Friday, April 10, 2015

The Hugos and the Puppies

A little bit of background and history

I started this blog to talk about things that I geek out about. That might be computers, that might be the Internet, that might be something completely different. Today I want to talk about books. I've been an avid reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy books since I was introduced to The Hobbit when I was 8 (see my Geek-a-Week post for the full story). Somewhere along the line I discovered that the words "Hugo winner" on the cover of a book meant that it was probably good. I didn't think much beyond that, though. A few years ago, I learned that the Hugos (think Academy Awards for books) were awarded by members of WorldCon, and that anyone could join WorldCon for a small fee. Awesome! I could vote for the Hugos and be part of that. Sign me up. For the last couple of years, I've looked forward to this time of year to read the Hugo-nominated works because it exposes me to things I would never have found otherwise. It's been awesome.

Then this year happened.

Two (partially related, but certainly overlapping) groups decided that they didn't like the types of books and stories that have been nominated for the Hugos in the last several years. These groups are called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. These groups got their members to vote as a group for certain books and stories to go on the Hugo ballot. They managed to get the vast majority of the works on the final ballot to come from their slates.

Many people are crying foul about this. Like so many others, I have thoughts, which I am listing below. These aren't in any particular order, but I felt the need to write them down.

Who owns the Hugos?

There has been some discussion about who "owns" the Hugo awards. Larry Correia says that he claimed for years that the Hugos were owned by a small clique among SF/F fans. George RR Martin, meanwhile, said that the Hugos are a fan award, owned by all of the fans. Suddenly, Martin is saying that the Hugos belong to WorldCon and represent the views of WorldCon. This, of course, leaves Correia saying "Told you so, told you so".

It is my opinion that they are both right. The Hugos are, in fact, representative of the tastes of WorldCon members only. So Correia is right about that. It comes from a small group of fans. Here's the thing though: any fan can be a member of WorldCon. There's no gatekeeper. Nobody is stopping fans of certain types of books from joining WorldCon. If you think that your taste in books isn't represented by WorldCon, then you can buy a membership and you will not only be represented, you will actually be a voting member yourself. What the Puppies have done by getting people that have similar tastes together to join WorldCon isn't a problem. It's the way to make sure that a group that feels underrepresented now feels like part of the system. On the other hand, some of the other things that they've done are...shall we say...less than polite.

Sad Puppies

The Sad Puppies group was started for a couple of reasons. First, Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson (the originators and leaders of the Sad Puppies) have both been nominated for Hugos in the past, but didn't win. One has to think that they're a little bitter about this. Second, they say that the really good, fun books that they like to read haven't made the Hugo ballot because WorldCon members keep nominating and voting for preachy, message stories. So, the Sad Puppies claim to be all about getting those types of books on the ballot. I want to talk about these things separately.

They are both Hugo nominees, but not winners. Guys, get over it. You are now members of an elite group that includes from freaking fantastic writers. Is that not enough for you? Correia talks about how he was mistreated at the first WorldCon he went to where he was a nominee. He doesn't give many details about the mistreatment, but it does sound like he had a bad time. That's sad to hear. SF/F fandom should be more inclusive. But the simple fact is that some people are just jerks. Don't let a few morons ruin a good thing for you.

As for the feeling that fun books are being replaced by message books on the ballot. So what? Science fiction, in particular, has always had messages in it hidden behind aliens and space battles. Not every book is like that, of course, but SciFi has a long history of it. It is possible to make message books fun. Now, some voters care more for the message than for the fun, but that's ok. That's what they're reading for. You read for fun, they read for messages. So what? You're different. Deal with it. Why is it a problem that a fun book isn't nominated for the Best Novel Hugo? Does that diminish how good the book is or how much fun you had reading it? Nope. Not at all. The book is still as good as it ever was. The book is not less than it was because some other book says "Hugo winner" on the cover.

On the other hand, the Sad Puppies did one thing right. They wanted to be better represented among WorldCon members, so they got their supporters to buy memberships and nominate. That, folks, is how you get representation in a group. I just wish that the members had nominated according to their own individual tastes, instead of as a group. That's what screws up the system. Would Jim Butcher still have landed on the ballot? Possibly. In fact, I would think that it's very likely. The bloc voting probably wasn't strictly necessary.

Rabid Puppies

My thoughts about this group are a lot less kind than my thoughts for the Sad Puppies. This group, led by a guy that calls himself Vox Day, seems determined to break the Hugos. Not to just get their type of popular fiction on the ballot, but to get their own writing on there. There are overlaps between the works that the Rabid Puppies want and the Sad Puppies want, but the Rabid Puppies include a lot of really self-indulgent nominees as well. This is a slate that consists of Vox Day himself, an author that he publishes, and some books that he apparently enjoyed.

This slate is terrible. It isn't about getting well-written, fun books and stories on the ballot. It about getting a Hugo for Vox Day. That's it. That's all it's about. He's just trying to game the system for his own personal ends.

Last year (thanks to the efforts of the Puppies) there was a story by Day on the Hugo ballot. I read it. It just wasn't good. If that's the best the guy can do, then it's no wonder to me that he needed to stuff the ballot with works by a single other author that he happens to publish.

How I'm going to vote

So, what's the take-away from all this? How am I going to vote for the Hugos this year? I've decided that I'll do it the same way I always have. I will read as many of the nominated works as I can and rank them based on three criteria:

  1. Was it good?
  2. Was it fun?
  3. Did it make me feel something?
If a story just isn't good, I don't even put it on my voting ballot. That way, I am saying that I don't want to legitimize this story in any way. If a story was well-written, but I just didn't like it (and there have been plenty of those in the last few years) then I rank it low. If a story made me feel something, that's the real key to my vote. Happy, sad, frightened, it doesn't really matter. Make me feel something. At the same time, though, if there's essentially a tie in the feeling department, I will vote for the story that was the most fun. 


In my opinion, if more SF/F fans joined WorldCon and voted based on quality, fun and feeling, the Hugos would truly be representative of the fans, and both the Sad Puppies and most of the other members would be happy. (There's just no pleasing Vox Day and his followers.)