I was there to witness the Hugo Awards (not) burn and here’s what I saw:





I’m the guy on the right of this picture.

If you don’t know about the controversy surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards, this Wired article will get you up to speed. The upshot is that, of the 16 award categories where there could be a possible Hugo winner, only 11 were actually awarded. In the other five categories the Hugo voters chose not to give an award to any of the nominees.

This is a rare occurrence but has happened in the past because “No Award” (or “Noah Ward” as some people jokingly call it) is always an option for Hugo voters. I have voted No Award many times in the past, and each year Noah usually receives a smattering of votes in every category. It’s just extremely unusual for Noah to actually finish first. In fact, this year Noah “won” as many awards in one night as he previously had in the entire history of the Hugos.

This happened because two groups of disenfranchised fans (the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies) were upset that their picks never won Hugos and rarely even got nominated. So they bloc voted a slate of works onto the ballot to try and get their (and only their) preferred nominees an award. In response, the wider voting audience chose to hand out no award in any category where there were only Puppy candidates. In all the other categories, only non-Puppy nominees won. (This is why bloc voting, while not against the rules, is discouraged. When you try to force people to vote for things they don’t like, the results will predictably not be in your favor.)

According to various tweets I’ve seen, the Puppies have characterized their abject defeat by the wider voting audience as a sort of moral victory because, in their words, fans “burned down” and “nuked” the Hugos rather than have a Puppy win one. Larry Correia, the guy who started the Sad Puppies, wrote “Rather than let any outsiders win, they burned their village in order to ‘save it’.”

I attended the Hugos this year and so was at ground zero of the supposed village-destroying nuclear fire when the Puppy bomb went off. Far from being devastating and awful, it was an awesome, fun night where fans of all kinds came together to celebrate and have a good time. In fact, this was widely regarded by many attendees as one of the best Hugo ceremonies ever held.

I wasn’t expecting that to be the case. I thought the Hugos were going to be a grim, somber affair and wasn’t particularly looking forward to them at first. I hadn’t attended or voted on the Hugos in more than five years and came back into the fold primarily to register my displeasure with the Puppy’s tactics while getting caught up on all the reading I’d been missing out on. (Note: I voted No Award not because of the political ideology of the Pups but because I would vote No Award for any nominee bloc voted onto the ballot since it negates everyone else’s vote, which I believe is unfair. Bloc voting has happened in the past for individual nominees – though not for an entire slate – and the results tend to be the same. You may disagree with this POV and are of course free to vote as you like.)

But as I filed into the auditorium for the awards, there was a palpable atmosphere of good cheer and camaraderie. We all knew it was likely that nearly a third of the awards wouldn’t be given out, but that wasn’t the point. We weren’t there to celebrate what wasn’t happening, we were there to laud whoever won a Hugo (plus the John W. Campbell Award winner) and share their joy through their acceptance speeches. We also laughed and cheered as emcees David Gerrold and Tananarive Due hosted what turned out to be a rollicking ceremony.

Things started out on a high note when Gerrold and Tananarive praised ALL writers, artists and editors everywhere, not just ones of a particular political persuasion. They namechecked many nominees on the ballot, both non-Puppy and Puppy alike (noting that Puppy nominee Mike Resnick was one of the most nominated people in the history of the award). This was an obvious bid to pay tribute to fans of every kind and not to focus on the dividing lines between various factions.

Gerrold also quickly addressed the elephant in the room: the asterisk. Many people had been saying any winner or loser this year would forever have an asterisk attached to their award due to the controversy. But Gerrold and co. neatly turned that concept on its head by saying there would indeed be an asterisk, but because it was the largest Worldcon in history with the most voters, thereby focusing the asterisk on the positives and not the negatives. (He also had special wooden asterisks made that would be on sale after the awards, the proceeds of which would be given to a favorite charity of Terry Pratchett.)

In an especially smart (and kind) move, Gerrold asked the audience to applaud not for each individual nominee but for all the nominees in the category as a whole after all the names were read. That helped ensure no single nominee was ever booed despite the animosity of the voting process. The only time someone did let out a  boo…during a No Award result…Gerrold politely asked them not to and it didn’t happen again.

Gerrold also took on the burden of announcing the categories with No Award himself instead of having a special presenter on stage to do it. The five times no award was given, Gerrold handled it expeditiously and with no fanfare so the audience (and the nervous nominees in attendance) could move past the moment quickly. This helped focus the night on the 11 winners and not on the controversy.

For its part the audience was in tearing high spirits, applauding and cheering, laughing at the jokes and fun little skits (including having an award announced by a Dalek), focusing on the positives and spending little time on anything negative. Since there were still a lot of awards that were handed out, the night didn’t seem particularly shortened or bereft. Indeed, by the end it was full of such acceptance and good cheer that it was hard not to leave with a smile and a feeling of good will.

So, far from being “nuked,” these Hugos turned into the biggest, most well attended and most fun awards in history. They not only brought new attendees into the fold but also enticed lapsed people like me back to come together in a fantastic night of celebration. While it was unfortunate that some categories had no winner, it wasn’t catastrophic. Indeed it was fandom’s way of saying, this award has merit and needs to be earned and will never simply be given out to a slate because some people got together and mustered a certain number of voters. And if at times that means an award won’t be given in a category, that’s okay. The integrity and spirit of the Hugos is more important than that. We are not burning a village to save it, we’re simply inviting more people to the village and celebrating.

A few notes:

  • I had several friends who ended up on the Puppy slate. My No Award vote was not given out of any animosity towards them or the other nominees or the nominators. Which is not the same thing as saying I have no animosity towards a few of the Puppies, just that my vote was about the process, not the people.
  • I have previously been active in making changes to the Hugo Awards when I was dissatisfied with how they worked. I participated in the process that split the Best Dramatic Presentation category into Short Form and Long Form (so TV shows were not competing with movies), and advocated for the inclusion of an online/Web award category. This same avenue is open to anyone who is likewise dissatisfied with some aspect of the awards process…attend the business meetings, suggest changes and see if you can make a positive impact.
  • I have been nominated for a Hugo Award twice, losing once (for Scifi.com) and winning once (for Sci Fiction, along with Ellen Datlow). The first thing I did on seeing the person who “beat” me for the first award was to congratulate them and admire their Hugo statue. It was indeed an honor just to be nominated and I have no quibbles with the voters who did not vote for Scifi.com. I do not feel wronged in any way. 
  • I have never once agreed with every winner chosen by Hugo voters in any given year and have on many occasions voted “no award” in various categories. I nevertheless think the eventual winners should definitely have gotten the awards. Their wins were perfectly valid and the will of the majority of the voters.

Nicely reported, Craig. Thanks. 🙂

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