Hi ho, Elizabeth Bear here, coming to you with a special report from deep in the wilds of eastern central North America, just underneath the left end of that wobbly looking blue bit that looks kind of like a kersplotchy asterisk. And I'm here at Charlie's Diary today to talk about slate voting for the Hugos, and what some potential developments of its tactical use mean to the individual artist.
By slate voting, in this case, I mean the practice of some person, generally an internet pundit or personality of some sort with an interest in the outcome of the Hugos, presenting an organized "slate" of nominees consisting of exactly as many nominees as there are nomination slots on the ballot. This, if the organizer can manage to procure a fairly small minority of voters, can have the effect of driving all disorganized (that is to say, non-slated) works off the ballot, because those non-slated candidates are being simply chosen by people who liked their work best out of the available options and weirdly enough, different people tend to like different things.
Slate or bloc voting is not technically forbidden under the rules. But I think it's damned poor sportsfanship, and the Hugo outcome indicates that an overwhelming majority of my fellow fans, of nearly all political stripes, agree.
This is what happened with the Hugos this year. The Hugos have a built-in nuclear option fail safe, the "No Award," option, by which the voters (self-selected members of the World Science Fiction Society, who pay a membership fee that includes voting privileges) can deal with either works they deem unworthy of the nomination, perceived cheating, or both. It was deployed heavily this year to counteract the slates. As a result of the slates a number of works were never given a chance at consideration—including a very good story by the late Eugie Foster that may have been her last chance at a Hugo nomination—and as a result of the "No Award" option, a number of Hugos simply were not handed out.
While there are some rules changes in the works to make it all more difficult to pull off in the future, they will take an additional year to ratify because that's the way the World Science Fiction Society constitution works, so the 2016 Hugos have the same vulnerabilities as the 2015 ones did.
I'm not particularly concerned at this juncture by the Rabid Puppies' threat to "No Award" every category in the Hugos, because in my opinion they just can't marshal the votes. (It takes a lot more individual ballots to force a "no award" than it does to get something on the ballot in the first place.)
And I'm not particularly concerned by a repeat performance of an all-slate ballot, because I suspect that it'll be hard for the people who failed to push a slate winner through in 2015 to muster a lot of interest from the people they recruited this year to drop an additional $40 to vote next year. (I could be wrong. I often underestimate the human capacity for spite. But I wouldn't do it, in their shoes, over something I have no particular emotional investment in.)
Also, with a little luck, most of the record ~6000 Hugo voters (or even better, most of the record ~11,000 Worldcon members!) this year will turn out and nominate and vote, which would be an absolute game-changer for the awards, their legitimacy, and their relevance. It could be a renaissance for the Hugos, in point of fact, and the deliciousness of that emerging out of attempts to co-opt or destroy the awards is indescribable.
There's my preference right there: If you love science fiction and fantasy and you have the money for a supporting membership, or if you already signed on in 2015, please please please if you read something you like, nominate it. You don't have to nominate in all categories. You don't have to read everything published. The nomination process is specifically designed to create a consensus out of the partial knowledge of many people, and the more people who participate, even with partial knowledge, the better it works.
And once you've nominated something, tell your friends you liked it. I have absolutely no problem with Hugo rec lists, Hugo "Here's my ballot" posts, or even Hugo "Here's what I have eligible this year" posts. Those are not slates, and they don't concern me in the slightest, because they do not act to spoil and thwart the process in the way that slates do.
There are two things I am concerned about. One is other concerned groups in fandom mustering and voting their own slates, in direct competition with the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates. (Assuming there is going to be a Rabid Puppy slate next year, rather than just an attempt to block vote No Award on every category, as threatened. Based on the existing evidence, the Rabid Puppies and internal consistency are not exactly chocolate and peanut butter.)
I think this is a terrible idea, for exactly the same reasons I think the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy slates are a terrible idea, and I cannot support it.
The other is the concept of punitive slating. I have talked with a lot of the Sad Puppy voters, and I really believe that many of them were acting in good faith and voting for work they really liked. I don't believe they'd go in for this.
The Rabid Puppies, though, are self-declared reavers out to wreck the Hugos for everybody. I think their organizer Vox Day has made himself a laughingstock, personally—he's been pitching ill-thought-out tantrums in SFF since before 2004, and all he ever brings is noise. But he and his partisans seem to be too ego-invested to admit they're making fools of themselves, so they'll never quit.
So it's totally possible that the Rabid Puppy organizers and voters, in the spirit of burning it all down, would nominate a slate consisting of the sort of vocal anti-slate partisans who could conceivably swing legitimate Hugo nominations on fan support, having a track record of the same.
I'm talking about people such as our good host Charlie Stross, John Scalzi, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and myself. Or just, you know, people they hate—the categories overlap. The goal here would be to then attempt to either force us to withdraw or refuse nominations to prove our lack of hypocrisy, or for fandom to again No Award the whole process. This is the Human Shield option, which—in a slightly different application—is what led to the inclusion on the Rabid Puppy slate of uninvolved parties such as Marko Kloos, Annie Bellet, Black Gate, Jim Minz, and so on in 2015.
This possibility concerns me a bit more, but honestly, I think it's pretty easy to manage. First of all, I'm going to state up front that I will never willingly participate in a slate. If I learn that I have been included on a slate, I will ask to be removed, and I will bring as much force to bear on that issue as I legally can.
Additionally, I'm going to rely on the discretion of readers and fans of goodwill, who I think are pretty smart people. If you see my name on a slate, please assume that it's being done by ruiners to punish me, and that whoever put it there has ignored my requests to remove it. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior, and I'm frankly not going to do anything to please them at all.
My colleagues, of course, are free to deal with the situation as they see fit, up to and including refusing nominations. As for me, well—while I reserve the right to turn down an award nomination at my discretion, I'm not about to be forced into it by the action of trolls and reavers. I expect my readers to be able to make up their own minds about my work, and decide for themselves if it's worthy of an award or not, and vote accordingly in a fair and sportsfanlike fashion.
I expect Charlie's fans—that would be you guys, reading this on his website—can manage to do the same.