The Hugo nominees were announced on Saturday. It is now Wednesday. In internet days, that’s about a decade. Enough for me to read through several 1000-comment threads about What Happened, to laugh, to cry, to be disgusted, to be angry, for my face to get stuck in permanent dropped-jaw mode. And to move from information gathering to a little analysis. Everything that can be said about how incredibly unpleasant this whole situation is has been said, so I won’t add my two WTFs to it. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, there are lots of places to read about it. I’ll sum up quickly. The following facts are not, as far as I know, in doubt:
1. A group of writers led by, but not limited to, Brad Torgerson, Larry Correia, and Vox Day, pulled a swell little 1919 and told their followers to vote a straight ticket–a slate devised and approved by these writers. There were two slates with many works in common, the “Sad Puppies” led by Torgerson and the “Rabid Puppies” led by Vox Day. This is the third year this group(s) have done this, but the first that it has been so overwhelmingly successful. Due to many factors in the Hugo nomination process, this resulted in a nearly-swept ballot of approved authors and works.
2. These writers are politically conservative, mostly deeply religious, and profoundly homophobic, sexist, racist, the whole nine. This is indeed the Vox Day who got kicked out of SFWA for using the official channel to harass N.K. Jemisin and call her subhuman. Though there are some exceptions, many of the works on the slate are also by writers of this political persuasion.
3. The group is of the opinion that their work was being overlooked because of their politics, and that the Hugo ballots and winners of the last several years were only awarded due to leftist politics and the racial/sexual/gender identities of their authors, not quality. The tenor of the call to arms was explicitly and often resoundingly political–“this is your chance to hurt SJWs.” If you don’t know what an SJW is, I hope you’re enjoying your new computer. It stands for Social Justice Warrior, which to a normal person sounds like someone who fights for justice and cares about all human beings, and to conservatives like the devil himself. The implication that they then must support injustice seems to be lost.
4. None of this is strictly speaking against the rules. It’s unethical. It’s almost laughably petty and mean-spirited. It’s most certainly against the spirit of the awards, which is why no one else has done it.And to an author of integrity, it’s a pointless act of bullying, because if you don’t compete against the best, an award is meaningless. But there is no bylaw that says not to cheat in this particular way.
Two more which are being hotly debated:
5. Whether or not it was successful, there is no doubt that SP and RP attempted to reach out to GamerGate to drum up support for their plan, and that “hurting SJWs” was the rallying cry, not “support great science fiction.” When questioned on this, they have refused to respond. The extent to which they found comrades among that crowd isn’t clear. A slate is so inherently unfair that it doesn’t take many people to fix the outcome, so despite the crowd of GGers on my Twitter feed telling me I’m an idiot for thinking they were involved, only a handful had to jump on board to make a difference, and they absolutely went looking in the halls of GamerGate for that handful. Which is maybe isn’t that surprising, given GG’s history of harassment and horrific examples of human behavior.
6. I will probably get some heat for this. But the emperor is butt damn naked. This is not, and has never been, about getting quality science fiction with a conservative slant on the Hugo ballot. The ballot looks ridiculous. John C. Wright has three nominations in the novella category and six overall, a record. The vast majority of the works are published by Castalia House, a Finnish micropublisher barely a year old and owned, I’m sure coincidentally, by Vox Day. Wisdom From My Internet, nominated in the Best Related Work category, is neither science fiction, nor, strictly speaking, a
book, (Edit: many things not books have been nominated in the category, let’s say it’s not an original work) but a collection of right-wing chain emails and one liners–which, among other works, edged the biography of Daddy Heinlein off the ballot. This is not what an organic ballot looks like. Big publishers can only dream of dominating awards in this way. No one can argue Wisdom From My Internet is the best SFF has to offer. It’s absurd on the face of it to say there was nothing better than this small clique of authors in 2014. That John C. Wright is, essentially, the greatest science fiction writer of all time. These are works by the friends, employees, and, perceived or actual, allies of Brad Torgerson, Larry Correia, and Vox Day. That is their chief, and in some cases only, virtue. (There are some works of some merit. But their merit seems to have been secondary to their ideological purity, especially with regards to someone like Jim Butcher, whose books feature sexist attitudes meant to indicate a flawed character, not a mission statement.)
7. Some of the benefitting authors knew and approved of the slate, some did not, Torgerson claims to have sought consent from everyone, some say this is untrue. Some nominated authors have said nothing either way. Not all the information is in.
I think that’s about it.
I’ve been accused, as have many at this point, of only caring because of personal reasons. After all, I’m not on the ballot, so I must be crying tears of selfishness. Well, I barely had anything eligible this year and did not for a moment expect to be on the ballot, so that’s not even a little personal.
But on the other hand, when these men talk about how horrible recent ballots have been, how they have no literary merit, how they are simply leftists voting for leftists regardless of quality, how the nominated works have been terrible, how they have ruined both science fiction and the Hugos for the Real Fans…well, I’m included in that. Since my first nomination in 2010 I’ve been nominated seven times, only missing one year. They are talking about stories I’ve loved and voted for as well as stories I’ve written. I’m part of the shit they want to clean up. I guess I should have been collecting chain emails all this time if I wanted to make real art. So it does take me aback on that level, because here I thought I was spending years working hard at my craft, when I was actually part of a leftist conspiracy to get nominations. (Which, if leftists could work together long enough to conspiracy? We’ d probably aim higher.)
