Guest post by Ken Burnside
As people sort through the ashes of last weekend’s Hugo awards ceremony, I wanted to highlight some very good analysis by Hugo nominee Ken Burnside. Note, there is no framing from me. Ken wrote a very astute, very candid piece. You make up your own mind. — Brad
Last week, I went to WorldCon, by way of Seattle and staying overnight with Karen Junker, and spending some time with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, and Shannon Chavez. Karen was a great host, and Annie Scarborough didn’t remember me from the last time we met – when I was a hyperactive 13 year old and she was visiting all the junior high schools promoting Bronwyn’s Bane. If you like puckish fantasy, her not-quite-YA books are quite good, and I especially recommend the Harem of Aman-Akbar.
We woke up at 5 AM, and piled into the Dodge Caravan, driving our way to Spokane with several breaks to enjoy the scenery and use the facilities…and drive through the smoke in the Cascades. I wish I’d taken more pictures from the van. We kept the conversation moving along with the drive, and made it to Spokane with no incidents.
They checked into the Doubletree, with a stash of food I could raid, and I checked into the Grand, and scouted the convention floor, and set up my demo table. Later that evening, I met Dave Marusek, who, unlike Annie and myself, still lives in Fairbanks – he and I split the hotel room.
Paula Thomas, a local indie-published author, was very kind and acted as my seeing-eye-human. (Visual clutter is amazingly effective versus me, and I’m legally blind, even if I conceal it well. When she found out I left my laptop charger at home, she tried to find me one I could borrow for the convention. Sadly, ASUS isn’t that common a brand.
On Thursday morning, while exercising, I met Tananarive Due in the workout room, and had a good conversation with her. This was good; I was scheduled to run Squadron Strike for her son Jason, and Dan Moran’s son Connor in the gaming hall (Salon V, Doubletree). This meant she had a face to go with the name, and had a certified block of 2 hours where she and Steven Barnes could be adults rather than parents.
Most of the rest of Thursday morning was spent talking to friends (Russ Ault and Lee at the Instant Attitudes booth, talking to the people at Starbase Indy, selling some of the Reagency shirts for Mike Williamson, meeting Tom Gondofi and finding out that Bruce Graw was in town, but not at the con.)
I spent the rest of Thursday manning the Ad Astra Games table in the fan tables area – I got a sweet location. I wish I’d had an assistant or two to share the load with. I went up to the con suite twice to scrounge meals, and Karen made sure to bring by some of the groceries I had stashed.
I did a lot of “Would you like to blow up a chocolate?” to people who hadn’t seen it before. I also sold a lot of copies of Minimus and handed out flyers.
By Thursday evening, the smoke had started to settle into the Spokane valley, and the sky was a really ominous Mordor-orange. The chest cold I brought with me was not liking the smoke at all. I coordinated with Harlan Haskell to get some table space for Friday’s game.
On Thursday, I did three panels – two related to games (both of which had IP attorneys steal the show…) and one on space opera where I couldn’t do my slide deck because I had no laptop charger. Plus I was coughing gunk. A number of people wanting to talk Puppy issues met me at my panel and we cruised a few themed parties, but were pretty tired.
Friday morning, the entire city of Spokane smelled like someone was starting a smoker-pit; there were advisories to NOT go outside if you could avoid it. After an impromptu breakfast with Kurt Busiek of Astro City fame, including a modest amount of fan-boy squeeing on my part, and a really good discussion of story structure and compactness, I braved it anyway with my demo kit in tow, wishing I’d had a face mask.
I did cancel my 4 PM panel appearance because my voice wasn’t going to cut it.
I had lunch with Dan Moran and Amy Stout-Moran and Connor Moran, along with Blaze Ward, Tracy Erickson, Scott Hysmith, and Janna Silverstein. Nice wide ranging discussion about writing, being a professional, the growing lack of gate keepers in indie publication, and why this is a Good Thing, along with epigenetic influences, bad jokes, and how kids always seem to resemble their grandparents more than their parents.
I set up the game on Friday, and had Kendrick Dickens (going from badge name and the fact that Dennis Dickens says he’s his son; I suspect I have the name wrong), Connor Moran and Jason Due-Barnes playing in an Axanar playtest in 2D. In the end, one Klingon disengaged, another did some light damage to Connor’s ship, and was destroyed by my setting up a good shot for Connor. Jason was a little young for the game (11, and a bit of a bag of squirrels) while Connor is damned near the center of my target demo: Young enough to think shoving minis around the map is REALLY COOL, bright and focused enough to see this as a game like chess that he can master if he focuses on it.
