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Five reasons why the ‘Battle for Pop Culture’s Soul’ isn’t about ‘white men’

WIRED has written another ‘Puppies are evil’ screed about the 2015 Hugo Awards controversy:

'The battle for pop culture's soul'. My emphasis added

‘The battle for pop culture’s soul’. My emphasis added

There are many reasons why I might be “angered” by previous Hugo winners.  And none of them are anything to do with ‘the increasingly multicultural makeup’ of the awards:

ONE

Science fiction’s most prestigious award‘ for Best Novel was decided in 2014 by fewer than 4,000 voters.

TWO

The Best Short Story for 2014 got onto the ballot with fewer than 43 nominations.

THREE

Popular blogger John Scalzi has won as many Hugo Awards (inc. best fan writer) than Arthur C. Clarke and half as many as Isaac Asimov – author of I, Robot. He also has 90K+ Twitter followers.

John Scalzi Twitter feed

As George R. R. Martin points out in the Wired article:

George R. R. Martin

You need either a Reader’s Choice Award with tens of thousands of voters OR a juried award like the Man Booker Prize. The Hugos are neither.

FOUR

Just three online magazines and three print magazines contribute 50% of finalists for best short story, novelette and novella. With the online magazines – arguably less due to quality than the ease of sharing free stories.

FIVE

Literary writers with MFAs and degrees in English have dominated the Hugo ballot (for short fiction) in recent years. These prize-winning ‘sci-fi & fantasy’ writers often – in my opinion:

Yep… “Activists” are “angry” about these issues. The Hugo Awards – with their 60-year history – deserve better than to dismiss their concerns as the privilege of ‘white men’.

UPDATE: Factual correction made on 02/11/2015 to Asimov and Clarke’s Hugo-winning record. Asimov’s Wikipedia entry has two ‘award’ sections – we saw the first, not the second. Thank you to Aaron at File770 for the correction.

26 thoughts on “Five reasons why the ‘Battle for Pop Culture’s Soul’ isn’t about ‘white men’”

  1. John H says:

    You lost me on #3 – dozens of writers have won more Hugos than Asimov. Mike Resnick has won almost twice as many Hugos as Scalzi and all because I don’t care for Resnick’s writing, I wouldn’t condemn the Hugos because of that as it’s a matter of taste.

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  4. Vivienne Raper says:

    I think the point I’m trying to make – with that and the online magazines – is that social media has transformed how people find and think about Hugo nominees.

    There are now a vast array of outlets out there, ranging from Kindle novellas to niche online magazines, and no one can read everything. Outside of bestsellers, local celebrities heavily influence what gets promoted (and read). And – in the short story awards – the diversity of published material isn’t represented.

    SF & F has mainstreamed and is now more acceptable to literary writers (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/18/genre-debate-science-fiction-speculative-literary). So there’s a very small, unaccountable voting pool trying to make decisions about a very large genre.

  5. Mark says:

    You may not have been angered about it, but the leaders of both campaigns quite explicitly stated that they were, so that’s probably what the article (which interviewed both of them) was actually talking about. Of course, you yourself dislike the elements of Third-wave feminism that you believe are present in Hugo nominees, so perhaps you haven’t covered all the reasons you are “angered”?

    1. Vivienne Raper says:

      Mark. Perhaps I have covered all the reasons I am “angered” (in quote marks). Perhaps you’re making assumptions.

      1. Mark says:

        Perhaps I should restate. The Wired article imputed motives to the puppies based around politics (in the broadest sense), including gender issues. This is reasonable IMO because of publicly stated positions on those points from e.g. Torgersen.
        To oppose this statement by Wired, you have listed various motives that the puppies might have that were not based around politics.
        However, you yourself have publicly decried the appearance of what you identify as third-wave feminism in prior Hugo awards, and argued that the increase in female representation is in fact over representation. In short, you yourself have critiqued the Hugos on a platform including political and gender issues, and yet those issues were notable by their absence in your list.

        1. Mark says:

          I can make no reply on the subject of goats without descending into Python jokes.

          Ah, come on… You can’t leave me with no Python jokes.

        2. Vivienne Raper says:

          Sh*t. Mark, I just edited your comment by accident when I was trying to reply. Sorry.

        3. Mark says:

          Leaving aside Python references, I was enquiring if your reply was actually to me, or someone else.

    2. Vivienne Raper says:

      @Mark

      I didn’t “argue that the increase in female representation is in fact over representation”. I linked to an article in Tor UK that discussed the low percentage of women submitting SF novels. I also pointed out that the best-related work category contained several works with feminist (i.e. political) themes. None of this was ‘a decrying’. It was a discussion. I’m a female SF writer. I actually give a s**t about whether evil misogynists, etc. are deliberately excluding women and minorities.

