Brad R. Torgersen

Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

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It’s rhetorical pogrom season, in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction.

The 2016 Hugo award selection list (aka: final ballot) has been released, and we seem to be taking a trip down a familiar path. It’s Hatfields vs. McCoys, for yet another year. Or as one reader observed (last season) it’s just Campbellian vs. New Wave, for the umpteenth time. I’ve had several dozen e-mails cross my transom, all showing me what the “other side” is saying (behind both closed and open digital doors) and very little of it surprises me. The same personalities are involved. The same people are lobbying for the same result: NO AWARD for anything deemed to be part of Unfandom, so that Trufandom can rescue the Hugos from those nasty Unfans and their Unfannishness. Just gotta get Worldcon to Europe, so that rules changes can be cemented, and the Hugos will be even better insulated against Unfannery. Meanwhile, another bottle of vintage NO AWARD will be uncorked, to ensure that no rocketships are given to Unfannish types who aren’t properly bred and vetted.

I confess, the NO AWARD result (from 2015) was the only thing that truly surprised me, because not even I thought there would be enough resentful Trufans, all willing to cut the baby in half. But, not only was the baby cut in half, the ones wielding the blade cheered themselves doing the deed. They also handed out wooden CHORFholes, and thought that covering their wooden CHORFholes with a fig leaf of charity, would mask what was — beyond any shadow of a doubt — a complete and total dick move. Yeah, sorry, no. I realize that in the era of virtue-signalling slacktivism, charity is supposed to make dick moves bulletproof. But I am not sure that trick works anymore. That’s the problem with fig leaves: they cover so very little of the actual dickishness behind them.

But really, all of this has been talked to death in past iterations of the same conversation. Everyone knows its madness, and everyone also has an excuse. Everyone expects everyone else to admit wrong, and apologize, but everybody finds him or herself blameless. It’s not any single person that’s wrong with the Hugos, its the entire culture and concept of F/fandom (caps f, small f) that’s rotten. Oh, sure, there’s Scalzi and Beale, hammering away at each other with their egos, but that’s a bit like saying Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invented the present 2016 Presidential mess, when they did not. Hillary and The Donald — two utterly self-serving narcissists — are merely emblematic of a deeper, much more pervasive problem in American culture. We (the nation) have lost our touchstones. We no longer have unifying identifiers, just as F/fandom (caps f, and small f) no longer has unifying identifiers. There are merely circles on a giant Venn diagram, not all of which overlap. And where there is no overlap, there is no commonality. No place in which to reach consensus. There is simply the jostling and friction of competing paradigms.

Which is what the Hugo Wars (or whatever we end up calling them) are all about: the F/fandom (caps f, small f) has ultimately fractured beyond repair. And the Hugos — the former totem for all — has been similarly fractured.

None of this happened overnight. None of it was the invention of a single individual. Just as dysfunctional families do not invent themselves from whole cloth. While the favored son stares in shock as his n’er-do-well sibling sets the drapes on fire, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. The burning drapes are merely the dividend of a thousand slights. And the favored son has the ignorant nerve to act surprised.

Don’t be shocked, then, that the Hugos are in turmoil for another season. There is no longer any unified agreement, about what the Hugos are for. Just as there is no longer any unified agreement about what science fiction is for, much less which types and kinds of science fiction are “worthy” of recognition — above and beyond publication or sales. Similarly, the Oval Office is in doubt. What is it for? What good does it do? Who is qualified to sit in that Oval Office? Some people want to use that office to inflict themselves and their ideas on other people. Some expect the Oval Office to be a single-shot solution to all the universe’s problems. Others have given up entirely on placing any faith in the Oval Office, and openly despise whichever man or woman sits there.

One of my favorite authors of all time — a man of considerable accomplishment and pedigree — remarked to me that he hated winning a major science fiction award. Because winning brought out all the worst, in so many of the people this author formerly considered his colleagues.

Maybe it’s for the best, that the Hugos self-immolate? We (of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction) are evidently perfectly capable of manufacturing plenty of reasons to hate and despise each other. Do we really need another one? Especially with so many oily and competitive personalities involved? Catch the man who has fallen in love with his own mirror — with his self-perception of propriety — and you will typically find the worst sower of rancor. Because he doesn’t openly shout epithets at you across the length of the bar. He quietly poisons the well, with a thousand little shavings of rhetorical and emotional arsenic.

And the science fiction field has a surfeit of such individuals.

It’s enough to make any decent person GAFIAte, permanently. Especially since the emergence of the new Dragon Award, basically puts the Hugos into a place of permanent twilight.

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