Sad Puppies and the Hugos: Category Error

Sad Puppies and the Hugos: Category Error

I keep thinking about this and, honestly, the more I think about it, the more I honestly believe that the real problem is that the problem with modern science fiction awards is that of Category Error. I spoke with a long-time WorldCon attendee Sunday (not sure if he wants to be named here — he can message me on Facebook if he is cool with it) and after talking with him and then reading Eric Flint’s entry today (read it — it’s long but worth it), I think that it may be time to really sit down and ask a few hard questions.

1) Is WorldCon really the best avenue for trying to create the kind of award we’re trying to create? — After reading the by-laws for the convention and for SFWA, I don’t think it is. Both organizations are too unwieldy, too clunky, and have too ossified a structure to respond well to the kind of change that is needed. That’s not a slight against them — it’s just reality. Plenty of conventions and industries (hell — plenty of countries and cultures) are having a hard time keeping pace with the rapid changes that have happened over the past fifty years. Expecting a group of volunteers to master it when they’re used to playing for an audience of less than 10k is asking a bit much.

2) Just what kind of award do we want to create? — Are we really after a fan award? Another jury award? An industry award? I think the germ of the whole compliant has been that the current Hugos have ignored giants in the field in favor of fad-fiction while also shunning certain authors and their works based on the author’s politics — not on merit (which this year has proven is the case with a sizable portion of Hugo voters). The general gist has been that if the Hugos want to call themselves “THE” award of science fiction and fantasy, then they need to pay more attention to the market behavior, to the influential players in the field, and they need to increase the size of the voting pool so that it can’t be swayed by a few dozen people. Otherwise, they need to stop advertising themselves as being “THE” award and instead relabel themselves more accurately as “an award given out by a few thousand people.”

3) How can the convention structure be made less privileged? — Look, I know most of you don’t get it. I’ve never been to a single convention that my former employer didn’t pay me to go to because I can’t afford the plane ticket and hotel room to go to one. The mere fact that you can a) take the time off work to go, b) have the money to get a hotel room, c) can afford to eat out while there, d) can afford the plane ticket or gas to fly/drive there and back e) can afford the cost of admission + panels + whatever else puts you so far out of my league it’s not even funny. Even when I’ve been able to get over my mild agoraphobia and really wanted to go to a con, the cost of taking off work and going put beyond me. And it does for most everyone in my area. I doubt seriously that WorldCon (or any other current literary con) could do livestream attendance the way that BlizzCon or does. Part of it is the money/tech/knowledge issue and part of it is that I doubt very seriously there’s much love lost either way between the fans in places like Delta and Appalachia and the officers/board members of the conventions.

4) How can the voting pool be increased beyond the ability for any one group to game it? — We’re talking big numbers here. At least 20k. Better would be a voting pool of at least 50 – 100k. Again, just given the behavior shown at the Hugo awards ceremony and the kind of negative connotation WorldCon has given itself with the general population. There’s a reason why WorldCon attendance has been trending down even as science fiction and fantasy became more accepted and it’s because enough of the “TrueFans” gave it a bad reputation so that people avoided it instead of attending it or considering it. Would WorldCon ever consider even trying to get someone like writer Robert Kirkman to run a panel? Or be a GoH? Could they even get someone like Chuck Lorre to return a phone call these days? I mean, sure, GRRM comes but could they get Peter Jackson? Or forget Peter Jackson, could they get Jeri Taylor or even Kip Thorne?

No one outside of Tor (and most of the people inside probably don’t either) gives a rat’s ass about either of the Neilsen-Haydens but they’re the GoH’s for next year and they hate people like me so yeah, I’m feelin’ the love and welcome. But if a convention could get, say…Norman Reedus, Jeri Ryan, Orlando Bloom, Stephanie Meyer, Peter Dinklage, and J.K. Rowling together while hosting a Red Pill/Blue Pill contest and playing Spot the Fed during the Zombie Apocalypse, well…

That would be a con that would have Fort Knox asking to loan it some money.

4a) How can that be done without homogenizing everything? — And now we’re into the Category Error part of the problem. Science fiction isn’t a simple little niche anymore. It’s become its own genre, much like romance or horror. Could you imagine a single convention or award that tried to compare the works of R.L. Stine to that of Mary Shelley? Science fiction and fantasy are huge. You can’t compare some aspects of them to others because it’s like comparing apples to zebras — and that’s exactly what the Hugos wind up doing. You can’t just add one more category (series) and fix the problem, either. No, the issue runs much deeper than that in that the foundation upon which WorldCon and the Hugos were built is no longer large enough to support the modern sci-fi/fantasy reality.

So, what to do? Raze it (Vox Day’s option?) Slink off and exile ourselves, never writing again and let people who support pedophiles and child rape (Tor — hey, sauce for the goose. I’ll see your Vox Day and raise you Marion Zimmer Bradely) give themselves accolades while everyone else praises them?

