(This is a snarky, opinionated post. I’m entitled to those once in a while.)
The Hugo awards, recognizing excellence in speculative fiction, were first awarded in 1953, according to the Hugo website. The first Hugos were presented at WorldCon in Philadephia.
The Dragon Awards, recognizing excellence in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy, began in 2016. They are awarded annually at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, a huge gaming, entertainment media and book convention–the largest one I know of. According to an Atlanta business journal, 85,000 people attended last year. (DragonCon’s online this year.)
To nominate a work, or vote, in the Hugo selection, you must become a member of WorldCon for that year. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out the full registration and plan to attend the convention; you can join as an associate member.
Anyone who registers with a legitimate email address on the Dragon Award website can nominate and vote for that award. The founders of the Dragon saw this as a way to truly democratize the vote; it’s kind of like the People’s Choice Awards.
Dragon was a direct response to the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015. I don’t have a timeline, but I can give you the gist. A right-wing urban fantasy writer who sells extremely well began whining publicly that he never got nominated for a Hugo. Obviously this was only because the Hugo were controlled by a bunch of snooty nose-in-the-air lefties who wouldn’t know a good book if it booted them in the behind. On his behalf a group of conservative SF writers who didn’t like the way things were going in the field–a shocking number of people of color and even women were selling books and getting awards!–so they mounted a campaign to get their guy a nomination. I think that was in 2014, and they fell short of enough nominations to qualify him.
But a more mischievous and virulent group of misogynistic white supremacist writers/game developers/bloggers picked up this technique and decided to “game” the Hugos in 2015. They banded together and stuffed the nomination box. I say “game,” but nothing they did was ineligible under the Hugo rules at the time. Basically, they controlled several categories on the short list. The Hugo vote is a ranked vote, not one-person-one-vote-per-category, and it gives voters the No Award option in a category during the final voting. A running joke during the awards for that year was how many awards were presented to that virtually unknown writer, Noah Ward.
However, the Puppies Kerfuffle stirred up a lot of performative rage, a lot of poison and hatred and helped one cynical sociopath (in my opinion–I’m not a clinician) get a lot of free advertising for his “brand” and for his newly opened tiny alt-right press.
Here’s what it didn’t do–get the original whiny guy a Hugo.
In 2016, DragonCon developed the Dragon Awards. Their focus was on democracy–anyone can vote! You can only vote once per email address, but if you have several emails, you can vote that many times. Dragon is a con that loves video and tabletop gaming, military science fiction, action adventure movies and cos-playing. It is a younger crowd than the graying WorldCon attracts. It seems reasonable that the Dragon Awards would choose different books than the WorldCon voters.
The first year, a couple of Hugo nominees and winners also got nominated for Dragons. Several withdrew their works from the list in protest over how they viewed the inception of the award. One desired outcome was achieved though–the whiny guy got a Dragon Award.
Since then, the Dragon awards have refined their eligibility a bit. Their finalists lists have become more popular, a better indicator of the field, and less reactionary. They are not really the rightwingers’ “award of our own,” but that group has certainly embraced them, in a hard, suffocating embrace.
Which brings us to the shock and indignation they are expressing at this year’s group of Dragon Award finalists. I’ll give you a minute to go look.
Oh, dear! Margaret Atwood is a literary writer first and foremost. (One Puppy calls her a “parasite” on his blog .I think he means she’s a parasite on the SFF genre.) And John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig are on there! The Puppies are obsessed with Scalzi in an unhealthy way, and he enjoys taunting them, maybe a little too much. They hate Wendig too, same reason. Annalee Newitz? Oh, the humanity! She lives in San Francisco! She’s a lesbian and partnered with a trans woman who’s also a highly successful award-winning writer! Tamsyn Muir; responses tend to read like this: “I don’t even know who that is and who wants to read about futuristic lesbian necromancers with sunglasses anyway!”
Muir’s nom is a complete non-surprise. It seems to me the overlap of cos-players and gamers who love heavy metal, piercings and tattoos, with lovers of Gideon the Ninth would be about one hundred percent. Role-playing-game players who don’t love necromancers? Are there some?
Scalzi comes as a complete non-surprise too. The Last Emperox was fun. Dragon Awards participants like fun.
Tade Thompson, a Black man, who wrote something they won’t ever read–yeah, I see why they’re upset.
I will believe that these vocal outraged white men have not heard of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow because it’s too far beyond their experience. Harrow’s literary-tinged portal fantasy, a critique of colonialism, with two rich and tender love stories and its glimmering prose, is about as far from the experience of these guys as successfully singing an opera aria would be for me.
I’ll say, Harrow and Newitz on this list surprised me too. It’s almost like a Secret Conspiracy of Left Wing Elites (SCOLWE) banded together, communicated in secret, and “gamed,” the Dragon Awards–almost as if there were a model out there, somewhere, for how to do that.
Or maybe, the Dragon Awards cleared their throat, pushed at the suffocating arms of the misogynistic white supremacists, and said, “Hey. Personal bubble. I don’t give you permission to grope me.”
Most likely, the democratization of the award is doing what it should do. 2019 had a bumper crop of excellent speculative fiction works. Maybe these are the books that people really liked. Maybe next year’s ballot will be filled with shoot-em-up space operas that don’t demand much of the reader, but were really fun–or a bunch of soapy paranormal romances because everyone read for escape in 2020. I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.