Guest Editorial: A Character Who Happens to be Black

Editors note:  Amazing Stories is always open to publishing guest editorials on subjects related to genre fiction and it’s fandom(s).  Chris Nuttall, formerly a regular contributor to Amazing Stories, returns to share his thoughts on diversity in both fiction and in the real world.
This is the first of several guest editorials we will be publishing over the next several weeks.

A Character Who Happens to be Black

One of the charges leveled at the Sad Puppies is that they are against ‘diverse’ characters in books (and comics, movies, TV shows, etc.) The people who level these charges are, essentially, accusing the Sad Puppies of racism, that the only reason they could possibly have for objecting to these characters is their race (or gender, or sexuality, or whatever.) It is a fairly obvious rhetorical trap. By asserting that racism is the only reason to object to these characters, they brand the Sad Puppies as racists.

This does nothing for the state of discourse in science-fiction and fantasy. The people who level these charges seem to believe that the mere act of levelling these charges grants them credence. They do not have to prove the Sad Puppies are guilty; the Sad Puppies have to prove their innocence. This is, of course, a reversal of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle that is a core of our modern society – and utterly maddening for anyone on the receiving end. I can honestly say that I have put a number of commenters on my ‘don’t pay any attention’ list because, in my rather less than humble opinion, anyone who ignores the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle does not have the best interests of SF/FAN at heart.

But are the Sad Puppies truly racist?

There is no way to gauge what is in a person’s heart. Obviously not. Nor is it possible to avoid the fact that the word ‘racist’ has been redefined and abused so often that it is now effectively meaningless. A person who objects to the colour of a man’s skin is a racist (and a bloody idiot); a person who objects to a man’s conduct is not. I do not consider it racist to question cultural aspects that clash with my own, nor do I consider it racist to insist that such aspects be stopped if they have no place in a civilised society.

I have no concrete proof to offer that the Sad Puppies are not racists. But I do have a piece of evidence that should be taken into account.

It is hard to be sure, for obvious reasons, but I think a number of the readers who read ‘Sad Puppy’ authors also read my books. Amazon does have a habit of recommending my books to people who browse their pages, after all, so it’s fairly safe to say there’s some overlap. I can’t say how big the overlap is, of course, but it is there.

In the past year, I started two trilogies starring women of colour. The Vanguard trilogy (Vanguard, Fear God and Dread Naught, We Lead) featured Commander (later Captain) Susan Onarina, a mixed-race woman (half-British, half-Jamaican) from London. And The Zero Blessing starred Caitlyn Aguirre, a young black girl who grew up in a fantasy world.

And how many complaints do you think I got?

None.

I did not pull a Heinlein, where he convinced us to like the hero of Starship Troopers from the start – and then, at the end, casually revealed that Rico was Filipino. Heinlein wrote in an era that was less tolerant than ours – witness how he sneakily gave Podkayne of Mars a mixed-race background that would have had certain people howling in outrage, if they’d noticed. No, I made it clear that Susan was from a mixed-race background from the start – and I definitely mentioned Cat’s skin colour. (She’s on the cover of the book.)

And I still didn’t get any complaints. Why might this be so?

There’s a piece of advice – also from Heinlein – that ran “don’t be a female politician, be a politician who happens to be female.’ His point was that the former type became tribal, putting female interests ahead of male … which drew lines between them and the rest of their constituents. (Why would male voters vote for a politician who couldn’t be trusted to take their interests into account?) The latter type, on the other hand, would be more capable of mustering support from right across the constituency. If you talk too much about your identity, to use a more modern expression, people who don’t like your identity (or identity politics in general) are not going to vote for you.

This is true of characters too. If all the character has going for him – or her – is a skin colour, or a gender, or a religion, or a race … what does the character have after exhausting the possibilities that offers? Not much, perhaps. The difference between Riri Williams and Kamala Khan is that the former is ‘Black and Female Tony Stark’ and the latter is a well-developed character in her own right. She may carry the ‘Ms. Marvel’ title, but she also stands alone.

