Hugo Horrors

According to my futuroscope, this issue of SFX should appear in the final week of voting for the 2014 Hugo Awards to be presented at Loncon 3, the London Worldcon: see Beneath the visible Hugo ballot and online Hugo Voter Packet (of which more below) are seething controversies which – though there's always grumbling – seemed unusually toxic this year.

For starters we had the Wossgate scandal. The Loncon chairs asked TV celeb and SF fan Jonathan Ross to be the Hugo ceremony MC, despite protests from Loncon committee members who'd read the Controversy section of Ross's Wikipedia article and expected trouble. One of them resigned over this.

Sure enough, the Twitter announcement of Ross as Hugo MC generated uproar (Charles Stross: "It's ridiculous and insulting"), some tactful wesponses from Woss – "I'll happily buy the [Loncon] ticket off you and give it someone less stupid." – and a Twitterstorm that within hours persuaded him to step down. All over before most fans knew it was happening.

Next came block-voting complications. One campaign, run by fantasy author Larry Correia, argued that the liberal (in the US sense of "evil commie") SF establishment has long rigged the Hugos against right-wing/military fiction and his own publisher Baen Books. (Reality check: Lois McMaster Bujold, a popular Baen author of military SF, has won five Hugos.) Correia urged his many blog followers to retaliate by nominating a suggested right-wing Hugo slate. Several of these duly reached the final ballot, including Correia's latest novel and a story by the bizarre Vox Day.

Day, real name Theodore Beale, is a controversy-hound who says things like "I consider women's rights to be a disease that should be eradicated." In 2014 he was thrown out of the SF Writers of America for using SFWA's group Twitter feed to spread his racist abuse of an SF author who happens to be female and black. Such charming company for other Hugo nominees.

Another successful Hugo campaign pushed the whole of the late Robert Jordan's vast "Wheel of Time" fantasy sequence, which began in 1990. How can this possibly qualify? A rules quirk – a hangover from when novels debuted as SF magazine serials – makes serials eligible in the year of their last instalment, provided no previous segment reached the Hugo shortlist. The final WoT novel, completed by Brandon Sanderson, appeared in 2013. Therefore, the administrators agreed, the entire lumbering behemoth of 14 volumes and 4.4 million words is eligible for a 2014 Hugo as Best Novel. This is the elephant in the room.

Then there was the Hugo Voter Packet disappointment. The freebie download of Best Novel finalists – for Loncon members only – contains the Wheel of Time complete, and three Correia books, his actual nominee plus two prequels; but only "preview" extracts from the remaining shortlisted SF novels by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire), Ann Leckie and Britain's own Charles Stross. Is this fair?

Alas, it's a publisher policy thing. Tor (WoT) and Baen (Correia) believe giveaways are great publicity, especially with a major award at stake. Orbit UK, which controls the other titles, doesn't. Its boss Tim Holman explained: "There are a lot of different attitudes to the idea of giving work away for free, but we hope most people would agree that writers and rights holders should be able to make their own choice, without feeling that their decision might have negative consequences." A bit weasel-worded, that: Orbit didn't let its authors "make their own choice", as they plaintively confirmed in a joint statement on the Stross blog.

Normally, Leckie would be the bookies' favourite: she's already bagged the BSFA, Arthur C Clarke and Nebula awards. For this year's novel Hugo, though, it's anyone's guess. [Later: Leckie won, Vox Day placed below "No Award", and there was great rejoicing.]

During these ructions David Langford, a determined non-campaigner, heard that his own string of Hugo wins was because of "politics".