Gaming the System

This blog post is about the current Hugo Award Nominees LeCompton Constitution in Kansas in 1856.

I’ve heard it said that the slave power “gamed the system” and that this is wrong. I say that’s nonsense. Sure, they stuffed the ballot boxes–but how is that any different from what the free state supporters did? How is stuffing ballot boxes any different from trying to convince people to vote your way? Look how many new voters the slave power brought into the political process. I say the free state supporters are just elitists and poor losers.

(Note for the humor impaired: I don’t really say that.)

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47 thoughts on “Gaming the System”

  1. A look at the numbers of voters this year and last year does not suggest anyone stuffed ballots.

  2. You shouldn’t let your ballots get stuffed, they’ll gain too much weight that way.

    You should make sure to only feed them a small amount of food at each meal… and never after midnight… (timezone of midnight not specified…)

  3. I think the difference between promoting works and pushing a slate is similar to the difference between publicly stating one isn’t going to see a hollywood film and exhorting one’s followers to boycott it. If you state your opinion, knowing you have followers who will agree, that’s one thing, but asking them to take an action because you say so, in order to hurt someone else’s artistic career because you disagree with them, is icky. Inviting in border ruffians and then pretending you’re trying to encourage new voters, is just crass.

  4. There’s also a difference between going to a bookstore and making sure your own books are prominently placed on the shelf and burning everyone else’s books :)

  5. Well put, Miramon. Well, I suppose it would be more precise to say pushed off the shelves rather than burned. But your point is valid.

  6. Out of curiosity, did anyone criticize anyone else’s public list of books that they hoped people would vote for?

    And I gotta note that the Puppies didn’t burn any books. They didn’t even promote books that were only by conservatives, or only by white men. Their choices may not generally be to my taste, but that’s popular awards for you.

    This does make me wonder if the Hugos should switch to the Australian ballot.

  7. And furthermore, a slate is not a boycott. A slate only says, “Support this!”

  8. I get that they didn’t violate the rules. However, the hatred and vitriol they and many of those they recruited to assist them have hurled at women, people of color, the LBGT community etc is pretty offensive and I don’t for a minute think that they created the ballot they did simply in order to promote work by authors they personally love and felt were underrepresented. This was clearly meant to hurt, offend and attack others.

    In response I will not be violating the rules by voting No Award in many categories this year.

  9. I think one of the differences between promoting work — and yes, there’s tons of criticism about that — and the puppies is the language about being at war, smashing hugos, taking fandom back, etc. They’re not saying ‘this is stuff I think is worthy of winning’ but ‘this is what my supporters should nominate, in order to push out the sort of authors I don’t like’. And I’d just be kind of disappointed about the whole thing, but the thing that takes me into being angry about it is inviting gamergate. Will, I know you and I disagree about gamergate, and I’m fine with disagreeing about all of this, too.

  10. Seriously, I do not know of any other person or individual who went out and recruited a group–in this case, not by coincidence, a group of right-wing bigots–from outside the community to come in just for the purpose of driving other works off the ballot. That is over the line.

  11. Will, at first sight it looks like you are defending bad people. The trouble is, if they have done something that is defensible and you defend them, right away they will do something indefensible. Because they are bad. So your defense is wasted.

    As I understand it, the thing that makes them bad is that they are overtly Christian with baggage from being Christian. One of the big things is that they criticize homosexuals. Also they have been linked to neonazis, and anybody who’s linked to neonazis is obviously bad.

    I could imagine that they might not be so very bad. Like, anybody who criticizes Israeli military or paramilitary actions gets called anti-semitic, because criticizing Israel is something that anti-semites do. Maybe people who criticize political tactics taken by “political” homosexuals might get labeled as homophobes by the same strategy. But when I started to look at SP sites I didn’t like to read them. They just rubbed me the wrong way, they were all smirky and self-congratulatory and victorious, when they clearly haven’t won any big victories. So I didn’t find out how homophobic their leaders actually portray themselves as.

