Friday, April 10, 2015

Sad Puppies

This post is the opinion of Fantastic Reviewer Aaron Hughes. That's me. I posted this on Facebook last week and got hundreds of comments from folks who agreed and disagreed, mostly politely with a few moronic insults thrown in for variety. I have some follow-up thoughts I intend to post here soon, regarding "Literary Tastes" and "What to Do."

For decades, the Hugo Awards have been the most significant literary award there is. Most any year, I would put the Hugo-winning novel up for comparison against the Pulitzer or National Book Award winner without hesitation. I am proud to be part of the community that creates and recognizes the fiction that wins Hugo Awards.

Three years ago, I shared a room at Worldcon with a fellow new SF writer. He had written a wonderful novelette that year, which I enthusiastically nominated for a Hugo and was delighted when it made the ballot. I was proud and excited to get to spend time with a nominee for the award that has always been, to me, the most meaningful and important award of all.

Sadly, ironically, that roommate was Brad Torgersen, who this year has led a deeply contemptible campaign to game the Hugo Award nomination process, a campaign whose remarkable/regrettable success has perhaps permanently destroyed the awards that always meant so much to me.

His "Sad Puppies" group (in conjunction with the "Rabid Puppies" led by the deplorable Vox Day) agreed on a group of Hugo nominees, then voted AS A BLOCK to get them on the ballot. The critical feature of their campaign was the block voting. The way Hugo nominations work, 200 people nominating as a block can overwhelm the votes of 2000 people voting their individual preferences. That's just what the Sad Puppies did. The Hugo nominations were announced today, and the Sad Puppy selections comprise most of the ballot, including nearly every fiction nomination.

This was a deliberate attempt to game the system, rendered all the more appalling by how well it worked.

The Hugo Awards this year will be nearly meaningless. Any winners will be justifiably tainted by the misuse of the nominating process. And there may not be many winners, if the predictable flood of "No Award" ballots materializes. (The way the Puppies gamed the nominating process doesn't work on the final ballot.)

Even worse, the response in future years to try to address the gamesmanship, whether it's changing the rules or forming up competing slates for people to vote for in blocks, may well leave the Hugos permanently wrecked. What a terrible shame.

Let me forestall some likely straw-man responses:

First, I understand the Puppies were motivated in part by the desire to make a political statement, but I do not care about the Puppies' politics. I am to the right politically of 90% of the SF/F community. I'm more likely to agree with Brad or most of the Puppies on a political issue than, say, John Scalzi. I don't see that as a reason to wreck the Hugos, which should be about great writing, not politics. The Puppies say there already is politics in the Hugos. That's like saying some people are mean, so therefore I'm deliberately going to be as big a prick as possible to everyone I meet (which I suspect was actually Vox Day's logic). What the Puppies have done should be contemptible to anyone who cares about SF/F as a branch of literature, regardless of their politics.

Second, I don't especially care that the Puppies have different tastes in fiction than I do. If any of this year's nominees are as dreadful as Vox Day's nominated story last year, it will make me wonder if the people nominating actually read what they nominated. But if they did and they like it, that's fine. Just don't stuff it onto the ballot by gaming the nominating process. I've suspected that's happened before and I didn't like it, but it's never been done this effectively on such a destructive scale.

Third, I would never presume to say any of the Puppies are not true fans. If you like to read SF/F, then you're a fan, and no one has a right to declare otherwise. What's more, if they make up a majority of the Hugo voters, then something they like should end up winning. But I don't think they do. I think they are a minority that has squeezed all the stories preferred by the majority off the ballot by gaming the system. That sucks.

Finally, this is not personal to me. The only Sad Puppy organizer I know is Brad, who is a great guy, albeit deeply misguided in this instance. Several of the Puppies' nominees are nice people and good writers. I sent a note to Annie Bellet when her story came out congratulating her on writing such a good piece. I presume the Sad Puppies are a group of mostly decent people, who have collectively done a terribly unfortunate thing.

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