No Award (Part Three)

This article first appeared on the now-defunct NerdHQ blog.

“No Award”

The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy Literature
Part III: Myths, Realities, and Controversies of the Sad Puppies and the Hugos

By Chris Chan

This is 3 of 8 in a series of articles.

First of all, I want to extend my thanks to all of the people who have read the first two entries in this series and commented on it.  Though this is a controversial and inflammatory topic, I started writing these articles to explain this situation to people who might not be familiar with the debates over the Hugos, describe the complexities of the situation to people who might previously have only been aware of one side of the story, and ideally (if perhaps over-optimistically), to encourage a spirit of reconciliation between opposing groups, or at least a de-escalation of tensions and deeper understanding.

There is a very sharp divide between the lenses through which the recent Hugo Awards are viewed.  The motives and ideologies of individuals on all sides of the controversy have been called into question by opponents, and this article is meant as an introduction to a handful of the most hotly contested points specifically levelled against the Sad Puppies as opposed to a thorough analysis of all of the various points of dispute about all sorts of people in recent years.

In order to get a better comprehension of this complex subject and the impact that the Sad Puppies have had on the Hugo Awards, it is important to address some of the issues and controversies connected with the group.  Many statements circulating around the Internet are inaccurate to varying extents, whereas other claims are matters of opinion, and still other assertions are incomplete.

This is not the first article to address these issues.  Larry Correia has written a refutation of many of the accusations levelled against the Sad Puppies, but some points bear further investigation.

Issue: The allegation that the Sad Puppies movement was motivated by bigotry and sexism.

Charges of chauvinism and racism have (please forgive the word choice) dogged the Sad Puppies since their founding.  Bigotry is unquestionably a social evil that attacks the dignity of human beings and is an affront to all that is right and decent.  While denouncing bigotry is a just action, it is a slanderous injustice to advance allegations of bias without merit.  Furthermore, throwing meritless accusations around leaves the accused forced to go on the defensive, even when the authors’ personal lives and writings clearly put the lies to such charges.  Anyone who still considers that the major figures involved in Sad Puppies are motivated by hatred in their hearts are advised to find out more about their work and personal lives by reading the authors’ personal blogs and extensive writings.

John C. Wright explains, “Brad Torgersen, whose wife is black, was called a racist; and I, whose father in law is Jewish, was called an anti-Semite. Sarah Hoyt, a Portuguese woman, was denounced as a white supremacist male chauvinist. She and Larry Correia routinely have minority characters or homosexuals as major characters in their stories, portrayed in a favorable light, and so they were both called fascist homophobes.”  Sarah A. Hoyt got involved in the Sad Puppies in part to reclaim her friends’ good names.  While she was recovering from her cancer treatments, she explains that, “I dragged myself from bed after surgery to defend the men, who were being accused of being racist/sexist/homophobic. Need I say [they are] no such thing.”

While many articles on the Sad Puppies and the Hugos from a wide variety of sources have levelled such a charge, it must be noted that one of the most prominent instances of Sad Puppies coverage in the media has backed down from this attack.  In 2015, Entertainment Weekly ran an article making such accusations, initially stating that the goal of the Sad Puppies was to make sure that only white males were nominated.  The first headline was “Hugo Award nominations fall victim to misogynistic, racist voting campaign.” Notably, this article was swiftly revised with a retraction, saying, CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color.”  Other venues, like The Guardian, Slate, and numerous others, did not retract their allegations.

As for the charges that the Sad Puppies were anti-woman, influential members of the group, such as Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt, and Amanda S. Green, all either have or will lead the Sad Puppies at one point.  None of these women would be involved in a group founded in sexism.

Issue: The politics and ideologies behind Sad Puppies.

There has always been a level of politics involved in the Sad Puppies.  Some of the Sad Puppies’ leaders describe their political opinions as on the conservative end of the spectrum, whereas others consider themselves libertarians.  In contrast, Vox Day of the Rabid Puppies has stated his Alt-Right political sensibilities.

Brad R. Torgersen described his personal take on the politics of the controversy, saying that, “The political split, pro-Puppy vs. anti-Puppy, is fairly stark.  On the pro-Puppy side you have a mish-mash of libertarians, conservatives, and classical liberals.  On the anti-Puppy side you have a fairly homogeneous collection of progressives.  Some of them very hard-core progressives.  The artistic difference might best be summed up like this: pro-Puppy is pro-entertainment, while anti-Puppy is pro-message.  Meaning, the anti-Puppies believe fiction (all fiction) should serve some form of progressive political ideal.  In the current decade, this means issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and ethnicity.  Pro-Puppy is not opposed to any of that, merely opposed to making it the centerpiece of a given work of fiction.  Anti-Puppy wants it front and center.  Giving the audience a good time is secondary to political virtue-signaling.”

In the first two years of the Sad Puppies, Larry Correia stated his belief that the Hugo nominees were largely ideologically homogeneous, and professed that he wished to add alternative voices to the voting spectrum.  Several figures, perhaps most famously George R.R. Martin, wrote refutations of some of Correia’s assertions.  Martin advanced the thesis that the nomination data did not support Correia’s belief in bias, though it was certainly possible some people may have felt that there was ideological preferential treatment at play.  Thus began a pretty civil back-and-forth between the two authors, where both men criticized each other’s perspectives while explaining their own perspectives.  Neither convinced the other.

Issue: The assertion that the nominees put forward by the Sad Puppies are of inferior quality.

Here, the issue is a matter of taste.  You cannot please all of the people all of the time.  There’s a reason why Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert shared the hosting duties on At the Movies.  Many of the Sad Puppies’ critics have explained that the reason why they voted for “No Award” is because they felt that the nominees put forward by the Sad Puppies were not worthy of a Hugo Award.  In contrast, the Sad Puppies have retorted that they did not care for many of the Hugo nominees and winners from previous years. To put such sharp differences of opinion into perspective, looking at the Emmy and Oscar nominations over the last several years, I personally find numerous works I love, several I am indifferent to, many I despise, and lots, perhaps most, with which I am unfamiliar.   An award nomination doesn’t mean that you personally will love something.  It just means that other people deem it worthy of accolades.

Issue: Are the Sad Puppies really “gaming” the system?

Many opponents of the Sad Puppies have charged that the groups “gamed” the system by presenting their recommended nominees.  Here, there is a sharp difference of opinion as to what constitutes acceptable behavior during the Hugo nomination process.  Critics of the Puppies contend that the groups violated a gentleman’s agreement of disorganized, individual voting, prodded only by certain figures discreetly alerting fans to the fact that certain works were eligible for Hugos.  The Sad Puppies argue that surreptitious “log-rolling” and organized voting have always been around the Hugos.  Correia quipped, “By “gaming” I assume you mean by fans buying memberships and voting? Getting people to vote in a popularity contest… What a dastardly plot!”

In any event, the Hugos voting system has been completely overhauled, starting this year.  For a very detailed and thorough explanation of how the new Hugos voting system has been designed to prevent groups and slates from dominating the system, please read Greg Hullender’s “Fix the Slating Problem Forever.”

Issue: The Sad Puppies violated the standard code of Hugo voting conduct by pushing adherents to vote a slate of candidates.

Looking at the Sad Puppies’ preferred candidates of their four years of promoting potential nominees, it should be noted that at only one point, during Sad Puppies III, that the Sad Puppies really came close to promoting a “slate” to dominate the Hugos.  Sad Puppies I and II only provided a handful of nominations, potentially filling only a bare minimum of categories, and Sad Puppies IV produced so many recommendations in each category that people consulting their lists were unlikely to have produced a unified voting response.  Also, judging from different numbers, many Sad Puppies voters chose to substitute their own preferred potential nominees where desired.

Larry Correia’s first Sad Puppies recommendations from 2013 are hereHere is the 2014 Sad Puppies list.  The 2015 Sad Puppies recommendations are here.  The 2016 Sad Puppies recommendations list is here in Excel format, but can only be seen if granted access.  Once again, the Sad Puppies chose to have nothing to do with the 2017 Hugos.

For the purposes of comparison, here are the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Rabid Puppies recommendations.

Notably, in 2014, Larry Correia never put forward more than two recommendations per category, and left many categories completely blank. Looking at the 2015 Sad Puppies recommendations, it is notable that not all of the categories were filled.  “Best Novella” only puts forward three possibilities.  “Best Novelette” suggests just four works.  Only one “Graphic Story” is mentioned.  “Dramatic Presentation (Long Form),” “Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), and both “Best Editor” Categories” only have four apiece.  The only categories that suggest five works (enough to fill up all of the available Hugo slots) are “Best Novel,” “Best Short Story,” “Best Related Work,” and “Best Fan Writer.”

For more critical review of the effectiveness of the campaigns, please look at Nathaniel Givens’ analysis of the 2015 Hugos results.  Givens’ work is thought-provoking, and provides a different perspective on the how effective the Sad Puppies were, especially when compared to the Rabid Puppies.

