Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hugos 2015: Further Thoughts

     Well, that didn’t take long. But anyway...

     No doubt my Gentle Readers have noticed that three of the pieces linked in the post below are about the 2015 Hugo Awards and the huge foofaurauw that’s surrounded them for some weeks. The contretemps has concluded with a shameful display of petty spite as the “social justice warriors” banded together to ensure that no work, writer, or editor on the Sad Puppies’ nominations list would receive a Hugo. To this end, “No Award” dominated an unprecedented five categories – those categories in which all the nominees appeared on the Sad Puppies’ slate. Moreover, this year’s award winners have all been marked with an asterisk.

     In any other field in which notable accomplishments are celebrated, the asterisk means “There is something tainted or irregular about this award.” To the best of my knowledge, the first time the asterisk was applied to a major-league sport’s record book, it was to draw attention to Roger Maris’s not having broken Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record within 154 games – that is, the number of games Ruth had to hit his record 60 homers in 1927. And in point of fact, when 154 games had elapsed, Maris had only smacked 59 round-trippers.

     I was appalled. What about all the other changes to the game of baseball? There’d been quite a few since 1927, including changes to the balk rule and to what the pitcher is allowed to do to the ball before throwing it. The ball itself had been somewhat redesigned. Ball manufacture was far more regular than previously. Field maintenance had set new standards. New fields had sprung up, and the fences of older ones had been moved. Both pitchers and hitters were larger and better conditioned 34 years after Ruth set his record. The use of relievers had blossomed, whereas in 1927 the starting pitcher almost always finished the game.

     But no: Whereas all those other changes were discounted, the 154-game threshold was apparently considered paramount.

     The 2015 Hugos were asterisked on the presumption that “the unusual volume of votes” – well over 4000 in several categories – should somehow be distinguished from earlier years, when perhaps a thousand votes would be totaled. How could this be interpreted in any fashion but one: that the “insiders,” furious at having had their own tactic of “slate nominations” used by others, were determined to attach a mark of shame to 2015?

     Sarah Hoyt calls this “burning down the field in order to save it.” And indeed, that’s what the SJWs’ tactic has done. Henceforward, only someone entirely new to the science fiction genre will not know that the Hugos are awarded not on the basis of quality or accomplishment, but only to those works and practitioners that exhibit political correctness.

     Having not paid much attention to the Hugos for the past couple of decades, I only felt the precursor temblors to this eruption relatively recently. At any rate, it confirmed a thesis I’ve maintained for many years now:

Organizations are magnets for those who want power over others.


They who desire power above all other things will eventually get it.
After they have it, they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that it cannot be taken from them.

     And so it is.

     What’s particularly poignant about this is that the speculative genres – science fiction and fantasy – are attracting growing patronage. In aggregate, those genres sell better than others, which has resulted in a new openness among publishing houses to SF and fantasy submissions. Writers eager to get a foot in Pub World’s door, who in previous years would not have considered SF or fantasy, have set their hands to such work. The effects on the field have been various, but overall lovers of speculative fiction can at least be pleased that their favorite genres have become “respectable.”

     I became a patron of the speculative genres as a young teen. I thrilled to the works of James Blish, Eric Frank Russell, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Larry Niven, and the incomparable Jack Vance. My reading habit, already fairly firmly established, approached the magnitude of an addiction. Few events loomed as large on my horizon as the approach of a new issue of Analog or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

     It disturbed me, even then, to have some ignoramus dismiss F&SF as “for children” or “not serious.” What constitutes serious fiction for adults? I would ask. The usual response was nonspecific, for a reason I had yet to learn: then as now, most adults do not read books.

     It’s been quipped that the true definition of “a classic” in fiction is “a book that everyone wants to have read, but that no one wants to read.” There is much truth to this.

     The speculative genres had been dismissed for decades as “for children” and “not serious” specifically because they require imagination: the ability to immerse oneself in a story major elements of which are not present in our mundane surroundings. This has given rise to the epithet “escapist.” While the notion that many aficionados of F&SF read those genres to escape the humdrum is not unfounded, the larger point – that readers of fiction primarily want to be entertained by a good story well told – is effaced. But good stories well told are uncommon these days, as is every other sort of originality. Worse, one can ruin the best story by larding it over with “message writing:” typically the insertion of unrelenting political polemics.

     Such polemics are the besetting vice of the social-justice crowd.

     Time passes. Young folks grow older. Their obligations multiply, their bills mount, and the road goes ever onward. I’ve known many changes over the years. Among them was the discovery, back in the mid-Nineties, that most F&SF published by conventional houses had become overbearingly polemic in nature. It was getting harder and harder to find material I enjoyed reading. Horror of horrors, my propensity for finishing any book I started lapsed as I found that in many a novel I’d purchased in all innocence, the author had penned a political tract rather than a good, involving story. All too often I found myself echoing an old Dorothy Parker review: “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but rather hurled with great force.”

     In part, it was the fruit of the F&SF explosion of those years. It was also the fruit of my habit of purchasing just about any book that said Hugo Award or Nebula Award on its cover. The invasion of the awards mechanisms by left-wing polemicists had already penetrated deep into both.

     We learn slowly, but we learn. I learned to eschew the award winners – to be guided principally by word-of-mouth from other aficionados, and similar unofficial indications of quality. I have no doubt that many other readers have resolved to do the same. Should present trends continue, the effect would eventually invalidate the Hugo and Nebula as guideposts to high-quality F&SF. Those trophies would still make nice mantelpiece decor items, but they would lose all power to attract readers to the books so “honored.”

     Perhaps that’s what the social-justice warriors really want. Their dog-in-the-manger behavior at the 2015 Worldcon could be interpreted that way...but I’m not convinced that their motives are that innocent. We can see from the parallel “GamerGate” controversy that they regard fun as an illegitimate reason for doing anything.

     Their worlds are not ones I care to visit.

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