    Somebody responded on Charlie Stross’s blog:

    He seemed to imply that someone was actually trying to change the minds of US conservatives. Recently they have had the choice between Fox News, versus dingbat conspiracy theories. (Like, a lot of the Truthers were and are conservatives who didn’t trust the Bush administration, but who also didn’t know how to make plausible conspiracy theories.)

    “There’s a strong push to exclude here, but no-one I’ve seen has actually grasped the nettle: you’re witnessing the “right” growing up and starting to get beyond the lies they’ve been taught. You can either meld, grow and flourish, or play a zero-sum game.”

    I would certainly be interested in the “right” growing up, if that’s possible. I don’t see what that has to do with SP but I could imagine that science fiction which the “right” can tolerate could have a part.

    It all looks confusing and I don’t see where it will go. I’m doubtful of any good result given the apparent personalities of the SP leaders, but at this point it’s all so chaotic I can’t predict well.

    “It has been said that a heresy is the revenge of a forgotten truth. I say that each monstrous appearance or movement is the revenge of a strength or variety unused, of a vitality untapped within us.” RA Lafferty, _Fourth Mansions_

  12. One of the things which fascinates me about this mess is that its progenitors seem to be historically illiterate. Inviting in ‘border ruffians’, as Jenphalian so aptly put it, has destroyed a fair number of civilisations; once they are in it is remarkably difficult to make them go away again.

    As you can probably tell, I’ve been doing a lot of historical reading of late.

    I remain concerned also that some members on the slate did not ask to be included; I have seen a lot of waffle about this but no-one is prepared to say categorically that they did ask people. Last year Howard Williams, of Shlock Mercenary fame, was included on the slate but categorically denied that this was something he was asked about, much less agreed to. His dignified comments are worth bearing in mind; he’d love a Hugo, but he wants to win it on his own merits, so he’ll try to reach the standard that wins a Hugo. There is a very big gap between him and the people who think the slate’s a wonderful idea…

  13. “One of the things which fascinates me about this mess is that its progenitors seem to be historically illiterate. Inviting in ‘border ruffians’, as Jenphalian so aptly put it, has destroyed a fair number of civilisations; once they are in it is remarkably difficult to make them go away again.”

    The SJWs have been busily telling these guys they are not welcome in fandom. Recently Scalzi, the head guy in SFWA, made a big deal about throwing Vox Day out of the organization. (This is only the second time that’s happened in the history of SFWA, the other one was Stanislaw Lem.)

    Why would they have any loyalty to the organization that doesn’t want them? Why would they even prefer that it survive at all? It is an organization owned by their enemies, not for them.

    If a bunch of neonazis took over SFWA and announced that your kind were not welcome, how collegial would you be about it?

    Not that this is any justification for things they do. They are after all the bad guys, and they don’t deserve good treatment, and anything they do to protest bad treatment is more cause to treat them badly. The sooner they disappear the better. They have no place in this world and they should not be allowed to spread their filth in any medium.

    Free speech and all that only applies to good guys, not to bad guys. When they’ve shown that they don’t deserve to be treated fairly, we’d be fools to treat them fairly.

    Or, well, maybe that’s putting it too strongly. You think?

  14. J Thomas, I usually entirely ignore your posts, but this time I’m going to tell you that you seem to have no idea what you’re talking about.

  15. “The SJWs have been busily telling these guys they are not welcome in fandom. ”

    I do not believe this has ever happened.

    And are you aware that SFWA has nothing to do with the Hugos?

  16. Jenphalian, I can easily believe that you have no idea what I’m talking about.

    But don’t assume that your ignorance is my ignorance. That is an unwarranted assumption.

  17. I find it inconsistent, but not surprising, that people judge the other side by its extremists and don’t judge their own side by Requires Hate or Tempest Bradford. I also find it odd that they don’t notice that the Puppies promoted work by women and a book with a gay protagonist.

    I also find it inconsistent, but not surprising, that people are talking about solutions like raising the price of voting in order to keep out the proles who they believe have corrupted their elite system.

