“No Award” The Hugo Awards Part VIII: Is Reconciliation Possible?


By: Chris Chan

This is the seventh in a series of articles. For Part I, please see here. For Part II, please see here. For Part III, please see here. For Part IV, please see here. For Part V, please see here. For Part VI, please see here. For Part VII, please see here.

Over the past seven months, I have outlined the details of the controversy known as the “Sad Puppies” (and also the “Rabid Puppies”) that has shaken up the sci-fi/fantasy awards known as the Hugos in recent years. In this final article, having discussed the reasons for disagreement and the emotions and reactions coming from people on all sides of this conflict, I now wish to address a question that was asked a great deal during Sad Puppies III, but which has been raised much less frequently in recent years: is reconciliation possible?

It’s an important issue to raise. When a group is sharply split by fierce differences, as the experiences at Worldcon indicate, it can lead to arguments, slander, and lasting enmity. This is particularly the case with the Hugos controversy, where opinions have been shaped by incorrect or at least incomplete information, and passions have run high.

After Sad Puppies III in 2015, when the Sad and Rabid Puppy nominees claimed the overwhelming majority of the slots and “No Award” dominated the final Hugo results, there were attempts by some of the leading figures on all sides of the controversy to smooth matters. Some of the puppy opponents argued that the results of the vote proved that the majority of the WorldCon members opposed the Puppy selections (or at least their organized nomination tactics) and that reconciliation could be achieved if members of the Puppies recognized that public opinion was against them and the Puppies apologized and abandoned their group voting tactics.

In response to a post by George R. R. Martin about the possibility of a de-escalation of hostilities along the aforementioned lines, Brad R. Torgersen wrote in his essay “Sad Puppies and the Future” that:

“Many people have already seen George R. R. Martin’s optimistic (and well-intended) commentary at his LiveJournal. However, just as with George’s hood ornament Alfie awards (also well-intended) there is more than one way for a thing to be perceived. My perception — and I am not alone in this — of George’s desire for an end to the rancor, is that George still seems to think that a) the rancor was flowing almost entirely one-way, from the Puppies’ side to the Trufan side, and also b) none of the Puppies are themselves fans. Not Fans (caps f) and certainly not Trufans. No. Puppies are still an outsider bunch who carry an outsider’s stigma.

There is also a bit too much parentalism in George’s tone: dear kids, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, now wipe those dirty looks off your faces and come give your mother a hug!

As long as that’s George’s take — and he’s certainly not alone in this — then attempts at reconciliation will be difficult at best. Because as long as Puppies are deemed to be subservient, second-class citizens within the field proper, the emotion that spawned Sad Puppies, will remain. I don’t know anybody who easily accepts being a second-class citizen in her own country. Especially not after certain people within George’s beloved community — including certain individuals at George’s own publisher — moved heaven and earth to slanderously and libelously smear all Puppies indiscriminately.”

Torgersen further explains why he finds reconciliation unlikely and defends his role in the Sad Puppies, writing, “I don’t know how bridges get built from here. Most of the CHORFs and the crybullies will hate Larry Correia and myself forever. I knew in April that for me specifically, there would never be any kind of going back. I was, and would forever be, an outlaw in the minds of the CHORFs and the crybullies. And since the CHORFs and crybullies occupy numerous seats of prestige and influence within the SF/F establishment, this would relegate me to the role of desperado — forever riding the fences. I can get away with it because, as I told one critic, my career path doesn’t depend on me bending my knee to the SF/F establishment. That’s a big reason why I knew I was a good pick for running Sad Puppies 3 in the first place.”

John C. Wright concurs that reconciliation is an unlikely result, stressing the nature of the deep divisions between groups, and voicing his strong disapproval of his opponents. Wright argues:

“Reconciliation is neither desirable nor possible, for the difference between the two camps is not a difference in literary taste, not a difference in political opinion, nor a difference of philosophy nor religion. It is a difference between creators and destroyers; it is a difference between unhappy and envious parasites and the happy hosts on whose blood and work they feed, attempting in vain to fill their own emptiness…

This is not politics. This is a war between civilized men and filthy barbarians. It is a struggle between humans and post-humans.

My advice is to gird up your loins and prepare to fight for what you love.

