readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

THOUGHTS ON THE HUGO NOMINATIONS

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Well, anyone that took a look at the Hugo Nominations noticed that the trolls and their slate voting took over once again. It’s an obviously-easy thing to do, because anyone who’s actually reading fiction regularly is going to have their own unique take on things; their own favorite authors, genres, styles, and mix of themes. It is vanishingly unlikely, given the sheer amount of work published in any given year, that there would be anything even slightly approaching the consensus that a ‘slate’ allows. So with the “Puppies” and their slate, what we end up with is like, instead of having our (flawed) two-party political system where basically we have two competing slates, what we have is a one-party system where the majority of voters are voting for a personal acquaintance whom they personally feel is a good candidate, but a vocal minority are voting in lockstep for someone they’ve never met, but who has been nominated by the party. In this kind of situation, the ‘party’ will always win. It’s not a new idea; it’s why political parties exist.

However, slate voting is antithetical to the whole concept of an artistic award. The award depends on the honest opinions of voters who really want to share their personal acquaintance’s sterling qualities with you, and to let you get to know them. Forming a competing party would utterly defeat that purpose.

So, what to do?

First, let’s shoot down any idea that the Puppies this year are even science fiction fans who are disgruntled that the stories they like aren’t getting the recognition they believe they deserve. In previous years, I do believe that some of the Sad Puppies were those people, led by a few writers who just found themselves unable to face the fact that their own writing just isn’t really as good as they believe it to be. This year, the Sad Puppies backed way down and I actually (perhaps naively?) found their new mouthpieces’ statements about getting more people interested and involved in the Hugo process and SF in general to be a bit believable.

However, then there’s the Rabid Puppies, who picked up steam this year. I spent a bit of time today reading some of their comment threads on various forums. And something became clear to me (I guess it’s not a secret). It’s not just that their tactics are “like” Gamergate’s – these voters ARE the Gamergate people. The same individuals, who have moved on to a new target. They were totally open about the fact that they haven’t read any of the stories/books, and have no interest in doing so. (I didn’t get the impression that they’re big readers at all.) They’re “it’s about the quality of the work” rallying cry is delivered with the exact same “wink wink nudge nudge” that “it’s about ethics in game journalism” was delivered with. They are fully cognizant that it’s got nothing to do with quality sci-fi (or journalism ethics). It’s all about stirring a pot of earnest and well-meaning people to hear the frantic buzzing as their comfortable nest is disturbed. They are 4chan-style cellar-dwelling trolls, doing it “4 the lulz.” The more upset people get, the more delighted they are.

In Hugo voters, they’ve found a small and concentrated hive of people to are really awfully easy to stir into a frenzy. I only became a Hugo voter this year. But I’ve read nearly all the Hugo winners. I grew up with the award always being there, and have always felt a lot of respect for it. It’s reliably been a way to select some usually-excellent reading material. However, I also do recognize that the claim that the award has been cliquish is not wholly without merit (it’s just not, as alleged, some kind of leftist conspiracy – which is a completely absurd and verifiably false theory). The voting pool was always drawn from a certain segment of fandom, and a great many of the authors and voters have always known each other. This is unavoidable, to a certain degree. You are going to read the work of people you know, authors you like, authors your friends recommended to you. And then you are going to vote for something that you read. So it undeniably has sometimes been hard for an author coming from outside of a certain circle to get recognition within that circle. There are certainly many excellent authors writing what I would call speculative fiction who have never received recognition on a Hugo ballot. (No, none of them have appeared on a Puppy slate – they seem to be adept at ‘recognizing’ some remarkably crappy work.)

The obvious question that many have been asking is, “How do we foil the trolls and get ‘our’ awards back?’ My question today:

Do we need the Hugo Awards?

It pains me to even type that question.

But, do we? Honestly, populist voting isn’t often the way to get high-quality content. Populist voting, in the age of the Internet, gets you ‘Boaty McBoatface.’ (OK, that was funny, but if you’re not personally invested, nominating anonymous dinosaur-themed porn for a serious literary award is kind of funny too.) Look at the winners of the Goodreads Choice awards. They are popular books, but are they generally the best literature?
It’s possible to go the way of the Nebula, and have stricter regulations about who is a qualified voter. There are potential benefits there, but drawbacks as well – again, it negates the concept of having a ‘fan choice’ award.

But, things have changed since the days when the Hugo was started. Technology makes it possible to rally and rouse mobs of strangers to unified trolling efforts. That same technology has also enabled more people to read more published stories than ever before. It’s no longer just a few monthly or biannual fanzines, where, if you have your subscriptions, you can count on having read nearly every qualified story. SF is everywhere now, and there’s more than any one human could read in a lifetime. But our technology, again, has enabled every reader to find an online community of like-minded readers, to have easy access to reviews, recommendations, read-alikes and a plethora of resources to help every single fan find the stories that they personally love. While technology has made it possible for the Hugo Awards to be sabotaged, it has also made them less important in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, I’ll be sad if they go. I hope they don’t. I do think that if they are to remain, the committee absolutely has to disqualify any ballots that reflect a slate. I don’t believe there’d be any legitimate problem with doing so, because, as I said at the beginning of this, it is virtually impossible to nominate with your true opinions and have those opinions precisely match anyone else’s. ‘Any’ identical ballot is suspicious, ‘many’ is a sure sign of trying to game the system.

To me, the choice is clear: disqualify slates, or give up on the awards. Because if it isn’t the ‘Puppies’ it’ll just be some other group next time…

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