On the Sad Puppies "Defeat" at the 2016 Hugo Awards
Depending on who you ask, their motivations were either to gather support for a type of SF which had been excluded from the Awards by insiders, or to introduce a reactionary slate consisting of white male authors.
Neither is quite accurate, but that matters less than the fact that in past years the Puppies didn’t have much success.
But this year, despite press reports to the contrary, they succeeded.
Despite having what appeared to outsiders as a cohesive voting block, the Sad Puppies have had less than complete success in past years . In 2015, for example, many of the Puppies' candidates didn’t just lose, in many categories they even ranked behind "No Award", a sign that more voters would rather give the award to no one rather than give it to a Puppies candidate.
In fact, in five categories (Best Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Editor Short Form, and Editor Long Form) no one got an award last year.
And now, in 2016, the Puppies are being described as having been defeated once again. The Guardian covered the Hugo Awards in an article this morning, describing it thusly:
Another attempt by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups to hijack the science fiction award goes to the dogs, as authors and titles not in their campaign take top prizes.
The winners of the 2016 Hugo awards have been announced, with this year’s choices signalling a resounding defeat for the so-called “Puppies” campaigns to derail the venerable annual honouring of science fiction literature and drama.
The winners were announced on Saturday evening at MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention held this year in Kansas City.
The Guardian call this a defeat, but I would say it is at least a partial victory.
You can find the list of winners over on the official Hugo awards blog, as well as the voting records for this year.
As you can see when you compare the ballot to the Sad Puppies recommendation list, a fair number of Sad Puppies candidates made it through the nomination process and ended up on the ballot.
Last year the Puppies swept certain categories, filling all five slots in some categories with their candidates. They weren’t quite that successful this year, but they made their presence known.
For example, all five authors on the Best Novella ballot were Sad Puppies candidates, as well as three of the Best Novellette candidates and three of the Best Short Story nominees.
Four of the authors up for a Campbell were on the SP recommendation list, and last but not least two of the names up for Best Fan Writer were recommended by the Sad Puppies.
In all five of these categories, an SP candidate went on to win a Hugo.
And this is what The Guardian would describe as a defeat.
If this were politics, a five-person voting block (out of fifteen seats) would be considered a power to be reckoned with, if not the dominant force in its legislative body. The only ones who would phrase that as a defeat would be its political opponents.
But this isn’t politics, and it would be wrong to count these five wins as a block. And that is also true for the sixth Sad Puppies win.
Coincidentally, the Sad Puppies also recommended the winner of the Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation category (as well as three other candidates), but I’m not sure they should get credit for it because both the winner and the runner up were the odds-on favorite to win anyway, which brings me to the real point I wanted to make today.
The reason these Sad Puppies candidates won this year wasn’t coordinated action on the part of SPs but rather that the candidates were already popular choices.
Fury Road and The Martian were popular with film-goers, which is how they ended up being recommended by the Sad Puppies.
What some of the Sad Puppies detractors may have missed is that this year the SP nomination process was open to all.
The official Hugo nomination process has a poll tax in that you have to buy an associate membership for WorldCon to nominate or vote, but the Sad Puppies were more democratic. All you had to do to recommend someone for the SP list was to leave a comment on the SP blog defending your choice.
The Guardian and others may describe the Sad Puppies as right-wing reactionaries, but what they missed is that this year everyone who wanted to speak was given a voice.
As a result, the Sad Puppies list this year wasn’t the right-wing political slate of past years; instead it included diverse recommendations like Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor.
As John Scalzi noted back in April, the Sad Puppies list this year was closer to a straight-up popularity contest:
This is a fact the Puppy groups have taken to heart. This year, once again, the two Puppy groups announced slates (or in the case of the “Sad” variant, a “recommendation list”) of people and works they wanted to see on the finalist ballot. Once again, many of their choices made the cut. But where last year’s slates were filled with nominees primarily of interest to the Puppies themselves, this year’s Puppy slates included works and authors already popular with science fiction fans and tastemakers, and (as a subset of both of these) Hugo voters.
Scalzi doesn’t give the Sad Puppies credit for shit, and instead wrote that "the Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it".
Me, I see things differently.
What was a political fight in past years has been co-opted in 2016 into a popularity contest.
It may not stay that way in the coming years, but if the next Sad Puppies list is open for all to participate then you would have to be an idiot to continue to write off the Sad Puppies as right-wing reactionaries.
What authors should be doing instead is planning how to game the next Sad Puppies list, because it could become a whole lot more important in the coming years as a proto-Hugo nomination process.
The Hugo is said to represent all of SF, but in reality only a few thousand ballots are cast each year.
And then last year, when the Puppies campaign came to naught, there were 5950 ballots cast for the Hugo Awards. That is the largest number of ballots ever cast for the Hugo Awards in a single year, and judging by the number of ballots this year it may never be equaled because:
A grand total of 3,130 ballots were cast this year.
Yes, that is barely more than half the number of ballots cast in 2015, and now that the Puppies furor has passed we can expect even fewer ballots cast in 2017.
It’s going to take fewer votes to win a Hugo next year, which means that getting the support of an additional 100 to 200 votes from the followers of the Sad Puppies list could be enough to secure a nomination, which is the first step to winning a Hugo.
If nothing else, the publicity will get readers to take a look at your work. (That’s certainly true in my case; there are a half-dozen writers I discovered only because of the Sad Puppies coverage earlier this year).
You’re welcome to pull back in revulsion at the idea of working with the Sad Puppies, but if I thought I had a shot I would be planning next year’s Sad Puppies Hugo campaign right now.