Earlier this month, when I described the latest Hugo Puppies blow-up, I closed with the paragraph:

This is really something in the nature of a pre-game show to the kerfuffle that will invariably follow the announcement of this year’s Hugo winners (or “No Award” votes, as the case might be). No matter who wins, or whether nobody wins, some people won’t be happy, and there will be plenty of ranting and grumbling from both sides. And the Puppies will emerge determined to do even better (or worse) next year—which they might well be able to do, since WorldCon bylaws mean that no change designed to rebalance the procedure can go into effect until two years after it was proposed.

As prognostications go, I can’t really take much credit for the accuracy of that one, as it was really on the order of shooting fish in a barrel. But here we are. The Puppies slates racked up exactly one win in the Hugos last night—the movie Guardians of the Galaxy took Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form), and it was nominated on their slates—but given that the movie was so popular in general, and the category is so irrelevant by and large to the rest of the Hugos, almost nobody is making a big deal of it.

The affair made it into the media in a couple of places. Wired has a terrific article  summarizing the entire affair. Author Amy Wallace really did her homework, talking to every major figure involved in the controversy, pro and con. It’s been a favorite tactic of the Sad Puppies to claim their side is underrepresented in the media and nobody wants to interview their leadership—but this article, at least, fixes that. Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, Theodore “Vox Day” Beale…all get their turn to speak, and quite a few verbatim quotations.

[Sad Puppies organizer Brad] Torgersen told me something that helped me understand Beale, which is that he believes Vox Day is a character [Rabid Puppies organizer Theodore] Beale plays—“Performance art, like Andy Kaufman,” Torgersen said. “He embraces this nemesis role that he inhabits. He’s the dark star circling around the outer rim of the solar system. He’s Darth Vader breathing heavily into your phone. He wants people to be enraged and flipping out and tearing their hair and completely losing their minds. And he gets that every single time.”

Beale acknowledged as much: “I love chaos,” he says. “I am generally pretty destructive.”

The article was also discussed at The Passive Voice, though I notice Passive Guy has taken the unusual step of closing the comment form on that post after only 32 comments.

The Wall Street Journal has another good though not-as-long piece covering the matter, with quotes from people on both sides, as well.

Moving from news into analysis, WorldCon released a detailed analysis of the breakdown of the nominations and voting (PDF) shortly after the ceremony concluded, showing in detail how many votes the winner and losers in each category got, and what nominees got left off the ballot because of the Sad Puppies’ bloc nominations. Tobias Buckell used this to create a listing of what the nominations would have looked like if it hadn’t been for the bloc votes, and George R.R. Martin also used it to give out his own awards, the “Alfie Awards,” at the losers’ party after the award ceremony was over.

Blogger “Chaos Horizon” used the figures to try to guesstimate how many voters aligned to the Rabid Puppies, Sad Puppies, and “No Award” axes. Bearing in mind that it was a preliminary estimate “Chaos Horizon” admitted would need work, those guesses broke down to:

Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
Absolute No Awarders: 2500
Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick: 1000
That sums up to 4600 hundred voters. We had 5950, so I think the remaining 1400 or so were the true “Neutrals” or the “voted some Puppies but not all.”

Some percentages (estimates, not precise):
No Awarders: 3500 / 5950 = 59%
Neutrals: 1400 / 5950 = 22%
Rabid Puppies = 10%
Sad Puppies = 9%

If these estimates are right, it means that there might actually have been more Rabid Puppies than Sad Puppies—not a great surprise if true, given that their bloc tended to be the more successful one in the nomination period, and Vox Day was a more active organizer.

There are plenty of reactions to this victory, from Puppy supporters, opponents, and people in between. Author Barb Caffrey, one of those in between, was disappointed that both the long-form and short-form editor categories were “No Award” shut-outs, given how important editors are and how much work they do.

The people who were nominated for Hugo Awards all have a great deal of experience as editors behind them. None of them were people who just came in off the street and started editing yesterday; most have edited for at least ten years, and some a great deal more…even the casual fan is aware of Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books and Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books, to name two fine editors who were passed over for “no award” in the long form category, because these two ladies have had long and successful careers as editors to date.

Sad Puppies organizer Brad Torgersen had similar comments on his blog—Toni Weisskopf got more first-line votes at 1,216 than any editor in the history of the Hugo awards, he notes, and Sheila Gilbert got second place with 754, whereas Patrick Nielsen-Hayden won Best Editor with only 140 first-line votes in 2010.

