Hugo Awards and Politics

2015 Hugo Award trophy

This past weekend, August 21-23 to be precise, Worldcon took place in Spokane, WA. This annual convention is the home of the Hugo Awards, one of the most prestigious recognitions in science fiction. This year, the Hugos have been surrounded by controversy due to an organization headed by previous nominees called the Sad Puppies (and a militant off-shoot known as Rabid Puppies) that attempted to take control of the voting process due to political reasons. I won’t get into all the fine details of the shenanigans, but WIRED has a great article outlining the ins and outs of it.

The summary of it is that the Puppies stacked the deck in several categories with authors they felt were aligned politically with their agenda, but each of those categories ended with no award given. There was also the bizarre situation that Guest of Honor David Gerrold (an author I have admired pretty much my entire life) was reported to the Spokane police due to his public statements condemning the Puppies. There were also rumors about him all weekend long, which he detailed on his Facebook page.

I have been following this really strange situation, considering that A) I help run a convention; B) I write science ficiton; and C) I run an event that gives out awards. I am not affiliated with Worldcon or the Hugos, though it would be nice to possibly be in the running for an award some day. The frightening thing that I see out of this mess is that people are bringing politics into it and are trying to manipulate what is supposed to be an honor of great writing and original creativity in the world of science fiction. So instead of people being awarded based on their writing skills, they are instead recognized (or not, in the case of 5 categories) because of political beliefs.

Science fiction has always been a medium of ideas and themes about (as Gene Roddenberry and/or Rod Serling put it) the human condition. Sometimes it’s political commentary. Both Star Trek and The Twilight Zone famously (and sometimes heavy-handedly) gave us stories that reflected the politics of the day. Themes about racism, war, xenophobia, paranoia, the justice system, and hatred were often developed, couched in the realm of “it’s only make-believe.” But novelists also thrived in presenting the world with analogies and commentaries on our society and the various beliefs and practices held within–George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, and Harland Ellison come to mind (as well as fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkein and Jonathan Swift).

But it’s one thing to write an analogy, and it’s another to write propaganda. As Stephen King once wrote (to paraphrase), a good writer will have themes in his stories automatically, but bad writing is when you create a story in order to state that theme. When you start off with a political agenda and set out to create a story around it, then the author is not interested in telling a thrilling, compelling, or engaging tale; the goal is brainwashing. Furthermore, to try to rig awards in order to advance those authors who seem to write stories that agree with a political agenda is nefarious–as is voting for or against a work because of its underlying politics rather than its artistic value.

The backlash against the Bad (and Rabid) Puppies resulted in 5 awards going to no one. Did the authors who were nominated for Best Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Editor Short Form, and Editor Long Form deserve the nomination? Perhaps. Was cheating the cause of them to be nominees in the first place? That’s the public perception. So by voting No Award, the 5950 members of World Science Fiction Society essentially said that they didn’t want politics in play for the Hugos. But it’s unfortunate that there may have been deserving authors who were cheated out of this recognition thanks to the maneuverings of a few individuals. Would I have voted the same? Probably. Because once an award is contaminated, there is no rightful winner. And once you start playing political games, then the award itself becomes invalid.