Hugo awards suborned, what can or should be done?


Since 1992 I have had a long association with the Hugo Awards for SF & Fantasy given by the World Science Fiction Society/Convention. In 1993 I published the Hugo and Nebula Anthology which was for some time the largest anthology of current fiction every published, and one of the earliest major e-book projects. While I did it as a commercial venture, in the years to come it became the norm for the award organizers to publish an electronic anthology of willing nominees for free to the voters.

This year, things are highly controversial, because a group of fans/editors/writers calling themselves the "Sad Puppies," had great success with a campaign to dominate the nominations for the awards. They published a slate of recommended nominations and a sufficient number of people sent in nominating ballots with that slate so that it dominated most of the award categories. Some categories are entirely the slate, only one was not affected. It's important to understand the nominating and voting on the Hugos is done by members of the World SF Society, which is to say people who attend the World SF Convention (Worldcon) or who purchase special "supporting" memberships which don't let you go but give you voting rights. This is a self-selected group, but in spite of that, it has mostly manged to run a reasonably independent vote to select the greatest works of the year. The group is not large, and in many categories, it can take only a score or two of nominations to make the ballot, and victory margins are often small. As such, it's always been possible, and not even particularly hard, to subvert the process with any concerted effort. It's even possible to do it with money, because you can just buy memberships which can nominate or vote, so long as a real unique person is behind each ballot.

The nominating group is self-selected, but it's mostly a group that joins because they care about SF and its fandom, and as such, this keeps the award voting more independent than you would expect for a self-selected group. But this has changed.

The reasoning behind the Sad Puppy effort is complex and there is much contentious debate you can find on the web, and I'm about to get into some inside baseball, so if you don't care about the Hugos, or the social dynamics of awards and conventions, you may want to skip this post. The Sad Puppies feel that their favoured subgenre of SF has been ignored, perhaps overtly, by the main group of fans, and they claim they created their slate to correct this. This is entirely within the rules, most people agree, and there is even some argument as to whether it violates the spirit of the rules. It's always been allowed to advocate online for your favourite choices and to publish lists of recommendations. What's new is the use of a specific slate of recommendations which was created after an internal poll among the group and an overt effort at bloc voting.

The reason this is concerning is that normally many people nominate, and their nominations are spread over many candidates. As such, very few candidates get a lot of nominations. In 2014, 43 nominations got a short story on the ballot, and the top story got only 79. (Numbers are higher for the "top" category, the best novel.) As such a group of 80 people, should they coordinate their actions on a common slate would end up deciding all the short story nominees. 80 people each voting their own tastes without coordination would never do this.

Because there are a lot of political overtones to the Sad Puppy movement, let me propose an analogous hypothetical event without those overtones to help consider the issues.

A group of around 200 Steampunk fans, upset at the way the awards have ignored steampunk, get together online and hold an internal poll on the best steampunk of the year. From that poll, they pick the best 4 or 5 called "SP3" and recommend that all their members nominate exactly that slate. They also suggest that other steampunk fans who are not regular members join the convention to express this view. As a result, the ballot comes out with many categories mostly or completely dominated by steampunk. This list includes some creators who have received nominations in the past without the slate, and some who did not ask to be on the slate.

By coordinating, the SP group violated the spirit of the system in the view of most people. The SPs themselves argue that there was a lot of groupthink in the main community, even speculating it was deliberate. It's not deliberate in my view, but there are certainly fan favourite authors who routinely do very well, which offers some frustration to those who might be viewed as outsiders. Until the SPs, there was never an overt attempt to coordinate.

Those who care about the awards find themselves distraught. Some categories are all SP slate. A few have one or two which are not SP, but even if the fans vote for them overwhelmingly, they will win without having faced the true competition an independent nomination process would have provided. Some entries on the SP slate did not ask to be there (though most agreed to it.) Some entries on the SP slate are established nominees who have been nominated before without it. Some are writers are works which are highly disdained and pretty clearly would not have made an independent ballot. One writer of minor stature broke the record by having 6 different nominations for his work, and a tiny publishing house run by one of the SP organizers dominates the ballot; something again that never would have happened. On top of all this, some candidates who would have been nominated were displaced from the ballot, losing their chance for recognition. (It is fairly often that the winner is not the work with the most nominations.)

Leaving aside the debate about the motives and methods of the SPs, I want to discuss the question of what, if anything can be done about it, and should it be done?

No matter what, the award and its reputation come out of this damaged. The SPs don't really win either. They have certainly won attention, and since one of their goals was indeed to disrupt the original award process which they see as corrupted, they have also done that. It is likely, however, that the nominated works on the slates will lose, possibly to the "No Award" choice, or if they win, to receive awards commonly viewed as tainted.

Fighting slates with slates

Several have published analysis of the ballot, and who is on it because of the slates. In effect, they offer their own slate for the voting, encouraging people to not vote for the SP nominees even if they find them of sufficient quality. Some also advocate voting only for the special "No Award" candidate in the categories that are completely, or even just partially tainted by the slate nominating. If No Award does well, then no award is given out in that category. It is meant to say, "There was nothing this year that met our standards" but in practice it has not happened since the era of 1970s bad SF movies.

There is an ironic problem to fighting slates with slates of course, especially if you attempt to distinguish the "good" people who happened to be on the slate from the "bad" who never could have had a chance without the slate.

