The Hugo and Nebula awards for Sci-Fi and Fantasy are held annually, open to the public and decided upon by popular vote. Past winners include Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick, Frank Herbert and Ursula K. Le Guin. Basically, the biggest of the big names. But over the past three years, a voting bloc has emerged. Calling themselves the “Sad Puppies,” these fans caused an uproar when they proclaimed their desire to reclaim the Hugos from what they view as the “literary elite.”

The Puppies argue that recent winners, such as 2014’s Best Novel winner, Ancillary Justice (in this, Anne Leckie’s main character cannot differentiate between genders, and defaults to the feminine as a result, resulting in a deconstruction of gender and personal identity as the novel continues) have been the benefit of “tokenism” and “affirmative action,” such that the genre has become dominated by ‘Social Justice Warriors.’ One of the founding members of this movement, Brad Torgersen, even couches his criticism in terms of a class divide:

‘[On the Sad Puppies movement] it was a chance for the field’s betters to hear from the peasants. For the proles to shout at the bosses. For the taste-makers and the dwellers-behind-curtains to have their cages rattled.’

Reading more of Torgensen’s blog, it’s easy to see that he thinks of himself as a ‘working class everyman standing up for what’s right’ (his website banner even says “Brad Torgensen Blue Collar Spec Fic”).

Despite its prestige, the Hugo votes are drawn from a small pool, as a voter must have a paid membership to WorldCon (the event at which the Hugos are announced). The total number of Hugo nomination votes didn’t quite reach two thousand, and as such, a small number of determined voters were easily able to ensure that the books they chose were nominated. Some of these chosen authors, including Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet, withdrew their names from the running after learning that their nominations were the result of the Puppies’ voting bloc. When accused of manipulation, Puppy supporters were quick to point out that authors already habitually campaign for votes . After all, the Hugos have always been a test of popularity (Orson Scott Card was great at the canvassing routine). They claimed to merely be organising fans whose voices are usually unheard. In this, they were successful: this year, the Puppy nominees swept the board; of 90 nominations, 70 were Puppy-approved candidates.

Disturbing links to the Gamergate movement, and near total white-maleness aside, the Puppies’ cause was not helped by its alliance with the self-described Libertarian and probable crazy person Vox Day. Day set up an allied group, under the name “Rabid Puppies,” which, whilst similar, quickly distinguished themselves from their Sad Puppy brethren through their use of much harsher invective language and general troll-like behaviour. Day mobilised his Rabid Puppy supporters, ensuring that many of the Hugo nominations went to texts that his publishing house, Castalia House, were printing.

It was George R. R. Martin who drew major fan attention to this, urging people to not vote for, as he called them, ‘assholes.’ Martin went on to describe this year’s ballot as ‘the weakest Hugo ballot in recent memory, thanks to the Puppy slates.’ Many wondered if these fans and authors are motivated by bitterness, and many others blame the ‘SJWs’ or liberal elite for their own failure to ever receive a Hugo. One of the leaders of the movement, Larry Correia, suggested and had his own name placed on the ‘Puppy-approved’ nomination list. A move which can be called opportunistic, at best.

This controversy led to the largest number of votes ever received by the awards committee (just over five thousand). Not one of the Puppies’ nominees received an award. Many of the categories were resolved with “No Award” where there was no alternative to a Puppy-approved candidate.

The Puppies have on numerous occasions stated that their goal is to make the Hugos as democratic as possible, so their anger now that their nominees have lost seems hypocritical to say the least. It’s hard not to feel schadenfreude at their total defeat. Unfortunately, plans have already been placed by Puppy organisers to do the same thing at next year’s Hugos. For me, the most upsetting part of this whole situation is the way that their actions have edged out fan-favourite authors and replaced them with members of their own movement. It enrages me that they can’t understand or won’t even try to read novels because of their supposed politics. Combine that with the fact most of the authors these people seem to have a problem with are women or people of color, and we begin to see a disturbing, but if we’re honest not wholly unexpected, trend.

Words by Thomas Rossiter