“No Award”: The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy Literature – Part Two: A Short History of the Sad Puppies at the Hugos

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By: Chris Chan

This is the second in a series of articles. For Part I, please see here.

As the title of this essay illustrates, this is a “short” history of the Sad Puppies. By necessity, certain aspects of the past five years will need to be condensed or temporarily ignored, but many details of the narrative that have been given short thrift here will be addressed in future installments in this series.

Pretty much every literary prize has provoked criticisms and discontent at some point, and the Hugo Awards are no exception. Like many literary movements, the Sad Puppies started with one group’s dissatisfaction at the status quo. Opinions on artistic work are bound to clash, and in 2013, the issues that many sci-fi/fantasy fans had with the works being nominated for Hugo Awards took form as the Sad Puppies. Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunters series, took the lead.

Correia has been outspoken in his belief that politics and ideology have been a primary factor in which works receive critical acclaim in many circles. In one blog post, he wrote that, “I started this campaign [Sad Puppies] a few years ago because I believed that the awards were politically biased, and dominated by a few insider cliques. Authors who didn’t belong to these groups or failed to appease them politically were shunned. When I said this in public, I was called a liar, and told that the Hugos represented all of fandom and that the awards were strictly about quality. I said that if authors with ‘unapproved’ politics were to get nominations, the quality of the work would be irrelevant, and the insider cliques would do everything in their power to sabotage that person. Again, I was called a liar, so I set out to prove my point.”

In 2013, Correia recommended several works that he thought would be overlooked by the Hugos, and many of his fans and followers voted for them at the Hugos, leading to a handful of nominations. The running joke about poorly written “message fiction” making adorable puppies sad led to an embrace of the name “Sad Puppies.” The oft-adopted, humorously-meant full name of the movement was the “Sad Puppies Think of the Children Campaign.” A similar process happened during the next year, when Sad Puppies II’s voters led to their preferred candidates receiving several more nominations. Most of the candidates supported by Sad Puppies I and II received some backlash by online commenters, and the Sad Puppies nominations mostly did not lead to wins.

Correia did use the Sad Puppies as a means of refuting an oft-levelled accusation that the Hugo ballot-counters habitually tossed certain ballots in order to achieve a desired result. Correia explained that, “One of the goals of Sad Puppies I and II was to audit the system (I was an auditor before I became a writer). I kept track of Sad Puppies nominees and voters across the categories, and then compared the final numbers when they were released. After two years of doing that, I was able to say that I saw zero indication of dishonesty or fraud, and that the Hugo admins had been perfectly honest in their dealings.”

Based upon the reactions to the Sad Puppies-backed nominations, Correia believed that his point had been made, and stepped aside. Sarah Hoyt, who had been involved with Sad Puppies II, intended to take control of the Sad Puppies campaign. Hoyt explains that she got involved, saying, “I got involved with SP3, partly because I’m friends with Larry and partly because I thought it was a worthy endeavor.” A cancer diagnosis prevented Hoyt’s more active involvement in 2015 (Hoyt has since recovered). Brad R. Torgersen took the reins of the 2015 Sad Puppies III campaign, and after consulting with friends and fans, drew up a list of recommended works for Hugo nomination.

In 2015, a similarly-named but completely different group launched its own campaign to get its preferred nominees recognition from the Hugos. This group dubbed itself the “Rabid Puppies,” and advanced its own preferred nominees in each category. The Rabid Puppies were led by Vox Day (the pen name of Theodore Robert Beale), a writer and lead editor of the publisher Castalia House. Vox Day is a notorious controversialist, whose opinions on various issues have sparked anger and outrage from many quarters. Thoughts about Vox Day amongst leading members of the Sad Puppies run the gamut of opinions, but all members of the Sad Puppies agree that the Rabid Puppies are a completely separate group, and the Rabid Puppies’ aims and leadership are wholly different from those of the Sad Puppies. In 2015, there was substantial overlap between works recommended by the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies.

The results of the 2015 experiment were dramatic and explosive. The recommendations of the Sad Puppies (and also those put forward by the Rabid Puppies) dominated the 2015 Hugo Nominations. John C. Wright received five nominations in three categories (he initially was awarded a sixth slot, but one was revoked on a technicality). The Hugo nominee list changed over the coming weeks. Aside from the aforementioned instance, some nominees chose to decline their nomination (Hugo nominees have this option and can decline for any reason they like – some original nominees did not approve of the Sad or Rabid Puppies and did not wish to have any connection with them, and others objected that they believed that the voting process was being corrupted), and the slots were then filled by the runners-up. Incidentally, Correia’s Monster Hunter Nemesis received enough votes to qualify for a Best Novel nomination, but he turned down the nod to make the point that Sad Puppies was not being organized in order to receive honors for himself.

