Monday, April 29, 2013

three concerts and a fedora

Concert no. 1. Stanford Symphony, Bing, Friday. Another entry in their Beethoven season, and the first I've gotten to in three months. This one had the Fidelio Overture, Piano Concerto No. 1, and Symphony No. 7. My seat had me breathing down the necks of the last two double bassists, right next to the trumpeters, so it was the severest test yet of the Bing acoustics. Yes, the trumpets blared, but the rest of the orchestra was still plainly audible. The piano (J. Nakamatsu, prop.), hidden behind its lid, was severely muffled, but that was the worst of it. Good lively performances, strongly sending me back to the days when Beethoven was an exciting new discovery for me.

Concert no. 2. Mission Chamber Orchestra, le petit Trianon, Saturday. The orchestra that plays like a military marching band stomped its heavy boots through Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 (yes, him again) and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. This did no harm to Beethoven, but how it affected Mendelssohn was definitely a matter of taste. I, who don't normally much care for the Violin Concerto, enjoyed it greatly. My mother, who loves the concerto, was appalled. I have some theories to explain this grid of reactions.

Concert no. 3. Piano trios, Oshman, Monday. Corey Cerovsek (violin), Adrian Brendel (cello, son of pianist Alfred), and Elaine Hou (piano) applied strongly different playing techniques to the disparate trio of Haydn, Ravel, and Brahms. What they had in common was all being strongly passionate without seeming to be seriously emotionally engaged in the music. Brahms fared the best.

Fedora (my musical reporter's hat). After noticing in the Ives Quartet's season announcement that they were leaving the Trianon next season, I figured it was time for an update on the venue's status after its bankruptcy announcement last fall. I wandered by one day a couple weeks ago and interviewed the manager again; then I left phone messages with all the music vendors and waited for callbacks to dribble in over the following week. What most amused me was the manager saying that he didn't give the music groups detailed information about the current legal and financial status, because if he did, they'd only fret and consider not returning; while the groups complained to me that they were fretting because they couldn't get detailed information out of the management.

I suggested to my editors in the middle of all this that there might be a full article in it. They agreed, and here it is.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

reality check

Is this article on "Why Aren't There More Woman Sci-Fi Writers?" as condescending as it looks from here? (The author is male, of course.) (And besides that it should be "SF", not "sci-fi", shouldn't it be "women", or better yet "female", rather than "woman"?)

First it tries to excuse poorer review coverage of SF books by women by saying they write fewer of them, but since women write more of the fantasy than they do of the SF proper, the article fails by not matching that up to the coverage of the review surveys. If women only write 1/4 of SF proper, then it makes sense that the SF proper coverage of a review magazine would be only 1/4 women. But is the survey talking just about SF or about SF/F? The article doesn't say.

Then it tries to explain the sex-ratio differential between SF and F by attempting to say that women are less geeky than men. First, it means less nerdy, not less geeky. Second, it fudges the distinction between less nerdy and fewer nerds. Third, it disappears the prominent female nerds. Fourth, by acknowledging that epic Martinesque fantasy can be just as labyrinthine as hard sf (it actually uses the words "hard sci-fi", a combination I don't think I've heard before), it implies that women shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about scientific details. And last, it seems actually to say outright that women are "casual fans", not "hardcore". Which is ridiculous, if you've been to any hardcore fandoms in the last, oh, thirty years or more.

Then, despite trying to acknowledge that not all SF is like this, it paints a picture of hard SF as if it were all still being written by Hugo Gernsback. Oh, please. And even if you want to toss out people like Le Guin and Connie Willis as too "soft" (or "humanist" in genre terminology), can you write about women and hard sf - the real kind, with spaceships and battles and at least a veneer of scientific literacy (not that Le Guin isn't fabulously literate in the sciences she uses) - without mentioning, at the very least, Lois Bujold?

