Why Puppies are sad, and always will be


Let me state from the outset that I have zero interest in awards. While they are an honor when fairly awarded—and it would be fun to have that merit badge in my collection—the reality is that in the big game, Hugos, Nebulae and other awards really mean nothing to the life of a working writer. Aside from having an editor decide to include your winning story in an awards anthology, the economic impact is pretty much zero. As Jerry Pournelle once commented, “Money will see you through times of no awards better than awards will see you through times of no money.”

That said, it would have been easy for me to blissfully ignore the rabid puppy hijacking of the Hugo awards. As many others have noted, SF awards have always been political. The Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies are far from the first people to ever stuff a ballot box to get their friends (or themselves) on the ballot. And a study of winners cross-correlated to the geographical location for both them and the convention produces a bias for “home town heroes.”

The reasons I can’t ignore the current controversy are legion, but chief among them is having to own responsibility for what’s going on in my field. To be silent is to be complicit, apathy is approval. Because I care about the field, and the state of humanity, I am sharing my thoughts.

I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies and was smart enough, perhaps precociously so, to understand the effects that the Civil Rights movement (being the movement to promote equality for everyone) would have on my life. Redressing centuries of oppression would require, I reasoned, a minimum of three generations. Because of my situation, I’d be smack-dab in the first generation, and that meant things would get a bit bumpy.

Generation One: To work toward equality and a stronger society, those who were in the privileged class would be required to share power and opportunities with those who had little of either previously. Having been trained as a historian, I knew this wasn’t anything unusual, but that in earlier times this power sharing had generally been accomplished by non-governmental means. Disadvantaged parties banded together to create secret societies, criminal associations, and political machines. They gnawed away at the current power structure. This is seen most easily by studying how the Irish integrated into the American political landscape. This process began in the middle of the 19th Century and culminated in the election of John F. Kennedy as President in 1960. And yet, discrimination against Irish and Catholics did not vanish—and are alive and well today.

Thus, as I became a thinking adult, I understood that were I to apply for a position and if I was deemed just equal to another candidate, I might get passed over. Fact is, that’s the reality of any employment situation, which is why working as hard as you can to do better is a winning strategy.

I’ve heard a lot of carping about the inequity of affirmative action. People complain about how it’s not fair, since white males born when I was didn’t do any oppressing. Why should we pay for the sins of others?

“Why me?” isn’t the question that needs to be answered. The question is, “Do you want this society to become stronger or not?” I figured out that I was strong enough to endure a little unequal treatment so folks who had endured far more could have an even chance at success. Just as I’d not oppressed anyone, neither did those who sought fair treatment deserved being treated as some underclass because of skin color or gender. And there are those who will claim the pendulum has swung too far, but I’ve always found that to be the whine of thwarted entitlement and frustrated privilege. I mean, really, if you see yourself as superior, pull on your big boy pants and work hard like everyone else trying to make a buck.

Of course, every candidate who is passed over feels he was more than equal to the competition. Thus the choice becomes either acknowledging that they were just equal or, gosh, inferior to the competition; or that they were discriminated against. Guess which ego-salving choice is the easiest to accept?

What I accepted is that things would be rougher for me than they might have been in the past. But I was okay with that. My career choice minimized the effect of affirmative action. Entrepreneurs—especially freelance creatives—face such an uphill struggle that going a more traditional route would have been easier. But this was the life I chose, and because I made that choice, I realized I had no right to whine about how I got treated.

Puppies take note.

Generation One forced people of diverse cultures and genders into community together. From the very first I don’t think there was anyone who thought this sort of affirmative action would result in Harmony and Enlightenment en masse or would be without pain. People got jostled and smacked around. People got upset. People retrenched and went underground with their prejudices. That was predictable, to be expected, and ultimately didn’t mean anything. That’s because Generation One was prep for Generation Two.

Generation Two: Because people were forced to work together in Generation One, their children had opportunities to get to know each other as people from their first moments of cognition. Kids don’t start out with prejudices, they learn them from their parents. And as they grow up, and grow to be distinct from their parents, they adopt their own opinions and coping mechanisms. Generation Two kids grow into adults that see diversity as normal. It’s about who the person is on the inside, not the outside, that matters.

