One of the recurring themes from the on-going Hugo kerfuffle is a sense of unfairness. Among the charges:
a) There was a pre-existing bias against conservatives &
libertarians (1) among the small (2) subsection of SFF Fandom (3) who
nominate and vote for the Hugos. The
most vocal people expressing this pov are called by those who oppose them “SJW”
– social justice warriors. (It is not
meant as a compliment.)
b) That there was a countering bias against women, non-Caucasians,
and non-heterosexuals in terms of characters, authors, and fans.(Sometimes this
is expressed in terms of matching the general issues of American society, other
times it is described as unique to SFF fandom/ SFF creators.) The most vocal
people expressing this pov are called by those who oppose them “fascist racist sexists homophobes”. (4)(Also not a compliment.) (They have employed the term "racist" against a Caucasian man in a twenty-year old marriage with an African-American woman, to which I can only say damn, that's dedication to the Cause.)
c) There was an active on-going cabal of influential people
who habitually manipulated some if not all of the nominations in order to steer
the finalist lists to include selected works and people. (5)
d) That Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies (SP/RP) (6) unfairly
stacked the deck against all other parts of fandom in order to get a selected
group of writers on the finalist list.
Noses are so far bent out of joint that it’s a wonder any of us can see straight.
Among many people who consider themselves defending the
Hugos and SFF / SFF Fandom against the sorts of people and thoughts exemplified
by the SP/RP, there has been an oft-repeated sense that The Hugos Were Fine Why Did You Have To Break Them? As evidence for how The Hugos Were Fine, quotes like this one from Rcade are common:
“ What makes me bitter is the strategy of bloc voting, because it made it impossible for nominations I made as an individual in good faith to appear on the ballot. Out of 80 slots on the ballot, my nominations appear 0 times. That’s never happened before. Normally I see around 2-6.”
This is given as part of the justification for charges such
as that put forth by such otherwise temperate and polite people as Connie
Willis that the SP/RP were outright “cheating” and “ballot stuffing.” (7)
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that such an
assumption is inaccurate and – instead of being proof of cheating – is instead
evidence in support of an insular common opinion amongst the historical voters
for the Hugos.
As we’re talking about cheating, let’s talk cards.
Consider a deck of common playing cards. Take out the jokers
and the extra cards with the name of the card manufacturer on them, and you are
left with 52 cards. Four suites –
hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds (9) – of 13 cards – ace, 2-10, jack, queen,
king. For the purposes of this example, face cards are ace, jack, queen, king.
(And that makes four, oh best beloved.)
So. We have 52 cards,
and we want to know, what are the best two cards?
Differentiation depends on, well, differences. If there are no differences, then what appear to be varying levels of support are no more than random chance.
If all the cards are indistinguishable from each other in
value of Bestness, and if we ask a large enough group (say, a bazillion
gazillion) (8) of people, we would end up with 1326 different unique combinations
of 2 cards from that group. That number –
1326 – is calculated using a mathematical formula called the factorial –
generally written like so: factorial of (n) = n! The factorial of a number
is equal to that number times all the whole numbers smaller than it. Thus:
5! = 5*4*3*2*1 = 120
4! = 4*3*2*1 = 24
3! = 3*2*1 = 6
And so on.
In our example we talk about “sets of two” – this is the
smaller grouping drawn from a larger grouping.
The size of this set is k, so
that k =2 if we mean, sets of two, or
k = 3 if we mean, sets of three. For
every value of n and k, we can determine how many unique sets
of size k are in that group numbering
n, using the factorial formula.
The formula for determining the number of unique sets is:
So for a group of size n,
choosing smaller groups of equal size k,
we can calculate how many unique groups of size k there are in a group of size n.
If we also want to know how many groups of size k we find that include any one item, we
imagine we have a group of size (n-1),
pick our groups of size k from them,
and then subtract. The remainder is the
number of unique small groups that were made up of ONLY the items not included
in the second , smaller group.