Then he writes, "The most popular and respected authors also tend to be male, as China MiĆ©ville, Neil Gaiman, and Brandon Sanderson can attest." (Sanderson, really? Has he risen that far, that fast? I found his first novel nonsensical and never tried any more.) It doesn't mention that they're all, with MiĆ©ville as an only partial exception, far more fantasy writers than SF. But later on he writes, "The three most successful fantasy authors of the past decade—J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Stephenie Meyer—are women." How exactly does successful not equal popular, and are you trying to say these women's work is not respected? Because, well, by some it isn't. And is that supposed to be because they're women?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

stuff done

I wrote two articles today, which is two more than I get done on most days: the program book blurb on a conference guest of honor, which isn't due till next week; and an update on the current status of the local chamber music venue whose owner is in bankruptcy proceedings, which as you can imagine puts a lot of stuff in limbo. This latter turned out to be longer than I'd thought (well, they both did), and it'll be finished as soon as I hear back from the concert vendors who are usually faster at returning my calls than this.

I also have three months in which to write a major scholarly piece that was suddenly dumped in my lap. Terrified (there's a contract and everything), I dashed off an outline - as long as either of the above articles, actually - in one hour in the middle of the night a couple days ago, just after getting the e-mail from across the pond confirming that I'm to write it. So at least that's started. I actually sent the outline to the editor, something I've never done before, partly because my outlines aren't designed to be intelligible to anyone but me, and he claimed to follow the gist and proclaimed it good. I think I know where I'm going to test-run this thing.

Another odd bit of writing I did recently came from having been contacted by a local G&S group that wanted me to write some sort of publicity article for their next production. After much go-around, since they didn't seem clear on what they actually wanted, and I did not wish to write a press release for a production I know nothing about, I agreed to write some short blurbs on the show itself, not tied to the specific production, that they could post on Facebook or somewhere. After another go-around in which I explained that no, I'm not going to join their publicity team and post on Facebook myself, I'm just going to write stuff for them to use, I did it. The show is The Sorcerer. Not one of G&S's best-known works, and deservedly not, so what am I to say about it? Well, it's their first full-length show for D'Oyly Carte and has premonitions of what will be in its successors, so that was good for a few examples. And it's an opera about a real love potion, not a fake one like L'Elisir d'amore, so that's another. And it's a fantasy, but completely unlike Game of Thrones - no dragons! no beheadings! no dwarves! - so I can get a dig out of that one too. And the job was done. My employers were greatly tickled, and promptly abridged them even further - and quite well; I was astonished - so that they'd fit for additional broadcasting on Twitter.

Meanwhile, today I also picked up a cartload of stuff at the vet's for Pandora, who is now on 4 medications instead of 2 and needed an entire new supply of prescription cat food, as she's suffering from two illnesses that require incompatible diets, and we're switching which one gets treated. At least she's in better spirits than in the previous few days, although the moment when I gave her the first dose of one of the new medicines, by sticking a syringe in her mouth and squeezing the bulb, was a big surprise for both of us. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before, and the question becomes whether she'll tolerate it ever happening again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

four concerts and a movie

Yes, it's been a busy week.

Concert no. 1. So, about three weeks ago, I mentioned that "It looks like I have an additional classical reviewing gig." I do. Behold, the Redwood Symphony reviewed in the San Mateo Daily Journal, a free local paper that I've often picked up when I've been in that area.

This was one of those grapevine pickups, I having learned of the SMDJ's interest in a new reviewer (their previous one died last year) from the Redwood Symphony publicity people, who'd been on me to cover their next concert regardless of whether SFCV assigned me or not. ("Well," I'd said, "I have this blog ...") Some e-mailing and a succinct in-person interview with the paper's editor later, I have the gig. So you'll be hearing more.

The link is to the online version, of course, but this is actually a print publication, which makes it my first concert (as opposed to book) review in print, and also my first newspaper (as opposed to magazine or journal) review of anything in print. So that was cool also, and I'm saving a print copy as a souvenir.

As for the review, it speaks for itself. I enjoyed writing this one, freed of SFCV's copy-editing restraints (such as a deprecation of the word "but"), and I think I got in some of what I would say if I had written it for this blog.

Concert no. 2. SFS, Blomstedt, week 2. I was assigned this one. It was not, overall, as successful as week 1. Talking with Lisa Irontongue afterwards, she was grumbling about the concerto performance and making a crack about wanting to stick a pin in the conductor, and I responded that someone had stuck a pin in the concerto, because it fizzled out by the end, and at that moment I suddenly realized that I was talking about what I've described before as a Blomstedt Special; I just hadn't realized it because it hadn't started out high-energy.

