Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Of Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and notoriety

The flame wars continue on the matter of last Saturday’s Hugo Award nominations. Was this year’s voting process flawed? Was last year’s? Were the processes of many years past? For that matter, was the process ever not flawed?

In all cases: beats me.

What I do know is that a novelette I wrote made it onto this year’s Hugo Award ballot. I should be happy about that -- but I’m finding it difficult.

Why? My story appeared on a particular recommendation list. (“Slate,” the term sometimes applied to this particular list is, IMO, a loaded term. Voters were free to pick and chose -- and reject -- from among anyone’s and everyone’s sets of recommendations.) For some, an appearance on this particular list has become justification enough to make authors’ writing -- and personal worth -- suspect. I see no reason to propagate here the innuendos and slurs and guilt by association. If this controversy is new to you and you’d like to see particulars, Google “Sad Puppies.” The articles and posts are generally disheartening enough. And the comments? Well, you know the Internet.

Author Brad Torgerson and I have chatted during our occasional con encounter. That’s natural enough: we both write SF. Our stories appear often in Analog. He messaged me on FB to say he’d like to recommend a story of mine, and was that okay? I like Brad’s writing -- which is what I know about him, other than that at a con party he’s an amiable enough guy -- so I said: sure. I believe other stories got onto Brad’s list with about as much formality. Those recommendations went online, in the form of the “Sad Puppies” ballot.

Then a separate set of recommendations, from another organizer(s), appeared as the “Rabid Puppies” list. The latter recommendations somewhat overlapped the former. And somebody somewhere in the mix may or may not have had some contact or relationship with someone involved with Gamergate, a matter about which I know even less. As regards “Rabid Puppies” and Gamergate, I have had, to my knowledge, zero contact with either.

The “Sad Puppies” recommendations largely swept this year’s Hugo nominations. Some in the SF community were -- to put it mildly -- unhappy with the outcome. When critics knew and as a result thought poorly of the selected stories: fair enough. Tastes vary. But the stated reasons for this unhappiness often involved the (sometimes inferred) motivations of the recommender(s) and the (sometimes inferred) personal beliefs of both recommender(s) and authors.

“Inferred.” Why such skepticism?

I share my political and social opinions only with family and close friends. If you come here often, you know that when I post, it's almost always about science, technology, and SF. On the rare occasions I comment online about anything else, it’s about international affairs and science policy -- neither one being at issue in the Hugo/Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies/Gamergate/slate-voting imbroglio.

I write to entertain and to explore the possible implications of technologies (whether prospective or “gee whiz”), not to offer social or political commentary. As for, in particular, my nominated story: it’s a spy vs. spy vs. spy, human vs. alien adventure. I set it in 2185, on a remote moon of Uranus. If “Championship B’tok” has a message, well, that’s news to me.

Admittedly, characters sometimes have social and political opinions. My characters’ opinions aren’t always the same, and they aren’t necessarily mine. Characters who do hold opinions, hold them because those are the opinions appropriate to the story. Sometimes my characters are too concerned with staying alive to spend their or the reader’s time having opinions. Again: if “Championship B’tok” has a message, well, that’s news to me.

Bottom line: I keep my opinions and my writing separate. It’s highly unlikely that readers who nominated my story -- or those objecting to the “Sad Puppies” list -- know my stance on social or political issues. Just as I know nothing about Brad’s opinions and, I would venture to guess, he doesn’t know mine. I have no reason to believe he has the slightest interest in knowing my opinions.

Was “Championship B’tok” worthy of becoming a finalist? That’s for others to decide. Having said that, consider, strictly as numerical observations:

(a) the story appeared in Analog, the largest circulation English-language genre magazine, whose 30K or so subscribers thereby had the opportunity to read it,

(b) over a mere five days in March -- during a (non-Analog) publisher’s promotion -- roughly 500 people downloaded a copy, and

(c) for all novelettes combined, a mere 1031 Hugo nominating ballots were cast.

The fact of the matter is -- however it happened -- that “Championship B’tok” ended up on this year’s Hugo ballot. Is the story award-worthy? That’s for others to decide. I just hope that people will vote solely on the merits of the nominated works. Not on what they believe they know -- and very well may not -- about the authors. The Hugo Awards should be about the story.


MikeP said...

It's an unpleasant business for sure. Frankly, I've decided to give fandom the boot over everything that's gone on for the past few years. I've enough misery in regular life without having even more dumped on me by what I've always turned to for fun and pleasure.
I enjoy your work, Ed. Keep it coming. The story is worthy of the nomination and I'll be voting for it. But this will be my last time, which I'm sure will make some very happy.
Good luck to you!


Edward M. Lerner said...

I appreciate that, Mike (the support, I mean, not the vote, though of course I appreciate that, too).

- Ed

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I don't pay much attention to "read this!" lists; I already have a to-read pile that's way way too high. But it's a pity you got nominated the year this particular blow up happened.
By next year some other foofarah will be capturing everybody's outrage and attention, and nobody will remember this one.

Edward M. Lerner said...

What can I say, Geoff. I'm a master of exquisite timing ;-)

Thanks for the sympathy.

- Ed

Anonymous said...

The thing that people are upset about is, I guess, that absolutely nothing outside those two slates made it to the shortlist in many categories -- all short fiction, for example. The slates were promoted as a way to make a (more or less political) point and there's much confrontational culture war rhetoric which I consider very bad taste (this is about art awards, after all). Second-guessing people's political views based on their being on some list or another is not what adult people should be doing, however, and it's sad to see how this is turning out.

I've never read any of your work, and I think prior to this I've come across only one or two stories published in Analog (something by mr. Landis, perhaps), so reading the items on this year's shortlist will be educational, at least.

Good luck!

Edward M. Lerner said...

Sad, indeed, spacefaringkitten. (A great handle, BTW!). But if these unhappy circumstances end up introducing you to new authors and venues, well, that's a silver lining.

And thanks for the well wishes.

- Ed

Unknown said...

Although I am sad that I discovered your work in the middle of this mess, I'm glad I read Championship B'Tok. It was my favorite novelette among the nominees, and the worldbuilding was fascinating. I look forward to going back and learning more about InterstellarNet.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi, Unknown,

I'm always pleased to know that someone has enjoyed something I've written -- but notes like yours are especially appreciated amid the current about-everything-but-the-stories Hugo mess. Thanks for taking the time to write.

- Ed

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ed! This is Unknown from 2015-05-17 20:16. My name's actually Elizabeth, but the comments have decided I can't sign in, so here I am...Unknown again. Just finished Origins, moving on to New Order now and I'm having a blast with it. Can't wait to get to Enigma and find out more about The Interveners. (I presume Interveners will be involved...I haven't read up because I'm a no spoiler sort of fan) I sincerely hope you pick up some more readers along the way this year. :) - Elizabeth

Edward M. Lerner said...

Elizabeth, thanks for your very kind note. Of course, I'm delighted you're enjoying the series (rushing right through it, in fact).

And not to worry ... the Interveners will be back :-)

- Ed