Sure, there’s going to be complaining; but that’s normal. A suck-up at work is always going to be a suck-up. A whiney asshole will always be a whiney asshole, regardless of gender, skin-color or sexual preference. And we’ll always be suspicious of that which is unfamiliar—a survival trait that helped get us into this mess in the first place. (If the Neanderthal had that trait, Homo Sapiens likely wouldn’t have wiped them out.) There will be tension—there will always be tensions—but they ease.

Until recently, I used to play indoor soccer here in Phoenix (a Generation Two sport if there ever was one). I played on a co-ed team. There were players on other teams that I absolutely loathed because I only saw them in an adversarial situation. They might celebrate putting the ball past me, but I’d see that as gloating. There was one player, in fact, from Europe, who was arrogant and mouthy and, unfortunately for me, hugely skilled. I could have bricked over the entire mouth of the goal, and he’d still get it past me.

And he gloated. During the game. After the game. Before the next game. Insufferable.

Then something miraculous happened. Someone told him who I was. Turned out, he was a huge Star Wars fan. He’d actually read my X-wing novels and loved them. And from that point forward he still scored, but didn’t gloat. On those occasions where I filled in on his team, he was incredibly encouraging and helpful. Why? Because we’d found a way to connect.

Generation Two is all about creating those connections.

Generation Three: Generation Three is where we’re headed now. I don’t have children (of which I am aware), but their children would be Generation Three. They’d be growing up in a world that still had prejudices, but they’d not be immediate or automatic. Growing up in the internet era, they’d have friends that they only knew through reading their blogs or chatting with them in IM. They might not even know the physical nature of the person they’ve become friends with. Contrary to certain opinions, this doesn’t spell the end to civilization.

Unless, of course, you define civilization from a reactionary position and declare anything smacking of progress as deviant, corrupt, corrosive and blasphemous. There have always been people who have done that. There always will be. According to studies cited in John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience, approximately 23% of the human population is conservative by nature and highly resistant to change. These people, regardless of gender, gender preference or skin color are as much victims of their genetic makeup as, well, the people they pigeonhole because of their genetic makeup.

The problem for them, quite simply, is in the numbers. More of us look toward progress, and accept change as good, than exist in the reactionary reservoir of humanity. That reactionary forces slow things isn’t always bad—the pace of change especially now really demands that we take some time for proper reflection on the consequences of our actions. Given that tech can now allow us to wipe out our own species, and most of the rest of the world, thoughtfulness isn’t a vice.


To me, the oddest part about the Rabid Puppies and their lamenting that they don’t get awards is that they’re pointing to the wrong reason why they’re left out in the cold. It’s not because they’re an oppressed minority. It’s because they don’t write the kind of work that gets awards. The Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards have traditionally been handed out to new voices addressing new ways of telling stories, addressing new issues and new technology. When geographical bias is factored out of the awards, over and over again they go to works which are imaginative, well-written and, more often than not, of diminished popularity. After the fact they might become classics, but their more-likely fate is to go out of print despite having won an award.

I’ve been working in this field since 1988 (when my first two novels came out). I’ve never been short-listed for an award of any sort in the field. Why? Because I write series fiction. Because I write fantasy. Because I write military SF. Because I write franchise fiction. I’ve been just as solidly frozen out by the literary establishment as any of the puppies, but it doesn’t bother me.

Why not?

1) Awards don’t move the needle on sales.

2) I can’t eat awards.

3) Awards are not a referendum on quality of writing.

4) Awards reflect notoriety during a mote of time, neither conferring immortality nor success upon the recipients.

5) Readers who only read or respect award-winning authors and their work are outside my target demographic: that being people who want to read a rousing good tale that, maybe, will allow them to reflect on an issue or conundrum now and again.

I get the fact that some of the Puppies are writing the sort of SF which they grew up reading and enjoying. Some of the real classic SF. They love it. They want to write it. I have had many writers and students tell me that’s all they want to do: to write the sort of classic stories that they grew up reading.

Fact is, I love old time radio drama. I could easily write radio dramas and record them as podcasts and make them available to anyone who wants them. I’d have fans who liked them as well, but none of us would ever expect those dramas to become “mainstream” or to be treated as anything more than quaint nods to what had been done 80 years previously. There’s no rational person who could look at the current landscape and assume that the case would be otherwise.

As I’ve told many writers and students, it’s fine if you want to write the SF you loved when you were a kid. If you want to sell your SF, get a time machine and sell to editors back then, because today those stories aren’t cutting it. That is simply a fact, just the same as the fact that any writer who couldn’t do characterization after 1988 had his career die, no matter how big he was before that point in time. We are dealing with market realities, and while they might seem utterly unfair and arbitrary, that’s the real world. Suck it up.

