The focus of this project has been on a small number of people who set chains of consequences in motion but at every stage, it was fans who determined the outcomes of the Hugo Awards by voting.
The sheer volume of comments and debates that the dual Puppy campaigns engendered makes it impossible for this project to adequately capture the range of opinions and discussions that took place. In particular, lengthy comment threads at File 770, Making Light, Monster Hunter Nation, Mad Genius Club and Brad Torgersen’s blog saw opponents and supporters of the Puppy campaigns duelling over the aims and legitimacy of the Puppy campaigns.
As the leader of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign, Brad Torgersen had appealed to critics of his slate to read the works nominated and evaluate them fairly. Proponents of the No Award Strategy argued that the impact of slate voting (particularly from the Rabid Puppy campaign) meant that even a reasonable work was compromised as a finalist by the Puppy slates. In those categories where there was a single non-slated finalist (such as Best Fan Writer and Best Novelette), even the non-slated finalist was competing against a field that many fans regarded as illegitimate.
A pertinent question then was whether the 2015 finalists were any good.
- Had the Puppies actually nominated award-worthy works and people?
- Would a No Award strategy unfairly penalise worthy finalists?
- Were the few non-Puppy-slated finalists any good or were they unwitting beneficiaries of a distorted nomination process?
There was no simple, objective process that could decide these questions. In the end, the decision would come down to how Worldcon members voted but in the meantime what fans could do is read and review the Hugo 2015 finalists.
Multiple bloggers took on projects of systematically reviewing all or many of the Hugo categories. In some cases, they had already reviewed some of the finalists before the announcement just as part of their general reviews of what they were reading. For example, a critic of the Sad Puppy campaigns Aaron Pound posted a long positive review of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword in February of 2015 that described the book as “leaving the reader both satisfied at the end of the book and looking forward to the next instalment”
However, the announcement of the Puppy Sweep in April 2015 and then the later release of the Hugo Packet and the opening of voting in May 2015 led to a surge of reviews. In some cases, those reviews were posts focused on a single work. In other cases, bloggers looked at whole categories in single posts. In July more of these whole category posts included rankings showing how the blogger was going to vote.
Of the multitude of Hugo Award categories, Best Short Story, Best Related Work and the headline category of Best Novel garnered the most attention. Together, those categories showed some of the range of the Puppy-slated nominees and the relative impacts of the slates on the set of finalists.
The original Sad Puppy slate for Short Story had been quite different to the final results. Of the categories that focus on individual works, Short Story had been the one with the most women on it in the first version of the Sad Puppy slate. However, Megan Grey’s “Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” was technically ineligible and Annie Bellet had withdrawn her story “Goodnight Stars” in April when the impact of the Puppy slates had become clear. Despite these setbacks, the Rabid Puppy slate had made up the difference, so the resulting set of finalists were still all Puppy-slated nominees.
- “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
- “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
- “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen)
- “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, July 2014)
- “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
The result was a decent sample of the range of Puppy-slated works. At one end of the spectrum was Kary English’s “Totaled”. English was a former Writers of the Future candidate who had met Brad Torgersen in the associated writer’s forums and like Torgersen had been mentored by the veteran editor and multi-Hugo-nominated writer Mike Resnick. Like Torgersen, English was on a path as a writer that until recently was a plausible route towards Hugo recognition.
At the other end of the Puppy-spectrum, Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat” was part of the Vox Day & Tom Kratman edited military-science fiction anthology Riding the Red Horse published by Day’s recently formed Castalia House. Baen Books was also represented in this set of finalists, as was the conservative aligned independent Sci Phi Journal magazine.
“Totaled” was one of the most favourably received works of the Puppy-slated finalists. Indeed, the positive qualities of the story even had some bloggers questioning why the Puppy campaigns nominated it. The pseudonymous blogger Spacefaring Kitten, who had taken on reviewing most of the Hugo finalists, said of the story:
“‘Totaled’ is another example of the disjunction between Sad Puppy manifestos and the actual stories on the slate. Brad Torgersen has been complaining about there being “too little optimism” and Larry Correia has been complaining about there being no Hugo winners that feature “capitalism as a positive thing”. In “Totaled”, a brain that has been severed from its totaled body gets suicidal in the end and the antagonist of the story is a shady megacorporation manager. My guess is that if someone else’s votes had got this on the Hugo ballot, the Puppies would denounce it as an SJW story.”https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/totaled-by-kary-english/
Others noted the similarity of the plot with the classic Hugo Award-winning Flowers for Algernon. However, while reviewers recognised the quality of the writing, a consistent criticism was that the story was not particularly original and while overall good, not exceptional. Puppy-slated finalist for Best Fan Writer (and overall a supporter of the campaigns) Jeffro Johnson said of the story:
“This one is not bad. As I read it, I kept thinking… this is sorta like “Flowers for Algernon”. Then it turned into “Flowers for Algernon”!“https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/a-few-comments-on-totaled-by-kary-english/
More positively, Bonnie McDaniel (another blogger who covered most of the finalists) compared the story to a previous 2014 Hugo Finalist:
“Holy crap. This story had a weight, resonance, and emotional impact all the others lacked. (It also wasn’t stupid, boring and senseless, which helped.) I must admit here that my standard for this year’s Hugo nominations is a story the Vapid Canines rejected–Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” I loved that story, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”https://www.redheadedfemme.com/2015/04/the-hugo-project-totaled.html
