I am I suppose coming a little bit late to the party, but I wanted to join in and express my views on the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies slates, and their effect on the Hugos. I will mention up front that of all the points of view I have seen expressed, I am most in sympathy with George R. R. Martin’s … you can read his views at his Not a Blog.
I should add as well that I do have a horse in this race. I am a Hugo nominee again as part of the editorial team for Lightspeed, which was nominated for Best Semiprozine. (We were fortunate enough to win last year, one of my biggest thrills in my time in the field.) I’ll be honest: one of the things that bothers me about this whole kerfuffle is that I’ll be at Sasquan as a nominee, my first time to be at the Hugos in person as a nominee. (I was unable to make it to London last year.) And I can’t help but think that the whole experience will be, certainly not ruined, but marred, by the aftermath of the whole mess. (For example – it would have been pretty darn cool to receive a Hugo from Connie Willis, if we were so lucky!) But you have every right not to care about that – that doesn’t matter at all in reality.
Anyway, here’s a quick summary of my positions:
Bloc voting is wrong. Making recommendations is not wrong. Promoting your own work strikes me as distasteful, but I’m not going to condemn those who do so. Promoting other people’s work is good.
The primary thing the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies did that I think is wrong is to encourage people to vote their specific slates. I am not sure that was the intent of the Sad Puppy list, but it was explicitly the intent of the Rabid Puppy slate, which, is has been shown quite conclusively, was actually the dominant list in terms of getting stories nominated. To quote Vox Day:
They are my recommendations for the 2015 nominations, and I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are.
What are my objections to the slate voting? Do I object to anyone publishing a list of stories they like, and recommend for a Hugo? Of course not – I do the same every year, either implicitly by choosing stories for my Best of the Year volume, or explicitly by publishing my own nomination ballot. In fact I have to credit the slates for bringing some worthy nominees to wider attention – which is the fundamental reason behind most recommendation lists.
Previous bloc voting efforts – which, let me emphasize, were also wrong, in my opinion – focused on getting just one or two works or people on the ballot. Still bad, but not as harmful. (I believe this has happened in the past in the case of L. Ron Hubbard’s work, in the case of a couple of other authors and artists, and in the cases of some editors. It seems to me to often have done real harm to the careers of those who were involved (even unwittingly) in such campaigns … check out the case of Todd Cameron Hamilton and P. J. Beese for an example.)
There have been other cases of stories that in my opinion were, let’s just say, “surprise” Hugo nominees. In recent years, I could point to at least one rather slight John Scalzi story, and to a couple of Seanan MacGuire stories (one of the latter published only on her website, and not widely publicized as far as I can tell). I don’t think that there was anything like a Hugo campaign in these cases. They were simply stories by authors of considerable online presence, with devoted fans. Those fans nominated their stories.
Do I think they may have done so with limited exposure to the rest of the field of potential nominees? Perhaps it’s unfair of me, but yes I do. Did it upset me when those stories were nominated? Yes, a bit, as it usually does when a story I think unworthy gets nominated. (None of these stories actually won a Hugo, by the way.) I think cases like these are actually symptomatic of a real problem with the Hugos these days … a problem that has nothing to do with politics or SJWs or SPs.
That problem is, simply, that there are too many SF stories for any reader to read them all. (Even when I made serious efforts to read every short story published in the field, I missed probably hundreds every year.) (A related issue, pointed out by Eric Flint, is that the field, to a greater extent than before, is novel or series focused.) One result of this, in some recent years, is that not even five stories get enough nominations to make the ballot. The nominating public is so diverse that there is no natural consensus on nominees … which among other things means that even fewer votes are need to get a nomination.
Can this be fixed? To some extent, perhaps not – and perhaps it’s not a problem (It’s a good thing, isn’t it, if there are more good stories?) But I do have one suggestion – expand the final ballot. Keep the limit on nominations to five per nominating ballot; but allow up to 10 stories on the final ballot. I think for one thing that would make it much harder for any one slate to hog the entire final ballot; and for another thing – more good stories get notice! (I want to develop the details of this idea bit more when I get time, but I really do think it has merit.)
Let me add one thing … there have been a lot of accusations that Brad Torgersen’s slate is sexist, racist, and homophobic. I can’t seen any evidence of that. (Vox Day’s slate is another matter, though it certainly includes nominees who can’t be tarred with any such brush.) Torgersen did say some ignorant things about objecting to finding messages about gender and so on in what he expected to be adventure fiction, and I can’t blame people too much for reading those posts and jumping to conclusions about Torgersen’s views, but, based on the composition of the slate, and the stories that I’ve read, I don’t really see that. (Again, Vox Day’s slate is a different matter, and certainly Vox Day’s published views are remarkably offensive, to me.)
