Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

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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Tolerance in the 21st century

Wait, wait, I think I get it now.

If I am insufficiently hateful of a hater who hates, I am therefore a secret hater? And in order to absolve myself of being a secret hater, I have to loudly and publicly hate the hater more than anyone else who presently hates the hater who hates, and this will prove that I am not a secret hater, because I will have hated the hater the way the haters of the hater say I need to hate the hater because he hates? Hating is now how you prove you’re not a hater. You just have to hate the people the anti-hate haters approve of hating!

Because being an anti-hater is all about hating the haters who hate, even if they’re not really hating, but you think they secretly hate anyway. Because all of us are secret haters who have to be shown our hatred, by the hating haters of hate who hate all secret haters. So that in order to become an anti-hater, you must hate yourself for being a secret hater, who then goes on to hate the hating haters the haters of hate say you have to hate in order to become an anti-hater who formerly hated in the wrong way. But once you hate in the right way, you are magically absolved of being a hater, and can go around hating on everyone you want.

SAD PUPPIES: the march of the straw men

Ever since this Breitbart article appeared, a small legion of straw man arguments have been deployed against the current season of SAD PUPPIES. I was going to type up a very looooooooong rebuttal to the straw men, but Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt already did the heavy lifting for me. Much of what I might have said, they say with superior gusto and humor. It’s a blessed thing having friends such as these. Not just under the Baen banner per se, but under the general banner of colleagues who’d like to see the field return itself to a more balanced state of being.

What I can add, I will try to add with clarity. But first, I want to frame things with this beautiful analogy, courtesy of Dave Freer:

The reality is this –- According to [Publishers Weekly] the print sales for Sf/fantasy in the last three years have declined catastrophically (and according to the same source, e-books have plateaued). While there is an element of GIGO in the PW figures (they rely on Bookscan, which captures ~30% of my sales, and Bowker, which not everyone uses) the trend in Traditionally published sf/fantasy is clear, and the most conservative estimate would have sales about 30% down in the last 5 years. The actual figure is possibly a lot higher. Given economic conditions –- fiction sales are normally counter-cyclical, like camping gear and seeds, and beer, we should be asking hard questions about what is happening in our genre. It’s probable that Brad Torgersen has a point.

Talking of probabilities: as roughly 10-15% of any population fit on the ‘ends’ of the political spectrum, with the population (AKA readers) tend to be more or less a normal distribution on that curve. The Hugo awards –- pre 1990 anyway — historically have been socio-politically representative, and (in context with their times) considerably more welcoming than other fields to writers of different skin color, sexual orientation and both sexes. Outspoken liberals, and outspoken conservatives and libertarians won or were nominees. Of course the bulk of authors were demographically representative of the possible readership, in that they were not outspoken supporters of any extreme of the political spectrum.

To put this in a simple way, think of the chances of Hugo nomination going to left or right ends as represented by a six sided dice throw.

There is ~ 17% chance of any number –- so if we call left 6 and right 1, we should get an equal chance every time we throw (nominate) of either left or right. About 2/3 of the time it will be neither. If that’s true, the competition is fair. If you somehow get five nominations in one category that are all 6 something is wrong. Any casino would regard the dice with suspicion.

Try it yourself. Count the number of tries it takes to throw five 6s in a row. Try doing this, to simulate multiple years for multiple categories. It is billions-to-one improbable with fair dice. If you threw a fraction of the Hugo 6s in a casino –- they’d ban you for life.

So: There is bias in the Hugos, and it probably isn’t the authors (unless they are lobbying) or the voters, but the various activist lobbies. That is the message from the Sad Puppies. And yes, if a 6 is thrown more than 17% of the time . . . the Sad Puppies prove their point and win. If their being there makes a 1 come up, they also win. And if a 6 wins yet again, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

The contention has been made (by SAD PUPPIES’ detractors) that SP is nothing but a bunch of spoilsport right-wing whiners who want to turn the Hugos (and SF/F as a whole) into a monocultural mirror which looks and reads and sounds just like us. I guess that’s a natural assumption coming from individuals who are already part of the extant monoculture.

But here’s the truth of it. And I am going to borrow Dave’s eloquently succinct D6 analogy. Once upon a time in this field, at the Hugo awards, you could roll the dice ten times, and come up with something like this: 1, 5, 3, 2, 6, 2, 4, 5, 1, 6. The awards did not skew exclusively to one particular ideology, nor even a particular style, nor a specific artistic and creative sensibility. Beginning in about 1995, however, the dice rolls began to change. Over the past 20 years, the mean representative has shifted so that now your average Hugo winner and nomination list is like this: 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 6, 6, 5, 6. A heavy skew to one side of the spectrum, both in terms of the types of stories and books that are nominated and win, as well as in terms of the authors (and their ideologies) which appear on that list.

SAD PUPPIES stands accused of wanting a 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 pattern.

I’ll state for the record right now that this is false. And I can speak for the whole of the SP3 braintrust.

What we want is for the Hugos (and the field as a whole) to go back to being 2, 6, 1, 3, 3, 4, 6, 1, 2, 5. Because not only is a 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 5, 5, 4 pattern showing spectacular bias, it’s causing two-thirds of the readership to drift away. That’s not a rhetorical trick. The trad pub numbers reflect the decrease, and have been reflecting it for the past 20 years. Literary SF/F is dangerously close to vanishing up its own asshole. And becoming an intellectual plaything for a tiny audience.

As someone who became a reader (and a fan) right on the healthy side of the present trough (1985-1995) I think trying to bring the genre (and the Hugos in particular) back to where they used it be, is a worthwhile project. Not because I want to invert the present monocultural dominance, but because I think monoculturalism itself is unhealthy; and puts the lie to the notion that the Hugos or SF/F pursue “diversity” — by catering to one side of the dice.

I also want to address the whole “Propriety demands that nobody log-roll” argument.

I think that would be a fine sentiment . . . in a vacuum. In a perfect world, every single Hugo voter would be voting purely from a standpoint of singularly-informed enjoyment. But let’s face it. Pushes and campaigns and log-rolling have been happening for a long time. I myself can think of at least a dozen instances of “quiet” campaigning, of which I’ve become aware in the past 5 years. Instances where one particular author or editor has made either direct appeals to friends and cohorts, or there has been a concerted effort on the part of said editor’s or author’s fans and supporters, to boost said editor/author above the level of the white noise that sometimes clouds the nomination and voting process.

There are also “flash crowd” campaigns, such as the one which saw Chicks Dig Time Lords make, and then win, its respective category for its year. There were certainly more sage and scholarly related works competing with Chicks Dig Time Lords, but as one veteran said to me before the final vote, “You’ve got probably thirty women writing and editing in that book, and all of them have lots of friends. Of course it’s going to win.”

So, while I am sympathetic to the notion that pushes, campaigns, and log-rolling shouldn’t be a factor, you have to face the reality that the Hugos haven’t really been free of such things for many years. If they ever were at all?

Then there is present-tense evidence of “what I want to win” slates and crystal-ball wish-fulfillment lists. Some of which spring up before the dust has even settled from the last Hugo season. I liken these to the Nebula awards ballot and winners lists, both of which tend to have an uncanny influence on what will show up on the Hugo ballot, if not the Hugo winners list proper. Because thousands (tens of thousands?) of eligible works are published every year — and that number is growing — many voters will tend to rely on bellwethers to point the way. A prominent media blogger, fanzine writer, or other interested party can post his or her wish list, and have an inordinate amount of influence over the selection process.

So, I think we can dispense with the accusation that SAD PUPPIES is doing something that is not done, or has not been done, for the sake of ethics. There is no ethic. A rule that is endlessly violated, is no longer a rule. It might be a quaint sentiment. But it’s useless. And arguing from a standpoint of propriety — in this context — is either naive, or obtuse. Or just flat out dishonest. Look, just about everybody who cares, is getting in on some form of boosterism. To include anti-boosting, in the form of voting “no award” or otherwise trying to spike a specific work’s or author’s chances come awards time.

