An own goal

I’m late catching up with the Hugo awards – Vox Day – Sad Puppies – Rabid Puppies – Connie Willis stories. It’s pretty pathetic, and sad.

One recent summary:

The Hugo Awards have long honored authors, illustrators, and even fans, for their contributions to the field of sci-fi and fantasy. Past recipients have included Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson, and J.K. Rowling, to name just a few. Like any prestigious award in a highly competitive industry, the Hugos are no stranger to controversy. This year, however, the Hugo nomination process was marred when a small cadre of science fiction writers and their fans systematically set out to manipulate the entire awards roster away from a diverse group of authors writing about diverse issues, and towards stories about big explosions and shiny lasers. And thanks to the Hugo’s relatively open nomination process (for $40, anyone can become a “supporting” and voting member of the awards’ parent organization, The World Science Fiction Society) it’s all perfectly legal. Not a single rule broken.

Making speculative fiction more conservative! What a great idea! Obviously it’s the ideal genre for conservatism and let’s keep doing things the way they were done when I was six-ism.

To the Puppies, the genres of science fiction and fantasy lose credibility the more they focus on things like racism, sexism, and sheer innovative storytelling, instead of telling tales about shooting guns or swinging swords. Last year’s Hugo awards ceremony was hailed for its emphasis on younger, more diverse nominees. This year, three of the five “Best Novel” nominees, three out of five “Best Short Story” nominees, and the entire “Best Novella” category are Puppy picks.

And some of the biggest names in sci-fi and fantasy have noticed.

Here’s Hugo winner John Scalzi:

…[I]t’s okay to penalize graceless award grasping by people who clearly despise the Hugo and what they believe it represents, and yet so very desperately crave the legitimacy they believe the award will confer to them. Therapy is the answer there, not a literary award.

And there are others. And then there’s Connie Willis.

Connie Willis, 11-time Hugo winner, with more science fiction and fantasy awards under her belt than any other writer, has turned down an invitation to present at this year’s ceremonies. Initially reluctant to boycott, Willis felt she had no choice after hearing reports that Puppy leader Vox Day had threatened to continue his campaign of nomination manipulation until one of his handpicked choices was given an award—in essence, holding the Hugos hostage. Explaining her decision, Willis writes:

to Vox Day, Brad Torgeson, and their followers, I have this to say:

You may have been able to cheat your way onto the ballot. (And don’t talk to me about how this isn’t against the rules–doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.) You may even be able to bully and intimidate people into voting for you. But you can’t make me hand you the Hugo and say “Congratulations,” just as if you’d actually won it. And you can’t make me appear onstage and tell jokes and act like this year’s Hugo ceremony is business as usual and what you’ve done is okay. I’m not going to help you get away with this. I love the Hugo Awards too much.”

Brilliant move – drive all the best people away. No sacrifice is to great when it comes to keeping the women and other weirdos out.


  1. Wowbagger, Heaper of Scorn says

    Gaming, literature, movement atheism, STEM – what the heck else is there that regressive misogynist assholes can’t be utter shits about?

  2. quixote says

    Good for Willis. My opinion of her as a human has been less than stellar because I was at one of the many conventions where she won Hugos. She flashed that thing at everybody so much it became something of a joke among the more jaded con-goers. By then she already had five or six of the things, so it’s not like she needed to.

    But standing up against this BS is a Good Thing and takes moxie. Hats off to her!

  3. says

    It’s interesting that this is coming up now. Science fiction commentary on social, racial, and gender issues is not at all new—-Ursula K. Le Guin (one of my favorite authors when I was younger and devouring sci fi) was writing sci fi about social issues in the 1970’s, and winning Hugo awards for it, for example. It is weird that it is only NOW suddenly some hugely bad thing that Vox Day et al. feel the need to push back against. I get the feeling that they are feeling increasingly cornered by people calling them out on their bigotry.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Perhaps the Con organizers can quickly arrange a new anti-award for the most-disliked writing.

