By the time you read this, things are already broken. All that’s left now is to decide how to deal with it, and minimize the harm done.
Allow me to explain:
Last weekend, the finalists were announced for the Hugo Awards. The Hugos, easily among the most recognizable awards given for science fiction and fantasy (the other two being the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award) have in recent years only gotten more inclusive, with a wide range of entrants and, while perhaps not complete equality between competitors of all races, creeds, and orientations at least something approaching complete equality. We were getting there, no matter how slowly.
However…well, not everyone felt they were represented.
For the past two years, there has been a steadily-growing reactionary movement to a perceived “lit-fic bias” or “liberal bias” to the Hugos. Going under the name “Sad Puppies” (short for “Sad Puppies Think Of The Children,” a purported dig at “message fiction” and the emotional content of certain works), the campaign attempted to push their own slate of nominees on the Hugo awards to correct the perceived bias.
Last year, this resulted in an unapologetic bigot being nominated for Best Novella (Thankfully he finished last below a vote for “No Award”), one of the organizers of the Puppies being nominated for Best Novel (and losing), and several other names getting on the ballot*.
The worst of it, though, is that there was an even more extreme voting bloc this year known as “Rabid Puppies”, run by that unapologetic bigot mentioned above. Probably because said bigot is so radioactive at this point that very few people are willing to deal with him. At this point, the two voting blocs can more or less said to be two sides of the same coin.
Separating them completely would be, as one commentator noted, “like insisting the Tea Party isn’t part of the Republican Party“. Nonetheless, the unapologetically “anti-SJW” Rabid Puppies slate has more than a few things wrong with it, which I’ll get to in a moment.
First, I’ve been building up to it slowly, and if you’ve stayed with me this long, screaming at your screen “What harm?! WHAT HARM?!” then I should tease you no longer, so here goes: This year, the Sad Puppies slate ran their campaign again, and managed to garner a frankly suspect amount of support for their ballot, with fifty-one of their total sixty nominees making the list.
Worse still, the Rabid Puppies garnered fifty-eight of a total sixty-seven nominations on their slate. There is also evidence that one (or more than likely, both) of the Puppies slates had support from participants in 2014’s largest no-win cultural quagmire, Gamergate.
Furthermore, if one looks at the Rabid Puppies nominees that made the slate, one might notice a pattern in them. As in, a significant number of the nominees that made it to the Hugo shortlist come from a small Finnish publisher known as Castalia House. Castalia House, for those who don’t follow science fiction publishing all that closely, is a publishing house run by the person who proposed and curated the Rabid Puppies slate.
John C. Wright, a nominee whose name pops up repeatedly on both slates and garnered a record number of nominations on the actual shortlist, is a close associate of the Rabid Puppies organizer. So on top of everything else, one can add collusion, since the Rabid Puppies slate seems to be a way to shamelessly garner Hugo nominations for the publishing house linked to the campaign. Say what you will about the idiots running Sad Puppies, at least both of them had the presence of mind to take themselves off the slate.
Just to add insult to injury, a not-insignificant number of the people on the slate, people who the Puppies have been using as a way to say “We’re diverse! Look at us!” didn’t even know they were on the slate list, with reactions ranging from discomfort to confusion when they discovered they were. Which, of course, further taints what would normally be something to celebrate and brings anti-puppy wrath down on people who may actually be deserving of nominations via guilt by association.
Now, it would be remiss of me to, before I continue, not point a few things out. First, the result that has occurred happened with absolutely no violation of the rules or basic conduct of the Hugos. The Hugo Awards have always been the most democratic of the genre fiction awards, for the sole purpose that anyone who pays the fees to become a member of the Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) and the WSFS (World Science Fiction Society) gets to vote on the Hugos. And, since the lowest tier is forty dollars and doesn’t require paying for attendance, then just about anyone who can pay the fee can then vote for the nominees or winners for the Hugo Awards.
It’s also noteworthy that yes, there are voting blocs at the Hugos. It’s an awards ceremony. If you think there’s an awards ceremony without politicking and voting blocs and the like, then this should come as something of a shock to you.
Furthermore, the Hugos do have a “nuclear option” in the form of the “no award” vote. If someone feels that none of the works in a category are particularly deserving, they can vote “no award” higher than any of them. This has even been used in past years, and there have been categories where “no award” won. It’s also been used as a method of protest against voting blocs before, such as when L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology managed to get Mission: Earth: Black Genesis on to the shortlist for Best Novel. Or when the Puppies managed to get a novella nod last year. No Award came in front of both books. In fact, many people have already said they wish to use the nuclear option this year.
This is exactly what they’re hoping for. The people behind the slates are fixing for an ideological street fight, and the man behind Rabid Puppies openly stated that either he gets what he wants, or he destroys the Hugo awards, and either one is completely amicable to him.
He wants to make people mad. The news sites sympathetic to the Puppy cause are talking about how this is a “culture war“, and beating the drums. People are buying into it, too. Others are talking about how they’re not sure the Hugos “will ever be put back together again” as the escalation continues to ramp up**.
To which I say: Yes. They will. But we, as fans, as geeks, as people who are part of this big, wonderful community, cannot remain silent. Neither can we buy into the political lines being drawn all over the fandom and over this issue. Otherwise, the Puppies win again. As far as I’m concerned, the worst has already happened. The Puppies are on the majority of the ballots. That won’t be changed barring some evidence of something like vote tampering. This has blown through the fandom already. But here’s how we rebuild.
First, there’s John Scalzi’s suggestion to continue more or less as usual, judging the nominees on their merits and using “No Award” for the rest. Which is a good suggestion, as even terrible people can have good taste, and not all the nominees knew they were on the slate. It’s also perfectly valid to condemn the practices of a group while supporting individuals who are only guilty by association. Because nobody wins if this becomes any more of a fight. The only way anyone wins is by stepping away from the fight.
There’s also this post by Mark Bernstein about helping authors who were forced off the list by the Puppies. The idea of supporting and showing love to candidates who received “puppy bites” also has an unintended side effect that’s well worth consideration: It proves that the books forced off the list have merit in the marketplace. And such proof is a direct refutation of one of the Puppies’ claims that the works people buy and the works nominated for Hugos aren’t necessarily the same thing.
Lastly, for those of you who can afford it, there’s the option to grab yourself a membership and vote. The WorldCon base needs to be expanded anyway, and as stated above, anyone who can pay the fees can vote. While it’s a bad idea to vote along party lines without reading any of the works nominated, and highly unethical, it’s a chance to make sure your voice is counted and the works you wish to champion are championed.
I now leave my readers with this: Getting angrier about the voting blocs helps nobody but the voting blocs, and let’s be honest here, they’ve already won. Sad Puppies 4 is already being outlined, and the Hugo winners haven’t even been announced yet. But there’s nothing that says it’s over. All of you, each and every one of you, has options. For God’s sake, and for the sake of the Hugos, please use them.
Full Disclosure: S. Reader became disillusioned with the Hugos after losing fifty dollars betting on a Doctor Who win over Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
Also, thanks to the Journeymen of Fandom Facebook Group for help with sources and discussion. I only apologize that not all of it managed to make it in here.
*2013 also saw a campaign by the Sad Puppies, but as it was a few blog posts and appears not to have gotten anywhere, then it’s not really worth discussing
**As much as I have ragged on GRRM, the man has this one down mostly solid.