Good Conduct… and Confusion

kowalMary Robinette Kowal, in her intelligent, well-mannered way, has launched the most even-handed discussion of the recent Hugo debacle that I’ve yet read. Admittedly, I haven’t scoured the web to read EVERY essay or report about the current mess, but I’ve remained up to date. You can find Mary’s essay here, and the remarks in the comments section are worth reading as well, for most of the contributors from both sides of the debate remain respectful.

I use the term “both sides” loosely, because there’s not truly an either/or divide, as much as some would like to believe, or would like others to believe. I appreciate that Mary recognizes this.

o'neillI think John O’Neill, over at Black Gate, has also dealt with the Hugo conflict well. Honestly, I think it’s a crime that O’Neill’s been doing yeoman’s work with Black Gate for more than a decade (before I joined and after my departure) and that he has never gotten on the nominating ballot until now. That has long suggested to me that there IS bias at work within the Hugo nominations, although I’m not ready to say that there’s a cabal. I object to voting blocs of any kind, and there are accusations from some of the people who put their various puppy blocs together that “the other guys did it, so I’m doing it too” which doesn’t win points with me. It doesn’t mean I like the thought that the other guys did it, though.

blackgate15I think some of the reason the nominations float the way they do doesn’t have as much to do with blocs or cabals as taste. I noticed years before that magazines didn’t seem especially attracted to adventure anymore and that they preferred character centered or literary fiction for the most part, which has never interested me very much. It seems like just yesterday, but I realize now it’s been nearly fifteen years, when I was writing short adventure stories and looking for places to put them and finding very few. I wasn’t alone. These days sword-and-sorcery and heroic fiction is a lot more popular, albeit a little more grim, and is easier to find, but I think that the movers and shakers are still frequently more interested in message than story. You can probably cite some examples where I’m wrong, and that’s great, but I think those are more the exception than the norm.

I certainly don’t feel that the white man has been under represented, but I have sympathy for the notion that there’s not enough adventure in a lot of what comes up for the vote. That said, for years tastes swung a different direction, and I expect the needle will shift around every generation or so. Not TOO long ago the stuff that’s popular now couldn’t get a seat at the table.

lastbattlefieldMe, I’ve always liked my message fiction to have a good story to go with it. Consider, for instance, the original Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark,” which is a cracking good alien monster hunt story that also addresses prejudice. Then compare it to the later Star Trek episode with the half-white/half-black guys who hate each other because one’s black and white on one side and the other’s white and black on the other. They both have messages, but one is a helluva lot more subtle and tells a much better tale. Still, some people like the one more than the other, and like it better, and I guess it comes to taste. That’s not to say all message or experimental fiction is only as good as a schlocky tv episode of a pulpy TV show, just that some message fiction seems to BEAT YOU over the head with the point and forget the story and get praises anyway.

I digress. I am super pleased that Black Gate is on the ballot, and irritated that it will probably get swept away under a tide of No Awards because of how it got there and I’m further irritated that it took so long for the establishment to notice how hard John’s worked, thanklessly, for so many years… except, wait, the establishment DID NOT recognize O’Neill — he only got on through this bloc vote thing, which I really don’t like. Sigh.

If I were to receive a Hugo (as if!) as the result of a voting bloc, I’d feel compelled to return it, and I think that’s what Matthew David Surridge was saying. On the other hand, John O’Neill and his staff deserve attention and  acknowledgment, and they deserve the nomination, so I’m left feeling confused. (Keep in mind I’m busy enough with my own stuff that I’m only tangentially connected to BG anymore, so I’m not patting my own back.)

Rather than forming an opinion and wandering online to discuss it I think I’m just going to stay muddled, shrug my shoulders, and get back to work. If you want to talk about it here, feel free, but keep it civil. Remember the rules.


