still have a shot at getting a Hugo for their work.

        1. Philip Weiss

          According to Mr. Dashoff’s comment above, they did move it to another eligible category, but it didn’t have enough nominations in that category.

          It’s still bullshit, though.

        2. Susan

          Munroe was not “switched”. He got enough votes in Fan Artist to make the ballot in that category and was duly placed on the ballot. Quite a few people (myself included) thought that was a mistake, since he earns a living from his art, which to my mind makes him a pro. I thought he should have been disqualified and removed from the ballot. He did not have enough nominations either year to make the ballot in Pro Artist.

          The 2011 and 2012 nomination stats are online on the Hugo Awards website if you want to see this for yourself.

        3. Annalee Post author

          What’s relevant to this discussion is that the two cases are not analogous. They did not quietly remove him from the ballot, then not even talk to him about having done so.

          We’re not going to have a conversation here about every other person who’s ever been disqualified, or anyone who’s ever been miscategorized. We’re talking about the fact that the committee removed Kowal from the ballot for a work that was in the exact same situation as works found eligible a few years earlier, and the fact that they left her to find out about this at a party, instead of having the decency to talk to her about it privately.

          Beyond that, I refer people to EROSE’s point, above, about how there is a difference between questioning whether gender played a part in what happened, and claiming that Kowal was disqualified exclusively because of her gender. Whereas Hugo eligibility is not determined by a computer, boolean logic of the “if men in disqualified_nominations or miscategorized_nominations == True: Sexism == False” sort does not apply.

  10. Greg K Nicholson

    On a selfish note, thank you for bringing this fantastic story to my attention. I’m a big fan of inner solar system–set sixties-ish sci-fi and it’s wonderful to read an example of such a story without all the sexism.

    In particular, the way Mary introduces the skies of Mars and Earth is startlingly clever.

  11. Naomi Kritzer

    Why on earth did the Hugo committee not look at the previously-set precedent (see: Scalzi, Metatropolis, Award Pimpage) that audio stories were eligible in the Short Story, Novelette, and Novella categories?

  12. Annalee Post author

    Alright folks,

    I have been far more permissive about comments on this post than we usually are here at Geek Feminism. I realize the original post was blunt, and I’ve been allowing comments that are blunt as well.

    But I’ve gotten feedback from co-bloggers that this thread has been drifting from our comment policy, so I’m going to start cracking down. For the sake of transparency, I’m not removing over-the-line comments that I already let stand. Going forward, however, I’m going to rein it in.

    Please be mindful of whether your comment’s snark to insight ratio tips in insight’s favor.

  13. AMM

    This reminded me of Madeline Ashby’s post Memento mori. (Or, how Worldcon’s youth problem will resolve.). The tl;dr of that article: Worldcon is basically by and for SF writers and fans of a certain generation and is stuck in the attitudes of an older time. I wonder if Kowal’s treatment might have several factors.

    Based on what I’m hearing, Worldcon and Worldcon-type SF is an environment where women still have to struggle for respect. (Of course, you didn’t need to read Ms. Ashby’s article to figure that out.) But it’s also an environment where anything that isn’t print still has to struggle for respect. And it’s an environment which traditionally has been a kind of an old-boys-club, where everyone who is anyone knows everyone else who is anyone.

    I don’t know whether Kowal is part of the old-boys network. If she isn’t, that would make it harder for her work to be recognized as “real SF.” Using a non-print medium would have also made it harder. On top of the fact that she’s female and hasn’t disguised the fact by using initials or a pseudonym.

  14. Peter Ahlstrom

    Tom Galloway said (and I can’t directly reply): “You didn’t read what Todd wrote. The audio version of the work first appeared in 2012. That made it eligible for the Hugos awarded in 2013. The printed words version on Mary’s website did not appear until 2013. Things that first appear in 2013 are eligible for the 2014 Hugos.”

    You are quite wrong. I did read what Todd wrote. You apparently didn’t read what I wrote.

    The Hugo Award for Best Novelette is not for “Best Printed Word Novelette.” An audio novelette is eligible for best dramatic work, sure, but it is also a novelette. Published novelettes are eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. The novelette was first published in 2012; whether that publication was in audio form or printed form does not matter. It was a novelette.

    The version on her website in 2013 is not a different version. Is is the same novelette. It’s just a different format. The format doesn’t matter because the words are the same.

    1. Ms. Sunlight

      Aye, that is it exactly. When someone releases an audiobook version of a previously printed work, no-one claims it is a different work.

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