In closing, SAD PUPPIES merely follows Orwell’s admonition, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” SAD PUPPIES points to the skew and bias and says, “See here, there is skew and bias.” SAD PUPPIES points to worthy authors and works who deserve a chance at a Hugo, and says, “They deserve a nomination every bit as much as the guy who got three dozen nominations.” SAD PUPPIES declares that SF/F is not a progressives-only club, and that actual diversity (within the field) requires that the Hugo ballot should, like, you know, be diverse.

Of course, don’t just take our word for it:

Mr. Torgersen,

I have reviewed this controversy from the bald spot to the smelly misshapen toenails and I find your analysis accurate. I therefore let it be known to one and all that you have at least one former Worldcon Co-Chaircreature in support of the… underage dogs.

Ron Zukowski, ConFederation, the 44th WorldCon, Atlanta Georgia, 1986.

When ignorant snobs attack

Tonight I chanced across this smelly little gem:

Baen books specialises in works of “military SF” that, behind their appalling prose styles and laughable retro cover designs, speak to a right-wing readership who can recognise the enemies of America even when they are disguised as cannibal lizard aliens. Baen’s chief editor Toni Weisskopf went so far as to issue a diatribe against any and all sci-fi that did not pander to this conservative agenda.

I won’t feed this particularly empty ego any more than is necessary, suffice to say that the individual who wrote this obviously does not read very many (if any?) actual Baen books by actual Baen authors, nor do I think this person has actually read any such “diatribe” by my editor at Baen. In fact, I can state with certainty that the words “Toni Weisskopf” and “diatribe” do not belong in the same ZIP code. You will seldom find a less offensive, even-tempered, non-confrontational, fair-minded editor and publisher in the field today. And it’s not just an insult to her when shit like this (above) gets written, it’s an insult to all the many talented and varied authors who ply their trade beneath the Baen label. Myself included.

Unfortunately, ignorant snobbery of this sort is nothing new in the genre. You find out very quickly (once you begin publishing) which writers, editors, publishers, and artists enjoy the favor of the “society” people, and which writers, editors, publishers, and artists do not. My from-the-hip observation is that the “society” people want to see SF/F turned into a lightly speculative and fantastical carbon copy of the “prestigious literary” world. Replete with ambiguous covers that don’t really tell you anything about the story, but follow the general pattern of all things deemed “prestigious” and “literary.” If this year’s talked-about lit work features a somewhat fuzzy, off-focus photo of a pair of muddy Converse sneakers sitting on somebody’s front stoop, then by golly SF/F needs to follow suit with similar photos of similarly mundane, slightly off-focus objects which may or may not have anything to do with actual science fiction; as practiced traditionally by the greats.

Speaking of which, did you know Baen is one of the few publishers actively working to keep the works of the greats alive and well in the modern marketplace? I mean, Poul Anderson for heaven’s sake. That’s a name which ought to make even the 20-something spec fic “lit” kids sit up and pay attention. And if his estate’s re-releases of the Dominic Flandry books seem to have more in common with James Bond movie posters than the latest art house tome, perhaps that’s actually a good thing? Young general genre readers (thankfully oblivious to art houses of any sort) might actually read Anderson as a result.

Of course, one must remember that Baen is the “military” SF publisher, for “right wing” readers. Because as you know, Bob, Eric Flint is the world’s biggest right winger. David Drake too. But wait, maybe it’s worth noting something Drake actually said:

Frequently I write about soldiers or veterans: military sf. Because of that I’m accused of writing militaristic sf by those who either don’t know the difference between description and advocacy or who deny there is a difference.

Seems to me Drake — who might raise an eyebrow at being called “right wing” anything — is far better equipped to judge whether or not Baen is the “military SF publisher for right wingers” than someone who seems to have decided that Baen is a cut-rate house, based purely on . . . the absorbed conventional wisdom of like-minded aesthetes? Who sniff at the banally popular, and declare it both shallow and of no consequence. Because, muddy out-of-focus Converse sneakers! Or how about a stark black background with stark, anemic white lettering, no painting or picture whatsoever. Excellent, my good chaps! Because the less actually shown, the better. It’s the thing with “real literature” these days. Spaceships and galaxies on the covers? Aliens and rockets flying to the planets? Lantern-jawed heroes and hot-bodied heroines? P’shaw! One might start thinking the spec fic inside is actually speculative fucking fic. And that’s no good, you know.

We wouldn’t want our readers to actually have fun. That would be the worst thing ever.

Of course, we’ve not even addressed “appalling prose styles”, for all definitions of “appalling prose style” that include actual, straight-forward, engaging, page-turning storytelling. You can always spot an art house poseur by how often he puts down the prosaic accomplishments of people who actually entertain audiences and make money. Because a lot of Baen authors have been known to do that, you know. Entertain. Make money. Someone please catch me, I am suffering a case of the vapors! One wonders if Lois Bujold, she of the many Hugo awards and much literary praise, is aware of the fact that she’s been tried and convicted of “appalling prose style” by an individual who clearly hasn’t read any of her work.

You know, I get it that in an era of explosive social media growth, everybody is scrambling to make waves, draw attention, get page hits, etc. But it really pisses me off when a jackass who should know better, sits down to type something that is not only patently dishonest, but stupidly patently dishonest. Someone please dangle this daft chucklebutt by his ankles, his head submerged in the nearest loo, the water (and other liquids) swirling happily about his ears. Maybe the cool refresher will get his synapses firing a little more efficiently? Yes?

Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table 5: Sad Puppies 2 post mortem

Snipped from a comment I made to David (“Trouble with Tribbles”) Gerrold, on Facebook, during a remarkably civil discussion about this past year’s Hugo award drama . . .

The maxim, “Never complain, never campaign” is ostensibly noble. I admire it. It’s what’s been preached to me since the inception of my (young) career. Alas, I think the reality falls far short of the ideal. Because campaigning is clearly happening right under our noses every year. I’ve seen the e-mails, read the threads, observed the electronic conversations. Social media has “liberated” the Hugos and the Nebulas from the notion that campaigning is uncouth. For adept operators who can run a non-campaign campaign (aka: stealth campaign) or who simply have a dominant web presence (“Name brand, everybody knows me!”) they get to have their Hugo/Nebula cake, and eat it too. They can win while simultaneously exclaiming, “Campaigning is uncouth, and I would never do it!” So while I agree that in a better world campaigning would be poor etiquette, a good many authors clearly no longer agree. If they ever agreed.

Larry Correia’s sin (with Sad Puppies 2) being: he was honest about what he was doing.

Though I can think of few people publishing in the SF/F genre who care less about awards. Larry is a six-figure writer in an era of plummeting advances and hardscrabble business practices. He’s got nothing to prove. What Larry does care about is ensuring that the Hugos are not a “liberals only” club. You may deem his perception wrong, or even pernicious. But it’s a perception shared by many other authors (myself included) as well as a great many readers to boot. Baen, or not. Analog, or not.

Complaining clearly doesn’t carry the stain it once did either. Otherwise we’d not have the near-perpetual moaning about “There aren’t enough (insert minority here) on the ballot!” Or, conversely, “There are too many (insert majority here) on the ballot!” Because the genre seems to have a spiritual hangover from the bad old days when straight white men wrote all the straight white man stories and won all the straight white man awards (perception, not saying it was fact, that is the backwards-through-time perception) the genre is in more and more of a hurry to correct the perceived error, via affirmative action.

And yes, discussion of affirmative action sets my teeth on edge too. Because affirmative action introduces what I would consider to be irrelevant criteria into the “Only the story should win, on its own merits!” equation.

Which is not to say I think affirmative action voters are being deliberately pernicious. I’ve done a fair bit of affirmative action voting in my own life, where political office is concerned. Much of it in my (more idealistic) youth. When I thought it actually did more good than bad. Affirmative action is well-meant push-back against perceived systemic biases and prejudices. I get it. I really do.

But at what point does the affirmative action go too far? Almost becoming a mockery of itself?