There was a fierce backlash to the Sad Puppies in many forums, with various allegations and complaints against the group that will be addressed in an upcoming article. Some critics of the Sad Puppies argued that the Sad Puppies were creating rifts amongst the sci-fi fan community, but Torgersen contends that ideological, political, thematic, and stylistic rifts amongst sci-fi fans have been around for decades. Torgersen explains, “At this point, I don’t see a reconciliation, because the culture of science fiction literature is pretty much baked in at this point. It makes sense if you go back to the roots of the World Science Fiction Convention [launched in 1939]. Specifically, the Futurians. They were a crop of ambitious young Marxists who believed Science Fiction (the emerging literary genre) should proselytize the virtues of Marxist thought, and the (they assumed) coming Marxist world scientific state. Many of the Futurians went on to become major writers and/or editors. But not without some bumps along the way, in the form of Sam Moskowitz and other folk who opposed the Futurians. We’ve had rifts in the sci-fi/fantasy literary community ever since. Most notably the rift between the New Wave artists of the 1960s, and the Campbellian (for editor John W. Campbell) science/adventure authors. New Wave prized style over substance, while Campbellian prized ideas and technological theory over style. Some of the better authors managed to fuse both. But the rift remains. In some ways, Sad Puppies merely ripped the lousy little bandage off the old wound that is the conflict between New Wave and Campbellian.”

When the 2015 Hugos were finally awarded, the results were notable for the relative paucity of winners. The Hugos do not select the victors through a simple majority vote. The Hugos use a ranking system comparable to the Oscars’ current system for selecting the Best Picture winner. Each contender is ranked by the voter, and a series of tabulations determine the winner based on overall popularity rather than the possible preferences of a simple plurality. Unlike many similar awards, the Hugos have a “No Award” option. If a voter believes that none of the nominees in a category deserves to take home the trophy, or if any of the nominees is unworthy, then “No Award” can be ranked at the top, or above the nominees that the voter deems inferior. A further proviso is that in certain situations, if more voters ranked “No Award” higher than the top-ranked contender, then “No Award” takes the category.

In the wake of the 2015 Hugo nominees being released, there was a great deal of backlash and protest at the Puppy-related dominance, and numerous individuals voiced their opposition to the nominees in various forums (their specific objections will be addressed more fully in a later article). Objecting to what they perceived to be inferior candidates, or decrying the organization of the Sad and Rabid Puppies (the two groups were often wrongly conflated in many articles and editorials), campaigns began to vote for “No Award” (or “Noah Ward” as some figures put it) in any category where Puppies filled all of the slots, or in cases where a non-Puppy-backed work was nominated, to rank that candidate the highest and to place the remaining Puppy-connected nominees below “No Award” in the rankings.

In the previous decades of the Hugo Awards’ existence, the “No Award” option was utilized very few times. When 2015 Hugo winners were announced, surprisingly few trophies were handed out that evening. In virtually every case where Sad Puppies-backed writers filled all five slots, “No Award” came out on top. Aside from a Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form win for Guardians of the Galaxy, no nominee supported by the Sad Puppies won a Hugo. More “No Award” decisions were revealed that night than in all the previous Hugo Award ceremonies combined.

The Sad Puppies members who attended the 2015 Worldcon were met with widespread (though not universal) hostility. John C. Wright recounts how his wife (L. Jagi Lamplighter, also an author), spoke to a prominent science fiction editor, “in an attempt to affect a reconciliation, [and] he shouted and swore at her using potty-mouth language.” When “No Award” was announced, it was met with loud applause each time. Another action that particularly sparked rancor was the distribution of wooden medallions to the nominees (something not done in previous years). The medallions featured a large hole in the center carved in the shape of an asterisk. The meaning of this symbol is well known to readers of Kurt Vonnegut, who famously used it to represent a certain portion of human anatomy, and the meaning of the symbol was similarly used on the television show Community.

Notably, different sides both declared victory after the 2015 Hugos. Opponents of the Sad Puppies (who by this point had been nicknamed “Puppy Kickers” by the Sad Puppies), claimed that they had successfully prevented the Puppies from claiming any prizes. In contrast, Sad Puppies leaders like Torgersen stated that the goal of the Sad Puppies was not to take home hardware (though wins for preferred candidates would have been nice), but to expose the divisions, cliques, and emotions that were present amongst the Hugo voters.

