So, the Hugo Awards are tonight. Last year, when the brouhaha stirred up around them started unfolding, I made a blog post that explained the basic situation and the stakes… including my own stakes, which were, as I said, virtually nothing.
Suffice it to say that this year, I’m a bit more invested. My name did not make it onto the final ballot, though I am continually gratified to hear that various people put it forward for my commentary and satire last year.
Last year’s results were an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation. Thousands of people were motivated to came out to vote and deliver a stinging rebuke to the small cliques of would-be tastemakers and kingmakers who sought to politicize a sci-fi/fantasy award and dictate what works would and would not be seen as being “worthy” of being praised, read, and enjoyed.
Even while we find ourselves in a similar situation this year, I have no predictions to offer about this year’s results, even given last year’s example. It’s similar, but it’s just not the same.
Vox Day and his dreadful elks backed away pretty swiftly and firmly from their promise to repeat their performance verbatim, instead opting to seed their slate with a number of popular picks that would have in all likelihood made it on the ballot without them. The technique of running out in front of a stampede and proclaiming himself to be leading the charge is one that Mr. Day is well-versed in, being as it is how he maintains the delusion of control over his emotionally-driven followers.
As passionate as many people are about the Hugos or about the causes the Puppies have projected onto them, it takes a lot out of a person to stay pumped up about something like that over the course of a year. The people who provide the power to the Puppies’ voting blocs are driven by emotion and rhetoric; it’s the air they breathe. They don’t have to be whipped up into a froth over something. The froth is already there, waiting to be channeled as well as it can be. Most of the rest of us have lives to live, to say nothing of other motivating drives beyond manufactured outrage and aggrieved senses of entitlement.
Then there’s the fact that there’s an honest-to-goodness presidential election looming in November. I don’t know about anybody else, but it’s taken up more of my time and attention than any award plot orchestrated by a tax fugitive running a vanity press for his grim-and-gritty Bible fanfic ever could.
But on the other hand, I’m an outsider to the traditional publishing industry and the stakes aren’t the same for me. So who knows? It’s likely others have been more invested than I have been. Just as it did last year, it’s all going to come down to the numbers. I have no predictions to make. I suspect the results will be more of a mixed bag than they were last year, but that’s a suspicion, not a prediction.
The only ballot choice I’ve discussed with anyone is Alyssa Wong for the Campbell Award, and that only because I’ve been speaking with other Wiscongoers who are enthusiastic members of her fandom about it.
At this point I could quite honestly say “Everyone I know voted for Alyssa Wong,” at least in the sense that everybody whose top Campbell vote I know did so, and if I had the logic of a kicked Puppy, I would therefore conclude that she was robbed if it were to transpire tonight that someone else wins.
This is the same logic that leads those who attend Donald Trump’s rallies to believe that the polls must be rigged or otherwise in error (how could he not be winning when he draws thousands of people who all want him to win?), and it is the same logic that leads many on the left to conclude that this (and indeed every) election is a foregone conclusion (for how could anyone vote for this person, when no one I know would do so?)
But the fact that a group of people who share my taste and sensibilities share my taste and sensibilities is a tautology, not a definitive data point.
All of which is to say that whatever happens tonight, it’s sure to be exciting. I will be rooting for Alyssa Wong, along with N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (I believe I’d heard her read from the beginning of that book two or three times by the time it came out, so you’d better believe I was invested) and a few others I have particularly strong feelings about. But whatever happens, they were nominated, they earned those nominations, and no one can ever take that away from them.
I’ve said at multiple points during both of the most recent iterations of this mess that the whole Puppy thing started because Larry Correia was not able to understand that it is in fact an honor to be nominated, that to be plucked out of the hundreds or thousands of authors starting a career each year and be named as one of a mere five final candidates for a John W. Campbell award is a signal, career-launching accolade. He didn’t get that. He didn’t care. He had a story in his mind that started with the con rolling out the red carpet for him and ended with his name being called at the award ceremony.
Neither of those things happened. Everybody finds their own way at a new-to-them con. It’s daunting. I know that. It’s tough to break the ice, tricky to form connections. I mean, basically everybody here knows who I am and thanks to the magic of crowdfunding, I am literally here because enough people wanted me here. But it’s still hard to navigate a new and unfamiliar scene, especially when it feels like everybody else knows everybody else.
A lot of that is an illusion. A lot of the people you see at a con are talking to the few people they know well enough to be really comfortable with while marveling at how easily the social thing must come to everybody else they see doing the same thing. That’s just the way it goes. You see your own travails and tribulations. You feel your own anxiety and isolation. You know what an effort you’re making. With everybody else, all you can see is the end result of the effort. You hear the laughter, see the people standing in tight groups, you wonder what they know that you don’t and you conclude it’s each other.