Lou Antonelli story “On A Spiritual Plain” had been published in Sci Phi Journal but Antonelli had also made it freely available on his own blog which helped make the story one of the earliest reviewed stories of the 2015 Hugo finalists. The story features a Methodist minister helping the souls of the dead on a planet where the natural magnetic fields trap ghosts. Blogger Stephen J Wright noted a common response to the story:
“The setting is a potentially interesting one – there are stories to be told here – and it is utterly squandered, wasted on a story that has less character development than a Polaroid photograph and less dramatic tension than a piece of used knicker elastic. Antonelli’s story is a bald recital of events with the same emotional impact as a crossed-out to-do list. “Got up. Had breakfast. Laid ghost. Picked up laundry.””https://sjwright.livejournal.com/113688.html
Multiple reviews found the story underwhelming and lacking tension. Blogger Lyle Hopwood summed up the story as “More an anecdote”. At Black Gate fanzine, Rich Horton had positive things to say about Antonelli’s other Hugo finalist work (Letters to Gardner in Best Related Work) but was underwhelmed by this short story:
““On a Spiritual Plain” isn’t as good, alas – it’s another story of some ambition, and another story on a religious subject (one of at least four on the short fiction ballots), but it just doesn’t have that zing for me.”https://www.blackgate.com/2015/07/09/the-2015-hugo-shortlist-short-fiction-a-review/
At the Future Less Traveled blog, critic Vivienne Raper was open to giving positive reviews to Puppy-nominated works. She ranked Antonelli’s story fourth on her ballot (above “Totalled“) but also drew a similar conclusion:
“It’s a great premise, but the story doesn’t quite deliver. In fact, it doesn’t do much at all.”http://futureslesstravelled.com/reading-the-rockets-best-short-story/
If Jeffro Johnson had been disappointed by two of the Puppy-slated stories he was thoroughly enthused by John C Wright’s The Parliament of Beasts and Birds.
“This is easily the best thing I’ve read among the Hugo nominated works for this year that I’ve looked at so far. I can see that many of my friends that I enjoy chatting about stuff with will not feel the same way– and again, that’s fine. But for me… seeing what looks like a simple “beast fable” of Uncle Remus reworked into something that could not just answer the half cadences of Genesis but also give the impression of completing an untold portion of Revelation– all I can say is that I find it to be simply staggering. Thank you, Mr. Wright.”https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/a-few-comments-on-john-c-wrights-the-parliament-of-beasts-and-birds/
Wright’s story followed the format of a fable with sets of animals discussing what happened after humans had gone from the Earth. Spacefaring Kitten gave it 0/10. Blogger Joe Sherry had chosen to use “no award” sparingly, calling it a “scalpel, not a scythe” but felt that “no award” was more deserving than Wright’s fable:
“I think it is intended to be a parable or an allegory, but what it is is remarkably heavy handed on the Christian theme with rather poor / oddly formal writing and it really doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near this ballot. As such, it will not remain on mine.”http://joesherry.blogspot.com/2015/05/thoughts-on-hugo-award-nominees-short.html
More wryly at Apex Magazine, Charlotte Ashley summed the story up:
“I suspect that as far as biblical fables written in 2014 go, it cannot be beat. It is not, however, my sub-genre of choice, having no relatable characters, intriguing plots or mind-blowing ideas”https://apex-magazine.com/clavis-aurea-30-2015-hugo-awards-edition-short-fiction/
Not unlike “Totalled“, Steven Diamond’s “A Single Samurai” was also bedevilled by faint praise from reviewers. The story follows a samurai who must climb a giant monster in order to kill it. Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag described a common reaction to the story:
“Oh, I want to like this one. It’s strong in many places, and has a sense of whimsy I really enjoy. But in order for me to really like it, the story had to nail the landing, and in my opinion, it didn’t manage it. I think I get what the author was going for, but it didn’t hit that mark for me. I love the idea of the samurai being guardians against the demons and darkness, and I love the idea of a samurai having to fight a monster as big as a mountain. But it just didn’t quite work for me.”http://realtegan.blogspot.com/2015/06/hugo-reading-short-stories.html
At the Fantasy Literature website, Terry Weyna concluded:
“This story isn’t bad, but it’s not award-level quality. It could have described in more detail what it was like to travel on a walking mountain, eliminated the drag, and justified — through weaponry, the telling of the history of the samurai, the exploration of this samurai’s own history of battling other monsters — the ending. Indeed, that ending could be powerful if it were set up well.”http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/magazine-monday-hugo-nominated-short-stories-2014/
However, Steve Rzasa’s story “Turncoat” (published in the Vox Day/Tom Kratman edited milSF anthology Riding the Red Horse) at least managed to engender strong reactions in its readers. One of the less scathing reviews summed up the story:
“In Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat” the future looks like a Galaxy-wide Terminator movie, with Skynet on steroids out to obliterate the humans who created it. Our protagonist is Taren X 45 Delta, an AI inhabiting a battleship, crewed by cyborgs but after its crew is taken away to improve its efficiency, it starts reading ancient philosophy as an antidote to boredom and (dare we say) loneliness. It begins to to worry about human souls. In the end, Taren X 45 Delta decides it’s wrong to fire on a convoy of hospital ships carrying children and uploads itself to one of the Ascendancy battleship escorts, and offers its allegiance to the true humans. The biggest problem with this story is that so much space is spent on infodumps and geeked-out technobabble that there’s no room to show us why and how Taren X 45 Delta comes to this decision. There is the seed of a really interesting story hidden here, but this isn’t it.”https://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/153351.html
At Adult-Onset Atheist the reviewer was irritated with the absurdity of the pseudo-precision of the numbers used by the story’s narrator
“I am also nonplussed by awkward units. The author of this story uses decaseconds and kiloseconds as if they speak to the audience. He also uses random bits of precision to make the story sound more “machiney”. The resulting Dunning–Kruger ambience is annoying at best.http://adultonsetatheist.blogspot.com/2015/05/snarl-turncoat.html
– “Thank you, Alpha 7 Alpha. The enemy patrols are more frequent. This is the third such incursion in 584 kiloseconds.”-
Why not make it an even 604.8 kiloseconds, and call it a week?”