Writers write. Professional writers write and get paid for their output. That’s it. Writers existed before there were awards, they’ll exist and keep writing long after awards have faded away or, worse, there are so many awards that everybody wins one. And, at that time, there will be a sliver of the community that bitches about winning an award they didn’t want to win. (And if you don’t believe that, come on over to the gaming industry. We have examples. And dice.)

The one thing the Puppies did get right was their name: Puppies. Puppies are immature, are full of sound and fury signifying nothing, tend to chew up things they shouldn’t, and make messes everyone else has to clean up. The problem is that the discussion they pretend to be having is an adult discussion, which requires serious consideration and thoughtfulness. That’s something Puppies aren’t capable of, and thus it falls to the rest of us to see to it that they are not rewarded for their misbehavior.


I love science fiction and fantasy. I love its ability project into a future as a cautionary tale. I love that it takes me away from the everyday. I love that it introduces me to people who are nothing like me and allows me to see life through their eyes. If SF/Fantasy has a mission beyond entertainment, that’s it. SF is the literature of diversity. Anyone who doesn’t understand that and rejoice in it will forever, alas, be sad.

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22 Responses to “Why Puppies are sad, and always will be”

  1. ” The Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards have traditionally been handed out to new voices addressing new ways of telling stories, addressing new issues and new technology. When geographical bias is factored out of the awards, over and over again they go to works which are imaginative, well-written and, more often than not, of diminished popularity. ”

    Nah, Hugos are a popular vote among an aging insular group of fans. If they ever were some mythical thing…they arent anymore.

    “SF is the literature of diversity. Anyone who doesn’t understand that and rejoice in it will forever, alas, be sad.”

    Mr Stackpole, you missed the point of Sad Puppies entirely…or only know what you may have read from their opponents.

    The Funny thing is the Sad Puppies are the revolutionaries, the radicals, the conservatives are those like yourself who are kneejerk defending the staid and ossified organization that worldcon has become.

    The Sad Puppies effort is about bringing in, or bringing back, people that have little care or little knowledge about such a silly, and in reality inconsequential, award. It is about including voices that are not involved in worldcon, either through apathy or ignorance.

    About bringing more voices to the table.

    Sad Puppies is about diversity. Only unlike the checkbox diversity of the rabid leftists of the trufan clique of world con, they are about diversity of ideas, on top of diversity of appearance.

    Voices that express different opinions.

    Voices that think fiction that the worldcon trufans denigrate (self-published or tie-in fiction for example), can be as good and award worthy as faux-literary works that worldcon trufans have come to celebrate. Something Id have expected you to be in favor of.

    In other words Sad Puppies is about bringing in voices that scare and shake up the status quo. That bring back more of a balance to the world of worldcon…

    Though I will say that the Rabid Puppies seem to be about burning the place down….

  2. Points 3 and 5 are actually issues the Sad Puppies have raised. Why shouldn’t awards reward high quality writing and include authors who can really tell a good story? Why should Kevin J. Anderson go an entire career without even a nomination? This year, he was part of the Sad Puppies slate and suddenly he has a Best Novel nod.

    You undoubtedly know him better than anyone who might comment here. Is he a whining reactionary who is shoving some poor oppressed person out of the way in a quest for glory? My impression is he isn’t, and that his inclusion was indeed about the fact that he is a high quality writer, who tells compelling stories, who has also been ignored his entire career.

  3. Michael, thanks for taking the time to weigh in on whole puppies thing. I have been a fan of your work for some time (back in the old Battletech/FASA days). While you do tend to write franchise/military/series fiction, it is still fun to read. I liked where you were going with the Crown Colonies series and I keep hoping for a continuation.

    There have been some other Hugo winners from series (Bujold’s Vorkosigan series as well as several of her fantasy novels, all of the Wheel of Time nominated, many others). Please don’t sell yourself short. You are correct however, a shiny Hugo won’t pay the bills, but even getting a nomination without a win tends to draw plenty of attention (and a bump in sales and readers).

    In any case, thanks and hope to see more from you soon.

