Sunday, May 8, 2016

Random Thought - 2015 "What Could Have Been" Hugo Finalists

Location: In the hearts of actual science fiction fans.

Comments: In 2015, there were two allied but somewhat distinct groups called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies that created overlapping slates to dominate the Hugo nomination process. By voting for the slated choices as a bloc, approximately one-tenth to one-fifth of the total number of voters were able to overwhelm the majority of voters (who all voted their individual preferences in a disorganized manner) and pack the entire ballot with choices from their slates. Given that slating and bloc-voting have long been regarded as unethical behavior by Hugo voters (dating back at least to the negative reactions among fandom engendered 1987, when a group of dedicated Scientologists bloc-voted L. Ron Hubbard's novel Black Genesis onto the Hugo ballot), this was not taken well. Further exacerbating the issue, the general consensus emerged that the Puppy picks as 2015 Hugo finalists were poor choices based upon the quality of the selections. Some of the choices were regarded as merely mediocre. Others were regarded as abysmally bad. Still others were regarded as offensive. Some were regarded as among the weakest selections to ever make the Hugo finalist list. In response, the majority of fans voted for "No Award" over most of the Puppy picks.

One might say that at that point, the books have been balanced. The Pups used bloc-voting tactics to put their choices on the ballot. Fans evaluated the picks based on a combination of custom and quality and assessed them as being unworthy of the award. However, one of the "accomplishments" the Pups wanted to achieve seems to have been to keep those they dislike for ideological or personal reasons off of the ballot. Many Pups, for example, seem to have a personal animus against Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Rachel Swirsky, so keeping them off of the ballot, they seem to reason, denies them an honor that they might have otherwise received. Other targets of the Pups seem to be ideologically motivated: At least some Pups seem to dislike books like Chicks Dig Gaming or Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF because they promote ideas regarding issues like feminism as it applies to the genre fiction arena in ways they disapprove of.

While it is true that the Puppy campaign could deny a spot on the Hugo finalist list to those they dislike, what the Pups cannot do is deny the love people have for those works and individuals. The Hugo Awards are an expression of fan love. They are not the love itself. The fact that some things were pushed off of the Hugo ballot by slate-based bloc-voting means those things are not Hugo finalists, but not that they are not loved any less. What this means is that even if those potential finalists from 2015 who were displaced by Puppy choices will never be able to be called Hugo finalists, that doesn't mean that fans can't recognize them and show their love for them. Showing that love is exactly what this list is intended to do. Through a process that involved going through the 2015 Hugo statistics and applying some educated guesses and some back of the envelope calculations, (a process that I explain here) this is the revised Hugo ballot, as it might have appeared if the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns of 2015 had not existed.

Best Novel

Revised Finalists:
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Lock-In by John Scalzi
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Notes: This category doesn't change much, as much of the Puppy influence had actually been removed from the 2015 Hugo ballot as a result of one slate-driven finalist declining their spot and another withdrawing from theirs. The two remaining Puppy finalists are replaced on the ballot by Scalzi's near-future murder mystery, and Bennett's melange of fantasy, intrigue, and rising technology. I don't think either of the replacement novels would have won, but they would have provided substantially stiffer competition.

Best Novella

Revised Finalists:
Grand Jete (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert
The Regular by Ken Liu
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

Notes: Of all of the fiction categories, the one that suffered the most from Puppy influence was the novella category, with three fairly wretched John C. Wright stories on the ballot. The revised ballot, on the other hand, is studded with excellent fiction.

Best Novelette

Revised Finalists:
The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Lia Belt) (reviewed in 2015 Hugo Voting - Best Novelette)
The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson
Each to Each by Seanan McGuire
The Litany of Earth by Ruthana Emrys
The Magician and Laplace's Demon by Tom Crosshill (reviewed in 2015 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)

Notes: Due to the disqualification of a John C. Wright story, one non-Puppy story - The Day the World Turned Upside Down - made it onto the ballot in this category. The story then went on to win the category against a weak field. The revised field is much stronger, and I suspect that had this been the actual field of finalists, Heuvelt would still be a bridesmaid instead of a bride. More than anything else, this sort of victory is why any Hugo winners from 2015 will forever be regarded as having a metaphorical asterisk upon their accomplishment.

Best Short Story

Revised Finalists:
The Breath of War by Aliette de Bodard
Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet (reviewed in 2015 Hugo Voting - Best Short Story)
Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon (reviewed in 2015 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar1
When It Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster1

1 Depending on how many Sad and Rabid Puppies one edits out of the voting totals, it is likely that one or both of these stories would have been kept off of the ballot by the "5% rule". Because all of the figures that I used to come up with this revised list of finalists are educated guesses, I am listing both stories here with the caveat that it was quite possible that the numbers would have worked out in such a way that they would not have been.

