This has been a very busy summer. Between work and family commitments, I’ve been running around so much that when I get back home I just really haven’t had the energy to blog. Heck, my work has been cutting into my vital goof-off time, and we all know how important that is. I didn’t have time to review a single item on the Hugo ballot this year like I’d expected, and I quite literally finalized my ballot only on the last day. I had to skip the fan and related work categories, too; I just didn’t have the time to finish those.
This last weekend was particularly hectic and stressful, to the point that reading about Hugo kerfluffles online was relaxing by comparison. I didn’t even think I should blog about it, but decided I could probably squeeze off a quick post.
The short version: I can’t say I’m surprised. In fact, I can’t even say I’m disappointed.
The original Sad Puppies campaign started because Larry Correia was challenged on his claim that conservative authors — or more precisely, authors whose personal views don’t fit 100% with a certain far-left-wing mindset, be it on guns, abortion, taxes, marriage, sexuality, or the color of their skin — aren’t welcome at the Hugos. Correia predicted that if he got on the nominee ballot, they’d attack him mercilessly. Having proved that with his nomination last year, he didn’t feel like continuing.
Brad Torgersen, a man with far more moderate political and social attitudes, decided to take up the Sad Puppies mantel and continue, but this time with the express purpose of campaigning for authors he liked to read rather than whether they show up at the right cocktail parties — something Correia himself didn’t do, as he focused only on right-wing authors. This year was completely and utterly politically neutral, which meant that I could endorse it via Novel Ninja (which I try to keep politics-free, because good writing doesn’t depend on who you vote for or why). Torgersen, however, has discovered that simply being a moderate isn’t enough; you have to be in lock-step or you’re not a real fan.
That’s not to say the Hugos were politics-free. Actually, I’d say this was probably the most political Hugo season in the history of the award; and all of it came from the left-wing side, which preaches something I agree with: tolerance and inclusion. A Miss CJ over at Chicks on the Right has an excellent, if highly political, examination of what it means. (Well, actually, I guess I can’t fault her for talking about the politics that are already there, but my point is that it’s a very right-wing take so I hesitated to link to it. However, her analysis of the implications for the genre and its reflection on society is still very good. The more something becomes politicized, the less attractive it becomes to the population at large.)
That was nowhere to be found at the Hugo Awards ceremony on Saturday, however. The vitriol was shocking, even when I expected it; I expected it, but hoped to be proven wrong. After last year, when this crowd raised a hue and cry because an MC might have told a tasteless joke, I expected at least some effort to stay neutral. Instead, they insulted a religion they disagreed with (and not even a Western or Christian denomination, not that that would have been acceptable either), claimed to be endorsed by Daleks (which, to the geek crowd, is the same as saying you want to destroy everyone but those who think exactly like yourselves), and stated the only proper response to the results is applause.
Now, that last one I heard about (I didn’t watch the ceremony live; I went to bed at a normal-person hour for once) and expected it to be the normal order-in-the-court admonition. However, it wasn’t the acceptable, in fact laudable, rebuke that an awards ceremony is not the place for booing (which it isn’t) and that those who have disagreements can air them afterward in appropriate forums. No, it was a firm claim that the only appropriate response was to cheer the fact that a group wanted to shut down certain award categories lest someone they disagreed with be allowed to take home a trophy.
In their haste and horror to remove the unwanted from their midst, they have torn off their masks. In their highly energetic efforts to prevent their club from being joined by those who don’t agree with them, they have exposed themselves to those who might have sided with them. In their glee at denying authors who had no stake in an ideological battle their right to coexist, they have proven what the original Sad Puppies campaign already proved — but they proved it to a much wider audience.
Thousands of people gathered for the convention, far more than normal; tens of thousands have been paying attention, for the first time in the Award’s history. They’ve all seen this play out. It’s made mainstream media outlets. It’s been trending on Twitter and other social sites. More and more people have found out about it.
