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2015 Hugo Awards: No Dogs Allowed?

2015 Hugo AwardOn Saturday night, the winners of the 2015 Hugo Awards (and the not-a-Hugo John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer) were announced as part of the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, in Spokane, Washington. Congratulations to all the winners for picking up one of the most prestigious awards in the genre world!

Of course, this year, the Hugos were also among the most controversial awards. In fact, “No Award” was given in five categories—Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Editor (Short Form), and Best Editor (Long Form) – matching the total number of times “No Award” has been given in the entire history of the Hugos, the most recent of which was in 1977. The reason this year’s Hugos were so controversial was due to the impact of the Sad Puppies and the Rapid Puppies on the Hugo ballot. In all five “No Award” categories, each of the five nominees had been part of the Puppies’ slates. In four other categories, the winner was the sole non-Puppy option. Guardians of the Galaxy was the only Puppy nominee to win (for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)), but to be fair, that movie had many fans beyond the Puppies.

WHO ARE THE PUPPIES?

Larry Correia, a Hugo-nominated fantasy author, created the Sad Puppies movement three years ago. Among his many past professions, Correia once worked as a lobbyist, and lobbyists are great at leveraging limited resources to get big results on behalf of a client. In this case, Correia wanted to return the Hugos to what he considered to be a more conservative, action-oriented, old-fashioned, and popular stories. He wanted to move away from what he saw as preachy, left-wing, literary stories that he felt had come to dominate the winners. Brad Torgerson took over the Sad Puppies ballot this year, and continued to push for plot over political correctness. Whether or not you agree with their preferences, I think it’s important to remember that Sad Puppies was formed out of love of genre.

But the platform, regardless of what motivated it, ran into criticism. Although Correia and Torgerson dispute the claims, many viewed the Sad Puppies platform as motivated by racist, sexist, and homophobic beliefs. And in all fairness, the Sad Puppies 3 slate was more diverse than previous offerings. Nevertheless, the ballot also included John C. Wright, who has gone on violent, homophobic rants. And the Sad Puppies have yet to really distance themselves from the Rabid Puppies and its leader, Vox Day, who opposes racial diversity, homosexuality, and women’s suffrage (The Sad Puppies slate also contained entries from the publishing house where Day works, Castalia House). Day was kicked out of the SFWA after using the organization’s resources to launch sexist and racist attacks.

Vox Day, a pseudonym used by writer, editor, and blogger Theodore Beale, took the Sad Puppy methods and stretched them to an extreme degree. In his view, it wasn’t so much about correcting the Hugos as it was about destroying them. Day is quoted as saying, “All this has ever been is a giant F*ck You – one massive gesture of contempt.” Day revels in being referred to as “the most despised man in science fiction” as The Wall Street Journal put it.

And if Day’s politics weren’t enough to upset Hugo voters, his methods certainly were. The Rabid Puppies slate contained multiple entries from the publishing house Day works for and two nominations for Day himself, raising questions about whether the Rabid Puppies’ slate was more about profit than protecting the Hugos. This criticism is particularly striking when the Sad Puppies offered their slate as a suggestion, while Day urged followers to copy the slate exactly. Day also reached out to Gamer Gate’s crusaders to buy in and enter his slate as a way to strike a blow against social justice warriors. Again, many people read this as the Rabid Puppies being interested in something other than rewarding quality.

Together, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies were very successful. Of the 85 slots, the Puppies secured 61, or over 70%. John C. Wright received six nominations, a new record. But it is important to note that the Puppies did not break any rules or cheat. Although logrolling and trading votes certainly happened in the past (this is a criticism of the Puppies—particularly when such arrangements were used to promote liberal pieces at the expense of more conservative pieces), no one had used slates like this so publicly, so explicitly, or so successfully.

SO WHAT? WHO’S THIS NOAH WARD GUY?

Everyone held their breath when the Hugo award ceremony began. Co-host David Gerrold joked, “Please, God, let there be winners.” As the evening progressed, and it became clear that the Puppies were losing to “No Award,” a sense of unfairness was felt by some, a sense of relief by others (a running joke among this camp was that “Noah Ward” was winning Hugos).

So were the Puppies right? Did they win? Well, it depends on who you ask. To some extent, the Puppies had set up a no-win scenario for the Hugos: on the one hand, if the Puppies were awarded Hugos, they win; on the other hand, if they are excluded from the awards, then they prove their thesis right that liberals would rather “burn down” the Hugos than award conservatives—another win.

I think a better argument is to let the numbers speak for themselves. Specifically, compare the number of votes required to get a nomination to the number of votes required to get a Hugo. Thankfully, the Hugo Awards release all the voting and nominating data. And what the data shows is that although the Puppies claim to speak for the silent majority of SFF fans, the voting doesn’t back that up. The Puppies were able to game the nomination process by securing a few hundred votes per nominee. But to win a Hugo, you need a few thousand votes. The Puppies were out voted almost four to one: 700 votes for the Sad Puppies, 1,100 votes for the Rabid Puppies, and 4,000 votes for non-Puppies.

