Hugos 2016: Reactions to the Shortlist

Finalists for the 2016 Hugo Awards were released on Tuesday. It’s something of an understatement to say that reactions have been mixed.

Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin sums up the anti-Puppy consensus nicely:

Those of us who hoped this year’s massive turnout might give us something more palatable than last year were mistaken; the 2016 ballot and the 2015 ballot are pretty much a wash. The two editor’s categories are much stronger than they were last year. Novel has some very fine and worthy choices (though my own favorite novels from last year are missing). Some talented young writers are up for the Campbell. On the other hand, Best Pro Artist is a joke, Short Story is if anything weaker than last year, and Best Related Work is a toxic swamp.

Thanks to Mr. Martin for stating his approval of the Campbell shortlist, which includes me (and more significantly, Andy Weir). Compliments from such a venerable wordsmith are greatly appreciated.

I wonder, though, what occasioned the visceral reaction against the finalists for Best Related Work?

2016 Hugos Best Related Work

I agree that this list evokes something that merits the description “toxic swamp”. But it’s not the works themselves.
A more balanced perspective

Breitbart’s account, which was more sympathetic to the Puppies, helps to put the Hugo controversy in perspective:

…a number of…conservative and libertarian-leaning authors contended that a large chunk of Hugo voters voted on the basis of authors’ personal political beliefs rather than the quality of their writing. The Sad Puppies aimed to change that, by nominating authors on the basis of perceived quality rather than perceived politics. The Puppies have a particular opposition to “message fiction” — works that are primarily intended to convey a political message rather than tell a good story.

[Last] year, authors nominated by the Sad & Rabid Puppies campaigns swept several categories in the Hugo Awards, leading to outrage from progressive journalists and commentators.

This year, the Sad and Rabid Puppies have done it again. Ten out of fifteen Hugo Award categories have been completely dominated by Puppy-endorsed nominees — double what the campaigns achieved in 2015. The Puppies have also secured three out of five nominations for Best Novel, three out of four nominations for Best Short-Form Dramatic Presentation, and three out of five nominations for Best Long-Form Editor.

In total, the Rabid Puppies swept six categories on their own, while a combination of Sad & Rabid puppy nominations swept a further four.

Despite the Sad Puppies’ consistency regarding their aims, an anti-Puppy narrative persists.

“This is an attempt by various elements of the American right to regain the centre ground of SF from some perceived shift to the liberal left,” said Alastair Reynolds, whose work appeared on both the Sad and Rabid Puppies’ lists.

Author John C. Wright, whose work earned a record number of Hugo nominations last year, demonstrates the incoherence of Reynolds’ complaint:

Our motives were entirely clear, and perfectly obvious to anyone who reads science fiction for love of the genre: if our real motives had been other than what we said, then the voters attracted to us would have been attracted to our stated motives, not our allegedly real yet hidden ones, would not they have? Then the voters would have voted in line with our stated motives, and our real hidden ones would have been thwarted, right?

Former Hugo winner John Scalzi tried to downplay SP and RP’s effectiveness at choosing the nominated works:

In these cases as in several others, the Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it. Few who know the field or the Hugos would give the slates credit for highlighting works and authors already well-appreciated in the genre, many of which have appeared this year as finalists for other awards or on bestseller lists.

A claim to which Mr. Wright likewise prepared a response:

It is one of [those] statements that, even if true, makes no difference to the conclusion: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or the work of Mr. Gaiman was not the normal, boring, trite, sick-minded politically correct crapola on burnt toast shoved down unwilling throats by a small cabal of well connected Tor authors.

The lie here is merely the pretense that our motives were other than our stated motives, so that by winning whom we wanted to win, it somehow does not count, because we really wanted someone to win other than the candidate whose works we supported.

The argument is so illogical, there is not even a Latin name for the fallacy, because no one in the Middle Ages was this stupid that there was any need to coin it: it is merely disjointed.

Darker implications

Critics who accuse the Rabid Puppies in particular of having motives besides rescuing SF from dull message fic are actually onto something. With their recommendations of Safe Space as Rape Room and The Story of Moira Greyland, RP also sought to kick over the petrified remnants of Fandom culture and expose what lies wriggling beneath.

Moira recounts [Warning – not for the faint of heart!]:

My mother was Marion Zimmer Bradley, and my father was Walter Breen. Between them, they wrote over 100 books: my mother wrote science fiction and fantasy (Mists of Avalon), and my father wrote books on numismatics: he was a coin expert.

