What I'm speaking of is the gaming of the Hugos by Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. To describe it briefly, a group of people who feel recent Hugos either overrepresent people who aren't white and male or are too literary bought a bunch of WorldCon pre-memberships and dominated the nomination process with books they feel need to be nominated. If you want to read more about it, see here, here, here and here. I find it dispiriting to read about.
For my own part, as a writer I want to be invisible. The facts of my race, gender, sexual orientation and political point of view should have no bearing on the reader's appreciation of my work. That my heritage and point of view informs my work is unarguable. That it be used to judge my work is unconscionable. If a person of color writes a bad book, it's a bad book. If a white person writes a bad book, it's a bad book. If a literary person writes a bad book, it's a bad book. If a hard SF engineer writes a bad book, it's a bad book. Ideology does not drive my nominations or my vote. If my inclination results in a literary nomination, then it should be the nomination of a work I admire.
So the Hugo nominations were gamed. It's sad but not surprising. It's no different from what the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (locally and fondly known as the Bagworm) tried to do to Antelope, Oregon. It's not a lot different from the way people of an ideological persuasion try to game political primaries.
This process is not new. Part of it goes back to Bidwell Wheeler and the Prohibition Movement. Wheeler realized that elections were usually very close: 49-51 sorts of things. That meant if you controlled enough votes to swing elections you possessed far more power than your numbers would suggest. Once Wheeler showed how this worked, it was taken up by many groups. In recent times, as the number of participating voters declined this mechanism has become far more effective.
Enter the internet.
One of the things instant and vast communication triggers is the ability to electronically mobilize quickly. This has a corollary that marginal groups (such as the puppies) can get their act together and pool resources. No one needs to have an in-person meeting in order to mobilize money and effect.
One does need not to attend a worldcon for the Hugo nomination to go forward. Consequently, those who have an axe to grind can do so with just the spending of a small sum and an investment of a paltry bit of time online. Since the goal is nomination and not winning, and the nominating mechanism is based on the numbers of submitted nominations, it's fairly easy to game the system and nominate what a marginal group desires. Investment is low and return is high.
And it completely defeats the purpose of the Hugos-- or any such nominating procedure. It gets worse as barriers are placed into the process. Most primary nominations are done in a polling place. American primaries don't get nearly the press that full elections do in the same way off year elections don't get the same press that presidential elections do. So if one compares voter participation for presidential elections to off year elections to primaries, then it starts with the max and whittles down to the primaries. Since the primaries determine who is standing for the actual election (as the Hugo nominations stand for the election of the award) the candidates are often in the position of representing the more radical base that vote in primaries than the electorate as a hole. As we see happening now in the Hugos.
The voting statistics for Hugo nominations look suspiciously like American voting statistics (See here.) in that significantly fewer people nominate than vote. Consequently, it is ripe for the sort of marginal politics I've been describing.
Any democratic system can be rigged this way. You can argue political parties are just means by which like minded people can game the system-- which is often a comment made by small political parties. And they are right. We see some of it with niche politics but more on the right than the left. One wonders what the world would look like if some of the parties I like (such as the Greens and others) took the Wheeler lesson and started running with it.
To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good to do nothing.
The problem then becomes what is the right thing to do about this.
I'm not going to Spokane so I won't see the outcome in real time. Many have said they'll vote no award. The perpetrator of Sad Puppies says that a no award process will result in repercussions from his group. To me this lays bare his motivations. He set up a situation within a democratic framework and is unwilling to abide by a possible result. I only wish elections had the same possibility.
Regardless, a no award solution might work this year but it won't work in the future. If this continues we'll see different groups trying similar techniques and then we have War of the Splinter Groups-- which pretty much is the national sate of America right now. I suppose it's not surprising that an American worldcon reflect America but it's still sad.
As I understand it, it takes two successive worldcons to implement a voting change. So I expect significant political machinations and rhetoric over the next two years. A couple of solutions have suggested themselves to me:
- Nominations be only by memberships that imply actual attendance.
- Nominations be determined to be valid only if the nominators actually end up registering at the convention. (This would have the effect of delaying the ballot until the actual worldcon, but so what?)
- Decreasing the barrier entry so that anyone can nominate easily. But then confirm the nominations by attendees. (Again, delaying final ballot but so what?)
The idea is if I put out what I think are legitimate award nominees, perhaps I can in some small way combat the evil I'm seeing.
I dearly hope the Hugos are salvaged lest they become as devalued as American political elections.