Odd. I’d have thought that this year’s Hugo shortlist was pretty much uncontroversial. I mean, we have a healthy representation of women and writers of colour, most of the nominations went to works and writers that are popular or at least talked about, there are very few “What the Fuck?” nominees compared with other years (e.g. last year’s nominees included a filk CD and a Hugo acceptance speech from the previous year). Sure, there still are issues, particularly with certain categories, but there always are issues.
Which is why I was surprised to find that this year’s Hugo slate is apparently considered highly controversial in certain corners of the SFF community.
The opening volley was fired by Justin Landon at Staffer’s Book Reviews who asks if we can stop talking about the Hugos now and then proceeds to make a lengthy post about the Hugo awards and why they are irrelevant and incestous. Now Justin Landon actually makes a few good points, e.g. that the fanzine category is problematic, since it privileges print fanzines over online SFF sites and that always the same handful of fanzines get nominated, probably because print fanzines in general are dying out. And there clearly are biases among Hugo voters. For example, an urban fantasy novel, no matter how good, will never get nominated for the Hugos or any SFF genre award, not even when written by Seanan McGuire (note how she gets nominated for her zombie tales rather than for her urban fantasy), while a certain sort of very dull hard SF by male writers gets nominated almost by default and John Scalzi could probably get nominated for his shopping list at this point.
However, it’s not John Scalzi or Kim Stanley Robinson whom Justin Landon singles out as unworthy Hugo nominees (he actually thinks Robinson’s 2312 is the only truly worthy nominee), but Lois McMaster Bujold and Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant and he’s rather rude about it, too (and I don’t even like the Mira Grant books). Basically, he is enraged that Lois McMaster Bujold has won as many Hugos as Robert Heinlein, when the two of them shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence, let alone placed on the same level. I actually agree with that point, since Lois McMaster Bujold is lightyears better than the grossly overrated Heinlein. He also believes that Seanan McGuire only got five nominations because she managed to leverage her fanbase to vote for her and thus skew the nominations. Oh yes, and he says that she’s no Ursula LeGuin and compares her to soap opera star Susan Lucci while he’s at it. Given the low standing of soap operas in the SFF community (though there are indications that there is something of an overlap between soap opera and SFF fandom – for more read my upcoming linguistics paper), this is doubly insulting.
Now it’s telling that Justin Landon only singles out the two female nominees in the best novel category for criticism, even though he doesn’t seem to like John Scalzi’s Redshirts either. Oh yes, and he complains that Livejournal fandom (which is heavily female dominated) has skewed the nominations and that Doctor Who is consistently popular (again, many modern Who fans are women). Now I don’t actually think that Justin Landon has a problem with women in SFF, especially since he suggests two books by women, Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear and The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin, as replacements. And indeed either book would have been a good choice and I would prefer them both to the Mira Grant zombie novel or 2312. He also states that he would like to see Liz Bourke and Kameron Hurley in the fan writer category, another point I agree with. Nonetheless, the fact that Justin Landon is condescending towards the two female nominees he does not agree with, but not towards the male nominee he does not agree with (Scalzi, since he actually seems to like 2312 and Throne of the Crescent Moon), leaves a bad taste in my mouth and also obscures what good points Justin Landon makes, namely pointing out the issues with the best fanwriter category.
To be fair to Justin Landon, it’s not just the women he singles out for criticism. No, he also complains about Larry Correia mounting an aggressive campaign to get himself nominated, a complaint which would have been valid, except that Larry Correia is nowhere in sight on the Hugo shortlist (He was nominated for the Campbell award a few years ago and lost out to Lev Grossman and was not very gracious about it), though some of the people he recommended are (who may well have gotten there without Correia’s help). In fact, I strongly suspect that Justin Landon has a serious problem with urban fantasy – the subgenre to which both Seanan McGuire’s and Larry Correia’s work belong in the widest sense – as well as with SF that privileges character development over ideas and technology (Lois McMaster Bujold, Doctor Who and Redshirts belong into that category – also, they are not serious). Which is his personal preference, but guess what? My tastes don’t necessarily match the Hugo voters’ either (nor Justin Landon’s). But then I’ve long given up on the illusion that the Hugos or Nebulas necessarily truly represent the best the genre has to offer.
Aiden Moher largely echoes Justin Landon’s complaints, though he at least managed to be less condescending about it. Though I honestly wonder why so many people seem to dislike Seanan McGuire. Now Seanan McGuire did say something in an interview about a year ago that I found incredibly problematic, but the SFF community at large did not pick up on that at all, so I guess I was the only one bothered. Nor does she strike me as particularly in your face about self-promoting – John Scalzi is a lot more blatant IMO. So really, why the dislike for Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant? Could it be because she’s a) a woman and b) writes urban fantasy?
