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Some Sad Puppy Data Analysis

17 April 2015

From Difficult Run:

The list of fairly big-name outlets covering the 2015 Hugos / Sad Puppies controversy has gotten pretty long, but here’s how you know this is Officially a Big Deal: George R. R. Martin has been in a semi-polite back-and-forth blog argument with the Larry Correia for days. That’s thousands and thousands of words that Mr. Martin has written about this that he could have spent, you know, finishing up the next Game of Thrones book. I think we can officially declare at this point that we have a national crisis.

Martin’s blog posts are a good place to start because his main point thus far has been to rebut the central claim that animates Sad Puppies. To wit: they claim that in recent years the Hugo awards have become increasingly dominated by an insular clique that puts ideological conformity and social back-scratching ahead of merit. While the more shrill voices within the targeted insular clique have responded that Sad Puppies are bunch of racist, sexist bigots, Martin’s more moderate reply has been: Where’s the Beef? Show me some evidence of this cliquish behavior. Larry Correia has responded here.

As these heavyweights have been trading expert opinion, personal stories, and plain old anecdotes, it just so happens that I spent a good portion of the weekend digging into the data to see if I could find any objective evidence for or against the Sad Puppy assertions. It’s been an illuminating experience for me, and I want to share some of what I learned. Let me get in a major caveat up front, however. There’s some interesting data in this blog post, but not enough to conclusively prove the case for or against Sad Puppies. I’m running with it anyway because I hope it will help inform the debate, but this is a blog post, not a submission to Nature. Calibrate your expectations accordingly.

. . . .

Finding 1: Sad Puppies vs. Rabid Puppies

I have been following Sad Puppies off and on since Sad Puppies 2. SP2 was led by Larry Correia, and his basic goal was to prove that if you got an openly conservative author on the Hugo ballot, then the reigning clique would be enraged. For the most part, he proved  his case, although the issue was muddied somewhat by the inclusion of Vox Day on the SP2 slate. Vox Day tends to make everyone enraged (as far as I can tell), and so his presence distorted the results somewhat.

This year Brad Torgersen took over for Sad Puppies 3 with a different agenda. Instead of simply provoking the powers that be, his aim was to break its dominance over the awards by appealing to the middle. For that reason, he went out of his way to include diverse writers on the SP3 slate, including not only conservatives and libertarians, but also liberals, communists, and apolitical writers.

. . . .

Because Torgersen and Correia are more prominent, when I did learn about RP I assumed it was a minor act riding on the coattails of Sad Puppies 3 and little more. For this reason, I was frustrated when the critics of Sad Puppies tended to conflate Torgersen’s moderate-targeted SP3 with Vox Day’s fringe-based RP. But then I started looking at the numbers, and they tell a different story.

The Sad Puppies 3 campaign managed to get 14 of their 17 recommended nominees through to become finalists, for a success rate of 82.4%. Meanwhile, the Rapid Puppies managed to get 18 or 19 of their 20 recommendations through for a success rate of 90-95%.

. . . .
 Finding 2: Gender in Sci-Fi
I put together a table of all the Hugo nominees and winners with their gender. I know that gender isn’t the only diversity issue but it’s the easiest one to find data on. Here’s what I found:


. . . .

[T]he diversity of the early 2010s was not unprecedented. There wasn’t a long, slow, continuous growth of diversity. There were a lot of female nominees in the early 1990s, and this gets omitted from articles that act as though sci-fi had achieved some milestones of diversity for the first time. It’s true that the 2010s were the best yet, but the most important symbolic line was crossed way back in 1992 when 52% (more than half) of the nominees were women. Second, the rebound towards the overall average started last year, not with the 2015 finalists. In 2013 there was an all-time record percentage of female finalists (61%) but in 2014 the numbers had flipped and 62% of the finalists were male. Although Sad Puppies 2 did exist in 2014, it had very little impact and so the rebound towards the status quo cannot reasonably be blamed entirely on SP3 / RP.

. . . .

But the fourth complication is by far the most important one. Back in 2013 a Tor UK editor actually divulged the gender breakdown of the submissions they receive by genre.


. . . .

[I]f you have a situation where men and women are equally talented writers and where men outnumber women 4 to 1 and where the Hugo awards do a good job of reflecting talent, then 80% of the awards going to men is not evidence that the awards are biased or oppressive. It is evidence that they are fair. In that scenario, 80% male nominees is not an outrage. It’s the expected outcome.

Of course this just raises the next question: why is it that men outnumber women 4:1 in science fiction? For that matter, why do women outnumber men 2:1 in the YA category?

Link to the rest at Difficult Run and thanks to Matthew for the tip.


103 Comments to “Some Sad Puppy Data Analysis”

  1. The only real problem I see with the Hugos is that people treat them like some serious SF award, rather than whatever a few folks at Worldcon felt like voting for. There may have been a strong correlation between classic SF stories and Hugo awards in the past, but there clearly isn’t any more. Not to say they’re necessarily all bad, but they’re rarely stories I want to read.

    • It was some time ago but I noticed this as well. I started reading up through the Hugo winners starting with the first one. Some real greats in there in the first few decades.

      You think it’s because the genre has split and expanded and fractured so much or is it something else?

      • My guess is that a lot of the change is due to the Internet. Back when I was at university, SF cons were the easiest way to meet other SF fans, whereas today you can find them all over the Internet. So the Worldcon audience has probably changed significantly over that time, as well as the genre.

      • The genre has expanded and outgrown the “outsider networks” of the pre-STAR WARS era.

        The same thing is happening to superhero fiction as it moves beyond comics into prose and video.

    • I never paid attention to the Hugos because by the time I was old enough to notice them, I’d already been trained by the Newbury et al to translate “award winning” as “tedious slog.”

