I haven’t written anything about the Hugo Awards on this blog, despite having a vote at the 2015 Worldcon, because the extraordinary mess that a few hundred people made of a popular-vote award really seemed to have nothing to do with UK politics, which is, mostly, what I write about here.
The Hugo Awards are a set of science-fiction awards nominated and voted for by members of the World Science-Fiction Society (WSFS) annually, and presented to the winners at the World Science-Fiction Convention (the Worldcon). Any paid-up member can nominate any eligible work: the works that receive the most nominations are short-listed (generally five works to a short-list, though a tied vote can give six to a short-list). Any paid-up member can vote for any or all of the works short-listed in any category, and the work that receives the most votes wins the Hugo Award for that category. They’re called Hugo Awards after Hugo Gernsback, who is generally acknowledged to have founded modern science-fiction.
The goal of the Hugo Awards is for fans to choose the best works published over the previous two years.
In brief: A science-fiction writer whom you have probably never heard of, Larry Correia, disturbed that his books never seemed to win a Hugo Award, concluded that this was because a clique of voters were unfairly denying him the recognition which he felt he was due, and tried to game the system with a slate of works that included his own novels. This failed. He tried again next year. This failed too. This year, he handed the torch to another science-fiction writer you have probably never heard of, Brad Torgersen, who enlisted the help of a science-fiction writer and publisher, Theodore Beale (the son of Robert Beale, who is currently incarcerated for tax evasion, for jumping bail, and for threatening to destroy the judge who was trying his case). Theodore Beale writes under the name of Vox Day, and publishes as Castalia House.
Eligible works have to be published in a two-year window prior to the annual World Science-Fiction Convention at which they may receive the award. While anyone can nominate who’s a paid-up WSFS member (that is, who has bought either an attending membership or a supporting membership in the Worldcon) obviously many people feel they haven’t read enough newly-published works during the period in which nominations are open, or don’t know which works might be eligible. (In 2012, nearly a thousand ballots were cast in total to nominate a best novel: but less than 400 for some other categories, including “Best Editor: Long Form”.)
The point of the Hugos is the presumption that as people nominate their own choices out of the eligible works, the top five or six works nominated are the ones that most fans spontaneously felt genuinely were the best. There’s an interesting discussion here on works that have, and have not, won science-fiction awards.
Brad Torgersen and Vox Day each created a slate of eligible works – Brad’s was still called the Sad Puppies, Vox Day’s was called the Rabid Puppies – and set out to game the Hugo nominations, by having their friends and supporters buy a supporting membership in the Worldcon, and nominate either the Sad Puppy or the Rabid Puppy slate in its entirety. Because the Hugo voting system assumed that everyone will vote their own set of personal choices, a voting bloc of even a few hundred people, providing they were all voting for exactly the same slate, could get that slate on to the shortlists in its entirety.
This might still have flumped into oblivion, but 2014 was the year of GamerGate, and GamerGate regarded Vox Day as one of its champions.
GamerGate is, as almost everyone knows by now, not about ethics in games journalism. GamerGate began with an angry blogpost from an ex-boyfriend who wanted to warn the world about how awful his ex-girlfriend is. A reactionary mob within the gaming community took up the ex-boyfriend’s cause, and harassment ensued. Gamergate was Vox Day’s perfect electorate for the Rabid Puppies slate.
And that’s just what seems to have happened: Vox Day’s slate got shortlisted for the Hugo Awards almost in its entirety.
As Robert Heinlein has Kip’s Dad point out in Have Spaceship, Will Travel:
“It is within the rules, Kip, but I’ve never yet known a skunk to be welcome at a picnic.”
Who did Vox Day nominate?
Well, himself, for one: Vox Day appears on his own nominations slate as “Best Editor, Long Form”. He also nominated several short stories by John C. Wright which had appeared in an anthology published by Castalia House. Two “Best Related Works” published by Castalia House were also nominated by Vox Day and shortlisted for Hugo Awards this year: one of them, again, was by John C. Wright.
John C. Wright has quite a lengthy bibliography of published works, but what he is possibly best-known for inside SF fandom is his homophobic rants. In December 2014, having discovered that two female friends from a Nickelodeon series (Avatar: The Legend of Korra) were walking off into a spirit portal together hand-in-hand because they had just become a couple, John C. Wright took to his blog to tell the creators of this lesbian romance:
You are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship. Contempt, because you struck from behind, cravenly; and hatred, because you serve a cloud of morally-retarded mental smog called Political Correctness, which is another word for hating everything good and bright and decent and sane in life.”
And what sort of a person is Vox Day?
He’s a white supremacist.
He’s unbelievably sexist and misogynist.
He claims that a science-fiction writer N. K. Jemisin isn’t “civilised” – and just in case this might be thought to be a merely personal attack on her as a black woman, he affirms that “there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.”
He argues against educating women as he can’t find any evidence that educating women is a benefit to society.
He’s claimed that throwing acid in women’s faces when they demand independence from men is beneficial to women because “a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability”.
But neither Vox Day nor John C. Wright won a Hugo on 22nd August when the awards were presented at the Worldcon.
Almost none of the works that appeared on the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy-nominated slates won a Hugo Award. In most instances, the 5950 WSFS members who voted in the Hugo Awards this year, had chosen to list all of the Puppy-nominated works below No Award: until this year quite a rare option, but a legal one.
The goal of the Hugo Awards is for fans to choose the best works published over the previous two years. If a WSFS member decides to list a work below No Award on the ballot, it’s because they didn’t believe that work was of sufficient quality to be considered among the best. Given that the Puppy slates were chosen with other criteria in mind than quality, that’s hardly surprising.
Vox Day claims not to have been surprised by his failure to win a Hugo himself or for any of the Castalia House books to get one, and perhaps that was true, given his feelings against women being allowed to vote:
For example, he says he doesn’t oppose all women’s suffrage, just women (and most men) voting in a representative democracy, like the one we have, um, in America. The reason: “Women are very, very highly inclined to value security over liberty” and thus are “very, very easy to manipulate.” (He favors direct democracy—and, obviously, men).
But what was Louise Mensch’s reaction? I am sure you all want to know.
Why, she took time out from her campaign to let everyone know she feels Jeremy Corbyn is tainted by his tenuous links to anti-Semites, to promote the sales of a racist, sexist, homophobic white supremacist’s publishing company: “Hugo Awards panel threw a hissy fit. Best answer is to buy the books of those they excluded. Can somebody throw up a list?”
#HugoAwards panel threw a hissy fit. Best answer is to buy the books of those they excluded. Can somebody throw up a list?
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) August 23, 2015
It would certainly be nice to know why Louise Mensch feels it’s OK for her to promote the sales of someone like Vox Day, while Jeremy Corbyn needs to offer explanation and justification for merely attending a charity performance by Gilad Atzmon. One rule for her, one rule for the rest of us?