The “NO” Vote: Hugos and Presidential Primaries

Last week I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, Washington, where I was on a few panels, signed books, met and talked with fans, editors, and other authors, and attended the Hugo ceremony, where awards in various categories were presented – or not. Over the course of the past year, there has been a great controversy over who was nominated for these awards and by whom. The “puppy” crew claimed that the voters in recent years had become more and more fixated on race, diversity, and social justice and nominated only works with those underlying settings and themes while ignoring basic story-telling. The “new traditionalists” claimed that the puppies only wanted works by white male authors, or the equivalent, and urged that all those who cared about science fiction and fantasy vote “no award” in any category dominated by “puppy” nominees.

The resulting kerfuffle ended up creating the most votes in Hugo history, and ostensibly the “new traditionalists” won. When the vote totals were finally released, essentially all of the areas where the “puppy” nominees dominated ended up with the winner being “no award,” even in the case for best editor, where the top nominee – Toni Weisskopf – received a record number of votes for an editor. In addition, last year, she placed second, but because she was considered as “puppy nominee” this year, she was denied that honor by 2496 votes for no award – more than three times the number of votes for any winning nominee ever.

I’m not so sure that everyone didn’t lose, because the real winner was the “NO” vote. It became a question not of what was the best work or writer/artist of those nominated, but of what works or people were acceptable or “not acceptable” because of the reputed philosophical/gender stance of those who nominated them.

As a side note, though, I’d have to ask all those male authors who were “no awarded” because of gender perceptions, many of them inaccurate, how it feels to be marginalized the way women and minorities have been for years. I’d also like to ask all the “new traditionalists” who drummed up the overwhelming “no award” votes how it feels to be just like the old-style chauvinists who marginalize on the basis of color and gender, because they just marginalized a number of good writers and editors on the basis of who nominated them, rather than on the basis of how good they were, although I have to admit that a number of the “puppy” nominees weren’t close to the best.

In any case, as I’ve noted earlier, this same current of negativity underlies the current contest for presidential party nominees, with candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders effectively representing a vote against the current political structure.

In both F&SF and national politics, ideas and concepts are not being evaluated on their individual merits, but upon who happens to be proposing what, rather than on what is good and workable. The cults of blind belief and personality are becoming ever more dominant, and that’s anything but a good sign for either politics or literature… or for society as a whole.

16 thoughts on “The “NO” Vote: Hugos and Presidential Primaries”

  1. Chris Clark says:

    Well said, Mr. Modesitt. I appreciate that you, Eric Flint, a few others have kept even-handed approaches in discussing the mess that was this year’s set of Hugo awards. I’ve come across too many authors, editors, etc. from both groups crowing maliciously about the outcome to think very highly of either side.

    Since there tends to be a limited overlap between what I read and what gets a Hugo nomination, I usually ignore the Hugos. This year, I paid attention solely because a friend mentioned to me that Jim Butcher’s Skin Game had been nominated. The amount of bickering and vicious, often untrue, attacks I observed from both sides of the aisle, made me wonder a few times if I’d made a good choice to bother this year.

    I agree with you that “the real winner was the “NO” vote”, but I think was a silver lining in the mess for, at least, a few folks like myself. I heard about authors whose books aren’t in my local library or any of my nearby bookstores, and some of the comments being thrown around were ridiculous enough that I decided I needed to find out for myself. That’s given me a another half-dozen or so authors to follow and work on backlists. While I don’t claim that offsets the damage done to the greater F&SF community, I think much of the damage will fade in time, my interest in the works of those authors won’t.

  2. Total says:

    good writers and editors on the basis of who nominated them, rather than on the basis of how good they were

    It wasn’t *who* nominated them, it was *how* they were nominated. So, actually, I feel absolutely fine. You try to game the system, there are going to be consequences.

    1. While I have no love lost for the rabid puppies, they didn’t “game” the system. Slates were never forbidden under the Hugo rules. A given group promulgated a slate; the reaction was every bit as much against those who created the slate as to the method they used. Just look at the enormous amount of social media traffic and content. The great majority of it deals with “who,”not “how.” And in the end, the massive reaction to “who” doomed that slate, which demonstrates the consequences, but the reaction still appears to be largely against “who” rather than slate voting per se.

