Measuring the slow Hugo Award death of the rabid puppies

Congrats to this year's Hugo Award winners. Plenty of great works won Hugos at the 75th Worldcon in Helsinki, including a Best Novel for The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin. This means the first two novels in Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy have won the Hugo Award. I'm really looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, The Stone Sky, which comes out in a few days. The Broken Earth trilogy is now one of the most acclaimed and honored series in SF/F history, so if you haven't read the novels do so.

It was also exciting to note the crossover between this year's Hugo and Nebula Awards, with the novella "Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and the short story "Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal El-Mohtar winning both awards.

One of the most interesting aspects of this year's Hugos was to see how the new voting rules revealed the overall weakness of the rabid puppies slate. Under this year's Hugo rules, designed to reduce the impact of bloc and slate voting, people were able to nominate up to 5 works or people in each category. However, the top 6 works or people in each category become finalists, ensuring slate voting can't stuff all slots on the final Hugo ballot.

In addition, nomination votes were tallied by both the total number of nominations received and by points, with a single point assigned to each individual voter’s nomination ballot. That means if you nominated works in all 5 slots within a category, each of those nominations would receive 1/5 of a point. If you nominated only a single work in a category, that nomination would receive a full point.

Because of these new rules Vox Day, who organizes the pup slate each year, urged his followers to only make a single nomination in most categories, ensuring their slate would receive the maximum number of points. While this strategy placed a single one of their slate in many of the categories, it also revealed exactly how small their movement is.

For example, in the nomination tally released last week by Worldcon (PDF download), eventual Best Novel winner The Obelisk Gate received 480 ballots with a final points tally of 295.97 (out of 2078 total ballots cast for 652 nominees). Most nominees on the nomination tally received similar ballot to point spreads, indicating the people nominating those works were also nominating 2 or 3 or more works in each category. Since their points were spread across multiple works in each category, the points for most nominees were far less than the number of ballots those nominees received.

Not so with the pup slate. For example, in the Best Novelette category the pups' joke nomination "Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By the T-Rex” received 77 ballots and 76.50 final points, meaning almost every person who nominated that "story" didn't nominate anything else in that category. 

In the Best Short Story category, "An Unimaginable Light" by John C. Wright received 87 ballots and 87 final points out of 1275 ballots cast, suggesting no one outside of the pup slate nominated his story. In the Best Editor (Long Form) category, Vox Day received 83 ballots with 83 final points out of 752 total ballots cast. As with Wright, this suggests no one outside of VD's slate nominated him.

These numbers back up previous estimates of the weakness of the rabid puppies and give more evidence that at most 80 to 90 Hugo voters support Vox Day's ballot stuffing. These are extremely small numbers compared to the more than 2,000 people who cast nominating ballots this year, or the 3,319 people who voted during the final Hugo ballot.

The reason the rabid puppies were able to cause so much trouble with the Hugo Awards in recent years is because the awards were easily gamed by a small group of slate voters. Only cultural constraints within fandom prevented this from happening previous to the rabid puppies.

The results of this year's Hugo voting shows that making an award resistant to slate voting is a must in today's genre.

Perhaps the Dragon Awards, a new SF/F award now being ravaged by slate voting from the pups, will learn from the Hugo experience. Or perhaps not.

Translation of "Toppers" is featured story in XB-1

A translation of my story "Toppers" is featured in the August 2017 edition of the Czech SF magazine XB-1. The story, originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, looks at the passage of time as seen through one person's time-scattered life.

I love the mind-blowingly great cover art by Maurizio Manzieri. As an added bonus, I share a table of contents with one of my literary heroes, Michael Swanwick.

Oh writing advice which I loathe, let me count the ways I've ignored you

Thinking about all the writing advice I don't follow. This should mean I’m a literary failure. Instead, my stories are published around the world.

So what writing advice have I failed to follow? Let’s count down the greatest hits of advice I’ve ignored.

  1. “Write what you know.” Didn’t do that. I write science fiction and fantasy set in imaginary worlds I’ve never known. I create what I know!
  2. “Don’t shift points of view too often.” Ooh. Done that many times. If your story needs a POV shift just do it.
  3. “Show don’t tell.” I’ve shown many a thing in my stories and also told many a thing. No one path here is correct for every story.
  4. “Write every day.” Nope, don’t do that either. I write when I want to and live my art exactly how I desire. Don't dare tell me otherwise.
  5. “Write for yourself.” I write my stories for others. Sure, I’m the first person to read my stories so they must always please me. But I still write for other people.
  6. “Begin your stories with action.” Except when you don’t. Or don’t want to. Or don’t care to. Whatever floats your storytelling boat.
  7. “Write novels instead of short stories because no one reads short fiction.” Nope, failed that advice and still doing great as a writer.
  8. “Avoid clichés.” Please, every aspect of life and language can be a cliché under the right circumstances. Instead know when to use and subvert clichés.

