For many years, the Hugo Awards have been a well-respected industry award for some of the best science fiction stories. Originally dominated by white men, the Hugos have realized that there is a much wider audience for science fiction with vastly different perspectives and have begun including those authors. The variety and quality of works recently are, in my opinion, the true golden age of science fiction.
Numerous times when I’ve been looking for a new book to read, I would just go to the Hugo Award winners or nominees for the past couple years and pick something out. It’s how I discovered Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, among others. I’m currently reading (very slowly, I might add) The Hugo Winners Volumes I and II, which collects the Novella, Novelette and Short Story winners from 1955 to 1970. There are many titans of the science fiction world collected in that book: Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, and others. In short, the Hugos meant something. Until this year.
The Hugo Process
The Hugos have a two step voting process for being selected. Only members of the World Science Fiction Society may vote; however, it only costs $60 and anyone who pays the fee can join. First, there is a nomination round: each voter nominates up to five works per category, including Best Novel, Best Novelette, Best Novella, Best Short Story, etc. The votes are tallied and then the top five vote-getters are the nominees for each category.
In the second round of voting, the members of the Society vote for the best nominee in each category or, alternatively, for no award for that category if the voter does not think any are worthy. The work with the most votes wins.
The rules for nominating and voting on the Hugos are set forth in the Society’s Constitution. Seemingly unfortunately, the Constitution does not forbid organized campaigning. It seems like somewhat of a miracle that it hasn’t been a big deal until now, considering that the awards date back to 1955. Individuals have campaigned on behalf of themselves and others before; hell, it would be shocking if it hadn’t happened.
This year (well, actually, they’ve tried for a few years, but were successful this year), a group of people took it one step further and actively campaigned for a slate of books. Technically, what these people did isn’t against the rules. It violates long-standing norms of voting on the Hugos, but the actual rules do not forbid this type of slate campaigning. This all might have been ok, if the group of people hadn’t been bigots.
Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies
Imagining themselves as some sort of put-upon victims of what they think is some sort of affirmative action agenda to the Hugos in recent years, the Sad Puppies group and their more vehement cousins the Rabid Puppies have been campaigning for authors and works that they feel are representative of “true” science fiction: apparently, the pure adventure novels of yesteryear. Which, don’t get me wrong, are great. I love a great space opera every now and again. And maybe if they were just fans of space operas and wanted people to vote for them because those stories are great, that would be ok.
The problem is that these groups, especially Rabid Puppies, have a more sinister motivation: misogyny, homophobia and bigotry. Their problem is not that the works they feel merit the award are losing out; their problem is that what they see as “their” genre is becoming more inclusive of others not like them. Here’s a quote from Brad Torgerson, one of the leaders of Sad Puppies:
Likewise, we’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.
Even worse is Vox Day, the leader of Rabid Puppies. Here’s just a sampling of this guy:
They [the Democratic Party] mock the secessionist petitioners in Texas and other states, celebrate the infestation of even the smallest American heartland towns by African, Asian and Aztec cultures, and engage in ruthless doublethink as they worship at the altar of a false and entirely nonexistent equality.
Yeah, he’s a piece of work. Also, Aztec cultures?
So, these groups put together their own slate of nominees. For a couple years, they had only a small impact. This year, though, they broke through big-time.
And the Nominees Are …
The crappy thing is the Puppies are actually successful. Here’s a chart showing the Sad Puppies slate, the Rabid Puppies slate, and the actual nominees.
|Sad Puppies||Rabid Puppies||Hugo Nominees|
|Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon||The Chaplain’s War, Brad Torgerson||Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie|
|The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson||The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson||The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson|
|Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia||Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia||The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)|
|Skin Game, Jim Butcher||Skin Game, Jim Butcher||Skin Game, Jim Butcher|
|Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos||Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos||The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator|
|Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman||Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman||Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman|
|“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr.||“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr.||“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr.|
|One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright||One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright||One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright|
|None||“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright||“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright|
|None||“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright||“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright|
So, two of the nominations for Best Novel are Puppy nominees. The Puppies swept the Best Novella award nominees. Swept them. It’s crazy. The other categories are just as bad. It’s so pervasive that there are Puppy-free lists of candidates.
One of the disappointing things for me is that I learned some bad news about an author I liked. John C. Wright, who has three stories nominated for Best Novella, wrote a pretty good series called the Golden Oecumene, which I read back in 2004 or so. I really liked it. And, just as disappointing about finding out what a jerk Orson Scott Card is, it turns out that John C. Wright is a total douche, too.
I’d tell you to join and vote on the Hugos, but voting closed on July 31, 2015. The awards will be announced Saturday, August 22. It will be interesting to see how the Hugos fare in the future and if the World Science Fiction Society revises the rules for the Hugos. I think Charlie Jane Anders summed it up best:
Honestly, you’re never going to have a perfect system for identifying the best works of fiction published in a given year — even with a juried award, these decisions will inevitably wind up including factors that are external to the quality of the work. So the best you can hope for is that the quality of the work winds up getting considered first and foremost, over other factors. The only processes that really get you there are deliberative, involving a lot of public discussion and private rumination. That’s how you get surprising, out-of-nowhere choices. As someone who won a Hugo Award in 2012, I’m sad that there might be one less avenue out there for new writers to be plucked from obscurity and put on a stage with their idols.
Hopefully, we’ll have some good news on August 22nd. We will see.
Note: “World Science Fiction Convention”, “WorldCon”, “Hugo Award” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.