But­ter­fly Mind

David Lang­ford tries to fo­cus on the mat­ter in hand

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Opinion -

When­ever I try to con­cen­trate on writ­ing this page, dis­trac­tions flood in. Some­times I wish I had the gall to write a col­umn about writ­ing a col­umn, like that chap Tim Key who used to fill his page in The In­de­pen­dent with ex­cit­ing the­matic ma­te­rial like “How I Wrote This Col­umn In A Café”, and as his swan song got two whole col­umns out of how, pre­sum­ably through pop­u­lar ed­i­to­rial de­mand, he’d no longer be writ­ing the col­umn. But Lang­ford is made of sterner stuff.

Where was I? My SF news­let­ter An­si­ble is a reg­u­lar dis­trac­tion. Ev­ery month, dozens if not scores of read­ers ex­pect their news fix, en­livened by one or even both of my fa­mous jokes. In the re­cent is­sue # 333, that fine car­toon­ist Steve Stiles con­trib­uted a pic­ture of a cute puppy: “333, Mark of the Do­mes­tic House Pet!” But Pup­pies – see SFX 262 – are a painful sub­ject right now.

An­si­ble brings me ku­dos but also some crit­i­cism. One SF pro­fes­sional who shall be name­less ( and didn’t like be­ing named) called it an in­fan­tile shit­sheet; the Bri­tish Fan­tasy News­let­ter once com­plained it was “Not nearly as con­tro­ver­sial as its rep­u­ta­tion be­lies”. Its US ri­val File 770 an­nounced: “As a newszine, it is the Em­peror’s New Clothes”, an ac­co­lade I was proud to pub­lish.

Sim­i­larly, the File 770 web­site mast­head now car­ries the blurb “... the 770 blog, that wretched hive of scum and vil­lainy...” – from John C Wright, who thanks to Sad and Ra­bid Puppy rig­ging of the Hugo nom­i­na­tions had an un­prece­dented six items ( one since dis­qual­i­fied) on this year’s Hugo bal­lot. Which led to much dis­cus­sion of his works at F770 and else­where, the tone of which you can imag­ine from his re­sponse.

I didn’t want to re­visit the Pup­pies con­tro­versy, but the whole mess has pro­voked some in­ter­est­ing de­bate on re­form­ing the Hugo nom­i­na­tions process to pre­vent slate vot­ing by an or­gan­ised mi­nor­ity from dom­i­nat­ing the bal­lot. By tra­di­tion you can nom­i­nate up to five items in each cat­e­gory – five nov­els for Best Novel, and so on – and the five most pop­u­lar choices ap­pear on the fi­nal bal­lot.

Many re­form­ers sug­gested vari­a­tions of the “4+ 6” plan: four nom­i­na­tions per cat­e­gory, with the top six be­com­ing fi­nal­ists. That stops a sin­gle slate from sweep­ing the nom­i­na­tions... but fandom’s vot­ing wonks soon de­duced that if slates ( for­merly Just Not Done, Old Chap) be­come a stan­dard tac­tic, “4+ 6” sim­ply di­vides the fi­nal bal­lot be­tween the two strong­est slates.

Are the Hu­gos doomed to an eter­nity of party pol­i­tics? Maybe not! An ex­pert in elec­toral the­ory de­vised a sys­tem that di­lutes the ef­fect of slates to en­sure mi­nori­ties can’t easily rig the bal­lot. It’s called “sin­gle di­vis­i­ble vote with least pop­u­lar elim­i­na­tion” ( SDV- LPE), nick­named E Pluribus Hugo, and it’s been ex­plained at numb­ing length online. If you’re cu­ri­ous, Google is your friend.

Mean­while, though I should be writ­ing my col­umn for SFX, I keep be­ing dis­tracted by ebook pro­duc­tion chores. It’s fun con­vert­ing my old books into dig­i­tal form, and even more fun when peo­ple buy them. See also taff. org. uk for some free­bies. How, you ask, am I deal­ing with the night­mare of VAT on ebooks as in­tro­duced in Jan­uary and hor­rif­i­cally de­scribed in SFX 258? Sshh! ( Come in­side these brack­ets where no one can hear us. I’m re­fus­ing to sell to the EU coun­tries where prob­lems arise. So far I’ve got away with this.) Vig­or­ous cam­paign­ing against a tax regime so un­fair to mi­crobusi­nesses has ad­mit­tedly pro­duced some re­sponse from EU high- ups. Roughly: “Ooh yes, there’s a prob­lem but we can’t do any­thing about it this year.”

Mean­while it looks as though I’ll never fin­ish this damned col­umn.

An­si­ble brings me some ku­dos but also some crit­i­cism

David Lang­ford used to have a but­ter­fly mind but can’t re­mem­ber where he put it.

SF writer David Lang­ford has had a col­umn in SFX since is­sue one. David has re­ceived 29 Hugo Awards through­out his ca­reer. His cel­e­brated SF news­let­ter can be found at http:// news. an­si­ble. co. uk. He is a prin­ci­pal editor of the SF En­cy­clo­pe­dia at http:// www. sf- en­cy­clo­pe­dia. com.

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