    I simply find it odd that anyone thinks non-fans would drop $50 to vote on something they don’t care about instead of buying another game. The discussion in the gamergate community in the last day has been fascinating: a number of them are thinking of joining now that they’re being blamed because they like reading f&sf and they think the books that come with a membership might make a good deal. So complaining about something that wasn’t happening may actually bring about an influx of gamergaters to vote on the final ballot.

    Ah, well. Humans, you will always amuse me. It’s no big.

  18. The SJWs have been busily telling these guys they are not welcome in fandom.

    “I do not believe this has ever happened.”

    Would quotes help?

    “And are you aware that SFWA has nothing to do with the Hugos?”

    Yes, there’s no organizational connection. But the Hugos do matter to a fraction of SFWA members.

  19. I should add that I completely understand why y’all are pissed at people who blame Patrick and Teresa in really stupid ways. But so far as I’m concerned, democracy means sometimes I lose, and I’d rather pay that price than accept any of the alternatives.

  20. Just saw this, which some people may find as amusing as I do. EW did an article on the brouhaha. Its first line was “The Hugo Awards have fallen victim to a campaign in which misogynist groups lobbied to nominate only white males for the science fiction book awards.”

    They then had to do an update:

    “CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.

    “This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.”

  21. I agree that they did not violate any rules. And I also agree with Jen that as annoyed as I might have felt, I’d have likely been less incensed if they hadn’t invited the gators to the party.

    As much of a mess as this all is I absolutely don’t think that the answer is to make it even harder to join and vote. Few enough people nominate as is and that’s part of the problem. I’m against slates on principal, but that’s my thing. I just feel as much as SP and others had the right to engineer the nominations as they did as far as the rules are written, I have the right to negate to the best of my ability what I believe to be nominations done not in the interest of promoting what SP and followers necc. Believed to be the best, but simply what or who they believed would make a point.

    Having spent a good part of today trying to get a single mom and her newborn WIC, despite Byzantine rules that seemed to be doing everything they can to exclude rather than help those at risk and in need, I feel a little dirty spending so many brain cells on this issue.

  22. Amysue: Yes. So far as I know, no one is seriously suggesting making it harder to join or vote. If anyone is suggesting this, I think he or she is wrong.

  23. Will, I totally agree that some of the responses being floated are Bad. So bad. Raising the price would be wrong. My thinking is that the way to go is education and information, same as anything. I don’t like the idea of bloc voting and the answer is lots more nominators. And the way to get them is to put the word out about how to vote, and what it means, and all that jazz.

    The thing with gamergate is that back when the slates first went out, Nero posted about it and another gamergater posted a video. I didn’t watch the video, so I can’t speak on it, but he posted on twitter about how the Hugos would be an opportunity to smash SJWs (and other similar stuff I found objectionable). It was a direct appeal for bad reasons. I don’t know how many people voted for those reasons, but it bugs me.

    On the one hand, gamers who read in the genre and maybe didn’t know about the awards or how to vote, I’m pleased about them coming in. But if gaters are coming in just to vote for a slate instead of the works they loved, then that messes things up for everyone.

    (I let this comment hang while we were talking to people and I think there’s a bunch of stuff in between now, but I’m replying to the 9:34 comment.)

  24. I’m told that, in fact, there are people who think the answer is to eliminate supporting memberships. I think they are wrong.

  25. Moving away from the political aspects, this whole debacle reminds me that despite the fact I don’t feel I read as much shorter fiction in a given year as I wish I could, I do read quite a bit and should make an effort to nominate stuff more consistently. I simply always feel that there is a critical mass of a category I should have read before I am “qualified” to nominate.

    The fact that the novel category was less messed up by the slate then the other categories speaks to this. Presumably, many people, like myself, feel fairly comfortable picking novels that they truly felt were worthy of an award and so offset to some degree the impact of bloc voting.