My point with all this is there’s no one set of writing advice which works for everyone. Plus for every “rule” there’s a rule breaker. And by “rule breaker” I mean writers who defy all the common writing advice and still create captivating stories.

Instead of blindly following writing advice, try finding yourself. Find your voice. If your voice leads you to be a writer, then write away. The rest will come.

Laura Miller, or what happens when a literary critic loathes genre fiction but knows that's where the best stories are?

Maybe this kicking cartoon by Tom Gauld sums up what is going on here? Check out more of Tom's cartoons on his website (and buy his books).

Maybe this kicking cartoon by Tom Gauld sums up what is going on here? Check out more of Tom's cartoons on his website (and buy his books).

So Laura Miller, co-founder of Salon.com and one of the most famous literary critics of our day, jumped back into the genre pool with the essay "Dark Futures: What happens when literary novelists experiment with science fiction."

To summarize, in the essay Miller tracks all the "literary" authors who are now writing science fiction. According to Miller these authors are writing SF because it's so hard to write contemporary fiction with the world constantly changing. So why not write SF instead? She then name checks the authors doing so, including Emily St. John Mandel and her best-selling novel Station Eleven, which Miller notes the author doesn't even consider SF.

Why that author's disavowal? Oh, because as Miller says "Science fiction writers and readers have long resented incursions like these into their territory, especially when they come, as such novels often do, with a disavowal of the genre itself."

In case you can't tell, Miller's words are an irritating excuse for an essay, with the irritation building like a flea circus loose under a wool sweater until the reader breaks out in a never-ending rash. Only then does Miller close with a grasp at profundity by saying "What’s surprising is not that literary novelists are increasingly taking up science fiction’s tools, but that more of them didn’t try it sooner."

So. Much. Fail. In. One. Essay. And before you believe I'm biased because I'm one of those lowly SF authors who need step aside for my literary betters, check out the reaction of other authors to Miller's words:

Part of the problem with the essay, beyond Miller's actual condescending words, is that she overlooks the ability of SF authors to write at the level of the authors she's praising. She grudgingly gives William Gibson and Karen Joy Fowler minor props but ignores the stylistic and literary ability of SF masters like Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, N. K. Jemisin, Connie Willis and so many others.

For what it's worth, Miller has long had a love-hate relationship with genre fiction. As detailed in Miller's book The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, she loved C.S. Lewis's stories as a child, desiring “to be carried away by something greater than ourselves — a love affair, a group, a movement, a nation, a faith. Or even a book.” But Miller fell out of love with Narnia later in life when she realized the book's Christian "legends and ideals."

I suspect this attitude carries over for Miller into all things genre. She loves the scope and vision of genre works but can't get past the imaginary blinders which to her separate genre works from what she might call "serious writings." You can see this attitude in how she describes the SF community, where she says lovers of science fiction are "both aggrieved at being marginalized and really invested in being marginalized. So they don’t really want to be accepted. They want to be angry and self-righteous about not being accepted."

As SF author Jess Hyslop said in an online discussion with me, part of the problem with this essay and overall discussions of this topic is in the use of the term "literary," as in literary fiction, literary novelist, literary writing, and so on. As Jess wrote, "Wish we could all stop using 'literary' as a (non?)genre descriptor, & instead understand it as an adjective that can apply to any genre." So true. Perhaps a better term is "contemporary fiction" or "mainstream fiction." Such phrasing would then allow anyone to apply the term literary to any writings which reach deep into the human experience and psyche.

Look, the science fiction genre and other genres such as romance, fantasy, horror, and comics are incredibly open. All are welcome to read and write within these genres. But don't come into these genres, take the best parts of what we write, then disavow the genre and everyone in it.

If you do that, all you're showcasing is your own literary ignorance.

SFWA Nebula Awards Conference

I'm attending this week's SFWA Nebula Awards Conference in Pittsburgh, with my "Blood Grains Speak Through Memories" being one of the finalists for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette. I look forward to seeing everyone.

I'll have a few signed copies of "Blood Grains ..." to give away, so look for me at the Mass Autographing Session (which is free and open to the public) if you want one. I'll also appear on the panel "Critical assessment: What's next in genre?" on Saturday, May 20 at 4 pm alongside Charlie Jane Anders, Amal El-Mohtar, Alina Sichevaya, and Navah Wolfe.