I've finally figured it out. The entire puppy Hugo Award drama is about spaceships on the cover of SF novels. To quote puppy ringleader Brad Torgersen:
"The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?
Brad's quote set me to wondering how many previous winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel originally had a spaceship on the cover. My analysis was completed using the original first editions for the winning novels from 1953 to 1979.
Of the five original Hugo winners from the 1950s, only one novel — Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein — featured a spaceship on its first edition. Meanwhile, two of the winners from the '50s — Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and James Blish's A Case of Conscience — featured the abstract and, dare we say, literary covers seen here.
But surely the Hugo winning novels from the 1960s featured more spaceships? Nope. Not a single one of the 11 best novel Hugo winners from that decade featured a spaceship on the covers of their first editions. (Note: There are 11 winners because of a tie in 1966). The three Heinlein novels which won the Hugo in the '60s all originally lacked spaceships, as demonstrated by the first edition of Starship Troopers at right. And many winning novels such as Dune featured almost abstract covers.
The 1970s were actually better for spaceships on covers with two of ten novels featuring them — Gateway by Frederik Pohl and Ringworld by Larry Niven. You can even stretch that to three novels if you count the first edition cover of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, which features the inside view of a giant spaceship. But many covers still featured abstract artistic designs, as seen in the first edition covers for The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin and Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm.
From the 1980s onward we actually begin to see more genre novels with obvious SF/F themes on their first-edition covers. But that doesn't change the fact that of the 27 novels which won Hugo Award for Best Novel from 1953 to 1979, only four had spaceships on their cover.
Only four of 27 Hugo Award winning novels with a spaceship cover? Only 14% spaceships? It's a conspiracy! We must do something!
Of course, a spaceship on the cover doesn't indicate a true SF novel any more than the lack of a spaceship cover means the opposite. But Brad Torgersen is the one who implied there is something dishonest about much of today's Hugo Award winning genre fiction. That certain authors are trying to sneak in political and literary novels under the guise of genre fiction.
Which is nonsense. Any objective look at the novels which have won the Hugo Award since 1953 will show a range of stories from pure SF adventure to literary novels to novels with overt political themes.
When the puppies say they want to return the Hugos to how they were in the Golden Age of SF — where a spaceship on the cover meant a damn spaceship on the cover — all I can do is ask:
Where were the spaceships back then?