Tuesday, April 07, 2015
The Hugo Award silliness
I will freely admit that I haven't been very enthused by the Hugo Awards in recent years. Looking back through 2007, they were a very good guide to stuff that I would like. For example, through 2007, I liked about 3 out of 4 Hugo nominees and winners for Best Novel. But since then, I've only really liked one of the Hugo winners - Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, and fewer of the nominees than before. In fact, many of my favorite SF novels that have come out since 2007 - Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief, Ramez Naam's Nexus - didn't even get nominated.
What's going on? I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe just statistical noise.
The thought had crossed my mind that maybe sci-fi fandom had shrunk, migrating to video games or anime or YouPorn or whatever, leaving a core of sci-fi writers who care more about literary writing quality than neat ideas. I enjoy literary quality, of course - I love me some Alice Munro or George Saunders or Russell Banks. One of the best literary writers I've ever read, Margaret Atwood, is also one of the best sci-fi writers I've ever read (Oryx and Crake is the best sci-fi book written since the turn of the millennium, dammit; the fact that it also didn't get a Hugo nomination may have been the beginning of the downward trend). But what writers like in sci-fi and what I like in sci-fi tend to be different, which is why I only tend to like about a third of the Nebula Award winners.
But anyway, this same thought appeared to have crossed the mind of sci-fi writer Brad Torgersen, who organized what he thought was a campaign to take back the Hugos. Joining together with another author named Larry Correia, he has been nominating a slate of authors called "Sad Puppies", which he claims represents a return to consumerism and fun.
If Sad Puppies really had been that, it might have been interesting or even a positive force. Unfortunately, Correia and other Sad Puppies followers had their own ideas of where the problem lay. They decided it was all about right-left politics, and that recent Hugos had been chosen as affirmative action picks. The solution, according to these Puppies, was to nominate a bunch of authors with rightist political beliefs.
Things got really bad when a troll named Theodore Beale, who calls himself Vox Day (presumably because if he called himself "Vox Dei" he wouldn't come up first in Google searches), one-upped the Sad Puppies by creating an aptly named "Rabid Puppies" list of even more right-wing authors. By gaming the rules for fan voting and by recruiting outside voters from GamerGate, the various "puppies" managed to grab most of the nominations for this year's Hugos.
By far the biggest beneficiary of the puppies' putsch was a man named John C. Wright, who writes very disrespectful things about gays and other such people who never did him any harm. He also writes science fiction (as an aside, I think his novels are unreadable, though I really liked this short story; but that is irrelevant to the point of this post). There just aren't many rightist sci-fi authors out there, so Wright became an army of one, grabbing six total nominations, including three in the Best Novella category.
This is basically an experiment in politics-based affirmative action, similar to what Jonathan Haidt wants to inflict upon American universities, but more extreme. My instinct says that it will produce a deluge of craptastic crap. It's not that being a right-winger is incompatible with being a good science fiction writer - I like Starship Troopers and Ender's Game. It's that whenever you select people based on their political beliefs, you select people along a dimension that is at an angle to actual quality. Since the pool of rightist sci-fi authors is small and the number of puppies nominations is large, I expect that the effect will be far more severe than for race- and gender-based affirmative action.
Of course, the puppies also did seem to follow Torgersen's wishes to some degree, picking some works based on fun rather than on Vox Day's right-wing politics. For example, I see a Jim Butcher novel in this year's nominations. Jim Butcher is great, and very fun. The rest of the Best Novel nominations look all right. For the other categories, the only right-wing nominee whose works I have actually read is Wright, and he did once write a story that I liked, so maybe some of these other stories by him are good, despite the fact that he himself is a bit of an orc.
So maybe the puppies won't utterly ruin the Hugos. But they can't have helped. And it's another step in the negative trend of the politicization of geekdom that began with GamerGate. I expect to see a counterattack by SJWs at the next Hugos, and further retaliation by the puppies. When rightists and leftists fight, no one wins. That was true in 1930s Europe, and it's equally true in modern geek fandom.
Update: George R.R. Martin has a great post rebutting the arguments of the puppies.
Update 2: John C. Wright appears to have taken down the disrespectful post that I referenced, and I commend him for doing so.