Today saw the release of this year's Hugo Award nominations, with the big question being whether last year's catastroscrew would be repeated. The answer is both yes and no. Last year's Hugo Awards were dominated by "Puppygate". For a wonderfully in-depth look at everything that happened, read Amy Wallace's piece from Wired, or fall down the rabbit hole at File 770. But, in short, a very vocal minority, angry at what they perceived to be political correctness dominating these awards instead of "quality" — "quality" in this case mostly meaning work by white men — abused a loophole in the Hugos' voting system. By making sure all their followers voted for pre-approved slates, the Sad Puppies and the Rapid Puppies managed to get most of their approved works nominated.
The result was that not a single Puppy-slate winner won a Hugo. In the categories where there were only Puppy candidates, the award went to "No Award". Even before the awards, a few candidates who had appeared on the Rabid Puppy slate without their knowledge or consent chose to decline their nominations. Marko Kloos explained to his publisher that he had to do this, because "This is the kind of stink that doesn't wash off." Nothing sums up last year's awards better than the announcement of "No Award" winning multiple categories being met by thunderous applause.
But for this year's nominations, some things have shifted. The Sad Puppies opened up their version of a slate into a "recommendations" page, and then ranked things by the number of recommendations they had received. Meanwhile, Rabid Pupppies leader Theodore "Vox Day" Beale released another set of slates for each category.
As helpfully catalogued by File 770, 64 of the Rabid Puppies' 81 recommendations made the list. In some cases — especially in the categories most recognisable to outsiders, that is, the ones covering books, movies and television — the Rapid Puppy nominations are actually fairly middle of the road. Their list included Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Martian, for example. The Rabid Puppies also supported books by mainstream authors like Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, Brandon Sanderson and Lois McMaster Bujold — as compared to last year's ballot, where the novella category was dominated by works from Vox Day's own tiny publishing house, Castalia House.
As John Scalzi (a frequent critic of the Puppies and their slates) writes in the Los Angeles Times:
Works the Puppy slates included that made the Hugo finalist list include the novel "Seveneves," written by Neal Stephenson, a past Hugo best novel winner and multiple nominee; the graphic novel "The Sandman: Overture," by Neil Gaiman, also a multiple Hugo winner; the novella "Penric's Demon," by Lois McMaster Bujold, who has won four best novel Hugos; and the film "The Martian," a best picture Oscar nominee (and controversial best comedy Golden Globe winner).
The Puppies will no doubt be happy to take credit for the appearance of these works and others on the finalist list. But, as with "Guardians of the Galaxy" last year, their endorsement probably doesn't count for much in the grand scheme of things. "Seveneves," one of the most talked-about science fiction books of 2015, was already a heavy favourite for an appearance on the finalist list for best novel. Likewise, Gaiman's long-awaited return to the beloved Sandman universe means his finalist listing in best graphic novel was the closest thing to a shoo-in that the Hugos have. If "The Martian" hadn't been a finalist in its category (best dramatic presentation, long form), people would have been stunned.
In these cases as in several others, the Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it.
The question now is whether these more reasonable Rapid Puppies nominations will get the same backlash that all of their nominations did last year. Or if the general consensus will be that if Seveneves or the Sandman graphic novel would have gotten nominated in any case, then who cares? If the latter situation plays out, and one of them wins, do the Puppies get to claim victory?
And then there's the bigger problem of how the Puppy slates dominated the less recognisable categories. They completely took over Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Graphic Story, Best Professional Artist, Best Fanzine and Best Fancast. In Best Semiprozine, Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist and Best New Writer, only one option isn't from their slates. Which is a big shame, since those are categories where the eligible artists and writers aren't big names and really deserve recognition. Lois McMaster Bujold and Steven Moffat aren't lacking for accolades. The fanworks that make science fiction a community? They are.
And with the domination of those categories, more sedate picks in the flashy ones and fatigue over the whole thing, the Rabid Puppies could very well avoid a backlash like last year's. Which would basically entail ceding the Hugos to slates, going forward.
Last year, George R.R. Martin wrote, "I think the Sad Puppies have broken the Hugo Awards, and I am not sure they can ever be repaired." This year might just prove him right.
Image: 2013 Hugo Awards design, sculpted by Vincent Villafranca and photographed by Batwrangler.