  4. *applause* Well said, sir! I’ve been following Puppygate since the ballet was first announced, and while I’m not AT ALL happy with the situation, I am pleased with the excellent essays – such as this one – that I’ve had the opportunity to read detailing why SF is important, why the Hugos are important, and why what the puppies (of both kinds, to the extent that the two kinds are separate) are doing is wrong. I’ve never read any of your books (though I spent many, MANY hours playing Wasteland on my Commodore 64 back in the day), which is why I think this article becomes even more important: It’s a take-down of the puppies from an author I didn’t previously know (and hence have no natural predisposition to agree with) whose books would give the appearance of someone who’d be a natural candidate for puppy-dom, but who instead stands up and eloquently explains what’s going on and why the puppies are on the wrong side of history. My hat is off to you.


    Apologies for the all caps, but I really am shouting!!

  6. Mike – While I appreciate the thought that went into most of your post, I’m DEEPLY disappointed in your utterly baseless characterization of the Sad/Rabid Puppy movement in your final paragraphs. I’m sure there are people in these movements that are precisely as described (immature, incapable of having an adult conversation), but to suggest that the entire movement, or even a majority, is of that nature is simply offensive, or at least horribly ignorant.

    I would consider myself a supporter of the Sad Puppy movement, and I would also consider myself to be mature, articulate, and imminently capable of critical thinking. I can only assume (or at least hope) you mis-characterized me and those like me out of a misunderstanding of the purpose of the Sad Puppies campaign.

    Put simply, it’s this: A few writers and a LOT of fans of Science-Fiction and Fantasy were tired of seeing, in recent years, the Hugo awards going to works that were not particularly enjoyable. You bring up an excellent point I hadn’t considered, that these awards are intended more for new or previously-marginalized ideas and voices, and if that were the commonly-accepted and exclusive nature of the Hugo Awards, I would say that you are correct in dismissing the concerns of the “Puppies” movement. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Hugo Awards are touted as “science fiction’s most prestigious award” (from the official Hugo Awards website), and generally recognized as being awarded for the best science fiction and fantasy works of the past year. I’m sure some would define “best” as “most socially-conscious,” but I sincerely doubt most people would agree with that definition.

    Whenever someone would complain about what appeared to be a political/ideological litmus test for receiving a Hugo nomination, WorldCon die-hards would invariably remind them that anyone can buy a WorldCon supporting membership and vote, so it must mean the nominees and winners really were the best. So a few years ago, the Sad Puppies campaign took them up on that challenge, with the stated goal of promoting works that were enjoyable, regardless of race/gender/nationality/sexuality/etc.

    Fast forward to 2015, and suddenly that “Everyone who wants to vote and pays the membership fee can, so the nominees and winners must be the best” claim is out the window. A group that aren’t “TruFans” have wandered into the club and just ruined it for the in-crowd (This is not an exaggeration, prominent voices have said things just like that, including the actual use of the word “trufan”). And to make matters far worse, serious libel started spreading, such as a piece posted on EW.com that outrageously stated that the Sad Puppies campaign had the intended goal of promoting only white male authors, as reflected by their slate of only white male authors. Of course, anyone who actually looked at the suggested slate would see the numerous women and people of color, and realize how utterly false that claim was. But numerous blogs and even “legitimate” news sources started spreading it. From the tone of your post, and the fact that you focus so heavily on the Civil Rights movement, Affirmative Action, people not wanting to accept change, etc, it appears that you bought into that false narrative, at least in part. I hope that’s not actually the case, but it’s the impression I got. If it is the case, I hope you’ll consider examining the other side, which includes numerous instances of the Sad Puppies leadership unequivocally stating that they want people to vote for works that they found enjoyable, regardless of politics/race/gender/sexuality/etc.

  7. Thank you — very well said.

    In addition to writing fiction, I write poetry, and print it by hand on a letterpress. I do not consider the failure of the world to pick up and exalt my letterpress formal poetry to be its failure 😉 — I know that I am doing what I do for my own enjoyment, and, hopefully, the enjoyment of my readers/appreciators.

  8. I’ve been a fan for ages, and I’m really happy to read this post. It’s great, smart writing and it definitely brightened my day. Thank you.

  9. If the branch stacking campaign succeeds, it will only result in making the Hugo that writing award you don’t want to win. It will ruin the reputation of the award. The people behind this campaign would get a life ban from any real organisation and that’s the only way I can see the Hugo award actually surviving.

  10. Bravo! Nice job with the generation explanation…

    – a member of the 2nd generation, watching the 3rd grow up in my own house

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I want to address some of the points and, because I’m up against a deadline, need to do it quickly. Please bear with me.

