Update: I’d entirely forgotten to link to this roundup of commentary on Far Beyond Reality until they reminded me by linking to this post. It looks pretty comprehensive. If you think you’ve found a related post that isn’t listed, go ahead and add it. FBR is merely collating, not endorsing.)
I feel a proprietary sense about the Hugo Awards. They’re named for the man who founded Amazing Stories, which, along with his other great science fiction magazine, Science Wonder Stories, midwifed science fiction fandom. While I am aware that he may have had some questionable business practices and that good critics of the genre have argued persuasively that he did more damage than good to the budding genre, I’m also aware that he pioneered a form of social networking back in the 1920s that led to the creation of a unique, world-wide literary phenomena. I am also aware that if it had not been for his actions, science fiction and fandom would not be what they are today. They both might still exist; they both might even be better expressions of themselves in some different universe, but in the one I necessarily inhabit, they are what I got. And what I got ain’t half bad, considering. For the most part.
It is when controversy impacts the awards that I start feeling that proprietary sense most keenly. The Hugo Awards are supposed to be a celebration of our genre and our community. They are supposed to be a positive celebration of that community. The coming together of the different clades within fandom – filthy pros, Big Name Fans, artists, editors, Little Name Fans, SMoFs and even the “how did we get heres?”, all in service of one single goal: to acknowledge contribution to the community in an unfettered, uncompromised, selfless, a-political manner.
This may be where my approach to the Hugo Awards differs slightly from most others: yes, the awards are the popular pick of a small, self-selected group of participants, and maybe each of them is trying to give something back to a favorite author, artist, editor, fan, or maybe each of them is really trying to pick THE best work from the preceding year.
What I see goes beyond individual votes. What I see are the members of a relatively small community giving THEMSELVES awards as a way of reaffirming their existence, their community and what they stand for. We vote for Best Fanzine because enough of us still think that fanzines are important to the overall health and well-being of the community. We vote for short stories because we still acknowledge the importance of that form. When Author X walks away from the podium clutching that silver rocket and beaming away like a 100,000 watt spotlight, it’s not just Author X who got that award. I got that award, you got that award,everyone who participated in the nominating and the voting, and everyone who is touched by science fiction in any way got that award. What the Hugo Awards are really all about is the science fiction community saying to the rest of the world – We exist and we are a force to be reckoned with! Look at what WE do!
When Christopher Garcia sat down on the stage and wept with joy after winning his Hugo, it had such a strong impact on our community that video of the event was itself nominated for a Hugo Award the following year. It had that impact because each of us can so easily put ourselves into Chris’s sandals. That is because we recognize that the awards themselves embody our collective community.
It is entirely true that there have been other verified and most likely other unverified attempts at manipulating the vote in the past – Scientology’s ham-handed throwing of money, various cases of insider lobbying, questionable decisions on eligibility, even (I suspect) attempts at wholesale disenfranchisment.
None of those manipulations took place during a time when the SF community was as fractured and divisive as it seems to be today. For better or worse, tradition and a sense of community responsibility were apparently stronger in years past. Which may be one reason why the current contretemps seems to be so much more problematic now.
In years past the SF community had its share of fuggheads (a term I’m not sure is still in the vocabulary but I’m sure you can figure it out) and to the degree that we were sensitive to the issues, we acted to quietly remove them, to spread the word of their fuggheadedness. It was understood that there was a difference between holding opposing viewpoints and opinions and being a fugghead. Fuggheads were inherently incapable of recognizing their state, were irredeemable. No one wants to argue with a rock – and rocks never change anyway.
Quiet handling of a society’s problems can be effective, until it is learned that not all problems get handled and not everyone in the community is in on the whisper campaign. Long gone are the days of quiet frustration and tolerance for being disrespected; of seeking comfort from an in-group; of trying to lobby for change on a personal level. We have entered an era in which underrepresented, marginalized and disrespected minorities are through with being patient for change, have found a voice and have developed various tactics that are proving to be effective in getting their message across.
The effect on the SF community of this mainstream cultural phenomena has been like a case of whiplash: a bang followed by disorientation, confusion and the vague sense that something major just happened but you aren’t quite sure what.
