Ever since this Breitbart article appeared, a small legion of straw man arguments have been deployed against the current season of SAD PUPPIES. I was going to type up a very looooooooong rebuttal to the straw men, but Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt already did the heavy lifting for me. Much of what I might have said, they say with superior gusto and humor. It’s a blessed thing having friends such as these. Not just under the Baen banner per se, but under the general banner of colleagues who’d like to see the field return itself to a more balanced state of being.
What I can add, I will try to add with clarity. But first, I want to frame things with this beautiful analogy, courtesy of Dave Freer:
The reality is this –- According to [Publishers Weekly] the print sales for Sf/fantasy in the last three years have declined catastrophically (and according to the same source, e-books have plateaued). While there is an element of GIGO in the PW figures (they rely on Bookscan, which captures ~30% of my sales, and Bowker, which not everyone uses) the trend in Traditionally published sf/fantasy is clear, and the most conservative estimate would have sales about 30% down in the last 5 years. The actual figure is possibly a lot higher. Given economic conditions –- fiction sales are normally counter-cyclical, like camping gear and seeds, and beer, we should be asking hard questions about what is happening in our genre. It’s probable that Brad Torgersen has a point.
Talking of probabilities: as roughly 10-15% of any population fit on the ‘ends’ of the political spectrum, with the population (AKA readers) tend to be more or less a normal distribution on that curve. The Hugo awards –- pre 1990 anyway — historically have been socio-politically representative, and (in context with their times) considerably more welcoming than other fields to writers of different skin color, sexual orientation and both sexes. Outspoken liberals, and outspoken conservatives and libertarians won or were nominees. Of course the bulk of authors were demographically representative of the possible readership, in that they were not outspoken supporters of any extreme of the political spectrum.
To put this in a simple way, think of the chances of Hugo nomination going to left or right ends as represented by a six sided dice throw.
There is ~ 17% chance of any number –- so if we call left 6 and right 1, we should get an equal chance every time we throw (nominate) of either left or right. About 2/3 of the time it will be neither. If that’s true, the competition is fair. If you somehow get five nominations in one category that are all 6 something is wrong. Any casino would regard the dice with suspicion.
Try it yourself. Count the number of tries it takes to throw five 6s in a row. Try doing this, to simulate multiple years for multiple categories. It is billions-to-one improbable with fair dice. If you threw a fraction of the Hugo 6s in a casino –- they’d ban you for life.
So: There is bias in the Hugos, and it probably isn’t the authors (unless they are lobbying) or the voters, but the various activist lobbies. That is the message from the Sad Puppies. And yes, if a 6 is thrown more than 17% of the time . . . the Sad Puppies prove their point and win. If their being there makes a 1 come up, they also win. And if a 6 wins yet again, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.
The contention has been made (by SAD PUPPIES’ detractors) that SP is nothing but a bunch of spoilsport right-wing whiners who want to turn the Hugos (and SF/F as a whole) into a monocultural mirror which looks and reads and sounds just like us. I guess that’s a natural assumption coming from individuals who are already part of the extant monoculture.
But here’s the truth of it. And I am going to borrow Dave’s eloquently succinct D6 analogy. Once upon a time in this field, at the Hugo awards, you could roll the dice ten times, and come up with something like this: 1, 5, 3, 2, 6, 2, 4, 5, 1, 6. The awards did not skew exclusively to one particular ideology, nor even a particular style, nor a specific artistic and creative sensibility. Beginning in about 1995, however, the dice rolls began to change. Over the past 20 years, the mean representative has shifted so that now your average Hugo winner and nomination list is like this: 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 6, 6, 5, 6. A heavy skew to one side of the spectrum, both in terms of the types of stories and books that are nominated and win, as well as in terms of the authors (and their ideologies) which appear on that list.
SAD PUPPIES stands accused of wanting a 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 pattern.
I’ll state for the record right now that this is false. And I can speak for the whole of the SP3 braintrust.
