Today, I bring you a tale of a battle between good and evil, the forces of justice aligned against a self-proclaimed Dark Lord.
Yes, the 2016 Hugo Awards.
In the past few years, the Hugos have become an ideological battleground between hate-slurping trolls and everyone else. For the purposes of this post, the story began with the Sad Puppies, a group of relatively-conservative science fiction and fantasy writers and fans who believed that SFF awards were being unduly distributed to the ever-present specter of the “social justice warriors.” Believing that the Hugo awards in particular were being doled out based on Political Correctness and not on merit, the Puppies organized voting slates to take the genre back to its middle-class-white-man roots.
But things got nastier when the ever-lurking, loud-shouting, goblin goon of hatebloggers, Vox Day, stepped in to organize the Rabid Puppies. The Rabids, as you might guess, are fueled almost entirely by externalized self-loathing. Famously, Vox Day was kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America when he referred to Hugo-nominated African-American woman N.K. Jemisin as a “savage.”
This year, the Puppies – the Rabid ones, that is – were back in force, with their own hand-crafted voting slate, cleverly designed to get a few legitimate titles nominated. Counter-slates popped up from Puppy Detractors (sometimes referred to as Puppy Kickers) in response; these counter-slates sometimes adopt a scorched-earth policy of voting to award no Hugo in any category where a Puppy candidate might take home the rocket.
All these factions and slates came to a head in the 2016 Hugos, and I’m here to walk you through it.
Let’s break it down by category.
We’ll start with the last award, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, took the category…and can you blame him? THE MARTIAN, originally self-published in 2011, was republished in 2014 by Crown Publishing and shot to international acclaim; the movie, starring Matt Damon, was a big hit in late 2015. When it comes to “Best New Writer,” it’s hard to ignore someone whose first majorly-published novel gets made into a Matt Damon film.
Andy Weir was at the top of both Puppy lists and Everybody Else lists. He juuuust edged out Alyssa Wong, a fantastic Filipina writer who would’ve crushed the category any other year.
Next, there are four “Fan” categories oriented around people who publish writing, art, A/V, and zines for SFF fans. Think of these as meta-categories, community awards for active and respected members of the SFF community.
First up is Best Fan Artist. This is where my face starts to turn red, because I don’t know the Fan Artist category very well at all. Steve Stiles won the award for the first time after having been nominated as far back as 1967. However, Steve Stiles was followed in 2nd place by No Award. As you might remember from the opening exposition, No Award is the scorched-earth weapon of the so-called “Puppy Kickers,” people who want to use the No Award slot to make a statement about the Puppy slates. Voting “No Award” is a kind of vote of no-confidence; in theory, it means that the voters genuinely believe that there were no candidates deserving of a Hugo this year. In practice, it’s become a weapon, a way to say “No, you Puppies don’t get to take this category from us,” or, on the other side, “No, you SJWs don’t get to have your politically-correct crap get awards.” Steve took the final runoff round 1193 to 569 over No Award, with the rest of the Puppy slate in the distance. Steve was in last place on the Puppy voting slate, so we’ll chalk this one up as a solid victory.
Next is Best Fan Writer. This award went to Mike Glyer, a genuinely nice guy who runs file770.com (which, coincidentally, also won the award for Best Fanzine). For those of you playing at home, Glyer’s no Puppy. He was on the Puppy ballot, sure…but that was a tactic the Pups employed this year to get their paws on both sides of the fence. Nominate genuinely good people, works, and zines, and you’re bound to get a few right. Glyer and file770.com deserved another win here! (This is Glyer’s 11th win).
In the other fan category, Best Fancast…No Award won. As I said, this means the majority of voters believed that there were no candidates deserving of the award. As far as I can tell, it was intended to shut out the Puppy slate entirely. It’s always sad to see No Award win—it means the debate has taken precedence over the award—but it did mean that the Puppy slate was thwarted. This was only one of two No Awards presented this year, which is an improvement over last year’s whopping FIVE. And you’ll see soon why the other No Award won its category.
Next up is Best Semiprozine, a category so esoteric that anyone unfamiliar with the SFF community is left scratching their head or heads. How is this different from a fanzine? Well, according to the Hugo website, a semiprozine has to “Have produced at least 4 issues, at least 1 of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility,” and must be, well, semi-professional: “they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone.” Fanzines, on the other hand, are “generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits.”
Phew! With all that on the table, who won?
Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky.
Why does this matter?