  26. Amysue — Yes, few enough people nominate, and increasing nomination numbers will only help us all. Although it seems that some categories like short story have so many available works that it will get even more difficult to get significant percentages of votes, so I hope they do something to allow additional nominations to get in rather than fewer. But the good news is that numbers of qualified nominating ballots have been going up and up in past years, so one can hope that continued buzz and promotion come nominating time will keep drawing in fans and overcome bloc voters.

  27. Just a quick response: I think you all are good people. And I fully support the people who’re going to use “No Award” selectively. My complaints on that front are only with the people who say they want to use it across the board, thereby punishing Leckie and Monette, the writers who were so strong that they defeated the SP’s slate, and with the people who say they want to boycott the convention, thereby punishing its committee, who had nothing to do with any of this.

  28. Yeah, I favor No Award voting if people want to do that (I will be)… but some of the gratuitous “everyone must vote no award or fandom will be burned, mistakes will be made” is, well, gratuitous. It isn’t much different than pushing a slate. Hadn’t seen convention-boycotters, but I’m not surprised.

  29. If I was voting I would certainly vote for The Goblin Emperor because a) it’s the best fantasy of the year (despite its various rule-breaking elements that somehow fail to damage its quality) and b) it’s obviously not merely not on any slates, but it also represents that which the slates oppose. I certainly wouldn’t mind Ancillary Sword winning instead because it’s a good book that even more strongly exemplifies what the SPs hate, but it’s just not as good as Ancillary Justice, and it doesn’t come close to the Goblin Emperor.

    Maybe I’d vote for one or two others on other slates. But it would be 90% No Award for me. For pity’s sake: the novella list. The editor list. The horror. But fortunately I’m not voting or attending. I say fortunately because the whole affair makes me sick to contemplate it, and I don’t even want to participate in opposing the damnable creatures lest the slime somehow adhere.

  30. Right at this time, I am heavily leaning towards the position of if it is on a slate it will be ranked below No Award. It does appear that a number of people weren’t notified and so it might be unfair to them, but then again their presence means someone else was pushed off the ballot.
    The slate vote as a tactic is really bad. If it is awarded and successful, then eventually we’ll just see “#1 Bestselling Author with no scruples” wins Hugo again.

    J Thomas:I will echo jenphalian here and say that in this case you need to do more homework.

  31. “It does appear that a number of people weren’t notified and so it might be unfair to them, but then again their presence means someone else was pushed off the ballot.”

    If by accident that slate included a work that you think was the best, then probably it being on the slate did not push another work off the ballot. It should have been on the ballot anyway.

    In that case, why not vote for it?

    If somebody else’s work did not get pushed off the ballot but stayed on in competition with them, that’s a sign that other work was real popular, right? If you can honestly vote for that one, why not?

    “The slate vote as a tactic is really bad.”

    Can you think of a good way to prevent it from being done again by anybody?

    (After 9/11 it was obvious that the USA was badly vulnerable to terrorism. Truck bombs, industrial chemical spills, bioattacks, all sorts of things. Anybody who knew the techniques could do it — the OK City bombing was 100% American. So we put a tremendous effort into tracking, kidnapping, and interrogating muslims and arabs, more than for making ourselves less vulnerable to the techniques. Is there something wrong with this story?)

    The issue for me is not so much to stop Sad Puppies from doing it again, as to stop anybody from doing it — including secretive attempts.

    Maybe the best solution would be to stop awarding Hugoes. It’s been kind of nice having them, and it’s helped some careers. (And presumably just as much hurt the careers of all the writers who haven’t won it.) Maybe its span is run and it’s time to quit?

  32. Until the ’80s, I thought the Nebulas were superior to the Hugos. Sometime in the ’80s, once most pros came from fandom, they simply seemed redundant.

  33. For my part, I consider all major awards to be just stupid wastes of time, and I will continue believing this until I win one.

  34. I was trying to explain all of this to an aquaintance who does not read much. His take was amazement that there were enough people reading in general, let alone a subset of readers who read primarily SF/F who cared enough about books to actually fight over this stuff. It sort of threw me because the feedback loop that is social media always makes me think that everyone on the planet is a compulsive reader.

