Hugo Season 2016: The Return of the Puppies

The deadline for the 2016 Hugo nominations and 1941 Retro Hugo nominations approaches fast, so we’re seeing the annual increase in pre-Hugo nomination chatter. BTW, if you were a member of Sasquan, MidAmeriCon II or Worldcon 75 before January 31, 2016, go here to nominate.

The nominees for the Hugo Awards have been contentious since forever and you can see my take on and summary of previous debates here. However, in the past two years, particularly the last year, the annual Hugo nomination controversy has been cranked up to eleven due to the so-called Sad and Rabid Puppy campaign. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just read the posts linked above, cause it’s all there.

The Sad Puppies are at it again, for the fourth consecutive year, and announced their recommendation list last Thursday. The link goes to File 770, where the list was reposted, just in case you don’t want to visit the Sad Puppy site itself. There is also a lot of discussion in the comments.

Meanwhile, occasional Sad Puppy fellow-traveller Vox Day has been posting his own Rabid Puppies slate in bits and pieces over the past month or so. Once again, the tireless Mike Glyer at File 770 has reposted the Rabid Puppy picks, so click here, if you don’t want to wade through the morass that is Vox Day’s blog.

ETA: Mike Glyer has now also posted the full, somewhat revised Rabid Puppies list at File 770, just in case you’re curious. Coincidentally, I wouldn’t have taken Vox Day for a fan of Strange Horizons of all places. Or for a My Little Pony fan. Oh yes, and he seems to have found the dinosaur erotica subgenre. Unfortunately, it did not make his head explode.

Leaving aside the Rabid Puppies for now, one thing that is notable is that the Sad Puppy list for 2016 a) contains up to ten choices in many categories rather than just five and b) contains works like e.g. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers or The End of All Things by John Scalzi that don’t look like obvious Puppy picks at fist, second and third glance.

So it seems that the Sad Puppy 4 organisers headed by Kate Paulk did stick to their word and created their list based on all recommendations they received and not just those of puppy affiliates. What is more, they also posted a list of ten recommendations in many categories, making a puppy sweep due to bloc-nominating like last year less likely.

This is a good thing.

Nonetheless, following last year’s controversy, a lot of people are less than thrilled to find themselves on the Sad Puppy list.

Alastair Reynolds, whose novella “Slow Bullets” is on both the Sad and Rabid Puppies list, requested to be removed and was promptly inundated with angry comments from irate Puppies.

Catherynne M. Valente, whose novella “Speak Easy” is also on the Sad Puppies list, was initially furious, especially since she was one of the puppy targets last year, but eventually decided to give the Puppies the benefit of the doubt, at least for now, though she reserves the right to change her mind. Oh yes, and Catherynne Valente was also inundated with angry comments from irate Puppies on social media.

John Scalzi, whose novella The End of All Things 1: The Life of the Mind is also on the Sad Puppies list, points out that he has withdrawn all his 2015 works from awards consideration, and that putting people and their work on a nomination slate against their will is kind of arseholish. No irate comments from Puppies this time, at least not at Whatever, because Scalzi wisely closed the comments.

Several people who did not find themselves on either puppy list weighed in as well:

Rachael Acks says that she wishes she could trust that the Sad Puppies have changed, but given their history, she remains sceptical. And of course – I sense a pattern here – she promptly receives hostile comments from angry Puppies.

At Crime and the Forces of Evil, Dara Korra’ti is pleased that the Sad Puppies seem to have mended their ways and points out that she objects not to recommendation lists per se, but to the Puppies’ culture war rhetoric and their ballot stuffing. She also points out that we still need the E Pluribus Hugo amendment to the World Science Fiction Society statutes in order to prevent any group of any political orientation from exploiting the flaw that the Puppies exploited last year again.

At nerds of a feather, the G declares that he feels that Sad Puppies 4 have abandoned their strident culture war rhetoric for now and make some decent recommendations.

At Blue Author Is About To Write, Alexandra Erin wonders about the possible motives behind this year’s Sad Puppy list and points out that the best thing to do is to ignore the Puppies altogether, since they will probably claim victory anyway, regardless of what happens.

As for myself, I’d like to believe that the puppies have changed (at least the Sad Puppies, Vox Day remains his ever charming self) and learned from last year’s mistakes. At least, the Sad Puppy 4 organisers have done what they said they’d do, namely crowdsource recommendations and create a list of the most recommended items regardless of pedigree. Given the intransparent way in which Brad Torgersen created his list last year, this is a great improvement, as is the fact that they offer more recommendations than slots in many categories.

