Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anticipation's Aurora Awards banquet -- a significant break from tradition

A few interesting facts about this year's Aurora Awards and the ceremony at which they will be presented, courtesy of the website for Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, which is hosting the Auroras this year:

"Since the Awards will be held in Montreal, we are placing emphasis on access to French works, through translations and other efforts to make the output of French Canada available to international attendees."

One wonders if the Aurora Awards subcommittee of the 2003 Worldcon -- the previous Canadian one -- had issued a statement like the above about the Auroras, but with "Toronto" and "English" substituted for "Montreal" and "French," what the response would have been. Surely all of Canada's Aurora-Award-nominated works deserve to be highlighted for those coming to the Worldcon from outside Canada.

Anyway:

"The Awards will take place Friday, August 7th. Doors open at 17:30, Dinner and Awards start at 18:00. A cash bar will be available during the Awards."

Well, that's nice that they're having a banquet; those Aurora Award ceremonies that have included a banquet (starting, I believe, in 1997) have been the best.

"Due to time constraints, the Awards ceremony will take place during dinner."

Time constraints? But Anticipation bid to become the Canadian National Science Fiction Convention: it fought for the right to be the venue at which the Auroras are presented, and fought for the right to be designated not just the World Science Fiction Convention but also the CanVention, this year's Canadian National SF Convention. Surely they are setting an appropriate block of time aside for the Aurora Award ceremony, no?

"Therefore, open seating after the banquet is not available this year. If you want to attend the ceremonies, you must purchase a ticket. You must be a member of Anticipation to attend the banquet."

Who in the what now? This is a huge break in tradition. No one has ever had to pay to see the Auroras presented before. When there has been a banquet, it has always been followed by open seating, allowing people to see the awards be presented without having to pay. Indeed, the open seating normally hasn't even required people to have a convention membership to come in and watch. (I always go to the banquet when there is one, but that's not the point.)

Also, having often been master of ceremonies for, given keynote speeches at, and participated in many dozens of awards ceremonies and banquets over the years, both in and out of the SF field, I'll point out that you never give the awards while people are trying to eat. The noise level is too high and there are too many people distracted from paying attention to the presentation of the awards; it ruins both the meal and the awards ceremony.

"Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 on site. This is on top of the registration fees required for voting ... If you want to attend the ceremonies, you must purchase a ticket."

So, if you're nominated for an Aurora, and you actually want to attend the ceremony at which the winners will be announced, the fee is Cdn$240 for your membership in Anticipation plus Cdn$40 for your banquet ticket, if you buy in advance, for at total of Cdn$290 -- or more at the door.

In the past, nominees and others who are interested (even the general public) have been able to attend the actual ceremony for free, since the ceremony has always been held either as a standalone affair or after the banquet was over.

We've often had cases in the past where there have been surprise Aurora victories (meaning no one can confidently predict who is going to win in any given category), and many nominees -- both pro and fan -- will find $40 (for their own ticket) or $80 (the combined cost of their own and one for their significant other) too steep to bear.

It seems to me, therefore, that Anticipation is manufacturing a situation in which there will likely be winners who are attending the Worldcon but will not be able to come into the room to receive their trophies (or their applause) during the ceremony, because they've chosen not to (or been unable to) spend $40 on a banquet ticket on the off-chance that they might win.

Given that Anticipation seems unwilling to clear an appropriate block of time in its schedule for the Aurora Awards (and therefore is currently planning on trying to cram all of a cash bar, a sit-down meal, and the actual presentation of the awards into a small window of time), I personally think they'd do better to dispense with the banquet, and have a proper ceremony -- one that all of the nominees can attend -- instead.

But the real solution is for this year's Canadian National Science Fiction Convention -- that selfsame Anticipation -- to find the appropriate amount of time in the schedule for both the banquet and the awards ceremony. The current plan -- a rushed affair with a mandatory entrance fee -- is unfair to the nominees, to those on a budget, and to the dignity of the awards.
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13 Comments:

At June 16, 2009 12:58 PM , Blogger brian_l_raney said...

I agree completely with you, Rob. This is obviously an attempt to force people into buying a banquet ticket, which is an easy sell for me because I always like supporting banquet dinner, brunch, lunch, supper affairs at conventions. There is nothing like breaking bread with your fellow fen or pro, but these kinds of tactics, depriving others of participation from the ceremonies just to sell tickets, are deplorable.

Everyone should have the privilege to see a proper awards ceremony, regardless if she or he has bought a banquet ticket. And I firmly believe that the Anticipation’s Con Committee should have no trouble in finding a venue to correct thier major miscalculation.

 
At June 16, 2009 3:08 PM , Blogger Cathy Palmer-Lister said...

