Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Hugos: The Kindergarten Bestest Friend Award

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 28, 2015

IngredBergmanGaslightI was going to write a big article about the 2015, and the travesty that went down this year with the Hugos.  In fact, I did write not just one, but two articles about it. But I wasn’t happy with either one. In the end, I wasn’t really contributing much, in spite of both of them dwarfing this giant post. And I’m tired of the negativity.

If you don’t know what happened… well, good luck trying to get a straight answer. I’m a little biased, too, so I don’t know if my take on things is any better. I’ll just say… the Hugo is about science fiction and fantasy, and most of the stories bandied about by even the supposedly professional media were far more fantasy than anything else.

I was a voter this year for the Hugos, which was pretty meaningful to me, as the award had been meaningful to me when I was growing up. I haven’t paid too much attention later in life, and found many of the award-winners of recent years to be quite divergent from my tastes. I think the awards have diminished in value and prestige over the years, and there may be kind of a weird causal relationship there. But I think most of the “diminishing” has been because fandom has grown and expanded so much that the convention that it belongs to (WorldCon) is no longer the hub of all things SF/F-related as it once was.

There are people who still care about it and stay involved, and – over the years – have some pretty solid influence over how the Hugos get awarded each year (in spite of downplaying their own influence). They have their tastes and their relationships, and those have influenced their gatekeeping “duties.” That’s group 1. Group 2 was a smaller group that thought the Hugo ought to change, and needed “fixing” to be less hidebound and more reflective of the larger interests of expanded fandom as a whole, and should be big enough that no group should really be in control of it at all. Group 3… I don’t understand as well, but for the most part they seemed interested in making sure that Group 1 didn’t have control of it any longer, even if that meant blowing up the Hugos so it was useless to everyone. Finally, there were people that weren’t really in a “group” but were the ones who either tried to stay above the fray or neutral about it, or in spite of their involvement in WorldCon didn’t really know much about what was going on.

Anyway, certain folks in groups 1-3 wanted to turn it into a holy war, particularly this spring when group 1 discovered that many of the people they’d anointed to be nominees this year didn’t actually make the ballot. By turning things into a holy war, the ends somehow seem to justify the means, and people desperately wanted the “must fight evil!” excuse to justify their extremely nasty, unethical actions. Group 4 just wanted to know why everyone couldn’t just get along. And the media made up their own stories, grabbed popcorn, and watched high profile geeks turn on each other with escalating levels of viciousness.

Feelings were hurt. Careers were hurt. Violence was threatened but fortunately never materialized. Straw men were built and kicked over. The squabbling was some of the nastiest stuff I’ve seen since Junior High. In the end, people were recruited (in some cases, bought and paid for) on multiple sides to help make sure “their side” won. Or just to make sure the other side(s) lost.

In the end, I think the Hugos themselves and the quiet fourth group lost. The Hugos were proven to be little more than a kindergarten “bestest friend” award, and have probably lost whatever legacy prestige they still retained. I really can’t see how anyone can treat them seriously in the future. The “real” fans who took their role in the awards seriously (scattered throughout the factions, but many making up the fourth group) found themselves marginalized.

The second group got kicked to the curb with extreme prejudice (again), the third group managed to achieve a dubious win condition, and the first group stood the next day over the smoldering carnage of the earth they’d scorched and asked, “What have we done?!?!?” Many recognized that while they might have survived the battle, they’d probably lost the war, even as others on their side were cheering that they’d held off the barbarian invasion one more year. Kind of.

And the media got to jeer at the geek civil war.

Bleah. All that negativity. Believe it or not, that’s my highly abbreviated take on what happened.

So… on to better things. Here’s what I was good about the whole experience for me:

First of all… as a Hugo voter, I got a ton of awesome reading material. Too much, really… I spent waaaay more time going through it all this summer than I really had at my disposal. But for the price of admission, it was more than worth it. Yeah, a few entries (from all nominating groups) kinda left me cold. But for the most part, there were some awesome stories.

For my favorites… almost all of the novels were excellent. The actual winner of the “best novel” award (the one where Groups 1 and 3 actually agreed… mainly because group 1 didn’t know that group 3 liked it…), The Three-Body Problem, is well worth reading. My favorite was Skin Game, but I’m a Harry Dresden fan.

Of the other works… I really liked Ms. Marvel, although I couldn’t shake the feeling that the choice of a Muslim-American superhero was more politically motivated, calculated attention-getting move than it would have been two decades ago. Still, regardless of motivations, it was good.

I really, really loved The Plural of Helen of Troy. It’s a story about a city run by… well, effectively “Time Lords,” although they have a different name. But imagine a society where nothing happens without the approval of time-travelers who can go back and change anything they didn’t like. Celebrities of different eras thrust together in apartments. It is a wonderfully brain-twisting mystery where past, present, and future all get munged together.

Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman and Totaled by Kary English were two other stories that really impressed me. The former is sort of military SF with a harsh commentary about the application of the military in today’s global poltical arena. The latter is a “brain in a jar” story that asks some hard questions about the value of human life when life can be extended after the body has died.

There were several other enjoyable works, but those really stood out for me, and I wanted to share.

On top of that, I was introduced to people and authors that I may not have met had I not been involved (even if only up in the nosebleed section). While I’d like to believe it would have happened anyway, being involved served as a catalyst.

I guess you could say it was also pretty educational. While I may have learned more than I really wanted to know about a couple of people whom I previously admired, I got the chance to learn a lot more about the industry, the major players in the field, the history of fandom, and so forth.

I was once again reminded why you should be very skeptical of anything you read on the Internet. Even from (or especially from) supposedly reputable, professional journalism sites. There’s nothing quite as breathtaking as being an eyewitness to the facts, but then seeing completely manufactured, provably invalid falsehoods take wing at the speed of light and take on a life of their own. There’s the old joke, “Who are you gonna believe, me, or your own eyes?” but it’s really not a joke. Gaslighting is a thing, and it works. So… guard your mind. And never assume that the truth must be somewhere “in the middle”  (a common assumption that I make way too often).

And in the end… this tempest in a teapot notwithstanding… I have come to the realization that science fiction & fantasy, as a whole, are doing just fine. Just like the video games biz, we’re encountering challenges and struggles over growth and change. These are healthy problems to have. Just by looking at the sheer volume of material being published now as opposed to when the Hugo awards first became a thing, and that tells you a lot. Fandom is much, much bigger and more diverse, and we have far more outlets to enjoy being together in their shared enthusiasm.

And while Sturgeon’s law still applies, I think the best works of the speculative fiction genres coming out each year are as good as ever, and are obviously more plentiful. While I haven’t been too pleased with some of the award-winning fiction of the last few years, I have come to realize that this was a matter of the taste of the gatekeepers (acting a little like editors), not necessarily indicative of the entire field. There’s a heck of a lot out there, and it is diverse and fun and exciting.

This was neither the first of the fan arguments about the future of the field, and I’m sure it won’t be the last… and sadly, probably not the nastiest, either. SF/F authors are all about making larger-than-life drama, and this was one of them.

I don’t know if I want to be a participant next time like I was this time… particularly for an award that I think has effectively self-destructed… but I might. If nothing else, it’s a relatively cheap way to get to read some of the year’s best SF/F.


Filed Under: Books, Events - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    You know I love you, but claiming that the outcry was because the liberals had “anointed nominees” that didn’t make the ballot is kind of deliberately missing the point. 🙂

    The problem was the slate voting/ballot stuffing. The Hugo awards have traditionally reacted badly to organised ballot-stuffing – see the Scientology incident of 1987.

    And then, yeah, it turned into a screaming media circus.

    Unfortunately, the rules as written were extremely open to abuse. Someone came along and abused them, and there was much hand-wringing. There are movements underway now to try and rewrite the rules to be more inclusive and give a wider range of books a chance to be seen, which the sensible members of groups 1 and 2 both support.

    Sadly group 3 has openly said they’re going to keep trying to tear the whole thing down, and frankly, popularity awards are always kind of messed up at the core. I mean, if all you want to do is give an award to the book that’s most popular, you don’t need votes, you just need to check the best-sellers list. This is most popular, boom, we’re done.

    See also: the IGF. Awards are a big thorny mess.

    Reliance on popularity means that often stuff does clump together. I have an author friend who I’m very fond of, and I still think s/he’s gotten way too many nominations. I don’t think ANY one person should get that many nominations that close together, even if they’re the best writer in the history of sf/f.

    I’ve been trying to stay out of any stuff attached to individual names, though. I know a lot of horrid things have been said about a particular author, and if any of it’s true I don’t approve, but I happen to like the book of his that I’ve read, so I’d rather stick to reading his books and ignoring the drama unless it affects the writing!

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    … I may have my numbers mixed up in there somewhere if you meant a different group than I thought you meant but WHATEVER, it’s over.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen to the awards. I don’t know if they can fix them. I don’t know if awards should even exist anymore. So many of them seem so messed up once you actually figure out how they work.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh, I absolutely know you love me, and the feeling is mutual. :)We’re all good here.

    I have lots of friends with different opinions, and one of the big articles of faith for me is that this MUST be okay (within reason, of course). How boring would it be if we all shared exactly the same priorities and never questioned our views?

    And yeah. IGF parallels. And I honestly don’t think it’s possible to establish any kind of awards that is “immune” from abuse. One of the things I learned from working at a network marketing company is the lengths motivated people will go to to game a system – ANY system. And how no system is un-game-able. You think people in MMOs are bad? Wait until real money is on the line.

