It’s been three weeks now, since the 2014 Hugos were awarded at LonCon3 and yet we’re still talking about both.
At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Martin Petto offers a recap of LonCon3 and the Hugo Awards, including the whole Sad Puppies and Wheel of Time debacle. He’s not very happy with many of the winners in the fiction categories, largely because they don’t match his definition of what progressive speculative fiction should look like. It also seems he really dislikes emotional content in SFF (sadly a big problem in the community). I also disagree with his “leftwing British versus rightwing American SFF” dichotomy, because in my experience it’s not so simple, though American SFF is more likely to lean right. But then, I’ve always bounced hard of what he calls the “British boom” anyway, while SFF books by British writers I’ve loved inevitably weren’t considered part of the boom.
His (I’m assuming Doctor Science is male) observations about the sad puppy nominees largely match my own. Because IMO the sad puppy fiction nominees were all weak stories, not just Vox Day’s entry. Retro-pulpy 1930s stuff like Larry Correia’s should be right up my alley, but this one wasn’t. I kind of liked one of Brad Torgersen’s previous stories (Ray of Light) plus I know he has a fanbase beyond the sad puppies, so I thought that at least one of his two nominees might turn out to be decent. Alas, no such luck and the editing issues make me wonder about Analog, a magazine which has published good work in the not too distant past. As for the The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells, Doctor Science rightly likens it to “a description of an unfamiliar videogame” and indeed the novella apparently was some kind of gaming tie-in. However, I have zero knowledge of or interest in the game in question, so I couldn’t get into the story at all.
And indeed this is why I explicitly did not nominate e.g. installments in long-running series that make little sense without having read the rest of the series in question for the Hugos, no matter how good some of them might have been. Coincidentally, this also applies to Correia’s novel, which was the third part of a series.
Doctor Science also wonders whether the Sad Puppies suffer from some kind of cognitive dissonance and genuinely believe that the works they nominated have literary merit.
This post from Brad Torgersen’s blog certainly seems to support this assertion. He repeats the already familiar accusation that many Hugo voters care more about demographic labels than about literary quality and then accuses Hugo voters of being “anti-success” since highly successful writers like Kevin J. Anderson or Tad Williams or Dave Farland a.k.a Wolverton or L.E. Modesitt have never won nor been nominated.
Now Hugo voters certainly aren’t anti-success, considering that the list of recent Hugo winners and nominees includes such massively successful authors like Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Susannah Clarke, etc… However, the vast majority of Hugo voters and nominators rightly believes that a Hugo nomination should require some sort of literary merit, however defined, beyond “I enjoyed this” and “This sold a shit ton of copies”.
Now taste is subjective. For example, Brad Torgersen actually likes Baen covers, which I thought no one except Jim Baen ever liked, even if they enjoyed the actual books (luckily my own copies of Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry novels, courtesy of Baen, don’t look nearly so horrible as the current covers). Hence, it’s entirely possible that there are people out there who genuinely believe that Opera Vita Aeterna and Warbound and The Butcher of Khardov and The Exchange Officers were among the best works of speculative fiction published last year. The people who nominated Wheel of Time probably also thought it truly was amongst the best works of SFF ever. And indeed there are some Hugo shortlist regulars whose appeal makes me scratch my head, because I have no idea why they are so popular. This year, there were two non-Sad Puppy/non-Wheel of Time nominees on the Hugo shortlist whose popularity is truly baffling to me, because I consider them very poor writers. There really is no accounting for taste.
However, there also seems to be a certain contingent of people, mostly in the US, who are actively hostile to the idea that there is such a thing as artistic merit and who believe that financial success is the main or only arbiter of literary quality. It made a lot of money, hence it must be good. Which is of course crap, because we all know that artistic merit and financial success are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but rarely go hand in hand. Otherwise, Stephenie Meyer would have won the Hugo for Twilight (which I actually would have liked to see, if only for exploding heads), E.L. James and Dan Brown would win the Nobel Prize for Literature and Transformers – Whatever the latest installment was called would win the Oscar for Best Film.
Meanwhile, here is a wonderful Twitter rant by John Scalzi, multiple Hugo nominee and winner, about why thinking solely in sales numbers is useless, because publishing is not a zero sum game. Even sad puppy in chief Larry Correia seems to have grasped this, because he regularly promotes books by fellow authors to his fanbase.
The cognitivie dissonance on the sad puppy side of the spectrum also seems to extend to being unable to grasp that if they don’t like something, it doesn’t automatically follow that no one else will enjoy that thing either. Cause judging by recent complaints that those evil leftwingers want to suck all fun out of speculative fiction some of them certainly seem to believe that. Uhm, no. Actually we love SFF as well. However, in the past our enjoyment of SFF was frequently tarnished by the gross racism and sexism in the genre, by the erasure of whole swathes of people and their experiences, by the rampant militarism, the clunky prose or characters who seem as if they were written by sentient AIs who had never met a human being before. Now, however, the SFF genre has become much bigger and includes more works that those who’ve frequently felt excluded from mainstream SFF can enjoy unreservedly. Which is a good thing for everyone. And those who like SF novels about squarejawed white American military dudes doing stuff in space, fear not. Such books are still being published. Baen Books is doing fine and the SFF categories at Amazon are full of indie books about squarejawed white dudes doing stuff in space.
Meanwhile, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s Daily Dot post about the generation gap she noticed at WorldCon, which I linked to in my last Hugo/WorldCon post round-up, has attracted quite a bit of controversy, since her WorldCon experience does not match that of many other attendants.
Singaporean writer J.Y. Yang attended both Nine Worlds and WorldCon and points out that the whole old versus young dichotomy is a bit reductive and that both cons felt rather white to her. It’s a great post, which was pointed out to me by two separate people.
At Practically Marzipan, Aishyarya Subramanian offers not only a detailed write-up of both Nine Worlds and WorldCon, but also a comparison of both, and comes to the conclusion that both had their strengths and weaknesses. Found via Everything is Nice.
Liz Bourke, nominee for the best fanwriter Hugo, also offers a recap and comparison of WorldCon and Nine Worlds and wonders whether the generation gap reported by some wasn’t due to the fact that WorldCon was larger overall. She also notes that the attendants at Nine Worlds seemed more affluent to her (or maybe just more fashion conscious) than those at WorldCon.
At the Speculative Fiction Showcase (which I’ll stop plugging soon, honest), Jessica Rydill offers her WorldCon recap and points out that she didn’t really experience the domination of old white men described by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and others.