Some comments on the Hugos and other SF awards

I’ve been doing my best to stay away from the current ruckus over the Hugo Awards, but it’s now spread widely enough that it’s spilled onto my Facebook page, and it’s bound to splatter on me elsewhere as well. It’s also been brought to my attention that Breitbart’s very well-trafficked web site—never famous for the accuracy of its so-called “reporting”—has me listed as one of the supposedly downtrodden conservative and/or libertarian authors oppressed by the SF establishment. Given my lifelong advocacy of socialism—and I was no armchair Marxist either, but committed twenty-five years of my life to being an activist in the industrial trade unions—I find that quite amusing.

So I decided it was time to toss in my two cents worth. Well… if we calculate words as being worth eight cents apiece, my five hundred and eighty dollars worth. (Not quite, but I’m an author so I’m rounding the word count up. To do otherwise would get me drummed out of the Scribbler Corps.)

So, here goes.

First, on the Hugo and Nebula (and all other) awards given out in science fiction. Do they have problems? Yes, they all do. For a variety of reasons, the awards no longer have much connection to the Big Wide World of science fiction and fantasy readers. Thirty and forty years ago, they did. Today, they don’t.

Is this because of political bias, as charged by at least some of the people associated with the Sad Puppies slate? No, it isn’t—or at least not in the way the charge is being leveled. I will discuss this issue later, but for the moment let me address some more general questions.

What I’m going to be dealing with in this essay is a reality that is now at least tacitly recognized by most professional authors—and stated bluntly on occasion by editors and publishers. That’s the growing divergence between the public’s perception of fantasy and science fiction and the perception of the much smaller group of people who vote for literary awards and write literary reviews for the major F&SF magazines. There was a time in fantasy and science fiction when the public’s assessment of the field’s various authors and the assessment of its “inner circles” was, if not identical, very closely related. But that time is far behind us.

There was never an exact correlation, of course. There have always been, in our field as in any field of literary or artistic endeavor, a certain number of authors who, while very popular, never got much in the way of recognition in terms of awards.

Two examples are Murray Leinster and Andre Norton. Both Leinster and Norton had immensely successful literary careers that spanned over half a century. Leinster was once dubbed by Time magazine “the dean of science fiction”—he had the title before Heinlein more or less took it over—and it’s almost impossible to overstate Norton’s central position in the field for decades.

Nonetheless, in his entire career in science fiction, Murray Leinster got almost no recognition when it came to the field’s major awards. Before I go any further, I should specify that by “major awards” I am referring to the Hugo and Nebula; and, in the case of fantasy, the World Fantasy Award. Of these, the Hugo is generally considered to be the pre-eminent award in our field.

The Nebula award ignored Leinster completely. The World Fantasy Award also ignored him, but that award wasn’t established until 1975. Leinster died that year, and his active writing career had ended several years earlier. He probably wouldn’t have ever gotten nominated for the award, anyway, since Leinster was almost exclusively a science fiction author.

He did receive two nominations for the Hugo and won one of them—that was for his novelette “Exploration Team,” in 1956. Still, that’s awfully skimpy recognition, given his overall career.

The situation was, if anything, even more extreme with Andre Norton. She was also nominated twice for the Hugo—for best novel (Witch World) in 1964, and for best novelette (“Wizard’s World”) a few years later, in 1968—but she didn’t win either time. Another way of looking at this is that, for almost the last forty years of her career (she didn’t die until 2005 and was writing actively until the very end), she received no recognition of any kind from the field’s premier award.

And, just as was true of Leinster, she was completely ignored by the Nebula.
She never won a World Fantasy Award for any specific work of hers, either. No best novel, no best novella, no best short fiction. (The WFC doesn’t make the distinction the Hugo and Nebula awards do between short stories and novelettes.)

She did, very late in her career, receive belated recognition from the World Fantasy Award. The third time she was nominated for a life achievement award, she won it.
But that wasn’t until 1998. To put this in perspective, that was:

  • 46 years after the publication of Star Man’s Son (aka Daybreak, 2250 A.D.) the first novel in our field that sold over a million copies;
  • 45 years after the publication of Star Rangers and 43 years after the publication of Star Guard;
  • 35 years after the publication of Witch World, the first volume in what became one of the most successful and long running series in fantasy.

Belated recognition, indeed.

As the example of Andre Norton demonstrates, even at their best, literary awards are a very imperfect reflection of actual achievement. Nor is that peculiar to our field. Just to give one example, James Joyce never got the Nobel Prize for Literature. Neither did Henry James, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Robert Frost or Jorge Luis Borges.
On the flip side, it was always true—and properly so—that the major awards were given out many times for authors who, other than one or two specific works, never had much overall impact on the field. Perhaps the most obvious example is Daniel Keyes. From the moment his short story “Flowers For Algernon” appeared in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, it has been universally recognized as one of the great stories of our genre.

Of fiction in general, actually, genre distinctions be damned. I first ran across “Flowers For Algernon” a few years later, as one of the assigned readings in an American literature course I took as a junior in high school.

Yet, except for that one brilliant story, Keyes had an otherwise undistinguished career. A total of three novels—one of them a novelization of “Flowers For Algernon” which won the Nebula in 1966—and perhaps a dozen short stories, none of which are considered by most people to be particularly exceptional.

Still, although there was never an identity between the field of fantasy and science fiction as perceived by the mass audience, and that perceived by what for lack of a better term I will call the in-crowds, there was a tremendous overlap. Both fields inhabited the same planet, certainly.

When I was growing up and even as a young man, through the decade of the 1960s and well into the 1970s, the authors I would run across regularly on the shelves of any science fiction section in any bookstore—or on the revolving wire racks in drugstores—were by and large the very same authors who were regularly nominated for major awards and won them at least on occasion.

There were some exceptions like Andre Norton and Murray Leinster, true enough. But, by and large, that was overshadowed by the overlap. To name some specific top-selling authors of the time:

Robert Heinlein: Twelve Hugo nominations and four wins; four Nebula nominations, although he never won the award.

Arthur Clarke: Seven Hugo nominations and three wins; three Nebula nominations and three wins.

Poul Anderson: Fifteen Hugo nominations and seven wins; twelve Nebula nominations and three wins.

Anne McCaffrey: Seven Hugo nominations and one win; three Nebula nominations and one win.

Fritz Leiber: Thirteen Hugo nominations and six wins; eleven Nebula nominations and three wins.

Ursula LeGuin: Twenty-two Hugo nominations and five wins; seventeen Nebula nominations and five wins.

Roger Zelazny: Fourteen Hugo nominations and six wins; fourteen Nebula nominations and three wins

Clifford Simak: Ten Hugo nominations and three wins; four Nebula nominations and one win.

Gordon Dickson: Seven Hugo nominations and three wins; three Nebula nominations and one win.

I’m not including the World Fantasy Award, because it didn’t exist in this time period. And while I could go on, I think the point is obvious.

What has become equally obvious, to anyone willing to look at the situation objectively, is that a third of a century later the situation has become transformed. Today, there are is only one author left who can regularly maintain the bridge between popular appeal and critical acclaim. That author is Neil Gaiman. And there are no more than a handful of others who can manage it on occasion. Perhaps the most prominent in that small group are Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin and George R.R. Martin.
Once you get beyond that very small number of authors, the field diverges rapidly. That handful aside, there is no longer any great overlap between those fantasy and science fiction authors whom the mass audience considers the field’s most important writers—judging by sales, at any rate—and those who are acclaimed by the small groups of people who hand out awards.

And they are very small groups. Not more than a few hundred people in the case of the Hugos and Nebulas, and a panel of judges in the case of the WFC.


So what’s going on? Why has a situation developed where for an author to become too popular seems to be effectively the kiss of death as far as awards are concerned? (Again, with a few exceptions like Neil Gaiman.)

Well, let’s see if we can answer the question. And let’s begin by taking up the most obvious solution: The mass audience for F&SF is just plain dumber than it was thirty or forty years ago, that’s all. The reason these authors are popular is because they’re pandering to what is now a very lowbrow and unsophisticated readership.

That explanation is not—quite—as preposterous as it sounds. We do, after all, have the sobering example of the movie industry to consider. There is not much question that, for all the tremendous improvement in technical effects and technical skills, the average popular movie today is just plain a lot dumber than they were a quarter of a century ago.

True enough—but there’s no mystery about the demographics involved, either. For various reasons, the movie-going audience over the past two decades has become dominated by teenagers, mostly male, and the movie industry has adapted its output accordingly. What you’re seeing isn’t so much “dumb” movies for a “dumb” audience—plenty of those teenagers are very bright—as it is movies shaped for a teenage audience. But is there any similar dynamic happening in literary F&SF?

Well, no. In fact, the standard complaint is exactly the opposite—that the field is “graying” because we’re not acquiring enough in the way of new youngsters. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the F&SF mass audience today—speaking of readers, at least—is any less sophisticated than it ever was.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true. In addition to being an author, I also do a lot of editing of old science fiction stories. I’ve produced by now something like three dozen anthologies of stories written mostly in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. And I can state flatly that the average level of fiction written in our field today is far higher than it was half a century ago. As fond as I am of the fiction I grew up on, the simple fact is that most of those authors couldn’t get published today.

It’s not just a matter of prose, either. Just about everything in those days was crude, compared to the situation today.

The science in “science fiction” was often abysmal, especially the biology. Edgar Rice Burroughs was by no means the only author who told stories in which humans mate with aliens and produce offspring. Thereby demonstrating a grasp of biology stuck somewhere in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.

The settings were typically crude, too, compared to the settings of most stories today. So were the plots. There were exceptions, to be sure—and, not surprisingly, those tended to be the most popular authors.

My point is simply that there is no rational basis for thinking that the literary sophistication of the mass audience for F&SF today is any worse than it was some decades ago, and plenty of reason to think that it’s actually superior.

Scratch that theory, then.

Then, there’s the argument advanced recently by the people around Sad Puppies is that the Hugos (and presumably the other awards) have been warped by politics. Specifically, by a bias against conservative authors like Larry Correia and John Ringo.

My response to this can be either short or very long—very, very, very long—and I’m opting for short. In a nutshell:

Any author—or publisher, or editor—who gets widely associated with a political viewpoint that generates a lot of passion will inevitably suffer a loss of attractiveness when it comes to getting nominated for awards—or just reader reviews. Somebody is bound to get angry at you and denigrate your work, and often enough urge others to do the same.
Does it happen to people who are strongly associated with the right? Yes, it does. But it also happens to people who are strongly associated in the public mind with the left. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is read through Amazon reader reviews of my work and see how many “reviews” are obviously triggered off by someone’s outrage/indignation/umbrage at what they perceive as my political viewpoint and have little if anything to do with the book which is theoretically being “reviewed.”

Nor does it matter very much whether the assessment people have is accurate or not. To give an example which is germane to this issue, there is a wide perception among many people in fandom—the average reader-on-the-street could care less—that Baen Books is a slavering rightwing publisher. And never mind the inconvenient fact that the author who has had more books published through Baen Books than any other over the past twenty years is…

(roll of drums)


Who is today and has been throughout his adult life an avowed socialist (as well as an atheist), and hasn’t changed his basic opinions one whit. A fact which is well-known to Baen Books and has been well-known ever since my first conversation with Jim Baen almost twenty years ago, which was a two-hour discussion of politics. (The next day we talked about my novel which he was considering buying—and did buy, saying: “Well, I guess if John Campbell could get along with Mack Reynolds, I can get along with you.”)
So why does Baen keep publishing me? For the same reason any sensible commercial publisher keeps publishing a given author. I sell well.


This whole argument is just silly, and reflects the habit too many people have of seeing nefarious conspiracies everywhere they look, all of them aimed against them.
Yes, it’s true that Larry Correia and John Ringo are pretty far to the right on the political spectrum and they don’t get nominated for major awards despite being very popular.
You know what else is true?

I’m very popular and further to the left on the political spectrum than they are to the right—and I never get nominated either. Mercedes Lackey isn’t as far left as I am, but she’s pretty damn far to the left and even more popular than I am—or Larry Correia, or John Ringo—and she doesn’t get nominated either.

The popular fantasy author Steven Brust, like me, is what most people call a “Trotskyist.” In a career that has now lasted thirty years, he’s picked up one Nebula nomination. On the other hand, China Miéville—another so-called Trotskyist—has gotten around a dozen nominations and won both a Hugo and a World Fantasy Award.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Mike Resnick has gotten more Hugo nominations than just about any author in the history of science fiction—he’s won five times, too—and he’s a Republican. A sometimes loud and vociferous Republican, as I can attest because he’s a friend of mine and we’ve been known to argue about politics. Loudly and vociferously.

The fact is, there is no correlation I can see between an author’s political views and the frequency (or complete lack thereof) with which he or she gets nominated for SF literary awards. The claim of the Sad Puppies faction that so-called “social justice warriors” are systematically discriminating against them is specious. It can only be advanced by cherry-picking examples and studiously ignoring all the ones that contradict the thesis, of which there are a multitude.


All right. Now that I have—to my satisfaction, anyway—disposed of the most common reasons advanced to explain the situation, let me present my own analysis.
I believe there are three major factors involved that account for the ever-widening gap between the judgment of the mass audience and that of the (comparatively tiny) inner circles of SFdom who hand out awards. Of the three, two of them are objective in nature, which is what makes the problem so intractable. And all three of them tend to constantly reinforce each other.

The first objective factor is about as simple as gets. The field is simply too damn BIG, nowadays. For all the constant whining you hear from lots of authors about how tough things are today for working writers—which is true enough, in and of itself—the fact is that the situation is a lot better than it used to be. Half a century ago, I doubt if there were more than a dozen F&SF writers able to make a full-time living at it, and most of them were not making a very good living. Today, with a North American population no more than twice the size it was then, I figure there are somewhere around a hundred F&SF authors able to work at it full time, and at least a third of them are earning more than the median annual income. Even in per capita terms, that’s a big improvement.

I can remember the days, as a teenager and a young man, when the science fiction section of any bookstore amounted to maybe, at most, one bookcase’s worth of titles. Usually it was only a shelf or two—or, more often than not, just a handful of titles on a revolving wire rack in a drugstore. Today, in any major bookstore in the country, the F&SF section is huge in comparison.

Forty or fifty years ago—even thirty years ago, to a degree—it was quite possible for any single reader to keep on top of the entire field. You wouldn’t read every F&SF story, of course. But you could maintain a good general knowledge of the field as a whole and be at least familiar with every significant author.

Today, that’s simply impossible. Leaving aside short fiction, of which there’s still a fair amount being produced, you’d have to be able to read at least two novels a day to keep up with what’s being published—and that’s just in the United States. In reality, nobody can do it, so what happens is that over the past few decades the field has essentially splintered, from a critical standpoint.

Both of the major awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, are simple popularity contests with absolutely no requirement—or even expectation, any longer—that the voters will have read all or even most of the nominees. In the old days, that wasn’t much of a problem because you could expect that most voters were at least reasonably familiar with the authors and works under consideration. But today that’s not true at all. People routinely vote for “best novel” or “best short story” when all they’ve read is one or two of the nominees, and in many cases, have never read anything by many of the other authors nominated—not to mention being completely ignorant of other authors who never got nominated in the first place.

