I can safely say that Walter Farley and his Black Stallion books crossed me into the Sci-Fi world. Specifically The Island Stallion and if you’ve read it, you already know what I mean. To keep this brief, the book most definitely falls out of YA horse-and-his-boy stories and right into Science Fiction, what with the shape-shifting aliens taking a horse and his boy to a race via spaceship. Looking back on this, Mr. Farley seems to have wanted to write something other than YA horse books but got pigeon holed.
After reading The Island Stallion, I became hungry for more “spacey” stories. I’d grown up on Star Trek, been suckered into loving Star Wars, and had a crush on Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, but the ideas put forth in this ridiculous horse book’s storyline captured my imagination. I really needed more.
After reading The Island Stallion I came across a book (I’m not sure where, either from a bookstore or my father’s collection) and printed on the cover in a yellow starburst were the words “Hugo Award Winner.” I was probably eleven or twelve at the time, I didn’t know anything about the award, but it struck me, “Wow, this book must be a pretty big deal.” The book was Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I devoured it. I devoured Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. The Sci-Fi had me.
Not long after, I read my father’s copy of Ender’s Game. It also had that starburst with “Hugo Award Winner” on the cover. The book amazed me. I didn’t understand everything, but I couldn’t stop reading. Then I read Speaker for the Dead (another Hugo winner) and my understanding of the universe changed. Just like that.
A Hugo winner from that point on signified “Awesome” to me. Seeing those words “Hugo Award Winner” indicated that what I was about to read was worth my time, would make me think, and I would be thankful to the author whose work I read. I was young, and apparently extremely naive.
As with our government, there are politics in the Hugo world, and in both places it ruins everything.
I haven’t read a Hugo winner in some time. (This is not the fault of the current award climate. I’m a slow reader with a long list to get to.) But until this year, I would have put a Hugo winner on my “to read” list without hesitation. I can’t anymore. Following the debate back and forth over the various “Puppies” campaigns and seeing the final outcome of the 2015 awards where five categories get stamped with “No Award” makes me sit back and wonder why would I bother?
I have been a voting member of the awards (the wife and I attended WorldCon in 2009,) and I remember seeing the list of nominees when we got there and going “Shit, there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to read any of these before we vote.” I put down a lot of “no opinion” or I simply did not vote in various categories. When I did vote, it was for something I had managed to read or watch before the event. (I specifically recall three Doctor Who nominations. I voted for Paul Cornell, but Steven Moffat won. Paul was robbed IMO, and I told him so.) Of course, in my myopic view of the process, I assumed everyone did it this way. If you hadn’t read or watched something, you had no opinion and you voted that or didn’t vote.
Fast forward several years. The Puppies abound. The Puppies succeed in getting their slate on a ballot. This causes an uproar.
I’ve listened all year to arguments on both sides of the Puppies dilemma. If you listen to either side, both have reasonable arguments for why the other side has damaged the Hugo process. Of course, the arguments were only posturing to force an outcome. The interesting part is that both sides think they won, but only the Puppies did.
The Puppies primary stated contention is that the Hugos have become a clique that votes for just the “right sort” of author, and that the clique will band together to push forward those authors who “right think,” or at the least appear to fall within the acceptable political trappings. The Puppies were able to finally bring about a no-lose situation.
Because the Puppies succeeded in getting their slate nominated, the confrontation became inevitable. The clique was forced to choose: either honor all nominees with respect, read all the nominated works, then vote for those they thought worthy; OR block vote against the slate with “No Award.” No matter which path was taken, the Puppies would score points. Either someone from their slate wins in an honest fair vote, or the clique proves the Puppies primary contention is true: that the Hugos have been subtly rigged for years.
Keep in mind, no rules were broken in the nomination process. All nominees, Puppies slate or otherwise, were nominated in the traditional way. People bought memberships to nominate and that’s how it’s always been done. Setting slates has been strongly discouraged, but not outlawed.
That said, I’ve never liked people who jockey rules to manipulate an outcome. The Puppies have a legitimate gripe, but they could have tried harder to find a different way to work within the system and not break the Hugos. I find their methods too brutal, and extremely wanting. At the same time, those unnamed and/or unknown people, the clique that caused the Hugo results this year, are just as much at fault, because they showed their hand and showed that we cannot trust several years of Hugo outcomes. If I knew who they were, I would demand an apology from each one to be made to the true losers, the authors and editors whom they dishonored in this process. Neither side is above board and honest. Both are contemptable.
So, here I am looking at five “No Award” recipients for the Hugos this year. In one year, the numbers of “No Award” given doubled. The clique, “the powers that be” if you will, proved the Puppies’ point for them. In doing so, they also proved that a racist misogynist WAS NOT WRONG. I wonder how they plan to deal with that outcome.
Sadly, I know how I must deal with this situation. I can’t trust the Hugo anymore. I can’t tell from “Hugo Award Winner” whether that brand is there because one politically like-minded group or another manipulated a vote, or if the voters cared to do right by the nominees, perform due diligence and vet the works, and make an honest choice. I can’t know anymore whether that gleaming rocket got to the right person. I guess I never really knew.