What Are the “Hot Potatoes”?
by Joseph Grant
Quick questions: What does “controversial” regarding my story “Secret in the Lake” mean? (Is that a good thing? LOL) I saw my listing in the “Hot Potatoes” category. Since I won first controversial story by order, I’m just wondering. Editorially, what does that mean?
You’ve asked an interesting question!
The Order of the Hot Potato says nothing about the content of any particular work. Rather it reflects an exceptionally large range of opinion among the Review Editors.
The Hot Potatoes standings are derived by taking the standard deviation of the votes and adding the high-low differential, i.e. the difference between the highest and lowest votes. If the result is 1.000 or more, the work qualifies for the “official” list. If the result falls between 0.900 and 1.000, it qualifies for the “unofficial” list.
The results may be due to a number of factors, mainly:
All the editors generally liked or disliked the work, but the votes were scattered in a wide range. Anything “fair to middlin’” usually gets a consensus and does not make the list.
Opinion was split; some editors really liked the work, while others really didn’t.
The range of votes may have been large but not exceptionally so; rather, the difference between the outliers, namely the highest and lowest votes, was unusually large.
Of course we’re not going to say which factor applies to which titles. I couldn’t see the point, and it’s too much like work anyway. Besides, we prefer that readers decide for themselves why a story or poem, etc. might make the list.
“Official” and “unofficial” can be elastic terms. What if a quarter ended with only a small handful of works qualifying for the “official” list, say fewer than six? That wouldn’t be very interesting. I’d probably expand the list to include those scoring 0.900 or more.
Why do we have the Order of the Hot Potato, anyway? Sheer reader interest has a lot to do with it, but basically it goes back to what the Second Quarterly Review says in the introduction, that we take pride in fairness as well as quality. We represent a range of views and don’t pretend to be monolithic.
Copyright © 2009 by Joseph Grant
and Bewildering Stories