The Hugo Awards – are we all sick to death of my posting about the Hugo Awards? Hell yes, you say? Well, can we can stand one more post on the subject? Okay, then! - are voted on in two stages. From the Hugo Award FAQ:
How are the results decided?
Voting for the Hugos is a two-stage process. In the first stage voters may nominate up to five entries in each category. All nominations carry equal weight. The five entries that get the most nominations in each category go forward to the final ballot. […]
Why do you have a two-stage system?
Hundreds and hundreds of science fiction and fantasy works are published each year. No one, not even the top reviewers in the field, can possibly read/see all of them. Other awards limit the field by restricting themselves to works of certain types (e.g. only fantasy), or by type of work (e.g. only books), or by where they are published, or by the nationality of the author. The Hugos attempt to cover the whole field. The voting system explicitly accepts that no one can have seen/read everything. It relies on the fact that many people participate to find the five works that are most popular (that is have been seen/read and enjoyed by most people), and then there is a run-off between them in the final ballot.
So the first stage of Hugo Award voting is a form of crowdsourcing, whittling down those “hundreds and hundreds” of stories to just five in each category.
For instance, in 2012 (before the puppies), 611 Hugo voters turned in ballots for short stories. The most popular short story, E. Lily Yu’s amazing The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, was listed on only 72 of those 611 ballots (about 12%). At least 60% of those 611 ballots didn’t vote for any of the top five nominated stories.
And that’s fine. That’s how the Hugo nominations are designed to work. 611 Hugo voters, acting as individuals, each nominate whatever short stories they think are award-worthy. From that list of hundreds of short stories, the five most-nominated make it to the final ballot.
Unfortunately, it’s an easy system to game, as the Puppies have proven. If you can form a voting bloc of just 100 people who will nominate an agreed-upon list, instead of voting as individuals, that’s enough to completely overwhelm the much larger number of Hugo voters who are voting as individuals. 100 people voting for just 5 works will beat out 500 people voting from among hundreds of works.
In the case of the Sad Puppies, Brad Torgersen solicited suggestions on his blog, and then – either working by himself, or (as Larry Correia claimed) in consultation with Larry Correia, John Wright, Sarah Hoyt, and V*x D*y – chose five nominees.
Next year’s Sad Puppies slate – although they’re not calling it a slate – will be run by Kate Paulk. On a podcast, she outlined some plans:
For starters the word slate is not going to appear anywhere. For second [Cross talk] I am not doing a slate, I am doing a list of the most popular works in all of the various categories as submitted by people who read on any of the various blogs that will have me. And I’m going to post ultimately the top ten of each, with links to the full list of everything that everybody wanted to see nominated, and I’m going to be saying “hey if you really want to see your favorite authors nominated your best bet is to pick something of theirs from the most popular in the list as opposed to the least popular.” That is going to be what it is. I don’t care who ends up on that list. I don’t care if David Gerrold ends up being the top of the list somewhere. That’s not the point, the point is that I want to see the voting numbers both for nomination and for actual voting go up above 5,000 up above 10,000, because the more people who are involved and who are voting the harder it is for any faction including puppies to manipulate the results.
Except this is manipulating the results. Because she’s telling the Puppies to vote strategically from a common list (“your best bet is to pick something of theirs from the most popular in the list”) instead of doing what they should, which is voting as individuals for whatever works they’ve personally read and consider the best.
This isn’t as blatant a slate as Torgersen’s was – but it’s still an attempt to consolidate the votes of the Sad Puppies, from hundreds of possible stories to just a handful of choices. By the time of the final Hugo vote, there appeared to be 400-500 Sad Puppies, about 100 of whom voted strict party line. If even half of those Sad Puppies strategically choose their votes from Paulk’s “top ten” list, while the thousands of non-Puppy voters, voting as individuals, split their votes among hundreds of stories, then bloc voters will once again be able to lock out the rest of us.
If Paulk sincerely wants to participate fairly, rather than running a slate, she should ask her readers to post their recommendations (like Scalzi and others do). And then – that’s it. Don’t consolidate, don’t list in order of popularity, don’t encourage strategic voting – just crowdsource a list of reader’s favorite choices, and tell readers to vote as individuals.
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Many puppies are crowing that this year’s “Best Novel” winner – the excellent, if flawed, Three Body Problem – would not have won without a few hundred puppy voters joining with the majority of voters to beat out The Goblin Emperor (also excellent, also flawed).
That’s true, but it’s also true that Three Body Problem, which was not on either Puppy slate, would not have been nominated if Marko Kloos hadn’t honorably declined his slated nomination. In other words, it’s only because the Puppies screwed up that TBP was nominated at all.
Various leading Puppies have said that they would have nominated TBP if they had read it on time – but, as it happened, none of the handful of people (2? 5? Whatever) who made the decision had read TBP.
And that illustrates exactly what’s wrong with allowing slates to choose the Hugo nominees, rather than Hugo voters nominating as individuals. A crowd of hundreds of Hugo voters, voting as individuals, wouldn’t have left Three Body Problem off the list – but the Puppy slates did.
(Actually, Kloss wasn’t the only novelist to decline a Hugo nomination this year – Larry Correia, who founded the Puppies, made a big show of allowing himself to be nominated, and then declining the nomination. Ironically, if neither Kloss and Correia had declined their nominations, then this year’s Hugo best novel would have been Ancillary Sword, a novel the Puppies loathe.)
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One more point. I’ve seen several Puppies argue that the “no award” vote was gaming the awards, equivalent to how Puppies gamed the nominations.
“No Award” didn’t beat the Puppy nominees because a minority gamed the system and locked out the majority. It beat the Puppy nominees because that’s how the majority of Hugo voters voted. When the majority votes for an outcome, and that outcome wins, that’s not “gaming the system.” That is the system.