      I keep seeing people say they were turning away from the genre as of a decade ago, and now with indie books they can finally find stuff they want to read. Tis only a good thing.

  2. I’ve read quite a lot about this controversy, and know one of the nominated folks quite well. Completely apart from the SP/RP politics and personalities, I think we have a disconnect in perspectives. Those who read the more recent nominated work and feel it’s not “good” sometimes think it’s all about pandering to the formerly disenfranchised. But for those of us who happen to BE women, or differently abled, or people of color, etc., suddenly love what we’re reading because — hey, that’s me up there in the intergalactic adventure! Here’s something that floats my spaceship because it resonates with my felt experience. I think some folks don’t get that. We’re not being politically correct — we LIKE THIS STUFF.

    And apparently they don’t.

    I wrote a book about a woman (actually two women) duking it out for the presidency of the United States, which had its genesis back in the Lewinsky era–but I wanted to switch up the gender. In 1998, when I first got the idea, this was a pretty far-fetched notion. I had so much fun imagining how it would feel, as a woman, to run for the presidency.

    I didn’t write it to be PC, but to push the boundaries. Actually, it’s looking like a woman could be a major party candidate one day…

    • Well, now… I’ve been reading this stuff since the mid-60s. I remember when the first wave of female heroes came along, and I had some of the same feelings you describe.

      HOWEVER… Then came the New Wave and the 80s, and the 90s, and I almost stopped reading SFF. The stories were (mostly) boring (the worst of all crimes), tendentious, and full of improbable setups, many of which were oriented to wish-fulfillment of the most tedious variety.

      They failed what I think of as the genre norms http://hollowlands.com/2014/07/why-the-deep-norms-of-the-science-fiction-genre-matter/ . Eric S Raymond is right.

      I find that the superficial pleasures of “ooh, that hero is like ME” are usually overwhelmed by the “oh, god, bad message fiction again” that typically results.

      I’m perfectly willing to read highly diversified characters in highly diversified plots, but the stories have to stand on their own as good stories. Nothing else counts.

      And that’s where the last decade or two have failed in SFF. Thanks goodness for Baen and Indies.

      • The “New Wave” was pretty much limited to the 60s and 70s in SF, and even at the time there was plenty of more traditional SF being read. I read throughout those decades without being limited to New Wave works. There may have been some other trend you ran into in the 80s and 90s that put you off reading in the genre, and that’s a shame. Fiction of any kind that puts message ahead of character and story and good writing will soon enough fall through the cracks of time, whether or not it advances diversity.

        “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” –Samuel Goldwyn

        • While I sometimes feel like blaming the New Wave for the demise of SF-I-liked-to-read, good stories and authors came out of it, too. Perhaps the problem was that, when those authors also faded away, the genre was left floundering until indies could help it recover.

          • Well, when I say I read less, what I meant was it went from, say, 400 SF books/year down to, say, 200. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t plugged into the genre.

            But things really did get worse and worse for great chunks of SF during this period, as per the ESR article I linked above.

      • My feminist SF Romance writer wife also found recent SF non-compelling. I don’t know if it was a matter of too much message writing – just depressing, and lacking in large scale scope I guess.

        SF should induce emotions like wonder and awe, not depression (generally speaking – no rules are absolute). I think there may have been a tendency to try to become too much like literary fiction that way.

      • On. The. Money.

        SF norms exist for a reason (reader expectations) and if they’re violated the reader won’t be pondering how edgy the writing is or how insightful the message is.

        They’ll just feel cheated.

    • So when you saw “we,” do you mean Sarah A. Hoyt as well?

      Not to be snarky — really — but identifying race and gender with one genre style seems wrong to me.

      (And BTW, the difficult part with arguing for or against is that it seems very few people, if any, have read the majority of the books involved, both SP/RP and Hugo candidates/winners. We’re all operating on the assumption that previous Hugo candidates are all unreadable political polemics and the SP/RP are all old-style sci-fi we grew up with. If anyone has seen that kind of breakdown, I’d love to see the link.)

      • I’ve read everything on the top few categories.

        Author’s politics/race/gender/species is an irrelevance, far as I’m concerned. The story has to work, that’s all.

        • Karen: I completely agree that a story has to work. That’s first. I typically don’t know about anybody’s politics, so why would I care? But I think we bump into misunderstandings when Team A thinks Team B only digs a story cause it has a blue-faced female Xenarite in it, and Team B likes the story because they like the story, and so isn’t it cool that it has a blue-faced female Xenarite as the MC?

          And perhaps we become so sensitive that reading a first paragraph starring another blue-face tells some that it’s bad, no good, super stupid writing by those people who ONLY want to write about blue-faces. Just like the real world where we start to polarize because “My kind aren’t getting a slice of the pie (any more) or (ever).”

          Then there’s the larger question about what you do when you discover that an artist is behaving badly in real life. Orson Scott Card? Marion Zimmer Bradley? Miles Davis? Richard Wagner?

          And Bill: Were you talking to me about “we”? I just went over to read what Sarah Hoyt says about this. Yeah, she definitely ain’t my “we.” Until just the other day, I thought Social Justice Warrior was a compliment. I still think it is. Like, making the world as good a place as it can be? Unless, of course, you think we’re there already.

          • Like, making the world as good a place as it can be? Unless, of course, you think we’re there already.

            Unless, of course, you disagree with the social justice warrior’s vision of a good place and how it is to be achieved.

          • I’m pretty sure you don’t mean what you’re saying.

            Marion Zimmer Bradley, a woman who was not only enabling her serial pedophile husband, but who has been revealed to have been a serial pedophile herself who was both sexually and physically abusing kids whom she adopted, fostered, or had around the house —

            — is not exactly the same as Orson Scott Card, a Mormon who says he believes what his church teaches.

