The nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards have been announced, and I’m thrilled to see that my editor at DAW Books, Sheila Gilbert, is once again nominee for Best Editor, Long Form. This is Sheila’s third time on the ballot, and here’s hoping this is the year she goes home with the rocketship.
That said, I’ve decided I’d throw in my tuppence-worth of thought on the Big Hugo Controversy of 2015. Many pixels have been spilt and much bandwidth sacrificed to discussions all over the Web, but it’s entirely possible you, gentle reader, are among the few who know nothing of this. Let’s see if I can sum it up while being fair to both sides.
This year, SF writer Brad Torgersen mounted a campaign called Sad Puppies 3 to solicit suggestions of people who fans thought ought to be on the Hugo ballet but might be overlooked without greater attention being drawn to them. From those suggestions, and in consultation with like-minded colleagues, he presented a slate of possible nominees (including my editor, Sheila Gilbert). He and the others promoting the slate–bestselling SF/fantasy author Larry Correia and SF/fantasy author Sarah A. Hoyt, among others–urged people to give the list serious consideration, to read the suggested works, and then, most importantly, to buy supporting memberships to this year’s WorldCon in Spokane and nominate and, later, vote.
The view of the Sad Puppies is that awards have tended to go to recent years to certain works primarily because those works carry an approved political message (specifically a left-wing political message), or because their creators are outspoken online advocates of approved political messages, rather than because those works are necessarily particularly well-written or entertaining science fiction or fantasy.
In contrast, the Sad Puppies slate includes authors of varied political persuasions, some right-wing, some left-wing, some unknown: the goal is not to promote a political agenda but rather to ensure that political agendas do not become the central feature of the Hugo Award nominees.
The Sad Puppies campaign was a remarkable success, with the majority of the nominees either being on the Sad Puppies slate or another one run by controversial but influential (his website generates enormous traffic) writer/editor Vox Day, who called his similar-but-not-identical slate Rabid Puppies (and whose motivations may be somewhat different).
Those who disagree with the Sad Puppies approach fall into, by my analysis, roughly four (overlapping) camps. While the Sad Puppies approach is entirely within the rules, open campaigning for the Hugos has traditionally been frowned upon. (It is the Sad Puppies’ contention that such campaigning has still gone on, but behind the scenes. I suspect that is true, but have no solid evidence for it.) This dislike of open campaigning is one reason some are unhappy with the Sad Puppies.
The second camp comprises those convinced that the reason for the Sad Puppies campaign is entirely reactionary: that the Puppies are upset that more people of varying skin tones and sexual identities and left-wing political views have been winning awards than did in the past, because the Sad Puppies are largely white straight conservative men and they believe only white straight conservative men should be winning awards. The fact that the current Sad Puppy slate is not, in fact, entirely made up of white straight conservative men, does not seem to alter their stated perception. The fact that the Sad Puppies flat-out state that’s not what the campaign is about doesn’t alter this perception either: they’re accused of lying about their true motives.
The third camp comprises those who believe the Sad Puppies campaign is really just an attempt by its organizers to net Hugo Awards for themselves. Since Larry Correia made the ballot this year and withdrew his name from consideration, and Brad Torgersen recused himself before the nominations even began, that one doesn’t seem to have much basis in fact, but the argument is still made.
The fourth camp comprises the several who believe that the Hugo Awards should only be nominated and voted upon by a core group of fans with a long involvement in either WorldCon or the SF publishing industry; that the new fans nominating and voting for the Hugos for the first time this year, without having any connection to WorldCon or the group of editors/publishers/authors/reviewers/bloggers who see themselves as the core of the community, are interlopers who are trying to take the Hugo Award process over from those to whom it rightfully belongs due to their years of interest in, and involvement with, the Hugo process. This attitude is seen on the Sad Puppy side as being a claim that there is a hierarchy of fans, and that they, despite their love of science fiction, are seen as “not real fans,” or at least a lower order of fans, ones who should not be allowed to have a say in the Hugo Awards.
The annoyance of those who disagree with Sad Puppies has erupted online into the kinds of vitriol with which anyone who spends any time online is all-too-familiar. Insults fly, accusations are hurled about, people are called racist and sexist and homophobic and stupid, and so forth, and so on.
There is a move afoot among those whose ox has been gored by the preponderance of Sad Puppies nominees on the Hugo ballot this year to vote No Award (a viable option under the preferential Australian-style ballot of the Hugo) above any work or person who appeared on the Sad Puppies slate, regardless of quality.
I think this is wrong-headed, not to mention cruel and disrespectful. It’s a form of guilt-by-association–you hang out with the wrong people, so you will be shunned. It’s playground tactics, and far more destructive to the Hugo process and the perception of the award among readers than the mere presence on the ballot of works with which whose nomination those voting No Award disagree.
