Hugo Awards Upset: Fans Say No To Sad Puppies

Two years ago, Larry Correia started the Sad Puppies campaign with one goal and one goal only: to get himself the award he thought he deserved. He hadn’t exactly been snubbed by the science fiction community, but he never quite got that “it’s an honor just to be nominated” is more than just a platitude.

Last year, Larry—having realized that not only wasn’t going to work but didn’t play very well outside his most ardent fan base—decided he really didn’t want a silly award anyway and instead ran the Puppy campaign again with a slightly different goal: to poke a stick in the eye of the people he thought were responsible for denying him awards.

This year, he handed off the torch to Brad Torgersen, who tried to powerwash the evidence that the Sad Puppies was nothing more than a tantrum and gild it with a coat of noble paint. The Sad Puppies exist, he says, to bring freedom to science fiction fandom. They have always existed for this reason. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. We love Big Brad.

The Sad Puppies have come to free us from the people who tell us what we’re allowed to write, what books we’re allowed to like. The Sad Puppies have come to liberate the Hugo awards from the tiny clique of people who have organized in order to control it.

Freedom to write whatever we want, though, comes with a responsibility. It means we must not pander. Pandering is defined as writing anything other than what Brad Torgersen thinks is exciting. It means we must not give in to thought police. Giving in to thought police is when we put characters or themes in a story that Brad Torgersen does not see the point of. We can like whatever books we like, so long as they are good books.

If we like books that Brad Torgersen does not think are good, then we are either Commissars pushing an agenda by telling people what books to like, or frightened and cowed proles who need Brad Torgersen to free us from the Commissars.

And so, in order to liberate the Hugo awards from the small but powerful clique that seeks to control the nomination process, Brad Torgersen assembled a slate of nominees chosen in a transparent, democratic process where he picked the nominees himself, but each and every person involved could see that he was the one who picked them.

In order to make sure he sent a message to those people who would try to misuse the Hugos to advance their careers and prop up their cronies, he enlisted the help of internet rabble rouser Vox Day in getting his hand-picked slate onto the ballot, along with Vox, works published by Vox’s publishing house, and works by Vox’s protege writer.

Through the midst of all this high-minded liberating that was going on, Brad Torgersen said that his real goal was to shake things up and get more people involved in the Hugo voting process so it wasn’t just the same old people making the pick every year. He said that whether his picks won or lost, no result would please him more than to see more people voting.

Well, right away, it seemed like Mr. Torgersen was getting his wish. WorldCon voting memberships started selling like hotcakes. Torgersen et al had a lot of bold predictions about what this meant. Clearly, since the previous situation was that a tiny, insular clique that was out of touch with real people in the real world was manipulating things, the hundreds and then thousands of new people who were putting money on the line to participate must have been The People, Rising Up As One to re-take their award from the tiny, tiny clique that had subverted them.

But, Torgersen said, he would be happy no matter who won.

WorldCon took place this past weekend. The Hugo Awards were presented Saturday night. The truth is now known.

The truth is, Brad Torgersen got his wish in one regard only: there was a record-breaking level of both WorldCon attendance and Hugo voting.

Is he happy?

He told us he’d be happy if this happened.

I’m having a hard time telling from here, but I don’t think he’s happy.

Approximately 3,500 people voted for “No Award” over almost any of the works or individuals that the Sad Puppies rammed through the Hugo nomination process. This was not only a victory for No Award, but a landslide. While some Puppies have tried to spin this by saying that their “enemies” the “Social Justice Warriors” were “voting in lockstep” while they, free men and tokens of good conscience, were voting their individual will, the truth is that No Award didn’t just get more votes than any other option, it got more votes than all the other options.

The idea that those voters were marching in lockstep is also hard to credit. I’ve seen Puppy supporters saying, in so many words, “What else do you call multiple people voting for the same choice?” I’m not sure they understand how voting works, to be honest.

There’s a difference between bloc voting and a landslide, and this was a landslide. At the point where there are enough people for one choice in a field of six to capture a true majority, no trickery or politicking or procedural shenanigans or even much in the way of coordination is even needed. There’s a clear winner. There’s a clear favorite. At that point, it would take considerable cheating for the frontrunner to not win.

Now, the No Award option exists in part because the nomination process is not perfect and in part because the idea of the award is not just to recognize the best work in a year but the best work that is deemed by the Hugo voters as Hugo worthy. It gets invoked on at least some ballots in every category every year, as the instant run-off system the Hugos has used allows people to rank their choices in order. If you rank two out of the available five selections in places 1 and 2 and then put No Award in rank 3, you are signaling that the choices below that (or that you don’t rank at all), you’re effectively signaling that you found the first two works award-worthy and the other three not so.

What makes an individual work “award worthy”, of course, is highly subjective, which is why every member of WorldCon has the privilege to decide for themselves.

And last night, some three thousand people—the vast majority of members who cast votes—decided that none of the works that the Puppies had picked were award worthy, save Guardians of the Galaxy.

Now, for eight months, we have heard the Puppies shout about how there’s no rule against doing what they did, about how you can’t simultaneously say something is wrong while allowing it under the rules. Interestingly, this strikingly stark streak of legalism appears to have disappeared completely from the Puppy camps. They have, in the past 36 hours or so, managed to discover how something can be done within the rules and still be called unethical, unfair, and wrong.

“They didn’t even read the books!” they yell, never mind that some people made it their very public business to read everything before voting (there are reviews of the Puppy picks all over the web because of this) and never mind that there’s no rule that says they have to and never mind that objecting to their odious tactics and the numerous falsehoods and slanders they have used to excuse said tactics is a perfectly good reason to vote to throw a penalty flag.

