The 2015 Hugo Awards – Perspectives

By Chris M. Barkley

HATE: it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

–Maya Angelou

In the waning hours of July 31, my partner Juli Marr and I submitted our ballots for this year’s Hugo Awards. The next morning, I attended the funeral mass of Margaret Kiefer, a longtime member of Cincinnati Fantasy Group. As I sat and filled out my ballot, I could not help but think of the life she led, my life in fandom and the events leading up to Puppygate.

Margaret Ford Keifer worked as the principal’s secretary for Loveland City Schools for over 30 years. She was also a volunteered her help for the Loveland Historical Society Museum, the Cincinnati Pops, and a longtime member of the Loveland Women’s Club. In addition, she was a member of St. Columban Church for 58 years. Margaret was a founding member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group and attended 66 consecutive Midwestcons, the last of which she attended this past June, just weeks before her death. She was also the last surviving member of Cincinnati’s only Worldcon, Cinvention, which was held in 1949.

At Margaret’s service, I heard several testimonials to her strength, fortitude and devotion to her community. Warren McCullough, one of her former school principals lauded her as the woman who saved his educational career. Several previous principals had left recently and he was the third hired in three years for a troubled elementary school that no one wanted to send their children. He described that first meeting where he was introduced as being very tense and after what he called a “rousing call to arms” to save the school, his speech was met with dead silence. At that point, Margaret Keifer, who was seated in the front row of the assembly, stood up and faced them down and loudly declared, “I will follow this man…and I will take the first bullet for him, too!” McCullough stated that his career as an educator took off after that incident and was incredibly grateful for her support.

Her parish priest, Father Lawrence Tensi, adamantly refused to call her a mere volunteer, but as true disciple in the purest sense of the word, as one of the few people in the community who could be counted on time after time to organize, work and deliver whatever was needed.

Contrast this with Mr. Beale, who, on the surface seems to have some moderate amount of talent as a writer, editor and publisher, who has gone out of his way to trumpet and advance notions of homophobia, sexism, racism with provocative slander, libelous insults and threats, wildly delivered with what I can only describe as a pseudo- intellectual flair. However, those talents, which could have been used for the betterment of literature and culture, are instead being used to soil and defame it. Beale’s latest attempt at seeking attention, a worldwide call for a boycott of all TOR authors and books, is as pathetic as it is futile.

All of the activities of the Sad and Rabid Puppies might have been easily laughed off, had they not made good on their threats and effectively gamed the Hugo Award nominations this year.

Millions of words have been spilled, pounded, spit out, spit upon, leveraged and expounded upon this subject by thousands of commentators, bloggers, pundits and literary critics since the nominations were announced.

I tell friends and acquaintances that are not familiar with sf fandom that this is not the first fannish feud to spill out into the consciousness of the public, nor will it be the last. With internet connectivity, hair trigger tempers and the willingness of people to stay up WAY PAST their bedtimes to correct stuff on the internet, it is certainly the most public display of asshattery in fandom that general public has ever seen.

I consider what Brad Torgenson, Larry Corriea and Theodore Beale have collectively done, is a direct attack on what fans, writers, editors, publishers and literature itself. And I consider this attack on fandom and the Hugos is a personal attack against me.

My involvement with the Hugo Awards began back during my high school days, when my good neighbor Michaele loaned me her copy of the SF Book Club omnibus edition of The Hugo Winners Volumes 1 and 2 edited by and with introductions by Isaac Asimov, which covered nearly all of the short fiction winners from 1955 to 1970.

(A side note: I wish all of the Hugo winning stories were still readily available, if not in book form, at least as inexpensive ebooks or linked online, so that everyone can appreciate the wide spectrum of authors, stories and styles that have won over the decades.)

These stories blew away my teenaged mind. What I completely ignored at the time were Asimov’s references to the conventions themselves. They referred to these World Science Fiction Conventions, were held in different cities in the US and overseas but not where future conventions were going to be or how to attend them.

Eventually, in 1976, my best friend Micheale and I found our way to the 27th Midwestcon and found out firsthand what conventions were all about. I missed the 1976 Worldcon, MidAmericon in Kansas City, but I attended the first of my 26 Worldcons the next year in Miami Beach.

Over the years, I have volunteered my time to help or head up various Worldcon Press Offices and other duties on 17 occasions, charged with trying to explain fandom and the Hugo Award to the mainstream press of the host city and accommodate fan writers as well.

However, I feel as though my important contributions to the Hugo Awards have come in the last sixteen years. I, along with a number of fellow fans and activists in fandom have been at the forefront of some of the fundamental changes in the Hugo award categories.

We fought for these changes, to the Best Dramatic Presentation, Best Editor categories and the creation of the Graphic Story and co-sponsoring the Fancast category were necessary to keep the Hugos diverse, fairer, engaging and most importantly, relevant in the 21st century.

I must admit, I was in a somewhat of a state of shock when the nominations were formally announced back in April. Almost immediately, some factions inside fandom wanted the Hugo Awards suspended immediately or stopped altogether. Others have organized to either shun or vote No Award in all the categories where Sad/Rabid Puppies nominees are dominate.

Then, as the story spread, news outlets, pundits and commentators outside fandom started to weigh in; Salon.com, Slate, National Public Radio and even the National Review went out of their way to get a grip on what most of them characterized as the ‘geek culture war’.

I do not believe in destroying the Hugo Awards in order to save it.

