Hugos 2016: Reactions to the Shortlist

Finalists for the 2016 Hugo Awards were released on Tuesday. It’s something of an understatement to say that reactions have been mixed.

Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin sums up the anti-Puppy consensus nicely:

Those of us who hoped this year’s massive turnout might give us something more palatable than last year were mistaken; the 2016 ballot and the 2015 ballot are pretty much a wash. The two editor’s categories are much stronger than they were last year. Novel has some very fine and worthy choices (though my own favorite novels from last year are missing). Some talented young writers are up for the Campbell. On the other hand, Best Pro Artist is a joke, Short Story is if anything weaker than last year, and Best Related Work is a toxic swamp.

Thanks to Mr. Martin for stating his approval of the Campbell shortlist, which includes me (and more significantly, Andy Weir). Compliments from such a venerable wordsmith are greatly appreciated.

I wonder, though, what occasioned the visceral reaction against the finalists for Best Related Work?

2016 Hugos Best Related Work

I agree that this list evokes something that merits the description “toxic swamp”. But it’s not the works themselves.
A more balanced perspective

Breitbart’s account, which was more sympathetic to the Puppies, helps to put the Hugo controversy in perspective:

…a number of…conservative and libertarian-leaning authors contended that a large chunk of Hugo voters voted on the basis of authors’ personal political beliefs rather than the quality of their writing. The Sad Puppies aimed to change that, by nominating authors on the basis of perceived quality rather than perceived politics. The Puppies have a particular opposition to “message fiction” — works that are primarily intended to convey a political message rather than tell a good story.

[Last] year, authors nominated by the Sad & Rabid Puppies campaigns swept several categories in the Hugo Awards, leading to outrage from progressive journalists and commentators.

This year, the Sad and Rabid Puppies have done it again. Ten out of fifteen Hugo Award categories have been completely dominated by Puppy-endorsed nominees — double what the campaigns achieved in 2015. The Puppies have also secured three out of five nominations for Best Novel, three out of four nominations for Best Short-Form Dramatic Presentation, and three out of five nominations for Best Long-Form Editor.

In total, the Rabid Puppies swept six categories on their own, while a combination of Sad & Rabid puppy nominations swept a further four.

Despite the Sad Puppies’ consistency regarding their aims, an anti-Puppy narrative persists.

“This is an attempt by various elements of the American right to regain the centre ground of SF from some perceived shift to the liberal left,” said Alastair Reynolds, whose work appeared on both the Sad and Rabid Puppies’ lists.

Author John C. Wright, whose work earned a record number of Hugo nominations last year, demonstrates the incoherence of Reynolds’ complaint:

Our motives were entirely clear, and perfectly obvious to anyone who reads science fiction for love of the genre: if our real motives had been other than what we said, then the voters attracted to us would have been attracted to our stated motives, not our allegedly real yet hidden ones, would not they have? Then the voters would have voted in line with our stated motives, and our real hidden ones would have been thwarted, right?

Former Hugo winner John Scalzi tried to downplay SP and RP’s effectiveness at choosing the nominated works:

In these cases as in several others, the Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it. Few who know the field or the Hugos would give the slates credit for highlighting works and authors already well-appreciated in the genre, many of which have appeared this year as finalists for other awards or on bestseller lists.

A claim to which Mr. Wright likewise prepared a response:

It is one of [those] statements that, even if true, makes no difference to the conclusion: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or the work of Mr. Gaiman was not the normal, boring, trite, sick-minded politically correct crapola on burnt toast shoved down unwilling throats by a small cabal of well connected Tor authors.

The lie here is merely the pretense that our motives were other than our stated motives, so that by winning whom we wanted to win, it somehow does not count, because we really wanted someone to win other than the candidate whose works we supported.

The argument is so illogical, there is not even a Latin name for the fallacy, because no one in the Middle Ages was this stupid that there was any need to coin it: it is merely disjointed.

Darker implications

Critics who accuse the Rabid Puppies in particular of having motives besides rescuing SF from dull message fic are actually onto something. With their recommendations of Safe Space as Rape Room and The Story of Moira Greyland, RP also sought to kick over the petrified remnants of Fandom culture and expose what lies wriggling beneath.

Moira recounts [Warning – not for the faint of heart!]:

My mother was Marion Zimmer Bradley, and my father was Walter Breen. Between them, they wrote over 100 books: my mother wrote science fiction and fantasy (Mists of Avalon), and my father wrote books on numismatics: he was a coin expert.

What they did to me is a matter of unfortunate public record: suffice to say that both parents wanted me to be gay and were horrifed at my being female. My mother molested me from ages 3-12. The first time I remember my father doing anything especially violent to me I was five.

Sadly, Moira’s story is far from the only instance of prominent figures in old SF Fandom perpetrating–or turning a blind eye toward–such abuse. It should go without saying that anyone involved in science fiction; any minimally ethical human being, would greet the exposure of this systemic rot with sober gratitude.
In his blog post highlighting the Best Related Work category, SF author Chuck Wendig offered this comment:

“That feels like what we have going here. We’ve got ticks in our culture. Latching on. Leeching blood. Staying hidden until they’re bloated up and by then, you’ve got a real problem.”

I’d fully agree with Mr. Wendig’s appraisal of the situation–if he were describing the pedophiles lurking within traditional Fandom as parasites. Absurdly, he applies that label to the folks who are working to unmask the abusers.

Of course, the mangy curs and distempered doggies also got their grimy jaws around the throat of the thing. Inside those nominations you’ll find some, ahh, real eye-openers. I won’t go into specifics — you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t. And if you don’t, just trust me when I say, some of those categories are a real diaper fire.

There’s a sickness here. We’re covered with ticks. We call them trolls, and they are, but that’s also a way to dismiss them — as if they’re just cantankerous outliers hiding under bridges. People say, “Don’t feed the trolls,” as if that’s ever worked. I remember in elementary school they told you to ignore bullies, too, and that never worked worth a good goddamn because they just came harder at you next time, pissed that you didn’t give them the time of day. You can’t ignore ticks, you can’t ignore tumors, and you can’t ignore trolls. Ignoring them means emboldening them.

Perhaps if Mr. Wendig and his ideological fellow travelers had been less concerned with thought-policing genre fiction and more concerned with policing the child molesters in their midst, the Rabid Puppies’ trolling wouldn’t have been necessary.

Incidentally, this is the same Chuck Wendig whose book Aftermath served as the canary in the coal mine for Star Wars’ descent into PC propaganda. Yet he accuses his critics of misogyny while dismissing the testimony of a female abuse victim.

Star Wars: Aftermath

Call the Rabid, and even the Sad, Puppies trolls if you like. Just know that they stand for fun SFF stories with actual speculative elements, and against sycophants who demonstrably value the intellectual purity of their captive awards above the safety of the children in their care.

There is sickness in Fandom, Mr. Wendig–a sickness of the soul that abhors beauty, goodness, and truth; and a sickness of conscience that sacrifices the innocent for self-flattery.

Another thing you’re right about: we’ll keep coming at you harder. Until your gates come crashing down.

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About Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel. He chose to pursue a writing career despite formal training in history and theology. His journey toward publication began at the behest of his long-suffering gaming group, who tactfully pointed out that he seemed to enjoy telling stories more than planning and adjudicating games.