After a short period where various science fiction fans and commentators reviewed the results, the battle for the 2016 Hugos commenced. Author Kate Paulk (http://www.katepaulk.com) took over Sad Puppies IV, which was often given the subtitle “The Embiggening.” The official Facebook page declared that “We want to see MOAR: MOAR voters! MOAR votes!” Paulk noted that only a small percentage of eligible Hugo voters bothered to nominate works, and she hoped that the Sad Puppies efforts would lead increasing numbers of people with all sorts of tastes to the Hugo ballot box.

Paulk took a different approach to gathering potential nominees, arguing that under her supervision, there would be no collection of five recommended nominees in any category. Instead, Paulk set up a database and collected recommendations from anybody who wished to submit ideas for nominees – there were absolutely no restrictions on who could submit recommendations of any kind. After some months of gathering possibilities, Paulk drew up lists of the most-supported possibilities (the lists were not limited to five choices), and asked Hugo voters to consult the lists in the hopes of discovering worthy works, and then to submit their nominations according to their own tastes. A work’s presence on the list did not necessarily mean that Paulk herself liked the work, it simply meant that numerous contributors approved of it.

When the 2016 Hugo nominations were announced, there were numerous candidates from the Sad Puppies IV recommendation lists. However, the Rabid Puppies put up a full list of preferred nominees with five candidates per category. A substantial majority of the Rabid Puppies picks made it to the final ballot. (There were several points of overlap between the Sad and Rabid Puppies lists, though as stated earlier, the list of possible recommendations on the Sad Puppies IV list was much longer, and featured many of the most popular and best-reviewed works of the year.)

The 2016 Hugo results had some points of both similarity and difference to the previous year. In most cases, the winners were nominees that were not on the Sad or Rabid Puppies recommended lists, though a couple of nominees from the Sad Puppies recommendations won. “No Award” took the “Best Fancast” and “Best Related Work” categories.

2016 also saw the inauguration of a new sci-fi/fantasy award: The Dragon Award, connected to Dragon Con. Anybody can submit nominations to the Dragon Awards and vote for free. The categories are somewhat different from the Hugos (there are currently no awards for short fiction, the novels are divided into different categories, and various games are celebrated.) Many Sad Puppies figures urged fans to nominate and vote for the Dragon Awards. In the first Dragon Awards, John C. Wright won the Best Science Fiction Dragon Award for Somewither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm, and Larry Correia took home the Best Fantasy Novel prize for Son of the Black Sword.

Sad Puppies V is still ongoing. Sarah Hoyt is in charge, but she did not oversee the recommendations of any potential nominations for the Hugos in 2017. Hoyt explained, “[The Hugo Award] wasn’t supposed to belong to any clique. It was supposed to be the best in sci-fi chosen by ALL the fans. Now it’s clear it’s the award of a clique, we don’t care about it, and they can keep it with our blessing. But at the same time we’re going to use what remains of the Sad Puppies movement to create more word of mouth for good books (including indies, because those tend to have more trouble finding an audience.) And we’re going to give you material to nominate and vote for the awards you care about. So they don’t go the way of the Hugo through sheer apathy.”

Hoyt further explained her goals, saying that, “I’m technically in charge of SP5 mostly to keep people from claiming they are… [Some other people have tried to claim control of the Sad Puppies movement]. We are not interested in the Hugos. The horrendous ‘assterisk’ episode removed what dignity and gravitas the award had left… I will eventually put up a page for people to recommend books. There will be a note if the book is eligible for an award. It should already be up, but I have had different health issues which slowed things way down. This might be for the best, as it prevents people from even pretending we’re making a “Hugo list” since nomination is past, and soon voting will be [too].”

It should be noted that the 2017 Hugo nomination voting has changed dramatically from previous years. During the 2015 Worldcon, attendees passed a movement to overhaul the voting system. In the past, there were five nominees (assuming sufficient votes – if not, as few as three candidates could be selected), and now that number was raised to six. Individuals could still nominate up to five candidates, but each voter’s nomination was split amongst the total submitted works.

The Rabid Puppies adjusted their voting strategy in the wake of the balloting changes, and instead put forward only one suggestion in most cases, and two in a handful. Several of the Rabid Puppies recommendations made it to the final ballot. In general, many of the people who decried the Puppies’ dominance of the past two years cheered the 2017 nominations, celebrating what they considered to be the quality and the diversity of the nominees.

The 2017 Hugo Award winners will be announced on August 11th at the Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland.

Amanda S. Green notes that the Sad Puppies will continue to try to make an impact on the broader literary world in 2018. She explains, “With regard to SP6 next year, I’m going to spearhead it and will be building on what Kate Paulk did last year with SP4 and what Sarah manages to do with SP5. But that will wait for several months.”