Some people were assuredly voting No Award on principle (an idea which confuses the Sad Puppies, who are as sure of their moral superiority as they are their literary superiority), but some were voting on merit. All of them were voting as individuals acting their own conscience, which means they don’t have to answer for their votes to anyone.

Strangely, the Puppies—who speak of “commissars” they think want to control the vote—think they now have the right to call people to account for how they voted.

Strangely, the Puppies—who spoke of wanting to throw open the gates of participation, shake up a moribund sci-fi fandom, and get more people involved in voting for the Hugos—now see something sinister in the fact that more people came out to vote for this year’s Hugos than ever before.

All along, Brad Torgersen, Larry Correia, John C. Wright, and Vox Day have been talking about a “tiny clique” of people, a very small and very non-representative minority of the science fiction fandom, who have taken control of the Hugos through secret means, through coordinated bloc voting behind the scenes.

The fact that their campaign to stack the ballot succeeded so wildly with only a few hundred participants behind it strongly suggested that they were completely in error about this. The data from the nomination round shows us there was never any actual opposition for them to overcome.

Yet now they want us to believe that a “tiny minority clique” that couldn’t muster enough nominating votes to get anything on the ballot against the united camps of a couple hundred Puppies somehow managed to get 3,500 to turn out to vote in lockstep in the final ballot?

“Well, how else do you explain such an unprecedented outcome?”

The Sad Puppies created an unprecedented situation, and they have thus received an unprecedented rebuke.

From the beginning, Brad Torgersen’s premise has been that the Hugos have been awarding the wrong books for the wrong reasons.

“Such projection!” the Puppies howl. “That kind of mindset is what we’re fighting against!”

No, no. That’s been your cover story. There are no actual examples of books that won because some hobgoblin lurking in the cupboards at Tor whispered “make it so“. There is no actual evidence that people have been voting for anything other than what they thought was best.

There are only books that Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen don’t personally see the point of, thus, whose success must be illegitimate.

And, you know, it’s fine for someone to think that. It is. Tastes differ. Opinions differ. It happens.

What’s not fine is to take your own personal tastes, use the difference between them and other people’s as “evidence” that someone is lying or cheating, and try to force them on everyone else. This is what the Puppies have done. This is what they promise: as long as the phenomenon of people liking different things than they do continues, they will continue to fling accusations of corruption and steamroll over any attempts to recognize said works.

Puppies, months ago, someone gave you very good advice. David Gerrold, a remarkably even-tempered man whose insistence that the ceremony be held with the same grace no matter what any individual presenter thought of the choice was twisted by the Puppies into some kind of weird veiled threat, told you that no one likes the guy who comes to a party and does something nasty in the punchbowl. It’s not political. It’s not even really personal.

You just can’t behave atrociously and expect there to be no consequences.

Most adults know this.

I don’t know—and would not fathom to guess—to what extent Brad Torgersen believes the lines of bull that he’s been selling his followers for the past eight months, but at least one part of his narrative should be clearly exploded. If there is an “SJW infestation” in science fiction fandom, it is not a tiny minority that tenuously holds to power by operating in the shadows, and shining a light on the “rot” will not rally the people, “the real fans of real science fiction” against them.

There has been more light shining on the Hugos this year than any year before. Brad Torgersen has had more eyes on his blog, I’m sure, than ever before. Every time he got media exposure and someone new showed up at his blog or in the comments of the blogs of one of his cohorts, he would crow about how even the negative exposure just swelled his ranks.

Now he knows: for every one or two people who were swayed by his words, there were scores of people who looked at what he was selling and not only didn’t buy it, but felt compelled to put their money down for a membership just to stop him.

I said on Twitter that I doubt very much all 3,500 No Award voters were liberals. I believe this to be true.

I don’t think a single end of any political or philosophical spectrum has a monopoly on not liking bullies coming in and telling people what to do. I don’t think conservatives have more patience than liberals with people who come in and say that they don’t like the way a game is going so they’re going to keep turning over the gameboard until we let them win.

While the Puppies’ rhetoric might attract more conservative sympathy on the surface and while it certainly has a tendency to repel liberals—both by design—I don’t think the ability to see through the rhetoric is the exclusive province of the liberal.

Strangely, the Puppies seem hellbent on painting everybody who voted down their agenda as members of that tiny, insular, ultra liberal clique they claim to be here to save everyone else from. They would rather believe that their designated enemies are innumerable than face the fact that the people have spoken against them.

Many have predicted that next year’s Hugos will be even uglier. I’m not making a definitive prediction, but somehow, I don’t think so.

I do think that we might see a bit more politicking and coordination during the nomination process, as people will understandably feel that the only way to have their voice heard post-Puppy is to join a bloc. In this respect, the Puppies have created the monster they claim to have come here to eradicate. Pending rule changes for the year after that will dilute the impact of bloc voting, if they are ratified at the next WorldCon.

But we have seen that the Puppies were not only wrong, they were exactly wrong. Their great big power play has revealed themselves to be the insular clique: small, out of touch with both broader science fiction fandom and reality more generally, yet feeling entitled to complete control of the playing field.

We know that the vast majority people see right through their nonsense, and are willing to stand up and counted to say, “No more, enough.” And while this has been a bad year for the award ceremony, I think history will remember it as a good year for WorldCon, because it did get more people involved, it did sell more WorldCon memberships, and it did spread awareness of how the Hugos are awarded and it did raise interest in the process.

If the Puppies, in their desperation for something they can claim as a victory, can’t find any solace in that, then I don’t know where they’re going to get it.