Toni and Sheila are the two most-voted editors in the history of their category. Nobody has ever gotten 1,200+ and 700+ Best Editor votes, respectively. Not for short form. Not for long form. That’s historic. A win for women! Right? Wait, no. Its not. True Fandom ruined it with NO AWARD. Yup. The tolerant and inclusive True Fandom. The people who want science fiction to be a safe place for women. Until True Fandom throws those women under the bus.

I’ve seen and voted for Toni Weisskopf on the Hugo ballot in bygone years that didn’t have all the Puppy interference, so I know she’s capable of being nominated on her own. I do hope she picks up a win in some other, less Puppy-filled year—I think she does deserve a Hugo for all the work she’s done with Baen. I’m a little concerned that, going forward, she might be remembered as “that Puppy candidate” and have a harder time, but I hope that doesn’t happen.

In another post, Torgersen makes the same point he made to Amy Wallace for the Wired article—that it doesn’t matter a great deal who wins or loses as long as participation keeps increasing. “Past Hugo voting has tended to be remarkably anemic,” he says, and adds that Sad Puppies can take some credit for changing this. Well, that’s true enough. They’ve changed it on both sides, what with all the people who joined WorldCon just to be able to vote against the Puppies. It remains to be seen how long that will last.

Puppy supporters Cedar Sanderson and Sarah Hoyt both expressed bitter disappointment in how the matter turned out as well. Sanderson is particularly miffed by WorldCon marketing commemorative coasters with an asterisk laser-cut into them—an in-joke to comments from host David Gerrold that this year’s WorldCon should get an asterisk, referring to the practice of marking sports records of dubious validity. (Some have also complained that, in shape, it resembles nothing so much as a wooden, ahem, sphincter, but I don’t know that I’d go that far.)

Now? I’d be afraid to go to WorldCon. They have shown how they feel, and they will treat any threats to their position with… theft, suppression of free speech, mockery, and more. There are people who will never again be able to publish traditionally because of this. And not everyone has the options to be an independent, to have the freedom I so cherish.

Hoyt had much the same thing to say:

I’m just going to put it out there, without further elaboration, that adults don’t put on a panel on a subject that presents only ONE SIDE of that subject and that blatantly lies (“against diversity; mostly male” etc.) in front of a national audience.  Adults, at least ones who haven’t crossed over the line of senility, don’t create an asterisk to assign to this year’s awards.  (And for the person who played so dumb in the comments as to pretend they don’t know why an asterisk is offensive — yes, that’s why you weren’t approved — that is the mark used before/after dubious sports wins.) Adults don’t create little skits about defending the Hugos from death (particularly given what they’ve done to the Hugos’ prestige) and adults DO NOT say you shouldn’t boo no-award.

She accused the Hugo voters of “[voting] a slate to avoid an imaginary slate” and vowed to help the next Sad Puppies campaign go even bigger and better for next year, in the interest of attempting to “save” the Hugos.

On the other side of things, Adam Troy-Castro penned a blog post about what the Hugo results do and don’t mean. They do not mean, he said, that the Hugos don’t have room for just-plain-fun stories, or conservative authors, or even Christian white men. It isn’t a repudiation of the nominees, either, as plenty of them are great people and have good odds of winning a Hugo in the future, if they do so outside of a slate.

The Hugo results mean one thing: fandom rose up in revulsion and cried, “We don’t want this system gamed with block voting. You want to win a Hugo, win it the way you’re supposed to: by blowing away the readership with such brilliance that people can’t abide the idea of NOT giving you a Hugo.”

Charlie Stross put it like this:

I’ve been seeing a lot of disbelief and anger among the puppies (and gamergaters—there seems to be about a 90% overlap) on twitter in the past 12 hours. They didn’t seem to realize that “No Award” was always an option on the Hugos. They packed the shortlists with their candidates but didn’t understand that the actual voters (a much larger cohort than the folks who nominate works earlier in the year) are free to say “all of these things suck: we’re not having any of it”. By analogy, imagine if members of the Tea Party packed the US republican party primary with their candidates, forcing a choice between Tea Party candidate A and Tea Party candidate B on the Republican party, so that the Republicans run a Tea Party candidate for president. Pretty neat, huh? Until, that is, the broader electorate go into the voting booth and say “no way!”

