Taking a Literary Step Backwards: the Hugo Awards 2015

The Hugo Awards are considered the most prestigious in the science fiction and fantasy world. The awards are voted for by fans, according to their website the voting ‘is open to all members of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).’ Recently the awards have become a hotbed of media attention, not for their annual prize-givings, but for becoming the centre of a ‘left-wing vs. right-wing’ cultural debate. Fan groups have grown in opposition to the Hugo Awards, claiming they exclude and have become hostile to more conservative and ‘traditional’ science fiction. They also condemn the Awards for promoting a focus on ‘left wing activism’, rather than a focus upon the genre itself.

The voting process was manipulated and monopolised by two large fan groups: the ‘Sad Puppies’ and the ‘Rabid Puppies’. Both groups created a slate for their members to use in the voting process and as a result New Republic have found that ’71 percent of the Hugo ballot now consists of nominees promoted by ‘Sad Puppies 3’ and/or ‘Rabid Puppies”.’ The concerns of these groups were summarised (and thus perhaps marred) in George RR Martin’s blog. Martin comments on the Puppies’ fixation with what they perceive as the exclusion of the ‘conservative’, the ‘writer of faith’, the ‘white male’, and of works popular with readers.

The Hugo Awards have historically generated interest for science fiction’s past and future. In the group blog, ‘Difficult Run’, Nathaniel Givens collates information regarding figures of males nominated for the the Hugo Awards, which displays a distinct lack of diversity in science fiction and fantasy. His graph exemplifies the monopoly of male writers, as the number of male nominees remains close to 80% from the sixties to the late eighties. Givens acknowledges that women writers are only one of many minority groups poorly presented in science fiction and fantasy, nevertheless, these figures show a troubling exclusionary past for the genre.

This scandal is clearly worrying; such regressive views placed upon particular literary genres, such as science fiction and fantasy, must have implications for other genres, and the larger literary field. Literature is key in its power to evolve and combat the oppression of minority groups, by allowing a voice and platform (although being well heard often unfortunately relies on getting ‘discovered’ and subsequently published). Right-wing action is also more concerning when involved with such canonising activity as literary awards. Awards often help shape the (Western) literary canon, which contains a lot of the West’s most famous and widely read literature. Therefore right-wing attitudes, such as those of the ‘Sad Puppies’ and ‘Rabid Puppies’, merely blocks diversification of the canon – discouraging the cultural change that the West still desperately needs.

However, the question still remains: how do we overcome such regressive strategies in literature? The democratic fan vote should appear the fairest and least problematic strategy, yet as seen, it has its fundamental drawbacks. This fan vote could perhaps be improved through publicising, to generate a larger voting base. Another clear method could be to place the voting into the hands of science fictions’ experts – but again the issue of subjectivity and lack of large representation stands. There is ultimately no solution which lacks drawbacks, but the attention the Hugo Awards has attracted can hopefully go some way to highlighting the cultural problems still inherent in the literary industry.



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