Cheaters never prosper. That’s what I was taught in kindergarten, and although the dissident science fiction writers known as the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” have only gamed the 2015 Hugo Awards ballot to their benefit, rather than defrauding it, the principle still applies. People who twist a system to their benefit only hurt themselves in the long run. Science fiction readers who love the Hugo Awards face the challenge of preserving its value while sending a message to the tricksters. Letting them win may be the best revenge.
Even casual science fiction readers know about the Hugos. It’s one of the oldest, most prestigious awards, the Oscars of sci-fi literature. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Ursula K. Le Guin are among its recipients. The awards nominations are crowdsourced: Readers who purchase a $40 membership in Worldcon, itself a venerated fan gathering, nominate their favorite books and authors. Writers love the recognition, and publishers love the marketing opportunity; They use the award in the same way motion picture studios scream a movie’s nomination and/or award for “Best Picture” in advertising.
High-profile awards are also a ripe opportunity for political grandstanding. I watched a lot of awards programs on TV as a kid, and one of my earliest memories is Marlon Brando sending a little-known Indian actor, Sacheen Littlefeather, to reject his Best Actor Oscar in 1973 for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.” The issue was real—the despicable history of Hollywood’s portrayal of indigenous people—but the scene at the Oscars show was pure theater.
The successful gaming of the Hugo Awards’ nomination system by the Puppies cliques represents a similar kind of grandstanding on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Supporters resent a long-term trend in science fiction in general, and the Hugos in particular, away from the classic high-tech, shoot-em-up style of scifi popular in the 50s and 60s towards an emphasis on softer subjects, such as gender equality and racism, that don’t necessarily involve ray guns. The baby doggies feel put upon, expressing their own version of FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly’s claims that Hilary Clinton’s run for the White House represents a declaration of “open season” on white, middle-aged men and Christians.
The Puppies’ temper tantrum about the culture’s drift away from their point-of-view has about as much chance of an impact as Brando’s gesture, no matter how you view the politics. In 1973, the culture was already moving on. The western, where most Indians appeared, was comatose as a genre, though later portrayals of Indians in movies such as Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” had their own political issues. The vociferousness of the Puppies’ protests and their awards tampering tactics underscores their marginalization; The world is rejecting their views, and they can’t stand it.
What should science fiction fans who love the Hugos do now? Assuming the Puppies nominees take home one or more awards, let them have their day in the limelight. The most likely long-term outcome will be… nothing. It will have no impact. Their gamesmanship will become no more than a footnote. It’s a one-shot deal; no one will take them seriously in the future. That’s how they will lose; their awards will be forever tagged with an asterisk: “Oh, you’re the guy who won because of those Sad Puppies freepers.” It may feel good now, boys, but in a few years, you’ll put your award in a closet because you’ll be ashamed to display it.