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.


  1. When rightists and leftists fight, no one wins.

    I agree, yet I wonder here if The Telegraph article might be a part of the problem rather than merely a neutral observer. At the moment, Entertainment Weekly wrote a similar article which now has been rewritten with the following update:

    CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.

    Just how politically diverse these authors are (which is the dimension you're commenting about though the Telegraph article references primarily gender/racial angles) I'm not quite sure. I've heard claims from the Sad Puppies group that they are but I'm skeptical about that.

    1. Right, I get the impression that the Sad Puppies list was more diverse, while the Rabid Puppies list was more straight-up right-wingers.

  2. Anonymous6:03 AM

    So this is really about ethics in gaming Hugo nominations?

  3. Have you tried John C. Wright's The Golden Age? It's the original trilogy in the world of the story you've linked to, and I've enjoyed it immensely. His Orphans of Chaos trilogy is also pretty good, although more recent work has been lesser in quality.

    He's not the only quality sci-fi writer, who's also a right wing nut. Vernor Vinge for example - great writing, nonsensical politics. I would rather keep myself ignorant of their politics, and just enjoy the fiction by itself.

    1. Yep, I tried The Golden Age. 100 pages of it. Had to quit. Awful writing. And concept-wise, very little that hadn't been done years earlier by Tony Daniel in Metaplanetary, or by Greg Egan in Diaspora. Both of which you should read if you haven't, BTW.

      Vernor Vinge, who is my favorite sci-fi author, is not a right-wing nutcase, or even right-wing. He did once tell me that he thought anarcho-capitalism might really work, though!

    2. He did once tell me that he thought anarcho-capitalism might really work, though!

      He's a libertarian true believer. That's pretty far out on the political fringe, thank G-d. Plus, since the libertarians sold their souls to the Republican party, that makes them a right wing fringe.

    3. True, but like a purist libertarian of the Cato breed, he is liberal on social issues, which puts him far away from the Wrights and Beales (and the Heinleins and Cards) of the SF world.

    4. I did finish the Golden Age trilogy, and thought it pretty atrocious. Turgid and boring. However I did like his short story "Twilight of the Gods" to which the bombastic prose style actually contributed. Ca. 2010.

    5. Yeah, I think his prose style works a lot better for short fiction than for novels. A number of writers are like that, actually (and some are the reverse).

    6. Scott5:33 PM

      How the hell did you make it through 100 pgs?

    7. I give every book 100 pages.

    8. bearcat12:58 AM

      "True, but like a purist libertarian of the Cato breed, he is liberal on social issues, which puts him far away from the Wrights and Beales (and the Heinleins and Cards) of the SF world."

      One has to wonder what being liberal on social issues entails if you consider Heinlein socially conservative. Have you ever actually read any Heinlein? He was not at all shy about writing novels that were basically thought experiments on a socially libertine future. You might try "Fear No Evil" or "Stranger in a Strange Land" neither of which I particularly cared for, but they should forever banish any ideas that Heinlein was socially conservative. "Friday" or "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" are IMHO much better stories that explore a libertine future as a side issue to the story, but the former two novels don't actually have much of a story they are basically a thought experiment on a profoundly libertarian and libertine society.

    9. This is true. He was pretty militarist, though.

      There are many different flavors of politics.

  4. Anonymous10:41 AM

    For a detailed analysis of the Sad Puppies experiment see this by Matthew David Surridge at the Black Gate website. It's well worth reading if you're interested in science fiction.


    "I declined a Hugo nomination for this year’s Best Fan Writer award. I think it’s only fair to the people who voted for me to say why.

    ... There are three reasons, which all derive from one source. In mid-February, researching an article for another site — an article that in the end never got written — I stumbled on the Hugo slate put forward by Brad Torgersen for the Sad Puppies 3 campaign. At which time I found that I was one of the names suggested for Best Fan Writer. I later found that Vox Day had also suggested me as a part of his Rabid Puppies slate. This all quite surprised me ...

    I’m honestly impressed with the Puppy voters’ willingness to step outside their usual politics. My understanding is that most of the people involved in the Sad Puppies campaigns are right-wing Americans, whereas I’m a left-wing Canadian and therefore to a right-wing American probably indistinguishable from Karl Marx ...

    Having said that I disagree with these principles, I think it’s only polite to outline where and why. I regret that what follows is exceptionally long and pedantic. But finding myself in public disagreement with someone, I think it’s best to be as precise as possible in stating where that disagreement lies. And many of these issues are complex, and deeply interlinked one with another. ...