    Do the Hugo Awards (or any awards) represent the Best in a given field? Regardless of what it says on the awards website, no award can represent the best. There will always be minority opinions about “best.”

    Looking at the SF field, it becomes very clear that no award can claim to cover the “best.” If you were to read two SF novels per day, every single day of the year, you’d not be able to get through all the novels released by the major publishers in that year. You couldn’t even begin to touch all the indy work. To claim that this tiny list of works represents the “best” is ridiculous.

    The Hugo Award constituency is drawn from a self-selected population of under 5,000 individuals. Let’s say, generously, that 20% of them actually nominate and vote. With five nominees per category, we know that 25% of the ballots cast in any category can win the day. This means that the “best” of SF is chosen by 250 (at most), self-appointed arbiters of what is SF and what is not. From my perspective, this isn’t much of an endorsement for the validity of “best.”

    Are the Sad Puppies “revolutionary?” No, they are not. The same perceived inequity against which they rage popped up in the 1960s with the “New Wave” movement garnering awards. It popped up in the 1970s as more women moved into the field. It’s hit roughly every ten years like clockwork as a new generation of writers moves to the fore, and folks who find themselves outside that clique feel disenfranchised. What some see as revolutionary is, for those with a historical perspective, deja vu.

    Do I lack sympathy for the Sad Puppies? Absolutely not. The fact is, however, that the Sad Puppy agenda has been conflated with the Rabid Puppy agenda. Trying to detangle those two movements will require a Herculean effort which the Rabid Puppies will continually undermine. I believe the Rabid Puppies have forever poisoned the best aspects of the Sad Puppy agenda.

    I fully understand where the Sad Puppies are coming from. Twenty-two years ago I felt exactly the same way. I was fed up with the fact that despite my having published over two dozen novels, that I’d been pigeonholed by the self-appointed cognoscenti as a hack who could never turn out award-winning work. But, because I come from gaming and am a game designer, I decided to crack the code to this award puzzle.

    I sat down and read all the nominees for Nebula awards (given by SFWA, of which I was and yet am a member) in that particular year. In my study of these works I came to two conclusions:

    1) If I were to write a story in the style of award-winning stories, it would only be considered if I published under a pseudonym.

    2) Based on what I’d read, I realized that the only way I could write a story in the style of award-winning stories was to write the kind of story I like and then delete the last two pages. That was the kind of story that was garnering the nominations.

    So, to win an award, I’d have to not be myself in publishing it, and I’d have to write the kind of story I don’t like. Plus, I wouldn’t make any money at it. Given these factors, I didn’t see an upside to my even making the attempt. And it’s not that this is unfair—that doesn’t factor into it. It’s just the reality of trying to win a literary SF award.

    What would publishers call a novel that sold a copy to every single person going to Worldcon? They’d call it a commercial failure. With a novel priced at $8, with a 6% royalty and an advance of $2500.00, 5000 sales wouldn’t even allow the book to break even. Think about that. Even if every single person eligible to vote for a Hugo award bought a copy of a novel, it would be a failure as far as the publishers are concerned.

    The fact is that the very SF that the Sad Puppies and I write is the SF used to underwrite the publication of award-winning SF. This, of course, is nothing new. SF also underwrites true literary fiction (all genre fiction does). To make matters worse, 50 Shades of Gray underwrote everything for Random House a couple years ago—and I don’t see those books being nominated for any awards.

    Do the awards confer legitimacy on the winners? The only way that the awards confer legitimacy is if the writer who wins one needs the external validation. I never have. If someone else needs an award to feel his or her career is complete, great, have at it. As noted in my original piece, this is the not the first time, nor will it be the last, where voting has been manipulated to bestow an award on someone.

    Worldcon and the Hugo Awards are just like a High School party the “cool kids” have decided to throw. Plenty of us don’t get invites. They don’t want us there. I understand how being excluded gripes some folks so much they can’t see straight unless they do something to prove to these self-appointed brahmins that “we are worthy ,too.”

    But we never will be “worthy” because they don’t want us in their club. It’s their club. They can admit or exclude whomever they want. Manly Wade Wellman, a great writer and wonderful gentleman, once bade me, “Remember, neither these people nor their works are immortal.” It’s great advice and has stopped me from grinding my teeth to nubbins down through the years.

