Perspective on the Hugos

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 As a result, at least two nominees have withdrawn their work from consideration, and Connie Willis has relinquished her position as the presenter at the awards’ ceremony because she felt she would be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.

10 thoughts on “Perspective on the Hugos”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    No one I know who reads F/SF (take that for what it’s worth) buys books based on who gets a Hugo.

    Sayre’s Law: “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.”

    1. I’ve been reading F&SF for close to sixty years, and I can honestly say that I’ve never bought or read a book because it won or was nominated for a Hugo. In fact, for the first twenty years of reading F&SF, I didn’t even know what a Hugo was. That’s why I think that the whole uproar is overblown.

      1. Grey says:

        I have used it as a ‘point in favor’ when considering buying a book by an unknown-to-me author, as I assumed it was a big time award.

        It won’t be much of a factor going forward now that I know more about Hugo nominations and the tiny voting pool as a result of current controversy. (And that’s without factoring in my feelings on said controversy.)

        All that said, it’s fair to say that I might consider the Hugos in the future if the controversy re-energizes participation in nominations and voting. However, as you note above, my bet is that next year we are set for a standoff between block-voting cartels that will promote safe bets; voters will be unwilling to risk a vote on their actual favorite novel lest the ‘bad’ slate win.

  2. cremes says:

    What Wine Guy said.

    I was disappointed when people who were nominated started to decline their nominations. That is now the single easiest way to deny someone a Hugo… just make sure some website somewhere at some time pimps them for a Hugo (as has been going on for *years*) and now they are “tainted.”

    That said, for the very first time this year I paid $40 to get the Hugo packet and participate in the voting. Looking forward to reading all of the nominees.

  3. Frank says:

    I have been reading F&SF for about 50 years (that was difficult to admit, [the years, not the F&SF])and I don’t believe any awards had anything to do with my choices. I was aware of the award names, but that’s about it.

    I also have found that most of the awards, e.g. Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. and most of the critics opinions (especially movies, as I never paid much attention to literary critics) run more opposite than true to my tastes (such as they are). That is, if a movie critic pans a movie, I have more probability of liking it than if they praise the movie. It seems to me that many of these “so called” experts spend most of their time inventing reasons for their own existence.

    At any rate, I find that I know what I like and, especially as I get older, don’t really care if what others think of that. I know that LEM writes entertaining and thought provoking books, which I buy on a regular basis, and really couldn’t care less what the “Hugo” folks think of either his writing or my reading.

    1. Daze says:

      Examining my own revealed reactions to awards, I tend to look at the blurb / trailer of works nominated for an award, taking it as a sort of super people-like-you-like-this recommendation, and then go / buy or not depending on the perceived attractiveness of the work itself. I don’t think whether it won or not ever affected that decision.

      There is a kind of analogous factor I’ve found in reviews: with the most famous and long-running movie review tv show in Australia, I’d find that I could rely on them so far as to avoid anything they gave 2.5 stars or less, and look favourably on 3.5 to 4 star reviewed trailers, but rarely enjoyed anything they gave 4.5 or 5 stars to, these usually being tortured and difficult plots with no characters that I like, or care about what happens to them!

  4. Corwin says:

    Amen to that Frank, I couldn’t agree more.

  5. D Archerd says:

    I’ll admit that I have occasionally been influenced by an award when browsing in a bookstore. If I run across an author I’ve not heard of before, seeing that they won a Hugo or Nebula award has sometimes been enough to make me pick up the book and purchase it.

    I’m sorry to see that the awards – at least the Hugo – has become so politicized. It would be nice if the voters were distributed enough across the political spectrum that the extremes would cancel each other out. A disappointing turn of events, one that only serves to devalue the award itself.

  6. Jarred says:

    In response to your question as to whether the Hugo’s would be worth saving should they become captive to one perspective, I would say no. I do not believe in saving things for the sake of preserving what has been lost, especially if that which was lost has alienated its supporters. While I’ve never based my novel purchases 100% on whether the novel had won a Hugo, I’ve certainly made it a practice to review the award winners (especially the retro-active winners) to try and identify new authors and story lines which I may find interesting. However, I would not buy a book just because it had won a Hugo. In my industry, that would be like hiring a person just because they passed a certification exam to which there are many ways to manipulate the system to acquire a passing score. The cert may get you an interview, but the person has to be able to demonstrate competency.

    That said, I am sad to see the Hugo Awards “jump the shark” like this since it will certainly make it even more difficult for new authors of the genre to reach their audience without further compromising their style.

  7. Chris Woodbury says:

    For what it is worth, I’ve bought F&SF books based on whether they had won a Hugo and/or Nebula Award. This was only possible because the bookstore (Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC (RIP)) had had a staffer who gathered those books in an Awards section within the larger F&SF section. I only wish other bookstores spent time effort doing such.

    As for “saving the Hugo’s”, with such low numbers involved, it might behoove the “powers-that-be” to initiate a “voter-registration drive” and increase participation.

    Imagine a website where the voters could easily participate upon registration, and e-mailed reminders with identified and authenticated links to the nomination and voting site (i.e. automatic logging in). How about including rewards for participation? People who participate could earn discounts from sponsoring bookstores and PUBLISHERS (for use at your local, independent bookstore (YES!)). Lotteries for the better seats at the Masquerade and/or dinner sessions at WorldCon, (your idea here), etc.

    The solution to “The Hugo problem”, it seems to me, is dilution….

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