  5. This is why we can't have nice things.

    I decides a long time ago I will enjoy things by people like Kanye West, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise, no matter how personally distasteful they may act.

  6. This seems to largely be a power play between those "in" and those "out" of the hugo award process. Those "in" have resorted to a coordinated smear campaign (led by EW - https://archive.today/0NH1i , backfiring as Enteratinment Weekly had to issue a remarkable correction https://archive.today/hrxzn

  7. You are to be saluted, because at least your column is respectful, decent, and non-insane. It strikes me as the kind of thing where we could agree to disagree, shake hands, and remain civil.

    Not many of the Puppy Hating club are so reasonable, so I thank you for that.

    PS, I have nothing against homosexuals, any more than I have any illwill against drunks. It is the liars and propagandists I dislike, people trying to liquor up the drunks I dislike.

    A gay member of my family killed himself because he left his wife and family to pursue the type of non-reproductive love affairs all the liars told him would make him happy. He was mislead. To his death.

    Him I loved. Them I hate. Can you see why?

    Please read what I write more carefully, and don't misrepresent what I say.

    1. If my post was civil, it just goes to show how un-civil the discussion in the SF world has become! I thought it was pretty mean, myself.

      Anyway, Mr. Wright, here is what you wrote to the producers of the Legend of Korra TV show:

      Mr DiMartino and Mr Konietzko: You are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship. Contempt, because you struck from behind, cravenly; and hatred, because you serve a cloud of morally-retarded mental smog called Political Correctness, which is another word for hating everything good and bright and decent and sane in life.

      That's far beyond the standards of civil dialogue in my corner of the blogosphere. Where I come from, you just don't get to talk like that. Imagine saying something like that at a party. There's a good chance you'd be slapped and thrown out into the street! But you said it in front of tens of thousands of people.

      As for gays, I want you to watch a few seconds of this video of fan reactions to that TV show ending you hate. I've started the video at 6:30, which I think you may find especially interesting:

      Those kids aren't being led astray by the producers. They wanted more homosexuality than the producers were willing to give them.

      If those kids hate "everything good and bright and decent and sane in life", then up is down, black is white, and -1 equals 1.

      But even if you were right, you need to stop saying things like the quote I wrote above.

  8. Anonymous3:53 PM

    I'm not exactly sure what's wrong with sodomy and it's great the cartoon girls / guys are gay that's awesome.

    But when I grew up, Sci-Fi was Libertarian awesome, even the "socialism" of Star Trek was just the same guys being in charge after they made everything free.

    Sci-Fi let you dig the evolutionary theory and crazy paradigm frames to think thru and past the horrible averageness of today.

    I can't even imagine what a SJW Sci-Fi thing would be.

    Is the hero a person of avg talents who resents exceptional people doing exceptional things because of their privilege?

    It's a mind boggle.


    1. Anonymous5:06 PM

      "It's a mind boggle."

      It's because, as a glibertarian, you're deeply unaware of your intellectual limitations.

    2. Anonymous5:10 PM

      Star trek as a Libertarian fantasy? What planet (heh) are you on?
      I willnpost as myself from home, stupid ipad.

  9. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I don't see the fuss to be honest, it's a fan-based award, so it's always open to this kind of passion project by a group of fans. Nobody is suggesting they broke any rules, it just seems to be a bunch of pearl-clutching about how they "didn't play the right way." Except that there are authors (e.g. Scalzi) who have campaigned for themselves over the years, and I don't see how using your connections in a very small electorate to promote yourself places you on a moral high ground of any sort over people who campaigned on behalf of a variety of authors.

    And most of the reaction which concentrates on what awful right wing trogs and horrible people the Puppies are seems to be almost designed to let them point and say "ha, see I told you that's what SJWs always say." You can't accuse them of not knowing how to troll a certain kind of left winger that's for sure.

    Just to be clear, I think the Puppies schtick about too much political commentary or literary value in SF is absurd, I think they're wrong on the merits. However, right wing conservatives can be SF fans too and if people don't like how they're voting then the answer is buy a $40 membership yourself and vote next time.

  10. Anonymous7:09 AM

    I don't think there's any evidence that GamerGate influenced the Hugo nominations. The total number of voters was only slightly higher than in previous years. If GamerGate had actually been involved, there'd been a huge boost in the number of voters. AFAIK, there was little discussion of the Sad Puppies on GamerGate sites until after the vote.