In case you hadn’t heard, the Hugo Award nomination slate was co-opted by a slate of so-called Sad Puppies, a group of authors and fans who claim to want to bring the award back to its populist center and away from its literary leanings by drawing attention to popular authors who do not usually get award-attention. You might argue that the group’s true aim is revealed in its usage of such acronyms as SJW, CHORF, and SMOF.
(You will find the slate here.)
I will turn you toward the posts of some smart people.
Sarah Chorn writes in her post, “Hugo Awards 2015: A Lamentation:”
“I think the saddest thing is that, now, the Hugos really aren’t about art anymore. They are about agendas. Regardless of whether or not you believe that the awards were broken before, they absolutely are now, and everyone on this year’s shortlist will undoubtedly feel that keenly.”
And Elizabeth Bear writes in her post about the anarchy and resilience of fandom:
“…SF Fandom is a functioning, self-sustaining, multi-generational anarchy. …This is not the first time All Fandom Has Been Plunged Into War. It will not be the last. But it’s also not going to break fandom.”
And me old hearty, Editor Lee Harris, says in his post:
“But the system is broken. It’s always been open to abuse, of course. But this year the abusers came out in force and coordinated their abuse.”
I have thoughts.
These thoughts are in no meaningful order.
But I give them out anyway because this is a blog and that’s what I do. I overturn my dung-wagon of opinions upon your head and you can choose to be disgusted or roll around in the sweet ordure.
* * *
It is important, first and foremost, to realize that awards are like the tallest building in a city.
It is said that you can tell a lot about a town or a city by what it places as its tallest building — a church steeple, a bank building, an embassy, a mega brothel where its citadel is shaped not unlike a saucy dong. This is probably true, to a point. A city of finance will have a bank building at its center. An old town in Europe might have a cathedral peering above all other structures. Eventually Las Vegas will just have a giant robotic cowboy stripper vomiting fake money and pornography pamphlets onto all who stand beneath its regurgitation.
But it’s also not a perfect representation. It suggests a glimpse at the dominant culture, but also misses so much about what really goes on and who really lives there.
Awards are like this, in a sense.
You can tell something about a segment of pop culture — maybe even quite a lot — by the nominees and winners of an award slate presented in that segment. Some like to pretend that the Oscars are utterly irrelevant, but that’s patently not true. It’s also not true that they’re a shiningly complete illustration of things, either. They demonstrate film culture, though they do so imperfectly. You could, looking back through time, make a not terrible judgment about the movies of the year by the Oscar slate, but it would also be staring through a narrow arrow-slit. You would get a sense of it, but you’d also miss a great deal — the fringe independents, the big moneymaker films, and certainly films from more diverse corners.
You can tell a lot by that part of the animal, but it’s still not the whole animal.
The Hugos are like this, in a sense. They’re the trunk of the elephant — a notable, memorable, perhaps most-talked-about part of the beast, but certainly not the entirety of the creature, either.
This year, the elephant’s trunk has been rooting around in its own shit.
And it’s just covered with the stuff.
The Sad Puppies slate (and “Rabid Puppies” slate, which is the shittier, angrier version) taking over isn’t precisely against the rules. It’s legit. You can suggest that they gamed it, but to do so you summarily have to recognize that this means they still played by the rules of that game. It’s like min-maxing in D&D — you found ways to maximize your character traits for the utmost benefit to your character sheet. Though, most RPGers know that min-maxing players are often the assholes of the table, and that’s pretty much true here, too.
See, while it’s not against the rules, it’s still super-crappy. It’s crappy because it’s not about which books are the best or which books have challenged us or not even which books have sold well but rather, it’s about which books are conservative enough, which books would most rile up the “social justice warriors,” which books run counter to the diversity that has been blooming in the field of SFF recently — and whose flowers popped brightly during last year’s Hugos. (And yes, you could argue that’s a part of a whole other “agenda,” but there, not an organized one, not one driven by any slate or rah-rah movement but rather, I’d suggest, simply as a demonstration of the way SFF is moving — toward a more inclusive, wider array of voices.)
