Hugo Awards 2015: A Lamentation

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably been aware of the Sad Puppies Hugo drama that erupted this weekend. I won’t go over the details. You guys can look them up. They are everywhere. For the first year ever I do have some thoughts I want to put into the ether regarding this whole thing.

I should state, for the record, that right now I have no idea where this post is going to go.

I have always had a rather complex relationship with the Hugo Awards. On the one hand, as a fan and writer in the genre, I love the idea that anyone’s work might get recognized, and I find the whole process validating and exciting – especially when friends win awards. It’s exciting, and it feeds my enthusiasm for the genre and my place in it.

On the other hand, I’ve never really thought that the Hugos were anything but broken. It’s been obvious from my first year running my website and really paying attention that the Hugos are not representative of the genre as a whole. Instead, they represent a very, very small chunk of genre fans. Most average library goers and bookstore shoppers have no idea what the Hugo is, and have no idea (and care even less) about the politics behind it all.

Which makes any real effort to rig the Hugos a waste of time. In the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty small, and taking the time and effort to really campaign for it and manipulate votes is petty. Aren’t there better things we can spend our time on?

I also have always been rather ambivalent about the whole thing because there are cliques, and often those cliques get together and stuff happens. It’s hard to have any belief that the little guy will win when he-who-has-the-most-friends-and-loudest-voice often wins. I love the excitement of it all, which is infectious, but the pandering for votes and the drama that always bubbles up around this time of year makes my stomach turn.

I don’t really feel that the Hugos reflect the genre as a whole. For example, out of my absolute favorite top-ten authors, perhaps only one or two of them have ever won a Hugo Award. There are a lot of people every year that I think should be shortlisted, but never are. Art is subjective, and my personal taste is not the absolute standard for wonderful. However, regarding the Hugos, I feel that they often reflect popularity rather than actual absolute high-bar skill (though the two often converge).

The Hugo Awards, and any genre award, should really be about art. I don’t think the Hugos have ever really been only about art, but they have been about celebrating the genre, and the people who work in it. They are also a really wonderful way to look at trends and tastes and how they evolve and change. Last year was a wonderful year for diversity, and this year? Well, who knows who will win, but I’m less than impressed.

The fact is, the Sad Puppies set out to accomplish a few things, and they won in one huge respect. They wanted to prove that the Hugos can be gamed, that votes can (and probably have been) manipulated. They accomplished that in spades, and bravo for that. I’m not sure what the point was, but they did it. If we ever really wanted any evidence that the Hugos are broken, then this is it. Will this change anything? Only time will tell.

However, in doing this they’ve tainted the awards. This is absolutely not the year I’d ever want to be on the shortlist. The very tactics the SP’s used to accomplish their goals takes some of the magic away from the whole process, and causes the awards to be received a lot less seriously than they (may or may not) have already been taken. It nurses discord and creates bold dividing lines in a world that’s already divided enough. The point is, some of the people on the list are incredibly deserving, but the SP’s robbed them. It’s hard to take this year seriously when you are aware of all the drama behind who got on the list and how they got there.

(That being said, I absolutely hope that The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison wins best novel. That book rocked my world something fierce.)

My other issue is with some of the people on the list. With the goal of getting some overlooked people recognized like they deserve, I think it’s rather wrong that someone like John C. Wright, an author with an established career and fanbase, has numerous nominations which he could have easily given up for someone who is overlooked and deserving. It’s hard to take a movement seriously when a few names on the list are repeated an extravagant number of times. Especially when said people could have given up some of their slots for someone else.

Regardless of the politics and whatever else people can talk about, my main issue is that the way the SP’s went about this whole thing feels a lot like cheating on a test. It’s not cheating if a big group of people do it and they have the right goals in mind, right? Wrong. And that cheating-on-a-test vibe really takes a lot away from those people who are on the short list, and those people who probably would have been on it if the SP’s hadn’t gamed the system the way they did. They didn’t just steal some of the magic from the awards, they stole some of the magic from the potential winners, and that really, really bothers me.

This Sad Puppies drama took something that was exciting and fun and tainted it. They boldly manipulated something, thereby robbing an award from potential winners, and making those who might win forever be winners of an Award with this stigma hanging over it.

I can absolutely get behind a more honest award. I can 100% get behind an award that somehow gets those who are overlooked, nominated. There are better ways to get that done, ways that wouldn’t have had so much of a negative impact and genre backlash. I don’t like the backbiting, the drama, the horrible name calling and dirt being thrown around. We are bigger than this. Period. (For the record, no one is really exempt from the dirt slinging.)

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does, but I lament the fact that somehow the Sad Puppies managed to kill some of the remaining magic of the Hugo Awards. Are there problems with the awards themselves? Absolutely. For example, I think it’s ridiculous that someone should have to pay $40 to have an opinion. I also think that, inherently any award system will have a problem, and popular vote systems like this one are no exception. I don’t know how to fix it, but if anyone doubted this award had problems, then the SP proved that it, in fact, does.

I think the saddest thing is that, now, the Hugos really aren’t about art anymore. They are about agendas. Regardless of whether or not you believe that the awards were broken before, they absolutely are now, and everyone on this year’s shortlist will undoubtedly feel that keenly.

(This is a very, very heated topic, so if you comment, keep it kind. I will mercilessly delete any and all inflammatory comments.)