Ken Burnside Tells the Hugo Story from the Inside

Ken Burnside Tells the Hugo Story from the Inside

The Hot Equations by Ken Burnside-smallKen Burnside is a game designer and publisher, best known for Attack Vector: Tactical and Squadron Strike! He contributed an article to Vox Day’s anthology Riding the Red Horse, titled “The Hot Equations,” laying out in understandable terms what the laws of thermodynamics mean in terms of SF in general and space combat in particular. He was nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work, and… well…

He describes the experience in his own words:

I signed up for the Sad Puppy list because I was told it was about getting representation for conservative and libertarian leaning storytellers in the Hugo nomination process. The request came in when a book I was published in was in its initial 90-day release window, and it counted as promoting the title. More exposure means more sales, and I was (and always am) looking for new readers…

Throughout this, the things that made me a Puppy in the first place was buried in a malodorous pile of feces. They were buried by partisans on both sides, not just the Anti-Puppies. In Kary English’s blog, I paraphrased Anita Sarkeesian: “In the game of Hugo Awards, the Puppy nominees aren’t the opposition. They’re the ball…”

Eventually, tired of being browbeaten and told what an awful human being I was, I just retreated to “Read the works. Vote your conscience. In that order.”

Combined with shunning, my “OK, this is going to be a disaster…” sense was past tingling, into throbbing and really should just be called mordant curiosity. Only after I was seen talking to Tananarive Due did anyone outside the small representation of “Puppies” at the convention consent to talk to me, mostly in the shadows of the reception, where nobody else could see.

It’s a very good description of what it was like to be associated with the Puppies, and in particular how he was treated by anti-Puppy folks at Worldcon. Read the whole thing over at the Mad Genius Club blog.

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I enjoyed one of his panels at the con that he did with Jennifer Brozek and it was the two of them that I pictured as the no award cheering erupted around me. I’m very glad he name checks a few anti puppies such as Kurt Busiek that were not acting peevishly towards him.
I hope over the course the next year this community can do better, and let the screeching flamewar inciters burn themselves out.

Wild Ape

Jay, I think that pretty much confirms everything that Larry Correia said about the Hugos. I think Burnside is probably accurate in his numbers that Fandom is probably close to 450 million in number while the Hugo award is decided by a mere 2-10 thousand people. Worldcon is liberal in leaning, highly insular, and xenophobic. I think the curtain has been ripped off the Wizard of Oz myth that it is an award that represents all of fandom. It is a club and for $40 you can be a part of supporting a bunch of elitists but don’t even think about being one of them. Is it worth $40 to support that kind of abuse? I kinda feel like an enabler to their cruelty. You heard what Burnside said–death threats, insults, smears, and such. That is on Worldcon’s doorstep. They turned that show into a hostile environment. They did not stand against the newspapers that smeared the Puppy leaders. They smuggly encouraged the jeering and the nastiness. That has to stop. That has to be checked.

Matt W

I read through Burnside’s piece. It’s probably the best writing on the Hugos fracas I’ve read anywhere. The pieces that Jay excerpted are maybe the least interesting and representative paragraphs in his very long post; they make it sound like Burnside had a terrible time and everyone hated him, which isn’t at all the impression from the full article. Regardless, thanks for linking it. His point about new members who hadn’t read the nominees voting No Award, and the ramifications of that is probably the most salient point I’ve seen made anywhere against the anti-Puppy crowd. (And I’m an anti-Puppy sympathizer, though as a fan, I certainly don’t use the Hugos as a recommended reading list.)

Wild Ape

The thing is, it is easier to unleash hatred and anger but it is difficult to heal and bind people. I think that is why I supported GRRM while the heat was on. GRRM and Correia are looking at all of fandom and not just the best interests of their respective groups. To me, that a nobler road than the one we are all presently on.

