The Hugo Awards Debacle

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.

Hugo Awards Logo

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
  Best Novel
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
Best Novella
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.

The Future

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.

2 thoughts on “The Hugo Awards Debacle

  1. I read an interesting article the other day about the Hugo Awards that had to do with this same subject…well almost the same subject…. It revealed that “Sad Puppies” was formed as a response to an already existing, organized left wing, progressive movement within the Hugo voting community, which was engaging in the exact behavior that is condemned in your writings. A SF author by the name of Larry Correia became a target of this group casually known as ‘The Social Justice Warriors”. The mission of this group was to promote a liberal, progressive mindset and endorse only authors that contributed to mission parameters, effectively creating a “blacklist” of authors whom did not agree with the progressive agenda. Correia was instrumental in forming the Sad Puppies campaign which from several accounts seems to have swept the field towards right leaning authors as opposed to the last several years when it was the other way around. Lobbying in the voting community for the Hugo Awards was not an unheard of, or even uncommon occurrence. It was a regular activity that was up until this time done behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
    Philip Sandifer said it was ” the moral duty of progressive voices to form a blocking majority, and to loudly admit that fandom as it stands is broken, and that any work proclaimed to be the best of the year by a fandom this broken is demeaned by the association.” Interestingly enough when the progressive movement cornered the market on Hugo’s this type of behavior or “activism” as it’s called when Progressives do it was totally acceptable….
    Much of the terminology of your piece is eerily similar to articles that were all published on April 6th…one of those articles was published by Isabella Biedenharn in “Entertainment Weekly” and after admitting that they had not done any basic research they were forced to print this correction about the original story:
    Entertainment Weekly April 6, 2015
    “After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-Caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.”
    Of course EW goes on to attack the Sad Puppies lumping them wholesale with the Rapid Puppies. It essentially restates the claims of hate and bigotry in different words. The EW piece never addresses the claims of affirmative action driving the awards made by Brad Torgerson. Isabella Biedenharn just ignores it for the the admittingly inflammatory comments of Vox Day (pen name of Theodore Beale) leader of the Rapid Puppies.

    Brad Torgerson a member of Sad Puppies who spoke with EW also published a reply to the accusations on his site along with a picture of his African American wife, Annie and their daughter Olivia. ( Of course liberal bloggers went wild and called his family “shields” an oh so eloquent term to say that their association with minorities is in order to claim credibility… I guess Mr. Torgerson decided to marry his “shield” 20 years ago in preparation for the Hugo controversy.

    Besides the fact that the liberal left is just miffed for being beaten at the game they have been playing successfully for several years another point to acknowledge is the persistent practice of labeling anybody who disagrees with the left as a misogynist. A man who has been married for 20 years with a happy family disagrees, so automatically he hates all women..? The opposite of misogynist is misandrist. The opposite of homophobe is heterophobe …Why is it Google and MS Word are telling me that these words are misspelled, when they are not? Why do you not see these words thrown around as the left throws out homophobe and misogynist in every other press release? You used these words to describe people who disagree on a writing award… You even use the word bigot in reference to a group of people that include minorities, woman and interracial couples… just because they disagreed with a group that promoted and practiced the awarding of honors based more on the fact that the winner should be a minority, a woman or in support of homosexuality. The award is supposed to be for the quality of an author’s whose work was deserving of the honor rather than what skin color, what sex the author liked to sleep with or whether women should get different rules to play by…Tell me what exactly is the definition of those terms if it’s not using irrelevant prejudiced parameters to make global decisions rather than using the quality and craftsmanship displayed in the relevant works of the authors to make a decision.

    • I just wanted to address a couple points:
      1) I don’t think this Sad/Rabid Puppies issue can be simplified by looking at it through the lens of right versus left wing politics. I don’t think most politics can be simplified properly that way either, but that’s besides the point.
      2) There is no organized group opposing them as the Sad and Rabid Puppies complain. The term “Social Justice Warriors”, as Correia calls the people against him, is a slander phrase that the Puppies have used for people that are not for them. “Science Fiction fandom” is a more appropriate name for it. The Puppies were a vocal minority of that fandom, but Science Fiction fandom rejected the Puppies as the awards showed this weekend.
      3) I said in the post that campaigning happened before, so that wasn’t news. The new thing that the Puppies brought to the table is campaigning for a slate of candidates. Campaigning was already taboo, though not forbidden. The Puppies took it to a new ridiculous level.
      4) I may have unfairly tied Brad Torgerson too closely with the Rabid Puppies (who are undoubtedly led by a misogynist and a bigot), but the movement as a whole speaks to those objectives that I wrote about. I don’t agree with the Sad Puppies, but I think their movement got co-opted by the Rabid Puppies and no longer represents what Brad Torgerson and Larry Correia wanted it to be. Just look at the slate of nominees: it’s basically been white washed with white, male authors. Science Fiction fandom and authorship is so much broader than that.
      5) Have you read any of the works that the Puppies are upset about? Such as Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie or The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu or The Windup Girl by Paolo Gacigalupi? They fantastic pieces of writing and deserved their wins.

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