I repudiate the No Award movement and those that support it. I believe that a No Award given in any category damages the prestige and reputation of the awards. I will vote No award above a nominee in a category ONLY if I can determine if it is warranted by my personal standards and taste, NOT because it was part of a knee jerk reaction to what has happened or for any other political concern. Those who do so blindly, without any consideration of the work itself, are, in my opinion, NOT ethical votes. (And I can report that I cast at least one vote for a nominee in all of the fiction categories.)

Secondly, when an institution is under attack, you fight back. Not with irrational hate speech, subversion of the voting rules and threats but with reasonable speech, more impassioned defenses and more democracy.

I am heartened that from what I have observed, our communities of fans, authors, editors and artists have collectively risen above this controversy. The Puppy movement and their supporters wanted to prove a point; that a small number of voters can impose their will on an unsuspecting public. They have wholeheartedly made their point.

However, in doing so, the Sad-Rabid Puppies have lost the war. Despite their fervent claims, I think the tide of public opinion has turned decidedly against them. Fandom does not have to obsess about the Puppies and their overall effect because whatever influence they had has waned as the controversy has played out.

Their seemingly endless displays of ignorance, buffoonery, arrogance has not gained them any more traction or supporters for changing or eliminating the Hugos. Since the beginning of this crisis, Supporting Memberships for Sasquan were sold in unprecedented numbers. It is my fervent hope they were bought for the sole purpose of voting for the Hugos this year. I also hope that on the night of the Hugo Ceremony, those of us who have opposed this farce will be vindicated.

Science fiction, fantasy or literature as a whole, is not about the future or the past. It is all about the time it is written. It is about the consequences of change, for good or for ill. There will never be any definitive, wholesale agreement from anyone on what it means, what it should contain or what stands for; that’s a debate for historians, literary critics, fanzines and bloggers.

Personally speaking, I don’t believe in applying any sort artificial means of affirmative action to either the voting process or the awards, as the Sad Puppy contingent has asserted with their actions. And, if you think these sort of controversies all come from the conservative wing of fandom, I offer this, an amendment that was briefly considered by the 2009 Worldcon Business Meeting:

4.3.3 Short Title: Female Hugo Award Nominees

Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution by inserting the following

into the end of Section 3.8: 3.8.nIf in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed, provided that the nominee would appear on the list required by Section 3.11.4

This amendment, proposed by a feminist blogger named Yonmei, who was not in attendance at the convention and Hugo Award winning fan writer/editor Cheryl Morgan (who was). Yonmei conceived it as a way to spark a debate at the Business Meeting about the lack of women on the ballot and described on her blog this way:

…it occurred to me cheerfully that as a WSFS member, I could propose an amendment to the Hugo rules. A sort of Joanna Russ amendment. An “up yours!” amendment to all the fans so smugly certain that the only reason there are so many all-male shortlists in the Hugos is because men are just more excellent writers of SF/F than women are: if women were as good as men, this reasoning goes, there just naturally would be equal numbers on average from year to year.

As I recall (and anyone can verify by going to www.thehugoawards.org), the 2007 and 2008 ballots were particularly top heavy with male nominees. In retrospect, it would have been an interesting debate but a majority of those attending voted down the opportunity to debate the issue. I can only tell you that I voted against it because I did not believe that imposing a rather extreme measure at that point in time was unnecessary. I believed those nominations were aberrations and not the result of systemic sexism on the part of the fans voting.

Had she done any research at all about the history of the Hugo Awards, Yonmei would have known that these fans that she deemed as clueless, had also given the award on multiple occasions to the likes of Anne McCaffrey, Alice Sheldon (writing as James Triptree, Jr.), Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Susan Wood, Kate Wilhelm, Joan Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold and a host of others.

We can only speculate what Ms. Russ, a writer I admire and respect, would have thought about such an amendment. (For the record, I am of the opinion that there would have been a gratuitous amount of eye rolling on her part.)

You can read more about this kerfluffle and draw our own conclusions from this link from Mike Glyer’s File 770: http://file770.com/?p=1304

Take particular note of the exchange of messages between Yonmei and Jo Walton. It is typical exchange between someone who feels that her dogmatic approach and theory is superior to the experiences of the person who is actually in the situation. Dogma and opinions do not win arguments, logic, reason and facts do.

(You will also note, with some measure of irony, that Jo Walton went on the win the Hugo and Nebula Awards for her 2011 novel, Among Others.)

I never talked Margaret Keifer about Puppygate. I don’t even know if she was aware of the situation. I am fairly certain, knowing her, that she would have thoroughly disapproved of the actions of the Puppies. Her life‘s story stands in stark contrast to everyone involved, especially Theodore Beale’s.

I do not obsess about it but I have been wondering whether he really understands that a life is a legacy for those who follow him.

There is room in fandom for rational discussion, debate and even dissent. There is no room however, for empty rhetoric and false conjecture, death threats, bullying, hateful and blatant racism, sexism and gay baiting, which is what the Sad Puppies now stand for, forever tarred with the same brush as and the Rabid Puppy crew, whether they like or not.

Moreover, this means that while we may have to listen to the inane and idiotic diatribes of Theodore Beale/Vox Day, we do not have to endorse or accept them.

Margaret Keifer’s life is an exemplary example of what every fan’s, every person’s life should be.

What Theodore Beale and his followers have forcefully shown, is that they are incapable of empathy, kindness or human decency.

They have my pity, and little else.