Chuck Wendig had similar comments:

As it turns out, when you attempt to identify the narrow slice [of SFF fandom you believe is controlling the Hugo Awards] and rip the votes away from them and into the hands of a wider audience of thousands, you actually learn that the wider audience of fans still don’t want the Puppies mucking up the award with their poo-caked paws. You learn that the fans will ride over the hills like an army, and they’ll lock arms and form a line that shan’t be crossed. The awards were positioned this year as finally being for the fans, and the fans showed up. And they thwacked the Puppies on the nose with rolled-up newspaper.

io9 would tend to agree. A couple of days before the ceremony, they posted an article positing that the Puppies’ sheer success gaming the nomination process proves that there isn’t a hidden conspiracy at work—because if there had been, the Puppies never could have gamed it so effectively. But in a process where everyone nominates random things they like, even a small group of people who make a pact to nominate the same specific things can cut through the rest like a hot knife through butter.

That’s going to be the problem to counter for 2016, because it takes two years to approve Hugo rules changes, so the Sad and Rabid Puppies still have an open field. A pair of proposals to reduce the power of slates, “E Pluribus Hugo”  and “4/6,” are being discussed at the WorldCon business meeting today, but even if it passes, it can’t take effect until the year after next.

“E Pluribus Hugo” would effectively give nominators one nomination point to be divided among all proposed nominees: if you nominate only one work in a category, it gets 1 point. If you nominate two, they get half a point each, and five would get 1/5 of a point each. The wider you split your vote, the less power you have. Then there’s a run-off process to eliminate nominees similar to the run-off that eliminates candidates during the actual vote. This should help a greater variety of nominees get through.

The proposal is intended to be completely agnostic as regards type of work, and the FAQ makes no bones about this:

19. Wasn’t this system just designed by Social Justice Warriors to block the Good Stuff?
It is true that much of the discussion for this system occurred on Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s “Making Light” discussion board, and it is also true that groups such as the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies consider TNH and PNH to be The Enemy, and therefore completely biased and not to be trusted. Other than serving as occasional moderators, TNH and PNH had no real input in the discussions of the system, however. Those of us who worked on the system were very clear that our goal was not to keep the Sad/Rabid Puppies off of the Hugo ballot, and that any system which specifically targets any type of work is inherently wrong and unfair. One of the members of the group is a retired US Naval officer, a combat veteran, a certified Navy marksman, a Christian, and considers Robert Heinlein to be the greatest science fiction author who has ever lived. In short, he is exactly the Puppies’ demographic. But any slate, of any sort, be it a Sad Puppy or a Happy Kitten of Social Justice, breaks the Hugo Award because a small percentage of voters can effectively prevent any other work from appearing on the final ballot. This is a major flaw in the Hugo nomination system, and it is a flaw that must be fixed if the integrity of the award is to be maintained. Politics should play no role whatsoever in whether a work is Hugo-worthy or not.

Early reports are that this proposal passed at the business meeting with a 2/3 majority, and a sunset clause of 5 years.

“4/6” would change the number of nominees a WorldCon member may make and final candidates for the vote in each category from 5 and 5 to 4 and 6, respectively, also allowing for greater variety. Word is that this proposal also passed, barely. Neither can go into effect until 2017, of course.

So, what is 2016 going to look like? Will the Puppies try again with their slates? Will WorldCon organizers attempt to get more members this year to make their own nominations in the hope of counteracting the Puppies? (It could be tricky. A lot of people simply don’t read enough new works in a given year to be able to fill a ballot with eligible titles without resorting to, well, a slate.)

Having been slapped down once, the Puppies may well redouble their efforts and attempt to force Hugo voters to cede more categories to No Award. As Amy Wallace says in the Wired article:

In our telephone call a few weeks back, Beale explained that his plan was a “Xanatos gambit.” “That’s where you set it up so that no matter what your enemy does, he loses and you win.”

After all, every category that fell to “No Award” was a category in which the majority of people simply didn’t like any of the available options—whether for reasons of quality or because they were forced upon them via a slate. Even the categories that had only one non-Puppy candidate were effectively awarded by default. So, if they can’t have actual victories for themselves, the Puppies might be satisfied with making it so that nobody could win.

Conversely, it’s possible that the extreme repudiation of the Sad Puppies’ version of reality this year might have a quelling effect on their ability to recruit supporters for the 2016 campaign. Anyone who is not already a die-hard adherent to the Puppy philosophy might have a hard time parting with $40 just to attempt unsuccessfully to spit in some SJWs’ eyes. We shall see.

