Of the 85 works nominated for this year's Hugo Awards, one of science fiction's most prestigious prizes, a dozen walked away with wins. Among their number were hit series, household names and repeat recipients — but a day later, the winning entries getting the most attention have no names at all: In several of the categories, voters picked "No Award" instead of bestowing the prize on one of the nominees.
That strange result will be explained — as best it can be — in just a second.
Still, Saturday night's ceremony offered an unusual end to what has been an exceedingly controversial year for the prize, which has been held nearly as long as the World Science Fiction Convention that hosts it every year. A record number of people bought memberships to this year's convention in Spokane, Wash., and they cast nearly 6,000 final ballots — all to decide, in five separate categories, that none of the nominees on the ballot deserved the award.
The origins of the controversy can be traced back several years, to the formation of the Sad Puppies, a group of mostly white male writers and fans. The group was upset with the direction they'd seen the awards taking in recent years, as more women and writers of color won Hugos.
As More Women, Minorities Win Hugos, 'Sad Puppies' Blast Sci-Fi Awards
NPR's Petra Mayer explained it this way on All Things Considered: "The issue, according to the Puppies? This system is biased. The nominations are controlled by cliques who are more interested in social justice checklists than good, old-fashioned space ships and Martian princesses."
Each year since, the Sad Puppies — and more recently, a related group that goes by the name Rabid Puppies — have been pushing a slate of proposed candidates of their own, encouraging their followers to vote for these candidates as a bloc. This year, their picks dominated the finalist ballot.
And, as writer Tasha Robinson points out, this sparked a chaotic conversation in the months leading up to the prize:
The controversy also significantly boosted interest in this Worldcon, drawing fans and writers who wanted to have a say on the Puppies' intervention. According the Wall Street Journal, Worldcon organizers reported a massive leap in membership — up 65 percent from its previous record.
For those who objected to this year's slate of nominees, a little blank box on the ballot became the solution to what they saw as a manipulated process. By voting "No Award," they protested the nominees they had to choose from.
Kameron Hurley, who won two Hugos herself in 2014, tells NPR that she voted "No Award" plenty of times on her own ballot this year. But she's also thrilled with the results — which saw winners only from the non-Puppy contingent of nominees, with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy.
"The best of all possible outcomes," Hurley says. "I was really proud of the community. When Wesley Chu accepted the John W. Campbell [Award for Best New Writer] with a rainbow tie on at the start of the ceremony, I knew what kind of night it would be."
Best Novel: The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu).
Best Novella: No award.
Best Novelette: "The Day the World Turned Upside Down," by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.
Best Short Story: No award.
Best Dramatic Presentation – Long:Guardians of the Galaxy.
Best Dramatic Presentation – Short: Orphan Black: "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried."
Best Related Work: No award.
Best Graphic Story: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson; illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt.
Best Professional Editor Long Form: No award.
Best Professional Editor Short Form: No award.
Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon.
Best Semipro zine: Lightspeed.
Best Fanzine:Journey Planet.
Best Fancast: Galactic Suburbia Podcast.
Best Fan Writer: Laura J. Mixon.
Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett.
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Wesley Chu.