Tag Archives: Hugo Awards

Some thoughts on The Hugos

The results of the Hugo Awards were entirely predictable.

As a fan of Alastair Reynolds it’s disappointing that his novella “Slow Bullets” didn’t win, but at least it didn’t get no-awarded for the crime of having been nominated by the wrong people, something I feared might happen. But much as I’m a huge fan of his writing, it’s difficult to imagine the sort of story he writes ever winning a Hugo; it’s like expecting The Guardian to name a prog-metal record as its critics’ album of the year.

It’s also disappointing that Noah Ward beat Chuck Tingle, his “clown car crashing a sombre chapel” is a good antidote too much po-faced seriousness. And it’s a real shame that they chose to vote for No Award over Larry Elmore as Best Professional Artist for what seemed like purely political reasons.

The reactions are exactly as expected too. The left-leaning media are hailing it as a victory in sending the puppies packing, while Sad Puppy organisers past and present complain that Worldcon are circling the wagons to shut out anyone not of their tribe, and predict the Hugos will now slowly decline into irrelevance, with the newer and more broadly-based Dragons taking their place.

The fact that there was a sharp decline in voting this year, down by almost half from last year and actually less than the number of votes in the nomination round is quite significant. After the mass no-awarding of last year many of the people who wanted wider participation seem to have concluded there was no point throwing good money after bad, and didn’t buy supporting memberships for this year.

I have concluded two things about the Sad Puppies this year. First, by running recommended reading lists rather than explicit slates, none of which had five and only five nominations, Amanda Green and Kate Paulk are not guilty of serious wrongdoing. Second, by combination of lack of numbers and not voting in lockstep they had relatively little influence. It was Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies whose blatantly political list swept entire categories. This was just as true last year, though it suited agendas on both sides to pretend otherwise. But this year anyone who still conflates the Sad and Rabid Puppies has an agenda, and isn’t to be trusted. Damien Walter, I’m looking at you…

The Worldcon business committee have rightly ratified EPH, but unfortunately have passed a second proposal for Three Stage Voting (3SV), which sends out all the wrong signals. EPH, while promoted as defence against slates, is a politically-neutral proportional voting system. 3SV is explicitly about preserving the purity of the awards by gatekeeping out Bad People. It institutionalises tyranny of the majority, and almost guaranteed to be misused in the next fandom war which will be about something completely different.

As I’ve said before, Worldcon needs to make up its mind what what the Hugos are supposed to represent. Vox Day’s campaigns have given them two choices; either they open up the nominations to a wider audience and dilute his influence, or they circle the wagons to shut out outsiders. They appear to have chosen the latter. Will the Hugos now become the SFF equivalent of the CRS awards?

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James Worrad on Chuck Tingle: SF’s Lord Of Misrule

James Worrad has a really good piece on Chuck Tingle and this year’s Hugo Awards. (I have left the Anglo-Saxon words in)

Within SFF, I see this Apollo/Dionysos spectrum as the vertical Y axis to the horizontal X of the political left/right. And what we have right now, in this godforsaken year of our lord 2016, is a left/right spectrum pulling at either end with the side effect of warping the vertical axis violently upward into the Apollonian (I hope you can picture that, I’m not sure WordPress comes with a chart making option). The result: lean times for Dionysos.

Currently, what unites the gun-waving right wing SF pundit and his Tumblr-wielding lefty opposite is a half-conscious desire for the genre to be about something rather than just be. In that respect they are both the priests of Apollo, with an insatiable need to place laws and structure and context upon a genre that, at it’s core, is a wide hot mess of contradiction and nebulousness. It’s an understandable urge, this need to tame. We’re in an era that’s impossible to comprehend or predict. It’s frightening. And a sense–perhaps even illusion–of control can alleviate that fear.

But the Dionysian is what makes science fiction, fantasy and horror truly shine. It’s its ‘killer app’, if you will. And, beneath all the absurdity, sodomy and raptors, I think that’s what Chuck Tingle represents. That’s why everyone is talking about him (Well, that and the dino-fucking). He stirs the near-lost sense of senselessness in us fans, the primal chaos that’s the deadly serious part of fun.

Read the whole thing: I love the image of the clown car crashing into the sombre chapel.

The last couple of years have seen the Hugo Awards devolve into a bitter turf war between two rival cliques of writers and fans, neither of whom are as representative as SF as a whole as they like to think they are. And that turf war has ifself bogged down in a bitter stalemate in which SF as a whole is the loser.

So I hope Chuck Tingle takes home a rocket. And in future years the Hugos revert to celebrating SF’s sense of wonder instead of backward-looking turf wars.

