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Thoughts on the Hugos and fandom by someone with no clout or any real skin in the game

Well, I picked an interesting year to be a first-time attendee to WorldCon.

Since it’s quite likely that my (very small) readership has no idea what WorldCon is, it is a yearly convention dedicated to science fiction and fantasy. It is also responsible for awarding the Hugos, which (for now) are the largest awards given in the SFF field. The Hugos are fan-chosen by members of that year’s WordCon (this year it is Sasquan). They are also fan-nominated by members who elect to nominate.

The way that voting is supposed to work is that members nominate those works they deem worthy, on an individual basis, and those votes are tallied up and the works with the highest tally of votes (assuming the votes meet a minimum) make it to the shortlist. This year’s shortlist, however, is primarily dominated by two slates with a lot of crossover: Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. The situation warranted discussion in Entertainment Weekly and Slate. Read those for further background if so inclined. George R. R. Martin also has an excellent series of posts on the slates, beginning with “Puppygate.”

I bought my Sasquan membership back in February. It was probably after the Sad Puppies slate had been publicized, but I am not a follower of the blogs of either Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia, who formed the Sad Puppy Slate, and certainly do not follow the blog of Theodore Beale aka Vox Day, who put together the Rabid Puppy slate. (I am especially disinclined to read anything by the latter, considering in his eyes I would likely be considered a half-savage [because I am half-black] who shouldn’t have the right to vote [because I’m female].) So at the time I purchased my membership, I had no idea any of this was going on.

I’ve since seen the arguments that the purpose of the Sad Puppies is to bring the “fun” back to SFF and return the Hugos to recognizing adventurefuntime works instead of “literary” works that espouse various agendas. George R.R. Martin has neatly refuted those claims with “Where’s the Beef?” so I won’t spend much time discussing that, except to say: in his post, Martin quotes a hypothetical question, plus some rhetorical musing, posed by Correia: “if Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers in 2014, could he get on the Hugo ballot now? Or would he be labeled a fascist with troubling ideas, and a product of the neo-colonial patriarchy? And before you dismiss that question, maybe you should read up on what the voting clique that shall not be named says about Heinlein now. Sadly, I suspect the only way Heinlein could get on the ballot today would be if my horde of uncouth barbarian outsiders got involved and put him on our suggested slate.”

Martin states that “I don’t think Heinlein would write STARSHIP TROOPERS in 2014. If you know Heinlein, you know that he was a man who changed with the times throughout his career. He was always trying new things, new techniques, new challenges… and his political views changed HUGELY over his lifetime.”

Which is a very good point. But also? I don’t think it’s a travesty to consider that works that were first published over fifty years ago would not be published today. Readers’ tastes change over time–even aside from political or ideological shifts. If Shakespeare were alive today and tried to get his plays produced on Broadway for the first time, I don’t know that there’d be anyone willing to take him on. “Dude, iambic pentameter? What century are you from?” Or Jane Austen: “Funny enough in places, but readers generally like much less convoluted sentence structure. Also, this seems a lot like Bridget Jones’s Diary.” So, Heinlein: “Reads a little too much like neo-colonialism.” Not impossible to envisage, and not worthy of pearl-clutching at the depths to which we have fallen. The reasons classics become classics is because they continue to be read despite seismic shifts in taste. I doubt people will stop reading Heinlein anytime soon, which is much more than the average writer will achieve.

Which is somewhat a segue to my point: I don’t understand what the Puppies hope to accomplish. If they are truly calling for more recognition of unknown/lesser-known works and writers, great! The normal way to go about that is to tell people about them. “These are the awesome books/stories/media I consumed in 2014! Please consume them also!” not this forced recognition via slate-voting the Puppies promote. As numerous others have pointed out, by their very nature, and when they work as intended, the Hugos show the direction in which readers’ taste runs–they are awarded by popular vote. Add to that the fact that readers’ tastes change, and it seems the Puppies have failed to grasp the basic concept that hey, maybe other people like different things than you do, and maybe the number of people who likes things you don’t is greater than the number of people who likes what you like. It is not the end of the world. I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food, but I know lots of people are. I’m probably in the minority on this count. Somehow, I have survived.

So maybe the Puppies really want a change in what gets published–which isn’t going to happen. Because again, readers’ tastes change, and publishers want to make money. So they will publish books they think will appeal to readers–the most readers–in order to make that money. The Hugos don’t dictate what gets published. They can help a writer’s career, but they don’t stop the thousands of non-nominated books from getting published.

And so, speaking as someone with no clout and no skin in the game (after all, I’m still unpublished, and even if I were to get published it’s statistically unlikely that I’d be nominated for a Hugo) yes, I can see how “Puppygate” might have destroyed or be in the process of destroying the Hugos–but like seismic shifts in readers’ tastes, like people liking and disliking different things, it would not be the end of the world.

I have heard that Theodore Beale/Vox Day threatened that if “No Award” is given to the Rapid Puppy slate this year, he’ll ensure that no award is given in that category again, ever. Which makes me think that he’s like a tick swelled up with blood, overinflated with his own sense of importance. Because what would he actually accomplish in the long run? Yes, the Hugos are venerable and important to the field. But they are not the field itself. It is so, so much vaster than that. On some level, I’d be sad if the Puppies have broken the Hugos beyond repair–but another award system might rise up in its place.

More importantly, I’d still have books to read, and they’d still be books like Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice or N.K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or Wes Chu’s Lives of Tao. There would still be books I like, books about which I’d say, “Hey, I read this awesome thing. Please read it too!”

No matter how large a tick gets, fandom is larger. And that’s not going to change.


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