Sunday, April 05, 2015

Hugo Nominees: The Sad Puppy-ing of 2015

Every year, people nominate things I think are horrible for the Hugo Awards, and sometimes those things win. Every year, other people hate the things I nominate for the Hugos (or would nominate, since I've gotten out of the habit), and sometimes loathe the winners.

That's pretty much what a popular vote does.

But this year, there's a new wrinkle: there was an organized slate of nominees, more or less from a cluster of affinities around space opera, he-man stories, libertarians, hatred for fancy writing and an even greater hatred for "social justice" (which seems to mean allowing people that aren't bland white men to do interesting things in a story). It's the grumpy right wing of SF, basically -- though that's hugely reductive -- and, like all grumpy right wings, it thinks the world has been going to hell ever since they started losing hold on control of everything.

Since that slate was coherent, disciplined and widely circulated among people willing to pay $50 to annoy "liberals" -- it's darkly amusing to see how much of American conservatism these days is based on that premise: spend money now, because it will annoy/defeat Al Gore or Hillary or Eric Holder and support good 'ol white Christians [1] -- it had greater strength this year than the previous two times it was tried. And so the final list of Hugo nominees is very close to the Sad Puppies slate, which they are of course claiming as a victory. (And it is a victory: they wanted to achieve something, and did it.)

The nominees were announced yesterday -- right in the middle of a holiday weekend, in yet another example of how fandom organizes things to flatter itself even when that goes against what they claim are their goals -- and the wailing and gnashing of teeth (on one side) and the gleeful gloating (on the other) have already begun.

Several people are already darkly noting that "No Award" is always a choice for the final Hugo ballot, and I'd like to say a few quick things to Hugo voters. (I'm not expecting to be one myself this year, but who knows?):
  • You don't have to vote. But if you don't vote, you lose the right to complain.
  • You should honestly judge all of the works as best you can. Sometimes, though, it only takes a page or two to honestly judge something.
  • Your ballot should include only things that you would be happy to see win. If you list something, you're saying you want to give it some points. If you hate everything in a category, you are entirely legitimate in putting down just No Award. (I've done that, many times, for the Dramatic Presentation categories, which I hate.)
  • To repeat that, since it's the most important thing: only list things you want to win. Put them in the order you prefer. Always remember No Award is an equal choice. 
  • Other people have opinions which are different from yours. This does not make them wrong. Sometimes they present those opinions in ways that are obnoxious or cruel, which is not the same thing.
  • Arguing about literary merit is useless without solid ground rules that all disputants agree on -- and there are none in SFF.
Irony #1: Hugo administrators have been trying, with real success, to increase the number of nominating ballots in recent years. The idea was that this would get more voices into the process, and have a wider variety of works considered. Unfortunately, they didn't count on the willingness of right-wingers to use left-wing tactics to get what they want, so the result was even more ballots but some unknown proportion of them voting a straight list made up by other people.

And that leads to...

Irony #2: (I'm grinning as I type this) It is really remarkable that such declaredly libertarian, free-market types have gotten their greatest success from what are traditional union-organizing tactics. They maintained internal discipline, roused anger against the system, got some number of people [2] to pay their union dues and sign the card, and elected nearly a straight union slate. I wonder if any of the folks behind the slate have made any attempts to wave away the cognitive dissonance.

I do honestly say congratulations to all nominees: they did work in SFF or related fields, doing things they thought were important and working hard, and SFF fans have rewarded them. To be a Hugo Nominee is an awesome thing, and the circumstances of this year's list in no way change that.

Let me underline that: no fans are better than other fans. You're not better because you've been to more Worldcons, or get invited to the good room parties, or have your own mimeozine, or toe the correct political line (whichever one that is.) A fan is a fan is a fan, and the people who only watch Doctor Who, sad though they are, are as worthy as the enlightened folks who agree with me on everything.

Sad Puppy voters did engage in a tactic corrosive to the process, but they did it out of love for their favorite stories and writers. I hope they will stop, or things will change enough, that it won't irreparably damage the Hugos, but that's not up to me. Right now, it does look entirely possible that the Sad Puppies will manage to "love" the Hugos to death, but things end all of the time. (If they didn't end, I'd still be working in SFF, wouldn't I?)