Like I said: it’s daunting. It doesn’t even matter what level of Kind of a Big Deal you’re at. Do you know how many times over the past few days I’ve had conversations that started with me awkwardly approaching someone I admire to tell them, basically, “I don’t know if you remember me, but…” only for them to tell me I’m too famous for that? People are excited to see me, but still don’t know me know me. That’s just how it goes.
Enough people thought well enough of Larry Correia that he was nominated for a Campbell Award the year of his first WorldCon. In all likelihood, plenty of the people there were excited enough to see him. The transitory social nature of a convention just makes it hard to convey that. No one (well, few people) want to be the one to bother someone. The bigger of a deal someone seems to be to you, the the less you’ll want to bother them. Again, just how it goes.
People who stick it out with con culture get over it, or at least get used to it. I figured this out pretty early on in my con-going career, but even knowing it was true, it took me a few years to actually internalize it and genuinely feel like I’m a real part of my “home con” of WisCon. There are still times where I don’t. I can’t stop it from happening. All I can do is not let it bother me enough to take away from my enjoyment overall. All I can do is get over it.
Some people don’t ever get over it. Most of them just stop going to cons. Some blessedly small number of them, though, decide to start movements to make sure that nobody else has any fun, either.
So whatever happens tonight, we are all winners in the Puppies’ sad culture war for showing up anyway. We defeat the Puppies by reading what we want to read, by praising whatever works we admire, and writing whatever stories we want to see in the world.
The purpose of the Hugo Awards is to celebrate and honor the best in speculative fiction, isn’t it? Whatever happens, let’s darn well celebrate and let’s darn well honor. If my picks don’t win, I will not tell the authors involved that they were robbed, that something was taken from them. If they feel that way, I certainly won’t presume to argue, but what they will hear from me is that I was (and am) rooting for them, that I thought enough of them to vote for them, that I thought (and think) enough of their work to consider it worthy of a Hugo.
That’s what an award is, isn’t it? It’s tangible, it’s concrete, it has some rubric behind it to give it a gloss of objectivity, but ultimately it is, as the saying goes, “a token of esteem”. It is a symbol of the regard that others have for your work. And while few would deny that the award is nice in and of itself, it means nothing without the regard behind it, while the regard of one’s audience and peers, without an award, still means rather a lot.
I’ve been telling people this all weekend, when they tell me that I should have been on the ballot for Sad Puppies Review Books or John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author, or my general commentary, or whatever. I wouldn’t kick an actual trophy out of metaphorical award-bed for eating honor-crackers, but I don’t care about the award so much as I care that people appreciate what I do. A trophy is just a concentrated reminder of that.
The Puppies don’t understand any of this. By all indications, they will never understand it. Last year, some of the brightest minds in the Puppy-adjacent Gamergate spent a lot of time analyzing fifth and sixth-hand accounts of what happened before and after the Hugo ceremony, trying to figure out where the real awards were that the “SJW cabal” must have given out after publicly handing out no award in so many categories. Top contenders for “the real Hugos” included commemorative coasters handing out as a participant gift and George R.R. Martin’s personal in-joke “trophy”, the Alfies. Joking about this on Twitter a few minutes ago, I said that they’ve never considered that the real Hugo might be the friends we made along the way.
In all seriousness, though, the real award is the warm regard and respect of our peers and fans. I mean that in multiple senses and on multiple levels. Even the actual Hugos, an actual honest-to-goodness Hugo Award, must be that or it will mean nothing.
Lest we forget: Larry Correia started the Sad Puppies to get himself a trophy that would have been meaningless if he had succeeded. As much as they’ve mythologized their origins and lionized their motivations, the original Sad Puppies campaign was an attempt to logroll the ballot to give one author with an overly developed sense of entitlement the award he felt he’d been robbed of.
There has been a lot of talk about “destroying the Hugos”. The Sad Puppies threaten to destroy them, they say that the imagined cabal of “SJWs” they think is responsible for the sweeping and widespread opposition to their campaign are the ones destroying them, etc. But the Hugos were never in as much danger as they would have been the first Sad Puppy year, if Larry had somehow managed to succeed, if he had actually stuffed the ballot box and rigged the vote completely enough to guarantee his victory. That would have been a far bigger blow than a year or two of No Awards, or a few mixed bags.
Awards symbolize honor and respect. They symbolize an author’s accomplishments. They are not themselves a substitute for any of those things, though, and in the absence of an award, we may still have and still celebrate those things. Like the Whos down in Whoville, we can sing all the same.
So let’s sing. Let’s do something positive. At its core, the concept of a fandom convention is fellowship. Hands strung together across the void. Hands clasped in darkness. Hands clapping in celebration. The root prefix con- means together. We congregate. We convene. We come together.
So let’s come together.
Whatever happens tonight, if you’re here or even if you’re not, why not find an author or artist whose work you appreciate and admire, and tell them that? It might not mean as much as a shiny silver rocket, it might not mean as much as a vintage hood ornament from George R.R. Martin, but it’s sure to mean something to someone.