The Hugo Award nominations were announced last week, and as you might imagine, there’s been a lot of blathering about it on the internets. There always is, but this year is especially heated due to some controversial happenings. I covered some of this in last week’s initial thoughts, and while I don’t want to dwell on the negative, there have been plenty of discussion this week that’s probably worth checking out (after which, I plan to move on to the meat of actually reading and writing about the nominees).
In short, there are three major issues that folks are incensed about. One is that, due to a quirk in the nominations rules, the entire While of Time series of books has been nominated as a whole (that’s an 11,000+ page, 4+ million word series). Two is that Larry Correia explicitly sought nominations for himself and some others, with the express notion of making a political point. To my mind, these first boil down to the same problem: The Hugos are a populist award, and thus vulnerable to voting blocs. Both The Wheel of Time and Larry Correia are very popular, and both were the subject of an explicit push for nominations. Many are skeptical of the quality of these popular works, and thus upset that they ended up on the final ballot. For his part, Correia seems to have engaged in this for the express purpose of pissing people off, which is obviously against the spirit of the thing. That being said, the issue here is largely a matter of semantics. There’s no evidence of fraud or stuffed ballots or anything like that, just populism, and Correia’s posts on the subject mirror a lot of other folks who want to see their favorite things nominated. To my mind, these first two issues are not new at all. Indeed, you could very well argue that the inclusion of Charlie Stross and Mira Grant on the Best Novel shortlist are also populist choices that are more reflective of fandom’s love of the authors than the works themselves. Last year’s winner was John Scalzi’s Redshirts, and many complained that it won more because Scalzi is a popular guy with a high traffic blog than because that was truly the best work of science fiction last year. And so it goes.
If that was all that happened this year, there’d be lots of grumbling and shouting at the sky, but that’s always the case (and it probably also applies to other awards too – just look at all the griping the Oscars get every year). But there is a third issue that seems to be severely mucking up the works, and that is the nomination of Vox Day in the Best Novelette category. Once his name shows up, cries of racism/sexism/homophobia become rampant, and to a fair extent, warranted. There will be more detail below, but for now, I’ll just say that he seems like an ass and I think it’s valid for people to not want to have anything to do with the guy. Personally, I’ll be reading his story and judging it accordingly, but I get that some won’t be able to separate the story from the man.
With that scene set, let’s see what some other folks are talking about:
- On Merit, Awards, and What We Read – Joe Sherry uses the Vox Day issue to struggle with the question of separating the art from the artist:
…I want to extend this a little bit beyond Vox Day and into a more general thought. Also, I believe where a line is drawn will depend both on the reader as well as on who the writer is and how the two intersect. How much does who the artist is matter in our enjoyment or appreciation of the art? How much should it matter? Does time and distance matter?
Can we watch a Woody Allen movie knowing the credible accusations of molestation against him? Do we view Annie Hall or Manhattan differently, or do they remain major works of art? Does it change how view his new work? Is Ender’s Game a lesser work because Orson Scott Card is openly homophobic? Rachel Acks can no longer read Card’s work, despite having admired it deeply before she learned of his homophobia. Does reading a particular work suggest support for the personal views of the artist even if those views are not evident in the work itself? Does it matter if the artist is still living?
He doesn’t have an answer, and neither do I. There are lots of other examples. Fugitive child rapist Roman Polanski is someone I have trouble with, though oddly, not as much with films made before the rape (or films I watched before I knew the details, which I believe are the same). When The Ghost Writer came out, I couldn’t really get past it. Maybe that’s because that movie isn’t as good, or maybe I can no longer separate the art from the artist in that case. On the other hand, noted racist H.P. Lovecraft isn’t as difficult to deal with, perhaps because he is not alive. There’s historical and technical value in watching The Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will, but those have troubling content, rather than just troubling artists (who are also no longer with us). Ultimately, I tend to come down on a hard-line free speech position. No one is calling for governmental censorship of Vox Day, but self-censorship can be problematic in itself. A while ago, Salmon Rushdie was commenting on anti-Muslim videos, and said this:
“Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them,” he told me. “They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.”
Again, no one is banning Vox Day’s story and a commitment to free speech is not the same thing as nominating something for an award, but I also have a hard time condemning something I haven’t read. If I refuse to read Vox Day’s words, that doesn’t make them disappear or any less dangerous. Some have said that reading his work implicates you in his hate, which I would argue strongly against. Especially if the work in question is not about hate or any of the horrible things that get tossed around when Vox’s name is brought up (and apparently the story is rather tame in that respect, though I have not read it yet and cannot say for sure.) To me, words can be harmful, but banning them or forbidding yourself to read them isn’t going to solve anything either.