What happens in a situation like this is inevitable. It’s the same thing that happens in the face of any kind of sensory overload. To use a completely mundane example, the same thing that happens when someone—under instructions from a spouse to “buy some cereal”—turns their shopping cart into the aisle where cereals are sold…

And discovers that, today, there are a dozen different brands of muesli.

Whatever the hell muesli is.

Nine times out of ten, the shopper—out of self-defense—will narrow his or her focus and look for the old standby reliables. You can always count on Cheerios and corn flakes.
The same thing happens with the awards. Willy-nilly, the award-voters look for the standby reliables.

You get a de facto division of authors into “award worthy” and “not award worthy,” and the division is often based on completely accidental factors.

The problem isn’t who gets the awards. The problem is the large number of possible nominees and winners who simply get ignored year after year after year—especially when you realize that they include the big majority of the field’s most popular authors.
As time goes by, the Hugo and Nebula contests have become increasingly incestuous. Every year it’s basically the same thing: “round up the usual suspects.” This incestuous situation reached perhaps the height of absurdity with the Hugo award for best artist. For nine years in a row, between 1996 and 2004, that award went to two artists—Bob Eggleton or Mike Whelan. Bob or Mike, Bob or Mike, Bob or Mike, Bob or Mike, year after year after year. Finally—glory be—Jim Burns and Donato Giancola were able to break through. But many other excellent artists are still continually ignored.

To make sure there are no misunderstandings, I have no problem with either Eggleton or Whelan winning the Hugo award for best artist. They are in fact excellent artists, both of them—and Bob’s done a number of the covers for my own novels, including one of my personal favorites. (The cover for Rats, Bats & Vats.) The point is simply that it’s absurd to narrow the field of award-winners down to two artists, year after year after year, when there are so many excellent artists in the field.

By the way—credit where credit is due—Bob himself eventually found the situation so preposterous that he launched a campaign to get someone else the award. Specifically, Darryl Sweet.

He failed. Once again, he won it. (Or Mike Whelan did, I can’t remember.)

What makes this problem still worse is the very unfortunate linking of the major awards to an annual cycle. That annual cycle for handing out literary or artistic awards was always a bad idea. It automatically injected a completely arbitrary element into the awards, since the annual cycle has no intrinsic relationship whatsoever to literary or artistic merit. It was perfectly possible to have some years with a relatively mediocre output of work mixed in with years where there was a super-abundance. But it didn’t matter. The rigid annual structure meant that an award—one and only one, for “best” this or that—had to be given each year.

Still, the fact that most readers were able to stay on top of the field as a whole tended to mitigate that problem. Today, they can’t. Not only do you have a few hundred people each year voting for the “best” whatevers for the Hugo and Nebulas—out of the millions of  people in the United States who regularly buy and read science fiction and fantasy—but those few hundred people have to make their decisions under the gun. They not only can’t stay on top of the field, but they are further constrained by the fact that they have to decide within a year which works that came out were the best. This, despite the fact that almost none of them have the time to even read all of the nominated works.


The second objective problem is that due to massive changes in the market for F&SF—changes so massive that they amount to a complete transformation of the field over the past several decades—the structure of the major awards no longer bears any relationship to the real world in which professional authors live and work. That’s especially true for those authors who are able to work on a full-time basis and who depend on their writing income for a living. Award-voters and reviewers and critics can afford to blithely ignore the realities of the market, but they can’t.

Both the Hugo and the Nebula give out four literary awards. (I’m not including here the more recent dramatic awards, just the purely literary categories.) Those awards are given for best short story, best novelette, best novella, and best novel. In other words, three out of four awards—75% of the total—are given for short fiction.

Forty or fifty years ago, that made perfect sense. It was an accurate reflection of the reality of the field for working authors. F&SF in those days was primarily a short form genre, whether you measured that in terms of income generated or number of readers.

But that is no longer true. Today, F&SF is overwhelmingly a novel market. Short fiction doesn’t generate more than 1% or 2% of all income for writers. And even measured in terms of readership, short fiction doesn’t account for more than 5% of the market.

Don’t believe me? Then consider this: I have published at least half a dozen novels each of which has sold more copies than the combined circulation of all science fiction and fantasy magazines in the United States—and I am by no means the most popular author in our field.

To make the situation still worse, the official rules for both the Hugo and Nebula define a “novel” as any story more than 40,000 words long.

Half a century ago, that was reasonable. The average length of an SF novel was between 40,000 and 60,000 words. But today that definition is simply laughable. Every professional author and editor in our field knows perfectly well that no major publisher, outside of the YA market, will accept a “novel” manuscript that’s less than 80,000 words long—and they usually want between 90-120,000 words.

So, because of the rigidity of the award structure and its inability to adapt to changes in the market, an entire category of fiction has literally disappeared from the purview of the awards—despite the fact that this category (stories between 40K and 80K words long) is the type of fiction that routinely won the best novel award, year after year after year, when the awards were first set up.

By the way, fiction of this length—I think of them as “short novels”—does still get written. I’ve written half a dozen myself. But about the only viable market nowadays for these kinds of short novels is in shared universe anthologies—and no story published in such an anthology will ever get considered for a best novel award. (Nor can they be considered for best novella, because they’re too long.)

Still, every year, the award-voters keep pretending that anything more than forty thousand words is a “novel.”

Then, it gets worse. Because the market today isn’t simply a novel market. It’s become predominantly a market that wants long series, not stand-alone novels. And the existing award structure is very poorly designed to handle long series. About the only way it can do it is by—quite artificially, in most cases—cutting one book out of a series and pretending for the moment that it’s a “this year only” quasi-stand alone story.

That can be done with some series, which are designed by their authors to consist of stories that are only somewhat loosely connected. But other series are quite different. To name just one example, the current situation with David Weber’s long-running Honor Harrington series is that no fewer than three novels are running more or less simultaneously with each other, with the action of the various characters penetrating from one story to the other—and, just to put the icing on the cake, a number of the major characters were first developed in short fiction published in one or another of the anthologies that are part of the series, and some of them by authors other than Weber himself. Trying to separate any of these out as “best this or that of Year X” would be an exercise in futility.

And never mind that Weber is doing something well enough that the Honor Harrington series is one of the very few purely SF series that regularly makes the New York Times bestseller list. His narrative structure doesn’t match what the awards are comfortable with, so to hell with him. And to hell with what the mass audience thinks.

What it all comes down to, being objective about it, is that every year a few hundred people—Worldcon attendees, in the case of the Hugo; SFWA members in the case of the Nebula—hand out awards not for what authors are actually doing but for what those few hundred people think authors ought to be doing.

“Well, dammit, you OUGHTA still be writing lots of short stories—sure, sure, you’d starve but that’s your problem—instead of these godawful endless multi-volume series just because that’s what the mass audience wants to read and it pays your mortgage and medical bills.”


Put these two objective factors together, and the end result is the ever-growing division you see today between those authors whom the mass audience perceives as the major authors in F&SF and those authors whom the comparatively tiny but socially prestigious award-voting and critical in-crowds consider major authors. It’s a division which is getting worse, not better, as time goes on.

Naturally, objective reality tends to produce subjective reactions that match it. So—this is the one major subjective factor involved—you also get an ever-growing division in peoples’ attitudes about what constitutes “good writing” and what doesn’t.

What’s involved here is essentially a literary analog to genetic drift. Biologists have long known that the role played by pure chance in evolution is greater in a small population than a larger one. The same thing happens in the arts, especially those arts which have a huge mass audience. The attitudes of the much smaller group or groups of in-crowds who hand out awards or do critical reviews are mostly influenced by other members of their in-crowd, not by the tastes of the mass audience. Over time, just by happenstance if nothing else, their views start drifting apart from those of the mass audience.

This is by no means peculiar to F&SF. In just about every field of literary or artistic endeavor—hell, just plain hobbies, when you get down to it—you tend to get a division between the interests and concerns of the mass audience involved in that field and the much smaller inner circles of aficionados.

Forget high-faluting literature, for a moment. Consider…


Hundreds of millions of people own dogs. If you ask those people what constitutes a “good dog,” you will get a range of answers but they will mostly focus on a dog’s behavior toward the humans they deal with.

But now go to a dog show, attended by the comparatively tiny number of people who are hobbyists when it comes to breeding and raising dogs. Most of the criteria by which Dog X or Dog Y gets chosen as “best dog of show” are going to be criteria that the average dog-owner around the world thinks are esoteric at best and often downright silly or even grossly wrong-headed.

So it always is, unless—as with the Oscars—there is so much money at stake in winning an award that the Powers-That-Be in the industry will damn well see to it over time that the award never strays too far from what the world’s multi-billioned mass audience wants. But, of course, there isn’t anything like that kind of money involved in most awards. Certainly not the Hugo and the Nebula.

I think of it as the movie reviewer’s syndrome. I noticed many years ago that almost all movie reviewers will automatically deduct at least one point from their rating of a movie if it contains a car chase. Why? Well, it’s not hard to understand. Seeing three or four or five movies a week the way they do, they get sick and tired of car chases.

But the average movie-goer doesn’t watch new movies four times a week. For them, movies are a relatively occasional experience—and, what the hell, car chases are kinda fun.
What you get with literature, including any and all forms of genre fiction, is the following division:

What the mass audience wants, first and foremost—and this has been true and invariant since the Sumerians and the epic of Gilgamesh—is a good story. Period.

“Tell me a good story.” Thazzit.

But, sooner or later, that stops being sufficient for the in-crowds. At first, they want more than just a good story. Which, in and of itself, is fair enough. The problem is that as time goes by “more than just a good story” often starts sliding into “I really don’t care how good the story is, it’s the other stuff that really matters.”

Eventually, form gets increasingly elevated over content. “Originality” for its own sake, something which the mass audience cares very little about—and neither did Homer or Shakespeare—becomes elevated to a preposterous status. And what withers away, at least to some degree, is a good sense of what skills are involved in forging a story in the first place.

To put it another way, every successful author has to master two skills which, although related, are still quite distinct: they have to be good story-tellers; and they have to be good writers.

Of those two skills, being a terrific story-teller but a journeyman writer will win you a mass audience, and is likely to keep it. On the flip side, being a journeyman story-teller but a terrific wordsmith will win you critical plaudits but won’t usually get you much in the way of an audience.


I should add something here, before I close. As a rule, critically-acclaimed authors are not oblivious to this reality at all. The award-voters and reviewers and critics may be oblivious to it, but the authors rarely are. I have now and then run across critically-acclaimed authors who were egotistical jerks, but not often. In my experience, most authors who get nominated a lot and win awards are quite down to earth and no less appreciative of the sort of skills that I have as I am of theirs. Many of them are friends of mine, some of them are good friends, and there are none of them—well… there’s a jackass or two, but never mind—for whom I wish anything but the best in their careers.

Having said that, though, I feel required to add something else. I’m not the one who needs to get awards to stay afloat, as a writer. I’m doing just fine, thank you. The people who are really getting hurt by the modern drift of the awards away from the mass audience are the authors who win them. Why? Because the farther and farther those major awards diverge from any connection to the mass audience and its opinions and attitudes, the more they become devalued as awards that mean anything that isn’t purely self-referential.

Every professional author today who doesn’t have his or her head stuck in the sand knows perfectly well that winning a Nebula or a World Fantasy Award isn’t going to have the slightest positive effect on their career, so far as the publishers are concerned. The Hugo still counts for something, but…

Not much, any longer. And that little is getting eroded, as each year goes by. Within the foreseeable future, even winning a Hugo award will be shrugged off by publishers the same way that winning a Nebula or a WFC is already shrugged off.

(I should mention that there is one exception to what I said above: The awards do matter when it comes to foreign sales. Publishers in foreign languages usually don’t know the U.S. market all that well, but they can easily look at a list of award winners.)


Is there any solution to the problem?

I doubt it, to be honest. It’s a tough nut to crack, because most of the problem is objective.
One way to tackle the problem, I suppose, would be to expand the awards still further. Go from four literary awards to…

Well, here’s where the problem comes in. I write in all lengths, and I’ve been professionally published in all lengths, from fifteen hundred word short stories on up. But, mostly, I work in long series. And I can tell you that under the existing category of “novel” there are at least four different types of stories each of which pose as many separate challenges and require as many varied sets of skills as the differences between writing a short story, a novelette and a novella.
Those are:

1) Short novels. Stories from about 40,000 to 80,000 words.

2) Full length stand-alone novels.

3) Mega-novels. These are stories which are actually a single “novel” in the sense that they are based on an integrated story arch, but which are so long that for practical and commercial reasons they have to be published in multiple volumes. Probably the classic instance in our field is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It is usually called a “trilogy,” but it is in fact a single novel.

An example from my own work would be the six-volume Belisarius “series,” which is really just one great big novel.

4) Series, properly speaking. These are stories which share a common setting and usually a common set of characters, but do not possess a single story arch.

Just to make things more complicated, there is really quite a big difference between two kinds of series: the traditional “beads on a string” series, which proceed as Volumes 1, 2, 3, etc., and the more complex kind of series where the stories branch off from each other, often run parallel to each other, and can’t be neatly assigned to any clear and definite chronological sequence.

I’ve worked in both kinds, and they really do require different skill sets, although of course there’s a lot of overlap. (My Trail of Glory series is a “beads on a string” type series. My 1632 series and Joe’s World series are of the more complex “branching bush” type.)

So what are we supposed to do? Scrap the existing best novel award for four or possibly even five different awards?

And if that seems excessive, contemplate this:

As long as we’re considering solving award problems by expanding the number of awards, let us not overlook the still more long-standing problem that comedy is always lumped in with dramatic story-telling even though everybody who knows anything about stories know perfectly well that:

—comedy is really, really hard to do well;

—and it never gets any critical respect.

That’s partly what explains the preposterous fact that Terry Pratchett got so few nominations in his entire career. And it’s also the reason that the Golden Globe movie awards, unlike the Oscars, make a distinction between comedic films and dramatic films.
I can see it already…

We’d have seven different literary awards instead of four, and then duplicate each of them for comedic treatment for a total of fourteen awards handed out every year.

Somehow, that strikes me as more than a little goofy.

Granted, they hold the Golden Globe awards every year with even more categories of awards and people pay attention. On the other hand, they’ve got lots of photogenic actors and actresses on the red carpet–not to mention the beaches at Cannes–and we don’t. The number of F&SF writers or convention-going fans who look good in a skimpy gown or swimsuit is… ah…
Not large.

But I personally think the best solution, if there is one at all, is to scrap the whole existing set-up. Of all the awards handed out for literary merit, the only ones that seems to maintain any sort of ongoing more-or-less objective relationship to the real world are those given out for often broadly-defined achievement. They’re not awards given out for “best XYZ of year ABC.” Instead, they are achievement awards handed out for a body of work, that may be anchored to something specific but takes other considerations into account, and perhaps most importantly is not tied to an annual cycle.