In our set of 52 cards, there 1326 unique sets of two cards. If everyone’s opinion of the “Bestness” of
cards was equal, we would find that each of these 1326 sets would have an equal
representation in our poll, and that there would not be any one pair – either the 2 of clubs and the 10 of spades, or the ace of diamonds and the queen of hearts, nor any other pair – would be determined to be
best by a greater number of people than any others. (Such is the power of large sample groups, to
which all stats nerds burn incense daily.)
If I, as High Queen of the Universe, were to anoint two cards
of my choosing from the deck of 52 and declare them to be The Best, no matter
what two cards I picked, 92.4% of the people expressing an opinion on the cards
would be unhappy, for neither of their cards would match the two I had
picked. The other 7.6% would be
moderately pleased, as one of their cards would match one of mine, and 1/326 th
of the people would be very pleased, as my choice would exactly match theirs.
But wait, one says – this is a stupid example, because everyone
knows that not all cards are alike! Face
cards are clearly More Best than the
rest, and so any example that ignored this difference is clearly useless.
Fine. Let’s run the
numbers for ‘two picked from 12 face cards’ – and we come up with 66 unique
sets. Everyone of the bazillion gazillion sorts themselves along those lines –
again, giving equal weight to any of the face cards – into 66 groups. I as High
Queen of the Universe again pick The Best – and this time, there are 31.8% of
the people who are moderately pleased, 68.2% who think I clearly suck as a
universal monarch, and 1/66 of the people who think my opinions (at least in
cards) are perfect.
However, for the people who didn’t share the opinion that
face cards are CLEARLY More Best, my disapproval rate is much higher: only
1.58% of the people who were selecting from the whole deck had EITHER of their
two cards match EITHER of mine.
With me so far? Good.
If you do the math out, you see that if one is picking sets from
larger decks, the numbers get crazy large crazy fast. More sets, larger decks, and the number of people
who think it is clearly time to pick another universal hereditary ruler start to equal
But what the heck does this have to do with picking Hugos?
Firstly, consider that instead of a deck of 52, we have a
deck of “all the novels published that year.”
And we have everyone vote on what they think the best five are….wait.
No, we already decided that there are cards which are
clearly better than others. Face cards,
in our deck. And for the Hugos we have…oh,
every one of the novels nominated during the nomination round. There.
We’ve narrowed the pool of “best SFF novel” from the tens of thousands published that year to…around
400 (it was 230 novels in 2005, and last year at LonCon it was 648. We’ll use 400 because I’m High Queen of the
Universe.) At any rate, tens of thousands down to 400 is sorta like 52 to 12, except that
it’s several orders of magnitude in difference, and so it’s not really the
same. At All, because 52 to 12 doesn’t
even come close to approximating the degree in change from tens of thousands to 400.
And as it turns out, my version of MS EXCEL crashes when I
go over 170 for my n. So we can’t even use that. Let’s use 160. (See: High
Queen of the Universe.)
If we pick sets of 5 cards from a deck of 52, that there are
2.598960 MILLION different
combinations of sets of 5. For [our 'face cards set' (slight edit)] 160, it’s
98,446,083,840. Yes, that’s
98 BILLON. And change. When the High Queen
of the Universe comes down and anoints The Five Best Cards, out of those 160, 14.85% of the
people see that at least ONE of their cards matches at least ONE of The Five
Best. (Remember, in our last example, we
were talking sets of two. Now we have sets
of 5. That changes the math.)
(Also? “One out of five” is a lower standard of
happy than “one out of two” – or at
least I think so. See: High Queen of the Universe)
And remember, we’re just talking the people who picked face
cards. The people who were picking from
the larger set of the whole deck/all the books published that year, they’re
much less happy. (And I can not do that math because, again, when n > 170, Excel = miserable.)
So. That’s how it is when
we look at picking the five best novels from the 160 face card/clearly best
novels that year. 15% of the people have
gotten at least one of their novels selected.
