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Saturday, April 04, 2015

"No Award" and "Blank Spacing" the #HugoAwards -- The Only Response I Can Make to What is to Come

The Hugo Award ballot has been announced, and if you've been paying attention to Twitter, it's certainly controversial.  Not controversial because a novel everybody loved didn't make it.  Not controversial because a novel a whole lot of people didn't love did make it.  Controversial because some people have taken it upon themselves to game the system in order to create and relish in political chaos.

That last sentence would certainly sound melodramatic if not for the fact that the proponents of a certain ballot-to-be-copied hadn't already publicly stated that one of their guiding purposes for last year's rendition of this political fiasco was as follows:
"We got in [7 or 8] Hugo nominees [out of 10 or 11 that we pushed]...and ah man, all hell broke loose.  It was the end of the world.  So we had a lot of fun with that.  We made our point.  I said that if people who are not politically acceptable to these clicks are nominated for an award, the other side will have a come apart...and then, they pretty much did exactly what I said in a very public manner.  And we had fun with it."
In short:  they sought to create chaos and unrest in order to make a political point.  And when they succeeded, they relished in it.  Perhaps this is all facetious dribbling, but it does illustrate a clear contradiction:  this whole thing has never been about the quality of the work.  If it were, the intent would not be so blatantly political and so blatantly at odds with the spirit of the awards.  That any of these folks can utter something like the above in one breath and claim to respect the Hugo voter and the Hugo nomination process in another is a supreme sort of cognitive dissonance.  That some involved in this campaign can also claim that the act is not capital-P political is like courting madness with Cthulu.

As a result, the ballot has been flooded by Sad Puppies.

If this whole thing had begun simply as people sharing their love of X, I would not have to write this post.  I would not have to think of my ballot as a political tool, either.  I could look at what was there and make a judgment about the works, not the intent behind their inclusion.  Voting is already political enough, even in something as seemingly innocuous as the Hugo Awards.  I don't appreciate being put into a position where "intent" actually matters, since the only thing that should matter is the work.

But that's not how this began.  It was and remains a political campaign to game the system for personal and political gain.  It's not the same as Wheel of Time fans realizing they can all nominate their favorite fantasy series and then doing so.  It's not the same as fans who love X nominating X.  It's people with a political ax to grind taking advantage of that system to make a point.  This action shifts the voting process from small-p political, whereby one's everyday politics organically produces certain taste values or perspectives, to cap-P Political, whereby voting itself is treated as a political act separate from the preservation of small-P political interests.  That's the difference between "I love this thing because it's about the kind of stuff I enjoy" and "I'm nominating this thing to make a point to people with whom I disagree."

I take the Hugo Awards seriously as an award and as a process, and so I can't offer my support for any campaign of this type, whether it comes from liberals, conservatives, anarchists, socialists, feminists, capitalists, etc.  I don't care about the particulars of the politics.  I do not believe the Hugos should be a battleground for sf/f's infighting.  For that reason, I believe that if your intent is to use the Hugos to make a political point first and foremost, then I am obligated and justified to use my ballot to make a clear statement about the works which will be nominated as a result.  In this respect, I view the Hugos in much the same way as Abi Sutherland:
My Hugo nominations and votes are reactions to that broadening-out of my mental universe. As such, they’re intimately, intensely personal. And that’s part of the visceral reaction that some fans are having to the Sad Puppies’ slate: it looks like the institutionalization of a private, particular process in the service of an external goal. It comes across as a coarsening and a standardizing of something that should be fine-grained, unpredictable, and unique to each person participating. It seems like denial of variety and spontaneity, like choreographed sex.
As such, I suspect I will leave a good number of items off of my ballot in protest.  Since the Hugo Awards use a preferential voting system, any item which appears on your ballot will receive a vote of some kind when the ballots are counted.  Putting No Award as the last item on your ranked list means anything left off the ballot doesn't get any "points."  This is not preferable, since the "No Award" should be used to say "I don't actually think this is good enough."  Last year, I mostly used the "No Award" for its intended purpose; in fact, some of the works on last year's ballot from people who I'm sure are part of the "evil liberal conspiracy to destroy science fiction" didn't make it far on my ballot because I just didn't enjoy them.  Because that's how I normally vote:  based on my subjective sense of the quality of the work, which is, to varying degrees, influenced by my small-P political values.

This year, however, it is clear that there is no reasonable way to treat the ballot as a reflection of what people loved in the sf/f field.  It is a manipulated ballot.  A broken ballot.  And I suspect that it will result in a lot of bad blood within sf/f for years to come.  Nobody should relish in this projected future; unfortunately, I suspect a few might.

None of this is preferable.  I don't want to do any of this.  There are people who are on the slate who I actually like as people (and think are decent writes, too).  But I don't feel as if I have any other reasonable choice.  In my mind, preserving the Hugos as a worthwhile award means preserving its spirit.  Bloc-voting, etc. does not serve that interest regardless of its origins.

So that's how I intend to proceed from this point on.  If your intent is to manipulate the ballot for political gain, I will "blank space" the ballot in response.

Nominate what you love.  Leave your political agendas at the door.  That is all.

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  1. You write this as if politics has never played a part in Hugo nominations in the past? For more than 15 years the Hugo's have been in political control of the SMOF's and CHORF's.

    Have you considered actually READING some of the nominated works and judging them by their quality?

    The best literature stirs emotions in our souls, and Tom Kratman's nominated story reduced me to tears... have you read that story?

    1. 1) Read what I actually wrote. I never assumed that politics did not play a part in the Hugo nominations process. I explicitly said that it does, and explained why bloc-voting of the form to which I am responding is a problem.

      2) To your question about reading them: maybe you should read what I actually wrote, since I explained why I am using "No Award" this year and encouraging others to do so as well.

      3) If the Hugo Awards were under the control of someone else, as you claim, the Sad Puppies bloc-voting campaign would not have worked. That it was so successful, however slimy and unethical, strongly suggests that line of argument is nonsense

  2. I used to think of winning a Hugo as something amazing I might hope to achieve someday. Lately, due to reading posts about how political the process is, it's rapidly losing its appeal. To begin with, winning awards isn't the point of writing but as long as works are being judged, one would want them to be judged on their own merit. (Hopefully I'm making sense here...)

    1. The Hugos have always been fairly political, but it hasn't been this acidic for a long time. So I completely understand why one might have grown tired of it, particularly as it just seems to get worse and worse. More about the politics, less about the works.

      I'm actually working on a survey of non-US fans to figure out how people outside of this very American "clique" perceive the award. Should be interesting.

    2. Anonymous1:58 PM

      I absolutely agree completely. That's been my reaction too. And I must admit, there's also a bit of disillusionment at how toxic the fantasy/sci-fi/spec fic world has become in recent years, and how many people are loudly and proudly anti diversity. That won't affect my love for the genre nor change the type of stories I write, but it does affect how I spend my time online and how much/if I participate in "fandom" at all.

      Anycase, good article.

    3. Hi leiaann:

      That's something I'm deeply worried about: the idea that some people may disengage with sf/f fandom because it appears to be enormously toxic. In many ways it is, but hopefully the good spaces can be enhanced. I hope...