    The word “anointed” is my mask slipping, but after years of denials, the folks in that “group 1” grudgingly acknowledged this year that YES, this happens, but of course they downplay their ability to influence things. But with a particularly successful author holding a special awards ceremony for the people who were “supposed to have been nominated,” it’s… well. It’s fugly.

    I don’t know enough about what happened with group 3, but between group 1 and 2, the only qualitative difference that I saw was whether things were done quietly or out in the open. A lot of what I saw was all sides doing pretty much the same thing, and at least two of them trying more-or-less to be conscientious about it, but things escalating (including what could be called “buying votes” if you were to use a charged term. But “scholarships” were offered to selected audiences to pay for Worldcon memberships so they could vote).

    Anyway, yeah. It was a mess. I don’t have much faith in the Hugo returning to its former glory. But after all that nastiness,

    But… exactly, it’s over. Time to move on. And there’s a great big world out there with lots of cool stuff. I think awards are great, but only so far as they serve their audience and industry. When they distract rather than promote, they’ve outlived their usefulness.

  • McTeddy said,

    You said it yourself, the rules are being fixed which means the voting was legal. No rules broken, no wrong done that was considered a problem when they created the rules.

    And the he response to “You’re voting is politically motivated” shouldn’t be “See? We voted ENTIRELY against the people who said that. We’re the best and we totally vote for the best writers without involving author politics!”

    All three groups willingly burned it to the ground because rather they attacked and insulted rather than talk like grownups. The media poured the gasoline and social media fanned the flames.

    Honestly, our whole world is a mess and award ceremonies are the LEAST of my concern. They always have been popularity contests and ways for a group to support the things they want to see.

    The fact that our whole world is so divided and so many people on all sides of opinion can’t coexist with those that feel different. It’s sad and, honestly, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fix this problem.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, that was the thing. As I said elsewhere, once the metaphorical firebombs come out, the metaphorical straw men have to come out too because they burn so well.

    And then there’s the holy war aspect. And that’s rife in our culture right now. Basically you have two sides that start out saying:

    #1 – X and Y are both important, but I consider X more important than Y.
    #2 – While I agree that both are important, I believe Y should be given greater consideration than X.

    Ten minutes later, the firebombs and straw men come out:

    #1: You HATE X, you evil X-Hater!!!!
    #2: You want to destroy Y that we hold so dear! How could you be so heartless and evil?!?!?

  • Captainbooshi said,

    I am actually sympathetic and agree with the initial point the Puppies had. I think it’s pretty clear that a certain type of SFF has come to dominate the awards recently, and that this should be addressed in some way. This is one of the eternal problems with popularity contests, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfixable. Unfortunately, they completely lost me when they decided to “fix” it in a such an unethical and shortsighted way.

    To be honest, I still don’t understand why they decided to create a slate anyways. All that does is escalate things so that people who don’t agree with them have to do the same thing to compete, and as we can see from the released vote tallies, they’re a minority of the overall fandom, so they’re going to lose that fight badly. It got them control of the nominees for one year, but even if everyone had decided to ignore it (even though Hugo voters have historically punished people who game the system like that), next year the opposing side would have just made their own slates and the Puppies would never have even seen ANY of their books nominated again. Not only that, it makes the claim that they just want fair representation on the ballot look like a lie, since they made sure that no one else gets to be on the ballot at all. Things like this are the main reason why I believe the reasonable Puppies were kind of snookered (in their desperation to do something) by the people who just wanted to burn the whole thing down.

    I genuinely think that the end result is the best that can be expected of an awful situation. What were the real alternatives? If we just acted like this was a normal year and voted like normal, that would outright guarantee the use of slates going forward, where whichever group happened to gin up the most votes while nominating gets to decide outright which group gets to compete for the Hugos this year. If “No Award” had been awarded in every category, it would have handed a complete victory to those who wanted nothing else but to destroy the Hugos entirely. The important thing is that if any group decides to game the system the same way next year, no matter which side it is, the same thing happen to them. This needs to be a war on underhanded tactics, not on one particular side.

    My hope is that whatever system they come up with in the rules change they’re proposing will both stop this type of gaming the system, but also address the Puppies’ original point, and let the minority favorites have more presence on the ballot. Having a wider selection on the ballot can be nothing but a good thing, both for the awards, and for the readers who get cool stuff to read they might not see otherwise. I don’t actually have a lot of real hope for this, since it got so contentious this year, but that’s what would happen in my ideal world.

  • Silemess said,

    No dog in the fight, it’s news to me what happened to the Hugos. I remember them as being useful in the early 90’s, and then not so much for selecting my next book to buy. Neither a mark for, nor against, any particular book when the notice of the Hugo award graced their covers.

