The obligatory 2015 Hugo nomination reaction post

So the 2015 Hugo nominations were announced this weekend and the noxious Sad Puppies as well as the even more noxious Rabid Puppies managed to push many of their choices onto the ballot and completely dominate all three short fiction categories as well as best related work and the two editing categories.

A lot of people are understandably furious about this. There are even suggestions that the Hugo Awards are irrevocably broken.

I am one of those who are royally pissed off. Because frankly, I’m fucking sick of seeing the genre I love and its awards taken hostage in a purely US-based culture war that mainly exists in the minds of those waging it. I’m sick of seeing awards ballots swamped with substandard works that are only there because the author was either someone’s friend and/or of the right (i.e. rightwing) political persuasion. I’m angry on behalf of the Sasquan organisers who may well find themselves stuck with several surplus trophies, which cost between 300 and 500 USD to produce according to Kevin Standalee who should know. I’m sick of seeing people who harrass and attack others on the Hugo ballot. I’m furious that once the Hugos started making some baby steps forwards towards being a more diverse, inclusive and international award, they now take a massive leap back into the swamp that is US politics.

What is more, the Puppies don’t seem to live in the same reality as the rest of us, which might be funny, if their delusions didn’t hurt so many people. Case in point: In their reality, “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult, because being in favour of social justice is apparently a bad thing. In fact, the Puppies seem to repeat the same talking points over and over again in their own spaces as well as in the comments of every blog that lets them comment.

These points are, in no particular order:

  • SFF sales are declining, because what is being published no longer matches the tastes of “real mainstream fans”.
  • The Hugos are broken, because they tend to award works that “real fans”, whoever they might be, won’t read.
  • The Hugos don’t award bestselling authors and tend to award obscure low selling works, hence they are broken.
  • No one wants to read Hugo Award winners anymore, because the books are so bad and go to obscure literary works rather than core genre works.
  • What the Puppies did wasn’t bad, because there is a secret cabal of Social Justice Warriors that has been fixing the Hugos and issuing its own slates for years. For proof these people usually link to awards eligibility and open threads by John Scalzi or Charles Stross.
  • John Scalzi/Tor have been fixing the Hugos for years and are furious that it didn’t work this time.
  • No one could possibly enjoy Ancillary Justice/Throne of the Crescent Moon/Redshirts/If you were a dinosaur, my love/Chicks Dig Timelords enough to give it a Hugo, hence there must be tampering.
  • Ditto for all of those women and writers with ethnic names. No one could have possibly enjoyed their works and voted for them fairly, hence there must be tampering.
  • Those evil Social Justice Warriors deliberately kept Sir Terry Pratchett from winning a Hugo. (Wrong, he was nominated and declined.)
  • Hugo voters and Worldcon attendants despise regular SFF fans for being the wrong sort of fan. They despise people for loving The Avengers (which won a Hugo), Game of Thrones (which also won a Hugo) and videogames.
  • Everybody is ganging up on US rightwingers, Mormons and Catholics.

All of these claims are demonstrably false. The secret cabal of Social Justice Warriors, John Scalzi and Tor exists only in the minds of the Sad Puppies. There is no conspiracy – the only people who tried to fix the Hugos were the Sad Puppies and the Scientologists. Tor dominates the nominees in the fiction categories, because they publish some fine works (and note that last year and the one before, Orbit dominated) and because Tor.com is a free and easily accessible webzine with some very good stories, whereas e.g. Analog requires a subscription and isn’t available at news stands in many parts of the world at all.

The SFF genre isn’t dying, because it is no longer dominated by straight white American men, it is changing and growing, because other voices are finally being heard. If people are being blacklisted – and there is no evidence this is happening – it’s because they are raging arseholes and not because they are Mormons or Catholics or what the US defines as conservatives. Tor is not actually a bastion of leftwing conspiracy. In fact, Tor publishes Brandon Sanderson, who is Mormon and a decent person, and Orson Scott Card, who is Mormon and a raging homophobe. I’m sure they publish plenty of Catholics as well and apparently, they do publish John C. Wright, Catholic, Sad Puppy and raging homophobe. Oh yes, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Tor editor and favoured puppy target, was apparently raised Mormon herself.