Anyway, here are the nominees. This is already a long post, but I think I'll be commenting on at least some categories along the way.

Best Novel (1827 nominating ballots)

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marco Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
I've heard good things about both Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword from people I trust, and I do have Skin Game on my shelf to read. (Though I don't know if I think of the Dresden books as Hugo-worthy, generally -- maybe this one is a giant leap forward.) Anderson is a dependably entertaining writer of a certain kind of story that I generally haven't though of in Hugo contexts. I'm not familiar with Kloos.

Sad Puppy tally: three of their five suggestions -- Anderson, Butcher, Kloos -- made it on.

Best Novella (1083 nominating ballots)

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House) 
Wright has written at least one story I absolutely loved, which is more than a lot of people in SFF. (It was from the first anthology riffing on Hodgson's The Night Land, about ten years ago -- I think it's called "Awake in the Night.") He's a writer who I think has been very ill-served by airing his opinions in public; he could have had a more Heinleinian career if he had been equally Heinleinianly reticent to write long online essays about things he hates. (Wright is a world-class hater, I can tell you that much: he could hate for his country if it was an Olympic event.)

But I didn't expect to recognize the nominees in short fiction categories anyway. Instead of seeing one set of stories I haven't read, it's a different set of stories I haven't read.

And I do wonder at the depth of the Sad Puppy bench when Wright gets three-fifths of the nominees in the category.

Sad Puppy tally: all three of their suggestions -- Kratman, Andrews, and One Bright Star, plus two extra Wrights that were not on the official list.

Best Novelette (1031 nominating ballots)

  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, May 2014)
  • “Championship B'tok” by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014)
  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn (Analog, June 2014)
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra (Analog, Jul/Aug 2014)
  • “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
Michael Flynn has also written some great stories. And the other guys I don't think I've read at all -- though Lerner's name is very familiar. These could be awesome stories, for all I know. (I hope at least a couple of them are, and not just point-making exercises.)

Sad Puppy tally: four for four, with Wright not on the official list.

Best Short Story (1174 nominating ballots)

  • “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
  • “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
  • “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy's Edge Magazine, July 2014)
  • “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Nothing at all to say about this category. But, then, I haven't had much insight into short fiction since I left the clubs -- I don't have the chance to read much of it now.

Sad Puppy tally: three of the five official suggestions --Bellet, Antonelli, and English, plus the ubiquitous Wright and another writer from Castalia House, which seems closely associated with Sad Puppy-dom. Tough luck for the other two official Sad Puppy stories, from Megan Grey and Steve Diamond. Even tougher luck for everyone else with a SFF short story last year, who hoped people would vote based on their own reading.

Best Related Work (1150 nominating ballots)

  • “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF” by Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
  • Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
  • Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts (
  • Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)
I'm possibly most annoyed at the Sad Puppies for ruining one of my dependable rules-of-thumb about the Hugos: that the Related Work about or by the oldest, best-loved writer always wins. 

Although...if I applied that rule this year, then Antonelli would have a lock on it.

Sad Puppy tally: five for five. No surprise they were able to dominate this usually thinly-nominated category.

Best Graphic Story (785 nominating ballots)

  • Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  • Saga Volume 3 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)
This is easily the least Sad Puppy category, with several avowed feminist heroines and a Muslim teenager.

Sad Puppy tally: and that's because they only recommended one thing, the Carter Reid.

Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (1285 nominating ballots)

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  • Edge of Tomorrow screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  • Interstellar screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
  • The Lego Movie written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO Systems A/S Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
This is the category that looks, to me, exactly like a regular Hugo year.

Sad Puppy tally: three of their four nominees made it on: Guardians, Interstellar, and Lego. Maze Runner did not make it, and I'm surprised to see the SPs didn't like Captain America. Was it too '70s-style bleak for them?

Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (938 nominating ballots)

  • Doctor Who: “Listen” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  • The Flash: “Pilot” teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
Again, this looks a lot to me like what would have been nominated anyway, probably because nearly every regular nominator hits this category. (They all watch TV, you can say that for them.)

