I mentioned the temptation to move things around, and I should explain that a bit. The Hugos use a ranking system, so you pick which entry is your first choice, your second, and so on. Along with the option to placing No Award in the ranking. And one of the recently adopted rules adds a kind of instant run-off along with the ranking. It’s all well and good that the system has a way to break ties, but that doesn’t help the individual voter when you sincerely feel too or more nominees in a given category are equally excellent.
So one place where I had that dilemma this year was Best Novel. Three of the novels I nominated during the nomination phase made it to the final ballot. When I first saw the ballot announcement I was over the moon. Yay! I loved three of those books! And other people liked them, too! But then I started trying to decide how to rank them… and see in the nomination phase you just list five books things in a category without regard to whether any of them are better than the others. They are all five my favorites! Yay!
But now… now I have to pick. I can’t just say, “they’re all wonderful!” I have to rank them.
It was easy to procrastinate, because while three of the books were ones I’d already read and thought was great, the other three were ones I hadn’t read, yet. One of those other three was a book I had purchased and was in my to-read pile (because my husband had enthused about the audiobook), but I hadn’t read it yet. Obviously I couldn’t rank the category until I had read all the books. Similarly, there were at least two stories in each of the other fiction category that I hadn’t yet read, either.
Anyway, while several of the categories were ranked on my ballot weeks ago, I hadn’t touched the novels until Monday night. Because I finally finished the last novel that day. And I’d gotten through everything else. So I didn’t have any excuse.
It was so hard. I like them all. I want to give a Hugo rocket to each of them. I made a choice. I ranked them.
There is another category that I think is giving everyone problems. It’s the relatively new category of Best Series. To be eligible the series has to consist of a minimum of three works totaling a minimum of 240,000 words.
When the new category was being debated, one of the arguments that swayed my opinion was the the category would allow us to recognize the excellence of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A long-running series might consist of a bunch of merely good books, one or two mediocre entries, and only a couple of truly stand-out stories—yet the overall story, the long arcs that play out of the course of the individual tales, is award-worthy. The category offers a way to recognize the skill of spinning a larger tale, of keeping the reader coming back for more, in a different way that the individual book and short fiction awards.
Implicit in that idea, to me, was that Best Series should go to a group of books that had otherwise been overlooked by the Hugos.
But then, the very first year it went, the award went to a series which had won two Nebula awards, two Locus awards, and four Hugo awards. Now, it happens to be a series that I loved, and okay, I admit, I put it at the top of my ballot that year. But not without some trepidation about whether the award might better to another series. I rationalized this by reminding myself that the six most recent books in the series had not won awards, even then three of those were my favorites of the whole series, two of which I thought were absolutely robbed by not getting an award.
The next year the winner was a different series written by the same author. The first book of the series had won a Mythopoeic award; the second book won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. While the total number of awards the series had won was smaller, it was also a shorter series (only three books and a bunch of short stories). Again, it didn’t feel as if it was a series that had been overlooked previously.
On the other hand, both of those wins went to series that had been going from many years, and since one of the objections that other people raise to the category is to ask, “Can you really judge a series that isn’t complete?” Since the speed at which new entries in both series as considerably slowed, and each have had a book published that feels like an ending to a saga, it can be argued that they meet that objection as close as you can meet it without making a rule that the award is only allowed to awarded posthumously.
And I don’t like that for several reasons. To the extent that awards are recognition, I prefer recognizing excellent work while the author or artist is alive to feel the love, you know?
A few nominees each of the three years the award has existed thus far as series that seem quite clearly to still be in the middle. So I have some issue putting them at the top of the ballot. And I remain uncertain what criteria we ought to be using to decide which is best. Is the idea to look for qualities of the series that span multiple books, or is it okay if a series just has a bunch of great entries?
I don’t know.
I figured out how I picked my number one in this category this time. And I know since the only rules the Hugos have ever had is to define eligibility, I don’t think anyone is going to make it clearer how we ought to be judging them.
Before I comment further (and link to some other reactions to the ballot), I should list the actual winners, just in case you haven’t found this information elsewhere:
Best Novel — The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
Best Novella — All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
Best Novelette — “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer
Best Short Story — “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse
Best Series — World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Best Related Work — No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Best Graphic Story — Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form — Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form — The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland
Best Editor, Short Form — Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
Best Editor, Long Form — Sheila E. Gilbert
Best Professional Artist — Sana Takeda
Best Semiprozine — Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky
Best Fanzine — File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
Best Fancast — Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
Best Fan Writer — Sarah Gailey
Best Fan Artist — Geneva Benton
Best Young Adult Book — Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer — Rebecca Roanhorse
First, Nicholas Whyte has a breakdown of the statistics and voting that I found fascinating. Cora Buhlert has some very insightful (as always) comments on the winners. Camestros Felapton has his Hugo reactions and the comments contains some great observations. And Alexandra Erin has some interesting thoughts about conventions, awards, fandom, and what it all means.
A lot of the other blog posts and stories you will find out there are focused on N.K. Jemisin’s historic win: she’s the first person ever to win the Best Novel Hugo three years in a row. Two years ago it was big news that she was the first African-American woman to win in that category. As one person observed on Twitter: that historic first was more about how exclusionary society and the Hugos had been during the 60-some years of Hugos before that. So that win was only historic because the community had previously been less than welcoming. This year’s historic moment is much better: she’s won three times in a row because her novels are awesome.
