Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Once and Future Hugo

Not content with re-writing the past and re-framing the present, the Neofeudalist machine has decided to re-write the future. The future is –of course- sandwiched between the covers of science fiction books. Some of the best science fiction has been awarded the prestigious Hugo award. Anti-Atheist Neofeudalist crusaders have successfully hijacked this year’s Hugo awards. There may be no place for you in the future they are creating.

The Neofeudalists have been telling you what is best in everything that has, or is, happening. Now they have branched out into science fiction to tell you what is best in what will happen.

The Hugo awards for science fiction writing may have started in 1953, but they sputtered about until a full slate of awards was presented in the late 1960s. The way the Hugo awards were decided was a reflection of the era in which it formed. A bunch of people who read too much science fiction (the Fandom) plunked down a small membership fee (now $40 USD) and wrote down which science fiction stories they liked the best. Those that got the most votes received a lovely rocket-shaped trophy.

By contrast the Nebula awards are decided by a group of professional science fiction writers (SFWA). Most of the time there is an uncanny similarity between the nominees for Nebula, and those for a Hugo. Many of the winners are the same too; especially in the Novel category. I suppose this is partly because there are a limited number of brand new science fiction novels that most people can read in a year. Though, in my experience, there does appear to be a vast, almost limitless, number of bad science fiction novels.

The Hugos therefore suffer under the burdens of choice presented to the “average” obsessive reader of science fiction. I tend to be more likely to spend money buying the new book by some author I have liked in the past rather than splurge by investing scarce time and money on reading someone new. The Hugos have a number of repeat winners. Victor Vinge won three Hugos out of the six times he was nominated; in contrast he was nominated for three Nebula awards, and never won. I happen to really like Victor Vinge’s work (It is smart insightful science fiction), and so I think this is a real plus for the Hugo awarding process. On the other hand Robert Jordan, who died in 2007, garnered a 2014 nomination (he did not win) for his interminable “Wheel of Time” series; the last –hopefully- of which was created from his notes in 2013 by Brandon Sanderson.

The second most important category for these two awards is the Novella (a story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words). Like the Novel category there is usually overlap in the nomination pool, and some overlap in the winners. That is, there was overlap until this year. In 2014 there were two overlap novella nominations (“Six-Gun Snow White” by Catherynne M. Valente and “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages ). In 2013 there were 3 overlap nominations. In 2012 there were 5 overlap nominations, and the winner was the same for both awards (“The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson). This overlap is not a new phenomenon. In 1968, the first year there was a Hugo Novella award, there were three overlap nominations. This means that about half, give-or-take, of the five or six nominations are usually overlaps. In 2015 there are NO overlap nominations; none.

Another interesting feature of the 2015 Hugo novella nominations is that three of the five nominations are from the same author! Four of the novella nominations are from the same publisher (Castalia House); a publisher whose works had never before been nominated for either a Nebula or a Hugo award! Similar schisms in the fabric of space and time exist for other categories as well. For instance Theodore Beale using the pseudonym “Vox Day” (apparently a phonetic spelling of the Latin “Vox Dei” or voice of God) is nominated for the first time as an editor, at Castalia House, in both the long and short form categories.

Sharp increase in Hugo nominating ballots

The nominating pool for Hugo awards has increased over the years, but has, until recently, been a diversely voting small group; 800 or less, and usually closer to 500. Starting in 2009 there has been a steady increase, with a large jump in 2014, and now the number of nominating ballots for the novel category stands at almost two thousand. Nominating margins before 2014 had been small, and even in 2014 an organized group of a couple hundred could swing the decision.

Since 2009 there has been a demographic trend in the nominees. The number of female nominees has increased.  In 2010 it achieved the previous maximum (about 50% for both 1992 and 1993) and stayed there for three years in a row. This may not sound amazing since parity had already been achieved for about the same length of time, but to some it was evidence of a secret conspiracy. The 2014 nominee list brought the number females down to the historical average of 20%, and the 2014 list almost eliminates females from the nominee list, especially if you count John C Wright as a male every time he appears on the ballot.

The problem with suggesting that there is a loose knit conspiracy of science fiction fans that drives the voting is that the very basis of the Hugo award nominating process requires a conspiracy. The voting even takes place at a special convention (Worldcon) where voting members gather to talk about science fiction and influence what other voting members read. I’m sure many dress in special uniforms, and some have secret handshakes. If  changing demographics are correlated with an increased interest in Worldcon, and an increased readership for science fiction, then isn’t this a good thing?

The doubling of nominating ballots in the 2014-2015 time frame appears to be of a different sort. Diversity amongst nominees, as evidenced by the same writers earning multiple nominations, suggests that these new voters joined up to vote rather than to experience an enhanced level of Fandom. Lack of relevance, as evidenced by no overlap in some categories with the Nebula awards (despite great authors such as Daryl Gregory, Nancy Kress, Ken Liu, Mary Rickert, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Rachel Swirsky being nominated for Novella Nebula awards), suggests that these new voters are voting based on an entirely alien set of aesthetics. In other words it looks a lot like the ballots are being stuffed to rig the election.

