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Re: Guest Post - Author Gender and the Hugo Awards


Someone should write an alt-hist where John W. Campbell dies young or is a woman or something.

Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:20 AM
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I should probably start to steer my son towards the Hugo winners and nominees. He reads a ton of fantasy, but it is mostly the stuff marketed toward teens.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:27 AM
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Being a science fiction reader but broadly disconnected from capital-f Fandom, I'd speculate that at least part of this is due to the large and growing presence of women in the fan community, right? I mean, there have always been women fans (I wan to make a "We Have Always Fought" joke here), but it feels like the triple threat of the increased visibility of fanfic, cosplay, and the overwhelming mainstream of Marvel, Harry Potter, and GoT has really shifted things in terms of who is participating in the fandom community, which is going to lead to both more genre fiction being written by women and more women actually voting in the Hugos.

(To choose someone at semirandom, Mur Lafferty has a very classic like 1970s trajectory of fan with a podcast [in 1972 or whenever I would have been a fanzine] to media franchise writer with White Wolf, to original fiction, to getting a Hugo nomination. She even wrote a Star Wars novel in there.)

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:22 AM
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But if women take over science fiction, what will there be left for men to read?

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:45 AM
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4 got the tense wrong. Women have taken over! All that men have left is the NFL.

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:46 AM
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5: And the Oscars! Don't forget about the Oscars!

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:47 AM
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2. I don't know how old your lad is, but if he's still reading stuff marketed at teens he might find Anne Leckie's Imperial Radch series more accessible than Jemisyn among recentish female Hugo winners. Jemisyn's trilogy is marvellous, but easy reading it ain't.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:49 AM
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4: Does what it says on the tin.

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 8:57 AM
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For the last three years of the decade, every single written fiction-related award in the Hugos was won by a woman.

That is eight award categories - so 24 separate awards. Now, they aren't uncorrelated events: if NK Jemisin wins one year, and writes another very similar book the next, she's got a high chance of winning again. But, still.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 9:00 AM
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I'm curious about the mechanics of this voting system.

Let me know if I am describing it correctly:
- voters have a single vote that they can divide between nominees.
- the votes (or vote fractions) for each nominee are tallied.
- the nominee with the lowest vote total is removed from consideration.
- votes are re-allocated among the remaining nominees. So if you had 5 nominees before re-allocation, each got 0.2 votes. If one was removed from consideration, upon re-allocation each gets 0.25 votes.
- repeat process until you have predetermined number of nominees for each category.

Is this correct? Because I don't see how this mechanism would prevent coordinated slate voting. I can see it addressing the failure of voters to pick a candidate for each nomination, but not anything else...

Posted by: nope@nope.com | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 9:44 AM
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To be completely honest, I don't see how _any_ voting system could prevent coordinated slate voting and still allow individual voters to vote for whoever they wanted to - in the way that "slate voting" is normally used. Normally it means something like what I think Americans also call "voting a straight ticket" - so you tell people "if you like Adams for president, you should also vote Brown for Senate, Carter for Congress, Dobbs for mayor, Edwards for council member and Fox for dogcatcher".

But the slate voting that the Hugos were struggling with was different - under the old rules, you had five votes for nominees, and the five works with the highest number became nominees and then you had another vote for which of the five you wanted to win. This meant, apparently, that a relatively small number of people could swamp the nominee list by coordinating that they would all vote for the same five things (a slate). The new system makes this much more difficult.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 10:15 AM
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To be clear - a slate is normally a list of one preferred candidate for each office; in this context it's a list of five preferred nominees for the same office.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 10:18 AM
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1: or even better, an alternate history where Hugo Gernsback was a woman, not the worst published author in the past 200 years, or both.

Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 10:43 AM
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11: I'm not particularly involved with fandom either, and back when the whole Puppies thing was going on, I also was unclear on what exactly "slate" voting meant and why it was dirty pool. Or in other words, the difference between "Here are my favorite 5 books this year. Everyone should vote for them!" - which seems pretty normal - and shady manipulation of the process.