Instead of razing it, leave it be and build something better. Build a modern convention that starts out with a massive tent. Have elements from Comic Con, Walker Stalker, BlizzCon, DefCon (that’s a techie con for you non-hackers out there. It’s awesomesauce), and all the other fun cons out there. Mix and match. Don’t make it a pure literary con. Have it be a real celebration of all that is great about being a geek or a nerd. Let the Twilighters in with their Team Edwards and Team Jacobs. Hell, we had Team Sturm and Team Tanis back in the day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go get every book that has “Dragonlance(TM)” on it and start reading). Some of us even had Team Hugh and Team Haplo (if you want really obscure).

Twilight might be drek but at least it has people reading. We all started somewhere. I started with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dragonlance, the Death Gate Cycle, and writing the Legend of Zelda fanfic set around the game and the cartoon series when I was in elementary school.

And the awards? Well, how about this? (Just to get the convo rolling — don’t consider it a finalized thing. More a “outline I’ve worked out that probably needs some tweaking”)

I know the constellations are probably taken (and the Constellations themselves are an actual award) but imagine something like this:

The Aries — best military work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Aquarius — best literary work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Capricorn — best hard science fiction (red) or epic fantasy (blue)
The Gemini — best young adult work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Leo — best space opera (red) or swords-and-sorcery (blue) work
The Libra — best dystopian (red) urban fantasy (blue) work
The Sagittarius — best speculative work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Scorpio — best pure-superhero work (for superhero works that cannot be classed anywhere else)
The Taurus — best post-apocalyptic (red) or dark fantasy (blue) work
The Virgo — life-time achievement award
The Ophiuchus — historic recognition award

Each award has seven categories: written series, novel, novella, short story, editor-in-field, artist, and licensed work, with there being three possible additional categories: television show, film, video game. So, there would be an Aries for the best military sci-fi series, stand-alone novel, novella, short-story, editor-in-field, artist, and then licensed work in that field (such as something from Star Wars or Star Trek).

Nominations would run from, say, October 1 to January 30. Then the top fifteen for each award and category (the nominations receiving the most votes) would be put on the ballot. A jury would be selected for each award/category consisting of at least 10k people from the membership chosen randomly. They would be sent the entire packet to read and would be given a test to prove that they had read and understood the books or films or shows. Then they would be sent the ballot and allowed to vote. The top five (the five receiving the highest number of votes in each 10k voting pool) go on the final ballot for selection at the convention itself. At the convention, it’s straight up the most votes wins with “no award” requiring unanimity or the voting pool to dip below 5k.

Not a perfect system, I know. According to my man Ken Arrow, a perfect ranking system is impossible. However, with two steps of popular votes and a randomly selected jury pool with an enforced reading test (or no ballot issued and another juror chosen instead), it’s much harder to game this kind of system. There’s also less incentive for SJWs to want to do so since they’ll have the Aquarius all to themselves. And, if they do try to overrun the rest of the categories, we send them back to their little sandbox where everything is rubberfoamed and inoffensive and they can have their skin-deep diversity without any diversity of ideas and the little dears can’t hurt themselves or encounter a difficult thought/word/feeling or be triggered while the grown-ups can talk about grown-up things in all of the other categories.

Except for the Gemini, of course. Because “young adults” aren’t SJWs but aren’t grown-up, yo.

— G.K.

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12 thoughts on “Sad Puppies and the Hugos: Category Error

  1. minor correction, worldcon has not been shrinking, it’s been growing.

    This year had smaller attendance than last year mostly due to the relative popularity of London vs Spokane as tourist destinations. But total membership, and voting numbers have been climbing steadily (if slowly) as well.

    nowhere near the rate that the market is increasing, so as a percentage it’s shrinking, but as absolute numbers, it’s increasing.

    I was surprised to find that in the records that chaoshorizon dug through, nomination ballots have been increasing at ~150/year (pre-puppy) since 2007 or so (as far back as we have data)

    • Hey David,

      I’m running the numbers and you’re actually off by a good bit. WorldCon membership actually *shrank* from 2007 – 2008 from 5,149 to 3,752, went up to 4,499 for 2009, down to 3,462 for 2010, up to 5,526 in 2011, up to 6,197 in 2012, then down to 6,060 in 2013 and up to 10,833 in 2014, going down to 10,350 in 2015.

      That’s paid memberships. The attendance numbers show the same trend in smaller form is all (maybe not at a 1:1 scale, though). Over all, from 2007 to 2015, there’s an 8% growth which sounds great…until you realize that both DragonCon and GenCon doubled in size over that same time frame (DragonCon went from 25,000 to 63,000 and GenCon 27,000 to 61,423). Both those cons also had true, stable, year-after-year growth whereas WorldCon’s growth goes up and down.