    I propose they call it the Voxie.

  5. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    Social commentary is the thing I love most about sci-fi/fantasy. Being able to create stories outside of our reality allows writers to examine culture in really interesting ways. And it also makes the investigation less personal when they’re describing cultures which don’t actually exist.

    I do enjoy a bit of mindless destruction every once in a while, but I’m not likely to read it (or watch it) more than once. Y’know, I’d love to see a breakdown of history’s most popular sci-fi/fanstasy to see what percentage dealt with social issues. I suspect it’s pretty high.

    I agree with MrFancyPants #3, that the real issue is that they have realized they are on the wrong side of a lot of the commentary.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Golgafrinchan Captain @ # 5: … a breakdown of history’s most popular sci-fi/fanstasy to see what percentage dealt with social issues.

    Yes, it would be very high. As the __ Puppies might note with glee, a lot of sf commentary would also count as flat-out reactionary: f’rinstance, the original slam-bang Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers stories centered on blatantly racist anti-Asian xenophobia.

  7. Jenora Feuer says

    Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss on U.S. television. Roddenberry was a big believer in social justice.

    Even Heinlein, so beloved by the Sad Puppies, did a fair number of social stories. Even back at the start: ‘Life Lines’ was all about the social consequences of a particular technology. And, in a rather annoying piece of irony, a biography of Heinlein was pushed off the nominations by the Sad Puppy slate voting, because none of them had known it was out this year, and they pushed all their own stuff on instead. They’ve knocked off stuff that they should have liked just because they were pushing their slate.

    Of course, that assumes they’re actually being honest in what they’re going for, which is not particularly in evidence, especially not after Vox went full salted Earth by claiming that for every award that goes to ‘No Award’ because of this, expect a full slate again next year. And the next year. Not to mention the conversations going on between Sad Puppies people and Gamergate people.

    There’s a lot of discussion about what to do about this going on; heck, Bruce Schneier, who is an expert on cryptography and security systems, has a couple of columns over at Making Light discussing possible new voting systems. Thing is, the process for changing anything about the Worldcons or Hugos is deliberately difficult, with it having to pass voting quorums at two consecutive Worldcons. This year’s one will be in Spokane, where all this will come to a head; the first time any new voting rules could be in place will be for the 2017 Worldcon (which will likely be in Helsinki, but the decision won’t be made until the con in Spokane this year).

    The general attitude I’ve been seeing is that slates are a bad idea, as proven here by the fact that the slate left off things that the voters should have wanted. A lot of people are planning on just going with not voting for anything that was on any of the slates, and going for No Award instead. There’s been a lot of ‘no negotiation with terrorists’ attitude showing up, along with ‘how dare you bring your American culture war ethos in here!’

    One of the stated aims of the Sad Puppies has been to encourage more people to join in on the nominations and voting process for the Hugos. From the discussions I’ve heard, they’re definitely going to get THAT, but they may not like the results. The nominations are more easily gamed for the same reason as primary elections in the U.S., in that a lot fewer people bother getting in (3000 people sending in nominations is a good year). The final voting, especially after all this has come up and some of the Sad Puppies have let their freak flags fly all over… I think we’re going to have record numbers of people voting this year. And the Instant Runoff Voting used for the final voting is a lot harder to game, as it tends to reward whoever is disliked the least rather than who has the loudest, most organized group.

  8. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    @ Pierce R. Butler #6,
    That’s very true, social commentary is in most literature of all types of all times, but it’s not always agreeable (to me, anyway). This is especially as you go back in time. We are just at a point now where the narrative has shifted and some people really don’t like that.

    @ Jenora Feuer #7

    Re Star Trek:
    Trek is one of my greatest loves, and Gene Roddenberry was all about the social justice. In the pilot episode, a woman (Majel Barrett, whom he later married) was his first officer but the network wouldn’t go for that. The crew was extremely multi-cultural. In the Next Generation, they have gotten rid of money. But even still, Roddenberry had some blind spots as I see it today, particularly in the original series.

