Hugo Wars, Part CCXVIII

I debated whether to join the conversation about the recently announced Hugo Awards Ballot. I eventually said the following on Twitter, and figured that would be the end of it for me:

  • I know awards have always had an element of popularity contest to them, and that any system can be played. (1/5)
  • Likewise, there have always been people who want to cheapen them for jealousy, bitterness, politics, attention, or whatever. (2/5)
  • Call me naïve, but I want the Hugos to be about the best authors, artists, & editors in our field. That’s what I’ll be reading for. (3/5)
  • Yeah, there’s been some annoying hypocrisy and chest-thumping. There are also some amazing people and works on the Hugo ballot. (4/5)
  • I’m not interested in letting anyone turn the Hugos into their personal political statement. I’m interested in celebrating awesomeness (5/5)

I didn’t originally plan to say more than that, but I’ve been reading along, and feeling more and more bummed about the fallout. So I finally decided I needed to get a few more things out. I’ll certainly understand if you’re burnt out on Hugo-related posts and choose to skip this one.

In an ideal world, I think the Hugo ballot would reflect the best work of the previous calendar year. No campaigning necessary, no politics, no grudges, no systemic handicapping of any groups or individuals, etc. I suspect we can all agree we don’t live in an ideal world.

Recommendations and word-of-mouth: People recommending things they’ve read/seen and loved is a good thing. It’s one of the most important factors in the success of any author or artist. Whether it’s one story you’re passionate about and want everyone to vote for, or a full list of stories and books and shows and editors, saying, “Hey, this stuff is really, really cool!” is kind of what fandom is all about, yes?

Eligibility lists: I think Amal El-Mohtar had a very good post about the importance and value of sharing your list of award-eligible work with the world. I know there are some people who believe this sort of thing is tacky, and any whisper of “Hey, I wrote this thing that’s eligible” counts as campaigning and is a huge insult to the spirit of the awards. Obviously, I disagree, both for the excellent reasons Amal mentioned, and because to be blunt, I can’t remember all of the good stuff I read or saw last year. These reminders are helpful to me as a potential voter.

Campaigning for yourself: When do you cross the line from making voters aware of your work to actively campaigning for it? I don’t know, and I suspect that line is different for everyone. I personally find it tacky when people email me unsolicited copies of their work. But how many eligibility posts and reminders are too much? It depends on a lot of individual and larger factors. For example, I’ve noticed a trend where female creators get attacked for too much self-promotion a lot faster than men do. It’s a mess, and I don’t pretend to have an answer here.

Voting for the work: Nowhere in the Hugo rules, or in other award rules that I’m aware of, does it say you must consider only the work when casting your ballot. I don’t think there’s be any realistic way to enforce doing so, short of somehow removing author names from everything published in a given year and not crediting authors until after the awards season. But ideally, yes, I think we should be voting for the work.

Now, I’ll admit I get a kick out of seeing my friends on the ballot. I wouldn’t vote for them purely because they’re my friends, but given that I’m more likely to be reading stuff by them, those friendships probably do have at least an indirect impact on my nominations. And I understand the devil-on-the-shoulder whispering, “Ooh, if person X gets on the ballot, that’s really gonna piss off person Y. Cool!”

That said, if you’re voting purely or primarily because you want to make a certain group’s heads explode, as has been stated recently? Yeah, you’re pretty much an asshole, and you’re cheapening the experience for the authors you voted for. See, most authors like winning awards because they wrote something awesome, not because they’re being used as a tool so you can piss on a group you don’t like. But there’s nothing in the rules prohibiting you from being an asshole, either.

Likewise, trying to get on the ballot through a false victimhood narrative? That strikes me as tacky as hell. But again, it’s not against the rules, and human history shows how effective it can be to win support by manufacturing a war. (This will, I imagine, immediately spiral into a futile back-and-forth of “But they started it!” and “They’re the ones making stuff up!”)

Separating personalities from the work: Remember, this is my opinion only. Based on my interactions and reading of Larry Correia online, the man strikes me as a pretentious blowhard playing the role of asshole to rile up and entertain his followers. He is also, from everything I’ve seen and heard, a pretty entertaining and successful author of fiction. I think some of his tactics are tacky as hell, but — much as I might not like the man — I don’t have a problem seeing his book on the ballot. He has a lot of passionate fans of his fiction, many of whom have said flat-out that yeah, he can be a dick, but he writes really fun books.

I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t vote for him. Only that seeing him on the ballot doesn’t strike me as a Problem.

So what about Vox Day making the ballot for Best Novelette? My opinion of the man isn’t exactly a secret. If he got on the ballot for writing an awesome story, great. But unlike Correia, I’ve seen very few people trying to defend Day as a good author. He did post his novelette online for potential voters, so I downloaded it and started reading. I can honestly say that even if I knew nothing about the author as a person, I would have tossed this into the rejection pile after the first couple of pages.

Maybe that’s just a matter of personal taste, and Day’s followers are truly enthusiastic about his fiction, not just his attitudes and politics. But I have a very hard time taking his nomination seriously as anything but an attempt to piss in people’s Cheerios.

Buying votes: I’ve seen accusations of people buying $40 supporting memberships in order to stuff the ballot. Which … I’m sorry, but isn’t the primary point of supporting memberships to allow more people to nominate and vote? If folks are buying memberships just to piss people off, then yeah, we’re back to asshole territory … but it’s still legal asshole territory.

The other accusation I’ve seen is of individuals buying multiple supporting memberships in order to get themselves and their preferred slate on the ballot. Basically, a kind of voter fraud. I haven’t seen any concrete evidence for this, though.

My takeaway: I’m not trying to tell anyone else how they should or shouldn’t react. I’m just laying out my own thought process here.

  • There are some amazing works and people on this year’s Hugo ballot. This makes me happy, and is totally worthy of celebration.
  • Some authors are assholes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have fans who genuinely like their stuff.
  • I think it’s pretty clear that there were some voters who voted just to Make a Point and to Piss Off The Enemy. Yes, these people are also assholes. But that doesn’t mean all people who voted for That Thing are assholes who just wanted to make a point.
  • It’s not my job to police who is and isn’t a real fan of someone’s work.
  • The run-off voting system should minimize the effects of ballot-stuffing.
  • The Hugos are not perfect. No system is. People can and will try to game the system.
  • Maybe the Hugos don’t truly recognize the best work in any given year, but they do celebrate a lot of awesome stuff.
  • My guess is that we’ll see a significant rise in Hugo voters next year, and that’s a good thing.