An even more extreme suggestion for future years calls for the mainstream group to develop its own slate somehow, through a hopefully more independent process that can't be gamed, and to have this overwhelm the special interest slate. This would be very challenging to accomplish.

Eliminating the supporting membership, or boosting it

Two contradictory suggestions. If only people who buy the much more expensive "attending" membership can nominate or vote, it becomes very difficult to convince people to just buy memberships to promote an agenda. On the other hand, it's a matter of debate whether a lot of the SPs were outsiders who came in just to nominate their agenda. The alternate suggestion is to make it very cheap to nominate and vote, so lots more people do it, overwhelming the affect of slates. I seriously doubt that would work.

Variations could include allowing supporting memberships only for recent holders of attending memberships, or those who have not had a worldcon on their continent for several years (and thus could not attend.) One could even count actual attendance based on who picked up badges.

Allowing fewer nominations than slots

Today you can nominate 5 works for 5 positions, allowing a slate sweep. Making it so you get fewer nominations than there are slots makes it much harder to do a slate sweep, though you can still have a slate that pushes some number of non-slate works off the ballot. A sweep is still possible, but requires a group twice the size.

Note that this, or any other change the rules requires 2 years to enact, as all changes must be voted on at one convention, ratified at the next, and come into effect at the next after that.

It's also been proposed to develop rules to greatly increase the number of slots (particularly if a slate is present) to make sure non-slate works are not pushed off. Unfortunately, a ballot of 10 or 15 entries is not workable, nobody has time to read them all.

Elimination Nomination

Well known cryptographer Ron Rivest has proposed a nomination system where ballots may nominate several entries, but as soon as one of those entries makes the ballot, the ballot is eliminated, and none of its other nominations will go in tallies. (In one variation the nominations may be given preferences, so that we understand the voter's desire as to which candidate should get a nomination if it is to be only one of them.) This approach resists slates, and any other clustering of nominations, producing much greater diversity in the ballot -- possibly to the extreme. (For example, if a large section of nominators strongly favour one particular subgenre, like hard SF, and send in only that, then once the most popular of their group choice gets a nomination, the rest have much reduced chances of getting one.) This system is similar in many ways to the multi-winner version of Single Transferable Vote. STV (single winner) is used in the Hugo final ballot.

Another proposal involves weighted nominations, where nominators can spread a fixed number of points over their nominees. This encourages ballots with just one nominee among those who care.

Other proposals include a "maximizing happiness" function which finds the set of choices that please the most people, where that's defined as what fraction of your nominees got nominated. In some variants, it may be non-linear, so you don't gain as much happiness for each extra nominee that makes it. Another approach reduces the weight of your other nominations with every nomination you have which makes the final list.

These systems resist slates, but introduce strategic factors into the nomination process. Generally, the Hugo awards seek a system where "strategy" is not productive. This is why the ranked single-transferable-vote system is used in the actual voting. In the prior system, there are few effective stratagems, except collusion, which is what SP introduced.

This proposal and much discussion can be found in an article by my fellow EFF board member Bruce Schneier on the Making Light blog.

Voting for No Award

As noted, some plan to use the No Award system. They will either simply vote only for No Award in the tainted categories, or rank the non-tainted nominees and then No Award. (Some, incorrectly, say they will rank tainted nominees below No Award on their preference list, which works only if you list all nominees, but is very much the wrong thing to do if you leave works you didn't read off your ballot, since this can turn your ballot into one that supports the works you judged unworthy. People like to talk about this because it seems more satisfying to explicitly list a work as worse than No Award rather than to have it happen implicitly.)

If most of the categories have No Award, it would rebuke the slate approach somewhat, saying, "we will not allow this to work" though the SPs may still feel they got a satisfactory disruption of the system. It is uncertain if they would stop the slate approach -- this was the 3rd year of attempting it.

Understand that some proposals call for selecting No Award, even when there are non-slate, suitable candidates in the category. That's because those candidates are running without proper competition. Their awards, if won, will forever be viewed by some as less real, because it is unknown how well they would have done against a more independently selected set of opponents. Some even wonder if it should be done in the Best Fan Artist category, which has no SP-slate nominees, to say, "If you are going to corrupt our award, we will cancel it this year."

Committee Actions

The Hugo Committee is bound to follow the rules, since no rules appear to have been broken. As such, it would also be wrong for them to take actions to bias the vote. They do have a number of options at their disposal should they wish to send a strong message, though it may not be their place to do so.

Downplay the Hugos

The convention is required to award the Hugos, but it need not do it in a fancy ceremony. It could start voting immediately and close it in one month, and announce the results in a press release, mailing out statues without the traditional fancy base to any winners in categories that did not go to No Award. It might be argued that such an approach would implicitly be encouraging the awarding of no award and thus a violation of the strong ethic of impartiality within the committee. On the other hand, it might be argued that with the award itself threatened, some partiality is reasonable if done with due process.

(I will note the committee is required to release the detailed nomination and voting results within 90 days of their "ceremony.")

Run a replacement award

Further, the committee could then do a second award, under a different name like the Sasqward. It could make use of the nominee list to remove the slate nominations from ballots that voted for more than a given threshold of slate candidates, in theory producing something very close to the ballot that would have appeared without slate voters, or with a smaller number of them. It could conduct a vote on those nominees, using the same list of voters as the official Hugo award. It could have a fancy ceremony to give out those awards.

