Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Happy Puppies

There's a fantastically involved thread over at Making Light about voting systems and the Hugo Awards.

I've skimmed the conversation in great depth, & it seems like it's genuinely exemplifying two intellectual virtues allegedly core to the sf community's skillset:

(1) thoughtful extrapolation, and a certain kind of care & rigor, especially in mathematical and behavioural economic modes

(2) some IMAGINATION! Including imaginative reconfigurations of relatively recent socio-technological phenomena. E.g. there's imagination in the suggestion of an open list, updated in real time, of who's been nominated so far; the suggestion of a kind of semantic element to voting (an anti-sock puppetry rationale sentence); or in the suggestion of an opaque "black box" that disdains to explain its workings to mere puny humans.

BUT. Obviously I'd like to see even MORE imagination.

Science fiction is bursting with importantly wild thinking about the harvesting and interpretation of data, and the ways in which it can be coupled to human and post-human thinking and feeling. Why shouldn't our awards reflect that? Why shouldn't our awards be unlike any other? Why should we have to look solely to political science for models and methods? Why not look to science fiction?

For instance. Embrace debate. Think less in terms of an electoral system, more in terms of a weird new social media site where reading, fanning, and nominating - maybe even writing, collaborating, publishing, other things - are all linked together.

Or. Embrace bureaucratic tinkering. Add a Voting System category. Each year votes are aggregated according to whatever system won the vote last year.

Or. Embrace time travel. Any book hitting exactly 88 nominations per hour gets eliminated BUT it reappears on a FUTURE ballot (or even a past ballot somehow? This voting system would have to include provisions for resolving temporal paradoxes: e.g. if Scalzi's novel gets knocked back to 1990 and ends up displacing Hyperion, has it effectively killed one of its grandfathers? Will there be branching universes? Or will we be forced to realise that, by the Novikov self-consistency principle, somehow Hyperion was Lock In all along?)

Or. Embrace constitutionalism, and link the Hugos in some intricate way to the other big important vote: the bids to host WorldCon! E.g. establish a system of checks, balances and trade-offs so that if Anglophone geographies are dominating the Hugo nominations, there are at least compensatory nudges making it slightly harder for Anglophone locations to win the bids.

Or. Embrace war. Create a system that celebrates and encourages tactics, which does not try to suppress or mask our political differences but magnifies and elaborates them. Perhaps instead of a ballot you have a "deck" or "team" in which you choose your books, stories, films etc. and can also assign them various powers, tools, weapons, factional alliances, behaviours. Instead of simply counting, the whole battle or adventure or whatever plays out on a ginormous screen at the awards ceremony, accompanied by some pretty serious atmosphere.

Update, May 2016: With a little advice and encouragement from friends and Strangers on the Internet, I've gone ahead and made this a Thing (or almost a Thing). It's called the Sputnik Awards, and voting is now open! Call it an experiment in e-democracy; a collective experiential learning exercise; a pioneering use of people, technology and networks simply for the sake of it; the first phase of a new literary prize focusing on political and in particular socialist science fiction; or maybe just a strange prank. Whatever you call it, voting is now open.

Or something else. What can we come up with?


Partly because: whether or not bold, weird, glowing, exciting, reverberating reforms "fix" the awards, they have the capacity to BE a kind of speculative research valuable for its own sake. Or even: the awards have the potential to BE SCIENCE FICTION THEMSELVES.

And just because, hey, we're looking at options, so let's REALLY LOOK.

* * *

PS: There are a billion posts about the Hugo stuff more generally, BTW. See e.g. blogroll to the east, e.g. the suggestion of luring the entire American right into the Hugo Awards and setting fire to it, e.g. Cecily Kane pointing out that there are already thoughtful critiques of "Left" (?) SF&F (& the Puppies' half-assed crititasting is a step backward disguised as a step forward), and e.g. Amal El-Mohtar's suggestion of quietly adding recent events in genre literary awards to a more compendious list of horrific recent events.

PPS: These awards are important in the sense of fully invoking political faculties - political cunning, political passions, political association, AGON - every bit as thoroughly as, say, the UK General Election next month, but without the same weight as regards who gets deceived, deprived, degraded, uprooted, imprisoned, tortured, enslaved, raped, abandoned, murdered, and who doesn't!

PPPS: Earlier -- Gamified Personal Finance, Literary Awards Detox Year,
Scheme for Indie Award, Regurgitation.

PPPPS: I need to actually do a couple dry runs of that system, with dummy data, before anybody believes I'm serious, right? Okay, maybe I'll get round to that :P

PPPPPS: Update > also see Mike Selinker's "A Game Designer Tries to Fix the Hugo Awards"!

PPPPPPS: Update! The great Cat Valente is leading a conversation about making up some interesting awards over at File 770.


  1. This is awesome. Wish I'd found it even sooner for purposes of my roundup, however, the idea itself probably has an indefinite shelf life!

  2. Thanks Mike! I almost want to flesh out that bare bones example into a proper proposal with reference to the usual canon of voting system criteria ... I guess really I want somebody else to do that :P

    You could also change the names of the classes year by year, maybe to theme each year around the winner of the previous year. You could narrativise it in different ways too -- the data wouldn't necessarily have to be told as a battle ...