The Sputnik Award

“Do you remember that crazy awards system I proposed, around the time of the first Puppies slate?” asks Jo Lindsay Walton. “OK, well this year I decided to make it real.”

And the result is – The Sputnik Award.

Look at the shortlist first. It may give you enough strength to endure the rest of the explanation.

The 2015/2016 Sputnik Award shortlist is:

  • Jim Butcher, The Cinder Spires (Roc)
  • Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Berit Ellingsen, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio)
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Orbit)
  • Emma Newman, Planetfall (Roc)
  • Peter Newman, The Vagrant (Harper Voyager)
  • Naomi Novik, Uprooted (Del Rey)
  • Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself  (Gollancz)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (Orbit)
  • Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow)
  • Fran Wilde, Updraft (Tor Books)

Voting for the Sputnik Award: To vote, you fill in four places on your ballot, labeled Mithril Mech, Hedgehog, Witch and Dalek.

Frequently Asked Questions: Walton anticipates fans’ first reaction to the ballot.

“I don’t understand the voting system!”

That’s OK, it’s deliberately kind of intricate. The TL;DR version is: put the book you most want to win in the Mithril Mech slot, and some other books you like in the other three slots….

Then Walton gradually spoon-feeds people an explanation of the rest of the process.

“Do I have to vote in all four categories?”

Yes. It’s not safe for any book to venture into the Dungeons of Democracy without at least three friends….

“So how is this voting system better than other voting systems?”

Oh, it’s probably way worse. Like the worst?

“OK, but how is it different from other voting systems?”

One innovation is the substitution of words like “Hedgehog” for words like “Second Preference.”

Some awards use some kind of preferential voting systems, such as instant runoff. You rank your books in order of preference. The counting process goes through a number of stages. At each stage, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and the Ballots that were provisionally assigned to that candidate are instead redistributed among the other candidates, in accordance with the preferences listed on the Ballot.

In 2016 the Sputnik Award is a tiny bit like that, except you have one first preference (Mithril Mech) and three second preferences (Dalek, Hedgehog, Witch). When the time comes to combine the votes and produce a winner, the procedure incorporate will incorporate elements of luck and uncertainty. By and large the books with the most votes (and especially with the most Mithril Mech votes) should rise to the top, but it’s possible there will be a surprise upset.

If you’re the sort of person who enjoys delving into these things, you can study the rules of the Dungeons of Democracy.

Dungeons of Democracy: The winner of Walton’s Sputnik Award will be the contender who survives the RPG-like Dungeons of Democracy, featuring rules such as —

(5) After the fight, if the vote in the Champion slot matches the vote in the opposing Herald slot, then the Champion becomes the new Herald for the next round.

(6) Ballots who have run out of HP flee the Dungeons of Democracy using a Town Hall Portal spell, to await the results.

(7) The process is repeated from (2). If two rounds pass in a row without any damage being inflicted, the award administrator must either:

  • introduce a Monster Ballot (see below); and/or
  • eliminate the ballot with the lowest number of total HP, even if it’s not yet at zero.

You may think that the only way to win is not to play, but be brave.

41 thoughts on “The Sputnik Award

  1. Ha, this looks super fun – though in the spirit of “starting a conversation about awards”, I have to say the shortlist feels a bit too short for the type of voting they are promoting (i.e. pick 4 books you will objectively back, including one that is your Top Favourite)? I ended up with three really obvious choices and one that I’m substantially less enthused about, and I’m a little disappointed that a couple of books I *do* feel the same about as my first three choices (inc. Sorcerer to the Crown, which is given as an example of a strong Wandering Monster Ballot) are likely to have been in a slightly expanded list. But I can’t pretend to REALLY understand the game mechanics yet so maybe a bigger shortlist would lead to a less interesting dungeon crawl.

    Still, I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out, especially if we get treated to some entertaining RPG-themed write-ups. Go forth, unimaginatively named Ballot of Arifel, and conquer!

  2. Oh, it’s probably way worse. Like the worst?

    I don’t know about that. It probably has a better chance than most of being understood by a majority of fandom.

    The Ballot of Tiny Kittens and Radishes has been released into the Dungeons of Democracy.

  3. I didn’t find anything on the website explaining how the short list was chosen. Is it books Jo Walton liked? Or something else?

  4. @Galactic Journey:

    Since the award is for new works, I wonder why they gave it such a vintage name?

    To promote Communism.

  5. I hope we get some summary data of the process, such as how many total hit points each candidate book has from round to round, and maybe the complete saga of the last surviving ballot.

  6. The Ballot of Hopeful Journeying has been submitted. (Ok, three out of four have hopeful journeys. One has a sort of depairing journey…)

  7. If nobody has the Ballot of Lost C’Mell, I shall be exceedingly disappointed.

  8. The Ballot of Seasons of Changes has been submitted. Go! Fight! Win! Loot the bodies!

  9. I could not submit a contender because I’ve only read two of the shortlisted books, but I did submit a Wandering Monster: the Gallivespian, composed of short novels (Wylding Hall, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Slow Bullets, and Slade House).

  10. I was thinking of doing something silly in the way of awards, but this is a vastly better implementation than anything I’ve come up with yet.

  11. This is obviously the death of both the Hugos and the Dragon Award.

  12. OK, I’ve submitted my ballot.

    Felt a little like a roll-your-own character, if the novel Flatland was an RPG…

  13. The Ballot of Reading Gaol

    Yet each fan votes for what he loves
    By each let this be heard
    Some do it for the tales they read
    Some vote to sow discord
    The puppy does it with a slate
    And true fans no-award.

  14. Bookworm1398 on May 22, 2016 at 5:13 am said:

    I didn’t find anything on the website explaining how the short list was chosen. Is it books Jo Walton liked? Or something else?

    From the “Shortlist + FAQ” page:

    For the first year, I selected the shortlist. It contains some entries that I personally loved (as much as my withered heart can love anything). But it’s not exactly the same list I would have picked for “my favorite reads of 2015,” because I’ve also tried to reflect some of the will of fandom as already expressed in other shortlists this year (Hugos, Nebulas, Locus, Kitschies), as well as various “Best of 2015” articles and blog posts. In other words, it’s a rough simulation of a hybrid open-nominations-plus-juried-nominations process, which is probably how the shortlist will be done next year.

    About what I would have guessed from looking at the entries, as well as noting the overall humor of the awards.

  15. Submitted.

    Nice to see a ballot with good stuff on it.

    Good luck to all Comrades!

  16. The Ballot of the Sad Cafe… I could probably have found something cheerier, but it was all that occurred to me at the time.

  17. The Ballot of the Mighty Armadillo Groomer has been unleashed.

  18. The Ballot of Bad Horse goes forth to conquer!

    Also, I don’t know what I just did, but it seems like fun anyway!

  19. I’m a little unclear how this will work; will they post battles between ballots somewhere, or will we just get the final results? (I’m hoping for battles; the example looked kind of fun….)

  20. @David

    I hope we get some summary data of the process, such as how many total hit points each candidate book has from round to round, and maybe the complete saga of the last surviving ballot.

    Yup, there’ll be a chronicle of some kind. We’ll see how far my Excel skills can stretch. The Final Ballot idea is great, we’ll definitely use that!


    To promote Communism.


  21. Pingback: Sputnik Award Finalists | File 770

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