What we want is for the Hugos (and the field as a whole) to go back to being 2, 6, 1, 3, 3, 4, 6, 1, 2, 5. Because not only is a 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 5, 5, 4 pattern showing spectacular bias, it’s causing two-thirds of the readership to drift away. That’s not a rhetorical trick. The trad pub numbers reflect the decrease, and have been reflecting it for the past 20 years. Literary SF/F is dangerously close to vanishing up its own asshole. And becoming an intellectual plaything for a tiny audience.
As someone who became a reader (and a fan) right on the healthy side of the present trough (1985-1995) I think trying to bring the genre (and the Hugos in particular) back to where they used it be, is a worthwhile project. Not because I want to invert the present monocultural dominance, but because I think monoculturalism itself is unhealthy; and puts the lie to the notion that the Hugos or SF/F pursue “diversity” — by catering to one side of the dice.
I also want to address the whole “Propriety demands that nobody log-roll” argument.
I think that would be a fine sentiment . . . in a vacuum. In a perfect world, every single Hugo voter would be voting purely from a standpoint of singularly-informed enjoyment. But let’s face it. Pushes and campaigns and log-rolling have been happening for a long time. I myself can think of at least a dozen instances of “quiet” campaigning, of which I’ve become aware in the past 5 years. Instances where one particular author or editor has made either direct appeals to friends and cohorts, or there has been a concerted effort on the part of said editor’s or author’s fans and supporters, to boost said editor/author above the level of the white noise that sometimes clouds the nomination and voting process.
There are also “flash crowd” campaigns, such as the one which saw Chicks Dig Time Lords make, and then win, its respective category for its year. There were certainly more sage and scholarly related works competing with Chicks Dig Time Lords, but as one veteran said to me before the final vote, “You’ve got probably thirty women writing and editing in that book, and all of them have lots of friends. Of course it’s going to win.”
So, while I am sympathetic to the notion that pushes, campaigns, and log-rolling shouldn’t be a factor, you have to face the reality that the Hugos haven’t really been free of such things for many years. If they ever were at all?
Then there is present-tense evidence of “what I want to win” slates and crystal-ball wish-fulfillment lists. Some of which spring up before the dust has even settled from the last Hugo season. I liken these to the Nebula awards ballot and winners lists, both of which tend to have an uncanny influence on what will show up on the Hugo ballot, if not the Hugo winners list proper. Because thousands (tens of thousands?) of eligible works are published every year — and that number is growing — many voters will tend to rely on bellwethers to point the way. A prominent media blogger, fanzine writer, or other interested party can post his or her wish list, and have an inordinate amount of influence over the selection process.
So, I think we can dispense with the accusation that SAD PUPPIES is doing something that is not done, or has not been done, for the sake of ethics. There is no ethic. A rule that is endlessly violated, is no longer a rule. It might be a quaint sentiment. But it’s useless. And arguing from a standpoint of propriety — in this context — is either naive, or obtuse. Or just flat out dishonest. Look, just about everybody who cares, is getting in on some form of boosterism. To include anti-boosting, in the form of voting “no award” or otherwise trying to spike a specific work’s or author’s chances come awards time.
In closing, SAD PUPPIES merely follows Orwell’s admonition, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” SAD PUPPIES points to the skew and bias and says, “See here, there is skew and bias.” SAD PUPPIES points to worthy authors and works who deserve a chance at a Hugo, and says, “They deserve a nomination every bit as much as the guy who got three dozen nominations.” SAD PUPPIES declares that SF/F is not a progressives-only club, and that actual diversity (within the field) requires that the Hugo ballot should, like, you know, be diverse.
Of course, don’t just take our word for it:
I have reviewed this controversy from the bald spot to the smelly misshapen toenails and I find your analysis accurate. I therefore let it be known to one and all that you have at least one former Worldcon Co-Chaircreature in support of the… underage dogs.
Ron Zukowski, ConFederation, the 44th WorldCon, Atlanta Georgia, 1986.