Rose Lemberg has a great post about the pitfalls of demanding that works nominated for the Hugos and other awards be judged only on the basis of merit, independent of the author and their personality or political views.
She never states it explicitly, but I strongly suspect that the post was inspired by this and this post by John Scalzi in which he asked people to give fair consideration to the works by Larry Correia and Vox Day (and Wheel of Time) on the Hugo shortlist and judge them solely on their artistic merits or lack thereof. This post by Brandon Sanderson asking people to give Wheel of Time a fair shot might also play a role.
Now there is a definite difference between Wheel of Time and the works of Vox Day or Larry Correia. Wheel of Time is a massive series of 14 books that I have little to no desire to read (even if Tor has promised to throw the whole thing into the Hugo voters’ packet), but I don’t have any problems with either Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson as people. Wheel of Time is simply a case of a book or a series in this case I am not interested in, just as I’m not interested in Neptune’s Brood, since Charles Stross’ works have never worked for me, or Parasite, because zombies and medical horror aren’t my thing at all, though I like both Charles Stross and Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant as people. I will give both books a try (and will also try the first Wheel of Time), to have at least some basis for judging them.
However, Vox Day and Larry Correia are both problematic and just plain unpleasant people (and I have had run-ins with both before*) and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect me or anybody else who has had the misfortune of dealing with either gentleman or their posses to forget that and just focus on the merits of their respective works. Will I look at the works? Sure I will, if only to see what their writing is like. But will the personality of the writers in question influence my voting decision. You bet. And like I said before, the work will have to be knock-your-socks-off amazing for me to ignore the fact that the authors behaved like jerks.
This is not just a problem limited to ultra-rightwing writers BTW. Earlier this year, the names of two people with whom I’ve had issues in the past popped up on several recommendation and nomination lists as suggestions for “best fanwriter”. Now neither was nominated, so the issue has been averted. But if they had been nominated, my experience with and opinions of the people in question would certainly have coloured my judgment.
Coincidentally, the Hugos are not the only place where readers are asked to judge a work only on its artistic merits and not take the fact that the author is a horrible person into consideration. Today, I saw this report about the new novel by German writer Sibylle Lewitscharoff on the cultural program kulturzeit. And again we had someone – though not a white guy for once – ask people to forget the fact that Ms. Lewitscharoff has basically called children conceived via IVF not really human (more about that in this post, which also coincidentally involved a Hugo-related controversy) and just judge her work on its artistic merits. And again, I thought, “Well, easy enough for you to say, but I for one find it hard to ignore or forget that fact that the writer is a bigot. And if that makes me a bad critic, then so be it.”
Luckily, I’m not the only person willing to be a bad critic or bad Hugo voter. Kate Nepveu also responds to Scalzi’s request for fairness as well as the Wheel of Time nomination and points out that there are several valid ways to engage with a work of art and its creator and that no one should feel obliged to read the works of Vox Day or Larry Correia, if they don’t want to. Meanwhile, Rachel Ackes points out that every person has their own personal line in such matters and should act according to this personal line.
Susan Jane Bigelow points out that Vox Day, Larry Correia and their ilk are actively trying to maliciously provoke the glittering hoo-has, special snowflake, pink SF crowd, social justice warriors or whatever cutesy name they have come up with this week and that nobody has to engage with them or read their work.
At The Radish, Natalie Luhrs – whose last post on this subject attracted a troll attack of gigantic proportions – points out that no one is obliged to read works by people who actively despise them and to judge said work on its artistic merit, because art and fiction don’t exist in a vacuum.
S.L. Huang was originally neutral about the 2014 Hugo nomination slate, but also points out that more privileged people who are not normally the target of Vox Day’s and Correia’s rage (though Vox Day really seems to have a beef with John Scalzi) asking people who are targets to give their works fair consideration is hugely problematic.
Shweta Narayan points out that John Scalzi’s request to give fair consideration to the works of Larry Correia and Vox Day is contradricting Scalzi’s own widely publicized post about straight white male being the lowest difficulty setting. It’s an excellent post, so go and read it.
Finally, Ferrett Steinmetz points out what happens when works are nominated for awards based purely on their alleged or actual merit, namely that perception of a work’s objective merit is influenced by all sorts of subconscious biases and we still end up with a shortlist consisting only of straight white men more often than not.
Comments disabled because I don’t need the grief.
*Coincidentally, I have also interacted with Brad Torgersen, whose name also appeared on Correia’s “Vote this or puppies die” sample ballot. However, those interactions were not unpleasant, so I am willing to give Torgersen more benefit of a doubt than either Larry Correia or Vox Day.