All this is possible, and would be a strong rebuke to the slate approach, but it would also be a clear effort by the committee to bias and downplay the actual Hugo awards. I believe it would only make sense to do this if there was a nearly universal consensus among both the Hugo subcommittee and the convention committee (even though it has delegated its powers in this regard) or even the existing members -- a universal consensus that the use of slate nomination is so anathema to the process that a drastic measure should be taken to correct it.

The second award would not be a Hugo. It is possible that the members of the next two conventions could vote and ratify an amendment making it a Hugo, but that might be going too far.

In addition, this is a short term fix, and sadly there may not be a long term fix to slate voting. The system has always worked to some degree on an honour basis, and escalating the battle to this level would dispose of much of the honour in the system.

(Note that because publishing an alternate ballot would disclose information about nominees who did not make the original official ballot, the traditional interpretation of the ambiguous rule about release of that information requires the new ballot not be disclosed until after the Hugo ceremony if you wish to play it beyond reproach.)

The alternate award might also be nominated by a jury, said jury perhaps guided by, but not bound by the original Hugo nominating ballots, to keep things above reproach. The committee in its instruction to voters would encourage or discourage no choices, or even explain the reason for the different award approach.

Change the counting of the 2016 Hugos

The WSFS constitution is designed to resist change, so generally no change can affect the nomination and balloting of the 2015 or 2016 Hugos. A loophole permits an amendment ratified at the start of the 2016 Worldcon to alter the counting of the final ballots, if they are not counted until after the convention. (They must be collected before the convention.)

See what happens

It is perhaps most likely that those involved will just see what happens. Hugo committees are not encouraged to take leadership and do bold things. The likely result will be a mix of:

  • No Award winning some categories
  • Non-slate nominees winning some categories, with a taint on their victory
  • A small number of slate candidates winning, particularly ones who already are of recognized quality. Some might refuse their awards.

All in all the brand of the award will be seriously tarnished, and it's uncertain where the various players would go from here. Would the SPs be satisfied? Would new slates arise, in opposition to the SP effort should it return? Will people simply lose interest in the award.

Add human judgement to counter efforts to abuse the rules

Tweaking the rules only has limited utility. It may be that attacks by clever humans can only be reliably countered by some form of human judgement by authorities. For example, a simple rule stating that if the Hugo Committee rules (after some due process) that an effort has been made to hurt or steal the award, that they can take reasonable steps to reverse it. Transparency, accountability and appeal would be of value in any system of jurisprudence.

Create a different award that's harder to game

The world has changed since the Hugo award was created. If it can no longer be a valid somewhat independent way of identifying the great works, it could be that other methods should arise. Several other organizations have awards and polls, though if they got the stature of the Hugo award, they would also be gamed. The Nebula award, which is voted by professional writers, is slightly harder to game but not impossible. Thanks to the internet, reaching fans and conducting a poll or vote is much easier and cheaper than it used to be.

An independent award could be done from a random sampling of some large and well selected set of SF fans -- for example every known attendee of any significant and established convention. (It is not sufficient to just randomly select from current convention members, unless those selected can be somehow pushed to participate at a higher rate than normal.)

Another popular alternate for nomination is juries. For an award like the Hugo, jurors might be any recent winner of a Hugo (with the provision that by joining the jury, they disqualify themselves from nomination in that year.) Or winners of a larger set of awards or others who meet some other objective bar. This would produce a different set of nominations, to be sure. Some would like that and some would dislike it. Any reasonably selected jury would be largely immune to slate approaches. For the actual voting, the preference ballot approach used counters many attempts to game the system, though not all.

Again, anything that is more random will be more populist, and different from the current system, where the people who vote and nominated have tended to be the people who care enough to vote and nominate. Having voters who care has both positive results and the negative biases of self-selection. Those of us with a background in statistics would probably judge a less self-selected system as giving superior results. At the same time, the more populist the system is, the closer it might come to just being a proxy for book sales.

Until the arrival of the complete nominee anthologies that I pioneered, and to a lesser degree after them, there has been a risk that sales and popularity drive the voting too much. In many ways, having a random set of voters who are given copies of all nominees and who agree to actually read them and judge them independently might be a very good thing.

A new award might replace the Hugo, though as contentious as the Worldcon political process is, I am not sure I would bet on that. If not, it would take some time for it to receive the prestige. In spite of the flaws of the Hugo process, the age of the Hugo award has given it premier status. Publishers and authors believe that winning the award builds an author's stature and sales, and so they care about it.

Delegate jurors

One way to combine the ideas of juries and nominators is to have a jury of delegates. Convention members could name a juror. Either the top N jurors would be come the jury, or possibly anybody who can get some number of delegations, like 100, becomes a juror. The jurors can announce their philosophy before receiving support. For example, some jurors might just ask their constituents to send in nominations, and use solely that to pick their nomination ballot. Some jurors might offer to be guided but not bound by that. Some might be free jurors, asking people to trust their tastes. Some might have subgenre or political bents.

