Science fiction and fantasy entertain huge and sometimes terrifying ideas about worlds and timelines beyond our own. The genre continues to grow as the years go by, and every year, the Hugo Awards honor the cream of the crop. However, a chunk of writers and fans aren’t happy with the new direction of sci-fi/fantasy, and have attempted to control the voting. What is the Hugo Awards controversy?
History of Hugo
The very first Hugo awards were presented in 1953 at the 11th Worldcon in Philadelphia. Then, the awards were called the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Award. Organizers hoped the honors would be repeated at future Worldcons, but since the Worldcons were all set by separate committees, it wasn’t a guarantee. The next awards took place in 1955, and since then, it’s happened every year. In 1992, the name changed to the “Hugo” in honor of Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories. Till that point, everyone called the awards “Hugos,” but now it was official.
The Hugos have always been somewhat nebulous, with no real formal guidelines and only a handful of rules. Over time, new categories emerged, like best “Novelette,” “Fan Writer,” and “Fan Artist” in 1967. In 1968, WorldCon added “Best Novella,” and in 1996, the “Retro-Hugos” started honoring past works. Another key feature of the Hugos (and a driver behind the Hugo Awards controversy) is that WorldCon members vote on works, and anyone can become a WorldCon member. It’s basically crowd-sourcing and reflects the changing views and values of writers and readers. For decades, white male writers dominated the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but that’s changed significantly. For one group of WorldCon members, that was bad news.
The Sad Puppies campaign
In 2013-2014, author Larry Correia started complaining about the state of the Hugos. He claimed that progressive voters were taking over and dominating the process. He wanted to get his own novel nominated and formed a group called “Sad Puppies” to all vote for him. The name came from the famous ASPCA ad, which Correia spoofed. In his version, he was the “sad puppy” asking WorldCon members to vote for his novel. The campaign continued for the next few years, with leaders recommending certain writers, so the category blocs would be stacked with “approved” works. Because any WorldCon member can vote, nobody could stop the Sad Puppies.
The Sad Puppies didn’t necessarily set out to be seen as standing against diversity in and of itself – Correia’s main beef seemed to be that “pulp” fiction was being ignored for more literary works – but the campaign definitely got that reputation very quickly. Another group, “Rapid Puppies,” emerged. It was led by Vox Day/Theodore Beale, who is a well-known name within the alt-right movement and banned from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing of America organization.
The Hugo Awards controversy fizzled out without much of an impact. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, N.K. Jemisin won for the three books in her Broken Earth trilogy. Beale actually specifically targeted Jemisin; a racist insult got him expelled from SFWA. Jemisin won out in the end and became the first author ever to win back-to-back awards for every book in a trilogy. She’s also an African-American woman, so she stands for everything the Sad/Rapid Puppies were pushing back against.
This year’s winners
Sad Puppies did not launch a campaign in 2019. So, who won this year? Mary Robinette Kowal won Best Novel for The Calculating Stars, which is set on an alternate Earth. Best Novella went to Martha Wells for Artificial Condition, and in the “Best Related Work” category, Archive of Our Own (AO3), the collection of fan-fic, made a historic win. Here are some other wins:
- Best short story: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho
- Best dramatic long form presentation: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
- Best dramatic short form presentation – The Good Place: “Janet(s)” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett
Sci-fi not only makes for a good read. It can influence the real world in big ways.