The Hugos are among science fiction's most prestigious awards. Since the 1950s, they've been awarded to the genre's best and brightest—icons like Heinlein, Asimov, LeGuin, and Dick. This year, they're just the latest front in Gamergate's war against women and minority fandom.
The toxic, conservative, anti-woman movement that briefly claimed to be about reforming video games journalism has allied with a group of neoreactionary authors in an effort to ensure sci-fi's future looks more like its less diverse past.
Meet the Sad Puppies
After a 2014 Hugo ceremony during which non-white-guy creators Ann Leckie, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Chu, and Kameron Hurley all won rocket trophies—our sister site io9 hailed it as "a sign that a younger generation of diverse writers are becoming central to the genre and helping to redefine and expand it"—a small group of authors and their supporters set out to re-redefine and shrink the genre back to what they think it should be: Mainly white dudes writing space adventures with cool ships and none of that boring crap about "prejudice" or "exploitation."
"We’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters," the author Brad R. Torgeson put it in a blog post from February.
Torgeson's post was a mission statement for Sad Puppies, one of two separate—but related—campaigns to flood nominations with creators favored by socially conservative white nerds. The idea is that "Sad Puppies" helps the forces of reaction coordinate the slate of nominees—because, Torgerson argues, the galaxy of sci-fi lit isn't safe for traditional geeks: "The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation?"
This is, of course, quite ridiculous. Science fiction and its awards still skew heavily male and heavily white. There is no documented shortage of books and media about cool spaceships.
But Sad Puppies isn't the only conservative campaign, either. Controversial, bigoted sci-fi author Vox Day—a neoreactionary blogger for racist wackadoodle news site WorldNetDaily who, among other things, believes blacks are inferior to whites and marital rape is "an oxymoron"—launched his own Sad Puppies-inspired slate called Rabid Puppies.
Day, real name Theodore Beale, has long been a divisive figure in the sci-fi community. He ran for president of the World Science Fiction Society in 2013, drawing 10 percent of the vote, but was nearly expelled from the organization later that year after referring to popular author N.K. Jemisin, who is black, as a "half-savage." Nice guy. And he's nominated again this year in the Best Editor (Short Form) and Best Editor (Long Form) categories.
Although many of Day's nominees overlap with the Sad Puppies', he takes care to point out that they're not exactly the same: "But they are similar," Day writes, "because we value excellence in actual science fiction and fantasy, rather than excellence in intersectional equalitarianism, racial and gender inclusion, literary pyrotechnics, or professional rabbitology."
(One of the main differences is that Rabid Puppies included those two nominations for Day himself.)
The Sad Puppies' "Victory": The 2015 Hugo Award Nominations
"Three of the five Best Novel nominees come from the Sad Puppies list, while the Best Novella shortlist is identical to Vox Day’s own recommendations—including three separate nominations for works by John C. Wright, an author notorious for his homophobic views.”
Wright, better known for his rants about how "homosex" on television is a "perversion" that will "destroy your life" than for any actual contribution to the field of literature, received a record-breaking six total Hugo nominations this year. Wright is published by Castalia House, a tiny Finnish publishing house founded by…wait for it…Vox Day.
The Gamergate Connection
They were invited! Turns out the Puppies and the Gamergaters have an enemy in common: "Social Justice Warriors," or SJWs, a Gamergate coinage for anyone who doesn't want to see all geek media revert to a time before its fans had to grapple with uncomfortable concepts like race and gender.
So, with the aim of "hurting social justice" and "fighting the infection" (where the "infection" is women), they formed an alliance against the tyranny of "racial and gender inclusion."
The #gamergate and #sadpuppies hashtags began to overlap on Twitter and, more importantly, Gamergaters started casting votes for the authors on the Puppies' Hugo slates.
One Problem: There's No Rule Against Hijacking the Hugos
To vote for the Hugo awards, you merely have to join the World Science Fiction Convention. There's no requirement to attend Worldcon, held this August in Spokane, Wash.—you can just donate to the WSFS by purchasing a "supporting membership" for $40.
Anyone who joined last year's London convention, this year's Spokane event, or the 2016 convention was eligible to vote, and, judging by the success of the Sad Puppies slate, it seems a lot of Gamergaters were happy to shell out 40 bucks to stick it to the "SJWs."