Both Susan and Caitlyn start the books as disadvantaged characters. Susan is a poor girl from a poor family, growing up in a country that is very suspicious of immigrants – even coloured men who served Britain loyally. Her background is a problem for her, despite being smart enough to win a scholarship to a very prestigious school. Caitlyn, on the other hand, comes from a very wealthy and powerful family; she was born and raised in a city where hardly anyone cares about skin colour. Her problem is that she is effectively a squib, if I may borrow the Harry Potter term, in a world where everyone has at least some magic. She is not shunned and isolated because of the colour of her skin. She is shunned because most of her peers are scared that her powerlessness will rub off on them.

These are problems that resonate with many readers, regardless of their gender or the colour of their skin. To be disadvantaged because of something beyond your control … it isn’t fair or right. It doesn’t sit well with anyone. And yet, it must be carefully handled. It’s easy to get it wrong.

People in this situation have two choices. They can retreat into themselves, blaming the world for their woes (not always without reason). They can allow depression and bitterness to overcome them, lashing out at everyone within reach. These people can become very dangerous in their own right – a number of school shooters were supposed to have felt this way – or they can be manipulated by someone else. As Sarah Hoyt put it,

excluded groups are always a risk in any system, because you’re going to get the brilliant young man or woman who can’t advance for some reason that has nothing to do with him or her: homosexuality; gender; race; handicap…whatever it turns out to be that the society considers bad.”

Or they can rise above it and prove themselves.

Susan does not despair, even though she sees less-capable naval officers being promoted ahead of her (including her immediate superior, who has a nasty case of combat jitters). She doesn’t waste time whining about how unfair the world is, although she does have cause to feel that the world is unfair. Instead, she sets out to do her job as best as she can – and, when crisis strikes, she rises to the occasion. And it pays off for her. No one could possibly argue that she doesn’t deserve her command.

Cat, being younger, does tend towards despair a time or two. But she keeps going anyway, despite bullying from her sisters, disappointment from her parents, resentment from less senior members of the family and the disdain of the outside world. She studies magic, she buries herself in ancient lore, she finds ways to push back, she works hard to develop the skills she does have … and it pays off for her. She isn’t a magician in the standard sense and never will be. But she does have talents of her own and those talents make her very important indeed, after she developed them.

Neither Cat nor Susan ever gave up. And that, I think, makes them likable.

Susan is a composite character, based on a handful of people I’ve met over the years. Cat, on the other hand, draws from a girl I met in university. She was around nineteen, when I met her, a black girl who wore a headscarf (I think her family was from Somalia.) And she couldn’t use her legs, not at all. She moved around in a hand-powered wheelchair. It wasn’t easy for her to get from place to place, even though the university was designed to be wheelchair-friendly. And she never gave up.

I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had, to be honest. She came from a traditional family, one that probably expected her to get married as soon as she graduated. And yet, she couldn’t get married. She had very little hope of a decent future, certainly not one in line with the traditional expectations of her culture. Somehow, she kept going anyway. And I found that admirable. (I like to think she graduated and went to work somewhere where they recognised her brainpower and made allowances for her limited mobility.)

There’s a character in one of the Draka books – I’ve forgotten his name. A brilliant nerd: spotty, overweight, hellishly unattractive to women and yet desperate for sex and companionship. And the Draka convince him to defect by offering him the sex and companionship he so desperately craves. It’s an understandable desire, isn’t it? How can anyone blame him for jumping at the call? And yet, he’s a traitor who went to work for a monstrous society that will enslave the entire world. How can he be considered a good guy? The way he was treated does not justify his actions. (The same could be said of Professor Snape.)

Many of the best stories, the most inspirational stories, are about people rising to the challenge and overcoming their circumstances. It doesn’t matter, in a very real sense, if the characters are climbing a mountain, engaging in combat or fighting a very personal battle for survival. The important thing is that they faced the challenge honestly and overcame it. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a black Navy SEAL or a widow struggling to make ends meet after her husband was drowned in a flood. All that matters is that they are seen to face a challenge and overcome it …

… And they do it through their own efforts.

I admit it, I’ve always disliked stories with endings where the protagonist gets everything handed to him (or her) on a plate. I don’t discount the role of luck in just about everything, but there is a difference between deserved luck and something that seemingly comes at random. The orphan whose dead father left her a large fortune – after most of the book is spent in drudgery – isn’t unsympathetic, but she isn’t very inspirational either.

