Well, here we go again. This year's Hugo nominations were released yesterday. And Vox Day's Rabid Puppies totally dominated.
A quick recap, for those who missed it, or who have joyfully repressed it since last August. Last year, two groups decided that the Hugos had become too much about "diversity" and not enough about good science fiction, and organized voting slates to get works that they deemed more worthy on the Hugo ballot. The Sad Puppies were conservatives, but sane. The Rabid Puppies called themselves "rabid" for a reason, and were led by extremist Vox Day (who is, coincidentally, editor of his own publishing house, Castalia House. Unsurprisingly, it shows up on his slate a lot).
After last year's backlash, the Sad Puppies didn't run a slate for 2016, but a kind of recommendation system instead. The Rabid Puppies ran a slate, same as before. And 64 of its 81 slate items appeared on the final ballot. File770 has a good analysis, making it really clear which (few) works were non-Rabid nominees.
But the Rabid Puppies are playing a clever game this year. In the bigger categories, their slate nominees are less visible, because many of them are completely obvious finalists. Like Seveneves. Brandon Sanderson. The new Sandman from Neil Gaiman. After last year's more obscure "mostly things published by Vox Day" offering, it seems they've decided to take everyone down screaming with them, by nominating things that were bound to get nominated anyway and then taking the credit for their appearance. It's kind of the equivalent to me telling you guys to go and see The Force Awakens because it's completely awesome, and then claiming that it became such a big hit because of my recommendation.
It's also clearly trolling. It gives them an easy success, but it also gives them the chance to take down authors that might disagree with them. They ignored any writers' requests to be left off the slate, and they've included big-name authors who clearly have a liberal bent totally opposed to their own agenda. And that's win-win-win for them, in their distorted world view. If one of those shoo-in nominees wins, the Rabid Puppies win! If they get No Award-ed for being on the slate, the Rabid Puppies still win, because they've proved that the voting is all about the evil liberal agenda, and not about celebrating good works. And if the authors withdraw from consideration because of the power of the slate, then the Rabids get to tear even more liberal works off the ballot, and feel smug and powerful into the bargain.
And as we get into the slightly more obscure, and less nominated, categories, their trolling presence gets stronger, and weirder. I haven't read any of those works, and perhaps you shouldn't judge a story by its title, but it seems impossible for the Hugos to be a serious award when things like "Space Raptor Butt Invasion" are nominated. Some of the nominees are specifically about the Hugo controversy -- like the short story If You Were An Award, My Love, which is clearly a play on the 2014 nominee If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love -- or are entirely about sticking the middle finger up at their opponents. We're talking works with titles like SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police and Safe Space as Rape Room.
So they included some big hitters, because they couldn't really stop them, so they might as well taint them. And then, in categories where they had far less competition, they really went to town with destructive trolling.
Unless they think those are quality works, of course. There's no accounting for taste.
And it just makes everything kind of... icky. It throws Rabidness over everything, and erases every other possible conversation. For example, they nominated an episode of My Little Pony for best dramatic presentation, short form. I'd love for us now to have a conversation about the value of children's animated works, and of joy in a grimdark genre world. Instead, it's just got a feeling of creepy Bronies being creepy, with a huge dollop of trolling on top. It has the feeling that there could be nothing more insulting to the awards than a show aimed at girls, and Vox Day manipulating Bronies into making it so. The conversation becomes nothing but them.
So... what now? It's hard to take seriously any award with Vox Day's "SJWs Always Lie" on the ballot. And unlike last year, I'm not going to soldier through the crap to weigh up its merit. I'll probably read most of the novels, and pick up the non-puppy nominated shorter works, along with the ones by big name writers, because I've found that the nomination lists can lead me to interesting reading I would have missed otherwise. It's basically my job to read endless piles of YA, and this gives me a focussed reason to finally pick up those other recent books too. But do we have to pretend that "Safe Space as Rape Room" is something worthy of serious critical consideration? The Puppies howl out for attention, and they'd hate nothing more than if everyone just ignored them. So let's just pretend that their troll nominations don't exist.
Of course, this approach isn't without casualties. It's obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of fantasy and sci-fi that Brandon Sanderson and Stephen King are worth checking out, slate or no. But smaller writers? Not so much. Thomas A. Mays has already withdrawn his Hugo-nominated short story from consideration because of the slates, turning what should have been a moment of pride and victory into heartbreak. If we take the "slate works don't exist unless they obviously have merit" approach, innocent writers still building their career get dragged down into the muck too. At best, they don't receive the consideration they deserve. At worst, they get linked to Vox Day in everyone's minds. And unlike big-name writers, they don't have enough of an established reputation to shrug it off. It might appear that they need to withdraw to save their reputation, even though the Hugo nomination should have been something that would build their reputation in the first place.
And that sucks. But I, at least, can't take another year of reading through piles of offensive and poorly written crap in search of potential specks of gold that may have been lost in the mix. And ignoring the Rabid Puppies may seem to "prove them right," but no matter how they crow, that's not really what they want. They desperately need attention. Their trolling is only complete if people read and discuss their nominees as though they all potentially deserve to be there, or else rant about how much they don't deserve to be there. They only have value because we give them value. If we don't even glance at them while they throw their tantrum, they might try to scream louder in response, but it all becomes childish and meaningless. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
So hopefully, this'll be my last word on the subject, unless things get really outrageous, or big-name authors start withdrawing from contention. The Rabid Puppies can screech, but we don't have to hear them.
Instead, I'm going to respond by finally picking up a copy of Hugo-nominated Uprooted. I've been procrastinating on it for far too long.