Ruminations on Nominations
The Hugo Award nominations are out, and once again there’s controversy over who made the ballot and who did not. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Time Machine: If I ever get access to a time machine, one thing I’ll do is go back to 2012 and try to convince everyone to nominate The Martian by Andy Weir for a Hugo Award. It’s almost a crime that it does not have a Hugo nomination. It’s the best science fiction novel I’ve read in several years, and it’s really too bad that the version Crown Publishing put out last year was ineligible due to the self-published version in 2011. (
And I’ve never found a satisfactory explanation as to why John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War was eligible in 2006 after he self-published it on his blog in 2002.I originally wrote that sentence before John Scalzi posted an explanation. I don’t find the explanation entirely satisfactory, since it boils down to nobody at the time thinking that serializing the story on his blog was a form of publication, but I felt I should link to it.) Anyway, I deliberately nominated The Martian this year even though I knew it was ineligible, just because I thought it deserved a nomination. Maybe the Sasquan convention can give Andy Weir a Special Committee Award.
- Disappointment: Of the eligible novels this year, I’m quite disappointed that Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson,
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu)[When I originally wrote this paragraph, the novel was not on the ballot. But one of the nominees withdrew and it got added.], and Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal did not make the ballot. I’m also disappointed that Monster Hunter: Nemesis by Larry Correia is not on the ballot, although I understand his reasons for not accepting the novel’s nomination. I enjoyed all of those books immensely. In short fiction, I was most disappointed that Eugie Foster’s beautiful final story, “When It Ends, He Catches Her“, did not make the ballot. I’m also disappointed that Jonathan Laden and Michelle Barasso, who have been doing great work as the editors of Daily Science Fiction, did not get nominated for Best Editor, Short Form.
- IGMS: I relinquished my position as an assistant editor at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show at the beginning of this year, in order to concentrate on my own work. But I’m thrilled to see that Gray Rhinehart’s novelette “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” garnered the first Hugo nomination for an IGMS story. Nor was that the only IGMS-related nomination: Edmund Schubert got nominated in the Best Editor, Short Form category. And artist Nick Greenwood, who beautifully illustrated my IGMS stories “The Robot Sorcerer”, “Accounting for Dragons”, and “Write What You Want”, and many stories by other authors, got nominated in the Best Professional Artist category.
- Huzzahs: I was very happy for all my other friends and acquaintances who got nominated.
With those out of the way, let me move on to the dragon in the room: Politics.
- Puppies: There were two mostly overlapping slates of nominees put out by people towards the right wing of the U.S. political spectrum: the Sad Puppies 3 Slate and the Rabid Puppies Slate. The former was organized by my friend Brad Torgersen (and heavily promoted by my friend Larry Correia, who originated the Sad Puppies concept a couple of years ago.) The latter was put together by Vox Day, whom I consider neither friend nor acquaintance. I’m generally considered a conservative Republican, and when I say that Vox Day is on the right wing, what I mean is that from my perspective he’s so far out on the right wing I think he’s actually on a completely different plane, headed to Crazyland. But he’s got a lot of fans for his particular brand of crazy, so I guess that works for him. The Rabid Puppies Slate mostly mirrored the Sad Puppies 3 Slate, but it notably added several works by John C. Wright and added Vox Day himself in the editor categories.
- Intentions: Basically, the intentions of Brad and Larry boil down to this: they saw nominees in the past few years that they didn’t particularly like, and so they wanted to promote works and people they did like. Larry and Brad have talked about conspiracies behind the scenes to get certain politically favored authors onto the ballot, etc., but it still boils down to the same thing: wanting more nominees they like, and fewer nominees they don’t. That sentiment is not unique to them. It’s certainly what EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO HAS COMPLAINED ABOUT THE NOMINEES THIS YEAR IS THINKING.
- Blocs: Personally, I think creating a (nearly) full Hugo slate for Sad Puppies was a mistake. I’m sure there were many readers who did their best to read the works on the slate and pick the ones they liked to nominate, rather than just blindly vote for what was on the slate. In fact, the variation in the number of nomination votes between the various Puppy nominees strongly supports that idea. For example, in the Best Related Work category, in which all the nominees were on both the Puppy slates, there was a variation of 67 (273-206) between the highest and lowest number of nominations. However, it’s fairly clear that there were a large group of voters, probably around 200, who mostly voted as two mostly overlapping voting blocs. Where the blocs conflicted, the Rabid Puppies nominees won, so their bloc seems to have been larger. Unfortunately, bloc voting in the Hugo nominations can be very powerful, because it concentrates votes on a few nominees, while normal nomination votes are spread out over a much larger set of eligible works or people. In this case, the combined Puppies blocs were strong enough to choose almost all the finalists in almost every category. Brad and Larry were surprised by this level of success, because with the Sad Puppies 2 campaign last year (which only listed one or two nominees in a few categories), in most categories there were other nominees that got more votes than the top Puppies nominee. This year, with a larger voting bloc, that seems to have happened only in the Novel category.
- Rules: Bloc voting is not against the rules. It is, however, generally considered somewhat unseemly. It has happened before, but it has never been on such a large scale, or so public, or so successful. This has sparked various proposals to change the rules to make bloc voting more difficult. As a general principle, I oppose any such proposals that would make it more difficult for people to participate in the process, or that are aimed at penalizing public voting blocs but would leave secret blocs untouched. However, there are a number of different proposals that I could support (assuming that a change to the rules is deemed necessary — I tend to agree with George R.R. Martin that the system can probably self-correct without rule changes. More on that later.). The weighted-nominations scheme I’ve devised is probably far too complex, although it could easily be implemented via a computer program. (Basically, for each person’s nominations in a particular category, it would check how similar those selections were to other people’s selections, and the more similar ballots there were, the less weight it would give those nominations.)
