World War Geek: Contemplating The Hugo Fiasco


Warning: What you are about to read are my opinions about the hot-button topic of politics in geek entertainment. Please bear in mind that these are my opinions alone and are not those of GonnaGeek in its entirety. If you wish to voice your opinions, please contact me at Thank you.


It has been nearly four days since I heard about the stunning debacle at the Hugo Award ceremony at WorldCon. I’ve actually been paying attention to it since April when the award nominees came out to the shock and some disparity of many who enjoy science fiction literature. For those who aren’t familiar with this, the Hugo nominees are voted on by those who have a membership to WorldCon. Think a cross between the People’s Choice Award and American Idol. Bear in mind that the Hugo Award is a big deal and like any big deal, there’s a lot of pressure coming from many influential parties. Over the last decade or so, the science fiction writers being nominated for the Hugos have tended to be more progressive socially and politically, trying to include more writers of diverse backgrounds and stories that tend to be thinly veiled social commentaries that had little to do with the more bombastic elements of the genre. This had eventually gotten under the skin of a few writers who saw this progressive leaning of the awards as an affront to the spirit of science fiction as a genre, where social commentary was welcomed but also dosed with a good heap of fantastical inventiveness and adventure. So these writers decided to fight back against this tide by rallying fellow voters into nominating writers who were the epitome of progressivism. They called themselves “Sad Puppies” and at first considered themselves a protesting faction.

What the Sad Puppies didn’t expect was to be as successful in their campaign as a handful of their selections had made it to the Hugo ballot, causing a stir within the mainstream of Science Fiction writers. So when the next year’s Hugo nominees were to be voted on, the Puppies when at it again and once more caused more sensation. On the third go-around, they were joined by another group ran by the notorious writer and agitator Vox Day calling themselves the Rabid Puppies. This created a fervor of allegations of sexism, racism and bigotry of the highest order. The media got hold of the story and branded both groups as hate movements trying to silence diversity in the genre. What didn’t help this claim is that more than a considerable amount of their selections tended to skew white and male, one of the founders of the movement, Larry Correia, has a history of right-wing politics and a possible grudge as he had lost in a bid for a Hugo against a progressive writer.

But nothing could have prepared anyone for the shock of fourth year of Puppy revolution as this time, not only did Puppy selections get places in 19 of the 20 categories, but in a considerable amount of categories, they completely swept. The outcry was swift and made international mainstream news. Many claimed the sweeps a “hijacking” that the Puppies had overran those categories and ensured victory through ill-gotten means. Many news agencies tied the Puppy movement with the video game movement GamerGate (and not in a good way). Two of the most vocal voices against the Puppy revolt this time around were internationally famous writers John Scalzi and George R.R. Martin, both who considered the movement a destructive force against the genre. Many of the progressive writers and fans of science fiction decided to act against the Puppies when it came to the actual voting for the Hugos. What ensued could not be called anything short of a fiasco.

On August 22nd, with the bulk of science fiction enthusiasts awaiting the winners, awards were given to “No Hugo” in categories where Puppy nominees stacked the deck. Of the 19 categories, only one win came for the Puppies as the film they selected, Guardians of the Galaxy, won a Hugo. And each time that “No Hugo” was announced, the audience cheered.

Following the rout, Scalzi took to his blog to discuss the victory. “In my estimation (and leaving out issues of literary quality of the nominations, which is super-subjective), the reason for their massive and historic failure is simple: They acted like jerks, and performed a series of jerk maneuvers.” Scalzi is also a vehemently staunch opponent to the GamerGate cause as well.

Yet it cannot be helped to think that individuals like Scalzi brought this rift on themselves and haven’t realized just how damaging this rift can be for their industry. Instead of looking at this growing revolt of science fiction writers and fans as a means of self-reflecting that perhaps they aren’t as inclusive as they think they are, they are doing the best they can to dehumanize them and make them feel unwelcome. And they are doing so by thinking to themselves that they don’t need those types of people in their ranks.

Bear in mind that I personally have been in a situation like this before. I was affiliated with a movement that I had believed in for nearly my entire life, that I had supported even when I should have known better and when it became clear that this movement had turned into a monster and I tried to voice my concerns, I was thrown out for my insolence. They threw out others like me as they too realized the dangers of the organization and to this day that movement has become an extremist group that is a mere shadow of itself.

