In a metaphor so thick that it literally assailed your senses, the 2015 Worldcon aka Sasquan opened with the smell of smoke as Spokane felt the impact of Washington State’s wildfire season. However, neither fears of having to evacuate fans because of fire nor fears of violent fallout from the past months of bitter argument about the Puppy campaigns were realised.
Despite everything, the convention was much the same as Worldcons have always been — a gathering place for fans, which included professionals of various kinds. Panels, meetings, parties and events. People networking and catching up with old friends.
One difference though was an extended business meeting for the World Science Fiction Society. The meeting’s role was to discuss changes to the WSFS constitution and in 2015 this meant discussing the radical proposals to change the Hugo nomination and voting process. The volume and significance of the changes meant the business meeting had to run on several days and the level of interest meant that the formal meeting (complete with a parliamentary-style procedure) was one of the biggest events of a science fiction convention.
The business meeting was lengthy and the amount of business required discussion of how to manage the various proposals. WSFS rules also require changes to the constitution to take two years to implement i.e. they are voted on one year and ratified the following year. This meant that the 2015 business meeting also had to vote on ratifying proposals from the 2014 Worldcon in London.
To cut the story of a very long meeting short, among other pieces of business, two key proposals to reduce the impact of slates were passed. Firstly the “4 and 6” proposal would change the rules so members could nominate 4 works (later amended to 5) but the final ballot would contain 6 finalists. This would limit the impact of a single slate so that there would be at least one non-slated work. The measure would be less effective against multiple slates and not much of a disincentive to duelling slates (e.g. if there were both Puppy and anti-Puppy slates in the future).
The other major proposal passed was E Pluribus Hugo or EPH. This was the new voting algorithm for the nomination stage that would build in elimination stages to the vote counting. In theory, EPH would mean that in the event of lots of nominating ballots with many works in common, these ballots together would boost the chances of at least one of the works being a finalist while reducing the chance that all of the works would. Like “4 and 6”, EPH would have reduced the impact of the Puppy slates but might be less effective against multiple slates.
The voting method changes could not be implemented until ratified in the 2016 business meeting, which would mean that potentially the 2016 Hugo Awards could have another year of Puppy slates.
The more urgent question was the actual outcome of the 2015 Hugo Awards. Voting numbers were at a record high but who were all these new supporting members? Were they ordinary science fiction readers inspired by the works nominated by the Sad Puppies? Were they GamerGaters inspired by Vox Day’s culture war? Were they fans rushing to defend the Hugo Awards from a perceived attack by reactionary forces? Only the results would tell.
The Hugo Award ceremony is a fannish take on the genre of glittering award ceremonies. Part self-congratulation, part star-studded gala, part fandom’s quirky charm and celebration of amateur self-organisation. The live-streaming video kicked off an hour before the ceremony started with a pre-show presented by the co-hosts of the Radio-Free Skaro podcast. The pre-show also included a panel with Ann Leckie, George RR Martin, John Scalzi and editor Gillian Redfearn from Gollancz Books, who discussed the year in science fiction and the events around the Sad Puppies.
After the usual big-event delays, the ceremony proper began. Hosted by David Gerrold and Tananarive Due, the ceremony featured Star-Trek red shirts fighting a 13-foot manually-operated body puppet of the spectre of death, a sassy Dalek upstaging David Gerrold, veteran author Robert Silverberg (who had attended every Hugo ceremony ever) chanting “Hare Krishna“, as well as other fan awards and the traditional In Memoriam section in which the community acknowledged the deaths of notable people in the genre.
Gerrold and Due maintained a spirit of humour and celebration to alleviate the tension that surrounded the outcome of the awards. Inspired by the many references to the 2015 Hugo Awards needing an asterisk next to the future results because of the Puppy slates, Gerrold had commissioned wooden laser cut asterisks as a gift to all the nominees and as keepsakes that would be available for sale to raise money for charity. Explaining the idea to the audience, he asked the nominees sitting near the front of the auditorium to wave their asterisks.
The Hugo Award categories have a traditional order on the ballot, partly determined by convenience and partly determined by status. The most notable and talked about of the awards is the Hugo for Best Novel. The various Fan awards (such as Best Fan Writer) are usually clustered together near the Hugo ballot. The Astounding Award for Best New Writer (at the time called the John W Campbell award) is technically not a Hugo Award but is voted on and presented together with them. Because of its ‘not a Hugo” status, it traditionally comes last on the ballot. For ceremonies, of course, the ballot order is reversed: the last become first and the first, last for reasons of drama rather than egalitarianism.
So, after the preliminary events, sketches, introduction and community awards, the first outcome of all of 2015’s drama would be the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The finalists consisted of four people nominated by the Puppy slates, including Kary English who was seen by many as one of the strongest nominees slated by the Sad Puppies. In addition, author Wesley Chu was the single non-Puppy slated nominee.
If Sad Puppy supporters were the largest group of voters then there was a good chance that Kary English would win. If Rabid Puppy supporters were the largest group, then Vox Day’s number one choice Eric S Raymond was a likely winner. On the other hand, if voters had chosen to simply ‘no award’ every category impacted at all by slates then this category would be the first ‘no award’ of the night.
