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Why are Some of Science-Fiction’s Biggest Names Pulling out of the Hugo Awards?

George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, and John Scalzi are among the authors fighting to protect one of sci-fi’s biggest awards.

image via (cc) flickr user gageskidmore

Something’s not right in the literary world of science fiction and fantasy.

Well, technically, everything is just fine, but only just technically.

The Hugo Awards have long honored authors, illustrators, and even fans, for their contributions to the field of sci-fi and fantasy. Past recipients have included Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson, and J.K. Rowling, to name just a few. Like any prestigious award in a highly competitive industry, the Hugos are no stranger to controversy. This year, however, the Hugo nomination process was marred when a small cadre of science fiction writers and their fans systematically set out to manipulate the entire awards roster away from a diverse group of authors writing about diverse issues, and towards stories about big explosions and shiny lasers. And thanks to the Hugo’s relatively open nomination process (for $40, anyone can become a “supporting” and voting member of the awards’ parent organization, The World Science Fiction Society) it’s all perfectly legal. Not a single rule broken.

The Daily Dot has a pretty effecient rundown of who is behind the nomination manipulation, and why. There, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw writes:

This year's nominees were announced [...] and most of them came directly from a Gamergate-affiliated campaign known as Sad Puppies. By bloc-voting for a specific slate of anti-progressive authors, editors, and fans, the Sad Puppies managed to game the selection process in every major category. And yes, they did choose that name for themselves.

The Sad Puppies shortlist is the brainchild of a handful of conservative SF/F writers, headed up by authors Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia, and the ever-controversial Vox Day (who this year championed a more extreme "Rabid Puppies" slate). This is actually the third year the Sad Puppies encouraged their followers to vote as a bloc, but it's the first time they've made such a wide-reaching impact.
As the Puppies see it, innovative stories dealing with things like sexism, colonialism, and LGBT characters are, for some reason, undeserving of one of sci-fi and fantasy’s highest honors. As Torgersen put it this past February:

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Got that? To the Puppies, the genres of science fiction and fantasy lose credibility the more they focus on things like racism, sexism, and sheer innovative storytelling, instead of telling tales about shooting guns or swinging swords. Last year’s Hugo awards ceremony was hailed for its emphasis on younger, more diverse nominees. This year, three of the five “Best Novel” nominees, three out of five “Best Short Story” nominees, and the entire “Best Novella” category are Puppy picks.

And some of the biggest names in sci-fi and fantasy have noticed.

Here’s Hugo winner John Scalzi:

...[I]t’s okay to penalize graceless award grasping by people who clearly despise the Hugo and what they believe it represents, and yet so very desperately crave the legitimacy they believe the award will confer to them. Therapy is the answer there, not a literary award.

image via (cc) flickr user kevin standlee

“Game Of Thrones” Author and Hugo winner George R.R. Martin is more absolute in his assessment, writing: “I think the Sad Puppies have broken the Hugo Awards, and I am not sure they can ever be repaired."

Connie Willis, 11-time Hugo winner, with more science fiction and fantasy awards under her belt than any other writer, has turned down an invitation to present at this year’s ceremonies. Initially reluctant to boycott, Willis felt she had no choice after hearing reports that Puppy leader Vox Day had threatened to continue his campaign of nomination manipulation until one of his handpicked choices was given an award—in essence, holding the Hugos hostage. Explaining her decision, Willis writes:

to Vox Day, Brad Torgeson, and their followers, I have this to say:

“You may have been able to cheat your way onto the ballot. (And don’t talk to me about how this isn’t against the rules–doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.) You may even be able to bully and intimidate people into voting for you. But you can’t make me hand you the Hugo and say “Congratulations,” just as if you’d actually won it. And you can’t make me appear onstage and tell jokes and act like this year’s Hugo ceremony is business as usual and what you’ve done is okay. I’m not going to help you get away with this. I love the Hugo Awards too much.”

image via (cc) flickr user Johno

Perhaps most impressive, though, are authors Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet, nominated for best novel and short story, respectively. Both writers are in a position to dramatically benefit professionally from having been nominated, and possibly winning the coveted award. Instead they each have chosen to withdraw their names entirely.

Ironically, both Kloos and Bellet were on the Puppy slate of nominees, something Kloos addressed directly on a blog post explaining his withdrawal, saying: "I cannot in good conscience accept an award nomination that I feel I may not have earned solely with the quality of the nominated work." It’s a sentiment echoed by Bellet, who wrote: “I am not a ball. I do not want to be a player. This is not what my writing is about. This is not why I write. I believe in a compassionate, diverse, and inclusive world.”

So where does this leave the Hugo awards? It’s unclear. This year’s ceremony seems lost to controversy and acrimony. In the future, though, don’t be surprised if the World Science Fiction Society changes their nomination rules to make it more difficult to pull off the sort of “slate” voting schemes used by the Puppies.

In the meantime, we can all do our part by reading (and recommending) stories that inspire, entertain, and yes, challenge us, as well.

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