Locus Online


May 1999
Comments from the 2nd Online Poll and Survey
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§ Dear Mark:

You wrote of the 1989 Hugo controversy, ďThe Hugo committee invalidated those [bloc-voted] ballots and deleted the nominations.Ē I had hoped to stay out of this, but since this is the second time youíve repeated this error, Iíd better correct the record.

No ballots were invalidated. We took the results and announced the nominees as they stood (though adding the additional nominees who would have made the ballot in the absence of the bloc-voting). But we accompanied the announcement with a description of what had happened. Subsequently, the nominees in question (who were not involved in the vote-buying) decided on their own to withdraw two of their nominations.

You suggest that readers ďSee Howard DeVoreís awards book . . . for further details.Ē Alas, while Howardís book is generally a useful work, it is not a reliable source on this subject. Besides getting the above details wrong, he repeats the perpetratorsí cover story as if there were no other side to the story. Unfortunately, Locus at the time never reported on the full account that we published.

George Flynn
1989 Hugo administrator

[ Correction noted. I read through some of the documentation that Locus did publish, and the situation was apparently more complex, and controversial, than can be fully detailed here. I think it's fair to say, however, that the net effect was that the bloc-voting did not prevail. -- ed.]

§ Dear Locus:

Iíve been biting my tongue over the whole Plan B nonsense until now. I just read the piece of garbage [posted yesterday] on the website.

The objector clearly has no respect for, or knowledge of, the integrity of any polling system. The process for removing Plan B votes from the site, as described, is exactly how an outlier would be removed by a professional or academic statistician/pollster. It was far more honest for Locus to state what happened, and why, than to either silently ''disqualify'' the votes for Plan B (leaving open a charge of ''preconceived notions'') or to leave in votes of dubious validity. Just how do you think election judges try to prevent stuffing the ballot box with absentee ballots?

Iím probably going to make some enemies here, but unless Plan B marked a complete departure in form, style, and substance from the previous books in the series, it doesnít belong on any literate individualís ''best of'' list . . . unless perhaps it is the only piece of speculative fiction read during the year. (I find that highly unlikely for anyone who reads either Locus or Locus Online.) If someone is not satisfied with nominees, itís more intellectually honest to abstain or vote for the ever-popular ''No Award.'' It would even have been more honest to flood the Locus mailbox with letters extolling the virtues of Plan B so that people would at least be curious enough to read it. What I find most distressing is that the publisher has not really said anything (that Iíve been able to find, anyway) about Plan B—which by itself tells me a lot about the book.

I donít expect everyone to agree with my choices for ''best of''—thatís why we have polls in the first place! However, it is intellectually dishonest to claim that explicit, open, rational attempts to prevent individuals, or a small group of individuals, from drowning out the voice of others who do follow the rules are ''unprofessional,'' represent ''childish responses,'' or demonstrate ''preconceived notions.'' I always thought that intellectual honesty was one of the unstated assumptions of speculative fiction. I guess I was wrong.

John Savage

[ I confess I'm not a professional pollster (nor a diplomat), but I would assume that the professionals do, indeed, carefully manage the source of their votes to guarantee the integrity of their sample. -- ed. ]

§ I deliberately waited until these last few days of your survey to participate so that I might see many of the interesting comments that you would display. It seems as though there is in fact a substantial group of readers that feel most of todays published SF falls well short of The Golden Age. I am most eager to see these results and learn what other Online Readers enjoy. By the way I read Forever Peace as it is in vogue and it in no way compares to Empire of The Ants.

§ Only the usual gripe: books donít indicate length of stories & who really wants to do the math? Many of my favourite stories werenít on the list (Sturgeonís ''A Saucer of Loneliness'', most of my favourite Silverbergs, Laffertyís ''You Canít Go Back'', Wolfeís ''The Detective of Dreams'', etc.) and I have no idea what length they are. So I ended up relying overmuch on your lists. But, what the hell, it was fun anyway.

[ Hmm, I didn't consider that problem. In practice, a lot of voters have filled in stories in any available slot; I'm checking on lengths and tabulating all votes for any given story in the story's proper category. -- ed. ]

§ I suspect that the results for all-time best stories will correlate somewhat with age of respondent -- Iíve been reading SF for 30 years and most the stories Iíve voted for are ones that I read long ago but which left an initial impression on me when I was quite new to the field and so still remember in great detail. This is not to say that more recent stories are not as good perhaps, but just not as memorable because of the vast amount of stuff Iíve already read that they have to compete with. I suppose Iím just reiterating the old saying that the Golden Age of SF is sixteen (or whatever age it was) -- thatís when you start reading Ďadultí SF (ish) and so those are the stories that become the Ďbestí for you.

As for future ideas: most over-rated author -- in this category I would put Stephen Baxter, who is so derivative of Larry Niven and Fred Pohl I canít believe he has become so popular. Perhaps this is a sign that current SF isnít up to the standards of the past -- I canít believe 20 years ago that someone as unoriginal as Stephen Baxter would have achieved the prominence he has today.

[ I'm reminded of the the story in which Hugo Gernsback himself, in the early 1960s, opined that none of the stories on that year's Hugo ballot were science fiction by his definition. Read this stuff long enough and none of it seems up to the standards of the stories that first drew you into the genre; but that approaches a larger truth, that all stories are in some sense retellings of a small number of basic stories. Each generation needs the stories retold in the style and conventions of its time. -- ed. ]

§ I didnít fill out the form because Iíve already voted on this survey (and I donít want to do anything to stack the ballot in favor of my favorites), but I wanted to respond to some comments made by other poll takers regarding Plan B. After the ''controversy'' surrounding it in the first poll, I logged onto to get some information on the book. Interestingly, I found some information that would have disqualified its selection without having to mention the bloc voting: itís listed as having a copyright date of 1999 and was therefore ineligible for the 1998 poll.

One other quick note, I was the submitter who lumped Heinlein, Pohl, Asimov, Delany and Ballard together. Yes, I was thoroughly aware when making my statement that Delany and Ballard represent a different type of writer. I was just referring to the fact that like Asimov, et. al. they had done most of their work before I was even born and that to me, they all represented sfís historical past. Again, I apologize to all those I made feel old because of that statement. Iím sure that one day people will be talking about Robinson, Swanwick, Willis, Card, Kress, Sterling, Baxter and Gibson (just to name a few) in the same manner and that I will definately feel old as a result.

[ Yes, Plan B was published just a couple months ago, but the poll form didn't ask for ''best novel of 1998'' -- it said [deliberately] ''best novel you've read in the past year''. So (unfortunately) it couldn't be disqualified on those grounds. A few other 1999 novels got some votes, but none enough votes to place in the final results. -- ed. ]

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