Has there been campaigning for the Hugos before? Yes, there has been – sort of – as George R.R. Martin explains quite succintly here. Eligibility posts and recommendation lists are a form of campaigning and are usually the subject of much contention. Personally, I don’t do it, because it makes me feel uncomfortable, but I have no issue with those who do. And it would also be silly to assume that John Scalzi’s 40000 blog readers had nothing to do with his many Hugo nominations, especially for slighter works like an April Fool’s Day short story.

However – and this the various puppies don’t get – there is a difference between saying “Hey, these works of mine are eligible” or “I’m nominating this cool stuff, why don’t you check it out?” or even “Let’s crowdsource cool stuff to nominate” and setting up a slate of exactly five works in each category and then initiating a bloc voting campaign to push those nominees onto the ballot. The first three are common practices, even if some disagree with them. And indeed, if Brad Torgersen had stopped at crowdsourcing recommendations for works that Sad Puppy fans like and then put up a list of said recommendations, no one would be complaining, even if some of those recommendations had made it onto the final ballot. In fact, hardly anybody complained the first time Larry Correia did something similar back in 2013, though some people felt the way he did it was tacky and reeked of desperation.

However, the Sad Puppies and their even less pleasant brethren the Rabid Puppies didn’t stop there. A few big name puppies condensed the nominations made by their fans down to exactly the five needed for most categories, though they ignored Best Fan Artist and could only come up with one graphic work. Then they encouraged their fans and followers to nominate that slate and only that slate. Correia also got that noxious Breitbart site involved, while Vox Day pulled in the Gamergaters. They also blogged about their campaign not once or twice, but incessantly and often while using strident rhetoric about making Leftists and Social Justice Warriors cry. This is very different from saying “This is what I have available” and “This is what I like”.

So let’s go on to their claim that the Hugos have moved away from the tastes of mainstream SFF fans, whoever they might be, and that they tend to reward boring message fiction chosen for reasons of political correctness and not because anybody actually enjoys it.

Now the last part of that claim is flat out silly, because why would anybody nominate a work for a Hugo, if they didn’t enjoy it? Hard as it may be for the Puppies to comprehend, people nominated and voted for Ancillary Justice and Redshirts and Throne of the Crescent Moon and Chicks Dig Timelords and “If you were a dinosaur, my love”, because they genuinely enjoyed these works.

Taste – and again, this is something the Puppies just don’t get – is subjective. There is no such thing as an objectively good story, just as – issues of basic grammar and language competence notwithstanding – there is no such thing as an objectively bad story. For example, I found the five Puppy nominees in last year’s fiction categories close to unreadable (and I tried). The Puppies obviously disagree. On the other hand, the Puppies consider “If you were a dinosaur, my love” the worst story ever nominated for anything. Now I personally don’t much care for that story myself (I ranked it No. 3 out of four), but obviously a whole lot people disagree, as is evidenced by the fact that it was nominated for a Hugo and won the Nebula. Because taste is subjective.

I agree that there has been a shift or rather expansion in the demographics of SFF fandom, a shift that also manifests itself in changing reading tastes and therefore changes in what gets nominated for and wins awards. A lot of people, not all of them Puppies, are not happy about this and I certainly sympathise. If majority reader tastes shift away from your personal preferences, it sucks. I’m currently experiencing this in the romance genre, which is consumed by so-called new adult romance (basically overwrought stories about virginal college students with dark pasts falling in lust with tattooed billionaire MMA fighters or bikers with tortured pasts who may or may not be their stepbrothers). Now I find new adult romance unreadable. The subgenre does nothing for me, but since it’s currently the hottest trend in town, it means there is very little romance for me to read.

Indeed, this is the one point where I have some sympathy for the Sad Puppies. Because if your personal reading tastes are no longer being catered to, if the subgenre you love most is declared dead by publishing fiat and a subgenre you hate is taking over everything, it sucks. However, the proper response to this is not to cry foul, blame nebulous conspiracies and generally attack everybody who likes the new direction of the genre.

