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[UPDATED] George R.R. Martin and Others Speak Out Over Hugo Awards Controversy

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This afternoon George R.R. Martin took to his Livejournal to address a growing controversy that, although seemingly niche even relative to the already niche world of geekdom, is indicative of a problem in Internet culture overall. And yes, ‘gate’ is unfortunately an applicable term here.

The last thing I want to do… the last thing I need to do… is get involved in the firestorm of controversy that has sprung up around this year’s Hugo ballot.

[…] this is a nasty, nasty fight, and anyone who speaks up, on either side of this, risks being savaged. It is no fun being savaged. It raises one’s blood pressure, and brings out the urge to savage back.

A wiser man would probably just keep quiet, and let this storm pass him by.

But no… that’s the path of cowardice. Much as I do not relish what is to come, I have been a part of science fiction fandom most of my life, and the Hugo Awards and worldcon are very important to me, and I cannot and will not stand by and keep silent while they are under attack.

The Hugos are a set of prestigious science fiction and fantasy prizes awarded annually to finalists determined by Worldcon members (anyone who paid $40 to attend a Worldcon event in 2014, 2015 or 2016 was eligible to participate in this year’s nomination process). Whereas last year’s Hugos recognized a diverse pool of new voices like Ann Leckie, Kameron Hurley, and John Chu, the 2015 ballot revealed last Saturday shows the unfortunate impact of the “Sad Puppies,” a Gamergate-affiliated group fronted by authors Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia.

Here’s Torgersen on the Sad Puppies’ gripe with modern sci-fi:

A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women.

[But now] The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation…A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

The Sick Puppies also have their very own spin-off group (The Rabid Puppies, natch) led by Gamergater Vox Day, who argues both “campaigns” are “striking back against the left-wing control freaks who have subjected science fiction to ideological control for two decades and are now attempting to do the same thing in the game industry.”

By saturating polls with a ballot set by Corriea, the Puppies found a legal and (technically speaking) above-board way to ensure that this year’s nominees reflected their politics. Salon’s Arthur Chu describes this time-honored Internet practice as “freeping.” In an apparent congratulatory nod to last year’s “The Fappening,” Correia calls it “the slate-ening.” George R.R. Martin doesn’t care what it’s called:

Call it block voting. Call it ballot stuffing. Call it gaming the system. There’s truth to all of those characterizations.

You can’t call it cheating, though. It was all within the rules.

But many things can be legal, and still bad… and this is one of those, from where I sit.

Strong words from a man who has great influence in the geek community, to be sure.

Thanks to the organized efforts of Correia, Vox and other Puppies, this year’s nominations are a tragic affair; according to The Daily Dot, “three of the five Best Novel nominees come from the Sad Puppies list, while the Best Novella shortlist is identical to Vox Day’s own recommendations—including three separate nominations for works by John C. Wright, an author notorious for his homophobic views.” (Wright infamously called the Legend of Korra creators “disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth” for writing a romantic relationship between two women. Charming.)

Thankfully Martin isn’t the only author speaking up about this year’s ballot and what it represents for the Hugo Awards and nerd culture overall; Slate writes that Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Matthew Surridge, Kameron Hurley and others have addressed the controversy. And although this is hardly the first time a Hugos ballot has been legally but not-quite-ethically influenced, it’s hard not to see the Puppies as reflective of a specific and growing trend.

The members and language shared between Gamergate, the Puppies, and Reddit users who profited from last year’s nude picture leak indicate that a “protest” like freeping this year’s Hugo Awards isn’t actually about addressing some imagined “ideological stranglehold” that women and historically othered audiences have on genre writing, but about misogyny, racism, and fear of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

If you’re a “well-meaning” Puppy convinced the movement is somehow about sci-fi martyrs reclaiming a suffocated art form, now might be the time to take a good, long look at your associates. (Here, why not start with this piece on Vox’s blog questioning women’s right to vote?)

Martin has said he intends to address the controversy further, and we will be sure to update our audience on any developments.

[Update] George R.R. Martin has shared more of his thoughts on Worldcon, ‘puppygate,’ and whether or not the Hugo Awards can be salvaged. 

(via Daily DotSlate and Salon)

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