Now diversity is not any kind of monstrous idea. But self-importance is. A great deal of science fiction readers are white males, though that trend is changing to an extent. We should celebrate that diversity, but not at the expense of the group that is already there. While I disagree with the Puppies that the bulk of the Hugos are snobby literary pieces or that such literature doesn’t have a place winning this award, I also believe that they have a point that those who are politicizing the Hugos (and they are if you notice the nominees in any given year) aren’t really allowing the voice of the fans to really come through.

The Hugo organizers needed to listen to the dissent and try to answer the claims they are voicing. They need to create avenues of trust with those readers who feel marginalized because their taste in sci-fi isn’t trendy. Because whether they believe it or not, they can’t afford to lose these fans or the one these fans will generate. Larry Correia’s work (which I actually think is pretty good) matters. Orson Scott Card’s work matters. And if you don’t think that their voices aren’t trying to be silenced by the progressive side, ask yourself if Starship Troopers were written today, would it have even been nominated not to even mention win?

That said, the Puppies need to stop acting like victims of the establishment. Bear in mind while Sad and Rabid Puppies are two separate groups, the old adage still goes that if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. You associate with unsavory individuals, align yourself with news outlets of disrepute, not only do you have to fight the battle you picked, but you have to fight the appearance of malice. You can’t proclaim to be taking the high ground and get into the mud with your opponents. If you truly are interested in being the voice of the marginalized, start acting like a reputable activist and you’ll find allies. Otherwise you’re letting your opponents paint you as a petulant child throwing a tantrum, and they could be right.

But neither side has an excuse for the “No Hugo” reaction. This is beyond embarrassing to EVERYONE. Whether you agree with the nominees or not, they are still nominees and DESERVE to compete for an award and not to be denied simply because the voters didn’t like the choices. Many of the Puppy nominees weren’t part of the movement. They were just selected because the Puppies saw their work as having merit. By denying them a chance to win, all of you showed just how demeaning and ugly your respective organizations can be. By cheering the fact that those you oppose lost makes you no better than those you swore to oppose. Scalzi tweeted on the night: “Puppy partisans clearly not getting that tonight their tears are delicious to me.” I only hope one day each side can feel the shame they brought on themselves by their behavior and stop blaming the other for being the ruination of their passion.

As a fan of Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, I understand that social commentary has a vital part to play in science fiction, but there is also a place for the fun and gun, silly and obtuse. And it also has a place to be honored and respected within the genre, if anything to create a true egalitarian diversity that places merit over privilege. Where we don’t measure how many women get nominated for an award but instead how many win because their work is vastly superior to their competition. Science fiction should be a genre of not only the warnings of the decline of civilization but the shining example of what civilization can be if we only work a little harder and respect one another even when we completely disagree with them.

Fell in love with film before I learned how to walk. My first mentor was Yoda. My biggest playground is my imagination. My greatest joy is sharing my passions with others and learning new ones along the way.

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  1. On point says:

    You shouldn’t equate John Scalzi
    George R.R. Martin, you shouldn’t even put those two names on the same line..

  2. Arlen says:

    Someone did the work of analyzing the numbers, and the “no award” votes seem to split into two camps. One, estimated at somewhere around 2000-2500, voted “on principle” (meaning without regard to the works nominated) to blank every category that was filled with slate-driven votes (it should be noted this camp was not driven exclusively by politics, some in it said they agreed with much of what the Sad Puppies said, just were repulsed by the tactics employed this year). The other camp appeared to have been more selective, rejecting most (but not all) of the slate candidates. Since the resulting rejection wasn’t absolute one assumes these votes were based more upon merit than judgement of the tactics or politics. “No award” was created long ago as a legitimate choice for the voters; the intention was that no one should win a Hugo simply because they were the best of a bad lot, that there should be some sort of standard that needs to be met. If the work on the ballot falls short of that, “no award” is the right and proper choice. The second camp appears to have voted this way.

    (I’ve voted in several Hugo ballots, and I don’t remember ever turning in a ballot without using “no award” at least once. Maybe I’m just a hard grader, but it seems every year some works get nominated that I think are Not Good Enough.)

    Also, two new approaches to the nomination process were examined this year. The intended effect of either of them is to reduce the ability of an organized minority to dominate the nomination process as happened this year, while still allowing them to push some of their choices unto the final ballot, to compete with other books favored by other groups for the prize. We can hope this will lead to Hugo ballots with a wider (dare I say more diverse?) representation of the field.

