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.)

17 Responses

  • As a representative of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, we’re mightily aggrieved that the Sad Puppies, entirely unbeknownst to us, put us on their slate. We only found this out on Friday, long after we’d accepted the nomination; what should be a career highlight for the mag has become a very bitter pill. The best that we can hope for out of this, I suspect, is that hopefully some of the voter-packet exposure the magazine will get will not be negative in the long run; but if the Sad Puppies had asked if we wanted to play in their enclosure (rather than just putting us there without any warning), we would have declined the invitation.
    We’d hope people will judge us on our content. We were not in our wildest dreams anticipating a Hugo nom, we thought the gods had smiled upon us; and then this.

    • This raises a very interesting issue. You are the second person (the other was in an email that I got a few minutes ago) to tell me that they didn’t know they were on the Sad Puppies slate. That person asked to be removed from their slate and apparently caught a lot of flack for that. It makes me wonder how many others were put on the SP’s slate without their knowledge. That’s very, very shady behavior on their part.

      • It’s more than that, Bookworm. I’m also on the ASIM collective and we have had some abuse for not appreciating the nomination. Only a small amount so far, but it will increase as our statements go out. And those who say “You can always ask to be removed even now” and “serve you right for not having heard of these guys!” It’s easy to say, “Just say no” but we should have had that option BEFORE the nominations went in. No matter what we do now, we will be abused by someone. And dropping off disenfranchises those who did nominate us honestly – we weren’t actually eligible till this year, because of our small number of copies. We’re still considering our options.

    • Cat

      My heart goes out to ASIM; I promise to read the material in the voter packet and to start following your zine if it is at all my kind of thing.

      The Puppies have robbed both the people they forced off the ballot, and the people they put on the ballot, whose ability to “win it fair” will always be in doubt. And they have robbed the people who made it onto the ballot in spite of the slate and without slate help, because they may end up winning against a field perceived as artificially weak. This year is going to have an asterisk after it in people’s minds, if not in the actual records.

      I’m terribly sorry, but slates are so destructive to the nominating process that I’m going to have to put everything that was on a slate below No Award on my ballot this year. I hope ASIM will make the ballot without slate interference in some more fortunate future year.

      • Rev. Bob

        “I’m going to have to put everything that was on a slate below No Award on my ballot this year.”

        Quick procedural note, because it’s confused people in the past:

        “No Award” is treated, in all but one small way, just like any other nominee. If it doesn’t get the votes, it’s out of the running. What that means is that listing something below NA on your voting ballot is not the same as omitting it from your ballot completely.

        To illustrate, this year we have five Best Novel nominees. Three of those were on a slate, so I’ll call the nominees 1, 2, 3, A, and B. If you intend to give no support whatsoever to 1-3, your ballot should have at most three entries in that category: A, B, then NA. Why? Read on.

        Suppose that instead you mark your ballot A, B, NA, 1, 2, 3. The first round, 2 gets the least points and goes away. The next round, B gets knocked out. Third round, there goes NA. At this point, your ballot looks like A, 1, 3 – with no indication of your protest against the slate. Therein lies the problem.

        Cat, I’m not saying that you specifically are unaware of that part of the system. However, it’s a common enough misconception that I wanted to get the correct info out there for the benefit of other readers.

        • Ian Monroe

          Thanks that is useful. I was confused since I saw people suggesting that they rank all nominees.

          I think whether the voting is ranked or not it never makes sense to vote for people you want to lose.

        • Cat

          Your votes below No Award only count if No Award is knocked out. To see how this would work, consider the case in which you voted

          1) Great
          2) Good
          3) No Award

          and left off the slate entries Pity It Was Slated, Needed A Slate To Make It, and OMG What Were They Thinking.

          And now consider the edge case where Great Good, and No Award are all out of the running because they didn’t get enough votes, and Pity, Needed, and OMG are tied for first place.

          The ballot above says “call it a three-way tie and give them all Hugos.”

          If that’s not what you want your ballot to say in that edge case, you must rank Pity, Needed, and OMG.

          Personally I would rather the Hugo go to Pity It Was Slated, but of course you can make your own call. Those below-No Award votes *can’t* help Pity win out over Good or Great, or even No Award, because they don’t even get counted until Good, Great, and No Award have already lost.

          • Rev. Bob

            From reading the official information, that’s not correct:

            “You should vote for No Award as your first choice if you believe that none of the nominees are worthy of the Award, or that the Award category should be abolished. If you vote for No Award in any other position it means that you believe the nominees you placed above No Award were worthy of a Hugo, but that those not placed above it were not worthy. However, as we shall see, it is possible to rank nominees below No Award and have an effect on the outcome.” (Emphasis mine.)

            Once the votes are in, invalid ballots are set aside. The remaining ballots are separated according to first choice. If one of those piles exceeds 50%, that’s the winner. Otherwise, the nominee with the smallest pile is eliminated from consideration by crossing off that first choice, looking at their second choices, and adding them to the remaining piles. That process of elimination repeats until one pile hits 50%. From the Hugo site again:

            “Note that No Award is being treated just like other nominees. This means that No Award can be, and indeed normally is, eliminated as a candidate. Any preferences below No Award can then be redistributed just as they would be for any other candidate.”