          • I didn’t know that about Marion Zimmer Bradley. In fact, I didn’t know anything about her at all. Now I’m horrified. Glad I was never much of a fan of her stories.

      • We’re all operating on the assumption that previous Hugo candidates are all unreadable political polemics and the SP/RP are all old-style sci-fi we grew up with.

        I looked at the Amazon pages for some of the SP/RP books and went ‘meh’… OK, but nothing really grabbed me. But I also read a recent Hugo winner that’s available online when someone posted a link to it, and only managed about three paragraphs before I gave up. So it may be true, but I’m not entirely convinced.

        • Tastes differ, of course. Still, people like Jim Butcher, John S Wright, and Kevin A Anderson are very well known and respected in the field (yes, YMMV).

          On the other hand, last year’s Hugos were notorious, among other things, for a little stinker of a short: “If you were a dinosaur my love”, which is an unintentional parody of everything wrong with message fiction. For something like that to get on the ballot says worlds about how broken things are.

          • Sounds like perhaps you’re not a reader in the genre, then.

            As I said above, I stopped reading much SF in the 2000s, because I had such a hard time finding anything I wanted to read.

            Butcher’s a fantasy writer, isn’t he? I remember watching a couple of episodes of his Dresden Files on TV. And Anderson’s mostly media tie-ins? Though his Wikipedia page mentioned a couple of non-tie-in novels that look interesting.

          • I’m just getting into Jim Butcher. I have no idea how I missed him for so long! I hope he wins. I never read Kevin Anderson; I was suspicious of him writing the Dune novels because I Have Rules about playing in another writer’s sandbox. I have a couple of StoryBundles with him in it; come a rainy day I may get over my bias.

            I like not knowing anything about a writer except “can they tell a good story?”

            I don’t want to have to find myself like Orwell, deciding to admire Dali’s art but thinking he’s disgusting as a human being. Unless they’re selling children into slavery or something, I’d just rather not know.

            ETA — I hate message books. For our first computer, my parents got my brother and me a gold box collection of Advanced D&D. There was a scene at the beginning of a game where a shipwrecked captain greets you and explains his sister is missing. He was black. I was psyched, because it was clear he was not there to be a “message character,” he was just part of the adventure. It was a breath of fresh air for me.

            It suggested to me that whoever wrote the game basically imagined that Denise or Theo Huxtable might play games, too. I tend to hate stories that make A Thing out of a character being black or a woman or so on. Tell a story. A good one where something happens and it matters. Populate it with interesting people. And don’t reserve demographics for Aesops. That’s all I ask.

          • Edward, I misread your post and then realized you were well-read in the genre, at least at one time, and emended my comment. Sorry about that.

            Jamie, someone remarked on something I read that this may be Kevin Anderson’s 125th novel. Don’t know if that’s accurate, but I’d give him a pass on a few works-for-hire.

            Even James Blish wrote Star Trek novels.

          • I actually enjoyed that piece (though I totally read it like prose poetry). Not sure I’d have awarded it anything, but I liked it. Read it on a rec from someone who fell in love with it and couldn’t say why.

          • Robert Forrester

            Jamie, KJA writes good books. I first discovered him when he did Star Wars tie ins, but his own stuff is really good – he’s pretty prolific too 100+ novels. If anything good comes out of this SP thing its that KJA gets the recognition he deserves.

          • For those who want to make up their own minds about “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” — which I just read — you can find it right here: http://www.apex-magazine.com/if-you-were-a-dinosaur-my-love/

            I found it to be a little tiny story that moved me. Surprising and unusual. I can’t compare it to what it was up against, because I didn’t read all of the rest of the stories.

            Again I say that those of us who enjoy these stories are just saying we like what we like. I liked it. There’s a lot of material that I find entirely ridiculous that others love. I don’t begrudge them their taste.

          • Tastes do indeed differ, Karen. I quite liked the story, though it was not told in the more usual and ordinary way most stories are told. And as you also say, “YMMV.”

            So I find it odd that you then proclaim: “For something like that to get on the ballot says worlds about how broken things are.”

            Tastes differ, and all our mileage is likely to vary, and the fact that a story you don’t like made an award ballot may not equate to “things” (missing information here, but I’m quoting you) being broken.

          • Independent of what you did or did not like about that story, just what part of it made it SFF?

          • Okay! THAT’s the information that was missing. You didn’t think it was genre. Thanks for the clarification.

            Fantasy: n. a creation of the imagination, esp a weird or bizarre one.

          • Even James Blish wrote Star Trek novels.

            Oh, I wasn’t intending to insult those writing media tie-ins, I just meant they’re not the kind of books I go looking for. When I think of Anderson, I always think of those books, and didn’t realize he’d also written a bunch of his own.

          • For all the hate, Hate, HATE I have read directed at “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” for all I have seen this story cited as perhaps the pinnacle of “EVERYTHING WRONG WITH THE HUGOS,” I was expecting to loathe this story (cause at heart, I am a rockets and ray-guns kind of guy).

            But, man, really poignant and thoughtful and deeply moving. While a spec fic story in only the most abstract of ways — it was a thought experiment on the part of the narrator, nothing more — it was well worth the read and no more “not spec fic” than some outstanding works by Bradbury or Gaiman or King. Well done.

          • How is “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” touching? It is all about the narrator’s revenge fantasy, which did not happen in the world of the story, for an incident which is not convincingly told, with every added detail making it more clear that the writer does not understand crimewriting or human nature. I seriously doubt that the writer has ever been in a bar, and no explanation is given for rural white supremacists drinking gin.(I kept waiting to find out that the narrator was the murderer, and had tried to frame the locals with such a fake story.)

            Further, one never gets a sense of the narrator’s beloved, or that the narrator even knows this guy. He is a griefpuppet.

