Curiouser and Curiouser: thoughts on Sad Puppydom and the State of the Hugos

I freely admit I was looking for an easy topic to rant *coff* talk about this week because this has not been my best week (taking the much-loved 21 year old cat on her final trip to the vet will do that – as well as consume ridiculous quantities of Kleenex). My usual sources for good topics were all suspiciously quiet (yeah, I harass them most weeks), so I googled Sad Puppies Three.

I expected to get unending pages of hits of SJW types waxing poetic about the evil that is the Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness. Instead I got the official Sad Puppies posts, and a whole lot of “Read books and nominate them for awards if you think they deserve it? Good idea.”

Now, I’ll concede that Google might be customizing my search results just for me and automatically filtering off SJW hits, but I also got (after about page 3) a whole lot of “cute photo” hits. And – seriously – buggerall from the usual suspects.

There were two links to anti-ish posts, both of which showed a remarkable lack of understanding of the whole notion. You know, the idea that it’s good to actually read the books and bring in a bigger diversity of topic and theme for consideration. Because an award that calls itself the “most prestigious” is kind of by definition something meaningful to Joe Average SFF Fan looking for a good read to spend his hard earned money on.

And… well… the Hugo isn’t.

Look at Amazon rankings (which are as close to honest sales figures as we mere mortals are likely to get). Now look at recent Hugo winners. For fairness, keep it to the novel winners and paid sales in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Now stop screaming, go back and change the search parameters a bit and… oh, never mind. There’s no way to get a list of SF and Fantasy that doesn’t also include several metric shit-tons of paranormal romance, much of it venerable indeed (Seriously? Gabaldon’s Outlander series? That was new when I was in high school and I’m entirely too many years away from that to be comfortable with the number. Let’s just say the cat I farewelled this week post-dated high school by quite a few years and leave it there).

The thing is, most of the time, the darlings of the awards in the last ten years or so tend not to be long-term sellers. The long-term classics stay in the Amazon top lists (when I looked, there were multiple editions and versions of 1984 in the top 100 SF & F, rubbing literary shoulders with Tolkien, Vonnegut, and assorted other classic SF/F authors). Of the not-classics, there were a lot of series, enough paranormal romances to sink a modern cargo ship, and a smattering of newer works.

Add in the latest news from the Official Source of Truth (aka Bookscan) is that sales are dropping. Of course, they don’t include Indie sales, which means that sales of traditionally published SF & F are dropping – as they have been for years… a time frame that to a large extent correlates remarkably closely with the publishing establishment’s near-total lock on distribution (and therefore sales – it being a trifle difficult to sell something that didn’t get to the stores in the first place).

Now of course correlation is not causation and something else could have caused sales to drop to the extent that modern SF & F does not proudly state on covers “Over a million copies sold!” (And yes, I own SF & F paperbacks from the 80s that say this). Insiders will whisper about how standard print runs have dropped from 50, 000 to 20, 000 to a few thousand, and how books never seem to sell out the advance. And then the SF & F sections of bookstores is gradually becoming more the realm of endless tie-in novels and a whole bunch of paranormal romance (at least until it gets booted out into its own section because the readers wanting a bit of a different romance aren’t too happy about slumming it with the geeks and nerds).

What all of this means is that the books printed by the traditional publishers are not, for the most part, the books the SF & F loving portion of the population want to read. The genre itself isn’t any less popular – but the traditional publishers, the ones who dominate the Hugo and are beloved by the whoever the Hugo SMOFs are – are not.

Which means that winning SF & F’s “most prestigious” award has become a little like wetting your pants in public: you get a nice warm feeling for a while, but very few other people care.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Curiouser and Curiouser: thoughts on Sad Puppydom and the State of the Hugos

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    “Which means that winning SF & F’s “most prestigious” award has become a little like wetting your pants in public: you get a nice warm feeling for a while, but very few other people care.”

    Worse, people start actively avoiding you.

  2. sabrinachase

    Actually, there is a way you can rough-sort out the paranormal stuff. Go directly to the Science Fiction & Fantasy section, and then in the search box type
    -vampire -werewolf -paranormal

    That gets rid of a LOT of them. You can also exclude particular authors, or other terms you don’t care for (for me, -zombies)

    If I had the ear of Amazon tech development, I would ask them to add an “exclude” option for the various checkboxes. I may be the only person on the planet who has no interest in Game of Thrones, and I don’t want to have my search results cluttered up by it and its friends. I’d also like a “minimum number of reviews” setting, and a way for actual purchasers to give feedback on the genre of the book, e.g. “This is NOT science fiction, it is romantic fantasy” (in the case of Outlander, which if you took out the sex scenes would make a slim but fun novella.)

    • Kate Paulk

      All of that would be nice. When I was writing this last night I couldn’t be bothered figuring out how their filtering worked.

    • Dan Lane

      Eh, you’re not the *only* one.