Yes, the No Award option is there for those who honestly believe nothing was nominated deserving of the award–but read the nominees first and then make that decision. To punish people–like Sheila Gilbert!–simply because they happen to be on the Sad Puppy slate is flat-out wrong. And it WILL backfire. I suspect, because Ann Leckie’s book Ancillary Justice won for Best Novel last year, that the non-Sad Puppy nominee of choice is the sequel, Ancillary Sword. If the No Award-above-Sad Puppy movement takes off and is widely promoted, there’s little doubt that the insulted and annoyed whose own nominated works are being No Awarded will return the favour. No Award could win the Best Novel category. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone, except those few who perhaps would take perverse delight in the complete destruction of the award’s remaining cachet.
Where do I stand in all this? (I know you’re dying to find out.) More on the Sad Puppy side, simply because their stated goals (and unlike a lot of the critics, I’m not going to take the “sure, they SAY this, but I know they really mean THIS” approach–I take them at their word) are not to damage or destroy the Hugos, but to rescue them. To, in fact, INCREASE the “cachet” I referred to by increasing the number of people who nominate and vote for the award, and increasing the diversity of that group of Hugo-supporting fans.
And when I say diversity, I don’t mean diversity as in skin-color and sexual identity. I couldn’t care less about the skin-color and sexual identity of the authors I read, or the characters they write–provided they write, and the characters inhabit, a fascinating, mind-expanding, entertaining fictional world. True diversity is diversity of opinion, of thought, of storytelling style. That’s the diversity that matters within science fiction (and within the world in general). And the smaller and more insular the group of people deciding who deserves and doesn’t deserve a Hugo, the less of that kind of diversity we’re going to see.
The number of people nominating for the Hugos this year set a record. I suspect we’ll see a record number of people voting, too. This year’s awards will suffer, no doubt, from all the controversy, but I hope that what the Sad Puppies have accomplished is to blow open the Hugo process, letting in fresh air and light and way, way more science fiction fans, and offering the possibility to many, many more writers that they may not only some day win a Hugo, but will do so secure in the knowledge that lots of people both nominated for them and voted for them.
A lot of the people nominating and voting this year were unaware the Hugo Awards even existed until the Hugos were drawn to their attention through the Sad Puppies. Others knew the awards existed, but had no clue they could be a part of the nomination process by buying a supporting membership. Their reaction was, “Cool! I’ve got to get on on that.”
I don’t see that as a bad thing. How can it be? The Sad Puppies, contra their detractors, are not trying to wreck the Hugo Awards, they’re trying to save them, by raising their profile and making them more truly representative of the vast sea of science fiction, and science fiction fans, which surrounds us.
The Hugo Awards claim to be the most prestigious award for science fiction, and once they were, but they haven’t been for a while–and they won’t be again unless they penetrate the consciousness of the thousands who read SF and fantasy books and watch SF and fantasy TV shows and movies, and throng to the ComicCons and DragonCons, and they, too, begin to nominate and vote.
Sad Puppies isn’t going away. Sad Puppies 4 is already in the works, with Kate Paulk heading it up. I don’t know what form it will take–I doubt she does, either, yet. For myself, I hope that, rather than provide a “there are five slots and here are five nominees” list as was done this year, which lends itself to those who are motivated to do so to vote a “straight ticket” and which certainly lends ammunition to those who claim that’s what everyone did, they provide somewhat longer lists of suggestions, a la the Locus Magazine recommended reading list.
For myself, I considered the Sad Puppy list when nominating, and did make a few nominations that appeared on their list. My reasoning? I saw people on that list I’ve long thought deserved to be a Hugo nominee, and their presence on the list seemed to indicate that this year they might actually make the ballot–and I wanted to help them along. The big one there for me was Jim Butcher, who absolutely deserves a Hugo, in my estimation, and whose nominated book this year, Skin Game, is one of his best.
Barring a change in the notoriously hard to change World Science Fiction Convention bylaws, we may see record nominations and online recommendation battles in the years to come, record voting, and record interest in the Hugo Awards.
I personally think that’s a good thing.
Here’s my slate for the final ballot this year:
Sheila Gilbert, Best Editor, Long Form
Other than that, read everything, vote as you see fit. And ignore anyone who tries to get to you do anything else.
ADDENDUM RE COMMENTS POLICY: Since this post is generating more comments than most things I post, I should point out that all comments have to be approved before appearing. If your comment doesn’t appear right away, it probably just means I’m not at my computer for a while. If you don’t see it after, say, two or three hours, it’s possible I didn’t approve it. It’s more likely I just haven’t seen it yet. And it could also have ended up in spam, in which case I’ll still see it, but it’ll take longer.