But the important thing is to remember that this, too, shall pass. Whether with “E Pluribus Hugo” and “4/6” or by some other means, WorldCon will devise a way to minimize the impact of slates, and the Puppies will have to find some other way to try to game the system.

I’ve been somewhat skeptical about how closely related Puppies and GamerGate have been, simply because I hadn’t seen any evidence that there was a direct connection beyond Vox Day being a GG sympathizer and both sets of groups having similar attitudes. Others report seeing a significant overlap in tweets with both GamerGate- and Puppies-related hashtags, so I could be mistaken about that. (But boy, if there is such an overlap, it certainly sheds new light on just how small the GamerGate movement really is. Even if every single Puppy voter were a GamerGater, there were only about a thousand of them who could afford to pony up the $40 necessary to cast their vote?)

But whether they’re fundamentally connected or not, I find it interesting that they both had such similar beginnings and met such similar rejections. Both were launched by splinter groups of their respective fandom, rooted in a fear that their chosen media fandom was moving away from the types of narratives that appealed to them, and toward the sort of liberal message-fiction that wasn’t any fun to experience.

They wanted to fight back against that kind of change, so they attempted to spark a backlash. For a while, they appeared to be successful, but in the end, their chosen fandoms repudiated them—GamerGate via a near-total lack of any friendly coverage outside Breitbart or The Escapist, and the Puppies via a larger body of voters explicitly rejecting the choices from their slates. And both movements reacted effectively the same way: alleging they were the victims of media bias and a conspiracy.

Or, in other words, “The lurkers support me in email.”

(For a bit of added irony, Jo Walton, the author of that song, was also first on the list of authors whose related work nominations were pushed out by the Puppy slate this year.)

Meanwhile, many of the comments on discussions that aren’t on obviously Puppy-aligned sites seem to indicate an understanding of the unsavory aspects of the Hugo matter, and a rejection of the slate method.

Is this a sign that reactionary causes in general are petering out? Conservatives aren’t able to keep up with the attitudes of the more liberal fans? I don’t know. Two swallows don’t make a summer. Still, I do like the overall direction of the trend.

I do feel bad for many of the supporters of the Sad Puppies movement. They’re not all bad actors like Vox Day or John C. Wright. Many or most of them honestly do seem to be following the dictates of their conscience, and feel that the Hugos no longer reflect the kind of stories they like to read.

But the solution to this isn’t to go the slate route, which is widely considered to be morally, if not legally, cheating (and has been ever since the supporters of L. Ron Hubbard used it to get one of his books on the ballot). The only thing that does is tick people off.

The proper solution is to get more people with tastes similar to yours interested in nominating, period. Providing a reading list of cool stories for people to enjoy is considerably different from openly suggesting (or demanding) that your followers nominate exactly those stories.

But I don’t expect to see any of that sort of epiphany from them. After all, if you’re the victim of a secret conspiracy keeping you down, whatever means you choose to use to get back at them are justified by the end. And so we have one more contentious Hugo year ahead, then another rules change on the horizon. We’ll just have to see where things go from there.

If you’re interested in more discussion on the matter, Making Light, BoingBoing, and Slashdot also have comment threads, and Mike Glyer has been very good at keeping tabs on the whole affair at File 770. (Expect a “Best Fan Writer” nomination for him next year, if the Puppies don’t overstuff the ballot again!)


  1. Thank you, Chris. Both for the mention, and also for the point that I’m not a Sad Puppy supporter. I’m somewhere in the middle. On principle, I dislike slates, but I also believe that the Sad Puppies (as opposed to Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies) only wanted to say, “Here are some overlooked pieces of work by folks. Go read ’em, and if you like ’em, too, please nominate.”

    I know some folks were much more strident than that. But most weren’t. They just wanted folks to read Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos, or maybe Kary English, because the SPs had read their work and liked it.

    I have friends on both sides of this. I see the problem very clearly. I don’t have a solution to it. I am frustrated because I think most of us who read, write, and edit SF&F have more in common with each other than not.

    I also am not happy with the thought that Vox Day will win because of him setting up a strategy that’s akin to a zero-sum game.

    What I’m guessing that happened with the no awards in the editor categories was something like this: People who were mad at the Sad Puppies and/or Rabid Puppies (as many conflate the two groups) voted “no award.” And Vox Day’s group apparently also voted mostly for “no award,” which is very surprising considering Vox Day was among the nominees in both categories.

    Like I said, this is only a guess. But if so, that’s the oddest pairing ever that may have teamed up to “no award” a bunch of otherwise worthy editors.

