Torgersen Volunteers To Be Leader of the Pack

Did you hear the mournful baying of the Sad Puppies this morning? Yes, the pack is back in 2015, this time under the direction of Brad Torgersen. And his arguments for renewing this bloc voting campaign are one dogwhistle after another.

For those of you who don’t know what SAD PUPPIES is, it’s a (somewhat tongue in cheek) running effort to get stories, books, and people onto the Hugo ballot, who are entirely deserving, but who don’t usually get on the ballot. Largely because of the nomination and voting tendencies of World Science Fiction Convention, with its “fandom” community. In the last decade we’ve seen Hugo voting skew more and more toward literary (as opposed to entertainment) works. Some of these literary pieces barely have any science fictional or fantastic content in them. Likewise, we’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.

Likewise, the Hugos tend to be a raw popularity contest, for all definitions of “popular” that include “Trending with Worldcon.” Which may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with actual sales success on the open market. And that was Correia’s original point: if the Hugos really are the preeminent award in SF/F how come the Hugos so often ignore works and people who are, in fact, successful ambassadors of the genre to the consumer world at large? What the heck is going on here?

So, SAD PUPPIES has tended to push back. Against the Worldcon fandom zeitgeist.

Usually you can’t see these kinds of contortions outside of a circus.

  • The Hugos are a popularity contest – but not the right kind of popularity.
  • The Hugos don’t necessarily correlate with sales success – but neither did last year’s Sad Puppies slate, once you got past Larry Correia.
  • The Hugos “skew ideological” – Did you know they were trying to cure that problem when Vox Day got a Sad Puppies endorsement last year? (I thought it was only on House they try to cure patients by giving them another disease…)
  • The Hugos often ignore “successful ambassadors of the genre to the consumer world at large” – That dogwhistle is at a frequency almost too high for me to hear, but I believe he has a particular New York Times bestselling author in mind.

Anyway, if you felt something pushing against your “Worldcon fandom zeitgeist” today — that’s because the dogs are off the leash!

40 thoughts on “Torgersen Volunteers To Be Leader of the Pack

  1. Really excellent name given that mostly what puppies do is whine, and that’s what this group is best at. Their reasoning is ludicrous: they claim that the typical Hugo voter prefers a certain type of fiction but that those voters don’t have a right to vote for that type of fiction for an award that they sponsor.

  2. If the Hugos correlated closely with the bestseller lists, they would be redundant. We don’t need another way to look up “NY Times bestselling novel,” and nobody cares in 2015 what the #5 bestselling novel was in 1997.

    When I was at college in the 1980s, one of the quiet corners I found for studying was the section of the Yale library that had a collection of books that had been bestsellers in the 1920s and 1930s, almost all of them now thoroughly obscure, and not a temptation for me to put down my work and read a novel instead.

  3. Petrea Mitchell: Well, it depends what you mean by ‘fan’. The use of ‘fandom’ to mean ‘those involved in organised fannish activity’ is well-established (as in ‘I’m not a fan: I just read the stuff’). In a wider sense of ‘fan’ in which it just means ‘enthusiast’, therefore, not all fans are part of fandom.

    Why fandom in a narrower sense should not give awards, of course, is a bit of a mystery. Torgersen’s worry seems to arise from the thought that the Hugos claim to be preeminent: he thinks that the preeminent awards ought to represent the entire field. Well, they are preeminent, but only because no one has created an award which is more eminent, not because they make any particular claim to be definitive.

  4. My mind wandered for a moment, and I think that most writers tend to build up to winning a Hugo. A few stories, a novel or three, and slowly catching the imagination of the Hugo voter(s). Who has won a Hugo for their first novel or short story in the genre? The only one that comes to mind is Daniel Keyes. Any others?

  5. Hugos for first novels are not unheard-of: Ancillary Justice, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Windup Girl, Neuromancer, The Forever War …

  6. Robert Whitaker Sirignano:

    I’m pretty sure Ancillary Justice was a first novel, although it wasn’t Leckie’s first genre work.

    The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was Michael Chabon’s first genre work, AFAIK, though he was of course previously published.

    Now, a writer’s first professionally published work winning a Hugo? Don’t know off the top of my head, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s happened at least once.

  7. “Now, a writer’s first professionally published work winning a Hugo? Don’t know off the top of my head, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s happened at least once.”

    Mark Kelly who manages the SF Awards Database – – might know.

    While Ted Chiang’s first published story got a Hugo nomination, it did win the Nebula.

