Wired magazine just ran an article on the recently-concluded Hugo awards, voted on at Sasquan, the world science fiction convention held in Spokane, Washington over the past weekend. There is much in the article that I have no objection to, but it does not begin well.
Here is a passage from early in the article:
“Though voted upon by fans, this year’s Hugo Awards were no mere popularity contest. After the Puppies released their slates in February, recommending finalists in 15 of the Hugos’ 16 categories (plus the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer), the balloting had become a referendum on the future of the genre. Would sci-fi focus, as it has for much of its history, largely on brave white male engineers with ray guns fighting either a) hideous aliens or b) hideous governments who don’t want them to mine asteroids in space? Or would it continue its embrace of a broader sci-fi: stories about non-traditionally gendered explorers and post-singularity, post-ethnic characters who are sometimes not men and often even have feelings?”
As a description of the Sad Puppies and the sort of fiction they prefer, this sentence manages the singular feat of being simultaneously dishonest and laughable:
Would sci-fi focus, as it has for much of its history, largely on brave white male engineers with ray guns fighting either a) hideous aliens or b) hideous governments who don’t want them to mine asteroids in space?
I suppose it’s possible that one of the Sad Puppies or the authors they tend to like has at one time or another written a story whose central protagonist is a white male engineer with a ray gun, but I’ve never seen it. Is it really too much to ask people who take it upon themselves to criticize the Sad Puppies to FUCKING READ what they actually write? Instead of doing what the Puppies themselves are all too often guilty of, which is to ascribe content to a story based on whether they like or dislike the author’s politics.
So, if an author known to be a leftie of some kind should write a novel in which the central characters are two young women—not even that; teenage girls—who are both super-warriors in a desperate struggle against a zombie apocalypse and includes a very moving and positive portrayal of a gay couple to boot, then obviously the SJW author was beating the poor downtrodden audience over the head with his (or more likely, her) CHORF message.
Except… the novel I just depicted is John Ringo’s Under a Graveyard Sky, the first volume in his popular Black Tide Rising series. And if there is any modern author who more-or-less anchors the right wing in science fiction, it’s John Ringo. Ringo was not himself a participant in the Sad Puppy business, but he’s been quite sympathetic toward them.
So, likewise, if an author known to be a leftie of some kind should write a YA novel in which the hero is a teenager from the Cape Coloured population of South Africa, obviously we are being beaten over the head with the dreaded Diversity Syndrome so beloved of SJWs and CHORFs the world over.
Except… the novel I just depicted is Dave Freer’s Cuttlefish, and Freer has been one of the Sad Puppies’ most vociferous supporters. Indeed, they nominated his blog for Best Fan Writer. (It lost to “No Award.”)
So, likewise, if an author known to be a leftie should write a massive, sprawling military SF series whose central protagonist is a mixed-race female and features in addition two women of African descent as major characters—one a ruling monarch and the other an immensely capable military leader—clearly we are in the presence of the detested SJW/CHORF disease that is steadily undermining the genre.
Except… what I just described was David Weber’s immensely popular Honor Harrington series. And while Weber is not himself a participant in the Sad Puppy affair and has to the best of my knowledge expressed no opinion on the subject, he is politically conservative and is highly admired by every Sad Puppy I know.
So, likewise, if an author known to be a leftie of some kind should distort the stalwart military SF sub-genre with a novel whose central character deals as much with religious issues as military ones, we can only grimace in anticipation of a dreary tale devoted more to Message than Manly Mayhem.
Except… the novel in question is Brad Torgersen’s The Chaplain’s War. Yeah, that’s right—the Brad Torgersen.
You want me to go on? Trust me, I can. At great length. Another prominent Sad Puppy is Sarah Hoyt. I defy anyone with a single honest bone in their body—just one; even a pinkie bone—to read her collection of short stories Crawling Between Heaven and Earth and tell the world afterward that her only interests are writing stories that feature white male engineers with ray guns.
Please notice that the stereotypes cut both ways. Just as the depiction of the Sad Puppies by all too many of their opponents combine slander and ignorance, the denunciations leveled by the Sad Puppies against those they revel in calling “SJWs” can most charitably be called hypocritical. Throughout, they protest angrily that their own writings are being grossly caricatured—which is often true—but then they turn right around and level the same caricatures against their opponents.
