On awards in general and Hugos in particular

So, as you may be aware, the Hugos–more or less the science fiction equivalent to Oscars, Emmys, or Tonys–have been hijacked by a neo-fascist movement called the Rabid Puppies assisted (just like every fascist takeover ever) by their conservative catspaws the Sad Puppies, who unsurprisingly have significant crossover with Gamergate.

Quite a few people have weighed in on this, so for background here’s some of the best writing on the topic I’ve seen:

So, as someone who’s been reading science fiction his entire life, who goes to science fiction conventions (though less often than anime conventions), who is, broadly, a science fiction fan, what do I think about all this?

To be honest, I don’t care.

Here’s the thing about awards of this type, where people get together and vote on a slate of nominees: they don’t make any sense, because that’s not what voting is good for. The use of voting is as a way to aggregate preferences: we’ve got five people who can’t agree whether to have pizza or Chinese for dinner. Let’s vote to determine which one more people want!

So you could take the Hugos as a way to aggregate… what? Which book more people want to win the Hugo? (Actually, it’s slightly more complicated than that since it’s a ranked-choice voting system, but you’re still ranking your choice to win the Hugo.) So… the vote was created to determine who should win that vote. Yay?

Of course the answer is that people are (presumably) ranking the nominees in order of quality, so the winner of the Hugo represents the best work in that category. But that doesn’t make any sense either! Consider: quality is either objective or subjective. If it’s objective (which it isn’t, but let’s pretend), then some of the voters are wrong and some are right, but we don’t know which–it’s entirely possible that the winning work isn’t the best one.* Only examination by someone with expertise in measuring quality can determine that. And if it’s subjective (which it is), then it doesn’t matter what other people vote, one person’s perspective on which work is best is just as valid as a perspective shared by a thousand people, or a million.

So why do the Hugos exist? Because authors tend to have pretty big egos, at least where their writing is concerned,** and most of them aren’t paid very well. There has to be some reward to demonstrate status, and a large metal penis-rocket is the one science-fiction writers settled on. And there are other advantages, too, mostly that your publisher may actually start marketing your books, and you get to put “Hugo award-winner” above your name on the front cover forever after.

So I can certainly understand why some people care about the Hugos and are upset they’ve been hijacked. But honestly I have trouble working up a great deal of upset over it.

*Unless, of course, we define quality in such a way that popularity becomes its measure. But then why bother with awards? We already have bestseller lists.

**At the very least, they have to believe that their writing is good enough that people ought to want to pay to read it.

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