    So I’m a little disheartened to hear about this, but it’s like hearing about a favorite music band that had a falling out in the years since they last put out an album.

    I have to agree with prior readers. If there’s a system, it can be gamed. I use Rotten Tomatoes as a rough gauge of movies. Not because the system is full proof, but if it’s negative enough, it probably -is- crap. But if Rotten gives it a score of 2%, and a trusted friend says it’s brilliant, than the movie’s getting my $.

    Have trusted reviewers, and judge through the bias of their tastes. Even, and perhaps especially, reviewers who don’t share your view, but are consistent and fair in their criticisms. I’ve chosen things that reviewers hated, because their fair critiques said that it would be up my alley even while it wasn’t to their preference.

    Which brings my meandering back to it’s original point. It’s been a long time since I felt the Hugos were a solid enough judgement point to act on their selections. The inconsistency meant that I didn’t know if it was good or bad, because I didn’t know what they used as their metrics, nor what was at the ends of their scales. Without that basis, their approval was worthless. I’m glad you shared this info, but it’s a little disillusioning to learn of.

  • Justin Alexander said,

    “The word “anointed” is my mask slipping, but after years of denials, the folks in that “group 1” grudgingly acknowledged this year that YES, this happens, but of course they downplay their ability to influence things.”

    I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed for the better part of a decade, so I’m rather shocked to see your “mask slip” to reveal someone adamantly willing to lie in support of bigots.

    For example:

    “But with a particularly successful author holding a special awards ceremony for the people who were “supposed to have been nominated”…”

    You are attempting to paint that as Group 1 trying to reassert its “anointed” choices. But that’s bullshit and there’s really no way for you not to know that it’s bullshit: George R.R. Martin held a ceremony for those who would have been on the final ballot if the racist and misogynist organizers of the Puppies campaigns hadn’t rallied other racists and misogynists to vote for their unprecedented slate of candidates.

    That’s not idolizing “anointed” candidates. That’s performing basic mathematics.

    I’m not sure if you actually are a bigot or if you’re just willing to toss away your credibility in order to support them. Either way, I’ll be canceling my RSS subscription.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well, that’s the kind of “Holy War” reaction that poisoned things on all sides this year, sadly. There was name-calling on all sides.

    I really didn’t start taking an interest until things exploded three days prior to the nominations being announced. That suggested to me that certain individuals had very strong expectations for who would be nominated, and a close enough relationship with them to get them to divulge that they had not yet been contacted by the judges to confirm their nomination (something that is supposed to be kept quiet, although technically since they hadn’t been contacted, they weren’t actually violating any agreement).

    That suggested to me that the numbers had atrophied and become a bit too heterogeneous. Could I be totally wrong? Yes. But this isn’t to say that it was being managed in an unethical way.

    But as a long-time indie evangelist, I have natural tendencies towards broader gates and fewer gatekeepers. So I put my money where my mouth was and signed up to vote. My desire was to become part of a broader base of voters; my objective was to read (or view) everything and to try to vote fairly.

    While I can’t claim to be besties with anybody at the center of the conflict or on the ballots, I am at least casual acquaintances with some. I’ve talked to them as they’ve been dragged through the mud with the horrible accusations made of them, learned of the toll its taken on them, and I take exception to this.

    I’ve no doubt there were some real jerks on all sides, but there were a lot of principled individuals who were trying to do the right thing on all sides as well. And that’s the thing that really disappointed me. I can’t say who was right and who was wrong in their actions, and I do agree they all had a point… it’s just a difference of priorities. But I can say that this nasty demonization and otherization and continent-sized brushstrokes painting villains and heroes is the kind of thing that destroys communities.

    I won’t say that the argument is something as trivial as which end of the egg to break open first, but I can say that I feel things have escalated WAAAAAAY out of proportion.

  • Das said,

    The Hugos are a marketing tool for the publishing industry. To expand the SF&F-market, SF&F needs to become mainstream, to become mainstream it needs to fit in. If used in the right way the Hugos can be a powerful means to brand SF&F so that it ensures mainstream attention and positive exposure in the established mass media thus increasing sales.

    This conflict was not about which works deserve to win but what the Hugos should communicate. This was politics.

    Which is why there was no possible compromise. Read up on your Carl Schmitt on what’s the essence of successful politics: the friend/enemy distinction. If you want to win a conflict like this you can not afford to see bridges but you must instead see bigots and haters and you must want to not only win but crush them and never ever associate with them.

    In our time the personal is political, there is no tolerance for intolerance, there is finally true freedom instead of slavery. ‘Tis a win for strength over ignorance so that now there can be peace not war.

    Anyway: Thank you for summarizing the Great Hugo Wars of 2015. Somehow this year there were neither pro- nor anti-puppie posts in my feeds…