Jason left at 3:45 for a social engagement with his parents, Connor was tempted to try to plead his way out of dinner to play more. 🙂 (The golden age of gaming is about 13-14. You hook ’em then and you have a customer for life.)
As I was packing up, I had people show up to ogle the minis, because the ships I’m using (by Charles Oines) are clear cognates of the classic Trek designs but not the classic Trek designs. Which led to more demos and teaching four more people how to play. I could never /quite/ get out of the room, which was a problem, because the doorways nearest the game room kept opening and letting smoke in from outside.
I eventually escaped the game hall after sending a few demo participants to smuggle food to me, and found the Filking room. I sang The Elements and gave a recital of Janus: Sonnet by John M. Ford, dragged the demo kit to my table, found five notes from people wondering if I was OK, went back to the Grand and went to bed. Coughing kept me up until 3 PM local time, and I woke up at 8:30 when my alarm went off.
On Saturday, I manned my demo table in the convention center until 12:30 PM, handed George R.R. Martin a “Castle Friends” shirt (which he didn’t get the joke of!), and had lunch with Karen Junker and Lou Antonelli. I scouted out the theater for the Hugo ceremonies, hung out with Jenn Brozek and her husband for a bit, and then took a shower to cough brown gunk out of my lungs, and a nap.
I went to the Hugo reception and nearly missed my Hugo Nominee Photo Shoot because I didn’t hear the category name when it was called up; fortunately, John C. Wright said they were looking for me. I mingled with a few editors from Tor for a bit, talked to fellow nominees, and enjoyed the hors d’ouvres.
And then the Hugo ceremony happened. I’ll cover the Hugo ceremony, the immediate aftermath and the parties in a separate post.
On Sunday, I had a fair number of people say that they were really sorry that I was in the collateral damage zone of the Puppy smackdown. I had an even larger number of people come up to me to be deliberately rude, saying that they hoped I felt awful for my part in trying to “rig the vote.” For the most part, I said the following:
“I came into this expecting No Award in my category. I’ve gone out of my way to personally congratulate every person who got a Hugo, and to congratulate every person who came in second to political pique. Beyond that, I figure I gained somewhere between one thousand and four thousand new readers, depending on what percentage of the people who voted No Award read the packet.”
Paula Thomas and Tom Gondolfi helped me tear down my table, and we went to several parties after the close of the exhibit hall and the end of the con. Paula dropped me off at the Amtrak station at 1 AM, where I discovered that my ticket was no longer valid (I’m talking to Amtrak about this now, to get a refund), and I spend 42 hours riding coach back to Milwaukee and having low-key conversations with fans.
So . . . .
How the Hugos Crashed
(aka “The Diary of a Self-Deploying Human
Sandbag In The Culture War”)
By: Ken Burnside
Part I: My Experiences
The Puppy imbroglio is about politics overlaying a literary dispute, and like all political actions, it has no winners. Its major casualties are relationships, and the truth.
I signed up for the Sad Puppy list because I was told it was about getting representation for conservative and libertarian leaning storytellers in the Hugo nomination process. The request came in when a book I was published in was in its initial 90-day release window, and it counted as promoting the title. More exposure means more sales, and I was (and always am) looking for new readers.
Plus, I figured that my chances of getting onto the final ballot were somewhere up there with me being named Pope. I largely forgot about it.
The Sad Puppies recommended reading list became the basis of the Rabid Puppies slate. The first pieces describing how the two were indistinguishable came out in early March. While I was published by Vox Day, I was a Sad Puppy, not a Rabid one. One very important difference between the two: Vox said to vote his slate; Brad said “These are highly recommended, worth reading, and if you agree, worth nominating.”
The announcement of the Sad Puppies slate was a mishmash of “Let’s get a certain type of SF represented” which I agree with, and a large charge of “Let’s turn this into a culture-war front.” I agree with the former. I think the latter is profoundly stupid.
I’m going to divert here to a subtle, but important distinction.
A recommended reading list should not be a slate. The Sad Puppy recommended reading list, while not intended to be a slate, effectively turned into one.