  3. Total says:

    they didn’t “game” the system.

    Sure they did.

    Slates were never forbidden under the Hugo rules

    That they were “never forbidden” is not the same thing as “being acceptable.” Or is it okay to do anything, as long as it’s not explicitly illegal?

    The great majority of it deals with “who,”not “how.” And in the end, the massive reaction to “who” doomed that slate

    The reason people were fulminating against Vox Day, Brad T, and Larry C _in the context of the Hugos_ is not because of who they *were*, but because of *how* they had gone about getting people nominated. How, not who. If Toni Weisskopf had gotten nominated without being on a slate, she would have been fine (she might even have been fine if she’d put anything in the Hugo packet as evidence of her work). It was the attempt to pack the nominations that got everyone riled up.

    1. You can believe what you want, but the personal attacks by both sides certainly don’t sound like a procedural conflict to me, and I’ve been in this field as a professional for more than forty years. As for being “acceptable,” the question becomes “acceptable to whom” and under what criteria. Just because something’s been done one way for years, and is “acceptable” to all those who’ve done it doesn’t mean that something else is unacceptable because it’s never been done before. Political parties weren’t acceptable to a great many of the Founding Fathers, but they weren’t forbidden. While I don’t much care for slate voting, the rules allow it. The entire reason for laws and rules is to establish what is acceptable and what is not. Whether something meets moral criteria is another question entirely, but citing “moral” criteria, or even consensus acceptability not established in the rules, as the basis for a heretofore undefined acceptability is a dubious proposition.

  4. Total says:

    You can believe what you want, but the personal attacks by both sides certainly don’t sound like a procedural conflict to me

    You’re clearly not familiar with the United States Congress.

    something else is unacceptable because it’s never been done before.

    It does if the community of fans have _considered_ doing it and decided that it was beyond the pale. And, in fact, since the Puppies tried slate voting last year and were roundly criticized for it, your statement is immediately false.

    While I don’t much care for slate voting, the rules allow it.

    The rules also allow “personal attacks” on your competitors and you seem to find those problematic.

    In *any* case, you’re sliding away from your original argument. Whether slate voting was against the rule, vast numbers of people criticized the Puppies for doing it, and that drove their critiques (even the personal ones). I’m not sure why you think you have it your power to tell them what they were really doing. I think I’ll stick with what the people actually concerned said about it, and almost universally it was how the Puppies gamed the Hugos.

  5. Total says:

    tl;dr: “I know you’re not really angry about this, but about this” is not a convincing argument, it’s a way of changing the topic.

  6. Total says:

    And with that, I’m off. Enjoy the rest of the thread.

    1. Just for the record, I know the U.S. Congress far better than Total likely ever will. I spent ten years as a senior Congressional staffer, and another three as head of Congressional Affairs and Legislation for the U.S. EPA.

      What the argument cited by Total essentially states is “the majority consensus overrides the rules,” a position defined by deTocqueville as tyranny of the majority. One of the reasons for laws and rules is to protect the rights of the minority, whether one agrees with them or not. In this case, the majority definitely ruled, and in the way in which it did so effectively proved part of the sad puppies description of that majority as “holier than thou.” But then, Vox Day shows the same mindset, which is why I’m not particularly happy with either group.

  7. Nigel Linnett says:

    One option that seems to be almost ignored by people discussing the voting results this year, is that No Award won in a lot of categories, because the nominees weren’t good enough.

    My girlfriend voted for the Hugos this year (I’m voting for the Aurora awards, Canadian F/SF) and we both treat the voting process as looking for more than “the best of the nominated bunch”. We are looking for truly outstanding work. Yes, there are some categories we don’t feel competent to vote in (the Editor categories for example).

    Just because the Rabid Puppies managed to flood category with 5 nominees, doesn’t mean that one of them deserves to win the Hugo. If there was a book we read that we felt was better, should we vote for an “inferior” novel to win the award for “Best Novel”?

