My opinion on the Hugo Awards Sad Puppies controversy is…
Actually, I don’t have an opinion on the controversy.
To me, the idea of trying to determine the “best” book/story/whatever of the year is ridiculous. My best will be different from your best, and our favourite reads/games/shows will likely be different from Larry Correia’s and John Scalzi’s and every other person who weighs in with an opinion. Is Jim Butcher’s Skin Game a better Hugo nominee than, say, William Gibson’s The Peripheral? To some people yes, to some people no. It’s all a manner of opinion.
Or rather, it’s all a matter of a popularity contest. It’s no secret that awards of this sort that are judged by vote are usually just popularity contests — they’re generally about who can mobilize a fan base or at least voting bloc the best. This year, it was the Sad Puppies campaign run by Brad Torgersen. Or maybe it was the Rabid Puppies run by Vox Day. It’s still a little unclear as to which group was actually the one that managed the Hugos sweep. How successful they will be in the final awards depends on the level of organization of their opponents. Will the anti-Puppies bloc defeat the Sad Puppies bloc? The campaigns continue even as I write this.
I should point out that juried awards are little better, as they generally reward books which are most in line with the juries’ own aesthetic tastes or are simple compromises between warring jury members — hardly a way to determine the “best” of anything. I’ve been part of enough juries or known enough jurors in other contests to know how it works.
The sad thing is that awards such as the Hugos are meant to celebrate but far more often divide. Let’s face it: no one generally cares what other people are reading. I doubt John Scalzi gives much thought to what Larry Correia is reading and vice versa. Why would they? It doesn’t matter. But as soon as you try to decide what is “best,” then it suddenly becomes personal. Readers get upset when their favourites are seen as marginalized or unimportant — or worse, when something they don’t like is actively praised as being better than the works they do like. And suddenly an award that is meant to celebrate triggers an online war that spreads lot of divisiveness and hate.
Of course, much of this is caused by writers who either lobby to get their own works awarded prizes or who are pissed off because their own works never get awarded prizes. They mobilize their fan bases, and here we are.
Personally, I think we’d be better off without awards. Fandom would be a much calmer and likely healthier place. But that’s not going to happen. The Hugo will not be scrapped in our lifetime, although it may slip into irrelevance, like many other awards (some would say it went that way a long time ago). And the sad truth is awards sometimes come with a financial benefit to writers that matters very much. The Hugos don’t have much of a sales boost, but they do have a boost. And other awards, such as the Giller or the Booker or even the Governor General’s Award make a huge difference to artists’ ability to keep on creating. So awards matter even if we don’t want them to.
So what’s to be done? I think the only option is to not care about them. Or at least use the furor for entertainment value. I think the Hugo brouhaha is meaningless but it is a compelling soap opera. Read and view what you want and don’t worry about what’s best. Worry about what’s best for you.
And if you’re a creator and you win an award, great. Congratulations! Feel good about it and soak it for all it’s worth. But don’t let it get to your head, because it doesn’t mean anything.
In case anyone thinks this is a case of sour grapes, I’ll point out I’ve won a few nice awards, some that come with money, others with honour. I’ve been delighted to win in each case, but I’ve always said all they mean is a certain group of people in a certain block of time happened to like my works a little more than the other works they’d read recently. I’m thankful for that, because it means my writing connected with readers. And that’s what it’s all really about.