A recommended reading list should, in an ideal world, be lightly curated. We don’t live in an ideal world. Locus Magazine puts out the most prestigious recommended reading list in the field, and while Locus makes their recommendations more in accordance to the Nebula guidelines, their influence on the Hugo nomination process is pretty strong.
A recommended reading list should have, at a minimum, twice to three times the number of entries per category as the final ballot for an award. Fewer than this, and you’re packing the slate with what you want, and charges of ideological nominations will fly. Exactly matching the number of entries on the ballot for each category is the definition of a slate.
Brad Torgersen and John Scalzi both use their blogs to solicit recommendations. Scalzi sometimes gives an affirmation on third party recommendations, Torgersen had his commenters vote to consolidate several recommendations down into one list, and then posted that list publicly as the Sad Puppies 3 list. There is a difference between the two methods, and Brad’s way consolidates nominations in a way that (we later learned) had disproportionate impact.
There’s no grand conspiracy here; it’s simply someone expressing a preference.
A slate is a radically different kettle of cats. It’s not “these are worthy of your consideration.,” it’s “Vote for these to piss off group ” Because of how the Hugo nomination process currently works, it’s easy for a slate that gets fewer than 10% of the nominations to write the ballot for a category. The Hugo nomination process is vulnerable to favor-trading and log-rolling. It was possible for books with as few as 60 nominations to make the final ballot four years ago.
In terms of philosophy, Torgersen was hoping to get a handful of nominations on the final ballot, and maybe, just maybe, get Toni Weisskopf a Hugo Award. His goals were modest. Vox Day? Vox Day has wanted to get No Awards dished out in the Hugos since early 2014.
Keep this distinction in mind for what follows.
From March through Easter weekend, when the ballot got announced, things were quiet. I got told that I was an actual finalist, in Best Related Work. I was told to not reveal my nominee status.
Three days before the ballot was released, the editor of Amazing Stories started the campaign for No Award on all the categories that were nominated by Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. This was the first “high profile” source treating them as interchangeable. This was the first hint that the slates had worked…and was clearly a leak by someone breaking the “please don’t reveal this information” instructions.
The day the ballot was released, I stated (and continued to state through the end of voting).
“Read the works. Vote your conscience. In that order.”
It was abundantly clear that slate voting had a disproportionate effect. Keep in mind that the only person demanding people vote straight slate was Vox Day.
In the four month span between the ballot being made public and the end of voting on July 31st, I got threats of assault if I showed up at WorldCon (none materialized), I got called a racist, homophobic sexist neo-Nazi, and I watched lies and fabrications show up in national media. The Puppies are all racist white men (which is why the nominated slate had seven women in it). I mostly played duck-and-cover; Brad Torgersen was on scapegoat duty.
Those threats of physical assault made up my mind about going to WorldCon. Until then, I figured that going to a convention where I’d lose a Hugo and wouldn’t be able to sell games was…not financially sensible.
I stayed out of discussions on the Hugo Awards after the assault threats. People largely assumed that I was a lock-stepped mouthpiece for Vox Day anyway. If you weren’t the focus of this attention, it was easy to say “Oh, it wasn’t that bad…” It was that bad. It was relentless, with a hit piece coming out roughly once a week from late April to the week before WorldCon.
In late May, I saw Brad apologize for some of his rhetoric about “victim quotas.” It wasn’t much of an apology, but the counter-reaction was as bad. He learned that backtracking from any Puppy statement was worse than keeping his mouth shut. Through June, several outright libelous pieces about Brad were published, corrected, taken down…and repeated in a different venue.
I have had early readers on this tell me I’m being too kind to Torgersen, that he deserved what he had coming.
Prior to the assault threats, I would wade into the discussions trying to be reasonable and calm and correct only errors of fact, and got ripped. I stopped for the sake of my own sanity, and was reminded of the quote that no amount of factual information will convince a person whose self image is threatened by those facts.
Throughout this, the things that made me a Puppy in the first place was buried in a malodorous pile of feces. They were buried by partisans on both sides, not just the Anti-Puppies. In Kary English’s blog, I paraphrased Anita Sarkeesian: “In the game of Hugo Awards, the Puppy nominees aren’t the opposition. They’re the ball.”
Eventually, tired of being browbeaten and told what an awful human being I was, I just retreated to “Read the works. Vote your conscience. In that order.”
