The problem with Hugo – Assessing the work on their merits, a moderate approach

So this was a thing that happened. Short form, after three years of concerted, non-stop campaigning, the sad puppies managed to game the system of the Hugo Awards sufficiently to stack the ballot to the point where there are some categories where, quite literally, there is no choice but Sad Puppy options.

Furthermore, in some of these cases (though not all) the options presented by the Sad Puppies are so obviously included just to stick one to the “pink shirts” that, even disregarding the inside baseball of the various cliques involved, “no award” is the best available option.

I don’t say that lightly. Now I’m going to break down the categories one-by-one and discuss what I know of the entries on them. And in the process, I’m going to act like I don’t know the Sad Puppies exist as a thing because I want it to become apparent how blatant ridiculous this ballot is. But before I do that, I want to talk about options.

The Way Forward

We have a few options going forward:

  1. Fully politicize the Hugo awards by forming an organized slate of candidates to counter the Sad Puppy clique.
  2. Abandon the Hugo awards to the Sad Puppies.
  3. Push for a complete redesign of the Hugo Awards

Now, of these options, I think 2 is by far the worst. I’m tired of ceding ground in public space to conservative interests, of seeing Overton windows constantly sliding right.

So let’s examine the other two options.

A fully politized ballot

Despite my previous (very public) comments regarding the inseparability of art and politics, I actually think this is not a good option. I’m no more interested in turning the Hugo Awards into a permanent battleground of the Culture Wars than I am in abandoning them to become the paleoconservative awards for genre fiction.

Unfortunately, I think that this is what probably will happen short term. Certainly, for the 2015 Hugos it’s going to happen, because, as I’ll show later, it’s effectively impossible to vote in the majority of categories in the Hugo awards without it being politicized.

Since I refuse to throw my hands up and abandon the awards to the Sad Puppies, any voting that happens kind of will end up being political.

And any changes to the structure of the Hugo Awards will require successful votes at two successive Worldcons, so we’re probably looking at the same sad fight next year. However, notwithstanding this stop-gap measure to prevent the Hugo Awards from honoring grossly inappropriate throwbacks, I think that the real fight should be to change the Hugo Awards structure so that it’s harder to game the system.

Changing the Hugo Awards

Ideally, the Hugo Awards should be honoring the best SFF has to offer, rather than the thing any one camp was able to push forward as the best avatar of their political vision. But with the current structure that’s hard to do. So what are some options?

Raise the price to nominate and vote

No. Unlikely to work, kind of jerky to boot. I only mention it because it’ll invariably come up as a suggestion.

Eliminate multiple nominations

When a single author has been spammed across every nomination in a category it’s clear that some rigging is going on. So I’d suggest this as a first measure: a single individual or organization will not be allowed to be nominated more than once for any given award, and not more than three times for all award categories. In the event that a nominee receives more than one qualifying nomination in a category, whichever work receives the most nominations is the one that goes on the ballot. The others are discarded. The same applies if a person is nominated into more than three categories. The strongest nominations stay. The weaker nominations are tossed.

I think this might be one of the easiest fixes for the problem we’re facing right now. It’d, at the very least, mean that a greater diversity of nominees would be on every ballot, and would slightly weaken the power of voting blocs aligning behind specific high-profile incendiary candidates.

Of course, nothing stops voting blocs from just finding five different names for each slate and pushing that slate forward just as strongly. But at least they’d have to work harder, and as my later analysis will show, when the voting bloc can’t lean on a single author to push their agenda, the situation becomes more difficult.

Make the Hugo Awards a juried award

Of course this’ll make the selection of the jury a matter of political contention. But if we switched the selection of the nominations list from an open pay-for-vote situation to a juried one, it would at least introduce some accountability. That’s something we don’t really have right now.

Something else?

Honestly, I’m looking for suggestions here, comments welcome.

A breakdown of the award categories

Of course, everything I’ve been saying is predicated on the brokenness of the current list. So let’s look at that in greater detail.

Best novel

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marco Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)

This is one of the two best categories on this year’s ballot. Frankly Ancillary Sword has been my pick for the 2015 Hugo award ever since I read it. Leckie is a genius and her book is a tour-de-force. And I say that as somebody who’s often bored by space opera.

I’ve heard good things about The Goblin Emperor though I haven’t read it. It’s on my TBR list, but, being honest, it’d have to be AMAZING to dislodge Leckie’s book from my top pick.

Jim Butcher has long been one of my guilty pleasure reads. I enjoyed Skin Game, with a big caveat that I thought Butcher leaned FAR too hard on the femme fatale tropes of noir in this outing, and there were small parts of the book that veered into straight-up sexism which I found jarring and which I SERIOUSLY hope he dials back in his next outing. Still I’ll be buying his next Dresden book because it’s an enjoyable read. Would I call Skin Game the best SFF book of 2014? No. Nope. Nooooooope. I would not. But, I wouldn’t really blame somebody who did – Butcher is a very competent and entertaining author.