- An explanation about the Hugo awards controversy – Larry Correia has responded to the whole kerfluffle on his blog. At some points, he sounds reasonable, at others, it sounds like he’s just engaging in shennanigans to piss people off then trying to play a victim card (though, in fairness, many of the things said about him seem to be false). He also seems to think that he is the one who got these people nominated, and yes, I’m sure he had something to do with it, but I’ll be very curious to see the actual stats when they’re released later in the year. At the very least, one should acknowledge that Correia himself didn’t do this, but rather, a small, dedicated portion of his fans (more on this in a bit). I would be really curious if those fans simply voted as a bloc, blindly nominating the things Correia suggested. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the case. Shockingly enough, the people who voted on the Hugos are human beings and not automatons. And yet, the grand majority of the discussion around Correia’s suggestions, on both sides, seems to assume that everyone who voted for these stories did so blindly and without question. It’s not like Brad Torgersen or Dan Wells haven’t been nominated for Hugo and Nebula awards before, even without Correia’s help.
- Well, the Hugos… are not – Ian Sales has a predictably terse response, though the real gold in this post comes from the comments, in which JaneG very courteously explains her perspective on why she nominated many of the works that Correia suggested (among other works not on Correia’s suggested ballot). As mentioned above, it’s good to put an actual human face on some of these voters, even if this is only anecdotal. Still, she certainly knows her stuff, and while this is only one person (and I guess not a confirmed voter either), I suspect it is more representative than most are claiming.
- On Writing the Good Fight: Hugo Roundup – Kameron Hurley (one of the best Fan Writer nominees) tackles the populism aspect of the award, predicting that Best Novel will be crushed by the Wheel of Time fans (I am more sanguine, as the ballots apparently use an instant runoff process, where the winner has to have a good distribution of votes. This may help control the voting blocs). She also touches on politics and the other issues of this year.
- Hugo Did What? – Population: One sheds some light on just how many votes it takes to get nominated. It turns out that Correia’s bloc probably wasn’t that large, but that it didn’t need to be either:
This year, there were 1,595 nominations for Best Novel. Last year, there were 1,113 nominations. That’s 43% more nominations. This year, there were 728 nominations for Best Novelette. Last year, there were 616 nominations. 18% more nominations.
… It took 38 nominations to get on the Best Novelette ballot last year. Apply the 18% adjustment: it probably took between 44 and 45 nominations to get on the Best Novelette ballot this year. That’s not block voting, that’s a mild wave in a fairly shallow wave pool.
It turns out that the number was more like 69, but that’s still not that many votes. Steve Davidson notes something similar in Amazing Stories.
- No, The Hugo Nominations Were Not Rigged – John Scalzi has taken a very pragmatic approach to the whole situation, and one that more or less mirrors my own. He has also written about how he reads nominated works (with special focus on how he plans to tackle the Wheel of Time) and graciously linked to people who think he’s crazy for wanting to read the works and vote on them.
- Fear and loathing at the Awards Table 3 – Brad R. Torgersen is one of the folks who appeared on Correia’s shortlist and presumably benefited (though again, it’s not like Torgersen wasn’t getting himself Hugo and Nebula nods before this year).
You can’t have a healthy fandom unless you run a big tent. And by big tent, I mean a fandom that doesn’t impose litmus tests. Fandom (that very-small piece of the consumer pie that keeps Worldcon alive) represents an increasingly monocultural segment of the overall fan market. The so-called TruFans work to marginalize and exclude the NeoFans. “Show us your cred!” the guards cry at the entry points to the science fiction “ghetto” that fandom jealously occupies — though Larry Niven once famously argued it’s not a ghetto, it’s actually a country club. Those with insufficient or bad cred (“You only like movies and games!” or “Your politics make you stinky!” or “Your favorite author is too commercial!”) are discouraged in both obvious and subtle ways. Go back to what Brandon Sanderson said: if you invite people in, it’s rather strange of you to then try to kick them back out simply because they’re not matching your taste and preferences 1-for-1. So while I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion of, “Well we liked science fiction before science fiction was popular,” I also think this is the slogan of a dying culture. And that makes me sad. Because as someone who came of age reading Larry Niven’s wonderful anecdotes about Worldcon, the picture he painted was not that of a dying culture. Worldcon fandom can’t be healthy if it imposes hard filters and actively shews away “interlopers” who haven’t been properly anointed or baptized into the field, per traditions of old.
A very fair perspective (and lots more in the post), though I think Vox Day does sorta strain that big tent a bit.
- 2014 Hugo Nominations – the reactions – Well, if my posts don’t have enough to chew on, head over here and gander at this near comprehensive list of reactions.
So that’s all for now. I don’t expect to tee up on the controversy much more, but I guess you never know. Next up, I’m going to catch up on some non-Hugo reviews, after which point I should have finished my first Hugo works. Stay tuned.