The rest are unhappy, and collecting pitchforks.
But it gets worse.
What if instead of picking from all the face card novels, I only
picked from diamond suite novels? If instead of picking from 160, what if I had
narrowed my selections down to only those which were the ace, jack, queen and
king of diamonds, so now I (as High Queen of the Universe) was selecting from 40
novels, while everyone else was selecting from all the face cards (160 novels)
or (even worse) all the novels selected (tens of thousands.)
In that case, there are 658,008 sets of 5, from the 40 diamond
face cards. (Note the change from the 2.5 million sets of 5 from 52 cards. Numbers don’t change geometrically here.) Now,
50% of those whose tastes also ran to just
diamond face cards have at least one of
five selections equal to one (or more) of mine. Of
those still picking from all the face cards, it’s less than one in a hundred. In fact, it’s a lot less – it’s 4 in ten
For those picking from the wider pool of all the deck of published
cards? Doesn’t even register.
And remember that I’m talking about out of 160 novels. It’s been a very long time since we had only 160 novels that someone thought was Hugo worthy.
So when a fan says Up until
now, I generally agreed with the Hugo nominations…it means, I think, that
their tastes agree with the tastes of the Queen of the Universe. Or the average of the Hugo nomination voters,
who – at less than 1K – are numerically indistinguishable from a single Queen
of the Universe, when looked at on that scale.
When SP/RP say, Up until now,
most of what I liked never made it to the Hugos…well, it *might* mean that
they had a fancy for cards numbering 2-10.
But it could also mean that they liked face cards of suites other than
If we were to imagine SFF as a deck of cards(note: Examples not
chosen with any intent in mind) – with Literary SFF as diamonds, and
MilSF&Space Opera as clubs, and Humor as hearts, and, oh,
Movies&TV&Tieins as spades…well, it would easy enough to see that even
if one really liked the most excellent work in clubs AND hearts, if the High
Queen of the Universe (or the Hugo voters) were only picking from the 40 items
in diamond face cards…well, you’d be SOOL(link). And the High Queen of the Universe would be aghast at suggestions of bias, because
She was selecting evenly from the 40
items in diamond face cards- and what could be wrong with that?
Likewise, if one were to imagine a revolt by people who liked just
spades, who all gathered together to sacrifice fluffy kittens and blend puppies
so that a pleasing aroma rose unto the sky, and the High Queen deigned to
select from the spades face cards instead of diamonds…that would look very much like a betrayal to
those who liked diamonds. (We are ignoring those who have objections to animal
sacrifice of any sort, because they are obviously in league with the Elder
To sum up, because it is too much to explain: the SFF field is
huge. The number of Hugo voters is
small. We need to fix this.
(1) These two things are not the same.
(2) No matter how one slices it, WSFS members, WorldCon
attendees, and Hugo voters are a very very
small fraction of the total number of people who read, watch, write, draw, or
play science fiction and fantasy. Annual
nominating membership was under 1,000 people for decades. It’s only in the last five years that it has
hit 2 thousand. Attending membership was under 10,000. In comparison, Dragon*Con - held the same weekend - was 40,000 in 2010, and is projected to exceed 60,000 in 2015.
(3) SFF Fandom: that portion of the global human populations
who read, watch, write, draw, or play science fiction and fantasy. At the very minimum, we’re talking 100,000
people – assuming we limit the number to those who can read or speak English. This group HEAVILY overlaps with, but does
not equal, those people who are SFF creators – writers, artists, directors,
editors, etc. (In much the same way,
SFWA membership heavily overlaps with, but does not equal, “people who have
published something in SFF in the last five years.”
(4) The author of this particular article is Kameron Hurely, two-time winner of the Hugo award, short listed by Chaos Horizon last November as an strong contender for a Hugo this year for her novel The Mirror Empire. Yet somehow neither the author nor the editor saw fit to mention this conflict of interest. I suppose in a world where The Rolling Stone exists this is to be considered of no great note.