So, without using the term, I described the concept in the review, which, again, is one of my more casually written efforts; I expect to be accused of being needlessly sarcastic, but it hasn't happened yet.

Concert no. 3. SFCV sent me back up to the City two days later for the Cypress Quartet concert at Herbst. The Higdon premiere threw my reviewing chops off a little because it's really a song cycle, not a string quartet; I mentioned that. Song cycles are a bit out of my groove in a way that string quartets are not. If it's not clear from the review that I spent the performance of the Schubert gaping in a puzzled "what are they doing?," that's because I reverted to my usually genteel reviewing voice for this one.

Concert no. 4. I went to the Ives Quartet concert at Trianon purely because I wanted to! I didn't have advance tickets and I wasn't reviewing it for anybody. It's their last concert at Trianon, at least for now, because they're abandoning it for next season, and it had the String Quartet Set by Lou Harrison which I much wanted to hear. "Set" is a genre title that Harrison picked up from his teacher Henry Cowell, and the work is a bit Cowellish, and also, due to its medieval and near-eastern influences, resembles Hovhaness as well. An unbeatable pair of influences as far as I'm concerned. Weird and lovely piece. Pretty good Mozart (K. 589) and Brahms (Op. 111 quintet, with a guest) as well.

Movie. After years of legal struggle, Peter Beagle has won some rights back for the 1982 animated movie made (with his screenplay) from his novel The Last Unicorn, and his manager decided to celebrate his 74th birthday by renting the Castro Theatre and holding a celebratory showing as a benefit for the Cartoon Art Museum. It's also a kickoff for a peripatetic national tour (info here, eventually). This seemed a worthy cause, so I went. Besides, I hadn't seen the movie since it was new.

The theatre was packed, mostly, it seemed, by women too young to have seen the movie when it was new, many of them in costume and wearing horns on their foreheads. My god, I thought, it's become a cult movie while I wasn't paying attention. I was stunned. Among the few oldsters like myself I found LDH and we shared delighted astonishment.

But it was great to see Peter feted, and the upstairs lobby selling his books afterwards was packed, and the line for autographs stretched back to the staircase, and everybody had a great time. Besides, it is a good movie. The animation, though cheaply made, is attractively stylized in design; it has an all-star voice cast headed by Mia Farrow in the title role; and the script is faithful to the spirit of the book while intelligently abridging it, another model of How To Do It Right for my anti-Jackson collection.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

pullet surprise

Some of you will hate this, I'm sure. It owes a lot to minimalism.

But I think this piece of music - Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Adelaide Shaw - which just won the Pulitzer Prize for Music - is, as the man said, really amazing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

three concerts

I've not often been to Boston, but I did once attend an organ recital at Trinity Church on Copley Square. That's close enough for me. Such memories help personalize and make vivid tragic events. Brrrr.

Musical happenings close to home have included:

1. Saturday, Redwood Symphony. Cycle of Persian songs, accompanied by Western orchestra in a gesture of culture rapprochement. Pretty nice stuff. Persian-born soprano looked delighted to be singing in her native tongue for once, instead of Italian operas which are her usual fare. Followed by Christopher Theofanides, Maestro Kujawsky's latest discovery in the field of big, tough modern symphonies. Weird and arresting-sounding, but brutal. Imagine a symphony composed by a bear. Huge walls of dissonance rolled out towards the audience. Maestro K. thought it ended quizzically (it does), so he topped it off with an encore of Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from Romeo & Juliet. That's famously brutal, but it sounded mild after the symphony.

2. Sunday, San Francisco Symphony. Annual Blomstedt visit, week 1. This wasn't on my regular series, but I got a ticket because 1) I'm reviewing week 2 and wanted to see how he's doing; 2) it's Blomstedt. The Eroica, strong on the energy and the drive, less on the darkness and intricacy. Brilliantly vivid performance, dazzling musicianship. The same priorities did not fit so well with Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod. Also, ultra-modernist piece, Poesis by Ingvar Lidholm. Literally no melody, no harmony, and no rhythm. So what did it have? Jagged sheets of sound passing through the orchestra, so artfully juxtaposed that it actually sounded pretty interesting.