- Backlash: Of course, there has been tremendous backlash within the science fiction and fantasy community since the Hugo ballot was announced. It’s understandable that there would be a backlash — the bloc voters may have complied with the written rules, but they violated the social norm within the community. But while the backlash is understandable, many of the personal attacks on Brad and Larry have gone far beyond the bounds of decency. (Let me note that there have also been many people who, while disagreeing with what Brad and Larry have done, have made their criticism in a reasonable manner.) Because Brad and Larry are my friends, and because I tend to agree with them politically, I wish I could go all-out in defending them, but because I think their strategy was a mistake to begin with, I can’t defend it. However, I do feel that I can and should defend them against the most scurrilous attacks.
- Racism: In my opinion, accusing someone of racism is one of the severest charges one can make against someone’s moral character. That also means it is an accusation that should not be made lightly, on flimsy evidence. Unfortunately, knowing the power of such an accusation, there are many people on the left who will hurl it at people on the right without much regard for whether the accused is actually guilty of racism. However, Vox Day’s beliefs, as expressed in his own words and taken in context, clearly fit the dictionary definition of racism:
- Misogyny: Again, let’s go to the dictionary: “ .” Vox Day’s beliefs also clearly fall under this definition (e.g., he doesn’t trust women to vote in a representative democracy).
- Condemnation: If you’re going to condemn Brad and Larry, it should be for promoting a slate for the Hugo ballot, which I think was a bad idea even though it’s not technically against the rules. But accusing them of racism and misogyny without clear evidence is, frankly, despicable. Anyone who has done so should be ashamed of themselves.
- Resonance: I think a big part of the problem that led to the situation we find ourselves in today is that many people on both left and right seem to think that if they don’t like a particular work of fiction, it is objectively a bad work of fiction (or, at least, objectively not worthy of any awards), and that therefore if such a work ends up on an awards ballot, there must be some nefarious scheme to promote the work or its author despite the work’s objective lack of merit. Recently, Rachel Swirsky’s Nebula-winning and Hugo-nominated short story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” and Ann Leckie’s multi-award-winning novel Ancillary Justice have been the poster children for this for people on the right. Meanwhile, Larry Correia’s Hugo-nominated novel Warbound and Vox Day’s novelette “Opera Vita Aeterna” have been the recent poster children for this for people on the left. I’ve had reason to ponder about this subject for a few years now, because of the reaction of some people to my novelette “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” winning the Nebula and getting nominated for the Hugo back in 2011. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that for some readers, a story can produce a very strong emotional resonance, thus giving the story a lot more impact for those readers. Readers who do not resonate emotionally to a story can have trouble understanding why other people like it so much. And it’s natural that some stories will tend to resonate more strongly with certain political factions and less strongly with others — although the emotional resonance does not have to be political; it could be based on any number of different factors. For example, I’m mostly a political opposite to Rachel Swirsky. But at the time I read “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, I had been spent several months thinking through my religious beliefs about how we should treat people with respect and kindness, and so her story about bullying resonated with me at that time in a way it might not have a year earlier. I thought Ancillary Justice was a good space opera, but not so extraordinary that I, personally, would give it all the awards. However, I can also see how the story’s perspective on gender, which I found a little gimmicky, could strongly resonate with people for whom sexism and gender identity are issues of primary importance, and so I don’t begrudge the novel its awards. The characters, plot, and themes of Warbound resonated strongly with me, and so I thought it was one of the best novels of that year, but I can understand why it didn’t resonate for some people. I actually liked “Opera Vita Aeterna”, which dealt with similar themes to my story “The Ashes of His Fathers” (although I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking my story was better), but I didn’t think it was particularly outstanding. However, I could see why it might resonate more with some people, and also why it might resonate less with others. So I hope that more people in SF fandom, wherever they may be on the political spectrum, will start describing their negative reactions to stories more in terms of taste (I didn’t like Story X) and less in terms of objective quality (Story X is a bad story). You could do that with positive reactions as well, but I don’t think positive reactions in terms of objective quality (Story X is awesome!) are nearly as damaging to a sense of community as negative ones.
- Voting: Various people have suggested voting “No Award” above any of the Puppy nominees regardless of the merits of any particular nominee, as a way of protesting the use of bloc voting for nominations. I think that’s an understandable reaction, and it’s not against the rules, so I do think that’s a valid strategy. But I think it’s unseemly; not as unseemly as bloc voting, but still unseemly. I don’t think it’s right to punish all the nominees on the Sad Puppies slate because they swept most of the available spot on the ballot, because I doubt any of them had any idea that was going to happen. This whole Sad Puppies seems to have grown out of what happened a few years ago when some people in the WorldCon community deliberately snubbed Larry Correia because of his politics and religion. Larry decided to push back, and received pushback on his pushback, and things escalated from there. It’s time to stop the escalation. I think George R.R. Martin, John Scalzi, and many others have the right idea: check out the individual nominees, and vote based on whether you consider them worthy or not. If that means “No Award” in some categories, so be it, but I think you should at least give the nominees a fair look.
- Self-Correction: Given the reaction this year, I think it’s fair to say people should be on notice about what it means to be on a slate, and a blanket No Award strategy for any nominees who are willing participants in a slate next year would be appropriate. Also, people will be alert to warn others who might have missed this year’s controversy as to what being on a slate means. With regard to the Sad Puppies campaign, I hope that if they do decide to continue with Sad Puppies 4, it is with a recommendation list far broader than a slate of nominees. Hopefully, next year slates will not be a problem, and so amending the rules (which takes two years) will turn out to be unnecessary.