Not all puppies are harmless, as the recent fracas around the Hugo Awards has shown us. A Hugo is one of the most prestigious awards you can win in the world of science fiction and fantasy (F/SF). Last year, women and writers of colour dominated the proceedings, with Kameron Hurley picking up two awards, Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work, for her critically acclaimed essay We Have Always Fought: Challenging the "Women, Cattle and Slaves" Narrative. The choice of topic was significant: Hurley wrote a fierce polemic that challenged science fiction writers to be more sensitive in their portrayals of women. What followed next was a direct attempt to hijack the achievements of Hurley and others.
The 2015 Hugos have been in news mostly for the lobbying attempts of an anti-progressive group called Sad Puppies: the group has, since its inception, split into two independent but overlapping groups called Sad Puppies 3 and Rabid Puppies. Both of these groups, with different degrees of vehemence, oppose what they perceive as a "left-wing, affirmative action hijacking" of the Hugos. So they decided to launch an offensive. What they did was so straightforward that the mind boggles: the Hugos are a members-only award, but anyone can buy membership with a $40 fee. What the Puppies (both sets) did was publish a "voting slate", a curated list of titles that they urged their followers to put on the ballot. It worked, and how: out of the 60 nominated by the Sad Puppies, 51 were on the initial ballot. The corresponding figure was 58 out of 67 for the Rabid Puppies.
And who are the Puppies? The Rabid Puppies are led by publisher and science fiction writer Vox Day (formerly known as Theodore Beale), whose controversial (some would say downright offensive) views have earned him a few feuds along the way. He has said, on the record, that women should be denied the right to vote. He also described an African-American writer as a "savage". Unsurprisingly, the books nominated by the Rabid Puppies also reflect this line of racist, homophobic thinking. John C. Wright has been nominated in three categories: Best Novella (in which Wright is nominated thrice), Best Novelette and Best Related Work. Not too long ago, he slammed the creators of the animated show Legend of Korra for having the temerity to hint at a lesbian romance. Wright wrote: "Mr DiMartino and Mr Konietzko: You are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship."
Some writers endorsed by the Puppies have withdrawn their nominations. Of these, most of them have said that they did so to dissociate themselves from Day, like Marko Kloos, who was nominated for Best Novel.
Dropcap OnTo top it all, Day has put himself on the slate: twice over, actually, which has made him a double nominee for this year. His publishing firm, Castalia House, has received nine Hugo nominations in total.
Some writers endorsed by the Puppies have withdrawn their nominations. Of these, most of them have said that they did so to dissociate themselves from Day, like Marko Kloos, who was nominated for Best Novel. In a letter he wrote to his fans, Kloos said: "I cannot in good conscience accept an award nomination that I feel I may not have earned solely with the quality of the nominated work. I also wish to disassociate myself from the originator of the 'Rabid Puppies' campaign. To put it bluntly: if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don't want it."
Others, like George R.R. Martin (the author of the Songs of Fire and Ice cycle, basis for the HBO series Game of Thrones) have simply expressed their disgust at the "gaming" of the Hugo Awards. In his blog post on the matter, Martin wrote: "If the Sad Puppies wanted to start their own award for Best Conservative SF or Best Space Opera or Best Military SF or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be... whatever it is they are actually looking for, I don't think anyone would have any objections to that. Instead they seem to want to take the Hugos and turn them into their own awards."
Political battles in science fiction have been a thing since before World War II. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Samuel Delany are all famous examples of writers who found themselves obliged to declare their political leanings at various points of their career. Some, like Delany, were discriminated against because of the colour of their skins. But it's safe to say that none of them found themselves in a scrap that's as heated or as public as the one that the Puppies have cooked up. Expect more fireworks in the lead-up to the Hugo Awards ceremony in August. The future of science fiction is at stake; in the end, fans will receive the fiction that they deserve.