It’s slathered in extra crap-sauce because, of course, this has the explicit fingerprints of GamerGate pressed into its clay — those charm-school rejects whose claim that it was all about “ethics in game journalism” has become a hilarious refrain, a joke meme with sinister permutations (because of course it was really about harassing women and being generally fucking awful). And here, just as the Sad Puppies claim it’s about one thing, it’s really about another.
What does all of this say about SFF and the state of SFF fandom?
About SFF, it says both quite a lot and nothing at all.
Science fiction and fantasy will continue on, unaffected by this strange shadow that has been seen on its X-Ray — fandom will see the shadow and panic for a while, as it should, though time and effort will either excise the cancer or reveal it to be benign tumor rather than the malevolent, malignant one we believe it to be. The Hugos of any year neither make nor break SFF in whole, nor will it subvert, co-opt, or diminish fandom in any meaningful way.
But the Hugos are still the Hugos, and like other awards they are neither utterly demonstrative or entirely irrelevant. They say something, after all, and as the saying that I just made up goes, that something ain’t nothin‘. And I suspect what the 2015 Hugos will say when we look back is that this is, like GamerGate, a perfect picture of dinosaurs losing their collective dinosaur shit and waving their tiny ineffective arms at the coming meteors (and subsequent mammal survival party). We are undergoing a social sea change right now — as we see marginalized people gain power and voice, we also see pushback by those who feel they are losing their power. This, I suspect — I hope! — is just that. (And in fact it serves as a pretty clear, if irritating, response to the Hugo Awards last year.) If I may quote author Alyssa Wong here:
“Those crying out against diversity in SFF are howling into the void, and ultimately, they will be soundlessly swallowed up and forgotten.”
(Some might say that it is silly to call them ineffective because clearly, given this slate, they’re very effective. I’d argue that being effective would mean actually winning the awards and actually changing trends in SFF and fandom for the future. Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I don’t see that happening anymore than an overturned tractor trailer spilling pigshit won’t change the highway or the traffic pattern for more than a given day. A short-term effect is not a long-term change.)
Though, looking back, as io9 noted, this may also be the year the Hugos became explicitly political. A two-party system of agenda-driven slates bumping heads against one another.
What can you do?
Well, I dunno.
The easy answer is, “Buy a supporting membership and get voting,” but sometimes this is formed as criticism and it’s worth noting that plenty of folks (fans, authors, whoever) may not be comfortable to (or able to) spend forty bucks just to vote on a science-fiction award. Forty bucks is cheap to a lot of people. And expensive to a lot of others. There’s an argument to be made, too, that if SFF is to represent marginalized or under-served voices, then we may also want to recognize that those voices are often in possession of less filthy lucre than more privileged segments. And further, this argument somewhat explicitly turns the Hugo Awards into a capitalist pissing match rather than a popular vote — have your voice be heard and your vote counted is lovely to say as long as you don’t add to it, but it’ll cost you forty bucks, so write a fucking check.
Certainly this year’s slate is not purely a mouthful of snake venom — there are good people there and good books. Some of those people were on the Sad Puppies slat, though I’m sure those folks have found their celebration dampened a bit. Will there be a hollow pit in their stomach, a question forever asking, did I win because my book is good or did I win because of the concerted efforts of a gathered flock of noisy shit-birds? That would be a grave shame. And again, something that must be laid at the feet of these so-called Sad Puppies: they’re not fans, they’re activists. And they’re pissing all over this thing, and that urine smell is going to be very hard to get out.
Whatever happens, SFF and SFF fandom will continue on. It will be undamaged, though the dust from this will not settle quickly and will gather in all the grooves and low places for a time.
My best suggestion to you is:
Keep on keeping on. Buy great books. Advocate for great authors and for readers. Review them. Champion them. Not because of some agenda, not because of some political slate, and certainly not to take something away from anybody, but rather because you love books and the books that speak to your heart are books you should talk about. Loudly and frequently and with lots of wild gesticulations and yawps of great feeling.
The Hugos are not SFF. You are SFF. All of us! All of us.
This year, the tallest building in the city square is a crooked, broken, ugly thing.
But don’t worry — we’re tearing that one down and building something much cooler.
And on it we will tag a sign in colorful graffiti:
Keep calm and don’t worry about the dinosaurs.