There has been a flurry of mail on the Aurora committee mail list about this. We agree with Robert's comments, but all the arrangements are in the hands of Anticipation, and our suggestions made a long time ago when this issue first came up were ignored.
In fairness, I do not believe this is the fault of the person trying to organize the Aurora presentations, but rather the time constraints imposed on her. The Auroras are on the very bottom of Anticipation's priorities, as a glance at the sidebar of their website shows. http://www.anticipationsf.ca/English/Home
Even though the list is alphabetical, we are still at the bottom.

 
At June 17, 2009 9:01 AM , Blogger Gerald said...

One wonders if the Aurora Awards subcommittee of the 2003 Worldcon -- the previous Canadian one -- had issued a statement like the above about the Auroras, but with "Toronto" and "English" substituted for "Montreal" and "French," what the response would have been. Surely all of Canada's Aurora-Award-nominated works deserve to be highlighted for those coming to the Worldcon from outside Canada.

Bingo!

 
At June 17, 2009 1:33 PM , Blogger JS said...

Didn't Rob make a comment that French-Canadian SF is only read by a few hundred people at best and therefore French-Canadian writers can't make a living? Did he not also boast that there is a host of English-Canadian writers making a living at it?

Given the above and Rob's adeptness at promotion, wouldn't he agree that this is precisely what should be done to promote French-Canadian SF to WorldCon's predominantly English-reading attendees?

 
At June 17, 2009 3:17 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

JS, I fully and completely agree that the Montreal Worldcon should be promoting French-Canadian SF -- absolutely, 100%, without question.

And, indeed, they're doing just that, with, among other things, a French-Canadian writer guest of honour in the person of Elisabeth Vonarburg.

But the Auroras honour work in both French and English, and it is wrong, wrong, wrong for the host organization to say that some of the nominees should get more of a spotlight than others.

There are many ways for Anticipation to promote French-Canada literature, but a two-tiered class structure of Aurora nominees is not a good one.

Indeed, to REDUCE all of French-Canadian literature to the four (yes, that's all) authors responsible for both the works nominated for the French long-form Aurora and the four works nominated for the French short-form Aurora) is to miss the vast majority of work by French-Canadian writers.

And I didn't boast; I answered a question. You do neither yourself nor your position a service by imposing your spin on my words.

 
At June 17, 2009 3:46 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

And, JS, here are the names of the authors nominated for English-language pro fiction Auroras this year:

Peter Atwood
Susan J. Forest
Randy McCharles
Ursula Pflug
Robert J. Sawyer
Douglas Smith
Hayden Trenholm
Edward Willett

Of them, I'm the only one who makes his living writing science fiction.

Did you even look at the Aurora ballot before you decided to comment on who needed a spotlight and who should rightly be passed over? There are great, great, great writers on the list above, not including myself, but they have NOT received the attention they deserve. The point of being nominated for an Aurora is to give them that attention, and neither you nor Anticipation has the right to say, sorry, we prefer to promote other Aurora nominees instead.

 
At June 17, 2009 5:09 PM , Blogger Jean-Louis Trudel said...

Quoting:

" "Since the Awards will be held in Montreal, we are placing emphasis on access to French works, through translations and other efforts to make the output of French Canada available to international attendees."

" One wonders if the Aurora Awards subcommittee of the 2003 Worldcon -- the previous Canadian one -- had issued a statement like the above about the Auroras, but with "Toronto" and "English" substituted for "Montreal" and "French," what the response would have been. Surely all of Canada's Aurora-Award-nominated works deserve to be highlighted for those coming to the Worldcon from outside Canada. "

One wonders (to use a well-worn phrase) whether fact-checking is compatible with blogging. The above suggests that the Aurora Awards subcommittee had something to do with the banquet and the wording of the announcement. As an advisor to that committee, I can back up Cathy in saying that the Aurora Award subcommittee neither assented to the banquet policy nor was consulted as to the wording of its announcement.

The wording with respect to works in French appears to be boilerplate from Anticipation's broader objectives. As the Worldcon is city/region-based and not nation-based, it can certainly choose to celebrate the talents of the city and region supporting it. If the Worldcon is ever held in Alberta or British Columbia, it may well choose to celebrate Western Canadian writers, and I will find that perfectly normal.

 
At June 17, 2009 5:40 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Jean-Louis. Yes, it's come as quite a surprise to me that the Aurora Awards committee knew of this and said nothing publicly. I assumed they were actively involved and consulted; never before has a host convention acted contrary to the wishes of the Aurora committee, and the committee would have been right to blow the whistle -- if, in fact, that situation is as you claim.

So, since you have special insight to that committee's views and position, perhaps you'd share the information here? Otherwise, you're being disingenuous in saying one could have checked these facts: the silence on these issues on the official Aurora Awards page is plain for anyone to see.

As to the use of boilerplate in a paragraph that says the following, that's ludicrous; this is not material cut and pasted from elsewhere, but a specific reference to the Auroras: "Since the Awards will be held in Montreal, we are placing emphasis on access to French works, through translations and other efforts to make the output of French Canada available to international attendees." Where's the boilerplate in that?