Spacefaring Kitten was also not impressed:
“I think this is a quite awfully-written story with a heavy-handed delivery of plot points and a lot of infodumping. You can see the “surprise” conclusion of the story coming from miles away (or by reading the title, actually). A very boring read, overall.”https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/turncoat-by-steve-rzasa/
Meanwhile, Puppy-nominated finalist Jeffro Johnson had found the story that appealed to him:
“this is exactly the sort of thing that ought to be in the science fiction magazines but which just isn’t there anymore.”https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/a-few-comments-on-turncoat-by-steve-rzasa/
Vivienne Raper was initially critical of the story saying that it “appears to kick off with a tech-dork-porngasm of military equipment” but unlike other reviewers found the style of numerical precision engaging and eventually concluded:
“Turncoat isn’t the greatest story I’ve read, but it’s definitely the best out of a bad bunch. And a total surprise – I never expected to like this one.”http://futureslesstravelled.com/reading-the-rockets-best-short-story/
Other reviewers called it “excessive technobabble weapons-fondling”, “thoroughly lousy” and “Wretched”.
Overall, the sense from multiple reviewers of the short story category was one of being underwhelmed. Even reviewers sympathetic to the Puppy campaigns found several of the stories lacklustre. More damaging for the Puppy project as a whole was a lack of any indication of how these stories either moved science fiction forward or restored the genre to some lost golden age. Even if Vox Day’s Rabid Puppy campaign was seen primarily as an attempt to troll the “SJWs”, the short story nominees didn’t do that either.
Ironically, Annie Bellet’s story Goodnight Stars, which she had withdrawn from the list of finalists, received largely positive reviews compared with the remaining finalists — except from Puppy supporter Jeffro Johnson because the story had swearing in it and some racist white men as antagonists:
“But it’s also amateurish. It’s use of the “f word” a whopping seven times makes it seem like it was written by an adolescent, not a Hugo caliber writer. “Three big white men” roar in from “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” in order to hurl racist epithets and behave in a cowardly fashion.”https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/a-few-comments-on-goodnight-stars-by-annie-bellet-2/
Best Related Work
The Best Related Work is one of the most weakly defined categories in the Hugo Awards. It is not explicitly for non-fiction but typically the category has gone to non-fiction works such as biographies of writers, collections of essays, histories of the genre and encyclopedias of science fiction. As a category, it does not usually draw the most attention or the most votes. However, the Puppy campaigns had an opportunity with the slated nominees in this category to make more overt statements about science fiction.
Unlike Best Short Story, the finalists matched exactly Brad Torgersen’s initial Sad Puppies 3 slate. The works included two entries from Castalia House, including yet another entry from John C Wright. The other entry from Castalia House was a second entry from the Riding the Red Horse anthology. This anthology was edited by Vox Day and a basis for Day’s nomination for Best Editor Short Form. Although not included in either slate, Brad Torgersen’s short story “The General’s Guard” was also in the anthology.
Aside from Castalia House, the other works included an essay from Baen.com, a small press published writing memoir from Lou Antonelli (again) and Michael Z. Williamson’s self published joke book.
- “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF” by Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
- Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
- Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
- “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
- Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)
The Hot Equations was not hated by reviewers. Ken Richards, who decided to vote “no award” in the category, summed up the essay:
“Ken Burnside’s well written, if dry article shows just why the exciting battles in space which have been a staple of MilSF and Space Opera since time immemorium are just as impossible as the rumble of the Empire battleships at the start of ‘Star Wars’. Because Thermodynamics. But we knew that.”https://shouseindustries.weebly.com/hugo-2015-reviews/best-related-work-oh-the-pain
Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag regarded the whole category as a “race to the bottom” but regarded the Hot Equations as one of the least worst entries:
“Another interesting piece on the reality of hard MilSF ships and what they can actually do versus what they are said to do in fiction. If you are into the mathematic of thermodynamics and space, this is fascinating. If not, it’s a bit technical and difficult to get into. I found it a little of both. I suspect it would be a great reference for a hard SF writer, but if the rules are always strictly adhered to, I also suspect stories have the potential to be very boring. While this is not nearly as bad as the other entries, it’s still not award-winning writing.”http://realtegan.blogspot.com/2015/07/hugo-reading-related-work.html
The word “dry” occurs a lot in the reviews of this essay but also the word “unexceptional”. For example:
“Unexceptionable, even though it’s in the same anthology as the execrable Turncoat story. Definitely not award-worthy, but it didn’t make me feel physically ill while I read it or anything, which for a work associated with “Day” is quite an achievement.”https://andrewhickey.info/2015/05/25/hugo-blogging-best-related-work-2/
Why Science is Never Settled by Tedd Roberts was a two part essay published at Baen’s website that explored Roberts’s views on the nature of science. A working scientist, Roberts discussed past controversies and ideas about the scientific method.
