Why do the Hugos matter? Because sci-fi is more than boobs in space

sci fi, sexy, hugo, By now, if you follow science fiction, you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards. If not I would highly suggest reading this Wired piece, which spells it out pretty well. You can read more from the perspective of a female science fiction writer, C.A. Hartman, right here..

But to sum up, there seems to be a faction of sci-fi writers/readers who are uncomfortable with minority voices winning awards. These voices are worried too much about the message and not enough about work that people actually want to read. So they made a concerted effort to nominate books they deem more worthy based on their popularity and that they’re fun to read.

I could only drop my jaw at the notion that someone would complain about a sci-fi book having a message. That’s always been the POINT of sci-fi. Science Fiction has always been about using the future to make statements about our present society.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that science fiction should also be fun and or interesting to read. There’s nothing I hate worse than books written by academics that seem solely created in order to make some kind of point, the story and characters being merely a vehicle.  As an editor told me once, remember, not matter what the story, you’re always telling a story first and foremost. I think about that in journalism and in fiction writing.

That being said, it seems like these whiners (and yeah, they’re whiners, sorry) don’t seem to grasp the point that a story can be both. When I think about authors such as Marge Piercy and Octavia Butler, I think of books I really enjoyed reading, but that also had something to say. Why should those two be mutually exclusive?

Another argument made by these Sad Puppies, as they call themselves, is that these are books read by a handful of readers, when there are much more popular works being overlooked. But I think Game of Thrones author George R. Martin said it best when he explained “The reward for popularity is popularity! It’s truckloads of money! Do you need the trophy, too?”

As the Wired article points out, it’s hard to deny that there are some racist underpinnings. It gets murky. Surely all the white authors aren’t just writing boobs in space stories, and all the minority authors are writing thoughtful science fiction. But, much like GamerGate, it does reek of angry white man syndrome. They do seem to be targeting a lot of minority authors, with the implication that they’re being nominated simply because they’re minorities. I doubt that is true. But even if we accept their surface reasoning, it doesn’t hold up. I would argue that the stuff they think should be nominated, fun stories without a message, isn’t even really science fiction. It’s more space fantasy. At least, based on the definitions of science fiction given to me by people much smarter than myself.

It’s also made me think about how my own work – where would Robot Awareness fit in? I think RA is the closest I have to boobs in space – but I absolutely have larger messages contained within the text. I play with narrative form (one chapter is told through the lens of a police report; another is told backwards). But I care about my characters, and they come first. I wanted Robot Awareness to be a fun read, first and foremost. Other works, like my upcoming The Sand Runner, has something to say too. But with all my work, I aim to write something people can read and enjoy, even if they don’t think much about larger themes.

The point of the awards is to inspire and reward innovation in literature. It gives credence to great books that don’t always get the credit they deserve. They’re books that are about more than boobs in space, as one person once described science fiction to me (which sparked a heated argument to be sure!). To me, if we accept that that’s the point of science fiction, then SadPuppy is off-base and I hope they fall by the wayside.




  1. It’s unfortunate when episodes like these break out in art, be it comics, books, or anything else. The Sad/Rabid Puppy movement is in part an outgrowth of the changing demographics of America. While I think there’s a lost opportunity here to discuss the issue both in panels and in fiction, any reasonable dialogue gets lost in the tendency of adherents of both sides to dig in their heels and objectify the other side as some form of evil. Add with the movie War Games, the only solution becomes not to play.

    The other issue is Theodore Beale, leader of the Rabid Puppies. Having read articles from The Atlantic and Wired, I don’t for an instant think he actually is fighting for the principles he claims. Anyone with significant exposure to the troll subculture can tell that Beale is doing this because he knows he can rather than because he’s championing a cause. Rather than assigning a social/political label to him, which is what he wants, it might be best to recognize him for what he is: a very devious and successful troll who has found a way too exploit the system.

    • I totally agree. I wish these things could avoid politics, but politics seems to creep into every facet of life. I agree with their statement that books should be judged on their own merit, but that’s not what they’re doing. These puppy groups are simply trying to advocate for a politics in which books written by male white nerds stay on top. I say this as a male white nerd. But their disdain for diversity is appalling. I think it’s a good thing when sci-fi authors have other experiences that they bring to their work. I incorporate journalism into my work (which is where I met many people who’ve inspired characters in my books). The XR racing in my books comes from my time covering snowmobile and motorcycle races (mixed in with the way the BBC covers other kinds of races). Sci-fi has always been about using the future and future technology to examine the present. I’m not sure the books they’re advocating for are really sci-fi, as much as they are space fantasy. I like diversity in my sci-fi, and that comes from a diversity of experiences. I hope the Hugo sticks to its guns.

      • I remember comics legend Will Eisner saying that all stories are parables. I resisted the idea, but he’s right. Everything is a moralty tale or some vehicle for getting people to think about human existence. The ancient Greeks would give soldiers time off from the military to be in plays and they would sit and watch play after play all day long and into the night because this was how they analyzed and discussed the events of their day.

        In a way, the events at the Hugos is a perfect story framework for today’s issues. This is all happening because of changing demographics and the resulting social pressure. If you think about it, it couldn’t have happened at any other time in recent history. Take some notes and incorporate it into the next story. People will read it a generation from now and say “Naw, that couldn’t have happened” and you’ll pull up an old news story and say “Oh yes it did!”

      • Hmm, that’s not a bad point. Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re having these discussions, even if the way they came about isn’t so positive. I’ll be honest – I hardly thought about the Hugos at all until this came up, other than seeing them on a book cover occasionally. I just don’t like when politics compromise the integrity of an event or award that should be above such things. President Obama winning the Nobel Peace prize before he’d even started his presidency, for instance, was a good example. That’s not a slight on him. It’s just an example of an award being used politically instead of toward its original intent. So maybe the same could be said about the Hugos. But since it did happen, perhaps it will spark a broader conversation and allow sci-fi authors and readers to re examine their thoughts.

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