  35. @PhoenicianRomans — I put your comment in moderation. That was mean, both the sentiment and the phrasing, and I don’t know who you are to cut you slack.

    [4/8 11:30 am, ETA: Now I’ve gotten some sleep and reviewed. The comment in question is deleted and the user is on moderation (any comment will be automatically placed in moderation). Not banned. This note is here for clarity.]

  36. Skzb: There are moments in one’s life when a perfectly phrased two liner is sorely needed, and today was one of them. Thank you.

  37. J Thomas: “Can you think of a good way to prevent it from being done again by anybody?”

    There is currently discussion going on as to ways to help prevent this from occurring. Probably one of the best threads is taking place right now on Making Light with Bruce Schneier:

    I’d suggest reading through that to get an idea of voting systems that could be useful. Note that even if a good strategy is found, it will take at least 2 Worldcons before any changes will take effect due to the WSFS procedural rules.

  38. This is from a disinterested outsider. That is, I’m not a particular fan of the SFF genres, I don’t read a lot of those books, and before reading some articles this week I didn’t even know what the Hugo was apart from an award of some sort. That’s the disclaimer.

    A lot of the articles I’ve read deal with the mechanics of voting, but as long as voting is open to everyone who pays the fee, it doesn’t seem like there’s any fair way to restrict who’s on the ballot. Of course, the WSFS constitution, Sec. 1.5.7 says they can create other memberships whenever they want, so perhaps if people are really interested in this it could be suggested that there be an introductory membership for 75% the full rate which gives attendance rights to the con without voting rights, upgradable to a full membership after 3 years. That would weed out the bored idiots trying to assert themselves as superior fans (I’ve read the self-described sad puppy sites, and boy are they whiners). But that’s not my real point.

    Here’s my question: since this award primarily is supposed to be for printed works, could the process be skewed to weed out those who aren’t well read in the field? I can’t think of any workable way for that to be done, but not being familiar with conventions, fan groups or their culture I’m clearly not in a position to say whether it could work.

    In all honesty, I’m baffled by the prestige granted to an award that can be voted on by anyone who coughs up the cash. There’s no meetings to attend, no gatherings to join in on, no expectation people will meet and mingle in local or regional chapters of this group in order to share their enthusiasm. It seems like a wierd hybrid – not a fan group and not a professional organization.

  39. L. Raymond, you have it right. All the Hugos have ever meant is “people who can afford WorldCon think these works, or their creators, are cool.” It’s one of the reasons that if you’re interested in the history of the genre, you’ll find more interesting work among the Nebulas.

  40. Steve Halter, thank you for the link to Making Light. Unfortunately it looks like that thread has closed, so I will respond to it here:

    The argument is made that STV will stop slates and increase diversity in nominations. Here is an emotional argument why that might not be what we want:

    Imagine that one year we get some novels that are obviously great, that tower over the crowd.

    Stranger In A Strange Land.
    Venus Plus X
    The War for the Oaks

    These so obviously stand out from the crowd that there are a thousand nominations that list all of them.

    There are also 8 votes that only list Dhalgren.
    7 votes that only list Raped Slavegirls of Gor.
    6 votes that only list Roger’s Raiders #27: Slaughter on Saskatoon
    5 votes that only list Goblins and Trolls #16: Hobbit’s Dilemma

    Who wins the nomination with STV?

    Stranger in a Strange Land
    Roger’s Raiders #27
    Goblins and Trolls #16

    That’s diversity.

    The problem is that STV does not just hurt slates, it also hurts the second-most-popular choices and the third-most-popular choices etc.

    However, it might help with the immediate issue. The Sad Puppies think their choices don’t win because the dominant worldview excludes them. If we try to have fewer popular choices and more less-popular nominations, they will be more likely to get some of their choices nominated whether they block-vote or not. So if they are satisfied maybe they will not raise so much fuss.

  41. And for the sake of continuity of conversation, I’ll ask that anyone who wants to respond to J Thomas do so over at ML when they’re open (that is, I assume they’re duplicating the comment over there, please correct me if I’m wrong on that).

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