Is Sad Puppies the right strategy?

There are a number of great science fiction and fantasy authors who feel that the Hugo awards have become irrelevant because the folks voting–only those who are members of Worldcon–do not represent science fiction and fantasy fandom.

Brad Torgersen describes it with this Venn diagram.


But this is not only about the fact that the voting block is not a statistically valid sample of fandom. It’s also a campaign against what Larry, Brad, and many others see as a politically correct shibboleth in parts of the publishing community that they feel short shrifts authors who do not toe the liberal political line.

Two years ago, Larry Correia decided to give this issue a lot of attention. He did this by asking his fans to purchase a Worldcon membership and then consider a list of authors he thought were very good but didn’t necessarily reflect the prevailing values of the traditional Worldcon audience. Last year he repeated the effort and created a shirt-storm (I like that image so much better than the one that includes flying poops). This year, Brad is carrying the banner. Read Larry’s post Sad Puppies 3: The Slatening? to see this year’s slate of alternative folks and a summary of why these guys are doing this.

I’m friends with Larry and Brad. And I do not like the Should Police coming out and telling me I should or must include more X in my stories and less of Y, whatever that X and Y may be.

But, I’m wondering if storming the Hugos is the right way to do this.

Yes, the Hugo award has a lot of brand equity. But must the Hugo represent fandom?

Is Sad Puppies attempting to storm the castle and force upon Worldcon something Worldcon members don’t care for?

Let’s go back to the original issue that Sad Puppies is trying to shine a light on.

Reader Kim wants more of X and less of Y in his or her books.

But instead of saying, “Geez, where in the crap do I find books with more of X and less of Y?”

Instead of trying to get with a bunch of folks and saying to suppliers, “Hey if someone would write more of X and less of Y, we’d buy it! Look at this market that’s dying for product!”

Instead of developing the More X and Less Y website dedicated to helping readers who like that find their books.

Instead of that, Kim says, “Gosh darn it! All books should have more X and less of Y. And if they don’t, they’re, they’re, they’re bad, and bad for you, and probably make kids smoke! And we should make all stories conform.”

And the mandated “should” is where things get all tangled up. That should is what Sad Puppies is speaking out against.

So instead of trying to stomp out differing opinions or requiring all authors to write stories with some allotted amount of XY content, would it not be more productive to simply work with our wonderful free market to try to create a new silk road (or pave the existing one fit only for camels) that connects readers who like XY stories with authors who are happy to write them?

I think it would.

At the same time, this same argument could be applied to the Hugos. Instead of trying to force Worldcon members to change their ways, why not let them like the stories they like, but create a fresh new award that seeks a broader base? It would require work to build its brand equity, but maybe that’s a more effective long-term strategy.

It’s kind of like the New York Times best seller list. There are many problems with that list, including, but not limited to, the fact that it can be gamed. But instead of trying to change it, USA Today came up with something much better. Yes, “NY Times Best Seller!” still has huge brand equity. But USA Today is gaining on it. And as the market learns more and more about the difference between the lists, USA Today’s will only grow in luster.

I suppose it’s true that you sometimes do indeed need to storm the castle. And maybe this one needed some barbarians to show up and sack it. But I wonder if it’s time to pivot. I’m wondering if in this case the best long-term strategy wouldn’t be to simply build an armored division of M1-Abrams with air and sea support and make the castle irrelevant. Maybe this is something to think about for next year.

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20 Responses to Is Sad Puppies the right strategy?

  1. Peggy :) says:

    I agree with you on this! Just because Hugos have been the most prestigious Science Fiction award a SciFi author can get doesn’t mean we couldn’t make a new one that gets votes from scifi readres all over the world. 🙂

  2. Bob Muench says:

    So true, John. If you create a new one (I’ll call it The Quantum for the moment) and readers see that the books that they enjoy fill the Hugo list, and the ones they like are in Nebula, but the ones that really turn them around, make them think, make them feel, make them love to read even more are in the Quantum list–then they will begin to give it power. It will become the Second Foundation.

  3. I write YA sci-fi, and one thing that I’ve noticed is that, with no exceptions I can think of off the top of my head, all YA authors treat each other nicely. What is it about adult sci-fi and fantasy tear each other apart, both publicly and harshly?

    • John Brown says:

      I don’t know. Is it the infusion of political stances, of crusades for right and wrong, however that’s defined? Do you find that in the YA community?

      • Politics are definitely talked about by the YA community, and the genre definitely leans left. Nine out of ten authors are female, if that has anything to do with it.