Like award juries though, the jurors could communicate and suggest works to read to other jurors, until such time as the jury together builds the final ballot through some systems. To avoid stagnation, jurors might be barred from the next two years, and of course they would be disqualified from being nominated themselves. Juror ballots might well be make public, or this could be part of a juror's policy sheet. (There is an issue with public ballots because of pressure to nominate friends.) Slates are not a problem here, in fact they are almost encouraged.


The SPs have already announced they'll be back next year (in fact, before the final ballot for this year was announced), and who'll be the lead organizer (a Kate somebody I've never heard of before and who I'm already ticked off at because she did a long post on how part of the reason for SP was the injustice that Terry Pratchett never got a Hugo. First off, Terry turned down a nomination when it was almost certain to win (Discworld novel voted on in a year when Worldcon was in Britain). So it was hardly some vast conspiracy to keep him from getting one. Second, while I don't claim to have been a close friend of his, I did know Terry well enough to feel pretty sure if she'd tried this when he was alive and functional, it would've resulted in a very witty, but angry, response from him)

We can argue about the ethics and fallacies of the Sad Puppies all day (and people are doing so on many message boards.) I outlined the hypothetical Steampunk slate to remove the politics, and discuss what you would do without consideration of the character of the puppy organizers.

In particular, I believe all the proposals I summarize would still apply even in the alternate scenario.

" First off, Terry turned down a nomination when it was almost certain to win (Discworld novel voted on in a year when Worldcon was in Britain). So it was hardly some vast conspiracy to keep him from getting one. Second, while I don't claim to have been a close friend of his, I did know Terry well enough to feel pretty sure if she'd tried this when he was alive and functional, it would've resulted in a very witty, but angry, response from him)"

Third, John C. Wright, the big winner of the Sad Puppies campaign this year wrote a lengthy article about the evils of Pratchett, and how he (Wright) regretted not punching Pratchett when he had the chance.

No matter what, the award and its reputation come out of this damaged. The SPs don’t really win either. They have certainly won attention, and since one of their goals was indeed to disrupt the original award process which they see as corrupted, they have also done that. It is likely, however, that the nominated works on the slates will lose, possibly to the “No Award” choice, or if they win, to receive awards commonly viewed as tainted.

I would say they clearly *do* win. As you say, 'No Award' is pretty rare and if they chose their slate reasonably carefully, it will be tempting to vote for a regular award than NA. So that leaves the taint - but people have short memories, and the victors will always be able to say 'author of the Hugo Award-winning novel X' or 'Hugo Award-winning writer', and few people will memorize that the 2015 Hugo Awards were tainted and X was one of the tainted. People looking at the covers of novels and noting the Hugo Award imprimatur, or looking at the Wikipedia list, will never hear of such inside baseball like the SPs. (And it's not like misfires haen't hit the awards before; who reads Ken Liu's "Paper Menagerie" and thinks that it is so good that it deserves any award, much less to be the only story to ever win all three?) 20 years from now, almost all the discussion of the SPs will be lost in the mists of Internet linkrot, so even the people who remember it will have a hard time digging up any details.

Whether the controversy of the 2015 awards is lost to history depends on whether the slate campaign continues to succeed. If slates dominate the awards for the next few years, that will not be forgotten. Indeed, the award will fade from prominence and another award will arise to higher status. That may or may not be the goal of the slate.

As such, the common knowledge will become, "Ah yes, the Hugo awards; they were a useful guide until 2014, after that they got taken over and faded away."

However, if the slates stop, then 2015 would indeed become a blip of history, notable mostly for being the only time No Award "won" in some important categories, other than the bad SF movies of the 70s.

"As such, the common knowledge will become, “Ah yes, the Hugo awards; they were a useful guide until 2014, ..."

Those sympathetic to SP may opine that the Hugo Awards were a useful guide until the mid-90s.

There's this remarkably simple suggestion to change the nomination process so that slates would only dilute the final ballot but not crowd others from it.

BTW, when I tried to sign myself with diacritics, I got this strange error message:
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But I will presume that's reducing the number of nominations, which I forgot to list, and will. It stops the complete crowd-out, but still allows pushing a few non-slate candidates off the ballot.

The recommendation was to expand the number of nominees based on how many nominations the most-nominated work received, so that there would be non-slate nominations on the final ballot.

I can read it now -- LJ has a problem on Chrome I guess.

Anyway, this works to some degree in the presence of a full slate, which nominated all candidates including the #1. However, #1 need not be from the slate -- it could just be a very popular choice, particularly in certain categories. The failure mode is not just the long tail he describes. This plain lowers the bar.

My view of how a category should work: There should be many possible works, of which we can find 5 which are great, and where at least one of those is usually excellent and worthy of the award. Not all categories -- particularly the ones that see the same nominees every year -- meet this standard, btw.

But no matter what threshold is used, a slate that gets nominees on the ballot pushes others off. What this does is throw a bunch of lesser works on the ballot to make sure that what's pushed off is truly below the threshold.

So it could help, but is far from perfect. And the slates, seeing this rule, might use it as a way to nominate a crapload of stuff, and I do mean crapload. With this rule in place, any slate can easily stick 15 to 20 works on many of the ballots! Sure, there are 5 to 10 non-slate works too, but that's not a workable ballot. Nobody can read it all.