(And it's too bad Montrealers Donald Kingsbury and Jo Walton weren't nominated this year -- it would have been fascinating to see who got in the spotlight then, and who was left out; certainly, you, JLT, despite being an Ontarian, seem to be one of those who is supposed to enjoy the special glow.)

But even if the boilerplate you allude to does exist, please show me where it appeared in the documents made public while people were bidding on the Worldcon -- or was this a hidden agenda?

And please respond directly to my question: if the first sentence of the paragraph above was rewritten to says "Toronto" and "English," and had appeared on the Torcon 3 website, would you have really said that's just fine? Since you are often the first and loudest voice to object to any perceived slight against French-Canadian SF, again, you are being disingenuous here to imply that your answer would have been anything other than non.

 
At June 17, 2009 5:59 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Oh, and I'll save you the trouble of looking, JLT. Here's the last Internet Archive snapshot of the Anticipation website prior to the closing of site-selection voting in 2007:

http://tinyurl.com/anticipation-2007

Do point out the boilerplate you refer to, if it's there.

 
At June 24, 2009 3:28 PM , Blogger Claude said...

Also, I agree with Rob that there's a lot wrong with this whole scenario. For example, as a nominee, I never even received notification of when the banquet would be held -- to the point of getting no response at all when I queried about it. I only found out about it on this blog. The information is not on the Aurora Award website.

I also agree with Rob that there's something wrong with this French spin. It's an unwelcome validation of the provincial government's propaganda that Montreal is a francophone city -- when anyone living here can plainly see that it's not. French is an important part of the makeup of the city, but it's insulting to about half of Montreal's multicultural, multiethnic population to keep hammering this "Montreal is a Francophone city" meme. Of course, francophone SF should be promoted at the convention, but Montreal produces SF writers who write in either, and sometimes even both (Yves and Jena-Louis, for example), French and English, just as the city itself has a vibrant anglophone history and cultural presence.

 
At June 24, 2009 3:35 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Well said, Claude Lalumière (who is nominated for editing Tesseracts Twelve).

 
At June 26, 2009 2:19 PM , Blogger Jean-Louis Trudel said...

Fact-checking, in my days as a student journalist, included calling up people, not just trusting whatever was written or published, or interpreting freely silence or the absence of statements. I rather hope professional journalists and bloggers are not held to a lower standard. So, Robert, did you call or contact anyone who is officially a member of the Aurora Awards committee?

As an advisory member, I cannot and will not speak more than I have on behalf of the committee. Cathy is a full member, and she has already given her view of things, which I did feel free to confirm.

Quoting:

" As to the use of boilerplate in a paragraph that says the following, that's ludicrous; this is not material cut and pasted from elsewhere, but a specific reference to the Auroras: "Since the Awards will be held in Montreal, we are placing emphasis on access to French works, through translations and other efforts to make the output of French Canada available to international attendees." Where's the boilerplate in that? "

The feeling is clearly expressed elsewhere, either in explaining why the Worldcon is called Anticipation or in promoting Guest of Honour Élisabeth Vonarburg (see the first paragraph in the link, if it works). The idea that Anticipation would devote more attention to SF in French than previous Worldcons is not new.

The reference here to the Awards is misleading and, to my mind, there has been something of a slippage from speaking of Anticipation to speaking of the [Aurora] Awards: one must actually read what is being said to understand that this cannot refer to the Awards.

There is a specific reference to the translation of French works, but the only translation I'm aware of that is somewhat associated with Anticipation is that of some of Élisabeth's fiction. As she is not a finalist for an award this year and was named a GoH before Anticipation was given the Canvention, IIRC, the connection to the awards is less than clear. A couple of new translations that I'm aware of will be available at Anticipation, such as stories in the new Tesseracts or Sylvie Bérard's novel, both from Edge, maybe one in On Spec, or, looking farther afield, Pierre Pevel's novel translated and published in the UK. How these might be connected to the Awards, I'll let somebody else explain—especially since Pevel is French, not Canadian. (Robert?)

What the "other efforts" cover with respect to the Aurora Awards is also mysterious to me. If it means the ceremony will be fully bilingual, unlike the one in Winnipeg last year, naturally, I do not object to that. Let me note that if the pattern set in Winnipeg had been followed, the ceremony in Montreal would have been wholly in French, except for the English-language awards... But if it means that French-Canadian books will be sold in the dealers' room, well, I find that perfectly normal.

As for answering the question, I repeat that it is moot because it is not the Aurora Awards committee that has issued the statement that you quote. Ask me rather how I would have reacted to a similar Toronto statement where the we would have been Torcon 3 just as we may think that the we here is Anticipation.

 
At June 26, 2009 2:32 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

You're still dodging questions, JLT. And you're still obfuscating. But fine, you've had your say. Thanks for dropping by.

 

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