The fact that I even point this out is used by certain people to try to prove that these wins are undeserved, or that those of us who voted for these works are doing so for some kind of political messaging rather than because we actually like the stories in question. And all I can say to them is: we already know you are bigots and a-holes, so we don’t really care what you think.
But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will let you in on an important detail (which I didn’t quite realize myself until a few minutes ago when I dug out all my Hugo ballot emails from my email archive): at none of these last three years did I chose Jemisin’s novel as my number one choice on the ballot. Each year her novel was my second choice. This year, for instance, I really quite liked her book, and it was a difficult choice, but there was another novel (Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee) that I liked slightly better. Similarly last year and the year before there was another book that I liked better than Jemisin’s, so I put them just above hers. Do I wish that my choices each year had won? Well, yes, but I was also quite happy that Jemisin’s book won each time, because I liked each of them, too.
That’s because I’m able to understand that just because I likes one book slightly more than another that doesn’t mean that my favorite is somehow inherently a superior work to the others. Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe there aren’t ways to grade the quality of the writing or plotting or execution of a story, just that everything else being more-or-less equal, my tie-breaker is going to be different than yours.
It is true that I find stories written by women, people of color, or queer people are more likely to resonate with me in ways that stories by white cisgendered heterosexual guys do not. That isn’t because the white cis het guys are inferior to the other people, it’s because in our society white cis het guys get to operate on the lowest difficulty setting and thus are less likely to perceive some aspects of our society that the rest of us have to deal with. I’m a white guy, yes, but I’m also an out gay man who as a child was unable to hide my queerness; growing up I experienced society differently than my straight contemporaries. I saw unfairness in places where they found opportunities. I saw barriers where they found open doors and welcoming arms. The way I was marginalized isn’t the same way that people of color or women and so on are marginalized, but writers from those groups ran into similar barriers and injustices. Their perspective is going to be, in many cases, more like mine than not. So, yeah, I find the stories they tell and the viewpoints they employ more interesting.
So, yeah, I’m more likely to read books by these authors—not because I’m refusing to read white cis het guys, but because they are more likely to be recommended by the reviewers I have learned have similar tastes as mine, they are more likely to write about subjects I find interesting, and (most importantly) when I begin reading their stories, I’m more likely to be pulled in and keep turning the pages.
I read stuff written by men. I vote for stuff written by men. Checking my ballot, I see that works written by men made it into the top half of several categories on my ballot. But I had to go look—I didn’t remember because that is not how I choose which pieces to vote for. By the time I’m fiddling with my ballot, moving the entries around, all I’m thinking about is the story and how I felt while I was reading it.
I only nominate stories/magazines/shows/podcasts I have read/watched/listened to. Once the ballots are out, I do my darnedest to read all of the things that made it to the ballot that I haven’t already. And when I’m reading, I’m not thinking much about the author. Because if they have done their job, the story is going to consume my attention.
To sum up, I quite enjoyed this year’s ballot. I have a couple more authors on my list to look out for. It was quite fun. And as I said after I turned in the ballot, now I have a lot of other things in my to-read pile that i need to get back to.
But, before I close, I highly recommend you watch N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 Hugo Award Best Novel acceptance speech.:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
The con chair asked Mary Robinette Kowal (who I quoted in one of those posts) to assist in repairing the programming grid. She’s run programming for more than one Nebula conference (and I believe a few other conventions) and seemed a good choice. She made a couple of short comments online right after agreeing, in which she said she had several volunteers to help, and would be too busy for the next several days to answer any questions from people not directly involved.
The con has subsequently published a new schedule, which looks much more diverse (in both topic and participation). I’ve seen several of the pros who had previously said they would withdraw from programming to make room for others since post that they had agreed to participate in at least one event in the new schedule.
I’m sure it was a mad scramble, and my hat’s off to the staff for realizing they needed to fix the problems, for being willing to accept help when it was offered, and to everyone who pitched in. It looks like a great program. I hope this was a learning experience for some people.
And I hope everyone who attends has a fabulous time.
But the best commentary I’ve seen on the topic of convention programming, the desire some fans have to only include popular/well-known/established writers, et cetera, has got to be the amusing short story Cora Buhlert posted a few days ago: Convention Programming in the Age of Necromancy – A Short Story. You should go read it there, because it’s hilarious, but I will include the opening to give you a taste:
At the daily program operations meeting of a science fiction convention that shall remain unnamed, the debate got rather heated.
“We absolutely need to hold the ‘Future of Military Science Fiction’ panel in Auditorium 3,” the head of programming, whom we’ll call Matt, said.
“And why?” his fellow volunteer, who shall henceforth be known as Lucy, asked, “Is military SF so important, that it needs one of the bigger rooms, while we shove the ‘Own Voices’ panel into a tiny cupboard?”
“No,” Matt said, “But Auditorium 3 has air conditioning.”
Lucy tapped her foot. “And? Are old white dude military SF fans more deserving of coolness and air than own voices creators and fans?”