I noted with unhappiness the “squee” that erupted from some individuals when an all-female Nebula list hit the internet airwaves earlier in the season. As if merely ensuring all the winners had vaginas was a triumph unto itself? So, do we oscillate? For fairness? One year, it’s all penises, the next, back to all vaginas again? But wait, what about trans people who have neither penises nor vaginas? Clearly the frontier needs to be pushed again. And so on, and so forth.

One might get the sense that in this kind of affirmative action environment, the merits of the story proper are definitely riding in the back seat. One might be correct about that, too.

Larry Correia could care less if a Tongan gay socialist Democrat wins a Hugo. Just as long as being Tongan, gay, socialist, or Democrat, aren’t the primary factors in the win. Story first, you know.

But here again, the reality can’t meet the ideal. Because clearly being gay, or socialist, or trans, or black, or Chinese, or female, or many other identitarian labels, does matter in the Hugo selection process. It matters if you (author) are any of these things, and it matters if you (author) insert these things into your stories. It’s mattered more and more every year since at least the late 1990s. A bad story can’t beat the odds no matter what, but a comparably well-done story (in relation to the field as a whole) has a distinct advantage if it comes from the keyboard of a sexual or ethnic minority, or features characters who are in a sexual or ethnic minority. If said minority author has a good-sized web footprint and is popular in the social media, so much the better. All of this attracts votes and voter sympathy. Well-meant, well-intended. All of it.

But then, not everything well-intended has a positive consequence.

So perhaps it’s ironic that if the maxim “Never complain, never campaign” were in truth the rule at the Hugos, Correia would be happier than anybody. Because Correia believes in it too. He just doesn’t believe in being silent while a lot of what he considers to be bullshit, goes on — without question from very many people in established positions of prominence.

My personal opinion is that we need more of Sad Puppies, not less. Regardless of who launches it or who is on the slate. There are dozens of men and women who have devoted their lives and careers to building this messy, often combustible enterprise we call Science Fiction & Fantasy. Some of them dwell at or near the bestseller level with each release. Not all of them allow the affirmatively-minded to check a box. Not all of them write quaint or prosaic literary stories better suited to the pages of The Sun or The New Yorker, than a SF/F magazine. Almost all of them can’t buy a Hugo, for various reasons which perplex and sometimes infuriate me. Despite the fact that their fan bases are what prop the genre up from a financial perspective. When the so-called “most prestigious award” in SF/F never finds its ways into the hands of a Kevin J. Anderson or a L.E. Modesitt, Jr. or a David Farland (Wolverton) this sends a strong signal: the voters at Worldcon are anti-success. Pro-affirmative action. But anti-success.

So let’s see more, please. Let’s get some of these deserving souls onto the ballot. If affirmative action is warranted, let’s begin a new brand of affirmative action: lifetime contribution from successful authors who have never won a Hugo. Did you know that Tad Williams has never even been nominated for a Hugo award? Tad Williams?? As I have often said of the Congressional Medal of Honor (“You shouldn’t have to die to get the damned thing!”) so too do I say of the Hugo: a writer or editor should not have to retire or pass from the field, in order to get the award. Stan Schmidt was worthy of a Hugo at least a dozen or more times in his career. How come Worldcon couldn’t give Stan an award until he was out of his editing chair at Analog? What was so impossible about acknowledging Stan when he was still sitting in that chair??

It won’t be Larry carrying the load next time. Larry is a strong man, but not bulletproof. Having mortgaged his reputation (among those who espouse “Never complain, never campaign”) he can’t be expected to bear the burden each time. There were some remarkably cruel and unfair things said about Larry in the last year. Speaking as his friend, a compatriot, a fellow Baen author, and someone who has been proud to be all of the above every step of the way, I think everyone who went out of his or her way to character-assassinate Larry, should be ashamed. Especially those who mewled neutral or even cordial words in public, yet stabbed coldly at Larry in private.

But it will be somebody picking up the torch. Maybe me? Maybe some of my friends who have agreed with and applauded Larry’s efforts? Maybe if all of us do this often enough — if we refuse to allow the Hugo awards to be an exclusive “club” for a certain brand of politics or a certain literary taste — the drama will die down. People will adjust to the new reality: that the SF/F genre really is a big place, populated by every type and kind of professional, and that merely displacing one type or kind for another (in the quest for perceived justice or fairness; or just raw political pique) is an unworthy goal.

Fear and loathing at the Awards Table 4

Following up from the last installment in this series, I wanted to talk about a few more things regarding the 2014 Hugo ballot.

But first, did you hear that the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII has been announced? A lot of old names, a lot of new ones, and some genuine surprises (Serkis! Sydow!) in the mix. I am therefore cautiously optimistic about the new movie and its chances with Star Wars fans. There are probably one billion of us at this point, give or take a hundred million. Some of us liked the prequels. Many of us (most of us?) felt the prequels were a letdown. Without launching into an unfair tirade against George Lucas, the magic (for me) simply wasn’t there. In fact, the magic was so not there I haven’t devoted any time to the prequels, beyond an initial screening, whereas I’ve seen the original three films (the middle chapters) hundreds of times each. Does JJA actually have the right touch — to restore the Star Wars franchise to its former place in the hearts of all of us who grew up on the middle chapters? I hope so!

Okay then. Back to the Hugos.

But, some of the stuff on the Hugo ballot is only there because a bunch of Larry Correia’s people blindly put it there!
Now that I can publicly talk about my story “The Chaplain’s Legacy” having won the Analog magazine Analytical Laboratory (AnLab) readers’ choice award for Best Novella, I want to point to the AnLab (and Analog readers) as an independent source of verifiability. See, Analog is the oldest and most widely circulated science fiction magazine in the English language. Its readers are both a social and political panoply. Not the kind of readers who pay a lot of attention to in-genre stunts or shenanigans. Yet they voted “The Chaplain’s Legacy” as their favorite, for its category. And at least some percentage of those readers also voted during the nomination period for the Hugo awards. So while it’s understandable that many plaintiffs will see Larry Correia’s suggested slate (and its uncanny replication on the Hugo ballot) as proof that the works in question didn’t earn a place on the Hugo ballot in an honest fashion, I think the AnLab is fairly bulletproof. In that it confirms that “The Chaplain’s Legacy” is not just good, it’s good by the standards of a shrewd and non-connected body of readers who vote explicitly for enjoyment, not name recognition, nor political affiliation, nor because of any kind of campaigning on the part of authors.

“The Chaplain’s Legacy” also forms (along with its partner, “The Chaplain’s Assistant”) the backbone to my forthcoming Baen Books novel The Chaplain’s War. When Toni Weisskopf at Baen decided to buy The Chaplain’s War in 2013 she didn’t know that one of the components of the novel would be an AnLab winner and a Hugo nominee. But she had seen some of the enthusiastic reader comments I’d been collecting since “The Chaplain’s Legacy” hit the streets this time last year. I felt strongly then (as I do now) that the entire project was representative of me operating on full thrusters; and I think both the AnLab win and the Hugo nomination are strong signs that I am right about that. Plus, it’s not even the first time I’ve been on either the AnLab list or the Hugo ballot. This is my second time winning the AnLab and my second go-round on the Hugos; the first time being 2012 (for Worldcon, when I was also a Nebula and Campbell award nominee) and the first AnLab came to me for my novelette “Outbound” which was my first ever Analog story, published in 2010.

But, the Hugos should be about art, and “fandom” gets to choose which kind of art it wants to see representing “fandom” to the world!
Art arguments are an eternal road to a destination that does not exist, because art arguments ultimately revolve around questions of taste. And as one of my mentors once told me rather sternly, taste cannot be wrong. Just because a given book or story isn’t to your (the reader’s) fancy, that doesn’t make it bad. It just means the book or story was not written to your taste. Which is perfectly understandable given the fact that no book or story can possibly be written to please all tastes, all eras, for all readers. I personally think I happen to suit the taste of the same readership that enjoys Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, Robert A. Heinlein, and so forth. Generally, I am right about that. And this means my work won’t be to the taste of readers who prefer different authors — though I always invite any reader to at least give me a try, with my short fiction. A novel is an investment. But a short story or even a novelette is quick, and will generally give a prospective customer a decent idea about me and my work.

