Volume 06, Number 04, Fall, 1988

Grossberg Answers

By Michael Grossberg

Literary Awards often generate controversy—too often acrimony. Perhaps it was inevitable that the Prometheus Awards and Hall of Fame would follow the pattern. Perhaps we can take it as a sign that our awards do matter to people.

It's certainly not easy to refute conspiracy theories. Especially when anyone who willfully chooses can persist in attributing all sorts of dark motives to even the most straightforward proposal. Nevertheless, before I can ask LFS members to take seriously the previously stated reason for my proposed Hall of Fame rules change next year, I must clarify certain inaccuracies in Neil's letter.

First, I agree with many of the general points he made about his first novel's positive impact. Perhaps I did go too far in panning Alongside Night a decade ago in Libertarian Review. Perhaps I was overly worried about how others were representing the novel in endorsements. Yet, my respect for Neil as a novelist has grown a great deal since then, just as his powers grew considerably from Night to The Rainbow Cadenza.

And perhaps it was bad timing to publish my column last issue, while this year's Hall of Fame vote was going on. But I was suggesting a rules change for next year, after all. Contrary to the connotations of words like "manipulation," LFS members are a feisty bunch who think—and vote—independently. I for one was willing to live with their 1988 vote—no matter which novel won. Hopefully, other LFS members will be mature enough to do the same.

I apologize if I gave Neil the wrong impression over the phone when I told him I thought his novel had a good chance to win. (I also said The Stars, My Destination was a strong candidate, too.) Both statements reflected my personal opinion. In fact, they couldn't have reflected anything else!

Quite possibly, this may be the crux of our misunderstanding. Nothing else, to my mind, could explain so well Neil's disproportionate outrage over losing. Perhaps he misinterpreted me to mean that Night's victory was a fait accompli. Perhaps he even imagined I meant his novel was leading in the final vote—which had not even begun.

At that time in early summer no final ballots had been distributed yet, and no one had had a chance to vote on the winner. So my statement could only have been a subjective prediction, based on what Victoria told me (vaguely) about the novel's ranking in the finalist vote. (Yes, it was slightly ahead—but Bester's classic, which eventually won, ranked high, too.)

Anyone familiar with awards voting, such as the Hugos or Nebulas, understands that final votes frequently reflect quite different rankings from earlier rankings, once voters have a chance to pick their favorites from a more limited list. Many votes shift after nominated favorites are eliminated from competition.

If Neil actually believed that victory was "stolen" from him at the last minute, then perhaps it's a little easier to understand—though no more excusable—his charges of manipulation. Again and again, Victoria Varga has urged all LFS members to vote in the awards (some of the most vocal complainers don't, surprisingly) and encouraged those with differing view to contribute pro- and con- book reviews, letters and columns. If Tory or I express our views in print under these circumstances, that's not manipulation. That's free speech—protected by the First Amendment that Neil, as my personally invited guest speaker, will presumably be defending this October at the Free Press Association's conference in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, if I had felt as strongly about the novel as I did years ago, there were many things I could have done to lobby against it in this year's Hall of Fame voting. For example, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to call up LFS friends and privately urge them to vote against it. (Ask LFS members to step forward to acknowledge whether I called or wrote them during the vote; I lobbied no one.) Or I might have proposed formally that Night be eliminated from the 1988 competition—or at least strongly urged voters not to favor it in my article. But I did no such thing. In fact, my column proposing a rules change for next year made no reference to Neil's novel.

There was a good reason for that. The all-important thing, for me, was not which novel was inducted into this year's Hall of Fame. The main issue is making sure the Hall of Fame maintains its purpose and legitimacy independent of the Prometheus Awards.

That's why I proposed a cut-off date for Hall of Fame eligibility. Contrary to what some may think, there is no formal cut-off date now. Our only rule is that a novel can't be considered until five years after its American publication date.

In fact, as Victoria and several other LFS members can attest, I've been arguing privately for years that additional rules are necessary to ensure that the Hall of Fame doesn't degenerate into a "five-years-delayed" Prometheus Award. (One could interpret aspects of the current controversy as revealing evidence for that possibility—unless changes are made.)

