So, You Want to Fix the Hugos…

But you don’t want to “fix” the Hugos.

J. Greely over at .Clue Snagged a comment off of “Making Light” that caught my attention.

“My view is that when we specifically try to change the rules to exclude the Sad Puppies, and we judge how well the changes work by how well they would have excluded the Sad Puppies given historical data, we will have some difficulty explaining to journalists that we are not doing it to exclude the Sad Puppies.”
– J. Thomas, commenting on changing the Hugo rules at Making Light

Those folks have been spinning themselves in circles trying to figure out how to change the rules for Hugo voting to try to prevent Slate voting. They are, of course, ignoring the causes and looking at the effects, and the causes have been known to the WorldCon TruFen for ages, but they never wanted to do anything about them because they benefited them.

Okay, enough sniping, lets look at the REAL problems with Hugo voting. And it’s not something that’s going to be fixed by Weighting and exponential multipliers and block vote detection (Which assumes characteristics of the current vote that are not in evidence until the results are released later this year, and could have unintended consequences in the future).

First of all, if you want to protect against bloc voting, you need to have a Hugo Electorate large enough that assembling a truly effective bloc is impossible. Some have said that lowering the supporting nomination price would increase participation. That may work, but others have said that the costs of processing the Hugos are at break-even at $40. Not having a crack team of Combat Accountants at my disposal, I can’t say if that’s true, or if the increase from circa 500 voters to 2100 has made it more or less expensive per voter to count. (If there are no economies of scale, someone needs to look at the process.) Maybe you could have random prize drawings, or, maybe you could make a bigger deal of the value of the Voter’s packet.

But perhaps you need to look at discouraged voters, people who want to participate, or who have participated in the past but have dropped out, and see why they don’t feel all that great about voting for the Hugos.

One of the typical complaints I’ve seen is that the voters don’t think their vote is effective. Every year they pay their membership, cast their nominations, and feel like they’ve accomplished nothing when nothing they voted for makes it to the ballot. I know that must suck, and the TruFen have certainly gotten a taste of that this year, so I’m sure they understand (Bad Mauser! No Cookie!). They also seem to get disenchanted by the things that do get through that they think are not worthy of the Hugo name. See the previous post for more on that.

The problem is, there are thousands of works published every year, and only five slots per category. And as has been pointed out in many posts about the system, that makes a lot of stuff get lost in the noise. But it also makes the system very vulnerable to small cliques and blocs who can force anything onto the ballot with 10% of the votes (again, a larger electorate makes 10% much harder to achieve). Thus putting factions on the horns of a dilemma, how to keep the other faction out without hurting their own chances. (Okay, I get it, no Cookie, but I’m on a diet!)

Well, forgetting factions, the real problem here is the dilution of the nominating votes. If five hundred things each get a single vote apiece, that’s a significant number of ballots that have no effect on the outcome. No wonder people feel disenfranchised. Some folks are proposing all kinds of complicated formulae for adjusting the cut-off of the asymptotic curve, but they’re trying to fix a dynamic problem with a solution based strictly on their perception of this year’s data. The approach is doomed to fail merely because of its overcomplexity, and it’s only aimed at salving their bruised egos at losing, rather than addressing the basic problems of voters on the fringes.

So, what is my proposal?

The Two Stage nomination process:

Here’s how it works. As before, each supporting member gets a nomination ballot where they can enter five items, unranked, per category. Then, the top twenty-five vote getters are announced as the Nominee Pool. Next the Voters get to vote on which five of those 25 they think should be on the final ballot. And then finally, the ranked, Australian-rules ballot is cast as normal.

Why would this work? First, with regard to slate voting, the best they could take with their five nomination pool slots is five places. Even two competing and opposite slates could only get 2/5 of the slots. Second, with regard to disenfranchised voters, even if all five of their nominees fail to make the pool, they still have a chance to make a difference when it comes to deciding the final five nominees. All the marginal voters are now up for grabs. They are still a part of the process. They may not have gotten the works they want on the ballot, but they’re still involved instead of being shut out. So now, a slate would have to get a majority of the votes to advance itself, rather than the typical 10%.

To be sure, there are fine tuning details to work out. For example, I would lean towards including all the results of a tie in the pool, unless they are single vote getters, or maybe two vote getters, so long as the pool doesn’t get too big. The threshold should be set to keep it between say, 25 and 50.

I’d also suggest making the process electronic only. It allows automating the process, and we’re practically there already, with only three paper votes this year.

The Second Problem

There is one other common Hugo complaint. The best Dramatic Presentation Short Form being all episodes of Doctor Who. I will give the SP campaign props for bringing actual diversity to this category this year. But how can this be accomplished without a slate? Only allow one episode per series? That could get ugly.

My suggestion: Nominate a Series, rather than a specific episode. Not even a Season, since seasons so often span a year end. If a series airs an episode in say, 2016, it is eligible for 2016, regardless of whether it was the last episode of Season 5 or the first episode of Season 6 that tickled someone’s fancy.

What do you think, sirs?

The Missing Narrative

Amid all the back and forth between the Sad Puppies contingent and the Puppy Haters, we’re seeing a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to relate their own experiences with the Hugos, and how it illustrates Larry and Brad’s point. The typical post goes something like this:

“I’ve been reading Science Fiction for (30/40/50) years, and I used to always look for the books that said they were Hugo Award winners on the cover, because they were the best. But then after a while, I started to like them less and less, until now I see the Hugo Award sticker as a warning sign. I never knew that I could have a say in the award before, until I heard about this.