            One does get a sense that one has traveled back in time to college, because this is exactly like hearing somebody’s pretentious “poem” being read in a pretentious voice. But since that was not the authorial intent, one does not give ad genre points for it. It is unintentionally humorous, but not funny enough to make that worthwhile, either.

            So it is not sf, not fantasy, needs help to become acceptable mainstream fiction, and is just plain bad. Her friends were cruel to vote it an award, instead of encouraging the writer to edit and rewrite.

            • SuburbanBanshee – I’ve just reread “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”. At no point does it say that the men who brutalized the narrator’s fiancé were either rural or white supremacists.

              For all you know, they could have been urban and black; certainly no one would dispute that all ethnic groups (including mine!) are equally capable of acts of grotesque brutality. The only ethnic groups which the assailants in this story could not be are Arabic (because they used “towel-head” as a slur) and Hispanic (because they used “spic” as a slur).

              Rex Fontaine, I disagree with the notion that it was intended as a metaphor; the sheer amount of detail, and of extrapolated consequence, indicates pretty strongly that we are intended to take it literally (insofar as it’s a fantasy).

              That said, I do agree with you that it’s not really the sort of thing that can be considered “speculative fiction”. It’s a “fantasy story” in that it’s a story based on a revenge fantasy, much like how a story about a Passion play is a “mystery story”. I found it to be prettily written, but not, ultimately, to be close enough to what I want from my Hugo nominees, and thus I ranked it below “No Award” and left it off my ballot.

          • @Bridget McKenna (4/17/2015, 3:26 pm)

            I’m not sure precisely where the line should be drawn about what is and isn’t Fantasy, but it seems to me that the dinosaur story simply involves an elaborate metaphor. If I wrote a story where a wife called her husband a “giant teddy bear,” or where a father referred to his daughter as a “princess who rules her tiny world with fairness and mercy,” even if I expanded upon those metaphors, is that a Fantasy story? I don’t think so. I think the fantastic element has to be real (or, at least, perceived as real by one or more of the characters). All fiction is a “creation of the imagination,” and the terms “weird” and “bizarre” are too ambiguous. Within the definition of fantasy you offered, it seems almost all fiction could fit. I think there are some differences between fantasy, the word, and Fantasy, the genre.

            As always, perhaps I’m missing something. Any thoughts?

          • @Rex FontaineApril 18, 2015 at 11:01 am

            I’m not sure precisely where the line should be drawn about what is and isn’t Fantasy…

            Nailed it in one. I’m not either, and no-one has offered me the job of making that distinction. I’ll agree this isn’t your typical fantasy, but much as the late Damon Knight famously said of science fiction, it very well may be “…what we point to when we say it.”

          • One of my favorite fantasies is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s HOUSE BETWEEN THE WORLDS where, for a good chunk of the story the protagonist isn’t sure if the fantasy world he is visiting is real or just a drug-induced dream.

            Where lies the line indeed, especially with portal fantasies.

          • Bridget,

            Although I don’t know exactly where to draw a strict line, I can be certain about some stories that fall well away from it, regardless of where it’s set. China’s RAT KING and PERDIDO STREET STATION clearly fall into the Fantasy category. Some works will straddle the line, no matter who sets it. But I find Swirsky’s story, which I liked (not great, but good), to be firmly on the other side of the line. I don’t think simple supposition and metaphor, even if they contain fantastic elements, constitute Fantasy. The story is firmly rooted in the horrible reality of the narrator, the very impetus for her wishful thinking. If I included this story in Fantasy, I would have to include almost all fiction, since elaborate metaphor is common. And if so, what is the point of having a Fantasy genre, or any other? I’m not saying the definition must be narrow, but it certainly cannot be all-inclusive.


            I think the story you mention falls within the parameters I suggested, since the character’s experience was realistic enough for him to consider it possibly real. I also assume the reality/hallucination dilemma was the focus of the story. Again, as I mention above, some stories will straddle the line. My main point was that I thought Swirsky’s neither straddled the line nor fell firmly on the Fantasy side of it.

            I appreciate both of you responding. I often enjoy your comments and insights here at TPV. Take care.

          • All apologies to China. I meant KING RAT, not RAT KING.

    • I totally agree. People nominated and voted for Ancillary Justice, Redshirts, If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, Thrones of the Crescent Moon (and note that all of those works are very different from each other), because they genuinely liked them.

      For all those who stopped reading SFF, because they could no longer find books they wanted to read, there are readers coming into the genre who are finally finding books they can enjoy. I also drifted away from SFF in the early 2000s, when it was all singularity stuff. But in recent years, I’ve found a lot more SFF that I personally enjoy. And much of it is trad-pubbed, though there is good indie SF as well.

      I understand the frustration of your favourite genre moving away from what you enjoy. I’m currently experiencing that with romance, since the romance genre is moving more and more towards new adult drama llama stuff I don’t enjoy at all.

      But attacking those who enjoy something else than you is not the answer.

  3. This is the data that I wanted to know. In fact, it’s what I suspected. Free will is a powerful force.

    On the other hand, how much is submission based on history? If you look at indie urban fantasy, that’s dominated by women. And certainly indie romance/lust fantasy is dominated by women. If SF were to develop female led genres, would those numbers continue to be skewed?

    • To be fair, there are more than a few men writing those genres in drag. Just as many women used to think they had to use male names to sell SF stories, many men think they have to use female names to sell romance-y stories.

    • There’s also SF romance. Relatively tiny yet, but dominated by women (at least if you go by names). And of course J.D. Robb sells millions of her in Death-series which is SF.

      I’m in a facebook group dedicated to SF romance and would say it’s 2/3 women and 1/3 men.