(5) While the actions and words of a couple of editors associated with Tor had done a great deal to avoid disproving this perspective, it is my opinion that the fault lies most with a narrow pov on the part of Hugo voters, each of whom is voting their individual preferences, with perhaps some minor influence by those who are attempting to push specific works or authors. More specifically – we can’t get rid of people’s individual preferences and likes, but we can avoid choosing from people who only like one sort of things.
(6) Sad Puppies here. Rabid Puppies here. These are two different groups who share some
overlapping goals. In combining them, I
am unfortunately continuing the disastrously inaccurate lumping together of
goals, membership, motivation, and nominated works that has characterized the “trufan”
response to the whole mess. For the
purpose of this discussion, I think the shorthand is accurate enough to
continue, although I may come to regret saying that.
(6.1) I amnot Vox Day, either. If you have a question about, or an issue
with, something VD has said, go take it up with him. If you have a question about, or an issue
with, something I have said, I am willing to discuss that. For the purposes of this post, the only
opinion that VD and I share which is relevant is that the current Hugo process
(7) Urging other fans – who then purchase their own memberships to WorldCon, and then vote their own ballot - to support particular authors or works has been widely acknowledged as “within the rules.” There are those who disagree and/or who hold that having recommended 5 works on a five opening ballot constitutes undue influence. Complicating this judgement is Vox Day’s verbage regarding the Rabid Puppy slate: “Those who trust my judgement will vote the slate exactly as it appears.” Be that as it may, the range of votes even across Puppy dominated categories does not support the charge of lock-step voting. (Obligatory link to herding cats video.)
(8)In the most practical terms, one needs 40 “normal average”
individuals to achieve a measurable range of values for any test (like blood
pressure or lung volume) and that sample sizes of 100 individuals per data
point is sufficient to get a good random distribution, but there are different
schools of thought on this.
(9) Assuming traditional French suites, not the German.
Comments and critique of all sorts welcomed! Please leave a note or drop an email - excel spreadsheets available on demand.
So. Hugo nominations got announced last weekend, and All Fandom Is At War.
One of the better attempts at bridge-building is being conducted by Mary Robinette Kowal, in a post here. In the comments, Elizabeth Bear (*the* Elizabeth Bear, omg *flails*) responded to a comment I left.
Because I am lousy at saying things succinctly, I am expanding on my reply to Ms Bear here.
I appreciate Ms Bear's candid declaration concerning visible
voting slates and her intent to reject all those works, writers, and artists
as unworthy of an award. That's her choice, and I respect her decision to do so.
(I also won’t hold it against her if in the future she changes her mind.) I do however disagree with the logic and utility of doing so, but wait
on that until the end.
To me, the slate voting process *could* be discussed in and
of itself – but that’s not what’s happening here. As I have said to other members of fandom,
though – I find it curious that rather than focusing on publicity efforts or
the existence of slates, the focus keeps slipping to *who* is on the slates,
and *who* might be recommending those works.
Bear said: Theo Beale first came after me for no good reason
except that I was a woman writing SF in like, 2004–and I have no truck with the
man (I’ve also spoken out publicly against Requires Hate’s bullying campaign,
for what it’s worth.)
I remember a bit of that, and I remember being a bit
surprised at the “going after a woman who wrote SF” bit, because dude – Cherryh?
Bujold? Willis? Moon? Aren't you annoyed at them, too? I don’t remember
the details of that squabble, frankly.
(I imagine the incident is a bit more etched in Ms Bear's memory.)
But that does bring to mind 2004, and the ultra-awesomeness that it was to be
conservative in on-line fandom during the US election season. The allusions to Hitler (*see note at the
end*), the hysterical accusations that concentration camps were being set up
for Muslims and gays, the sneering, the wild exaggerations, the ranting, the
accusations of intended genocide against minorities, of disenfranchisement of
women – and that was before the Republicans won. Good times, good times.