Limiting the number of nominations a person can make to a given category to k out of n can help, but is still easy to game; half (or whatever) of the bandits pick the first k slate entries, half pick the last k, or (less effectively) they pick at random.
Limiting the total number of nominations a person can make across all categories is much harder to game; the bandits can still gang up on Best Novel and maybe one or two others, but can't wreck the whole Hugo vote at once. It does lose some good nominations from good nominators, but probably not too many.

It seems to me that the main problem are these supporting memberships. Why not just go back to having the attendees, and no-one else, vote? Yes, only a small fraction of "the community" attends Worldcon but, as you say, things have changed since the early days. However, everyone knows that it's not like the old days where a large fraction of the community was present, and this has been the case for a long time. Faced with the choice of the somewhat old-fashioned approach of having just the attendees vote and the problems with the slate, I would choose the former as by far the lesser evil.

The conventions go all over the world. Many can't attend every time, but still want to participate, and so the supporting memberships exist. And they are also actually supporting -- people give money to help a convention out, even when they can't go. Finally, you get one automatically when you vote for the location of the future convention, and you then upgrade if actually going.

So people would not be happy to be rid of them. In the past they did not affect the awards a great deal.

What about the option of letting supporting memberships go to only people who have attended a Worldcon in the past? I think I saw that listed as one of the options on someone's post, curious what you think about that option - would it stop the Puppies in the future? Does anyone know what portion of Puppy votes have ever been to Worldcon?

It is speculated that some fraction of the SP slate voters were not prior members of the community. Reducing the supporting membership would indeed impede people doing that. It is not likely enough, though.

Last year's slate was an attack on Hugo voting; this year's was an attack on nominations.

Limiting votes to attending members is bad enough, but limiting nominations to attending members is a much more serious restriction, because it prioritizes nominations from people who could attend last year's convention or this year's convention, and gets much lower nomination rates from people who aren't in those parts of the world, which loses a lot of variety. Yes, some people will travel anywhere in the world for a Worldcon, but many won't, and tend to only attend conventions on their continent.

And there may even be fans who attend conventions in other continents while they are still in their home continent.

I hadn't heard of this before reading your blog. I had heard about Gamergate only on other blogs. (Yes, I actually have a life---several of them.) I'm an old-school SF fan. It is well known that Asimov was politically liberal (in the social, not economic, sense) and that Heinlein wasn't (though in the latter's case it seemed to depend on whom he was married to). But at least the debate had some level of mutual respect. I think it is fair to say that not only have things changed, they've changed for the worse in this respect.

Asimov is actually a good example of someone who unconsciously promoted the white-male culture (with a few notable exceptions which prove the rule). However, when this was pointed out to him, his response was more "hey, you're right" rather than dedending his prejudices (though he did one work a shrewish wife into a story when an editor had complained about lack of female characters). Certainly his personal life was liberal and inclusive, though not everyone grokked his cheerful self-appreciation.

I recently read somewhere that he was known for making passes at women at conventions. I don't know if that is true, but somehow I doubt it. First, as an Asimov fan I'm sure I would have heard it before. Second, it wasn't necessary. Those who don't understand the groupie scene might find it hard to believe, but had he wanted sexual favours he wouldn't have had to stoop so low.

Yes, awareness is good but one shouldn't go too far the other way and expect every claim about some racist/sexist/homophobe/whatever to be true, especially if there is no supporting evidence. In these days of retweeting, people often repeat things which they don't know about first hand. (Note: I am not referring to anything related to science fiction here.)

Was a charming gentleman and an expert flirt. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Discon II in 1974.

Great job, Brad. I immediately shared this on my Facebook page.

How best to respond to this virtual rape of the awards is indeed a quandary.

Since I’ve always maintained that Hugo votes should be based on each person’s private absolute standard of Hugo-worthiness, and not merely on relative merit among a category's nominees, my present plan is to read the non-slate nominees, vote for any that are worthy, and then vote No Award after them.

It’s an imperfect solution though, since we can’t know what other nominees should have been in competition, and in some lucky years one has to choose between two or more books that are both good enough to win by making a more finely-grained judgment. Thus, for example, It’s going to be very annoying if the eventual release of the full nomination results reveals that an even better book than Leckie’s was just off the ballot. *sigh* What a mess.

And what, pray tell, does this alert from your website mean?

user warning: Unknown column 'style' in 'field list' query: SELECT scid, filter, style, effect, action FROM spam_custom WHERE effect != 4 in /home/brad/www/drupal/includes/ on line 172.

Is that I have been slow about upgrading the site, waiting for Drupal 8 to get stable. It still works, even with the error.

A nice post. I'd been looking at what a person could do, but not all the options open to the poor folks in charge of WorldCon. Some interesting choices. As for a new award, I've now had a large number of people suggesting I should start one in memory of my wife, and to speak to Dragon Con about being involved. I'm not sure if a new award would help a great deal...but it might.

Having more nominees in a category than anyone can read does not make the Hugos unworkable. Because there is no legal or moral requirement to read all the nominees before voting. Just vote your preferences among those you have read, then if there's anything you've read that you actively don't want to win, vote also for the ones you've not read, then No Award.

A very large set of nominees means almost nobody reads them all -- it is hard enough with 5. So people only vote for what they read already, and so you really just get an award for "the one that most people read" which is the one that is most famous, or by the best selling author.

