Going through the Hugo finalists to vote on the ballot is looking to be a strange experience this year. It took two years for the rules change to kick in and close the loophole the Puppies had exploited, so for the last two years, as the Puppies stacked the deck with a mixture of racist, sexist drivel and just plain crap, I felt like I was often simply voting to deny them a victory, instead of actually rooting for things. Meanwhile, I waited on tenterhooks to see whether the rules change would really make a difference. It did, more than I could have imagined. This year, finally, I’m spoiled for choice and dealing with the agony of deciding which of my absolute favorites to put in second or third place.
That feeling is not just about the rules change. Before the Puppies mess, there was a stretch of a decade where I didn’t bother voting for the Hugo awards because I rarely read books the year they first came out, and I hardly read short stories at all. The winner was often something I’d never heard of, and which was not to my taste; I felt divorced from the process, so why bother voting? But now, I’ve spent so much of the past three years fighting for change and reading up on what was new and important in the field that I had strong opinions on the nominating ballot, I know at least half the finalists in every category already and I am looking forward to reading the remainder and making an educated choice. The rules changed, and I changed, and together, that changed everything.
You probably see where I’m going with this.
For good and for ill, fandom is a bellwether for trends in society at large: the same problems arise, but everyone in fandom communicates much more rapidly about the issues, and we have a lot of smart people who get their kicks from both breaking systems and fixing broken systems through a mixture of technology and social engineering. And then those tactics trickle down into mainstream culture. On the one hand, this means women in gaming were complaining about Gamergaters doxxing them for two years before Bernie Bros started posting the home addresses and phone numbers of female superdelegates online for harassers to use. But fandom has also given rise to the trend of guests of honor boycotting conventions that don’t have enforceable harassment policies (and conventions having to work out practical, enforceable policies), something I think is going to profoundly affect mainstream trade shows and academic conferences in the next couple of years.
What I’ve seen in the last few years in fandom was a sudden resurgence of racist, sexist spew from a segment of the community that felt unheard and undervalued. The shock of that caused a large portion of the voting public to educate themselves, get more involved, and close the loopholes that allowed that segment of the population to dominate. And the result of all that was a ballot that still allows that segment of the population to make their voices heard, but not to dominate the rest of the (now more active and informed) voters. As this solve works its way into the larger American conversation, my guess is that the rules change is going to be about gerrymandering and voter ID laws, and my hope is that the next couple of years will bring us to a point where that bigoted segment of the population still gets to be part of the conversation through senators and congresspeople who represent their interests, but don’t get to dominate the larger (and now more active and informed) public.