I made it to WorldCon (see convention report, above), largely ignored the political infighting by running game demos and stepping out of conversations on Puppy versus Anti-Puppy positions; even the people who presumed I was on “their” side aggravated me..
When people wished me luck, I said that I expected to lose to No Award. I’d been saying that since June.
I went to WorldCon to spend time with authors I rarely get to meet, hang out with friends, demo games, and lose a Hugo in person. Keep in mind, most of my writing is in games, not in SF; I’m unlikely to have another nominated work given my other commitments.
While I was clearly the best fit for the category in Best Related Work (and I wished I could’ve taken another editing pass; the piece was a bit of a rush job for a deadine.) I was certain that “The Hot Equations,” in particular, would have no chance no matter it’s merits. It was nominated by Vox Day, and published by Vox Day.
Kiss. Of. Doom.
Then the Hugo Awards happened.
Part II: The Hugo Awards, the Afterparties and the Aftermath.
On Saturday, I went to the Hugo Award reception. I could tell who “knew me” as a friend and who “knew me” as a Puppy. The former tended to chit-chat. The latter would move to get a fresh drink or a new snack when I walked closer. I’ve been at more awkward receptions in my life, but not many of them.
At the reception, we were handed our Extra Large Hugo Asterisks as nominees. For those not in the literary know, Kurt Vonnegut used the asterisk as an illustration of the anus. So yes, all the nominees got a nice reminder that the awards committee thought they were assholes. Gerrold name-dropped Vonnegut’s name at the reception. Either that, or all the winners were going to be reminded, Roger Maris-like, that they didn’t meet the same standards as prior Hugo winners.
Combined with shunning, my “OK, this is going to be a disaster…” sense was past tingling, into throbbing and really should just be called mordant curiosity. Only after I was seen talking to Tananarive Due did anyone outside the small representation of “Puppies” at the convention consent to talk to me, mostly in the shadows of the reception, where nobody else could see.
I went to the INB Theater, sat in the front row and waited. The long discussion of the Official Hugo Asshole Disks led things off. The Sasquan chair reminded people that “No Award” was an option. David and Tananarive did a lovely job, and covered for a few gaffes from script pages not turning, and tried to keep it fun. I’ve been a master of ceremonies; I’m not going to rag on them for it.
Best Related Works came up. It went to No Award; I expected that. I didn’t expect the loud and raucous cheering, which, frankly, pissed me off.
Then Best Short Story came up. It also went to No Award. The cheering was even louder.
Then Best Editor, Short Form went to No Award and the cheering was deafening. There were several people who said “Fuck this…that’s not right…” when that happened, down in the nominee area. David heard it; he quickly looked over the orchestra pit to see what was going on.
Then Best Editor, Long Form went to No Award, and the cheering made the floor tremble. Several people (myself included) started booing. David said “booing is not appropriate” and I came about a half-second away from standing up and jumping on the stage to grab the mic. Bryan Thomas Schmidt DID get up and curse loudly. Toni Weisskopf apparently never went to the ceremony at all; per Bryan the two of them commiserated for a few hours after the ceremony.
Best Novelette went to an actual winner, best Novella got No Awarded (but with less cheering), and Best Novel got a Hugo. I made a point of personally congratulating all of the Hugo winners when I found them on Sunday.
Words cannot describe how furious I was at the outcome at the time. I sat in the theater after the lights came up. I had a brief conversation with political pundit (and fabricator of the Hugo Asshole Disks) Jim Wright. He agreed with why I was angry: Cheering for No Award (and cheering loudly) was beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.
For a ceremony that promised to be about inclusion and “we’re all fandom,” having the master of ceremonies feed off the cheering for No Award? That’s very easy to take as hypocrisy of the first order. I’ve also been told, multiple times that SF readers are NOT FANDOM…and that’s part of the problem.
Seeing “No Award” blow out candidates who were clearly meritorious, like Mike Resnick and Toni Weisskopf? With cheers that rattled the rafters and made the floor rumble?
I felt so very included in Fandom then. Really.
I expected “No Award” to take my category (clearly the weakest one) and Novella. I was cold-cocked by Short Story, and both Editor categories.
I grabbed a copy of the vote tally sheet while being confronted by people who were jubilant about the outcomes. I was glad I took the time to sit in a quiet place and calm down before doing so.
