How the 2015 Hugos proved against all odds that SF is becoming more international and more diverse

I guess by now you’ve all heard the news. After an unprecedented four and a half months of fighting, debate and ever more bizarre escalations, the 2015 Hugo Awards have been awarded Saturday night and the Sad and Rabid Puppies have been thoroughly trounced with a record-breaking five wins for “No Award” in novella, short story, related work as well as in the two editing categories. I did expect “No Award” to win at least two categories, though I’m surprised it won so decisively, e.g. I would have expected an award to be given in the two editing categories and probably in the short story category as well.

The full list of winners and nominees is here and a breakdown of the voting and nomination stats is here.

A lot of people have already weighed in on these results. Chaos Horizon and Nicolas Whyte have both attempted some analysis, including trying to determine how many puppy voters of either sort there actually are (around 500 apparently, which is more than I expected, though not enough to drown out the wider mass of fandom).

Several people, including Andrew Liptak and Natalie Luhrs, have attempted to reconstruct what the 2015 Hugo ballot might have looked like without canine interference. In almost every way, that alternate ballot is so much better with regards to quality as well as diversity than what we got. Coincidentally, several of my own nominees also show up on the puppy-free ballot. And in fact, I expect that there will probably be some kind of alternate or retro-Hugo awarded for the puppy-free ballot eventually.

Coincidentally, it also turns out that the puppies not just knocked works they obviously wouldn’t like off the ballot (including the last ever published story by the late Eugie Foster), but also exactly the sort of works and writers they claim to champion such as Patrick Rothfuss in the novella category, Andy Weir and Django Wexler for the Campbell Award, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the dramatic presentation category as well as Writing Excuses and two books about gaming in the best related work category (okay, the gaming books are from a feminist POV, so maybe not). Further down in the best related work category, we also have a Heinlein biography, while further down in the novel category we have The Martian by Andy Weir. Now personally I find The Martian overrated and let’s not even talk about the scene in the trailer for the movie where our heroic astronaut somehow manages to grow potato plants from deep-frozen and peeled potatoes (I guess something can still be hard SF while making no biological sense at all), but The Martian is exactly the sort of “white dude does sciency stuff” SF that the puppies claim to love.

At Wired, Amy Wallace offers a lengthy summary of the 2015 Hugo controversy and why it matters. It’s a good article with the caveat that Rose Fox adds in this Storify, namely that women and writers of colour and LGBT writers have always been part of the genre, even while they were being erased. There are several quotes from Vox Day in the article, which clearly illuminate what sort of person he is, just in case there was any doubt. There is also this quote, attributed to an unnamed Sad Puppy supporter:

“Just because you had a dream doesn’t mean we all want to read it,” he said. “Just because you have an MFA and write a story, you may win a Hugo, but don’t kid yourself: Everybody’s had a dream, but they didn’t write it because they knew it wouldn’t sell. Some of this stuff is unreadable.”

In many ways this quote by the unknown puppy clearly illustrates the attitudes that already became obvious in Brad Torgersen’s infamous “Nutty Nuggets” post. A lot of puppies don’t just want works they don’t like to be excluded from the Hugos, they deny works they don’t like the right to exist period. They don’t want these works to be published, they don’t even want them to be written at all.

Well, Mr. Unknown Puppy, personally I didn’t want to read the adjective-laden religious blatherings of John C. Wright and I certainly didn’t want to read them five times over. Nor did I want to read the tank porn novella or the Gary Stu gun porn of Larry Correia (which is of course totally not message fic) last year, let alone the unfunny and more or less offensive tweets by the gentleman who likes posing with very big guns (he actually had an even sillier profile photo a while ago). I found all of that stuff unreadable, and believe me, I tried. But I don’t deny any of those works the right to exist, since they all obviously have their fans, even the gentleman of the big gun and the unfunny tweets.

In some ways the statement of the unknown puppy dovetails with a troubling tendency I have observed in self-publishing circles, namely the belief that everything should be written to market (and the market only ever wants one thing, of course, niches or differing tastes are irrelevant) and that the only valid strategy is to cash in on whatever is trending at the moment. Works for which there is no clear market shouldn’t be published, they shouldn’t even be written. Writing a work to please yourself is considered literary masturbation and a waste of time. Amazon.com rankings are the only measure of literary quality (never mind that Amazon isn’t even the entire online book market, let alone the entire book market) and if you’re not selling at whatever numbers these people consider high enough, you’re not even supposed to speak, cause your opinion doesn’t count. It’s a silencing tactic, pure and simple, though I suspect not everybody realises that. What makes this even more troubling is that indie publishing was supposed to bring freedom from the purely market-driven dictates of traditonal publishing and yet in a scant few years has managed to become even more market-driven.