Larry Correia elaborated on his goals, saying, “The more people involved, the better. My side isn’t the one trying to keep out any fans because they have fun wrong. I want as many fans involved as possible, because then a couple tiny little cliques can’t dominate the whole thing. The fact is the Hugo voting pool had gotten so apathetic that twenty votes could swing whole categories. No matter what happens, we’ve changed that dynamic.”

Issue: The effects of the Sad Puppies on the voting numbers.

The Hugo Awards are set apart from many comparable awards by the fact that they release full statistics of the nominations and voting processes after each year’s awards are announced.  Famously, the Oscars never reveal who came in second (or third, etc.), but the Hugos provide a full ranking of each nominee, showing how many votes all of the leading contenders received in each category.  In order to provide a better look at how the Hugos have changed in the wake of the Sad Puppies, it will help to look at the past decade of Hugo nominations and votes.  The past ten years of statistical data related to the Hugos can be found at the following links:

2007 (Nominees)  2007 (Winners)

2008 (Nominees)  2008 (Winners)

2009 (Nominees)  2009 (Winners)








Note: The original version of this article was written after the 2016 WorldCon.  I have added information on the five subsequent Hugo Awards for those who are curious, though I have not fully analyzed the later data.)





2021 (Nominations) 2021 (Winners)

Other historical information about the Hugo results and other statistics can be found here.

There have been some impressive analyses of the Hugo voting statistics in the past, including George Flynn’s Hugo Voting: Let’s Look at the Record (Again).

Further analysis of these statistics will take place in an upcoming article, but some preliminary observations will do for a start. The numbers clearly indicate that it is currently a lot harder to get on the Hugo ballot than it was a decade ago, because involvement in the awards has exploded.  In 2007, the most voted-upon category, Best Novel received 471 ballots total, and most of the other categories received substantially fewer votes.  By 2012, a total of 1,922 final ballots were submitted, though not every category was voted upon in every ballot– as few as eight hundred two people voted for Best Fanzine.   In 2013, 1,848 valid ballots were cast, in 2014 the number was 3,587 total valid ballots, in 2015 (the year Sad Puppies III and Rabid Puppies dominated the ballot) a total of 5,950 ballots were cast, but by 2016 the number was 3,130 ballots. If there are specific reasons for the sharp increase and sudden decline in voting, I would be grateful to learn more about them, please.

In 2007, the Best Novel candidates reached the ballot with as few as thirty-five nominations and as many as fifty-eight.  In 2007, the fewest number of nominations needed to get on the Hugo Ballot was a mere sixteen votes in the Short Story category.  By 2016, the top five Best Novel nominees received between six hundred eighty-eight and eight hundred seventy-seven votes, and the nominee on the final ballot with the fewest nominations was in the Best Fan Artist category, with eighty-eight nominations.  In 2016, most of the nominees needed at least a few hundred votes to get on the final ballot.  This shows just how many more Hugo voters backed the eventual nominees than in previous years.  In 2016, it took more than nineteen and a half times as many votes to get on the Best Novel ballot than in 2007.  Furthermore, in 2016, 3,695 ballots were submitted for Best Novel nominations, way up from 1,827 Best Novel nomination ballots in 2015, 1,595 Best Novel nomination ballots in 2014, and 1,113 Best Novel nomination ballots in 2013, showing a sharp, continuous rise from the mere three hundred eighty-two valid Best Novel nominating ballots from 2008.   Just a few years ago, a fairly small block of voters could have swung the nominations.  It appears that is no longer the case.

Looking at the Hugo statistics, there is an obvious increase in voter nomination participation over time, but the explosion really starts in 2015 (the year the Sad and Rabid Puppies nearly swept the categories) and the trend continued in 2016.  Based on the preliminary information released on the 2017 nominees, there has been a steep decrease in nominating voters (with a grand total of 2,464 total valid nominating ballots submitted, and 2,078 ballots for Best Novel nominations), although I would hesitate to draw further conclusions until the full details of the nominations and final votes are released towards the end of the summer, since the new voting system may potentially bring up further nuances in the statistical data that might be oversimplified or misinterpreted without full access to the available information.

There is one more issue that that needs to be refuted.  In much of the coverage of the Sad Puppies, it is implied that these efforts are limited to the world of science fiction fandom.  As the next entry in this series will illustrate, the issues, ideas, and opinions that fueled the Sad Puppies are present in many other genres as well, and are a part of widespread re-evaluation of how lots of leading awards select their winners.

Coming up in Part Four of this series– It’s Not Just the Hugos– How Similar Issues are Shaking Up Other Awards, Literary Culture, and Fandom