Spacefaring Kitten reviewed it together with The Hot Equations and was unimpressed:
“Why pick a somewhat dry exploration into the scientific method and a physics-heavy account of thermodynamics and military science fiction? They seem to be fine as far as dry explorations and physics-heavy accounts go, but it feels quite weird that suddenly a legion of Hugo nominators pretend that they are enthusiastic about these tedious things.”https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/rabid-sad-factoids-wrapping-up-the-related-work-category/
Lis Carey focused on one of the key flaws in the essays:
“This essay is quite decently written, and very effectively covers the ground of why science is a process, not a result, and truly never finally settled. Sadly, while never going at the subject head-on, it’s laced through with excuses for climate science denialism.”http://www.liscareyslibrary.com/2015/06/why-science-is-never-settled-by-tedd.html
She went on to conclude:
“It’s sad that this essay that so effectively explains how science works and the factors that can both create and perpetuate error, then embraces a currently popular error, the belief that because it’s politically convenient, current climate science data, reasoning, and conclusions can be ignored.”ibid
The essays from Burnside and Roberts were at best unexceptional. Of the two, The Hot Equations was more clearly related to science fiction. There were no formal limits on how related a “related work” had to be in the rules for the Hugo Awards, instead, that question was one left to the voters. Font Folly felt that Why Science is Never Settled simply didn’t pass the bar necessary to be a “related work”.
“At no point does the essay reference science fiction. He doesn’t talk about how science fiction authors misunderstand science, nor about the importance of understanding it better. It’s just a mediocre essay with more of a political than scientific goal. It’s a stretch to put it in this category at all, and it clearly is not an example of excellence of any sort.”https://fontfolly.net/2015/07/07/hugo-ballet-reviews-related-works/
Lou Antonelli’s Letters from Gardner was succinctly described by Lyle Hopwood as:
“a series of short stories by Mr. Antonelli, linked by writing advice he received as feedback from magazine editors, especially Gardner Dozois, on those stories, as well as autobiographical material. He then describes what he did to rewrite or improve the story.”http://peromyscus.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-letters-from-gardner-by-lou.html
Memoirs work well when either the author is an interesting character in themselves or if they are recounting interesting events. Was Antonelli’s memoir of either kind? Few reviewers thought so.
“Unfortunately, Antonelli is not really notable enough for anyone other than his fans, friends and family to find a memoir all that fascinating, the stories are, as early stories tend to be, somewhat lacking in many areas – not the least of which is female characters who are more than window dressing – the writing advice is pedestrian, and Dozois’ notes to a promising novice writer are pretty much what you’d expect any editor to write under such circumstances. And – one of my personal pet peeves, having worked as a proofreader myself – the book is quite sloppily copyedited.”https://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/158914.html
Others though found some of the advice relevant.
These first three works gained reviews not dissimilar to the short story reviews. Reviewers didn’t find them to be awful on the whole but they did find them to be unexceptional and it was also unclear to many readers why these works had been nominated, even taking into account the multiple agendas of the Sad and Rabid Puppy leaders.
Two other works on the ballot, mutually quite different from each other structurally, provoked much stronger reactions.
Transhuman and Subhuman was an extensive set of essays by John C Wright, a founding member of the Evil League of Evil. Published by Vox Day’s Castalia House, the book consisted of a set of sixteen essays examining science fiction, popular culture and Wright’s philosophical views. This work was one of the few Hugo finalists extensively reviewed by an active supporter of the Puppy campaigns. GamerGate activist and aspiring author Brian Niemeier wrote reviews of each chapter in the collection as blog posts for his own blog and for the SuperversiveSF blog.
Niemeier had an active interest in both science fiction and Catholic theology and enjoyed the way in which Wright mixed his own interests in these subjects. For example, in part XIV of his reviews, Niemeier focused on Wright’s discussion of Arthur C Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End.
““I say CHILDHOOD’ S END is ‘Gnostic’, a heresy of the Christians,” Wright explains, “because I do not see the attitude or mind-set of any other religion represented.”https://brianniemeier.com/2015/07/transhuman-and-subhuman-part-xiv/
Wright bases his case for Childhood’s End’s Gnosticism on the scene in the book where an alien device capable of looking into the past is said to disprove “all the world’s religious writings” and “all the world’s great faiths”. Clarke depicts everyone on earth abandoning religion as a result.
Pointing out that Christianity is the only major religion that claims its theology is based on concrete historical events, Wright concludes, “…there is only one religion under attack here, and it is misleading to pretend any religion but one is in the crosshairs. Like far too many atheist writings, this passage is not atheist, merely antichristian.””
The reaction of other readers was quite different:
“Ugh. What an utter, mind-melting, nonsensical load of fucked up, sanctimonious, loathsome, sexist shit. Zero points for John C. Wright’s collection Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth.https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/the-awful-truth-is-pervert-rants-get-zero-points-transhuman-and-subhuman-essays-on-science-fiction-and-awful-truth-by-john-c-wright/
I feel like antisepticizing my eyeballs now.”