That allows such awards to adapt to changes in the market (or the equivalent in other fields), not to be forced into making snap judgments—and, perhaps most important of all, allows the voters to consider the ongoing and cumulative impact of an author’s work rather than artificially dividing it up between Works 1, 2, 3, etc., etc.

It is simply not the case that every author’s importance to the field can be gauged in terms of this or that specific story, matched up against all other stories in the year it came out. In the case of many authors, even though they may never have written any single work that anyone (including themselves) would consider “the best whatever” of Year ABC, they manage to produce a body of work over many years that, taken as a whole, often outshines—even dwarfs—the overall body of work of authors who might have won annual awards fairly regularly.

Consider the example I gave earlier: Andre Norton. Who will be remembered in our field long after most award-winners are forgotten.

All that said, I think the likelihood that either the Hugo or the Nebula will be scrapped in favor of general achievement awards is probably indistinguishable from zero. These things tend to develop a tremendous institutional inertia. If such an award started with a very large and prestigious body of sponsors, it might have a chance of getting off the ground, I suppose. My problem is that, deep down inside, a little voice is whispering to me….

Oh, great. Just what the world needs. Another goddam award that nobody pays any attention to except the people who voted for it.

About Eric Flint

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304 Responses to Some comments on the Hugos and other SF awards

  1. Eric: Your post has led to a rather spirited discussion with a friend of mine. He would like to know: how do you account for the New Wave era of SF in the ’60s? I’m given to understand that awards drifted away from works with popular acclaim and toward more “literary” and political works in that era, but then drifted back to be more in line with popular tastes. If they could do so then, why can’t they do so again now?

  2. Jo Pearson says:

    Hi Eric,

    A point of contention here with regards to movie audiences.

    You assert:

    >>True enough—but there’s no mystery about the demographics involved, either. For various reasons, the movie-going audience over the past two decades has become dominated by teenagers, mostly male, and the movie industry has adapted its output accordingly. What you’re seeing isn’t so much “dumb” movies for a “dumb” audience—plenty of those teenagers are very bright—as it is movies shaped for a teenage audience.<<

    From watching the film scene for a number of years this rang false to me.

    First, a cursory look at the statistics:

    [See pages 12-16]

    This clearly suggests that is actually 25-39 year-olds, of both genders, that are currently and increasingly dominant.

    Now consider what we are actually seeing in terms of movie industry output these days: a storm of Generation X nostalgia properties. This is mostly stuff they remember watching as kids: superheroes, transformers, star wars, teenage mutant ninja turtles etc etc.

    In other words, the movies are 'dumb' because the source material was originally aimed at kids.

    This also makes sense of your perception that movies are catering to the kids/teen audiences. What studios are trying is to do is pull off a balancing act by a) attracting their core audience of 25-39 year-olds (who are now very likely parents and working professionals with a lot of disposable income) and b) leverage Generation X’s goodwill towards these properties to sign up the next generation of kids and teenagers (i.e. their kids!).

    An additional windfall is that this allows the studios to reuse franchises that they know work and have brand recognition. And all they have to do is tweak or update the formula here or there so that it fits the modern context. Plus, because the average teenager of today is much more used to inured to sex/violence/obscenity (thanks to various trends) the studio can make the property a darker and grittier version of the old franchise in a way that appeals to BOTH the older grown-up Generation Xers and the Millennials.

    I would argue that the likes of Harry Potter, Twilight, the Hunger Games, and Divergence, are ultimately outliers. All of these were obvious candidates for movie series, because they were all based on popular novel series.

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  5. I think you drastically under-estimate the number of people making a living writing SF in 1965 (that being 50 years ago). Start with Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov; half way to your estimate of 6 already. Now — Pohl? Dickson? Anderson? Silverberg? Bradbury? Oops! Significant overrun already. Brunner? Knight? Aldiss? Blish? Doubled it! Pretty much off the top of my head.

    Hard to be sure about people’s finances of course, but Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl, and Knight at least have written about their lives and I’ve read them, and they talked about what a lot of the people around them were doing.

    (Which isn’t much more than a nit of course; if the right number is 24 instead of 6 it doesn’t demolish your argument or anything.)

  6. Eric, I thank you for this. As always, you are the voice of reason.

  7. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I think you have made several good points. I also think the Sad Puppies backers have a certain amount of reason on thier side; whether the recent trends are idiological or not, getting more people to vote should, if nothing else, stir things up in a useful manner. I also think that there’s something to be said for Tom Wolfe’s broad observations about the inwardness of most of the “modern” art world, and that it has an effect on related fields that spreads, kind of like mold.

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  9. David Dorais says:

    I agree with most of what you said, but see my FB comment also. I think it would be very valuable for you and David Brin be on a panel at Sasquan which discusses not the Sad Puppies slate problem, but the quality of speculative fiction inre: the disconnect with fen and the general public due to size and fad popularity of dystopias, apocalypses, vampires, zombies, etc instead of optimistic science based fiction which dies its level best to inoculate us all against future shock and deals in hope rather than resignation over how bad things are or will be. IMHO the Interregnum didn’t just happen inside Heinlein’s Future History it happened in real life and due to people like Musk is about to end. But in that interim between the end of Apollo and now, science education also suffered. And created an audience willing to think Star Wars for example is science fiction instead of a fantasy slumming with SF tropes. Too much science fiction is really fantasy-escapism slumming with SF tropes because the writers aren’t held to a higher editorial standard. Gaiman is a easy case in point since he is so good at this slumming/conflation and lack of rigor.

  10. Andrew Barton (MadLogician) says:

    > That’s partly what explains the preposterous fact that Terry Pratchett got so few nominations in his entire career. <

    You do know that he turned at least one Hugo nomination down, on the grounds that it would make no difference to his career but be very important to less well-known writers?

    There's another reason besides those you consider why Hugo awards might go to works that don't have mass sales. Books by women and minority authors, especially those that feature woman or minority protagonists, have a harder time getting published and get relatively little promotion compared to those by and about white males. The kind of person who goes to a Worldcon is more likely to seek out such work, nominate it, and vote for it.

    • Which is exactly the problem Larry complained about.

      Consider, which would you rather hear: “It was a very good story, and it was written by a black woman, too!”


      “It was the best SF novel of they year, possibly of the decade.”


      Because one of those, is, in fact, racist.

      Certainly one should seek out fiction written by many voices, including that written in other nations, either in translation or the original.

      But the demographics of the author have NOTHING to do with the quality of the work, unless you consider them to be a handicap factor.

      • Sally Strange says:

        Because one of those, is, in fact, racist.

        The word you’re looking for is “prejudiced.”

        “Racist” refers specifically to prejudice that flows down the power gradient.

        • Nonnie says:


          Mike has the right word. You are not Humpty Dumpty, this is not Wonderland and I’ll be damned if I sit back and let you and other SJBs try to redefine perfectly good words. YOU aren NOT going to be MASTER.

          Full Definition of RACISM

          : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
          : racial prejudice or discrimination
          — rac·ist \-sist also -shist\ noun or adjective

        • ratseal says:

          Nopity nope nope. All my nopes. You don’t get to redefine words in order to suit your racially charged political agenda.

        • Alpheus says:

          “Prejudiced” is more general than “racist”. I can be prejudiced against against handicapped people, for example, but the word “racism” implies prejudice against someone for their skin color and/or ethnic background; furthermore, if your claim about the power gradient is true, then it would mean that an able-bodied person having prejudice against a parapalegic in a wheelchair would be racism.

          Assuming, of course that there’s such a thing as a “power gradient”–which there’s not.

          To the degree it exists, it’s an n-dimensional manifold that depends on time, space, who’s in the room with who, who wields what weapon and what position they are in to use it, and many other factors. Knowing skin color, gender, sex, age, IQ, profession, orientation (or even if the person is orientable), culture, connectedness, simply-connectedness, and so forth, will give you hints as to what the power structure might be in a given moment, but will probably be insufficient even then. A black businessman will have more power than a punk white trailer-trash kid, unless that businessman is smaller than I am, and that punk kid is a 300-lb football player with a baseball bat, unless the businessman has a gun and the wits to use it, and so on and so forth.

          And even after getting shot and sent to prison, that punk kid will still have the power in his own life to reflect on things, and make a turn for the better–and that’s a power that every person has, no matter what condition they might find themselves in!

          So, yeah, “power gradient” sounds like a neat concept, but it means absolutely nothing, when you really think about it.

    • Edwin says:

      “Books by women and minority authors, especially those that feature woman or minority protagonists, have a harder time getting published and get relatively little promotion compared to those by and about white males.”

      I’m curious about this statement, and what data you might have to support this. Considering only <0.1% of hopeful authors get published traditionally anyway, can you truthfully say it's harder for women and minorities? Or does any difference we might find (is there now a difference in numbers?) only reflect the number of writers from those demographics writing in those genres?

      Anecdotally, my own experience, in the UK at least, suggests that women are being published much more, and are coming to dominate many aspects of writing and publishing. A recent Eastercon had a half-dozen panelists on a debut author panel, one was male. I've just returned from the London Book Fair where every single seminar I attended in the Author stream, over three days, was dominated in numbers by women (audience and panelists) – I was curious on the relative split, so I did a rough headcount in most of the seminars, and it was 2 or 3 : 1 in every case (occassionally closer to 8:1). As mentioned, this also included author, agent, and literatry consultants on the panels too.

      Sending out my own books of various genre, I've encountered primarily female agents, including entire agencies that are only female (this no longer legally possible in reverse, unless it's an agency of 1).

      So, the thinking that it's a male-dominated field, at least in my experience, is no longer valid, if it ever was.

      • Mary Branscombe says:

        What you’re seeing there is the result of an enormous amount of work to get more women authors represented on panels. If you want to get a view on gender parity in SFF publishing, Kari Spelling has some well researched blogs on the topic, as has Juliet McKenna.

      • Kevin P says:

        @Edwin There was actually some research about this last year, although for short fiction rather than novels. Female authors (or at least authors with female-sounding names) made up 28% of submissions but 37% of publications from slush, meaning that their chances of getting published are 51% higher than for male authors. I haven’t posted here before and don’t want to get blocked for posting links, but search for “The Issue of Gender in Genre Fiction” by Susan Connolly.

    • Let’s stop this nonsense: only TWO colors matter.

      Black ink on white paper (or whatever colors you use for your particular e-reader)

      Why should the skin color, plumbing, or where and how they prefer to use that plumbing matter?

      As for, hard to get published ? Format it, sell it indie on Amazon, BN, etc. Other than actually writing it and formatting as one or more ebook formats, ZERO barriers.

      Come on, people, this is the 21st Century. Let’s ACT like it. . .

  11. Scuzza Man (@ScuzzaMan) says:

    I think you haven’t quite understood the Sad Puppies. Their argument isn’t so much about exclusion of their own kind, as it is that the Hugos have been subverted by a small and markedly unrepresentative clique who (A) have promoted “message” above story-telling, and (B) would absolutely flip out if their own subversive tactics were used against them.

    The last 2 years of Hugo nominations and awards have fairly conclusively proven both their points.

    Exclusion of dissenting opinions is pretty much assumed when any such clique gains control of such a vehicle for publicity and thus, profit, irrespective of their politics. But it wasn’t the major issue.

  12. Another quadrant heard from says:

    I’ve been pondering the disconnects between literary awards and all other entertainment industry awards. Publishing is very concerned with best-sellers, and the NYT (and I suppose Amazon) lists are a badge of honor to authors. And yet, as you and others point out, non-fandom popularity and sales aren’t reflected in any of the current SF/F genre awards. Well, that’s fine — let them continue to be about quality, fashion, whatever they’re about. I like your suggestion of creating multiple book Hugo awards — that’s a start to help reflect reality.

    But perhaps the publishers of genre fiction could do what the recording industry did for ages, and create equivalents of gold and platinum records, for units sold? Record labels used to make a big deal of awarding their artists those nicely boxed platters, and they still hang in recording studios and homes. Lots more performers got those than ever won a Grammy (which is a whole OTHER box of worms as far as voter hipness and awareness is concerned). Just an idea!

    • C.E. Petit says:

      That would require two things that are never going to happen:

      (1) Consistent-across-publisher treatment of returns; and

      (2) Royalty statements consistently audited by a trusted third party.

      These aren’t nearly as significant in recorded music and recorded film. For one thing, their merchandise is not placed with stores on a returnable basis — that is, legally they are sales, not consignments (as are books). For another, the RIAA has a lot more trust from industry insiders (artists, composers, and labels) than does the APA… and film has at least the threat of union audits.

  13. “I know of two reasons why you will never be nominated for a Hugo without a strong populist backing.

    1) You uplift authors based on their ability to write. Worse yet, the people you lift up from places like the Grantville Gazette out sell ‘approved’ authors. They feel you ‘steal’ their book sales. And your uplifting others in unfair to them because they have no help to become successful. Commercial success is cause enough to be black balled. Lifting up other writers like you do makes it even worse.
    2) You pioneered Baen’s free e-book. This policy was contrary to the SWFA policy and worse, you did not want the books encrypted. Which the e-book companies did not like. The fact that you proved these policies was financially successful only alienated them more.”

    I can tell you’ve never been to a Worldcon, because your ideas of what Worldcon attendees think has no connection to reality. Zip. You’re lost in your own head.

    I’ve never heard anyone talking about what they look for when they nominate or vote in the Hugos ever, in over fifty years in the field, say anything remotely like this. People have different preferences, but they don’t talk about writers somehow “stealing” sales from other writers, and the idea that Hugo voters are opposed to “commercial” books, per se is just nuts.

    And I hate to break it to you, but outside the set of people who are particularly involved fans of Baen Books, or highly involved in being anti-DRM, hardly any of the Hugo voters have any idea what stance Eric Flint has on DRM, or gives a damn.

    On a general note, Puppies keep asking “where’s the Hugo for X?” because lifetime of work.

    Except that we don’t give Hugos to fiction writers for bodies of work. As Eric explains, we give them for single pieces of work. In theory, at least. (Note that some of the other Hugos *are* for a body of work: but not fiction.)

    Most people who “deserve” Hugos don’t have them. This has absolutely nothing whatever to do with politics.

    • ravenshrike says:

      @Gary Please note, if the SP claims of a clique controlling the noms are assumed arguendo true, the maximum number of participants is under 40. That, of course, assumes that everyone that voted with them was privy to the inner workings of why they voted the way they did. Seeing as a group of 10 would only need to persuade 3 people each to vote for X, it is probably likely that the actual number of the clique is significantly less than 40. Personally, I’m betting that the vote variance between Ancillary Sword, Goblin Emperor, and 3BP will be less than 10. Possibly less than 5.

      • Personally, I’m betting that the vote variance between Ancillary Sword, Goblin Emperor, and 3BP will be less than 10. Possibly less than 5.

        Take his money, Gary!

        ravenstrike, are you *seriously* arguing that only a co-ordinated cabal could be putting those three books on the Hugo ballot? Have you *read* them?!?

        They are:

        – the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner, a work that “ran the table” for *all* the major awards — and a work that was on 23% of last year’s nominating ballots.