Which have only gotten worse, of course. The exaggerations and false accusations are
present in the comments of multiple other fans in the comments to MRK’s post –
despite it being the best attempt so far to build bridges between SP and
I expect everyone carries a bit of baggage from back
then. My way of dealing with it, and
with the on-going hatchet jobs that have surfaced this week in mainstream
media, is this:
Firstly, I pick my fannish interactions with care, I don’t
go into liberal areas except in rare occasions, and I hang with fans who – even
if they might like somewhat different things than I do – don’t openly disparage
other people, and particularly not for their politics or religion.
Secondly, in terms of reading and judging works, I don’t
care who people are, what their politics are, or what they approve of. I had me
and my works judged on the basis of my politics and of lies and exaggerations about
what I said. I don’t do it to other
people, to the best extent I can. And to
that end, I absolutely endorse what Ms Bear said at the end:
(I note that last year’s slate included Requires
Hate *and* Vox Day. That’s so politically diverse it starts to come full
Because the Hugos should be able to do that. We must NOT
make it so that the Hugos CANNOT do that.
I appreciate Ms Bear's efforts to reach across the
lines with assurances that she rejects RH and all her works. But I don’t
care. I’m not even going to ask if that speaking out came while Requires Hate was still just targeting Caucasian
guys or after she started going after POCs. Because I don’t care.
I don’t care if people reject RH. I don’t care if they reject VD. What I
reject are renunciations, litmus
tests, and assurances of purity in thought or deed.
I strongly oppose all attempts to set up a pattern of public
rejections, of dis-avowing, of assertion of rightthink, of the sort of
quasi-Inquisitionesque are you now or have you ever been a nasty
person who said nasty things to other people, as a part, of any sort, in the process of assessing the quality of a
We should not be giving anyone the impression that people
are reading, enjoying, and buying their works of art on the basis that the
writer/artist “is a good person.” Or
that only “good people” can contribute meaningfully to society. Or that a meaningful contribution makes that
person (scientist, artist, bricklayer) a “good person.”
Being a crap writer does not make one a crap person any more
than being a crap welder makes one a crap person. And having a beautiful singing voice does not
an angel make.
If Fandom remains a single tent, we will have people inside
it who are frightful to each other. We
will have – as we have had before, and doubtlessly do now – people who are
rapists and child abusers. We will have thieves, bigots, scoundrels, rabble rousers, trolls, malcontents and liars. We will have our Mark Twains. We had Arthur C
Clark and Isaac Asimov, and we had Harlan Ellison, Vox Day, and Samuel Delaney. We had MZB, and we have Requires Hate, Kameron
Hurley, and K Tempest Bradford. And twenty
more I could name, and forty more you could name, and a thousand people we don’t
even know about yet.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if we storm Castalia House and
drag Vox Day to the gallows to be hung, drawn, and quartered, or just shoot him
in the street. It doesn’t matter if we
exile Requires Hate to the far Antilles or place her in the stocks and hurl
rotten produce at her until she breaks down into a catatonic quivering sobbing
Even if we were right in doing so, the blood and tears would
scarcely have dried before the shout went up to do the same to John C Wright
and NK Jemisin.
Fandom will not be cleansed by these actions. We will always have despicable people amongst
us. And unpleasant people. And people that others say are despicable, or not
pleasant, or Communist, or evangelicals, or who chew with their mouths open.
Criminals should be arrested and charged with crimes. Rude
people should be told that they are being rude, and not invited to tea by
people who don’t like their rudeness.
Works should be read, or seen, or heard, and not judged
based on their creators.
SP came about because a huge chunk of fandom is reacting to
another huge chunk of fandom applying extraneous litmus tests of politics and
lifestyle – approving of some, disapproving of others – to both authors and
works in the course of assessing the quality of work. (And generally shutting
out the authors and works now represented by SP.) SP1 & SP2 demonstrated that this was
SP3 is happening because we – we-as-fandom-we – failed to
call for stopping the application of those litmus tests.