Well, the Official Puppy Slate for this category was…No Award. That’s it, No Award. Now, the Pups did have an official nomination slate for the category way back in March. That had stuff like Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, solid, reputable mags. Uncanny, though, was nowhere to be seen. Uncanny is a new mag, having popped up in the last year, and is dedicated specifically to representing diverse voices in SFF. Michi Trota, one of the editors, is now the first Filipina to have won a Hugo award. And No Award was lodged firmly in fourth place. The gnashing of Puppy-teeth can barely even be heard in this category – a great magazine won, good magazines came as runners-up.
Next comes Best Professional Artist, won this year by Abigail Larson. Larson is a prolific and spooky horror artist who recently published an illustrated version of Lovecraft’s “The Cats of Ulthar.” She was something of the odd one out in this group; while the other artists (Larry Elmore, Lars Braad Andersen, Michal Karcz, and Larry Rostant – two Larrys!) are relatively traditional hard fantasy artists, Larson is a weird, cartoony, gothic artist. If I had to pick two quick-and-easy comparisons, I’d call her Edward Gorey meets Kate Beaton. For what it’s worth, she was at the bottom of the Puppy Slate. No Award came in second here, but it’s hard to tell if that was due to Puppies or to other, less hate-fueled folks.
Now we’re starting to get into the meatier categories, where Joe Public might start to recognize some names. Maybe. If Joe Public happens to visit SFF review sites.
There are two Best Editor categories – Best Editor, Long Form and Best Editor, Short Form. First up is the Long Form category; in order to be eligible, the editor had to have edited at least 4 novel-length books “devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy” that are not anthologies or collections.
Best Editor, Long Form went to Sheila E. Gilbert of DAW Books. DAW is a pillar of esteem in the SFF world (you might’ve heard of Patrick Rothfuss, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C.J. Cherryh, Roger Zelazny…), and Gilbert hugely deserved a win here. Don’t take my fannish word for it; read some of the endorsements from people (publishers and authors!) who have worked with her in the past. Best of all, she wasn’t even on the Puppy slate. Nor was runner-up Liz Gorinsky, although she was endorsed by GRRM himself. You know who was on the Puppy slate? That’s right, old Virulent Disease himself, the self-proclaimed Dark Lord. He didn’t do too hot.
Best Editor, Short Form went to Ellen Datlow. Again. Datlow has cleaned up four Hugos so far and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. As GRRM put it on his blog, she’s one of the “usual suspects” for short form editors. And with good reason! Her anthologies (almost all horror) just keep on coming – seriously, check out her books page. In second place was Sheila Williams (yes, a second Sheila), editor at ASIMOV’S. The Puppy pick, Jerry Pournelle came in dead last, after No Award. The Puppy Kickers had a field day here.
There are two Dramatic Presentation categories, Short Form (TV Episode) and Long Form (Movies). While the Puppy Pick for Short Form was My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 & 2, the award went to Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile.” Again, my face is red; I didn’t watch any of the short form picks this year. For the record, the Short Form results played out as follows:
1 – Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile”
2 – Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent”
3 – Grimm “Headache”
4 – No Award
5 – Supernatural “Just My Imagination”
And that’s it.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form was another hotly-contested category. The winner, in the end, was THE MARTIAN, a nice companion to Andy Weir’s win for New Writer. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD came in second, followed by THE FORCE AWAKENS, EX MACHINA, and finally THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. MAD MAX and STAR WARS both took a bit of a hit from Puppy voters, who were apparently upset about the presence of women and people of color in those films. To be honest, I would’ve liked to see MAD MAX win – but hey, at least we can all agree that AGE OF ULTRON wasn’t quite as top-notch as the other Marvel movies have been.
Best Graphic Story went to The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, who had this to say in his acceptance speech:
“It meant a lot to see ‘Sandman: Overture’ nominated for a Hugo Award and was disappointing to see that it had been dragged into the unfortunate mess that the pitiable people who call themselves Puppies had attempted to inflict on World Con and its awards. I would have withdrawn it from consideration, but even that seemed like it would have been giving these sad losers too much acknowledgment.”
Alright, we’re into the Final Five.
Best Related Work generally goes to a piece of meta-commentary on the fandom at large. This year, the Pups had two (count em!) two terrible works on the list, and No Award took the contest handily. It’s a bit of a shame, because “Between Light And Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe” got bumped to 2nd place because of No Award…but I think in this case the political statement was worth it. When two of the nominees are “Safe Space as Rape Room” and “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police,” it’s better to just burn it down and start over next year.
Best Short Story probably generated the most buzz going into these Hugos. This was the award for which Chuck Tingle – inventor of The Tingler! – was nominated with his story “Space Raptor Butt Invasion.” The Pups originally pushed Tingle onto the ballot as an attempt to make a joke out of the category – if this jokey fake-erotica writer can win, are the Hugos even an objective measure of worth? – but, as it turns out, you can’t Tingle the Tingler. Chuck Tingle, for a solid four or five months, became one of the staunchest and most unexpected allies to rational people everywhere, as he mocked the Pups at every turn and asked Zoe Quinn, target of intense, sweaty, Gamergate-related hatred, to attend the Hugos in his place.
