Politics, Hugos, and What the Numbers Say
I wrote last night that the results of the Hugo Awards were a victory for human decency and I’m not backing down from that, but now that I’ve had a chance to look at the numbers, I think there’s a much more interesting story to tell than simple identity politics.
And really, it starts with the word politics.
The people who put together the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates were motivated by what they considered was an untoward introduction of politics into a literary realm. According to them, there was an organized faction of people nominating and choosing winners not because the works were good on the merits but because the creator of the work was a woman, person of color, or whatever, and they wanted to counter this intrusion by banding together to put up real works by real people in the nominating stage when a smaller number of voters could have more sway.
They ended up proving themselves wrong in almost every way.
The only way in which they were right is that the Hugos were gamable at the nomination level because a relatively small number of voters could make a big difference.
Nothing on the Sad Puppy slate that wasn’t on the Rabid Puppy slate garnered a nomination. The highest vote totals for the works on the Rabid Puppy slate were Guardians of the Galaxy (769 nominations) and Interstellar (489) in the long form dramatic presentation category and Skin Game (387) in the best novel category.
That’s two of the biggest budget genre movies and the latest installment of a very long, very popular book franchise. There is simply no way in hell those works didn’t get a lot of votes from people who weren’t puppies.
The easiest place to see this is in the nomination details for the Best Novelette (2015 Hugo Statistics).
There were a total of 1031 ballots submitted during the nomination process. The Rabid Puppy slate garnered each candidate 165 to 267 votes, taking the top five slots. But when it was determined that John C. Wright’s Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus was determined to be ineligible because it was published in 2013, it opened up a spot for the eventual winner, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s The Day the World Turned Upside Down with 72 votes.
Yep. The massive political clique that the Puppies were fighting against managed to get their top vote getter 72 votes. That’s 7% of the votes that were cast. If that’s a political machine, it’s a terrible one.
While the Best Novelette category is a bit extreme, the same trend shows up in almost every category. The highest non Puppy candidate got less than 20%, often less than 15%. That’s not the mark of a political machine.
If you look at the vote totals, it’s pretty clear that the Puppies were responsible for something in the neighborhood of 150-250 votes, depending on the category. That’s a pathetically small number of voters. And if you move away from the nomination phase to the award phase, you find the trend almost exactly reversed. With a few exception in big categories, the highest vote getter among the Puppy candidates got about 10% of the votes.
What Really Happened
It’s pretty clear from the voting what actually happened. There was no organized political movement for the Puppies to fight. Rather, there was an unorganized faction of like-minded people who liked the same kind of stuff and kept voting for it. Because they were a sizeable majority, the works that the puppy minority favored didn’t go very far very often.
But here’s the thing. I’m not convinced that the majority faction gives a damn about social justice. To be sure, there’s at least a sizeable minority of the majority that cares, and they’re the most vocal members of the faction, but there are a ton of voters who neither know nor care about any of this stuff.
I don’t know that I’ve read any of the Puppy-sponsored works, but I have read about it, and I’ve read a lot of the other stuff. I think we have a difference of opinion as to what kind of story is better. The Puppies seem to favor plot based stories with a lot of action and the bulk of the rest of the WorldCon fandom seems to prefer stories that delve into characters and what it means to be a person. They don’t have some antipathy towards the folks on the Puppy slates, they’re just voting for stuff they liked.
At least, they were until this year, when the Puppies went from a largely ineffectual sidelight to a force that threatened the nature of the awards. And what does a relatively docile majority do when a small minority threatens something they care about?
They squash the minority like a bug. That’s what happened last night at the Hugo Awards.
In some situations, that’s a bad thing. If we as a society punished political, religious, racial, or ethnic minorities the way the Puppies were punished last night, it would be a horrible thing. But that’s not happening.
Nobody is saying that the Puppies should go to jail. Nobody is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to write and publish whatever the hell kind of stories they want. Nobody is saying they shouldn’t get awards when they write something really great.
It’s just that it’s hard to win awards when you’re writing stuff that isn’t all that popular.