Some individuals have decided to fight back. The choice of “No Award” has been used in the past. In 1987 “No Award” beat out a posthumously published L. Ron Hubbard novel in the battle for fifth place. There is a push to vote in “No Award” as the overall winner in several categories (like novella) this year. If the numbers do not lie there may be more shadow voters than there are individuals willing to vote in “No Award”.

Why should atheists be concerned about this breakdown in an idealistic science fiction awards process? We should be concerned because of the individuals who will likely be awarded Hugos. Though the apparently homophobic trodlodyte John C Wright deserves significant attention because of his multiple nominations, it is Vox Day who should gain special attention from Atheists.

In 2014 Vox’s first wave of ballot stuffing did not work as well as he had hoped. His novelette "Opera Vita Aeterna" was able to get nominated, but came in sixth out of the field of five nominees, just behind “No Award”.

 In 2012 Vox ran for president of SFWA, and lost by an embarrassingly gigantic margin. He responded by throwing temper tantrums on twitter (allegedly calling one author a “half-savage” in reference to his race). This lead to a closer examination of Vox’s blog where, apparently, one can find all sorts of racist-sexist-homophobic-bigoted ramblings. He was unanimously voted out of the SFWA organization by mid august 2012.

     “We invented the Crusade and the Inquisition, two institutions so historically intimidating that atheists still shiver and tell each other scary stories about them centuries after the event.
     We will revive them before we will abandon our faith. And while we would prefer to live with both Christian and traditional Constitutional values, if we are forced to choose between the two, we will choose the former without even thinking twice.” – Vox Day in his blog "Vox Populi" 3 April 2014

Vox Day wrote “The Irrational Atheist” in 2008. It was praised by far right and Christian proponents as a “secular” set of arguments against Atheism, and Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens in particular. Others have called it a string of loosely connected logical fallacies. I have not read it, but I did look over it in preview on Google Books. I read a chapter on the crusades where Vox insists that religion did not have as much to do with the crusades as everyone believes. It is interesting that six years later he is laying claim to the crusades, and suggesting that they are evidence of Christian power that Atheists should not ignore.

Vox has also written a book explaining the current economic situation, and grew up the son of famous tax protester Robert Beale. Vox’s dad Bob was a religious zealot who was on the board for Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential bid, was a board member for Living Word Christian Center and was also on the board of the far-right propaganda outlet “WorldNetDaily” (WND). Vox literally inherited access to far-right war chests. In recent years these have swelled to the size where they can blow almost a million dollars propping up a small-town pizza joint just because they were stupid enough to state they would not cater a gay wedding (though, as far as I know, no gay couples had ever asked them to cater their wedding). $40,000.00 to rig a Hugo award is well within the discretionary spending limits for such deep pockets.

From what little I could stomach of his blog it appears to me that Vox is also a climate change denier, and generally antiscience. What is he doing even being considered as a science fiction anything? If he is what has become of the best of the genre then I will start reading romance novels or something.

The 2015 Hugo awards are an attack on a secular future because they attack our ability to communicate what we think of a future. Even if that future is far in the past in some alternate universe.

What can be done? If the ballots are rigged using shadow voters then Worldcon should use some of the money that the new voters spent on membership fees, and validate that these new members actually exist. We could call on publishers to ignore the 2015 Hugo awards. A couple nominees, and one presenter, have declined their invitations to participate; we could ask more presenters and participants to refuse to participate. In any convention the exhibitors are a big factor in the event’s success, we could ask exhibitors to send a note of protest instead of a display. We could all also pony up $40.00 and vote for “No Award” (although I am not sure memberships are still open).

One of the most damaging things this really shows is how easily Hugos can be bought.  The cost of the 2015 Hugos will end up being less than the marketing budget of a small Finish-based close-to-vanity press publisher like Castalia House.  If the Hugos turn into a bidding war then Worldcon should do something amazing with the extra revenue; like build a space ship or even a future where everyone is really smart and good looking, or just a talking cloud of pulsating colored energy.

I would suggest that Worldcon make a time machine, but I do not trust them to use such an awesome super power for good, and they already have one.  For the past couple years Worldcon has awarded retro Hugos for items published before there were Hugos.  They call them "retro Hugos".  In alternative 1939 (2014) Ayn Rand's novella titled "Anthem" was nominated for a Hugo.  It did not win, but solidly beat "No Award" by about 100 votes in the 5th round of voting.  In real 1939 few people read, and fewer liked, Rand's dystopian novella.  In alternative 1939 it was one of the five best novellas.  I've always wondered why, when people time travel back to the beginning of world war II, they can't go and kill Adolph Hitler.