And I’ve always disliked stories where the protagonist is clearly favoured by the writer.

It’s a common problem in message fiction, whatever the message. The designated heroes can do no wrong within the story, whatever the reader might think. (The most appalling example I can recall is probably the Left Behind books.) And when a character is touted as a ‘character of colour,’ it becomes easy to mock them. For example, Zen Cho’s Sorcerer To The Crown features Zacharias Wythe, the first black Sorcerer Royal. On one hand, many of his enemies dislike him because of his skin; on the other, as I noted in my reviewZacharias is a decent man who’s out of his depth and there are plenty of reasons to want to remove him that have nothing to do with the colour of his skin. Those reasons – and reasons to dislike the female protagonist – are not discussed in the book. Reviewers who praised the book for its discussion of ‘microaggressions’ missed the point. Just because a character happens to be a ‘diversity’ character doesn’t mean he’s the right man in the right place.

A character is a mixture of attributes, which include skin colour, gender, sexuality and suchlike. But one of those attributes cannot be allowed to dominate the rest. That, I believe, was one of the Sad Puppy points; that characters – and authors – were being written and boosted because they ticked a diversity box, rather than being good characters and good authors in their own right. None of the Sad Puppies ever told me that I was writing a gimmicky character, or pandering to part of the readership at the cost of alienating everyone else. Because neither Cat nor Susan were coloured characters.

They were just characters who happened to be coloured.

***

Note:  The views expressed in this guest editorial do not necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories, nor of its many individual contributors.

If you wish to comment, please do so respectfully.

17 thoughts on "Guest Editorial: A Character Who Happens to be Black"

  1. If you talk just about short fiction, I’ve read and reviewed quite a lot (over 2,000 stories) in the past two years, and while it’s true that there are a few stories that make a big political point, they’re pretty rare. Maybe 5% at the outside. I routinely give such “message fiction” no more than two stars (even when I agree with the message) because it breaks suspension of disbelief. In that time, I have seen such a story get nominated for the Hugos and then get voted down to the bottom of the (organic) list. It’s simply not true that message stories are getting awards. Sentimental stories–stories that make you cry–do better than they probably ought to, but that’s a completely different issue.

    If the complaint is that any story that shows a future in which climate change turned out to be real counts as a message story, then all I can say is that people who don’t like science probably shouldn’t read science fiction.

    As for the Puppies’ nominees in the short-fiction categories, if you eliminate all the ones with bad dialogue, intrusive narration, irrational behavior, bad science, message fiction, and/or incomplete plots, you are left with only two stories in three years. All but those two deserved to be under No Award. (To be fair, so did at least one of the actual winners.)

    If the Puppies had held to their original goal of nominating “good tales, well-told” the debate over their voting tactics would have been very different. Instead, they flooded the ballot with trash for two years in a row. Anyone who might have been disposed to listen to them was turned off by that sludge. That and the fact that when pressed to defend their nominees, they always resorted to praising the authors and the authors’ politics–it was never possible to get them to engage on the merits of the stories themselves.

    The fact that Vox Day, a self-proclaimed “White Nationalist,” took over the Puppies simply makes it easier to dismiss them as an alt-right (aka Neo-Nazi) group. But you don’t need to make that argument at all. The text of the nominated stories itself suffices.

    1. A nice summation, Greg.

      I’ve been thinking this about your statement regarding the general lack of actual literary quality, in regards to the “defense” of those works.

      To break it down:

      Jo Phan reads “A work of science fiction”.

      Jo Phan enjoys it. Jo Phan sees that other readers have liked it too.

      Jo Phan chooses to nominate it, and then runs into a wall of other fans who take issue with the quality of the writing, or the quality of the plot, or other (legitimate) problems with the work.

