The Hugos and Me

If you’ve read my previous post, you may be wondering: Why the Hugos? Why now? After all, this blog has never covered the Hugos before (although it has covered the Edgars!), nor have I attended Worldcon. On the other hand, if you’ve heard of some of the drama surrounding this year’s awards, you may already have some idea.

Before I get to that, though, I want to talk about my own history with the Hugos. I’ve been reading science fiction almost as long as I’ve been able to read. I fell in love with the feeling of having my mind permanently expanded by reading a sci-fi story, having my preconceptions of what is possible overturned and being able to see a wider universe as a result. I exhausted the sci-fi collection in my elementary school’s library (Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket collection was particularly memorable, with a number of haunting stories), and began to look for more in the wider world. Bookstore science-fiction sections were dauntingly large compared to the library shelf at school, but I started to notice that some books would have a badge indicating that they’d won a Hugo–and that these were usually a good buy.

And so it’s been since, that if I’m looking for a new book, recent Hugo winners and nominees are a reliable source. But apart from that I hadn’t paid much attention, or thought about becoming a Worldcon member and being part of the voting process. That changed this year.

Many, many words have been written about the Hugo controversy this year so I don’t want to add too much more, but here’s the short version: A group of conservative writers and fans calling themselves “Sad Puppies” felt that the awards had become too “progressive” and “literary”, and in response created a slate of their own preferred nominees that were more ideologically acceptable—and in addition to voting for the slate themselves, solicited additional votes from GamerGaters as a way to stick it to the “SJWs”. (For those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with GamerGate jargon, SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior”. The fact that this is supposed to be a pejorative tells you a lot about the movement.)

The Hugo nominating process is highly vulnerable to slate voting tactics: since voters not using slates will split their votes among the entire universe of eligible works, a small minority working from a slate can sweep the nominations. That is exactly what happened this year; the short fiction categories were almost completely from one of the slates (in fact there are two overlapping slates), and most other categories were dominated by slate nominees as well. And word is that the quality of the nominees is just what you’d expect from a process that prioritized political acceptability over literary merit.

When I learned about this, I felt like something I cared about was under attack. I read all the commentary on it I could find (of which there was plenty) and became convinced that I should add my vote to the final balloting. Any member of the World Science Fiction Convention is entitled to vote, and it doesn’t require attending to do so: voting is online, and one can purchase a supporting membership which just grants voting rights at a substantially reduced cost. (This is what the Sad Puppies relied upon for their ballot-stuffing campaign.) But the more I read the more I became interested in actually attending Worldcon. Why not really be involved, and see what a science fiction convention is like?

Meanwhile, several different camps emerged in the community supporting different responses. It’s possible to vote for “No Award” on the Hugo ballot, and many were advocating doing so above any slate nominee, or even across the board on the grounds that the whole ballot was tainted by slate voting. But others argued that the integrity of the awards were best served by reading all the nominees and judging on the merits. In the end it was this latter approach that I found most convincing, and in particular I found George R. R. Martin to be a compelling and thoughtful advocate for it. On top of that, GRRM specifically recommended attending Worldcon to anyone who was interested. So I decided to attend, and read as many of the nominees as possible. And then I found that I had strong opinions about what I was reading, and wanted to share them, and remembered I had this blog…

So here we are. I’ll start posting my reviews in roughly the order that I read them. I won’t post my votes before the voting deadline, although it’ll be clear what I liked and what I didn’t. I plan to vote based on the merits rather than whether something was on a slate, but vote No Award for anything that isn’t up to what I consider the Hugo standard. And of course, I’ll report here on my Worldcon experience as well.

If you do want to read more about the controversy, this is a good treatment from a mainstream publication, and as mentioned there’s lots of good commentary at George R. R. Martin’s blog. Personally I found it fascinating (and appalling), but at this point I’m a little fatigued on the drama and am more interested in the nominees themselves. So that’ll be my focus from here on.