Okay, I’m going to talk about the Sad Puppies campaign because I think I saw the dead horse twitch and zombie horses are bad. So… hit it again!
I participated in a conversation on David Gerrold’s Facebook page with twice Nebula Nominated author Chuck Gannon. Some of the things Mr. Gannon said brought to mind something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
When Larry Correia started Sad Puppies 2 in 2014 who do you think he had the most influence over? Larry Correia fans! Just as when John Scalzi allegedly campaigned in 2013 the people he most likely influenced were John Scalzi fans. Prior to 2013, the number of people nominating in the Hugos had been going up by about 100 people a year for a few years. In 2013 it went up by about 250 people. Something changed, and I think it was John Scalzi’s small campaign. In 2014, the year of Sad Puppies 2, it went up by about 600. Now, if you go by Amazon sales, Correia and Scalzi have roughly equivalent-sized fan bases. So how was Correia able to bring in more voters with his campaign than Scalzi? He wasn’t. John Scalzi had been nominated for several Hugos before. I surmise that he had a significant number of fans already involved in the Hugo voting process. This meant there was a smaller pool of new people who would join to vote for John Scalzi’s book. Hence the smaller, but still significant, increase. Of course, it could be that his fans just don’t like him as much as Correia’s fans like Larry Correia. But the number of people I’ve seen jumping to his defense during past and recent controversies does not make me think that is true. John Scalzi’s fans like John Scalzi.
This year, Sad Puppies 3 was headed by Brad Torgersen. There is a lot of overlap between Torgersen and Correia fans which is probably why the number of new voters “only” went up by about 200 voters this year. There simply were not as many new people to bring in. That, and Torgersen’s fan base is much smaller than Scalzi’s or Correia’s. This year also brought in the Rabid Puppies campaign, headed up by Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) which overlapped quite a bit in both fans and nominations with the Sad Puppies. 200 people, while significant, is still a far cry from the 600 people brought in the previous year. I am willing to prognosticate that next year, with the Sad Puppies 4 campaign already announced, the number of voters for the Hugo nominations will only increase by about 150 people at most. The Sad Puppies fan base is almost tapped out. Does this mean eternal war between the old establishment of Hugos and the Sad Puppies?
Certainly not! Science Fiction is bigger than both these factions. I could go into film and television but I’ll stick to books. Jim Butcher has been nominated this year. To my knowledge, he has not activated his fan base at all in regards to the Hugos. If he were to do so, I’m sure it would overwhelm both Correia’s and Scalzi’s fan bases in the voting. His fan base is huge. Jack Campbell (AKA John Hemry) has a fan base. What if they were to become involved? Don’t like his stuff? Try Brian McClellan. Has Glen Cook written anything this year? How about Todd McCaffrey? There are many authors that are writing things that are worthy of the Hugos. I can’t name them all because the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre is so big I don’t know them all. But they all have fan bases.
Here is the thing about fan bases: They will generally reflect the author’s interests. Larry Correia fans will generally like the same sort of stories Larry Correia likes, John Scalzi Fans will generally like the same stuff John Scalzi likes, and Stephenie Meyer fans will generally like the same things Stephenie Meyer likes. That’s just human nature. This also gives the appearance of bloc voting. While it is doubtful that everybody would vote for the same thing all at once, even a 50% overlap is going to skew the awards towards one group. So if one group has been consistently represented in the Hugos and another group shows up that has not been active and decides to participate, there will be a significant shift in the voting. That is what has happened over the last couple years. And it still isn’t big enough.
The Hugos, up until this year, have been portrayed as one of the biggest awards in Science Fiction. This year a faction has started claiming the Award only really belongs to the World Science Fiction convention. Really? While technically true, you are trying to tell me an award that has been lauded over by everybody from Heinlein, to Ellison, to Asimov and Clarke is really just a minor award put out by an overpriced, traveling Sci-Fi convention? I’m not buying it. If it’s not significant now then it never was. And I don’t think 70 years of tradition can be overcome so easily.
So is there a problem and what is the solution? Yes, there is a problem. It isn’t the voting method, it’s the lack of participation. Not enough Science Fiction and Fantasy fans are participating. That needs to change. We, as fans, need to step up and tell people they can participate. Authors and editors, you have a bigger platform than your individual fans do. Tell people about the award. Tell them $40 and an internet connection can get them involved (Don’t forget to mention the potential for free stories that should represent the best the genre has to offer that year.) If you have not written anything this year you probably have read something you liked. Tell your fans about it! Let people know what is out there. And when January rolls around, tell your fans about the Hugos. Let them know it is their award too. The more people that participate then the more representative of Science Fiction and Fantasy the Hugo Awards are. And this is a good thing. Go out and tell people about the Hugos. Advertise for each other and advertise for the award. The more fans that know they can participate the more that will. Let’s keep the Hugos what they always have been: The Most Prestigious Award in Science Fiction!