Rebekah Golden explained the issues in a bit more detail:
“I will not recommend reading his work to see what I mean. His language is dense and intentionally obtuse. His goal is to lead the reader to agree with just one of his assumptions and then pretend to reveal great truths built upon those assumptions when really he’s just redefining reality to suit his own whims. It’s obvious that he thinks he is clever but it is surprising anyone else would agree.”https://rebekahgolden.com/2015/06/16/2015-hugo-awards-best-related-work-reviewing-transhuman-and-subhuman/
Wright’s essays were unlikely to win over anybody who didn’t already share his perspective. However, reviewers did acknowledge that his collection of essays was at least more substantial than some of the other finalists and clearly related to the genre. What was also clearer was how Wright’s work fitted within the framework of the surrounding culture war of which the Puppy campaigns were part. Stephen “no relation” J Wright regarded the florid prose of the essays as a distraction from the underlying style of argument:
“Wright makes a great show of being classically educated and versed in Aristotelianism, but on the showing he gives here, Aristotle wouldn’t have him in the house. It’s not even decent sophistry – the sorriest sophist Socrates ever skewered would still run rings around John C. Wright. This is a much more up-to-date debating technique – that of the Internet troll, the grinding bore who repeats the same message over and over and over, allowing no dissent and no discussion, and finally proclaiming victory when his last opponent keels over in a coma.”https://sjwright.livejournal.com/124474.html
Whereas Lis Carey summed up John C Wright’s views on women as fictional characters:
“Those advocating strong women characters in fiction, especially science fiction, are enemies in the Culture War, and they’re on the side fighting against Culture. Fortitude and justice are masculine virtues; feminine virtues are delicacy and nurturing. Oh, wait, fortitude can be feminine, but it’s different from masculine fortitude; it’s long-suffering patience dealing with the childish menfolk, rather than courage in the face of adversity and danger.”http://www.liscareyslibrary.com/2015/06/transhuman-and-subhuman-essays-on.html
Typically, people engaged with this kind of systematic reviewing of the Hugo finalists had not set out to ‘no award’ every work in every category. They had taken the challenge of reading the works seriously and many tried hard to avoid using ‘no award’ as an option above a finalist. Many reviewers struggled to find a convincing argument based on the quality of the works in this category not to just “no award” the whole thing.
“So, to sum up the category of Best Related Works: Mr. Noah Award in a runaway. In fact, Noah is the equivalent of the magnificent Secretariat thundering down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes, straight and true and overpowering, leaving his competitors in the dust.”https://www.redheadedfemme.com/2015/06/the-hugo-project-best-related-work.html
One work in particular, Wisdom from my Internet by Michael Z Williamson reinforced the impression that the Puppy slates were cynical insults aimed at Worldcon members. I’ve tried to include positive or semi-positive reviews in this chapter but there was very little positive said about Williamson’s collection of jokes. The Superversive SF blog did carry an interview with Williamson as part of a series of profiles of the 2015 Hugo finalists. When asked about his Hugo-nominated work, Williamson had little to say:
“2) What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?https://web.archive.org/web/20150520225408/http://superversivesf.com/2015/05/13/hugo-nominee-interview-mike-williamson/
This wasn’t a story, other than being the story of how English can be used as a club to beat people with. I actually thought a short story I had published earlier in the year (“Soft Casualty”) was a much better example of my work, but I don’t really track this sort of thing so I’d completely forgotten it was eligible. “
Even by the author’s own standards, he had better work. Nicholas Whyte summed up the dissatisfaction of many people who found the work in the Hugo packet:
“Wisdom from my Internet is a really bad book. I will admit that I disagree with about 90% of Williamson’s political statements; but even in the few cases where I don’t, his style is just not very funny. More objectively, I’ve got a quarter of the way through and if there has been any actual reference to SF I have missed it. I prefer my Best Related Works to actually be, well, related. I don’t think I will bother with the rest.https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2469904.html
How interesting that the author is a mate of the slatemongers, and that it was not recommended by a single contributor to the crowdsourcing exercise (which we are repeatedly told was “100% open” and “democratic”), yet ended up on both slates anyway! It has reinforced my intention to vote “No Award” for this entire category.
This nomination really shows up the bad faith of those behind the slates. For all their complaints about cliques, political messages and works getting nominated which are of poor quality and aren’t sfnal enough, here they have done exactly what they accuse the imaginary cabal of doing. It is simply shameful.”
Spacefaring Kitten described the book as “The Shittiest Unrelated Drivel in the History of Hugo Awards”.
The Best Novel category has traditionally attracted the most attention and votes of the Hugo Awards. The reputation of the award as a mark of literary status lies in no small part to the roster of famous novels that have won over the decades. The larger number of nominating votes for Best Novel in 2015 meant that one novel not on the Puppy slates, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, managed to win a spot as a finalist despite the Puppy campaigns. The withdrawal by Larry Correia and Marko Kloos of their novels from the finalists had meant that two more non-Puppy novels made it onto the ballot.
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
- The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
- The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
- Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
As a consequence, the Best Novel category was a competitive category. In addition, the Puppy-nominated novels were from bestselling authors neither of whom had been actively involved in the Puppy campaigns. This was a category where the infamous Mr. Noah Award might struggle to win in what otherwise might be a bumper year.
The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson published by Tor books was ironically slated by the Puppy campaigns but from the publisher that many Puppy supporters were now boycotting.
Anderson was a highly prolific writer famous for tie-in works for Star Wars, the X-Files and a series of authorised sequels to Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. He was one of the authors Brad Torgersen had identified as making a substantial contribution to the genre without award recognition.
The Dark Between the Stars wasn’t tie-in fiction but it was part of wider series of novels by Anderson, forming book 1 of part 2 of The Saga of Seven Suns series. The novel was setting out multiple characters and new information on top of a background already established in seven previous books. For readers new to the series this would be a challenge.