      Your problem with me – as far as I can see – seemed to be that I didn’t immediately buy the *allpuppiesareevilsexistracistmisogynisthomophobicislamophobicasshats* narrative. It was hard to unquestioningly buy that narrative given Sarah Hoyt has written a novel about a gay conservative. And I haven’t seen anything I’ve found offensive on Larry Correia’s blog.

      You can oppose the Puppies for many reasons (e.g. they’re entryists, Worldcon fandom is Worldcon fandom, they were slating and slates are bad). But making the whole thing about identity politics is disingenuous and prevents a serious discussion about how the Hugos may – or may not – be representing wider literary fandom.

  6. James May says:

    Science fiction author Robert Heinlein had an imaginary Future History timeline which included an era called “The Crazy Years.” It’s amazing the SF community was the first to completely fall to our current gender feminist madness, the irony being SF was the most prepared to avoid it by being a canary-in-a-coal-mine genre of warning literature of precisely this type of dystopian world. Even more irony is we were sandbagged by Orwell’s perceptual trap where authoritarian fascism wormed its way in by talking about wheel chair access, social justice and allergies to scented products. The modern KKK is probably kicking themselves for not coming up with that first.

    Typical of our new lack of self-awareness is our Orwellian habit of looking at bald-faced racism and bigotry straight in the face and calling it “anti-racism” and “anti-bigotry.” A small slice of how stupid our community has become is typified by TorCom’s Liz Bourke and her column “Sleeps With Monsters,” the title of which is a quote from a poem by the insane lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich. In that 1963 poem Rich shows marriage in the same dystopian light Orwell did his future England, a place of scuffed edges, dead dreams and hollow stupidity. Why are we not surprised a bigoted lesbian ideologue like Bourke was among the first to fist-pump Ann Leckie’s SF novel Ancillary Justice, a mediocre work but which had the good sense to signal boost lesbian feminist dogma about “genderblindess,” the cure for Rich’s “compulsory heterosexuality.”

    In keeping with the idea of seeing marriage as a cultural cul-de-sac, we have retroactively not only declared all SFF prior to 2009 or thereabouts as a woman-hating, racist, homophobic delight through our new “feminist” lens, but any straight white male who had the temerity to be born without apologizing to our new overlords for the East India Company, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and pretty much any evil humankind has ever indulged in, as long as all other ethnic groups who did the same are thrown into Orwell’s memory hole. We have also decided to wage war on success itself and build statues to failure who talk to us about imaginary restaurants full of menacing face-punching “white cis dudes.”

    The Wired article is fit only for Orwell’s Ministry of Information and as an illustration of how far we’ve fallen, been duped, become stupid and utterly unworthy of a legacy where E. M. Forester and Ray Bradbury shouted at us to no avail. Adrienne Rich is our literary hero now, and God help us.

    1. Vivienne Raper says:

      @James

      It isn’t the whole science fiction community. You are talking about a small, noisy group in traditional publishing and convention culture. The Hugo ballot isn’t 100% message fiction. There are a few examples of it (this will go for authoritarian fiction in any era).

      I agree there has been a resurgence of shrill cultural puritanism across society coming from the left – rather than the socially conservative right. We now have left-wing puritans frowning upon images of nude women because they might encourage young men to rape. In past eras, right-wing conservatives decried the effect of nude women on the sanctity of Christian marriage. They’re all loud judgmental bigots; their value system is different.

      Authoritarians have always been with us and – as always – they wish to police thought, language and literature. They don’t like dissent. They don’t like free thinking. As always, it’s hard for right-thinking people to oppose them without fear of offending public decency. In past eras, being a radical made you a heretic, a slut or depraved. Now, it makes you a secret misogynist.

      It’s unfortunate that the existence of puritan bigots makes it harder to fight the real structural inequalities that left-wingers like me would like to remove. I want equality of opportunity and maximum freedom for everyone. The bigots want to browbeat people into accepting equality of outcome, while ignoring the underlying material and social factors that prevent such equality being achieved.

      I suspect the popularity of thought policing and hectoring is because it’s easier than tackling inequality. There is, as you point out, a crisis in mainstream left-wing thought right now. The identity-essentialist left seems to have unthinkingly accepted the neoliberal consumerist view of extreme individualism – as evidenced by the proliferation of identity categories that people can join, or discard, at will.

