Hugo Awards 2014: Ballot stuffing ends in ignominy

hugo nominations 2014The 2014 Hugo Awards, just concluded at Loncon 3 in … ahem … London have already set a new standard – in controversy, vitriol, and, shame for science fiction’s supposedly highest and most-touted award. The so-called “sad puppies” campaign by writer Larry Correia to advance his own work and that of protege Vox Day against supposed political bias backfired deafeningly, with his efforts rebuked not just by other writers and online critics, but the Awards voters themselves.

John Scalzi was previously pilloried by many for arguing for the Hugo Awards 2014 vote to go ahead like in any other year. As it turns out, his critics needn’t have worried. The voters delivered the most damning verdict imaginable on Vox Day’s nominated novella “Opera Vita Aeterna” either left off the ballots entirely or relegated it to even below the No Award category. Larry Correia’s own nominated work also did poorly.

As if to compensate, Scalzi posted up considerable critical comment on the whole debacle, stating:

 What did I really think of the “sad puppy” slate of nominees championed by Larry Correia and others? What I thought at the beginning, which was: The folks pushing the slate played within the rules, so game on, and the game is to convince people that the work deserves the Hugo. It does not appear the voters were convinced. As a multiple Hugo loser myself, I can say: That’s the breaks, and better luck another year. With that said, Correia was foolish to put his own personal capital as a successful and best selling novelist into championing Vox Day and his novelette, because Vox Day is a real bigoted shithole of a human being, and his novelette was, to put it charitably, not good.

And more to that effect.

Vox Day’s politics might find more defenders, or at least apologists, if his writing was any better. However, Scalzi described his work, pretty aptly, as “like Gene Wolfe strained through a thick and rancid cheesecloth of stupid.” Other commentators have speculated that Correia pulled off the whole stunt as a way to discredit the Hugos in the eyes of his own audience and cover for his failure to win one.

It’s hard to know which came worse out of this: the writers’ literary merit, or their politics. Did their bad politics tarnish their literary merit, or their poor literary merit undermine their politics? Either way, Correia now comes across as a loudmouth trying to foist bad work on the readership in the name of politics – no kind of reputation to have in a genre community. Unfortunately, the collateral damage included the reputation of the Hugos themselves, and the credibility of the nomination process.

Still, any time now I expect to read sub-Rush Limbaugh complaints that concepts of literary merit, reader engagement, imagination, talent, etc. are all part of a liberal conspiracy…

5 Comments on Hugo Awards 2014: Ballot stuffing ends in ignominy

  1. To be fair, Paul, you should probably address what Correia himself has to say about the matter as well as his detractors.

    I met him briefly over the weekend at GenCon. Seemed to be a nice enough guy in person. I got some books signed by him.

    (For that matter, I didn’t think Vox Day’s story was all that bad. I didn’t think it was the best in its category, but I didn’t think it was horrible. But then, I don’t have much direct personal experience with the person behind it, so maybe I was able to read the story with more detachment than others.)

  2. If he seemed like a nice guy he must be very different in person from what he’s like on his blog. Some people are.

    But seriously, beginning his Hugo attempt by (in essence) shouting “hey all you Hugo voters–f* you for a bunch of prejudiced jerks! Imma make your head explode!” is a bit of a tactical blunder. Compounding it by loosing his marbles in public over a post about including nonbinary gender in SF/F, producing a diatribe in which he proceeded, among other things, to taunt disabled people for needing scooters didn’t help. That’s the kind of thing the bad guy does in poorly written westerns.

    Really, it *does* make one wonder if he planned the whole thing to show off to his fellow conservatives how persecuted he was, and how, by extension, they are all under attack. That would explain a lot about this otherwise puzzling public relations disaster.

    Going on to say, after he lost, that it was never about getting a Hugo–well, he’s been asking for one every year since he was asking for a Hugo and a Campbell in the same post, (because when it comes to what Larry Correia thinks Larry Correia deserves, Larry Correia does not think small) so it’s pretty hard to believe he doesn’t really want one. Which would argue against its being deliberate. Hmm. Maybe he just *is* that incompetent when it comes to persuading people to his side.

    As for the works–well, Opera Vita Aeterna reminds me of Waiting For Godot, only with less plot, and less witty banter. Seriously, I’m a genre reader and I like for a likeable protagonist to overcome significant obstacles by her own efforts to achieve a worthwhile goal. There wasn’t any of that there. The action all took place offstage. The characters were bland and flat. There was supposedly deep theological insight of some sort but the one place they tried to talk theology they faded to black before either being clear about what they were trying to settle, or actually presenting anything in the way of logical argument to settle it. It was like the Eye of Argon only without the funny. THAT was the best conservative novelette written in 2014?

    Well. I haven’t missed much.

    The other pieces… meh. Correia’s piece was good enough as popcorn–but the best popcorn out there isn’t going to win Best Restaurant. It’s not prejudice against conservatives, it’s a desire for a work that rewards close attention. (And frankly Correia has been writing for four years now. I’m not saying it’s impossible to win a Hugo in your first four years mastering your craft–Bujold did it. But I *am* saying if you think you’re being cheated out of your due because you’re not seeing the same level of success Bujold did, it is possible you have simply overestimated your talent.)

    I don’t pick the works I like on the basis of the author’s politics. If the author insists on repeatedly shoving his politics up my nose, which is not big enough to accommodate them, he *can* piss me off, though. And from the voting results, I have a lot of company.

  3. I thought the real story of this 2014 Hugos, often overlooked in the brawl about personalities (as so MANY matters of substance tend to get overlooked in sf/f in favor of brawling about personalities), was the Wheel of Time series nomination for “Best Novel.” When a loophole in the rules allows a 14-book series to be nominated in a category for “Best Novel” and voted on besides individual novels that are NOT multi-book series, that’s is a Big Messy Loophole that really needs closing.

    As for the personality and personal-politics thing–it is hardly unprecedented for repellant personalities and/or undeserving works to get on the Hugo ballot. It has happened before and it will happen again. It’s also far from unprecedented for works to get on the ballot because someone encourages their friends, colleagues, and readers to nominate them (in fact, it’s my impression that campaigning to get on the Hugo and Nebula ballots has long been the norm rather than the noteworthy exception).

    I think the biggest mistake made was in giving a lot of attention to a couple of tiresomely noisy individuals who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time engaging in boneheaded public behavior specifically to GET attention. Sure, they’d have embarrassed the award if they’d won, but they were never likely to win (there were widely-admired works on the ballot, after all), and if they had won–well, it’s not the first time an award has been embarrassed or “devalued,” including this one, and probably won’t be the last. Yet in a year or two, who remembers or cares?

  4. This wasn’t ballot stuffing. That is adding extra votes that you are not entitled to, which did not happen here.

    This was promoting a particular group of choices, which happens every year, to a large number of works. This year, I saw people actively promoting the Wheel of Time, several of the short stories, and all of the fan writer nominations at one point or another. I’m sure there were more that I didn’t see. The “debacle” was caused more by the reaction to this particular promotion, rather than the actual promotion.

    What I did find disappointing was the way many people reacted to this – stating they would automatically vote against a given work without reading it because of the person who wrote it. If there was any question left as to whether the Hugo awards were based on artistic merit or just crowd favourites, this answered it, to the Hugo’s detriment.

  5. Stephen: I didn’t think there was any question of that at least since that Harry Potter book won a Hugo a few years back—as far as I know, the first fantasy novel to take a Best Novel Hugo in the award’s entire history—to the disgust of people who felt only adult science-fiction titles deserved to win. The Hugo has always been a popularity contest, and people who think otherwise are fooling themselves.

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