Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
The Night Science Fiction's Biggest Awards Burned

Robert B. Marks | 2 Sep 2015 12:00
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Normally I would provide a lot of links in this, but I'm not going to today, mainly for personal reasons - the fact is there are a number of authors involved in this tragedy who I have met and looked up to for years, and few of them are at their best. So, there is a fairly complete round-up of posts here, a good analysis here, and a pretty decent article on Wired that has the merits of having actually interviewed people from a variety of involved viewpoints. Otherwise, I will limit the links to some analysis and a couple from my Livejournal. This is also a huge story, and there is just not enough space to give more than the basic brushstrokes, so I am, by necessity, leaving a lot out.

And thus ended the prestige of the Hugo Awards... and in the end it all came down to cliques.

2015 was the year that the Hugo Awards took a massive hit in credibility. But, to understand why, we first need to look at the three cliques who are our players:

The Hugo Awards: This is a reader's choice award run by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). Full and supporting members are allowed to nominate and then vote for the works of science fiction and fantasy that they feel are worthy of recognition as the best of the year. Anybody can buy a membership, even if they do not attend WorldCon. These awards have long been among the most prestigious in speculative fiction, and are given out every year at WorldCon. The long-standing members and voters of the WSFS and Worldcon are what I will call the "established clique," for lack of a better name.

hugo award

The Sad Puppies: this group was started by Larry Correia, a right wing author who wanted to prove that there was a bias against conservative authors in the Hugo Awards by getting somebody with the "wrong" politics on the docket. In 2014 he had some successes with Sad Puppies 2, causing a backlash against him. In 2015, he handed the slate over to Brad Torgersen, who while being aligned with the right wing, set out to create a recommendation list - later referred to as a slate by others - based on the quality of the stories alone. Sad Puppy supporters were urged to read the stories on the list and recommend the ones they liked,and they were explicitly told that the list was not an absolute.

The Rabid Puppies: this group was started by Theodore Beale, who writes under the name "Vox Day." Beale's stated politics are vile to the point of cartoonishness - he has argued for repealing women's suffrage and that non-whites are sub-human. (He is, in fact, so cartoonishly villainous that I honestly wonder if it's an act.) Beale caught some backlash for trying to game the Hugos via the Sad Puppies in 2014, and created the Rabid Puppies to show the Hugos what gaming the awards really looked like. His slate was explicitly political and right wing, and one of his stated goals was to deliver a "fuck you" to the Hugo Awards and reduce them to a smoking crater in the ground. His supporters were told to nominate the Rabid Puppy slate precisely as it was.

Our stage is now set, our three cliques defined. The Hugo nominations opened, and the Puppies supporters bought their memberships, voted, and won a staggering victory. The Sad Puppies got 14 of their 17 nominees onto the ballot, and the Rabid Puppies succeeded with at least 18 of their 20 nominees. 12 of the successful nominees were shared between both slates. The backlash began.

While the Rabid Puppies had far more success than the Sad Puppies - where the nominees were not on both slates, the Rabid Puppies selection tended to win the spot - it was the Sad Puppies upon whom most of the vitriol fell. Correia and Torgersen found themselves accused of being sexist bigots pushing a racist, backwards slate upon Science Fiction's most prestigious award - accusations that in the mainstream press were also accompanied by retractions as reporters looked at the Sad Puppies slate and realized that it contained a number of female and non-Caucasian authors. In one of the more shameful moments, the media accusations against Torgersen were met by Torgersen pointing out that his wife of twenty years happens to be black, followed by the accusation that Torgersen was hiding his racism behind his black wife. George R.R. Martin became one of the few voices of reason in the established clique by actually engaging Larry Correia in a civilized discussion. Even I got into it, and you can read my contributions here.

(Lest anybody think that the conduct of the Sad Puppies was itself blameless, there was a moment where Torgersen explained away why Juliette Ward removed her name from the ballot, which was followed by Ward correcting him in a brutal takedown, including telling Torgersen to never speak for her again. Let's just say that no shortage of people had less-than-admirable moments.)

Perhaps equally disturbing were the calls from members of the established clique to respond to the success of the Puppies by voting "No Award" in each category the Sad and Rabid Puppies had dominated - also known as a "scorched earth" strategy - while some unironically accused the Sad Puppies of trying to blow up the Hugo Awards. Beale responded to these with a threat that if the established clique attempted to shut down the Puppies candidates by voting "No Award," his Rabid Puppies would do the same in every category of future Hugos, preventing anybody from ever winning a Hugo Award again. By the end of May, there was a proposal to change the Hugo voting rules to prevent slate voting from ever filing a ballot again.

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