But maybe not that many—we're talking about just over 1,800 total votes for Best Novel (the most popular category), with only a couple of hundred needed to make the shortlist. Remember that, before Gamergate even existed, 10 percent of the WSFS members who participated in the society's presidential election cast their votes for Vox Day. That doesn't mean 10 percent of all members agree with his views—one imagines his rabid supporters had higher than average turnout—but it does mean that carpetbagging Gamergaters aren't entirely to blame for the outcome of this year's Hugo nominations.
In fact, this is the third year the Sad Puppies, led by Larry Correia, have released a list of suggested nominations.
Last year, Correia launched a slate with Vox Day, resulting in a nomination for Correia's novel and novelettes by Day and Brad Torgerson. In fact, 7 of the 12 works they advocated made the shortlist—although none of them won a Hugo.
But whether a slate is technically within the rules and whether it's a good thing are two separate issues. As author (and self-described six-time Hugo loser) John Scalzi puts it, "There is no rule that disallows nominating for the Hugos from a slate; there’s also no rule that disallows Hugo voters from then registering their displeasure that these slates exist."
Even blatant ballot-stuffing by groups who buy memberships just to vote is not a new phenomenon. As George R.R. Martin points out, the Church of Scientology engaged in a similar tactic in 1987, signing up en masse to cast their votes for L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard made it onto the ballot, but lost the award.
What Happens Next
Now that the finalists have been determined, another, more complex round of voting will determine the winners. It seems like some categories, like the entirely Puppy-dominated Best Novella, are bound to fall to Gamergate, but this isn't necessarily the case.
Voters don't have to back anyone in a given category. In fact, they can explicitly elect to give no award.
[Y]es, in fact, “No Award” can be placed first in a Hugo category. It has done so several times in the history of the award, when the voters for the Hugo Award decided that nothing deserved to take home the rocket.
The Puppies' chances of sweeping the awards seems slim. They had a couple hundred voters during the nomination process, while the other 1,500 or so were split across the entirety of sci-fi works released last year. Now, those votes will be divided among 5 works at most (or No Award).
(It's worth noting that some of the creators promoted by the Puppies had nothing to do with the campaign, and voters like Scalzi have vowed to evaluate the nominated works on their merits, not to penalize them for being part of a perfectly legal slate.)
Still, even a single Hugo would be a real victory for the Puppies, who've already received media attention out of all proportion to their actual numbers and galvanized conservative elements on the web to get involved in an insular sci-fi community debate. Hell, the National Review even published a piece about the "leftist assault" on sci-fi.
And why stop at the Hugos? Author (and 2014 Hugo winner) Charles Stross speculates that Vox Day and the Gamergaters who've enlisted in his fringe army are now in a position to attack the Nebula awards, the only sci-fi awards more prestigious than the Hugos.
Nebula voters are required to be Science Fiction Writers' Association members, which means publishing three short stories or a novel. Pretty convenient, then, that Day has his own publishing house.
What This Means for the Hugos
When we say Gamergate is precipitating a larger culture war that has little, if anything, to do with video games—this is another front in that culture war. It'll be difficult to take the Hugos seriously after this, and there's no question some major changes need to be made.
To be frank, it means that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom does not have any legitimacy right now. Period. A community that can be this effectively controlled by someone who thinks black people are subhuman and who has called for acid attacks on feminists is not one whose awards have any sort of cultural validity. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to functional communities. And the fact that it has just happened to the oldest and most venerable award in the sci-fi/fantasy community makes it unambiguously clear that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom is not fit for purpose.
Sure, it's a tad bit dramatic, but it's hard to say it's wrong.
Even George R.R. Martin, the closest thing to royalty in the contemporary fantasy world, has lost hope. "I think the Sad Puppies have broken the Hugo Awards, and I am not sure they can ever be repaired," he blogged Wednesday, and promised to follow up with a series of posts elaborating on that thought.
So, on top of everything else, the Puppies have distracted GRRM from finishing the Winds of Winter? What a fucking disaster.
Martin's observation that the Hugos have always belonged to Worldcon and its fandom might also be the key to repairing their reputation. Although he doesn't say this outright, Hugo voting might have to be restricted to those who attend the convention, or have in the past, to keep out the people actively working to undermine it. It's not perfect, but it's a higher barrier to entry than shelling out $40.
[Image by Jim Cooke]