FAQ (incl. shortlist)


Was the final winner really decided by playing a game? Like, was that a real fight?

Sure, just like WWE is real.

So actually, not really. The videos were an amusing way to dramatize the announcement, but the winner was decided on the votes received, and the tallying system described in the Dungeon of Democracy. So we could have announced the winner right after the tally in December 2016, only we decided to sit on the results for a bit.

Will there be more Sputnik Awards?

Maybe. But there are no definite plans. If you're interested in getting involved and doing something, get in touch.


Thanks O.O

But it would have been cool if the Marvel v. Capcom thing was actually a real part of it ...

Actually, when the idea of the finalists video was first floated, the idea was it really would be a competition between the two finalists.

It's tempting idea. What do you think? Perhaps a fan of each author could volunteer as champion? Perhaps the finalist with more votes could be given some kind of head start?

Maybe the results had been a bit closer, we would have done it that way. But 34% of Mithril Mech votes (pretty much "first choice" votes) went to N.K. Jemisin, compared to only 11% to Naomi Novik. Even though Novik made up some lost ground with the Hedgehogs, Witches and so on, it wasn't nearly enough. The outcome was in no doubt: we were sure which book would win from very early in the tally, and that book did win.

So who was on the shortlist?

The shortlist for the 2015/2016 Sputnik Award was:
  • Jim Butcher, The Cinder Spires (Roc)
  • Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Berit Ellingsen, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio)
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Orbit)
  • Emma Newman, Planetfall (Roc)
  • Peter Newman, The Vagrant (Harper Voyager)
  • Naomi Novik, Uprooted (Del Rey)
  • Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself  (Gollancz)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (Orbit)
  • Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow)
  • Fran Wilde, Updraft (Tor Books)
How was the shortlist chosen?

For the first year, I selected the shortlist. It contains some entries that I personally loved (as much as my withered heart can love anything). But it's not exactly the same list I would have picked for "my favorite reads of 2015," because I've also tried to reflect some of the will of fandom as already expressed in other shortlists this year (Hugos, Nebulas, Locus, Kitschies, BooktubeSFF), as well as various "Best of 2015" articles and blog posts. In other words, it's a rough simulation of a hybrid open-nominations-plus-juried-nominations process, which is probably how the shortlist will be done next year.

I've been looking at the Dungeons of Democracy. I don't understand the voting system!

That's OK, it was deliberately kind of intricate. The TL;DR version: a voter should put the book they really want to win in the Mithril Mech slot, then fill in the other slots with whatever looks good.

Who can vote?

Voting was open to everyone. Voting ran from 20 May 2016 to 16 August 2016.

Do I have to vote in all four categories?

Yes. It's not safe for any book to venture into the Dungeons of Democracy without at least three friends.

What happens if I pick the same book more than once?

Technically it is allowed, and will make that book more likely to win. But it is considered somewhat unsporting conduct. There is also a small penalty attached, so your particular Ballot may have to exit the Dungeons early.

I've figured out the best strategy to game the system, ha ha ha!

Excellent! Maybe your Ballot will win!

Can I vote for myself?

Sure why not.

Can I vote even if I haven't read all twelve books on the shortlist?

Oh my God of course you can! Vote for the book you've read and loved, even if you haven't read the others. Vote for the book you like the sound of. Vote for the book that someone recommended to you, someone that's usually right. Vote for the book by your favorite author, that's still lurking in your TBR pile. Vote for the book by your friend. Vote against the book by your enemy.

OK, but I want to vote for something that's not on the shortlist.

Actually, you can! By proposing a Wandering Monster Ballot. Places are limited, and your Ballot will be at a disadvantage, but you never know. The mooks must win sometimes. Get in touch!

Will my choices be made public?

Well, first of all, your e-mail will never be shared. Only the name you give your Ballot will be woven into the Award's narrative of the Battle of the Ballots. That means other voters will see the name of your Ballot and know at least some of the books on that Ballot.

That's cool but I want incognito mode.

If you'd prefer not to have any identifier at all, then either don't give your Ballot a name (you'll get a number instead), or mention in the "Any other comments?" box that you'd prefer your Ballot totally anonymized.