This year’s Sad Puppies campaign was about bringing more attention to the Hugo Awards. It has succeeded precisely because the other side — which I have taken to calling the Leucrottas, after a mythical animal that hunts humans and dogs, solitary because even fellow leucrottas can’t stand their own company — have crowed to the world about how nasty the Puppies are. And so the world has seen the ugliness of the Leucrottas.
In the interest of protecting women and minorities, they have hurt them. In the interest of increasing diversity, they have clung to exclusivity. To protect against invaders, they have destroyed their prize. To proclaim their enemies are racists and hate children, they have embraced racists and support pedophiles. All in the name of fiction; but only the fiction they approve of.
That’s not to say that what they did was against the rules. They kept to them, as far as I can tell (though apparently a lot of votes were disqualified, you can still tell from the stats how things worked out). But as Tom Knighton pointed out, they cannot be against campaigning after how hard they worked to get a single result: that No Award be the only winner.
I’ve said before that basing the quality of fiction on the content of its message alone leads to boring fiction. This holds true no matter what side the message lands on. I was once challenged on what I define as message fic, and I responded with a list of message fic stories I actually enjoyed precisely because I could enjoy the message, but which I could recognize as only enjoyable to those who would agree.
Niche fiction is fine, if all you want to do is settle in that one niche. But if your award is about the entire genre, then niche fiction isn’t enough. If your award is supposed to represent the best of its category, then it should be the best of its category. And if your award is based on popular opinion, then it should be based on popular opinion. As the Hugo Awards FAQ list says:
No, don’t nominate or vote for something you have not read or seen, and don’t vote based on reputation — the Hugos are meant to honor your choices and judgments, not the rumor of someone else’s.
But instead of saying “Well, this didn’t go the way we wanted, but the people have spoken,” the Leucrottas have leveled allegations of cheating (without evidence), condemned campaigning (except for their own), and screamed about following the rules (even as they try to change them to protect their monopoly). In their efforts to protect the Hugos from outside interference, they have exposed them to outside scrutiny.
And all those thousands of people who have been paying attention? They’ve seen precisely what I’m talking about.
That’s the stance of Leucrottas today — that it’s much more important to have checkboxing than it is to give public opinion a fair shake. But not just any checkboxing; you have to have the right boxes checked. It’s not enough to be non-white, non-male, and non-straight; you have to have that and say the right things. Freedom of speech is to be ignored. And if freedom of speech is ignored, then so too shall writing quality be of no concern.
Of course, this is just some random person on Twitter, right? Well, I discovered something very interesting today. On the Hugo Awards FAQ page, there’s a link to the question “Aren’t Hugos just for Science Fiction?” I remember what that entry said. It noted that the traditional way of determining the eligibility of a nominated work that might be a bit questionable in terms of genre was that sufficient people voted for it in a genre-based award. In other words, popular opinion says it’s eligible, therefore those who manage the Award will not disagree.
I said I “remember” it. I have to work off of memory, because that section has now been deleted. The hyperlink to that section still exists, but the entry in the list is no longer there.
Apparently, mere public opinion no longer makes a work eligible.
EDIT: Thanks to Archive, I retrieved the original text; emphasis is mine:
While the organization sponsoring the Hugos is named the World Science Fiction Society, our charter explicitly makes fantasy as well as SF eligible for our awards. Works of fantasy have often won Hugos, and, in fact, Hugos have been won by works that some people consider horror or even mainstream. There will never be universal agreement about the precise distinctions between genres and sub-genres, so WSFS’s position is that eligibility is determined by the voters. To paraphrase the great SF editor and writer Damon Knight, a Hugo winner is what the Hugo voters point to when they award a Hugo.
Next year, there will be tens of thousands of people eligible to nominate works. I’m still going to participate, and so will many more. This is more than just Sad Puppies now. A lot of people have taken a look at the “most prestigious” SF&F award. Whether they supported Sad Puppies or not, the goal of that campaign has been achieved: more people are interested, more people are involved, and more people can see what goes on.
And some people are going to dearly wish they’d kept their masks on.