I eventually calmed down and went to the two after-parties, the one at Auntie’s bookstore, and then got into the cab going to George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Losers party. At both locations, I made it a point to shake hands with the people who won, to say kind things to them. The conversations I got into in both tended to revolve around What Happens Next (see Part V: Implications.)
I saw George R.R. Martin declare that all Puppies were Rabid at his party, and hoped that his alternate awards wouldn’t be needed in the future. The celebration was one of fandom holding off the barbarians. You know, people like me. I had some fun at the party anyway, talked to people when I could, and got home around 3 AM.
On the ride home, I shared a limo with David Gerrold, and got to hear his account of the Hugo Ceremony. He said he’d been expecting a lot of booing, but when he heard the cheering for the first No Award result, he knew everything was going to “be all right.” He also talked about how, now that the ceremony was over, he could finally lay down the mask of politesse and let people know how he really felt.
I pointed out that I was one of those people who got shellacked by the No Awarding, and that I felt that the cheering was incredibly rude and disrespectful. David, to his credit, listened to me and said that he wanted me to continue writing in the field, and that I should treat the cheering as cheering for the process, not a personal attack.
The car ride ended, I talked to more writers and pros in the lobby of the Grand. No punches were thrown, no people were upset – there was still some jubilation about the smackdown.
On Sunday, I put up with periodic heckling by fans who came to “rub it in.” I replied with variations on this:
“I came into this expecting No Award in my category. I’ve gone out of my way to personally congratulate every person who got a Hugo, and to congratulate every person who came in second to political pique. Beyond that, I figure I gained somewhere between one thousand and four thousand new readers, depending on what percentage of the people who voted No Award read the packet.”
Part III: The Fundamental Literary Divide
In case it’s not clear, my personal position is anti-slate, and strongly in favor of recommended reading lists. I’m not running the Sad Puppies 4 campaign, but I’m hoping their recommended reading list sifting starts soon. I want them to avoid overlooking things like the Three Body Problem. I want that recommended reading list to either put out one or two recommendations per category, or actually be a recommended reading list, and have so many recommendations that it’s ineffective as a slate. I’d guess that 10-15 works per category would suffice, but I don’t know.
There should also be a clear statement of intent – “These are the works we like.” I’d be delighted if there were a de-escalation of the culture-war rhetoric. Make this a positive about the works being recommended, and cut back on the name calling, the talks about political collusion, the cries of character assassination, the attempts at counter-character assassination.
Make this about the works, please. Avoid slate voting and nominations. I’d much rather have one or two very good works in the category make the final ballot than see what happened in 2015.
I will state for the record that every recommended reading list is a filtered list. It reflects the biases of whomever compiled it, whether that’s Sad Puppies, the Baen Barflies, Goodreads rankings, or Locus Magazine.
I am working out the back-end logistics to make a web-accessible database of publication listings from publishers, large and small, to make it easier to find all the works published in a given year. If I can get any traction on this, I’ll make an announcement.
I think, below the political dispute, there is a set of unexamined literary assumptions. Over the last fifteen-ish years, while the makeup of organized fandom hasn’t changed (organized fans have always been homogeneously liberal), the makeup of awards has skewed towards “literary” SF. Literary SF aims more of the story at exploring the human condition, and how people’s lives and ideals have changed. In any story, there’s only a finite amount of word-count, and divvying it up between characterization, plot, exploration of the setting (and establishing the setting’s ground rules) and The Big Idea is part of a writer’s craft.
Literary fiction relies on conveying a change in emotional state and character understanding. It puts a premium on better writing, because of this. Literary fiction, left to its own devices, turns into tone poems about competitive navel gazing; this isn’t mockery of the form–anything in writing taken to an extreme runs into problems.
There’s a sub-genre of SF that I call “The Heroic Engineer Story.” It’s not always about an engineer, and another term for it is “competence porn.” Analog still publishes a lot of it. It’s very much about “put character into a puzzle box, have Act I be about how they realize how screwed they are, have Act II be about making things worse, while getting the key needed to escape the puzzle box at the end of Act III.” While it’s from the pulps, and borrows something from the pulp formula, it’s not really 1950s style pulp writing. In Heroic Engineer Stories, most character details of the protagonist are secondary to “How Does She Solve The Problem?” In Literary SF, the character development is MUCH more important.
