The INB Performing Arts Center in Spokane was more Doctor Who shirts than evening gowns on Saturday night, but most people had at least put on their nice pants. This is as fancy as speculative fiction gets. We filed to our seats. I got out my phone, and my illustrious writer companion and I leaned in for a selfie.
“Why are you smiling?” said my illustrious companion. “We aren’t having fun.”
This was true. We were there for blood. We were there for the 2015 Hugo Awards.
Speculative fiction has not escaped the culture wars without trauma. The Great Hugo Debacle is the latest manifestation.
The Hugo Awards, "for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy," are nominated and voted on by fandom, where fandom equals the folks who either attend the annual world science fiction and fantasy convention or pay for a voting membership. Anyone with $40 and the internet can add their voice. This year, a movement comprising mostly white dudes flooded the ballot with a slate comprising mostly white dudes. They called themselves the Sad Puppies, which one assumes they regret.
The rhetoric behind this movement began, allegedly, with a desire to see more popular, plot-driven, rockets-and-ray-guns sorts of stories on the ballot. But the conversation quickly ran to vicious disparagement of the sorts of stories that do regularly make the Hugo ballot, stories concerned with social issues, race, and gender. And from there, unsurprisingly, a corner of the movement devolved into hateful bombast directed at the sorts of people who write those sorts of stories. And then there was name-calling based on gender, race, and sexual orientation, because this is the internet in 2015. (If you’re fascinated with nerd controversy, this piece in Wired tells the story well.)
Technically the Sad Puppies broke no rules, though the rules are changing so it can’t happen again. The resulting conversation drew the largest Hugo voting population in the 60-year history of the award, a total voting pool of 5,950 people.
Surprisingly, the mood in the auditorium was genial and relieved. It was almost over. My illustrious companion and I passed a flask of Scotch. We decided we would drink every time someone said “George R.R. Martin.” The flask was nearly empty before the winners were announced.
The first contested award went to the only non-Puppies nominee on the ballot. My illustrious companion clenched her fists in the air.
“Yes,” she hissed. “That’s the bellwether. They won’t win a damn thing.”
And she was right.
Hugo voters chose No Award in the five categories where the options were entirely Sad Puppies candidates (Best Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Editor Short Form, and Editor Long Form). When awards were given, they went to the candidates seemingly designed to piss off the Sad Puppy slate: Lightspeed Magazine for Best Semiprozine, for their "Women Destroy..." issues highlighting women writing in genre fiction; Chinese author Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem, the first novel in translation to ever win the Best Novel category. Most awards went to women or Asian men. (A full list of winners, including Guardians of the Galaxy and Orphan Black, is here.)
Also there was a Dalek, and cosplay, and an astronaut. Hugo legends held court. Robert Silverberg told us a story about how everyone did drugs in the ‘60s. Connie Willis was fluffy and adorable and everyone’s mom.
Speculative fiction is about what-ifs, and it turns out a lot of times the best answer to what-if questions is a diverse and weird and unexpected one. Our community is one made up of, for a large part, outcasts. We know what it’s like to not be welcome. We weren’t having any of that.
Tegan Moore is a Seattle speculative fiction writer and Clarion West graduate. She blogs at alarmhat.com