3. Monday, Calefax. This was an Oshman concert by a Dutch ensemble that's an orthogonal version of a wind quintet: oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, sax, bassoon. It makes for a deeper, more woody sound than a regular quintet. It also means it has no repertoire, so the musicians have to arrange everything themselves. We got Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, a few bits from Weill's Threepenny Opera, and Bach's Goldberg Variations - the whole enormous thing. Bach is suited to this sort of assault and worked fairly well. The rest, not so much. Unimaginative tutti arrangements, unsuited to the instruments, coupled with a stolid playing style, made for a rather dull show.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sir Colin Davis

A great conductor, long associated with the London Symphony Orchestra, has died. I have him in a lot of Berlioz, some Wagner and Tippett, a few other British composers. My most recent encounter with his work was this review.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easy. Right. Sure it is.

It's actually been at least a couple of years that I've wanted to replace the seat on our inner upstairs toilet. We bought a new seat, but I found the process of removing the old one to be defeating, and figured I'd wait until we next needed a plumber for something substantive. That didn't happen, and then the seat started falling apart.

I decided to make another stab at this supposedly simple household task. I checked instructions online. First step, use a screwdriver to pop open the plastic caps over the bolts. Half an hour later, much scraping and gouging of the caps, no success. I called the plumbers we'd used before. They were incredulous that I couldn't perform a simple task like changing a toilet seat, and even more incredulous that I couldn't open the caps. But they wouldn't offer any advice on how to get past the problem, and house calls start at $130. Try a handyman, they said.

When I reached a reportedly competent handyman on the phone, he was willing to offer advice. If the caps wouldn't pop open, try pulling them with a pliers. Pull how?, I asked. They're rounded; nothing to grab on to. Getting past his tendency to accuse me of arguing with him when all I was doing was trying to make sense of his advice, he kindly warned me that if he did come out to do the job he'd charge almost as much as the plumbers would, plus, like all competent handymen, he's fantastically overbooked.

So I called a different plumber, who came this morning. Without any input from me, he ignored the caps and started out attacking the nuts underneath with his pliers. Then he gave up, and eventually sawed the plastic caps off with a portable circular electric saw. Not so easy or simple after all, was it?

Anyway, the job got done, and he charged $40. Worth it in elbow grease alone.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

facing days without lunch

I must have been in a good mood this morning, for when I heard from downstairs a cat sound we hear too often, though less since we've restricted Pandora's intake, instead of groaning I burst into song, to the tune of Eric Bogle's "Nobody's Moggie":
Somebody's barfing by the side of the road
Somebody's pussy who forgot her eating code
Someone's favorite carpet has run clean out of luck
For Pandora is upon it and beginning to upchuck
Fortunately there wasn't much of it, but she did not have a good day, for I gave her nothing else to eat till dinnertime. As usual, food-deprived or not, if I sat upon the couch she came and sat on top of me and would not be dislodged for more than a moment.

My own good mood only lasted until lunchtime. Having a task at the Mountain View library, and knowing this would be my last chance to have lunch out for a few days, I was looking forward to my favorite Chinese place downtown, only to discover that it closed down a couple weeks ago, victim, as I learned on looking this up after coming home, of Rapacious Landlord Disease, the well-known phenomenon whereby a commercial landlord would rather have an empty storefront - sometimes for years on end in past cases - than refrain from inflicting punishing lease increases on a well-loved existing tenant. So no more Marni's Chicken for me. This is, I think, the third time in the current century that my current favorite Chinese place in downtown MV has closed, and it could easily happen several more times.