I’ve started enjoying SF less and less over the years, and I’ve been reading less in General. But now I’ve found some new authors, and I’m really enjoying what I’m reading. Write more!”

And that is rather telling. This is your typical Sad Puppy voter, someone who has been disappointed by the politically correct drek put out by the major publishers, who don’t even seem to care that their sales are falling as long as their message gets out. These are not gamers, or fly-by-night political operatives looking to get a shot in at the SJW’s. These are people who care deeply about the genre, and who are just now discovering that they have a voice, and that it’s worth the $40 to them to try and bring it back to greatness.

The Puppy Haters dismiss them at their peril. And they are imperiled. The more they talk about the Sad Puppies having “Gamed” the system (without apparently being conscious of how they supposedly did so) the more they miss out on the most important question. WHY? Brad could have put up his list of recommendations, and perhaps nothing at all could have come of it. But instead, something about the campaign resonated with people. People who love science fiction. People who had given up on voting in the Hugos when their nominations never made it (not knowing about the Cliques and their power-brokering, which was much easier when the electorate was a fifth of the size it is today.) and those who never knew they could vote for what they think is best.

If the Puppy Haters don’t take a moment aside from their reflexive hate and pause to think about where all these people have really come from, they will find themselves even more overwhelmed and cast aside on the ash-heap of irrelevancy.

But they are so un-self-aware that they don’t even notice that when they talk about the great authors and novels that have won the Hugo in the past, the names and titles they rattle off are all the ones that pre-date their influence. They don’t list the people they’ve rewarded for their politics among the greats (And at least in this, they are correct).

2015 Hugos

I suppose, since I’ve been commenting so much elsewhere, I should make an entry here, in a blog that nobody really reads.

My first, and most salient point is, anyone who declares a work to be bad, merely because of whoever else nominated it, or recommended it, without having read it, if they REALLY want to protect the “honor” of the Hugo awards, should recuse themselves from voting. Otherwise they are engaging in exactly the same kind of politics they claim to be wailing against.

Put more bluntly, the Hugo process is that each voter is supposed to read all of the nominees and rank them accordingly, or else abstain from voting. And if at this stage of the game you can’t follow the rules, you have no business participating, let alone complaining about things that are not against the rules.

The Rules for nominating are simple too. Anyone with a membership for last year’s, this year’s, or next year’s WorldCon has the right to nominate up to five works in each category. The fact that anyone posted a list of suggestions is meaningless. It’s like a voting ballot with five blank lines, and every work is a write-in candidate. There have been recommendation lists and suggestions galore in the history of the awards, and there is NO difference between someone plugging a single work for a category or a complete slate. But each nomination ballot is filled out individually, nobody pulls down a single lever labelled “Sad Puppies” or “Rabid Puppies” or “Puppy Free” or “Whatever” and automatically votes a slate.

And the numbers from last year bear this out. If people had been voting a slate, you’d expect the same number of votes to appear for each candidate, from Best Short to Best Novel. It wasn’t even close to that. So accusations of “Bloc” voting are bullshit. As are comparisons to various award-buying campaigns in the past (Two have been mentioned, the trademark being a whole lot of ballots with only one work in one category on them.) It’s easy to tell, because there have been other, more obvious Bloc votes in the past – like for TOR published works in 2008 – that have that characteristic.

A second major point is that if you vote on a basis OTHER than the quality of the work, such as the writer’s politics, race, ethnicity, you are also going against the spirit of the award. Alas, it’s impossible to run the awards in a double-blind experiment, so we have to depend on responsible voters to overlook irrelevant factors. Imagine having Jury Duty, and you’re on a panel where one guy refuses to listen to the evidence, determined to convict someone because he “Looks like a criminal.” Don’t be that guy.

And encourage other people to approach the existing ballot with the proper respect and intent of equanimity. Anyone who says, “I’m going to put every one of those guys on the slate below “No Award” without reading them,” is being at least as bad as they (falsely) claim the one’s promoting the works are.

If you don’t like what’s on the ballot, next year make your preferences known for what you would like. After all, when people complained about the liberal bias of the recent awards, they were told “If you don’t like what’s on the ballot, vote for what you do want.” and they replied, “Challenge Accepted.” (Of course, some folks suggested instead they go away and make their own award, which just shows that their elitism is cranked up to 11.)

ETA: Some people accuse the SP list of being all of the usual “-ists”. “We were making great strides last year to use the Hugos to promote Female/trans/POC writers! How can they oppose this?”

How? The Hugo is supposed to be for the Best Novel/Novella/Novelette/Short Story/etc. not the Best Novel/Novella/Novelette/Short Story/etc. by a Female Genderqueer writer of Color. If you WANT to have an award for that, attend the business meetings a couple of years and get them to add one. It could be analogous to the Campbell award, since that one is directed at an Author. The Hugo is for the WORK, not the creator. And if you really want equality, you have to TREAT the works equally.

Let me re-emphasize that. The Hugo is not about the authors, it’s about the works. Make it about the authors and you’re doing it wrong.

One other point. All Sad Puppies Three was was a LIST. Brad made a single blog post with the names of a bunch of works he thought were worthy. That’s really all it was about. And a whole bunch of people ON THEIR OWN decided to register, and vote, using that list as a guide. It was all individual decisions, made by the voter’s own volition. Attributing any more power to it than that is delusional.

Besides, making the Hugo Electorate bigger and bigger will help make TRUE bloc voting impossible.