Saturday, April 4, 2015

Four essential points about the Hugos and the Sad Puppies

When awards go to the best work, it's unintentional. There are two models for awards in the fantasy and science fiction genre, and they're both flawed. The Hugos and Nebulas are popularity contests that tell you more about how well the stories were promoted than written. The World Fantasy Awards are chosen by a committee, which means the winner is rarely everyone's favorite and often is no one's favorite. Mind you, this isn't to knock the winners—awards usually go to decent stories, and sometimes to great stories, but occasionally, as a critical look at the history of any of the awards will tell you, they go to stories whose virtues are impossible to see now and were dubious then.

That said, four points:

1. People have gamed the Hugos and Nebulas for decades. As a young writer, I first noticed it when Orson Scott Card attended many conventions, recommended a lot of work by his fellow writers in his book review column, and generally promoted the hell out of himself. I didn't hold that against him. He had the financial resources to do it, and he was playing by the unwritten rules. (My disappointment with Card came later, when I learned of his opposition to gay rights.)

ETA: Kameron Hurley, who has won two Hugos, endorses those tactics in Why I Don’t Generally Boycott Conventions: "At this point in my career, being who I am, with the career I’m looking to build, I cannot afford to miss key appearances and opportunities."

2. Larry Correia deserved a nomination this year for the same reason anyone else does: he got enough votes to be on the ballot. But because he has principles, he declined it. From Sad Puppies Update: The Nominees Announced and Why I Refused My Nomination | Monster Hunter Nation: "I was contacted by the administrators on 3/20/15 and informed that Monster Hunter Nemesis was a finalist for best novel. I emailed them back the same day and turned it down. Whoever was next in line was then moved up to be a finalist in my place. I refused the nomination for one simple reason. The Sad Puppies campaign isn’t about any one person. I felt that ultimately my presence would be a distraction from the overall mission."

3. Teresa Nielsen Hayden claims at Making Light: Distant thunder, and the smell of ozone that three aspects of the Sad Puppies campaign bother her most:

• She doesn't like Michael Z. Williamson's book—which makes me wonder if I've ever seen a final ballot that only included books I admired.

• She doesn't like the existence of a Sad Puppies slate—which makes me wonder if she never noticed friends of hers sharing their lists of stories they hope their readers will vote for. I suspect a good fannish historian would find the first slate showed up in 1953 with the first Hugo awards.

• She says:
...the nominees on the Sad Puppy slate who got onto the ballot. Indications are that a fair number of them, maybe a majority, are respectable members of the SF community who, for one reason or another, are approved of by the SPs while not being ideologically Sad Puppies themselves.

This means they've dreamed of winning the Hugo, just like all our other writers and artists and editors. They might not have had any real expectation of winding up on the ballot this year, but that doesn't mean they didn't wish for it with all the pure luminous desire of Ralphie wishing for a Red Ryder BB gun.

They've been put in a horrible position. I mean, I've wanted a Hugo since I was in middle school, but I dreamed of being given one by SF community, not Larry Correia.

I think at least two of those nominees turned down the nomination. I hope they someday get a real one.
That logic's bizarre. No one tests voters for ideological purity, and there is more honor in getting an award from your ideological opponents than from your friends—I will always be pleased that Chimera, which is set in a right-libertarian dystopia, was a finalist for the Prometheus Award. No non-Puppy needs to feel any shame for being admired by anyone. The Hugos are simply the Hugos. They are not the McCarthy-Mao Award for Ideologically Pure Speculation.

4. The title of io9's The Hugo Awards Were Always Political. But Now They're Only Political is a lie. This year's ballot is no more and no less political than last year's. The only difference is the SJWs' tactics were less effective. In the spirit of good game play, I wish them better luck next year.

And a clarification for anyone who is new to this culture clash: social justice warriors have nothing to do with social justice workers like Dorothy Day, who went into the world and worked to end poverty while treating everyone with love and respect. (But anyone doing a history of "social justice" has to acknowledge that the concept's past includes the magazine, Social Justice, which was produced by the famously antisemitic priest, Father Charles Coughlin—the internet's SJWs are not the first to use the term to justify horrible deeds.)

ETA: I haven't read any of this year's nominees, but I hope Sarah Monette wins. She's a mighty fine writer.

ETA 2: Kary English, who is on this year's ballot, has a fine take on the whole thing: The Disavowal.

ETA 3: I don't think there are any unbiased histories of the Sad Puppies and the Hugos, but this one seems accurate: Hugo Awards Upset: Fans Say 'No' to the SJWs

ETA 4: If you don't normally read the comments on my blog, I especially recommend Judas Unchained's look at the number of voters this year.

ETA 5: A breakdown of what's on which list: Entering the Lists | File 770.

ETA 6: Black Gate » Blog Archive » A Detailed Explanation by Matthew David Surridge.

Also, I've seen someone say elsewhere that I use "SJW" unironically. Nope. The name is ironic; it's impossible to use it unironically. It's ironic if you're on the SJW side—traditionally, people who work for social justice were pacifists, so "warrior" is not meant literally. It's ironic if you're not on the SJW side—it refers to keyboard warriors, people whose main activities are doxing, threatening, and insulting people online. I use the term because it's the term the internet has been using for years for these people, and it's the term some of them use for themselves.

ETA 7: This is effectively Part 2 of this post: On Star Trek and the dark history of "Social Justice"—a post for David Gerrold

ETA 8: A beginner's guide to "Social Justice Warriors" in the F&SF community

ETA 9: Harlan Ellison on gaming the Hugos and Nebulas