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The Final Lessons From This Year's Hugo Awards Clusterfrak

Illustration for article titled The Final Lessons From This Years Hugo Awards Clusterfrak

The Hugo Awards are over, and the result was a dramatic rejection of the two “Puppies” campaigns to pack the ballot with a narrow selection of authors. But what does it all mean, and what happens now? Some of science fiction and fantasy’s leading lights have been offering their opinions.


If you’re still not up to speed about the Hugo Awards drama, this article from Wired’s Amy Wallace is a great primer. I also did a roundup focusing on eight books that are at the center of the debate, including quotes from people on either side of the argument about them.


So here’s what people are saying in the aftermath of last week’s Hugo Awards ceremony.

John Scalzi says the basic lesson of this whole thing is that slates are the worst:

“What did the 2015 Hugos teach us? Well, basically that slates are the fucking kiss of death, Hugo-wise. If you create them, it kills your credibility with the voters; if you’re on them, it kills your chances of winning — indeed, it kills your chances of winding up above “No Award,” unless you happen to be a movie that grossed $775 million worldwide. The moral of the story really is: Slates! Not even once!”

Gary K. Wolfe (writing in the Chicago Tribune) says that we’re not as divided as we might have seemed:

[I]n the end the controversy—inevitably dubbed “Puppygate”—represented not a divided science fiction community, but rather a surprisingly united one, and one which chooses to celebrate diversity rather than to view it as a conspiratorial threat. The Puppies themselves—some of whom have since claimed victory simply by forcing the “no awards” votes — may or may not return next year, when Worldcon is in Kansas City. But some estimates have them at no more than 10 percent to 20 percent of this year’s voting, and since the huge membership of the Spokane Worldcon — over 11,000, including non-attending members — provides an enormous base for next year’s nominations, it likely will be more of an uphill battle against a broader community that has already rejected them once and that will not as easily again be taken by surprise.

The final irony in all this is that the Hugo Awards, while more diverse and international in recent years, have never really disdained the kind of adventure fiction that the Puppies claim to champion.


(Note: Some of the above is attributed to the views of George R.R. Martin, which are “shared by many, in the aftermath of the awards ceremony.”)

Speaking of George R.R. Martin, he says he believes next year’s Sad Puppies 4 campaign, which will apparently be run by Kate Paulk rather than this year’s Brad Torgersen, will be more of a “recommended reading” list and less of a slate. And will include a wider range of works recommended by participants, rather than being “carefully curated,” as this year’s Sad Puppies list was. Martin hopes this will result in a recommendation list “that is far more varied, and far more interesting, than the SP3 slate.”


Martin also offers two lessons for how to move forward:

Let’s make it about the work. Let’s argue about the BOOKS. And yes, of course, it will be an argument. I may not like the stories you like. You may not like the stories I like. We can all live with that, I think. I survived the Old Wave/ New Wave debate. Hell, I enjoyed parts of it... because it was about literature, about prose style, characterization, storytelling. Some of the stuff that Jo Walton explores in her Alfie-winning Best Related Work, WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT? That’s the sort of debate we should be having...

But there’s a second step that’s also necessary. One I have touched on many times before. We have to put an end to the name-calling. To the stupid epithets. ... I am not fine with CHORF, ASP, Puppy-kicker, Morlock, SJW, Social Justice Bully, and some of the other stupid, offensive labels that some Pups (please note, I said SOME) have repeatedly used for describe their opponents since this whole thing began.


Larry Correia (who started this whole thing with his “get Correia nominated for a Hugo” blog post back in 2013) says that this whole business proves that the fans who attend Worldcon are insular and only care about keeping out the wrong people, and the fact that “No Award” was voted above Baen editor Toni Weisskopf proves it:

It was more important that you send a message to the outsiders than it was to honor someone who was truly deserving, and that message was This is ours, keep out. That’s why I’m disappointed. I wanted the mask to come off and for the world to see how the sausage was really made, but even I was a little surprised by just how vile you are...

The cliques are small and inbred. Don’t believe me, think about who our biggest haters are, and then scroll through the list and see who didn’t get Hugo nominations because my side showed up for once.


Meanwhile, Eric Flint—to whom George R.R. Martin gave a special “Alfie” Award (consisting of an old hood ornament) for his unbiased essays about the Hugo mess—wants to lay out three basic facts:

Fact One. There is no grandiose, over-arching SJW conspiracy to deny right-thinking conservative authors their just due when it comes to awards. It does not exist. It has never existed. It is nothing but the fevered dreams which afflict some puppies in their sleep.

It is preposterous—there is no other word for it—to claim that there is some sort of systematic bias against conservatives in F&SF in the same year (2015) that the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America bestowed the title of Grand Master on Larry Niven and the liberal literary magazine the New Yorker ran a very laudatory article on the author Gene Wolfe.

