So, Kate Paulk has been tapped as the standard-bearer of next year’s Sad Puppies campaign. She has declared that next year’s Hugo ballot-stuffing initiative will be done in a transparent and democratic manner. This does not fill one with confidence, since Brad Torgersen has made the same claims about this year’s ballot-stuffing initiative.
It also needs to be pointed out that it hardly matters who leads the Sad Puppies campaign or what they do or how they do it, as this year’s otherwise failed campaign only managed to achieve accidental relevance through the fact that the successful Rabid Puppies campaign largely copied and pasted their agenda.
With all that in mind, I have to say that I’m interested in Kate Paulk’s post about what she considers to be Hugo-worthy work only as an academic matter. If the list she assembles using it winds up being the ballot, it will likely be only because someone truly nasty as well as small-minded got behind her and started shoving, as happened this year.
But relevant or not, her list is interesting. Others have already noted that rather than being markers of excellence, her criteria seem to be more a sort of bare bones minimum quality. She even acknowledges in effect that if a book is excellent enough to pull it off, she’s prepared to be flexible.
So how do you take the entire field of science fiction short stories or novels, apply a filter this broad, and then wind up a list of five nominees? We could assume that she just intends to pick her favorites or, if she makes better on her claims to a democratic process, let the crowd pick its favorites… but she says in the same post that she judges quality separately from the question of whether she likes something, which suggests that she really does see this as a rubric for picking the nominees/winners.
All of which makes me wonder if once again we’re not looking at a failure to grasp the scale of things, the scope of the field.
Sad Puppies got started because Larry Correia conceptualized being nominated for a John W. Campbell new author award as a snub (he didn’t win) rather than a rare honor; this speaks to a sense of entitlement, but it also a kind of parochialism.
Surely he was intellectually aware that there were more new authors in the year than the ones on the ballot with him… but emotionally? Perhaps he felt that as a new author, the nomination was simply his due. Perhaps he cannot conceive of just how much competition he beat out to get there, first in having a novel published in the right year and then in having it noticed, and then making it onto the ballot.
The Sad Puppy campaigns seem to have been based around the idea that the SF/F writing world is a very small place, consisting of basically two groups of people: the authors Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, Sarah Hoyt, et al, know and like, and the ones they don’t care for but keep unaccountably hearing about anyway. In the moments when they seem to believe their own press, they actually seem to think that the Hugo ballot has room enough for everybody… at least everybody who is not a “CHORF” or “SJW” or “affirmative action writer”. This tells you right off the bat how small their conception of “everybody” is.
So I think this is what we must takeaway when we note that Kate Paulk’s criteria could never be used to winnow down a broad field: it’s not meant to apply to such a field. It’s not meant to come near to such a field. This is a list of criteria meant to be applied in the following fashion: start with the tiny handful of works you’re prepared to accept are Hugo-worthy, then nod approvingly.