    The choice is to ignore the Trufan arbiters of what is or is not SF, or to crash the party, puke on the carpet, pee in the corners, and become more hated than ever. Sure, that may spoil their party, but it gets the party crashers exactly nothing. It won’t change the Trufans’ opinions. It won’t open the doors in the future.

    And hijacking the awards utterly kills the perceived value of the awards. If one of the Rabid Puppies was to win, the category would be marked with an asterisk. The award will be tainted. That taint will be remembered long after the writer and the work are forgotten. The very effort to hijack the awards turns around and trashes the awards.

    Well, what about X other author participating in the “slate?” I’ve not spoken to any of the other authors involved. I’m not a psychic. I won’t presume to know or even speculate on what someone else’s motivation for participation might be, or even if their participation was voluntary or a surprise.

    Am I selling myself short by not being a part of this? As noted above, I know that what I do isn’t the kind of work that will get me nominated or selected for awards. I’m good with that. I don’t have a hole in my life that requires a Hugo or a Nebula or a World Fantasy award to fill it. I generally feel about the awards the way I feel about Ironman Triathlons: if you want to do the work and earn the title, more power to you. Me, not so much.

    The “awards” I care about are, first and foremost, the ones that have dead presidents on them. They allow me to have a nice house, drive a car, afford medical insurance, to buy gadgets when I want them, to travel and to eat and drink things I like. Those awards afford me the luxury of being able to work at a job I adore, doing whatever I want to do.

    The other award I cherish is when a reader thanks me for writing a book. I can’t tell you how many times at shows I’ve had folks come up to me and say, “Hey, I just want to shake your hand. I love your work.” The euphoria from that is a hundred times what I’d get from receiving a statuette. And some readers even say, “Your books were what got me into reading, thank you.” The feeling that generates is an order of magnitude greater.

    Best of all, those awards don’t collect dust on a shelf. (Not that I do much dusting.)

    Thus the take-away points from all this are:

    1) This battle isn’t new, isn’t fresh and isn’t winnable.

    2) Crashing the Hugo Awards party is low class, won’t get you what you want, and will taint the thing you think you want.

    3) Writers who need the appearance of external validation they get from awards aren’t going to be long for the world of publishing, where sales figures trump awards every day, all day.

    4) The only validation a writer should need comes from writing the best he possibly can and feeling proud of the end product. If a reader likes it enough to mention it, that’s a bonus.

    5) Awards represent the approval of a very small group of people. Neither the award nor their opinion of the writer are enough to sustain a career, much less confer immortality.

  12. “To me, the oddest part about the Rabid Puppies and their lamenting that they don’t get awards is that they’re pointing to the wrong reason why they’re left out in the cold.”

    You really don’t understand Rabid Puppies at all.

    Winning awards has nothing to do with.

    Vox couldn’t care less about the hugos and neither could those of us that supported the slate.

    Vox was proving a point. He was accused of gaming the 2014 Hugos… which he did not do.

    So he gamed the 2015 Hugos to show everyone what it would look like if he really did game the Hugos.

    I think you can see the difference between the 2014 Hugo nominees and the 2015 nominees can’t you?

    So here’s my advice…

    Tell Vox you’re sorry you falsely accused him of gaming the 2014 hugos… and ask him nicely to please stay out of the hugo process in the future.

    He will abide happily.

  13. Where did you see that I accused Vox of gaming the 2014 Awards.

    I didn’t.

    I was responding to the gaming of the 2015 Awards. No false accusations anywhere.

  14. Mike,
    Thank you for the thoughtful reply. It appears my biggest point of contention (that the “Puppies” are all immature and incapable of adult conversation) may stem from that lumping of the Rabid Puppies and the Sad Puppies. I don’t know enough about the Rabid Puppies group to have an opinion on their maturity or anything else. I do interact with people in the “Sad” group, however, and have found them to be generally mature and reasonable. I think separating the two groups is fairly easy, as the members/supporters tend to self-identify with which group they wish to be associated.

    I appreciate your view on the value of the award to the author (and I agree that, especially these days, the value to authors is fairly minimal), but I’d like to suggest that you missed the other half of the equation. While an author might not care about any validation conferred by an award, that author’s fans might. We find authors we like, that we consider brilliant, and when we see others sharing that opinion, it makes us feel like we’ve connected both with the author, and with like-minded people. When we see these brilliant authors (like yourself, Tim Zahn, Kevin Anderson [ie, anyone who has written fantastic books that happen to be part of an existing franchise, such as Star Wars, or even their universe, but lacking pervasive social messages]) being snubbed over and over and over for awards that the “in-group” keeps telling us represent the best, some of us take it a little personally.

