A little over a month ago, I received an email with my Hugo Awards nomination information and eagerly went to the Sasquan site to start filling out a Hugo nomination ballot for the very first time. Sasquan 2015 will be my first time attending a Worldcon (or World Science Fiction Convention), and one of the things I’ve been looking forward to most is finally having a voice in the voting of one of the world’s most prestigious sci-fi and fantasy awards. I was excited to finally join this community of fans and writers that come together each year to share a common passion for speculative fiction.
But there are dark clouds looming over this year’s gathering.
For those who don’t keep up with SF fandom and Hugo Awards, there has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding this year’s ballot. For the last three years a group calling themselves the Sad Puppies have been trying to organize a bloc vote in order to put more works they feel agree with their own ideologies and their own concepts of what SF should be on the ballot.
And this year they were successful. They were able to mobilize their supporters (many of whom likely don’t care about the awards but acted based on the politics involved), and they were able to get so many of their nominees on the ballot that every short fiction category was swept by Sad Puppies (and the more radical Rabid Puppies) nominees. Nearly every other category on the ballot has Puppies, many being made up mostly of Puppies nominees.
The Puppies movements are politically conservative. That is a fact that they openly admit to and something that I have no doubt allowed them to effectively mobilize their supporters. People on the radical right (as with any political extreme) are often eager to join a cause based solely on the politics and not the subject matter. Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m flinging mud here; I actually think many of the writers and fans involved are perfectly rational, reasonable people. But their argument is flawed–even ridiculous when it comes to the secret clubs and cliques going out of their way to keep non-progressives down. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, so I’ll direct you to this George R. R. Martin blog post, which wonderfully examines and debunks much of the Puppies’ argument. (And yes, GRRM is an avowed liberal.)
Anyway, when you remove the more absurd positions of the Sad Puppies, the only remaining valid argument they have is that there exists a group of conservatives in a field that leans left who want recognition for their work. Since many people denounce some of their beliefs and opinions as racist, sexist, bigoted, anti-progressive, etc. just because they are religious or libertarian or own gun stores, they can never win an award that requires a popular vote by the fandom. That is, unless they use shady methods like bloc voting to force their way in, rallying together republicans and libertarians and anti-progressive basement-dwellers alike from in and out of the fandom to make it happen.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is, this was all perfectly legal. There is already talk of changing the rules to outlaw bloc voting, and personally I can say that if I attend the business meeting at Sasquan and hear a proposal that makes sense, I may very well vote for it. But any new rule-change won’t take effect until 2017, and already the Sad Puppies have promised to act again next year, which has sparked left-wing groups to call for their own voting bloc for the 2016 Hugos. Regardless of what happens at this year’s con, it looks like next year’s Hugos are going to be a political showdown, and in this situation everyone loses.
What is so disappointing to me about this whole situation is that I will now be going to my first Worldcon with a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll be walking into the convention hall disillusioned without ever having known what it was like to be otherwise. I will have to face a politically-charged atmosphere in a world I usually go to when I want to escape such things.
And why? Because a small group of people on an ideological fringe (in the context of Worldcon fandom) decided to start a war in a peaceful land. Because a band of Puppies decided that since SF/F fans are becoming more interested in social justice and beginning to find enjoyment in more literary spec fiction there must some conspiracy against people on the right and it is their responsibility to fight it.
And what makes me sad is that many writers who were undoubtedly more deserving of recognition based purely on talent and writing ability didn’t even make the ballot. On top of that, the nominees selected by the Sad Puppies (and Rabid Puppies)–many of whom were not involved with the Puppies and do not necessarily agree with their politics and methods–now stand a good chance of being placed lower than “No Award” in the vote. Considering several categories were Sad/Rabid Puppies sweeps, this means we will likely see at least one category (and probably more) where no one gets an award at all. This is a sad thing to have to happen, and everyone–everyone–should be ashamed that it got to this point.
I, for one, plan on reading as many of the nominated works as I can between now and July. I already know there are many I will dislike and some I will hate, but maybe I will be surprised. One things for sure: I will only put works below “No Award” if I have read them and feel that they are not deserving of an award, regardless of the writer’s politics.
Because that’s the best thing I can do in this situation.
Because I refuse to devalue my first Worldcon experience any more than the Puppies already have by joining a political battle.
The Hugo Awards don’t belong to any one group or ideology. They don’t belong to some exclusive clique or secret cabal. They belong to the fans, to all of us. They belong to me and all of the other fledgling SF/F writers. They belong to the graying trufans and the upstart neo-pros. They belong to Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia and Vox Day (the Puppies). And they belong to George R. R. Martin and Charles Stross and John Scalzi (the Not-So-Puppies).
All of us together have a responsibility to cast our ballots each year and decide which books and stories, out of the many many works of sci-fi and fantasy literature, we as a group and as a fandom believe worthy of the recognition and prestige of a Hugo nomination. It is up to the entire fandom, not to one relatively small voice within it, to make this decision.
I believe the fandom should be a place open to all voices and all opinions–and from what I understand it is. But, Sad Puppies, if you find that works you like are consistently excluded from the Hugo recognition, perhaps the Worldcon fandom isn’t what you think it is. Perhaps it isn’t what you want it to be.
And perhaps no matter how many Hugo ballots you ruin, no matter how many conventions you turn into political battlegrounds, it never will be what you want it to be.