If “fandom” is as diverse as it prides itself on being, then I think it stands to reason that many different kinds of work and many different kinds of authors will be represented on the Hugo ballot, year in and year out. In point of fact both the Hard Magic and Wheel of Time readerships are a) very large and b) very loyal. Shouldn’t it be that they too get to have a voice in what’s chosen for the year’s supposed best works? Or do the Hugos only deserve to go to “literary” works which are not necessarily having impact on a consumer audience as much as they’re being advanced by academic circle(s) which believe they have a responsibility to advocate for what they believe is their standard of merit? My personal thought is that it’s readers (especially lay readers, not academic readers) who should count the most. But this is a personal bias on my part, since I am a lay reader who discovered authorial ambition in his teens, and worked his way up to pro-level craft.

But, popularity has nothing to do with what’s good! Good fiction is utterly unconnected to what people are buying! In fact, the more popular a thing is, the more likely that thing is to be bad!
Remember what I said, about how Star Wars has a billion fans? Once upon a time Star Wars was this little low-budget sci-fi picture from a little-known director/producer named George Lucas. The movie debuted at the tail end of the 1970s when “people pictures” were something of a rage at the box office, and outside of disaster movies (like the Airport franchise and The Towering Inferno) there wasn’t a lot of effort being put into spectacular filmmaking that was deliberatley science fictional in nature. Then comes Star Wars and an unexpected, monumental success is born. Three films over six years transformed the motion picture industry forever, and moved science fiction out of the proverbial parental basement and into the penthouse executive suite on Hollywood Blvd.

I think it’s safe to say that three generations of avid consumer support have verified that the original Star Wars films are good by most standards that count. Star Wars will therefore outlive its creator, just as Harry Potter will outlive its creator. There is something in these franchises that resonates (over and over again) with audiences. Whether those audiences enjoy the movies, the television spinoffs, the games, the tie-in books, the toys, or whatever. There is a lot of there there. And I think you could say the same about successful fiction juggernauts like the Wheel of Time. Past a certain saturation point, critical or academic acclaim isn’t necessary for a given story or book (or series) to be deemed timeless. And shouldn’t the Hugos be about recognizing the timeless (or potentially timeless?) as much as they are about recognizing literary and academic esteem? Can there not be room for both the literary and the commercial, from year to year? Why does the entry of a big thing onto the “small” Hugo ballot cause so much unhappiness for some people? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that I am proud to be sharing the Hugo ballot with my compatriots in the Utah SF/F scene, and I am proud to have delivered (for readers) a product that those readers find genuinely enjoyable. Worth their time. And worth their money.

Which lets me segue into a conclusion I’ve been hesitant to address directly, but which I think needs to be addressed — because clearly a lot of people are talking about it under their breath but not a lot of people are talking about it openly.

What is a Hugo award really good for? Bottom line?

Meaning: does having a Hugo win (or a Nebula win or a Campbell win, or nominations for same) make a substantial difference for you when you take your book manuscripts to the marketplace and attempt to interest an editor or an agent?

The answer is — so far as I’ve been able to discern, after asking this question around the industry — nope.

Oh, to be sure, any accolade which can boost PR will be welcome. But the difference between whether or not you get a good agent or a not-so-good agent, or a good contract or a not-so-good contract, won’t be decided by how many times you’ve been on the ballots or have taken home trophies. The most well-known awards in SF/F aren’t well known beyond the field. And even in the field, they’re not well known to most readers. These awards are therefore talismans of prestige among the “insider” group. And while it’s a gas to be nominated or even win, there are limits to how much good these awards can do for you when it comes time to do business, as a creative businessperson trying to make a living.

This reality came as a shock to me when I was still relatively new to the field. I’d always thought of the Hugos as being roughly equivalent to the Oscars, which do have significant punch in the motion picture industry. Alas, the venerable Hugo (and Nebula) cannot take a somewhat small book and make it into a big book, as the Oscars occasionally do for films. Nor will slapping the words HUGO WINNER (or NEBULA WINNER) on the cover of a book cause a significantly large number of prospective customers to pick up and buy the book; if they weren’t already going to buy it before.

Why is that?

Some have argued to me that writers tend to look at the Hugos all wrong — that the Hugos were never intended to be professional awards given out professionally the way the Oscars (and to a certain extent, the Emmies and the Grammies) are given out. And I think (in light of the fannish roots of Worldcon) this is an argument that makes a lot of sense. From a certain fannish point of view.

But I think it also has to be simultaneously argued that unless or until science fiction gets an award that is roughly equivalent to the Oscars (NOTE: my personal opinion is that the Writers of the Future award is the only thing that comes close; but this is an award for new pros, not for established veterans) then the Hugos (and to a lesser extent, the Nebulas) are what there is. And if we’re going to put these accolades forward as being meaningful to the field, then it’s worth it for the consumers and the practitioners to both think long and hard about how these awards are selected, and for what reasons.

Maybe if the Hugo (and Nebula) voters didn’t shun tie-in novelists and media fiction, consumers would pick up on the fact that things they like to read are being recognized by science fiction’s top awards, thus the awards would attain greater significance for those beyond the halls of the “inside” SF/F group?

Maybe if the Hugo voters did not react (as some of them have reacted this year) badly to an “outsider” such as Larry Correia, bringing his popular series and the fans of same, into the selection process, then the Hugos (and the Nebulas) would have a little more cachet — as awards that truly recognize not just literary achievement, but commercial achievement as well?

I know, I know: the Hugos (and the Nebulas) aren’t supposed to be the spec fic equivalent of Gold and Platinum albums. Raw sales all by themselves shouldn’t be the only thing that earns a work (or an artist) acclaim.

But it just seems uncanny to me that the Hugo (and the Nebula) are this field’s most sought-after prizes, and yet they transfer so little to their recipients (in the way of direct professional benefit) that I’ve struggled since 2012 to wrap my head around how or why these awards are still regarded with such overwhelming awe by those of us who work in the genre.

Which is not (I think) a sentiment (on my part) which is likely to endear me to that core demographic within “fandom” that prides itself on thumbing its nose at commercialism, the publishing industry, and authors, and simply wants to keep the Hugos an “insider” thing for insiders who care. I knew before I wrote this series that examining any of the genre awards with a critical eye was liable to cause some controversy. But as I said elsewhere, I didn’t get into the science fiction business to be a prestige man. I got into the business because I was a reader who discovered authorial ambition as a young adult, and when I bumped my chops up to professional level I decided that giving readers a good time and making money were the first and second best reasons to do this.

And no, I am not putting down the awards or the nominees or the winners. Nor am I trying to say the awards are worthless. I have not advanced that argument here and I am not saying anyone should advance that argument elsewhere. This is not a “let’s trash the awards” festival.

I just want to look critically at what the awards are, and at what they are not, and maybe spark a little introspection as to the nature, purpose, and ultimate destiny of these accolades. Because when we put them forward as signposts for what we (collectively) deem worthy in the genre, we are sending not only messages to ourselves, but the world at large. Right now I think I see a lot of mixed signals going on — fandom, to big audience, to arists, to publishers — and as long as those signals stay mixed, I suspect the Hugos (and the Nebulas) will remain both controversial and devalued on the larger playing field of consumer culture.

Larry Correia deserves a break

If there’s anything I find more disheartening than seeing myself treated unfairly, it’s seeing friends or loved ones treated unfairly.

Right now one of my friends is getting picked apart by a certain sector of the internet, because he’s a) outspokenly conservative and he b) landed on the Hugo ballot in a deliberate fashion. Pretending for a moment that campaigning for awards isn’t done all the time anyway, by people who like to hide and deny the fact, I’d like to point out that Larry Correia is a person. He has skin, and bones, and muscle, and nerves, and blood, and he has a lovely wife whom he adores (and she adores him) and he has four wonderful children. Cut him, he bleeds. Tickle him, he laughs. Feed him ice cream, he smiles. He’s a God-fearing, church-going man. A hard-working man. A man of integrity. Loyal to his friends. And who has helped I can’t name how many people through his unending generosity and willingness to put his reputation on the line for those whom he believes he can help — because that’s just the kind of guy Larry Correia is.

