Now that the internet is cooling down from its 15-minute rage nozzle episode (over the Sad Puppies 3 slate) I’d like to talk about something I see being floated a lot, among friends and critics alike: that the presence of the Sad Puppies 3 slate so thoroughly roils the voting waters, men and women of good conscience must vote “No Award” on their ballots. For those not in the know, the Hugo awards — Science Fiction & Fantasy literature’s self-labeled “most prestigious award” — the “No Award” option allows voters to pick a thumbs-down selection, in the event that none of the other works or people in a given category measure up to that voter’s expectations. In other words, if you have five flavors of ice cream to pick from, and you like none of them, you vote “No Award” for that category, and NO AWARD then becomes your primary selection.
Hugo voting is instant-runoff, so this means you could get creative about it. Let’s say you love strawberry ice cream, like chocolate ice cream, don’t mind vanilla, but you definitely don’t like orange sherbet or pralines and cream. So, when you fill out your Hugo ballot, you rank your selections as follows:
1 – Strawberry.
2 – Chocolate.
3 – Vanilla.
4 – NO AWARD.
5 – Orange sherbet.
Or, if you simply like none of the above, you could do:
1 – NO AWARD.
2 – Strawberry.
3 – Chocolate.
4 – Vanilla.
5 – Orange sherbet.
In the second scenario, if enough people vote as you do, the category will literally be carried by NO AWARD for that year, and no award will be given out. Everything below “No Award” will get left out in the cold. As having not measured up to the expectations of a majority of the voting body.
Historically, this almost never happens. At least in the literary categories, like Best Novel. Never has NO AWARD swept an entire fiction selection out of the running for a Hugo trophy. But there’s a lot of talk that this is precisely what’s going to happen by August 2015. Several editors, many significant and long-time fans, and even many relatively young fans, writers, and podcasters are all buzzing about how the “solution” to Sad Puppies, is to nuke the Hugos from NO AWARD orbit — because it’s the only way to be sure.
I find this to be peculiar and contradictory talk, for a field which has also been buzzing hotly about how it loves Science Fiction and it loves Fantasy, and what a shame it’s going to be to have to destroy the award in order to preserve and protect it from falling into the hands of the “wrong” voters or the “wrong” lists.
Have none of these individuals ever heard of the Judgment of Solomon?
If not, here’s a refresher from Sunday School: King Solomon had two mothers come before him, challenging each other for custody of a single baby. Unable to determine which mother had right of guardianship, Solomon said the the baby would be cut in half, so that one half would go to each mother. One of the women said, “Fine, kill the baby, so that neither of us shall have it,” while the actual mother of the child said, “No, she can have my son, just please don’t kill him!” Thus Solomon knew immediately who the real mother was. Because the actual mother’s love prevented her from seeing harm come to the child, even if it meant giving the child up.
The way you prove to the world you love a thing, is not to cut it in half — so that nobody gets anything.
The way you prove to the world that you love a thing, is to see the thing preserved. Maybe it winds up in the hands of somebody you don’t think deserves it, or because you don’t like how the thing got there in the first place. But declaring, “Cut it in half,” reveals a jealous possessiveness that belies any love that may be felt.
Right now Sad Puppies 3 is at the eye of a rather contentious genre storm, wherein many people who feel they have a claim on the Hugo awards — how they’re selected, and to whom they should go, according to tradition — are being challenged by people who feel they’ve either not had a voice in the past, or that their voices were too few, or too much ignored; even when they aren’t few. And because the system is a democratic system, anyone and everyone willing to pay the poll tax — in the form of a Worldcon membership — is allowed to participate. So the question comes down to, which sentiment will carry the day? The feeling that the baby (the Hugo) should be split and given to none? Or the feeling that the baby should be spared, even if it means the baby belongs to the “wrong” people?
My gut hunch is that there simply aren’t enough people at Worldcon willing to split the baby. I get it that purists and idealists alike have been most unhappy with the resounding success of Sad Puppies 3. If either myself or anyone else who’ve been working on Sad Puppies 3 this year, thought there was a better way to make some changes to the same-old same-old that has gone on — with the Hugos, in years past — I am sure we’d have picked a less dramatic method. Still, we broke no rules. We played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And we’re proud of the authors, artists, editors, and other people we’ve brought to the final ballot. Both because of their many fine and worthy works, and the fact that this wasn’t just the result of a few people acting alone. A terrific number of fans — yes, even old-timers within WSFS; I know, I have the e-mails — threw in with Sad Puppies 3. For the sake of making a point. For a change of pace. To have some fun. And to put their weight behind a particular favorite (or favorites) who had been too long overlooked or neglected.
Now, my gut hunch might be wrong. Possessiveness can be as powerful an emotion as love. And many people, when jealously guarding a thing, will often default to wanting that thing destroyed, rather than see it fall into the “wrong” hands.
But I don’t think this will be the case. Oh, no question, “No Award” is going to be featured prominently in any category where Sad Puppies 3 (with the counter-slate Rabid Puppies) occupies all five of the available slots. I won’t be surprised to see “No Award” take third, or perhaps even second, place. But I doubt very much that “No Award” will claim first place in any category. Because there simply aren’t enough fans — even WSFS stalwarts — who are willing to turf an entire category out of spite. There are too many worthy works in all of the categories. Including works not on the SP3 or RP slates. And SF/F fans are like cats: notoriously averse to being herded. Plus, as a few pros have demonstrated, there is plenty or principled logic to support reading and voting for a work or a person on a slate despite disliking the slate itself. Why punish a good writer or editor or artist, simply for being on a list? It’s not like all the people participating in the nomination period dutifully went down the rows, reliably checking all the items without a second glance. Not for SP3, and not for any other suggested lists either — and there were many such lists, though perhaps not quite so extensive as ours.
In point of fact, of all the many SP3 voters who’ve contacted me at this point — and it’s been well over a hundred, and counting — even the people who stuck close to the trunk of the tree, deviated from the slate in remarkable ways.
Which was never a problem for anyone working on SP3 behind the scenes. We made it clear up front at the beginning: we wanted more involvement, first and foremost. Whether or not people followed our suggestions wasn’t nearly as important as the fact that we wanted people who’d not had a voice before, to have a voice. And we wanted them to read the suggested works, and make their own calls.
Now we’re faced with the call for “No Award! If you love the Hugos! No Award!”
It’s the Judgment of King Solomon, come to SF/F’s top accolade.
Choose wisely, my friends.