    Fandom has had vituperative splits in the past, and will in the future; the acrimony in this one doesn’t seem fatal just yet. Moods turn. Heinlein wrote “preachy message fiction” and won a Hugo, so have many other writers. Yet space opera has also won (for example, the plot to kill the emperor from last year). The roster of Hugo winners ranges far and wide, from Scalzi and Martin in recent times, through Rowling and Bujold to Card, to Leguin, to Heinlein. I can’t wait to see who’s next.

  3. Sasquan Attendee says:

    “But neither side has an excuse for the “No Hugo” reaction. This is beyond embarrassing to EVERYONE. Whether you agree with the nominees or not, they are still nominees and DESERVE to compete for an award and not to be denied simply because the voters didn’t like the choices.”

    The choices of the Puppies do not deserve to compete for an award because the puppies disenfranchised 80% of nominators and locked up whole categories of the Hugos for only their picks. The nominees DESERVE to compete against a REAL field of competition, not the works handpicked by the few people heading up the sad and rabid slates.

    That’s why you have about 2500 fans choosing not to hand out awards this year to locked-up categories. I have faith that individual Puppy voters actually have read a lot of other good work out there and can do better than picking John C. Wright three times in a single fiction category if they actually want to show off the brilliance of the writers they enjoy.

    I encourage more of the puppy-sympathetic to nominate what are, in their own opinions, great works of science fiction and fantasy that can beat any other work fair and square on a final ballot.

  4. “But neither side has an excuse for the “No Hugo” reaction. This is beyond embarrassing to EVERYONE. Whether you agree with the nominees or not, they are still nominees and DESERVE to compete for an award and not to be denied simply because the voters didn’t like the choices.”

    First of all, it would be completely reasonable to vote “no award” because you don’t “like the choices,” i.e., think any of the nominees are Hugo-worthy. That is one of the purposes of having “no award” as an option.

    That said, I voted “no award” to all works that were on the slates, the vast majority that I thought were substandard but also the very few that I thought rose to the level of being okay stories.

    Winning a Hugo requires winning two votes; the preliminary stage (the nominations) and the final stage. If a work has not fairly won the preliminary stage, then in my view it cannot legitimately win a Hugo. Gaming the vote with slates is not a fair win. Therefore, I placed everything that was on a slate below “No Award” on my ballot.

    It’s like a race. If a runner wins a qualifying race but it turns out she was dosed – perhaps without her consent – with performance-enhancing drugs, then she cannot legitimately win the award that year.

    It doesn’t matter if it seems plausible that she might have qualified if she hadn’t been dosed; it doesn’t matter that she’s a nice person; it doesn’t matter that she worked hard and some people say she “deserves” a win. The requirement is that you have to fairly win both the qualifying and the final race in order to get the medal. Period.

    No one is owed a Hugo. And although I feel sympathy for the nominees this year who lost, I also feel sympathy for the writers who would have been nominated if the puppies hadn’t gamed the system.

    Once E Pluribus Hugo takes effect in 2017, however, I expect I will revise my view and no longer “No Award” slate nominations, since at that point slates will no longer have an unfair advantage.

  5. Rick Moen says:

    With respect, Eric, it appears that you are one of many who’ve misunderstood an integral part of Hugo voting that has been an important part of the process for decades: The set of works or candidate in a category always are competing for the voters’ favour against one additional option: No Award. This choice is present because the WSFS membership insisted.

    You claim the nominees (or works, depending on the category) deserve to compete for an award and not to be denied simply because the voters didn’t like the choices? Well, sorry, WSFS’s members, who control the whole shebang and are sovereign over the organisation, beg to differ. They insisted on a process to deny a category’s nominees an award simply because they didn’t like the choices. Exactly, precisely, solely for that reason. That’s why they wrote that provision into the WSFS Constitution. Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

    You think this is morally wrong? Well, feel free to convince the electorate of that, and get the WSFS Constitution amended. Until then, it’s the membership’s awards, their money, their ceremony, and their rules.

    Rick Moen

  6. airboy says:

    Thanks for your writing. I think people who believe that their side and all supporters for their side is totally blameless are deluded.

    But neither side can force uncouth supporters off the reservation. How can Larry Correia silence Vox Day? How can you silence Tor editors who proclaim anyone in either puppy camp is a neo-Nazi?