Voting No Award for anything other than the quality of the
work on the slate is continuing the application of those
tests. And voting No Award is not going
to stop SP4, because what we – we-as-SP, as far as I can speak for SP, which is
not very far - want is to be able to
push for recognition of the work we like – just like everyone else, with
everyone else – to get the awards we think it deserves.
And here’s why I reject the idea that No Award voting
slate-sponsored works is in the best interest of Fandom. Firstly, because even if a majority of fandom
agreed with that, all it does is cement the use of extraneous litmus tests in
the assessment of works. I reject the utility
of assessing works on the race or gender of the author, or on the skin color of
the protagonist, or on the faith system (or lack thereof) in the work. And I reject assessments based on who
recommended it to me, or on what webpage I first saw it.
Secondly, because No Awarding works based on visible,
known-to-you slates will only return us to the quasi-sub rosa conditions of 2012. Slates will go underground, passed from hand
to hand and not discussed openly – until someone wants to expose someone else
for ‘slating’. Or commit slander against
someone else. Or start a whisper
campaign against someone else.
I’ve been there, done that.
I don’t want that sort of thing affecting “the most prestigious award in
Let’s do what should have been done a decade ago, and reject
the application of extraneous litmus tests to the Hugo process, and all other
1) I am not “equating” any authors mentioned by name in this
post. They each are singular persons who
have enraged different parts of Fandom. (There
are many horrible people in Fandom. Such
is the crooked timber of humanity.) I think there is some value in publicly
addressing assertions of the harm we do to each other. We are not required to like or approve or
tolerate all of each other, nor all that each other does.
I also think that when we have stooped to the point where we
take seriously the assertions by grown writers and artists that “someone wrote a
mean poem about me!!!!” we have gone well past the point where “harm” has any
legitimate definition, and a serious look at what we are considering “intolerable”
is in order.
2) I rejoice in the evolution of popular culture, fandom,
and internet discourse that now references to Nazis are not only considered
unserious, but requiredin any discussion of sufficient length. Take that, you genocidal monsters – you’re now the punchline
for every mockery of hysterical over-reaction, ever.
This is a place holder for longer thoughts later - right now I don't want to lose the link.
Athena Andreadis has a an article in Skiffy and Fanty titled "Where are the wise crones in science fiction?"
I think it has some excellent points about the youth-worship of SF and fantasy. (When I was a teen, I adored all manner of spunky-girl-against-the-world stories. Now, not so much.) She goes on some directions I think are sideways to the main point, but it's still an interesting read.
However, I find two things far more interesting - first, that as a blow against the lack of older women in SF, she posts a fantasy story (which has always had more old women, although generally cast as the dangerous villain) and secondly, that (unless I completely missed it) she avoids all mention of Gordon R Dickson, The Spirit of Dorsia, and Amanda Morgan. Which is...puzzling.
Looking forward to reading through the nominations. I particularly would like to know if Ancillary Sword matches the quality of the first in the series, and if this volume deals with the ramifications of "erasing" all but one gender of humans. (If there are any links to analysis of AJ which discussed the option of more than two genders of humans, I would like to see those.)(*)
As I said, I am behind in reading anything, and so the only comment I can make on the slate as a whole is that I am very disappointed that Snowpiercer, which would have easily been my choice as Long Form, didn't even make the final ballot.
(Yeah, yeah, violation of the laws of physics, overly anvilous class warfare allegory, blah blah blah. I don't care. I loved that movie. Saw it four times. And you voted for CATWS (**) so don't talk to me about Ah canna change th' laws of physics.)
(*) Gender's a spectrum. So is biological sex. That this is completely irrelevant for most working-day interactions doesn't make it inaccurate. And I would expect - no, I would demand that "inter-sectional" scholars note AJ's erasure of more than just 'maleness.'
(**) Which, for the record, I also loved. I would be bitter about The Lego Movie making it onto the Hugo ballot, except I gave that up for Lent. Monday, maybe.