There is a certain affinity between the puppies and the indie publishing world (though it is notable that there are just as many puppy opponents among indie writers as puppy supporters) and indeed one of the very few positive things to be said about the puppy campaigns is their attempts to promote indie authors. Though the puppies were not actually the first to put a self-published work on the Hugo ballot – that honour belongs to Seanan McGuire’s novelette “In Sea-Salt Tears” which was nominated for a Hugo in 2013 – and none of the works by indie authors which made it onto the Hugo ballot courtesy of the puppies were actually self-published.

Talking of indie publishing, Amy Wallace also interviews indie writer Annie Bellet, one of the nominees on the puppy slate who withdrew from consideration, which is interesting since very few of the many pixels spilled on the puppy affair actually considered the POV of those who were more or less innocently coopted onto the puppy slates, the puppy fig leaves so to say. It’s those fig leaves, people like Annie Bellet, Marko Kloos, Jim Butcher, Kary English, Kevin J. Anderson, Rajnar Vajra, Gray Rinehart, Michael J. Flynn, Sheila Gilbert, Anne Sowards, Jennifer Brozek, Mike Resnick, Edmund Schubert and others, who were most hurt by the puppy shenangigans. Cause these were the people who either withdrew from the ballot or found themselves ranked under “No Award” due to having landed on the puppy slate. I thought the puppies claimed to like those people, so is landing them under “No Award” really what they wanted? Why would they put people they like into this position?

For the record, I decided to vote those slate nominees whose work I enjoyed above “No Award”, particularly if they were fig leaves rather core puppies. And I did rank Jim Butcher, Kary English and Rajnar Vajra as well as some of the editing and artist nominees above “No Award”, because I liked their work well enough to vote for it. I also put the Kevin J. Anderson novel above “No Award”, though in last place, because I felt a bit sorry for him, since it was kind of obvious by the time I cast my votes that he was not going to win, considering that not even the people who nominated him seemed to like the novel in question all that much (well, to be fair, it wasn’t very good), which begets the question why they nominated him in the first place.

Indeed, the only categories where I voted “No Award” in first place were novella and related work, because I didn’t like any of the nominees even the slightest bit. However, I also understand everybody who blanket-voted “No Award” above all slate nominees, which according to the analyses linked above approx. 2500 voters decided to do. Never mind that in many cases, there was little difference between voting “No Award” on merit and voting “No Award” as a protest against slate tactics, because frankly speaking a lot of the puppy nominees simply weren’t very good. It wasn’t just taste differences either, though those play a role as well. For example, I really, really don’t like religion in my science fiction, so I’m not going to vote for any of the several pieces of religiously flavoured SF the puppies nominated.

However, some of the puppy nominees also had technical issues such as editing problems (including works published in mainstream venues), several others were serial installments that did not work as self-contained stories (three of the Analog nominees), some had zero connection to speculative fiction (Wisdom from My Internet most notably) and at least one puppy nominee seemed unable to distinguish between prose fiction and screenplays. Honestly, the puppies didn’t do themselves any favours with the quality of many of their nominees. But then the two puppy campaigns weren’t really about quality at all.

And though the puppies predictably try to blame the triumph of “No Award” on what they call the Social Justice Warriors, CHORFs or whatever cutesy insult they have come up with now, it was puppy tactics which led to this outcome. Or did they honestly think that people would vote for works they actively disliked, that they would vote for people who had directly or indirectly insulted them in some cases, just to disprove a conspiracy that only exists in the minds of the lead puppies anyway? I do feel sorry for the puppy fig leaves, for people like Kary English, Rajnar Vajra, Sheila Gilbert, Anne Sowards, Jennifer Brozek, Mike Resnick and others. But it was the puppies who put them in this position. It was the puppies who hurt writers, editors and artists who often did not deserve the humiliation of landing under “No Award”.

Meanwhile, the various puppies are predictably whining. Here are some prime examples courtesy of Brad Torgersen, Vox Day, Sarah Hoyt, John C. Wright and Vox Day again, who of course insists that several categories going to “No Award” was his plan all along. Of course, if Daleks had stormed the Hugo ceremony to exterminate everybody in sight (well, there was a Dalek on stage, but it only handed out Hugos), he’d probably have insisted that that was his plan all along as well. On the other hand, several major puppies seem to be conspicuously silent for now. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I’ve already repudiated the most common puppy talking points in my 2015 Hugo nominations reaction post, so I’m not going to do so again. The puppy arguments only make sense in the puppyverse anyway, not in the reality that the rest of us inhabit.

