Skip to content

The Hugo Awards: What's Going On?


I was asked today what’s going on with the Hugo Awards. What’s this business about “sad puppies” and “rabid puppies”? Are you confused? I’ve got you covered.

If you know what GamerGate is, you can think of the sad/rabid puppies as the science fiction literature equivalent. In many ways, they’re just another head on the same hydra. If you don’t know what GamerGate is, you can go educate yourself, but it’s not entirely necessary to understanding the Hugo situation.

First off, you should know this is not a new controversy. The problems began during the 2013 Hugo Award nomination process, came again in 2014, really went out of control in 2015, and we look set for a repeat performance this year. The Hugo Awards aren’t like the Academy Awards in Hollywood–all you have to do to have the power to nominate a book or story is pay a $40 fee to sign up for a WorldCon convention. This means that the nomination process can be hijacked without too much difficulty, and that’s exactly what happened. An alliance of misogynists and white supremacists, vexed that science fiction has become even marginally more diverse and inclusive, are fighting back by nominating works by authors whose views they better appreciate–that is, other white supremacists, misogynists, and assorted bigots. The politics consist of the same “culture war” mentality that made GamerGate so toxic.

Last year, when the nomination slates were stacked full of garbage, many voters responded by awarding to “Noah Ward.” If you say it aloud, you’ll get it: they voted to simply not give an award in many categories, rather than pick one of the choices of the sad/rabid puppies.

With the nominations being similarly gamed this year, we are likely looking at a repeat. Like last year, many authors may simply decline their nominations or even awards, as a sign of protest. Due to the coordination and determination of these people, the Hugo Awards–once considered the most prestigious, desirable awards for science fiction writers–are being rendered meaningless, perhaps permanently.

The man behind most of this debacle is one Vox Day, who is a self-described racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite. He has been called the most hated man in science fiction, and that might even be an understatement. The Hugo slates for 2015 and 2016 were devised primarily by him, and include some of his own works, along with works published by his own small publishing firm. Vox Day has made it his mission to get revenge on what he sees as a science fiction establishment taken over by leftist identity politics, and the rabid puppies movement in particular is his brainchild. The slate put forth by the rabid puppies has seen the most success thus far, so I guess Day can take credit for ruining awards that could be given to more deserving people.

As a result of all this, the question has come up of what to do about it. Some have suggested coming up with a new awards society altogether, seeing the Hugo name as irretrievably tainted. But unless such an organization operates under totally different rules, it will be just as vulnerable to someone like Vox Day as the Hugos are. A better approach would be to regulate the nomination process so that it cannot be gamed by a determined band of troublemakers. There is certainly some value in leaving the nominations open, at some level, to the general public, but the current system is clearly too open. It’s not merely an issue of the “wrong” kind of people getting nominations and awards, either. If the Hugos are supposed to represent the best of science fiction, then letting the awards be dominated by right-wing writers of generally poor quality denigrates the awards themselves. It makes handing them out all but irrelevant. Tighter guidelines for nomination powers, and for who and what can be nominated, would probably go a long way.

Whatever comes of all this, it’s obvious that these culture war battles are far from over. The irony is that the war was won long ago. Progress continues to march forward, despite the best efforts of reactionaries to turn back the clock to a mythical, “better” past.

The idea that science fiction was so much better when it was less diverse and inclusive is, perhaps, the most absurd fantasy of all.