A lot of people read Heroic Engineer Stories and project “straight white dude” onto the protagonist, unless the author specifically states they aren’t such. One of the appeals of the Heroic Engineer Story is that it focuses on the universally human fascination of solving problems, along with life-or-death stakes.
For the SF readers who are the target of the Heroic Engineer Story, there’s an intellectual thrill akin to reading a murder mystery in seeing how the problem is solved, and a comforting escapism from emotional nuance. For the readers of the Heroic Engineer Story (and its related subgenres, the Exploration of the Mysterious Yet Logical Thing Story and the Defense Against The Inhuman Aliens By Mighty Pluck And Human Courage Story), the Competent Protagonist who puts aside emotions to Solve The Problem is an aspirational character.
And yes, more of those aspirational characters should be women. David Weber carved one hell of a market niche by doing exactly that.
It is damned difficult to do a literary SF version of The Heroic Engineer Story. There are two I can think of, and both are movies: “Her” and the problematic “Ex Machina,” In both cases, the “human element” is “man falls in love with feminine machine and is creeped out because even Simulated Women Are Mysteeeerious Creatures.” I’d like to see less use of the “Woman As Mysteeeerious Creature” trope, but that’s secondary to saying that writing a Literary Heroic Engineer Story is a difficult juggling act.
For people who write and read literary SF, that Competent Protagonist is as staid and cliched as Horatio Alger. They don’t have any internal conflicts, or any hard decisions to make about emotional issues. All the interesting stuff is external, and the only motives in conflict are in a strictly Manicheist vein. A lot of very good recent SF–notably a good chunk of Charlie Stross’ output–pokes deliberate fun at the Heroic Engineer Story and its subtropes.
Heroic Engineer Stories drive a lot of sales. Nearly every SF author I know who doesn’t need a day job writes an action-adventure series, where the Heroic Engineer/Officer/Competent Protagonist Solves The Problem. They sell, and they sell to a male demographic, often current or recently retired military, and that demographic skews conservative.
You can make an argument that Ringworld or Rendezvous with Rama wouldn’t make the Hugo ballot if published today. One of the reasons why they wouldn’t make the ballot is that the standards for prose smithing have risen since the early 1970s; the general quality of _writing_ in the field has improved noticeably in forty years.
The Heroic Engineer Story has all but vanished from the Hugo awards; this year’s Three Body Problem will be seen as a reversal of that trend. They still show up in the Nebulas. Chuck Gannon’s Caine Riordan series has a protagonist who’s clearly “Chuck Gannon in better shape, and the universe cheats on his behalf.” Both volumes have made the Nebula shortlists. The entire series is pretty pulpy in its premise and protagonist. It’s published by Baen…and large swathes of Baen’s catalog is conspicuous in its absence from the Locus Recommended Reading List.
For what it’s worth, I have a three-fold explanation for why that imbalance exists:
1) WorldCon Fandom (the small sliver of SF fandom that goes to WorldCon) is liberal and fairly insular.
2) Literary SF, as expressed above, is generally better written. All else being equal, truly excellent writing will be the tie breaker.
3) The Baen Invisibility Factor in the existing recommended reading list channels.
There’s no need for a grand conspiracy; I doubt that organized Fandom could keep a secret conspiracy secret for two weeks. The idea that they could do so for fifteen years? I read SF, I’ve got a good imagination, but…no.
Addressing this imbalance is why I became a “Puppy.”
What happened instead? The Hugos became a front in the culture war. Brad Torgersen’s posts at the very beginning about “victim class check box fiction” destroyed any rapport with people who weren’t already in his camp. Other comments made by Torgersen kept the same divisive tone. Vox Day’s posts on the subject started at inflammatory and went up from there. His business model is built off of it.
Both were using the tactic of “say something outrageous, wait for the ‘other side’ to get pissed off, and turn to the choir to say ‘see, I told you they’d over-react.” When trying to build a roster of voters nominating literary works, this sure as hell doesn’t convince people that your side has any merit.
Conducting literary criticism via the rhetoric of culture war is profoundly stupid if you want your complaints listened to. The counter-reaction to the Puppies was justifiable, predictable, and seems to have fed into a considerable media campaign, one that Torgersen had to threaten libel lawsuits to tone down.