Matt, I agree that to date this has been the best piece written about the whole mess. The mistake I made early on was lumping all of the anti-Puppies into one big group and lashing out at them all. It was the same mistake that those on the opposite made against mine. Fandom looks ridiculous to the outsiders—nerd warfare.

It is a shame that I share your same views about Hugo winners being a recommended reading list. I think the solution is to bring in more not less fans. Worldcon however tailors the process to protect the power brokers of the status quo. That is why the price of voting is high and out of reach for many fans.

Mary Nevlan

Wild Ape, let me see if I understand what you’re saying. You are saying that out of 450 million fans the combined puppy slates (even with free publicizing on Brietbat, Entertainment Weekly, and National Review) were unable to garner less than 0.0002% of them to their side?

John ONeill

> You’re saying that out of 450 million fans the Nuclear and Moen’s No Puppy slates, even with free publicizing on io9,
> the Guardian, and Entertainment Weekly (which published the same highly biased hit piece as the others) were unable to garner
> less than 0.0005@ of them to their side?

That seems like a false argument to me, Jay. The Hugo awards have always had roughly the same number of voters (under 10,000). Weren’t the Puppies trying to bring new blood into the voting, and working hard to drum up support for their slate? Bluntly, they failed to drum up another support to bring home a single winner, except for GotG.

I think that speaks to the pretty spectacular failure of the Puppy brand. Ape can lay the blame on a Worldcon that is “liberal in leaning, highly insular, and xenophobic,” but that sounds like sour grapes to me.

The Puppies had an opportunity to present their case, and they failed to convince even a tiny portion of this 450 million you’re talking about to side with them. To me, that speaks to poor messaging on multiple levels.

When a marketing effort fails to get the word out, you can blame the consumer, or you can take a hard look at your messaging. Frankly, while I think several people made a really great effort, overall I think the Puppies’ PR campaign was a catastrophe, and that’s the biggest reason for their failure.

Sarah Avery

Jay, thank you for linking to Burnside’s piece. Before the Hugo controversy, I’d never heard of him. His thoughtful description and analysis suggests that he’s worth watching, even though the gaming stuff he most often writes isn’t what I usually read.

Burnside’s critiques of the various factions seem to me reasonable. His suggestions for de-escalation seem to me evenhanded and potentially effective. I hope his proposal, or something like it, prevails.

(I also learned from reading his account that he and I have a mutual friend. Karen Junker, whom he mentions as host and traveling companion, used to run a writing conference in Seattle that was crucial to getting me on my feet as a working writer. She did me many personal and professional kindnesses I will never forget. In her personal politics, she’s as left-leaning as they come, so you can add her to any mental list you may have of lefties who care about reconciliation in fandom.)

Mary Nevlan

Jay Maynard, in a way you are correct, but in another way the less than 0.0005% garnered by the anti-puppies was clearly enough to put everything they nominated behind “no award” (except for GOTG).

John O’Neill, you are also correct in a way, but in another way I think it could be said that it wasn’t the advertising campaign that was at fault, but the product it was trying to sell.

Wild Ape

“I think that speaks to the pretty spectacular failure of the Puppy brand. Ape can lay the blame on a Worldcon that is “liberal in leaning, highly insular, and xenophobic,” but that sounds like sour grapes to me.”

Nope, you miss read me John. That is the reality of the Worldcon battlefield as I see it. I’m not crying about it, I’m saying it is what it is. So, either the Puppies grow their numbers and tap into that 450 million and bring numbers, or, they don’t. We’ve grown this year alone from 10-15% of the voting population to 20-25%. That is significant, not dominating, but significant.

One little bitty Puppy nominee—GOTG got through and won a Hugo. Did the world burn down? Is the Hugo now spoiled? I’d bet that if Toni Weiskopf and the others won it would not have destroyed the Hugo one bit either. I do remember that 40% of the non Puppy block did not vote No Award.

Did the No Award improve your lives in any way?

