For those of you that follow such things, this year’s Hugo award nominations have erupted into a kerfuffle of galactic proportions. You can get some of the details here, here, and here. Also some opinion (from both sides) here, here, here, and here.
Obviously, a lot has already been said on this subject. But it weighs on my mind a bit, so I thought I’d take my swipe at it.
According to the Sad Puppies campaign, they want to take back the Hugos from literary and message fiction put forward by mostly politically liberal writers. They want a return to old fashioned adventure fiction. So they put out a very public slate of recommendations for nominees and encouraged others to follow suit. Brad Torgersen, who lead the campaign this year, describes the problem thusly:
A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.
These days, you can’t be sure.
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?
There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?
A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.
Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.
Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.
The Puppies and their followers claim that this “message” fiction, fiction with themes that speak to social ills on our own world and in our own time, is inherently inferior to that of the plot-driven tales of derring-do that we all know and love. Which is why such books do so well on the bestseller lists and such movies and television shows do so well at the box office and in the ratings.
The Puppies also claim that the SJWs (“Social Justice Warriors”, whom they dub those of a decidedly politically liberal slant) have put forward whom they wanted to win for years. By putting out an actual public slate, they’ve merely done out in the open what their socio-political counterparts have done behind the scenes. To be honest, this smacks a bit of conspiracy thinking to me. If it’s true, then there is a secret cabal of liberals that actually run all of the independently-operated Worldcon conventions and influence the votes of the memberships. Or, even more unlikely these liberal SJW authors that write unsuccessful, inferior fiction send out their hordes of followers (which they have despite their lack of success?) to vote their personal slates of fellow liberal SJW authors to keep the rolls pure. It doesn’t make much sense. If there is a secret cabal, then it must be very mobile in order to influence a series of independent conventions and memberships. The logistics must be staggering. It’s more likely that the SJW authors are actually successful authors because the Worldcom fandom wants to read their stuff. Occam’s razor and all that.
I have to say, as a librarian and a blogger who tries to follow trends, the winds are changing. Its not a secret cabal, but a shift in the demographics that we are seeing. The world is changing and I think that many that follow the Sad Puppies way of thinking simply don’t like they way the wind is blowing.
But the reaction strikes me as a form of schoolyard logic. “They’ve done it for years, so we’re going to do it, but better!” Like I said, I don’t think it’s being done in the first place. But even if it were, is it really taking a high road to take this tack (to mix my transportation metaphors)? If its wrong for one side to do it, then its wrong for either side to do it. If your grievance is that the Hugos are supposedly broken because of some supposed bias on the part of the process, then fix the process, don’t game the system.
But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t that there’s a problem with the process. It’s a problem with the results. The world is changing. People’s tastes are changing. People still want to explore strange new worlds, but they also want to be made to think about the world they live in. There’s nothing wrong with that. Believe it or not, SciFi and fantasy have always done that. Heinlein himself did it a time or two. So did Roddenberry. But I suspect that the problem isn’t as much with the works themselves but between the writers that produced them–and that is what is truly sad about this kerfuffle.