Never mind that wherever this takeover of boring, literary message fiction is taking place, it’s certainly NOT the Hugos. George R.R. Martin takes a look at the Hugo winners and nominees of the past few years and finds a lot of traditional SFF nominated and even winning among the more literary works. There is no takeover by literary SFF and writers like Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Justin Cronin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Colson Whitehead or Emily St. John Mandel are not even getting nominated, let alone winning. Never mind that more literary SFF being nominated for the Hugos and Nebulas is nothing new. For example, Kurt Vonnegut was nominated twice. Thomas Pynchon was nominated for a Nebula for Gravity’s Rainbow back in 1974 and promptly lost out to Arthur C. Clarke.

What is more, if you take a look at those past Hugo winners and nominees that the Puppies seem to hate most – Ancillary Justice, Redshirts, Throne of the Crescent Moon, Chicks Dig Timelords, “If you were a dinosaur, my love” – most of those books are actually core genre works. I would understand, if the Puppies were upset about the Hugo wins for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Windup Girl (okay, I hated that one, too) and Among Others as well as by the nomination for Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, because those are the sort of slower, more literary works they claim to dislike. The Windup Girl has an environmental message, too. But Ancillary Justice is a rousing space opera with a feminist twist, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fairly classic sword and sorcery novel with some Middle Eastern flair, Redshirts is an affectionate Star Trek parody with some mild structural experimentation, Chicks Dig Timelords is a collection of essays by well regarded writers, critics and actresses about a hugely popular SF TV show. In short, this is exactly the sort of populist classic core genre works the Puppies claim to champion. Unfortunately, they were also written by people the Puppies dislike, namely women, muslims, people of colour and John Scalzi.

I grant them “If you were a dinosaur, my love”, since it really is a more experimental story (though not as experimental as Kij Johnson’s “Mantis Wives”, which was nominated the year before) and only very tangentially speculative. I’m not sure why the Puppies persist in calling it “gay dinosaur porn”, since the central couple is actually straight (the guy is beaten into a coma because some homophobes mistakes him for gay, not because he is) and it’s certainly not dinosaur porn. If you want dinosaur porn, try this. However, I can see why people might not like “If you were a dinosaur, my love” (I wasn’t wild on it myself), though I have no idea why they are so hung up on that one story, which – let’s not forget – didn’t even win.

The Puppies’ claim that Hugo winners and nominees don’t actually reflect sales figures has some merit, but then the literary awards of any kind rarely reflect sales figures. Besides, if the Puppies wanted to nominate bestselling SFF authors who are routinely overlooked by the Hugos, they were quite unsuccessful at that. Now Jim Butcher usually hits the big bestseller lists, but Kevin J. Anderson usually hits them only with his tie-in works, not his original fiction. As for Marko Kloos, whose novel Larry Correia claims has outsold Ann Leckie’s series, Kloos might outrank Leckie on Amazon. However, Amazon is not the entire book market, either in the US or the world. But since Marko Kloos is published by Amazon’s 47 North imprint, it means his books are not available outside Amazon, because other bookstores refuse to carry them (a practice I disagree with), whereas Leckie’s are. What is more, Jason Sanford has done the math and found that Ann Leckie sells considerably better than many puppy nominees, though not as well as Jim Butcher. If the Puppies really wanted to get an overlooked bestselling SFF author on the Hugo ballot, Diana Gabaldon and J.D. Robb would have been much better choices as authors who have hit the big bestseller lists with book after book, even though the Hugo electorate has no idea they exist. Okay, so neither Written in My Heart’s Own Blood nor Concealed in Death and Festive in Death were their respective best works, but then Skin Game isn’t Jim Butcher’s best either.