        – one of the breakout fantasy novels of the year — the only work on the Hugo ballot besides Skin Game to be on the Goodreads Readers’ Choice list for Fantasy. This means it is very popular with a set of people who mostly aren’t Worldcon members.

        – a hard SF novel that got an unusual amount of pre-publication buzz, not least because it was a runaway best-seller in China.

        This is not a plot, not a cabal, not a slate. This is “the kind of books that appeal to people who have been widely-read in sf & fantasy for many years.”

  14. “But perhaps the publishers of genre fiction could do what the recording industry did for ages, and create equivalents of gold and platinum records, for units sold?”

    They’re called “royalty statements.”

  15. Madeline F says:

    I think this is a great essay, and I think it combines with George R.R. Martin’s essays to reveal something that I haven’t seen as much discussion of. Both talk about the small group of Worldcon people nominating for the Hugo, and both talk about how Worldcon fandom is greying… Which shows that Worldcon fandom is not welcoming, not the way it used to be (according to common report of people who suddenly found their people, a la _Among Others_).

    I suspect it’s not welcoming because of demographics. The huge group of Baby Boomers found each other and found great things about each other and set up a bunch of in jokes and cliques, and there were just enough of them that they didn’t need to consider adding in new jokes from younger people.

    I went to the Worldcon in Denver, and, like previous general/sci-fi cons I’d been to, I found that I was only given attention for being a thin youngish woman. I remember a panel on E.E. Doc Smith, where the three panellists chatting amongst themselves the whole time completely ignored my interpretation that let me appreciate it despite being a raging liberal feminist. They were too busy patting themselves on the back for liking ancient stuff that the modern world could never know, to listen to a representative of the modern world.

    I totally believe that someone dumpy and male would be ignored completely.

    During RaceFail, tons of people of color were saying they felt leery of the con scene, that it wasn’t “for” them.

    So, we have young people on all sides of the political spectrum cut out of the Worldcon/Hugo scene. The random group assessed as Award Worthy isn’t assessed with their input.

    The young liberal people, during RaceFail, talked with the establishment about how the Award Worthy group was way too much about white men, due to unthinking racism and sexism. Reading lists came after that, establishment people found women and brown people writing the exact same kinds of stuff that they awarded before, thus the next few years.

    Young conservatives now look at the Award Worthy group and claim it’s way too much about boring and PC, due to conspiracy. But since none of that is actually true, the establishment didn’t connect with the puppies’s complaints, so nothing changed, so the puppies went in with torches and pitchforks.

    My solution would be to make Worldcon fandom inviting, and to ban torches and pitchforks. But hey, I’m not a part of Worldcon fandom… See above. :)

    • Ms. Madeline F,

      I greatly enjoy how you share your experience as being something of an outcast, and use it to defend a group that now sees themselves as outcasts, while voicing your opinion that they’re wrong. All while being thoughtful and caring!

      It’s a remarkable talent.

      I’m hoping that, if SP accomplishes nothing else, it at least expands the Worldcon community to make it more inherently diverse. I’m certain it has, in the least, boosted sales of supporting memberships.

      Happy reading!

    • Honey says:

      I find myself agreeing with this more than anything I’ve read yet.

  16. Eric,

    Very well said. As a fellow author, I harbor absolutely no suspicion that any of my novels (most recently, Mistress of the Waves) are going to win anything. However, I have a different note, namely that I would like the right to reprint your screed on the Hugo issue, since it seemed to be sensible.

    I edit The National Fantasy Fan (originally Bonfire), the newsletter of the National Fantasy Fan Federation (, first published in 1941. We began far before the Hugos did. I can reasonably promise that I will publish your material without editing. I may have to serialize it; there are practical mailing and stapling limits, especially without platinum staples.

    Please contact me, if you prefer offline.
    George Phillies

  17. C.E. Petit says:

    I suggest that there’s a third objective factor involved in this entire kerfluffle: Preexisting scientifictional reputation of the publisher.

    Let’s leave aside the “Baen is for militarists” issue for a moment, and consider just the Hugo novel nominations. To drag some really archly high-falutin’ literary merit issues in out of the cold, one will not find The Sparrow, or Never Let Me Go, or Galatea 2.2, or Plowing the Dark, anywhere near breaching the fifth-most-nominations line… primarily because none of them were put out by a publisher perceived to be a fandom-friendly place. Dr Russell got onto the ballot with her second novel, from the same publisher, probably due to shaming more than anything else — and it falls into the “novel-in-multiple-volumes” category. Once in a while, fandom will reach outside the bodegas in its ghetto and notice things, but it’s rare (and more often than not YA, and even more often than not a weaker work by that author {such as Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America}, and virtually always as a result of multiple past winners in the same category praising the work during the critical January just-before-nominations-open-way-too-early period).

    That’s just novels I can list off the top of my head from the past quarter century while still out sick. I could name more novels, or more short-fiction resources (example: the title story in one of a SFWA Grandmaster’s collections was first published in, and had its award eligibility determined through… The Yale Review), without trying very hard. And others whose tastes differ from mine could draw up equally interesting lists of works that fall inside the field by content but are outside the field by imprint; I can’t imagine giving a literary award to the novel The Hunt for Red October, but it is clearly qualifying alternate history from a non-SF press… and someone else very well might/might have imagine(d) doing so.

    But these aren’t imprints that seem to welcome fandom; and bookstores and libraries don’t tend to treat them that way, either. I’m reminded of a comment Ursula Le Guin made forty years ago in one of the essays in The Language of the Night (lightly paraphrased from memory) that shelving should be by author’s name only, so that Philip K. Dick is next to Charles Dickens on the shelves… where they both belong. The converse case is equally true: If we’re taking awards seriously at all, we need to accept that Mary Doria Russell’s works (even the ones that aren’t speculative fiction) belong on the shelf next to Joanna Russ’s, and not let sales-and-marketing dorks who haven’t read either author decide for us which is scientifiction — and which is not — based largely on whether that publisher is a reputable source of scientification.

    And the less said about how this applies to artist awards, and media awards, the better…

  18. Neil in Chicago says:

    I really didn’t expect to see any more constructive contributions to the conversation.
    Thank you for surprising me.
    “science fiction” is the merchandise on the shelves under the store’s sign “science fiction”. Those shelves are unrecognizable compared to when “Star Wars” came out. And the demographics and desires of the customers have burgeoned too. I’ve been talking about the changes since the ’84 Worldcon, when a thousand people stood in line to watch movies they’d already seen instead of going to the Hugo award ceremony.

  19. Jack Ward 'jack' says:


    Have enjoyed a number of the 1632 series; some more than others, obviously, but, overall, good reads. And, probably, some of your other works with more into the future.

    Right now, though, like many others, I find this dust up with the Hugo structure and the SP/RP slates as entertaining as most novels. This may account for much of the noise out there and the surge in the Worldcon memberships. I know that I laid down $40 to vote; as with many other commenter’s on all this, I gotten more that that amount of enjoyment from it. And, the packet will definitely be worth the money!

    I enjoyed your reasoned tone in this article and look forward to more of your work

  20. What he said.

    First, he has a point that the awards should A: better reflect the formats (in particular, series) that are seling, and B: Should stop the ridiculous pretense of rewarding “best of the years” and just be and award.

    Second, next year I’m just taking to Hugo ballot and posting it in a scifi forum on Facebook or goodreads and asking the good folks there (who have far more time to read than I do) which I should nominate/vote for. After all, if it’s going to be a popularity contest anyway, let it be the popularity within the market that sets the bar.

  21. Byron Clark says:

    Mr. Flint, I appreciate and mostly agree with what you have to say on this subject. I can only wish that everyone was as calm and logical as you have presented yourself here. Thanks for weighing in, I am very interested in seeing how it all shakes out in the next few years.

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  23. David Damerell says:

    Mr Flint,

    I’m relieved to find you’re talking some sense about this; I’ve enjoyed what you’ve written since looking for some books to read on my Psion PDA around 2001. I don’t completely agree about Baen – obviously, they do publish authors like yourself, but they do have a reputation, and that is self-perpetuating. If I were an American author of right-wing mil-sf, who would I first try and get published by? Baen, not least because if I enjoyed reading that sort of thing, I’d look at Baen books first because there’s a lot of it there.

    But ultimately I don’t see this as being anything to do with political ideologies. The Hugo nomination process isn’t designed to deal with slates and block voting, simple as that; I’m not happy with what the Puppies have done, but I’d also be unhappy if a bunch of fellow socialists organised a slate with books by you, Stross, Macleod, Brust, and Mieville.

  24. Philippe Bruneau says:


    Excellent analysis. I’ve been reading SF (and some Fantasy) for 50 years. The overall improvement in the quality of stories, writing styles and actual science has been nothing short of wonderful. Zelazny’s short stories, Asimov’s Foundation books and Heinlein’s early novels are easily matched by Glen Cook’s Black Company series, Conny Willis’ novels, Pratchett’s Discworld books, Cole and Bunch’s eight Sten novels to mention but a few personal favourite authors.

  25. Thanks, Eric, for this well-reasoned and interesting post.

    I like seeing what people with long baselines and a complete understanding of the SF&F field actually say about this current contretemps. It helps to broaden the dialogue considerably.

    As a long-time fan of Andre Norton’s work, I wanted to ask one question: How did you come up with the sales figures for “Star Man’s Son?” (I did not know that it sold that well. Though I did know that she tended to sell very well throughout her career.)

    I know that Miss Norton was one of the first authors I read when I started reading SF&F (along with Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and Ursula LeGuin). She always told a rip-roaring story and she did her homework when it came to fantasy or quasi-fantasy stories. I don’t know how her science stacked up to the times, but I’m guessing she was as close to accurate as anyone knew how to be, considering how well her fantasy stacks up. (But I am not sure…what is your editorial assessment? I would be interested to hear it.)

  26. Eric:

    Overall, this is a great analysis. I would add one factor to your list of what’s driving the divergence between “mass audience tastes” and “award-givers’ tastes”. To quote Jim Henry, in a comment at Making Light:

    it’s not about being part of the “in-crowd” as defined by Worldcon attendance or being professionally involved in sf publishing or whatever. It’s more a function of (a) aging and (b) reading lots and lots of books. The more books you’ve read, especially within a given genre, the harder it is for new books to leave you utterly gobsmacked to the extent you think they’re award-worthy; they have to do something new and interesting.

    “Something new and interesting” is more likely to be in the form of world-building or literary style than “just a story”. The works that are runaway popular with the awarding crowd will tend to be those like Ancillary Justice, where both world-building *and* style are new and interesting.

  27. Douglas Jole says:

    Long time, no see, ever since WotF IX down in Hollywood!
    I was pleased to read your take on the whole Hugo problem at large, not just the last 2-3 years. You make some excellent points which, I think, seem to come from your “outsider” status (in that neither group can really claim you, nor do you claim membership in either group despite your politics being favored by one).
    I both disagree and agree with you about modern SF: some of it is certainly better than what was published decades ago, but I think that the Hugo voting for the past 10 years has not reflected that. When I look at much of the recent Hugo material, I have to scratch my head and wonder how post-modernist, experimental MFA writing has infected so many authors.

  28. My novel, John Rocket vol. 1, has been rejected by publishers and agents for these reasons:

    1. I do not come from the right college where they recruit
    2. I deal with issues such as rape and racism in a superhero novel
    3. My superhero novel isn’t the mass media Marvel Explosion type of superhero

    Somewhere I fit into all of this, and reading this has only depressed me even more because now I know I have no chance.

    • Kevein, don’t give up, my friend. I was working with Perry Moore on a screen/Showtime series adaptation of his gay-protagonist superhero novel HERO, working with Stan Lee no less. Sadly, Perry passed away before it got very far… but I just wanted you to know that all a rejection means is that it was not right for that entity, at that moment. It doesn’t mean your work is awful or that your cause is unjust, should you have one.
      Try not to let the depression win because you may wind up saving someone’s life by sticking with your work. What we read can affect us very deeply, and somebody might need to hear what you’ve got to say in their darkest of times.

  29. Riley37 says:

    Thanks, Mr. Flint! A calm and fact-based essay is a good thing, right about now.

    You lay out some important points. You also ignore some others. You can’t cover all points, but it might be good to acknowledge some which you choose not to engage.

    We agree on this much: The publishing world of SFF has changed substantially in the last few decades, and the structure of the Hugos has not.

    So is it now up to Worldcon, to decide whether to change anything about the Hugos?

    Or is it up to the wider world of SFF, to create something which meets the needs which the Hugos used to serve, and which the Hugos no longer serve quite so well?

    That question hinges partly on “who is Worldcon”, and that question is also at issue. Larry Corriera claims that the emperor has no clothes. I’m inclined to agree. I saw some initial coverage asserting that racists and sexists were taking over the Hugos, and I plunked down $40 in order to vote the “Kick the Puppies” slate. Since then, I’ve done enough research to disagree with the “racist-sexist take-over” narrative… or at least it’s not that simple, because of the relationship between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. Brad Torgersen, organizer of “Sad Puppies 3”, wrote an excellent essay on how tribal identity applies to Wordcon, to “fannish fans” and the Hugos as a tribal totem.

    The question of “what is real SFF” also arises. Torgersen has thrown in his $.02, with his “Nutty Nuggets” essay, which aligns interestingly with your example about buying Rice Flakes because they’re more familiar than muesli. I think Torgersen is horribly wrong, and more sexist than he realizes, by promoting tropes such as “victorious barbarian warrior exits stage left, romping with princess”, which is a thinly veiled example of “protagonist excels at violence and is rewarded with sex”. (Though if you’re doing a short story about moose in rut, then that’s an appropriate trope, for moose in rut.) I hope that Torgersen doesn’t really want SFF to only welcome ER Burroughs clones, and exclude Ursula Le Guin and Lois Bujold. But that’s what he has said so far.

    And there’s also the question of how Worldcon insiders – pardon me, long-time established members of the con community – relate to everyone else. Maybe that should not matter. Too bad. It does. They define themselves as a specific special-interest segment, doing their own thing just as other niche hobbyists are off doing their own thing. That’s fine; if there’s a con for left-handed goldfish fanciers, then may they have a great time with each other. But WSFS simultaneously claims to be the Keepers of the Great Totem of All SFF, the Award of Prestigious Legacy, the equivalent of Cannes and Sundance and the Oscars *all rolled into one*. And they FURTHER claim to be a democratic, inclusive organization, though a more accurate term is “timocratic”, that is, decision by those who buy and cast ballots. That combination isn’t stable, and in retrospect it’s amazing that it took this long for someone to jam a few hundred extra Jenga blocks into the pile and bring it crashing down.

    And there’s also the question of means and ends, and ethical limits. I find this the most deeply important. The outcome, in terms of who gets the Hugos, or if anyone ever gets another Hugo again, or if WFSF folds and the core members start over from scratch with “LegacyCon” and a more robust set of bylaws, or if other awards eclipse the Hugos or the “Legacy Rocket Awards”… that matters to maybe thousands of people, or maybe millions. There are precedents at stake which are larger than SFF. Are sockpuppet accounts a valid means to social ends? Are twitter-barrages OK, such as the barrage which overrode Neil Gaiman’s decision about who would be master of ceremonies at LonCon? How about doxxing? How about death threats and rape threats? How about swatting? Faked emergency calls have not yet resulted in some cop pulling the trigger on some hapless victim… yet… but sooner or later, it will happen, and the cop will spend the rest of his life having been used to lethally silence some feminist or some alleged misogynist, and the feminist or alleged misogynist will not spend the rest of their life.

