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By Galen Strickland

This page, concerning the recent Hugo nominations announcement, was originally uploaded on April 7, 2015, then edited with additional comments and clarifications on April 12. [And now with an addendum on August 23.] I dubbed this controversy Hugogate, although it seems at lot of others are referring to it as "Puppygate." Whatever term you prefer, the situation does bear many similarities to the Gamergate debate in the video game community. I'm not a gamer, but I know several who are, and I've read enough to know that some people (but not all) who align themselves with the "Sad Puppy" and "Rabid Puppy" Hugo campaigns have the same philosophy and have used the same tactics. Even though I am not on Twitter [well, I am now] it wouldn't surprise me if there have been some to respond with #notallpuppies, just as #notallmen has been used in other debates concerning feminisim and inclusiveness in society. Just because all men, or all the puppies, are not responsible for major offenses, it doesn't mean those offenses aren't occuring.

I originally didn't identify anyone involved with this controversy, but I feel I need to do that to clarify a few things. Brad Torgersen is the one who came up with the Sad Puppy 3 slate; the two previous slates were submitted by Larry Correia. Both of them may have opinions that differ from mine, but I don't think Brad deserves to suffer the brunt of the criticisms. Those should rightly be directed towards Vox Day (pseudonym of Theodore Beale) and John C. Wright. Day was the instigator of the Rabid Puppy slate, and he is also the one who has made the most outrageously bigoted statements, with Wright close behind him. It is possible that Day helped finance a number of his followers in gaining membership in the World Science Fiction Society, which is responsible for the administration of the Hugos and the organization of each year's WorldCon. Surely it can't be a coincidence that Wright has the most nominations (six, in four different categories) and that several are from Day's own publishing company, Castalia House, a very small press headquartered in Finland of all places.

Torgersen claims that too much of what is being written (or at least awarded) in recent years does not appeal to him. He prefers the classic type of SF adventure in space, and he thinks publishers should make a concerted effort to package books so that he can easily judge a book by its cover. He doesn't want to pick up a book with a spaceship or exotic planet on the cover, only to find out the subject matter is some sociological or political quandary, or that it includes characters other than straight white males fighting the good fight. I honestly don't believe he is a rascist, since he is married to a black woman, but I do suspect he may be a homophobe. There is no question that Day and Wright are both. None of that really matters though, since I do believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, and they have a right to express it. I also have a right to disagree. Brad's opinions normally wouldn't matter to me, except that in this case his agenda seems to have been hijacked by Vox Day's Rabid Puppy campaign, and therein lies the dilemma. To be fair, Torgersen's slate did include some women and non-while writers, but Vox Day's was almost exclusively white and male. Day is one of only two people ever kicked out of the SFWA, and the primary reason for that was his incendiary comments toward other writers, specifically women and people of color. While Torgersen might be less to blame for the situation, he should not have hesitated in condemming Day, which as far as I know he still has not done.

I've been a fan of SF literature for nearly fifty years, longer than that for TV and movies, and yet I've never been a part of active fandom. I've attended only two Worldcons, just the opening day of LoneStarCon2 in 1997 (it's all I could afford then), then three of the five days of LSC3 in 2013. Both of those were in San Antonio, the nearest city to me that has ever hosted a WorldCon. However, I have never nominated or voted for the Hugos, and I'm normally several years behind in reading. I've always read what appealed to me whether or not it had won any awards, and I still wouldn't care if not for the fact that I decided a few years ago I needed to review all of the Hugo and Nebula winning novels. I've already encountered a couple, one old, one fairly new, that I didn't like at all, and I'm hoping that doesn't happen too many more times. Science fiction and fantasy should not be limited to any specific tropes or scenarios. SF is supposed to be about new things, new challenges for mankind, not just in space but also on Earth, and within the human heart and mind. It should encourage an unfettered imagination, not stifle it with repetition. To limit it to a particular type of story or to the type of writers allowed is contrary to its design.

No one has to like everything, and surely no one has the time or the inclination to read everything. Most of us find a niche of sub-genres and authors that please us, occasionally discovering new ones through reviews or recommendations from friends. Several of those sub-genres don't appeal to me; steampunk, supernatural horror with vampires, werewolves or other mythical creatures, and most epic fantasy. I like both hard and soft SF, including things that are reminiscent of the Golden Age, but I wouldn't want to read only that. While I favor certain writers over others, I don't care about the author so much as I do a well-written story. I won't argue that books shouldn't be entertaining, but some of us find entertainment in more complex plots and themes, and I for one prefer a more literary approach. Torgersen has stated he feels the awards favor the more literary work over the simply entertaining, but the evidence doesn't support that. There have always been trends in SF, with certain writers and types of stories gaining favor for various reasons. A look at the list of the Award winners shows a wide variety of content; hard-sf, new wave and fantasy all in the mix, including some that are highly literary while others are "merely" entertaining adventure stories.

