The Hugo Awards are Science Fiction’s most prestigious awards, presented yearly at the World Science Fiction Convention (‘Worldcon’). Past winners have included Neil Gaiman, Octavia E Butler, George RR Martin, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Think the genre’s Oscars and you are getting close.
And this year, a bizzaro gay-erotica short called Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle could take out one of the top prizes. How did we get here?
In 2012 a small movement calling itself the Sad Puppies decided they wanted to see more pulpy, action-heavy sci-fi on the ballot. The Puppies were tired of stories that they called “heavy handed message fiction”. A small fee (forty or so US bucks) buys you a membership to Worldcon and the right to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards. The Sad Puppies voted in a block for the kind of novels and short stories they enjoyed and not much came of it.
Enter Vox Day (AKA, Theodore Beale). In 2015 the conservative author and publisher of such articles as ‘Why Women’s Rights Are Wrong’ formed a group he called The Rabid Puppies and suggested his own voting slate. Rabid Puppies weren’t just calling for more asteroid mining and intergalactic laser gun fic; their agenda is specifically right-wing, anti-feminism and anti-diversity. In 2015, Day, ‘the most despised man in science fiction' and his Puppies weighted the vote and stormed the Hugo nominations.
A stacked nomination field won’t guarantee a win, though, and a push from the sci-fi community saw all Puppy heavy categories were granted ‘No Award’.
But what does this have to do with gay dino erotica? I’m getting there.
This year, the Puppies were at it again. When the nominations were announced on Worldcon’s social media pages on Wednesday, I scrolled through the ballot, aghast. While the novel category is relatively Puppy-free, the field for novella, novellete and ‘best related work’ are stacked with entries from Vox’s own publishing house, Castalia. Then, I saw this:
Out of the many hundreds of beautiful, complex, funny, thoughtful short fiction pieces published worldwide, read and loved and nominated by the SF community, all five short story nominees were from the Puppies slate, two are from Day’s own publications and one…
One is about gay sex with a space raptor.
With no disregard to Tingle, the inclusion of his mad story of dino love is Day giving The Hugos, Worldcon and the SF community at large the finger. Of course he’s not a fan of ultra-bizarre gay erotica. He’s mooning us right now. It’s like a child, when told he cannot play with his favourite toy, goes on to burn down every toy shop in the world. In a Wired article last year he said, “I wanted to leave a big smoking hole where the Hugo Awards were...All this has ever been is a giant Fuck You — one massive gesture of contempt.”
It’s a micro-example of the way trolls the world over take to the internet and band together to ruin everything they can’t own outright. Think Gamergate. Think #AllLivesMatter. Diversity means that the same pie, the one that the old guard got the lot of since Science Fiction became a Thing, now has to get shared around the entire world. If conservatives, anti-feminists and racists can’t lord it over science fiction, then they want to scorch the Earth, the Moon, Mars and perhaps the entire galaxy.
So what now?
Brooke Bolander, whose amazing novella “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” defeated the Puppies slate and made the nominations, posted the following on twitter:
Bolander said, “It feels like something of a pyrrhic victory. This is the third major ballot 'Trail of Dead' has been a finalist on this season, so by this point most people understand it got to where it is legitimately. I'm deeply proud of that, and of having at least dodged the Rabid slate's poison bullet. On the other hand, there's so much shit smeared all over this year's proceedings it's impossible to not get it all over your boots. I guess all I can hope is that my novelette and all the other legitimately nominated works--there are several--speak for themselves. The future's coming, and there's fuck all these toddlers can do about it but kick their heels and throw a strop in the toy aisle.”
I feel sorry for the writers of so many excellent pieces of fiction who again missed out on a Hugo nomination because of an agenda. I feel sorry for the writers whose work was added to the Puppies slate without their knowledge. Authors like Annie Bellet, nominated last year for her self-published Urban Fantasy adventures, and Alistair Reynolds, 2016 nominee, who’s tried and failed to have his name removed from the Puppies ballot.
I feel most sorry for the fresh writers, those eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer for two years after their first publication. With two years of slated ballots, bold and amazing new talent lost their opportunity for recognition.
The way forward
The SF community is small and it’s (for the most part) an amazing bunch of people, diverse and supportive and fun and smart with stories of all kinds to share. We can take back the awards (with a new set of voting rules instituted for the 2017 Hugos that will prevent voting in blocs – these needed to be approved two years running before they were instituted) and ensure that they stay free of voting slates. That fans, writers and readers alike, can participate in celebrating the best in science fiction with their votes, and award prizes based on merit, not agendas.
And Tingle? Don’t worry about him. 24 hours after he was nominated, he released a brand-new ultra-meta gay erotica called “Slammed In The Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination” that is, according to his description “4,500 words of sizzling human on prestigious award nomination action”.
He’s gonna be fine.
Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo from Melbourne, Australia. You can find her short fiction at Interfictions, Terraform, Apex, in Mad Scientist Journal, Slink Chunk Press and Hear Me Roar. Her debut novella, Welcome To Orphancorp, won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 3 and the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction.