‘Ms. Marvel’ Wins at Hugo Awards Dogged by Political Manipulations
The 2015 Hugo Awards took place at the 73rd annual Worldcon in Spokane, Washington, on Saturday, recognizing achievements in science fiction and fantasy storytelling. Administered by the World Science Fiction Society, the awards are considered the most prestigious in their field, and many of this year's winners reflected the progressive edge of the genre --- a trend perhaps exemplified by the winner for Best Graphic Story (aka the comics category); Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, published by Marvel.
The first collected adventures of the teen Muslim superhero Kamala Khan beat out the first volumes of Rat Queens and Sex Criminals, the third volume of Saga, and Carter Reid's Reduce Reuse Reanimate, a collected edition of his Zombie Nation webcomic.
Illustrator Julie Dillon took home the award for Best Professional Artist, while director James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy won for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, in a category that also included fellow Marvel Studios production Captain America: The Winter Soldier. An episode of BBC America's Orphan Black, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried," bested the pilot episode of The Flash to win the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form award.
Other winners included:
Best Novel: The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
Best Novelette: "The Day the World Turned Upside Down," Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Best Fanzine: Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
Best Fancast: Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
Best Fan Writer: Laura J. Mixon
Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett
In addition, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer was awarded to Wesley Chu.
No award was given in the categories Best Novella; Best Short Story; Best Related Work; Best Editor, Short Form; and Best Editor, Long Form. In each of these categories, members of the WSFS overwhelmingly voted that none of the nominees met the expected standard of excellence.
These categories were notably dominated by works endorsed by a conservative sci-fi movement commonly known as the 'Sad Puppies', which sought to counter a perceived liberal bias in sci-fi fandom. (The name is a reference to forlorn pups seen in heartstrings-tugging televised appeals; a more militant faction of the group calls itself the Rabid Puppies.) The group's only 'victory' was Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the most popular and successful movies of 2014. The Sad Puppies had little impact on the comics category, only endorsing one work, Carter Reid's Zombie Nation.
The sci-fi and fantasy prose fiction that dominates the Hugos and the WSFW has experienced a steady progressive evolution in recent years, with more diversity in both talent and output --- a phenomenon that may feel familiar to comics fans. Sci-fi has always provided intellectual refuge for liberal-minded writers and fans, but only recently have those writers made serious inroads into the sci-fi establishment.
The Sad Puppies exist as a reaction to that shift, but while the gradual liberalization of sci-fi has been organic and rooted in fandom, the conservative backlash was deliberately orchestrated to place politics first. The balance of the final ballot shows there was no organized liberal bloc vote equivalent to the Sad Puppies' efforts, with several popular minority writers surprisingly absent.
Supporters of the Sad Puppies effort have indicated that the failure of their nominees to win any awards vindicates their belief that the Hugo Awards put politics ahead of quality, but of course, it demonstrates the reverse; the Sad Puppies nominees were chosen because of their politics first, and the voters were right to reject them.
Shared politics can certainly play a part both in peoples' enjoyment of genre fiction and in how they show their appreciation for it. But there doesn't need to be a conspiracy in place for that to have an impact. What's saddest about the Sad Puppies is that they created the very kind of political machine that they claimed to be fighting against. But they also managed a victory of sorts; they proved that the Hugo Awards aren't anywhere near as vulnerable to partisan political manipulation as they believed.