Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f

A quote from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)
A quote from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)
Recently someone posted these images of a couple of paragraphs out of Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing which is only one of the times he told this story. At the age of nine Bradbury fell in love with the Buck Rogers comic strip in his local newspaper, and began cutting out and saving the strips and so forth. His classmates at school teased him for loving such a ridiculous and unlikely story. The teasing eventually drove him to tear up with collection of carefully cut out comic strips. And he was miserable for some time afterward. The bit I found most profound in this version of the story was his realization that the classmates who made fun of the stories he loved weren’t his friends, they were his enemies. It was a realization that resonated deeply.

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)
A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)
But it’s a realization that is difficult to remember when one is on the other side of that divide. We’ve all been there: a friend or relative is completely enamored with an activity or book or series or movie that we just can’t stand. And try as we might, we can’t understand what they see in it. Assuming that the pastime in question isn’t something that harms anyone (so let’s leave dog fighting and fox hunting and the like out of the discussion), it shouldn’t matter to us where their enthusiasm goes, right?

And yet it it can bother us a lot.

Some works of art (movies, books, TV series) are racist or sexist or misogynist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, but still have some redeeming qualities. We’ve all liked something which had some problematic stuff in it. The original Dune novel is homophobic (the more evil a character was, the more gay they were, no good character is even bi-curious), for instance, but I still really enjoyed the novel when I read it as a teen (and the first few sequels). I still like the book, but now that I’ve become aware enough to recognize the homophobia, there is a caveat when I recommend it.

I wrote a lot of fan fiction in my late teens and early twenties and some of it utilized the same problematic trope as Dune: the few bisexual and gay characters I wrote back then tended to be at least a bit on the wicked side. This was true for a while even after I started coming out to myself as queer. So while I can’t excuse the inherent homophobia in a lot of stories written in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s, I understand that it doesn’t always come from an actively malicious place. I’ve also written before about how shocked I was when, after someone pointed out a certain amount of sexism in a story I’d written, that when I looked at a lot of my other works with that in mind, there was casual sexism all over the place. So just because someone is able to enjoy a piece of art because of a small amount of problematic content that doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the prejudice.


While I’m willing to let other people like whatever they want, I’m not required to approve of their choices or withhold judgment. If someone only likes things that are extremely anti-semetic, for instance, it’s perfectly okay to infer from that predilection that the person is more than okay with anti-semetism. Furthermore, if:

  • the only works a person likes pushes a misogynist, homophobic, racist agenda;
  • and/or if they actively try to exclude works that give marginalized people a place at the table;
  • and/or if they actively harass fans who recommend works that center marginalized people;
  • and/or if they campaign against writers or artists because of their race, ethnic background, sexual identity, et cetera;
  • and/or if they say that portraying queers or people of color and so forth in a positive manner represents an existential threat to civilization…

…they have clearly shown that, like Bradbury’s classmates, they are not friends, and are actually enemies. Not just enemies of queers and other marginalized people, but in my not-so-humble opinion, enemies of science fiction/fantasy itself. I firmly believe and will always insist that sf/f is ultimately about hope. Even the most dystopian sci fi and gruesome horror hinges on a glimmer of hope. I am not being a hypocrite or intolerant if I decide to stop spending time with enemies (which includes exposing myself to their opinions). I am simply following Bradbury’s example: I’m taking my dinosaurs and leaving the room.

That’s enough about that, for now.

Voting on the Hugo Awards ends soon, and I’ve been fiddling with my ballot off and on for a while. Because of the move, I didn’t get around to downloading the Hugo Packet until later than usual. And because the unpacking is still going on and June at work was all about lots of very long hours, I’ve been having trouble reading all the stuff that made the ballot which I hadn’t already read.

Anyway, the status of my ballot as of Wednesday night is behind the link…

I keep changing my mind on Best Professional Artist, so I’ve left it out of the list below.

1. Ninefox Gambit
2. The Obelisk Gate
3. A Closed and Common Orbit
4. All the Birds in the Sky
5. Too Like the Lightning
6. Death’s End

1. Every Heart a Doorway
2. Penric and the Shaman
3. The Ballad of Black Tom
4. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
5. A Taste of Honey
6. This Census-Taker

1. “The Tomato Thief”
2. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”
3. The Jewel and Her Lapidary
4. “Touring with the Alien”
5. “The Art of Space Travel”
6. No award

Short Story:
1. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”
2. “The City Born Great”
3. “Seasons of Glass and Iron”
4. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”
5. “That Game We Played During the War”
6. No award

Related Work:
1. The Princess Diarist
2. The Geek Feminist Revolution
3. The View From the Cheap Seats
4. Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016
5. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg
6. No award

Graphic Story:
1. Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
2. Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous
3. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
4. Saga, Volume 6
5. Paper Girls, Volume 1
6. The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man

Dramatic Long:
1. Ghostbusters
2. Rogue One
3. Stranger Things, Season One
4. Hidden Figures
5. Deadpool
6. Arrival

Dramatic Short:
1. Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”
2. The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”
3. Splendor & Misery [album]
4. No award

Editor Long:
1. Sheila E. Gilbert
2. Liz Gorinsky
3. Miriam Weinberg
4. Navah Wolfe
5. Devi Pillai
6. No award

Editor Short:
1. Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
2. John Joseph Adams
3. Ellen Datlow
4. Neil Clarke
5. Sheila Williams
6. Jonathan Strahan

1. Uncanny Magazine
2. Strange Horizons
3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
4. The Book Smugglers
5. GigaNotoSaurus
6. No award

1. Rocket Stack Rank
2. Lady Business
3. nerds of a feather, flock together
4. Journey Planet
5. SF Bluestocking
6. No award

1. Galactic Suburbia
2. Fangirl Happy Hour
3. The Coode Street Podcast
4. Tea and Jeopardy
5. Ditch Diggers
6. No award

Fan Writer:
1. Foz Meadows
2. Mike Glyer
3. Natalie Luhrs
4. Abigail Nussbaum
5. Chuck Tingle
6. No award

Fan Artist:
1. Likhain (M. Sereno)
2. Spring Schoenhuth
3. Vesa Lehtimäki
4. No award

1. The Vorkosigan Saga
2. The October Daye Books
3. The Expanse

New Writer:
1. Laurie Penny
2. Kelly Robson
3. Sarah Gailey
4. J. Mulrooney
5. Malka Older
6. Ada Palmer

Some notes: Any story or whatever, no matter who wrote/produced it, that in my opinion isn’t excellent goes below No Award. I’m an old grey-bearded fan and am fully on board with the curmudgeonly No Award option that the Hugos have always had.

Several of the categories are really difficult this year for the opposite reason. All six of the nominated Novels, for instance, are award-worthy in my humble opinion. If it were up to me, my top three choices in Novella would each get a Hugo, for another instance.

For the most part, thanks to the two rule changes adopted recently, we had a really competitive Hugo ballot this year with each category containing a bunch of award-worthy pieces and only a teensy bit of piddle from the haters trying to cause trouble.

4 thoughts on “Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f

  1. I just listened to an Imaginary Worlds podcast about Dune this morning. It mostly focused on the religious aspects and his borrowing from Islam.

    I have the Monstress graphic novel — had no idea it was up for an award.

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