      For example, I identify 100% with the recent Laurie Penny Buzzfeed article on genderqueer identity, even down to the teenage short hair and anorexia. I don’t accept that identity for myself because it feels like a ‘fashionable’ or ‘consumerist’ identity – the ‘I am not a plastic bag’ view of disposable political struggle. For me to identify as queer would be a violent disservice to the many trans people who have taken hormones and had invasive surgery to feel comfortable in their own body. And the many LGBT people who have been verbally abused, assaulted or discriminated against. Wearing Timberlands and no makeup is not a political struggle; it’s an outfit. I should know – I always dress that way…

      This is one problem with the Hugo-award stories that have become Puppy talking points. They are largely sentimental, unradical and undemanding. They have lost the future because they have nothing to say. This is not, in fact, a Hugo-specific problem – from what I can see. Jonathan McCalmont and Paul Kincaid famously wrote about it in 2012 with reference to ‘best of the year’ anthologies.

  7. junego says:

    “[U]naccountable voting pool trying to make decisions”? I’m sorry, but that sounds like unaccountable ignorance to me.

    If you want to nominate and vote for the Hugos the procedure is completely open to any member of the WFSF and completely aboveboard. The results of the voting are reported in fairly fine-grained detail as shown in the link you gave in your article. Nomination data has also been included for the last few years. This data release is mandated in the WFSF constitution. You know, the organization, open to anyone willing to pay dues, who owns and controls the Hugo awards, among other things.

    If any member wants to change how to nominate and/or vote for the Hugos, those procedures are also completely open and aboveboard.

    If you want changes to the Hugos, join the organization and work for them. It’s not secret, it’s not ‘unaccountable’, it’s a bunch of volunteers who give freely of their time and money to something they love. There is no paid staff.

    http://www.wsfs.org/bm/const-2014.html

    There are also other awards that are controlled by “unaccountable voting pool[s]” like the Nebulas, Locus Awards, the Prometheans, the James Tiptree, Jr awards, the Andre Norton awards, the World Fantasy Awards, the Arthur C. Clarke, etc, etc, etc. ALL controlled by “unaccountable” voters using different written rules and regulations. Maybe you would find one of them more compatible to your goals and interests. Or you and like-minded individuals could organize an award that, again, would be more compatible to you.

    1. Vivienne Raper says:

      When 43 people can determine a nomination, that is ‘unaccountable’. Say you were on trial for murder. And, instead of 11 known jurors determining your fate, the decision was put out to the public. But – by the application deadline – only 43 people had put themselves forward to make a secret convict/no convict decision. Those 43 people were anonymous. Would you be happy with that? Or would you prefer a) a named judge? Or b) 500,000 people?

      It’s also worth mentioning that $40 doesn’t make you – in practice – a member of Worldcon. Several hundred of Vox Day’s Dread Ilk have paid $40. No one was happy about them nominating or voting in the Hugos, as the Worldcon community saw them (correctly) as a hostile entryist movement to that community. And I’m sure as heck no one would be happy if Dread Ilk turned up at Worldcon in person to volunteer (esp. if any of them were cosplaying Darth Vadar). The organisers would probably call the police. As such, it’s fair to argue that paying $40 does not make you a member of Worldcon and does not – in practice – give you ownership of the Hugos.

      Your response here seems to be (I’m making an assumption) the justifiable anger of someone whose fan community has been invaded. That’s fair enough, but there are people who see the Hugo brand as being more important than a 5,000 (approx)-person conference. Given the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy, and the Hugos’ claim to be ‘science fiction’s most prestigious award’, the Puppies are not the only critics that Worldcon fandom is going to attract.

      1. Hampus Eckeman says:

        This weird idea of stealing the Hugo brand to put on a totally different award, where does it come from? It is like saying that we care so much about Oscars that we should have them voted on in an internet poll instead of the juried award that it is now. And to think that the Oscars are loosing prestige because they work as they always have.

        It is just weird. If you want a totally different award, want other people to decide about it than those that are administrating it now, want it to be moved to a different convention and so on… they you should start a different award. Because everything about it will be different.

        1. Vivienne Raper says:

          @Hampus

          I sense – wrongly or rightly – that the current Hugo voting pool seems to miss books I might enjoy. Or, at least, overlooks them. Undue emphasis is given to books (like the Goblin Emperor) that seem mediocre; I haven’t seen one argument for why this is better than any other book published in 2014. Given the drastic changes in publishing and fandom (e.g. indie publishing), you would expect a small voting pool of dedicated fans – a system designed before the age of push-button publishing – would, indeed, start to struggle.

          I don’t necessarily agree with the Puppies in details (as you may have noticed from my reviews, I didn’t enjoy some of their suggested works), but I think they are responding to a problem – a disenfranchisement from an award that should have the widest coverage of literary fandom. If it was just individual egos at stake, the Puppies wouldn’t have grown year-to-year – from Larry Correia’s joking ‘gimme a Hugo’ to Sad Puppies 4 with its own website.

