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The 2015 Hugo Nominations

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Loncon 3 Hugo statue-smallI 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.

[Italics mine.]

Lightspeed May 2014-smallWhat 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.

Lightspeed April 2014-smallCan 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.]

A Memory of Light-small(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.

Analog June 2014, containing “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael Flynn

Analog June 2014, containing “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael Flynn

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.

Analog September 2014, with Edward M. Lerner's “Championship B’tok”

Analog September 2014, with Edward M. Lerner’s “Championship B’tok”

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.

Orphans of Chaos John C Wright-smallThat 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.


Rich Horton’s last piece for us was a retro-review of the July 1953 issue of Future Science Fiction. See all of Rich’s retro-reviews here.

9 Comments »

  1. From where I sit (left of center, with open hand extended rightwards), this response looks well reasoned and evenhanded. I look forward to seeing how our friends to the right think about it. I especially appreciate your overviews of the works nominated — that’s not reading I have time to do, which I why I won’t be joining WorldCon as a supporting member or voting for the Hugos this year.

    The first things I read by John C. Wright were his most notorious blog posts, and those did not whet my appetite for his fiction. I’m not surprised to find that his fiction is well regarded on its merits, though. The two times I’ve interacted with him in person left me impressed with his capacity for kindness. I wish I knew how to reconcile what I glimpsed in him as a human being with the venom he expressed online. That whole business is, to my mind, just sad.

    I am glad to see more people who lean left talking about the differences between the Sad and Rabid factions. Here in the BG comment threads, I’ve seen some impressive efforts by people who nominated with or intend to vote with the Sad Puppies to explain their concerns. One of the most often repeated concerns is that their efforts to engage in dialogue with people who lean left have been rebuffed, sometimes in gobsmackingly rude ways. There seems to be a lot of despair about whether there’s any point in reaching out to people they disagree with.

    And in the wake of the Requires Hate debacle, I can see why they got to that point.

    Requires Hate tried to create the same kind of illusion Theodore Beale has attempted. I’m beginning to think the alleged SJW conspiracy the Puppies talk about may have been the actual conspiracy RH engaged in. If Laura Mixon’s report is correct, RH and an actual clique of actual conspirators set out to harass people RH disapproved of. If Keranih is correct, first RH set out after writers and bloggers on the right, and later, writers and bloggers on the left whom RH saw either as insufficiently pure in their liberal politics or as competition with her for a position as leading spokeswoman for a narrow demographic.

    The irony is that the figure on the left whom I see most often labeled as a leader of the alleged SJW conspiracy is Teresa Nielsen Hayden. If there is evidence that she was ever part of or a supporter of Requires Hate’s campaign of online intimidation, I have yet to see it.

    I see Requires Hate and Vox Day both as manipulative jerks trying to tear the SF/F community apart. We don’t have to let them.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - April 30, 2015 1:03 pm

  2. I don’t have a lot of time to comment now, but there’s a central point to this article I wholeheartedly endorse: read the entries and then vote. Don’t just knee-jerk vote No Award for everything.

    That’s all I’ve ever asked.

    Comment by Jay Maynard - April 30, 2015 1:53 pm

  3. Rich, I hope my edits on the long comment above haven’t clogged your email in-box. After posting it, I realized I’d had a moment of political dyslexia, flipping left and right in the paragraph about RH, and then I spotted my typos, and… Anyhow, I hope the site only pinged you the first time with that reply.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - April 30, 2015 1:57 pm

  4. @Sarah

    I hope you reconsider becoming a supporting member of WorldCon this year. I do so not to ask you to read and vote on material you view to be invalid or selected by a process you disagree with. Rather I do so because of the hard work that the organizers in Spokane have put into putting together the event. While I believe that there are many who have been subjected to hateful comments in the aftermath of the nominees being released, and I am speaking of people on all sides politically, no one suffers from this process as much as the local volunteer.

    The local convention is being run by a small non-profit dedicated to promoting SF/F literature. I don’t know what they will do with any revenue made from the convention as I am not privy to their regular operations. I could not even find a 990 demonstrating their tax liabilities, though to be fair I didn’t do an intensive search.

    What this tells me, as a non-profit program director, is that this is a small group of passionate people. I hope they support local literacy programs, etc., but even if they do little more than host conventions that bring revenue and educate people in the local community sporadically, it’s worth supporting.

    I would rather, though as I posted on my personal blog will not be doing myself, that you do as John appears to be doing and cast a “No Award” ballot. I personally believe that those are harmful to people like Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Ken Burnside, but if explained as John has done are still supportive of the community in general.

    This is clearly something that the community will have to heal from. Just as the heated discussions around the 1968 issue of Galaxy magazine were. Healing will be difficult due to the anonymity and distance that web based conversations encourage, but it will happen. It will happen quicker if we continue to support hard working volunteers.

    I’m not “demanding” that you contribute. Heaven knows the relatively small fee was not so small to my pocket book, but I wanted to thank the Sasquan organizers.

    Comment by ChristianLindke - April 30, 2015 2:46 pm

  5. At last a voice of reason and a vision that unites and doesn’t regenerate the left and right wing mythos! I liked this piece and it has influenced my thinking.

    @Christian—I’ve done what you have done and it is a MASSIVE labor of love with little thanks and tons of work that is invisible to nearly everyone involved unless they’ve undertaken this sort of work. Conventions of this scale do not happen like planning a weekend BBQ. Thank you and your compatriots so much who have undertaken this task to make the Hugos an enjoyable experience.