Matt sighed. “No, but Heinlein’s reanimated corpse is coming to the panel. And trust me, he smells abominably. Oh yes, and he’s declared that he wants to attend the ‘Alternative Sexualities in Science Fiction’ panel, so we’d better put that in a room with AC, too.”
A personal note: The first time I was in charge of programming for a convention was an accident. I was on staff as the convention book editor (and I was also responsible for laying out the pocket program), and had previously been a panelist at the same convention. The person who was in charge of programming missed a couple of meetings as we were getting down to the wire, and she wasn’t responding to e-mails or phone calls from anyone. I was getting frantic because I didn’t have content for the program books. Many of us who had responded to the programming survey were worried because we hadn’t heard what panels (if any) we were on.
Turned out that the person in charge of programming had had a massive stroke and was in the hospital for an extended time. The hospital had not been able to contact her daughter (who was also on con staff, but she lived on the other side of the country, and her job at the con was strictly on-site. The daughter was on an extended business travel thing during the weeks all this was going down). The upshot was that at nearly the last minute to finish the program books, we found all this out, and suddenly I was in charge of programming. With the help of a couple of other people (and with a pile of email messages once we redirected the programming alias), I put together a programming grid in about three days. It wasn’t the best programming grid I ever saw, but we got it done.
And panelists were happy. We got a lot of compliments on the programming.
And that’s how I ended up in charge of programming for the following two years at that convention. We had a slightly less frantic process the next two years.
The woman who had the stroke did get out of the hospital and even attended the next couple of year’s convention in a wheelchair. Sadly, one of the things my successor had to put in his first grid as programming lead was a memorial service for her.
I wish I had a more upbeat ending to this tale.
The only conclusion I have is: running programming for a convention takes you in directions you never expected. It is an adventure, but remember that one of the definitions of “adventure story” is something really awful that happens to someone else.
So, to re-iterate, the hardest part this year was picking which things to put in first place in each category, since I thought pretty much everything this time around was award worthy.
Technically I still have several hours after this post will publish when I can go back in and move things around on my ballot, but I really think I need to stop dithering and just leave it.
Two categories that I almost always decide on last are the Editor, Long Form, and Editor, Short Form. For short form, usually if I recognize which publication an editor worked on, and I’m familiar with it, I feel confident I can rank them. It’s when I don’t know the publication well that I feel a little less certain.
Editor, Long Form is easy if, like this year (and as I recall last year) every nominee provides a list of all the books that they worked on that were published in the year under consideration. Then I have something to judge them on. This category was previously one of the hardest for me in the nominating phase, until I read a suggestion on someone’s blog: look at the list of the books you’ve decided to nominate, go to the publisher’s web site for each, and find out who the editor of that book was.
I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this during the nomination phase with regards to professional artist. If a book that I know is eligible has a great cover, I should nominate that artist. So, next year I hope to have more than one nominee in that category!
Anyway, it’s been a fun couple of months reading the stuff that made the ballot. Now that I’ve finished my voting, I can go back to reading other things in my big to-read pile!
I need to do a bit of a follow up to my previous post about the issues at Worldcon. I didn’t touch on everything that happened, and since the issue blew up, Mary Robinette Kowal, whose tweet from years ago on a related subject I quoted in that post, has agreed to help redo the programming. Kowal has been running the programming tracks at the annual Nebula conferences for a while, and she had posted a nice summary of their process for trying to put together a program that appeals to many parts of the community. So many of us are provisionally hopeful that the situation will be a bit better at the actual convention than they appeared just days ago.
I have also been reminded that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between ignorance and actual malice. Now, I was thinking that most of the bigotry that seemed to be motivating the issues were likely unconscious—all of us are often unaware of just how many prejudices we have absorbed from society. Alis Franklin, in particular, has pointed out another explanation for much of the problem:
“This all feels very much like people used to running a small-town parochial con with an established member-base suddenly getting in a twist because they have to accommodate (gasp) outsiders.”
And she’s likely on to something. A lot of this does sound like the people in programming are speaking from their past experience running their local convention, where they believe they know their audience and what those attendees expect. But even if that is the case, I still suspect that their local crowd includes a lot more queers, people of color, and other folks who are interested in topics that their local con doesn’t recognize in programming—because as I said, we’re everywhere, and we’re all used to being excluded and dismissed; so much so that when we raise an issue and are shut down, we often just hold our tongues thereafter.
On the issue of the one pro whose submitted bio was edited to change all of eir pronouns to “he” and “him”, and the insistence for a few days that this was a bio taken from the web (when no one can find such a bio and they can’t provide a link), that gets into the conscious versus unconscious bias. Either the person who copied the bio was simple too ill-informed about non binary people and nontraditional pronouns, and simply assumed it was some kind of extremely consistent typo (which I think is a stretch), or they’re one of those people who balk at pronouns to the point of refusing to use any they don’t agree with and decided to change the bio and then claim it was a mistake if they were called on it.
I don’t know if the same staffer is the one who decided not to use another pro’s usual publication bio and photograph, and instead write a different bio using information that usually was not released publicly and use a photo taken from the pro’s private Facebook. In any case, it is difficult to construct an “honest mistake” excuse for that one. And if it is the same staffer, I think that is more than adequate proof that the changed pronouns on the other bio was an intentional aggression.
