Puppies Attack: Hugo Awards reflect sci-fi/fantasy divide

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Call it the invasion of the Sad Puppies.

One of the signature awards of the science fiction/fantasy community, the Hugos, has been ensnared in a fierce debate over the genre's future, with charges of political correctness and elitism and countercharges of bigotry and dishonesty. Writers and fans have been feuding for weeks, at times in profane and personal terms, on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

On one side: the "Sad Puppies," a highly motivated bloc within science fiction/fantasy that believes the genre is endangered by a liberal establishment favoring social causes over storytelling. Taking advantage of the Hugos' open voting process, the Sad Puppies (and the more militant Rabid Puppies) helped get more than a dozen of their preferred candidates on the list of nominees for the 2015 Hugos, announced earlier this month.

On the other side, there is no official name — just authors who range from being little known outside of science fiction/fantasy, to some, notably George R.R. Martin, known worldwide.

"While most years, the annual list of finalists leaves some members scratching their heads over the collective taste of their fellow members, this year the reaction has been stronger than ever," said Kevin Standlee, a member of the Hugos' marketing committee.

Standlee says anyone who is at least a supporting member of the annual World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) can vote. The only requirement: paying a $40 annual fee.

"The Hugo Awards have in the past represented the views of the members who chose to participate, whatever those views are. That's true this year as well. The nominating process does, however, tend to favor strong minority opinions over those of majorities, because it is a wide-open, un-juried process," he says.

The Sad Puppies, formed two years ago, are led by authors Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia. Torgersen, himself a former Hugo nominee, said that his group's goal was "to make the so-called 'most prestigious award in the field' actually reflect some of what the wider fan audience is still reading."

According to Torgersen, the name Sad Puppies originates from a joke by Correia that "every time a tedious, boring, or otherwise 'literary' piece of barely science-fiction wins an award, somewhere, puppies cry."

"Sad Puppies has tried to point out that merely being politically topical in a given year, isn't necessarily the best way to gauge if a work is really the 'best' in the field," Torgersen said.

Torgersen cited a couple of examples from the 2014 Hugos: The winner for best novel, Ann Leckie's "Ancillary Justice," was "explicitly playing with gender, and gender is a very hot political topic in the wider culture right now," he said. Of John Chu's "The Water That Falls On You from Nowhere," winner last year for best short story, Torgersen said that it was "explicitly about homosexual relationships, while being very thin on speculative or fantastical elements. But because gay marriage is a very hot political topic in the wider culture, this story too got a boost."

In response, Leckie told the AP that "Mr. Torgersen is, of course, welcome to his opinion. I have quite a lot of readers waiting for my next book, and they are my primary concern right now." Chu said that he often meets people who loved his story and that "Fandom, at its best, strives to be a big tent, accepting of all genders, races, and sexual orientations. The Hugos, at its best, reflects the whole of fandom."

Critics of the Puppies, whether Sad or Rabid, call them hypocrites who only object to political content when it's from the left. They note that best editor nominee Vox Day (a pseudonym for Theodore Beale) has called being gay a "birth defect" and said that marital rape is impossible because "marriage grants consent on an ongoing basis." On his blog (, Torgersen wrote that "maybe Vox is terrible" but that calls to disavow him were "about me signaling to the tribe that I can be bent to the tribe's will."

"I reject all who demand I partake in the unpersoning of anyone in this field," he wrote.

David Gerrold, whose credits include writing for the original "Star Trek" TV series and the Hugo-winning novelette "The Martian Child," wrote recently on his Facebook page that Torgersen "has committed all the same sins he is now projecting onto others." Gerrold, who will co-host this year's Hugos ceremony, added that "the architects of this squabble will have indelibly damaged themselves in the eyes of the SF community."

Martin, in a series of lengthy posts on his web site (, disputed contentions by the Sad Puppies and their supporters that they have been threatened and ostracized and rejected allegations that white males have been pushed out of the nominations.

"Really? Really? C'mon, guys," Martin wrote. "Go look at the last five, ten years of Hugo ballots. Count how many men were nominated. Count how many women. Now count the black writers and the Asian writers and the foreign-language writers. Yes, yes, things are changing. We have a lot more women and minorities being nominated than we did in 1957, say, or even 1987. But the ballots are still way more white and way more male than not."

"There was never any need for Sad Puppies to 'take back' the Hugos," Martin concluded. "The feminists, minorities, literary cliques, and Social Justice Warriors never took them in the first place. "

The awards will be announced in August during WorldCon, in Spokane, Washington. Torgersen said he suspects that "after a summer of high drama on the internet" people will simply "favor names of authors, editors and artists they recognize." Martin believes turnout is the main factor.

"This year, the Puppies emptied the kennels and got out their vote, and we didn't," Martin wrote on his web site. "Fandom danced the usual, 'Oh, too busy to nominate, I will just vote on the final ballot,' and for that complacency, we got blindsided. We lost. They kicked our fannish asses, and now we have the ballot they gave us. If we don't want that to happen again, we need to get out our OWN vote."