If one were to catalogue the isms (use of that term is not meant to be dismissive) currently acting for change within the SF community, the first concern becomes making sure to include all of them, because leaving one out is a sure bet for getting attacked as being clueless and insensitive. Which highlights one aspect of these movements that is both understandable and somewhat problematic, at least from a supposed dispassionate point of view: many seem argumentative, dismissive, denigrating and closed: no room is left for response or dialogue and much of it seems calculated to engender anger.
These kinds of responses are understandable; Moses went to Pharaoh, humbly and respectfully, only so many times before the plagues were unleashed upon Egypt. Most non-ismed people impacted by these issues do not appreciate that the problems being addressed have been problems for DECADES (if not far longer) for those people and the communities they affect. At some point you realize that the toothache is not going to go away on its own and that something must be done. If the trip to the dentist is accompanied by irritation, grumpiness, anger and frustration, it should come as no surprise to anyone.
There is also something to be said for the tactic of making the mainstream culture (in this case, the SF Community at large is the mainstream) feel what the sub-culture has been feeling. You don’t like being treated that way? Well now you know how we’ve been feeling our whole entire lives.
The problem (which may not be perceived as a ‘problem’ for some) is that applying such tactics across the board is a sure way to lose the support and/or drive away potential allies from the mainstream; many won’t engage because they don’t thoroughly understand the issues (lashing back at “clueless” commentary is often accompanied by the epithet-like “it’s not our job to teach you”); some are simply put off by the tone; others may largely agree with the points being made but have nuance they wish to discuss, but fear running afoul of black and white divides (you’re either agin us or fer us), while many remain on the sidelines, fervently hoping that whatever changes are being demanded finally get made so things can just go back to the “way they were before” (they’re not pining for the discrimination, they just want less controversy and more fun).
Should the points that need to be made not be made for fear of upsetting the applecart? Of course not. A return to quiet intolerant tolerance is just not in the cards anymore. Is it time for the various movements to stop engaging in rhetoric and agitation and move on to implementing hard-won change? That’s not for me to say, nor is it something that anyone but those affected are qualified to comment on. Only the oppressed can determine when they are no longer oppressed. (When reading that, many will probably have thoughts about excessive accommodation, about reverse discrimination. With rare exception, I’ve not seen any ism movement that is asking for anything but equality and a fair shake – the right to have the same opportunities as everyone else, no more, no less. It is important to realize that the mainstream is already armored against excess by minorities and need have no fear of such things – recent SCOTUS decisions not-withstanding.)
And then we come to the other side. The representatives of the mainstream who take positions that make it sound and look as if they are against whatever a particular minority is agitating for. Their positions range from confusion (problem? what problem?) to what many see as outright bigotry if not hate speech (a term that is itself argued over).
I will say the following: if you are arguing against full equality and equal opportunity for human beings based on their country of origin, the language they speak, their genetic heritage, the gender they identify with, the sex they are attracted to, the physical or mental limitations they may have, the religion they do or don’t follow, the political positions they take, then you are arguing from ignorance, or bigotry or fear. Or perhaps all three. (Or perhaps even from a coldly-calculated sense that you can make more money by portraying yourself as the exemplar of that ignorance and bigotry and fear.)
What’s more, your positions are not supported by the current scientific research (“science fiction” community, remember?) and is certainly out of step with the direction that the entire world seems to be moving in these days. (You may not like it but – King Canute.)
One other observation on that before I move on: how and why have arguments over these issues become so central to our discussions when it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a down side that would result if those changes were implemented?
There are calls for more diversity of character in our fiction. Doing this would positively affect the economics of the entire industry by opening markets to works they might engage with. There’s no proscription that each and every SF/F/H story written from now on must include a spectrum of others; I’ve seen no changes to submission guidelines and I am POSITIVE that the market geared to straight, white, cisgendered, heterosexual males who like women in chain mail bikinis on their covers will remain healthy and vibrant for quite some time.
There are calls for the inclusion of cultural sensibilities that are drawn from cultures other than the anglo. Engaging with this will have a positive economic impact on the industry in ways similar to those mentioned earlier. And again, I’ve seen no changes to submission guidelines. Besides – opportunity. Pitch a book based on a “foreign” culture and include the necessity of doing first-hand research. Maybe you’ll actually get a plane ticket thrown in with the advance. Besides, the market geared to straight, white, cisgendered, heterosexual males who like women in chain mail bikinis on their covers – so long as they are cavorting on familiar beaches – will remain healthy and vibrant for quite some time.