I know many of us are members of the greater science fiction Fandom. Those that are not really should consider joining. It is amazing how many of the really utopian-like futures feature people who have forgotten about religion, at least those future people have forgotten about it until now….


Anonymous said...

In any convention the exhibitors are a big factor in the event’s success, we could ask exhibitors to send a note of protest instead of a display. We could all also pony up $40.00 and vote for “No Award” (although I am not sure memberships are still open).

Supporting memberships (and attending memberships, for that matter) are still available at https://sasquan.swoc.us/sasquan/reg.php

I do think it's important to clarify that the Hugo Awards ceremony itself is not the entire Worldcon convention, and to ask exhibitors, etc. to pull out of the convention at large is more damaging to the volunteers and the host city putting on this year's particular event, and who hadn't the slightest idea that puppies would come in and try to wreck the awards. The awards ceremony is a capstone event for each con, yes, but everything else happening at a Worldcon occurs rather independently of it. Not attending the Hugo ceremony event itself is a more focused form of protest.

Another option for attending members of the con is going to the Business Meeting where rules for upcoming Worldcons (and upcoming Hugos) are proposed and voted upon.

adult onset atheist said...

I absolutely agree that causing any harm to Sasquan (the host convention for Worldcon) would be unfortunate collateral damage. This is not an essay on how the Hugo issue should be handled within Fandom. My gafiation occurred decades ago, and I have no intention of re-entering the actually quite wonderful ranks of the truly obsessed. The last time I tried I was immediately swept into a heated flame-riddled argument on the correct meaning of the word "morlock" when it is used as a verb.

For those outside of Fandom the Hugos represent a way we can use the energy of Fandom to help choose the few SF books we might read, and the publishers leverage this to help increase their profit margin. I don't think that is a bad thing at all. The puppies are using the power of that connection to enhance their ability to cause damage to Atheists. This is only one of their goals, and most of the arguments have been about racial-gender-sexual preference diversity, which is important. However, the implied roadmap for the voice of the Hugos (Vox Hugo? ) includes implied violence (like the crusader quote I presented) and active dehumanizing of Atheists. The active politicization of the Hugo process will cause collateral damage. There are now over 7,000 "members" of Worldcon, and most of them appear to possibly be shadow supporting memberships paid for by anti-Atheist hate groups.

Hate propaganda might be expected to slip by in the loose Hugo process from the past, and this is unfortunate. The current process could turn the Hugos into a propaganda machine. The result of that would be people getting hurt in ways much more significant than working hard on a convention that did not go well. In order to avoid collateral damage from the implosion of Wordcon it may be in the best interest of the conventions to decline to bid for the chance at being the seat for a future Worldcon event. There is a vote for the location of the 2017 Worldcon at Sasquan this year; it would be interesting to see if “No Bid” could win.

Teemu said...

As a Finn, I'd like to point out that Castalia House has practically no connections with the rather active Finnish fandom. Eemeli Aro, the chair of the Helsinki in 2017 worldcon bid, wrote (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/04/the-biggest-little-sf-publishe.html#comment-1967553):

"I'd like to note that Castalia House has practically no connection with Finnish sf fandom, and they have never had a presence at any Finnish con. The only communication with the proprietor (Markku Koponen) that I've been a party to is a post by him to a Finnish sf mailing list last April, where he states (translating), 'As must be clear to most, Castalia House is ideologically opposed to the majority of practically all fannish groups in this country.'

"So in brief, no, the Finns that are members of Sasquan on account of having participated in the 2015 site selection vote or that have purchased a membership since then to participate in said process this year are unlikely to be aligned with the supporters of works published by Castalia House."

In response to the immediately previous comment, I don't see how voting for "No Bid" would be in the best interests of fandom. What is the reasoning? "Hugo Awards have been gamed this year, so eliminate Worldcons altogether"? A less radical step would be to eliminate the Hugos while keeping the Worldcons.

adult onset atheist said...

Thank you for the insight of the relationship (or more precisely lack of relationship) between Finnish fandom and Castalia house. I still don't know what to think about them. I would like to note that the two major players in the Sad Puppies group are Utahians, and I would like to underline my lack of association with them despite the fact that all three of us are in the same small sparely-populated state.

You are absolutely right about the "No Bid" section of my previous comment. I was venting a bit of angsty irritation about the whole situation. It is my blog so I can vent a bit of steam even if I regret it a bit later.

I actually have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for the bid teams, and though they do not appear as wild and hopeful as the worldcons of the 70s and 80s they are still awesome. I absolutely do not want a no bid to win. I also do not want the Hugo awards to become a neo-inquisition echo chamber for true believers to preach to the choir; I am not a member of that choir, and the only reason for them to do this is to steal the prestige Worldcon has manufactured from decades of hard work.

On the other hand I personally hope the Finnish bid goes down in flames. The only chance I have of attending an actual worldcon event is if the DC bid for 2017 wins.