            There’s the key. In my examples above, if A is the next one knocked out, the A-B-NA ballot ceases to be counted (until the end of the process, the final “NA test”) while the A-B-NA-1-2-3 ballot is added to the 1 pile as a vote for it to win over 3.

            This link may also be useful, and this one runs through an example to demonstrate the process (content warning: anti-Who bias, some NSFW words).

  • I guess I live under a rock. I had to go out and read up on what happened.

    For the reasons you mentioned, I haven’t cared about the Hugos for decades (thus, my being under a rock). But then I’m never one to let someone else tell me what the best book of the year was. Same applies towards music and other artistic works.

    But if the Hugos weren’t so broken, there never would have been anything there for the Sad Puppies to tap into, infect, and flourish.

    I’ll go back under my rock now.

    • Dawn Watson

      I agree. The Hugos were tainted well before Sad Puppies came into being. It’s sad that no one recognizes that.

  • This is going to be my first year voting for the Hugo. I read Goblin Emperor last year and absolutely loved it. A matter a fact, the only reason I registered for the Hugo, was so I could nominate Goblin Emperor for the award. I too, are really hoping for Katherine to win the award.
    But say Katherine or Ann wins, I wonder if the “No Award” choice and the fact that 3 other novels are SP, will taint* the win in some people’s eyes. The same goes for every category I guess too. I wonder how many people will vote “No Award” and what place that may come in?
    Regardless though, I mainly wanted to say Goblin Emperor was my favorite book last year, and I hope that Katherine wins!

  • Zombie Kitteh

    Whether or not the writers nominated were involved, I still feel for them. I’d be always wondered if the nomination was authentic and if I was truly in the company of worthy competitors.

    And even if those on the SP “slate” were amazing, truly deserving writers, this is going to be a long shadow to try and escape.

    It feels purposely divisive.

  • Ian Monroe

    Agree with your sentiment. The Hugo award is fun to talk about, even if it isn’t a great way to suss out the best books. The Sad Puppy slate is not fun. I feel like we’ve been robbed of something this year.

    You are right about 40 bucks being a strange way to do it, but I guess my reaction is the opposite of yours. The Hugo award as an Internet poll clearly isn’t working. We should consider making it smaller – truly just a award chosen by the attendees of WorldCon.

  • There are, I think, a few misconceptions here, starting with referring to the Hugo’s as an internet poll.

    The Hugo’s are an award given out annually by WSFS, the World Science Fiction society’s convention. That $40 referenced is a membership fee (supporting) to WSFS. There is a higher membership fee for attending members. Both supporting and attending members get to nominate and, later, vote on the final ballot.

    The Hufo Awards have never – since 1953 – been about what the ‘best’ SF is – they’ve been about what a plurality of the membership of the convention choose as the best. That may be a subtle distinction,but an important one.

    Membership has always been open to anyone to join (and vote if they so choose).

    What’s ‘broken’ is the unwillingness of some to honor years of tradition. Those traditions have always included strong imperatives against organized campaigning and voting for the awards. It’s happened a few times in the past (to a much lesser degree) and was always loudly protested and dealt with accordingly.

    This year changes to the rules will be proposed, ones designed to minimize the impact of block voting. In the meantime, many of us have chosen the only real response to this kind of gaming, which is to vote NO AWARD in those categoies where we have been robbed of an opportunity to have a real choice, and to only vote for works that were not included on any voting slate.

    • ian Monroe

      Anyone with 40 bucks and an Internet connection can vote for the Hugos. That makes it an internet poll, whether it wants to be one or not.

      This year wasn’t just people not respecting traditions, it was entryism. People were encouraged to join Sasquan just to vote a slate. People who openly disparaged WorldCon encouraged folks to join Sasquan.

      Mail-in ballots and supporting memberships have (as far as I know) always been a part of the Hugo awards. But now it’s the 21st century and clearly this doesn’t work anymore. Internet polls are notoriously ripe for gaming. We should consider limiting votes to attending members. The Hugo awards will be smaller and lesser for it, but maybe that’s OK.

  • I tried sharing my thoughts on this today, but the problem is I still don’t get the controversy that led us to this point. Maybe I’m just too thick-skinned to feel desperately insecure in my gender/race/etc., but I find it ironic that certain people are so upset to see the genre’s own goals of progress and diversity being realized.

    The whole ‘No Award’ voting issue is almost as much of a shame as the Sad Puppies issue. Whether you agree with the process or all the nominees on the ballot, choosing not to vote just penalizes those authors who are deserving of recognition. Yes, it seems the systems is broken and needs to be fixed, but to ignore the process until it is fixed just hurts the genre as a whole.

  • uh huh

    This is what happens when one side condescendingly swings towards a Affirmative Action system.
    They get a reverse swing.

    I think both of them can go take a flying leap.

    And lets get rid of the damn “Censorship” people, can you not act like grown ups who are not afraid of words while being apart of a genre made of them.

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