Skip to main content

On the Sad Puppies "Defeat" at the 2016 Hugo Awards

2016Over the past few years a certain subset of fans known as the Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies have been collectively trying to game the annual Hugo awards for best SF and fantasy stories.

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.

If you look at the Hugo voting records for the past few years, you’ll see that that the number of valid ballots grew from 1843 in 2013 (the first year of the Puppies) to 3587 ballots in 2014.

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.

Similar Articles


Gbm August 21, 2016 um 8:53 pm

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 best way the game any list for the "Hugo’s" is write and tell a good story that makes readers want to give you money.

But after the juvenile antics displayed by the "Noaward" crowd last year, I no longer have any respect for the Hugo.

John Doppler August 21, 2016 um 9:09 pm

Nate, have you considered the effect of new voting changes on the ability of the Puppies to manipulate nominations?

WSFS rules require that changes to the constitution be voted on and passed in two consecutive Worldcons. If ratified, the E Pluribus Hugo amendment (intended to minimize the effect of slate voting) will take effect at the conclusion of MidAmeriCon II this month.

That will effectively neuter the Puppies.

As for the decline in Hugo ballots cast this year, some of that may be attributable to general disgust with Puppy trolling, and not an ongoing trend. The implementation of anti-slate measures may put an end to that as well.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2016 um 9:13 pm

The Sad Puppies didn’t have a slate this year. Instead the offered 8 to ten recommendations per category.

Do you have a link to the proposed rules? This is the first time I have heard about them.

Edit: found it.

John Doppler August 21, 2016 um 9:24 pm

It’s still bloc voting for an agenda, though, and that’s contrary to the spirit of the awards.

E Pluribus Hugo was passed at Sasquan in 2015 and is now up for ratification. EPH and the other items being considered for ratification are listed here:

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2016 um 9:26 pm


Thomas the Red August 21, 2016 um 9:53 pm

Although the Sad Puppies only presented a list of "Recommendations" this year, the Rabid Puppies, under Vox Day (Theodore Beale) again presented a Slate and a number of their selections appeared on the Sad Puppies Recommendation List. Day was explicit about running a Slate in order to game the system, again.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2016 um 10:05 pm

All the more reason to treat them as separate efforts. (Plus, this way I can raise my happiness quotient by ignoring Vox Day.)

no August 22, 2016 um 8:42 am

The Hugos are irreversibly destroyed by the smiling bald men like Scalzi who proved what the puppies were arguing; That the insular in-group was excluding others based on politics. A disgusting show of "no award" was spitefully thrown because Scalzi’s clique couldn’t imagine losing control of their club house.

Stephen King objected harshly to the idea of getting nominated by who you know. Even George R.R. Martin expressed his dismay that the clique was doing exactly what the puppies claimed they would. Literature should be judged by its own merit, but these stunted balding men like Scalzi squat on committees and label anyone who thinks differently a laundry list of slurs. They are the most contemptible kind of social justice garbage.

Will Entrekin August 22, 2016 um 1:50 pm

Speaking of Scalzi, he’s got a good summary, too:

Further question: is there an opposite of "social justice warrior"?

poiboy August 22, 2016 um 3:05 pm

Republican? lol

VodkaToxic August 22, 2016 um 4:26 pm

Actual Justice Warrior

Nat August 24, 2016 um 11:16 am

By definition, that would be someone who fights against social justice. So, "racist"? "Bigot"? I guess it would depend what aspect of social justice they are fighting against.

Bob Tudley August 22, 2016 um 9:31 am

There’s always been conflict in the SF community between the people who want the same ol' rayguns’n’rockets stuff they grew up on and the people who think there’s room for a little more maturity, awareness of the world, and literary merit. It goes back at least to the 1950s and the arrival of Galaxy and F&SF as competition to Astounding/Analog, through the New Wave, the increasing numbers of women writers in the 1970s, the cyberpunk era, and on into the 21st century.

But as far as I can remember, the only significant attempt in the past at gaming the Hugos the way the puppy factions have been doing wasn’t political, it was Scientology trying to buy Hubbard an award. That was wrong. The puppies are wrong, too.