Coming up in Part Three of this series – Myths, Realities, and Controversies of the Sad Puppies and the Hugos


    8 Comments

  1. John Van StryJune 6th, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    You forgot to mention the rampant vote buying by the puppy kickers. In previous years, that would have been a serious issue, but suddenly that didn’t matter anymore. At least one author was advertising that she would by voting memberships for her fans to vote, and ended up buying over 100 (by her own admission) as people started to donate funds.

  2. L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright)June 7th, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you for this fair and thoughtful take on a sometimes explosive topic.

  3. Mike GlyerJune 7th, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    “Objecting to what they perceived to be inferior candidates, or decrying the organization of the Sad and Rabid Puppies (the two groups were often wrongly conflated in many articles and editorials),…”

    Very true. There surprisingly turned out to be only a handful of Sad Puppies, versus a couple hundred Rabid Puppies. If Vox Day hadn’t commandeered Larry Correia’s movement, there wouldn’t have been enough votes to influence more than a trivial number of Hugo nominations.

  4. Greg HullenderJune 8th, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    The Sad Puppies never managed more than about 70 people in the nomination phase. In 2014, even that would have been enough to grab about half the nominations, if they’d used an optimal strategy, and about 1/3 in 2015. When you add the Rabids, the Puppies had 200 people in 2015 and just over 400 in 2016–enough to take over 90% of the finalist slots, if they’d actually known what they were doing.

    In many ways, the real story here is how the Puppies managed to screw up so badly in 2016. It was their last year to really have a chance to dominate the ballot–to “burn down the awards,” as they’d vowed. And yet the Sad Branch only made a half-hearted effort while the Rabid branch produced a seriously sub-optimal slate for that purpose. Indeed, up to 80% of their numbers deserted the slate over nominees that were supposedly strategic, but which were very much at odds with their philosophy.

    As far as distinguishing the Sad from the Rabid Puppies, I think it’s worth noting that (as far as I’m aware) not a single Sad Puppy condemned the Rabid Puppies for nominating “Space Raptor Butt Invasion.” All of their claims to be about “quality stories” and that they really were different from the Rabid Puppies seem to fall to earth in the face of that.

  5. BruceJune 8th, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    I wasn’t present at the conversation between L. Jagi Lamplighter and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (your unnamed editor), nor was John C. Wright, but other accounts of it differ from Wright’s. If you weren’t so one-sided in this series, you would have named the editor and attempted to get both sides of the story.

    As I mentioned in the comments to your first article, in the cases where the 2015 Sad Puppies slate and Rabid Puppies slates differed, the Rabid Puppies slate entry became a finalist, showing the Sad Puppies were not as effective at getting people to nominate their works. The Rabid Puppies slate was heavily skewed towards works and authors published by Vox Day’s publishing company, Castalia House, which many Hugo voters found offensive.

  6. FoxfierJune 10th, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    For those who may not know: Mike Glyer is a long term activist in trying to form views on Sad Puppies. (He’s against it, to paraphrase the old westerns. 😀 )

    I wouldn’t suggest trying to show him the huge growth in supporting membership numbers that came with Sad Puppies urging people to vote, at least not if the point is to try to inform him. He knows, he just rejects it. Basically, unless you also are against Sad Puppies, you won’t get much enjoyment from trying to converse with him; if you do share his views, I highly suggest talking to him, and wish you both enjoyment.

  7. Brad R. TorgersenJune 10th, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Mike, uhh . . . . prior to Sad Puppies, Toni Weisskopf got how many Hugo nominations? Oh, that’s right, zero. Go look at the vote totals for 2015, again. She was the most-voted Best Editor EVER. In Hugo history. A number far, far in excess of your paltry “couple hundred.”

    Seems to me there were a few more folks agreeing with Sad Puppies than any of you CHORFs would ever dare admit.

    But that’s okay. You happily embraced the activist-scabs, who didn’t care about anything other than down-voting for the sake of down-voting. Largest block vote in the annals of fandom. But wait! Steve Davidson says block votes are BAD! Except when Trufans run it, I guess?

  8. Greg HullenderJune 14th, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Best Editor (Long Form) is a bad example, since it’s a category where fans have zero ability to pick nominees. We don’t know who the editor was for most books, and if we did, we wouldn’t know how good a job that person did. I routinely vote “No Award” and nothing else in that category to signal that I think it shouldn’t exist at all, and I know others who do the same.

    For what it’s worth, my own analysis suggests that Toni would have had the most nominations for Best Editor in 2015 even without the slate vote.

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