The only thing you need to do to fix the Hugos


I’ve already noted here that the motives of those people block voting on the Hugo awards have very little to do with those awards, and everything to do with pimping up the organiser’s profile in the eyes of their reactionary, right wing audience.

The Hugo block vote is an act of immense selfishness. But is it actually a problem? We’re annoyed with those involved for creating such disruption, all for the sole purpose of puffing up their egos. But when you actually parse out what the consequences, do they pose an existential threat? The simple answer is no. Here’s why.

Diversity in sci-fi is a genuine issue, and has been for many years. How important you believe that issue to be will largely depend on how important you believe sci-fi is. But even in very recent years if you asked people about diversity in SF, you would get a few very predictable responses.

Less than two years ago,  sci-fi imprint Tor UK published a limited set of data on submissions made to their imprint by women. The data is interesting, but a high school math student could easily explain to you why it has little meaning in statistical terms. Nonetheless, it was widely hailed by the UK sci-fi community and many beyond as proof that diversity in SF was simply a non-issue. Women did not submit SF novels hence women were not shortlisted for awards. End. Of.

Change often hinges on the middle-ground of opinion. And until quite recently the middle ground of opinion regarding diversity in sci-fi  was (a) what? why does this matter? (b) sci-fi is more of a boys thing (c) please stop talking about diversity your attempt to be heard is really annoying me. A growing number of people were starting to take the issue seriously, but still a very small minority.

Enter the Sad Puppies, stage far right. Who in 2015, after three years of trying, have finally made themselves well and truly known to pretty much all of sci-fi fandom. But their first effect was in 2014, when they first placed a handful of nominees on the Hugo award shortlist. That achievement galvanised Hugo voters to think very seriously about diversity, and return the most diverse roster of Hugo winners in the award’s history.

Because this is what happens when extremists enter a discussion.  They alienate the middle-ground, and it’s the middle-gound where the real power lies. 18 months ago the middle-ground were not behind the idea of diversity in SF, because they simply couldn’t see that it mattered. Today the whole of SF fandom is up in arms about diversity. Because when something comes under such sustained attack, you can no longer pretend it does not matter. So stunning has the anger been in support of diversity, that the Sad Puppies themselves have been backed into the rhetorical corner of claiming their slate is itself a blow for diversity – albeit on behalf of “underrepresented” old white dudes. Hurrah! Total and utter victory for diversity!

SUGGESTION – if the Sad Puppies slate really is about diversity, maybe next year it can be organised by a more diverse group of people? I suggest the current organisers hand Sad Puppies over to K Tempest Bradford and Hal Duncan to prove its true diversity.

The Hugo awards do not need to be fixed. They are doing what awards are, in part, there to do. Providing an arena for the debates that in turn power change. Some rather loud, selfish men are shouting their half of the debate. Good. The mass of people who might otherwise have stood silent on the sidelines have been motivated to act against them. Let the Puppies shout and bellow as long and as loud as they like. The actual changes that will follow their actions are not likely to please them at all. Publishers aren’t racing out to buy more books with space rockets by right wing reactionaries. Quite the opposite. Readers aren’t being persuaded of the joys of old school sci-fi by having it rudely thrust in their faces. Quite the opposite. In contrast, the issue of diversity has this year been spot welded to the Hugo awards by the laser beams of focused outrage. And that’s no bad thing.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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