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Why do Fandoms go Toxic?

The fandoms of the internet keep throwing its toys out of the pram. I have no idea if it’s getting worse, or whether it’s always been this bad but we just hadn’t noticed.

Maybe it’s the constant background noise of arch sneering between supporters of different eras of bands that have gone through many changes of lineup and musical direction; Facebook groups like “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”, I’m looking at you. Or maybe it’s the ugly wars over the trailer for a much-hyped reboot of a thirty-two year old film; why on earth have so many of the worst culture warriors on both sides chosen that particular hill to die on? Or the ongoing Sad Puppies Hugo Awards mess, where I’m sure I’m not the only person who has lost all patience with both sides; the world of science fiction ought to be bigger than one clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1950s fighting another clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1970s.

A lot the appeal of being part of a fandom rather than merely enjoying the music, films or books is the feeling of belonging to a tribe. And some tribes love to define themselves by those who aren’t part of that tribe. Do fandoms become toxic when in-group signalling becomes more important than the actual art? And is this just an inevitable part of human nature, or are there practical things we can do to stop fandoms going bad?

It’s nonsense. Liking or not liking a piece of mass-market entertainment should not be a litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. And “Those people over there I don’t like will love or hate it” is the worst possible form of criticism.

So don’t do that. Better to celebrate the things you love.

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Award shortlists or end-of-year polls are valuable if they end up highlighting something interesting or quirky that might otherwise have slipped beneath the radar. If all they do is validate a predictable consensus, what exactly is the point?

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Booky McBookface, by Noah Ward

So Vox Day has managed to crap all over the Hugo Awards for the second year running, flooding some categories completely and getting stories with titles “If You Were An Award, My Love” and “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on the ballot.

What muddies the waters is that Day has also taken some reputable authors who deserved to get nominated anyway and covered them with his stink, I feel for Alastair Reynolds, who’s novella “Slow Bullets” has made the nominations and now risks becoming a political football.

This year it’s important to note that The Sad Puppies, run this year by Kate Paulk and Amanda Green, did not run slates as such, with recommendation lists that ranged from two or three entries in some categories to as many as ten in each of the fiction categories. At no point did they recommend five and only five nominations for any category.

The heavy overlap between Vox Day’s and Brad Torgersen’s Rabid and Sad Puppies slates last year obscured the fact that it was Vox Day who really did the damage. Wherever the two slates differed, it was Vox Day’s choices that made the ballot. This year there is no room for any doubt who the villain is, and I’m going to assume anyone who continues to blur the difference between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones is either ignorant or has an agenda.

I’m not a Worldcon member, but that’s not going to stop me giving unsolicited advice. So here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head recommendations.

First, ratify E Pluribus Hugo. This is ought to be such a no-brainer than anyone that attempts to argue otherwise is not to be trusted. It won’t fix everything, but it will make it harder for any well-organised minority to swamp the ballot.

Second, think very hard about the wisdom of repeating last year’s block no-awarding everything tainted, throwing good people under the bus in an attempt to preserve the purity of the awards. That stank when they did it to people like Toni Weisskopf last year. The garbage from VD’s cronies you can no award to oblivion if it’s as awful as it sounds from the titles. But remember that burning down The Hugos is VD’s goal, and no-awarding deserving nominees like Toni Weisskopf or Alastair Reynolds gives him what he wants.

Third, recognise that the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones are very different things, and try to build bridges with the some of the first of those groups, or at least avoid rhetoric or behaviour that further deepens the divide with anyone who’s not an actual acolyte of Vox Day. The mass no-awarding of last year did not help in that regard.

One problem with the Hugo Awards in recent years seems to be the lack of any consensus about what they’re supposed to represent. Do they represent the very best of science fiction and fantasy as a whole, or do they represent the favourites of a far narrower subset of fandom? Are they really publicly-voted awards, or closer to juried awards with an unusually large jury? And above all how much are they American rather than international?

At the moment they’ve neither quite one thing or the other, and that’s one root of the problem.

You could argue that the world of SF/F is now too broad and too diverse for a single set of awards to serve as a Gold Standard, there need to be alternative awards created for different crowds, and new awards like The Dragons are a step in that direction. So complaining that “Heroic Engineer” stories never get Hugo nominations is like complaining about the lack of rock and metal in the Mercury Music Prize when the Kerrang awards exist.

Only once Worldcon decide exactly what the Hugos are and who they are supposed to be for can they treat Vox Day as damage and route around him. At the moment he is still outmanoeuvring them, rendering last years Hugo Ceremony a pyrrhic victory.