Now, I get it that Larry Correia’s web site isn’t to all tastes, and I get it that Larry can and does ruffle feathers with his blog.

But really, there comes a time when I have to say that the invective wielded against Larry is so outlandish, so unrecognizable, so completely and obviously disconnected from the Larry Correia I am proud to call a friend, that I have to conclude one thing: everybody who is in a hurry to say bad stuff about Larry Correia knows nothing about Larry Correia the human being. They have a cheap cardboard cut-out of Larry, at which they throw rhetorical darts. Or a voodoo doll with a Larry Correia bobblehead on it, and through which they thrust hat pins.

Disagree with him, sure. Fine. Larry will never demand conformity, because Larry is a libertarian at heart; not an authoritarian. He’s not shy about disagreement. In fact, he loves it when people think for themselves.

But at least disagree with Larry honestly please? Make your complaints at least semi-coherent, and reflective of who Larry Correia actually is, instead of the ridiculous bogeyman parody that some people wish Larry would be.

Shunning and Radioactivity

NOTE: I got my invitations from Loncon 3 today. They’re including my novelette “The Exchange Officers” and my novella “The Chaplain’s War” in the traditional electronic Hugo voters packet. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the Loncon 3 concom (and everyone who has been working diligently on the 2014 Hugos) for their professionalism during what has been something of a turbulent time — between the fracas over Johnathan Ross having been invited (and disinvited) to be host, and now the fracas over the Hugo ballot itself. I am reminded of the adage: you can make all of the people happy some of the time, you can make some of the people happy all of the time, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time. Kudos, Loncon 3. Thusfar, you’ve treated me like a pro, and I appreciate it very much.

Something else: in the last 7 days I’ve had a number of people approach me both publicly and privately to ask, “How can you possibly associate yourself with that (insert bad words here) person, Vox Day? Don’t you know that he’s a raging (insert bad words here) and ought to be shunned?” Likewise, I’ve been accused of supporting Day; even of supporting the things he’s written about ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. To which I have to say (as I’ve said in each instance) my merely being on the ballot with Day, or engaging him in dialogue, does not automatically mean I agree with Day, nor does it automatically mean I agree with any of the stances he has taken on potentially controversial issues.

So, how come I don’t shun Vox and call him names, because shunning Vox and calling him names is (apparently) the only civilized thing to do?

Let me tell you a fable:

Once upon a time there was a young person named Wanda who believed that she had discovered a way for human beings to live, and a path for human beings to follow, which would lead to true happiness and everlasting life with spouses and family. She went across the land speaking her truth and gathering like-minded souls to her flag. Eventually they were given a name by the outside world, because the young woman had grown up and created a book containing her beliefs: the Book of Wanda, and she and her people became known as Wandians. Now, the Wandians were not well liked by ordinary folk. Wandians had odd ideas and odd beliefs and odd practices. They just weren’t right, according to good and decent standards. So the Wandians began to be persecuted. Their property was destroyed and they were driven off their lands. From region to region they traveled, enduring ever-greater forms of physical and legal abuse. Eventually one of the lords of the land issued an extermination order against Wandians, such that killing a Wandian was lawful. Poor Wanda herself was jailed and ultimately executed by a mob, and the Wandians fled into the wilderness to create their own civilization very distant from where all the trouble had started. Ultimately time passed, and the Wandians were grudgingly re-joined to the society which they had previously fled. But to this day, Wandians are regarded with suspicion, or even (in some instances) hatred. It’s not unusual for a Wandian to hear outlandish stories about his people. Wanda herself is derided in many circles for being a charlatan and a fraud. And Wandians struggle still for acceptance and understanding, despite being good, decent, and upstanding people (in the main) and despite living in a supposedly tolerant and open-minded era.

Now, let me also relate to you an encapsulation of an old Twilight Zone (revival) episode:

A man indicted for a crime is confronted by the police. His punishment is not jail. They apply a device to the criminal’s forehead which alters the shape of his forehead, leaving a grotesque mark. No matter how the man tries to cover the mark with clothing, the mark simply burns through, and anyone and everyone who sees the mark knows to shun the man. He cannot engage in business, talk to friends or loved ones or neighbors, work a job, or have any contact with humanity at all. Anyone caught interacting with the criminal or helping him will themselves become a criminal, thus also enduring the shunning and ostracising of the mark on their foreheads. Even medical help is off limits, as the man discovers when he becomes targeted by other criminals, and is injured badly. He ultimately limps through his term of punishment, scavenging what he can from the margins of civilization. And when the time comes, the police return and the mark on his forehead is removed. Relieved to have been freed from his prison without walls, the man re-enters society as an acceptable citizen. Except . . . one day he sees a woman who is marked as he was marked. She spots him and recognizes him from the days when he was still marked like she is. She pleads with him to not ignore her. He tries to pass by her without stopping, but her piteous cries for his mercy soften his heart, because he knows her pain and anguish, and he turns and embraces her while the robotic drones of enforcement surround them both and announce that they are engaging in criminal activity.

Observations:

All societies and eras have had Untouchables — those castes or peoples who are deemed out-of-bounds for polite or proper folk, and who are divorced from the world of acceptable social interactivity. Either for ethnic reasons, religious reasons, or fear of biological or even ideological contamination. Some societies have doomed their Untouchables to servitude and slavery. Others banish them, as the Soviet Union did with its Untouchables by sending them to die in the infamous gulags. Still others allow the Untouchables to be a part of society, but lurking in a kind of second class status, destined to never partake as full citizens. In each and every instance, the power brokers and enforcers of conformity have had what were (to them) perfectly sane and reasonable excuses to treat the Untouchables as Untouchable.

The thrust of American social progress in the 20th and 21st centuries has been to fully enfranchise practically every previously Untouchable segment of the population. Except, this progress has been haphazard and uneven. Not every demographic has achieved the same results, and mileage has definitely varied. The formerly Untouchable do not themselves always mingle well. More disturbing still, there is an emerging sentiment that says: in order to protect and defend those who were previously Untouchable, we must invent a new set of Untouchables who will become the repositories for societal scorn and ostracism. Ergo, the tables are turned, and the pendulum swings.

Go back and re-read my fable. Change the word Wandian to Mormon. I am a Mormon. That is the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If you’re LDS and you’ve lived anywhere outside of Utah or the United States, you’ve encountered it: the suspicion, the strange reactions, the fear, and even the hatred. We are still an odd duck in the world pond. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s bad enough that our missionaries still bring home stories of verbal and physical abuse from around America and across the globe. Businesspeople and politicians who happen to be Mormon and who achieve prominence cannot do their jobs without having their religious affiliation become a topic of discussion, as well as criticism. In some circles (depending on the politics and depending on the business) you cannot be a Mormon without earning the scorn of your compatriots; be it direct, or subtle.

Now, perhaps it’s because I am a Mormon that the Twilight Zone (revival) episode (“To See The Invisible Man”) continues to resonate with me. I rather suspect this old episode would and could resonate with any dozen other religious or ethnic or sexual demographics which have all experienced ostracism, shaming, or other societal tactics designed to drive us to the edges.

All I know is, the older I have gotten, the less I’ve felt any desire to be on the “right” side of things, and I am distinctly uncomfortable participating in shunnings. Especially if all we’re talking about is words. Not criminal activity. Words. Or ideas. Even ideas foreign to my own. Even people who speak ill of my church. Even things which I find morally or ethically reprehensible. I may desire to criticise the words or the ideas, but I am not eager to make the people themselves into unpersons in the manner of the old Stalinist/Leninist practices of the Marxist days of Russia. Because I myself have been unpersoned on more than one occasion, simply for who I am.