Notes: This category is one in which a Sad Puppy pick might have actually made the ballot without the need for slate-based support - even after one makes adjustments to remove the slates' influence, Annie Bellet's story Goodnight Stars seems like it would have had enough nominations to be placed on the list of finalists. This is an example of how the slates were damaging even to those supported by them. Because Bellet's work had been placed onto the ballot via the slate-based bloc voting engaged in by the Pups, a shadow was needlessly cast over her selection.

Best Related Work

Revised Finalists:
Chicks Dig Gaming by Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith, and Lars Pearson
Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF edited by Jim C. Hines
Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells
Tropes vs. Women: Women as Background Decoration by Anita Sarkeesian
What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

Notes: Of all the ugly categories on the 2015 Hugo ballot, none were uglier than Related Work. With two finalists vying for the title of "worst Hugo finalist of all time", and three others that rose, at best, to mediocre, this was an enormous blight on the 2015 Hugos. The blight is even more apparent when one looks at how incredible the category could have been. If these had been the finalists, I suspect that Jo Walton's book would have won, but against this field of competitors it would have had some pretty tough competition for the honor.

Best Graphic Story

Revised Finalists:
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch
Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky

Notes: As the Sad and Rabid Puppies only had one candidate on their slate, they only had one finalist in this category. Replacing the completely terrible Zombie Nation with the very good Saga, Volume 4 represents a substantial increase in quality, improving the strength of the category by a fair amount, but it probably would not have changed the overall outcome. On the other hand, I would not have had to read the juvenile "jokes" that accompanied the weak artwork of Zombie Nation.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Revised Finalists:
Big Hero 6
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy

Notes: Because of the large numbers of voters who nominated in this category, editing out the influence of the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates leaves this group mostly unchanged. The only difference between the original 2015 Hugo ballot and the revised 2015 Hugo ballot in this category is the replacement of The Lego Movie with Big Hero 6. In terms of quality, this seems to be a minor shift at best.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

Revised Finalists:
Agents of Shield: Turn, Turn, Turn
Doctor Who: Listen
Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose
The Legend of Korra: The Last Stand
Orphan Black: By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried

Notes: Revising this category causes moderate shake-up, moving all three of the Puppy picks off of the ballot and placing two mostly unsurprising choices on the ballot in Agents of Shield: Turn, Turn, Turn, and Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose. I suppose it is mildly surprising that one Game of Thrones episode - The Mountain and the Viper - would be replaced by another episode of the same series. The real interesting change is that an episode of the animated series Legend of Korra would have made the list of finalists in this category had there been no Puppy slates. It is rare for animated material to reach the Hugo finalist lists in the dramatic presentation categories, and this would have been an extremely interesting selection.

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Revised Finalists:
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

Notes: As with most of the Puppy dominated categories, the 2015 Hugo ballot for Short Form Editor fielded a group of finalists that ranged from mediocre to miserable. Simply replacing Beale on the ballot with someone who was an actual professional instead of a child playing at being an editor would have improved the field substantially. Replacing the mostly modest resumes of the 2015 finalists in this category with the impressive collection of editors that emerges when one revises the finalists to edit out the Puppy influence transforms a category that was unimpressive into an almost star-studded affair.

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

Revised Finalists:
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

Notes: One of the sad truths about the Puppy slates is that there were a few finalists that they supported who probably could have gotten onto the Hugo ballot without their help, but who nonetheless had a shadow cast over their selection as a result of being on the slates. In Long Form Editor, the math suggests that both Toni Weisskopf and Sheila Gilbert could have gotten onto the ballot even without the benefit of slate-based support. Given the examples of her body of work that she provided for voters to consider, I voted for Gilbert to win in 2015 despite the fact that she was a slate-driven candidate. Given the complete lack of information Weisskopf provided upon which voters could base their evaluation of her work in 2015, I would have placed her behind "No Award" even if she had not been a slate-driven finalist. That said, had Gorinsky, Meacham, and Nielsen Hayden been on the ballot, I think that Gilbert would have had some very worthy competition for the top honor.

Best Professional Artist

Revised Finalists:
Galen Dara
Julie Dillon
Stephan Martiniere
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

Notes: The 2015 Hugo ballot was Julie Dillon and four mostly undistinguished Puppy picks. Dillon won the award in a landslide. Replacing the four Puppy picks with a more talented collection of non-Puppy selected artists would have resulted in a much stronger field for Dillon to compete against.