      Neither SF romance or Fantasy romance are something the “hardcore” fans (left, right, or middle) are really willing to acknowledge. There’s a reason why you’ll never see the really big names (J.D. Robb, J.R. Ward, Nalini Singh, etc.) on the ballots for a Hugo or Nebula.

      Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder what woud happen if someone every got the idea to do something like Sad Puppies but with the focus on all the ignorred SFF Romnace writers? Considering how huge their readership is they would probably take over completely. 😀

      • Paranormal romance is romance, not SF. (They’re about the relationship, not about the world or about ideas.)

        The J.D. Robb books are mystery/romance.

        In both cases if you take out the “sf” setting you still have a story. The quickest test of whether a story is SF is whether the story collapses without the scientific element.

        For a real SF mystery check out THE DEMOLISHED MAN or THE CAVES OF STEEL. Take out the espers in the former or the human/robot angle in the latter and you don’t have a story.

        • I doubt many paranormal romance authors consider their work SF. They are, however, fantasy in addition to romance, or even, I suppose, fantasy first and romance second.

          • Right.
            They know exactly what they’re doing; writing romance in an exotic setting. I’ve no problem with that.
            (They’re not all fantasy, though; I’ve seen a few using SF settings, like colony worlds. A few I’ve read use superhero tropes.)

        • Hm, you could take the fantasy setting out of the Hobbit and you would still have a story (something fanfiction writers have done). Does that mean it’s not Fantasy?

          You could, in theory, take the SF elements out of the Miles Vorkosigan books and you would still have a story, because the stories are mostly about Miles experiences and his growth.

          That explanation is a bit too symplistic for my taste.

          I recently published a short-story where I had a hell of a time deciding into which cateories I should put it. At the core was the relationship (dwarf and sorceress) but the setting was High Fantasy and it’s part of a larger mythology. Romance? Fantasy? Fantasy Romance? High Fantasy?

          I think when it comes to SF/F romance we’re really moving in one of those grey areas where the borders blurr a lot, especially when it comes to Urban Fantasy which is very often confused and/or mixed together with Paranormal Romance.

          I’ve read stories (both SF and Fantasy) that where sold as Romance and yes, the center was a romantic relationship but there was also a lot of world-building including different races and other topics adresses aside from the romantic relationship, especially in the books that had a human/non-human relationship at its core. Star Trek fandom actually produced a number of beautiful Sarek/Amanda-stories.

          It angers a lot of the SF/F Romance writers that they are so often dismissed as not writing SF/F. A lot of them are longtime SF and/or Fantasy readers and fans. They see themselves as writing Fantasy and Romance (or SF and Romance). That dismissive attitude is why most of them are doing their own thing and staying away from the SF/F-cumminity.

          • It angers a lot of the SF/F Romance writers that they are so often dismissed as not writing SF/F.

            And a lot of readers are angered when their genre is flooded with novels where the romance is the core of the story, and their genre just a setting. All those Twilight clones on the Horror shelves at my local book store, for example.

            I think part of the problem is that current genre categorisation is really poor at telling you what kind of book you’re looking at. For example, there’s no easy way to quickly distinguish between an SF book that has romance in it, and a romance book that just has spaceships in it, and filter out the ones you’re not looking for.

          • Edward, I’m kind of in the “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” camp. I read in several genres, but I don’t expect to be consulted if someone publishes books and calls them SF, Fantasy, Mystery/Crime, or what have you, and I might not agree. Readers (like you, like me) can choose to read or not, as always. But anger?

          • I went to the local book store last time I was in the area, I went to the Horror shelf looking for Horror books to read, and all I found were a couple of Stephen King novels and about a thousand Twilight clones.

            I didn’t exactly reach anger, but I was certainly annoyed. Yeah, I could ‘not read’ those books, but how could I read the books I wanted to read, when their spots on the shelf were taken up by books that shouldn’t be there?

            I’ve seen many people online saying that Amazon’s best-seller lists are useless these days, because they’re flooded with Romance novels that don’t belong in their genre. That’s annoying, when the lists are supposed to help you find books you want to read, but they’re full of books the people reading that genre don’t want to read.

          • Not really.
            The Vorkosigan books are built around a (typically) bioscience idea and the human interactions are wrapped around them.

            MOUNTAINS OF MOURNING doesn’t work without the Cetagandan War leading to the culture of mutie hate. CRYOBURN is about the consequences of cryogenic freezing and eventual restoration of the terminally ill. Even CIVIL CAMPAIGN is steeped in genetic engineering and biomedicine. Take out the bugs and Lord Doro and there goes half the plot and all the charm. And Barrayar itself is a science fiction concept in itself, a partially terraformed world, scarred by conquest and nuclear war.

            As for the Hobbit, remember I said SF, not fantasy.
            Fantasy is free form. Anything goes, so long as it is self-consistent.
            And yet, take out all the fantasy out of the Hobbit?
            What is left if you take out magic, hobbits, elves, dragons, etc?
            A stroll through a forest for no special reason?

          • A stroll through a forest for no special reason?

            It’s years since I last watched the movie, but I’d say something like Goonies isn’t far from a modern (ok, 80s) Hobbit plot-wise: kids go off on a dangerous journey to steal treasure so they can pay for their parents to keep their house.

            Whereas I can’t really see how a novel like Dragon’s Egg could work without the SF. Maybe in Fantasy, with an anthropologist finding a tribe who live a thousand times faster than humans, but that would just be replacing science with magic. I guess Girl In The Golden Atom would be the Romance version, though I don’t remember whether it had an HEA ending.

          • It angers a lot of the SF/F Romance writers that they are so often dismissed as not writing SF/F.

            Genre labels often frustrate writers, and readers. I know, for me, some of the most romantic books and movies I’ve ever read or seen aren’t considered Romance because whenever a Boy meets a Girl they obviously live Happily Ever After.