The goal of a nomination ballot (rather than just giving the award directly to the work to get the most nominations) is to survey the group to pick out potential winners, then encourage them to look at the ones they didn't already know about -- thus the electronic packet -- and judge them head to head. It means that a great new writer can win over a lesser bestseller, and that is the intention.

Very interesting article.

I think you're giving up too easily on increasing the number of voters.

The effectiveness of slates is predicated on a small number of voters. Any rules shifting (smaller numbers of nominees, longer nominee lists, whatever) will be overwhelmed by a set of voters as large as the slate voters were this year, compared to the total number of voters. The obvious answer is to increase the total number of people nominating. If you put in a complex set of rules intended to stifle this year's slate action, you'll have to contend with further co-ordination behind the scenes; give me an hour or two with a spreadsheet and a few hundred email addresses of people who will vote the way I want them to and I bet I can send out assignments that will beat any proposed nomination plan. I wouldn't, but I could.

At any rate, making it all bigger is the right answer. Why does it have to be so small? Why can't the Hugos be The Voice or American Idol of speculative fiction? Instead of a packet you send to people, make it a real (e)anthology. Offer a slot or three to every pro and a selection of semi-pro SFWA short fiction markets, let them each run a readers' choice campaign if they like. Instead of including whole novels, include a chapter or three and a discount coupon for the whole thing on Amazon, the publishers ought to like that, drop the prince some to encourage volume and include a ticket to vote on nominations. Forget "supporting memberships", sell an anthology with a vote attached.

The way to beat slates (and there will be slates from now on, since they've been shown to work) is to make the numbers bigger. Also, as a side effect, you could generate some interest in short fiction. Start arguments, on facebook, on reddit, wherever; what was the best short story last year, anyway? The best novella?

As it is it's all too small and too secretive. Think of the drama! Readers' Choice polls from each pub, or just the editor picking, or however they want to do it. Then in the second round, the anthology goes out and ordinary man-on-the-street fans read a bunch of short fiction (!!) and argue about it, and nominate. Then the finals, the nominees are announced, and the big vote. This should be the March Madness of speculative fiction, not some thing with a tiny number of voters that's this easily gamed, come on. Social media, publicity, re-invent the Hugos! Make it an award for all of written sf fandom. Why not?

Nominating tends to be done best by people who are voracious readers/consumers, which most people aren't. There is no packet for nominators. There could be, but that would be a different order and require convincing more people to give out work for free.

The slate approach is very effective against a survey of people who selected independently. Independent selection -- which is what you want -- produces a very broad list. Ideally the stars shine out, but they don't shine out very much. While two Steampunk fans might love the genre, if there is enough SP out there only the real star of the genre that impresses many of those fans (and a few non SP fans) will rise to the top. However, it takes very little collusion to rise above that. Even if you triple the number of nominators, it still doesn't take much of a slate to overwhelm them. A larger group of nominators will produce an even broader distribution, while a slate is always minimally narrow.

This year nominations were handled by a couple of juries of volunteers, who had sort of a nominating packet. Unfortunately, the juries was the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and they didn't ask the community to participate in the process.

I agree that a slate will always be effective if it's allowed to be pursued. The way to beat a slate is with rule changes, larger voting bodies, and social pressure, I think. Especially the latter. Treat it with contempt. Social pressure can be a lot more effective than rules changes; any voting system can be gamed, to a greater or lesser extent.

Social pressure won't work with as small a voting set as the Hugos have now. There's not enough engagement in general fandom. If you ask the median fan about the Hugos and slates and so on, after you explain it s/he will shrug and say, well, your circus, your monkeys. Figure it out. It's not a general fan problem, since it's not a general fan award, so general fans can't be expected to be mad about it. But fandom as a whole is what will adjudicate the goodness or badness of behavior like this.

Right now there's a counter-story going on in SP circles that "everyone is vote fixing under the table, so we're actually being honest by being upfront about it". I find that implausible, but whatever, that's what they think. And there is an ever-increasing blogroll drumbeat of "read this" and "I published this" and "please consider my friend's novel" when friend's blog has a reciprocal request.

In order to get the SP to stop, first there has to be pretty broad engagement, and "slates are bad, Mmmkay?" has to be widely understood. Next, there has to be a pretty widely accepted standard for self-promotion. That will let the SP gracefully disengage with some claim to have "won".

If it's going to be a Worldcon award and decided on by Worldcon fandom, it has to be more restricted. Require attendance at three Worldcons before you can vote, something like that. Price the raiders out in terms of time, money, immediate results and commitment, and encourage everyone at Worldcon to read and nominate, even if they haven't read everything published that year. Nominate the best of what you've read.

If it's going to be a broad fan award, advertise it and alter the packet agreement with the publishers and have a tiered system where SFWA pro publications can run best-of votes and recommend stories. I'm not suggesting anyone give anything away for free, I'm suggesting a Hugo nominations ticket be attached to an anthology, for which authors could be paid reprint rates. Include the first chapter of novels and have a code for a discount on the rest at Amazon. Engage social media in a way that, frankly, the Hugos now do not do effectively at all. And have a page of ethics for voters that spell out exactly what is and is not bad behavior.

Go one way or the other. The current system, open to anyone for a small fee, small enough to make tiny little slates effective, and disengaged enough from the median fan reader that social pressure does not really apply, is not workable in a world where slate voting has been introduced.