    Some say that there are extremists on both sides. I think that’s a dangerous mistake. I think the real axis or spectrum is between the civil people and the ruthless people. You’re a socialist, and I’m more of a liberaltarian. Fine. You and I are both on the side of *truth over truthiness*, and we’re both on the side of *opponents can treat each other honorably*. That puts us on the *same side* of the most important spectrum, and it puts you and me on the *opposite side* from the people who delight in violating conventions of civility, who don’t care about facts, who will stoop lower and lower towards an asymptote of zero, and who are absolutely convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong but inherently an idiot and blind to reality.

    I’m looking at you, Vox Day. I’m looking at the former career of Requires Hate, may it stay former. I’m looking at a substantial percentage of the regular commenters on Correia’s and Torgersen’s blogs. And… hmm, I’m not seeing that kind of behavior among commenters on Scalzi’s blog, for whatever that’s worth; occasionally on GRR Martin’s blog, but Martin tends to discourage that sort of comment. Correia has reported receiving death threats, and Martin accepts Correia’s claim, and if Martin accepts Correia’s claim then so do I. Which means that there’s some “Social Justice Warriors” who are antisocial and unjust, sending those death threats, just as there are Rabid Puppies trading dirty tricks with Gamergaters on 8chan.

    • Rollory says:

      “I’m looking at you, Vox Day”

      By including that line, you’re looking at yourself.

      Try talking to the man instead of covering your ears and shouting NANANA I CAN’T HEAR YOU. You won’t agree with him. I don’t, on many topics. You may find that he likes provoking people he knows are easily provokeable into saying things that are crazy. That’s not particularly constructive but it’s not a sin either. You may also find if you discuss things with him in a reasonable, matter-of-fact, non-grandstanding manner, that what he actually has to say is understandable and not child-murderingly horrible, even if you disagree with it.

      A large part of the reason he goes for the provocation is precisely because so many of the people screaming at him choose to scream first instead of talk. Being reasonable in response to that doesn’t accomplish anything.

      “And… hmm, I’m not seeing that kind of behavior among commenters on Scalzi’s blog, for whatever that’s worth”

      Scalzi himself is among the worst. If you’re not seeing it, it’s because you’ve deliberately blinded yourself and are deliberately lying to yourself in the service of your preconceptions.

      • Andrew says:

        Its also because Scalzi “mallets” anything he doesn’t agree with. He’s OK up to a point, but once he decides you’re wrong (IE, you don’t agree with him), forget it. Theres a reason he rarely ventures to other websites to engage, and thats because he know what ever he says will be kept for posterity. He wouldn’t go anywhere near Torgersons or Correias comment sections, because he’d refuse to engage anyone once he realized his comments weren’t going to be deleted, but saved for posterity.

        And dont just read his blog, read his twitter too.

        • rochrist says:

          Right. Of course, none of that happens, but it’s adorable that you fantasize that it does. Countless comments that Scalzi disagrees with vehemently survive on his blog just fine. He removes comments are a) disruptive, or b) off-topic. Period. And, since it’s his blog, he’s well within his rights.

          • Andrew says:

            I stopped going there on a regular basis a few years ago when he tried telling me my experiences in the real estate industry before and during the 2009 housing crisis in no way qualified me to comment on his opinions of the matter.

            And then, oddly enough, my posts and his responses to them are no longer on his website…maybe they just got lost when he made the wordpress switch…

          • ratseal says:

            Seen it happen. Doesn’t mean that he can write good novels, and writing good novels doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of being a real jerk.

            It is adorable that you think he is incapable of being a jerk.

      • Riley37 says:

        I side with Flint and Martin, against those “who are absolutely convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong but inherently an idiot and blind to reality.”
        Rollory: “If you’re not seeing it, it’s because you’ve deliberately blinded yourself…”

        Quod erat demonstrandum. And this man dares use the name of a hero of Merimna. Have you, sir, no shame?

        “That’s not particularly constructive but it’s not a sin either.”

        So you say. Are you using the meter-kilometer-second standard of sin? I’m measuring according to the standard set by the late Sir Terry Pratchett.

        • Rollory says:

          If you hadn’t figured it out yet, you are living in Merimna, and singing songs, and thinking that somehow protects you.

      • Maximillian says:

        > that what he actually has to say is understandable and not child-murderingly horrible, even if you disagree with it.

        In fact, it is LITERALLY ‘child-murderingly horrible’, or did you forget that he supports the Taliban shooting young girls in the face for wanting to learn to read? This isn’t even hyperbole, sadly, it’s exactly what he wrote, though I’m sure he would find some way to quibble with that, he’s a master troll- perhaps ‘it was only attempted murder, so you are wrong’, but there it is.

        This is not someone who will be willing to engage in a reasonable manner with anyone who disagrees with him. I’m sure that he can sound reasonable when talking to his friends about how men should be able to rape their wives with impunity, but again, the rest of us aren’t going to be able to reason with that.

    • ratseal says:

      Quoting Riley: “I hope that Torgersen doesn’t really want SFF to only welcome ER Burroughs clones, and exclude Ursula Le Guin and Lois Bujold. But that’s what he has said so far.”

      In what alternate universe did Brad ever say that? Citations please.

      Special request, when you look for those citations use precision greater than that with which you incorrectly post 4 time Hugo winner McMaster Bujold’s (or as she styles herself on her board, LMB) surname. If you are going to claim that Brad is excluding Lois, show a little respect by getting her name right, please.

      If you want to look for easy peasy examples of race bating, extremism and sexism and you accept Vox’s statements as the litmus test then ‘challenge accepted’. I will even offer you a 2:1 spread on the number of Hugo winners and nominees who claim to represent progressivism for whom I can provide citations at least as offensive as Day’s comments.

      You – Vox Day
      Me – Tempest Bradford + Jemisin

      You are up.

      • Maximillian says:

        Jemisin got in an argument with VD and Bradford was ‘guilty’ of suggesting that people try reading fiction with different authors for a year. This is somehow the equivalent of condoning murder and rape? Really?

        Even if it was, that type of argument was called ‘whataboutism’ back when the Soviet Union used to use it to try to derail talks about things they were doing. It doesn’t work any better today.

  30. This was very interesting to read. I’m not deep into the Hugos kerfuffle, but when I have expressed an opinion it has occasionally clashed with some of your points here, and I think yours are the better. Thanks for the clarity and perspective.

  31. Complaint related to the above

    “….I can’t publish because…”

    This complaint perhaps means that some sorts of tale reach zero readers. The answer is Kindle, Smashwords, Third Millennium, q.v. (Yes, I do have a novel on a real editor’s actual desk, having passed the slush pile, but I am Eric’s age, and the novel has been there for three years now, so ‘send through all the real publishers first’ is starting to get medically unrealistic.)

    That constellation completes when there are a few good reviewzines with adequate coverage, from some fannish group, to help people find good stuff. hmmh, perhaps solving that is my problem.

    Once upon a time the Annual MITSFS picnic had a game in which you were a character from some novel, and other people tried by asking you questions (“name?” was just out) what your novel was. This worked fine in the mid-1970s, but by 1990 tended to collapse when no one else had ever heard of the novel you were invoking.

    Two decades ago, I would encounter the late Hal Clement at Boskone or Arisia. Before he passed to the next plane I was able to thank him for all the work he had written and that I had enjoyed by giving him a copy of my first novel. His objective at the time was to find a novel a day that he could read, and back then this was challenging. Despite the asserted ‘collapse of the mid-list’ (your mileage may vary on this), that sounds more straightforward now, especially if you like alternative history and exploding spaceships.

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  34. Rick Morris says:

    Mr. Flint,

    Your article is brimming with Old School civility, which I understand and appreciate. But that world is gone in modern sci-fi. I think you completely miss the point of Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies. It wasn’t about some whiners demanding their place at the table. This is about teaching some extremely distasteful and deceitful people a lesson in civility.

    To really understand this, you would have to read some of the many nasty insults, innuendos and downright lies that have been told about Larry Correia, Vox Day, and John C. Wright, among others. The fact is, the bee stung first. And stung many times. Now the 600-lb gorilla is swatting back.

    • Eric Flint says:

      Um. There are no 600-lb gorillas in this ruckus. The only 600-lb gorilla in science fiction is the mass audience, and they aren’t paying any attention to this at all.

      As for Vox Day, the moment Larry Correia nominated him for a Hugo was the moment Larry lost any chance of winning this argument. The crude expression for this is “shitting in your own hat.” Or if that’s too coarse for you, “pissing in your own well.”

      Vox Day, whose real name is Theodore Beale, is utterly loathsome, a rabid racist and an even more rabid misogynist. And, no, I am not engaging in slander, or lying, or even hyperbole. What else would you call a man who defended the Taliban when they tried to murder a 15-year-old girl for seeking an education? In his own words:

      “[I]n light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

      • Rick Morris says:

        Perhaps you would care to read what Beale himself says on this and the other matters in question:

      • Rick Morris says:

        And yes, we are a 600-lb gorilla. You don’t realize how many readers out there are fed up with where sci-fi went the past 20 years.

        • Maximillian says:

          If there were that many people out there to support Correia in the first place, he would have gotten the award he wanted in the first place and wouldn’t have had to throw this years-long tantrum about it.

          Even with all of his work to bring the culture war and politics into the Hugos, less than half of the nominations were for the Puppy slates.

      • Andrew says:

        The minute Larry nominated Beale was the minute he won the battle and lost the opening round of the ensuing war. He won because his critics were not accusing him of nominating bad or poorly written stories, the critics went after the authors personal beliefs and apparent associations.
        And he lost because once the greater part of SF/F fandom, including you, gave those shrill voices a pass, it empowered those same shrill voices to behave in such a fashion again this year when the SP3 slate was announced.
        How else could such a diverse slate of authors and works be decried as a “misogynistic, racist campaign” with so little protest from the non SP side of the issue?

        The arguments I see against SP3 works aren’t that they are poorly written, or that they don’t deserve to be nominated, but that they appeared on the same final nomination list as Castalia House and Beale, and if the nominees didn’t immediately distance themselves from Beale, they must believe and agree with the things he said and are therefore as bad as he is.

        And they’ll get bombarded by those same shrill critics until they drop out, stand up for themselves and their beliefs (like Kary English), or in a couple of cases, those shrill voices will just be ignored (Like Jim Butcher, because he’s freaking Jim Butcher).

        The great majority of the critics out there are so intellectually lazyits less taxing for them to follow the groupthink and declare a person guilty by association instead of reading and judging the work on its own merits.

        Do you think people buy and read your books because of your politics, or because your write a very good story?

        What would you like your works to be judged on Mr. Flint: What and how you write, or what you personally, politically, and religiously believe?

        • Terranovan says:

          I think I generally agree with the case made here for Critically Acclaimed Art opposing Monetary Success Art. I certainly see that effect in movies – OK, trailers for movies – being advertised, and it would only make sense for the effect to take place in other art forms as well – especially music.

          What moves me to comment are the comments I’m reading made about Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, and John Scalzi. I apologize if the comments I’m about to make are off-topic or inflammatory.

          Mr. Beale made himself and his opinions – possibly irrelevant, although “contemptible” seems to be a better word (fits the bill better) – to me the moment I read him citing a statistic saying “30% of all rapists are black”. Even if it were true; it should be irrelevant, since the overwhelming majority of any racial demographic are innocent of that heinous crime.
          He was using it in a debate with Mr. Scalzi about rape and abortion. Thanks to his using it, he had a second small loss – I followed a link from his site to that of his opponent. Where I found . . .

          A fan letter ghostwritten by a rapist to the anti-abortion lobby, thanking them for helping him ruin his victim’s life by controlling her body.

          It was addressed to “certain conservative politicians”, and he’s openly named the “politician” in question (misspelling the name, by the way). But all of the attacks, all of the insults, all of the anger, could be equally applied to any politician or any voter who opposes abortion. I’m one of them, just in case that isn’t apparent from the way I’ve phrased and framed this statement. Voter, that is, not a politician.
          I am hurt deeply by this belief – a belief that I, and most of the people I know, are allies of a rapist. A belief that tars us together with the same brush.
          I could go on and on (I’m worried that I just did), but there’s nothing more I could say to make my case more persuasively than that.

          In summary: Theodore Beale disgusts me, and John Scalzi hurts me. I hope to read and enjoy the works of authors more in the center than either of them. (I really enjoy the 1632 series, by the way.)

      • billo says:

        Well, yes and no. I’m not a SF author. I’m a reader. I will never be an SF author. When I was a young adult, I consumed SF like a vacuum cleaner. About five years ago I had to move and get rid of a lot of my books. I disposed of 800 boxes of SF that I had collected in my basement.

        But not so much, now. Now I read historical novels, mysteries, and non-fiction. And, oddly, most of my friends are the same.

        It’s not that I don’t like science fiction, I do. And fantasy. And alternative history. I don’t even mind political propaganda in science fiction — that’s largely its purpose. What I got sick of was the sameness of it all, and the one-sidedness of it all. Reading socialist science fiction is a lot like looking at socialist art. Meh.

        So, folk like me and my friends wander around the SF section on occasion looking for the occasional pearl in a sea of crap. There’s a lot more SF/Fantasy around, but, really, after you’ve read the first 50 novels about adolescent vampire angst, the remaining 5000 are white noise.

        It’s not that we don’t “care,” it’s that we do. And we’ve seen the mass market pretty much turned into a McDonalds of SF. Whether it’s the cheeseburger, the double cheeseburger, or the bacon cheeseburger, it’s still all pretty much the same.

        So, when something like this comes up that says “Hey, maybe there’s something other than cheeseburgers,” we perk up. We do care.

        Finally, this claim that it’s not about politics sounds a lot to me like those folk who like to claim that the War Between the States wasn’t about slavery, but *really* about federalism. Well, yeah, federalism was important. But it was about slavery.

        Same thing here. Yeah, there’s lots of SF out there. But the Sad Puppies thing was about politics. And the *response* was about politics. And the accusations and personal attacks were classic Social Justice Warrior politics and hatred in action. Both sides agreed that this is what it was about — politics and ideology.

        So, I believe them. Everything you wrote is correct. In terms of this particular conflict, however, it’s incidental.

      • billo says:

        And here’s the problem. The Hugos are for the right *people* and not about good science fiction?

        I **don’t care** if Vox Day is a loathsome person. Some of the best (or at least most interesting) authors in the world have been “loathsome people.” I’m interested in their works, not in whether or not they match my idea of the ideal person.

