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Handicapping the Hugos

August 16, 2015

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I do not own a Tardis, nor a crystal ball, and I cannot gaze into the flames like Melisandre of Asshai to see glimpses of the future. So I really have no idea how the Hugo Awards are going to shake out this Saturday, when the rockets are handed out in Spokane.

I can make guesses, though. Educated guesses, but guesses nonetheless. Once upon the time, back in the 70s and 80s, I used to be pretty good at handicapping the Hugos. I had no special knowledge, but I knew the field and I knew fandom, so I could look at the list of nominees and predict the winners, and I’d be right at least half the time. Damned good ((for baseball)).

Admittedly, I seem to have lost that knack in more recent decades, and my batting average has gone way way down. Maybe I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the field as well, being too busy with my own books. But what the hell. You win some, you lose some, and some get no award.

I still have no special insider knowledge, so your guesses may be as good as mine… but I’m in a quixotic mood, so I’m going to take a run at it and tell you what I think is going to happen come Saturday… and what I WANT to happen, which will not always be the same thing. For the most part, I won’t tell you which nominees I vote for myself, though in certain categories you may be able to winkle it out.

More Hugo ballots were cast this year than ever before: 5950 of them, to be precise. Last year, Loncon only received 3587 votes. That’s almost 2400 new voters. Virtually all the races are going to turn on who those voters are. Trufans? Sad Puppies? Rabids? Gamergaters? My own guess is “all of the above.” Ah, but how many of each?

The proof is in those ballots.

Past Hugo races were simple. You read the nominees, ranked them in the order that you liked them. Maybe you put some below No Award, the ones you thought unworthy… but No Award almost never won anything. Usually it finished last.

This year is very different. Thanks to Puppygate, we now have distinct groups of voters. There are the Sad Puppies and the Rabids, each seemingly committed to its own slate of nominees. Judging by the nominations, the two Puppy factions command at least 200 votes, and may well have doubled or tripled that number during the controversy. We have the “nuclear option” advocates, the most extreme of those on the other side, who want to vote No Award in every category. Their close cousins, not quite so radical, are those taking Deirdre Moen’s “Puppy-Free Ballot” as their bible, excluding all the finalists from the slates (plus Laura Mixon, just for pique) and choosing from what remains, voting No Award in the All Puppy categories.

And then there are the rest of us. I don’t like what the Puppies did, and have not been shy in saying so, but once it was done, it was done. So my own approach has been the simplest. Read the work, make your judgements, cast your vote. If there are nominees you feel are unworthy of a rocket, rank them below No Award. If ALL the works in a category are unworthy, vote No Award.

The interplay between these five groups of voters will determine who wins and who weeps.

I have already discussed the Campbell Award. Taking the rest of the ballot in turn, we have:

BEST FAN ARTIST. The only Puppy-free category. Either the Sads and the Rabids do not care about fan art, or they did not know any fan artists. I would like to see Steve Stiles win this one. He’s nominated almost every year, but never wins. Spring Schoenhuth came on strong last year, and could contend. But the award will probably go to BRAD W. FOSTER, who has won eight times before. In the artist categories, once you start winning you tend to keep on winning.

BEST FAN WRITER. The ballot pits four Puppy picks against Laura J. Mixon, who earned her spot with her devastating expose of the notorious internet troll Requires Hate. In a normal year, Mixon would be a long shot. Most fan writing is… well, more fannish, often featuring wit and humor. Trip reports, con reports, satires. Investigative journalism, of the sort featured in Mixon’s report, is seldom seen here, and might have had a tough go. But none of the usual fan writers made the cut this year. Most of those opposed to the slates are going to unite behind Mixon, I think. The strongest of the Puppy candidates is Jeffro Johnson, who seems to be mostly a book reviewer. And yes, book reviewers have won here before. Dick Geis comes to mind, and Charles N. Brown as well (though Charlie did a lot more). The other three are more purebread Puppies, most of whose writing seems concerned with attacking “SJWs” and other bugaboos. In their own way, they are minor league versions of Requires Hate… far less venomous, yes, and coming from the right instead of the left, but still more heat than light. Unless there are a lot more Puppies than I think, I doubt that any of them are contenders. The real threat to Mixon is No Award. The Puppies will all be ranking her last, since she’s all that opposes their foursome; Hate’s allies and enablers (yes, there are still some) will be voting against her, because How Dare She; the Nukes are No Awarding everything; and Deirdre Moen has crossed Mixon off her “Puppy-Free Ballot” as well, the only non-Puppy accorded that singular honor. Will the combination of all these factions be enough? I hope not. I think Laura Mixon’s courageous and compassionate article was not only the best piece of fanwriting out last year, but IMPORTANT as well. If there was ever a time to stand up against hatespeech and bigotry, whether from the right or the left, it’s now. If Sasquan gives out only one Hugo next Saturday, I hope it is Laura Mixon who wins it… for herself, and for all of the victims of Requires Hate. When I put on my handicapper’s hat, however, I rate the odds about even between Mixon and No Award. I will pick with my heart instead of my head, and predict a Hugo for LAURA J. MIXON.

