The fallout continues, at least in some quarters, about the controversial, but very legal, “ballot stuffing” of the nominations for the World Science Fiction Convention’s annual awards – the “Hugos.” Essentially, as I’ve noted before, slates proposed by the “Sad Puppies” and the “Rabid Puppies” [which overlapped greatly] gained enough votes that the vast majority of the finalists for the awards were from those combined slates, swamping most votes cast by the more “traditional” attendees and voters [termed “social justice warriors” (SWJs) by the Sad Puppies]. As a result, at least two nominees have withdrawn their work from consideration, and Connie Willis has relinquished her position as the presenter at the awards’ ceremony because she felt she would be collaborating with the Rabid Puppies.
From what I can tell, no side claims to be inclusive of all readers, but the message I’m getting is that all of the conflicting factions believe that the others are less inclusive. And that’s probably true, because the reading public that favors fantasy and science fiction is so much larger than the number of those who are squabbling. Although more than 10,000 people were eligible to vote for the Hugos, slightly over 2,000 nominating ballots were cast this year, roughly a hundred more than last year – less than a twenty percent turn-out of eligible voters, and those eligible voters could only represent a fraction of one percent of just the U.S. F&SF readers.
Let’s put that in perspective. More than half a million readers bought copies of each volume of Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time, and even more bought the Harry Potter books. I’m far from the top-selling fantasy author, but the Saga of Recluce has sold close to three million copies. And we have separate groups all contending about whose “slate” or preferences are most representative of F&SF – based on 2,000 votes representing three specific interests, votes effectively changed by a bloc-vote of 200-300 voters?
In one respect, the Sad Puppies group is absolutely correct. The traditional/SWJ voters are a self-selected group whose membership represents a definite view, one tending to be more “liberal” [for lack of a better word], more interested in authors of different ethnicities, gender orientation, and cultural diversity who write in a way to illustrate those issues, and that viewpoint has tended to ignore writers who don’t write that way. And there’s nothing wrong with having a preference. There is something wrong with claiming that such a preference is the only one that represents “the best” in F&SF. At the same time, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies can be faulted for exactly the same sin – because what their slates represent is even narrower, and the “leader” of the Rabid Puppies is so far right as to make the Tea Party look moderate.
What also gets lost here is that one of the initial purposes of Sad Puppies was to point out the narrowness of the traditionalists, but that has degenerated into much name-calling and many assertions of literary and moral high ground. Diversity, social liberalism, multi-culturalism, and gender issues and problems should be a significant and continuing part of S&SF, but they shouldn’t be canonized, either.
In the larger sense, this is actually very much analogous to our political system, where the activists of the left and right have come to dominate the issues and the debate – and for exactly the same reason… because most of those eligible to vote don’t get involved in the initial political process before the nominations are made.
George R.R. Martin has commented to the effect that the Hugos may be broken, possibly beyond repair… and that’s possible. But if the Hugos become captive to any one interest or viewpoint, no matter how praiseworthy that outlook appears to that group, then are they worth saving?
Unlike our political system, however, it appears to me that most F&SF books are not published primarily in hopes of being nominated for a Hugo and that F&SF readers could care less about the Hugos. They just want to read a good book of the type they like by an author they like, and that’s something for which I’m very grateful, especially to all my readers.