In the wake of one of John C. Wright’s Hugo-nominated stories being disqualified for the ballot because it was previously published on his Web site, howls of bitter indignancy have arisen from the Puppy quarters, on the basis that Old Man’s War, a book I serialized here on Whatever in 2002, qualified for the Hugo ballot in 2006 (it did not win). The gist of the whining is that if my work can be thought of as previously unpublished, why not Mr. Wright’s? Also, this is further evidence that the Hugos are one big conspiracy apparently designed to promote the socially acceptable, i.e., me specifically, whilst putting down the true and pure sons of science fiction (i.e., the Puppies).
1. The first irony is that Old Man’s War actually wasn’t originally on the 2006 Best Novel Hugo ballot at all; it finished sixth in the nomination tally. It ascended to the ballot when Neil Gaiman, who I did not know at the time (and who was almost certainly entirely unaware of my existence, or that I had placed sixth in the nomination tally), declined a Best Novel nomination for Anansi Boys. Neil (who I do know now), explained later that he’d felt he’d won his share of Hugos at the time and imagined the nomination would be better served helping someone else. He was correct about that. The point is that if you buy into the conspiracy theory of Old Man’s War being on the ballot, you have to believe that the conspiracy somehow convinced/forced Neil Gaiman to decline his nomination strictly for my benefit. Which is some conspiracy!
2. The second irony is that at the time, based purely on the content of Old Man’s War, to the extent that fandom presumed to guess my personal politics at all, much of it assumed that I was a US conservative. Hey, not everyone reads my blog. So the idea that I was on the ballot because of some ideological nod is, well, suspect at best.
3. It was no big secret in 2006 that Old Man’s War had been serialized on my blog prior to publication, so it seems doubtful to me the Hugo people were entirely unaware of its provenance. To the extent that it was discussed at all between me and other folks, to the best of my recollection at the time, there was the feeling that serializing on the blog did not, in itself, constitute publication (interestingly, I thought that it was Agent to the Stars, also published in 2005, that might be more of a tricky sell for the ballot, as you can see here).
4. Aside from my notification of the nomination, I had no contact with the Hugo Award committee of that year prior to the actual Worldcon, nor could I tell you off the top of my head who was on the committee. It doesn’t appear that anyone at the time was concerned about whether OMW being serialized here constituted publication. Simply put, it didn’t seem to be an issue, or at the very least, no one told me if it were. Again, if this was a conspiracy to get me on the ballot, it lacked one very important conspirator: Me.
5. So why would OMW’s appearance on a Web site in 2002 not constitute publication, but Mr. Wright’s story’s appearance on a Web site in 2013 constitute publication? There could be many reasons, including conspiracy, but I think the more likely and rather pedestrian reason is that more than a decade separates 2002 and 2013. In that decade the publishing landscape has changed significantly. In 2002 there was no Kindle, no Nook, no tablet or smart phone; there was no significant and simple commerce channel for independent publication; and there was not, apparently, a widespread understanding that self-publishing, in whatever form, constituted formal publication for the purposes of the Hugo Awards. 2013 is not 2002; 2015, when Mr. Wright’s story was nominated, is not 2006, when OMW was nominated.
I don’t think it’s all that difficult to conceptualize that major changes in culture can significantly alter the perception of what is legitimate and what is not; after all, in 2002, no state in the US allowed for same-sex marriage, whereas in 2015 the majority do, and it’s very likely by the end of the year that all will. The recognition of web publication as formal publication for the purposes of science fiction awards is not exactly a greater cultural shift than that, I would propose. No conspiracy required.
6. But it’s not faaaaaaiiirrrr, waaaaaaaaaaaah. Well, one: Life is not fair, so gut up, children. Two, it’s the Hugo adminstrators’ call to make, and they made it, so again, put on your big kid pants and just deal with it. If this year’s Hugos have a theme, it is of people just having to deal with shit they don’t like. I’m not sure why the Puppies feel they should be special snowflakes in this regard. The good news for Mr. Wright is that Hugo voters are not left bereft of chances to enjoy his Hugo-nominated prose, as he is still on the ballot a prodigious five times.
7. What would I have done in 2006 if I had been disqualified from the Hugo ballot because OMW had been serialized on my Web site? I imagine I would have been very gravely disappointed and would have probably groused privately and possibly even publicly. Then I imagine I would have put on my own big kid pants and dealt with it. Because here’s a home truth: No one is owed a Hugo award, or a Hugo nomination. If you start thinking you are, you’re the problem, not the Hugos, their administrators, or anyone else who might have ever been nominated, or even been awarded, one of the rockets.