'The Fifth Season' es la mejor novela en los Hugo 2016 | Ciberteca – Biblioteca – Arrubal August 22, 2016 um 10:12 am

[…] claro si ha habido una influencia como en otros años. Una estrategia que explican bastante bien en The Digital Reader y que parece que les ha valido […]

'The Fifth Season' es la mejor novela en los Hugo 2016 | Mediateca Agoncillo August 22, 2016 um 10:15 am

[…] claro si ha habido una influencia como en otros años. Una estrategia que explican bastante bien en The Digital Reader y que parece que les ha valido […]

Will Entrekin August 22, 2016 um 10:52 am

But wait, just so I’m clear, are you arguing to include Neil Gaiman and Andy Weir as SP? Because I don’t think that the S/RP folks hitching their wagons to already popular trains really makes a case that the basis of the whole Puppy fiasco wasn’t defeated. I’d also note that I think this year, folks who didn’t want to be associated with the S/RP folks were less likely to decline their nomination; last year it happened in a few categories, IIRC. This year, Neil made a point of mentioning his non-declination in his acceptance speech.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2016 um 5:02 pm

I’m arguing that this year the SP list isn’t what everyone is saying it is. I think it’s been co-opted, not defeated.

Will Entrekin August 22, 2016 um 6:10 pm

The SP list is what was promoted by Beale et al.

Impact? I mean, Gaiman and Weir and Okorafor all would have won. Gaiman isn’t an "SP candidate." He’s a Hugo nominee to whom the SP simply decided to latch their skateboard because they knew a winner when they saw one.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2016 um 6:12 pm

Beale was Rabid Puppies, I thought.

Will Entrekin August 22, 2016 um 7:19 pm

They’re all puppies, with similar ideologies. Some just froth a little more than others.

Andrew August 22, 2016 um 6:29 pm

Beale is Rabid Puppies. Different breed altogether, but the lazy and those who merely skim tend to conflate the two.

If Weir would have won, why didn’t he win last year? In fact, why wasn’t he noticed when he first published the Martian?

Butcher could have been a winner. Popular author, wrote a fine book last year, but he lost not because what he wrote was a bad story (at least I didn’t think it was), but because of who nominated him, and the fact he didn’t immediately repudiate his nomination.

If "Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, by Marc Amini" had been published by anyone else other than Castalia and nominated by anyone other than Beale, it would have won. The fact that the entire Best Related Work category this year, and the multiple categories last year (the most egregious of which was best editor), were no awarded as a protest of how they were nominated, and were not judged on their merits.

The Hugos have been dying for a decade. Last year was the WSFS burning the building down, this year, with the passing of not one but three new votings schemes and the "diversity" clause being enacted was the last of the few nails left in the coffin.

The Dragon Awards could quite possibly be the final nail.

Jon Torrance August 26, 2016 um 8:24 am

If Weir would have won, why didn’t he win last year?

Because last year the Puppies colluded to keep him off the shortlist – he would have been on the shortlist if it weren’t for them conspiring to push other people onto the list instead of him.

John Markley August 22, 2016 um 6:31 pm

You’ve got them mixed up. Beale was the Rabid Puppies guy, not SP.

Alex August 22, 2016 um 6:15 pm

For the record: Gaiman’s Sandman was an RP listee, not an SP one.

Frank August 22, 2016 um 10:54 am

The SP and RP candidates chosen were already popular choices so it hard to know how much of an influence it had.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2016 um 5:03 pm

Correct, and that blows Scalzi’s argument that it had no impact out of the water.

Bob Tudley August 26, 2016 um 9:29 am

I recommend that people who go to Baskin-Robbins should get a cold dairy product. Hey look, everyone there is buying a cold dairy product. BEHOLD THE POWER OF MY INFLUENCE!

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2016 um 10:22 am

I recommend that everyone eat every day. BEHOLD THE POWER OF MY INFLUENCE!

Annie August 29, 2016 um 3:39 pm

Not really.

Scalzi is saying that the puppies (both flavors) picked already popular authors this year as a political move. He is strongly supported by head puppies coming out and saying exactly that – that their slate this year included popular authors to try and get people to vote against those authors.

People by and large ignored that and voted for who they were going to vote for anyway. That is a defeat for the puppies' attempts to make Hugo voting an ideologically driven process.

Andrew August 29, 2016 um 4:09 pm

Nominating and voting for good stories by good authors is an ideology now?

Look, I was at Worldcon this year. Want to take a guess how many people I heard say they voted for Jemsin even though they didn’t think her work was the strongest in the field, but they were doing so out of an obligation to stick it to Vox and other Puppies for "reasons"?

Hugo awards see off rightwing protests to celebrate diverse authors | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing August 22, 2016 um 11:00 am

[…] Link to the rest at The Digital Reader […]

Andrew August 22, 2016 um 1:30 pm

Actually, the payoff will be in a few weeks when the first Dragon Awards are announced. Quite a few works that were on the SP list are on that one, and given the level of participation at DragonCon, if the number of votes is less than 10K, I’d be very surprised.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2016 um 1:36 pm

I need to look up the Dragon Awards and get ready for the event. Thanks.

