August 18th, 2016

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Interesting Links for 18-08-2016

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Merchanter's Luck, by C.J. Cherryh

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Sandor reached and put the interior lights on, and Lucy’s surroundings acquired some cheer and new dimensions. Rightward, the corridor to the cabins glared with what had once been white tiles—bare conduits painted white like the walls; and to the left another corridor horizoned up the curve, lined with cabinets and parts storage. Aft of the bridge and beyond the shallowest of arches, another space showed, reflected in the idle screens of vacant stations, bunks in brown, worn plastic, twelve of them, that could be set manually for the pitch at dock. Their commonroom, that had been. Their indock sleeping area, living quarters, wardroom—whatever the need of the moment. He set Lucy’s autopilot, unbelted and eased himself out of the cushion: that was enough to get himself a stiff fine if station caught him at it, moving through the vicinity of a station with no one at controls.
Don't hate me, but I have often found C.J. Cherryh's work difficult to engage with. (I have similar problems with John Crowley and M. John Harrison.) I bought this at Eastercon to give her another try, having rather bounced off both Downbelow Station, to which this is a sequel, and Cyteen a few years back. I'm afraid this didn't work for me either; I appreciate the tightness of the prose, but I lost track of the plot early on and could not work out why I should care much about the characters. Lesson learned, I guess.

This was both my top unread sf book and top unread book by a woman (as measured by LibraryThing popularity). Next on the former list is The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, next on the latter The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (which was already at the top of the pile).
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What EPH would have meant in practice

MidAmeriCon II, this year's WorldCon now in full swing in Kansas City, has published a retrospective count of the Hugo nominations of the last two years as they would have been if the proposed new EPH system had been implemented. This is to an extent a counterfactual exercise - particularly for last year, when a number of finalists withdrew precisely because of the success of the slates. But no such comparison can ever be perfect. The reported effect of EPH on the final ballot (I'm not looking at the long-lists here) would have been as follows:

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There is a lot to think about here. It's clear that EPH in 2015 would have given a more diverse ballot, and would have provided two non-slate candidates in four of the five categories where voters No Awarded the slates. But applied to a "normal year", we actually lose a finalist who won; and for the lower-intensity Retro Hugos, the edge effects get a bit unpredictable.

Dave McCarty, Hugo Admnistrator both this year and in 2014, comments in the paper: "The changes to the Ballot and Long list are not easily verified and for people reviewing the detailed results at the end the only way to check that the process is working correctly would require access to secret nomination data and significant time. The difficulty in verification means that to check any result requires time which is NOT available to award administrators when it is time to close the nominating and prepare for the Ballot announcement. These are significant hurdles for a process that is generally designed to be open and democratic."

I sympathise, and I also have a more basic concern, which is that EPH (which seemed to me like a good idea when it was first proposed) is fundamentally designed to address last year's problem. On Sunday we will find out what difference it would have made this year. But as Hugo administrator for Worldcon 75, my personal concern is next year, and I guess if I were at the Business Meeting, I would need to be convinced that it is the right answer at this time. Of course, if the Business Meeting does ratify it this weekend, I'll duly implement it regardless of my own views.

Edited to add: I've been reflecting on this a bit more, after being reminded over on File 770 that the only change EPH would have made in 1984 would have been to drop a woman (Sherri S Tepper) from the Campbell ballot.

The changes it would have made in 2014 would have been to drop a woman in favour of a man for Best Editor Short Form, to drop a woman and a man and bring in a different man for Best Professional Artist, and to drop both the actual winner and another podcast run by a woman and a man from Best Fancast.

Admittedly it's a small sample, but I don't really like what I am seeing of EPH's effects on the diversity of the ballot in "normal" years. However I have to concede that it would have replaced that embarrassingly bad Ray Bradbury story with one by Helen Simpson on the Retro Hugo ballot.