In several of the discussions online I’ve seen a lot of people not understanding what the problem was with requesting semi-formal wear for the Hugo ceremony. Foz Meadows summed it up better than I did:
”…the fashion at the Hugo Awards ceremonies tends to be a welcoming, eclectic mixture of the sublime, the weird and the comfortable. Some people wear ballgowns and tuxedos; some wear cosplay; others wear jeans and t-shirts. George R. R. Martin famously tends to show up in a trademark peaked cap and suspenders. Those who do dress up for the Hugos do so out of a love of fashion and pageantry, but while their efforts are always admired and appreciated, sharing that enthusiasm has never been a requisite of attending. At an event whose aesthetics are fundamentally opposed to the phrase ‘business casual’ and whose members are often uncomfortable in formalwear for reasons such as expense, gender-nonconformity, sizeism in the fashion industry and just plain old physical comfort, this change to tradition was not only seen as unexpected and unwelcome, but actively hostile.”
I also note that a few days ago Mike Glyer posted a link to a letter from decades back from E.E. “Doc” Smith (the author of the Lensmen books, among others) when the 1962 WorldCon asked for all the ladies attending the award ceremony to wear long formal gowns. Smith commented that his wife had not owned formal wear since entering retirement and thought it was unreasonable to expect people to go to such an expense.
Which is a nice segue to this: until the 34th WorldCon (MidAmericaCon I, 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri) the Hugo Awards were given out at the end of the convention banquet. The banquet consisted of eating (obviously) while the guests of honor gave speeches. Fans who couldn’t afford the extra expense of the banquet were allowed in (usually in a separate area such as a balcony) for the awards portion. The awards ceremony was separated from the banquet in 1976 for a couple of reasons, but one was to make it easier for everyone who wanted to attend to do so. The conventions had gotten so large that the fraction who wanted to see the award ceremony was too much for the banquet halls of typical convention hotels to accommodate, and there had always been the problem of people who couldn’t afford the banquet ticket. I wanted to close with that because I have seen a number of people arguing that the people who are feeling unwelcome because of this con’s actions are making unreasonable demands to change traditions of the conventions.
The traditions change over time for many reasons. It isn’t about change for the sake of change, it is change of the sake of practicality and realism. People have, in the past, believed that science fiction and fantasy was only created by straight white guys, and was only loved by other straight white guys. That has never been true, but the illusion was maintained through a variety of societal forces and some willful ignorance. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain that willful ignorance, and besides, ignorance is never a good look on anyone. It’s not about whether fandom is diverse, it is about to what lengths some people are willing to go to ignore, silence, or push out that diversity.
But you don’t have to take my word for it Rob Salkowitz breaks it down nicely: GEEKGIRLCON DEALS WITH THE PAINS OF PROFESSIONALIZATION.
“As anyone who has ever worked for or with a nonprofit can tell you, the transition from volunteer to professional organization is not always smooth. People who contributed to the growth of the organization may feel resentment toward an outsider brought in above them, whose job is to make tough decisions and impose management discipline on previously informal systems. As fair-minded and inclusive as you might want to be in that role, eventually you will piss some people off just because you are the boss and they aren’t.
“It’s not unusual for longtime staffers to quit in these circumstances, sometimes in a huff. Sometimes, to really make a statement, they’ll resign in a group. If there’s something actionable, they can call a lawyer. And if they really want to leave a mark, they’ll take their dispute public via social media.
“But taking over the organization’s official email to blast out their manifesto after they’ve already quit? Nope. NOPE. In no conceivable universe is that ok.”
We now know that all of those who quit were white guys who posted their grievances anonymously (vague claims of being discriminated against by the new executive director who happens to be a woman of color) because they didn’t think they would be taken seriously. And that might have been true no matter what, but the way they did it really shows all we need to know. I’ve been either on staff or closely involved with enough people on staff for a lot of cons to recognize both the dynamic Salkowitz explains above and the circumstances that likely led to the mass resignation. By the way, it was only five guys, out of a staff of a bit over 50, so while it seems like a lot, it certainly isn’t most of the staff, as their post clearly tried to imply.
I could go into more detail about why hijacking the con membership’s list was wrong, how it is triangulation and so forth. But the real reason is this: when I have been in situations where I felt I was the aggrieved party and have been tempted to do such things, I knew that the suggestion was coming from the little devil on one shoulder, and not the little angel on the other. (Although in my imagination it’s the evil fairy tale queen on one shoulder, and a happy glitter-covered fairy on the other).
We come up with rationales for vindictive, angry, destructive behavior all the time. It’s not fair, we say. Or they started it! Or it’s just the internet! Or I was joking! Or you took it wrong! Et cetera and ad nauseum.
Maybe you are right. Maybe you have suffered a great injustice. But here’s the thing: if you win by fighting dirty, that isn’t justice. The ends don’t justify the means. There is a big difference between righteous indignation and vengeful lashing out. Just as there is a difference between cruelty and kindness. How we take a victory or defeat matters just as much as the actual outcome.