So some works the Puppies don’t like have been nominated for and even won Hugo Awards. Tough luck. It happens. Of the Hugo winners for best novel since 2000, there were four I flat out hated, Blackout/All Clear, The Windup Girl and the two Vernor Vinge novels. And yes, I was pretty annoyed those books won, since they pushed out IMO much better novels. There also was a time in the early to mid 2000s when singularity fiction and new British space opera high on the technobabble and low on characterisation was dominating the Hugo nominations that I despaired of the awards, because I didn’t like those books at all. Because a single person’s reading tastes don’t necessarily align with those of the Hugo electorate. In the early 2000s, my own tastes were out of alignment, now the Puppies’ tastes are out of alignment. It happens.

However, the Puppies are not just angry that books they don’t like are winning awards, many of them would prefer that those books didn’t exist period or at least shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves science fiction and fantasy. Take a look at this post from February 2015 by Brad Torgersen, who is actually moderate by Puppy standards, in which he laments the fact that there are books in bookstores with covers that look like the SFF of old, but contain things like feminism, anti-capitalism, global warming, characters of colour and LGBT characters that Brad Torgersen doesn’t want to read about. Not just has he apparently never heard of the fact that there are such things as blurbs, reviews and excerpts, which give you a better shot of avoiding reading books you won’t like, he actually wants to exclude those books from the genre altogether.

Let’s repeat this: This year’s spokespuppy wants to exclude books he doesn’t like from the genre.

Now plenty of people don’t like certain subgenres or trends. For example, I rarely like military science fiction, dislike singularity fiction and grimdark epic fantasy. However, I would never dream of saying that those works shouldn’t exist and that they have no place in the genre. I simply don’t want to read them.

Paul Weimer is inclined to be a bit more charitable towards the Puppies than me and separates between the Sad Puppies led by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, who want to return to some kind of imagined ideal status quo of the past, where they and the fiction they like were king, and the Rabid Puppies led by Vox Day, who want to burn it all down and dance upon the ruins.

To be fair, there are some bright spots in this year’s Hugo ballot. Both Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison are wonderful novels and fully deserve their nominations. The Best Graphic Story slate looks very strong this year and includes the wonderful Ms. Marvel a.k.a. Kamala Khan, written by G. Willow Wilson, herself a muslim women. Expect Puppy heads to explode when they get the voters’ packet. Julie Dillon is the one bright spot in the pro artist category, the fan artist category is entirely untouched by Puppy interference and even the dramatic presentation categories include some fine works. Though I find it amusing that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was not on the Puppy ballot, probably because the Puppies no longer like Captain America now he has finally shed the Captain Nationalism persona that made him so unlikable during my comic reading days. I’m sure Steve Rogers would be proud.

As for what to do about this attack on the Hugos, at the moment there are several strategies being discussed.

  1. Vote “No Award” across all categories to wipe this whole year from the record.
  2. Vote however you like for non-puppy nominees and put all the puppies under “No Award”.
  3. Give both puppy and non-puppy nominees fair consideration and put anything that’s bad under “No award”.
  4. Form a counter slate next year.

Now I flat out hate option 4, because I like the idea that SFF fandom is – to quote Elizabeth Bear – “functioning, self-sustaining, multi-generational anarchy”. Like Elizabeth Bear, I also think slates are a horrible idea, because they would turn the Hugos into a version of the typically American bipartisan political system, which is actually the result of a very specific political and historical situation and not in any way a natural development. In fact, most countries have more multilateral political systems and more than two parties.

As for who would organise such a counter-slate, the names I hear mentioned most often are John Scalzi, bete noir of the Sad Puppies and Vox Day’s unrequited mancrush, and sometimes Charles Stross. Now I would certainly never nominate any slate pushed by either of them, because I doubt that their picks would match my tastes. For though I like both as people. I don’t like Scalzi’s books all that much and have never liked any of Charles Stross’ fiction, so I doubt I would enjoy their Hugo picks. And unlike the Sad Puppies, I have enough confidence in my own taste that I don’t need anybody to tell me how to vote.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for option No. 1 and wouldn’t have minded at all, if the WorldCon organisers had decided to cancel the Hugos this year. And indeed for anybody who wants to vote “No Award”, Kevin Standalee has a handy guide. However, this would also be unfair to Ann Leckie, Katherine Addison, Julie Dillon and the other nominees who made it onto the Hugo ballot without canine help and often against canine opposition.