          • Annoyed I absolutely get, Edward!

      • I think it would be a healthy thing for sf/f romance to get more credit and crossover. And yes, it’s pretty obvious that the romance fans have the “pure” sf/f fans vastly outnumbered, so it would be pretty darned funny, too.

        (Before everybody got all these sticks up their butts, it was normal for sf/f fandom to be full of bizarre stunts, hoaxes, campaigns, and achievements, run by curmudgeons and crazy people of all sorts. Making your mark and your point by doing something bizarre was a desirable thing, not an unforgivable offense against all things fannish.)

        • Heads would explode all over the place. 😀

        • Oh, I agree that SF (especially space opera and adventure SF) can learn a lot from romance. Traditionally, relationships have been the weakest part of most SF stories. SKYLARK and LENSMEN are brilliant on the idea and plot sides but the relationships? Uhnn…

          Some of the greatest SF stories are great precisely because the characters have great relationships. Probably the best example of a great idea SF story with a great central relationship is Poul Anderson’s TAU ZERO. Asimov’s END OF ETERNITY climax is all about romance and emotion versus cold sterile logic; gambling on love versus playing it safe for the fate of the entire universe. James P. Hogan’s THRICE UPON A TIME is about time travel and altering the past, but it is also about boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy maybe gets girl…

          SF is the literature of ideas. But ideas can be explored/illustrated through the instrument of romance. There’s room for both in a story, so long as the rules of both are followed. Otherwise, you get a chimera; something that is neither fish nor fowl.

          • Felix, I’m replying here because I can’t further above.

            Hobbit without the magic = a family trying to regain its inheritance. A young man challenging himself and learning how to move beyond his restrictive, peaceful life. Learning that he can be a hero. The “hero’s journey” works in many genres including contemporary fiction. Or thriller.

            Smaug aquires Arkenstone Inc. in a hostile take-over. The Durin family not only lose their company but also their ancestral home Erebor Hall. Twenty years later after the murder of patriach Thror by the mercenary Azog and the disappearance of Thrain, former SAS Thorin gathers some friends and a few mercenaries around him to reclaim his inheritance.
            Mysterious mover and shaker Gandalf (think Blacklist Reddington) promises him the help of an extraordinary hacker in the form of Bilbo Baggins. And the adventure can begin :-D.

          • Dang, Daniela, that’s a book I’d read. Go write it!

          • But that is not what the Hobbit is really about.
            That is just a transliteration of the plot. Like making THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN out of THE SEVEN SAMURAI.

            THE HOBBIT isn’t about the journey, it is about the things they (and the reader) experience along the way. It is about the fantasy. Take out the Fantasy and you get a Hallmark movie about a young boy’s journey to claim an inheritance. It’s been done. And I doubt they were thinking “Hobbit” when they did it.

      • Paranormal and SF romance are absolutely part of SFF. It’s okay if you don’t enjoy those subgenres, but that doesn’t make them any less SFF.

        If these campaigns actually wanted to put bestselling but ignored SFF writers on the Hugo ballot, they might have focussed on names like J.D. Robb, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, J.R. Ward, Diana Gabaldon, Nalini Singh, etc… Because those are the bestselling SFF writers who are really overlooked.

        • That’s like saying a MilSF novel is part of Romance if it has a romance in the plot, even though the heroine dies at the end after spending most of the book fighting aliens.

          There are plenty of SF stories with romance in them, but it’s not the main plot, the SF is; I have one of those on my phone right now. If the romance is the main plot, and it just has spaceships as a backdrop, it’s no more SF than that MilSF story is Romance (or Twilight is Horror just because it has vampires).

          Heck, many of my stories have romances in them, but, if I put them in Romance, the readers would all be complaining that one of the couple gets eaten by monsters/killed by Soviet soldiers/tosses the other out of an airship instead of living happily ever after.

          All that said, I’d have a hard time telling you what genre Aliens is. It has sci-fi elements, it has a romance with a happy ending, it’s a war movie, and it has horror. None of them really seem to overwhelm the others. Some stories just aren’t easy to categorize.

          • One of my tests is world-building. Which is why, often, early books in a Romance Fantasy/SF series work for me and later ones don’t. But I could sell Wen Spencer’s Elfhome series as paranormal romance pretty easily. And I don’t think the Assassin’s Guild series by Rusch is any less SF.

            The In death series, for me, illustrates the point. There’s a lot of worldbuilding (or, say, murders on space stations) early on that gets lost afterwards.

            Take care.

          • Aliens is *good* combat SF.
            Try the removal test: take out the romance, take out the gross out reproduction methods, and what’s left? Military SF not unlike any of the ALDENATA stories.
            Now, the first ALIEN was pure survival horror and the rest of them just a mess but ALIENS is probably the best combat SF movie to date.

            It’s not hard to classify even good cross-genre:just focus on what dominates the narrative. If the bulk of the movie is combat focused then that is what the movie is about:space marines vs monsters.

      • Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder what woud happen if someone every got the idea to do something like Sad Puppies but with the focus on all the ignorred SFF Romnace writers? Considering how huge their readership is they would probably take over completely. 😀

        Go ahead. I didn’t like these past 2 years Robb enough (and I have a bone with the publisher, but that’s another story), but, sure; I’d likely vote for it.

        Personally, there’s a series I want to push next year. Last book in the series will be published next June. AFAIK, the writer hasn’t won a Hugo for a while. Thing is, she’s not in a big house. Might even be indie.

        Take care.

  4. There were a lot of female nominees in the early 1990s, and this gets omitted from articles that act as though sci-fi had achieved some milestones of diversity for the first time.

    I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of rewriting history when there are still people around who know better. I once did a vote count on civil rights bills in the 60s, and saw that if aliens had come along and zapped the Republicans, no civil rights laws gets passed for black people.