        And *that* is the bottom line. The Hugos became awards for the better *person,* not the better *product.*

    • Kate says:

      Mr. Morris,

      When George R.R. Martin, hardly a mountain of leftist politics in SFF, criticizes Larry Correia for altering history to try to make it kinder to him, and for editing his past blog entries to reflect that historical revision, do you think that is unfair criticism?

      When MANY people do detailed analyses of the Hugo winners over history and discover that in spite of Brad Torgerson’s claims there is no visible variance in the last 10 years from historical patterns, other than that women and people from outside the Anglophonic world are being nominated for and winning the Hugos more frequently, a shift that can easily be explained by the fact that WorldCon is becoming more genuinely international and those international tastes are being expressed more frequently in the nominations and wins, is that an unfair criticism?

      When Wright is criticized for his castigation of the creative team of The Legend of Korra, and his fulmination against the outrage of a loving same-sex relationship being shown on children’s television, do you think that is unfair criticism?

      When Beale is criticized for (to take but one example) his racist, sexist attacks on Nora Jemisin, using the cover of SFWA’s official twitter account, do you think that is unfair criticism?

      What criticisms of these men, then, do you think are fair, if not these, the primary issues that have been and continue to be raised against him? What do you think is fair to criticize them on?

      It seems to me here, as in other places, that the real issues being raised are being put aside in favor of a convenient and easy narrative of “liberal tyranny” oppressing a “silent majority” of conservatives who just want history to slide along on autopilot, never mind the lives of those who are being ground under by that history.

      • Bruce says:

        Very interesting and reasonable discussion here. It’s hard to take any defense of Nora Jemisin, however, who has proven herself to be at least as much of a bigot as V0x Day — and considerably more unhinged about it.

      • Tim McDonald says:

        Actually, the contention is that a small group (perhaps as few as 40, or as many as 60) have in fact gamed the system for the past 15 to 20 years, and the number of people who actually bother to send in nomination forms is so small, and the number of works published per year so large, that a very small group, in secret collusion, has been able to game the nominations. The winners are much harder to game, so you see some variation.
        As a statistician, it appears from the numbers available to be a strong possibility, but without seeing all the numbers for a period of 20 years, I cannot give you a range, accuracy, and confidence level. So, either you believe or you don’t, but unless the actual numbers are released, we will never know for sure.
        As for me, the Hugos quit being an indicator of quality in the late 80s. There have been Hugo worthy works since then, but I can’t think of any offhand since Ender’s Game I considered Hugo worthy that actually won. LOL, published by Baen is a better recommendation, Toni published good stories, and damn the source. I like Eric just fine, and me and him could probably have a shouting match about the utility of unions. Don’t mean I don’t read every one of his stories as they come out.

  35. pseudotsuga says:

    That’s one of those many “GOTCHA!” quotations which are circulated about Day without context. I think you are misinterpreting Day’s meaning here, because you don’t have the entire discussion.
    He is arguing that from an EMPIRICAL standpoint their actions were rational, based on their reasoning. He isn’t defending (i.e. stating that it was okay for them to do so) their actions or their reasoning. He is attacking the argument (which is conveniently left out of this GOTCHA moment) that this behavior is irrational. We in the West (including Day) may find the actions abhorrent, but that doesn’t mean they’re not based on reasoning. (Faulty reasoning is still rational thinking, after all.)

    • Eric Flint says:

      Oh, for Pete’s sake. The viciously racist and misogynist character of “Vox Day” — real name, Theodore Beale — has been documented so many times that you have to be delusional to dispute it. One of his many disgusting characteristics is that he’s slimy. He keeps trying to insist that his comments are “taken out of context.”

      Bullshit. They are just as bad OR EVEN WORSE in context. Here are just a few samples of his comments on women, taken from his blog “Vox Populi”:

      “History shows that the women’s vote is inextricably tied to a substantive loss of individual freedom.” (Vox Populi, 8/24/05)

      “The opponents of women’s suffrage have been proven correct with regards to their predictions of a) increased divorce, b) increased abortion, c) sexual promiscuity, d) increased paganism.” (Vox Populi, 8/24/05)

      “Perhaps not all women are fascists at heart, but without their votes, few fascists would ever be elected.” (Vox Populi, 8/24/05)

      “Women are, and have always been, intrinsically fascist at heart. With a small minority of exceptions, they hate freedom and will always trade it for the promise of security, physical and emotional.” (Vox Populi, 2/20/14)

      “Even if you think, well, what does it matter, it’s just sports, keep this in mind: Title IX is now being applied to science. Orwell put it beautifully. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. And the Sports Guy put it even better: women ruin everything. Do you really think it was an accident that women were never permitted any voice in the governance of the Roman Republic or the great historical democracies such as Athens, Thebes, Imperial Britain, and Revolutionary America? Do you really believe it to be a mere coincidence that many modern democracies, including Germany, Italy, and the member states of the European Union, were not able to survive even 100 years of female suffrage?” (Vox Populi, 1/28/13)

      “The greatest media scribe of these latter days, Bill Simmons, is known for a certain pithy mantra. “The lesson, as always: Women ruin everything.” While one does not usually expect to find deep sociological truths in the sports pages, so great has been the degradation of the acerbic art once known as the editorial, so filled with fear are the vanilla-minded commentators, that one finds more veracity on a single page of ESPN than in opinion pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal combined.”

      (Published in WND, 8/8/05)

      “But the greatest evil of women’s rights is demographic. Europe’s demise is all but assured, thanks to them, as women’s individual choices taken in the collective have stricken European society and brought on successive waves of feminist-friendly Islamic immigration by reducing Europe’s birth rates far below replacement levels.”

      (Published in WND, 8/8/05)

      I could go on — and on — and on — but my time is rather valuable. To keep denying Beale’s misogyny or to insist that the poor fellow is being maligned is just ridiculous. The last quote from Beale, by the way, shows that his comments on Malala are EXACTLY what I said they were: a defense of the Taliban. Beale argues repeatedly that allowing women to vote and get an education results in catastrophic demographic collapse. Hence “the rationality” of the Taliban. Trying to claim that this is not really a defense of the Taliban but a mere statement of empirical reality is just another example of the dishonesty that characterizes Beale and people like you who apologize for him.

      • hoosiertoo says:

        It’s obvious you don’t get Beale’s schtick – I’ve been reading him off and on for years – and schtick it is. Even then he makes some good points. But then, I’m not a Marxist. I can see where you might have a problem with some of his statements. I might point out that the statements you quote are not exactly misogynistic. I find the statements less troubling, but then I’ve been an anti-Marxist for better than 35 years.
        I rather like his writing; his later fiction is quite enjoyable. “Opera Vita AEterna” was certainly worth better treatment than finishing below “No Award,” IMO, and that outcome was surely a reflection of his politics rather than his writing.
        His fixation on Scalzi has been a low point on his blog, but then Scalzi asked for it, so…
        Anyway, interesting commentary. Thanks for that.

        • Mike says:

          I’m not a Marxist either, but I found those quotes scarily misogynistic.

          • hoosiertoo says:

            How so? By the dictionary definition “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women” there is nothing in those statements that damns him as a misogynist one way or the other. From my very limited contact with his wife in discussions on his blog, I doubt she’d put with him if that were the case.

            I have many times said that “women ruin everything.” I’ve been married twice, the second to the same woman for 35 years and have two fine daughters and 5 even finer granddaughters.
            Of course it was hyperbole. I earned it.

            • hoosiertoo says:

              To add –

              Perhaps instead of “misogynist” the term you’re actually looking for is “anti-feminist.” One needn’t be a misogynist to be an anti-feminist.

              And so he most likely is.

              And so am I.

              • Tomas says:

                As I see it, there are four distinct ways in which people commonly use the word “misogynist.” (If there is a fifth common usage of the word, it has eluded me.)

                One is “hates women.” This is the most precise and appropriate meaning of the word “misogyny,” and there is no better word for it.

                A second is “holds negative prejudices about women.” This is more appropriately termed “sexism,” although “sexism” also applies appropriately to positive prejudices and prejudices about men.

                One is “dislikes the political movement known as feminism.” As you say, this is more appropriately described as “anti-feminist.”

                A fourth is “is a man who disagrees with me.” This is simply inappropriate, and is a descriptive meaning rather than an intended one (i.e., a common misuse of the word as an insult).

                That said, exercising appropriate precision, when Vox Day is outlining an argument that extending the franchise to women is a mistake because women are fascist at heart, he is both anti-feminist (disagreeing with the feminist movement) and sexist (holding prejudices about men or women, in particular negative prejudices about women), even if he might not be misogynist in the most precise meaning of the word.

              • hoosiertoo says:

                So Vox isn’t a misogynist by the “most precise and appropriate meaning of the word.” Progress at last.

                A second is “holds negative prejudices about women.” This is more appropriately termed “sexism,” although “sexism” also applies appropriately to positive prejudices and prejudices about men. God, I love actual definitions. Conversations with Humpty Dumpty are only entertaining when one is smoking opium. Not that I’d know. Heh.

                If there is observable evidence that something is so, then holding to a conclusion drawn from that is perfectly reasonable. Observable behavior patterns may lead one to believe that women are more prone to support “big government” than are men. There have been studies that show exactly that. (It does not, of course, follow that all women do.) It follows then that “giving women the vote” is a long term mistake if one doesn’t wish for intrusive government – fascist, if you will, even with a smiley face using the Goldberg metric – and it is a perfectly reasonable position. (One I don’t support.) There are rational arguments to be made for restricting suffrage, say, to landowners or net tax payers or non-felons. I’m on record for restricting suffrage to actual citizens who can prove it with legitimate ID’s. You may not agree with these positions, but they are still rational. Vox is on record as supporting direct democracy and universal suffrage (I don’t agree!) so I think labeling him a “sexist” is probably wrong on that basis. Simply stating that apples are not oranges does not make one a “pommeist.”

                One is “dislikes the political movement known as feminism.” As you say, this is more appropriately described as “anti-feminist.” Also a reasonable position if one believes, as I do, that Marxism ruins everything. Please follow this link for an, again, reasonable basis (one I agree with) for opposing “feminism:”
                midszenty foundation

                So I’ll grant Vox is probably an anti-feminist. IMHO that’s a good thing, wholly reasonable, and a position I support 150%.

          • 335522 says:

            I’m not a Marxist either. In fact, I’m quite hostile to the fantasy called dialectical materialism. That said, it seems to me that quotes from Vox Day above show him to have been making a series of empirical statements that he asserts derive from falsifiable observations about history. Yet the argument isn’t “those historical observations,” but rather it’s “you’re a horrible person for making those observations, and reasoning from them!” This, not incidentally, is why we can’t have “a frank discussion about race” in America. It’s not that we’re “cowards,” as Eric Holder asserts, it’s that we know if we reason in the “wrong way”, or come to “unapproved conclusions”, or make “unapproved statements”, we will be smeared, and smeared, and smeared again. Just as Vox Day is being smeared by Mr. Flint and others above.

            • 335522 says:

              Correction from above:

              Yet the argument isn’t “those historical observations are untrue,” but rather it’s “you’re a horrible person for making those observations, and reasoning from them!”

            • Mike says:

              It’s my empirical observation that anyone who makes repeated comments like Beale is quoted as making is a misogynistic ass. And it’s OK that I say that, right, because it’s only an empirical observation?

        • Trevin Matlock says:

          Before last years Hugo Packet of fiction to read before voting I had never heard of Vox Day. The first paragraph of his story had me saying to myself “how did this get nominated?” Though the story did get better it was not even close to being award worthy and I put it below No Award. Torgersen on the other hand I had not heard of either, but his story was plausible for an award in a different year. So I ranked it low (don’t remember how low) but not below No Award.

          I have no patience for the Puppies. Petulant whingers.

  36. J Johnson says:

    Thank you for the very interesting commentary. First let me state that I love your books, but I also love most of the Hugo best novel winners. I think once books get on the ballot, the WorldCon readers do try to read everything and they usually come up with a good pick. The hard part is the nomination process. I don’t think the WorldCon nominators are an elistist bunch at all – anyone who wants to can buy a membership – but they’re people who have favorite authors just like everyone else, so its not unexpected that certain authors will pop up again and again. Bujold, Willis, Martin, Robinson, Sawyer et al – they may be ‘the usual suspects’ but they all right damn good stories so its hard to argue with their inclusion. But they do take up spots on the ballot, making it that much harder for everyone else to break in. But it does happen, for any number of reasons that often boil down to word of mouth and critical consensus. There have been a few winners that made my eyebrows twitch, but certainly not last year. Ancillary Justice was a truly wonderful story (not to mention proof that the start of a series can win the award.)

    As for awarding best selling authors winning more, well, that did happen in 2001 when Rowling won (beating out Martin’s masterwork A Storm of Swords). Without the present system, you might well end up with the Twilight and Hunger Games books and their ilk dominating the awards. Hardly an improvement on the current situation, methinks!

    The point in your essay that struck the hardest though was the comment about the weird categories. I agree that having multiple short form awards is distinctly odd given the current market, and makes the nomination process all that more intimidating. I’d go further and say the whole list of awards could be considerably shortened. Personally, I would only feel comfortable making nominations for novel and dramatic presentation.

    Sorry for rambling. Your article really made me think!

  37. Mike says:

    Eric, thanks for the very interesting column.

    This whole kerfluffle reminds me of when two cliques form and then battle in a social club. To the people involved, this is a huge and important conflict. To 99.9999999% of the world, it’s not even ho hum, because they have never even heard of it. Frankly, these awards are just as irrelevant to me as the politics of who wins them.

    • Mary says:

      I’m seeing people aware of what’s going on in the oddest corners of the Internet.

      • Mike says:

        There are some ideologues who have seized upon this as an example de jour of conservative victimization. That doesn’t mean they actually care about who wins the Hugos.

        And I assume I’m not the only 30+ year SF reader who had no idea this whole controversy even existed until I happened to stumble onto it. Last fall I had several hours to wait for a play to begin, so I walked into a used book store and bought “Old Man’s War.” I read that, then the sequels, then was looking for more about it and found Scalzi’s blog, where he was talking about this year’s nominations. That was the first I had ever heard of “Sad Puppies” or any of the rest of this.

        I think it’s been more than 20 years, at least, since I read anything just because it had won a Hugo.

  38. Pingback: | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  39. ElusivePan says:

    I enjoyed your post, Mr Flint—as well as your novels.

    I don’t really consider myself qualified to judge the political leanings (or lack of) of the Hugo Awards, but I have to admit that the complaints from the Sad Puppies resonated with me. I had seen exactly what they were describing while I was in college.

    As a student, I had both enrolled in a 300-level English course on Science Fiction, and attended the opening meeting of the campus sci-if club. To be frank, there was no place in either of those venues for anything but discussion on gender and race. If any attempt was made to discuss or recommend a work that wasn’t suitable to the tastes of a clique of the students of “gender studies” you were hissed and scowled at and mocked by fervent little fascists for your failure to suitably praise their agenda.