          The response of (well, the regulars on File770 for starters) to their frustration is *stupidignorantunculturedracistsexisthomophobicislamaphobicmisogynistshitlords*. There is a name for people whose response to ‘please consider why these people might be challenging the status quo’ is kneejerk vulgar abuse. And that’s ‘reactionary bigot’.

          And, yes, I do respect the Hugos. I’m just annoyed. As you would be, if it was the only SF award you’d heard about (apart from the Nebulas) before August this year and then you discovered the finalists were being determined by less than 50 f***g people – in some cases. It’s like lifting a tablecloth and discovering two dead cockroaches and a heap of smelly socks;

      2. snowcrash says:

        “When 43 people can determine a nomination, that is ‘unaccountable’.”

        No, it’s a small population size. “Unaccountable” is an utterly inaccurate term to use.

        “You need either a Reader’s Choice Award with tens of thousands of voters OR a juried award like the Man Booker Prize. The Hugos are neither.”

        Firstly, you’re setting up a false choice. Secondly, what you’re describing is already available. If you want the former, Goodreads/ Reddit/ Gemmel Legends are where you can look. If you want the latter, the Arthur C. Clarke Award/ Campbell Memorial/ Tiptree are available. These are just some examples – there are many others for both categories.

        The Hugo’s, like the Locus, and the Nebula, and a bunch of others, has it’s own methodology. You’re trying to make it into something that it is not, and that it never was.

  8. nickpheas says:

    “You need either a Reader’s Choice Award with tens of thousands of voters OR a juried award like the Man Booker Prize. The Hugos are neither.”

    This is the bit I don’t understand. The Hugos are a thing. You would rather that they were a different thing. The different things already exist. You could create your own thing, one that exactly meets your desires as to what the perfect thing would look like.
    What’s stopping you? Why is it so important to obsess over an award that you don’t respect?

  9. nickpheas says:

    “It’s also worth mentioning that $40 doesn’t make you – in practice – a member of Worldcon. Several hundred of Vox Day’s Dread Ilk have paid $40.
    ….
    And I’m sure as heck no one would be happy if Dread Ilk turned up at Worldcon in person to volunteer (esp. if any of them were cosplaying Darth Vadar).”

    There are two things going on there, which aren’t entirely compatible.

    Supporting membership, which you get for $40, does not, has never got you the right to attend. Even if the Dead Elks turned up saying that they wanted to volunteer then they’d be expected to pay the balance. Like all the other volunteers making the con happen had.

    Secondly, if they actually turned up prepared to volunteer and do so to the best of their ability then I think they would be welcomed. Cons need volunteers. I’ve only volunteered at one and no-one had time to ask me about my politics. I wasn’t cosplaying mind you, but provided I could do the job while wearing a costume (personally I’d be afraid of damaging it) then so what? If they wanted to get in the way and generally act like dicks, then yeah, they’d be unwelcome. That’s all to do with acting like dicks and little to do with who they voted for in the awards.

  10. Hampus Eckeman says:

    Regarding your number THREE. It is wrong in all ways. Scalzi does not have more Hugos than Clarke, they have the same number. And Asimov have won twice as many.

  11. Yamamanama says:

    Wow, that’s 90K more twitter followers than Isaac Asimov had. What, Asimov died in 1992, before Twitter was created?

    1. Greg Hullender says:

      I think her point is that Asimov had no way to lobby his fan base to nominate his works.

      1. Vivienne Raper says:

        Exactly. To be fair to Scalzi, I don’t think he even needs to lobby. He managed to sell me a copy of Saturn Run just by mentioning it on his blog.

        Social media and digital publishing has made a huge impact on how fiction (and non-fiction) is produced, funded, marketed and distributed…

  12. ratseal says:

    Uh oh. The File770 intelligentsia disagrees, Vivienne. They are dropping by to explain to you how it REALLY is.

  13. Greg Hullender says:

    One argument in favor of biasing short-fiction awards toward the “big six” magazines is that most writers send their stories there first. (They pay better and they’re more prestigious.) Only if they get rejected do they resubmit further down the food chain. Because the six are in competition with each other for fans to read them, they are strongly incented to publish works that appeal to the fan base–not works that hew to one ideology or another.

    Obviously that’s not 100% true, but I think it’s reasonable to believe that it’s 50% true.

    1. Vivienne Raper says:

      @Greg

      I think that’s fair. I’ve recently been through some semiprozines and the average quality is lower than the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

      I was thinking about anthologies, podcasts (audio isn’t the same format), individual collections by one author… The sort of things that are a one-off, paid-for, but might have a higher quality of short story than you would expect because they’re more likely to include well-known authors.

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