  8. I no sooner started running through the Long List than I found the second fiction Hugo ever given went to someone’s first sf sale. The 1955 Best Novel Hugo winner was They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley. It was Riley’s first published sf work according to the Internet Science Fiction Databse. Riley would go on to sell 8 short stories over balance of his career. (Clifton started selling in 1952.)

    Another Hugo given to someone’s first novel was the first fiction Hugo ever presented, to Alfred Bester’s Demolished Man in 1953 — though of course he’d been selling short fiction for a decade before that.

  9. After years of being in the pack of hounds chasing fan Hugos, it’s relaxing to watch people make a fool of themselves over the PRO Hugos for a change.

  10. ..and the whole idea of that there is something ideological (skewered or otherwise) about Hugo voting is just a big can of paranoid thinking that can’t be proven. Though I am aware that with the paranoid personality , the lack of evidence is proof.

  11. The Internet Science Fiction Database indexes (for example) all the contents of Amazing Stories back to 1926 — why would you claim its coverage is incomplete?

  12. @Robert Whitaker Sirignano “These sad puppies need a large number of rolled up newspapers.”

    Don’t hit dogs.

  13. Well, at least this time they’re asking around for ideas about what to nominate, which I think has the potential to come up with better stuff than just one author’s idea of what’s good. So good on that. I actually wrote down a couple of the suggestions to go take a look at myself.

    And their spokesperson is probably a bit less of a, um, poor fit for a public relations position, so that may help. He has also bowed out of having his own works on the slate, which may make a difference to his _ethos_.

    Of course I also plan to nominate a full slate myself, and encourage other Hugo voters from last year to do likewise. No reason to make it *easy,* after all.

  14. Robert – It’s really quite simple,.

    1) I don’t like a book.
    2) Therefore, it’s objectively not good.
    3) Therefore, nobody *really* likes it.
    4) Therefore, anyone who nominates it for an award must have an ulterior motive.

    All those books you thought you liked? You didn’t *really* like them, you were just claiming that for political reasons.

  15. I think the whole point of the Sad Puppies was to get books that are popular (high sales due to fun stories) on the ballet instead of “award-worthy works” nominated by people who aren’t that into SF/F. What is happening to the Hugo is that it has drifted so far into the niche academic books that it has become a negative to the average reader who see the Hugo label on a cover and thinks “boring”.

    The Sad Puppies are nominating books that they like to read, even if they aren’t popular with the “literary” croud. Why is everyone being so negative about it?

  16. “was to get books that are popular (high sales … ”

    So, sales figures? And how do those sales figures compare with the sales figures of Ann Leckie’s Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA winning “Ancillary Justice”.


  17. I am not expecting the Hugo’s to be chosen based on sales, but there should be some crossover between bestsellers and Hugo winners. If 2014 Hugo nominees are being outsold by past Hugo winners (Endor’s Game and Dune most notably are selling way more than Ancillary Justice) are any of the current crop likely to stand the test of time?

  18. Surely it is absolutely normal for recognised classics to outsell contemporary work. One is setting a very high bar for Hugo winners if one thinks they ought to do better than Ender’s Game or Dune.

  19. Well, to be fair one should compare comparable time periods … first year post Hugo win of “Ancillary Justice” to first year post Hugo win of “Dune”. And that’s probably not possible ….

  20. Harmony – why do you think that the people who nominate those books “aren’t that into SF/F” ?

  21. Michael: We may not be able to say how many copies of Dune were sold in book form, but we can say that the version serialized in Analog was sent to as many as 100,000 readers (based on the circulation cited in the SF Encyclopedia entry).

  22. Dune and Ender’s Game also have the advantage of movie versions widening exposure to millions more than even a bestseller’s book marketing. If even a small percentage of those movie viewers (or those who’ve become aware of the book thru the movie’s publicity) decide to compare book and movie, it can drive up book sales spectacularly.

  23. I get what you mean about movie/tv exposure increases book sales, but those movie and tv shows whouldn’t have happened if the books were not still on the shelves and being sold 50 yrs later. Does anyone think the current Nominees and Winners will still be around 50 yrs from now? Bestseller’s now doesn’t necessary translate into long term interest given the way publishers can munipulate the lists, but without current popularity what chance do they have of sticking around?

    As for why I think the some of the Hugo voters aren’t that into SF/F…. last year some critics went nuts over Ancillary Justices “original” treatment of gender. Anyone who has read SF/F classics would know there was NOTHING original about this, it has been done before by many better authors (Ursula Le Guin).