I ultimately just took George R.R. Martin's word for it. He has been involved in WorldCon/Hugos for many years and didn't seem to be particularly involved in the whole fracas. Google led me to a blog post of his where he was firmly of the opinion that what the Puppies were doing was indeed sketchy, and contrary to the spirit of the process if not necessarily the letter (hence the move to change the rules).

As far as more recent Hugos are concerned, the awards have always reflected the peculiar tastes of the voting membership, and I suspect the demographics of that group shifted significantly as a result of the Puppies thing.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:00 AM
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Weren't they like openly racist?

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:01 AM
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The puppies, that is.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:06 AM
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16: Depends. not necessarily all. The original "sad puppies" was an only semi-serious campaign by some writers of old school square-jawed-manly-men-doing-many-things military SF who were feeling slighted because that stuff never wins Hugos anymore (although in fact I don't it ever did do very well in the Hugo stakes, despite selling well, e.g., Jerry Pournelle & etc.)

Then racist loon Vox Day got involved. The original puppies should have dropped the whole thing as no longer funny at that point. But they didn't, so if they have a bad reputation now, they've got only themselves to blame.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:17 AM
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I know more about this stuff than I probably should, but while the whole thing was unfolding I was revising a rejected grant proposal for resubmission and was desperate for any excuse to procrastinate.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:19 AM
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There were social norms against campaigning (too) openly for works, particularly those not your own, that were more-or-less observed over time. There were occasional blow-ups over some of the media categories because fans of particular shows could mostly inadvertently overload the ballot, for example when four Babylon 5 episodes were among the five nominees for best visual whatever.

Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:57 AM
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7: That's interesting--I enjoy both Jemisin and Leckie, but I consider the former more accessible.

Btw, have we talked about the diversity/inclusion/bias shitshow surrounding the Romance Writers of America? I've been following it on Twitter, and it's fascinating.

Posted by: J, Robot | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:57 AM
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20 - Where it turned out that the guy named Slade Darkshadow or whatever was the bad guy?

Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:59 AM
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Summary of the RWA thing, which is indeed bizarre and fascinating.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 12:06 PM
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7 & 20: Seconding 20; Jemisin's trilogy is less SF-ish (a lot of the plot could with minor tweaks be straight-up Fantasy, but the characters are really well-drawn) than Leckie's (which has a good selection of rivets and starships and such), but both are excellent. Ada Palmer's "Terra Ignota" series (starting with "Too Like the Lightning") is also well worth a read, though maybe a bit R-rated for explicit violence than is necessarily appropriate for a YA-novel reader. The fourth and I think last book in the series is expected this year. She been nominated for one Hugo, but not won.

5: Correct. However, men are still dominant in gaming as far as I can tell.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 12:26 PM
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"She has been nominated..." Sigh.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 12:28 PM
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Agreed that the idea of everyone getting 5 votes for the NOMINEES was inherently bad. It's like having a city council with 5 at-large seats, as in my city. You either end up with 5 Republicans or 5 Democrats, all probably with the same agenda. Why even have 5 people?

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 12:54 PM
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25: Those municipal races are usually nonpartisan, so you have to research to find out which are your fellow partisans to vote for. Often it's messier.

Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 1:09 PM
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26: It's anything but messy here in the heart of the heart of it all. Since the Democrats took control they have established a pattern that one city council member will quit mid-term and then they get to choose the replacement, and the new person gets to run as an incumbent. The Republicans have pretty much given up, and all the attempts by grassroots Dems to challenge the establishment have failed miserably.

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 1:19 PM
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One of my half-baked fantasies is to change the form of government in my city (currently council-manager; I would prefer council plus an elected executive/mayor with some actual, if limited, power). On-topic because this is pure fantasy.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 1:19 PM
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27: That's a nasty method in general. It's how it works for many countywide positions here (sheriff) that become perpetual incumbencies.

Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 1:21 PM
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So does it work like this?

Group A (two people):
Both vote for books I and J

Group B (two people):
Both vote for book K, each votes for different other book.

Group C (two people):
Both vote for book L, each votes for different other book.