I do think Torgersen’s main objections to the recent history of the Hugos are overblown, and they make him look petty and whiny, complaining that when he was nominated he didn’t win a Hugo. For gosh sakes, Brad – a Hugo nomination in itself is quite an honor! You should be thrilled! I do have a certain sympathy with the argument that the Hugo polity, as it were, has tended (only tended) to value quote literary unquote SF over more old-fashioned stuff. I admit that’s the way my prejudices tend – and I don’t apologize. But I have no problem with those like Torgersen who may feel that we need to promote a different set of stories for Hugos. My problem is mainly with the methods used in this case.
To go a step further, it seems odd that so much ire is directed at John Scalzi and at Tor Books. Surely Scalzi, politics aside, is the very image of the good-selling, adventure-oriented, old-fashioned writer that Brad Torgersen seems to want to see more of on the Hugo nomination lists. And in the one instance in recent years where a Tor novel was involved in what I felt was a distasteful campaign to get a nomination, it was in service of a long series of fantasy novels, Robert Jordan’s (and Brandon Sanderson’s) Wheel of Time, that were also very good sellers, and that certainly aren’t anyone’s idea of overtly “literary” fiction. (They’re not SF, of course, and possibly some people object to that.) [I should add that in a previous version of this post I attributed the campaign for The Wheel of Time to Tor, which was not the case. It was apparently the efforts of a group of devoted fans. Tor was, as you would expect, happy to promote the series for a Hugo once it was nominated, as they are with any of their nominated works, but they weren’t involved in the original nomination effort. I apologize to the folks at Tor for the mistake.]
(I’ll note that my objections to the campaign in the case of The Wheel of Time was to the manipulation of Hugo novel eligibility rules to nominate the entire Wheel of Time series, which I feel was against the spirit of the rule in question (a rule which when devised was meant to deal with the eligibility of magazine serials.) Eric Flint makes some good points in his Hugo-related posts about the notion that perhaps series do deserve award consideration, but properly in a new category.)
I will say there has been a good deal of, in my opinion, excessive criticism of the people included on the slates. Some of them agreed to be included on the Sad Puppies slate. I believe many of them thought (perhaps naïvely) that this was simply a “democratic” recommendation list, and as such an honor. (Most of those included on the Rabid Puppies slate had no idea that they were there, or even that such a list existed.) I would really hope that people, no matter how upset they are about the Hugo nominations, could treat most of those involved more nicely. (Some of the nominees are friends of mine, I will note, and I am proud to be closely associated with one of the originally nominated fanzines, Black Gate.)
What should these nominees have done? Several have withdrawn their nominations (Annie Bellet in Short Story, Marko Kloos in Novel, Matthew Surridge in Best Fanwriter, Edmund Schubert in Short Form Editor, and Black Gate in Fanzine. (The latter two after the ballot was frozen, so their names will appear on the ballot.))
Do I think that’s proper? It’s certainly OK, but I’m not convinced I’d have done it. I do feel it would be appropriate for all those nominated because of bloc* voting to humbly acknowledge that there is a shadow cast over their nomination: that they were nominated under questionable circumstances (not their fault, in most cases). It’s a damned shame, but it is simply true, that all of these nominations will forever be viewed as tainted.
*(And let me make one point – the correct term is “bloc voting”! NOT “block voting”! Most people discussing the matter (on both sides of the issue) have got that wrong, and I find it viscerally annoying.)
One more point – Theodore Beale’s (Vox Day’s) actions throughout have been contemptible. One more quote from him should be enough: “But I also know that I am not guilty of anything except playing effectively by the rules.” Theo – it’s not a game. That your attitude is that the Hugos are a game is reason enough to reject your position. That you have stated that if your efforts fail you plan to destroy the Hugos is only an additional reason to reject your positions.
What then is the proper action to take? I disagree with the proposal to automatically vote No Award ahead of all SP/RP nominees, though I understand the feeling. For one thing, I believe it’s unethical to vote No Award ahead of a story you haven’t read, or at least sampled. (To those who say, “They were unethical first,” I would hope I don’t have to repeat, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”)
For another thing, I believe it really will harm the Hugos even more than they have already been harmed. (If you don’t care about the Hugos, that’s fine, but I’d suggest in that case don’t vote at all!)
And, finally, pending my reading the stories on the ballot I’ve missed, there are some good stories there. The slatemakers’ tastes aren’t uniformly awful. I will say I haven’t yet read a story (on the short fiction nomination lists) that I would have nominated myself, but Lord knows that’s not the first time that’s happened on a Hugo ballot.
