So, Let’s Talk About The Hugos: A Puppy Primer

So, one of the things that’s motivated me to start a proper blog is that I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter, tackling some subjects that are much bigger than 140 characters. Because of this, some of what I’m saying here is going to be a rehash of stuff I’ve already said. But for people who don’t follow me on Twitter, or haven’t otherwise followed what’s going on enough to make sense of things, this post should stand as a primer on what we might (laughingly) call #puppygate.

If you want to know more about it, I recommend checking the tag on George R.R. Martin’s blog, where he has written about it with his customary brevity and the restrained, almost laconic turn of phrase he is so often known for (as the pot said to the kettle). There has been some interesting and insightful analysis of specific Puppy claims elseweb, but he tends to link to most of it.

The Basic Terms: Hugos, Worldcon, and Sad Puppies

The Hugos are an award regarded as one of the top two prizes in the field of science fiction and fantasy. Which of the big two is more prestigious depends on who you ask, and the general consensus (if such a creature is not itself a matter of speculation) has flip-flopped a few times. They are, nonetheless, credibly A Big Deal.

The Hugos are awarded by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon. Worldcon is a bit like the Olympics in that it is an international thing and people bid to host it. This is why you see references to “LonCon” and “Sasquan” and other conventions in this: these are the local cons that host Worldcon.

Being a convention, membership in Worldcon (and thus, participation in the Hugo voting process) is open to anyone who pays the price of admission. Like many long-running cons, Worldcon offers a lower priced supporting membership, mostly intended to allow people who know they can’t afford the room and travel and other expenses of going this year to still keep their stake in things. Supporting members have full voting rights.

While Worldcon is pretty firmly in the big deal category, the percentage of members who vote to nominate works for the Hugo or vote on the final ballot has historically been pretty low, which is part of how a relatively small group of people coming in from the outside were able to effect a pretty substantial swing in the nomination process this year. These people are the Sad Puppies.

(Well, that’s a simplification, as there are actually two very closely related groups, one piggybacking off the other, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll keep it simple.)

The Sad Puppies are a group ran this year by writer Brad Torgersen but first founded by writer Larry Correia, who came to the conclusion that the Hugos were unfairly stacked against him and others because of their perceived politics. The evidence of this primarily consists of the fact that sometimes a book is nominated, praised, or awarded that they don’t understand the appeal of, from which they intuit the existence of a shadowy cabal that props up unworthy books and keeps deserving ones down.

In short, the Puppies exist because a handful of people decided that the wrong people were winning recognition for the wrong reasons. This is important, insofar as they demand that people ignore their actual origin and focus on what they’ve been doing, which, they say, is to bring fresh voices to the table. You could say that’s what they’re doing, but if we ignore that they’re bringing in these fresh voices specifically in the hopes of crowding out the voices they disapprove of, then we’re missing an important point.

My Stake In This

…is basically nothing. I of course grew up seeing “Hugo award-winning” labels slapped on various things, and recognized that it was an achievement. I of course am excited when an author whose work I know or whom I consider a friend receives this or any other honor.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of winning a Hugo, though. At the point where I began my career by self-publishing stories on the internet, it was not clear that this counted as publication for purposes of Hugo eligibility, and there was little reason at the time to think it ever would be so counted. Times have changed, of course, and the award has changed with it, but the point is the same: if ever I dreamed of silver rockets, they were vehicles, not trophies.

Let me put it simply: I don’t care that much about the Hugos.

I wouldn’t like to guess how much I’d feel like I belonged at Worldcon, but I’m not terribly interested in spending the time or money necessary to settle the question. I have nothing against Worldcon. I have nothing for Worldcon.

As a self-published author who is more than a bit abrasive herself and incidentally terrible at networking, I don’t really stand to gain much professionally by poking at the Puppies. If anyone’s handing out or redeeming “PC Cred Points” (PCCP?), I somehow missed out on getting my swipe card for it.

I certainly don’t care about winning the approval of any of the people that the Puppies tend to identify as the all-powerful kingmakers and puppetmasters of the ruling clique. Part of the ideology that undergirds the Puppies’ approach to things is the idea that everybody a certain distance to the left of them is an “Social Justice Warrior” who is marching in lockstep with every other “SJW”, following the same agenda and answering to the same leaders. You couldn’t call me a fan of the Nielsen Haydens on any level and while I acknowledge they have some influence, I find the idea that they could command a unified army of “SJWs” laughable. I’ve admired some of John Scalzi’s blog posts, but I couldn’t say I’m that invested in him. I’m not a member of the SFWA or Worldcon, et cetera.