As for the non-obvious choices on the Sad Puppy list, I don’t necessarily assume any malicious afterthought there. What I presume happened is a) the Sad Puppy supporters’ taste is not as out of tune with the rest of fandom as they believe, or b) people not affiliated with the Sad Puppies took them by their word and offered recommendations, which promptly ended up on the final list, because the Puppy supporters either aren’t as numerous as they believe or maybe too burned out from last year and too busy with the upcoming US election to care.

Nonetheless, I sympathise with those who find themselves on the Sad Puppy list against their will and want their names removed. Because the truth is that after three years of increasingly unpleasant shenangigans, including ballot-stuffing, racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric by some outspoken Puppy representatives (note that I said some, not all of them), attacks on previous Hugo winners and anybody who dared to disagree with the Puppies and last year’s spokespuppy wanting to evict works he doesn’t like from the genre altogether, the Sad Puppy brand has become toxic.

I think few people would have minded finding their name on a recommendation list – at least, I know I’ve always been flattered the few times I’ve found my name on such a list – even if the list was compiled by people with whose politics they disagree. Nor do I think that e.g. Catherynne Valente or Alastair Reynolds hate conservative readers, as some commenters insinuate. Because writers normally don’t care about their readers’ politic al views. I certainly don’t. Though I have to admit that I’m always a bit surprised when I find prepper fiction (a subgenre whose readership tends towards the right) in the also-boughts of my post-apocalyptic works. If only because people who want to read how the right people with enough guns, ammunition and cans of beans can totally survive the apocalypse will probably be very disappointed with my works, which have no shooting, characters who are neither white nor straight and a lot of people dying.

Nonetheless, the reason why many writers don’t want to be associated with the Sad Puppies, let alone the Rabid Puppies, is not because they hate conservatives, but because the Puppy brand is unbelievably toxic by now. Never mind that the experience of last year’s Puppy shield nominees, i.e. people who were not directly affiliated with the Puppies, were otherwise reasonable nominees (e.g. Jim Butcher, Kary English or many of the nominees in the editor categories) and yet still found themselves ending up under “No Award”, shows only too clearly why a lot of people don’t want to be associated with the Sad Puppies in any way.

Besides, the flood of negative comments, which everybody who either requested to be withdrawn from the Puppy list or who was sceptical of the Puppies’ motives received, shows that at least some of the Puppy followers haven’t changed their ways at all. So if your followers heap abuse on everybody who dares to disagree with you, is it any surprise that a lot of people want nothing to do with you?

As for what to do, I am inclined to agree with Alexandra Erin and simply ignore the Puppy lists (both Sad and Rabid). Because it turns out that there is some overlap between my personal nominations and the Sad Puppy list and – to my infinite surprise – even the Rabid Puppy list. My Mom – who wants to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki and is thus eligible to nominate – also has some overlap with both Puppy lists, e.g. she is a big fan of Jim Butcher’s. I guess the old German saying that even a blind chick find a grain of corn on occasion applies here. Even Puppies sometimes find something decent to recommend.

And so I am not going to let the fact that the Sad or Rabid Puppies happened to like something influence my nominations. I will respect people’s wishes not to be nominated this year or ever (John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal and Annie Bellet are some names that come to mind), but otherwise I will nominate what I enjoyed most, regardless of who else happened to enjoy the same thing.

As for voting, I will follow the same strategy as last year and the year before. If I like a work, I will rank it accordingly, regardless of how it got onto the ballot. If I don’t like a work, it goes under “No Award”, again regardless of how it got onto the ballot. If the creator of a work is a horrible person, the work will have to be knock-your-socks-off amazing to make me forget that fact.

Finally, if you are eligible to nominate, i.e. if you were a supporting or attending member of either Sasquan, MidAmericonII or Worldcon 75 before January 31, 2016, please nominate whatever 2015 works you read/watched and enjoyed. Because the more of us nominate, the less likely it becomes that any small but organised group floods the ballot with their choices.

And if you’re still looking for recommendations beyond the Puppy lists, check out the excellent Hugo Nominees Wiki and the equally excellent Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom. For short fiction (as well as art), Rocket Stack Rank offers reviews and eligibility lists. If you’re still looking for nominees for the artist categories, check out the Hugo eligible art tumblr. For the Campbell award, Writertopia offers an (incomplete) list of eligible authors.

ETA: Chris Meadows offers a summary of this new Sad Puppy controversy with lots of links.

ETA: Paul Weimer weighs in on the Puppies and their refusal to remove people from their list as well.

ETA: At File 770, Mike Glyer has collected some responses from the Puppy camp to the withdrawal requests of Catherynne Valente and Alastair Reynolds. They usually boil down to “Who do these people think they are anyway?” and “How dare they insult their fans?” and “We will never buy their work again (even though we didn’t know who they were until two days ago)” with the usual noisy Puppy rhetoric.

And the Puppies wonder why no one wants anything to do with their brand.

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