There have been calls for the inclusion of greater recognition of the diversity of human gender and for treating gender issues as non-binary. Yep: positive impact through audience growth. No changes to submission guidelines. Besides, the market geared to straight, white, cisgendered, heterosexual males who like women who look like women and have always been women, in chain mail bikinis on their covers, cavorting on familiar beaches, will remain healthy and vibrant for quite some time.
In short (as has been said before by many others), the market for fiction including scantily clad real womens, cavorting in familiar locales, doing things in the properly proscribed manner is entrenched, profitable and unlikely to disappear for a long time. ADDING content that is a bit different won’t change that.
If you are a “capitalist” – market forces baby. Isn’t the market always right? Aren’t economic imperatives the one and only pure measure for judging everything? If so, arguing against the expansion of genre fiction to include the previously mentioned is contradictory to the polemic. Adopting that position says, in effect, taking advantage of capitalism is fine for some but not for others. Which really gets back to the heart of the issue, doesn’t it?
There are not two “camps” in fandom. There are tens of thousands of individuals. But it is not uncommon for one small group of like-minded individuals to discover each other and hang out because of their commonalities. It is also not uncommon for a small group to characterize itself as oppressed, delegitimized, put upon, made fun of, under attack, in danger of extinction because “everyone else in the club house hates them”; they do this variously for economic gain, for ego, for political advantage or because their is a flaw in their character – they’re addicted to outrage. Or they are discerning propagandists who callously use pretty standard tricks to elevate themselves and their importance for economic/psychological reasons that are too complicated to delve into here.
And now the current crisis.
The voting slate.
Two obvious cases (and accusations of more). The Wheel of Time (Jordan) Community via TOR.com, Brandon Sanderson (author of some of the works in question) and others promoting the entire Wheel Of Time series based on a a voting rules interpretation and Theodore Beale/Vox Day and Larry Correia’s voting slate for works representative of the repressed “non-liberal” minority.
Let’s compare appeals in order to dispel any chance of conflating these two efforts to generate votes.
Here’s Larry Correia’s stump speech from his blog of 2/23/14:
Queue plaintive sad background music:
Hello. I’m Larry Correia, and I need your help. You too can tell stuffy literati types to go screw themselves.
Only you can make a real difference in the life of a pulp novelist. Every day, over a thousand writers of explody, action-adventure, gun-nut, monster-killin’, novels are maligned on the internet by stuffy literati critics for not being “real” novelists who write ham-fisted, navel gazing, message-fic about starving polar bears or some crap.
How can you make a difference? By nominating Larry Correia’s Hard Magic for the Hugo award for best novel.
Anyone who attended last year’s WorldCon or who is registered for the next can nominate works, You can make your voice heard by nominating what you think are the best books, TV shows, movies, and related works of the year. Make a critic’s head explode by nominating something awesome today.
I’m Larry Correia, and I approve this message.
Insert incredibly sad photo of Larry Correia here.
and here is Jennifer Liang’s opening – the earliest I can find recommending a nomination for WoT:
Simply put, because no portion of The Wheel of Time has ever been nominated for a Hugo, the entire series became eligible as a single work when it was completed. I’ve contacted the Hugo Administrators for this year and they declined to rule on this interpretation, preferring to wait and see if the nominations received require one. So if more folks nominate just A Memory of Light, that will make the ballot. If more nominate for the entire series, then the series will be listed. If it doesn’t make a difference either way, then they won’t need to rule.
Picked up and followed by this TOR.com post by Leigh Butler:
Hail, people of Tor.com! Leigh Butler here, of The Wheel of Time Reread. Today, in addition to a Reread, I bring you some interestingly weird news (at least I think so), and an even more interesting (I hope) request….HOWEVER, I was recently contacted by Jennifer Liang, Chair of JordanCon and WOT fan extraordinaire, with a proposal that was far more interesting, and so now I put it to you for your consideration….Therefore, O my Peeps, I exhort you: if you can and will, please consider nominating the Wheel of Time series as a whole for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and spread the word so that others might do the same.