3 Comments on “Good Conduct… and Confusion

  1. I’ve responded — several times — on Black Gate to the Hugo situation, and my primary objections to stories like Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is the — well, thinness of the SF element. I won’t deny the story has literary merit, but as I said in response to some of the posts on Black Gate, I wouldn’t expect her story to stand up to the overall quality of the stories that make up an anthology like “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.” Swirsky’s Nebula award for the story notwithstanding, it just isn’t of the caliber of what I’ve come to know and love about science fiction over the last 50 years. And as much as I hate to say it, perhaps my disenchantment with her story, and with much of the slate of nominees of 2013, has to do with the changing face of SF and fantasy in recent years, changes I’m not sure people of my generation find easy to take. Please don’t think I’m dissing female writers, or writers of the various minorities who’ve been ignored for politically incorrect reasons of late; I like a good story, and I don’t care to which gender, or ethnic group, or political party a writer belongs. As a college English professor, I try to teach a story or poem based on its merits as a work of literature. I’ve done the same when I’ve nominated, or voted for, stories/novels for the Hugos. No offense intended to Rachel Swirsky, but I didn’t think her story strong enough for Hugo consideration; however, even less so, in my estimation, was the story that DID win the Hugo in the short story category: “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere,” by John Chu. As I said in a Black Gate response, the SF element was extremely weak, unexplained, and implausible. My own heterosexuality was not threatened or bothered by the protagonist’s homosexuality; on the contrary, the character’s dilemma in bringing his gay lover home to a Christmas gathering of his VERY traditional family drew a very empathic response from me (I have a gay cousin and have had a number of gay colleagues, male and female, in academia). This semester, in the science fiction class I’m teaching, we’ve read Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” and Haldeman’s “The Forever War,” both of which deal with gender issues. Had I not had to consider length, I’d have added Kameron Hurley’s “Bel Apocrypha” trilogy to the reading list. What I think it comes down to is this: more fans — MANY more fans — need to be involved in the nomination process AND the Hugo voting. The award has been a fan-based award, and as a traditionalist, I’d like to see it remain a fan-based award. But — that’s entirely up to the fans. If you don’t nominate and don’t vote, you have no right to bitch and moan.

  2. Having not read Rachel’s short story from that year, I can’t comment upon its strengths.

    I likewise can’t comment upon the actual award winner, which I haven’t read either.

    But I will say that I like your conclusion rather well: “more fans — MANY more fans — need to be involved in the nomination process AND the Hugo voting. The award has been a fan-based award, and as a traditionalist, I’d like to see it remain a fan-based award. But — that’s entirely up to the fans. If you don’t nominate and don’t vote, you have no right to bitch and moan.”

  3. The post and comments were high caliber. I think block voting does have some merit though. There is a high volume of good stuff out there that doesn’t get much attention and every Hugo round always and will always leave out something. Perhaps the Hugo is a snap shot of what is recognized during the nomination process. I wouldn’t call the Sad Puppies a cabal but more like a group of fans who might enjoy the same fiction. I and several Puppies did not vote a straight ticket and I think next year we will see a lot of lists and heavy campaigning if the rules for voting remain the same. If so I think that will be healthier for all involved because lists will be compared and some stories will get a look which might not have otherwise. I think the more fans involved with the process will be reading and comparing and a better representation will result. Even that won’t be perfect but I think it will be better than in the past when fewer voices and fewer votes created the nominees that we’ve seen like in 2013.

    I liked campaigning for the writers and the stories that I’ve read and voted on. I think I’ve given back a little for the entertainment that they provided. I also have a bit more faith in science fiction and fantasy fans looking past the lists and voting on the merit of their vote. To follow through with the vote I plan to bounce my picks against the other nominees and vote for what I think is best. There will be those who vote a straight ticket though and there isn’t much one can do but try and convince them to look at the other choices and ask for them to weigh them accordingly. I think most fans are open minded to that.

    On a separate note–I enjoyed reading your books. Have you ever considered a cross over with Saladin’s characters? The Arabian Knights setting is so rich with potential stories yet is untouched. Thank you for creating those stories. I hate to ask but are there awards for sword and sorcery? If not, then there should be.

    I agree that John has done a fantastic job. He also does a fantastic job of promoting fiction both past and present to the fans that read it. The cadre of Black Gate is superb and I think they will be a juggernaut in the future. The internet has made an ocean of stuff out there and that is to the benefit of fans. It takes a while but eventually all that stuff is separated and the best rise to the top. I think that is why Black Gate will be a big player in the future. It has the talent and its fan base is growing. John has captained that ship for success and deserves the Hugo in my view.

    I do think there is a bit of elitism out there and if so, it thrives on only having a few fans and a few votes in the Hugo. Having a huge number of fans voting and involved in the process can only benefit fandom. I think that was the goal of the Hugo. There is also a learning curve involved. The first two Sad Puppy lists were not that good. This one is a good list and I think a good start. Now that it is in the final selection it needs to express why those picks are better and convince the voters why theirs is better. I hope people read the selections and vote for what they believe is the best.

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