      Now, Jo Phan could be one of several kinds of people –

      A reader incapable of seeing the flaws in the work
      A reader capable of seeing the flaws but discounting/ignoring them because the subject/theme/characters push a button and resonate with the individual
      A reader relatively inexperienced with the field – not familiar enough with tropes, works this present one builds on (deliberately or not)
      A reader who brings an agenda to their reading that is overwhelming their critical faculties
      A reader who is unwilling to or incapable of making quality distinctions, someone for whom “I liked it” is the first and last measure (different from the first Jo because they do have the native skills to make such distinctions but do not employ them)

      IF Jo Phan is also the kind of person whose own thoughts trump everyone else’s owing to ego, lack of empathy, etc., then each of those types of readers listed above are going to be angry and defensive when taken to task because they will perceive criticism of “the work of science fiction” as a personal attack on themselves. “I thought the characters were great” up against say, an experienced author’s statement that they were one dimensional, undeveloped with no growth arc becomes “you’re stupid because you couldn’t see this” or “you have lousy taste” in the re-hearing.

      Campbell (and others) are known to have made statements along the lines of “science fiction requires a special kind of audience”. Related tangentially, I was witness to the NY Times (and other national papers) reducing their reading comprehension level from an 8th grade one to a 4th grade one – all in the interest of making their papers more accessible to a wider audience.

      I’m afraid that the same thing has happened with literature generally, and (maybe because of proximity) even more so in genre lit. It may very well be that a goodly portion of those complaining are receiving and discussing “works of science fiction” from a 4th grade perspective, rather than an 8th grade one. With of course the Nebulas and Hugos being voted on primarily by people who are reading and comprehending at a graduate degree level, and that perhaps some of the dialogue that passes like ships in the night owes its confusion to two entirely different levels of comprehension trying to argue with each other.

      Lord knows I’ve seen a decline in copyediting across the board…but I’ve also seen far more indie works that still needed a lot of polish applied getting high marks from tons of readers. The ought to be saying things like “the author is obviously not familiar with the use of pronouns”…or “unless someone is speaking with a different voice, you can’t change POV mid sentence” or even “yes, there are three different words that sound like “there”, and each of them means something different”.

      The problem is not with the author, the problem is that the audience doesn’t see these things. Not that they are ignoring them in the interest of reading a compelling story, they do not have the educational or literary background.

      The reading of science fiction used to be largely reserved to that “special audience” Campbell referred to; they self-selected themselves into a group that is/was generally highly educated, intimately familiar with reading, interested less in the here and now than in the future.

      My thoughts at the time of the dumbing down of the NY Times were “our focus should be on the audience, not the product”. In other words, society at large ought to have taken a lesson from this and, instead of watering down the offerings, uplifted the audience (impossible, I know). Same thought(s) for most of the enabling technologies (like McDonald’s cash registers that have icons instead of numbers) – we’re taking the wrong path – enabling instead of uplifting.

      And I fear that the kerfuffles we’re experiencing in the field are a symptom of the same things happening in SF. To you, I do not have to point out that “dumbing down” science fiction does not work.

  2. JJ says:

    This piece might have had some credibility if it 1) didn’t begin with 2 paragraphs of blatant dishonesty, and 2) hadn’t been written by an avid supporter of Rabid Puppy leader and demonstrated misogynist and racist Vox Day.

    The people who levelled the charges of racism, sexism, and homophobia against Puppies have done so specifically because of the racist, sexist, and homophobic things they have said — including repeated claims that POC, women, and LGBTQ authors who were nominated for, or won, awards received those honors only as Affirmative Action because of their minority status, and not because of the quality of their works.

    And then there’s all the racism, sexism, and homophobia in the fiction and non-fiction works promoted by both the Rabid Puppies and the Sad Puppies on their slates.

    So yeah, that’s a total ix-nay on the credibility of this piece.

    1. Sam McDonald says:

      Speaking purely from my own experience, a lot of the people who support the Puppies did so not necessarily because they were on board with everything they say, but as a metaphorical middle finger to the establishment.

      It like many people voted for Trump, they were sick of the perpetually offended controlling things, wagging their fingers and trying to police everyone’s preferences.

      Now as for the Hugo, I’ve enjoyed many of the stories at the heart of this controversy (The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere, If You Were A Dinosaur, etc). However, in most cases the speculative element is barely there, and could be removed without consequence. I’m sorry, but if that the case then I seriously question why such stories got nominated and won.

