On the eve of Worldcon 75, an unpleasant-looking controversy is brewing back in the U.S. over another convention-based awards series that stemmed from concerns over the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Dragon Con‘s second annual Dragon Awards is attracting attention – and flak – after one writer withdrew his nominated title owing to its promotion by Sad/Rabid Puppies activists, and another writer was not allowed to withdraw when she sought to pull her nominated title for the same reason.
John Scalzi has already blogged at length about his decision to withdraw from contention. “The other day I announced The Collapsing Empire was a finalist for the Dragon Award in the Best Science Fiction novel category, which was neat. Today, I notified the Dragon Award administrators and let them know I was withdrawing The Collapsing Empire from consideration for the award. The reason is simple: Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop, to advance a manufactured ‘us vs. them’ vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever… this bullshit is even more stale and stupid now than it was the several other times it was attempted recently.”
Apparently, the Dragon Con organizers didn’t have any issue with Scalzi’s decision. However, when Alison Littlewood attempted to withdraw The Hidden People on similar grounds, she got a different response.
“I have contacted the Dragon Awards administrators to request that my nomination for The Hidden People be withdrawn,” she blogged. “The book has been selected as part of a voting slate by a member of the ‘Rabid Puppies’ voting bloc, which I feel may have undue influence over the awards outcome. I have no connection with the Rabid Puppies and have no wish to benefit from any kind of interference in the voting process.”
She then quoted the reply she received from Pat Henry, President of Dragon Con. The reply began: “While I appreciate your sense of fair play, I must decline your request to remove The Hidden People from the Dragon Award Nominations. We are aware of the rabid puppies and justice warriors efforts to effect the voting and we go through a number of steps to avoid ballot stuffing or other vote rigging behaviors. While we didn’t start the Dragon Awards to foil these two groups, we believe that as we add voters, they will become irrelevant in the our awards.”
Now I have no idea what the precise rules are for Dragon Con Awards nominations, but it strikes me as discourteous, to say the very least, to disallow an author from withdrawing their work. It’s the kind of action that could induce some authors of any ideological stripe to boycott the awards on principle. Scalzi blogged earlier that “the problem is not with the Dragon Awards or their administrators, the latter of whom have been unfailingly gracious in my communications with them.” After Alison Littlewood’s experience, though, I do have to wonder about that.
There’s another more worrying aspect to the reply, though. Admittedly, Pat Henry appears to have been writing in haste, and may not have considered every point of his reply. But to bracket “rabid puppies and justice warriors” together as equivalent? That strikes me as – to put it very politely – naive.
Simply, I’m not aware of any concerted campaign of “ballot stuffing or other vote rigging behaviors” by “justice warriors” in an organized attempt to influence the outcome of genre fiction awards – let alone one that could merit a monicker like the Sad/Rabid Puppies. And to imply that there is one buys into exactly the kind of exclusionist argument that the Puppies used to justify their campaigns in the first place. Scalzi described the Puppies’ agenda, correctly IMHO, as “a manufactured ‘us vs. them’ vote-pumping narrative based on ideology .” Pat Henry appears to maintain that there are “two groups” doing exactly that, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. That’s not an assessment that I’ve come across anywhere outside the minds, and manifestos, of the Puppies.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty more evidence that the Sad/Rabid Puppies take the establishment of the Dragon Awards as endorsement of their narrative. Yes, prominent Puppy Larry Correia is entitled to enthuse that his work is a finalist in the Awards, which implies nothing about the nature of the Awards themselves. But the Awards are specifically promoted as “by the fans, for the fans,” with “no qualification for voting – no convention fees or other memberships are needed.”
That’s a legitimate position to take against the voting arrangements for the Hugos and Nebulas, but it’s rather undermined when that position is taken in the immediate aftermath of the Sad/Rabid Puppies controversy. And many, many sources and genre participants have taken the view that, as The Verge put it, “given the nature of this award’s selection process, and the heated environment from which it came, this award could have easily been dismissed as an attempt for disgruntled fans to create their own award.” And you don’t have to dissent from the Sad/Rabid Puppies’ ideological leanings to feel that their actions have done a huge amount to undermine genre awards – as appears to be happening now with the Dragon Awards.
Given all of the above, it’s also probably helpful not to sign up to the narrative of one party when you’re trying to position your platform as an impartial objective forum driven purely by the enthusiasm of the fanbase. And that’s even without considering the refusal to allow an author to withdraw their work. Sadly, it looks like the Dragon Awards series is going to have to spread its wings pretty wide to surmount this kind of controversy.
UPDATE: As of Thursday August 10th, Dragon Con has reconsidered its decision about Alison Littlewood’s book, according to the author, and is now allowing her to withdraw it from contention. I’ve left the article text above unaltered, however, to preserve the original reactions to the administrators’ decision – as well as the appended statements that raised many questions about the Dragon Awards organizers’ approach and views.