    I’ve also seen a lot of people talking about how Author X “deserved to win, because of their career, and accomplishments”. That’s fine for a Best Author award, but (while I love the series, and Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors) Skin Game wasn’t even close to the best novel of the year (one of the best Dresden novels definitely),

    And yes, I agree that the rhetoric from both sides has been horrific.

    Sorry this went on so long.

    1. I agree with your assessment that several of the categories did not in fact have many, or in some cases, any, deserving nominees. The best editor (long form) did. But it’s clear that a great many voters did not distinguish on this basis, but on the basis of who they thought did the nominating, as illustrated by Total’s posts.

  8. Brian Gibbons says:

    I don’t know if you’re simply repeating what you’ve heard from puppies or are trying to sell their spin, but Weisskopf did not place second last year, or any other year.

    She placed fourth, as you can see from the full 2014 Hugo results. As can be seen from those results, about 25% of the voters had her as their first choice, but most voters placed her significantly lower, with her making fourth instead of last in the final tally by only a slim margin.

    She lost this year for the same reason she lost last year, and lost the year before (and will probably lose next year): Not enough voters think she’s the best long-form editor.

    This is the fundamental Puppy error: Just because someone disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean that there’s a conspiracy aligned against you. There doesn’t have to be an organized group of people dedicated to opposing you; there can just be… a lot of people who happen to have tastes that differ from your own.

    It’s okay that you believe that Weisskopf is the best long-form editor of SF and deserves a Hugo. I don’t, and it turns out that an awful lot of other people share this opinion. That doesn’t mean your opinion is wrong; it just means that the majority of people who attend Worldcon don’t agree with it, and it’s perfectly okay for them to not share your opinion without being part of an evil conspiracy dedicated to keeping you down.

    1. On first pass voting, Toni had the most first place votes of any nominee, 384 votes to 359 for Ginjer Buchanan. She had more votes than Ginjer for the next three ballots, as the “sorting” continued, but ended up second in the last rounds. In fact, she led every other candidate in each level for the first four rounds, and the final run-off for first place was between her and Ginjer, yet due to the peculiarities of Australian balloting, she came in fourth. To me, the person who comes in second in a run-off for first place is the one who came in second.

      And, by the way, I never said that Toni was the best editor up for a Hugo in 2014; I do think, as do many, many, professionals, including George R.R. Martin, that she was the best of the nominees in 2015.

  9. Petra says:

    After the initial flare of temper in April a lot of people calmed down and engaged to read the nominees before voting. No one has explained how you can tell the anti-puppy slate votes from those of us who read everything and still voted no award. I agree with Nigel that we don’t look for the best of the nominees but really good stories. If none are good enough none get voted for.

    As with the movies people were somewhat inclined to vote for editors apart from Teddy B, but Toni shot herself in the foot by not having anything in the Hugo packet. I don’t myself believe we should have editor categories at all. The Hugos are a fan award and there is no good way for an end-product reader to determine the value of an editor.

  10. Brian Gibbons says:

    In fact, she led every other candidate in each level for the first four rounds, and the final run-off for first place was between her and Ginjer, yet due to the peculiarities of Australian balloting, she came in fourth.

    That’s not the peculiarities of the IRV system, that’s literally exactly how it’s supposed to work. Since the Worldcon publishes a list of how each finalist placed, it seems slightly disingenuous to use your personal definition instead of theirs without noting such.

    More to the point, you seem to be using “she placed second last year” as meaning “the Hugo voters like her and so the fact that she didn’t win proves that there was some strange vendetta against her this year”.

    Looking at the actual results tells us, however, that not only did she place fourth last year, but that when it was down to just her, Lee Harris and No Award, a majority of the voters ranked her below one of those other two options.

    And, yes, it probably doesn’t help that she, alone of all the nominated editors, refuses to state which books she was responsible for editing. I assume there’s some point she’s making (since she did the same thing the year before) but I’ll confess I don’t know what it is, and it leaves the voters unable to evaluate what they’re supposed to be voting on.

  11. D Archerd says:

    My, what a tempest in a teapot! It calls to mind Henry Kissinger’s observation that “University politics is so vicious precisely because it matters so little.”

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