  7. Petra says:

    As one of the other couple thousand who voted no award, I actually did read all the Puppy Hugo material. If the puppy slate had actually put well written stories up it would have been harder, but they didn’t. It was perfectly clear that the nominees were not chosen as exciting, non message, adventures but merely to get something undeserved for a few buddies. I had no moral conflict with the no awards, since none of the nominees were worth giving a Hugo to.

  8. I’ve had a comment in moderation for about 20 hours now. If a moderator happens to read this, could you please check? Thank you very much.

  9. Eric Offill says:

    First off, thank you to everyone who responded. I’m very thankful for the civil and intellectual grace shown in the comments no matter what side you pick in this matter.

    Just three more things I would like to bring up. I understand why there would be a “No Choice” option for any award ceremony, though even in a bad lot, I firmly believe one WILL be better than the others. Think of the nominees who arrived to possibly accept an award to find out that no one won. It’s already disheartening to lose to be slapped by the voters by saying “everyone is a loser” is in the words of one Wil Wheaton, being a dick. But my real issue with the Hugos having a No Choice is that the nominees are voted upon by the general audience. Everybody who buys a ticket gets a voice as to who are nominated. When your choice of author is picked in one round to be voided by No Choice the second round, the voter is the one disenfranchised, not the author.

    This may just be my Southern manners kicking in, but when you cheer for “No Choice”, you didn’t just show yourselves to revel in someone losing, you simply told them to sod off. In short, those cheering became bullies. John Scalzi, an author that I have a HUGE amount of respect for and considered a modern hero, showed himself a bully when he talked about drinking Puppy tears. What’s worse in my opinion is that the Anti-Puppy side had spent so much time talking about how the Puppies are bullies and hatemongers against the more enlightened progressives. So on top of bullies, they also showed to be hypocrites as well.

    Lastly, I’ve been told a few times that I simply don’t understand the voting process well enough to comment, which might be the case though not for a lack of trying. I have tried to understand how the Puppies “hijacked” the nomination process and the best I could come up with was a variation of what trolls did on American Idol. I looked on various forums and articles trying to get a better understanding and not one explained it to a layman such as myself (if you happen to have one, I’d be most obliged so I can do more research). If you’re going to attack someone politically (as both sides here are), you need to substantiate your position with supportable facts instead of a lot of name calling.

    It might seem that I’m harder on the Anti-Puppy side in this debacle and that’s because they successfully positioned themselves as holding the moral high ground in the media. If you’re going to have that position, you best be able to defend not only your argument, but your behavior as well.

    But that’s just my opinion in this matter. Thanks so much for all your thoughts and comments.

  10. Jonolobster says:

    As I said in our private discussion about this topic, I’m 100% behind the Hugo voters (I’ll call them what they are – fans) who voted in overwhelming numbers to rebuke and chastise the Puppy camps.

    Let me make one thing clear: I could care less about their politics. The right-wing Sad Puppies and the even further-to-the-right Rabid Puppy sub-faction have as much a right to support the artists and works that reflect their views as anyone. They have a right to nominate those artists and works and drum up support for those artists and works however they choose.

    Unfortunately, they chose to act like jerks. They used the nomination process to pack as many of their own picks on to the slates as possible, resulting in one of the least-diverse crops of nominees in recent history in a time when the nominees should be more diverse than even. They spent months tearing artists, works, and entire award categories apart that didn’t suit their aims, to the point that authors themselves removed their works from consideration rather than find themselves in the Puppies’ crosshairs.

    In the end, the fans themselves voted in record numbers to repudiate the Puppies’ behavior, not their political beliefs. Now the Puppies protest they’ve been marginalized, but you can’t disrespect others and then cry foul when you’re not respected in turn. It’s not censorship, it’s karma.

    The efforts of the Puppies also had the unfortunate consequence of tainting some nominees based on the mere hint of an association with their cause. Many likely deserving nominees found themselves in the doghouse, so to speak, with No Award given in their categories. I’m not a fan of this outcome, either, but I understand why it happened.

    All that said, look: literary awards are incredibly subjective. It’s almost impossible to say what the most deserving work is in a genre as complex as science fiction and fantasy. However, I think that of all genres, this is one that should celebrate exploration and experimentation from a multitude of voices and viewpoints. That’s what the Puppies are against, and that’s why I’m glad they lost.

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