At least I got my car's broken wheel fixed, while I sat on a bench outside the nearby mall reading a biography of Catherine the Great that treats human psychology like little clockwork toy dolls. Catherine is deprived of her mother's love, therefore she is unable to show love, yadda yadda. Except when she does, but let's ignore that. Accounts of the development of relationships between pairs of people show so many random pingpong fluctuations of emotion as to rouse a suspicion that the author is gamely trying to find large-scale patterns in fragmentary and misleading surviving documentary evidence. At least there's a clear explanation of what was going on with the partitions of Poland, which have always puzzled me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

more news of the word

I mentioned our driving trip to LA. I didn't mention another one up to wine country for a family Easter at niece T's hidden vacation house, which we've seen before, and now I know how to find it in the unmarked crannies where it lies. Nephews L and the rarely-seen M, now uncles themselves, were there, and played with their nephews so we didn't have to wear ourselves out. Also visited and stayed over at B's sister G's new vacation home nearby, which we hadn't seen before because it's newly acquired. Reiterated that a Nook Color is a great device for reading when I wake up in the middle of the night in a guest room and don't want to turn the light on. Left with sufficient leftovers that I still have some. I ate all the leftover turkey skin before anyone else could get to it; I was a bad boy.

I finished that giant bibliography I mentioned and sent it out for review by other hands. Deep silence so far, but everyone's busy, as am I.

After having Pippin's teeth cleaned, I had my own teeth cleaned. Nothing special about that, except that the dentist wants to keep a record of what medication I'm taking, and this time I had to write it down.

Hopeful trips up to the City for various reasons. Stopped at Borderlands in hopes of finding Alan Garner's UK-published-only but available-in-the-US Boneland (almost wrote "Borderlands" again), which the Other Change had been out of. Not on shelf. On inquiry, junior clerk said, flatly, "It's not in our database" as if implying something between "And I don't care" and "No such book has ever existed; you're hallucinating it." Inquiry as to what database this was produced only a repeated emphasis that it wasn't in it. This is not how to behave if you want to sell books. Jude came to my rescue, found and special-ordered it; I could have done this via Amazon or B&N at home, but I want to support my local bookstore. I don't want them to make me regret doing it.

Nearer home, fortunately, hit my car against a high curb. Now I have to replace both the tire and the wheel rim, or whatever it's called. Not good news.

Dinner out at Bella Vita, nice local Italian place. Any special reason?

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Many of the numerous tributes to Roger Ebert that I've seen over the last couple of days refer to his mastery of the put-down of bad movies. For instance, this piece, actually titled "Funniest Roger Ebert Quotes," equating funny with critical.

Or - and don't read the previous one first if you want to try this one - an actual quiz, "Can you pick the movies by the quote from Roger Ebert's negative review?"

It's funny, because I was once (actually twice, by the same person) scolded for my criticisms of Peter Jackson on the grounds that there was no market for attacks on movies, because people who hated a given movie don't want to read about it. Don't want to read about it? Ebert raised the put-down to a high art! Did you know he actually published two book collections just of his bad reviews, in addition to all the others of his good ones?

True, I'm not as funny as Roger Ebert, though this reviewer certainly seemed to think I had struck an apt nerve, but the scolder wasn't criticizing my execution but the whole concept. What she really meant was, of course, "Don't say anything bad about movies I personally like."

While I'm generally more interested in reviews of movies I have seen than of ones I haven't, unless I'm actively trying to decide whether to see it, I have nothing to say against Ebert's pans of movies I've seen, even if I liked them better than he did. I saw The Village, and had to admire M. Night's talent for eeriness, even though, yep, what Ebert has to say about the secret is sadly true. (True, also, of every other movie of his I've seen, including the vastly over-rated The Sixth Sense.)

Also, Ebert's article on being an SF fan in the 50s, far more articulate than most such about the appeal of fandom, and something I was still able to feel when I came along 20 years later. I was particularly struck by this line of his: "Most fanzines had a small circulation of a few hundred, but they created a reality so intriguing and self-referential that, for fans, they were the newspapers of a world." Yes, that was a large part of it. There was a world to enter, it had a door, and the key to that door was to learn its terminology, customs, and folkways. It wasn't that difficult if you were devoted to it. This is why I find it so strange when people entering fandom today seem so burningly resentful of the fact that it's already around and already has its customs. They expect it to re-shape itself instantly in their image, or else. In my generation - even though it was the generation of youth most over-touted in the history of American adolescence - we were never so arrogant or self-centered. But there it is.