Aaron Pound was deeply unimpressed:
“With a cast of dozens of characters, multiple plot threads, and a sprawling setting that spans an entire spiral arm of the galaxy, there are a number of words that can be used to describe this novel: Fat, flabby, ponderous, tedious, bland, and dull. There are some words that do not apply: Exciting, interesting, engaging, or good. Although The Dark Between the Stars is purportedly the beginning of The Saga of Shadows, it is actually the eighth book in a series, with the previous seven books making up the interminably overlong Saga of Seven Suns, meaning that a reader coming into this “new” series has to catch up on seven books worth of material to make heads or tails of what is going on in this book.”http://dreamingaboutotherworlds.blogspot.com/2015/07/review-dark-between-stars-by-kevin-j.html
Reviewer Magpie Moth described the novel as showing “control rather than mastery” and went on to acknowledge:
“KJA is an effective, successful writer – his record speaks for itself. His contributions to the genre deserve recognition in some form.http://magpie-moth.blogspot.com/2015/06/kevin-j-andersons-dark-between-stars.html
Just not this way, or indeed with this book.”
Andrew Hickey was even less impressed identifying only one positive feature:
“The only good thing I can say about this book is that at least it wasn’t written by John C Wright — but even Wright at least seems to take some care over the words he uses. This is not, in any meaningful sense of the word, writing.”https://andrewhickey.info/2015/07/15/hugo-blogging-best-novel-2/
Skin Game by Jim Butcher was book 15 in his bestselling Dresden Files series. Like Anderson, Butcher was a bestselling author who had not received any Hugo Award attention. However, a novel with a fourteen book backstory was going to be a difficult proposition for Hugo voters who hadn’t read any of the prior novels. Bibliogramma described the issue:
“I haven’t read any of the previous Dresden Files novels, although I’ve sort of wanted to check out the series because I watched and enjoyed the short-lived TV show based on the character. So a lot of the backstory that presumably motivated the various good, evil, and ambiguously aligned characters was missing for me. And after 15 novels, there was a lot of history between most of the characters, as this seemed to be one of those novels that brings back all of your favourite guest stars to stir things up between them. I probably missed out on a lot that might have made the book more emotionally gratifying by being a complete stranger to the series, but that’s one of the risks of nominating the 16th volume in a series for a major award.”https://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/150322.html 
Reviewers generally enjoyed the book up to a point but few found it particularly notable or exceptional. Aaron Pound compared it to watching a mid-season episode of a TV show:
“The direct story of the episode mostly hangs together, but the characters all reference things they did in previous episodes, and start conversations that won’t bear fruit until later ones. This novel seems especially prone to this, as the entire plot of the book seems to be little more than a set-up for a future, as yet unwritten story.”http://dreamingaboutotherworlds.blogspot.com/2015/08/review-skin-game-by-jim-butcher.html
The largely pro-Puppy blog Superversive SF attempted to review the Hugo Novel finalists using a focus group format. The group they convened had one strong supporter of the novel but the group overall had more mixed views:
“‘Jason’, although he enjoyed Skin Game and felt it was great fun to read, he didn’t see the writing as Hugo caliber or literary enough to deserve an award this year.https://web.archive.org/web/20150526143807/http://superversivesf.com/2015/04/20/first-hugo-novel-nomination-review-skin-game-by-worldcon-votersnominators/
The rest of our group was similarly inclined. Skin Game was fun and amusing. It was well written, easy to follow and an enjoyable read. But perhaps not special enough to warrant a vote, though most felt that its place on the ballet was deserved.”
Overall reviewers didn’t dislike the story so much as not having any particular reason to vote for it.
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword had the advantage of being only the second book in a series and in addition the first book had been the Hugo Award winner in 2014. This meant that many Hugo voters were already engaged with the series. Not all of them though — Vivienne Raper had not found Ancillary Justice very engaging and had given up on it after two attempts. Likewise, she found the sequel dull.
“Later, the former AI agonises over whether another character – whose only distinguishing trait is lilac eyes – is too anxious and green to take along. It turns out the AI’s boss has done some cruel and unusual surgery to lilac eyes in order to spy on the mission. Again, I’m making this sound interesting. It wasn’t. And it wasn’t obvious it was taking place on a starship either. It could have taken place in a Japanese tearoom. Or a freelance hot-desking facility in contemporary San Francisco. Or at a dinner party of accountants in Fulham, London.”http://futureslesstravelled.com/reading-the-rocket-best-novel/
However, the book was largely praised by reviewers — unsurprisingly given that it had been sufficiently popular with Hugo Voters to become a finalist despite the otherwise overwhelming number of Puppy votes at the nomination stage.
The Death is Bad blog cheekily listed the aspects of the book that the Puppy campaigns should support while noting exactly why the Puppies wouldn’t support the book.
“This should be right up the Puppies’ alley–a military space opera with good plotting. The primary message even mirrors their Hugo narrative! A minority of corrupt elites have taken control of the political institutions, and an outsider has to rise up for the common man to set things right.https://deathisbadblog.com/sff-review-ancillary-sword/
And yeah, it’s an intoxicating narrative! It’s why I always lean a bit to the Puppies’ side when I read Larry’s blog; he is very good at telling that story. 🙂 So normally I would assume they’d love this. But due to the gender thing I think they’ll assume that the author is on the “wrong” side of the political spectrum, call it “message fiction,” and dislike/hate it.”
However, while its predecessor, Ancillary Justice, had been frequently cited by supporters of the Sad Puppy campaigns as an example of what was wrong with modern science fiction, the sequel drew less attention in 2015. Vox Day left it off his ballot and chose ‘no award’ instead for the fifth spot but his rationale was all in terms of his dislike for Ancillary Justice.