      I can’t say if there was a leftist conspiracy before, but the fact that the Puppy nominees got reject out of hand rather than on quality, proves there is one now. Well, it does to me anyway. A lot of people complain about the Puppies encouraging people to vote, but I fail to see how that’s any different to what authors such as John Sacalzi do.

      We all talk about representation in speculative fiction but, like it or not, conservatives and libertarians are the underrepresented minority in most science fiction communities. So personally, none of this surprises me

      1. JJ says:

        Sam McDonald: I can’t say if there was a leftist conspiracy before, but the fact that the Puppy nominees got reject out of hand rather than on quality, proves there is one now.

        This is another false statement, just like the main post’s claim that the racism charges came out of the blue with no evidence.

        Firstly, there are reviews all over the Internet, written by Hugo voters who read the Puppy works, which explain why the quality of those works is so low. That is the exact opposite of “rejecting them out-of-hand”. Puppies can disagree with those voters’ opinions, but they do not get to pretend that all those voters “rejected the works out-of-hand”.

        Secondly, there were indeed voters who No Awarded the Puppy works simply because they objected to the fact that those works had been cheated onto the ballot.

        And this is the other thing that Sad Puppies refuse to accept: It is perfectly valid for some of the voters to have chosen to No Award the works which were cheated onto the ballot. This is, after all, one of the reasons why No Award was built into the Hugo rules decades ago — and the Puppy works weren’t the first to be smacked down for this sort of cheating, either.

        The Puppies announced to Hugo voters that they were going to attack the Hugo Awards, they did so by putting up a slate that the followers were encouraged to nominate whether or not they’d read the works, and they spent months (actually, it’s more than 3 years now, and still going on) hurling untrue accusations and vicious epithets at the Worldcon voters just because they were picking finalists and winners that the Puppies didn’t like.

        The Hugo ballot was filled with works which were of poor quality (and in many cases included racist, misogynist, and homophobic content) which had not gotten onto the ballot by their own merit, but because they were cheated there.

        And then the Puppies shouted about how unfair it is that the Worldcon voters refused to validate the results of their cheating. The No Awards weren’t a “leftist conspiracy” — they were a perfectly legitimate response to the Puppies’ cheating.

        Sam McDonald: We all talk about representation in speculative fiction but, like it or not, conservatives and libertarians are the underrepresented minority in most science fiction communities.

        This may or may not be true, although plenty of examples of conservative and libertarian authors who have been nominated, or even won, Hugo awards (another fact that Puppies conveniently chose to ignore).

        But the stated purpose of the Hugo Awards is not to recognize the favorites of all fans, nor is it to “throw a bone to underrepresented minorities”; it is to recognize a convergence of opinion on what is best according to the members of Worldcon. That the Puppies disagree with the Worldcon voters’ opinions is fine. That they insisted on trying to force those voters to recognize works cheated onto the ballot is not.

        1. Sam McDonald says:

          See, I wasn’t always under the impression that the Hugo was like science fciton’s equivellent of the people’s choice awards, where we the people got to decide what’s hot and what’s not. But according to you, we the people means we the people who paid the exorbitant voter’ fee.

          The fact the some people actually read the books and stuff isn’t good enough to prove it wasn’t a conspiracy. I mean, there sure was a lot of cheering whenever a puppy lost. And I’ve seen blog post from voters gleefully admitting they read nothing. So you might want a bit stronger evidence to support that case.

          Also, might you be able to name some conservative and libertarian authors? Actually, not just that, but ones that have occurred in the last ten years or so. And I mean real conservatives or libertarians, not the MSNBC kind.

