After a year of controversy, an unprecedented number of voters turned out to vote on the prestigious science fiction Hugo Awards.
The Hugo Awards recipients are determined by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Winners in the past have included such famous authors as Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman and, since the creation of the Hugos in 1953, the awards have been considered the big prize of the sci-fi field.
But turmoil overtook the awards process this year, as a group of sci-fi writers called the Sad Puppies came forward expressing unhappiness over Hugo selections, charging that they tend to recognize racial and gender diversity rather than sci-fi quality. Sad Puppies member and author Brad Torgersen wrote on his website before nominating began this year, “Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.”
Torgersen also said in an interview that there is a “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”
In addition, Torgersen objected to the fact that “in the last decade we’ve seen Hugo voting skew more and more toward literary (as opposed to entertainment) works. Some of these literary pieces barely have any science fictional or fantastic content in them.”
As a result, Sad Puppies came out with a list of the nominees it hoped to see take home a Hugo in 15 of the 16 award categories. (That list, as Torgersen pointed out, included both female writers and authors of color. Torgersen, who has been married to an African American woman for many years, says that attempts to color him racist are unfair.)
At the same time, another group calling themselves the Rabid Puppies, led by author Theodore Beale (also known as Vox Day), came forward with its own suggested Hugo Awards winners. Beale, who has been accused of making sexist and racist comments in interviews, has further stirred controversy. Author Larry Correia, who was previously involved with the Sad Puppies group, has distanced himself from Beale, stating, “I personally do not agree with Vox on a wide variety of topics.”
While the two groups had various reasons for nominating the authors they did, many of the other members of the World Science Fiction Convention objected to what they saw as the groups' attempt to dominate the awards process, whether it was because they found Beale’s comments offensive or because they didn’t agree with the comments about the Hugo winners being more “literary” than “entertainment.”
The end result of all this controversy was that a record number of people bought memberships to the World Science Fiction Convention this year. When it came time to vote, a record number (5,950) of ballots were cast – a 65 percent increase over the previous largest number.
In the five categories (including best novella and best short story) dominated by Sad Puppies-approved candidates, a majority of voters picked “no award." In other words, for many voters, better no winner than a Sad Puppies-endorsed winner. And in the end, no Puppy-endorsed candidate took home a Hugo.
Of course, in a majority of categories there were winners announced. Author Cixin Liu of China and his translator Ken Liu won the best novel category for the work “The Three Body Problem” and the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” won the best dramatic presentation, long form prize, among other winners. A full list of all winners can be seen here.
But for some, this year's Hugo Awards were not as much about who took awards home as they were about a struggle for control of the genre. And that's a war likely to go on being waged.