Situations are messy and there’s always more than two sides to every story. But every side isn’t equally true, or equally valid, or equally relevant. And sometimes you can tell which side has the fewest facts in their favor by their tactics. And I, at least, can spot a sore loser from miles away. Even when they’re hiding behind anonymity, misleading verbiage, and the furtive fallacy.
There are not two of you. There isn’t literally a devil/evil queen on one shoulder and an angel/good fairy on the other. There’s just you. A noble and just person doesn’t have to resort to dirty tactics. If you’re fighting dirty, even if for a just cause, then you’re not the hero.
For one week each the last couple years they encouraged artists to draw “hella objectified fantasy dudes,” post them to Tumblr, and tag the art #MagicMeatWeek ”
This year they want all of March to be Magic Meat March.
I learned about the event from of the awesome Bikini Armor Damage tumblr. I’ve linked to an written about Bikini Armor Battle Damage before, which pokes fun at the weird sexual objectification and impractical armor drawn on fantasy women in video games, comic books, and so on. You may recall the Bikini Magic Bingo card shared here and many, many places, for instance. Anyway, I’m not a good enough artist to really do this, but I love the idea of putting male characters in the same kinds of strange flesh-baring armor and fantasy costumes the women get drawn in all the time. So I’m spreading the word!
And yes, I like looking at the pretty artwork of the pretty, pretty men. I mean, the empowered men. Right! They’re empowered, not being objectified and shown in ridiculous costumes in overly sexualized poses which would never work in actual combat. No. Empowered. That’s what they are.
(Hey! I can’t just blog about serious stuff all the time! I’m a queer nerd, after all…)
Cora Buhlert argued very convincingly this week that there are Three Fractions of Speculative Fiction. She identifies them as the Traditionalists, the Anti-Nostalgics, and the Character Driven1.
Traditionalist fans want sci fi that is heavy on the engineering and explosions and light on the characterization. Rightwing politics in space is all right, but they’d prefer the stories not focus on issues that matter to women, people of colour, or LGBT people. Literary fiction is right out.
Anti-Nostalgic fans want speculative fiction that is sophisticated, literary, and eschews old paradigms. They vehemently reject anything nostalgic. They think the only worthwhile stories are the ones which break new ground and redefine the genre. Many of them give lip service to wanting diversity, but they heap condescension on all non-white, non-male, non-straight writers except one or two favored tokens.
Character Driven fans want sf/f that is heavy on characterization. They aren’t opposed to Big Ideas, but emotional arcs, moral dilemmas, and the effects of technology on human lives should drive the plot, to the point that sci fi tropes can exist as mere set dressing. They are especially fond of protagonists and settings which have previously been neglected in classic sf (women, characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, non-western european settings, non-Anglo cultures).
I think these are fairly good definitions of three of the big categories of science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Though there will be some overlap, and of course no classification system is going to neatly encompass everyone. For instance, I have emphatically argued that Babylon Five (which I loved) is not science fiction at all, but rather techno-fantasy. It is an epic fantasy which wraps itself in all of the trappings of space opera, but gets some extremely basic science that is fundamental to its main plot laughably and embarrassingly wrong. When I was in the heat of such an argument, I’m sure that I looked to all outside observers like a pure Traditionalist there. Whereas anyone who has read my fiction would likely place me in the Character Driven group.
I also agree with Buhlert that the struggle between the Traditionalist and Anti-Nostalgics has been raging in various incarnations since at least the 1930s. Her examples are: the Campbellian SF versus Pulp Adventure SF, the exclusion of the Futurians from the ’39 WorldCon, the New Wave versus the Campbellians (which had become the old guard by then), the rise of and resistance to Cyberpunk. With each wave, elements that had been new and different and championed by the Anti-Nostalgics were co-opted by the Traditionalist (along with some of their fans), until some other upstarts came along.
There are at least two other fan wars that were primarily Traditionalist vs Anti-Nostalgics that I’d like to throw into the mix. In the early 70s fans who had subscribed to (and later contributed to) magazines for years looked with disdain on fans who never read the monthly ‘zines, and only read novels and anthologies (which were reprints of selected works from the ‘zines). In the later 70s, when comic book fans started coming to sci fi conventions, there was another backlash against these newbies and their “picture books.”2
But not all of the upstarts have been Anti-Nostalgics. When Star Trek fandom blossomed spontaneously, rather than from within existing sf/f fandom, there was a strong backlash, with elements of both the Traditionalist and Anti-Nostalgics looking down on these Trekkies, who weren’t just newbies unfamiliar with classic sf and traditional fandom, but were far more likely to be women! Trek was just the first of many waves of Media Fans (new fans brought into the fold primarily by movies and television)—Doctor Who, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica3, anime, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight—that have each faced resistance and rejection from established fandom when they first arrived.
A lot of these Media Fans fall into the Character Driven category. And just like the Anti-Nostalgic waves before them, most of them have, after being resisted by Traditionalists, su sequently been at least partially assimilated—to the point that the stereotypical attacker of a Fake Geek Girl is a guy who speaks Klingon, has a collection of Star Wars figurines, and will attempt to exclude the girl by asking super obscure comic book questions.