  24. “those movie and tv shows whouldn’t have happened if the books were not still on the shelves and being sold 50 yrs later.”

    Dune: Novel published 1965, fist optioned for film 1973.

    Ender’s Game: Original novella 1977, novel version 1985, first optioned for film 1985.

    Ancillary Justice: Novel 2013, optioned for television 2014.

  25. ” Bestseller’s now doesn’t necessary translate into long term interest given the way publishers can munipulate the lists”

    One source of actual sales data is Nielsen Bookscan which “relies on point of sale data from a number of major book sellers.” No, not every seller of books reports this data to BookScan.

    Which is not to say that sales figures can’t be manipulated … how many authors urge their fans to buy their new book during a particular time period?

  26. I was actually thinking of the publisher’s munipulation. They want to add “NY Times bestselling novel” to the author’s next novel to increase sales, so they restrict presales and make sure mystery writer X doesn’t have to go head to head with James Patterson’s newest novel.

    As for Ancillary Justice being optioned, it still has a long way to go from book to screen. David Weber and Eric Flint have both had options on their bestselling books for years without any progress. Dune and Ender’s Game actually made it to the finish line. They wouln’t have without years of good sales and enthusiastic fans. I just don’t see current winners generating that much passion. Should the Hugo nominations go to niche books or the next Game of Thrones?

  27. “I was actually thinking of the publisher’s munipulation. They want to add “NY Times bestselling novel” to the author’s next novel to increase sales”

    The folks who do the book buying for B&N, Books-A-Million, and other bookstores pick books using assorted metrics, one of which is looking at the past history of sales. If the sales of Author X show continual decline, it’s not looking good for Author X to be stocked.

    “NY Times Bestseller” is nice … actual book sales are better.

    “Dune and Ender’s Game actually made it to the finish line. ”

    Not exactly Harry Potter film franchises are they? I saw the first version of Dune … oh boy. The SyFy version was marginally better. And then there was the film adaptation of “Nightfall”. Stunning!

    “make sure mystery writer X doesn’t have to go head to head with James Patterson’s newest novel.”

    That’s good marketing. Why toss an author under the wheels of the James Patterson juggernaut.

  28. Harmony, there are lots of books in the world. Even the most dedicated fan hasn’t read all of them. Especially not books that were written before they were born.

    I haven’t read “The Left Hand of Darkness” (I’m assuming that’s the LeGuin novel you meant). There’s dozens, maybe HUNDREDS, of novels that *you* think are Great and Important, but that I haven’t read. Are you saying that because I haven’t read “the right novels”, I’m not a “real” SF/F fan? That I’m “not that into SF/F”? Are you really that much of an exclusionary elitist?

    That said, I’ve read *about* TLHoD, and from what I can tell, the Hainish notion of kemmer seems very different from the Radch concept. That’s not the only reason I liked the book, of course – I was also fascinated by its exploration of identity in terms of group minds, and I really liked the way Leckie told the main story intertwined with flashbacks. I liked the personality of the characters. I liked Breq, and the way that she had to struggle with simple human behaviors that would have been incredibly easy for her back when she was a ship. I liked the alien superweapons, like the invisible gun. I liked the gentle priest trying to maintain peace with the conquerors. I liked the many subtle details that showed how Seivarden was a thousand years out of his time.

    In fact, I liked it *so* much that, after I realized that Orbit had only included a sample in the Hugo packet instead of the full text of the novel, I bought a physical copy of the novel, and subsequently bought a copy of Ancillary Sword also.

    Unless someone tells you what their reason is for nominating a specific novel for the Hugo, or unless you are a telepath, you don’t know what their reason *is*. “I don’t like this story, and some of the reviews didn’t go into enough detail about the historical antecedents of some of the ideas” isn’t enough of a reason to assume that the nominations and votes were bad faith, or that the nominators Aren’t Real Fans.

  29. “Are you saying that because I haven’t read “the right novels”, I’m not a “real” SF/F fan? That I’m “not that into SF/F”?”

    No I am not saying that. I am saying that book critics flipping out over “Original treatment of Gender” is stupid. It is like a movie critic flipping out over the Hot Tub Time Machine’s use of time travel. It has been done before by better films, ergo NOT ORIGINAL. Any real SF fan has seen Back to the Future or Doctor Who or The Time Machine, etc. and is not going to be blown away by Hot Tub Time Machine.

    You may love the book for reasons that have nothing to do with this, but it’s what got a lot of attention in the book reviews.

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