As a number of people have been religiously watching, posting, counter-posting, fisking, counterfisking, and generally stirring the pot, I thought I’d give a broad strokes overview of what’s going on for those of you who haven’t been watching this unfold from early on. I won’t use the acronyms which seem to have pervaded everything (SMOF, CHORF, etc), mostly because as a vet, I hate acronyms. If you were like I was, when I first heard about Sad Puppies 1, then your first response to it all might well be: “Hugo Award, they’re still giving those out? I thought they stopped that decades ago.” If you’ve read some of what people are posting, they seem to think that we’re all madmen (probably emphasis on ‘men’ and some statement about racism, misogyny, and general bigotry), who have seized the controls of the Starship Hugo and are taking us off to who knows where.
That response is a product of how the award had become a treasured prize given between a relatively small group or one might even say ‘cabal’ of friends, associates, and those who quietly maneuvered to make certain that the ‘right’ people were the winners for some time now. Sadly, as a result, the Hugo has gone from a treasured award to a rubber stamp of approval from the cabal of group-think. The last Hugo award winning book I remember reading (and only because it had seals all over it) was Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Looking at the past winners over the last 30 years, you start to notice a pattern (here’s a convenient list of the Best Novel winners/nominees, courtesy of Wikipedia) and that pattern becomes pretty clear from about 2005 onwards. There’s occasionally a very popular book/author that makes it onto the final nominations and sometimes even wins. George RR Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold, and JK Rowling all fall under these parameters… as authors who are talented and popular, but they’re the exceptions rather than the rule. Very thorough people have gone through and noted where other authors have been blocked out in years past, seemingly by the same group of people who have passed the award around for the past decade or more.
Then there’s a slew of other authors who I have to scratch my head at. No wonder I didn’t hear about the Hugo when some of these fellows won, I’ve never seen their books or if I did, they were so utterly unmemorable that I didn’t bother to even remember seeing them. Then again, if you’re like how I was, it’s easiest to shrug. I mean, who cares about the award, then, if it’s going to people who don’t write very entertaining or interesting stuff? Well, you see, the problem is that the Hugo Award, purports itself to be the award for the “Best” science fiction. Not only that, but by general decree, it is open to all members of Worldcon… This makes it a bit awkward when the award becomes the prize of a small, select group. I mean, the convention has been going on since 1939 and it claims to exist for science fiction in general… so why is it that a relatively small group of people have control over it? Certainly it wasn’t talked about or discussed, these people, the cabal, operated from behind the scenes. They likened themselves to puppet masters with terms like “Secret Masters of Fandom” and they quietly considered themselves the kingmakers. These people were driving the Hugo Awards into the ground. When general fandom can’t even recognize the names on the final ballot… what is the point of voting? When the victorious works are either so abstract as to be obtuse or so message laden that they have no story, no pull, then what is the point of reading them? Worse, when they became a token of popularity and group-think within the cabal which controlled it, then what prestige does that have to general fandom?
Why does this matter? Well, way back in Sad Puppies 1, you can see that some people thought it was kind of bullshit that authors who had written some excellent stuff had not only never even made the ballot, but had pretty much been told by those in the know that they never would make the ballot. They didn’t write the the ‘right’ kinds of stories, they weren’t published by the ‘right’ kinds of people. This kind of thing irritated a number of people and so Larry Correia, the International Lord of Hate, stepped up and started the campaign. His goal wasn’t to win, his goal was to show that there was a bias, that some people did quietly have the controls, and that it was possible for non-cabal authors and fans to organize as well.
The backlash from Sad Puppies in 2013 drew quite a bit of attention. Larry Correia is possible one of the nicest authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He’s a big, friendly, teddy-bear of a guy… until you start throwing names at him, accusing him of being a wife-beater, etc. Larry became target number one for these people and that has continued to this day. Attacks on his character have gone well beyond the point of criticism and have devolved into accusations and profanity. There’s enough general hatred of him from the people who controlled the Hugos that if you could generate electricity from it we would no longer need oil, gas, or coal. See, Larry supports sustainability, he’s just trying to create energy from all the exploding heads.
Sad Puppies 2 was born out of that backlash, as a number of other authors and fans saw how Larry was treated as a result. Sad Puppies 2 successfully got several people onto the ballot for the Hugo… and people lost their goddamned minds. This is when the media stepped in, and terms like ‘libel’ and ‘slander’ started getting brought up. The people who had control had been challenged and their control slipped enough that it was perilously close to failing. So they started getting angry. The masks came off and it became a tide of angry, nasty, abuse that they threw at those who had dared to defy them. In doing so, they made the people they attacked angry enough to speak out. They also showed that they think the award is for them and the ‘right’ people that it wasn’t about the quality of writing or work.
So here in 2015 Sad Puppies 3 is the result. General fans organized and weighed in on who and what should win. The end result is that the voting block came into the open. Fans really care enough about what is ‘best’ in writing to weigh in on the award for the Best in Science Fiction. The Hugo, in the process, has come back to having some value and meaning. Where this all became so nasty, though, was when the people who the cabal expected to see on the final nominee list didn’t get their notifications ahead of the public announcement. As a result, before it even went public we had people raving about how the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies (more on them later) had hijacked the ballot and the world was ending. Not long after it went public we had people such as John Scalzi stating that they would rather vote “no Award” than give the award to people (not works, mind you ‘people’) that didn’t merit the award. Voting “No Award” is their attempt to ensure that if their people can’t get the award then no one can.
And then there’s “Rabid Puppies” which is run by Vox Day. The “Rabid Puppies” movement has it’s inspiration in Sad Puppies, but is not connected. I’m not going to weigh in on his politics, religion, outlook, or philosophy. None of that really matters in this, right? It’s about the quality of the work, or at least that’s what everyone used to say about the Hugos. Vox Day, just with his own fans and followers, managed to snag quite a big chunk of nominations. Clearly his fans cared enough to shell out the membership fees for Worldcon to get him on the ballot, what this says about his writing, I’ll leave to others to say. I haven’t read his stuff, so I am not qualified to say.
Who I have read is Jim Butcher, Tom Kratman, Brad Torgerson, Ceder Sanderson, Amanda Green, Jim Minz, and Toni Weisskoph. I’ve enjoyed their posts, stories, and editing. I was excited to hear about their successes and I’m just as excited to hear who gets the award… because these are real people who have written or edited things worth reading. For the first time in a while I actually care who gets the award and just seeing the chatter on various outlets, I can tell that lots of other people feel the same way. This is the end result of people caring about the award again. And for all the filth that people are saying about those who have supported Sad Puppies… it just shows that they don’t like to be challenged. Why is that? Probably because they know that they can’t win in a fair fight, so they resort to nasty rumors, awful accusations, and emotional declarations that have little base in reality.
We haven’t hijacked the Hugo Awards… we’ve just seized the controls from the madmen who were diving us towards the ground.