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The Hugo Awards: Why The #WaronNerds Is A War on Art


What’s the difference between ISIS and social justice warriors? Well, one recruits its members from the most pathetic, disaffected, pathological members of society, claims to stand against shadowy conspiracies and bullying by the West, and destroys revered cultural institutions in fits of fanaticism.

The others are unhinged terrorists in the Middle East?

Over the past year, the social justice movement, which at one point had set itself up as an insurmountable cultural juggernaut, bent on remaking every art form or subculture in its own image, has degenerated into a farce. That farce reached new heights this past Saturday night, when the voters of the prestigious Hugo Awards, in a fit of ideologically-motivated pique, refused to give any awards at all in no less than five different categories – including Best Short Story and Best Novella. As context, the Hugos had only refused to offer an award in any category five times in the award’s 60 year history.

How The “Sad Puppies” Got Their Name

The reason was that a group of disaffected science fiction fans calling themselves collectively the “Sad Puppies” (along with a more radical submovement calling itself the “Rabid Puppies”) had actually forced the Hugos to include works on the voting ballot that were popular with fans, rather than simply works by authors with acceptable politics, or connections to the right publishing house.

“And the award goes to…no one?”

To put this in perspective, imagine that the Academy Awards voters had refused to pick a winner for “Best Director” or “Best Picture” at all because none of the films were about gay rights or personally endorsed by Harvey Weinstein. And imagine a very flummoxed presenter standing onstage at the Academy Awards having to say, “And the award goes to…no one?”

In the interest of evenhandedness, I should note that the Sad Puppies employed controversial tactics in trying to force consideration of authors and works they saw as underappreciated. Many claimed that the sort of organized voter drive employed by the Puppies ran contrary to the spirit of how the Hugo Awards were supposed to work. Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin was particularly vocal about this complaint:

If the Sad Puppies wanted to start their own award… for Best Conservative SF, or Best Space Opera, or Best Military SF, or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be… whatever it is they are actually looking for… hey, I don’t think anyone would have any objections to that. I certainly wouldn’t. More power to them.

But that’s not what they are doing here, it seems to me. Instead they seem to want to take the Hugos and turn them into their own awards. Hey, anyone is welcome to join worldcon, to become part of worldcon fandom… but judging by the comments on the Torgesen and Correia sites, a lot of the Puppies seem to actively hate worldcon and the people who attend it and want nothing to do with us. They want to determine who gets the Ditmars, but they don’t want to be Australians.

Martin is absolutely right to be concerned that ideologically driven actors might seek to invade and colonize communities whose values, interests, and members they hold in contempt. Ask any video game fan familiar with the developers of the video game Sunset, who openly tweeted their disgust and contempt for gamers when their game failed to sell.

Why A ‘No Award’ Sweep Will Kill The Hugos

However, whatever Martin’s reasonable concerns about ideological entryism into a community he loved, he also wasn’t shy about denouncing the idea of refusing to give out awards at all. In fact, his blog post on that topic makes him sound a bit like the canary in the intergalactic spice mine:

I’ve been voting on the Hugos since the 1970s, and I use NO AWARD every year, usually in about a third of the categories. However, I have seldom (not NEVER, just seldom) placed it first. I rank the finalists that I think worthy of the rocket above NO AWARD, and the ones I think unworthy below it. That’s the way I intend to use the option this year as well, in spite of the slatemaking campaigns that buggered the nomination process to the seven hells and back.

NO AWARD is a scalpel, not a bludgeon. Voting NO AWARD on everything down the line… or even (the lesser option) on everything that appeared on either Puppy slate… well, I don’t think it is smart, I don’t think it is fair, and I know damned well that a NO AWARD sweep will kill the Hugos.

Whatever one thinks of Martin’s (very liberal) politics, it’s hard to deny that his thoughts are at least consistent with the principles of free discussion and free association inherent in modern liberalism. While they disagreed about tactics, these are principles that Martin held in common with the Sad Puppies.

After all, when it came to free discussion, the Puppies’ main complaint was less that ideological disagreement decreased a work’s quality, and more that their own ideologies were being unfairly considered a strike against their work, even when their work did nothing to reflect those ideologies. And as for free association, their objection to the dominance of publishing houses like TOR books seems to have boiled down to a concern that cliquishness was preventing even people who actually did want to be part of the community from joining it.

Where’s The Beef?

Had this fight been had on Martin and the Puppies’ terms it would’ve been nothing more than a family quarrel between Sci-Fi nerds. Indeed, Martin himself refused to believe it was anything else and thought the Puppies were blowing it out of proportion. “Where’s the beef?” he asked incredulously in response to their complaints.

