Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Hugo Awards

So, pretty much everyone who pays the remotest attention to the publishing world knows about the Hugo Awards scandal.

For those who need a quick recap:

Two groups - Sad Puppies, organized by Brad R. Torgersen and Rabid Puppies, organized by Vox Day produced overlapping "slates" of suggested nominees.

The number of people voting this year was much higher than normal.

The Hugo ballot pretty much resembles the combination of their two slates, including six nominations for John C. Wright (a record). (I'm not saying everything was on the slate, but a lot was).

They are not hiding the fact that they managed to skew the ballot - in fact, they are quite proud of it. They are also, as it happens, a group of political conservatives.

This is a set of people who want to dominate the Hugos with both the kind of science fiction they like and writers with politics they agree with. Their success - and the high level of publicity attached to it - has brought the integrity of the awards into question.

First of all, the Hugos have never been a popular choice award. It costs, currently, a $40 donation to WorldCon to become eligible to vote - this covers you for a year. Between the cost (which some people consider excessively high) and the fact that you need to be extremely well read in the field to have a clue what to nominate and vote for, the Hugos have always been chosen by a relatively small (in some years under 300) group of industry insiders and hardcore fans.

This obviously makes the awards easy to manipulate. And, like the Oscars, the Hugos tend to award certain kinds of work - which is one of the things the Sad Puppies are claiming they want to fix.

The problem is that they also, again, want to "fix" the awards so the kind of work they like gets nominated instead. And they've proved that ballot stuffing the Hugos works.

And, of course, there's been a backlash. Many fans and industry people - especially those of a more liberal persuasion - want to "fix" this by intentionally voting against anything on the Sad Puppies slate. This is despite the fact that there's no evidence anyone on either slate except for Mr. Vox Day (who had the poor taste to include his own work) and John C. Wright actually asked to or even wanted to be there. They did not "cheat." The argument I've heard is that we don't know if they would have been on the ballot otherwise. My return argument is that anyone who cares enough to want to fix this should have some idea of what they would consider worthy of a Hugo.

So, how should the Hugo awards move forward?

1. People who want to fix this and help the awards should, if they can reasonably afford it, pay for a supporting membership of the next WorldCon now. The voting packages will go out at the end of April. I bought mine yesterday and am fairly sure I'll be in in time (if not, I get to nominate next year, which should also help).
2. Those eligible to vote should do their level best to forget about the "slates." Either voting blindly for SP/RP nominees or blindly voting against them is wrong. The latter pushes the Hugos closer to being a liberal/conservative two-party fight - which it should not be. Instead, people should vote for their idea of artistic merit (I say their idea, because we all have different tastes).
3. The World Science Fiction Society should put some serious thought into the system. It's worked for years, but in today's world of the internet - this can happen. The proposal I personally like the most is to limit the number of works an individual can nominate to a number below the six item shortlist. This would not keep books from getting on the ballot because of a slate, but would significantly reduce the risk of a slate "sweeping" the ballot or close, as as happened this year.

And the takeaway?

No award system is ever going to be perfect. But there is a lot of politics in SF&F lately - and reducing the politics should be a goal of all of us.

The problem the internet gives us is that we can find out a lot more about the authors we like. We all know that Orson Scott Card is a homophobe, that Harlan Ellison was a jerk at conventions, that C.J. Cherryh is, despite the unisex name, a lesbian and that Neil Gaiman looks more like the Doctor than some of the actors who've played him. (I'd apologize to Neil, but I think he'd take that as a compliment. I hope so, anyway).

And then the temptation becomes to judge work not on its merit but on the perceived merits of the artist producing it.

Add in the quite reasonable desire to increase diversity and we arrive...here. Where an award ceases to be about the work and becomes all about the politics and maneuverings.

Which has always been the case, but this time everyone knows about the politics and maneuverings. They're out in the light - and maybe this was something that needed to happen.