The people who stuffed the ballot at this year’s Hugo Awards nominations have made a number of arguments in favor of their actions. We shared some of those with you a while back. But there’s one argument that the Hugo saboteurs keep making which seems especially strong—except they already disproved it.
In case you’re one of the lucky people who still doesn’t know about this situation, here’s the short version. A guy named Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, who’s best known for tweeting a racist article via the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s official account, took advantage of a legal loophole in the rules that allows a small group of people to control the nomination process, if they all nominate the exact same things instead of voting according to their individual tastes.
The upshot is that this year’s Hugo ballot is largely a celebration of Beale, his friends, and his tiny publishing company, Castalia House.
Beale’s own statements about the Hugo mess have been largely incoherent, but he has a cadre of supporters (and there’s a separate but related campaign, which had much less success in getting its choices onto the ballot.) And some of the more articulate supporters of this self-styled “Sad Puppies”/“Rabid Puppies” revolt have kept making one argument in particular: That progressive science fiction authors have been stuffing the ballot box for years, and now the conservatives are just doing what the left has always done.
In other words, some of the Hugo saboteurs apparently believe that progressives have had an organized campaign to rig the Hugo Awards for years, but it was held in secret. And the Hugo saboteurs (or “Puppies”) claim that by doing their ballot-stuffing publicly, via an organized slate, they’re actually being more open and transparent than the secret campaign run by people who want to see more diversity and more challenging ideas in science fiction.
This actually sounds like a compelling argument at first — but the saboteurs themselves have already disproved it. Their own success shows that their conspiracy theory is absolutely false. If there had been a left-wing conspiracy to stuff the ballot, it would have largely counteracted the efforts of Beale and his friends. The Beale strategem only succeeds if all the other nominations are scattered and disorganized. And that kind of disorganization is exactly what we saw in most nominations. It appears that everybody except Beale’s crew simply nominated whatever stories they happened to enjoy in 2014. Had there been a secret left-wing bloc nominating its own stories in lockstep, then Beale’s strategy would have failed.
Another piece of evidence against this: In the past few years, during the period when the saboteurs claim that there’s been an organized left-wing campaign to stuff the ballot, we’ve regularly run into a situation where the “Best Short Story” category has only had three nominees instead of five. That’s because only stories that receive at least five percent of the nominating votes can get on the ballot, and there weren’t enough stories that enough people agreed on in those years. Had there been some secret left-wing campaign to pack the ballot, then you would have seen a full complement of five “Best Short Story” choices—and in fact, that’s what’s happened this year, after the saboteurs did their work.
So this really is about people reading lots of books (including, one hopes, books from diverse authors) and nominating the ones they liked—versus groupthink, lockstep behavior from a group of people who care more about imposing their will than anything else.
But also, saying that “we’re doing the same thing as you, only openly instead of in secret” is a specious claim in any case. The fact that they did it openly is a huge part of the problem—because they announced publicly on a website which stories everybody should vote for, and loudly recruited people from various message boards to join the cause. The loud, public appeal for a group of people to nominate exactly the same stories is crucial to why they were able to sabotage the process so effectively. So in this case, “transparency” is actually another word for log-rolling.
Meanwhile, if you want to know the last word on this year’s Hugo mess, it comes from Beale himself. In the past week or so, there’s been a controversy over the fact that a Holocaust novel featuring a lovable Concentration Camp commandant was nominated for two RITA awards (the romance equivalent of the Hugos.) As Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books explained, “The stereotypes, the language, and the attempt at redeeming an SS officer as a hero belittle and demean the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
Beale has weighed in on this situation in an interview with Newsweek, and proclaimed that it’s the same thing as what’s been happening with the Hugo Awards. The book about the Nazis turning out to have “hidden depths and sympathies,” Beale says, is just like his own books and stories: terrific works of fiction, that have just been singled out for criticism by politically correct people. (And if you think that the Holocaust shouldn’t be portrayed as not all that bad, you’re a “Social Justice Warrior.” Congratulations.)
Both the Hugo Awards controversy and this Nazi-book kerfuffle are about “SJWs attempting to thought-police a particular industry or genre,” Beale said in an interview with Newsweek. He also said that Wendell shouldn’t be dismayed if she gets harassed for criticizing this book, because that’s par for the course.