“When a marketing effort fails to get the word out, you can blame the consumer, or you can take a hard look at your messaging. Frankly, while I think several people made a really great effort, overall I think the Puppies’ PR campaign was a catastrophe, and that’s the biggest reason for their failure.”

I’d have to agree with most of that. We had no real organization or rules of engagement. We relied on our opposition to empathize with us after the smears were thrown at us from Entertainment Weekly and the like. Torgersen was ineffective and Correia was entertaining but didn’t give much direction. Yes, we do need to look at who we are marketing and we should be doing better.

Our biggest failure was not matching what the corrupted press did to us. That whole bit should have told us just how much our enemies hate us and just how far they will go. For those of you morale cowards out there who said nothing about that I wonder if you have a pulse.

As for Vox Day that presents something to ponder. I started voting for the Hugos to promote the authors I like—that it–that was my agenda. What I got instead was a culture war and the people I voted for being abused. I’m not sure whether or not I should hang in there to fight or not. I’m up for defending my right for freedom of speech but I think it is a wasted of time to fight for a trophy that has a fraction more prestige than a T-ball trophy. I’m not seeing “Flowers of Algernon” I’m seeing “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” and instead of Heinlein and Azimov I’m seeing John Scalzi is now the greatest sci-fi writer who ever lived and breathed. I’m seeing that Toni Weisskopf is a choice that is incapable of meriting a Hugo and who should grow up. I’m not sure if I’m up for the collateral damage that my fandom brings. Nor is it worth my time to “debate” people that gleefully think it is fun to call me names like Nazi and white supremacist and the like.

I stay because I would like to see reconciliation in fandom. I think if I stay I will turn more Rabid Puppy than Sad. I’m tired of the circular logic and the personal attacks. I see no reason to be reasonable anymore.

Matt W

>instead of Heinlein and Azimov I’m seeing John Scalzi is now the greatest sci-fi writer who ever lived and breathed.

Scalzi didn’t get a nomination in any category this year. His books aren’t even particularly liberal. He mostly writes quick-to-read, pulpy military space opera. He’s not an especially gifted writer (in particular his ventriloquism is awful; he’s got one character voice — sarcastic, witty, competent engineer type — that he uses for all of his characters), but he’s entertaining to read, so can sell books. He’s pretty adept at social media and needling people; I feel like he’s become a lightning rod of sorts, simply because his blog and social media presence give him a substantial public platform. When I think of left-wing sci-fi writers, though, he’s not even a blip on the radar. Liberal sci-fi would be folks like Iain Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Octavia Butler, China Mieville, Chris Moriarty, Monica Byrne, etc, all of whom are light-years better at writing than Scalzi. (And incidentally, many of whom write action-packed space opera-type sci-fi.) I truly do not see anyone arguing that he’s the greatest living writer; I think he functions more as a sort of a decoy, a robust proxy punching bag for the reactionaries so that the rest of the lefties can just go about their business.

Mary Nevlan

You leave out the possibility that when you say “That is the reality of the Worldcon battlefield as I see it” that you are seeing it wrong. That initial mistake has led you to experience the stunning defeat of your slate(s).

You keep talking about Toni Weisskopf like she’s some kind of martyr for your cause. You fail to decry that Sheila Gilbert (DAW) and Jim Minz (also of Baen, like Toni Weisskopf) and Anne Soward (Ace) lost to “no award”. Where are the (crocodile?) tears for them?

GOTG’s win is really not a feather that you can put in your hat, not without re-defining reality “as you see it.”

“Torgersen was ineffective and Correia was entertaining but didn’t give much direction.” And the exact radius of your circular firing squad is…? Or, as I said earlier, perhaps the best massagers in the world won’t help you sell a product that nobody actually wants.

“For those of you morale cowards out there who said nothing about that I wonder if you have a pulse.” Is that really how you intend to improve the puppy’s marketing and outreach? Do you really think you are going to win a lot of hearts and minds that way?