These people are relentless. They cannot be reasoned with. They despise reason. Compromise is not possible. They regard concession as admission of weakness. They will not accept your surrender. They hate you and hate everything you love. What they want is the power to terrify you by threatening your livelihood and damaging your reputation, and then to use that power to destroy.

Even the most loyal bootlicking sycophant among them, at any moment, for any reason or no reason, can be denounced as this week’s thought-criminal, and subjected to the Two Minute Hate. You cannot escape the eye of Sauron by obeying him.

Most disheartening of all is that when I list my favorite childhood series, serials, comic books, or movie franchises, I find that not one has been spared. All have been defaced and degraded by a politically correct revision. It is like seeing graffiti sprayed on the Parthenon, a mustache drawn on the Mona Lisa.”

Is there any point that might bring these opposing factions towards reconciliation? Perhaps addressing serious issues beyond the distribution of mere trophies might be an important step in that direction.

Recently, scandals connected to sexual harassment and assault, rape, and the silence of people who were aware of these horrific acts yet did nothing have roiled the entertainment industry. During the 2016 Hugo Season, two works on the Rabid Puppies ballot that made it to the final list of nomines raised the issue of allegations of terrible sex crimes. Daniel Eness’s Safe Space as Rape Room is a decades-long history of child molestation allegedly committed by leading members of the sci-fi/fantasy community, including famous authors and fandom social organizers. (Readers should be warned that due to the nature of the crimes being discussed in the essays, the content of these pieces contains material of a very disturbing nature.) Many famous figures are accused of appalling sex acts, and many branches of the publishing industry and broader fan community are castigated for their complicity or their excusing of these monstrous crimes. Moira Greyland’s The Story of Moira Greyland is an autobiographical essay by the daughter of the acclaimed writers Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen. In this essay, Ms. Greyland writes about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents, her parents’ other victims, how former fans of Greyland’s parents work responded when they learned of the abuse, and the ongoing fallout and search for healing.

Neither Safe Space as Rape Room nor The Story of Moira Greyland won the Hugo for Best Related Work – they and the other three nominees for “Best Related Work” all lost to No Award, with 73.56% of the Hugo voters choosing No Award as their first choice that year. (Greyland was the second runner-up that year, and Eness was ranked last as fourth runner-up.)

Perhaps in light of the recent widespread calls for new efforts to fight sexual abuse and to obtain justice for victims, opposing factions might unite in a common cause. Eness concludes Part Five of “Safe Space as Rape Room” by writing: “A final word of thanks to all the survivors of this horrific crime who have -either privately or publicly in the comments provided their insights and thoughts on this matter. This unique knowledge that you never asked for and certainly never deserved has been very helpful in this modest attempt to shed further light on this number one problem in science fiction circles that has been allowed to feed on darkness for far, far too long.” It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps an effort to obtain justice for victims and survivors of abuse may heal some rifts in the science fiction and fantasy communities.

The next chapter in the future of the Hugos will be written soon. Worldcon 2018 will be held in San Jose this summer, and starting in January (and continuing through March), fans will be able to submit nominations, and the nominees will be announced in April, with voting ending in midsummer, shortly before Worldcon. It remains to be seen who will make it to the final ballot, who will win, and how the nominees will be received by various members of the Worldcon community.

The future of the Hugos will depend on many factors. The composition of the voters may change significantly in many directions, for if people with certain tastes sign up, they may potentially shift the selection of nominees and winners in all sorts of ways. Ultimately, the future of the Hugos and comparable fandom-related organizations will depend on how the groups deal with issues like the Sad Puppies. What happens when a group of fans, who initially united out of a shared love for a common topic, are divided along lines of taste and opinion?

The Sad Puppies controversy has always been a reflection over the broader debates over culture that are currently raging in countless venues throughout society. Fandom can unite and encourage friendship, but it can also divide and provoke tensions as well. The debates over what constitutes quality writing will probably never end, but we run the risk of losing part of our shared humanity if we believe that divisions amongst people are inherently irreparable and unbridgeable.

This series of articles was written in the hopes that explanation of the situation, clarification of opinions, and refutation of falsehoods might serve as a means of promoting reconciliation amongst people with shared interests but opposing opinions. Whether or not it will meet with any degree of success remains to be seen.

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