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The Hugo Wars start up again

The Hugo Awards saga is getting ugly again. One of my favourite authors, with whom I’ve had quite a few entertaining conversations on Twitter, has a novella included in the infamous Sad Puppies list, and has demanded its removal.

It was probably a vain hope that there would be any kind of reconciliation and bridge-building this year; the mass use of No Award last year probably killed any chances of that, and since then both sides have doubled down. Now they just trading insults and engaging in competitive name-calling. Innocent authors like that favourite of mine get caught up in a bitter war that’s not of their making and forced into a position where whatever they do it will be wrong.

I had considered signing up for supporting membership this year and voting in the nominations process, but now I’m very glad I didn’t. I want no part of this.

At the heart of the war over the Hugos is the question of what these awards are supposed to represent and who they belong to.

The best music awards are those that are honest and unambiguous about what they represent. The Brits represent mass-market commercial pop without pretending to be anything else. At the opposite pole the CRS Awards represent the favourites of a small and self-selecting circle of enthusiastic supporters of the grassroots progressive rock scene and doesn’t claim to be anything more than that. Even the Prog Awards with its entirely arbitrary nominations process exists solely to gain positive media coverage for progressive rock as a whole, and doesn’t really pretend otherwise. Nobody really cares who wins.

The worse kind of music awards are those that give out mixed messages over what they’re supposed to represent. The juried Mercury Music Prize is the poster child for this, with its opaque nomination process and the way it’s always highly genre-specific, or at least genre-excluding, while pretending it isn’t. And we can’t not mention the fiasco of last years Guardian’s reader’s album of the year, when they held an open public vote, then eliminated the finalists they didn’t like for reasons that have never had a satisfactory explanation.

Worldcon does need to make up it’s mind exactly what they want The Hugos to be. Do they want to preserve its purity even at the expense of its continuing relevance? Or do the Hugos need to be held in a bigger tent covering a wider range of science-fiction and fantasy in order to maintain its cultural prominence? Or will the change in the voting system next year sufficiently defang the puppies to take the heat out of the thing?

And similarly the Sad Puppies need to ask themselves; why do The Hugos matter to them? Should they stop trying to gatecrash a party for which they’ve repeatedly been told they’re not welcome at, and instead start their own?

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James Worrad and The Waste-Ground

James Worrad writes in general agreement with an earlier post by Mark E Lawrence on the politicisation of SF fandom.

For my own part, jumping on the right wing Sad puppies foam-fest is utterly, comprehensively unthinkable. Just no. Writing impassioned common-all-garden social justice speeches is a lot more attractive (I agree on the basic stuff after all. I consider myself left wing) and in my needier moments I’ve thought about doing so. But, ultimately, I feel it would be to betray the multicultural British city that raised me (Oddly, social justice terms and philosophies become more impractical the deeper into a multicultural provincial UK city you go, in the same manner you saw less and less jingoism and flag-waving the closer you got to the trenches in World War 1. People are too busy just getting on with things).

I have a lot of sympathy for this. I have noticed that his post coming under fire from some of the usual suspects on Twitter. which is predictable if depressing.  It gives the impression that the SF world is dominated by two rival cliques who wear rheir (American) politics on their sleeves, and those who aren’t willing to adopt the dogmas of either tribe are feeling  increasingly alienated. When you hear people implying that being a political moderate is a symptom of privilege…

Last year I bought some recently-released SF/F novels without waiting for them to come out in paperback, with a view of nominating one or more them for a Hugo award, as a supporting member. But I’m come to the conclusion that I’d probably be wasting my money. What’s the point of paying good money to nominate something you think is worthy, only to find its nomination was championed by the wrong people, and either the author will be forced to decline the nomination or be ostracised, or it will be voted down by massed no-awards.

I’m still an SF reader. But when it comes to fandom, it’s a case of not my circus, not my monkeys.

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“A fight between the childish politics of the 1970s and the equally childish politics of the 1950s” – The best description of the culture wars in science fiction fandom I’ve yet seen.

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Mainstream vs Popular?

