I wrote this on Tuesday and didn’t publish it in a vague hope it wouldn’t be relevant and could all be brushed off as paranoia of the community. It wasn’t. It came true.
There are a lot of rumours circulating around the SFF world about the Hugo Award shortlists. They won’t be announced until Saturday (4th April) but with nominees informed ahead of time the gossip mill starts in earnest weeks before.
And the general tone is, to put it lightly, hella bleak. The suspicion seems to be that the ‘Sad Puppy Slate’ has succeeded in their quest to game the nomination process and dominate several categories. How true this is won’t be known until Saturday but there has been plenty of speculation in various places chatting about how it might well be the case.
Hundreds of forums posts and extensive blog entries seem to have been dedicated to ‘how we we can stop it happening’, ‘how we can fix the Hugos’, and how ‘the Hugos are broken’. But just how broken are they?
What’s the problem?
Last year, the success of Sad Puppies at getting just a few entries into the shortlist engendered huge amounts of anger but it gave those who opposed their political and gaming stance something to unite against. Their slate was soundly defeated and we rejoiced.
Right prevailed, the system proved its worth, and all was good with the world.
Perhaps we were too confident. Yes, everyone knew Sad Puppies were at it again this year but, well, it would be just like last year. Except that now it seems like that’s probably not going to be the case. That defeat energised SP (I’m sick of typing their name so many times) and provided a cause to rally around. If they manage to fill an entire category with only SP nominees then they’ll win because that’s the only choice. So goes the theory.
Here’s the thing: Yes, the Sad Puppies gamed the nominations, but they did nothing that was outside the rules (and much do they delight in this). They purchased memberships and voted as a relatively cohesive block. The only thing that surprises me here is that it hasn’t happened before. This isn’t illegal, it’s party politics.
There are many who will, and do, bemoan political situations happening in fandom. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s meant to be a true reflection of what a group of SFF fans really loved. The Hugo Awards belong to the WorldCon (they literally, legally, do), and through that, to the supporters of WorldCon.
Well sure. But you know what makes a supporter of WorldCon (and thus a Hugo voter) – $40. That’s it. I pay my $40, that helps run WorldCon, and I am as entitled as anyone who has been doing it for 40 years. Any system that is open to anyone to join is open to this kind of play.
And what exactly is the problem with what’s happened? That one group chose something that another group don’t like? No. The problem is that the system has been played in a way that feels disingenuous. It might not be against the rules but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s in the spirit of the rules either.
People are kind of pre-emptively despairing. Discussions about changing the nomination and voting processes, fixing the Hugos, not being excited by the Hugos this year, glad to not be attending, focusing on other awards.
My issues with this:
1 – Changing the rules.
Any kind of rule change would need to be done very carefully and with great consideration. New policies must be careful not to discourage new voters, disenfranchise those on low incomes, or target specific groups (even SP). It’s an incredibly complicated problem and not one that’s going to solve anything going on this year.*
More importantly, just because you don’t like those in power (or the threat to your own power) doesn’t mean the system is broken. Playing the system, however, is bad times for everyone.
2 – Ignoring it.
No matter how much I might try to ignore it, the Hugos are the most visible of the SFF awards to those outside the genre. Others have cachet but the Hugos are the one that people see and hear about. They’re recognisable. Kameron Hurley wrote a post recently about the literal value that a Hugo Award can have. Ignoring or abandoning the award means the SP succeeded. The Sad Puppies might make me sad by gaming the nominations but be damned if that means I will just sit back and let them win.
Fight with honour
One option for fighting back would be to form an alternative slate for next year and for anything not SP this year. The SP want party politics, someone makes the Rainbow Unicorn party. A few key people can agree on a list of things they really do think are good and suggest (via a lot of promotion) that others also vote exactly this way just to make sure that those others don’t win.
The problem with this is that it’s exactly the thing that I dislike about the Sad Puppies – voting with an agenda other than rewarding that which I believe to be deserving. It sets up those with opposing views as the dreadful other, homogenising them into a supposedly single voice. It removes the plurality and complexity of what may be, in reality, a varied group of people with lots of different opinions. Should the Rainbow Unicorns come to be, they would also fail to represent an opposing plurality of opinion. If what you want is an honest open vote on people’s favourite/best works then party politics doesn’t work.
The other option is to fight back using the system we have. I bring your attention back to that lovely image of the results from Best Novelette last year. No Award placed 5th.
You’re entitled to rank the No Award at any point in each category. It can be your only vote in a category or you can rank any works you want to and allocate No Award a spot in the list. So use your No Award Award. If you honestly believe every single SP candidate doesn’t deserve an award you have the option to try and make that happen (and I mean honestly – give them as much chance as you feel is fair). Vote No Award and you can actually knock every nomination out of the running. So many more people vote in the final ballot than in the nomination stage that the 60 or 70 ballots needed to get a shortlist place can become inconsequential.
We cannot banish those we do not like from fandom. We are not a club that gets to decide who is worthy of nominating or voting or calling themselves a lover of SF. The Sad Puppies may have messed with my shortlist but, you know what I do do get to do? Vote against them.
* We like to think about the future and that’s what a lot of the speculators about rule changes are doing. I’m only addressing this years’ awards with the No Award answer. They are thinking about next year, and the years after. How can we prevent gaming of the system and block voting in the future? Is it even possible? If they can make that be the case without it being done in a way that shuts out new voters or new SFF fans then it could be good . It’s not something I want to tackle within the scope of this post but it is something that’s being discussed elsewhere.