First round:
I = 1, J=1, K = 1, L=1, other books 0.5 each.

The other books (being lowest scoring) are progressively eliminated until:

Final Round:
I = 1, J=1, K=2, L=2 --> K and L win

Posted by: nope@nope.com | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 1:30 PM
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30: Yeah, pretty much (as I remember it, anyway). That's how the short list was determined. The final vote would be a second round of ranked-choice voting, with the additional option of "No Award." That was the main defense against the Puppies, along with a few people dropping out because they had never consented to being associated with the slate and felt like that it would tarnish their image.

The problem was that people would get as many votes as there are seats. That differs greatly from, say, single transferrable vote.

Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 2:35 PM
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Mostly I like books with wizards better than books with spaceships. How does this affect me?

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 2:36 PM
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Mostly I like books with wizards better than books with spaceships. How does this affect me?

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 2:36 PM
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Stupid phone.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 2:38 PM
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You're in good hands. It turns out that women like wizard books, too. Three of the last four best novel winners (those by N. K. Jemisin) are wizards books. The most recent winner is a spaceship book, but it's also alternate history so it's about those good old fashioned spaceships that you could repair yourself, without having to take them to a dealer to have the computer reset.

Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 2:53 PM
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I couldn't get on with Terra Ignota at all. I heard Ada Palmer speak at a thing in Edinburgh with Ken MacLeod and she was brilliant: clever, profound and not showing off at all. So I bought the book in hardback there and then. But it just didn't grip me at all. There was a huge amount of world building but no living characters inside this vast apparatus. A real shame.

Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 3:50 PM
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36: I thought it was a delightful puzzle, and absolutely gripping. What a world! Even more so, it's a world based around a on the face of it kinda silly idea* and ends up being an amazingly beautiful bit of culture. I vaguely remember enjoying the characters. But I read the first book before the second came out; when I tried to read the sequel, I was quickly swamped by how much I had forgotten and gave up.

* Speaking to the SNES JRPG fans in the audience: what if the world transportation network were run by Secret of Mana's cannon brothers?

Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 3:55 PM
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36. Same. It's the type of book that I really should like. And Palmer is brilliant. But I kept slipping off of it. I'll give it some time and try again.

Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 5:59 PM
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If Meghan Markle goes back to acting, she should protect royal dignity by only taking roles that are wizards or command a spaceship with a crew of at least 30.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:12 PM
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Or a space princess.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:25 PM
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Or a dancer who solves crimes between sets.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:31 PM
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Because I can be off topic now that it's comment 41.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 7:31 PM
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Did anyone else watch the debate tonight?

Yesterday, as procrastination, I took a look at the Iowa delegate selection rules. More complicated than voting for science fiction, I'll tell you what. (Paul Kantner was robbed, btw) Surely both Klobuchar and Steyer are going to fall below the viabiity threshold in a number of precincts (and counties and districts). Is Sanders picking up many of those voters? Remember, this isn't a decision they'll be making at home, but in a room full of Sanders supporters. And Biden supporters. I think it's distinctly possible that the polling is underestimating Biden.

But then, if Sanders really does swamp the caucuses with new voters, well, then he probably wins the whole thing.

Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:17 PM
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I mean, yes, I'm a big fan of Don't Crush that Dwarf too, but c'mon. And what is this 'no award in the category' bullshit?

Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-14-20 11:22 PM
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"Paul Kantner wuz robbed"? What did I miss?

Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 1:20 AM
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10, 30: That's close, but not quite how the system works. I have a one-slide summary of EPH; there's a longer FAQ about EPH that includes a link to a PowerPoint animation of the system in action (link in FAQ #2). The main thing is that there are two numbers involved for each entry: nominations and points. Nominations is just the total number of people nominating a given entry; points gives each ballot one point that is evenly divided among the surviving entries on that ballot (in the given category being determined). Both of these matter: in each round, the two entries with the fewest (current) *points* compete in a cage match from which the entry with the higher number of *nominations* survives.