One other point. Some fool, possibly Sibelius, once said, "Nobody ever erected a statue to a critic." Besides not being true, actually, it's irrelevant. Critics aren't in the business of having statues raised to themselves; they're in the business of deciding who does get the statues. But look at the love and respect accorded to Roger Ebert today and is there any doubt? If it were still customary regularly to raise statues of the honored deceased, surely high on the list would be he.

(And in that statue, Ebert would be seated. And next to him would be Gene Siskel.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert

What am I going to do without Ebert? No other movie critic was so close to being comprehensive in his coverage, and so reliable and intelligent in his judgments. Whenever I saw a potentially interesting new DVD release coming up, it's Ebert's review I'd go check to see what he thought of it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

news of the word

It looks like I have an additional classical reviewing gig. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Hugo cautionary tale

Yesterday, Cheryl Morgan posted "A Hugo Cautionary Tale", a story concerning Hugo administration that I was involved with. For various reasons I do not wish to attempt to comment there directly, so I'll put my observations over here.

First off, once Cheryl corrected the date (an error that was not originally her fault), the facts are essentially correct. What I should say is first, about the 1994 Hugo Administrators. Though the Hugo Subcommittee does bear legal collective responsibility for its official actions, readers should be informed that Peter and Athena Jarvis did not participate in the decision to relocate nominees between categories. They were essentially the local arrangements subcommittee - in charge of the plaques and the administration end of the ceremony - and did not participate in counting or verifying the nominees. Neither, really, did Kevin Standlee, the source of Cheryl's information. He was our supervisor and liaison with the larger concom. All the actual counting, verifying, and determining of the identities of the nominees and winners was done by myself and Seth Goldberg, and that includes the relocation decision. This got attributed just to me in some of the popular writings about it, because I was the one who spoke of it publicly (Seth preferred to be purely a backroom boy), but it was a joint decision by the two of us. But Seth is no longer with us, so if anyone is going to speak today with authority of the intent behind the decision, it will have to be me.

What we were trying to do was to let the ballot better express the will of the voters by aiming for equity among the nomination thresholds of the short fiction categories, that is, the minimum number of nominations that a story needed in order to make the final ballot. The threshold for Novelette was distinctly higher than that for Short Story, which was so low that only three stories cleared the 5% threshold, and it seemed unfair that two stories in the novelette category with so many nominations should be excluded from the ballot. Fortunately, the WSFS Constitution allowed for a grey zone between each set of fiction categories adjacent in word length, and this permitted us to move enough stories around to achieve a rough equity in the three short fiction category nomination thresholds.

The argument that Mike Resnick made at the time was that this set an absurd precedent, because various Hugo categories receive varying amounts of nominator attention - people pay more attention to novels and movies than they do to fan artists, for instance; sad but true - and thresholds therefore differ. To attempt to reach uniformity across all categories would result in complete arbitrariness of placement between categories. Mike even wrote a fan-fiction story in which the precedent was used to declare that a short story belonged in the Novel category (between which and Short Story there is, in fact, no overlap) and finally got its award from the convention masquerade.

The comic absurdity of this shows the invalidity of Mike's objection. According to the WSFS Constitution, movement among categories is only possible between two whose wordage or running time directly abut one another, and this is necessary because the categories are, in fact, fuzzy sets, and determining exact wordage is in fact a Heisenbergian process. Without a computer file it's impractical to make an exact count of a story of any length, and even with a file, there's the definition of a word to consider. (Favorite example: how many words is "Los Angeles-San Francisco flight"?) The traditional SF print magazines customarily identify stories by categories in the ToC, but many other publications do not, and nominators cannot be expected to make accurate determinations. My experience as Hugo administrator was that nominators constantly put unlabeled stories in the wrong categories. Unless there was an obvious attempt at stuffing the categories (e.g. putting obvious short stories in the Novelette blanks because you'd run out of room in the Short Story blanks), Seth's and my practice was to give the nominator the benefit of the doubt and allow these in.