Gbm August 22, 2016 um 2:44 pm

Register and they will send you a ballot by email.

Gbm August 22, 2016 um 2:53 pm

Here is a list of the final nominees:'

Andrew August 22, 2016 um 1:53 pm



Will Entrekin August 22, 2016 um 7:28 pm

When it comes to SF&F, shouldn’t we be fantasists? When it comes to life, isn’t it good to be an idealist?

"Some men see things that are and ask why. I dream things that never where and ask why not."

Shirley Dulcey August 23, 2016 um 12:14 am

The single biggest reason for the decline in Hugo voting this year had nothing to do with the Hugos. There were a lot of supporting memberships bought and votes cast in 2015 because there was a hotly contested vote for Worldcon site selection; Helsinki defeated Washington DC, Montreal, and Shizuoka (Japan). Many of the people who bought memberships to vote on site selection also submitted a Hugo ballot, because they could do so at no cost.

This year’s contest between San Jose and New Orleans did not attract the same level of interest. That meant fewer people eligible to vote on the Hugos.

Compare the numbers. Wikipedia on the 2015 voting: "With 1363 votes out of 2625 valid ballots, Helsinki won on the first ballot and will operate as "Worldcon 75″. DC17 ran second with 878 votes. Montreal third with 228, and Nippon fourth with 120." From a post on the 2016 voting: "In the site selection vote at MidAmeriCon II San José beat a bid from New Orleans by 675 votes to 594."

Andrew August 23, 2016 um 10:19 am

"The single biggest reason for the decline in Hugo voting this year had nothing to do with the Hugos."

If you believe that, you’re not just reading sci-fi, you’re living it.

The biggest reason for the decline is that the vast majority of first time voters last year saw the WSFS would rather burn their own house down and dance around the ashes celebrating their victory in the multiple "No Awards" they gave, and rather than participate in the same exercise this year, those voters chose not to participate. Site location, and the voting related to it, was not the primary driving factor in any way. If it was, the number of votes on the sites voting would have remained the same, if not higher.

The ultimate evidence of this is that you had more people nominate for the 2016 Hugos than actually voted on them, and you had 2K less voters this year than last year. Site selection had nothing to do with that.

Annie August 29, 2016 um 3:41 pm

The Hugos have always had a small number of voters. A return to normal after a resounding defeat of an attempt to make Hugo voting ideologically driven is exactly what everyone expected. Most people don’t care enough to spend time and money to vote in awards, that’s always been true.

Andrew August 29, 2016 um 4:01 pm

I’m pretty sure the numbers in this years DragonCon will outnumber those in the Hugos by several factors.

If, in a few years, those numbers are consistently higher, the Hugo’s will basically become the NIT to the Dragons NCAA Finals.

The Hugos have always been ideologically driven.

It’s just that the driving ideology changed about 2000ish, took a hard left turn around 2005ish, and has been on that path ever since.

Shirley Dulcey August 23, 2016 um 12:02 pm

I disagree. I think site selection had a lot to do with it.

There were over 1200 more site selection ballots cast in 2015 than in 2016. The vast majority of those 1200 people probably also cast Hugo ballots. (The fact that they sent in a site selection ballot shows that they are the kind of people who are inclined to vote, at least when it doesn’t involve a $50 poll tax – they were already paying the tax so the Hugo ballot came along for free.) That single factor accounts for half of the drop in voting between the two years.

The other half is probably people who bought supporting memberships in 2015 just to vote on the Hugos, either for or against the Puppies. 2015 sold a record-shattering number of memberships to non-attendees: nearly 6,000, which is double the previous record which had been set the previous year by Loncon 3. (No other Worldcon has ever sold more than 2,000 non-attending memberships.) Some of that unprecedented number was because of site selection, and some was because of the Puppy phenomenon.

The Fandom, the Awards and the Business – Angelo Benuzzi September 10, 2016 um 6:12 am

[…] On the Sad Puppies “Defeat” at the 2016 Hugo Awards […]

Banned Books | Arlock.JW September 28, 2016 um 9:15 pm

[…] and anything the Sad Puppies don’t […]

patheticpuppy January 16, 2017 um 5:53 am

It was called a defeat becasue (unlike previous years) they backed nominations that are fairly mainstream (even previous winners), thus undermining any claim that this is about getting unrecognized works acknowledged. They have sold out in the name of making it seem like they are relevant.

That is as much a defeat as if they had been chased out of the room, they are not fighting the "establishment" they are now cooperating with it.

Write a Comment