It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I am not the biggest fan of that literary ghetto of a genre, science fiction/fantasy. Despite publisher attempts to rescue books from that dreaded pit by re-labeling them speculative fiction, it remains a genre that has become a shorthand for basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing virgins.
Not that all readers of SFF are such – I know some lovely people who read it, and no doubt it produces outstanding literature, when it is careful about book jackets and avoiding the cliches that so haunt it as a genre. Some of my favourite books are technically SFF, but only because its such a broadly-defined genre. I didn’t start reading Pratchett for the dragons, but for his cop stories. But I still feel that this is a genre more haunted by outright racism and misogyny than it should be in 2015.
Then this year’s Hugo Awards nominations were released, and I feel like SFF took five steps back.
In summary: the internet’s bored white boys got annoyed that, gosh darn, women and people of colour were winning awards for SFF writing, and by their pointy white masks, this could not stand. So this group, called the Sad Puppies (I fucking kid you not) petitioned their followers to vote with their $40 dollar membership, and influenced the slate enough to make it nearly entirely white straight guys. They say that the Hugos were too leftist, that ‘serious works’ were shortchanging more popular ones.
Are these assholes serious? Apparently.
Now I normally wouldn’t care, because literary awards are bullshit and nearly always go to tedious books or tedious people. Just because the Hugo is the oldest, it doesn’t make it the most important or meaningful. And like io9 points out, now the Hugos are entirely political. But the reason I do care is because its a sign of a trend, and I don’t like that trend. I don’t like the trolls of the internet having enough power to hustle an old award into their agenda. Maybe the Booker prize is given to undeserving novels, but at least it doesn’t get awarded based on whose fans have $40 to spend on a vote. To quote the inimitable Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds:
The easy answer is, “Buy a supporting membership and get voting,” but sometimes this is formed as criticism and it’s worth noting that plenty of folks (fans, authors, whoever) may not be comfortable to (or able to) spend forty bucks just to vote on a science-fiction award. Forty bucks is cheap to a lot of people. And expensive to a lot of others. There’s an argument to be made, too, that if SFF is to represent marginalized or under-served voices, then we may also want to recognize that those voices are often in possession of less filthy lucre than more privileged segments. And further, this argument somewhat explicitly turns the Hugo Awards into a capitalist pissing match rather than a popular vote — have your voice be heard and your vote counted is lovely to say as long as you don’t add to it, but it’ll cost you forty bucks, so write a fucking check.
No one should stand for this state of affairs, and I”m glad that authors are withdrawing their nominations. But you’d think that SFF would just grow up already as a genre – its readers, its publishers, its authors. I feel like we’re dragging this damn genre as a whole kicking and screaming into the 1950s, never mind 2015. Given the inexplicable success of Game of Tits and Ender’s Game despite its hideous author’s homophobic and racist rants, the endemic sexism in this genre since its inception, and the ongoing racism, I wonder if this year’s Hugo furore wasn’t inevitable.
Still, there’s hope yet – this is just one year’s awards, and maybe 20 years ago no one would have blinked at a slate like this. The resultant Twitter firestorm, while as predictable as a sunset, is still a good sign that maybe that the status is not quo, and that many authors and readers are horrified by what’s happening in their genre. Look at the 50-author strong backlash against the SFWA magazine cover I put up a few paragraphs ago. Even I, someone who probably wouldn’t pick up SFF unless I was tricked into it, give a shit about this state of affairs. I look forward to seeing it swing back to an interesting, diverse pool of authors next year. Perhaps someone should run a parallel set of awards?