Option 2 is problematic, because the Sad and Rabid Puppies, contrary to what Brad Torgersen claims, did not inform everybody on their slate about their intentions. Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine had no idea they were on the slate and isn’t comfortable with the association. The same applies to Black Gate and Matthew David Surridge, a Black Gate columnist, even declined a Best Fanwriter nomination. And Annie Bellet, who is nominated in the Best Short Story category, is clearly uncomfortable to be associated with the Sad Puppies and their political leanings. Marko Kloos, who is on the Best Novel shortlist, hasn’t said anything this year, but was uncomfortable with the Sad Puppies trying to nominate him in a category where he wasn’t eligible last year. Jennifer Brozek, who is on the ballot for best editor, short form, has no idea why the Puppies nominated her, since she tends to publish the sort of fiction they hate. We can also be certain that the production teams of the movies and TV episodes that were on the Puppy slates had no idea about what was going on. Never mind that Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, Game of Thrones and The Flash are all very popular and might well have ended up on the ballot without canine help. Coincidentally, both also feature interracial relationships. Besides, as John Scalzi points out, even if the Puppies informed everybody on their slates of their intentions beforehand, they probably toned down the “Stick it to those Social Justice Warriors and make them cry” rhetoric a bit.

Now I applaud Matthew David Surridge for declining his nomination and I wish that more Puppy nominees would have done so. But I also understand that not everybody would decline a Hugo nomination, even given these circumstances, particularly if they did not know about the Puppies and their intentions. Though I suspect this will come back to bite quite a few Puppy nominees later on, because their nomination as well as an eventual win will always be tarnished. I have already heard from people who have announced that they will not buy books from any Puppy nominees again. I wouldn’t go so far, especially since I enjoy the works of Jim Butcher and Annie Bellet, but I understand the attitude.

Personally, I lean towards option 3, that is rank only those Sad Puppies under “No Award” who are either insufferable human beings or have produced bad works or both and give the rest a fair shot. Because the truth is that I like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, even though I have never nominated any of his books for a Hugo. I like Annie Bellet’s Pyrrh and Twenty-Sided Sorceress series, though I haven’t read the story for which she is nominated. I featured one of Kary English’s books in Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month last year, though she used a different pen name back then. I’ve read Kevin J. Anderson and even shared a TOC with him once and have never heard a bad word about him. I like much of what Sheila Gilbert and Anne Sowards publish at DAW/Roc/Ace. I’ve heard good things about Jennifer Brozek and I’ve had some pleasant online interactions with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, though I don’t think we have much in common politically. I like Black Gate and have never heard a bad word neither about Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine nor the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and enjoy The Flash a whole lot and have nominated both this year (different Flash episode though). Plus, a lot of the folks nominated via the Sad Puppy slate are people I’ve never heard of, e.g. many of the Analog writers.

Is it right to punish people and works that most likely serve only as shield or fig leaves for the Puppies (“See, we’re not rightwing racist homophobes, since we nominated an Indian writer, a few women and a bisexual socialist.”)? I don’t think so, though I fully understand those who will put all Puppy nominees under “No Award” by default. There are also some Puppies, mostly those affiliated with Vox Day, John C. Wright and the Mad Genius Club, I cannot see myself voting for under any circumstances.

So yes, I will be giving those Puppy nominees who were used as fig leaves by the Puppies fair consideration. Who knows, maybe some of their works might even be good, though given how reliably contrary to my tastes the Puppies’ taste in fiction is, I doubt it will be very many. For example, I looked up Kevin J. Anderson’s and Marko Kloos’ nominated novels out of curiosity (since I’ve already read Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor and Skin Game) and going by blurb and excerpt alone, neither convinced me.

In short, let the Puppies lose (and I suspect most of them will, even the figleaves) on their own merits.

Comments are closed. Go play somewhere else, Puppies.

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