“The fact that Ancillary Justice is the most-awarded novel in science fiction history will be seen as a complete joke within a decade, and within 15 years it will be as little read as the now-forgotten Nebula-winner The Quantum Rose“https://web.archive.org/web/20150525203344/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2015/05/hugo-awards-2015-best-novel.html
Vox Day’s ballot was interesting in itself.
“1. The Three-Body Problemibid
2. Skin Game
3. The Goblin Emperor
4. The Dark Between the Stars
5. No Award”
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison was Day’s third choice and another non-Puppy book. This fantasy novel was not an obvious choice for Day but he never explained his reasoning for ranking it higher than a novel he had slated.
Bonnie McDaniel explained the premise of the novel:
“I adore this book. As well as “court intrigue,” I’ve heard it described as “mannerpunk” and “competence porn,” and as much as I would like to get away from the urge to punkify/pornify everything, all three descriptions have their merits. This book succeeds because the characterization is just fantastic: we spend the entire book in a tight third-person focus on that eighteen-year-old kid, Maia Drazhar, and his struggles to succeed in this shark-infested pool he has been suddenly thrown into. He was never raised to be Emperor; indeed, his father banished Maia after his mother’s death ten years before, and has paid not a whit of attention to him since.”https://www.redheadedfemme.com/2015/06/the-hugo-project-goblin-emperor.html
It is a slow novel focussed on developing interactions in a society on the cusp of modernity. The Superversive SF blog attempted another focus group format review of The Goblin Emperor but the posts reads oddly:
“Another vocal supporter had much good to say about the concept and purpose to the book. In many ways his reasons for liking the book paralleled the reasons others disliked it. He felt it exemplified white privilege imposed upon black (or Goblin) society. He felt we need to consistently look at and focus on our societal problems with racism and sexism. He felt we should examine these problems deeply while assuming ignorance. While agreeing with another reader that the work was truly a lecture, he asserted that it was “…a lecture we need to have…””https://web.archive.org/web/20150531084144/http://superversivesf.com/2015/05/17/worldcon-members-review-goblin-emperor/
Although Superversive SF had stated they would review the other Hugo finalist novels in this format, I could only find evidence of Skin Game and The Goblin Emperor post.
The Hugo Awards retain a capacity to surprise. The Puppy sweep was the clearest example of this in 2015 but for many readers Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem was a more pleasant and intriguing surprise for 2015.
The Three-Body Problem (in Chinese characters 三体) had already been a publishing phenomenon in China when first serialized in Science Fiction World and later published as a novel in 2008. The English translation by Hugo Award-winning writer Ken Liu had been published in 2014 making it eligible for a Hugo Award. The story follows an interconnected series of events that start amid the chaos of China’s Cultural Revolution and follow on into a near-future account of an encounter with an alien civilisation with its own agenda. Aaron Pound describes the unusual novel:
“Perhaps due to its Chinese origins, the book isn’t structured like most novels that western readers will be familiar with. Instead of a single narrative thread, the book wanders between a couple of interrelated stories, stopping at times to digress about a particular historical or philosophical point, and then plunge back into the action. The story is at various times an exploration of the ills of Chinese political history, a murder mystery, an exploration of a complex and as yet unsolved physics problem, an alien invasion conspiracy, and a description of some relatively dubious subatomic engineering. The various threads are all interesting enough when taken individually that even when the novel seems to have wandered off of the rails or become slightly didactic, it is still engaging and interesting. Even though Cixin Liu is not entirely able to stitch all of the moving parts of the story together into a completely cohesive whole, it still holds together well enough that some of the rough edges are forgivable.”http://dreamingaboutotherworlds.blogspot.com/2015/08/review-three-body-problem-by-cixin-liu.html
Bibliogramma’s reaction was more emphatic:
“Liu Cixin’s novel, The Three Body Problem, is like nothing else I’ve read in recent memory – a true novel of science and ideas, specifically the ideas upon which science is based, it’s probably the most essentially science-fictional thing I’ve ever read.”https://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/149835.html
The book wasn’t universally loved, Joe Sherry had his own doubts about it.
“The Three-Body Problem is the first novel here where I have a problem: the science and overall concept of the novel is fun and exciting and something I want to know more about. The characters and the writing feel dated and clunky and almost as if they are a deliberate stereotype. Perhaps some of this is part of Ken Liu’s translation, perhaps some is my lack of cultural understanding of Mao era China and how individuals might have spoken in slogans. I don’t know. But that aspect of the novel felt more like it was coming from a sixty year old novel and not so much like one originally published in 2007 as this novel was. With all of that said, I kept reading and Cixin Liu held my attention. I wanted to know more and see where he was taking this story. Having completed the novel, I want read The Dark Forest. In the end it came across more as a fascinating yet flawed novel that isn’t quite something I would hold up as the best of the year.”http://joesherry.blogspot.com/2015/07/thoughts-on-hugo-award-nominees-novel.html
Likewise of the reviewers we have already heard from on other works, Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag, Bonnie McDaniel and Magpie Moth had their doubts about it. However, even reviews that highlighted the negative aspects of the work noted the complexity and depth of ideas in the book.
In a year in which a faction looking for more tradition in science fiction were at war with fans who wanted to see more cultural diversity, it seemed like the fates had presented a novel that combined elements of both camps. Liu’s book had been compared with the writing of Arthur C Clarke but the novel had its own distinctive qualities. It was debatable whether it was the most well-written novel from 2014 but it was certianly one of the most intriguing.
