Science fiction writing’s biggest awards ceremony decided against giving out five major awards this year, including best novella and best short story, but it wasn’t for a lack of nominees.
The Hugo Awards, among the highest honors for writers in the genre, simply listed “No Award” for five categories this weekend at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention (a.k.a. Worldcon) in Spokane, Washington. According to the announcement, the five categories without winners “equals the total number of times that WSFS members have presented No Award in the entire history of the Hugo Awards, most recently in 1977.”
Blame two factions of men’s advocacy groups calling themselves the Sad Puppies and the Rapid Puppies. Both exploited a loophole in the Hugos’ “people’s choice” vote to stuff the ballot box with white male nominees.
The groups contend that sci-fi has been inundated with social-justice-minded stories instead of, like, the same old white dudes with laser guns fighting aliens. To them, the Hugos have turned into an “affirmative action award” that has strayed away from writers they see as carrying on the legitimacy of the genre.
Followers of the Puppies flooded the vote, with a record 11,300 people buying in to Worldcon’s $40 membership dues to be eligible to vote. In all, 5,950 people voted, a 65 percent bump over the previous record. The Hugos picked up on the ballot-stuffing, and none of the Puppies’ picks won. Game of Thrones writer George R. R. Martin led the charge to denounce the groups. Others pointed to the idiot-irony of these men voting pro-status quo in a genre that has always pointed toward diverse, imaginative futures.
So what next? The Hugos haven’t announced if or how the voting will change, but a logical first step would be to regulate that process a bit. Democracy’s greatest strength — mob rule, in effect — is also its easiest hack. Protecting the awards from getting overrun by rando creeps will require a bit of imagination, but fortunately sci-fi has never lacked for that.