I understand the point below about the Hugo noms being a survey, not a vote, but in fact it's a pretty terrible survey since it's self-selected response, so maybe it's better to treat it as a vote with all of voting's problems and strategies.

Slates are still effective even if the population is larger. Not as effective, truly, but it's also easier to recruit. After all, if you make it trivial to nominate, and the group asks folks who are not fans to "come help us fight against the politically correct social justice warriors" they can recruit a certain audience to help them build their slate influence.

Independent nominations are broadly distributed with a long tail. Slates are laser beams. That's why we have political parties in our elections, nothing can beat that strategy.

Could Asimov, Heinlein, Ellison, Silverberg, Niven, Clarke, Malzberg be nominated today? Could Ray Bradbury?

To hear the Sad Puppies tell the story, they would all be generally dismissed as white cis sh*tlord rape apologists.

Yes, that what they say. That's why you ignore the Sad Puppies story. Amazing just how off in their own paranoid world they are. Could Bradbury. You bet. In a heartbeat.

Yeah, but Bradbury was easy.

Asimov, the groper?
Ellison, the groper who wrote the pro-life Croatoan?
Niven, the right winger?
Malzberg (is it even safe for me to write down the name Malzberg in a safeplace?)
Heinlein, another right winger libertarian? And who is Michael Valentine Smith if not a white cis sh*tlord, patriarchal leader of a sex cult not unlike Scientology?

I dunno.

Could they win today. Yes.
Asimov - sure. Better than he did if we are time-traveling since most of his best work was done before the Hugos existed. Might a few people not vote for him if they heard he was a groper? Yes. Of course most people haven't heard it. Some people wouldn't vote for him because he was Jewish. Some because he is liberal. There are a few ass hats running around. But before now, few.

Ellison is the best example Yes he could win now, and then, because everyone always knew what he was. He has always been controversial. Half of fandom has always hated him personally (Have you met him--I have. I like him, but he's a tricky personality. He was hated and called names from day one. Didn't stop him, and people voted for him anyway.

Niven. Well, according to the Sad Puppies, the SFWA is filled with extreme, frothing, left-wingers. It is the hot bed of the evil left. And hey, look who is making Niven a Grandmaster this year. So, yes he could win now because he is.

Heinlein - sure, although lets face it, he's won some he shouldn't have. He was not a constant author

I am embarrassed to say I have no comment on Malzberg. Haven't read him.

You are giving way too much force to "I may not want to invite him to my nephew's coming out party." After all, I, and many many people listen to Wagner, and he was a colossal dick.

Well, there are two ways to answer the question. A lot of their works are getting pretty dated, so they might not win just on that. I know a lot of people have been doing "reread Heinlein" efforts and saying it just has not stood up. I have not reread in a while.

If the question is, "Could writers this far ahead of their field still win with their behaviours?" that's a big tough.

I expect most of these could. Marion Zimmer Bradley, perhaps not.

Harlan groped Connie right on stage during the Hugo ceremony. He might have had trouble for a few years after that, with all the voters seeing it. Today, most may not know the story. But yes, he did what he did even with his reputation; I've had insult bouts with him, like just about everybody else, and I still admit his ability as a writer.

Yeah, so I am curious how many of the "slates are terrible" crowd are strict party voters, vote the party line for offices and issues they otherwise haven't researched, condemn Republicans, Libertarians, and most of all, DINOs.

I'm not happy with slates, but I'm also not happy with our party system, and very much unhappy with all the excommunications and defenestrations of individuals who cross some line. Like maybe being supportive of free speech and due process.

Saw a dude on twitter today, his avatar was the Vulcan IDIC, yet he was ranting about the gamergaters being black on the right side while showing off his star belly.

One of the (stated) motivations behind building the SP slate was that it was felt that a minority group did not have another option in having its voice heard at least as far as getting a work nominated. Via Jason Sanford, "A modest Hugo Award proposal: [I]nstead of simply tweaking the Hugo rules, perhaps a better solution is to find common ground and agree to fix the Hugo Awards once and for all."

Quoting the proposal he's sharing: "Proportional representation means basically that if 60% of ballots are A-B-C-D-E and 40% of ballots are F-G-H-I-J that the 5 nominees are A-B-C-F-G. This is what I actually favor: minority representation is important no matter which "side" one might be on."

It is very important to understand something that I think has confused the slate voters. The Hugo award is not an election, in spite of the talk of votes. It is supposed to be a survey, a measurement, of what the worldcon fans feel is the best of the year. There is not supposed to be strategy. The goal is for people to express their true opinion on what is the best, to measure that opinion, and compute the winner.

In a survey, collusion among those surveyed destroys all validity of the survey. There was no security against this, because the easiest way to do the survey was in the style of a vote. It seems that confused people into thinking it was a vote. But it is not trying to obtain an opinion, it is trying to obtain the best estimation of a fact, "what is the most widely approved work of the year?" Understand that while each individual approval is an opinion, the aggregation of those opinions is a fact (about the opinions.)

There is not supposed to be strategy. The only thing strategy can do is make the measurement of opinion false, and more like the strategizer's opinion. While it is generally just fine if people campaign to change people's opinions it is quite another thing to try to corrupt the fact-measuring process itself. The former is free speech, the latter is cheating.