Philosophy:

When I was a teenager I fell in love with all things Star Trek. I was impressed by the series slogan: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. I became intrigued with the Starfleet ethic of the Prime Directive, which ostensibly sought to keep the society, social values, and laws of the United Federation of Planets from overruling or dominating the social values, laws, and societies of alien worlds. What a tough job, I thought then. And I still think now. As was evidenced by the Federation’s struggle with the fictional Klingon Empire. The Klingons were a manifestation of everything the Federation stood against. So much so, the Feds often doubted there could ever be peace or brotherhood between the two nations. The Klingons were so unlike the Federation at almost every level, they continually challenged almost everyone in Starfleet to live up to the Prime Directive and the quasi-canonical belief (in the series) that all peoples and cultures had an independent validity separate and apart from that which the Federation deemed (for itself) proper, ethical, and just.

I guess I’ve always carried a bit of Star Trek with me in the years since I was a teenager. As a Mormon moving outside of Utah for the first time, I felt very much like I was entering a strange new world. Returning to Utah 14 years later I again felt I was encountering new life, and a new civilization; since I could see my birth culture with fresh eyes. Going into the military was also an exercise in encountering new people, new ideas, and especially learning to work with and get along with those people; often under stressful or harsh conditions. And I’ve been in an interracial marriage for two decades to someone who did not grow up LDS, and with whom I do not share a large degree of political overlap. Talk about boldly going! In my house, every time my wife and I sit down to discuss a given issue, if she’s talking east, I am talking west, and where she talks north, I talk south. Yet we’ve managed to learn from and love and adore each other, despite coming from different experiences with different backgrounds — sometimes, very different.

Outlook:

My life has therefor molded me to be suspicious of shunning, unpersoning, ostracising, and the practice of making an individual radioactive. What do I mean by radioactive? Basically it’s the idea that any person worthy of being shunned is therefore poisonous (by touch or interaction) so that anyone caught associating with or dialoguing with the shunned individual, is also going to be shunned, because now the second party is poisonous by association.

I remember the Twilight Zone episode too well. The trick of the “justice” system in that episode was to make a person radioactive (socially) and I must admit, it seemed a far harsher punishment, and much more disturbing, than throwing somebody behind bars. Even more than exile, to be a face passing through society without earning so much as a single acknowledgment — to have one’s humanity utterly obliterated — is a fate I am not sure many of us could endure without going to some very dark places in our hearts and in our heads.

If all of this seems a rather roundabout way of addressing succinctly what’s happening with the Hugo awards this year, I apologize for bending your (proverbial) ear. This topic is something I struggle to address in a few words. Other than to repeat what I said earlier: I am not a shunner or an ostracizer, and I resist the personal politics of radioactivity. I am concerned (yes, you may label me a concern troll if you must) that the people who call themselves “fandom” are eager to practice radioactivity.

Summary:

Getting back to Star Trek, I feel I have a duty as a practioner of speculative fictioneering to not shun, to not turn my back, to not participate in radioactivity — however tempting it might be to do so, because I know this would be (in the short term) the far less controversial path. Perhaps if I was still 20 years old, I would choose the easier path. But at age 40 I have seen too much of this world (and too much of the human heart) to believe that shunning and radioactivity actually improve things. Because I do not believe that they do. I believe that they are . . . relics of our tribal beginnings as a human civilization. Natural and instinctual modes for dealing with the strange, the uncomfortable, the scandalous, and the bizarre.

Vox Day is deemed Untouchable. I get that. I also get that some of the things Vox Day has written have upset a lot of people. Some of the things he’s written are upsetting to me too. I think being upset by some of what Vox has written is valid. I just hope people can understand why I am not in a hurry to violate personal principles simply to go along with the zeitgeist, where Vox is concerned. I know that would be easier. I know it would also be the expected thing. Because everybody is doing it.

Sometimes, doing the expected thing isn’t always the best thing, though.

Fear and loathing at the Awards Table 3

It’s been two years since I was the triple nominee for the Hugo, the Campbell, and the Nebula awards. At the time, I thought it rather unusual that a relative newcomer should find himself on the short list for all three awards simultaneously. Something in which I took a measure of pride. Because I never set out to be an “award worthy” author as much as I set out to be the kind of author who could entertain. My authorial philosophy is pretty simple: give the reader a good time, not a hard time. So when my name popped up for the Nebulas, I was pleasantly shocked. When it popped up again for the Hugo and the Campbell, I was doubly shocked. I never styled myself as a prestige man. I just wanted to tell stories that people would find worthwhile, enjoyable, and (dare I say it?) uplifting.

Come April 2014, and I discover I am back on the Hugo short list again. This time with two pieces of short fiction which previously appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine:

Best Novelette — “The Exchange Officers” — Analog, Jan/Feb 2013
Best Novella — “The Chaplain’s Legacy” — Analog, Jul/Aug 2013

There’s a bit of exciting additional news I can share about “The Chaplain’s Legacy” in a later installment of this blog series, but I wanted to point out here (as I have on Facebook) that I think a big reason why these two stories made the Hugo ballot is because they were both included in my short fiction “best of” album titled Lights in the Deep. I was initially going to self-publish the collection (before it even had a name) but when Kevin J. Anderson and WordFire Press approached me, their contract and marketing and distribution were simply too good to pass up. And I am glad to be working with WordFire, not just for Lights, but also for a new collection coming out later this year, to be called Racers of the Night. What it would have taken a traditional small press at least 12 to 24 months to accomplish, WordFire did for me in a matter of weeks over a single summer. Thus I was able to get the book into the hands of readers months in advance of the 2014 awards season. Thus when the nomination period came around, a great many people had already read my work in both Analog and also Lights in the Deep.

But there is (obviously, to those paying attention to the Hugos this year) another reason I made the Hugo short list, and I want to write a few thoughts about that, and also about some of the controversy that has arisen as a result.

See, my friend Larry Correia put my stories on one of his blog posts where he listed his own voting preferences for the Hugo. Several of us who know Larry had our books and stories on that list, all of us accomplished authors to one degree or another. And since Larry has a substantial internet footprint, and an extremely loyal and energetic fan base, some of those fans (and I have to say, a goodly number of them had bought Lights in the Deep due to a generous book launch push Larry had given Lights in late 2013) mobilized to support Larry’s slate — because that’s just how the Monster Hunter Nation rolls.

After the 2014 Hugo award nominee short list was releast by Loncon 3 (the World Science Fiction Convention, or “Worldcon”) there was a substantial amount of consternation — social media hue and cry, one might call it.

As has often been the case when I observe these kinds of things, I remain puzzled that the group which dubs itself “fandom” (in the parlance of the original Worldcons of yore) and which is always self-analyzing so as to determine how it can bring in more young fans, more diverse fans, and more energetic fans, could react so poorly to Larry Correia bringing Monster Hunter Nation to the Hugo nominations — as if the state of New York were aghast that the state of Texas showed up for a national party caucus during the run-up to a major election.

Isn’t bringing new people into old-school fandom part of the point of Worldcon?

But it wasn’t just Monster Hunter Nation that had certain people in fandom riled up. Wheel of Time fans managed to get the entire series (Jordan/Sanderson) on the ballot too — for Best Novel Hugo. Which is not precisely against the rules of the nomination process, but Wheel of Time is a massive series that is almost 30 years old. Seeing it in the Best Novel category alongside the other books for 2014 is highly unusual to say the least. So unusual, in fact, that some people in fandom have chosen to get upset about it; to the same degree those individuals in fandom are upset about Monster Hunter Nation getting the third installment in Larry Correia’s Hard Magic series onto the ballot, with Warbound: Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles.

My response to the plaintiffs is: why not?

To paraphrase something Brandon Sanderson eloquently said on his blog, it’s head-scratching to see a group invite people in to join said group, then the group reacts badly to the new people.

In the case of Monster Hunter Nation, I think it’s safe to say the bulk of the unhapiness (from some individuals in fandom) is political in nature. In the case of Wheel of Time fans, the unhapiness (from some individuals in fandom) has been literary in nature. Ergo, works that are considered “too commercial” tend to get looked down upon by parts of fandom that have a particularly academic and literary taste.