    I understand where you’re coming from when you say the Hugos aren’t truly representative of the best, that they’re (historically) an award given out by the fairly small group of WorldCon die-hards. The problem, though, comes back to two things: First, those “TruFans” who have been more than happy to shout from the rooftops that the Hugo awards ARE truly representative of the best in all of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and second, the generally accepted view of the average person that a book with “Hugo Award Winner” on its cover does indeed fit that description, based on decades of seeing truly excellent works of fiction with that award attached.

    In the end, WorldCon has every right to go ahead and adjust their rules to keep out the non-“TruFans” and get back to being an award issued by, and for, members of their club. But until they do that, their cries of outrage that The Wrong Kind of People have ruined their club come off as incredibly childish and petty, especially given the fact that in the past, they’ve used that “Voting is open, so it must mean the winners are truly the best!” concept as a way to taunt anyone who complained that someone had been snubbed. Had they always maintained “Hugos simply represent the views of WorldCon attendees,” Sad Puppies would never have happened.

    Ultimately, I hope that either the Hugos grows and accepts all these new voices, and becomes what most already see it as, an award for the best in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, or that another award rises up to fill that roll. Then maybe we’ll see awards handed to authors such as yourself, and while it might not validate you, it would make some of us fans happy.

  15. Whether we like it or not, in the minds of the general public, “award-winning” does translate to “top-tier”. The Oscar nominated films are seen as a short list of some of the best films of the past year. Even though it’s a tiny cadre of voters that participate (“I’d like to thank the Academy…”), it’s usually not too controversial that the winner is a very good movie.

    If the same isn’t true of SF/F, then that’s very dangerous for the genre as a whole. If awards do not reward quality of writing or story telling, then a reader may well pick up a copy of something that’s won “science fiction’s most prestigious award”, and find that it’s poorly written and boring. What does that say about the rest of the genre? If the “award-winning” stuff is crap, why even touch the stuff that can’t even get nominated? The fact is, saying “the good stuff doesn’t win awards” sounds ridiculous and lame.

  16. Thanks for acquainting me with the “other side” of the equation. I’d really not considered at all the idea that fans might not like the fact that their favorite authors aren’t garnering popular acclaim or the awards which the fans feel they deserve. Fan discomfort is certainly a valid feeling. I respect that and apologize if I diminished it in any way.

    For me, that discomfort goes back to the point about wanting external validation. It really doesn’t matter how many awards are heaped upon an author or her work; there will always be people who believe that the author is overrated. Or under-appreciated. Everyone has an opinion and, on the Internet, folks freely express them. And writers who want to drive themselves crazy get all happy with good comments and plunge into the depths of depression with the bad ones.

    I really appreciate, and feel humbled, that fans might be upset on my behalf about what appear to be slights to my career and work. Back in the late 1990s two books got published: The Encyclopedia of SF and the Encyclopedia of Fantasy. Despite having had over thirty novels published by then, and a half-dozen on the New York Times bestseller list, I’m not mentioned in either book. Now there’s a slight—the editors decided to deny my very existence in those tomes which, at the end of the last century, sought to encapsulate everything that was SF.

    In their opinion.

    My lack of inclusion didn’t stop me from writing. It didn’t stop folks from reading me. It didn’t stop me from believing that I’m a really good writer—one of the best in the field in my humble opinion. The fact that I wasn’t in the books was a negative career review, but I’m okay with that. Since those books came out, I’ve still continued to write, to live off the income from my writing. To paraphrase a good friend of mine, the fact that I’m not mentioned hasn’t affected whether or not I can eat.

    As I noted above, if participation in the Sad Puppies movement is based entirely on a desire to correct a perceived injustice done to certain writers, I understand that. To be quite honest, I think the energy put into this would be better spent writing glowing reviews on websites for those authors. That will do more for them, and do more to bolster the authors’ images in the public eye than winning them any award. But that’s just my opinion.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Definitely have given me more to think about.

  17. I understand what you’re saying, but here’s where I think your analogy breaks down.

    1) No SF/Comic book movie has ever won “Best Picture.” That doesn’t affect how much money they make, nor does it make those films appear to be worse or inferior in the minds of the public. Most folks, if they deign to notice the slight, dismiss it as the Academy’s stupidity.