  2. @Barb: You could be right. One other possible factor is that a lot of readers might be confused about how to vote even at the best of times. People can easily tell what story they like best, but the work of an editor, while nonetheless fundamental, is also effectively invisible to the average reader. I know I usually don’t have any idea on what basis to make a decision when it comes to Best Editor myself.

    Nonetheless, it is heartening that both these similar movements, GamerGate and Puppies, met such similar rejections. It would be kind of insulting to compare this matter directly to the Civil Rights movement given that so much less is at stake, but nonetheless I kind of wonder if this is how Civil Rights campaigners felt in the sixties when they started winning big victories and realizing that the majority actually was, in some sense, on their side.

  3. I would like to know why an award that seems to consider itself at least semi-prestigious would resort to popular voting to choose its winners. Popular voting means that your award is in essence a popularity contest. There is a reason that the People’s Choice awards are generally considered to be crap and it’s because “people” are notoriously bad at identifying quality.

    The awards should at the very least be chosen by some sort of Jury of experts or a wider nominating/voting pool consisting of past Hugo winners and anyone nominated for an award going forward under the new system. It’s sort of how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offers membership to anyone nominated for an Academy Award.

  4. Mike: Because that’s how they’ve always been given out. They started out in 1953 as an unofficial award that a bunch of fans at the biggest science fiction convention in the world decided to give out, to show their appreciation for particular works. There were lots of juried awards around, at least at the time, but there weren’t any where the fans felt like they got to have a say. They wanted one, so they made one up. Over the years that followed, the awards gradually stratified into something prestigious. (Kind of like Gen Con’s “ENNie awards,” which started out as a bunch of “things we like” awards given out by a fan blog while at the convention, but are now accorded at least semi-official status.)

    And technically, it’s not “popular voting” but it’s a method called the Australian ballot, in which voters rank their preferences from first to least and then the ballots are tallied in such a way that the winners are works that are liked by everyone, even those who preferred something else overall. It’s not unusual for the work that got the most votes for #1 to end up superseded by something that got more #2, #3, #4, etc. votes.

    If you’re looking for a juried award, that’s the Nebulas, which are given out by the SFWA. The Hugos are a popularity contest, and they always have been. That’s what they’re for.

  5. As I understand it. If the system is designed for the fans to select and vote on the eventual winners, there can be no ‘gaming’ of the system here. Fans voted. They even paid the entry fee to do so. If you don’t like the nominees or the winners, do as they did. Sign up, pay and vote. They may be organized, but they are organized of individuals. And each individual paid and voted.

    The counter organizers than organized themselves and pushed for the selection of no award. They too signed up, paid and voted.

    So far both sides are equal morally, ethically and legitimately.

    The difference is one side sets out to recognize certain contributors to SF & F and the other to deny that recognition.

    So now which appears to be Aesop’s dog?

  6. Hoo-howdy, what a state of affairs. I wasn’t there, couldn’t afford even a non-attending membership, and had no particular dog (or cat) in the hunt — but I still will opine that Toni and Sheila got robbed by a system that has now proven just how broken it has come to be.

    Is there hope yet for the Hugos? Maybe. Are they worth the time, energy, and effort it will take to save them? That, as the thief challenged to teach a horse to talk is said to have remarked, remains to be seen.

  7. Two things in the comments can’t be allowed to stand unanswered: the false equivalency suggested by referencing those who voted No Award as essentially doing the same thing that the puppies did and the claim that the awards are broken.

    The awards are not broken by any means. The outcome demonstrated just how truly strong they are; a small group of individuals who made up a conspiracy out of whole cloth successfully gamed the nominations (something that has never been done on this scale throughout the entire history of the awards) and the entire constituency, utilizing an option that has always been part of the award process (No Award) rejected the gaming.
    Unlike the campaigning during the nomination process which clearly identified two groups – Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies as recommending and supporting the bloc voting of slates of nominees, those voting No Award did so individually; there were no campaigns, no branded groups, no recruiting associated with those who chose to exercise the No Award option.
    The awards are clearly not broken – unless a system that has been in place since 1953 that worked exactly the way it was supposed to work can be called “broken”. Awards were given out in each of the categories; five of those awards went to “No Award”. The remaining 12 categories had named winners.
    Claiming that the awards are broken is the equivalent of stating that since your candidate did not win, the election is broken.
    This kind of thinking is exactly what the Worldcon membership voted against this year.

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