      • John Brown says:

        So much for my theory. Or, if it all leans left, maybe the minority is too much a minority to care to make waves?

  4. Angus Trim says:

    It may or may not be the right strategy, but it definitely got some attention, and that can’t be a bad thing.

    There are an awful lot of folks that read SciFi and Fantasy in the seventies and eighties that don’t read it now. The Hugo conundrum is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve read several of the blogs on this subject, and there are several ex-readers of these genres that are willing to get their feet wet again, now that they have an inkling that there might be writers of the “old school” out there, albeit either Baen writers or indie.

    I think the more attention the better right now.

    About awards? I think there ought to some acknowledgement that the genres have splintered, and that the SJW saturated stories should get their due, and the old school stories should get theirs.

    Just my auld two and a half pence on it.

    • John Brown says:

      Yes, all the magazines seemed to take a weird turn. And the editorial houses seemed to follow, although there were many exceptions. I dropped my subscriptions to Asimov’s and F&SF in the early ’90s because the stories just bored me.

      • Angus Trim says:

        The Sad Puppy campaign has gotten a lot of attention in a couple of interesting places. There’s an article on Breibart that showed a lot of people the issues in SFF, and on Mike Glyver’s blog there’s an interesting conversation going on.

        My thought on this is it might not change what’s going on in the Hugos, but the attention appears to be bringing back some old time SFF readers.

        Give someone that hasn’t had a good space opera to read in twenty years, something that fits, they might start looking for more of the new stuff to read.

        If someone was an avid fantasy reader twenty years ago and more, and couldn’t find anything to read at the end of the nineties and gave up, Larry Correia and the Harry Dresden series might bring them back.

        That can’t hurt us, the indies and the aspiring writers.

      • John Brown says:

        Very true.

  5. Jake Kerr says:

    You really nailed it, John. The issue with Brad’s Venn diagram is that his exact diagram is identical to one you would have created when the Hugo Awards were created, and people don’t seem to understand that it was designed that way.

    It’s a small group that created an award that represented a small group. The disconnect here is that thanks to those people’s dedication the award is considered prestigious and people are mistaking prestigious with “represents all of fandom,” but at its heart it is still a small group award.

    It’s like complaining about the Nebulas because they only represent the opinion of writers. Well, exactly. Replace Nebula with Hugo and writer with con attendee, and the logic still applies.

    • John Brown says:

      Right. And I think shining a bright light on it, has been helpful. But I think the best alternative is an award that does what Sad Puppies really wants.

    • BikerDad says:

      The disconnect here is that thanks to those people’s dedication the award is considered prestigious and people are mistaking prestigious with “represents all of fandom,” but at its heart it is still a small group award.

      The disconnect needs somewhat better explanation. It isn’t that “people” are mistaking prestigious, it’s that the people handing out the award were touting it as “represents all fandom”. “People” is entirely too nebulous, too ambiguous a word to use here. With the Nebulas it’s known that it’s a writer’s award, and in fact a specific group of writers, i.e. the SFWA. Pulling back the curtain on the small group nature of the Hugos is partially what SP has been about.

      Is SP the best approach? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is the approach that’s in play now though. One could certainly get a good story out of some alternative approaches. Who knows how the world will look 70 million years from now with Sad Puppies, and without?

  6. Totally agree with this. Thanks for the well-reasoned post.

    I hate it when someone tells someone else that the thing they like is “wrong” or they like it for the “wrong reasons”.

    No reason to go take away someone else’s toy; have a good time with your own toy and people will come over to see what you’ve got going on.

  7. Yes. I’m in agreement. It’s time for a new SFF award, of the type that takes into account the tastes of mega-readers.

    In other words: It’s not an award for the most high-brow SFF book (that might be the Hugo). And it’s not an award for the most popular SFF book (that might be Goodreads Reader’s Choice). Any reader who’s read at least, say, 30 SFF books that year can nominate candidates. But that’s the requirement–not how much you can pay, not who you know, not what social media you’re on. Just how much you read.

  8. Jason says:

    To me the argument loses any credibility when it claims most Hugo voters aren’t part of fandom

    • John Brown says:

      That wouldn’t make sense, would it? However, I don’t think they claim they aren’t part of fandom. I think they feel they don’t represent the vast majority of fandom. The Worldcon circle should probably be a smaller circle within the larger one.

  9. Truman says:

    I think the award should be tied to SLCC. You can add a comic category to keep it relevant to all the attendees there.

    I would name it the “Saltys”