On the other hand, do consider naming your Ballot after yourself, or in some recognizable way. It may make things more entertaining.

So if I do leave my e-mail address ...

You'll get a somewhat personalized chronicle, detailing the fate of your particular ballot.

Update: and here's one sample chronicle. Thanks, Martin.

So how is this voting system better than other voting systems?

Oh, it's probably way worse. Like the worst?

OK, but how is it different from other voting systems?

One innovation is the substitution of words like "Hedgehog" for words like "Second Preference."

Some awards use some kind of preferential voting systems, such as instant runoff. You rank your books in order of preference. The counting process goes through a number of stages. At each stage, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and the Ballots that were provisionally assigned to that candidate are instead redistributed among the other candidates, in accordance with the preferences listed on the Ballot.

In 2016 the Sputnik Award is a tiny bit like that, except you have one first preference (Mithril Mech) and three second preferences (Dalek, Hedgehog, Witch). When the time comes to combine the votes and produce a winner, the procedure incorporate will incorporate elements of luck and uncertainty. By and large the books with the most votes (and especially with the most Mithril Mech votes) should rise to the top, but it's possible there will be a surprise upset.

If you're the sort of person who enjoys delving into these things, you can study the rules of the Dungeons of Democracy.

So it's much less fair than most awards?

I'm not sure. Maybe. Do you think so?

Why the signing into Google?

A small gesture to discourage multiple votes. "I've hacked into the mainframe, I'm going to give myself 1,000,000 votes -- noooo, it says I have to sign in!"

I just read my Chronicle. My ballot got in a fight with one of the books I voted for!

Yes, that's in the rules! Ballots choose Champions to fight whenever the books in the Herald slot differ. After the bout, the Champion may sometimes become the ballot's new Herald. See the Dungeons of Democracy for the rules.

What about the other bits in the Chronicle? Do they have a function?

Some color and flavor (e.g. the battlecries) have been woven into the output more or less at random. They don't reflect any events in the underlying vote-tallying.

Why did you do this?

Mostly for fun and to see what happens. The idea was born in this post from about a year ago, when everyone in fandom seemed to be talking about different possible voting systems for the Hugos. This is kind of like a "The Hungo Games" system.

So is the Sputnik Award a hoax?

Nope. It's absolutely 99%-101% as real as any other literary award.

OK, not a hoax then, but is it a joke award?

I'm not really sure. And maybe it's not up to me to decide. Many aspects of the award are definitely tongue-in-cheek, but then, even the biggest literary awards are seldom completely solemn affairs.

The Sputnik procedures may have made a few people smile, but their primary purpose isn't to make people laugh. So "joke award" is an OK term, but "experimental award" might be a bit better. Through taking a slightly distinctive approach, the award hopes to reflect on the nature and uses of literary awards, their role in an era of heightened digital connectivity, and on the possible forms literary awards might take in the future. (And by analogy, the forms that other sorts of structured collective decision-making might make in the future).

Is it a kind of fan writing, or collaborative writing exercise or something?

Yeah, maybe that's part of it! Voters' comments do echo as battle-cries in the Dungeons of Democracy (see this sample chronicle of the fate of one particular ballot). I wonder how that aspect could be developed further?

Is it a manic episode?

No comment.

Is it a massive faux-pas?


Is it a satire?

Maybe a little? Although perhaps not a very effective one. Because if it is a satire, what is its intended target? The Hugo Awards? The Hunger Games? D&D? Literary prizes? The vanity of human wishes? The democratic deficit of contemporary de jure liberal democracies? Or perhaps our propensity to mistake bureaucratically complex processes for scientifically rigorous ones? Or perhaps just our propensity to forget, surprisingly quickly, about the messy story behind almost any significant evaluation ... like a literary prize, or the election of a leader, or the passing of a law, or the decision of a court, or a hiring, or a firing, or the grading of an exam paper, or maybe even a hook up or a break up ... and start treating that outcome as a solid chunk of reality, something that is really "out there" independent of human institutions and will? Maybe a bit of all these things. An effective satire would probably have to be a little more focused.

Wait, so are you the same Jo Walton who --

No, probably not! Similar names, two different people. I'm Jo Lindsay Walton.