Your example in #30 is a little too small to really show how the system works: it mostly shows how the tie-breaking rules work. Ties are quite rare in practice, mostly coming up in the early rounds where minor entries with only one or two nominations get eliminated. But to see how it would work with your example (assuming 2 places on the ballot): in round 1, books I and J would have 2 nominations and 1 point (1/2 + 1/2); books K & L would have 2 nominations and 1 point (also 1/2 + 1/2), while the unnamed books would have 1 nomination and 1/2 point each. There's a 4-way tie for lowest points at 1/2; under the tie-breaking rules, if multiple works with the same number of points and the same number of nominations tie for lowest points, and there are at least as many surviving works as ballot spots outside of this group, then all the tied works are eliminated in one shot. So all the unnamed books get eliminated in round 1. In round 2, I and J still have 2 nominations and 1 point, but K & L now have 2 nominations and 2 points (1 + 1). The lowest point total is 1; under that same tiebreaking rule both I & J are eliminated and K & L are the two finalists. Under the old system, which only looked at number of nominations, we would have started with a 4-way tie between I, J, K & L, all at 2 nominations, and the number of finalists would have been expanded to include all four.

In this case, the tiebreaking rules resulted in the elimination of the whole slate, but that is not typical. The Puppy slates generally didn't have such perfect discipline, so there were minor differences in the number of votes for the different slate entries. Let's look at a larger example without ties in the significant rounds.

In this case, I'll assume 3 ballot slots are at stake, with each voter allowed up to 3 nominees. I'll assume 4 groups of voters:

Group 1 (10 voters - the slate): 8 votes for A, B, and C. 1 vote for A and B (only). 1 vote for A only.
Group 2 (7 voters): All 7 vote for D, plus other votes for minor works with fewer than 4 nominations.
Group 3 (6 voters): All 6 vote for E, plus other votes for minor works with fewer than 4 nominations.
Group 4 (5 voters): All 5 vote for F, plus other votes for minor works with fewer than 4 nominations.

In this case, the early rounds will result in the elimination of all the minor works. Depending on how the minor work votes are distributed, we may have one of the named works get into a cage match with a minor work (definitely in the last early round), but the named work will win in any such match because of higher nominations. When we get down to the 6 named works, the results will be:
A: 4.17 points (8/3 + 1/2 + 1), 10 nominations
B: 3.17 points (8/3 + 1/2), 9 nominations
C: 2.67 points (8/3), 8 nominations
D: 7 points (7*1), 7 nominations
E: 6 points (6*1), 6 nominations
F: 5 points (5*1), 5 nominations.

The two lowest points are B and C. B wins with 9 nominations to 8. Now the standings are:
A: 5.5 points (9/2 + 1), 10 nominations
B: 4.5 points (9/2), 9 nominations
D: 7 points, 7 nominations
E: 6 points, 6 nominations
F: 5 points, 5 nominations

The two lowest points are B and F. B wins with 9 nominations to 5. F is eliminated, no other point changes occur. Now the two lowest remaining point totals are A and B. A wins with 10 nominations to 9. B is eliminated. The three finalists are:
A: 10 points, 10 nominations
D: 7 points, 7 nominations
E: 6 points, 6 nominations.

Under the old system, the 10 slate voters would have controlled all three ballot slots, with A, B, and C winning, leaving the other 18 voters with no finalists. Under EPH, 23 out of the 28 voters get represented on the ballot, with only the five voters in group 4 left out. This is much closer to the proportional support of each group in the overall electorate. It's possible to tweak the votes in the example a bit to get the slate a second ballot position, but this result is still more proportional than the old result in which they got to control the whole ballot.

The key insight is that normal works gain points as lesser works are eliminated, while the slate works only gain points when slate entries are forced into competition with each other. Thus ordinary works can survive by gaining enough points to be held out of the cage match until slate works start knocking each other out. EPH isn't perfectly proportional, but it does tend to yield a ballot that is more representative of the size of various subgroups within the electorate.

Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 1:33 AM
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The other big reform was to increase the numbre of finalists to six but to keep the number of nominations on any ballot at five. There is some debate as to its importance -- Nicholas Whyte, who was Hugo administrator in 2017 and 2019, thinks five-of-six had little effect -- but I think it did have an effect by decreasing the attractiveness of slating nominations. So the Puppies got thrashed by No Award in the year that their slate nominations succeeded, they garnered a lot of social disapproval by people not already committed to their cause, and two structural changes made their attempts less likely to succeed.

For anyone who is really interested, the thread where the specific language of E Pluribus Hugo got hammered out is here:


Looking back in the archives for May 2015 (and maybe April of that year) should produce the discussion threads with guest election-system guru Bruce Schneier that led to EPH.

Going back to Heebie's take, I think the insight is that the Puppies' exploit did not violate rules but did deeply violate norms. The community made adjustments to make that task more difficult. Out in the larger world, the concern is that the structural bias lines up with the norms and values of a much larger share of the overall community.

Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 3:29 AM
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36. Because this is a thing I do, I re-read all three "Terra Ignota" books a while ago. I can tell you that it is more comprehensible on a second reading. I tend to read pretty fast the first time, so I sometimes miss stuff; for example, exactly why war was going to break out among the social media companies Hives. I'm worried about the fourth book because Palmer has thrown so many plot elements into the mix that (a la GRRM) she is probably going to have trouble getting them all resolved. My understanding is she also has health issues that are (or were) slowing down her writing.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 6:24 AM
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36. Palmer has a blog which she updates about once in a blue moon, which is mostly focused on her identity as a cultural historian. She wrote a series of essays on Machiavelli which absolutely blew me away, but much of the content is excellent. I think it helps to see how her brain works generally to appreciate Terra Ignota, which is certainly not an easy or relaxing read, but I found it very well worth the effort.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 6:34 AM
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49: good lord I had no idea it was the same person. I enjoyed the Machiavelli essays but had forgotten the author. Terra Ignota sitting in my stack right now.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 6:44 AM
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48: They do slow down her writing. Her speech upon winning the then-Campbell award at Helsinki wound up being, in part, about disability because hers was suddenly unmistakable.

I met her ever so briefly in one of those in-between spaces at that Worldcon, and she was just lovely, welcoming me into an ongoing conversation.

I'll probably wait and read third and fourth together when the fourth comes out. (I put Too Like the Lightning at the top of my Hugo ballot for sheer ambition.)

I've read elseweb that some of the things that people complain about regarding the series are in there deliberately, precisely to get readers to stumble and maybe think about things a bit differently.

Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 7:18 AM
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45 Best Dramatic Presentation

Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 8:55 AM
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49. Her blog is great fun if you are a history nerd, which I am. I admit not checking it all that often, though. Putting deliberate stumbling blocks in! Didn't know she was doing that, though it certainly makes sense in retrospect. Some things became much clearer on re-reading (no spoilers...). I guess unreliable narrators are par for the course these days, but other stuff? Do you have an actual link to "elseweb"?

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-15-20 9:58 AM
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I know I've read a history of history arguing that since no later than the Renaissance historians have been communicating with each other by what they leave out. Application to Terra Ignota likely, but I'll never know.

Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-16-20 7:05 PM
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I believe it was Imre Lakatos who said the science moves by research programs which explicitly focus the discussion on certain areas and avoid other questions. And I have no idea why I can't forget that.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-16-20 7:20 PM
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More on the RWA debacle: https://jezebel.com/inside-the-spectacular-implosion-at-the-romance-writers-1841002358/

The one fun, gossipy part is about the loser who was briefly president, "Damon Suede," who allegedly has Hollywood and TV credentials but was not, in fact, qualified to be president. A representative Twitter thread is here: https://twitter.com/jennleblanc/status/1214973766112931840?s=21

Posted by: J, Robot | Link to this comment | 01-16-20 8:15 PM
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53: It's been a while, so I do not remember exactly. Maybe here:


or here:


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-17-20 8:05 AM
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57 was me.

Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 01-17-20 8:05 AM
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If Meghan Markle goes back to acting, she can play Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon remake that Hollywood is definitely making.

Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-17-20 1:36 PM
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