      I’ve pulled most of these numbers from Wikipedia (which admits that the numbers are guestimates and is incomplete and imprecise) or from newspapers that reported on the conventions and I’ve contacted the conventions requesting the exact population numbers (a pipe dream, I know) but it does look like, if anything, WorldCon’s board should have been thanking the Sad Puppies for all the free advertising.

      I’m going to clean up my spreadsheet and post it here later this week so you all can see it and help me improve it. If anyone can show me where to find more accurate information, I’ll be glad to use it. 🙂


      — G.K.

      PS — Remember that WorldCon membership/attendee status != Hugo voter status. There is overlap, but Hugo voters are a sub-group of WorldCon members (just like “red ink pens” are a sub-group of “ink pens”).

  2. Hi GK,

    I think you’re on to something. In fact it’s the first (very) good jump out of the box I’ve read. Just add an alternative history/time travel category (see Conroy, Flint, Stirling, Turtledove, etc) and I’m in.


  3. “Some of us even had Team Hugh and Team Haplo (if you want really obscure). ”

    *snicker* I got that reference, so apparently I’m one of the Few! The Proud! The Obscure!

    I’ve been following the Hugo controversy since I first discovered it three years ago via the MHI blog. (I’m one of the long time fans who effectively quit paying attention to organized fandom in the late 80’s after it became clear that it had been taken over by “TruFen” who had no regard for me or what I enjoyed.) Heh: I discovered your blog from your comments at Sarah Hoyts and MHI.

    I agree. You hit the nail on the head of something that I’ve been thinking: that the answer to the SJW/TruFen domination of the awards and literary sci-fi is to engage ALL of fandom, and ALL of the cons, inclusive of DragonCon, ComicCon, and all the rest.

    It’s a lot harder for any single clique to dominate the awards when it’s no longer the province of a tiny handful of voters at a relatively small con. When they’re being nominated and voted on by hundreds of thousands of fans, rather than a couple of thousand or so… the odds of roughly a thousand and a half block votes being able to No Award entire swaths against a group drop to somewhere between slim and the sum total of f*ck all.

    How to achieve that is problematic, but I’m sure that there must be a way that it can be done. Just have to find it and figure out the mechanics. Then the rest is implementation.

    I have to disagree on the subject of just abandoning the Hugos to the SJW/Torista/TruFen/CHORFS/WorldCon block. The Hugos are emblematic of a broader conflict… and if they’re abandoned and bypassed, the culture warriors and culture war conflict will follow the new awards and attempt to do to it what has already been done to the Hugo and Nebula.

    This isn’t D-Day. There’s no real logistical reasons for *not* fighting on more than one front, with more than one tactic and strategy. There’s absolutely no reason that *both* can’t be done: fight the Hugos on the existing battleground, *and* start a new award.

    Burn it down, make smores over the coals, p*ss on the ashes, nuke the rubble from orbit – and then build anew over the rubble. (The nice radioactive glow will make the rubble easier for the construction crews to target.)

    • Welcome to the club! The Death Gate Cycle is easily one of my favorite series of all time. Thumbing through The Hand of Chaos while bored in K-Mart one day when I was 13 changed my life. 🙂

      — G.K.

  4. Yup. And ack! We both remember K-mart. We’re dating ourselves. 🙂

    It was Serpent Mage that hooked me – a friend had it on his bookshelf, I borrowed and read it, and then I had to track down every single one of the preceding books in the series so I could find out the back story. It’s still a toss up as to whether Serpent Mage or Fire Sea is my favorite out of the series.

    In order to win, we need to draw in Team Corwin and Team Random, too. 🙂

  5. Yup. Time for a Hellride. 🙂

    Y’know – and this is kinda OT, so feel free to chase me to the appropriate topic if you want – but when I wandered over here off of one of your comments elsewhere, I was *thrilled* to find out that you were a pro-author who also wrote and posted fanfic. Not only that, but Trek fic to boot. That’s just cooler than hell.

    I got my start in Fandom – capitol-F fandom as opposed to just being a “fan” – way back in the early early 80’s editing a couple of (now long defunct) local ‘zines and writing Trek fanfic in a few ‘zines and in BBS’s etc. Buffy fandom was what got me back into Fandom around 2006… I was hunting for stuff I liked and kept finding stuff that had me thinking, “Uh… I can write better fic than this.” So BtVS got me back into writing and posting again, after a really long, long hiatus. (I do mostly Buffy fics and x-overs, but I have a few as yet incomplete Voyager fics in my to-finish list.)

    It’s also really cool to see that you post over at FFnet with the rest of us at the “Pit of Voles.” 🙂

    I really like Inosculation so far. Hope that you finish it at some point.

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