And story lengths may be genuinely doubtful. In 1996, for instance, when Seth and I administered again, Charles Brown of Locus insisted to me that Connie Willis's Remake was less than 40,000 words and therefore belonged in Novella, but every time I made a word count of it by counting sample pages and extrapolating, it came out well over 40,000, so into Novel it went.

Mike Resnick defended his position that the categories were non-commutative by claiming that a short story and a novelette are fundamentally different things, not just longer or shorter stories. That is not the impression I've gotten from what other masters of the genre have said on the subject of story length, but I'm not here to adjudicate and there is a sense in which Mike may be right. But his position against relocation amounted to a claim that, if the cutoff between Short Story and Novelette is 7,500 words, then a story of 7,499 words is an entirely different kind of beast than a story of 7,501 words, and I don't think that's a tenable argument. If it isn't, then there must be a grey or fuzzy zone of some size, and we're back to the possibility of relocation. And, again, my experience seeing, for instance, novelettes nominated in everything from Novella to Short Story has convinced me that the voters just don't see the categories as different in kind.

What Mike says today is that it's unfair to make a short story "compete against a novelette that is naturally going to be more complex since it contains close to twice the wordage." Again, there may be truth in this (someone else will have to determine if the longest stories in a category usually win), but any injustice in this is built into the categories already. Novella runs from 17,500 to 40,000 words; the longest novella is over twice as long as the shortest. Novelette has a similar gap. As for Short Story itself, some authors, like Fredric Brown, have written classic SF short-shorts of less than 150 words. The top of Short Story is 7,500 words. That's fifty times as long as a 150-word story.

Yes, Mike might say, some yawning gaps are inevitable. But only so far: some gaps are just too much. Very well, maybe they are. But who is to determine how far is allowable, and how far is too much? For the Hugos, that decision must be made by the WSFS Business Meeting and be reflected in the Constitution. And the Constitution of that time provided for a fuzzy zone of 5,000 words on either side of the category limits, and by that rule Seth and I abided.

Subsequently, the BM narrowed the fuzzy zone. That is their right, and if they were unhappy with the results of the process, I encourage them to make whatever changes they see as fit.

Do I acknowledge that the decision to move the stories between categories was a mistake? Well, yes and no. Relocation for this reason was unprecedented, and hard to understand. I first realized that we were in for trouble when I informed the relevant nominated writers of the impending move. One of them asked me if that meant the story had to be cut, and I had to correct this misunderstanding of the process. But then, there's a lot about the Hugo process that confuses a lot of people. SF fans are supposed to be smart people, but many are absolutely baffled by the Instant Runoff final-ballot voting system. Many people have asked me to explain it to them. People with Ph.D.s have asked me this.

We did get a lot of flack for the decision, but then, Hugo administration naturally attracts flack. One furious fellow demanded my resignation for obvious bias in 1996 when I announced during the nomination period that, if the DP nominators chose to pick the movie Apollo 13, we would count it, and not disallow it on the grounds that it wasn't SF. His idea was that we were somehow giving our blessing to the movie. But that ignores that the nominators still had to nominate it. (In the end, it did get a nomination, but lost the Hugo to a B5 episode.) We couldn't control that. All I could do was assure anxious voters who did wish to nominate it that they wouldn't be wasting one of their five nomination blanks. The only bias was towards assuring that it didn't miss nominations from voters who wanted it, but who feared we'd arbitrarily reject their choice.

But what would have happened if we hadn't made the relocation in 1994? The first thing that surely would have happened is that we'd have gotten a lot of flack for a Short Story category with only three nominees in it. And then, when the nomination figures were released after the Worldcon, we would have gotten flack from some of the few people who read such things for such a high cut-off point in Novelette, refusing worthy stories a place on the ballot.

In short, you'll get flack no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you consider, according to your best judgment at the time, to be the right thing in the first place, and that is what Seth and I did.

(Note: I wrote this without the actual nomination statistics of 1994 to hand, thus a necessary vagueness on some points, and the risk of the vagaries of memory.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

concert review

I'm rather pleased with this review. Although the wording is less than ideally graceful, the ideas being conveyed came out just as I wanted them. I sit there after a concert with various thoughts about the performance jostling around in my head, and I wonder how they're going to fit together. This is how.