You really need to determine if you are going to “-look at who we are marketing and we should be doing better.” or if you are finished “waste time fighting for a trophy that has a fraction more prestige than a T-Ball trophy”.

It isn’t an important trophy! But it was important enough to make an underhand play for! But it isn’t important because you lost at your underhand play. But it is important that Toni Wiesskopff lost. But it isn’t important because your side wasn’t really trying. But it is important because your side actually grew its numbers. But it isn’t important because all those 450 million fans are surely on your side anyway, in spite of actual events.

I am glad that you want to see reconciliation in fandom, but I notice that the way you “see” reconciliation seems to be very specific. The opposing side needs to agree with you and apologize to you, and pretend that the defeat handed to you at the Hugos did not actually happen for the reasons it happened. I don’t think many people are going to feel the need to see it that way.

“I see no reason to be reasonable anymore.” We can agree on that because you’ve been pretty far from reasonable for a while now.

Wild Ape

@Matt—I concur with about 100% of what you said there.

Mary, I had a lot of trouble following your points. If Worldcon isn’t left leaning is it right leaning? Perhaps if you show “reality” as you see it we would have a starting point to debate. I’m not expressing how I see things to be insulting to Worldcon. It is like John said, our marketing sucked. If we are trying to appeal to insular lefty xenophobes then attempting to appeal to them won’t work unless it is from one of their own. They are xenophobic. And for your information, the Sad Puppies did not use a slate. The Rabid Puppies and the Legion of No Award voted slates. If you want people to not use slates then you need to show a good reason why not to because in the words of Phil Sandifer, “the Hugos need to be burned down.” That is rather Vox Day of him I’d say. Why when one person says that there is one reaction and when another says the same it is not. Could you explain the logic?

Most of your other points were less coherent so please try to explain better. The only thing that I could make out was that you think I have specifics about reconciliation. Well, I do, but you didn’t get them right. You ASSUMED. As the old saying goes you should never ASSUME because you make an ASS out of U and ME. My opposing side is never going to agree with me and they will never apologize. Reconciliation won’t come from them. Although if they apologized it would go a long way to heal fandom. There is a book out that is a best seller on Amazon, a parody titled: “John Scalzi Is A Rapist”, now is this how you want fandom to become? The press—ie—the Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, IO9, Salon, and a host of others put out hit pieces that were false, inflammatory, and destructive. There was very little outrage from your side. Instead we got cheering like we had at the Hugo awards. Is this what you want fandom to be? At what point does a hostile environment become a breeding ground to the crazies who want to take their partisan politics to the next level? What will keep that in check? I’d say empathy for the Sad Puppies would be beneficial to all parties except of course, the Rabid Puppies. Instead it seems like you are hoping and wishing that the Rabid Puppies grow.

Where reconciliation will form is in the left leaning fans who value the Hugo. They seem to be determined to give each nominee their due. They still vote for Puppy picks, they vote against Puppy picks, and they vote No Award where merited. That seems the more rational course. It eliminates the adversarial environment and focuses on merit which is the spirit of the Hugo. This attitude strengthens the prestige of the award whereas slates and bad behavior diminish it. The Sad Puppy list was strong on both sides in many areas and not as strong in others. So I do feel bad that the other writers and editors did not make the cut but in the Hugo award there is only one winner and always four or five “losers”. The nominees are not “losers” but of the five selections they were not as popular. I’m not ashamed of the picks.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, on what planet does your garden grow?

Wild Ape

I’ve just seen the new logo for Sad Puppies 4 at the secret hideout. Kate the Impaler has spoken how this year is to be run. There are some MOAR juicy details but….they are of course, classified. They even put out bait for the next trap for the SJBs to burn themselves in. I’m putting in my money for the betting pool on how soon the SJBs come out to say that we are sexist, misogynist, white supremacists, etc. Count down in 4….3….2….1

Sarah Avery

Wild Ape, what is the B in SJB for? I’m hoping it’s a typo, because if the B stands for the word that’s my first guess, that would be a bit beyond the pale.