I do believe that the creators of the slates, for the most part, really did choose stories they thought were good. (None of last year’s Hugo-nominated short stories were on my ballot either!) It is true that any winner in the Short Fiction categories (even the only “non-Puppy” nominee, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s novelette, a nice piece (published in a magazine I work for), but not to my mind even close to one of the best five novelettes of the year) will be regarded as tainted by the process. Perhaps that is punishment enough?
What do I actually think of the stories? Just off the top of my head, I’d suggest that “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael Flynn, is a very fine novelette; and “Goodnight Stars,” by Annie Bellett, is a fine short story, the best of those I’ve read so far, though no longer on the nomination list.
The two other novelettes from Analog are both nice enough, but to my mind not Hugo-worthy – Rajnar Vajra’s “The Triple Sun” annoyed me somewhat with its overly jokey narrative style and with its (purposely) implausible superscience, but I can see others liking those aspects; and Edward Lerner’s “Championship B’Tok,” which is part of a series of stories I’ve often enjoyed quite a bit, is better than that, marred to my mind by ending on a cliffhanger (that is, by being more the start of a longer story than a complete story), but on the whole solid work.
I’ve only read two of the novellas. Arlan K. Andrews’ “Flow” is OK but not close to Hugo-worthy; and John C. Wright’s “Pale Realms of Shade” is also decent work but not particularly special.
I will read the others, in time, at least in part. (I have to say that while John C. Wright’s opinions about homosexuality are repugnant, he is a good writer who has done excellent work in the past. (And I enjoyed the shorter version of “And One Bright Star to Guide Them” when it appeared in F&SF a few years back.))
I should add that one of the stupidest things I’ve read about this subject came from Arthur Chu, in Salon, when he called Wright: “a man so essential to the state of science fiction in 2015 that he doesn’t have a single bestseller” … how many bestsellers does he think the average Hugo short fiction nominee has to their name?
In fact, of all the writers on the short fiction ballot, I would say only Flynn has a larger previous profile, and while I don’t believe Wright has any previous Hugo nominations under his belt, his novel Orphans of Chaos was a Nebula Finalist, all his Golden Oecumene books appeared on the Locus Poll finalist lists, and the first was a Campbell Memorial Award finalist.
My own intentions for this year’s Hugo voting are to read every eligible story (at least up to the point I feel I can’t continue), and to vote them fairly: the stories I think at least decent I will rank in my preferred order. If I don’t think a story even close to Hugo worthy, it will not make my ballot (and yes, as I do every year, I will vote No Award if I think there are unworthy stories).
Am I going to vote against nominees because they appeared on a slate? No, for a couple of reasons. Most important is that many nominees did not even know they were listed. Others probably thought the slates were simple recommendation lists, not assembled with the intention of inducing a bloc vote.
Certainly that’s the case with Black Gate. It was also the case with Matthew David Surridge, one of the very best contributors to Black Gate, who declined his own Hugo Nomination for Best Fanwriter because he was unhappy with his appearance on one of the Puppy slates.
That does not mean I regard the way the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies acted in this matter with approval – indeed, I am very unhappy with their actions. But I don’t want to indiscriminately punish every nominated writer because of the distasteful actions of the slatemakers.
To look on the bright side some more, the slates really did bring some worthy writers, ‘zines, and editors some attention. Alas, much of the attention might be negative, but I hope people will sit back and evaluate these people on their merits.
For example, in the Best Editor Short Form category, I have been used to nominate some “usual suspects”: people like Gardner Dozois, Ellen Datlow, Sheila Williams, John Joseph Adams, and Neil Clarke/Sean Wallace. And I don’t think I’m wrong to do so – they are outstanding editors, who year after year publish some of my favorite short work.
But I also think that, for example, Bryan Thomas Schmidt has done very good work putting out a set of mostly adventure oriented books; and Edmund Schubert’s work over the years at Intergalactic Medicine Show has also been worthy of praise. (For that matter, Trevor Quachri at Analog has impressed me in his first couple of years on the job — I confess to a certain amount of surprise that he didn’t show up on a Puppy nomination list (or perhaps he did, and still didn’t make the final ballot).)
To take one more example, hopefully close to the hearts of many reading this: I have to confess that I never nominated Black Gate as Best Fanzine. (I nominated it as a Semiprozine back in the print days, to be sure.) The reason: I simply didn’t think of it as a Fanzine. But it is, really, and (leaving my contributions out of the mix), I honestly think it’s a damn good Fanzine. So I’m glad to have this whole matter bring to my mind the notion that Black Gate is eligible for a Fanzine nomination. At the risk of campaigning, let me suggest that people keeping reading it through 2015, and if it seems to hold up, nominate it again next year.