Sad Puppy tally: two for four, in Grimm and Flash. They also wanted episodes of Adventure Time and Regular Show, which I find slightly surprising and encouraging. (I'm beginning to think the actual "Sad Puppy slate" was more diverse and interesting than the actual block-voting turned out, which is of course how the world always works.)

Best Editor (Short Form) (870 nominating ballots)

  • Jennifer Brozek
  • Vox Day
  • Mike Resnick
  • Edmund R. Schubert
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt
A very different list from what we usually see, with only Resnick having a Hugo history. Whether the Hugo nomination lists of the past few years map well to the current explosion of smaller presses and online publications is a separate but not unrelated question.

Sad Puppy tally: all four of their suggestions won out, plus the stick-the-liberal's-noses-in-it choice of Day, clearly added in somewhere along the line to the final block vote.

Best Editor (Long Form) (712 nominating ballots)

  • Vox Day
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Jim Minz
  • Anne Sowards
  • Toni Weisskopf
It's unfortunate that excellent editors like Gilbert, Minz, Sowards, and Weisskopf are likely to get tarred by the anti-SP backlash, but that's what happens when your politics gets into your SFF awards. I personally will be pulling for Minz, an old SF buddy who deserves a rocketship for his mantle as much as anybody.

The good news is that this category will definitely go to someone new this year, which is a bright side for an area that has often gone to the same person for years at a stretch.

Sad Puppy tally: like the previous category, all four of their suggestions made it on, plus the pseudonymous Day.

Best Professional Artist (753 nominating ballots)

  • Julie Dillon
  • Jon Eno
  • Nick Greenwood
  • Alan Pollack
  • Carter Reid
Sad Puppy tally: all four of their suggestions made it on, plus last year's winner, Dillon.

Since Dillon is best known for her DeviantArt work -- which is magnificent -- rather than book covers -- I think this category has been changing in exciting ways over the past few years when I wasn't paying much attention. I have no idea how SP-dom will affect that change.

Best Semiprozine (660 nominating ballots)

  • Abyss & Apex Wendy Delmater editor and publisher
  • Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014 editors David Kernot and Sue Burtsztynski
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  • Strange Horizons Niall Harrison Editor-in-Chief
Even though the number of ballots are on the low end, this one doesn't look terribly different from past years to my eye. But I don't read a lot of short fiction, so I'm not as plugged into what's missing. (I notice Clarkesworld isn't there, but I'm not 100% sure what qualifies as a semiprozine these days.)

Sad Puppy tally: two of their three suggestions -- Abyss and Andromeda -- made it in; Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show didn't. (That last point makes me think there was a supplementary SP slate, possibly without Medicine Show and with added Vox Day and John Wright, which was the source of the real block votes.)

Best Fanzine (576 nominating ballots)

  • Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Colin Harris, and Helen Montgomery
  • The Revenge of Hump Day edited by Tim Bolgeo
  • Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale
Quite different from past years, with some perennials left off. I'm ambivalent about this end of fandom, so I find it hard to muster an argument either way.

Sad Puppy tally: all three suggestions -- Elitist, Hump Day, and Tangent -- made it on.

Best Fancast (668 nominating ballots)

  • Adventures in SF Publishing Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
  • Dungeon Crawlers Radio Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • The Sci Phi Show Jason Rennie
  • Tea and Jeopardy Emma Newman and Peter Newman
Again, I'm not really good at talking about really faanish stuff. And I hate listening to spoken-word to begin with. So this is a category I look at with mild personal distaste, though I don't mind that it exists for people that like it.

Sad Puppy tally: all three suggestions (Adventures, Crawlers, and Sci Phi) made it on.

Best Fan Writer (777 nominating ballots)

  • Dave Freer
  • Amanda S. Green
  • Jeffro Johnson
  • Laura J. Mixon
  • Cedar Sanderson
Sad Puppy tally: They went four-for five on the official list, with only Mixon coming on in place of Matthew David Sturridge. Since Mixon is married to current SFWA President Steven Gould, I'm pretty sure she wasn't on any schismatic SP list, either.

EDIT: Sturridge has posted that he declined a nomination, so the SPs were actually five-for-five. (Also, I recommend reading his post, which I'm going to go back and finish when I'm done typing this sentence: it's dense and smart and informed.)

