A lot of people reading this won’t know: there is an award called the Hugo, for science fiction and fantasy literature and fannish activities. There are also awards for movies and film, but the big ones are for the written word. It’s shaped like a rocket, with a base that changes every year.
These awards are nominated and chosen via vote, by members of the World Science Fiction Society, which mostly means Worldcon members. Voting is entirely optional. It’s also possible to join the society (via a “supporting membership”) without attending the Worldcon. That’s pretty cheap, which is important here.
The voting system is reasonably sound, overall, but it has a major vulnerability to gaming. And that vulnerability is: anyone can join the WSFS. It costs $40. If enough people do this and all nominate the same things in lockstep, then they will have all of their choices nominated.
This hasn’t been done before. Oh, there was a case in the late 1980s when the Church of Scientology had a bunch of well-scattered members all acquire memberships in order to buy L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth: Volume 1 a nomination for Best Novel, but it finished behind “NO AWARD.” That’s important, and we’ll talk more about that below.
But as you can see, this is a known vulnerability. In part as a result, and in part in an attempt to maintain the integrity of the award, there has been a long-standing social agreement that people would not campaign, much less exploit the process via slates and bloc voting. This agreement has not even been implicit, but discussed and debated and regularly brought up. People brush up against it pretty regularly; there has been a lot of debate about writers such as John Scalzi and Seanan McGuire posting to their blogs about what works of theirs are eligible, and a lot of argument over whether this constitutes campaigning.
But all of that aside, it’s held up acceptably well. And the only reason it’s worked – the only reason publishing houses haven’t been breaking the system for decades – is that gaming the system isn’t economically effective. The cost needed to buy enough voting rights to capture an award’s nominations via slate voting is much greater than the added economic value of the Hugo Award(tm) label being stuck onto anything.
But political spite-voting has no interest in cost vs. reward; it’s about anger and retaliation, and people will spend anything on that. Anything.
There is a wide rightist/racist/misogynist swath within fandom. It’s led by people like Vox Day, who is, as I have discussed before, an avowed white supremacist. You might recall he was booted out of the Science Fiction Writers of America, for using SWFA resources to promulgate a racist screed against another SFWA member a couple of years ago.
These fans have become increasingly angry over the last few years as women and queers and people of colour – and works about the same – have been nominated, so they started a campaign last year to nominate a slate of acceptably-rightist and rightist-compatible works. Their justification for throwing out the social agreement has been that the wrong people are winning, therefore it’s obviously already rigged by bloc voting, despite the lack of any such evidence, by “social justice warriors”; therefore all rules are off and they can do whatever they want.
Last year, they failed. Some hoped that would be the end of it, but those hopeful people underestimated the power of spite, and this year, the same group succeeded. The “sad puppies” (or “rabid puppies”) slate captured most nominations, including two nominations for Christian supremacist and white supremacist Vox Day himself. Baen Books’s complicity in this – because hey, if you don’t have to pay for it, suddenly vote-buying does make sense – have led some to boycott the imprint.
In order to achieve their result, the Puppies engaged in a massive “voter registration campaign,” mass slate voting, and overt campaigning which included reaching out to the misogynist harassment and hate-group #GamerGate, trying to get more votes from anyone willing to “humble” and “hurt” the “social-justice warriors.” As some of the Sad Puppies have been willing to admit in great detail, it’s about the “wrong” kind of stories winning – or, even, existing.
As with GamerGate, they are now attempting to pretend this had something to do with quality of work and types of work – anything but the real issue. But with samples of now-Hugo-nominated works like this being only the beginning, few people are taking that argument seriously. They’ve also claimed that the works nominated as of late aren’t enough about SF, but that’s pretty hard to sustain when one of their fan-writing slate favourites is mostly a rightist political blog.
They also talk about reaching out to “new voters” within fandom; I’m sure those GamerGate guys are serious science-fiction readers. Totally into it.
Some fans are considering counter-slates for future years. I cannot state strongly enough: This would be a disaster. And not just because it would insure the Puppies more slate victories. To reply with counter-slates would be to enter what in foreign affairs is called a Red Queen’s Race – a continuing escalation of resource expenditure to less and less effect resulting eventually in structural collapse. (See also: wars of terrorism, current case study: Syria. But I digress.)
Fortunately, there is an alternative. Remember, above, how I mentioned that Mission Earth: Volume 1 finished behind NO AWARD?
If NO AWARD wins, no Hugo in that category is awarded. This has happened before – not since 1976, I think, but it has happened.
NO AWARD short-circuits the Red Queen’s Race. It makes all slate efforts null and void, as long as fans collectively decide not to award any award in slate-controlled categories. It burns most of one year, to save the rest. Compared to the alternative of competing political slates that reduce the value and meaning of the award to absolutely nothing on any axis – other than spite – it’s a dramatically better option.
NO AWARD is an available tool, requiring no rules changes. It’s a tool that has been used before. And it is the only answer to this situation. If the only way to win is not to play, NO AWARD is not playing.
Fortunately, you don’t have to vote NO AWARD in all categories this year. A few categories have one or more nominees which are not on the Sad Puppies slates; one is entirely Puppies-free, since they did not nominate in that category. This means no best novella; no best novelette; no best short story; no best related work; no best editor, short or long form. It’s a heavy price, but it’s the only alternative to political voting as far as the eye can see.
This is a list of nominees which did not appear in any form on the Puppies slate. When voting, vote for any of them, in whatever order you prefer. And then beneath that, vote NO AWARD, and do not put any Puppy-nominee on any ballot at all.
It’s an unfortunate thing to have to do, particularly for anyone who might have no role in this other than having been picked for the Puppy slate without cooperation. But if you want to stop this political slate-voting while it can be stopped, NO AWARD is the only option that could work. Do the math; nothing else available under current rules stops this from happening continually. To prevent slates (of any kind) from occurring, the act of slate-voting has to become utterly futile. And this is the only way to achieve that.
So to save the Hugo, WSFS members must vote, must not include any Puppies nominees, and must include NO AWARD.
I urge everyone to do so. Vote, and vote NO AWARD.
ps: You want to know the really pathetic thing? One of the Sad Puppy rallying points is their assertion that Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo these days. They didn’t even include the new Heinlein biography in their slate, thus insuring it couldn’t win. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s hilarious.
eta: Scalzi has weighed in on the Secret Social Justice Warrior Cabal theory that the puppies use as an excuse for their slate. NO AWARD is still the only answer, but his commentary on their use of him as a scapegoat is amusing.</p>
eta2: I missed Jim Hines’s post on this, wherein he takes apart some of the arguments made about NO AWARD somehow being cheating… while slates are just fine. Apparently. Does that make sense? No, but it doesn’t have to.
eta3: George R. R. Martin has been promising to weigh in for a while, and has; his post is worth reading, I think.