And those non-Puppies voted for diversity. The Best Novel Winner was THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu—the first Chinese author to win the prize. Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 won Best Graphic Story. Lightspeed magazine won Best Semiprozine the year it published Women Destroy Science Fiction. Laura J. Mixon won for Best Fan Writer for her takedown of Internet troll/bully, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, AKA Requires Hate. And Wesley Chu won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

So was this vote a rebuke of the Puppies’ nominees or their methods? I can’t say for sure. I’m sure some people voted against the Puppies out of principle, without having read the nominees. But I also know voters also had problems with the quality of the Puppies’ slates.

But all of this circles around the notion of “best.” It’s a very subjective thing. Is the best seller the best? Should they get a trophy on top of those royalty checks? Or should the best story be painful and provocative? It’s not for me to say. But when a platform is presented to promote one individual or to destroy an award, I have to ask, is it really promoting what is best?

Moreover, however you define “best,” there will always be problems with how awards are selected. Juried prizes will be criticized as elitist – the opinion of a few, not many. Prizes awarded by popular vote will be criticized as popularity contests controlled by cliques who choose their friends, not the best. And no matter how prestigious the Hugo is, it does not represent all of fandom. It represents a segment of fandom that attends the World Science Fiction Convention. It will never satisfy everyone.

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?

So, the controversy’s over right? Let the dust settle, and move on? Not quite. If the Hugos are going to change their process, changes will take two years to come into effect. That is, due to the bylaws of the Hugos, proposals can be voted on at Spokane (and likely were), ratified next year in Kansas City, and finally come into play in Helsinki in 2017. So next year, the same rules will remain in play, meaning the same tactics could be repeated.

Only time will tell if both the Sad Puppies and the Rapid Puppies actually do that. Maybe the Rapid Puppies will double down. Maybe the Sad Puppies will continue to diversify their nominees and distance themselves from the Rapid Puppies. Maybe both groups will present indisputably strong nominees from a variety of publishers and editors. Heck, maybe the Puppies will decide that what they want to celebrate is so unique that a new award is in order.

Regardless of what happens, it should be noted that a record-setting 11,300 people bought memberships so that they could vote for the Hugos. That means they will have the option of nominating next year. And as far as I’m concerned, the more people involved in this process, the better.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?

Lastly, the thing about the Hugos releasing all their raw data is that people can calculate what the ballot would have looked like without the Puppies. Here’s a take by Tobias Buckell, and here’s one by Andrew Liptak. If you take a second to look at those, you’ll realize that Robert Jackson Bennett’s CITY OF STAIRS and Patrick Rothfuss’s THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS missed out on nominations.

I’ll leave it up to you whether those books are more deserving than those presented by the Puppies. If you think Bennett and Rothfuss missed out, go buy a copy or buy a copy for a friend. And if you can, buy a membership and get involved with the voting process. Read, nominate, and vote. Don’t let others speak for you.

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5 Comments

  1. Bill S says:

    Vote for the quality of the work not the views of the writer, that is censorship.Anyone has the right to be against anything they want. I thought liberals were tolorant? In my experience, they are for free speech if that speech is liberal speech.

  2. Dave says:

    Bill S, I think you need to go find a quality dictionary, and look up what censorship means. As for free speech, I’ll offer this:

    https://xkcd.com/1357/

  3. ” Read, nominate, and vote. Don’t let others speak for you.”

    That’s the best message anyone can take away from this whole mess. Regardless of how/why the Sad movement started or what the Rabid movement did to it, you can’t blame others for attempting to ‘ruin’ the genre unless you cast your own opposing vote.

    This whole mess makes me nostalgic for the pre-internet days when I had no idea what authors believed, and could read their stories independently of the person and their views. I try not to let personal biases influence my reading choices, but I will admit to removing authors like John C. Wright from my TBR pile based on the vitriol they’ve spread. I don’t like that I’ve done it, but some thing you just can’t unhear or unsee.

  4. Erica says:

    I was very torn over whether or not I should vote no award on puppy picks or simply focus on the quality of the work.

    It was their approach that bothered me even more than their message. Even more than their argument that SF should be about good old conservative values (or no values at all, depending on which puppy was talking at the moment) and that men tend to write it better than women and all that, the slate voting really ticked me off.

    I’d be furious if a more progressive group created one. And while I wish there was more love for epic fantasy in the Hugos, I don’t think there’s an anti-epic fantasy conspiracy, nor would I ever support an epic fantasy slate.

    So I was pretty conflicted about how to vote. I didn’t want to hurt writers, artists, editors and so on who possibly deserved to be there, but I didn’t want to encourage slates in the future either.

    Fortunately, though, when the time came to read the nominees, I no longer had to feel conflicted. With only a few exceptions, the puppy picks were not (in my opinion) of the quality that deserves a Hugo. It’s possible that a number of other fans felt the same way. My top picks didn’t win every category, but overall, I felt the winners were good quality work.

    The people I feel saddest for, though, are the ones who very likely would have been on the ballot this year without the slate voting. There were some great stories, art, editors, and novels that probably would have had a shot at a Campbell or rocket this year, including the last story author Eugie Foster published before she passed away.

  5. […] good enough.” Thankfully, I’m not the only one. Stories are becoming increasingly diverse, and prizes are rewarding […]

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