    Everyone should listen to the interview that Neil DeGrasse Tyson did with Nichelle NIchols (Uhura) on his podcast, Startalk Radio. There’s one amazing story about someone famous she met but I don’t want to give away the spoiler.

    Re Hugos:
    Cool, I think I’m going to register for that. I have a pile of old Hugo Award compilation books but I’ve been out of my reading groove for a while.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    they’re definitely going to get THAT, but they may not like the results…I think we’re going to have record numbers of people voting this year

    At $40 to join, sure, I’m in. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. “Hugo winners” anthologies were on the shelf since before I could read. Damned if anyone’s going to ruin them…

  10. quentinlong says

    A couple of amusing sidelights.

    One: The Puppies cite Star Trek as one of their inspirations—but they’re referring to the shiny, whizbang tech-toys that got engineers and scientists are revved up, with no indication whatsoever they they’re even aware of the SJWish aspect of Star Trek.

    Two: Brad Torgerson, one of the organizers of the whole Puppy-slate machine, wrote a blogpost which explains that one of the reasons Torgerson is doing this thing is, modern SF-book “packaging” has stopped being the reliable guide to book-contents that it used to be. In other words: Torgerson is explicitly, directly annoyed that he can’t judge a book by its cover any more…

  11. brucegorton says

    Golgafrinchan Captain

    Well, Asimov’s Robot series was based around the clash between mechanization and labour coupled with the nonviability long-term xenophobia (both from the spacer and Earth sides).

    Meanwhile Foundation was essentially about geopolitics and economics as a weapon of war.

    So Asimov wouldn’t fit the Sad Puppies’ style of sci-fi.

    And similar can be said about all of the best sci-fi, because science marches on. In order to have any staying power at all, it needs to be able to talk about something other than the tech-tech, the best of it is always an exploration of the way technology and humans interact, how it changes things when suddenly people can do X, Y or Z.

    When you have Sci-Fi that focuses on the technology – it invariably ends up dated. Sci-fi that focuses on the characters and the issues that the technology presents ends up standing the test of time.

  12. brucegorton says

    Golgafrinchan Captain

    Not too sure how I ended up posting it to you. Sorry about that.

  13. says

    As noted, Heinlein was writing socio-political SF before many of us were born. And even a hack* like James P. Hogan — who packs as much whiz-bang tech into his novels as any adolescent nerd could ask for (I know because I was one) — still sets his stories in a wider context, and piggy-backs his own theories on How The World Works thereon. So this push for a return to some mythical good-old-days when men were men, women were accessories, and robots, lasers and space-ships were the main plot-drivers is utterly disingenuous — what they really want is literature which tacitly or explicitly supports their own socio-politics.

    *Not to mention: racist, borderline Holocaust denier, and Velikovskian kook. And the first and last (at least) do show up in his novels.

  14. Jenora Feuer says

    Eamon Knight:
    I hadn’t heard the Holocaust Denier part, but I was all too well aware of the Velikovskian part. I liked many of Hogan’s books, but he was an annoying example of the broader Salem Hypothesis that engineers can be all too prone to teleological thinking. (As an engineer myself, I find that annoying.) I do remember listening to him talk at a con, where he described the inspiration of ‘Gentle Giants of Ganymede’ as having been watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and thinking “I could write a story that makes more sense than that.” Which ended up with him getting a call later from a young lady he had never heard of at the time, named Judy-Lynn del Rey…

    Raging Bee:
    Not likely. As mentioned above, any changes to the voting rules take at least two years to implement, so nothing can be fixed within the rules until 2017.

