Locus Online


May 1999
Comments from the 2nd Online Poll and Survey
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§ It was nice to have a poll for short fiction, which seems to get short shrift from publishing and fans though it is the creative heart of the genre. However, I had the same problems with it as any “best of” polls or awards be it here, Locus magazine, or the Academy Awards: the word “best” is too vague. It would be nice to have a more specific criteria like most innovative or influential or most fun to read. For instance, in the magazine poll for best sf author of all time, I named Stapledon in second place. I think his was and still is a unique voice which writers seldom try to imitate and never really succeed in trying. I enjoy reading him, but I probably enjoy many other authors more, but I don’t think those authors have the qualities I named above for Stapledon. Perhaps future poll questions can rate works on specific criteria like most enjoyable to read, most influential, most memorable, first story read, etc. Of course, this can degenerate into categories like best stories featuring aliens and chocolate or best fantasy novel featuring cats.

By the way, the site is handsomely designed. I resisted coming here for a long time because I thought it would just be a retread of the magazine, but it’s not.

[ ''Best'' is a word that can mean whatever you choose it to mean; to some people it likely equates to most influential or 'important' in some sense; to others it probably simply means most fun to read. It might be interesting to conduct a poll along the lines you suggest, but I suspect many readers don't make the distinction; they merely have differing criteria for what ''best'' means, and don't even think along alternate lines. Now ''first story read'' might be an interesting poll question. Do any readers discover SF through Heinlein juveniles any more? Or these days is it more likely through a media tie-in book? -- ed. ]

§ How about best reviewer?

[ As a matter of fact, a couple of the earliest Locus magazine polls, in the early 70s, did have a ''best critic'' category. It didn't last. -- ed. ]

§ Since my selections for pre-1990 short fiction strike me as a rather grim lot, I wonder if one of your next polls might concentrate on humorous sf. I’d also like to see a poll on sf/f/h movies as well. (Nice column you did a few months ago on current sf cinema, btw -- how about a sequel?)

§ I would recommend that you create a list of each of the items that you feel fit in your definitions of novella, story story, etc. I honestly do not keep track of the length of stories, and am certainly not going to go home, and check the number of words/pages to make sure my choice is in the right area. If you had a randomized list of each of the published stories out there (or at least a large majority) I would have filled in the first part. The Yes/no was very easy to drill through, though. Also, I usually don’t keep track of publish dates of stories, so oftentimes I will read something that was pub’d back a few years, but it’s always ‘new to me’. I don’t like how you have your suggestions set up for some areas, but not all, and it seems very weighted towards older sci-fi writers.

[ Locus magazine is polling the 1998 categories, and did publish in its February issue a lengthy list of 'recommended reading' suggestions for each category. We'll be more thorough if we do this poll next year. The first online poll was frankly an experiment; the '98 categories in the 2nd poll were conducted in a similar manner for consistency. The all-time short fiction categories are unique to this online poll, so for those we took the trouble to assemble lists of suggestions -- and except for the exclusion of 1990s stories (for consistency with the magazine's poll of all-time best novels, last year), those lists were constructed to be balanced across the decades. -- ed. ]

I would recommend that you toss out your preconcieved notions though. I thought your handling of the first poll was rather poor, and definitely unprofessional. While some of the readers of Plan B have responded poorly, your equally childish responses do not place you on a moral high ground here.

I notice that you did not remove George Martin’s book from the list, and it rec’d approximately the same votes, yet you did not accuse those readers of being part of a block vote. I would have invalidated the entire poll if you were not satisfied with the results. Professional pollsters do NOT ‘toss out’ responses that they ‘don’t like’ or suspect are skewed from the pool. They toss out the entire poll. If you want to limit your poll to people you feel more comfortable with answers on, I would suggest making it only for ‘members’ of a secured site or the mag readers, because otherwise you will continue to have difficulties. Penalizing a group of people for voting for something that they actually do like, just because they actually know the poll exists is not exactly professional IMHO.

[ Preconceived notions had nothing to do with it. The Plan B votes were suspect because they almost all arrived within a 2-day period. At first glance they looked like submissions from a single voter (on second glance many of the votes in other categories were different, though in some categories, like fantasy novel, they were remarkably uniform). Had they been received more evenly across the voting period, they would have been tabulated without second thought. (Though I admit I had not heard of the book, and still have not seen a copy of it in any bookstore, which makes its apparent popularity also rather curious.) As precedent I'll cite the incident of bloc voting in the Hugo awards, exactly 10 years ago, in which a group of fans purchased a number of supporting (non-attending but voting) memberships to the Worldcon that year for the purpose of getting a particular pair of nominees onto the ballot in all the categories for which they were eligible. The Hugo committee invalidated those ballots and deleted the nominations (granted, amidst much controversy). See Howard DeVore's awards book (itself nominated for the Hugo this year) for further details. Among the letters published in Locus at the time, it was remarked that previous incidents of attempted bloc voting in the Hugos were not uncommon; they just had been handled more discreetly, without the publicity. I will keep that in mind.

One result of this incident is that I, and I suspect many other readers, have heard of Plan B who had not before. Meanwhile, there are numerous ballots in the 2nd poll that, from their timing and content, appear to be -- though I cannot prove it -- repeat votes by individuals who have simply hit the submit button several times, sometimes over the course of a day or two. I hope you will agree that it is reasonable for me to disregard those ballots. -- ed. ]

Along with the selected lists you had, you should maybe have a summary/synopsis link if you want to have people remember which story they liked. I honestly do not pay attention to the title of things, but rather the plot/storyline, so having a synopsis would work best for people like me. Especially if I’ve ground through an entire anthology, and took the books back to the library, it’s going to be hard to say ‘oh yeah’ that title and author. Most people do not have eiditic memories.

I do however like that you are trying to capture information from your users in an open manner instead of some of the sleazy profiling that goes on on some sites. I recommend talking to a professional pollster about good methods of mitigating web related poll errors.

An idea for the next poll might be: Rate authors/books from particular decades, rather than a specific year... I can usually remember the decade something was published, but not the specific year. This should also give a good cross section of ‘new’ and ‘old’ authors in the Sci-Fi realm.

© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.