It isn’t that complicated…

occam-300x179Many years ago the fanzine I edit won an award. It was not anything as prestigious or as well-known as the Hugos. It was an Ursa Major Award, a fan-nominated and fan-voted award which was consciously set up to be an anthropomorphics-fandom version of the Hugos. And because I also write stories that are published in those sorts of ‘zines, I have had one or two of my tales receive enough nominations to make it onto the ballot some years. I didn’t win, but it was an honor just to be nominated. And that isn’t just something I say to be polite, it really was an honor.

I would have been much more excited to win, obviously. I certainly was very pleased when the fanzine won the award. But, the two years my ‘zine won, there were other publications on the ballot who didn’t win, which was a disappointment for their editors, I’m sure. That’s what happens with any kind of award. Someone wins, and a bunch of people don’t.

It so happens that when you make it on the ballot but don’t win, you often find yourself receiving a lot of condolences from friends, acquaintances, and random fans on the internet which include some variant of the statement: “I can’t believe you didn’t win! I voted for you, and know several other people who did, too!”

And that is flattering. It makes you feel at least a bit better about not winning. Obviously, you received enough nominations to make it onto the ballot, so you already knew that there were people who liked your work. But something about having a person tell you directly is even more of an ego boo.

It so happens that one of the years that I didn’t have any story make the ballot, I received a lot of those sorts of condolence messages. After the award winners were announced months later, the committee that administers the award published voting and nomination statistics. Foolishly, I looked at them, only to discover that the only one of my stories published that year which was nominated received a grand total of exactly 3 nominations. I confess, that when I nominated that year I had voted for my own story (and I was fairly certain my husband had, as well). Which meant that only one person other than myself or my husband had nominated me.

But far more than just one person had seemingly sincerely told me—they had volunteered the information without any prompting from me—that they had nominated me. Which means that most of those fans told a little white lie. It wasn’t malicious. In some of the cases, the person probably had meant to participate in the nominating process but put it off until it was too late. A few of them may have been misremembering: they had nominated me, but it was the year before. Others simply were trying to be nice, having noticed that I didn’t make the ballot and assuming that I was disappointed.

When you realize something like that has happened, what can you do but laugh, shrug it off, and try to move on?

Some people are not so philosophical…

Another writer told a very similar story: right after the Hugo nominees were announced a few years ago, a lot of his fans sent messages or made comments on his blog saying that they were sorry he hadn’t made the ballot because they had nominated him and totally thought he deserved it. He thanked them for their kind words, made some comment to the effect that maybe he’d have better luck next year, and generally tried to just take it in stride. After the award winners were announced some months later at WorldCon, the full voting and nominating statistics were released. He looked through them and was struck by the fact that according to the document, he had only received “a few” nominations.

Yet, when he went back through his email and looked at the comments on his blog, scores of fans had assured him that they had nominated him. His conclusion: the only possible explanation for the discrepancy is there must be some conspiracy to lock him out of the awards. Probably because he has stated many unpopular political opinions. As further proof, he could see that some authors who expressed the opposite opinions had made it onto the ballot.

I am not making this up. I read this story in a forum just a couple of months ago, when one of the authors who has participated in more than one Sad Puppies slate was explaining why their bloc voting scheme was a justified reaction to unfair treatment from the system. He quite sincerely believes that the only explanation for the discrepancy between what fans told him and the nomination and vote numbers reported is a conspiracy aimed at authors who do not adhere to a “politically correct agenda.”

It’s ridiculous to leap to a conclusion about a conspiracy when a much more simple explanation is available: people lie to spare your feelings. Studies indicate people do it a whole lot more often than we think we do.

But what’s even more ridiculous is this: if there really were such a conspiracy, and if that conspiracy had a mechanism in place to delete nominations that come in for the “wrong” kind of people, then why didn’t that conspiracy prevent the slates from taking over at least five categories of the Hugo ballot this year? Why would someone who believed there was a conspiracy capable of deleting nominations or otherwise mucking with the numbers think that the solution would be to get a bunch of people to nominate exactly the same candidates?

I assume that the rationale is some sort of double-think. Once enough people were voting the slate, the conspiracy decided to let them overrun the ballot in order to prove there is no conspiracy. Or something. And that’s why No Award took so many categories. It couldn’t possibly be that hundreds of fans who hadn’t previously participated bought memberships and voted for No Award. It has to be the conspiracy.

Except now several of them are trying to claim that they’re the ones who made the No Award happen. That was their plan all along! Never mind all the crowing, after they took over several categories on the ballot, about how they had to win now! Never mind the angry (and vicious) way they acted after the first public suggestion that maybe folks who didn’t think bloc voting was a good idea should vote for No Award. It was very clear from the initial reactions that the Puppy leaders had never considered such a possibility. The way a couple of them reacted, I think they honestly didn’t even know that the rules even allowed No Award.

Such a claim is also incompatible with the original conspiracy theory, as well.

