Sledgehammers and Teacups – My Take On The 2015 Hugos

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2015 Hugo Awards Nominees(For an excellent breakdown on what this is all about, read this article by Susan Frisby.)

The Hugo Awards voting system is flawed. Raise your hand if you needed Puppies—Sad or Rabid—to open your eyes to that fact. I won’t see many hands in the air, I expect.

I personally know writers who actively solicited their fans to buy supporting memberships, for the sole purpose of voting for them. When a system supports getting gamed the way the Hugo voting system does, of course it will be gamed. It’s the nature of the beast, it’s Darwinism in action, it’s the reason why both all-out capitalism and all-out socialism are inherently flawed. An honor system is great, and I believe 80-90% of humanity will respect such a system. But that means that at least 10% will look for ways to game it.

And, as many have pointed out before me: is it against what many people feel is right? Sure. But it’s not against the rules. The 2015 Hugo ballot (see this post) is perfectly legal and valid. All votes were cast by people who had (bought) the right to vote. You don’t have to like it, but this is what the system supports. These are the 2015 Hugo nominees. People like John Scalzi have argued convincingly, and more eloquently than myself, for this viewpoint.

So here’s what I’m going to do (in fact, I’ve developed an even better strategy):

  • I’ve bought myself a Supporting Membership, so I am allowed to vote. I recommend everyone outraged by the Puppies Slates does the same thing. The right to vote includes the right to complain about the outcome, and that works both ways: if you don’t (buy yourself the right to) vote, you’re foregoing the right to complain when the Puppies not only take 2/3rds of the nominations, but most of the Awards as well.
  • I’m going to slush-read (-watch, -view) the nominated works: start reading (watching, viewing), and put a work aside when I feel the work isn’t good enough for a Hugo. Given that this is a legal, valid, ballot, I’m going to judge the works on their merit only. I’m going to ignore, as much as I can, whether the work was put forward by either Puppies Slate.
  • For the editor categories, and the semiprozines, I’m going to choose between the publications I’m actually familiar with, and their editors. I’m going to discharge myself from the obligation to read samples of all editors’ publications, simply because all this is enough reading work already. (My apologies, dear Vox, that this precludes voting for you in either category.)
  • I’m going to exercize the No Award option with consideration, taking into account the excellent explanation of this option, and put the works I tossed out of the slush below the No Award option in reverse order of awfulness.

The upside to all of this is that the Puppies, however misguided, have done an excellent job of exposing the central flaw in the Hugo voting system, and the huge cost of that flaw in terms of credibility. The Puppies Slates are an extreme version, but if an awards system supports buying nominations and votes, something is wrong. Or at least the price should be low enough to make the system close to indistinguishable from a general election. The price should only ensure that voters are registered, and vote only once.

So the first change the WSFS should implement, IMHO, is to reduce the price of a supporting membership from the current $40 to $5. Combined with a broad social media campaign to encourage all fans to buy and cast their votes, this should ensure a huge increase in the tally, and a correspondingly greater difficulty of gaming the system.

The added bonus, of course, will be that many more fans will feel that the Hugos were awarded by them, and that, in turn, will restore much of the dwindled credibility caused by the Puppies Slates.

Which, ironically, is exactly what at least some of the Sad Puppies set out to achieve.

I just wish they hadn’t proven the teacup’s fragility with a sledgehammer.

PS: No matter what side you’re on, no matter how you may feel about the bigotry of some of the people involved in this whole kerfuffle, there is never any excuse for abuse, name-calling, and (death-) threats. Not even “they started it”. Don’t even think of trolling, flaming, or otherwise being unpleasant in the comments!