The actual Puppy “grievance” is that the WorldCon fandom has gotten insular, and needs more nominators and voters. It also needs to reflect things outside the narrow purview of the current WorldCon membership.
I lay most of the initial blame on the Puppies, but the reaction (and cyclical counter-reactions) leave plenty of blame to go around. There’s been enough decrying of fault and blame on this matter. No side of this, Sad Puppies, Anti-Puppies or especially Rabid Puppies , comes out without char marks.
Part IV: The Anti-Slate Measures.
There are two anti-slate measures that were ratified at Sasquan. Because the World Science Fiction Society has a two-year rules change cycle, they won’t impact any Hugo nominations prior to 2017.
The two proposals are EPH (formerly Single Divisible Vote) and 4/6.
In EPH, each nominee gets one ballot per category, and that vote gets divided among the number of entries in that category. Nominate a single work, and you get 1.0 nominations. Nominate five works, and you get 0.2 nominations. This is the one that I think holds the best chance of deterring slates, since someone stuffing a category needs to know they have about 5x as many nomination ballots as anyone else.
The problem is that I don’t think it will work. A look at the nomination statistics shows that Vox Day has somewhere around 3-4x as many nomination ballots as anyone else. Another element of the equation is that the people who regard the culture war (“causing the SJWs to screech” is their form of entertainment) are generally affluent enough that spending $40 or $50 is “OK, I miss a night out at the movies.”) EPH/SDV is the only proposal that mitigates slates enough to keep the “old collegial feel,” It raises the barriers to slates, but doesn’t eliminate them.
In 4/6, each category gets expanded by one entry for nominations, and no nominator can nominate more than four entries per category. There was an alternate proposal, called 5/10 which did the same thing.
The way 4/6 fails is that it’s still vulnerable to slates. It wouldn’t have stopped what happened this year at all. The only change is that the Rabid Puppy slate would’ve had fewer overlaps with the Sad Puppy slate. Instead of one slate dominating the nominations, it just takes collusion between slate organizers (whether deliberate or coincidental) to lock out a category.
The two proposals ombined means that you need two colluding slates, each of which has 3x-4x the number of unaffiliated voters. Slates are still more effective than unaffiliated voters, but this should require that close to a third of all nominating ballots are voting for two coordinated slates to block out a category.
Note that I don’t think blocking out a category is necessary to achieve the Rabid Puppy goals. See Part V below.
Part V: Political Consequences
Quite honestly? I don’t see a good way out of this.
In an ideal world, two categories would’ve gone to No Award: Best Related and Novella. They were easily the two most egregious cases of Rabid Puppy Nomination Stuffing, and the two weakest categories in terms of top-to-bottom quality of the work – and I say this as person who got the second-most votes in the Best Related Works category after political pique.
This would’ve been (I’d hope) an adequate rebuke of the slate-packing. Having actual Puppy candidates _win_ in the other three No Award categories–and the top vote getters were truly worthy winners– would’ve let the anti-Puppy crowd say to the Puppies, “See, you’re welcome here too.”
What actually happened?
Five categories got No Awarded. To me, the least justified case was Best Editor, Long Form. Toni Weisskopf got more votes for Best Editor than the previous five winners combined. It didn’t matter; No Award got almost twice as many as she did.
With the way the Instant Runoff Ballot works, it would’ve been trivial to ensure that Vox Day didn’t win the category, without nuking it. That didn’t happen. Instead, we got the argument that “No-one named on a Puppy List shall prosper.”
And I think that’s dreadfully wrong. I think, more than anything that could’ve happened, that just wrote “Larry Was Right All Along” In ten foot tall letters. Because the threat of possibly giving an award to someone Vox Day recommended was more important than the quality of the work.
Politics over quality. This is doubly true of what happened to Kary English. Mike Resnick was also worthy.
The people who voted “No Award” without reading the works may have thought they were punishing the leaders of the Puppies. They were punishing the self-deploying human sandbags instead. Protesting the unwritten social conventions by breaking the written admonition against “Don’t vote in categories you haven’t read” is, arguably, hypocrisy.
For a person nominated for an award like the Hugo, especially people like Kary and myself, with short publication lists in the field, the real prize isn’t the trophy. Getting one of those early always makes you wonder what you’ll have to do to prove you got better at your craft. The real prize is getting your work out in front of more readers, readers who tend to be influential in other parts of Fandom.