It should be made clear, by the way, that this is my personal opinion and endorsement, which the lovely folks at Tor.com have graciously allowed me to express on their site but otherwise maintain strict neutrality on the subject, as is right and proper. The Hugos have always been about the community at large deciding what to honor, and it is in that capacity, as a fan, that I am endorsing this notion. I hope that you will agree.
The end result is the same: lobbying and politiking for votes, something we’re not supposed to do. But is there any shred of doubt that there is a vast difference between the two? Correia’s appeal BEGINS as requesting a negative vote against code-worded liberals. Jennifer suggests consideration for a single specific work. Leigh goes on to more specifically address a desire to reward Robert Jordan (because – history, a justification that is not strictly quality alone) – neither proffers a slate, and neither, perhaps most importantly, offers up a political justification for the recommendation.
Correia’s appeal and the resulting Correia/Day slate are purely political set up from the beginning (a fact that both Correia and Day are tacitly admitting on their blogs these days). Designed to be a “win-win” for their cause, or as they characterize it a “test” or a “proof” of existing bias.
Let me address Leigh, Jennifer and TOR first. Caveats alone do not shield one from accusations of collusion and using market presence and clout to influence the vote. In other years, the suggestions and politicking would have been an interesting side-show and would have drawn the ire of Hugo Voting Purists for violating the unspoken no-campaigning rules. In isolation, TOR most probably calculated that allowing the appeal to appear on their blog would have been nothing more than a slightly weightier continuation of the self-promotion creep we’ve all been watching for the past several years. But in the current context, it might not have been such a good idea. It represents an attempt to influence the vote, from a powerful player in the community, albeit it a mild one not far removed from things that have gone on before. If there were an open clearing house for “things you might want to know about things possibly related to the Hugo Awards”, this would have been a perfect entry. As it stands now, it provides ammunition for contention.
The Beale/Corriea Slate. How is it designed to be a win-win? An environment was created in which a perceived “small” (their characterization) group is portrayed as aggressively taking over the SF world in favor of some kind of liberal agenda, forcing those who disagree with their views on everything from gun control to same-sex marriage out of SFWA, publishing houses, conventions. Their stated contention is that there is a behind the scenes cabal that may already be “fixing” the vote in favor of squishy, self-contradictory liberals and that by proving their allegation, they will somehow rescue us all from a fate worse than death.
First: the tactics employed are run-of-the-mill angry talkshow host tactics. Accuse the other side of what you yourself are doing. Excuse your actions as defensive in nature. Exaggerate the harm that’s been done to you; exaggerate the strength and threat of the opposition. Ignore contradictions in your own statements, disregard any fact that doesn’t support your argument (because – ANGER), use words and language that are deliberately ill-defined so that they can mean whatever you need them to mean. Use words and language deliberately meant to create anger and upset (on both sides) because angry people are not at their logical best. And a whole long list of other well-honed political agitation techniques that were probably introduced by Stalin. (That last a deliberate usage of a mild form of one of the techniques.)
Second: despite using just about everything mentioned above to explain things away, there is a fundamental difference between mentioning that one of your own works is eligible for a Hugo award, of opening up your website for others to do the same and of putting up an entire slate of recommended votes and then exhorting your “army” to push that slate to achieve a political agenda.
That last is important. Even if it were completely acceptable to publicly endorse your own work and ask your friends and followers to vote for you (which it still isn’t though the prohibitions are rapidly fading: I’ve done it here to the extent of mentioning that Amazing had passed it’s required first year of existence and was now eligible for the Fanzine award category) it would still be unacceptable to do so out of political motivation.
Fundamentally wrong to do so.
The awards, at their worst, my be representative of a narrow slice of fandom and their votes may incorporate things that go beyond the straight forward issue of quality – such as having a personal relationship with an author and wanting to do them a good turn, or believing that a particular work embodies an important message – but everyone, and I mean everyone – including the two authors in question – state that the awards are supposed to be based on the work itself, absent external considerations.
This entire thing has been an exercise in contradiction. Complain that you and your works are underrepresented because fans aren’t voting based on merit and then asking your fans to vote based on something other than merit.