When the list of finalists were read out there were loud cheers for both Wesley Chu and Kary English but when the envelope was opened and the name read out, the cheers for Wesley Chu were ecstatic. The first test of the evening had resulted in a deserving winner and a defeat for the Puppy slates.
Chu’s speech was a customary set of thanks to the many people who had helped him and only tangentially touched on the Puppy events when he thanked Irene Gallo. Chu swerved into politics right at the end of his speech when he jokingly announced his candidacy for Republican Presidential Candidate.
The Campbell Award was followed by the Fan Categories as well as Semiprozine and Professional Artist. The impact of the Puppy slates had been mixed on each of these but in every one there was at least one non-Puppy slated person or work. Fan Artist went to Elizabeth Legget, Fancast to Galactic Suburbia, Fanzine to Journey Planet, Semiprozine to Lightspeed, and Professional Artist went to Julie Dillon. None of these had been on the Puppy slates.
Of these categories, the one that had the most eyes on the result was Best Fan Writer. Four of the five nominees were active supporters of the Puppy campaigns (including Castalia House blogger Jeffro Johnson and three Mad Genius Club bloggers, Dave Freer, Amanda S Green and Cedar Sanderson). The non-Puppy finalist was Laura J. Mixon whose report on rage-blogger Requires Hate was controversial in itself but which had also been endorsed by George R.R. Martin. This category was the next big test of ‘no award’ but the winner was Laura J. Mixon.
Seven categories in and ‘no award’ had yet to score a single one but neither had the Puppies. Had the Hugo voters somehow found a middle course between the two? However, these were the ‘down ballot’ categories, which typically received fewer votes than other categories. The second real test of voter intentions was in the next two categories.
The two editor categories (short-form for magazines and anthologies, long-form for books) are not categories that attract the most votes in general. They are hard for casual readers to vote on because the role and impact of editors are unclear. However, within the battlegrounds of the Debarkle, the editor categories were a proxy for the underlying conflicts. Both categories included Vox Day. Long-form included Toni Weisskopf, the publisher of Baen and a mentor to Larry Correia. Short-form included Mike Resnick, one of the most-nominated people in Hugo history but also a key figure in the SFWA civil wars of recent years and a father figure to Brad Torgersen. Of all the categories that had been swept by the Puppy slates, these two categories contained many notable figures of talent in the industry including people who would plausibly have been nominated without the intervention of slates.
Both categories fell to ‘no award’.
After that shock, the ceremony went on to lighter categories with David Gerrold and a Dalek covering the two Best Dramatic Presentation. The winners were Orphan Black and Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel’s sci-fi superhero hit Guardians of the Galaxy was popular with the audience in the auditorium based on the cheers but it was also the first winner of the night that had been on the Puppy slates. In whatever way members had voted, it had not been on the basis of voting against everything on the slates.
Best Graphic Story (a competitive category) went to Ms Marvel. Following that came Best Related Work which fell to ‘no award’ to many cheers in the audience.
Not everybody in the audience was cheering though. The announcement of ‘no award’ received some boos also. For the next category David Gerrold told the crowd that cheering was appropriate but that booing was not.
Short story, in which many people had though Kary English’s “Totaled” stood a chance, also fell to ‘no award’.
Novelette was won by the one non-Puppy slated story “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated by Lia Belt.
Novella, which included a story by Tom Kratman and three stories by John C. Wright also fell to ‘no award’. Five categories now, each one of them being categories that the Puppies had swept, had gone to ‘no award’ and the only slated work to win anything had been Guardians of the Galaxy which would have likely been a finalist regardless. The headline category was yet to come but the results were already a comprehensive defeat for the Sad Puppies in particular.
The headline Best Novel had three non-slated works. However, The Three-Body Problem had been singled out by Vox Day as a work he would have slated if he had read it beforehand. On the other hand, The Three-Body Problem was published by Tor and hence actively boycotted by Puppy supporters. The announcement that it had won was met by loud cheers. Despite everything that had occurred in the Hugo Awards, somehow the biggest result of the night was exceptional in ways beyond the Puppy conflict.
A novel by a Chinese author, translated into English and delving into Chinese history and esoteric physics had won science fiction’s most prestigious award in one of the most contentious years of the award’s history. Somehow, despite everything, the Hugo Awards had come out with a remarkable answer to the challenges of 2015 that managed to look beyond the conflict within America and out to a broader world.
The ceremony was over but the Puppy conflict was not. With the results came the Hugo voting statistics and the first real numbers on what had happened in 2015. There were also reactions and commentary and repercussions to come…
Next Time: August – Part 3
-  Connie Willis’s account is here http://azsf.net/cwblog/?p=152
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert%27s_Rules_of_Order
-  Videos of the meeting are available on You Tube – part 1 is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUE4UD_dOMY&list=PL0oLnkb-s4Yd_nZwV7lG_aItUV_5aP0aB In addition Alex Acks liveblogged the business meeting part 1 of their account is here https://katsudon.net/?p=4238
-  Recordings of the live-stream video is available here https://www.ustream.tv/recorded/71459590
-  https://radiofreeskaro.com/2015/08/23/radio-free-skaro-490-smoke-on-the-water/
-  https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/07/07/debarkle-chapter-48-august-part-2/#comment-64709