Smoke from the flames engulfing eastern Washington state descended on Spokane, turning the sky a hazy orange-brown and filling the lungs of the attendees of the 73rd annual World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WorldCon. It was Friday, the third day of speculative fiction’s oldest fan gathering, and even within the walls of the Spokane Convention Center, participants choked and coughed their way from room to room. Many gave up entirely and returned to their hotel rooms, hoping the next day would be more tolerable.
The fans rejected the Puppies every time there was an alternative to choose from.
It was appropriate weather for the event. Saturday was the day of the 2015 Hugo Awards, and given the controversy incited by the movement known as the Sad and Rabid Puppies, the smoke over WorldCon felt symbolic. The Puppies had lit a few fires of their own, and their detractors had spent the previous several months collectively gagging as a result.
Sometime during the night though, the wind shifted. Saturday dawned clear and largely smoke-free. It was the convention’s most beautiful day. And that evening, at the Hugo Awards ceremony, the opponents of the Puppies beamed even brighter. Their fears that the most prestigious award in the genre they loved would be hijacked by an organized group of politically driven malcontents had gone unrealized. Fandom had fought back, and in their eyes, fandom had won.
During the Hugo Award nomination process, the self-styled Sad Puppies—led by authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson—had put forth a specific slate of their preferred writers and editors in each Hugo category in order to tell their supporters how to vote. An offshoot of this group, the Rabid Puppies, and their leader, Castalia House editor Theodore Beale—also known as Vox Day—did likewise, naming many of the same candidates. Both groups’ avowed purpose was to win recognition for people—like themselves—overlooked by what they saw as a cliquish and unforgivably liberal bias in the nominations.
In reality, their goal was to oppose the increasing trend of Hugo voters nominating women and people of color, along with anyone who used speculative fiction to explore topics like racism or gender inequality. And they wanted to make people angry, which they achieved, by nominating writers and editors who had expressed blatantly racist, sexist, and homophobic views. Between the two slates, the Sad and Rabid Puppies managed to dominate the ballot with their chosen finalists. And they made lots of people very angry, as demonstrated by the final results of the 2015 Hugo Awards.
Of the 55 Hugo nominees put forward by the slates of the Sad and Rapid Puppies, only one took home the rocket-shaped trophy. That was the film Guardians of the Galaxy, which won for “Best Dramatic Presentation—Long Form,” a category largely considered immaterial to the Puppy controversy because its nominees—which also included, among others, Puppy selections Interstellar and The LEGO Movie—enjoyed support from a majority of voters regardless. The announcement of Guardians as the winner was greeted with raucous applause.
Aside from Guardians, the Hugo voters took every opportunity to award nominees not supported by the Puppies. And despite a deck stacked against women and people of color, the voters rewarded both. Chinese author Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem won for “Best Novel,” becoming the first translated novel ever to win a Hugo. Another Asian writer, Wesley Chu, took the John W. Campbell Award for “Best New Writer” (the Campbell isn’t technically a Hugo, but it is part of the Hugo ballot, and Chu’s four opponents were all on Puppy slates). The award in the “Best Graphic Story” category went to the first volume of Ms. Marvel, the comic book that features a teenage Muslim girl as its heroine. Julia Dillon won her second straight Hugo for “Best Professional Artist,” beating out four Puppy candidates. Meanwhile, Lightspeed Magazine beat two Puppy nominees for “Best Semiprozine,” and one of Lightspeed’s editors, Christie Yant, began her acceptance speech with a sardonic, “I’d like to thank the patriarchy.”
One of the most interesting winners was Laura J. Mixon, who won “Best Fan Writer” over four Puppies for her exposé on the notorious Internet troll known as Requires Hate. Mixon’s chances of victory had been uncertain, despite her exclusion from the Puppy slates, because Requires Hate turned out to be a left-leaning woman of color who had been nominated for the Campbell award in 2014. She earned her reputation by viciously attacking and bullying authors she perceived as misrepresenting her race and gender, and had been cited by the Puppies as a glaring example of leftist extremism. Mixon exposed and denounced her, and as a result, many anti-Puppy advocates were also anti-Mixon.
The reasons for the audience’s elation were obvious.
In her acceptance speech, Mixon stressed the importance of being inclusive, and while she didn’t explicitly call for the Puppies to be accepted into the fold, that sentiment could clearly be heard. She ended, however, by advocating for the powerless instead. “I stand with marginalized groups who seek merely to be seen as fully human,” Mixon said before leaving the stage. “Black lives matter.”
The fans rejected the Puppies every time there was an alternative to choose from. In several categories, however, all nominees were from the Puppies’ slates. There was only one alternative to voting for the Puppies: voting “No Award.” Since the first Hugo Awards in 1953, there had only been five instances of “No Award” actually winning a category. On Saturday, voters doubled that total in one night, refusing to elevate any nominee in an astonishing five categories, all of which were composed entirely of Puppy selections.
The most controversial instances of “No Award” came in the important categories of “Best Editor” for both short-form and long-form. While all the editors nominated were on the Puppy slates, many of their contemporaries felt that most of the choices were deserving ones, despite the Puppies’ endorsements.