    Part of the problem is that there is no ‘Worldcon’ as such; each individual Worldcon is run by its own separate committee, with its own board. The World Science Fiction Society is essentially a co-operative, with everybody who is staff or supporting member of that year’s Worldcon being a member. This is why any rules changes need two consecutive annual meetings, so no one committee can change things.

    And the general attitude at the top from what I’ve heard is any explicit coup from the top would not only just give the Sad Puppies all the proof of martyrdom they need (not that the lack of proof has stopped them from believing in conspiracy theories, despite the fact that getting a conspiracy of SF fans makes herding cats look positively easy), but it would also lead to all sorts of possible unintended consequences. There are few enough people voting now; putting more roadblocks in the way would likely make it easier for a small group to distort things.

    Right now the approach seems to be two-fold: spread the word and encourage more people to show up for the voting, using the greater numbers to disperse the effects of the slate for next year; and look into minimal changes to reduce the effects of a slate vote. (For example, instead of allowing people to nominate five works for five slots, only allow four works nominated per person but have six slots, meaning a slate could take four slots but not push everybody else off.)

    Fortunately, there are months to discuss this before the Worldcon in August when a final proposal has to be tabled at the business meeting. (And it will be discussed ad nauseum… see the above about herding cats, and remember that there are a large number of math geeks in SF fandom, several of whom are actually familiar with formal voting system theory.)

  15. says

    Jenora Feuer@15: Re Hogan and the Holocaust, it’s even worse than the last time I went looking, which was a few years ago (I only recalled him defending David Irving on Freeze Peach grounds):

    You didn’t ask about it, but re the racism: Finding myself in a mood for some escapism, I recently re-read The Genesis Machine (for the first time in probably 30 years). Hogan’s early 21st century world is geo-politically divided between — and he says this explicitly — the white races, and everyone else. No, it’s not quite open white supremacism, but it’s sure as hell startling. How the fuck did I miss *that* 30 years ago?

    And I’m another engineer who’s pissed at people like Hogan, who have only the most superficial understanding of the epistemic underpinnings of even their own field, and whose incompetence spills over into other fields. He really, really was a horribly shallow thinker.

  16. moarscienceplz says

    As far as I am concerned, the Hugos are Hugone. I will not buy anything that is Hugo nominated, ever again. They should flush the whole organization and build a new one sans Sad Puppies and with some kind of anti-hijack capability.

  17. johnthedrunkard says

    Not a sci-fi person. This is the first I’ve read of Connie Willis. SHE is a mensch, without any cavils or hesitations.

  18. Arkady says

    Even Heinlein had some ‘SJW’ tendencies: in the last few pages of Starship Troopers, Johnny Rico is revealed as Filipino. I remember quite a few other SF books from that era, including at least one by hard-SF-this-is-how-you-build-a-space-elevator Arthur C. Clarke, establishing characters and revealing them to be non-white some way into the book, once the reader had identified with the character.

    The criticism of not being able to tell the likely contents of an SF book by the cover is pretty laughable, most of the 70s paperbacks I’ve picked up second-hand just have a random picture of any old spaceship or robot on the cover.

  19. says

    Oh, yes, please, let’s make all speculative fiction about big explosions, big guns, and escapist, vaguely fascist wish fulfilment in which heavily armed dudes make the world better by killing everything that gets in their way. What with Hollywood only making a few dozen Things Exploding! In 3D! films per year, it’s a downright drought of late, I tells ya.

    I think I’m gonna go read every one of Brunner’s awful warnings again, back to back. Not so much in protest. They’re just worth it, in my ever so humble opinion…

    … but come to think of it, i’m suddenly less confident in my respect for them. I mean, yes, Shockwave Rider saw the net coming from a long way back, but I don’t recall it warning us about awful writers using the potentials of the technology to get their mediocre-to-dreadful dreck in the running for the Hugos…

    I mean, geez, John. And that was one might have even helped.