I haven’t read, or heard anything about The Dark Between the Stars so this one’s a bit of a shoulder-shrug on my part. I have no problem with Kevin J. Anderson, and some of his Dune novels were entertaining reads. But I’m still going to stump for Leckie over him. Because Leckie is a freaking genius.

Lines of Departure puts the military in military SF. I don’t read much straight up military SF (Scalzi notwithstanding) so I can’t really comment. Scalsi seems to like Kloos. But it’s kind of the same situation as with Anderson, I’m more saying “not enough information to comment” than “don’t vote for this guy”

Conclusion: If I knew absolutely nothing about Sad Puppies I’d probably have absolutely no problem with the ballot for best novel. Vote for who you like. I’ll be voting for Leckie first because I REALLY like Leckie and I think she really did write the best science fiction novel of the year.

Best Novella

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Ok so here’s where I do this:  (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

I’m going to start with John C. Wright. The man who, according to the Hugo ballot wrote three of the five best novellas of 2014. Wright called the creators of Legend of Korra termites for confirming that Korra was bisexual. He said they should be, and this is a quote, exterminated.

I’m sorry, but this falls back to my, “you can’t ever entirely separate the artist from the art,” statement and I could no more vote for anything this man wrote than I could one of Orson Scott Card’s paeans to the wonders of child soldiers. By using his author platform to spread hate, he has excluded himself from consideration.

Tom Kratman is also on the list of people who have excluded themselves from serious contention on the basis of the things they’ve said online. Look here and here to see what I mean.

And then there’s Arlan Andrews Sr. He’s on the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation. And they’re a rather… frightening… group of people.

So in the novella category we have three nominees: one who wants to exterminate the creators of a YA cartoon for daring to admit bisexuals exist, one who seems to believe affirmative action is more racist than the promotion of Rushton-style memes regarding “race” and genetic inheritance, and one who is involved with a trojan horse NGO whose advisory board also includes one of the most infamous anti-islamic radicals in the USA.

This grouping doesn’t include the best SFF has to offer. It doesn’t include the best any random grouping of people have to offer. There’s no way I could endorse any of these people.

So “No Award” carries in novella.

And the rest

This is going to take all day so I’m going to hustle things along. Novelette includes more John C Wright, somebody published in an Orson Scott Card branded publication, and a bunch of things I haven’t read. I’ll probably try to get around to those and report back on a future post.

Short story has more John C. Wright, more Castalia House (on why that’s a no-go zone read Stross here) and more I-haven’t-read-report-back-laters. (Of note, Lou Antonelli, on his blog, claims that “typical literary s-f is dystopian slipsteam pornography,” and not in the tee-hee, I love dystopian slipstream pornography sort of way, so I don’t have high hopes for him. But at least he isn’t as publicly awful as the novella contenders.

Related work: Oh hey, look, Castalia House again. What’s that? Patriarchy Press? That’s just straight up trolling now. In fact, considering Patriarchy Press seems to have no visible web presence, at all, I’m inclined to think it is a troll. Perhaps a self-pubber’s imprint name which he thought was droll or something. Regardless, not filing me with confidence here related work.

Graphic novel: An unremittingly awesome field. Possibly even better  than novel. Ms. Marvel? I love Ms. Marvel – anything related to the Inhumans really, but it’s a wonderful book regardless. Rat Queens, yes, yes, yes. Saga is the comic I haven’t read that is most frequently recommended to me by comic fans and non-comic fans alike. It probably deserves to be on this list. The other two? No clue. But with a minimum of three STRONG contenders out of five this is fine.

Dramatic Presentation – Long and Short: An uncontroversial list in both cases. When I first read the Sad Puppy slate when Torgersen released it, I shrugged and said, “they’re not doing any damage there.”  Haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, I don’t watch Grimm and I haven’t seen Orphan Black… YET… but everything on those two lists looks highly appropriate and all will be above “no award” on my ballots.

Best Editor: Hey look – Vox Day is on both lists. Well he’s going BELOW “no award.” Beyond that, I don’t know, need to do some research into what the others edited.

The only weirdness in Semiprozine is the presence of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceasless Skies on it. I’d have counted them as prozines. Loved Women Destroy Horror though. And I know someone over at Apex & Abyss who I wish nice things for. So, yeah, lots of reasonable choices here once you get past the oddness of how they seem to be defining semipro.

Fanzine: I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t go to Revenge of the Hump Day. As far as I’m concerned this “equal opportunity offender” repository for racist, sexist, anti-islamic, anti-atheist and anti-liberal jokes and editorials has no place being lauded by the Hugo Awards.

Other fan categories. I don’t know any of them. Research will be needed before voting. Or I might just leave those sections blank since time is at a premium and I already have a fair bit of research to do in the pro categories.

John W. Campbell Award: Oh, I LOVE Wesley Chu (which reminds me, I have to get around to getting to reading The Rebirths of Tao – it’s been sitting in TBR basically since I finished The Deaths of Tao, despite not being out yet at that time.) So I know who my #1 will probably be. I don’t know the rest of the authors on this list, so if anybody wants to shout out a favourite book of any of them in the comments I’ll happily give it a peek.