The crucial point is establishing a cut-off date. Less important is whether it's 1975 or 1978 or 1980, as Neil suggests. (The difficulty of working out a specific proposal, even when the problem to be solved was clear, is why it took so long to translate my repeated statements of concern into print.)

According to Neil's letter, the whole purpose of my column was to guarantee that his novel lost. Well, you can count on a good novelist to be imaginative. And I'll say this for my "God knows why" friend. He has certainly demonstrated in both novels a genius for devising complex conspiracies!

Neil suggests that's also why I proposed 1975 as a cut-off date instead of 1980. Not at all, and I'm certainly willing to consider alternatives suggested by others. But I knew that any proposal, no matter how good in principle, can't become a reality until the details are ironed out. So I picked a specific date.

Why 1975? My initial reasoning was that the ideal date should be one before the first Prometheus winner (F. Paul Wilson's Wheels Within Wheels, the 1978 winner) but after the latest Hall of Fame winner Illuminatus!, published in 1975). I picked 1975 because it's a quarter-century mark, unlike 1976 and 1977.

Why not 1980? Because some Prometheus finalists and winners were published before then. In my view, a Hall of Fame should first of all be for worthy novels published before our regular award was established—just like the informal "hall of fame" anthologies of sf fiction written before the Hugo Award began.

Why not other cut-off years or alternative proposals? Why not, indeed? Let's debate all reasonable proposals. Without repeating my entire argument from last issue's column my proposal is for an eligibility requirement of at least 20 years after a work is published, to go into effect in 1995. (Until then, I propose 1975 as the cut-off year.)

I want to make my priorities crystal clear; I would prefer that LFS members adopt the proposal with a different cut-off date than 1975 rather than have no rules change at all. Remember that it's a moot point what cut-off date we start with, because soon enough, under my proposal, the only rule will be a 20-year sliding scale.

Regardless of which plan is adopted, I consider the induction of Night into the Hall of Fame to be an eventual inevitability. Believe it or not, Neil, that's okay with me.

Ultimately, the award rules—and everything else about the Libertarian Futurist Society — should be whatever the membership finds most desirable. But some cut-off date and previous publication span must be chosen, if you agree that the Hall of Fame should continue to have a different focus from the Prometheus Award.

To address a tangential issue, if the LFS membership wants to go back after the fact and select annual Prometheus winners for the two "double year" awards of the early 80s, that's fine, too. That is if and only if members wish to donate additional dues for those years in order to pay for the expensive gold-coin prizes. After all, the bottom line, organizationally speaking, is the bottom line. Limited funds forced us to combine 1979 and 1980 into one double-year Prometheus award. We had to catch up somehow.

Perhaps, to make obvious the integrity of the LFS voting process—separate as it should be, from the healthy debate that should accompany each vote—all vote rankings should be made public afterwards (as the Hugo ballots rankings are released a few months after the award ceremony and initial announcements).

Amid all these misunderstandings, the most important lesson of this controversy must not be overlooked. Greater efforts have to be made to publicize LFS organizational procedures, award rules, deadlines and history. (Especially since Neil Schulman is not the first prominent novelist to severely misperceive perfectly legitimate LFS operating policies.)

As anyone can check out for themselves by re-examining the LFS "founding documents" (frequently advertised in this newsletter's classifieds), the decisions made while organizing the LFS and reviving the Prometheus Award were the result of a lengthy membership consensus arrived at via mailed questionnaires.

By necessity, we had to make decisions that were practical, affordable and acceptable to the LFS majority. If not, neither the LFS nor the Prometheus Awards would have survived. But they did. As a result, the LFS is no longer "mine." Both the organization and the responsibilities for its evolution and growth are shared by the membership. That's the ultimate bottom line.

Now quite busy elsewhere as the Columbus Dispatch theater critic and Free Press Association Executive Director, Michael Grossberg founded the Libertarian Futurist Society in 1982.

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