  20. says

    Arkady@18: Yes, and there’s the Clarke short story that ends with: “If any of you are still white, we can cure you”. Classic Trek had “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” on the absurdity of racism (and more than a few episodes relevant to the Cold War politics of the day). Then there was the ST:DS9 episode where Sisko is trying to make it as a SF writer in the 1950s, but no one will accept a story about a space station with a black commanding officer.

  21. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I had the misfortune to visit Beale’s blog this morning where he suggests that Europe should have deterred migrant workers fleeing from the civil wars in Northern Africa by sinking the first ten boats to arrive. It is also significant that his blog carries a motto attributed to Caligula ‘oderint dum metuant’, let them hate me but they will fear me. A fascist sentiment if there ever was one.

    They can try to pretend that they are not racists, but they really aren’t fooling anyone. Unlike the gamergate crew which was an amorphous movement with no clear leader, this one is being led by an individual that has spent much of the past decade making statements that are unambiguously racist, sexist and bigoted. And this is not the result of ‘selective editing’ or being ‘taken out of context’. In every case where the full context is shown it has been worse. Beale is not just a bad fiction writer, he is a bad polemicist.

    The question of course is what to do about the situation. Surrender to Beale is of course impossible. The one outcome that is guaranteed to mean the end of the Hugos is if Beale wins one. So Beale’s threat amounts to the person who does not have a gun saying to the one who does, ‘shoot yourself or I’ll kill you’. As I explain later, his gun is not loaded, his threat makes no sense, he cannot possibly wreck the 2016 contest if he does not get his way in 2015.

    If you give in to bullies like Beale, you can be sure they will keep coming back and each time they will have more and bigger demands. The only way to stop them is to make clear that they are not going to get their way.

    At last count the number of sustaining memberships (~3,500) is roughly double last years, it is equal to the number of paid memberships rather than half. I expect the total to go much higher. The mid tens of thousands by the time voting begins. In fact one of the things WorldCon should probably be doing right now is working out what to do about the influx of money.

    While the puppy supporters are no doubt a part of that number, I rather doubt that their cause really resonates with the broader conservative movement. The reason a lot of people got upset about gamergate was that they had personally lost significant amounts of cash after being banned from online games for obnoxious sexist behavior. They felt they had a personal stake in the issue, I don’t think that is the case with the Hugos. We don’t yet know how many people Beale found to perpetrate his nominations sweep but most folk say ye would not have needed more than a hundred. And he certainly didn’t have thousands or else he would have swept everything. And we can be pretty sure that his committed supporters put their $40 at the start.

    So looking at the situation, I am fairly confident that most of the surplus memberships are people who consider themselves part of the community Beale is attacking and coming to its defense. I would be very surprised if any of the awards go to Beale or any of the people closely associated with the slates. Moreover, I expect to see many more authors declining the nominations. So don’t be surprised if No Award actually sweeps the slate. It is quite likely to win in some of the categories the puppies didn’t manage to contaminate at all.

    Now, I know Bruce Schneier, we work in the same field and he is very good on voting systems. But I do politics and I am rather more interested in the outcome of votes. This is an unusual situation but hardly unprecedented.

    Beale will try his foot stampy protest but stuffing the ballot in a thinly attended nomination race is a trick that usually only works once. The people who vote ‘No Award’ in the 2015 contest will have nomination rights for the 2016 contest.

    Lets say that when the count is held there are 25,000 votes, 5,000 coming from puppies, 15,000 from the wider SF community, mostly voting the ‘No Award Slate’ and 5,000 from the convention going community casting a more nuanced ballot. I strongly suspect that if anything, this overstates. his strength.

    When the 2016 nomination race comes round, the strength of the puppies is a known quantity. They will be a block of 5,000 trying to swamp a block four times larger. At this point we will have the puppies slate and several counter-slates. whose objective is to stick puppy heads on a spike. The key thing here is that the strength of the puppy slate will be known pretty precisely and the people developing counter-slates will have every incentive to make sure that their numbers don’t allow the puppies the chance of sneaking up through the middle.