Wrapping up this mess

Between Novel and Graphic Novel on one end – which look like proper and appropriate spreads for the Hugo awards, and the unrelenting shit-show that is the Novella category, most of the professional categories of the Hugo awards show tampering from the Sad Puppies, and Vox Day’s more militant Rabid Puppies. (I’m not making that name up.) And this tampering is to the detriment of SFF.

Specifically, the frequent insertion of one small press with an overtly Christian Dominionist mission over and over and over again is a problem. It’s not just “problematic” in the culture wars sense of the term, no, it’s a fucking major problem, one that needs to be solved.

Ultimately, literary awards should be about good literature. But what we have here isn’t a list of good literature. It’s a manifesto of a world where SFF answers to Christianity, fears other religions, hates gays, sidelines women. (Oh yeah, out of 80 nominees, only 21 were created, in whole or in part, by women.)

So we can’t treat this year’s Hugos like a normal year. Because they’re not. And so some collective action might be necessary. I think, ultimately, some people who were stuck on Sad Puppy lists don’t deserve to be excluded just because the Sad Puppies liked them (looking at you Lego Movie) but what I’d say is this: make sure anybody you put above the “no award” line is somebody you know to be worthy of winning an award. Best case: read them first. At least make sure they’re not a bigot before you give them your vote. And don’t put anything from Castalia House above that line.

Because seriously, Vox Day needs to go away.

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6 thoughts on “The problem with Hugo – Assessing the work on their merits, a moderate approach

  1. Now, of these options, I think 2 is by far the worst. I’m tired of ceding ground in public space to conservative interests, of seeing Overton windows constantly sliding right.

    Really?

    Define ‘constantly’. An outside observer comparing the Zeitgeist of 2010 and 1910 would say that the typical 1910 left-winger be a solid conservative in 2010.

    Typical 1910 conservative opinions (people are not equal, races are not equal, homosexuals are mentally ill, etc) are completely beyond the pale in 2010, and are only espoused by people with whom mere association is poison.

    • Look, my first angry comment! (Wipes away one joyful tear.) Ok, yes, you got me. There has been progress in the realm of identity politics. And after seeing the three decade backslide that is economic politics you can bet I’ll fight tooth and nail to defend it.

      • >>There has been progress in the realm of identity politics. <<

        There has been 'progress' in everything. I doubt you'd be able to explain 'slut-walks' to someone from 1910.

      • Let’s see: Scare quotes around progress, check. Using another example of identity politics to try to suggest something broader than what was already conceded, check. Ignoring comment regarding overton windows and economic policy, the absence of leftist political theory from mainstream economic discourse in North America, check. Ok ‘R.’ here’s the thing: your mistake is assuming that when I discuss the increasingly conservative tenor of discourse I’m referring only to politics within the context of “social justice,” broadly construed as LGBTQ issues, race issues, feminist theory and intersectionality. And the truth is that I do think those are important things. They’re also the things my side is winning.

        But that’s not the totality of my concern. In fact, I consider the whole, “discrimination is bad, bigotry is bad, don’t be jerks to each other,” part of politics to be such a basic premise that the fact there are people who think it’s okay to be openly bigoted to people based on say, their sexual identity, fills me with a certain level of confusion. I mean, seriously. What business is it or yours, mine or anybody else’s what a woman wants to wear on her body? Why should she face physical danger if she chooses to dress in a certain way?

        No. My main battleground, politically, is humorously something I try my best to keep off my blog, since I have tried to make this blog almost exclusively about books and publishing. It’s economics. Things like taxes, distribution of wealth, development of social programs, what is considered a social good, how we assign value, things like that. And I’ve seen what’s happened in that arena over the years since Reagan and his disastrous reallocation of wealth to the wealthy. I’ve seen conservatives push the Overton window until, forget socialist, forget leftist, even the word liberal is used as a slur in American politics. And things aren’t much better here in Canada, where the most left-wing political party refuses to go farther than the wishy-washy centerist term: progressive. (You’ll recall, I consider the social justice aspect of progressivism to be such a basic and fundamental ethical good that it’s hardly controversial enough to really BE left.)

        But for all that I see the world through a markedly different lens than conservatives, I’m not politically blind. I know that the progress made to mainstream basic fundamental ethics regarding treating all people with basic dignity and respect could be rolled back if the crazies like Vox Day and John C. Wright are allowed to grip the reins of public perception too tightly. So, yeah, I’ll still jump in there. I’ll still keep pushing left. And if you think that makes me “poison,” well you probably followed a ping-back from Correia’s blog. I’d invite you to go on back over there and enjoy your echo chamber.

        And frankly I’m personally glad 1910 is far in our rear-view mirror. It’s not a time we want to be re-living.

  2. Pingback: The Hugo Awards Flap: This too shall…

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