But the award didn’t go to Chuck Tingle. He didn’t even come in second (No Award did, though, and we got a great book out of it – “Pounded in the Butt by my Hugo Awards Loss“). First place went to “Cat Pictures Please,” an amazing, heartwarming story about a sentient search engine who just wants to help people. This, of course, wasn’t nearly cool enough to make the Pup slate. But there was essentially no contest here. “Cat Pictures” won by a huge margin over No Award; “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” was a distant third.
The next award was for Best Novelette. A novelette, under Hugo rules, is a story between 7,500 and 17,500 words in length – too long to be a short story, too short to be a novella. In general this and Best Novella are thin categories with few well-known entries – in other words, perfect targets for a little vote manipulation.
The Pup slate had two vanity entries from Castalia House, the Pup-lishing house at the center of VD’s little mud pile. At the top of the slate was a Stephen King entry, and at the bottom was “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, from Uncanny Magazine. (Uncanny, you might remember, wasn’t on the Pup slate for Best Semiprozine, but won anyway in a solid victory for anyone who isn’t a bigot).
And wouldn’t you know, Uncanny came away with another win.
Or rather, Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) came away with a win for “Folding Beijing.” But either way you slice it, it’s a victory for a woman of color, and the second year in a row that a work translated by Ken Liu has taken one of the top spots. Last year, Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem won for Best Novel…but I’m getting ahead of myself! We still have the Novella ahead!
Best Novella is awarded to a work between 17,500 and 40,000 words – again, a thin category, not one that you’re likely to bump into at Barnes & Noble. This year, the win went to Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti.” Fans of Pudding Shot (hereafter referred to as “puddingos”) might remember me referencing Nnedi’s stance on Lovecraft’s racism in my big Lovecraft writeup. “Binti” itself is a thrilling sci-fi novella, well-deserving of recognition…but it’s also a nice thumb in the eye of the kennel master, whose site header currently reads “BOYCOTT TOR DOT COM.” If you’d like to read an excerpt from “Binti,” you can find it right over here, on Tor Dot Com.
And that brings us to the grandpappy of all awards, the Hugo of all Hugos – Best Novel. This is arguably the biggest Hugo. In general, it’s the category that most people on the street might recognize – hey, I’ve seen that book at Barnes & Noble or on the front page of Amazon. In the last few years, it’s also been read as an index of the awards as a whole. It’s the Team Captain of Team Hugos, the poster child for the SFF community.
Last year, as I said, the award went to Liu Cixin, who became the first Chinese author – and first non-white author – to win the Best Novel rocket. This year…
The award went to N.K. Jemisin’s THE FIFTH SEASON.
I’ve written about Jemisin before, after I gorged on THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY. Jemisin is an astounding writer, with a gift for sweeping vistas of magic and life populated by characters so tear-jerkingly real that it’s hard to believe they aren’t. She’s also the target of a one-sided war on the part of the Puppies; I say one-sided, because she has better things to do than engage trolls on the Internet. But they’re furious, just furious, that a black woman won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2016.
It’s pretty funny. Just go read her acceptance speech (which Alyssa Wong – remember her from earlier? – delivered at the Hugos, as Jemisin was stuck in deadline hell).
The voting breakdown is heartwarming, too. This was a year chock-full of great candidates for Best Novel. Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (which Dana reviewed a few months ago!) came in a solid 2nd place, followed by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, the latest in the Ancillary trilogy. Neal Stephenson, perennial Good Author, came in fourth for Seveneves, and finally Jim Butcher hauled off a respectable fifth place for Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass.
So what’s the takeaway here?
If I had to sum up the 2016 Hugos for an elevator pitch, it would be:
A bunch of right-wing goons try to game the voting slates for science fiction & fantasy awards and are completely thwarted thanks to pretty much all rational people deciding “No, you don’t get to poop on our party.”
To look at the awards, you’d almost never know there was an ideological battle being fought in the background. The factionalism of the Puppies is either going to get so radical that nobody can back it, or try to dress itself up as rational and, in doing so, lose any steam it once had. I would go so far as to credit it to the guiding light of Chuck Tingle. His constant messages of love and acceptance – delivered via shirtless pictures of Channing Tatum and strange gay erotica novellas – were a beacon for all of us to follow. Yessir, it was a good year to just enjoy science fiction and fantasy. This looked like a year of solid progress. And, thanks to a certain Mr. Tingle from Billings, Montana, a year of hearty, good-natured butt-pounding.