    I will admit that Vox Day seems an obvious and despicable racist, though I’d guess he’s probably more the type who feels himself puffed up by any attention, and has discovered then notoriety is an easy method to loads of it. He’s not the danger. The real danger comes from the other side, who I’ve also seen with my own eyes sniffing around at reddit and at Jim Butcher’s forum, gnashing their teeth and threatening to lump him in with racists and misogynists and all other sorts if he doesn’t offer up the appropriate apologies for “being a cover for racists to hide behind.”

    • Mike says:

      So, obvious racists “aren’t the danger”? Interesting free pass there.

      The way I see it, you might have a valid point about “the other side” if we lived in a society where you needed official permission to publish your work. But it’s easier now than it ever has been to self-publish. You don’t even need paper, just a connection to the Internet.

      David Weber, for instance, who seems to be pretty conservative, sure doesn’t have any trouble getting LOTS and LOTS of sales, through at least two different publishers.

      • Thomas Monaghan says:

        Mike Tor picked up publishing Weber 16 years after Baen had first published him. Plus Weber was a NY Times list best selling author by then. Also Baen has no problems with the political views of their authors. Now Tor has 2 editors who have been vigorously attacking the Sad Puppies. Patrick Nielsen Hayden who’s won 3 Hugos and nominated 3 more times in the past 8 years is the most involved. Tor has had 18 nominations for Long Form Editor in the last 9 years. The other editor Moshe Feder has only been nominated once.

      • ElusivePan says:

        No, racists like Vox Day are no longer a danger. The only harm his screeds are capable of doing is to offend people. He doesn’t hold any particular power.

        If I had to chose between having Vox Day say some mean things about me or being the focus of the anger of a thousand zealots hoping to crush me in their righteousness, I’ll take the unkind words any day.

        All anyone has to do is examine the actions of the perpetrators here — the sad puppies conspired to vote in their hopefuls. Big freaking deal. They were unhappy with prior winners so they acted entirely within the rules to try and elect winners themselves.

        The blowback has essentially been an attempt to destroy these guys. They’ve had articles in mainstream news outlets calling them racists, homophobes, and misogynists. Vox Day is those things, but the articles were all about Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen. Everywhere one looks you find people whimpering out of one side of their mouth that the Hugos were awarded irregardless of political appeal yet attacking out of the other both the above authors and their nominees for no reason other than their politics.

        I also never commented on the ability of conservative authors to get published. My argument was that there at least exists within sci-fi fandom certain communities to whom sci-fi is essentially the literary expression of their own political goals. I firmly believe liberals and conservatives can both enjoy this genre and exist together as fans and even friends—but only if they’re there to enjoy the works of art, not if they’ve just shown up to bludgeon each other with politics.

        • Mike says:

          Sorry dude, but SF has ALWAYS been a genre about politics. Lois Bujold has written some really insightful essays about that. Utopias, dystopias, future histories, world building — all politics. She had a great essay on the difference between the romance genre and the SF genre, with the main difference being that SF demands that the plots and characters must be placed into a political context while romance does not.

          And I’m not sure why you think hateful words from one source are better or worse than hateful words from another source. I guess maybe if you don’t feel that the words are directed straight at you then they don’t seem so bad?

          Likewise, these Sad Puppies are attacking other people based on nothing but their politics, so why is it so bad if other people attack them for the same reason?

          Like I said, I don’t care about the Hugos. But I’m amused by the lack of understanding of the genre of SF that the Puppies claim to be defending and retaking.

          • Mike says:

            The Essay I was referring to is published in a book called “Love And Rockets” edited by Greenberg and Hughes. She describes Romance as being characterized as “fantasies of love”, Mystery as being “fantasies of justice”, and SF&F as being “fantasies of political agency”.

          • ElusivePan says:

            Just who are the Sad Puppies attacking? Voting in their own preferences are not an attack.

            Perhaps I was wrong to make this a dichotomy between Vox Day and those who are upset at the puppies. If those people were merely going after Vox I don’t think there would be an issue here. It’s the attempt to make Vox a weapon that they can use to attack others with the disturbs me. It’s guilt by association—and just like with the Red Scare they’re perfectly willing to attack progressively less-associated people.

            Sad Puppies are two different groups run by different people. Unfortunately many are willing to conveniently forget that to attack Correia and Torgersen. Once they’ve done that, they also seem to be perfectly willing to attack authors like Butcher for not throwing himself into the fight on their side.

            • Eric Flint says:

              You’re ignoring two problems. The first is that the Sad Puppies _did_ start their campaign by attacking people, not just simply advancing their own preferences. They began by leveling the accusation that they were being persecuted by what they called “social justice warriors,” even using the acronym SJW which is a right-wing shibboleth. This is like walking into a bar, proclaiming that you can whip anybody there, and then complaining when people fight back.

              They compounded the problem by walking into the bar with one hand tied behind their back. Don’t forget that it was Larry Correia, in the very first slate he advanced, who brought Vox Day into the Hugo scene by nominating him.

              I will readily grant, and have said so in public, that some of the people attacking the Sad Puppies are doing so unfairly, and in some cases even scurrilously. But I can’t say I have much sympathy for Correia and Torgersen. None, in fact. I am one of those “social justice warriors” that they took it upon themselves to slander at the very beginning. And in my case, the label is one I earned by decades of struggle in the trade union movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement (back in the Vietnam era.)

              I’m sorry, but if someone starts off by fighting dirty — which the Sad Puppies did — and starts off by allying themselves with a scumbag like Vox Day — which Larry Correia did by nominating him in the first place — then they have some nerve complaining later that other people are fighting dirty also. (Which some of them are, no question about it.)

              • Justin Watson says:

                Hi, long time fan, first time commenter. I just had a couple of points-

                The problem with tarring Larry and Brad for associating with Vox is that, if you applied the principle of guilt-by-association consistently, it would be impossible to be on friendly terms with almost anyone from across the political divide as they would almost certainly be linked, directly or indirectly, with someone whose views you find too objectionable.

                Take your involvement in the anti-war movement during Vietnam as an example. Obviously, I’m just some random fan and I don’t know you personally. Therefore I have no way of knowing what your motivations from 1964-1974 were, but I’m going to hazard a guess from your books and listening to your interviews on the Baen Free Radio Hour that you were not driven either by hatred of country or personal cowardice. Furthermore, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you were not spitting on returning soldiers in airports.

                But your allies were. Your fellow travelers harassed my father upon his return from Southeast Asia, spit on his uniform, called him all the stereotypical monikers, baby-killer, fascist, etc. Some of his friends’ wives even had some of your classier peace movement warriors grace them with false casualty notification teams.

                My generation of vets has it much nicer on the homefront by and large, but there are still a handful of loonies out there who like to shout baby-killer and believe that I’m either a sociopathic murderer who hates brown people or an unwitting dupe of the evil white patriarchy. They are a minority of the opposition to the war, but they do exist and they are loud.

                Yet I have many friends who are opposed to the war in Iraq, because I can parse them from some assholes who happen to agree with them about some stuff, or even their other friends who happen to be assholes.

                Were you morally culpable for the actions of every one of your friends in the entire anti-war movement? Is any random liberal today responsible for the comparatively infrequent excesses of today’s anti-war movement? I don’t think so. If you recommend a work by Michael Moore or Bill Ayers (not that you did), should I hold you accountable in totality for their lunacy? I think you deserve to be parsed from those with whom you were associated where appropriate. How does that principle not apply here? And Theodore Beale, as objectionable as he may be, has not gone around tormenting widows or degrading veterans as far as I can tell.

                As for the term Social Justice Warrior becoming a pejorative- well, that’s a tough one. I dislike Libtard, Rethuglican, etc. as Americans should not be dehumanizing one another over political disagreements. On that basis, I also dislike the term SJW.

                That being said, and I acknowledge this entirely anecdotal, I have yet to be screeched at and called names by a conservative because I support marriage equality and don’t care about legalizing marijuana. In contrast, I have been frequently lambasted and called everything from a lunatic to a fascist for my position on firearm ownership or the mere fact that I am not tortured or ashamed regarding serving in Iraq or Afghanistan by some folks on the left.

                To distinguish these from liberals who are not hateful towards anyone who disagrees with them, others have labeled those screechers SJWs. Perhaps it is unfair to those like you who actually took principled stands in a time where there was some risk in the venture instead of strutting around on the internet like arguing on Twitter in 2015 is somehow morally equivalent to marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The title has stuck, it’s not the first time a term strayed from its initial meaning. When I think of that term, I don’t think of MLK, I think of Chris Matthews. I’m guessing that your fellow Baen authors in the SP contingent are not thinking of you or Mercedes Lackey when they use it, though, of course, I could be wrong.

              • Mike says:

                I guess the website can only have a limited number of tested replies? Anyway, this is a reply to Justin.

                Guilt by association varies in legitimacy based on how close the association is and how voluntary it is. I know none of these people personally, but it sure sounds like the Sad Puppies deliberately chose to associate themselves with Beale/Day as a way of making some kind of point. If so, then “you reap what you sow.”

                Or as They Might Be Giants said, “You can’t shake The Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”

              • ratseal says:

                A calm, reasoned and nuanced comment. A pleasure to read it, Justin.

              • Daniel says:


                Nominating Vox Day’s written work is not allying with him. You don’t have to like a person to think the story they told was well done and worth an award.

                You have several times pointed to this as a fallacy of the Sad Puppies campaign when in truth they are practicing what they preach. They want an author’s work to stand as an entity separate from who they are as a person.

                There are many film makers who I don’t like as people yet I still enjoy their stories separate from who they are as an individual. I will gladly see them recognized for well told stories even if I think critically of them or their worldview.

                So Vox Day is an asshat. If he tells a good story then the story should be able to be nominated for an award that is about recognizing good stories. If his political and moral perspectives on life must first be in line with the perspectives of the voters in order to be eligible then the award is about more than just recognizing good story telling. And if that is what the awards are about then they shouldn’t pretend to be something else.

                I have no interest in seeing stories judged on the qualities or lack thereof of the storyteller as a human being. And this is where the awards seem to have recently gone astray.

                I like much of what you have to say on this matter. I feel that your critical analysis of the actual problem reveals what is causing the symptoms which Sad Puppies is reacting to. Specifically in this section:

                “But, sooner or later, that stops being sufficient for the in-crowds. At first, they want more than just a good story. Which, in and of itself, is fair enough. The problem is that as time goes by “more than just a good story” often starts sliding into “I really don’t care how good the story is, it’s the other stuff that really matters.””

                The “…other stuff that really matters.” strays away from good stories and starts to encompass the artist as a person who is on the correct side of the fence, whatever and wherever that fence may be. This seems to be the crux of the matter, and is what I’d like to see addressed.

                Reward and recognize good stories that stand on their own and let the rest sort itself out.

              • ElusivePan says:

                First, they nominated a work by Vox Day, they didn’t ally themselves with him.

                Second, “Social Justice Warrior” is hardly a “right-wing shibboleth.” It’s a relatively modern term that is part of internet and college culture, primarily used by people who agree with the goals of social justice but find some of it’s more strident proponents a bit annoying.

                I really hope you’ll take a minute to look over what you’ve posted, and consider if maybe you’ve gone a bit far in describing what has occurred. They organized and voted for nominees they wish to win. You’ve accused them of attacking people as a way to justify the attacks they’ve endured.

                Lets not forget to mention the fans who did the voting and are now being told that the artists they were praising is throwing them over to appease the hurt sensibilities of another group.

                Thanks for responding to me—I found your post very helpful, and honestly, when it comes to wether the prior awards were overly biased, it switched me from a probably yes to more on the fence. I only disagree with your characterization of some of the actors on both sides.

                And I loved your 1632 series, even though I thought your coal workers unions conveniently lacked the more vicious traits of the construction unions my grandfather was part of a couple of decades ago. Maybe they do in real-life to.

              • Justin Watson says:


                So, extending the hypothetical for the sake of argument, if I find out that Mr. Flint knowingly associated with one of the assholes spitting on soldiers or torturing the wives of deployed service members, which on the scale of badness ranks above spouting some whacked out racially focused philosophy in my book, I shouldn’t allow myself to love 1632 or the Belisarius series?

                I acknowledge there ARE some lines, I won’t read Marion Zimmer Bradley or Samuel Delaney, for instance, but that’s because one participated in and the other supported an organization dedicated to pedophilia. Beale may have many issues, but I really don’t think you can level a credible charge of child molestation or positive comments about child molestation against him.

                Short of something genuinely atrocious like that, I believe the art or entertainment should be judge on its own merits. I’ve never read a depiction of Harlan Ellison that didn’t make him sound like a complete asshole, but does anyone question that he deserved his status as a legend of science fiction? I was humming cadences about killing commies before I hit puberty, and yet I can enjoy Mr. Flint’s novels despite his identification as a socialist/communist/Trotskyist. Granted, I was obviously raised to fight Maoist and Stalinist flavored communists, before the bottom fell out of that market, since Trotsky was long dead by the time the Cold War began in earnest. But my objection to any flavor of Marxism is more than casual, and yet I don’t automatically dismiss the works of every Marxist just because I find the political/economic/social underpinnings of their philosophy repugnant. That, in my opinion, is the attitude we should take with regard to books, and frankly it’s the attitude SP3 has displayed as far as I can see. Not, “what do we agree with,” but instead, “what is really, really entertaining?”

              • Mike says:

                Justin, if I found out that Eric Flint had done stuff like that, I would be pretty reluctant to read his books for pleasure. If he later apologized for it, I would take that into consideration.

                I have several cookbooks by a guy who used to be known as “The Frugal Gourmet”. I learned a lot of cooking techniques from these books, and they were go-tos for me for years. Then he was convicted of sexually abusing children, and I don’t think I’ve opened those books since. Did it change the cookbooks? No. But it did change how I felt about them. And there are other cookbooks in the sea, just like there are other novelists.

              • Justin Watson says:


                I agree if he DID those things I wouldn’t read his books. But if a friend or a friend of a friend did? How about everyone who ever collaborated with MZB on a book and receives royalties from their combined efforts? Are they culpable for her crimes?

  40. SH says:

    One thing that can certainly spoil any writer/genre for the reading public? Making the issue “the writer” instead of “the writing”.

    All this Hugo discussion/smell makes me far less likely to buy *ANY* science fiction this week.

    Because it makes me feel… uncomfortable. Dirty. Embarrassed.

    PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: *READERS* read these blogs. Not just your fellow writers.

    And we read for *fun*.

    And, frankly, I don’t feel any of that right now.

    • I wind up feeling that way too, so, when a person here commented essentially, “The news depresses me and I like happy endings,” I nodded, and then thought of the classic lyric, “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”

      Now, I read for slightly different reasons; mostly research, with my main motive being “fulfilment” more than “fun.” But just the same, the idea is to achieve satisfaction, to open up to what the creator presents to me, to take it in, and be changed by it.

      As I wrote in an essay, “Dark does not equal Deep,” and similarly, a happy ending for characters whose actions would lead to one is NOT selling out. Happy endings and great payoffs aren’t even unrealistic.

      As I watch what amounts to theological schisms convulse around the Hugos, I wonder, does anyone remember why we began to do this work in the first place?