BEST FANCAST. Not a category I have much interest in, if truth be told. Three of the finalists come from the slates, two from fandom. I am going to throw a dart and predict a Hugo for TEA AND JEOPARDY, by Emma and Peter Newman.

BEST FANZINE. Four nominees from the slates. Only JOURNEY PLANET stands apart. One of the Puppy choices, BLACK GATE, has withdrawn, but too late to be removed from the ballot. TANGENT, a long-running and venerable review zine whose roots go back to the 70s, has name recognition with pros and traditional worldcon fans as well as the Pups, which should make it a threat. But I think JOURNEY PLANET wins out in the end.

BEST SEMIPROZINE. This one should go to LOCUS in a walk… except, oooops, the rules were jiggered so that LOCUS is not eligible. Only two nominees from the slates, and one of those, ANDROMEDA SPACEWAYS, seems horrified to have been slated. No matter. I think that LIGHTSPEED takes this one.

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST. The finalists are last year’s winner, Julie Dillon, and four Puppies. JULIE DILLON wins in a rout. As with fan artist, once someone starts to win in these categories, they tend to win a bunch in a row. Dillon would have had an excellent shot at repeating in any case, but the Pups made it much easier for her by displacing John Picacio, Marc Simonetti, Michael Komarck, Dan Dos Santos, Donato Giancola, and a lot of other major artists, some of them past winners, who could have provided her with real competition.

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM. The first All Puppy category. If Vox Day wins, the end time is surely nigh for both worldcon and the Hugo Awards. VD is not the best editor in the field, or one of the best five, or one of the best fifty. His presence here is no more than a “fuck you” from his followers to those dreaded SJWs. I think… hope… he will finish last. The other four finalists are legitimate editors, however, and deserving of their nominations. I think the contest is between Sheila Gilbert of DAW and Toni Weisskopf of Baen. Jim Minz is a good guy and a good editor, but he’s at Baen, and the Baen voters are going to go for Toni, who is the senior presence there. Anne Sowards of Ace and Roc is a worthy choice too, and it’s nice to see her getting some recognition, but I think she’s a long shot this year. Weisskopf and Gilbert were both nominees last year at Loncon, and Weisskopf was the last one eliminated in the first round of voting, losing out to the eventual winner Ginjer Buchanan. And she had more nominations even than Ginjer last time around. I think this may be her year. The Puppies love Baen the best of all the publishers in the field and will rally around her, but Toni is a solid professional with a lot of friends in fandom and prodom as well, and she’s done a commendable job with Baen Books since succeeding the late Jim Baen. The Nukes and the Moens will be No Awarding this category, since it is all slate, but I think (hope) there are not enough of them to matter. It would be a tragedy if we threw out four good editors just because the Puppies like them too. So my prediction here is TONI WEISSKOPF. The first nominee from the slates to take a Hugo.

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM. All Puppies again. VD again. Last place again. Edmund Schubert of ORSON SCOTT CARD’S INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW withdrew, but too late to be removed from the ballot. That leaves Jennifer Brozek, anthologist Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Mike Resnick. I think the Hugo goes to MIKE RESNICK. And yes, he’s a deserving winner. He’s founded an interesting new magazine, GALAXY’S EDGE, at a time when the old magazines are dying. He’s a former worldcon GOH, a mainstay of midwestern fandom for decades, well known and much beloved. He’s edited lots of good anthologies. Oh, and the Puppies love him… albeit for the wrong reason (losing the column he and Barry Malzberg did for SFWA BULLETIN in a kerfuffle over sexism). More important than any of that, Mike has been a mentor to uncounted number of new young writers over the years, some of whom have gone on to become Hugo and Nebula nominees themselves. Discovering and nurturing new talent is one of the most important things an editor does. Resnick has won numerous Hugos (and lost more), but all for his writing; this would be his first win as editor. All that being said, I do think the slates seriously fucked up this category. A win here, whether for Resnick or one of the other nominees, would be far more meaningful if it came against stronger competition, against Sheila Williams and Ellen Datlow and Gordon van Gelder and Gardner Dozois and the other great editors who have long dominated this category. To be the champ, you need to beat the champ, I always heard; this year, the Puppies kept all the champs off the ballot.

I am only halfway done, I know. But this is very long. I will break here, and cover the rest of the categories in another post.

If any of you out there want to post your own picks, feel free. It could be fun to see who gets the most right. But remember… we’re handicapping here, not fighting another round in the culture war. Attack posts and abuse will be deleted.

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