From the beginning, I’ve made my own path when it comes to writing and publishing, and I’m in no hurry to change that now. There’s no job offer waiting for me, no book deal, no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

I’m just one person, speaking her conscience.

So, Why Do I Care?

Simply put, when I see people making claims based on the most tenuous of intuitions and calling it hard evidence, that bothers me. When I see people trying to police what other people are allowed to write, read, and like while pretending that this is being done to them, that bothers me. I am disturbed at the idea that someone can take such exception to the fact that other people like other things for other reasons that they would reject that in favor of a conspiracy theory and then take drastic action to overturn the supposed cabal.

Basically, I don’t want to read and write in a world when a man who equates the existence of books he doesn’t approve of to false advertising is able to set himself up as some sort of tastemaker-in-chief because he throws a big enough tantrum whenever a book or author he disdains gets too popular for him to make sense of.

The original Sad Puppies initiative predates Gamergate by a couple years, but they’re both powered by the same sense of aggrieved entitlement cloaking itself in phony virtue. Some people, rather than acknowledging that an entire medium/genre will not always reflect their own personal tastes, decide that the relative success of anything they don’t like is a kind of cheat, and by golly, they’re going to do something about it!

So the stakes here are, we either label this nonsense as what it is and find a way to work around the tantrum-throwers, or we just sort of give up and give in. If we give in, then for the remainder of our days we all must tiptoe very carefully and very quietly around the known pet peeves of Messrs. Correia, Torgersen, Day, et al. We can write books from diverse perspectives only as long as we coddle them sufficiently, as long as we pander to their delicate sensibilities, and as long as we realize that only a certain amount of these things will be tolerated, as needed to provide them with a shield against charges of bigoted homogeneity.

…well, that actually makes the stakes sound a lot more dire than they really are.

Because “not giving in” isn’t actually that hard? As much as the Puppies and their good friends the Gators like to cast this as a war, using war imagery and honest-to-goodness wartime propaganda… it’s really not? There’s no win condition. There’s no lose condition. People being forcibly removed from the field is the rare exception rather than the order of the day.

This is not a great struggle. This is one small subset of a larger group of people, clamoring for attention and making things difficult for everyone else.

When I finish writing this post, I’m going to start writing material for a novella I meant to publish myself, then write a chapter of my serial story that I will also self-publish. The Puppies aren’t going to seize control of the means of production and distribution, so nothing they can do is going to affect this. As I write this, numerous authors they would identify as “SJWs” are working on their own projects, for publication through numerous channels.

The Puppies were able to turn the Hugo nomations in their favor because of the relatively low participation rate in the voting and because of the utter lack of any kind of organized slate or bloc voting or clique or cabal. When everybody else is voting based on their own taste and judgment, it’s easy for the guys who decided to band together to turn the tables on everyone.

But what they cannot do is turn back the tide of history, and what they cannot do is turn the world upside down. People have predicted the end of the Hugos. Others have predicted a renaissance of sorts for the venerable award, as it’s getting more attention (and participation!) than ever. Still others have predicted that they’ll continue on a slow downward spiral, as each year’s award becomes a mess of competing alliances and bloc voting, so the whole thing looms larger and larger as part of the landscape while being less exciting or relevant or joyous or meaningful.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Hugos. I hope it’s something good, in the way that I hope for good things for people generally. But they’re not my award. It’s not my con. A lot of pixels have been filled trying to suss out whether an award given by one organization and meant to represent the best of all science fiction and fantasy “belongs to Worldcon” or “belongs to everyone”, but this is a glass half-full, glass half-empty sort of thing. And by that I don’t really mean “it all depends on how you look at it” so much as “both answers are obviously correct, why are we wasting time talking about this?” I don’t care.

I have vague good wishes for the Hugos and everyone involved, including the Puppies whom I hope are able to accept one day that their tastes are not universal, that the commercial success they enjoy is a function of their ability to appeal to under-served niches by writing about things that they themselves are passionate about and not a reflection of some sort of universal appeal that is being stymied by the shadowy hand of the Social Justice Clique, and that I’m not trying to put them in their place by pointing out that their tastes aren’t universal and their appeal isn’t either because this is true of us all. This is how it works! This is especially how it works in the age of the internet and the long tail. If they can figure out that this is how it works, they’ll be happier and honestly more successful, because they’ll have a better idea of why what they’re doing works as well as it does.

And we’ll be happier, too, because once they figure that out, they won’t flip the table every time they notice people gathering to praise a book they don’t see the appeal of.