Responding to the Hugos

As everyone has probably heard by now, there's been some pretty big controversy in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom over this year's Hugo nominations. For a long, detailed and very well-informed summary of events, check out the series of posts at George RR Martin's blog. He's incredibly knowledgable about WorldCon and the history of the Hugos, and he presents a well-reasoned exploration of the facts leading up to this.

For the cliffnotes version: a group calling themselves the Sad Puppies decided that the Hugos had become too liberal and political, at the expense of good, old-fashioned science fiction and fantasy. The best summary of their motivations comes from Sad Puppies founder Brad R Torgersen himself:

A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women.

[But now] The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation…A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

They put together a slate of suggested Hugo nominations that better fit their idea of what the Hugos, and sci-fi/fantasy in general, should be, and organized voting so that those suggestions now make up most of the nominees. In short, it's a backlash against increasing diversity in sci-fi/fantasy, and it's succeeded.

So here's the key question: how should people who disagree with the Sad Puppies react?

One popular suggestion is that voters should only vote for works that weren't featured on the Sad Puppies slate, and otherwise vote for "no award" (a valid voting option in any year). Another, more radical, approach suggests that voters should vote "no award" for every single category.

I disagree with both of these approaches. The second approach, in particular, will only encourage the Sad Puppies to double down on their approach, "proving" there's a liberal conspiracy at work, while doing nothing to support more diverse books and authors and preventing potentially worthy titles from winning an award that could really help a creator's career. The first approach is somewhat better, but only if the voter genuinely believes that none of the books on the slate deserve a Hugo Award.

To me, the only viable strategy is to simply vote. Don't put together a list of how "anti-Sad Puppies" should vote, don't discriminate against books just because they were on the slate...  take the moral high ground and vote honestly.

I'll admit, I haven't read any of the stories on the Sad Puppy slate yet, so I've no idea if they're worthy, mediocre or offensive. I don't know which would have been nominated even without the slate. If they are offensive, then people who are "anti-Sad Puppies" will want to put them below "no award," regardless of any organized campaign. Perhaps if they're mediocre too, depending on how a person likes to use their vote. And if this apparent liberal mafia that values diversity so much reads the books and likes them and thinks they deserve to win a Hugo... well, then they should vote for them.

The key thing, in the end, is voting. If we want diverse creators and titles to be included in the Hugos, then we need to show up and have our voices heard. And not just as an act of protest, but as an act of engagement. Read the nominees, make a genuine evaluation of which ones we like the best, and vote for them because we truly believe they deserve to win. Sure, it's not as dramatic as nuking the votes, and it makes a less headline-worthy point of "we matter too," but it's the way that "untraditional" sci-fi/fantasy fans should be able to engage with the Hugos, and the Sad Puppies don't prevent us from doing that. If enough people who don't fit the Sad Puppies idea of "real sci-fi/fantasy" feel inspired to vote, then diverse works will be included naturally. The Sad Puppies slate only worked because very few people actually contribute to the Hugo nominations. The best way to stop them, therefore, is to contribute. And no matter how much some people believe that must be a conspiracy, anyone with sense can easily see that it's just honest diversity in action.

For $40, you can get a supporting membership for Worldcon, which gives you the right to vote in the Hugos this year and nominate next year. (You also get a digital voter's packet containing many of the nominated works to help you to vote). This is by no means a feasible option for everyone, but if you're feeling invested in this and have the money to spare in exchange for voting rights and digital copies of most of these works, then it's definitely something worth considering. (Or just actually go to WorldCon. It's fun!). I'll be getting a supporting membership and discussing as many of the nominated works as possible here in the run-up to the awards.

If you can, vote. Vote however you feel best, but just vote. It's the only thing you can do in response to all this that matters.