However, the real disaster is coming.
It has now been established that voting No Award without reading the works is acceptable behavior. It’s also been established that it’s perfectly OK for members to distribute large numbers of Supporting Memberships to other members to “get out the vote.” Both of those were done by the anti-Puppy side.
What makes you think they won’t be done by the Puppy side next year?
As horrible as the cheering for No Award in the Editor Categories was for the people who were nominees, two of those No Awards pretty much give Vox Day his best ever recruiting pitch: “After seeing what they did to Toni, why bother reading the categories, when voting for what you like is going to get a No Award anyway if it shows up on a Puppy Recommendation List? Just join me in burning the whole thing down by Voting No Award in every category.” Yes, you can argue that the cheering was for the process…but that’s not going to be persuasive to people who feel aggrieved and shut out.
Until now, a point of commonality between the Sad Puppies and the Neutral Fans is that voting for something (or against something) you haven’t read is an abrogation of the trust implicit in getting a voting packet.
The “winner” of this year’s Hugo ceremony was Vox Day. His goal has been to crash the Hugos, and has been for 17 months. He wanted to create a “lose/lose” situation for WorldCon: Either give him a nominee victory, or, do what he really wants and show how easy it is to manipulate the voters into voting No Award. He got both outcomes. Chaos Horizon points out that the block of 400 voters putting Three Body Problem over the top probably came from Vox Day. (See Annotations, below.)
There were roughly 1050 “Puppy” voters – about 550 Rabids and 500 Sads. 1000 Rabids and 100 Sads The Rabids are recruiting, because the anti-Puppies just gave them a nice, appealing message:
“We will return the insult done to Toni Weisskopf ten-fold.”
Here’s how they’ll do it:
1) They’ll get at least two TRULY objectionable works in every single category, along with 1-2 works that might be tolerable to fandom at large.
2) They’ll tell all their voters to vote No Award in every category. This, plus whatever votes go to No Award because, say, Vox Day has a piece in a category from a slate, should be enough to ensure that No Award happens in nearly every category. It will be harder for them to screw over Dramatic Works and the professional artist categories.
I wouldn’t bet against their success. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting five No Awards this time around.
If WorldCon wants sane Hugo Awards, there needs to be a dialog begun about the _literary_ dispute, separate from the culture war dispute. Consider this piece an opening statement
Toni Weisskopf may be able to deflate the ball of anger and bile the cheering at the Hugo ceremonies created, and she may love fandom enough as a thing (or dislike Vox enough as a thing) to do so.
To the side gloating over “victory” over what was done to Toni and Mike? There’s a reason why Vox Day is thanking you in public. Profusely. It’s not every day that your opponents/enemies hand you a banner AND a martyr to rally the cause around, then act like gleeful bullies to reinforce the message.
To the side referring to David Gerrold as a “faggot,” to Wesley Chu as a simpering man-whore? Yeah, I know, you can’t be persuaded at this point. You’re crowing over being handled a book of matches and a 55-gallon drum of gasoline. May the flame of your self-immolation be a beacon of enlightenment providing a cautionary fable for future generations.
To others, watching the cavorting with pyrotechnics or the cheering? Remember the words of Steven Barnes: “The first rule of human interaction is to assume every person you meet is a fully capable human being rather than a caricature. Human beings are driven by unacknowledged fears filtered through aggression and insecurity. Identify the fear and resolve it, and you resolve the conflict. React to the insecurity and aggression, and you escalate it.”
Part VI: What Happens To Me?
Me? I’m planning on writing. More games than fiction. Games pay better for me, by a fair margin. But there will be some work from me coming in the latter third of the year.
Besides, depending on how you interpret the mix of No Award and First Place votes in my category, I picked up 4,000 readers who want to see what else I can do.
Here are the voting statistics.
And an analysis of who the assorted voters were.
This article by Nathaniel Givens at Difficult Run was also quite instructive
The winners of the categories that got No Awarded are the ones who placed first in the “Run for Second Position” after “No Award.” They are:
Novella: Flow (Arlan Andrews Sr.)
Short Story: Totaled (Kary English)
Best Related Work: The Hot Equations (Ken Burnside)
Best Editor, Long Form: Toni Weisskopf
Best Editor, Short Form: Mike Resnick