    Looking at the political dynamics, I don’t think the puppies have a chance. Even if they can top 5,000 supporters they are going to be annihilated and I rather suspect that they won’t even make it into four digits.

    So the puppies are likely to lose big, but does anyone win? I think so. Look at what it is going to take to build those slates. A lot of people are going to be talking very seriously about new SF fiction.

    And that is a good thing.

  22. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    @ brucegorton #12,

    No problem, I’m also a huge fan of Asimov’s writing. I have a good stack of his fiction and some collections of his essays. Here’s a comprehensive list of his essays. He talked a lot about social justice and was a big supporter of early feminism.

    Ok, a tangent I hadn’t planned. This was initially going to be about Isaac Asimov’s support of social justice but I couldn’t ignore his pattern of sexual assault, regardless of whether it was just “the way things were” back in those days. As I learned a few years ago, he was also Captain Grabby-Hands and didn’t see the conflict. I don’t know how his views changed in his later years but there were still reports of this behaviour at least into the late ’70s. I couldn’t find any kind of apology from him but that might be a failure of my search efforts. Asimov’s thinking was ahead of his time in many ways but this was a massive blind spot.

    It should be common knowledge that, until very recently, men were free to do pretty much what they wanted to women with little or no consequence. In the workplace, in public, it didn’t matter. Some of the older women at my wife’s work were recently telling her about how common it used to be that they would get groped by male colleagues. I can see how men who really enjoyed that freedom might get defensive about it and resentful that their fun is coming to an end. They probably don’t even see the behaviour as wrong. Twenty years ago, I worked with a guy who viewed his 1%’ish success-rate as justification for harassing countless women because, clearly, some of them “wanted it”.

    There was a comment I just read on Almost Diamonds (response here) where someone said they had been butt-pinched by Asimov and liked it. They asserted that it wasn’t viewed as harassment in those days labelled people who need “safe spaces” as “shrinking violets”. Even in “those days” a great many people considered it harassment (there was a whisper network and people reported getting kicked out of conventions for confronting him).

    I do realize that things were different then and a lot of otherwise good people would be horrified if they knew the effects their actions were having on others. But that time has passed and I think things are better now. Having consent is so much sexier than harassing or assaulting people on the chance they might be up for it. I know there are men and women who enjoy things I don’t, and that’s fine, but it’s completely wrong to assume that everyone else needs to just accept their unwelcome advances, just because it works sometimes.

  23. quixote says

    AJMilne@20: “I mean, yes, Shockwave Rider saw the net coming from a long way back, but I don’t recall it warning us about awful writers….”

    Ah, well, if you require that level of prescience I think your only choice is Douglas Adams. Irritating talking elevators? Check. Zaphod Beeblebrox’s dumbest brothers in power? Check. Earth being destroyed for a Vogon bypass? Maybe not for a Vogon bypass, but he’s in the ballpark!

  24. Not Vox Day says

    This is about ethics in awards, nothing more.

    Except, of course, that it is really about money.

    The Hugo Award will drive sales and result in a monetary windfall for the publishers, among others. Is it any wonder the Rabid Raging Gamer-gate Puppies have picked a slate of books that are, in many cases, published by one Vox Day, at the urging of one Vox Day.

    Nah. Ethics. That’s what it is about.

  25. sonofrojblake says

    A question: is there, somewhere, an official concise, trustworthy list of NON-sad puppy nominees?

    I ask merely out of curiosity, on the hypothetical possibility that lots and lots and lots of people might be signing up just to vote anti-SP and might appreciate such a thing. Any clues?

  26. says

    Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss on U.S. television.

    What a fucked-up world we live in, that this is even a thing.

    But anyhow, Connie Willis. I fondly remember Bellwether as one of the more hilarious books I ever read. Gotta get me some more Connie Willis for this summer’s reading list.


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