The Pick of the Litter (Box) and the Hugo Awards Controversy

In all honesty, I haven't really been following the whole Sad Puppies controversy, so I'm coming rather late to this high-profile pissing match. Fortunately, Wikipedia has an entry on it (largely quoting from a recent article in the UK Telegraph newspaper), that provides a suitable summary, free from emotion or vitriol:

From 2013 to 2015, an Internet campaign known as "Sad Puppies" — led by Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia — has put forward a slate of nominations for the Hugos. The campaign is motivated by criticism of a "rarefied and insular" group of fans which Correia and Torgersen claim biases the selection, producing "an affirmative action award" giving preference to female and non-white authors or to works featuring such characters. In 2015, this effort was joined by the "Rabid Puppies" campaign, led by Vox Day; the two combined slates had a profound impact on the nominations, resulting in the nomination of primarily white, male authors. This triggered a controversy among fans, authors and the media, with some nominees (including David Sturridge) declining their nominations, and many people — notably including previous winner John Scalzi — advocating "no award" votes in protest. Sci-fi author Philip Sandifer also supported this action, claiming that the slates represented a "neofascist hijacking" of the awards.

Looking back over the Best Novel short-lists for 2010-2015 . . . I simply don't get it. I don't see what it is about those books that's so divisive and so frightening to the status-quo. Yes, a woman won 3 out of the last 5 years (Connie Willis, Jo Walton, and Ann Leckie), but they were all highly regarded books. I don't think any of them had to be forced or campaigned onto a ballot, and while I would have voted for N.K. Jemisin over Connie Willis, swapping one female author for another isn't exactly going to swing the gender balance.

As for the issue of non-white authors, Saladin Ahmed is the only name that really jumps out at you (an Arab-American born in Detroit), while I only know N.K. Jemisin is a African-American because I've read some interviews where she's actually talked about NOT wanting to be shelved under that label. Beyond that, the rest seem to be white folks of North American or European descent. For what it's worth, both Ahmed and Jemisin are both are high on my TBR list.

The Best Novella category hardly screams controversy to me either. A woman won once in the last 5 years (Kij Johnson), and she looks pretty white to me. Yes, Ted Chiang is of Chinese descent, Ken Liu was actually born in China, and Aliette de Bodard is of French/Vietnamese descent, but they're all Americans, and 3 nominees in 5 years is hardly an epidemic of affirmative action. If you read my review of Grace of Kings last week, then you'll know that I expect to see Ken Liu receive even more well-deserved acclaim next year.

Okay, so maybe it's Best Novelette where the controversy lies - a category where (gasp!) a woman won 3 years in a row (Charlie Jane Anders, Pat Cadigan, and Mary Robinette Kowa). I don't know that I've read Kowa, but I quite like Anders (I've been following her since her io9 days), and I like what I've read of Cadigan as well (who shows up regularly in Jonathan Strahan edited anthologies, where I rarely argue with his choices). Ted Chiang and Aliette de Bodard show up here again as well, but they've hardly enough of an affirmative action force to overrun the masses of white folks.

I could keep going, I'm sure, but I really don't care enough to waste my time. Awards are always divisive. There's always going to be an author I thought was more deserving, an author I thought was criminally overlooked, or an author I simply cannot believe made the ballot, much less won an award. Are there more there are more women and non-white authors in the genre now than there were 20 years ago? Probably, but how is that a bad thing? Science fiction is all about progress and diversity, so I find it a just a little bit ironic that certain people don't like to see the genre's own goals being realized.

As for the whole 'no award' voting issue, that's just a shame. Whether you agree with how the nominating and voting process works, or whether you agree with the nominees on the ballot, I don't see what 'no award' accomplishes, other than to penalize some authors who are deserving of recognition. Sure, there are going to be die hard SFF fans might see the award as tainted, but for those general readers who are blessedly ignorant of the whole controversy, an award blurb/sticker may convince them to give a book a chance that they otherwise would have passed on. Beyond the whole issue of recognition, there's significant marketing power there.

Maybe the Sad/Rabid Puppies are strong enough to sway the vote, I don't know, but can you imagine how you'd feel if it was close . . . if your vote could have been the one needed to push a legitimate contender into an award . . . if you were solely responsible for denying that author an award they really deserved, all because you wanted to silently protest the nomination process?

That's some pretty shitty stuff.


  1. I hadn't heard about any of this. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said science fiction is all about progress and that more women and non-white authors in the genre should be seen as such. Female and non-white authors have been excluded from the canon in the past so I'm glad their talents are finally being recognised. It's a shame people have to claim the system is biased rather than accepting that the nominees are equally deserving.


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