Saturday, May 28, 2016

If MetaFilter were filk-fixated: File 770

It's time to kick off the Hugo review season with a look at the nominees I'm already familiar with. And where better to start than with two linked contenders who serve as an excellent point of orientation for the newcomer: the blog/fanzine File 770 and its editor/publisher/ Mike Glyer.

The electronic side of the File 770 operation is much more prolific these days - with regular updates (or 'Pixel Scrolls') collating genre news and opinion from fandom, SF/fantasy writers, publishers, film, TV and more. Notwithstanding an understandably American slant, it's an excellent resource to skim and take the temperature of the scene at any given moment. 

Or to put it another way: imagine if MetaFilter were fixated on filking, the details of lawsuits against Star Trek fan films and voting systems for literary awards. There, that's File 770.

The zine, nearly forty years old now, can also be read on the site and comes out once or twice a year. Since it tends to focus on the US fan community, its conventions and its personalities, it's more for the hardcore. So it's mainly the blog I'm focussing on here, but probably the closest British equivalent of either is cult legend David Langford's similarly long-running Ansible, whose website and newsletter fulfil similar functions in the UK.
File 770 is no stranger to a Hugo Award - it's won six times since the 1980's for Best Fanzine (which nowadays also includes blogs) - while Glyer has snagged another three for Best Fan Writer. So ordinarily the fact that they've both been nominated again would cause mild eye-rolling and a disinclination to back them if other worthy contenders presented themselves.

But that would be to overlook the fact that File 770 has also perfomed an exemplary service to fandom and the global science-fiction and fantasy community by reporting on the Hugo controversies over the past year. For people like me who are interested in what's going on, it's been the go-to resource to educate ourselves.

It helps that - occasional op ed articles aside - the blog not only links back to the original stories but quotes liberally from the sources themselves. Glyer and other contributors usually confine themselves to introducing each item rather than responding to it, although occasionally a little mild frustration can be detected.

In short - if File 770 had an DnD alignment, it would be Lawful Neutral, or at least trying to live up to it. Which is really what you need from a news service.

The File 770 community, on the other hand, existing in a ecosystem of comments on individual blog posts, is all about opinions plural. Whether it's taking a position on the stories of the day, swapping book or recipe recommendations or engaging in an epic comic riff about what to say to the Balrog in Moria (archived here), the threads are always insightful. Occasionally a little hot-tempered, but by comparison to Twitter (say) they're a paragon of civility. :)

I nominated File 770 and Mike Glyer in my Hugo ballot mainly for the Pixel Scrolls, but also for enabling this rich and varied conversation among fans. As it turns out, both were on the Rabid Puppy slate that swept the shortlist, albeit in the 'didn't ask to be there, probably would have been on the shortlist anyway' category, so I see no reason to hold that against them.

The main criticism I could level at File 770 is inherent in the nature of the site - that news reporting, especially when couched mainly in quotes from other sites, doesn't lend itself to the kind of bravura, turn-on-a-sixpence writing that I usually feel drawn to. And the op-ed pieces are often too specifically focussed on US fandom to reel me in, too.

However, I still feel this is more than offset by the value that File 770 has provided both to fans and people like me in the peanut gallery. Without jumping the gun on how I'll vote, it certainly lays down a benchmark that anyone else in the Fanzine and Fan Writer categories will find tough to beat.

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