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Happy, happy kittens

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This post is about the so-called Sad and/or Rabid Puppies, and if you need background on exactly what that is, please refer to this IO9 article. In my own post, whenever I attribute motive or reasoning to Brad Torgersen, Author of Sadness, it is based on this very thorough analysis of Torgerson’s own essays on the topic, from a writer who declined to be included on the Sad slate. (Thanks to Janna Silverstein for the link.)

It’s a happy kitten. I thought you’d like it. 

The short answer is that Torgersen appears to be under the impression that the Hugos used to honor the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes, but for the past ten years or so, have been honoring more and more examples of Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes. Further, he seems convinced that this is due to some shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit, acting in concert to nominate Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgerson Likes, so that the only way to thwart their influence is collective action in the opposite direction.

The Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes appears to be rousingly populist space adventure tales with no obvious literary pretensions and either no discernable social or political message, or if any message is detectible, it should be a right wing, libertarian, or bigoted message.

His campaign was a devastating success, in part because there WAS no shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit until Torgersen and his fellow travelers set about creating one. So, with the Sads all voting more or less in agreement, and everyone else simply voting as usual for whatever they happened to want to vote for, the Sads swept the Hugo nominees this year.

Even without the rumors I heard about the Sads, I would have known something was up when I saw the list of Hugo nominees. Usually, the nomination list is full of  writers, works, and publishers with a bit of “buzz,” things that trigger a vague sense of “oh, my friends were talking about that” or “oh, I’ve been meaning to read that.”

But the 2015 nominees are dominated by boring-looking stuff by guys I’ve never heard of, which seems like a strange accomplishment from a dude whose complaint about the Hugos includes them not being populist enough. I mean, one of those guys I’ve never heard of, John C. Wright, is nominated in every short category, and THREE TIMES in the novella category alone.

It looks fishy, basically. You don’t have to know anything else about it for it to look fishy. If it were MY OWN NAME appearing all those places, I would still be rather appalled and inquire as to whether the votes had been counted properly.

Even if the Sads didn’t technically break any rules, they obviously broke something — and I fear that what’s broken is the Hugos themselves, which might in turn break Worldcon.

Torgersen, by assuming (falsely) that the Hugos had somehow become deliberately politicized in a way he didn’t like, and in striking out against this imaginary foe, has very possibly created exactly that foe. Because with the Sads voting as a block, anybody who seriously opposes the aim of the Sads — a transparent attempt to elevate work based on right wing political identity rather than artistic merit — will have a strong motivation toward forming a voting block of their own — the Happy Kittens, perhaps.

And so, it might be that every year from now on is going to be Sad Puppies vs. Happy Kittens and suddenly Hugo voting becomes as nasty and dysfunctional as our US national politics. But in politics, we keep on in spite of that, because we don’t have much of a choice. The Hugos are purely optional — we do them because they are supposed to be fun, a celebration of science fiction and fantasy art and fandom. If the whole thing gets too icky and contentious and disturbing and unpleasant, a lot of people — the nicer people, the people who care more about art than about “winning” — might end up staying home, deciding it’s not worth it.

At that point, the Hugos and Worldcon might limp along for a while primarily as a haven for a certain kind of ultra-reactionary fan, but with no sense of larger-world prestige behind them. When people in the future talk about Hugo winners, they’ll have to preface it: was that one of the Real Hugos, or the Sad Hugos?

Then they’ll die out, because a philosophy based on exclusion is inherently doomed. No more Hugos. No more Worldcon. Fandom will move on to less literary conventions, like Emerald City Comic-Con, which already have the greater numbers, or more literary conventions, like World Fantasy.

The end.

