No actual puppies were depressed by the writing of this post. Just me.
The Hugo Awards.
For those of you who exist outside science-fiction fandom (which, statistically speaking, should be most of you), the Hugo Awards are generally considered one of the more prestigious awards in science-fiction. The process of winning a Hugo is fairly simple; works are nominated and voted on by attending and supporting members of WorldCon (one of the more important conventions in science-fiction fandom).
Enter Larry Correia.
Now, Larry’s an interesting guy. Hispanic, Mormon, outspoken, of a libertarian bent, and something of a gun fetishist. The books he writes are fun, easy to read, not too deep, and reasonably successful.
Now, to hear Larry tell it, he noticed something about the Hugos a while back. Specifically that they were largely dominated by a… particular kind of fiction. Fiction that wasn’t especially fun or easy to read, but carried deep messages and was frequently only read by people voting on the Hugos. Fiction that aligned very specifically with “progressive” views, written by authors with matching alignments, and that any works that did not align in that fashion had about as much chance of winning the award as a penguin does of tapdancing outside of a Pixar feature. Larry, after all, would know, given that he was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2011, only to face what he believed was a whisper campaign against him, solely on the grounds of his personal politics.
It is at this point, in 2012, that Larry Correia initiates the Sad Puppies campaign, mostly just to prove a point. Namely that if he did, in fact, game the system and manage to get conservative authors in the running for 2013, the progressives controlling the votes would freak out. He exhorted his followers to buy memberships and vote on the WorldCon slate that year.
And the reaction was pretty much exactly what he predicted.
So then he did it again for 2014. With even greater success.
And the reaction was even more vehement.
At this point, Larry decided he was done, but another of the writers who felt the same way, Brad Torgersen, decided that he’d pick up the torch and carry it onward. And not only did he carry the torch, his Sad Puppies 3 campaign pretty much took the torch, did an endzone dance with it, and then set fire to the uprights, completely dominating the Hugo slate for 2015.
And now the progressives are really pissed off.
And I have popcorn!
For the record, I’m taking a break from actively participating in any of these little skirmishes for a while. I’ve hit that point where if I don’t want to go completely batshit insane from cognitive resonance with the unbelievable amount of cognitive dissonance currently dominating the public discourse, I need to step back and just watch the world burn. At least for a few months.
First off, let’s put this in perspective: WorldCon, by the standards of fandom conventions, isn’t particularly big. Big gaming conventions like GenCon, and anime conventions like Otakon, tend to have three to five times the memberships of WorldCon.
There are probably more people voting in the “Anime Music Video” competition at Otakon than vote for the Hugos. Influencing the Hugo awards, historically, has been little more complicated than asking your buddy to vote for your favorite author, at least in the minor categories.
Secondly, it’s not like attempting to influence the Hugos is a new thing. Hell, the Locus Awards were originally created for that exact purpose. It hasn’t precisely been a secret that authors and cliques will conduct quiet campaigns to secure votes and nominations. The only thing different this time around is that the campaign is being conducted openly.
Then again, it’s not all that different, really. I mean, John Scalzi did pretty much the same thing as the original Sad Puppies campaign as far back as 2008: Put up a list of works he thought his followers should vote for. Of course, Scalzi is as beloved by progressives as Correia is reviled, so it didn’t generate quite the same degree of outrage.
(In an amusing aside, Scalzi accused Correia of trying to rig the votes for 2015’s Hugos out of desperation to win one… several days after Correia declined to be nominated to the 2015 slate.)
You’d think that this wouldn’t be quite such a big deal.
Larry Correia made one enormous mistake, though he doesn’t consider it such. He aligned his campaign with some people who have views that aren’t merely objectionable to the far left, but who have views that are objectionable to pretty much everyone.
People like Vox Day, who is… well, a racist, homophobic, religious extremist, misogynist… I’m sure there are some -ists I’m missing somewhere, but really, Vox Day (seriously, would someone who wasn’t crazy use a nom de plume that’s a wordplay on the voice of god?) is almost a caricature of the extreme right wing boogeyman that your progressive parents always warned would sneak out from under your bed one night, take your government benefits, and then march all the minorities, atheists, and “deviants” off to camps for “processing”.