          1. Sam, if you keep on blatantly distorting the truth, I’m going to cut you off again:

            1. ” we the people means we the people who paid the exorbitant voter’ fee.” Anyone can visit any of the Worldcon websites and discover for themselves that there is ABSOLUTELY NO “exorbitant voter fee”.
            What they will discover instead is that the opportunity to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards is extended as a benefit to those who purchase a MEMBERSHIP in the WORLD SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY. Members also receive the right to attend and vote at the WSFS Business Meeting, receive the conventions regular publications, etc., etc. The fact that many who purchase Attending or Supporting memberships (and the vote is extended to both classes of membership) do not participate in either or just one of the Hugo selection phases illustrates that this is not a voting fee.
            That you continue to characterize it as such says more about your unsupported position than it does about reality.
            2. Don’t ever attend a Worldcon – it’s not for you. The fact that you can’t understand or appreciate the idea that real fans take their votes seriously and don’t vote on what they aren’t personally familiar with is, again, proof that you don’t get it or are deliberately mis-characterizing it. Having several thousand people, intimately familiar with the subject matter is of major benefit to the award and one of the things that make the Hugo’s so important and influential.
            3. There was not a “lot” of cheering. I’ve seen the videos. There was one brief round of applause for No Award, and then Gerrold and Due shut that down as inappropriate behavior for the awards – and rightly so.
            Most of the cheering took place online, including here at Amazing Stories. We were all GLAD that nominees on the short lists who had been gamed onto those lists in an attempt to disrupt and diminish the awards were not successful and we were happy to see that all of them were placed below No Award in the final tally as THAT reflected what the Worldcon community thought of those nominees – not worthy of being included in the award.
            4. So now we’ve entered the realm of political litmus test for authors? You know, most of the authors I personally know are complex individuals who have varied thoughts and feelings on a bunch of subjects, and I’m not aware of anyone, regardless of what they do, who is the a priori definition of one political class or another – except for zealots and fear-mongering conspiracy nuts. So, no. As you and your compatriots like to say, its about the art, the story itself, right? So why bother even mentioning what political stripe someone else thinks an author might have?

          2. Sam McDonald says:

            Steve, I’m probably talking to a wall here, but let’s see where to start:

            1) You ain’t the boss of me, I will attend any convention I feel like.

            Who said you couldn’t? I suggested you might not find Worldcon to your taste. Distort the facts much?

            2) Why do I care about an author’s politics? Well, if we’re promoting diversity skin tone and gender, why not promote diversity of thought? Science Fiction is literature designed for exploring ideas. It seems a shame that only one set of ideas should be discussed and explored.

            If you think my, Worldcon’s, Hugo Awards support of diversity is limited to skin tone and gender…haw, bwah ha ha ha (Diversity of thought is what has been winning the Hugos for the past several years)

            3) Shit like this is why I quit. You claim you want discussion and conversation, but the instant anyone offers a view you don’t agree with, or dares to argue with you without kowtowing sufficiently, you throw a hissy fit.

            No hissy fit. Merely calling out blatant distortions of the facts. I note that rather than defending your contention, you choose to attack me.

            4) I’ve met all kinds of people at Amazing Stories, some of the best folks on the internet. However, I’ve also met a crabby old codger who only want to hear his own opinions echoed back at him. Excellent article and such as this notwithstanding.

            I aim to please

            5) Just so you know, I still have the emails from our previous little chat.

            Oh yeah! Well me too! and your point is?

            6) Since I’m not a True Fan (TM)…Mr. Commissar, which golag do I need to report to for wrong think?

            You have only yourself to blame

            Right, I’m off to listen to some lovely science fiction short stories from authors of every race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and political persuasion. As long as a story is good is wonderful I don’t care about who the author that wrote it is.

            May you all have a lovely day indeed, even those who take issue with me.

            Enjoy

          3. JJ says:

            Sam McDonald: See, I wasn’t always under the impression that the Hugo was like science fciton’s equivellent of the people’s choice awards, where we the people got to decide what’s hot and what’s not. But according to you, we the people means we the people who paid the exorbitant voter’ fee.

            The way your post reads, it looks like you meant you always were under the impression that the Hugo Awards were the domain of “we the people”.

            The Hugo Awards have never been that. The Hugo Awards have never claimed to be that. The Hugo Awards have always been the domain of Worldcon members, who created them to recognize the SFF works that they loved.

            And the fact that you had a mistaken impression for years of what the Hugo Awards are does not now mean that the Hugo Awards should have to change and become what you think they should be.

            As Steve has correctly pointed out, there is no fee for voting in the Hugo Awards. It is one of the numerous privileges given to people who become members of Worldcon.

            It doesn’t sound as though you care about Worldcon. So why are you demanding that the Worldcon members arrange their awards program to suit you?