But enough of puppies and “No Awards”, lets talk of those Hugos that actually were awarded and those who won them. All in all it’s a good and surprisingly international and diverse list of winners, particularly given how poor the selection was this year.

What’s particularly notable is that both Hugos in the two fiction categories that actually were awarded went to translated works by non-anglophone writers, which is a first in Hugo history. Coincidentally, both are also the first Hugo wins for their respective countries of origin. Now neither The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu, nor “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt, were my first choice in the respective categories. For novels, my first choice was a close race between Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor (I voted for Ancillary Sword in the end with Goblin Emperor in second place). I suspect that The Three Body Problem profited from the fact that quite a few puppy voter liked it (including rabid puppy in chief Vox Day), whereas they were unlikely to enjoy either Ancillary Sword or The Goblin Emperor. In the novelette category I placed “The Triple Sun” by Rajnar Vajra narrowly above “The Day The World Turned Upside Down”, because the former made me smile, while I did not much care for the whiny narrator of the later.

But though neither Thomas Olde Heuvelt nor Liu Cixin were my first choice in their respective categories, I’m happy that they won, because their wins show that the Hugos are becoming a more truly international award. And yes, it’s problematic that a white Dutchman and a Chinese man, two writers who have nothing in common apart from the fact that English is not their first language, are both subsumed under the header “international SF”. But given how Anglo-American dominated the Hugos and WorldCon have traditionally been, it’s still a great step forward.

Wesley Chu, who won the Campbell Award, actually was my first choice in that category and a very worthy winner he is, too. Ditto for Julie Dillon and Elizabeth Leggett in the art categories, Laura J. Mixon in the fanwriter category, Galactic Suburbia in the podcast category, Lightspeed and Journey Planet in the semi-pro and fanzine categories. All of these were actually my first choices as well.

I’m also pleased to see Ms. Marvel, the classic Marvel Comics teen superhero tale retold from the POV of a Pakistani-American girl written by muslim women, win in the graphic novel category, even though I voted for Saga above Ms. Marvel. In general, the graphic novel category was very strong this year and I had a hard time deciding between Saga, Ms. Marvel and Rat Queens and would not have minded a win for Sex Criminals either.

Best dramatic presentation short form is the one category where my personal tastes are completely out of step with those of the majority of Hugo voters, because I intensely dislike Orphan Black and placed it under “No Award” along with Grimm. And yes, I recognise the acting skills of Tatjana Maslani and would actually applaud, if she won the Emmy. But the Hugo is not an acting award and as a piece of television, Orphan Black simply doesn’t work for me. However, the show is popular and I don’t mind that it won. Besides, after years of the short dramatic presentation category going either to Doctor Who or Game of Thrones, it’s good to see something else win for a change.

Guardians of the Galaxy was not just the obvious winner in the long dramatic presentation category and my own first choice (though I had a hard time deciding between Guardians and Captain America: The Winter Soldier), but also the only puppy nominee to actually win. But the puppies can’t claim that as victory, because there was no way that the most popular movie of 2014 in North America was not going to win, especially since it was also a movie that was widely beloved in SFF fandom. I’m also not surprised that Captain America: The Winter Soldier finished in second place and unlike George R.R. Martin did not see it as an outsider at all. In fact, when I read George R.R. Martin’s “Handicapping the Hugos” post with regard to The Winter Soldier, I thought, “You don’t really know younger female tumblr fandom, do you?”

Final proof that both the Hugos and WorldCon are becoming more international is that Helsinki won the four-way site selection race and will host the 2017 WorldCon, beating out Washington DC, Montreal and Japan. This makes me happy, because it means that the “world” in WorldCon is finally given more consideration. And since WorldCon is back in Europe, it means that I’ll likely be going in 2017. Coincidentally, my Mom has expressed interest in going as well (“Only if you don’t mind…”), which surprised the hell out of me, since she’s not a fandom person, though she reads and watches the occasional bit of speculative fiction. I fully expect her to nominate J.D. Robb for a Hugo, when the time comes.

In general, this year’s Hugo results confirm yet again that the demographic of SFF fandom are changing. SFF fandom is getting younger, more female, more international, less straight and less white. And of course, these changing demographics influence what is nominated for and wins awards. Foz Meadows goes a bit more into this in her excellent attempt to analyse the puppy mindset.

Not everybody is happy with these changes and not everybody unhappy with this is a puppy either, though what I dubbed the “anti-nostalgic fraction” in the post linked above hasn’t yet made their views about this year’s Hugos known. Now I have some sympathy for the fact that some fans feel alienated by the changing demographics and changing tastes of SFF fandom. There was a long dark time in the early 2000s, where my personal tastes did not align at all with what got buzz and won awards and I nearly wandered away from SFF altogether. And while my personal tastes are better represented by the Hugos and Nebulas these days, my favourite novel of last year did not even make the extended nomination list. Neither did my favourite novel of 2013.