But isn’t this the point of being fans? Shouldn’t anything that calls itself WORLDCON actually represent a widely diverse number of fans from many different echelons of the disparate world of genre enthusiasm?

“But, campaigning for awards and stuffing the ballot box is uncouth!”
I understand that for many fans steeped in the history of Worldcon, there is a somewhat old-school and gentlemanly attitude that campaigning for an award is uncouth. Crass. Simply not done. And in those instances where it was very plainly done in the daylight, there has generally been some harsh regard. But honestly, in the era of the internet, this philosophy is pretty much dead in the water. Because almost all authors have web footprints of varying sizes and instant interactivity with their readers, and the minute you even peep about consideration (you, your work, for the ballots) it’s basically a clarion call to your readers to go support you — whether you’re deliberately making the announcement with an intent to motivate your readers, or being discreet and simply mentioning the works you’ve published in the past calendar year, without actually doing a call to action. Plus, authors are clever. A call to action need not be worded baldly. There are 101 ways to deftly and subtly put up neon signs of varying design, encouraging readers and web followers to put you down for the ballots and the awards. Especially when so many of the ballots and awards are voted via web form. It’s easier than ever for an enthusiastic fan or reader or supporter to click, jump, vote, and submit. So, I think it can be reasonably said: nothing any of this year’s short-listed nominees did to announce themselves, can be deemed uncouth or against the spirit of the Hugos. Past winners (up to and including Best Novel) have happily flexed their web footprints in order to be nominated and win. I don’t think we can honestly ding anyone on this year’s ballot for doing the same thing.

“But, Wheel of Time is not even a book!”
True, it’s not a single book. And there is a strong argument for perhaps changing the rules of the award, for future Worldcons, so that a Best Series Hugo might be given. But since the present rules permit Wheel of Time fans to nominate what they love, the series is on the ballot through no fault of its own. It will now compete against the other works just like any other nominee. Perhaps it’s a little disheartening to see a series with such a substantial fan base go up against single books from authors who don’t have as much traction in the marketplace — from a glance, Wheel of Time seems likely to bury its competition. But again, I ask, why not? There’s nothing in the Hugo nomination process that says anything about taste, nor about sales numbers, being a disqualifier. If enough Worldcon members want Wheel of Time (or any other thing) on the ballot, then by golly that thing is going to be on the ballot. That’s not Brandon Sanderson’s fault, nor should Wheel of Time fans be talked down to because somehow their taste isn’t as relevant to the health and recognition of worthy works in the field as, say, fans of John Scalzi’s Red Shirts. Which did walk away with the Best Novel Hugo last year, and largely because of the fact that Scalzi’s fans simply chose to participate in the nomination and voting process.

“But, Monster Hunter Nation and Wheel of Time fans are not our kind of fans!”
Okay, here is where I put my grumpy face on and glower a little bit. Because this is something I’ve talked about before. This is also something Kristine Kathryn Rusch has talked about before, too. You can’t have a healthy fandom unless you run a big tent. And by big tent, I mean a fandom that doesn’t impose litmus tests. Fandom (that very-small piece of the consumer pie that keeps Worldcon alive) represents an increasingly monocultural segment of the overall fan market. The so-called TruFans work to marginalize and exclude the NeoFans. “Show us your cred!” the guards cry at the entry points to the science fiction “ghetto” that fandom jealously occupies — though Larry Niven once famously argued it’s not a ghetto, it’s actually a country club. Those with insufficient or bad cred (“You only like movies and games!” or “Your politics make you stinky!” or “Your favorite author is too commercial!”) are discouraged in both obvious and subtle ways. Go back to what Brandon Sanderson said: if you invite people in, it’s rather strange of you to then try to kick them back out simply because they’re not matching your taste and preferences 1-for-1. So while I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion of, “Well we liked science fiction before science fiction was popular,” I also think this is the slogan of a dying culture. And that makes me sad. Because as someone who came of age reading Larry Niven’s wonderful anecdotes about Worldcon, the picture he painted was not that of a dying culture. Worldcon fandom can’t be healthy if it imposes hard filters and actively shews away “interlopers” who haven’t been properly anointed or baptized into the field, per traditions of old.

“But one of Larry Correia’s friends, that Vox Day guy, is a (insert nasty words here)!!”
Perhaps Larry and Monster Hunter Nation wouldn’t be getting such a ration of grief if the authorial persona known as Vox Day had not had a story on Larry’s slate? But then, Larry didn’t put Vox on the Hugo ballot all by himself. Vox has a blog too. And it gets a ton of traffic. Vox ran his own slate. And the Vox fans came to the Hugos along with Monster Hunter Nation and Wheel of Time fans. Look, for the sake of the Vox Day critics, I get it. Vox (the persona) throws verbal bombs. He is challenging, opinionated, controversial, and makes no apologies. Even to the point of saying things and making statements that occasionally cause me to step back and say, “Whoa, man, that’s probably not called for!” But again, my refrain: why not? If fandom evicted every author or editor who ever shot his or her mouth off about politics or religion or some other thing, we’d be showing many dozens of authors — and more than a few editors — the door. In fact, some of the recent authorial and editorial winners have been very outspoken about their beliefs, up to and including being rude and insulting to those who don’t share the same beliefs, and I am not sure you can pull the ladder up on Vox without admitting (as a fandom culture) that it’s okay to be boorish, crass, insulting, or worse, just as long as said author or said editor is boorish and rude in the correct way. Think Vox is a hideous character? Fine. I get that too. As personas go, Vox Day is a significantly spicy jalapeno! Even I can’t always go where he goes, despite having a degree of ideological overlap on the Venn diagram. I do not agree with Vox on every single thing, nor does Larry Correia for that matter. But if science fiction is truly supposed to be the liberal literary art that it claims to be, then I challenge anyone upset at seeing Vox on the ballot to pry his novelette “Opera Vita Aeterna” away from the ill will Vox the persona has generated, and consider the story on its own merits. As all our parents once told us: how do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it? Or as one plaintiff lamented, what if Vox’s work actually merits inclusion despite how much we don’t like him as a web personality?

If science fiction truly loves the different, the strange, the alien, or the disturbing, as it always claims to love these things . . . well, here’s science fiction’s big chance to put its money where its mouth is: Vox Day, literary rogue. I, for one, look forward to reading his novelette. To paraphrase a Commander Riker line from Star Trek: The Next Generation, nobody ever said this field was safe. In fact, Harlan Ellison once famously branded the genre as the so-called dangerous genre. Is Worldcon fandom ready to get dangerous, or does worldcon fandom want to be safe?

We’ll see.

Because, really, that’s what the fiction Hugos are supposed to be about: the prose on the page. Technically, when a guy like me gets nominated for “The Chaplain’s Legacy” it’s not me that’s getting nominated, it’s the story. But we all know the nominations aren’t that simple. Many voters don’t even read widely. When nomination time comes around and they are presented with the giant cereal aisle of choices offered at the science fiction grocery store, they will often (through no fault of their own) default to brand names they know and/or like. Thus some familiar name brand patterns tend to set in (and this is true for the Nebula awards too) and that’s perhaps inevitable, without being ideal. But again, according to the labels put on those categories, the author name attached to the story or the book is more or less irrelevant. We’re not giving out Best Novella Writer Hugo or Best Novel Writer Hugo, we’re giving out Best Novella Hugo and Best Novel Hugo. The name attached to the work is somewhat independent of the work proper. And this should be true across the board. And when people exclaim that someone ought to not be on the ballot for purely political or social squabbling reasons, they’re basically admitting that the categories are misleading. Votes are cast for people, not fiction.

Frankly, I think the best way to rectify the situation is not to impose any kind of taste or political test, but to merely read what’s been placed on the ballot, and vote according to enjoyment. No single story or book will please all readers, and it has ever been thus. But if you’re casting your votes because you truly did read what was offered, and you let these works of fiction rest on your literary palate, then I think you’re doing the Hugo process more dignity than if you simply rush down the ballot ranking solely because of the names attached to the products. Him, him, not him, her, not her, not her, not her, him, definitely him, her, not her. Maybe that’s as valid a manner of voting as any other, but it kind of cheats the Hugos out of a degree of their validity.