But even more than that, each new wave of the Media Fans tends to have more women, particularly young women and girls, more people of color, more queers, and other marginalized groups than the existing fandom as a whole. I believe the reasons for that is that movies, television, and hit young adult books4 are readily available to more demographic segments of society, and find enthusiasts from all of those walks of life. Established fandom isn’t very welcoming of the newbies, especially non-male, non-white, non-straight newbies. The subsets of the previous waves that have assimilated into existing fandom winds up skewing male, straight, and white. Which perpetuates the problem.
The queers, women, and people of color continue to be fans of sf/f, but more and more they find welcoming communities on the web and outside the established fandom, some times creating their own conventions and meet-ups.
And it’s not just because the existing fandom is all actively racist, misogynist, and homophobic. It’s a combination of lots of subtle things. When the vast majority of the staff of a convention is white, and you’re not, you don’t feel welcome. When the vast majority of existing fans keep telling you that you must read certain classics, which are full of straight white male protagonists, with plots that are full of misogynist and colonial subtext, you don’t feel that this fandom is for you. Heck, when the existing fans won’t talk about anything published less than thirty years ago, and you’re younger than the books they keep talking about, you don’t feel invited7.
The most recent fannish dust-up, the Affair of the Melancholy Canines, is mostly a subset of the Traditionalist reacting to the kind of fiction the Character Driven fans like getting more than token representation in certain awards short lists, as well as the inclusion of non-white, non-male, non-straight writers and editors on those lists in more than small token numbers. The Melancholy Canines also claim that they’re pushing back against the sort of literary fiction the Anti-Nostalgics want, but the funny thing is that the Anti-Nostalgics hate all the same books and authors as the Canines. And if you read some of the posts that Buhlert links to, you’ll notice that they heap rather a lot of condescension on the writers who happen to be women or people of color.
I’m hopeful that this time, maybe, the section of fandom that welcomes (and is eager to both create and consume) sf/f that’s inclusive of all genders, gender identities, races, abilities, et cetera continues to grow and make inroads throughout fandom. It isn’t guaranteed. Previous waves haven’t been successful in changing the complexion of established fandom, after all.
But I’m not giving up. This queer fan is staying right here. I’m going to keep writing the kinds of characters and stories I like. I’m going to keep reading the good stuff I can find. I’m going to try to do a better job of promoting all of the interesting newer stuff I’m reading, as well.
“I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”
― Philip K. Dick
1. I am attempting to paraphrase Buhlert here, but my own perceptions may be skewing her point. If you don’t like anything I say here, blame me.
2. The current incarnation of the Anti-Nostalgics is very snobbish and literary, whereas the primary argument against both the non-magazine subscribers and the comic book fans were that they weren’t perceived as reading as broadly nor as seriously as the Traditional fans. Both sides have been snobbish in various ways. The comic fans argued that graphic stories (even though comics had been around for decades) were a new and more experimental art form than the unillustrated word on paper, for instance.
3. Original series. By the time the reboot series had happened, enough fans of the old series had been incorporated into the fandom community that the new series was embraced by most, and their fans tolerated by the rest.
4. It seems to me that Young Adult series have become the new gateway books. Back in the 50s and even still in the 60s5, the Heinlein juveniles were the introduction to sf for many. Though certain older fogies6 still insist on panels at conventions that Heinlein’s works are great gateways, the truth is most of his work (the juveniles in particular) have not aged well.
5. Which is when I was a child finding Heinlein books in school libraries.
6. By which I mean, older than me.
7. I’ve published on this blog a series of “why I love sf/f” posts that focus on books, short stories, shows, writers, and magazines I read as a kid and teen-ager and how they influenced me as a fan (and a writer). So I’m not saying that nothing printed more then a decade ago is worth anyone’s time. I haven’t written about everything I read back then, because not all of it was good. Even for the works I really loved, sometimes had problems I didn’t recognize back then, which I’ve commented on (the children’s book that had two antisemitic scenes which flew right over my head as a child, and shocked the heck out of me when I rediscovered the book in my thirties, for instance). The issue is that when established members of the community tell you (explicitly or not) that only people who love those particular books can be part of the community, well, when the young fan finds themselves cringing at the blatant homophobia, the racism, the misogyny (or at least total lack of any portrayal of many types of people who live in the real world), the message seems clear that we aren’t welcome in the community.
Not writing about it so much this year was intentional. One benefit of that was that I had fewer vitriolic comments come in on this blog that I had to delete rather than approve. I was a lot less anxious about what the results of the voting would be than I was last year. I’m not sure how much of that was because last year the Hugo voters overwhelmingly rejected the Puppy slate, rather than a result of actively avoiding writing and thinking about them as much.
I am quite certain that at least part of the reason I was less emotionally distraught going in was that I didn’t force myself to read all the way to the end of every entry in short story, novella, and novelette this year. I gave each entry three pages to hook me, and if they didn’t hook me by then, I stopped and put them beneath No Award on my ballot. Reading some of that awful stuff—stories that would have been rejected for poor composition, lack of plot, or gapping logic holes by most of the fanzines I’ve ever been associated with—and getting outraged at the knowledge that such poorly crafted material had displaced more deserving works was a big part of why I was so upset last year.
