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The Hugos and the Puppies, part 1

By / April 15, 2015 / no comments

sad puppies hugo award

Connie Willis has turned down an invitation to present the Campbell Award at this year’s Hugo ceremony.

Willis has won 10 Hugo Awards for her fiction, and has presented awards on numerous occasions. Turning down this invitation is a big deal.

So what the hell is happening with the Hugos? There are huge numbers of discussions on the internet, of which Susan Grigsby at Daily Kos and Mike Glyer at File 770 (this is his latest round up) probably offer the best summation. Keep following the links. You’ll be there for an awful long time, and you’ll come away as up to date as anyone on a pretty awful story.

So let me try and give a brief(ish) account of what is going on.

1) In 2011 the Worldcon was held in Reno. Larry Correia, a new writer whose third and fourth novels were published around then, decided to attend. By his account he had a pretty bad time: he was shunned because he was right wing and supported carrying guns (he is a trained firearms instructor). The truth of this is hard to determine, but whatever the case he felt excluded by what he perceived as a multi-ethnic, pro-feminist, left-wing organisation. He called fandom “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs), a term that nobody else in fandom even recognises. Subsequently, Correia hung out with other Baen authors (they call themselves the barflies) and the sense of exclusion hardened into a sense that the Hugo Awards (the awards organised by and presented by the Worldcon) were skewed by the SJWs to exclude the sorts of books that Correia and his buddies wrote and liked.

2) Correia and a group of like-minded writers, then formed the “Sad Puppies”, an organisation whose sole purpose was to get their kind of sf onto the Hugo ballot. They did this by arranging a slate, then persuading like-minded people to join the Worldcon simply to nominate this slate and nothing else. This is strictly within the (often baroque) rules of the Hugo Awards, but it is clearly and deliberately against the spirit of the awards.

(In 1987 there was an attempt by the Church of Scientology to persuade its members to join that year’s Worldcon and nominate L. Ron Hubbard’s dekalogy for the Hugo. Many of the nominations, clearly written in the same hand, or accompanied by membership cheques drawn on the same bank account, were disallowed. Nevertheless, one volume by Hubbard did get onto the ballot; it came last in the vote. This scarred the memories of fandom, who regarded it as an attempt to buy the vote, but rules were not changed to prevent this happening again.)

3) In 2014, the second Sad Puppies slate was successful in getting several works onto the Hugo ballot, including a novel by Correia and a short story by “Vox Day” (he is important, we’ll come back to him in a moment). The “Vox Day” story was recognised as so bad by everyone who read it, that it confirmed the general view that the Sad Puppies were more concerned with stuffing the Hugo ballot than they were with any idea that the Award might recognise quality. The fact of the slate was regarded with disdain and disgust by the members of the convention (the SJWs of Sad Puppy imagination), and those who got onto the ballot as a result of the slate all came low down in the eventual vote. “Vox Day” came behind No Award.

4) At some point after the 2014 Worldcon, “Vox Day” separated from the Sad Puppies, and set up what he called the Rabid Puppies. The ultimate aim of the Rabid Puppies would seem to be not to make the Hugo an award for old-fashioned and militaristic science fiction, but rather to destroy the Hugo Awards.

“Vox Day” is a pseudonym used by Theodore Beale, an American of independent means who lives in Europe. Not so long ago he was only the second person in the history of the organisation to be expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This was because of grotesquely sexist and racist views, including an inexcusable attack on the writer N.K. Jemisin. Recently, Beale has gone on record saying that Anders Breivik, the neo-Nazi terrorist who massacred more than 70 people in Norway in 2011, should be regarded as a hero.

“Vox Day” is reputed to have used his contacts with Gamergate to push his own Rabid Puppy slate for the 2015 Hugos, and he was far more successful than the Sad Puppies in getting his list onto the ballot.

5) Together, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies have been extraordinarily successful this year.

Every single nominee in the categories Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story and Best Related Work is from one of the slates. And nearly every other category has at least one and usually two or three nominees who came from either the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies slates. (The novella by John C. Wright that was ruled ineligible because it was first published in 2013 was replaced on the ballot by a novella that had not been part of either slate.)

Since the existence of the slates became known, at least one person has refused their Hugo nomination because of their disagreement with the slate, and it has been learned that several people were on the slate without their knowledge or agreement.

6) The backlash against the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies has been vocal and sustained, though so far without any clear direction. (The most sustained and best response has come from George R.R. Martin, this is his latest piece addressed directly to Larry Correia.)

The Sad Puppies have argued that they are simply opening the Hugos up to the sort of science fiction that they love, that is not normally recognised in genre awards, and that they want to recognise the old virtues of excitement and storytelling over nebulous literary “quality”.

Against this it is argued that the sort of sf they are talking about is recognised in the Hugo Awards. Last year’s winner, for instance, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, is exactly the sort of fast-paced, adventure-based space opera they are supposed to want; but Ann Leckie does not appear on their slate. And too many of the works they have supported display no appreciable quality of any sort, which seems to go against any idea of an award.

On the other hand, critics of the Sad Puppies point out that the slates they put forward are considerably less diverse in terms of race or gender than most recent award shortlists.

To this, the Sad Puppies have said that it is wrong and unfair to brand them as sexists or racists or even as right wing. Although I do not recall any of the Sad Puppies publicly disassociating themselves from the extremist remarks of “Vox Day”.

As for “Vox Day” himself, he has simply threatened to burn down the Hugos if No Award defeats any of his slate in the final vote.

As for myself, if such a thing as the Social Justice Warriors ever existed, count me among them. But they don’t, the Sad Puppies are tilting at windmills as they have been all along. While “Vox Day” is simply vile.

That’s enough for now. Next time, I’ll start looking at some of the ways that have been proposed for responding to the Puppies.

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