    2) There are tons of books—award-winning and otherwise—that are poorly written in the minds of readers. I remember, ages ago, writing a story that all my friends loved. I submitted it to an anthology and the editor, Marion Zimmer Bradley, rejected it harshly, noting that it was so violent as to be pornographic. Ten years later, Roger Zelazny happily bought the story for an anthology he was editing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as far as fiction is concerned. Slapping an award label on the book will not make it seem better or worse in the minds of most readers; and it won’t change one way or the other the opinion they develop as they read the story.

    The key thing about fiction is that readers bring a lot of their own baggage to stories. When my novel Once a Hero came out—which is a great book and worthy of all sorts of awards—I was really looking forward to finding out what a female friend thought of it. She was a big fantasy reader and always had great insights on novels that I agreed with. When I spoke to her about it, she said, “I couldn’t read it.” When I asked why, she said, “I had an ex boyfriend named Neal, just like your hero, so every time I see that name, I think of him. I couldn’t get through the book.”

    So, it wasn’t anything I’d done that made the book unreadable for her—except for giving my hero the same name as her ex (whom I didn’t even know existed).

    The bigger threat to the genre, by the way, is quasi-literate work which publishers churn out just to make a buck. Look at 50 Shades of Grey. Utter tripe, but boy did it sell. And it sold to the greater public, not some tiny genre. The question of quality doesn’t begin nor end with any awards committee, it begins and ends with the demands of publishing.

    As I noted above, the best bet for fans who want to support authors and promote work they think others should read, is to hit Goodreads.com and Amazon and Barnes and Noble and iBookstore, write positive reviews and give books 5 star ratings. Those things will get books more notice than any award ever will. Instead of worrying about pulling weeds, to tax an analogy, fertilize and cultivate the plants you want to see thrive. You’ll do yourself and the genre a great favor in that way.

  18. I think this is a great reflection from one of the most credible sources imaginable. When I was thinking about sci-fi books that I absolutely love that aren’t “award caliber” (I will explain more about what I mean by that in a second), your Star Wars novels were the first ones that came to mind.

    I am glad that you are calling out Sad and Rabid Puppies for the essentially whiny and entitled nature of what they are doing and pointing out the reasons why they’re wrong BOTH on their views on diversity and on their need to somehow claim the right to determine what ‘award-winning’ science fiction entails.

    I am the type of person that has roughly equal levels of appreciation for the type of art that wins awards and the type of art that doesn’t win awards. Both can take a ton of skill and vision and can be very high quality. Both can also be super over- or under-rated by their respective constituencies due to popularity/reputation of creators, trends in the medium, the composition and culture of the fanbase and wider society, etc. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in a social context and the puppies are confusing this fact with an imagined SJW conspiracy to take down white, male, conservative authors.

    I personally think that it is probably harder to make something that is both high quality and truly appeals to the masses. But that doesn’t mean that we should be handing out Oscars to Guardians of the Galaxy, or giving Hugo awards to Star Wars novels. Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Wing novels do not need that kind of validation to still be awesome and have resonance and meaning for their many fans.

  19. Brad Fuhriman 17. Apr, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I appreciate your responses to the comments. We may not have ended up 100% on the same page, but it’s been a decent, amicable discussion where new ideas and viewpoints are offered and considered, and that’s what really matters 🙂

    I think you’re absolutely right in that awards shouldn’t matter all that much to authors in the final equation. The founder of the Sad Puppies campaign, Larry Correia, frequently offers similar advice to aspiring writers: The most important thing for professional writers to do is “Get Paid!” Whether or not you receive critical acclaim and awards, as long as you’re writing material that’s entertaining enough for people to spend their hard-earned money on, you’re on the right track.

    I appreciate your suggestion on using the power of reviews to help promote our favorite writers. I haven’t been very good about posting reviews, so I’ll try to keep that in mind from now on, any time I finish a book that I particularly enjoy. That said, I do still hope that someday there is an award that better reflects a wider and more diverse cross section of sci-fi fans, whether it’s a more inclusive Hugo award, or some new award. Because of the history attached to the Hugo, I’d love to see it go that direction. I think it would restore, and even expand upon the relevance it once had to the broader Sci-Fi audience. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what WorldCon decides. With as much outcry as we’ve seen from both sides the past few years, I think it’s a near certainty that they’ll make some kind of change.

  20. Brad,

    Thanks for the discussion. It will, indeed, be interesting to see what changes all this brings about in the future.


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