For example, I would like one of the Sad Puppies to please explain to me why Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-award winning essay “We Have Always Fought” is a grotesque example of SJW political correctness run amok, especially in the unrealistic way it depicts the capabilities of women in combat. And yet those very same Puppies have no problem with at all with John Ringo’s depiction of the two central characters in the Black Tide Rising series, the teenage sisters Sophia and Faith Smith, displaying martial prowess that would have any legendary Amazon gaping in awed disbelief.
Why aren’t they denouncing Ringo for distorting his story in the interests of political correctness? Being blunt about it, Ringo’s depiction of the sisters—especially thirteen-year-old Faith—is more extravagant than anything Hurley says in her essay. I think his character of Faith is quite implausible, actually—and this is coming from a hard-bitten old socialist who gave a female warrior in his first novel Mother of Demons the name Ludmilla in honor of the legendary Soviet sniper in World War II, Ludmilla Pavlichenko. (If you’re not familiar with her, here’s the Wikipedia entry:
This whole ruckus has been characterized since the very beginning by a truly grotesque distortion of each side of the debate by the other side. Watching it—participating in it—I’ve often felt like Alice in Wonderland. Half the time, my reaction to any given statement is: What the fuck are you talking about?
So. Let me establish some Basic Facts:
Fact One. There is no grandiose, over-arching SJW conspiracy to deny right-thinking conservative authors their just due when it comes to awards. It does not exist. It has never existed. It is nothing but the fevered dreams which afflict some puppies in their sleep.
It is preposterous—there is no other word for it—to claim that there is some sort of systematic bias against conservatives in F&SF in the same year (2015) that the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America bestowed the title of Grand Master on Larry Niven and the liberal literary magazine the New Yorker ran a very laudatory article on the author Gene Wolfe.
Fact Two. There is no reflexive reactionary movement to drag F&SF kicking and screaming back into the Dark Ages when all protagonists had to be white and male (and preferably either engineers or military chaps). The very same people who piss and moan about diversity-for-the-sake-of-it litter their own novels with exactly the same kind of diversity they deplore when their opponents do it.
Yeah, I know they’ll deny it. “The story always comes first!” But the fact is that there is no compelling plot function to Ringo’s inclusion of the gay couple in Under a Graveyard Sky. So why did he put them in the novel? The answer is that, like any good writer—and whatever my (many) political disagreements with John, he’s a damn good writer—he tries to embed his stories into the world he created for them. The world of Black Tide Rising is the modern world, and his novels reflect that—as they should.
And I defy anyone with a single honest bone in their body—just one; even a pinkie bone—to read his depiction of that gay couple and tell the world afterward that he’s a homophobe. Which is not to say, mind you, that John and I would agree on any number of issues that come up around the question of LGBT rights. But that’s a separate matter.
There are real disagreements and divisions lying at the heart of the Recent Unpleasantness. But I wish to hell people would dump the stupid stereotypes so we could get on with a serious discussion and debate.
Fact Three. Yes, there is a problem with the Hugo awards, but that problem can be depicted in purely objective terms without requiring anyone to impute any malign motives to anyone else. In a nutshell, the awards have been slowly drifting away from the opinions and tastes of the mass audience, to the point where there is today almost a complete separation between the two. This stands in sharp contrast to the situation several decades ago, when the two overlapped to a great extent. For any number of reasons, this poses problems for the awards themselves. The Hugos are becoming increasingly self-referential, by which I mean they affect and influence no one except the people who participate directly in the process.
That said, however, as I spent a lot of time in my first essay analyzing—see “Some comments on the Hugos and other SF awards”—the causes of the problem are complex and mostly objective in nature. There is no easy fix to the problem. There is certainly no quick fix. Most of all, there is no one to blame—and trying to find culprits and thwart the rascals does nothing except make the problem worse.
As time passes, this whole wrangle reminds me more and more of my two grandchildren squabbling in the back seat of my car.
She called me a dirty name!
He did it first!
She did it worse than I did!
So, I will end this first essay of what I expect will wind up being several post-Hugo essays with the traditional words of grandfatherly wisdom:
CUT IT OUT.