Wild Ape

@Sarah—B is for Bullies. Why would that be beyond the pale? I’ll drop the SJ stuff if it will advance positive discussion. Here is the trouble, some of these groups do not fit neatly into a venn diagram. SJwhatevers are not a centralized group and they have a wide array of branches, not all of them are bullies. I’d say the bullies in the SF/F fandom are those that seek justice to exclude, destroy the reputations of, and eliminate competition. I would hold Vox Day in that group as much as I would Phil Sandifer, Scalzi, and PNH and the like. Those that want to promote their fiction, make the Hugo award meaningful, want all of fandom to be on friendlier terms, and advance the literature I’d say are not. They would be people like GRRM, Correia, Rich Horton, and Kate the Impaler and the Sad Puppies.

@Jay—I don’t have any inside Sad Puppy info bro. Here is the link:

I love the new logo–it appeals to my Kaiju and giant robot inner kid. I like Kate’s positive message. Her goals are positive ans solid.

—1. The Hugo voting pool is too small and wants to get more people involved in the process. Yes, it will dilute the Sad Puppy footprint but it will dilute the (see what I mean Sarah? Truefan/Hugo bluebloods/Puppy-Kickers) opposing side as well. In short she wants MOAR!
—2. The stated goal is to bring people into fandom—no matter what their politics, gender identity, or political stripe. The Sad Puppies are not to kick people out or to replace the current message fiction with our own.
—3. Collect recommendations. No litmus test, no political requirements. You have to have read it/watched it/ seen it in order to recommend the work.
—4. Make the biggest and best floating party and alternacon history.
—5. Sad Puppies are looking for around ten recommendations per catagory. That is twice as many as the five limit. The list will be posted and that will be it.

I’d say her tone is much different from Correia’s warlord speeches. There is no doubt they’ve changed strategy. If I want to commit to this year then I’ll have to shut off my own shoot at anything not in your own trenchline approach. For me continuing will be about the fiction and not freedom of speech and politics if I decide to move on.

The trouble is, this list of 10 recommendations has already come under fire by the usual suspects who complained that we had five per catagory last year and shut out the catagory. What a shocker! Did you see that coming Jay?

Wild Ape

@Mary—Let me ask you this. If you nominated a piece of work that a friend or someone recommended to you would that be an underhanded play? If so why? If the someone was say, from the Sad Puppies or Tor Publishing or John here on Black Gate would that be any different?

With regards to reconciliation, where would be a good place to start?

Wild Ape

@Sarah—Oh….THAT B word. No, it did not stand for that and that would have been bad.

Sarah Avery

Thank you for clarifying, Ape. I didn’t think my first guess could be right, because you’re not a misogynist. I’ve seen you use some very charged language to express how you see certain people’s ideas, affiliations, and behaviors, but I don’t recall ever seeing you use fighting words to describe anyone’s gender.

We might not identify the same people as Social Justice Bullies, but we can agree that they exist. Requires Hate would be the ultimate example of a person who started a campaign of bullying under cover of her claim to seek social justice for a marginalized group. Extremes are easy to identify. It will be harder for us to reach agreement about less extreme or less thoroughly documented cases.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: slander, libel, and threats of physical harm are wrong, no matter who the target is, and no matter who does them.

Mary Nevlan

For the shock troops of conservative sci-fi, you two sure are thin-skinned.

Wild Ape, you do realize that the book you cite “John Scalzi is a Rapist” was written by Vox Day, right? The leader of the Rabid Puppies, who you say you will follow when you “turn more rabid puppy than sad”. Looks to me like you are the one who wants fandom to turn into that kind of thing. That is all on you.

Jay, yes people cheered when the puppy slates were defeated. They certainly did. The puppies asked fandom a question about rigging the nomination process and they got an unequivocal answer. If the puppies are mature enough to internalize their humiliating defeats remains to be seen. But judging by the example the two of you have set here, let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x