What’s shocked me, through all of this, and disturbed me even more than the fixing of the Hugos itself, is that the Sad and Rabid and Otherwise Emotionally Overwrought Puppies seem to have wholly lost their grip on the English language. It’s deeply unsettling to watch writers denying that words have meanings. YOU GUYS, WORDS MEAN THINGS. IT IS YOUR JOB TO KNOW WHAT THEY MEAN.
For example, one of the new acronyms for “people we don’t like” is, apparently, CHORF, which stands for Cliquish, Holier-Than-Thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary Fanatics. It truly floors me that people who are busy gathering their friends into a group that believes it is on the right side of God, calling names and yelling about how we need to go back to the old way of doing science fiction and colluding to fix an award can use that acronym for anyone other than themselves. The DICTIONARY DEFINITION of reactionary is: of, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, especially extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change. How can this possibly describe the Evil Leftists such Brave Puppies must fight against? You keep telling us you’re the best writers in the genre, and yet basic words and their meanings seem to elude you! And while I’ve been told over and over that the Wicked Lefty Clique I am apparently a part of does “the same thing,” all that ever seems to mean is a link to John Scalzi or Charlie Stross’s blogs, as though John telling people what he has eligible and then opening his comments for others to do the same, or Charlie saying his editor is eligible, is some kind of evidence. The word “slate” means something. You know it does. It’s monstrously disingenuous to pretend any kind of “Hi, I have a book eligible” is identical to blatant vote-fixing and ballot-stuffing. There is no “both sides do it” or rules would have been changed a long time ago, as they may be changed now. No one would be shocked if this had been going on all along. The last people who tried this were Scientologists. The very fact that the Puppies are accusing others of having conspired–admitting by implication that this is wrong–while absolutely having conspired themselves–but insisting this was right–gives me a migraine.
I’ve repeatedly seen Brad Torgerson and Ken Burnside (a nominee but not an organizer) refer to the ballot as a “more inclusive” and “more diverse” ballot than recent years have offered. That…is not what inclusive means. It’s definitely not what diverse means. This ballot features one man in three out of five novella slots and six in total, one publisher in nine slots, and an overwhelming majority of white straight men. Even if you think all this is appropriate and excellent, you cannot call it inclusive or diverse without assaulting the English language. Let’s go to the dictionary! Inclusive: including a great deal, or including everything concerned; comprehensive! Diverse: of varying kinds, multiform, including representatives from more than one social, cultural, or economic group, especially members of ethnic or religious minority groups!
I suppose you could say “this list is more inclusive of myself and my friends, and more diverse in that myself and my friends are on it when we were not before” but that’s not what any of it actually means. It’s grotesque to defend oneself by claiming inclusivity and diversity when that is exactly what the unaltered ballots of recent years, the ones they hate so much, have given us.
It’s a near intolerable amount of cognitive dissonance, and it betrays a deep confusion. The Puppies hate SJWs–those awful people who keep prattling on about inclusivity and diversity. So why in the world would they claim to support those things? Why not use some other word to describe the ballot they’ve made–strong, perhaps, or exciting?
I suspect it’s because they know inclusivity and diversity are considered positive attributes by most people. Exclusivity and uniformity don’t sell. Despite their conviction that they are the persecuted majority, they know that no one wants to hear: we made a club so that we could be sure only people we approved politically and personally would be nominated. No one wants to hear: isn’t it nice how we’ve scrubbed the ballot of all those undesirables? Now it’s just us! What they did is unpalatable, and they know it. But now that they’ve gotten what they want, they need people to be happy about it in order for the award to have any meaning, and so they’ve grabbed the language of the enemy to praise themselves. Only it doesn’t work, because words have meanings. It’s a pretty classic conservative technique (see the fact that Social Justice Warrior now means a bad person), but it’s depressing–or perhaps hilarious–to see it used by individuals because they can’t face the consequences of what they’ve done. You guys spent ages telling us diversity was bullshit and inclusivity was a creeping evil. Why are you now telling us, with a sneer and a smirk, that you are their champions? What is wrong with you? It’s all so unfathomably dishonest and intellectually bankrupt I have a hard time believing any of these people put together a coherent novel at any point.
Puppies: if you truly believe that what you did was right and good and honest, if you believe you have struck a blow for virtue and excellence–be straight with us. Tell us that. Don’t try to paint over the mess you made by insisting you’ve done it all for the sake of inclusive, diverse happy kittens and rainbows. Conservative politics are supposed to be all about straight-shooting real talk. So just say you used your clique (and probably some others) to do something you believed in, no matter what the cost. You do not get to have your ballot and eat it, too. You did this. You have to face the consequences. You cannot tell the world that they should vote for you to strike back at women, liberal, people of color, and queer writers (and even worse–literary science fiction authors, the horror!) and then call yourselves diverse and inclusive.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Hugos. I haven’t yet seen a suggestion for rule changes that would fix much of anything. I suspect that even the Puppies are embarrassed that their tampering is so obvious, but they won’t break ranks now. I suspect this will be the most awkward award ceremony in history. It seems strangely small potatoes, to pick a science fiction award as your battlefield to die on when it can have so little effect on the political world at large. Surely there are larger stakes when you see the world as one huge Us vs. Them. I suppose you have to start somewhere. Even Darth Vader did data entry for awhile. I don’t even know what I’m going to do–whether I’ll go to Worldcon, whether I’ll vote No Award.
But I would like to ask, for the sake of a language I love: however you vote this summer, when you see people using words to mean their opposite, when you see these attempts at kidnapping and rehabilitating language, if nothing else, call them out on that. If they want the ballot, that’s one thing, but they can’t just take English. The rest of us are still using it.