Over on Twitter, Serdar Yegulalp made the observation that “Mainstream” and “Popular” art, while they often overlap, are not the same thing. The former is that which gets widespread attention in the media, while the latter is what actually sells. This is a split that’s been apparent in rock music for years to anyone’s who’s paying attention. “Mainstream” nowadays tends to equate to “Indie”, despite that being one aesthetic of many, largely because that’s what has the greatest appeal to those who write about music in the media. So a mid-level indie act who sell modest numbers of albums and concert tickets get to play on “Later with Jools Holland” and are considered mainstream in a way the far bigger-selling Iron Maiden are not. It’s something most rock and metal fans have learned to live with, though it’s still galling to see the media gatekeepers give so much space to things like Metallica’s appallingly dreadful collaboration with Lou Reed just because Reed is fashionable with the elite tastemakers in a way no metal band can ever be. Metallica themselves never got a look in when they were in their prime.

Even more true in the book publishing world, of course, where “Literary Fiction”, that etiolated genre that pretends it’s not a genre punches way above it’s weight when it comes to critical attention. It’s also why I suspect the fight over the Hugo Awards within science fiction isn’t just a turf war between political tribes. Is there something of a Mainstream/Popular split going on too, with a disconnect between the books and stories that get media attention (and win all the awards), and the books that sell in large numbers? Do the major SF awards disproportionately reward the literary equivalent of “indie music” at the expense of other aesthetics?

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Hugo Aftermath

Wth a bit of luck this should be my last blog post on this subject.

We’ll start with this extract from a post by George R. R. Martin

I had picked Mike Resnick in Short Form and Toni Weisskopf in Long Form, and indeed, each of them finished above all the other nominees in the first round of voting… but well behind No Award. This was a crushing defeat for the slates, and a big victory for the Puppy-Free ballot of Deirdre Moen. Honestly? I hated this. In my judgment the voters threw the babies out with bathwater in these two categories. Long Form had three nominees who are more than worthy of a Hugo (and one, Jim Minz, who will be in a few more years), and Short Form had some good candidates too. They were on the slates, yes, but some of them were put on there without their knowledge and consent. A victory by Resnick, Sowards, Gilbert, or Weisskopf would have done credit to the rocket, regardless of how they got on the ballot. (All four of these editors would almost certainly have been nominated anyway, even if there had been no slates).

((Some are saying that voting No Award over these editors was an insult to them. Maybe so, I can’t argue with that. But it should be added that there was a far far worse insult in putting them on the ballot with Vox Day, who was the fifth nominee in both categories. Even putting aside his bigotry and racism, Beale’s credential as an editor are laughable. Yet hundreds of Puppies chose to nominate him rather than, oh, Liz Gorinsky or Anne Lesley Groell or Beth Meacham (in Long Form) or Gardner Dozois or Ellen Datlow or John Joseph Adams (in Short Form). To pass over actual working editors of considerable accomplishment in order to nominate someone purely to ‘stick it to the SJWs’ strikes me as proof positive that the Rabid Puppies at least were more interested in saying ‘fuck you’ to fandom than in rewarding good work)).

I also misliked the roar of approval that went up at the announcement of the first No Award. I understand it, yes… fandom as a whole is heartily sick of the Puppies and delighted to see them brought low… but No Award is an occasion for sadness, not celebration, especially in THESE two categories.

I can’t find myself disagreeing with any of that. Sending the Puppies packing is being spun as a great victory, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. At best, it’s a stalemate. Nobody has won, and the rhetoric from both camps suggests the chance of avoiding a repeat performance in 2016 is very slim.

Swamping the nominations ballot by block voting a slate was a dick move that was always going to provoke a backlash. It was a major escalation in a turf war that pre-dates the Puppies’ campaigns, and goes back several years. In recent years there has been an active campaign from some quarters to marginalise conservatives and libertarians out of fandom, with concerns being dismissed as “Old men yelling at clouds”. Rhetoric like “The dinosaurs are going extinct and we’re the comet” give that game away.

If the Hugos are to remain relevant, they have to get back to being a celebration of the best in Science Fiction & Fantasy rather than a battleground in a bitter turf war between two warring tribes, neither of whom exactly have clean hands. Those who care about the award also need to make up their mind exactly what The Hugos are supposed to represent. Are they Science Fiction’s equivalent of The Oscars, showcasing the best of the genre to the wider world? Or are they more like the CRS Awards, celebrating the favourites of a small community within a much larger fandom? And the moment it’s not quite either of those things, and it can’t be both.

My position at the moment is still “A pox on both camps”. When one camp places the odious John C. Wright on a pedestal, and the other still considers a great many known acolytes of Requires Hate to be respected members of the community, both sides play games with motes and beams when it comes to guilt-by-association. I am not buying either sides’ partisan narrative, echoed in their respective agenda-driven and nuance-free media channels.

As long as this nonsense goes on, while I continue to read SF, I refuse to identify myself as part of SF fandom. My fandom is, and will remain, music.

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