    Bloc voting is a political thing and I agree that it defeats the spirit of the award. I’m not sure what the difference really is between a slate and a list but I can tell you that I voted what I thought were good choices and considered what the Sad Puppies recommended. I did my homework and considered the weight of the award. In editorial voting I listened to a lot of what John talked about in editing and what I’ve learned. John has proven time and again to mirror most of my tastes and I feel educated about what an editor actually brings to the table and the genre.

    I’m just a fan. I feel duty bound to educate myself on the votes that I cast and there isn’t any malice intended in the choices I make. Instead of sitting on my hands and complaining about what did or did not get picked I decided to vote. Those that show up get a voice and those that don’t get to read the results. This year, win or lose, I think I’ve done my part to promote the writers that I think were worthy of the honor.

    I am still weighing my vote. I think one of the hardest votes will be for or against the writers that had their works translated. I loved Jules Vern but he was difficult to read. I think there was a bit lost in the translation. I do like the idea of the Hugo reaching out to all corners and peoples of the globe. Why not?

    There are bad players on both sides and I am relieved that people are starting to see that. Some tactics have been disgusting and it was disparaging to get a lopsided view of the Sad Puppies. My friends might disagree on politics but we share the same love of the stories we read. The Sad Puppies should not be immune to criticism, nor should their picks be. It was awful to see those that were picked, in my opinion, mistreated by some just because they were on the Sad Puppy list. Thank you for being fair minded.

    I think what will cure most of the ills are ideas much like the ones you presented. I also think that more people voting will nullify most of the problems in the future. A Hugo nomination is very prestigious or at least it should be.

    Comment by Wild Ape - April 30, 2015 6:39 pm

  6. @Christian, it had not occurred to me to think of the supporting membership as a gesture of support for Sasquan’s volunteers, who certainly have more to deal with than they signed on for this year. I’ve been so focused on the Hugo controversy, I lost sight of that. Thank you for reminding me. I will consider it, whether I ultimately decide it’s right for me to vote or not.

    I’ve read very little since a concussion back in November. That’s why I haven’t been posting as many book reviews as I used to — my reading speed still hasn’t returned, though everything else seems to have. With my reading so slow, and such a long backlog of other commitments to catch up on, it’s pretty unlikely that I could read even the works on the ballot that I want to check out.

    Which would leave me voting in a state of ignorance that feels irresponsible to me. I had planned to vote No Award in all the categories the Rabid Puppies slate dominated, but now I am starting to think even a principled No Award vote would be intellectually dishonest _for_me_ if I made no effort to read any of the things I voted against first.

    I’m not judging anyone else’s decision here. It’s a tough one, with many defensible positions. Having put myself out there as a person committed to finding common ground, I feel that I owe it to people like Wild Ape and Jay Maynard to devote as much effort to thinking things through as they have. And if my concussion-slowed reading speed means that my effort can’t take the form of reading even half of the nominated works, I should probably find some other form for my effort to take.

    @Rich, your suggestion for expanding the ballot to ten candidates per category while keeping the limit of five for what each nominator can propose seems like a good one. It responds to calls for diversity of all kinds, across the political spectrum. The only faction unlikely to give it serious consideration would be the Rabid Puppies, who would rather destroy the Hugo than improve it.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - April 30, 2015 10:16 pm

  7. “One of the most often repeated concerns is that their efforts to engage in dialogue with people who lean left have been rebuffed, sometimes in gobsmackingly rude ways. There seems to be a lot of despair about whether there’s any point in reaching out to people they disagree with.

    And in the wake of the Requires Hate debacle, I can see why they got to that point.”

    The thing is for 10-15 years (or more) the left-leaning (for lack of a better descriptive) SFF blogosphere has been in attack mode.

    Racefail, Fishboob, Mammathbook Fail, Moongate, SFWA fail…(I could go on, the yearly “fail” has become standard)

    You have K Tempest Bradford, Scalzi, the Neilsen Haydens, Stross, Jemisin, Kowal, etc etc etc…

    They engage in insulting and denigrating language at the drop of a hat, and if anyone questions or disagrees they get disemvoweled, deleted, blocked, ridiculed, attacked, mobbed…

    Requires Hate was just one of many. Granted probably the most egregious – in language and behavior.

    Thing is, I bet that 90%+ of the “right leaning” SFFshpere have no clue who RH was, she just wasnt that big of a voice, and was lost in the background noise.

    Comment by TW - April 30, 2015 10:54 pm

  8. […] The 2015 Hugo Nominations – April 30 […]

    Pingback by Leave the Puppy, Take the Cannoli – 4/30 | File 770 - May 1, 2015 2:05 am

  9. As someone who has some sympathy for the sad puppies, I want to thank you for one of the more even-handed critical analysis I have seen. You are someone I respect for his work as editor/reviewer of short stories, and this respect has only been increased by your article.

    To tell you the truth, I agree with many of your criticism of the SP’s methods. However, I think that to paint a complete picture one should also analyze whether there’s any merit (and I think there is) to their claims about the politicization of fandom in recent years. As a conservative, I often feel that I need to shut up any time a political conversation comes up in fandom or I will be (in my opinion, completely unfairly) labeled as racist/bigot/homophobic… this takes us to a situation where for a not inconsiderable group of fans, the color of the skin of writers, their gender, sexual orientation and politics are more important than any other criteria to jusge their work.

    Comment by db105 - May 1, 2015 5:47 am


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