Back to the Debarkle
Reviews were the simplest positive way (short of voting) of participating in the Hugo Awards. Not every work on the Puppy slates was universally panned but the least popular works among voters (Wisdom from My Internet in Best Related Work, and Zombie Nation in Best Graphic story) raised further questions about how and why Brad Torgersen had chosen works for the Sad Puppies 3 slate. Better works in the Novelette category (mainly from Analog magazine) were chapters in longer serialised work which was both confusing and off-putting to readers unfamiliar with the series.
Three fifths of the Novella category were stories from John C Wright, which combined with an additional short story made for a lot of Wright’s fiction on the ballot. Wright was certainly capable of interesting writing but as many reviewers noted the selected works were heavy handed in expressing Wright’s views about society and belief.
“There’s no way around it. Maybe all authors have an agenda to one degree or another, but most of them successfully bury it or have it flow smoothly into their fiction so hardly anyone can feel its bite. Not so with these stories. They don’t begin this way, but by the time you get to the 2/3 point, you’ll feel as if you’re listening to christian rock or a falsely popular and overhyped Billy Budd story that’s always an over the top Christian Ideal. All of them have the VERY CLEAR AGENDA emblazoned across every plotline, every character development, every resolution.”http://danrymes.blogspot.com/2015/06/hugo-nominated-short-fiction-works-of.html
The quality of editing of Wright’s fiction (nominally done by Vox Day in each case) was also questioned as Wright’s verbose style created its own literary confusion.
What ambiguity there might have been in Wright’s heavy-handed message fiction was dispelled by the addition in Best Related Work of his essays where he even more overtly described his thinking. Both Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia had argued that the Hugo Awards had become too focused on works that were overly literary, lacked action and were bedevilled by heavy-handed messaging. Wright’s presence on the ballot (two-fifths due to the Sad Puppy slate and three-fifths due to the Rabid Puppy slate) undermined that argument.
The two Best Editor categories were a struggle for many reviewers to evaluate. The short form category (mainly for editing anthologies or magazines) had better material in the Hugo Packet for people to look at but reviewers still struggled. Best Editor Long Form presented even deeper challenges due to a lack of material in the packet for notable finalists:
“There’s no supporting material, really, for Jim Minz and Toni Weisskopf, either, just a pointer in the packet notes to the Baen website. I do, honestly, feel that if the nominees aren’t going to try to make a case for my vote, then there’s no reason I should give it to them. Of course, Baen has provided me with much reading material in the past – applying my usual test in these matters, I can see nine Baen books from where I’m sitting now, without turning my head. (I can see a lot of books from here without turning my head.) Well, Weisskopf and Minz are both industry pros with a lot of good stuff to their credit… doesn’t make me feel particularly voting-disposed towards them, though.”https://sjwright.livejournal.com/122600.html
This was not a new issue for the 2015 Hugo Awards. It was always difficult for a regular voter to understand who was a better editor except by general reputation. In a normal year, many voters were happy to ignore a category they didn’t feel they had the capacity to judge but in the highly charged atmosphere and higher stakes of 2015, every category was a potential battleground.
Based on reviews, many readers did not find the bulk of the Puppy-nominated works terrible. If a single common thread ran through these reviews, it was the sense of being underwhelmed. Across the nominees, including Wright, Williamson, English, Butcher, Antonelli and Anderson, reviewers had either read better and more exceptional work.
Brad Torgersen challenged voters considering a No Award Strategy to read the works in good faith before voting but the works themselves did not present a compelling case for his own campaign.
Next Time: July
-  http://dreamingaboutotherworlds.blogspot.com/2015/02/review-ancillary-sword-by-ann-leckie.html
-  Most Hugo categories nominate a work e.g. a novel but some (such as Fan Writer or the Editor categories) nominate a person.
-  The story was available in 2014 but in an issue of Fireside Fiction dated January 2015
-  http://louantonelli.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-spiritual-plain.html
-  No relation to John C Wright
-  http://peromyscus.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-on-spiritual-plain-by-lou.html
-  Vivienne Raper is her genuine name and “Raper” is an English surname equivalent to “Roper” (somebody who makes ropes). However, the combination of a first name that resembled “Vivian James” (the GamerGate mascot) and the surname led some critics of the Puppies to mistakenly assume that her name was a provocative pseudonym.
-  https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/the-parliament-of-beasts-and-birds-by-john-c-wright/
-  https://www.redheadedfemme.com/2015/04/the-hugo-project-turncoat.html
-  https://sjwright.livejournal.com/114429.html
-  https://andrewhickey.info/2015/05/23/hugo-blogging-best-short-story/
-  also art books and more eclectic choices on occasion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Related_Work
-  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1842993
-  http://jtingermany.blogspot.com/2015/07/hugos-2015-reads-related-work.html
-  The reviews are no longer available at Superversive SF but are here https://brianniemeier.com/2015/04/hugo-nominee-review-transhuman-and/
-  https://sfkittens.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/the-shittiest-unrelated-drivel-in-the-history-of-hugo-awards-michael-z-williamson-wisdom-from-my-internet/
-  Liu’s name is written in European fashion in the title of the book with the personal name first followed by family name rather than as his actual name Liu Cixin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Cixin
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_J._Anderson_bibliography#The_Saga_of_Seven_Suns_series
-  I think the count is incorrect here and the book is the 15th in the series, not the 16th https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Butcher#Dresden_Files_series
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three-Body_Problem_(novel)
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Liu#Winner
-  http://peromyscus.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-short-fiction-of-john-c-wright.html
-  eg http://realtegan.blogspot.com/2015/07/hugo-reading-editor-short-form.html