Now, that’s an “if this goes on” dystopian scenario, which any SF fan ought to understand is largely a thought experiment — and also which any SF fan ought to know has been a central part of SF for a very long time. (Does the title 1984 ring a bell? )

The phenomenon of SF getting “taken over” by a bunch of highfalutin’ literary types, and also by politicized left-leaning “social justice warriors,” is hardly new, no matter what Mr. Torgersen and his cabal of Sads seem to think. I was raised on Original Series Star Trek, for heaven’s sake. It doesn’t get more central to traditional SF fandom than that, does it? TOS is nearly fifty years old, old enough that there are now fans of longstanding who grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation as their default Trek. And TOS was noticeably anti-war, anti-racism, and chock full of metaphors about progressive 60s politics — usually flattering to the progressive side of things. (Although they seemed a little ambivalent about hippies, and nobody seemed to have told them about feminism.)

Further, Star Trek happened only after a movement in SF known as the New Wave had started, in which writers such as J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. LeGuin brought a new spirit of literary and social experimentation to the field.

It leads me to wonder not only what Torgersen and his Sads think they are going to gain from all this, but what their actual grievances could possibly be. Obviously he’s responding to something he thinks has changed in SF since he first got interested in the field, but everything he complains about was already a well-established part of SF when I started reading it as a kid in the 70s. Brad Torgersen was born in 1974. He’s younger than I am. He can’t play the “original fandom” card on me — if anything, the dude should be getting off MY lawn.

However, when I think about Hugo-related changes that might have come about in the last 10 years, compared to the changes that started 50 years ago, it comes down to greater diversity — more non-US Worldcons and more nominated writers who are not straight, white, cisgendered men.

That doesn’t speak well of the Sads’ true motives.

Of course Beale/VD with his own related “rabid puppies” slate, doesn’t even pretend that it’s about ethics in journalism, I mean, about the actual merit of the work. Mr. VD is very open about having decided that he derives perverse pleasure from the choice to be evil on purpose. But the real supervillains would laugh him out of the club for his stunted imagination and mediocre intellect. (“That’s your big, evil plan? You want to make a bunch of nerdy science fiction fans cry? Dude, are you twelve?”)

Last year, I knew that some of the nominees were Sads, and gave them a go anyway. (Morbid curiosity and a perhaps misguided sense of fairness drove me to it.) It turned out the stories that won (no Sads) were excellent (“The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere,” “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”) or fun (“Equoid”) and the Sads were either professional but dull, or actively horrible. (VD makes Stephanie Meyer look like a prose genius, and I am not kidding. Or exaggerating. Except that it might be doing a disservice to Meyer.)

This year, most people who think deeply about such things — John Scalzi, for example — are recommending that everyone vote and make liberal use of the “No Award” option in categories where nothing that has been nominated really seems worthy of the honor.

Next year?

Well, after some consideration, I think Happy Kittens should be a thing, for real. But it shouldn’t be a single recommended slate where I, or Scalzi, or whoever, tries to wield the power of block voting. The kittens don’t want that. Anyway, they’re kittens. Are you familiar with the expression “herding cats”? It means trying to herd a creature that, by its fundamental nature, resists herding.

No, Happy Kittens is just a campaign to make sure that everyone who wants the Hugo award to remain an award that means something, gets out there and nominates what they want to nominate. We call our movement the Happy Kittens just to remind ourselves of what happens if we don’t participate.

I didn’t nominate this year. I’m betting a lot of the rest of you didn’t either. Maybe, like me, you’re perpetually behind on your reading, and felt it was somewhat improper to nominate stuff you hadn’t read just because your friends wrote it and you already know your friends are awesome writers, or to nominate the “best” when you’d only read one thing that even qualified. Maybe the deadline for Hugo nominations is just the kind of thing you easily lose track of, like political primaries or mid-term elections.

But not participating implicitly means that you trust the people who do participate to represent your interests. In the case of the Hugos, prior to now, that trust had never seriously been violated.

According to the Tor site, the total number of nomination forms was 2122

We can beat that.

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  1. […] No Award against the whole slate, to changes in the nomination rules. My favourite so far is the Happy Kittens project which is a campaign to get people to nominate eligible works. It is not a slate; it does […]

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