            No one has to prove that there was not a conspiracy. If you want to put on a tinfoil hat and proclaim that there was a conspiracy, no one is going to stop you (or care). The fact that you refuse to believe that a very large number of Hugo voters would, as individuals 1) read the Puppy works on the ballot and decide that they weren’t worthy of being there, or 2) decide not to read the works because they were cheated onto the ballot and place them under No Award, is your issue and Worldcon members have no obligation to care about it.

            So go ahead: pick one work from each category on the 2015 Hugo ballot, and explain to me why each work was worthy of a Hugo Award. No Puppy yet — despite many of them being asked to do so, many times — has been able to do this.

            That is why all those works got No Awarded, not because of any “conspiracy”.

  3. blaakwater says:

    I think Amazing Stories should have done their homework before publishing this article. 🙁

    1. We did “do our homework”; we thought that Chris provided some important insight into how some fans and authors view these topics.
      Communication is the only method we have to try and understand each other, to resolve differences. Open dialogue makes our community stronger. We do not have to accept or agree with what others say, but if we do not know what they are thinking, don’t allow them to express themselves, then there is no dialogue. Only shouting.
      Chris is willing to engage with an audience (Amazing) that many on the right have labeled as “unwelcoming”; I maintain otherwise, but it is difficult to prove that point when nearly everyone holding views THEY perceive as being outside of Amazing Stories’ “culture” pack up their bags and hightail it for safe bubble enclaves.
      I would like to believe that Chris is open enough to accept criticism of his argument(s) and give them some serious thought.
      We’ll have plenty of opportunity as our next two guest editorials address these same subjects from different perspectives.

      1. Chris says:

        I am more than willing to accept legitimate criticism – with the cavort that personal insults do not qualify as legitimate criticism and accusations of racism (or sexism or whatever) have to be solidly backed up. As I noted, the mere act of levelling a charge does not automatically grant it credence. Frankly, the use of such charges without due care and consideration has rendered them worthless.

        If you want to convince me of … well, anything, you have to put forward a coherent argument and be willing to listen to and counter any counter-arguments I put forward, which can range from points I genuinely believe to devil’s advocacy.

        Now, at the risk of being accused of … whatever, may I remind you that there were plenty of articles about women and people of colour sweeping the Hugo Awards? The praise for a ‘diverse’ set of nominees fundamentally missed the point that gender (or colour, or race, or religion, or whatever) is ultimately irreverent to writing skill. I do not read Gwendolyn Wilson, for example, because she happens to be a Muslim, but because she’s a good writer and I like reading her stuff. I don’t care about irreverent details. I care about good stories.

        I like what I like – and if you don’t share my tastes, so what? If the person next to me likes reading romance stories, what of it? If someone writes a book that can be summed up as ‘Brokeback Mountain IN SPACE’ … so what? There’s no rule that says that everyone has to be liked by everyone. All the big names – Heinlein, Asimov, Doc Smith, Sanderson, JK Rowling – have people who wonder just how they managed to get published in the first place.

        And, let’s face it, the SF community has gotten a lot bigger over the years. Very few people can claim to have read everything that’s out now, myself included. There are people I have never heard of until I saw their books being nominated for the Hugo. I liked some of them, when I read them. Others I didn’t like … but so what? I’m not obliged to like everyone, nor is anyone else.

        What I object to, I think, is the suggestion that we should take identity into consideration when we read. I don’t care about skin colour (etc, etc). Nor do I like it when someone puts forward an argument that boils down to ‘you don’t like X because he’s [whatever].’ What matters is the ability to tell a story.

        When the first Sad Puppy campaign began, the opposition (whatever you want to call it) could have put forward a moderate and reasonable case that the Sad Puppies were wrong. They did not. Instead, the Sad Puppies were subjected to charges of everything from classic racism or sexism to outright Nazism. Such behaviour was so far over the line that it convinced many onlookers, including me, that the Sad Puppies had a point. And who are they to say that I, a person who has been reading SF and fantasy since the age of five, is not a fan? And why am I not allowed an opinion?

        To be honest, I think there are a lot of people who have lost the ability to tell the difference between legitimate criticism and outright harassment. And, because of that, the lines have gotten blurred.

        Chris

        1. Chris, if you’ll note, I was not responding to you but to someone else who suggested that I should have done my homework before publishing your piece.