    Yet now they’re spoken of as if they were Democrats — i.e., Klansman, Bull Connor, etc. One of the Little Rock Nine wrote a memoir about her experience, and she mentioned which party her family voted for. It was the one with the elephant. Because, duh.

    I guess I never expected to see that we have always been at war with Eastasia on matters outside of politics. Especially with Google and the Internet to route around censorship and/or stupidity. Why believe that women were never up for awards in sci-fi until five minutes ago? Were Lois McMaster Bujold, CJ Cherryh, Joan D. Vinge, Connie Willis etc. insufficiently female or something?

    I’m curious about the process of flipping to “always at war with Eastasia,” because last week I watched Entertainment Weekly et al claim that “sad puppies” are racist and only like white men, when their nominees belied the claim. EW was forced to retract and make a strange excuse for their incompetence.

    The story was so poorly sourced — that is, not sourced at all — that I wondered if the reporter was an intern who only took up journalism because “math is hard!” I had some people like that in my j-classes. They weren’t curious, weren’t inquisitive, and they knew too little. I wondered where they would end up, professionally.

    Apparently, the answer is Entertainment Weekly.

    Or, maybe Isabella Beidenharn isn’t the the dimbulb she seems to be, maybe she’s just a shameless minion of a new Journolist. Until I saw her article and the others (e.g., the Telegraph, which has since been cleaned up) at the same time, mindlessly reciting the same script, I wasn’t interested in the Hugos at all. Now, I’m just going to get out the popcorn and wait for the screaming to start. I’ve got the earplugs ready.

    • I know someone at EW and it’s a mixed bag over there: folks who love the genre (of both genders though there’s a cultural attitude of overlooking the obvious female fans in their midst) and those who are phoning it in.

    • Yeah, it’s kind of hilarious (in a sad way) to hear people accuse Brad Torgersen of being a white supremacist when his wife is black and his children are biracial.

  5. I keep hearing about people who used to read a lot of SF a couple of decades ago but don’t any more. Personally, I only started reading much in the genre five years ago and I love all the contemporary stuff. I’ve read some older stories as well and while some of it is great, I generally prefer the newer stories to older ones. I wonder how much of the change in voting patterns is because people like me started voting and the other people dropped off.

    • I went about 15 years without buying (hardly any) contemporary SF around the 90’s. I used the time to delve deeply into the classics of the genre from the 50’s to the 70’s.

      I only returned to sample modern authors in the ebook era and even there I mostly skip new releases (other than the BAEN Webscriptions). If the book still has buzz after a decade it might be worth my attention. 😉

      Of course, I also gave up on all BPH titles in 2010. Which is another reason I don’t care about the Hugo catfight. 🙂

    • I think the changing readership demographics of SFF are at the root of this conflict. Because there is a new readership coming in with different tastes.

      • Is there reason to consider the Hugo voters representative of the demographic range of readers?

      • Nope. The demographics of SFF changed long ago. What’s coming is, I think, the fandom equivalent to the rest of 2.0 revolutions these past years. People who’ve been watching for too long from the outsides jumping in at the opportunity some not-quite-insider pushes.

        Basically, the same is happening in politics all over Europe right now. While I really don’t like some of the new parties, and I distrust most of the rest, the point is about the same. The establishment has become too distant.

        We’ll see. Take care.

        • Exactly.
          It is battle of orthodoxies that think they speak for the masses when the masses barely know who the heck they are, if at all. They’re goldfish in a bowl that think they are kings of the ocean.

        • Oh boy, I really hope that fandom doesn’t go the way of Europe. Because that would be baaad news.

          • Well, it can go Occupy Wall Street, if you prefer. Or the early Tea Parties. Or the Arab Spring.

            The basics are the same. It’s a wake up call, “you’re not keeping up”. It’s been pretty obvious, here (Spain), for the last 11 years, at least, and yet those “up there” manage to misunderstand it time and again. And people are mostly out of mainstream options. They’ve tried them, they didn’t work.

            Take care.

  6. George R. R. Martin’s posts on the subject were very good. I recommend reading them.

  7. Re: the interesting Tor submissions inbox stats —

    These were people who actually bothered to submit to Tor’s UK slushpile, in 2013. So really, these were the stats by genre for people:

    1. Without an agent.

    2. Without the knowhow to go indie.

    3. Who didn’t mind not hearing back for months or years.

    But yes, I believe that in general, one doesn’t get absolute mathematical statistical sameness because not everyone writes the same things in the same proportions.

    • One thing that these submission statistics cannot cover is how many women might have been discouraged early on by being told that what they write isn’t proper SFF (I got this for years and it nearly killed my SFF writing drive, though I love the genre). Or maybe they were redirected towards genres like romance or YA which are friendlier towards female authors.

      • If you want readers, obviously romance is where the sales have been, because it is where the eyes are. A lot of men redirected themselves to romance, too.

        But yeah, a lot of editors in all genres have discouraged all sorts of people from writing innovative stuff. Apparently, discouragement is meat and drink to gatekeepers.

      • Agree. The stats also don’t show how many wonmen were encouragd to submit SF because women authors were under represented, and how many men were encouraged to switch to thrillers because they were over represented in SF.

        There are lots of things the stats don’t show.

        So what can we learn from what stats don’t show?

  8. I had hoped that PG would post this, but I guess he’s not going to.

    Eric Flint has the best breakdown I’ve read yet of just what is really wrong with the Hugos and why.

    • I just read that – guided there by Facebook 😉 – and found it thoughtful and sensible. Definitely worth the read.

    • I just fell in love with Eric Flint, and I want to have his babies.

      Via IVF of a surrogate, of course, because that’s more fantasy. Or sci-fi. Or maybe it’s romance.