“It would be a tragedy if we threw out four good editors just because the Puppies like them too,” wrote A Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin before the convention, referring to the long-form category. But that’s exactly what the voters did. Martin, among others, expected Baen Books editor Toni Weisskopf and Galaxy’s Edge editor Mike Resnick to take home Hugos on Saturday, and indeed, each came in second place to “No Award.” But their being caught up in the backlash, seemed to leave many fans—and fellow editors—shocked and disappointed, regardless of whether they supported the Puppies.
The other cases of “No Award” taking the day were perhaps more predictable; as opposed to the largely respected editors nominated alongside Vox Day, voters had little respect for the Puppy-endorsed writers featured in “Best Related Work,” “Best Short Story,” and “Best Novella.” With only Puppies to choose from—including the record-tying five nominations for Puppy standard-bearer John C. Wright, whose name was present in all three categories—Hugo voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly for “No Award.”
The organizers are taking steps to prevent manipulation in the future.
Unlike the results in the editor categories, which were both close, this was a total rout. “No Award” got 3,495 votes in the “Best Novella” category; the runner-up, Wright’s “One Bright Star to Guide Them,” got only 556. In “Best Short Story,” “No Award” received 3,053 votes, followed by “Totaled” author Kary English’s 874. And in “Best Related Work,” “No Award” received 3,259 votes, while Ken Burnside’s “The Hot Equations” got the next most with 595.
While some fans saw these results as a travesty, all five “No Award” announcements were greeted with cheers from the crowd. The reasons for the audience’s elation were obvious. Fans saw the Puppies’ hijacking of the Hugo nominations as a slap in the face to speculative fiction, a hostile takeover of something they considered sacred.
“I won the Campbell award in 2002, and then I won a Hugo in 2012,” said Jo Walton, a Campbell-winning and Hugo-winning author who has written extensively on the history of the Hugo Awards. “Correia and Torgerson were nominated for the Campbell award three years ago, and they expect to already be nominated for Hugos! How are they so entitled?”
Ever since WorldCon announced a record number of Hugo voters this year, fans and Puppies alike were wondering which side had turned out to such a degree. We now know that the thousands of new voters were primarily composed of fans who would rather see the Hugos sit on a shelf collecting dust than see them in the hands of writers (and one editor) who, in the eyes of their opponents, neither valued those awards, nor earned them.
Granted, the Puppies aren’t exactly conceding defeat. Shortly after the award ceremony, Theodore Beale claimed that duping fans into voting “No Award” had been his goal after all. “No doubt George Martin, John Scalzi, David Gerrold, The Guardian, and the rest of the [social justice warriors] will try to portray this as a resounding defeat for us,” Beale wrote, “but keep this in mind: The side that resorts to a scorched earth strategy is the one that is losing and in retreat.”
Correia also believes the end result was a Puppy victory, though not for his own branch. “The real winner this year was Vox Day and the Rabid Puppies,” he wrote Monday. “You … idiots don’t seem to realize that Brad, Sarah [Hoyt, another prominent Sad Puppy], and I were the reasonable ones who spent most of the summer talking Vox out of having his people “No Award” the whole thing to burn it down, but then you did it for him.”
Others have echoed this sentiment, and Beale has sworn to return in 2016 with a larger pack of Rabids. But that doesn’t change the fact that the numbers were against the Puppies, not in favor of them. They weren’t able to gather the votes required to push their chosen writers to victory, whereas the number of “No Awards” given, and the categories in which they were given, demonstrates the effective mobilization of their opposition. If it was all a ruse, it was a good one because WorldCon responded to the Puppy movement with a response so furious, it swept away every single one of the Puppy nominees.
Walton doesn’t see the Puppy controversy has having a lasting impact. “I think it’s a blip,” she said, two days before the award ceremony. “I think fandom will sort it out … maybe just by sending them the message that you don’t want to do this kind of thing because we’re not going to take any notice of you. It’s the puppy misbehaving in the corner.” And when asked what would send that message at Saturday’s ceremony, she immediately replied “No Award.”
Meanwhile, the organizers of the awards are taking steps to prevent manipulation of the nomination process in the future. The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), which holds its annual business meeting at WorldCon and governs the rules of Hugo voting, spent much of its weekend considering the question of slate dominance. The group adopted two rule changes on Sunday, the day after the awards, but the changes still have to go through a ratification process next year and will take effect in 2017 at the earliest.
For now, the majority of the Puppies’ detractors are celebrating 2015’s results as the best possible outcome in a year of upheaval and controversy. Hugo presenters David Gerrold and Tananarive Due—a gay man and a black woman—described this year’s awards as an aberration simply because of the number of votes, but it’s pretty clear what they were actually talking to when they dubbed 2015 “The Year of the Asterisk.”
We’ll never know what might have happened with the Hugo Awards if not for the Sad and Rabid Puppies.
Miles Schneiderman is a freelance writer, podcaster, fact-checker, and media producer. His work can be found on www.mjschneiderman.com