Since the Hugos are a fan award, it is inevitable that in any given year the majority will like something I don't, or vice-versa. Both Torgersen and Day have been nominated for Hugos but neither has won yet. So what? It puts them in some pretty good company; Gregory Benford, Ray Bradbury, Lester del Rey, Norman Spinrad and A.E. van Vogt never won either. How about J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock or Tim Powers? They were never even nominated. Does it really matter who wins when there are hundreds of other titles you can buy to enjoy? Why should it matter about the gender, ethnicity, political affiliation or sexual orientation of the author, or the subject matter of the book? Shouldn't it be a consensus of opinion on the best book of the year, or does it only matter that it be a book of a particular type? There are many more female authors than ever before, but there have always been a few really good ones. C. L. Moore, Andre Norton and James Tiptree Jr. felt the need to conceal their gender, and yet their work is still regarded favorably years after their identities were revealed. Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Vonda McIntyre, C. J. Cherryh, Joan Vinge, Connie Willis and many others have proven that women can write just as well as any man, and win awards too. Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due and N. K. Jemisin have proven the same for black women, with Samuel R. Delany and Steven Barnes just two of several black men in the genre. Several Asian ethnicities are also being represented. The more the merrier I say, and the more varied the content the more the genre can appeal to a wider audience than ever before. Anyone who feels differently is on the wrong side of history and progress, whether we're talking genre books or society at large.

I was pleased to see a lot of younger people, many of them female, in San Antonio two years ago, even if the types of stories or shows they like might not appeal to me. Last year, quite a few of the winners were women or people of color, and I am sure that is because there are many more female and non-white readers than ever before. Then along come the Puppies, upset that their beloved genre has grown away from what they like and want to read, and it seems their intent is to "take back SF" from the newcomers. Sounds a lot like the neo-conservatives in politics who want to take the country back to some idealized status-quo. You know, when women and blacks knew their place, and homos remained in the closet. The Puppies claim that others have actively campaigned to get more women and minority writers on the ballot, but they can't point to any particular person or group that might have done that the past few years. Not only did they actively campaign to get their approved writers on the ballot, they have also posted inflamatory comments towards women, gays and people of color. If I knew details on every writer there is the possibility that at least one would fit into all three of those categories. Vox Day called one of the black women mentioned above a savage and that women in general should never have been granted the right to vote, and John C. Wright, while not saying it in exact words, intimated that gays should be "exterminated." This type of thought and behavior should not be tolerated. Even though the First Amendment guarantees them freedom of expression, they should also be aware that freedom comes with responsibility and not without consequences.

There is more being written in the Puppies' preferred sub-genre, which seems to be hard-sf military tales, than ever before. Does it win the awards? Not often enough I suppose, but that might be because they aren't the best books of any given year. Certainly, they don't appeal to me very much. I dearly wish more people would embrace the use of the term speculative fiction, since the fantastical genres can and should be more than just straight science fiction stories. I don't think anyone would argue that every single award winner was the absolute best of that year, but the majority have stood the test of time as well-written books. Do I agree with the political philosophy of all the writers? Absolutely not for many that I have read, which might also be the case for some I've yet to read. I've read quite a bit from Orson Scott Card in the past, and still think he's talented even though I disagree with his stance on gays. I'm a straight white male, yet I can appreciate the brilliance of Delany, who is black and gay. I've already written an article on my exception to many ideas expressed by Heinlein (and not just late in his career) but I still like the majority of his books. However, I now have to seriously consider whether or not to read anything by several of the Puppies.

Even though my budget is tight right now, I just signed up as a supporting member of this year's WorldCon, so I will get to vote on the Hugos. I may not be able to read all the nominees, and there are several I feel like boycotting, so it's possible No Award might get my vote in certain categories. I know the organizers of each WorldCon need the funds that supporting and attending members are charged, but I'd like to see the rate for supporting membership come down a bit, which might encourage more readers to get involved in the Hugo process. Since it takes ratification by two successive WorldCon memberships to change any rules, this couldn't happen until at least 2017. All WorldCon organizers should also make available to members a full list of eligible works for the year in question well before the nomination process begins. While the Sad/Rabid Puppies worked within the system and didn't break any rules, it should be the intention of future conventions to be as fair and open as possible. If you are eligible to nominate and vote, please choose the best in each category, regardless of the gender, sexual orientation or political philosophy of the writer. I'm wondering if I can do that myself.

ADDENDUM: Now that the voting is over and the Hugo winners have been announced we need to be clear about the results. No matter how the Puppies might want to spin things, the majority of fans sent a clear message. The many "No Award" announcements were not saying that those stories and/or authors didn't do good work, and it certainly does not imply they won't do good, award-worthy work in the future. No, the consensus said that block voting and ballot stuffing is wrong. If you want an award, write the best you can, let the readers decide. Submit recommendations all you want, but don't organize and get all your cronies to vote for the exact same things. I'm sure this will resonate within the community for several years, and in one sense it might have been a good thing. The more people involved in the nomination and voting process the better, as long as everyone chooses things they really like, and not what they are told they should like by someone else.


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