Over at the Pegasus Pulp blog, I have a round-up of links about the current uproar about fake and paid for reviews.
As anybody in the online SFF community will likely know, WorldCon took place this weekend and the winners of the 2012 Hugo and Campbell Awards were announced. It would be great if Tor.com could label the photos, though, since Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin are the only people I recognize.
This year, I very much agree with the choices. I loved Jo Walton’s Among Others and it was my clear favourite among the “Best novel” nominees. Though I am pleasantly surprised that it did win, since I thought that George R.R. Martin would take this one for the sheer popularity of the series. I can’t really comment on the various short fiction categories, because while I have read a few of the nominees, I haven’t read any of the winners. The percentage of women and writers of colour is pretty good in general. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is an immensely valuable resource and I treasure my own copy of the second edition, so it should be an uncontroversial winner in the “Best related work” category.
As for the two “Best dramatic presentation” categories, it was pretty clear from the get-go that Neil Gaiman was going to win the short form Hugo for The Doctor’s Wife and that Game of Thrones would take the long form Hugo. I can’t really argue with either, since both were heads and shoulders above the competition, to the extent that I’ve seen it. I find the dominance of Doctor Who is the dramatic presentation category wearying by now and plenty of the nominated and winning episodes haven’t been all that good compared to shows that never even got nominated. But The Doctor’s Wife really was very good. Even I enjoyed it and I gave up on Doctor Who in season 4. And I like Game of Thrones, the show, a lot more than A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series. Besides, Game of Thrones winning means that George R.R. Martin does get to take home a Hugo Award after all – not that he has a shortage of them.
The editor and pro artist categories should be completely non-controversial as well (and Betsy Wollheim finally wins a long deserved Hugo). Jim Hines probably is a good choice as best fan writer, because he provides valuable commentary on the genre, though I find the whole category and how it’s defined in dire need of reformation. I can’t comment on the fanzine, fancast, fan artist and graphic novel categories. The only win that really surprised me was E. Lily Yu winning the Campbell Award, since hers was the least familiar name among the nominees.
But even though the winners should be uncontroversial, the Hugo Awards had its very own uproar, when the livestream was suddenly cut off in mid ceremony for alleged copyright violations (i.e. showing clips from nominated TV shows and movies), which were not copyright violations at all but clips explicitly provided by the respective production companies. Apparently some kind of automated copyright violation detection system was triggered by the legit clips. Cheryl Morgan has more insight into this.
Meanwhile, the romance genre is having an uproar of its own, for the Romance Writers of America have changed the rules for the Rita awards (the romance genre’s answer to the Hugos and Nebulas) and for membership as well. The most controversial change is the elimination of the Rita category “novel with strong romantic elements”, which was a catch-all category for all of those serial mysteries, chick lit, women’s fiction and urban fantasy novels where relationships and romance were a crucial part of the story, but which did not play by romance genre rules. This also affects the membership rules (and RWA is a lot more open about accepting unpublished authors than other writers’ organisations), because authors who write fiction with strong romantic elements are no longer eligible for a full but only for an associate membership.
Now apparently there are complicated reasons regarding tax status, etc… for the RWA changing its rules, but I nonetheless find it troubling that while the romance genre is expanding into new territories (there are a lot of books and series that are mainly popular among romance readers, yet do not play by romance genre rules), the RWA is narrowing the scope.
I was never a regular Bravo reader – I very much fancied myself above such trivialities as a magazine devoted to pop music and film stars. Nonetheless, I did get to flip through other kids’ copies of Bravo. And of course I knew who Dr. Sommer was – everybody did. Though I did not see the value in his column when I was a teen myself. I was lucky and had liberal parents who answered any questions I had. And the letters to Dr. Sommer always struck me as so silly that I was convinced they were fake. After all, certainly no one could ever be so stupid to think that they could get pregnant from getting into a swimming pool?
Of course, recent experience has shown that even adult US politicians can be stunningly ignorant with regards to how the human body, particularly the female human body, really works. And so I eventually learned to appreciate Dr. Sommer and his straight no-nonsense answers, especially once I became a teacher. My students read Bravo and giggle over the Dr. Sommer columns with the same enthusiasm that my own classmates had shown twenty years before. The contents of the letters hasn’t changed all that much either – there’s still at least one per issue from a teen boy worrying that his penis is somehow deformed.
Still, becoming a teacher has shown me why Dr. Sommer and his column are so important. Because while I was lucky enough to have parents who were open about sexual matters and answered my questions, I now know that I was very much the exception. For a lot of kids can’t talk to their parents. And because they are still curious about sex and crave answers, they’ll get them wherever they can.
At my school, I developed a reputation as a teacher who isn’t shocked by sexual things – whether it’s penises scrawled in likely and unlikely places or the compulsive uttering of “rude” words (mostly it’s just kids saying “penis” and “vagina” over and over again, though occasionally you get a really rude term and have to explain why that word isn’t acceptable) or threatening to write “A. likes to fuck” on the blackboard when a student tried to sabotage an exercise by answering “Ficken” to the question “What do you like to do in the afternoon?” I thought that if I treated sex as something normal and natural that nonetheless wasn’t the subject of the English lesson, those transparent provocation attempts would cease. The actual effect was quite different though. Because I suddenly started getting questions. Some of them were clear attempts at provocation – Is there anything that will shock her? Others were born from the genuine need for information. And they weren’t all that different from the sorts of questions found in the Dr. Sommer columns.
Now I’m not the most logical choice for questions on sexual matters. I teach English, not biology. I’m not a liaison teacher or counselor. Yet those kids somehow figured that because I failed to be shocked at kids scrawling penises all over worksheets and reacted calmly to sexually tinged provocation attempts, I would be a good person to ask about sexual matters, because I wasn’t shocked by the mere fact that the kids were interested in sex. For apparently, some kids have no one else to ask. And knowing some of the parents, I can’t say I’m surprised.
And this is why the Dr. Sommer column (which has been handled by a team of doctors and psychologists for years now) is so important. Because there are kids who cannot talk to their parents or teachers and still need information. And Dr. Sommer was always frank and compassionate in his answers, no matter how seemingly silly the questions. Even more amazingly, Dr. Sommer has been answering teens’ questions on sexuality since the much more repressed 1960s. A few issues of Bravo were even banned in the early 1970s, because Dr. Sommer talked a bit too openly about masturbation.
So let’s remember Martin Goldstein a.k.a. Dr. Sommer who helped hundreds of teenagers simply by being honest and talking frankly about matters of sex and love.