Fact Two. There is no reflexive reactionary movement to drag F&SF kicking and screaming back into the Dark Ages when all protagonists had to be white and male (and preferably either engineers or military chaps). The very same people who piss and moan about diversity-for-the-sake-of-it litter their own novels with exactly the same kind of diversity they deplore when their opponents do it....

Fact Three. Yes, there is a problem with the Hugo awards, but that problem can be depicted in purely objective terms without requiring anyone to impute any malign motives to anyone else. In a nutshell, the awards have been slowly drifting away from the opinions and tastes of the mass audience, to the point where there is today almost a complete separation between the two.


Flint wrote a long essay about the problem with the Hugo Awards back in April, in which he attempts to dissect how the awards are changing, as the shape of SF publishing and the nature of fandom changes. (For what it’s worth, I think he moves the goalposts a bit by focusing on the fact that the same two artists won Best Artist over and over, which is more of a problem with the visibility of other artists in the field, and unrelated to any problems with book readership.)

The fantastic critic (and one-time io9 contributor) Abigail Nussbaum—who would have gotten a nomination for Best Fan Writer if not for the slates—has posted her own thoughts about this year’s Hugo results. Nussbaum says that if the Puppies had represented “real” fandom, “then ‘real’ fandom would have turned up to vote for the nominees they put on the ballot.” She adds:

The truth is—and this is something that we’ve all lost sight of this year—no matter how much the puppies like to pretend otherwise, the Hugo is not a progressive, literary, elitist award. It’s a sentimental, middle-of-the-road, populist one. I rarely like the shortlists it throws up, and am often frustrated by the excellent work that it ignores. In fact, looking at this year’s would-have-been nominees, I see some work that I loved—Aliette de Bodard’s “The Breath of War,” Carmen Maria Machado in the Campbell Award category—but on the whole it feels like a very safe, unexciting ballot that I would probably have complained about quite a bit if it had actually come to pass.


Writing for NPR, Tasha Robinson says that part of the Puppy argument that got repudiated is that nobody could possibly actually like the works they were nominating:

Puppy defenders have often made the offensive, judgmental and depressingly self-absorbed argument that voters couldn’t possibly actually like works by or about women, trans people, gay people, writers of color and so forth. Clearly, the argument claims, people could only vote for those works out of a misguided social-justice agenda. Until this year, the best argument that Hugo voters really were voting for their favorite works (and not to push an agenda) was the range of material nominated on the first ballot, reflecting the variety of tastes that creates such a wide and scattered speculative-fiction field.


And I want to add one last point of my own—if there’s one thing I would love for everybody to come away from this year’s crazy mess with it’s: “Read more short fiction.” Read lots and lots of short stories, novelettes, and novellas. Enough people read and discuss novels that there will always be popular waves of people nominating for the Best Novel category (as there were this year, in spite of the slates.) But not enough people read and talk about shorter works of fiction, and that’s why the slates were able to dominate those categories completely.

Some people are coming away from this fiasco and saying that this proves the Hugo Awards give too much attention to short fiction, which gets three categories where novels only get one. But shorter works are always going to be where a lot of the most interesting writing comes out. Short fiction is where people feel free to experiment, to try different ideas, to push things in wild new directions. There’s a reason why some of the greatest Best Novel winners of the past, such as The Forever War and Ender’s Game, started out as short fiction works.


And yes, people should also read more widely among related works and pay more attention to candidates for Best Fan Writer and the Best Editor categories. But as someone who loves short fiction and considers it where the future of science fiction and fantasy gets built, I would dearly love it if everybody came out of this mess resolving to pay more attention to shorter works.

[Some links found via the excellent File770.]

Top image: Apex Magazine, which published “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, which would have been a top contender if not for the slates.


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There has been a lot of ink spilled about the absolute failure of the puppies slate and the massive cognitive dissonance they all suffer by changing their own rules to turn it into a victory. The lost and they lost hard. What I saw when I watched the Hugo Awards was humor, warmth, a sense of togetherness and an entire room exhaling for the first time in over a year. The puppies have acted abominably since the Awards, accusing Martin of giving out “secret SJW” awards, trying to sue the Awards for fraud and just all out virulent and disgusting racism, misogyny and homophobia. I’ve seen them attacking people on Twitter, reddit and blog posts and it’s just an all out sick display.

Science fiction and fantasy have spoken. Diversity and dynamic voices will win out. They can keep bleating and honking that John Scalzi is trying to kill them with his mind or women have gotten their cooties all over their space ships but no one who matters is listening to them. They’re Luddites trying to stop progress from coming to a past that never existed. Science fiction and fantasy was built by women, people of color and LGBTQ people. It was created to examine questions of social justice. It was created to ask hard, interesting questions like “who are we?”. It wasn’t designed to be the playground of racists and homophobes who use their God as a hand wavey reason for being bigoted, it wasn’t created to be solely for manly men with laser guns and scantily clad lady aliens. Any idiot who thinks it was is ignorant of the history of SFF.

Can’t wait to do all of this again next year. *puts on SJW armor*