The works that won this year are great and quite deserving. A couple of them were even things that I nominated, so that was fun.
There was some drama at WorldCon, at least some of it related to the proponents of the Puppy cause. But I also hear that a lot more very cool stuff happened.
I don’t think I want to get into that. And a bunch of what I would like to say has already been said by other people: Abigail Nussbaum observes in Sunday, August 21, 2016 The 2016 Hugo Awards: Thoughts on the Winners,
“The one thing I keep learning, again and again, as I study this award is that, much as it frustrates me, much as it throws up shortlists that disappoint me, much as it often seems stuck in a middlebrow rut, the Hugo is always what it is. It doesn’t take thousands of new voters to keep the Hugo true to itself, because the people who vote for it every year will do that job themselves. With something like half the voters we had last year, we still managed to send the same message: that we have no patience for astroturf; that we have no time for writing that embarrasses the paper and ink used to print it; and that this is an award that can be gamed, but it can’t be stolen. This year’s Hugo voters had no trouble telling junk from serious nominees; they saw the difference between the nominees being used as shields by the puppies and the ones that truly represent their literary tastes and politics. And even more importantly, in the best novel and best novella categories in particular, Hugo voters recognized some of the finest and most exciting work published in this genre in years.”
One place where I disagree with Nussbaum is about the nature of the drop-off in voting numbers this year compared to last, after last year had such a dramatic surge of new voters. Last year’s number of voters was 5,950, which was a big leap from the 3,587 ballots cast in 2014. This year, the number dropped down to 3,130, which is in the ballpark of the 2014 number. However, as many people pointed out, 2014 had an usually high number of Hugo voters. In fact, from 1976 through 2010, the average number of ballots cast each year was about 1100.
So to argue that the voting numbers this year have dropped back to the level before is a bit shaky. Yes, last year after news broke of the Puppy assaults on the award, a couple thousand more fans than usual purchased WorldCon supporting memberships. Based on all the blogging and how they voted, those extra memberships were people coming to vote against slate voting, or at least the worst of the slates. But that the numbers didn’t leap that high this year doesn’t mean those extra fans all gave up. I know of six people who voted for the first time ever last year because of the Puppies, and who also voted this year. That isn’t a scientific sample by any means, but 3130 votes is a lot higher than the pre-Puppy typical number.
Also, last year wasn’t the first year that the Puppies ran their campaign, it was simply the first year that they managed to take over entire categories on the ballot with their bloc voting scheme.
She’s right that it is harder to get people to do something they’ve never done before consistently, but I don’t think that all of us who had never voted before last year are going away.
Then over at WeHuntedTheMammoth.com we have: Fake sci-fi boys cry salty tears over Puppies defeat at the Hugo Awards, which observes:
“[Theodore “Vox Day” Beale] is trying his best to spin the defeat as a victory (“we have the SF-SJWs exactly where we want them at this point in time”) but even the fake sci-fi boys on Reddit’s gamergate hangout KotakuInAction can see what happened. And they are indeed sad little puppies about it.”
The Reddit conversation in question links to this wonderful Guardian article: Hugo awards see off rightwing protests to celebrate diverse authors which observes:
“Another attempt by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups to hijack the science fiction award goes to the dogs, as authors and titles not in their campaign take top prizes.”
And past Hugo-nominee Saladin Ahmed had a couple of good observations on Twitter:
The Hugos went to some very deserving works. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (which won Best Novel) was one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years; it’s hard to describe, but it is a book about a world where apocalypse events happen with great regularity, but it is also funny and hopeful even while commenting on the nature of inequality. And “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (which won Best Short Story) was the a truly delightful take on Artificial Intelligence while being a comment on the human condition. I could keep going on, because oddly enough, my first choice in most of the categories of the ballot were also the winners. They were all really good. To read a good run-down of who won, you can check out this blog: The 2016 Hugo Awards or Fandom 2 : Puppies 0:
“To sum it up, in spite of canine interference, women won or co-won Hugos in nine of seventeen categories. All four fiction categories were won by women, three of them women of colour (plus a man of colour winning as translator). So inspite of the rabid puppies doing their worst, we still have one of the most diverse list of winners ever. And even though a couple of IMO puppy hostages finished under “No Award”, we also puppy hostages winning. Actual puppies, however, lost and lost badly.”
And I could repeat all the arguments I and others have made before of how the claims of the Sad and Rabid Puppies are highly illogical, but you’d have more fun reading the Guardian’s Book Blog where Damien Walter reads and reacts to some of the Puppies’ favorite authors, Hugo awards: reading the Sad Puppies’ pets:
“[T]he Sad Puppies don’t want any of their books to end up on bestseller lists or TV screens. It’s the same frustrating paradigm that British MP Michael Gove hit upon when he said that people were sick of experts, or what Donald Trump plays upon when he rails against “professional politicians”. We’re seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect played out on a mass scale, and the Sad Puppies are just a speck in that wider problem.”
Okay, the Puppies will be with us for years to come, just as we have never gotten rid of white supremacists nor men who want to take the right to vote away from women. But over time, the movements wither. As we’re seeing right now with the upsurgence of the Teabaggers and other Trump supporters, hate can rear its ugly head again. But in the long run, light dispels darkness and love beats hate. All this anger about people other than straight white dudes winning every single award is the dying gasp of a shrinking fraction of the population.