Then came the actual Hugo Awards, and the beef was served up on a silver platter, slow-roasted in the mulish anger of social justice commissars.

Then came the actual Hugo Awards, and the beef was served up on a silver platter, slow-roasted in the mulish anger of social justice commissars, and garnished with absurd, self-immolating tweets and blog posts. Witness the “Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide” put out by Leftist Sci-Fi author Deirdre Saoirse Moen. Unsurprisingly, it includes many categories where Moen suggests simply voting “No Award,” including the aforementioned “Best Novella” and “Best Short Story” categories.

Freelance writer Phil Sandifer, meanwhile, seems to have been the most honest exponent of what the anti-Puppy voters were thinking, since he openly professed to support voting “No Award” for every category. Witness these quotes of his from Twitter:

And the smoking gun…

I think it’s fair to say that if people like Sandifer are the people in charge of picking who gets to be the heir of Robert Heinlein or Ursula K. LeGuin, then the Sad Puppies had every reason to be concerned that quality had been eclipsed by politics. Sandifer, for his part, didn’t bother denying this, saying only that “Politics is a form of quality” before calling his critics “effing morons.”

Excluding Authors Because Of Their Personal Political Beliefs Is A Bad Idea

Except, of course, that Sandifer was talking about voting, not based on the political messages in books, but based on what the authors believed. As any Sci-Fi fan knows, excluding authors with right wing or even openly racist politics would exclude some of the greatest authors in the history of the genre, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even an author whose 125th birthday was (ironically) being celebrated just this past week – H.P. Lovecraft. When your standard for who deserves to be awarded by the Sci-Fi community actively writes out some of that community’s idols, you may want to consider that you’re not engaged in art criticism so much as McCarthyist blacklisting. Ironic behavior from a self-avowed Marxist, but then, irony is not a strong suit of people like Sandifer.

Sad Puppy sympathizers have since excoriated Sandifer over Twitter for these sentiments. However, there is an overlooked tweet from him that shows just how little this fight actually revolves around fighting entryism:

If you don’t know, @femfreq is the Twitter handle of the aforementioned feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian, a woman who not only openly professed contempt for video games before trying to rebrand herself as a lifelong gamer, but actively discredited herself among much of the games media with her hysterical outbursts about the level of violence in the forthcoming “DOOM” game. In short, Sarkeesian is the definition of an ideologically motivated entryist. Hers is the bloody shirt that Sandifer waves to justify the very act that even an ideological fellow traveler said would “kill the Hugos.”

The Social Justice Left Is A Schoolyard Bully

In the past, I have written extensively about the degree to which the Social Justice Left, rather like a schoolyard bully, began its fanatical crusade by targeting art forms and subcultures most often enjoyed by nerds, seeing them as a low status, easy target. If nerds are the “sad puppies,” then the Left saw them as proverbial Chihuahuas. Unfortunately, as the rise of the actual Sad Puppies and the year-long counter-crusade known as #Gamergate shows, these “puppies” are more like abused Dobermans that have been backed into a corner, and who are now mauling their tormentors. The Left’s #WaronNerds was supposed to be a blitzkrieg. It has become an overwhelming rout for those who instigated it.

If nerds are the “sad puppies,” then the Left saw them as proverbial Chihuahuas.

However, perhaps due to war weariness or simple desire to avoid politics, many members of the gaming or Sci-Fi communities have tried to adopt a “why can’t we all just get along?” approach. They’ve tried to argue that the best solution is for their communities to have room for both social justice warriors and old school nerd traditionalists.

The Hugo Awards have shown us that this is impossible. The Social Justice Left will not be satisfied unless it has complete control over the spaces it infiltrates. If it cannot control a space, it will burn it down and salt the earth. If they could, they would probably torch every script of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew for being anti-feminist, every score of Mozart’s The Magic Flute for its unflattering depiction of its one mulatto character, every print of Apelles’ Venus Anadyomene for catering to the male gaze, and every other work that portrays, or was written by, someone with objectionable politics. This book burning bonfire of the vacuous would be large enough to be seen from space, if the satellites weren’t taken down for being too phallic.

What Nerds Can Teach The Rest Of Us

Nerd communities have seen proof that social justice politics cannot be tolerated, because it will sooner immolate the very institutions it inhabits than tolerate the existence of disparate elements. The utter destruction of the Hugo Awards is a warning not just to nerds, but to Western Civilization that social justice is anti-social, anti-justice, and anti-just about everything else. It is to the body politic what an autoimmune disease is to the human body.

Thanks to the Hugo Awards, the nerds now know that you cannot make a treaty with a cancer. You can only treat it by stopping its spread. When will the rest of us figure it out?