    • I follow Mr. Flint and I missed that one.

      Thanks. Take care

      • Okay. Read.

        Some qualms. First, as I recall last years campaign, the main thrust was “popular writers are not getting the awards because of political bias”. Apparently, people are concentrating on the second part of the sentence. My focus in on the first.

        That Brust, Butcher, Pratchett (not until Going postal? Have we gone there ourselves?) et al haven’t even been considered for the award is insulting. That certain circle stimulation inbred stories have won it is a disgrace (I’m thinking of a specific award these last years; a story with winks to the fandom but not much in ideas NOR storytelling; might have made a decent short).

        I’d like to see GenCon raise a new award. The eligible voting population alone would make that award interesting, and likely less prone to punctual bias. Best short (less than 80k?), novel, shared universe and series (as in being serial, not parallel), 2 years rolling (like the Campbell), to give some space.

        What? I read Fantasy, I can hope for wish fulfilment!

        Take care.

        • If its the one I’m thinking of, it started as a joke pretty much. And it is one of three awarded titles by the same BPH tradpub in four years which, considering how big the field is, speaks to Flint’s point about cover artists.

          • BPH? Big Publishing House? Likely. I didn’t read much by them before (ebooks were way too expensive; hardcopies meant overseas amazon). And, with time, they managed to insult me pretty directly (as a reader) way too often on their site. “It’s something separate” is not what I’d call an excuse. You don’t insult your customers. Period.

            I understand the book I’m thinking of as a joke, I may understand starting the nomination as a joke. If it was given as a joke, then you can’t be surprised if some people get angry that “the prize’s become a joke”. If it _wasn’t_ given as a joke… Ouch!

            Mind you, that same house still has several titles in the current ballot.

            Take care.

    • Yowza.

      He nailed it and welded it and painted it fire-engine red so nobody could miss it. Got the dates right and provided the evidence for an open and shut ruling from the court.

      He went right to the heart of the matter: the problem isn’t the authors but rather the process, which is what makes the awards irrelevant.

      • Robert Forrester

        Completely agree. Flint nailed it. The problem with the Hugos is that it has been riding on the coat tails of history for too long. When Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein et al were winning awards, SF was much smaller and they were giants in their field, often both the best selling and most lauded. Now, Sf is much bigger, but a small bubble of people at World Con decide on an award that includes only people within that bubble. They hold onto the belief that winning a Hugo elevates an author to the same status as the previous winners, the Clarkes, Heinleins etc, but it doesn’t, those authors were great because of what they wrote, not what they won.

        • Uh-huh.
          It is isn’t just that the audience is bigger because of the mainstreaming of SF after STAR TREK hit syndication and STAR WARS’ toy marketing machine raised a generation, going on two, of space opera and space fantasy fans.

          It’s that in the olden days, alternate history was maybe three stories total; cyberpunk maybe two, steampunk was just a Moorcock trilogy, and military SF was STARSHIP TROOPERS, DORSAI, FOREVER WAR, and Jerry Pournelle. Space Opera was a fading memory. Techno-thrillers was THRONE OF SATURN, THE FIRST TEAM, and the odd spy thriller. These days all those are established and healthy sub-genres in their own right and in any given year any one of them might offer up more titles than the entire field did in a year in the 60’s.

          That kind of success not only brings bandwagon chasers trying to cash in, but it also strips away the gatekeeper power the establishment evangelists used to wield.

          Just another form of disintermediation, really.

      • “He nailed it and welded it and painted it fire-engine red”

        Well, he’s a machinist. Mayhaps out of practice, but…

        Take care.

  9. You know, as a lifelong SFF reader (mostly F, but also SF) I’d heard of the Hugos many years ago, but it wasn’t until this whole Sad Puppies kerfuffle that I realized they were tied to Worldcon. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of Worldcon until a few years ago. That strikes me as, in this day and age, a major problem with the award. The vast, VAST majority of SFF readers will NEVER go to a con in their lives. If this is supposed to be an award given by SFF “fandom”, well, fandom is now online.

    I think if the Hugos want to stay relevant, they need to be separated from Worldcon. (Sorry, Mr. Martin, I know the whole history and legacy is very important to you, but isn’t SF all about the future?) If the Hugos want to have a future, they need to connect to SFF’s current fandom both in the “real world”, but not just at one con, and online. And Mr. Flint makes a great point that the yearly time frame is probably way too restricting. And if the amount of SFF literature being published has dramatically increased, how does it make any sense to keep giving the same few outdated award categories year after year?

    Make the Hugos a BIG thing every, say, 5 years (or whatever), and YES! Expand the literary categories. Have awards based on both genre and subgenre and whether the work is standalone or series. Maybe an award for finished series. Have a “short form” (short stories, novelettes and novellas) and “long form” (short novels and long novels) version for each. Then, expand the voter base way beyong Worldcon. Include as many cons from around the world that deal with SFF lit as possible. And establish an online membership with a big forum where everyone who pays the membership fee can come and discuss the field and who to nominate and who to vote for. That’s what I would do.

  10. Al the Great and Powerful

    Or maybe you can start a NEW award, for your World Fandom, and stop mucking about with history.

  11. doesnt the conclusion have to be based on how many women write publishable stories and how many men write same/ all in same field? Meaning is the proportion of men higher based on preferences of editors, or?

    Whole thing gives me an eyeache. My pen names are male and female. When I win an award and my name and gender dont match, do I have to dress up as Victor or Victoria in order not to scandalize or not skew the current conclusions about how many of x vs how many of y are ably represented??

    • Just claim to mentally be one of those ‘herms’ or hermaphrodites types. You write female when you’re feeling your heat coming on, and male while in a rutting kind of mood … 😛


      If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts. — Albert Einstein

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