Which was the point of his inclusion in the Sad Puppies campaign, of course, on the grounds that politics shouldn’t matter in consideration of the quality of the writer’s work.
But if Larry was gonna pick someone specifically designed to piss off the extreme left, he could have just chosen himself.
Or John C. Wright, another author on the Sad Puppies (and Vox Day’s downright extremist “Rabid Puppies” spinoff campaign) slate. I mean, sure he’s a homophobe, but he’s also at least won some critical acclaim for his works. He’d have made a better token -ist than friggin’ Vox Day.
Thanks to Vox Day’s presence, people will actually believe it when the opponents of the Sad Puppies paint their slate as a racist, misogynistic roster of hate mongers, despite the fact that it was created by a Hispanic author, currently organized by an author in a mixed-race family, and includes minority and female authors. Thanks to Vox Day, some of the authors nominated by the Sad Puppies refused said nomination, simply because of his presence.
It’s rather like the situation surrounding Gamergate, only unlike that sad ongoing travesty, Correia actually chose to give his opponents the necessary ammunition, rather than having it grow around the Puppies in the more organic fashion epitomized by Gamergate and its associated extremists.
(Though, speaking of Gamergate, it’s entertaining how many people are ascribing the Sad Puppies Sweep of 2015 to the evil machinations of Gamergate, despite the fact that the Sad Puppies were around for years prior to the commencement of that particular kerfuffle.)
The inevitable response from those offended by the Sad Puppies was, of course, to further the weaponization of their own fandom, calling for votes of “No Award” in all the swept categories.
Remember my reference to cognitive dissonance before? This is it, right here:
Step 1: “There’s a quiet campaign to exclude ‘wrongthink’ authors from the Hugo Awards, so I will create a campaign to fight this injustice!”
Step 2: “There’s an open campaign to include ‘wrongthink’ authors in the Hugo Awards, so I will create a campaign to fight this injustice!”
The only thing that changes is the perspective, really, the exact set of ideological filters one uses to view the situation. I do at least laud Correia in making his campaign an open one, and honestly appreciate the original intent, since I do enjoy tweaking the noses of ideologues as much as anyone.
But in the long run, it’s going to alter the Hugos. It will have to. Once you openly game the system, once you call out its fundamental flaws and expose its hypocritical actors, the only solutions are to destroy the system utterly, or change it until it can no longer be gamed… in the same fashion.
So I thought briefly on how one would “fix” the Hugos.
And I came to the depressing realization that you can’t. As long as the maneuverings and machinations were kept quiet and discreet, the pretense of objectivity allowed the awards to retain an aura of prestige. Now that it’s been exposed as an ideologically driven popularity contest, its become the latest front of the culture war between left and right, and part of the reason why those of us in the middle can’t have nice things.
Once you start tossing ideology and outrage into the mix, the whole thing turns sour.
Revise the voting system to allow only those who actually attend the convention to vote? People will complain that the Hugos are dictated by a combination of geographic proximity and sufficient affluence to travel.
Create a voting panel of hypothetically objective judges? We’ve seen how well that’s worked out for public perception of the Supreme Court.
Because the problem doesn’t actually lie within the system itself; it lies within the people exploiting it, the people putting politics before art, no matter their ideology. The people who would ban, or burn, books they don’t approve of, the True Scotsmen out to dictate what attitudes and beliefs are dogmatically acceptable for members of a given populace.
Once that genie is out of the bottle, it can never be forced back in. You can’t even attempt triage; abandon the Hugos, and the war will shift to the Nebulas. Raise the barrier to entry, and it becomes a battle for control of the gatekeepers.
The best you can hope for is that the genie gets tired, or bored, and goes back into the bottle of its own accord. And then do your best to make damned sure that the cork is as secure as possible.
In the mean time, I’m just gonna sit back and watch as “SF fandom” tears itself to pieces, never realizing that the majority of SF fans probably don’t even realize there’s anything happening. They’re drinking from a different teacup, after all, and the tempest in this one has yet to spread.