Which gets me to a point I want to make, about some of these awards overall, but I think I will wait to make it for the next installment in this series.

Thanks to everybody who read my stories over the last few months, and who nominated those stories for the 2014 Hugo!

Click here for the first installment in this series.

Click here for the second installment in this series.

Whence fandom?

My editor at Baen Books, Toni Weisskopf, made some very cogent and interesting observations regarding 21st century English-speaking fandom’s fractured condition. I agree absolutely with Toni that some of these fault lines can be traced directly to the social and political fault lines in the wider English-speaking culture; out of which a good deal of fandom springs. But I also think that much can be explained by examining where people come to fandom from–and through which doors they walk when they enter.

In the old days (meaning, prior to 1960) it was entirely possible for most people who called themselves “fans” to have read many or even most of the same books, seen the same television programs and films, and read much of the same stories in many of the same magazines. Science Fiction (and Fantasy, though it was not quite yet its own distinct thing yet) was a small place with numerous touchstones that fans and editors and writers could all identify readily on their separate maps of the intellectual landscape. There was a commonality of experience as well as consumption, and while not everyone agreed about which course the future would take (the so-called New Wave certainly threw the Campbell era for a loop!) most everyone could at least talk to each other about things the field (et al) deemed worth talking about.

In 2014?

Let me paint you a picture of what I think fandom looks like in 2014.

The above is a Venn diagram, as I imagine all the many separate fandoms might appear if you were to sit down and actually draw them out. One circle represents people who came to fandom through the Harry Potter books. Another circle represents people who came to fandom through the HALO video game franchise. Another circle represents people who came to fandom through Star Trek. Another, for Star Wars. And so on and so forth, across dozens or even hundreds of different games, movies, television series, books, book series, and so forth. In fact, were the diagram above to be rendered in total, it would likely comprise thousands of different circles, and the picture would be so jumbled as to be unintelligible.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom. Oh, to be sure, there are some properties (like Star Trek and Star Wars) which enjoy such overwhelming cultural ubiquity that it’s difficult to find anyone who is not at least aware of them, aware of the characters, the general conceits of the franchises, et cetera. But even here, you can (if you dig beneath the surface) locate veins of fandom which are largely oblivious to these “big circle” properties with their millions upon millions of adherents.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

And we see this pattern again and again: manga and anime fans having overlap to a large degree, while not necessarily having any overlap at all with Cthulu-themed Lovecraft horror fans. Steampunk fans having great overlap with cosplay fans, but perhaps not nearly as much overlap with interstellar Hard Science Fiction fans. And so on and so forth. Depending on where you walked into the “room” you might be on the other side of the floor from someone else who entered opposite you. The things you’re interested in, and the conversations you have with different people, might not share any elements in common. The touchstones simply aren’t there. Different things will matter (or not matter) to different people, and the various circles will often float past one another without there being much rub-off or blending.

The internet accentuates this because you no longer have to go to a convention to meet and greet your like-minded dwellers of your particular circle(s) which interest you. The internet also allows mini-cons and specialty cons to reach out and attract a very fine-tuned sector of the broader consumer audience, much as Star Trek conventions of yesteryear used to attract a very specific kind of fan for a singularly specific franchise.

Now, the one thing pushing back on the “balkanization” of fandom, is the rise of the super-con: DragonCon in Atlanta, and the many Comic Cons, such as Salt Lake City Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con. Events that will literally draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. And not just the hard-core fans, either. The super-cons bring “mundanes” from beyond fandom who are still fans, they just do not identify with fannish culture or history, nor do they even necessarily recognize what it is they enjoy; as Science Fiction or Fantasy. For these “fans outside fandom” they are purely attracted to a popular mass-appeal product, such as a comic book line or comic book movie, a popular television show, and so forth. Things that are explicitly SF/F in context but which have sprung entirely from the mainstream media outlets, drawing more or less mainstream fans.

It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.

But even then, the tendency (among attendees) is to focus mostly on what their main interests are: a particular movie, television show, the actors of same, or perhaps a beloved video game line, etc. They will wander through the convention center noting the spectacle of the mass aggregate without necessarily stopping to notice any one thing in particular. Just ask genre bestsellers who lack a presence in television or film how it feels to sit at a book table in the dealers hall while thousands of people wander past, not even recognizing your name, nor your books, nor your face.

As Toni noted so well, “It is possible to be a science fiction fan and have absolutely no point of connection with another fan these days.”

I believe this is both good, and bad.

It’s good (to me) because it means the marketplace (for people producing product) is a bull marketplace. Depending on what your goals and aspirations are, you have a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people. Science Fiction and Fantasy are not the closeted industries they were in 1960. Science Fiction and Fantasy have (as I noted in this space before) grown up, moved out of the basement, gone to Hollywood, and taken over the popular culture. Fandom “won” the culture battle because now you can be a fan and not even know you’re a fan! There is nothing odd or distinguishing about you, because everybody likes Star Wars and Star Trek and Harry Potter, right?

It’s bad (to me) because it also means that at the same time people can be fans without realizing they’re fans, there are also plenty of people who have only a dim awareness of the fact that all the other fannish circles exist; much less have validity as a coherent group of like-minded enthusiasts. This tends to breed a lot of cliquishness, clannishness, turf wars, and worse. Ergo, you’re not really a fan unless dot, dot dot. This even manifests within circles as the “hard core” fans at the center resent the dilettantes and the passing fans at the edges, or those fans who like to mix and match their fandom: various interests and enthusiasms rolled into a million and one hybrid flavors.

It also means that professionals (by whatever criteria we choose to use to define the word “professional”) inevitably form prejudices too. Based either on whether you’re traditional published or indie published, which publishing house or agent you work with, whether you write for games or movies or television or magazines, and so on and so forth. Creative people tend to be competitive (often on an unconscious level) so whatever we can do to get one up on each other, we inevitably do. Especially now that there are so damned many competing forms of SF/F entertainment. It’s not possible for any one writer, director, or game company to completely monopolize the marketplace. And there are thousands of people who try to cross over (from fan to professional) each day, through a variety of conduits. With that much competition and so much turmoil caused by so much jostling in the marketplace, to say nothing of larger cultural political concerns, it’s easy to see why the wholeness of the old days has dissolved into the present thousand-countried continent called Science Fiction and Fantasy.

My personal approach (generally) is to celebrate the vastness of the ocean while acknowledging all the islands upon it. I did not come up through traditional fandom in the pre-1960 sense of the world. I came in “sideways” as a child of the 1970s and 1980s who knew SF/F mostly through movies and television and imported Japanese anime. It wasn’t until I began reading Larry Niven (when I was an older teen) that I became aware of the fannish culture and its roots, tracing back through the decades to the first Worldcons and all that went with them. This knowledge was rather revelatory, and I’ve enjoyed very much sitting at the feet of genre historians and super-fans-become-authors like Mike Resnick, who can speak to fannish history: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As Toni notes, SF/F tends to thrive when the circles can find excuses to talk to each other. Nobody is really alone, nor does any one voice (or group of voices) control what is and is not fandom, or what is and is not worth caring about, when it comes to the circles. It’s bottles being hurled into the surf at a rate of one thousand per second, and ten thousand Captain Cooks sailing forth every hour to visit previously uncharted (for the captain and crew at least) waters. Not undiscovered, precisely. Just, places said captain and crew have never been before. And across the distance, healthy commerce and an exchange of ideas can occur.

Presuming the sterilizing forces of conformity aren’t allowed to gain overwhelming traction. Even the best of intentions can pave an unfortunate road. And sometimes the concepts, thoughts, and ideas which disquiet us the most, are the very same concepts, thoughts, and ideas which can be necessary for a) truly understanding all those different fans and creators out in those circles, and b) learning to harness the wild nature of the marketplace for fun and profit, as opposed to launching siege engines designed to batter the many circle(s) into line with a given doctrine, principle, or precept.