Yeah, I guess I just answered my own question.
Adam Callaway also agrees that the Hugos are broken and that a new award, SFF’s equivalent to the Booker or Pulitzer, should be established. However, unlike Justin Landon and Aidan Moher, he doesn’t put down individual writers and offers constructive criticism instead.
Larry Correia, very vocal author of the Monster Hunter series, comes from a completely different political direction than Justin Landon and yet his criticism of this year’s Hugo nominations sounds eerily like Landon’s, though Correia saves his condescension for John Scalzi, Jay Lake and Kim Stanley Robinson. Wait a minute, an avowed rightwinger like Larry Correia condescends only to white men, albeit white men of the political left, whereas Justin Landon, who probably is nowhere near Correia politically, condescends to women? Wow, the world is really messed up.
Larry Correia also repeats something that I’ve frequently heard from SFF writers on the right of the US political spectrum (Sarah Hoyt is another example), namely that those nasty leftists in traditional publishing and among the SMOFs (which means Secret Masters of Fandom, for those who were as baffled by the acronym as me) are keeping them down and keeping them and the works they like from getting awards and getting published anywhere except at Baen and that they are indeed out to ruin SFF by turning it into politically correct grey goo. Now there may be a grain of truth to those complaints – though last I checked Orson Scott Card was still in print and he’s not being published by Baen and Lois McMaster Bujold keeps getting nominated for Hugos in spite of being published by Baen. And there’s definitely an anti-Mormon and anti-Southern bias in the American SFF community, which frequently annoys me, particularly when directed at writers who have done nothing to deserve it such as Stephenie Meyer or Brandon Sanderson. However, those posts inevitably construct ridiculous straw Communists which apparently dominate publishing and SFF fandom in the US (folks, you’ve never seen a Communist, because they’re pretty damn rare in the US – I can only think of two explicit Communists in the SFF community and neither of them are mainstream figures), which renders the critiques useless, even if they make a few good points now and then.
A Seattle based musician named Vixy responds to Justin Landon and points out that hey, things are changing and the genre is getting more diverse, as evidenced by the Hugo shortlist. And if the genre isn’t changing into a direction that Justin Landon can approve of, then that’s his problem, not the genre’s. Vixy also criticizes Landon’s condescending tone, particularly towards women writers.
At the World SF blog, Lavie Tidhar responds to Justin Landon and points out that the Hugo namination slate is getting more diverse, which is a good thing, whether you agree with those particular nominees or not. Lavie Tidhar also takes up a discussion that came up in the comments to Justin Landon’s post – the fact that Hugo voting is restricted to WorldCon members (or those willing to shell out fifty dollars for the privilege) and that WorldCon is overwhelmingly held in North America, which makes attendance very difficult for SFF fans in other parts of the world. This is a point I agree with, especially since WorldCon is hardly ever held in Europe (approx. once every ten years) and mostly in Britain at that. Next year’s WorldCon will be held in London, a city that’s bloody expensive. Still not sure if I’ll be going (and attending non-European WorldCons is out of the question for me for health and money reasons), though if I don’t I probably won’t get another chance for ten years. And mind you, I am a pretty damn privileged as a white western woman from a visa-waiver EU country. An Asian, African or Latin American fan is in a much worse situation.
Jim Hines, last year’s winner of the best fan writer Hugo, actually preempts the sort of outraged reactions by Justin Landon and Aidan Moher and writes a parody of them. The most shocking thing about this is how eerily similar Jim’s parody was to the actual “The Hugos are broken – the books I like did not get nominated” posts that popped up a few days later.
Cheryl Morgan highlights the various women nominated for Hugos at For Books’ Sake. At her own blog, she also gives some background on the situation in the short story category, where there are only three nominated stories this year rather than the usual five. Plus, she calls a certain genre commentator “wrong as usual”, which I read with a certain amount of glee, because I’ve had my share of disagreements with that person. Not naming the person, because to name them is to summon them.
Meanwhile, Robert Jackson Bennett attempts to categorize awards according to who gets to vote for them. This is one of the least biased posts in this debate, if only because Robert Jackson Bennett doesn’t personally have a horse in this race nor does he particularly care.
At The King of Elfland’s Second Cousin, Chris Gerwel offers a brief summary of the discussion and attempts to define what the Hugos are good for. It’s another thoughtful post by Chris. Honestly, if we want to see some new names in the fan writer category next year (and I think we all do – no offense to the repeat nominees), Chris Gerwel should be one of them.