Vox Day and his ilk will keep trying to whip up trouble as long as he thinks it will help him sell books. But I think history is clear that he is going to be appealing to a smaller and smaller group of people. And as Mr. Spock once observed: “Without followers, evil cannot spread.”
Fortunately, there are people actively working to spread good. Alexandra Erin points out that the point of conventions or Hugos and any other awards is about connections and feelings of genuine admiration: WORLDCON: Comedy tomorrow, Hugos tonight. And once again George R.R. Martin hosted the Hugo Losers Party and handed out awards to people and publications that would have made the ballet without the slate voting: Alfie Awards.
The burlesque show is essentially a series of strip tease acts, often with sci fi/fantasy themes. And usually most of the performers are women, so you might understand why I, as a queer man, don’t attend often.
But they are fun shows, and more about performance and comedy than sex, so I probably ought to go more often. Matt was carded at the door, which was amusing. Jared, who was not attending, happened to text me having just realized I was at NorWesCon and asked me to take pictures. So I teased him about the fact that I was about to watch a strip show where they didn’t allow photography and too bad he wasn’t with us. There was more teasing, of course.
After that I headed back to the room to collapse into bed. Michael was asleep when I got there, but a few hours later when I woke up with a painfully stuffed head because of allergies he was awake. Not voluntarily, by any means. He was feeling even less well. He took another shower, and we commiserated about our various symptoms. After letting some fresh air into the room and waiting for more meds to kick in, I was able to get back to sleep, but apparently Michael didn’t. Before going to breakfast we discussed how to proceed since he was feeling so sick, couldn’t get comfortable in the hotel bed, and the small shower stall wasn’t conducive to soaking (which would have helped his knee which is still recovering for the recent injury).
The upshot was that he headed back home on the train. I tracked him until he was home. He had planned, when he left, to do a long soak in the tub, but he said by the time he was back he just collapsed into bed and sleep the rest of the day.So he wasn’t there when a big bunch of us had dinner and Julie and Jeff teamed up to take these panaramic pictures of us.
After thoroughly confusing the wait staff multiple times with our orders and requests, I was sent off to my room to get my box of games and meet up and Juli and Keith’s room. We wound up playing four games of Give Me the Brain, none of which I won before deciding to call it a night.
Sunday morning I was a little slow getting up. I always have a hard time packing up the room on my own. It’s not just that two of us pack faster and can carry more per trip, it’s mostly that my husband is really efficient at this sort of thing, and keeps me focused. I have a number of friends who describe their distractabiliy as a super-power (to the point of at least one calling herself Distract-a-Girl!), but I think my brain is an entire horde of distract-a-minions. So even though I had a lot fewer things to pack than usual, it took me about three times as long to get everything out into the car and confirm I hadn’t left anything in the room.
Which made me a couple minutes late for the Why Representation Matters panel. But I’m glad I made it, not just because it was the third or fourth excellent panel that I got to see the fabulous Lisa Bolekaja in, but also because Paul Constant, whose book reviews I have been reading for many, many years was on it, and I finally got to hear his voice to place to the reviews. And it was an excellent panel.
I went to a lot of good panels, and really enjoyed all of them. Our last NorWesCon, a couple of years ago, had been less than fabulous for a variety of reasons, one of them being that, other than Auntie’s Seattle Opera Costume Department Trunk Show panel, none of the panels I went to felt worth my time (which is why I walked out of a couple). This year there were many hours where I had to choose between several panels that looked really interesting. I know the concom has been making efforts the last few years to shake thing up in programming, bring in some new blood, and so on. So that seems to have paid off. It also doesn’t hurt my perspective that I skipped two years. And this year I wasn’t a panelist, I wasn’t running a fan table, nor helping run someone else’s fan table, and otherwise had no obligations at all.
I didn’t even do my usual trick of stealth covering a volunteer shift or two in a department that is run by one of my friends.
I did hang out with my friends, though some of them less often than I would have liked. I introduced Keith to a new cocktail. I had buffalo wings just about every night. I got nicely squiffy at least one night. I did a pretty good job on my blood sugar all weekend. I picked up a pony plush, a set of pony key right charms, a sonic screwdriver earring, an Ash vs Evil Dead t-shirt, and birthday presents for two friends. I was given a Grumpy Cat as Dungeon Master t-shirt.
I met some cool new people, wrote down a lot of links to interesting web sites and have added a bunch of books to my “need to get this” list. Not to mention several new authors to follow.
For many, many years I would always buy our memberships for the next convention before we left. Three years ago, at the end of the con neither of us was certain we wanted to attend the next year, which is what led to us skipping in 2014 and ’15. I had a good time this year, but I had forgotten to ask Michael before he left Saturday what he thought. So Sunday morning I sent him a text (not certain whether he was awake or not). He replied about 20 minutes later that yes, we want to come back next year. So I’ve purchased our memberships for NorWesCon 40, and look forward to attending next year!
This, by the way, was the most awesome thing shown at the Movies and Previews panel Friday morning at the con:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)