Best Fan Artist (296 nominating ballots)

  • Ninni Aalto
  • Brad Foster
  • Elizabeth Leggett
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
Note the vastly lower number of ballots? That's because the Sad Puppies didn't nominate anyone in this category, so their block voters had no guidance. (And hardly anyone besides fanartists really care about fan art to begin with.)

I am always happy to see names I don't recognize in this category, though, especially interesting names like Ninni Aalto and Spring Schoenhuth.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (851 nominating ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2013 or 2014, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
  • Wesley Chu*
  • Jason Cordova
  • Kary English*
  • Rolf Nelson
  • Eric S. Raymond
*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Sad Puppy tally: They suggested Cordova, English, and Raymond, and got all three on the list.

Final Thoughts: Well, it doesn't look nearly as bad as the doom-sayers might make you think. If I was going to vote this year, I'm sure I could find something to root for in every category, and would be able to list a lot of things on my ballot. (And I've always left off some nominees and used No Award strategically -- that's just part of Hugo voting.) People with particular favorites that missed the ballot may feel differently, but we won't have the detailed nomination voting until after the actual Hugos are announced at Sasquan.

But Hugo season has been getting more and more contentious in recent years, and this one looks like the crescendo. I almost wish I was going to Worldcon to be there when it all comes together.

EDIT: See the first comment (from the estimable Kevin Standlee) for background and a link to one of the places the vitriol is flowing freely. Most importantly, he notes there was also a Rabid Puppies slate, which partially overlapped with the merely Sad Puppies, and the existence of which makes things even more complicated than I have noted here.

The Rabid slate seems to be to have been focused on "let's get back at those evil liberals from Tor who rule the Hugos," while the Sad slate is more reality-based and aimed at bringing a different type of work (adventure-focused, with a lot of strong-thewed white guys, as of old) back into Hugo contention. But the two slates are in something like a coalition status, like Israeli political parties.

[1] The online fundraiser for that Indiana pizza parlor is only the most current example: it's very easy to raise money for that side of the culture war.

[2] There were 2122 total nominating ballots received, continuing the trend of increase from last year's 1923 and 2013's 1848. But it's not a huge increase, so I suspect the number of block voters is only around five hundred, at best. If everyone eligible to nominate -- all members of the 2014-2016 Worldcons -- each nominated two or three works in every category, block nomination would not work at all, this year or ever.


Kevin Standlee said...

There were two overlapping puppy slates. The Rabid Puppies slate was from those people unhappy that the Sad Puppies didn't go far enough.

(This reminds me of my choice in one race in my district in Nevada where I now live between a conservative Republican and an AIP, the latter being the people who think the Republicans are Commie Pinko Liberal Socialists.)

Mike Glyer has published a Puppy Scoreboard of how effective the combined Puppy slates were.

Sue Bursztynski said...

This is the calmest, most reasoned post on this subject I've read so far. But I'd just like to add, as one of the SP nominees, that ASIM had never HEARD of this bunch till last Friday. They have ruined for us what could have been a source of pride, though as a print publication small press we probably would never have made it to the list anyway.

sdelmonte said...

My, you are being a lot more magnanimous that
I ever could be. I am left feeling that this is, more than anything, the end of the Hugos as we know them. But then, I have long had problems with how a fairly small number of fans gets to determine the best of the best, and how the same handful of names comes up every year regardless of quality, and how there are clearly prejudices within the awards. These awards have always been iffy, like almost every award out there, but as these are our awards, it hurts to see that someone gamed the system.

Funny that part of me really does want to rejoice that Jim Butcher is finally getting some sort of recognition. Even though for the most part he is not that skilled a writer, and even though Skin Game is not the best Dresden book. If this were simply "his fans decided it was time," I'd be okay with it. Too bad he's been lumped in with the Puppies. (Note: it's also nice to see some urban fantasy get recognized, but I would put Mike Carey or Seanan McGuire far ahead of him.)

Shane said...

Dresden Files is one of my favorite series... and it's a lot of fun... But if it was ever Hugo worthy it was for Changes, not so much Skin Game. And while I am happy for Butcher to get some recognition, I would rather it have been in a way that doesn't get him tainted negatively by the way he was nominated.

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