Some thoughts on the Sad Puppy Hugos

I wasn’t intending to write about the Hugo Award controversy directly on this blog, but I hit upon something this morning that led me into a brief twitter rant, and decided I had something to say after all.

Whatever is being said about the politics of the sides involved, whatever the accusations being thrown around; regardless of my own distaste for many of the nominees, and regardless of the well known fact that Vox Day, 2014 Sad Puppy nominee and creator of the Rabid Puppy slate, is a racist, sexist bigot, the one fact that remains important in this whole mess is that the Sad Puppy campaign stole the Hugo Awards nomination process.

This really became clear to me when I was once again reading defences of the Sad Puppy slate that talked about how they were open, they asked for suggestions, they created a list more diverse than their previous ones, that they wanted to create a slate based on meritocracy… It’s been in my mind the last couple of days that if they really were seeking more democracy and meritocracy in the Hugos, all they had to do was encourage their followers to nominate. This defender of the Sad Puppies was literally describing the purpose of the Hugo voting process itself. Instead, what the Puppies did was to hold their own nomination process, pick their own ballot, and encourage their followers to vote the slate as curated by themselves. Aware as they were of how few nominations it takes to get onto the ballot, they created a situation where the nomination process for the Hugo Awards was, at least in part, taken out of the hands of the WSFS and given to Brad Torgersen and Vox Day.

I should emphasise that nothing they did was against the rules. I can also believe that Torgersen and the others involved in the Sad Puppies did not anticipate just how skewed the final ballot would look; they did not actually list a full slate of 5 works in each category. What complicated things there is that Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies slate piggybacked on their own, filling in the gaps with works from Day’s own publishing house, and seemingly encouraging a large number of people from outside the usual Hugo voting fandom to take part in order to stick it to “SJWs” in fandom. It’s not clear to me whether there was any real connection between Torgersen and Day’s slates, or if Day simply copied their list.

The fact remains, however, that the Sad Puppies gamed the nomination process – they knew very well how few nominations it takes to reach the ballot. An organised campaign of voting has a huge advantage when all the other votes are uncoordinated.

And that brings me to a second point, which is that those involved in the Sad Puppies slate will often justify their campaign by claiming that this is something that already happens, that people have been campaigning (often they’ll bring up “backdoor deals”) for certain works to make the ballot, and that the more diverse Hugo Awards ballots of recent years is nothing to do with quality and all about these campaigns. It is true that the short fiction categories are notorious for being a broad field with low numbers of nominations and, in the Short Story category particularly, often struggling to place 5 works on the ballot because of the rule that nominees must receive at least 5% of the total nominations – in other words, it doesn’t take many votes to get in. But the very fact that it is so easy for a campaign like the Sad Puppies to flood these categories demonstrates that no such coordination on that scale is being done by other groups. The reason they were successful is precisely because other voters are uncoordinated, their votes spread out based on their own tastes. By succeeding on this scale, I’d argue they’ve proven their own arguments false.

What they’ve proven is that it is possible to steal the Hugo nomination process. They’ve also made it clear that they were the only ones trying to do so.

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2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Sad Puppy Hugos

  1. I am afraid it is just not that simple. What has been going on for years now has been quiet but that does not make it any less real. I suggest you take a look at the following article. It contains facts that would be quite easy to check if you do not trust the source.

    http://www.castaliahouse.com/hugo-awards-a-history-of-recommendation-lists/

    The most important part of this is hard to miss…

    “Frank Wu’s Venn Diagrams Showing the Overlap Between Best Novel Hugo Award Recommendation Lists, Nominees, and Winners from 2001-2005. Out of 28 total finalists, only one came from outside of the two recommendation lists, and a majority of the nominees came from both lists.”

    One.

    One outsider without the approval of these groups was able to get in.

    One.

    People have been manipulating the Hugos for years. Now the people who have been running these lists will be forced to stop along with the Puppies.

  2. 1) Emerald City no longer provides recommendation lists, and don’t appear to have done so since 2007.

    2) The lists contain a lot more items than the number of ballot slots. If the items recommended are the ones that are most popular and talked about, then to see items from that list make the ballot is not very surprising at all. What matters, then, is whether items are on the lists because they are both good and popular, or for some other reason. I haven’t seen anyone prove the latter.

    3) It is the nature of popular vote awards that works which are more talked about will be more likely to win. I know I pay attention when I see other people say they’re recommending a work, particularly when multiple people do so. It’s not possible to read everything published, or even a significant fraction of it, so attention converges on a smaller number of works that are being talked about. Buzz wins nominations. Buzz gets places on recommendation lists, rec lists get people reading, and when they nominate, the works with more buzz are the ones that get onto the ballot.

    The best story in the world won’t get nominated if it’s published in a small press anthology a couple of dozen people read. That’s why in recent years the short fiction categories are dominated by free online publications. Are they always the best? Probably not. Are they good? Enough people seem to agree they are. And that’s the thing: presence on long recommendation lists doesn’t prove anything about quality of nominees, because people who are using rec lists to decide what to read are still voting for the works they liked best.

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