No, Virginia, There is no Stare Decisis

My story ‘Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus’ was disqualified by Mr John Lorentz and Miss Ruth Sachter in the name of the Sasquan Hugo Administrators, on the grounds that a first draft of the story was put out on my blog for my readers as a Christmas gift eight days before the beginning of 2014.

I did politely question the decision on the grounds that this case did not differ materially from a parallel case, where Mr Scalzi’s  OLD MAN’S WAR was posted to his blog in 2006 but was granted an award in 2013.

The reply I received was this:

John,In retrospect, “Old Man’s War” probably should not have been allowed on the ballot in 2006.But things weren’t as clear-cut when he first posted the novel on his web site in 2002.  I was able to attend more Worldcons in the early 2000’s than I have in recent years, and I remember there being a lot of discussion during the business meetings during those years as people tried to define what was meant by “published” (we were coming out of the years when only only way to distribute stories or books was by printing them on paper).

They finally settled on that it meaning whenever the text was presented to the public, whether it was on a web site, in an e-book or printed on paper.

Now, with many stories and articles being nominated that came from online magazines or sites like and, there’s no question that web publishing is a major means of publishing.  So posting a work on a public web site is treated as equivalent to printing it in a magazine.

I sincerely believe that a situation such as Old Man’s War won’t happen again–as long as the Hugo Administrators are aware of the initial publication.  (Since the Hugo Administrators change from year to year, I can’t guarantee that to be the case.  But if a future administrator reverted back to how Old Man’s War was treated, I’d certainly disagree with that action and I think most other people would, also.)

I hope that helps clarify the situation.  The Hugo administrators each year are only human, and we all make the occasional mistakes.  But we try to do our best in interpreting the rules clearly and impartially.
John Lorentz
Sasquan Hugo Administrator

This response, in my mind, raised more questions than it allayed, and so I wrote a second time, but have so far received no further answer.

I suppose the answer came when I stumbled across Mr Mike Glyers’ 770 blog, where the announcement of the decision was made.

N.B.: Mr Glyer has been nominated for 50 Hugo awards in his career.

Now, I did not think it proper to speak to Mr Scalzi himself on the matter, since he has no power to influence the Hugo judges, nor was he privy to the note sent me, and if there was any further written record of the decision or the reasoning involved in my case, it was not shown me.

But it seems someone did ask him, apparently in a fashion to which he takes  exception. In reply, Mr Scalzi holds forth his legal opinion as to why the two cases differ.

N.B.: Mr Scalzi has been nominated for 9 Hugo Awards in his career.

I invite your comments. Is his legal reasoning sound?

The words below are his

In the wake of one of John C. Wright’s Hugo-nominated stories being disqualified for the ballot because it was previously published on his Web site, howls of bitter indignancy have arisen from the Puppy quarters, on the basis that Old Man’s War, a book I serialized here on Whatever in 2002, qualified for the Hugo ballot in 2006 (it did not win). The gist of the whining is that if my work can be thought of as previously unpublished, why not Mr. Wright’s? Also, this is further evidence that the Hugos are one big conspiracy apparently designed to promote the socially acceptable, i.e., me specifically, whilst putting down the true and pure sons of science fiction (i.e., the Puppies).

So: thoughts.

1. The first irony is that Old Man’s War actually wasn’t originally on the 2006 Best Novel Hugo ballot at all; it finished sixth in the nomination tally. It ascended to the ballot when Neil Gaiman, who I did not know at the time (and who was almost certainly entirely unaware of my existence, or that I had placed sixth in the nomination tally), declined a Best Novel nomination for Anansi Boys. Neil (who I do know now), explained later that he’d felt he’d won his share of Hugos at the time and imagined the nomination would be better served helping someone else. He was correct about that. The point is that if you buy into the conspiracy theory of Old Man’s War being on the ballot, you have to believe that the conspiracy somehow convinced/forced Neil Gaiman to decline his nomination strictly for my benefit. Which is some conspiracy!

2. The second irony is that at the time, based purely on the content of Old Man’s War, to the extent that fandom presumed to guess my personal politics at all, much of it assumed that I was a US conservative. Hey, not everyone reads my blog. So the idea that I was on the ballot because of some ideological nod is, well, suspect at best.

3. It was no big secret in 2006 that Old Man’s War had been serialized on my blog prior to publication, so it seems doubtful to me the Hugo people were entirely unaware of its provenance. To the extent that it was discussed at all between me and other folks, to the best of my recollection at the time, there was the feeling that serializing on the blog did not, in itself, constitute publication


4. Aside from my notification of the nomination, I had no contact with the Hugo Award committee of that year prior to the actual Worldcon, nor could I tell you off the top of my head who was on the committee. It doesn’t appear that anyone at the time was concerned about whether OMW being serialized here constituted publication. Simply put, it didn’t seem to be an issue, or at the very least, no one told me if it were. Again, if this was a conspiracy to get me on the ballot, it lacked one very important conspirator: Me.

5. So why would OMW’s appearance on a Web site in 2002 not constitute publication, but Mr. Wright’s story’s appearance on a Web site in 2013 constitute publication? There could be many reasons, including conspiracy, but I think the more likely and rather pedestrian reason is that more than a decade separates 2002 and 2013. In that decade the publishing landscape has changed significantly. In 2002 there was no Kindle, no Nook, no tablet or smart phone; there was no significant and simple commerce channel for independent publication; and there was not, apparently, a widespread understanding that self-publishing, in whatever form, constituted formal publication for the purposes of the Hugo Awards. 2013 is not 2002; 2015, when Mr. Wright’s story was nominated, is not 2006, when OMW was nominated.

I don’t think it’s all that difficult to conceptualize that major changes in culture can significantly alter the perception of what is legitimate and what is not; after all, in 2002, no state in the US allowed for same-sex marriage, whereas in 2015 the majority do, and it’s very likely by the end of the year that all will. The recognition of web publication as formal publication for the purposes of science fiction awards is not exactly a greater cultural shift than that, I would propose. No conspiracy required.

6. But it’s not faaaaaaiiirrrr, waaaaaaaaaaaah. Well, one: Life is not fair, so gut up, children.

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