One can work to find better methods to improve the quality of the estimation. And yes, the nomination ballot does hold the risk of not including the work which is actually the most favoured in the aggregate opinion, though if nominators do a decent job (and don't collude) this is reasonably unlikely.

To get more specific, the purpose of a nomination process is to improve the quality of the opinions being measured, by giving people a subset they can manage to read even if they didn't read it before. That way the opinion measured is not just "which did you already like enough to buy?" but "now that you have had the chance to read the choices of the wider group, which was best?"

Well, Instapundit is certainly siding with the Sad Puppies :

"Social-Justice Warriors Aren’t So Tough When Even ‘Sad Puppies’ Can Beat Them."
"Correia notes that on April 6, eight different news sites, from Entertainment Weekly to The Guardian, all published suspiciously similar hit pieces describing the Sad Puppies campaign and its organizers as racist and misogynist. Clearly, someone was feeding these sites the new official narrative, and they all swallowed it without any attempt at basic research.”

And then had to humiliatingly retract."

I do think that the mainstream fans made a serious error when they attacked the Puppies over their politics or their personal characters. You would think they would know better than to enter into ad hominem attacks, they make you look worse than the person you are attacking. That's why I propose the hypothetical steampunk situation above, to talk about the real problem, which is not liking a particular type of SF, or being a saint or a jerk, it's abusing the rules to corrupt the system.

As soon as people, including TNH, accepted a debate full of politics and insults, they polarized people around issues that don't matter in this context, and so then the instinct of a guy like Glenn is to go to the side that looks more like him politically.

What do you think about George R R Martin's blog about the Hugos, where he said that Doctor Who fandom had been doing similar things to the 'Steampunk' made up? Do you think that would be okay, the Doctor Who fandom having the most awards?

Doctor Who is of course the longest running TV series in the world (forget about just SF) so it has its fans, and I am mostly one. So it is not surprising it does well, especially after they created a category just for short dramas, ie. TV shows, something that I opposed.

TV shows and series do face what they might consider a problem. If there are lots of episodes in a year (anywhere from 13 to 23) then all the fans will divide their support among many episodes, and so it can be that no single episode will make the nomination cut, even though there is broad support.

I have not followed it closely enough to know if the Whovians have ever organized on this sentiment:

Hey, instead of picking your favourite DW episode, show your support for DW as a whole, and this year, everybody nominate these specific ones!

If they did that, it's the same as the puppies, and wrong. Actually even a bit more wrong, because the doctrine that the award is not for the best TV series and only for the specific episode is actually expressed a lot in the community, because it is common for people to be annoyed that their favourite TV series does not get recognition because there is no award for best TV series.

Some of that dates to the time when there was only one award, and it was normally won by movies. People would feel, "Hey, I love this TV series more than I loved any movie, but I agree that no single episode of the series was better than the best movies."

This is the classic problem around works of different scope. It's not fair to compare a novel and a short story. Not fair to compare a TV series that's 20 hours long and a movie that's 1.5 hours long. And the short drama award was created because it's not fair to compare a movie and a TV episode. (My opposition to it was for different reasons.)

Until not that long ago, there just weren't enough SF TV series out there to have a meaningful award for best SF TV series, so there has not been one. Even though today there may be enough (tough I think there should be at least 100 candidates per year to have a good award, not something every category can claim) I feel the Hugos should retain their literary focus. There are lots of awards, and lots of recognition, and lots of conventions, for media SF.

"As soon as people [...] accepted a debate full of politics and insults, they polarized people"

Brad, note that your own choice of words in the title ("suborned") takes a political stance. Maybe it is not possible to avoid it, but it looks bad to complain about it and do it at the same time.

Puppies are only saddened when Best Selling Authors... the guys WE THE FANS pick by spending money... are ignored in favor of litrature and political correctness...

The PROOF that we needed a change is evident whenever people discuss the politics, gender, orientation, and lifestyle of authors instead of whether their books are GOOD.

Unilaterally hijacking the term "Fandom" and attempting to edge out the rest of us who have been reading Science Fiction and Fantasy since Hugo Gernsback was still around isn't going to work...

Insisting that a group so small it wouldn't fill a good sized forum in the larger Cons is the be all and end all of Fandom is just plain silly.

In the long run you NEED more participation in the WorldCon/Hugo universe, and "diversity"... well check the winner's photos for the last three years if you've got any questions about WHICH group is more diverse...

Hugo Gernback was a sleeze that published pulp fiction, and paid authors when they tracked him down and demanded their money... He's also the guy that brought Science Fiction into the mainstream so that we could actually read what the "Scientifiction" writers were doing...

HE would recognize that sales are actually a reasonable measure of the quality of an author's writing... More importantly they are the measure of the authors understanding of What The Fans Want.

The "Slate" comes with a charge to the Sad Puppies by the way... READ these and vote for them if YOU like them...

Herding cats would be easier than organizing the Sad Puppies crowd... all we really agree on is that only a Good Story deserves a Hugo Award!

I believe the root cause of the problem at hand is too few people voting for the nomination. Of over 15,000 eligible voters, only 2,122 submitted nomination ballots. The larger the voter pool, the harder it is for outsiders, insiders or any group with an agenda to influence the nomination outcome.


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