      I’ve read the books. More because a friend recommended them to me than anything else. Finished, because I kept thinking “it *can’t* be this bad *all the way through.*”

      I was mistaken.

      On the plus side, it did in a backwards sort of way get me scribbling again. I can understand wanting to kill people in your head and all, but the ones that “need killin’ ” from my perspective are generally not those who show inklings of moral character- rather the opposite.

    • Sam Hall

      He is assuming that there were equal numbers of books written by men and women. As somebody who has been reading SF since the 50’s, that just isn’t true. The men highly outnumbered the women.

      • Kate Paulk

        The thing is, there were a heck of a lot more of the pro than the anti, which suggests that the lock on what is right and good and proper to think is going away.

  3. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    Ah, rats. You mean there isn’t going to be a ware that I can sit and watch while eating popcorn? Damn.

    FYI, I hate popcorn.

    As to the numbers, Kris Rusch has some stuff. I have some stuff too, somewhere on my hard drive. I’ll look up both, and post them, maybe tomorrow.

    What does piss me off though, is David Weber hasn’t been nominated. That sucks.

    Wayne

    • Nominations are still open, I believe? From the Sasquan Hugo Nominations page: “Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award nominations will be open until 11:59pm Pacific Daylight Time on Tuesday March 10, 2015.”

  4. Pat Patterson

    Okay, FREEP it! This is absolutely the LAST time I’m gonna read something about gender bias & the Hugos & Sad Puppies because I am freeping to the point of nausea about it. Not, I must state, by the writing in this, the original post, but by the writing in the link supplied by Christopher M. Chupik. I’m sick of whiners, and I Do Not Give One More Second Of My Time Reading This Stuff. It’s bilious garbage, and if I must, I will return to my collection of classics and the writers I have discovered I enjoy, and just stay the heck away from blogs, Facebook posts, and websites that foam at the mouth.
    I restate: this is not occasioned by Kate’s post, but by the blog I cited. I Do Not Freepen Care What Gender Is Involved Unless It Is Part Of The Story And It Is A Story I Enjoy Reading. I’m not gonna look at another analysis of gender in writing. I’ve got my reasons.

    • We have tea and snickerdoodles on the side table over there… it usually helps to wash the taste of the whiners out of your mouth.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      You’re sick of it? I seek this stuff out on purpose. Clearly there is something wrong with me.

    • Kate Paulk

      I recommend the chocolate and alcohol cure. The chocolate gets the bad taste out of your mouth, and after enough alcohol you stop caring about the whining morons.

  5. “taking the much-loved 21 year old cat on her final trip to the vet …”

    My condolences on the loss of your fur-baby. We lost our 17 year old at the end of ’14.

    21 is a good life for a cat. I’m sure she is curled up for a nap at the foot of rainbow bridge patiently waiting for you.

    • Draven

      my cats turn 10 this year, i dread anything happening

      • Kate Paulk

        It’s hard. The two boy-cats (one is 6 and the other is 7) are out-of-sorts and keep looking for her.

        It breaks your heart every time you have to do this, and then you go get another one and do it all over again.

        • Draven

          yep, and i’ve had these two since they were three days old.

          • Jared Anders

            My condolences – It’s never easy.

            The uncertainty is making neurotic about my Cockatiel – they live anywhere between 10 and 20, and he is a very grumpy 14 year old now.

        • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

          We have urns on our wall unit for Mark and Sam (dogs), and Ginger, Tynga, and Lucky (cats). It doesn’t make up for loosing them, but to us at least, it helps knowing they are still around.

  6. Our sincere condolences on the loss of your cat. Sounds like she had a long and good life with you, and her efforts to include extra typing in your drafts will be missed.

    • Kate Paulk

      Yes, indeed it will. It’s amazing how expressive a cat with no voice can get. She could cuss you out with a look.

  7. Christopher M. Chupik

    Yes, losing a pet isn’t easy. Take care.

  8. Cat

    I can agree that the non-Puppy section of fandom is not actively hating on the Puppy section of fandom. I have been checking reactions on this routinely, and believe me, there is no reason Google would hide non-Puppy fans’ posts from me. Which means non-Puppies don’t hate Puppies as much as you thought–hopefully good news.

    I’m sorry about your cat. I have lost three myself and I still miss them.

  9. Eleanor

    I don’t even want to think about losing my furballs, but they are getting old (heck, so am I). Condolences. There are few things sadder…

  10. There have been a number of articles on File 770. Usually of the cute “People just vote for what they want, I don’t see what the problem is other than you guys” stripe. It down in the comments where the ugliness starts.

    (One fellow pulled out a quote about the SfiFi Channel from Michael Z. Williamson from 2009 about them caving into PC demands for diversity to try and paint the whole SP crowd as anti-gay. I pushed back, but I swear, to pull out a quote that old and unrelated, I bet he’s been nursing that one for a long time.)

    • Kate Paulk

      Doesn’t surprise me, alas. They’ll dredge out any kind of crap and try to make it fit their agenda.