Best Semi-Prozine

Revised Finalists:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
The Books Smugglers edited by Ana Grillo and Thea James
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, Stefan Rudnicki, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison

Notes: In 2015, the Semi-Prozine category had three non-Puppy finalists: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons. All three of these finalists were high quality choices, offering Hugo voters with a reasonably strong field from which to pick the winner. The two Puppy-supported picks were Abyss & Apex and Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, which bucked the Puppy trend by being not terrible as choices. Even so, revising the Hugo ballot drops both of the Puppy picks off of the list of finalists and replaces them with Interzone and The Book Smugglers, which probably would have represented a modest upgrade of overall quality for the category.

Best Fanzine

Revised Finalists:
A Dribble of Ink edited by Aiden Moher
The Drink Tank edited by Vanessa Applegate, James Bacon, and Christopher J. Garcia
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Christopher J. Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
Lady Business edited by Renay and Jodie

Notes: The 2015 Hugo ballot in this category consisted of Journey Planet and four finalists from the Puppy slates. One of the Puppy finalists was fairly good, such as Black Gate, which withdrew out of a sense of honor (although they withdrew too late to be replaced on the ballot). The other Puppy finalists aspired to mediocrity. The revised Hugo ballot in the category has strong entries like A Dribble of Ink and File 770, and intriguing finalists like Lady Business. As has happened with so many other categories, revising this category highlights just how weak so many of the Puppy selections truly were, as when they are compared with their potential replacements, some of them just seem like almost comically slapdash efforts.

Best Fan Writer

Revised Finalists:
Liz Bourke
Natalie Luhrs
Laura J. Mixon
Abigail Nussbaum
Mark Oshiro

Notes: Last year the Hugo ballot was Laura J. Mixon, who got onto the finalist list on the strength of a single piece of work and a declined nomination from Matthew David Surridge, and a collection of Puppy bloggers whose contributions to fannish writing seem to be little more than screaming about the evils of "SJWs" and whining about how modern fiction isn't as good as the old stuff they remember from when they were twelve. To say that this field was embarrassingly weak is an understatement. The revised 2015 Hugo ballot still has Laura J. Mixon, but it adds Liz Bourke, Natalie Luhrs, Abigail Nussbaum, and Mark Oshiro, all of whom have powerful voices and spoke eloquently on a variety of topics in 2014. To say that the revised field is incredibly strong is also an understatement.

Best Fan Artist

Revised Finalists:
Ninni Aalto
Brad Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

Notes: The Puppies offered no candidates in the category on their slate. As a result, the revised ballot has no changes in this category.

Best Fancast

Revised Finalists:
The Coode Street Podcast by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts; produced by Andrew Finch
The Skiffy and Fanty Show by Rachel Acks, David Annadale, Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Mike Underwood, Paul Weimer, and Jen Zink
Tea and Jeopardy by Emma Newman and Peter Newman
Verity! by Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Deborah Stanish, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Notes: The 2015 Hugo ballot in the Fancast category had Galactic Suburbia, Tea and Jeopardy, and three other finalists who were completely outclassed by those first two. On the revised ballot, we get the thoughtful and insightful Coode Street Podcast, the exceptionally upbeat and addictive Verity! and the Skiffy and Fanty Show. I'm not a huge fan of the Skiffy and Fanty Show - when they were previously on the finalist list I ranked them at the bottom of my ballot - but they are definitely better than any of the Puppy offerings from last year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Revised Finalists:
Wesley Chu
Carmen Maria Machado
Andy Weir
Django Wexler
Alyssa Wong

Notes: One of the loudest gripes the Sad Puppies had was that Worldcon fandom was somehow a collection of horrible people for not recognizing the Andy Weir and The Martian. The Pups conveniently glossed over the fact that the Pups themselves seem to have paid no attention to the man or his work. In a twist of irony, by running their slate, the Puppies managed to keep Andy Weir off of the list of Campbell Award finalists in 2015. Let me repeat that: Andy Weir was not a finalist for the Campbell Award in 2015 because the two groups of Puppies ran slates and pushed him off of the finalist list. Absent their influence, the ballot would have had Weir on the list of Campbell finalists in 2015. It would have also had Machado, Wexler, and Wong, who are all extremely talented young authors. Instead, the ballot had the brilliant Wesley Chu and a collection of some of the least impressive Campbell Award finalists in the history of the award.

What Are the Hugo Awards?

Go to the 2015 list of Hugo finalists complete with Puppy picks: 2015

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