          If you are, however, going to suggest that “puppies” put forth a “moderate and reasonable case”, I think you are going to have to re-think things: Larry Correia started the whole thing by stting, on numerous instances, that he DESERVED a Hugo award. A position that can be rejected out of hand for what I hope are plainly obvious reasons (no one or no thing “DESERVES” a Hugo. Period. Full stop.)
          This was then expanded by authors who also felt they “deserved” an award, including Wright who has publicly made homophobic and misogynistic comments that anyone can find; Day popped in and offered his own brand of neo-nazi fascism – also publicly available. (Start with the screed about N. J. Jemisin – clearly racist.)

          I personally requested that the Sad Puppy leaders (Amanda?) publicly distance themselves from the rabid side of things, believing as I did that the sads might possibly be a reasonable group of authors who were going about registering their complaints in an inappropriate manner – and they refused to do so.

          As someone else stated elsewhere more eloquently: you don’t “casually” join a parade of neo nazis, kkkrs and white supremacists.

          Further, I think you’re really trying to make two arguments simultaneously: 1. that the puppies were attacked without reason, 2. that their work is being denigrated because of some kind of conspiracy of the left owing to politics.

          To respond to the first – no, in my opinion, when you start your argument claiming you deserve an award, when you are joined by loud people bellowing out racist, homophobic, misogynistic remarks related to that argument and you do not distance yourself from the people voicing those statements, you’re going to get tarred with that brush – and deservedly so.

          On the second: the evidence to the contrary is there. The GOR novels were never nominated…not a single one. PLenty of fans bought and read them and yet, I’ve never seen a Gorean knot railing against the injustices of the system, trying to pervert an awards process or claiming that the entirety of SF fandom is in conspiracy against them; I’ve never seen the Perry Rhodan fans do that, nor the Aker’s Scorpio fans do that, nor any other popular author’s series that doesn’t get Hugos.

          What I HAVE seen are people writing tie-ins, complaining that they don’t get consideration and people talking about possibly creating a category for the same at the Hugos; what I HAVE seen are people working diligently within the system to get a YA category added to the awards owing to non-representation; they’ve been arguing that one for years now and have finally got an award slot.

          What’s the difference between puppies and those other groups of fans?

          They didn’t immediately jump to the self-satisfying conclusion that there is a massive conspiracy against them personally. Why? Because they’re a bit more familiar with sanity.

          1. Sam McDonald says:

            It is possible that Vox Day believes in the stuff he says, I can’t read minds so I don’t know what he think. Though, I my personal opinion, I think he’s probably just a troll trying to kick shit up. Given how politically charged everything is these days, it’s pretty easy to get a rise out of people. Like I said, maybe he’s a neo-nazi, or maybe he just wants to watch the world burn for shits and giggles.

            Now, as for that bit on Larry, might you be able to link to that. I’m just a bit curious and would like to see that for myself.

  4. Sam McDonald says:

    Another great article Chris,

    I’ve been saying that for a while now. If you focus on writing a good story people will like it no matter who it stars. Growing up I loved watching Static Shock, Jackie Chan Adventures, Mucha Lucha, Avatar: The Last Airbender and all sorts of other shows with plenty of minorities in the cast or a main characters. To me, what mattered wasn’t the color of their skin, it was that they were all awesome characters.

    To me the problem is that most of the major science fiction magazines, news sites and organizations have become such leftist echo chambers that the people running them have forgotten how to engage with people who hold opinions other than what thru deam to be correct.

    That’s why I’m a big supporter of increasing diversity of thought. What’s the point of having people who look different if they all think the same? To me view point diversity is far more important The the superficial diversity of skin tone or gender.

  5. Mike Glyer says:

    Despite the suspense we lived with in 2015, it turned out there weren’t that many Sad Puppies, however, there were hundreds of Rabid Puppies voting in the Hugos as directed by Vox Day, whose racial attitudes aren’t in any doubt whatsoever. And throughout that year it was easy to find self-proclaimed Sad Puppies who loudly refused to be divided from their ally in their crusade against the award. Really, it’s not a case of misperception. The problem is that people read what the Sad Puppies had to say for themselves.

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