The Hugo Awards and political correctness


The Hugo Awards are science fiction’s most celebrated honor (along with the Nebula Awards). This year there’s a political twist: the accusation that the Hugos are “politically correct” and favor liberal writers over those with conservative political leanings.

The fact that Orson Scott Card won the Hugo in both 1986 and 1987 for Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, or that Dan Simmons won a Hugo in 1990 for Hyperion, is sufficient evidence to prove that no such bias against conservative writers exists [1].

The current controversy is a tempest in a teapot, originating because two conservative writers (Larry Correia and Theodore Beale aka “Vox Day”) have decided to make an example out of the entrenched political correctness that both are convinced exists (see: confirmation bias). Here is Correia’s post about his actions and here is Beale’s. One of the common mantras of these people is that their hero, Robert Heinlein, would not be able to win a Hugo in today’s politically correct world.

Past SFWA president, Hugo winner, and all-around good guy on the Internet, John Scalzi definitively refutes the idea that Heinlein would not have won a Hugo and does so with genuine insight and understanding of who Heinlein was, what he wrote, and how Heinlein himself promoted SF as a literary genre. Key point:

When people say “Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo today,” what they’re really saying is “The fetish object that I have constructed using the bits of Heinlein that I agree with could not win a Hugo today.” Robert Heinlein — or a limited version of him that only wrote Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and maybe Farnham’s Freehold or Sixth Column — is to a certain brand of conservative science fiction writer what Ronald Reagan is to a certain brand of conservative in general: A plaster idol whose utility at this point is as a vessel for a certain worldview, regardless of whether or not Heinlein (or Reagan, for that matter) would subscribe to that worldview himself.

They don’t want Heinlein to be able to win a Hugo today. Because if Heinlein could win a Hugo today, it means that their cri de coeur about how the Hugos are really all about fandom politics/who you know/unfairly biased against them because of political correctness would be wrong, and they might have to entertain the notion that Heinlein, the man, is not the platonic ideal of them, no matter how much they have held up a plaster version of the man to be just that very thing.

Read the whole thing.

In fact, the whole idea that the Hugo are biased against conservatives is a form of political correctness in and of itself. Steven just linked this article about how political correctness is a “positional good” and summarizes:

briefly, a positional good is one that a person owns for snob appeal, to set oneself apart from the rabble. Ownership of the positional good is a way of declaring, “I’m better than you lot!” And it continues to be valued by the snob only as long as it is rare and distinctive.

The idea, then, is that being one of the perpetually aggrieved is a way of being morally superior. I’m open-minded and inclusive, which makes me better than all those damned bigots out there.

Of course, Steven is invoking this idea as a critique about liberals crying racism; he overlooks the same dynamic at work by conservatives crying about exclusion, possibly because he is sympathetic to the “Hugos are biased” claim.

Regarding that claim, Scalzi had meta-commentary on the controversy overall (“No, the Hugo nominations were not rigged“) that is worth reading for perspective. It’s worth noting that Scalzi’s work was heavily promoted by Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, back in the day, a debt Scalzi is not shy about acknowledging publicly. This should, but won’t, dissuade those inclined (as Correia and Beale are) to lump Scalzi in with their imaginary “leftist” oppressors.

I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is and support the Hugos by becoming a contributing supporter [2] for the next year. This will allow me to vote on nominees and I will receive a packet of nominees prior to the actual voting, which if you think about it, is an incredible value. If you’re interested in supporting the Hugos against these claims of bias, consider joining me as a contributor yourself. Now that I’m a member, I plan to blog about the nominations process as well, so it should be fun.

RELATED: Scalzi’s earlier post about The Orthodox Church of Heinlein. Much like the Bible, and history, the source material often gets ignored.

[1] To be fair, Card and Simmons aren’t really conservative – they are certifiable lunatics. See here and here.

[2] Here’s more information about becoming a member for the purposes of voting for the Hugos. This year’s convention will be in London, “Loncon3” so membership is handled through their website.

4 thoughts on “The Hugo Awards and political correctness”

  1. The fact that conservative writers won Hugos 25 years ago doesn’t mean that the process hasn’t become corrupted now. A lot’s changed since 1990, as you well know.

  2. There’s more than one question being conflated here.

    Is the Hugo awards process itself corrupted? Nah. Correia made it onto the ballot without too much effort, certainly without anything that rises to the level of hijinx or corruption. He observed what he thought was a pattern in past nominations, suggested that people might want to nominate some other works by authors who are from one end of the political spectrum, and enough people either thought that a) these works were indeed worthy of Hugo consideration, or that b) trolling the Hugos with Vox Day et al would be hilarious, and lo, those works received sufficient nominations and are now on the Hugo ballot.

    Is there an ideological bias in the community, that is of the opinion that works by authors such as Correia are disqualified from worthy consideration because of their authors’ political stances? You can’t really look at what’s happened without concluding that there’s a strong streak of that present. In a way, it’s a little misleading to link here to Scalzi, because Scalzi’s piece was specifically written as a response to people who were claiming that Correia, Beale, etc. showing up on the ballot was simply not possible short of fraud – that there was NO WAY that those works could possibly have been nominated by people who thought they were actually good, that Correia must have literally bought people’s votes as if he were a 19th century machine politician.

    (Naturally, Scalzi is not in a position to decry canvassing votes on the web – his books are good, to be true, but he’s also pretty good about self-promoting, and to be fair, even better about promoting other people, and I’ve found some good authors that way!)

    But just because Scalzi has kept his head does not mean that a bunch of people have not lost theirs; you’ve only to look into the comment threads to see ’em.

  3. I would say that the Hugo has been skewing left for a bit, but not as dramatically as Correia contends. These things go in waves, and due to the popularity contest aspect of things, you see the same leftist names showing up. But it’s hard to fault people for enjoying Scalzi or Miéville. Still, Vernor Vinge won in 2007 (and 2000…) and other nominated works aren’t particularly leftist…

    Correia complained about Scalzi winning last year, and it’s true that he probably took the award because he’s a popular dude, but the book itself is far from leftist or “message fiction”. It’s a comedy for crying out loud! And it’s a loving parody of Star Trek, the sort of thing fans enjoy.

    I’m very much on Scalzi’s page with respect to this particular controversy. This is the first year that I’m trying to read all the nominated works, so this dustup is a little annoying. Still, I’m going to read everything (though I have to admit, I probably won’t be able to get through the entire 4 million+ word Wheel of Time!) and vote according to merits.

    To my mind, the real flashpoint here is Vox Day. I can see why some people would have trouble separating the man from the art in that particular case. That being said, there are lots of people taking a scorched earth policy of voting No Award above all of Correia’s ballot, which seems rash and does not come off as being fair. For his part, Correia was a little whiny about the whole thing. To my mind, a lot of the complaints about him come down to semantics, but then, he really did seem to engage in this just to piss people off, which does not endear me to him. So a lot of folks aren’t looking good coming out of this, and seem to be playing out the culture wars in a place that doesn’t really need it.

    But whatever. Ancillary Justice is really good. From what I’ve read so far, Neptune’s Brood may give it a run for its money. (Both of them do seem to be coming from a center-left position, I guess) I have not particularly enjoyed The Wheel of Time so far (almost done book 1) but I’ll continue on for as long as I can stand it (definitely not left). I have not started the Mira Grant or Larry Correia yet. They both seem approachable, but maybe not my particular cup of tea. We shall see.

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