The guy I’ve referenced isn’t the only one. This year was the third year that the Sad Puppies have been active. The first year was not an entire slate, instead, one single author wrote a post lamenting the fact that he had never made the ballot. In said post, he claimed that all the puppies were sad because he hadn’t done won a Hugo, and he asked his fans to buy memberships and nominate him. He quickly amended that to recommend a few works by friends. He didn’t call it a slate nor refer to bloc voting, but when his book failed to make the ballot, but some of his other recommendations did, he said “So the Sad Puppies Hugo stacking campaign was a success for almost everybody else I pushed, but me…

It is perfectly understandable to feel disappointed when we don’t win an award or even get nominated for an award. As I said at the start of this post, I understand that feeling. It is very tempting to blame someone for that. We don’t want to think that maybe we didn’t win because people liked something else better than they liked our work. It’s easy to go all sour grapes.

Even as they write long tirades filled with derogatory, politically-based names for people they perceive as their enemies, they keep insisting that this isn’t about politics. Except that the founder of Sad Puppies I said himself, after a slightly more successful Sad Puppies II campaign: “I said a chunk of the Hugo voters are biased toward the left, and put the author’s politics far ahead of the quality of the work. Those openly on the right are sabotaged. This was denied. So I got some right wingers on the ballot.”

At other times, they claimed to be trying to make the award non-political: “The Hugos especially have become prone to focusing on issues-first fiction. If not outright tokenism and affirmative action, for the sake of the sexuality, gender, and ethnicity of the authors themselves. In those cases, the content of the story is practically irrelevant. It’s the box-checking that counts.” I find that one especially ironic. Please, go take a look at just one work they put on the ballot in the Best Related Works category: Wisdom from My Internet, and tell me with a straight face that it was picked because of the quality of the content, rather than because of the political leanings of the author and his support of the puppy leaders.

While they like to claim that they’re increasing the diversity of the Hugos which they further claim is controlled by some sort of liberal clique, there are a couple of facts to consider: ten of the nominees they originally got onto the ballot (before some withdrew or were disqualified) came from one tiny publishing house run by one man, Vox Day (the organizer of the allied Rabid Puppy slate). Not only that, but Vox himself was nominated as an editor, so ten of their nominees came from just one publisher, and one of the smallest ones in the genre, to boot. Five of the nominees were written by only one man, John C. Wright, and three of his stories were in a single category. In what way is that broadening the tent of the nominees? It what way is this not about promoting a clique of editor Vox Day and his most well-known author, Wright?

And let’s not forget that Vox Day has himself said (while defending GamerGate and the Sad Puppies): “both groups are striking back against the left-wing control freaks who have subjected science fiction to ideological control for two decades…”

That’s a whole lot of talk about conspiracies and political agendas coming from people who claim that they’re just trying to get fun, non-political works to win the prize. And by the way, a whole lot of the short fiction they nominated was message fiction. Most of it quite ham-fisted messaging that clobbered any shred of plot or characterization.

I made some predictions just before the ceremony: that maybe two categories would get No Award, that at least two of the Puppy nominees would win, the people on both sides would claim victory, at the same time that people on both sides will call it a disaster. I was not entirely correct.

  • No Award was handed out in a total of five categories, not just two. I should point out that part of my reason for thinking it would only be two is because I did put two Puppy nominees about No Award on my ballot, and thought that a few other people who were opposed to the idea of bloc voting might do the same.
  • Outside of the Movie and TV categories (as many people pointed out, no one believed that the Puppy-supported nominees wouldn’t have made it onto the ballot anyway), not one single nominee from either Puppy slate received more votes than No Award in that category. Not. One. So none of them took home any trophies.
  • It is true that several of the puppy leaders are now insisting that this was a win. They meant to take over categories and then lose them. We have all foolishly fallen into their trap. Exactly what that trap is, I don’t quite get, but they’re claiming victory.
  • A lot of non Puppies are claiming victory in that the slates were wholly defeated.
  • Despite some of the puppy leaders now claiming this was their plan all along, a lot of their supports were wailing and gnashing teeth. Not to mention sending some pretty hilarious attempts at insults to people such as myself who were live-tweeting the awards. I think my favorite was the guy claiming that this proves the Hugos have jumped the shark.
  • Meanwhile, I was not the only non-puppy supporter who described this outcome as not good. I don’t like not handing out awards in five categories. Particularly when I know that there were other things that deserved the award but were pushed off the ballot by the slates. And I don’t see how there isn’t going to be even more anger and animosity from the puppy supporters, which is going to cause some on the other side to fling crap back at them.

I do, however, stick by my last prediction: science fiction will survive. I also think that this entire affair has accomplished some good, because it has brought a whole bunch of fans and indy writers and artists who never realized before that they could nominate and vote for Hugos into the process. More people participating will be a good thing in the long run.

Provided that we all stick around, and remember to nominate the stuff we love.

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