However, one thing that most of the puppies really don’t get is that taste is subjective and that majority of fandom does not share the tastes of the puppies. The puppies, however, seem to live in an ideological and also apparently geographic bubble (note how many of them seem to cluster in the Western central US) and literally can’t comprehend that other people do not share their tastes and outlook. Hence, Redshirts or Ancillary Justice or “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” or “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” can’t possibly gain nominations and win awards, because people genuinely like them – no, it has to be a conspiracy orchestrated by a shadowy Communist cabal that meets in the basement of the Flatiron building. And frankly I don’t really get the puppy obsession with casting Tor as the enemy anyway (which predates the uproar about some remarks made by Tor art director Irene Gallo), especially since outside Tor.com (which is a different beast from Tor Books, the publishing company) Tor’s track record isn’t actually all that great regarding diversity and most of their efforts still seem directed at promoting books by white men.

Talking of which, Damien Walter, the puppies’ least favourite journalist and critic (they hate him so much that Larry Correia even addressed his replies to a Guardian article written by Adam Roberts to Damien Walter instead, since he apparently failed to check the byline) not just offers a pretty scathing postmortem of the puppy campaigns, but also points out that though SFF is becoming more diverse, the US/UK publishing industry still tends to push primarily books by straight white dudes. Here’s a quote:

A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF. The lead sci-fi news story of recent weeks is Ernest Cline’s high seven-figure advance for a third novel, which will presumably pander to exactly the same Beavis and Butthead demographic as Ready Player One and Armada. And with all the controversy around the Hugo awards, this year’s all-white male shortlists for the David Gemmell Legend awards crept past almost, but not quite, without comment. None of these creators or awards can be blamed for the field’s lack of diversity. But they are indicative of an industry that still categorises genres on gender lines – dystopian YA sci-fi for the girls, axe-wielding heroic fantasies for the boys. Worse, it still seems to believe, despite much evidence to the contrary, that stories for a narrow, white male demographic are the way to make money.

It seems Damien Walter is no more a fan of The Martian than I am (maybe he also knows a thing or two about growing potatoes) and was also put off by the excessive promotion for Ernest Cline’s latest novel Armada. Now both The Martian and Ernest Cline’s novels are highly popular and tastes do differ. Nonetheless, it is notable how much promotion Ernest Cline’s latest novel got (ditto for John Scalzi’s latest) compared to what books by women and minorities get. The playing field is still far from level, even though SFF is becoming more diverse.

However, the puppies have succeeded at least in one of their stated goals and that is increasing the voter base and participation in the Hugos, though I suspect this outcome isn’t quite what they had in mind. So where do the Hugos and the genre in general go from here?

I guess it’s too much to hope that the puppies will simply stop or at least change their tactics to compile a recommended reading list rather than a voting slate. The Sad Puppies have already nominated their leader for the 2016 campaign and Vox Day is uttering his usual array of dire threats. I guess it’s also too much to hope that they will at least tone down their shrill culture war rhetoric, especially since even the more moderate puppies seemed to become increasingly shriller as the debate went on.

However, we have a lot more Hugo voters this year than we had in 2014 and all of those voters have nomination rights for 2016. And approx. 2500 of the 2015 Hugo voters were so disgusted with puppy tactics that they blanket-voted everything on the puppy slate under “No Award”, while another approx. 1000 voted most puppy nominees under “No Award”. As for the new voters recruited by the puppies, who knows how they’ll nominate? I hope that at least some of them will trust their own tastes rather than rely on what the puppy leader put before them.

But in order to prevent a repeat of the 2015 debacle, all eligible Hugo voters/nominators, that is the over 11000 members of Sasquan as well as members of next year’s WorldCon in Kansas City and the 2017 WorldCon in Helsinki, need to get out there and nominate.

Even if you haven’t read/watched a whole lot in 2015, nominate what you read/watched and enjoyed. Trust your own taste and nominate accordingly. Only nominate what you have actually watched or read. Don’t blindly nominate what someone else, whether puppy or non-existent secret Communist cabal, tells you to. Write down what you enjoy as you read/watch it, so you’ll have a handy record of SFnal things you enjoyed in 2015 come nomination time.

If we all do this, then maybe we’ll have a 2016 Hugo ballot that better reflects the preferences of all of fandom.

Comments are off. Puppies, whine in your own spaces.

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