      I truly believe nobody began a career in F&SF solely to bring others down, to troll and demean, or to create rage in others. I believe we all came into it out of a hope to be effective, by partaking in the creation of something we love and felt a personal need to perpetuate. Some of us forget that; some get it beaten out of them; some return to it after drifting from that love; some of us guard that flame.

      Science fiction was once described as the only inherently optimistic genre because it assumes there will be a future. Providing joy, fulfilment and fun for the people of the world is vastly more difficult an undertaking than infighting and namecalling.

      Just do your very best at creating, let the impotent rage go, and take care of your fans and readers. Attempt that much more sacred, much harder responsibility, for a future we have not yet seen, but is on the way. You may provide smiles, insights and joy for the world in a way no one else can.

    • Echo says:

      I’m just happy people like Andy Weir exist, so I can read something without needing to wash the slime off my hands afterwards.
      Think I’ll stick to reading those horribly “problematic” dead people like Asimov, Heinlein, and Norton for the time being.

  41. Ann Garniss says:

    Maybe I’m a terrible cynic, and I know awards are useful promotional tools for authors still searching for an audience, but I have always assumed that the people doing the nominating and selecting do not share my taste in writing. I read F/SF because ‘literary’ fiction leaves me cold. So I spend more time online and in bookstores finding the authors that touch me and make me wanting more (it’s a hardship, I tells ya), but if the readers care that much about who gets awards…. I think they are reading for a different purpose than I am.

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  43. ML says:

    Two thoughts:

    –Regarding movies, another major factor is the globalization of the market. It’s easier to sell a movie worldwide if there is minimal dialogue and maximal action. It’s also easier to sell if it doesn’t rely on a deep understanding of local laws, mores, customs, etc. When you consider this, you can see the advantages of car chases.

    –Regarding awards, you can look at other fields of genre fiction, like romance or mystery, and see that their major awards are deeply categorized according to length, setting, type of story, etc. This may be a consideration for SF/F as well.

  44. 335522 says:

    I may as well go all-in here: In comments above Vox Day has repeatedly been called a “racist,” perhaps dozens of times. Have any of you ASKED him what his position is on racial differences? Have any of you READ what he has to say about racial differences? No? Then those of you who call him “racist” are simply a mob. In an attempt to educate, here is what Mr. Day wrote recently in a comment on Brad Torgersen’s blog; it was in response to the following statement by someone else (not Brad): “Vox Day believes that white people and Asians (and clearly Hispanics, since Beale is one, at least in part) are superior to black people, and he believes this inferiority of blacks is innate, genetic.”

    Here is what Mr. Day wrote in response:

    “Correction: I don’t have any reason to believe any one human population sub-group is intrinsically superior to any other population sub-group. That being said, both science and logic quite clearly indicate that no two population sub-groups are identical, and therefore every population sub-group is either superior or inferior to another sub-group on the basis of any chosen metric.
    “It makes no more difference that you like or dislike this fact than if you disapprove of the speed of light or the rate of Earth gravity.
    “I assert that an unborn female black child with a missing chromosome and an inclination to homosexuality is equal in human value and human dignity and unalienable, God-given rights to a straight white male in the prime of his life and a +4 SD IQ. How many of my dishonest critics will do the same?
    “That doesn’t mean that I think it is wise to ask that particular child, when she is grown, to design the next plane on which I intend to fly. Or even to work in the air traffic control tower.
    “I deal in reality as determined by history, science, and logic. And I care no more about what an equalitarian fantasist thinks about me or anything else than I do about the mentally deranged babbling in the psych ward. The world is as it is, not as we might wish it to be. If you can’t understand that, then I am among the least of your problems.”

    So query: Do the above statements validate the multiple assertions above that Mr. Day is a “racist”? (Disclaimer: I’ve never met the man, nor talked to him; I have exchanged perhaps a couple of emails when I challenged a statement he made. But I do despise mindless online mobs screaming “racist!”)

    • Gav says:

      A moment’s thought shows that his premise is completely ridiculous. Choose people A, B, C such that A & C are from one group and B from another, but A is taller than B is taller than C. So now I’ve got a metric (height) where group 1 is both superior and inferior to group 2 on the height metric. (For a real-life example, choose Robert Wadlow and his father for A & C, and Michael Jordan for B).

      You have to be not only racist but also stupid to believe that “every population sub-group is either superior or inferior to another sub-group on the basis of any chosen metric.”

      • Mike says:

        This is a result of false equivocation between individuals and categories. Yes, the mean of the heights of all adult men if taller than the mean of the heights of all adult women, but that doesn’t mean all men are taller than all women.

        It ends up being a big problem in the scientific study of people. Some people have political/personal reasons to try to see one group as better than another, while other people have similar reasons to try to see no groups as being any different from each other. Both camps accuse the other side of being unscientific and ignoring the data.

        Really there is no conflict between the idea that one group may, on average, have a measurable difference than another group, and also the idea that the variance of individuals withing the groups may be much larger than the difference between the groups. But due to confirmation bias, people tend to ignore whatever part of that equation it is convenient for them to ignore.

        • Eric Flint says:

          The problem goes deeper than that, because there’s an intrinsic bias in the categories someone chooses in the first place. For instance, if you choose to compare “the race of whites” to “the race of blacks” you are assuming not only that such races exist but that they are the proper basis for comparison. But why should that be true? Due to the way the human race evolved, there is more genetic variation among Africans than there is between any given group of Africans and any non-African segment of humanity. The reason people think all Africans belong to the same “race” is because they share certain literally superficial features: skin color, hair and some facial features. But why should those criteria be used as the basis to define a “race” in the first place? Why not, for instance, choose the average distribution of blood types? In which case you wind up with a “racial map” of humanity that is completely different from a “racial map” drawn according to skin color, hair and facial features.

          My point is that there is an inherent bias in the way the question is posed in the first place, which makes any answer to the question automatically questionable. What defines a “racist” in the first place, intellectually speaking, is the firm conviction that “races” as defined sociologically have an actual biological reality which is more basic than any other possible differentiation. For which there is not a shred of actual evidence. It is a faith-based conviction. That’s a polite say of saying it’s just bigotry.

          • Mike says:

            Yes, I agree. There very definitely are biological races, if you define that as subsets of the overall human gene pool where certain collections of genes are much more prevalent than they are in the general population. But there is so much nonsense and xenophobia and misunderstanding involved that it’s a real nightmare to try to approach these questions without stepping on any land mines.

            I recommend a really interesting book called “The Sports Gene” that gives some great examples of how this can be done properly (IMO), and also some examples of where it has been done very much improperly.

            • 335522 says:

              With all due respect to all of you, I believe you’re missing the point. Please read the third paragraph by Vox Day that begins “I assert that an unborn female black child….” And then answer the question that I posed at the end, please (it being notable that not one of the responses addresses it).

              • Mike says:

                Unfortunately for Beale (and you?), I think we saw very well what the point was, right through the smokescreen that Beale thought he was laying down.

                I had the chuckle a bit, though, when he mentioned designing airplanes. I’m an aeronautical engineer, as it happens. Beale himself has almost certainly flown on planes that I have a had a hand in designing. As have some of my black, female coworkers, who would be very upset with anyone who told them that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

              • Mike says:

                ps. Oh, and as for his question, I thought it was telling that he even considered it worth asking. It reveals that he thinks he is giving his hypothetical gay, black, female, etc. girl a precious gift because he will accept her human dignity.

                That’s her RIGHT, not some gift he is allowed to grant her.

              • Eric Flint says:

                Mike said about all I’d say. I will only add that among Beale’s many vile characteristics is his smarmy way of trying to claim he “never said” what it is blindingly obvious he’s saying, as if I’m stupid enough to believe him.

              • ___ says:

                I’m confused, Mike. Did you read this bit?

                “I assert that an unborn female black child with a missing chromosome and an inclination to homosexuality is equal in human value and human dignity and unalienable, God-given rights to a straight white male in the prime of his life and a +4 SD IQ.”

                Nowhere do I see him granting anything to anybody. He’s merely stating facts.

                “I think we saw very well what the point was, right through the smokescreen that Beale thought he was laying down.”

                What smokescreen? I don’t see it. Could you lay it out for me?

              • Gav says:

                How about the first paragraph, where he says
                ” That being said, both science and logic quite clearly indicate that no two population sub-groups are identical, and therefore every population sub-group is either superior or inferior to another sub-group on the basis of any chosen metric.”

                As I said, this paragraph is both stupid and racist. Establishing that subgroups are different is nowhere near establishing that on any metric one is superior to the other, and that’s without even taking environmental factors into account. (Are 21st century Europeans genetically taller than 18th century Europeans?)

                There are probably 3 fallacies in that paragraph right there, which is pretty impressive for only two sentences. And, let’s face it, they’re fallacies that err on the side of racism.

                That Beale then goes on to magnanimously grant that these inferior people might still have equal rights doesn’t really show as much as you seem to think.

                I think my 14-year-old is ” is equal in human value and human dignity and unalienable, God-given rights to a straight white male in the prime of his life and a +4 SD IQ”, but that doesn’t mean I think he should be allowed to vote, be allowed design an airplane, or be elected President.

          • Beyond Anon says:

            For which there is not a shred of actual evidence.

            Whoa. Why are you a science denier?

            Genetics and physical anthropology easily allows us to distinguish between the various races, and allows us to acknowledge multiracial individuals like Vox Day.

            • Mike says:

              I agree with Eric. The problem is that the folk-definitions of races are not accurate. “African” is treated as a “race,” but like he said, there is more genetic diversity within sub-Saharan Africa than there is outside of it!

              If you define a “race” as the gene pool in which some particular set of genes is prevelent, then that’s one thing. It’s defined. It’s testable. It’s causal. It’s scientific.

              But if you define two “races” where there is more difference inside one group than there is between the two of them, how useful is your definition of “race”? Not very.

              It’s like when people lump “dinosaurs” together as one group but have a separate concept of “birds.” There are vastly more differences within the group “dinosaurs” than there are between “birds” and the bird-like dinosaurs.

          • Rollory says:

            “Due to the way the human race evolved, there is more genetic variation among Africans than there is between any given group of Africans and any non-African segment of humanity.”

            This is a lie.

            I posted a comment earlier to that effect with some links including real-world data about genetic variation and grouping. Either the spam filter caught it or something else happened to it.

            “The reason people think all Africans belong to the same “race” is because they share certain literally superficial features: skin color, hair and some facial features. But why should those criteria be used as the basis to define a “race” in the first place? Why not, for instance, choose the average distribution of blood types? ”

            Because the features used are not superficial in any sense. They are indicators. They are correlated with everything else that defines a race. You could just as well ask why are humans and cats considered different species when they both have hemoglobin in their blood.

            It is a patently stupid and dishonest argument, and if you are not lying to yourself, you know it to be so.

            “the firm conviction that “races” as defined sociologically have an actual biological reality which is more basic than any other possible differentiation. For which there is not a shred of actual evidence.”

            You make this assertion without actually addressing any of the huge amounts of data and evidence that DO support it. Some of which I posted earlier. I do not expect you to address it, because it is not possible for you to do so.

            • Replying to Eric Flint, Rollory writes: “You make this assertion without actually addressing any of the huge amounts of data and evidence that DO support it.”

              Huge amounts of data have been gathered using methods that (often unintentionally but often intentionally) were biased, virtually always in ways that favored ‘whites’ over ‘blacks.’ IQ tests, for example, were standardized on a predominately white sample of the population, and some of the questions on IQ tests ask for knowledge common to most whites but not common to most blacks, so of two persons, one white and one black, are found to have the same IQ, it is very likely that the black person is slightly the smarter of the two.

              So huge amounts of defective data support white racism. So what?

              It is known, for example, that many more whites than blacks use cocaine, but many more blacks than whites go to jail for it. So the conviction records “indicate” that whites are better than blacks, right? No, they indicate that the authorities (not all, but far too many) are prejudiced, and are far more likely to suspect a black person than a white person, so blacks are more likely to be arrested.

    • Maximillian says:

      It isn’t that post that people are talking about- though it has enough problems as explained by other posters.

      It’s all of his other posts where he very clearly attacks people of other races, usually Africans or African Americans. There’s no particular reason to believe this post, where he is trying to dial back and obfuscate all the other things he’s written. We can still see all the other things he has said.

      For example, he’s tried something along the lines of claiming that he didn’t approve of shooting that young girl in the face, he only said that it was rational or logical, because of the dangers of educating women. Adding this context doesn’t make him look any better, it just makes him look like he doesn’t even have the courage to stand by his words.

      • hoosiertoo says:

        Rational or logical if you are a Taliban whose goal is to subjugate or continue to repress women under the regime.

        He’s not making that argument for himself.

        ISIL/ISIS/IS – whatever their acronym du jour is – actions in the ME are logical from their point of view. Doesn’t mean they are morally right, but so far it’s working for them. Christians are dead or fleeing. Population is cowed. Woman are basically slaves. They’re gaining territory and getting laid and paid. They’re creating their own little Hell on Earth. Doesn’t mean they aren’t scum.

        • Maximillian says:

          Except that what you are saying is not true. You know we can read his words in context on his own site, right? They are still up there.

          He didn’t say anything about ‘from the Taliban’s point of view’. He said “[I]n light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

          We know from all of his other writing that he claims to love rationality and science, and is strongly against female education.

          This is not trying to see things from the Taliban’s point of view, this is a weasel-worded approval of their actions.

          (Note, the Taliban and ISIS are not the same, last I heard they were shooting at each other)

  45. adam says:

    From afar, from very far, far, away, I write. Well New Zealand, so just 14 odd hour flight away if you want to come from L.A.

    What upsets me about all this is that authors are getting upset. It seems a product of the politics of talking past each other.

    Politics is fine and dandy – I’m a Christian Anarchist. I do politics everyday. That said -I’ll read any author, and if I enjoy it, I enjoy it. So what they may have a difference of opinion on economics and politics. Does it really matter? Well, yes it does – you should read what the other side think, their opinions will keep you informed and make you a more rounded individual. I may think Michael Z Williamson economics is stuck in the dark ages, but he is a writer I enjoy, and I can’t fault him on his analysis of the state. Where as Mr Flint, has economics more in line with my way of thinking, however, I’m not an atheists. But, in both cases, this will not stop me from buying their books – as they are both authors I respect and am thankful I get to read.

    I think Mr Flint, you have cut through this mess rather well. My problem is all the people who think they have to be right in this debate – rather than have a debate. To many times all I’m seeing is mud, and personal politics coming to the fore. Pair this with a desperate need to be right, and you have – well this – a mess of ugliness going back and forth.

    This, as Mr Flint has said, is a complex, long drawn out issue – that has been simmering under the surface for years. Lets discuss it like adults, and let cool heads prevail. There is no right in this issue just yet. Indeed, there may never be a right answer. But people who fixate on having to be right, are making this issue more frustrating than it needs to be. It also bewilders me, that people are arguing to get a quick fix to this, there is no quick fix – the issues do not suddenly appear – they are not going to just as suddenly – disappear.

    Finally, Thank you Mr Flint for your wonderful input on this. It raise so many good points, and points I believe will be discussed over the next few weeks, months and indeed years.

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