Had they really wanted to counter what they characterized Scalzi (among others) of doing, they’d have mentioned on their sites that certain of their works were eligible and then opened their pages up for friends and followers to do the same. Call what they did whatever you want to call it, but that is not what they did. They took the perceived breaking of a (fading) cultural imperative against self-promotion and used it as a wedge to introduce political machine like voting.
Third: The win-win? If none of the slate of nominees made it onto the final ballot – see, the forces of pink twisted pantydom are more influential than even we realized. Maybe votes for our slate got thrown on the floor; maybe there was some hacking of the electronic system that counted a vote for one of our slate as a vote for Scalzi. Maybe, maybe, maybe – and the drumbeat goes on.
If any of the nominees on the slate made it to the final ballot: Victory! We’re a force to be reckoned with. We’ve not been nominated before because – pantydom – but now that we’ve identified the problem we came up with a solution. Run in fear liberal agenda types, we will own the Hugos soon!
If none of their slate of nominees wins – See, there really is a liberal cabal controlling the Hugo Awards; once they saw our people on the ballot they organized a campaign to keep us from winning.
Finally, if one of their slate wins an award – Victory! We exposed the cabal and, because of the rightness of our cause untold dozens came running to our banner; we have given a voice to the truly down-trodden, the truly marginalized, the ones who have been discriminated against and we prevailed. Tremble in your ivory towers liberal fandom.
One wonders if an award winner can be truly happy with their win if they suspect that it was the result of political agitation rather than the honest result of more fans liking it just a bit more than the rest of the field because it is a good STORY.
Regardless, most of the fiction votes this year (and some of the other categories as well) will be tainted for all of recorded history since we will never know whether or not something won because it was really the best in its category or was the recipient of additional votes based on political leanings in one direction or another.
The inevitable result of this incident – regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of its rightness or leftness, will be the necessity of formal, quasi-recognized voting blocks within WSFS fandom; expect the WSFS business meeting room to be packed to over-flowing; expect it to be assailed with rule change motions designed to favor one group or another; expect every single issue to become politicized. Should the influence of one block or another be perceived as being too strong, expect those with a strong economic interest in the awards to become involved – discreetly or otherwise.
Worldcon may very well see an increase in membership and voting as a result, but that will only be a temporary blip before everything descends into a toxic heap of invective on every level: site selection, panel selection, guest selection, committee memberships, vendor tables, you name it, as each side seeks to dominate the discourse, diminish the influence of their rivals and tries to control the collective narrative of our community. In the end NO ONE will be happy with the result, there will be no community left, merely a bunch of dim campfires scattered across a darkling plain, each surrounded by angry people whittling down and fire-hardening their spears, having resorted to primitive weapons because the bullets are long gone, and all knowing that theree aren’t that many trees left.
Whether it was their intention or not, whether or not the accusations that have been leveled at Fandom are real or imagined, their actions have guaranteed that the very thing they inveigled against will now become a reality.
Solutions? Damned if I have any good ones.
Maybe fear is the right way to go.
Maybe everyone needs to understand that as a thing, the SF community is a family – weird Uncle Bob, harridan fish-wife Ethel, bratty, snot-nosed kids, senile grandpa and all, some you’re happy to see, others you wish would die already and be done with it, some you’ll never figure out where their genes came from – and that family, chained together at the waist, is rapidly approaching a cliff at the base of which is the bottomless pit of no return.
We can easily go over the edge. We’re teetering there right now.
Or we can stop. All of us. Put the breaks on, skid to a halt. Can we agree to a moratorium on personal attacks? Is it possible for a community of writers to find a way to address their issues and concerns without making it personal? Without resorting to US vs THEM rhetoric? Can we accept that not everyone will agree with all points of view – and that we can’t make them? If you disagree with someone’s view and it personally affects you, can you respond in a logical, mature, well-reasoned and civil manner? And if the issue doesn’t affect you, can you just shut the fuck up?
Or are we all just going to continue subjecting our community to the death of a thousand cuts?
I’m investing in iodine. And Mercurochrome. And band-aids, bandages, Neosporin, bactine, cat-gut and needles.