What they did to me is a matter of unfortunate public record: suffice to say that both parents wanted me to be gay and were horrifed at my being female. My mother molested me from ages 3-12. The first time I remember my father doing anything especially violent to me I was five.

Sadly, Moira’s story is far from the only instance of prominent figures in old SF Fandom perpetrating–or turning a blind eye toward–such abuse. It should go without saying that anyone involved in science fiction; any minimally ethical human being, would greet the exposure of this systemic rot with sober gratitude.
In his blog post highlighting the Best Related Work category, SF author Chuck Wendig offered this comment:

“That feels like what we have going here. We’ve got ticks in our culture. Latching on. Leeching blood. Staying hidden until they’re bloated up and by then, you’ve got a real problem.”

I’d fully agree with Mr. Wendig’s appraisal of the situation–if he were describing the pedophiles lurking within traditional Fandom as parasites. Absurdly, he applies that label to the folks who are working to unmask the abusers.

Of course, the mangy curs and distempered doggies also got their grimy jaws around the throat of the thing. Inside those nominations you’ll find some, ahh, real eye-openers. I won’t go into specifics — you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t. And if you don’t, just trust me when I say, some of those categories are a real diaper fire.

There’s a sickness here. We’re covered with ticks. We call them trolls, and they are, but that’s also a way to dismiss them — as if they’re just cantankerous outliers hiding under bridges. People say, “Don’t feed the trolls,” as if that’s ever worked. I remember in elementary school they told you to ignore bullies, too, and that never worked worth a good goddamn because they just came harder at you next time, pissed that you didn’t give them the time of day. You can’t ignore ticks, you can’t ignore tumors, and you can’t ignore trolls. Ignoring them means emboldening them.

Perhaps if Mr. Wendig and his ideological fellow travelers had been less concerned with thought-policing genre fiction and more concerned with policing the child molesters in their midst, the Rabid Puppies’ trolling wouldn’t have been necessary.

Incidentally, this is the same Chuck Wendig whose book Aftermath served as the canary in the coal mine for Star Wars’ descent into PC propaganda. Yet he accuses his critics of misogyny while dismissing the testimony of a female abuse victim.

Star Wars: Aftermath

Call the Rabid, and even the Sad, Puppies trolls if you like. Just know that they stand for fun SFF stories with actual speculative elements, and against sycophants who demonstrably value the intellectual purity of their captive awards above the safety of the children in their care.

There is sickness in Fandom, Mr. Wendig–a sickness of the soul that abhors beauty, goodness, and truth; and a sickness of conscience that sacrifices the innocent for self-flattery.

Another thing you’re right about: we’ll keep coming at you harder. Until your gates come crashing down.

Sad Puppies: The Superversive Mandate

Sad Puppies 4

The highly anticipated Sad Puppies 4 recommended reading list has been released. Just in the nick of time for Hugo Award nominations, which close at the end of this month, these works were suggested by SF fans from around the world and across the web.

The full list can be found here.

Suggestions were completely open to the public, and SP4 even received signal boosts from genre heavyweights who’ve taken issue with past Puppy campaigns, like Mike Glyer and George R. R. Martin. These factors support the view of SP4’s recommendations as a representative sample of broader SF fandom’s tastes.

Sad Puppies 4 gave the fans a chance to speak. What did they say? If the most-suggested works are any indication, SP4 voters made a statement that echoes what folks like Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, and Tom Simon have been saying for a while, now.
The Superversive Mandate

I’ve written previously on the Superversive literary movement.

A quick recap for those who are just joining us: the Superversive movement seeks to return SFF to the service of beauty, truth, and the good–a service which the curators of literature in NY publishing have  not only abandoned, but betrayed. Tom Simon in particular has called for overturning the gatekeepers’ subversion of SF, not from below, but from above, i.e. superversion.

Judging by SP4 participants’ choices, most of them are sympathetic to Tom’s vision. So many recommended works contain superversive elements, or were written by authors affiliated with the movement, that it’s no exaggeration to say that Sad Puppies 4 represents a superversive mandate.

Hugos asterisk
The old guard’s open contempt for 70% of their audience may have contributed to the backlash.

SP4 List Highlights

Here are highly placed entries from the official recommendations list that contain superversive themes, were written by superversive authors, or both.

Quite a showing for such a young movement.
Many creators of works listed above wouldn’t describe them as superversive. Some might actively deny affiliation with the movement. But whether intentionally or not, all of the works above celebrate heroic courage, treat beauty as something real and transformative, honor objective truth, or a combination of multiple superversive elements.
Speaking from Experience
For once, I’m not just some armchair pundit peddling secondhand opinions on the internet.
To my amazement, five projects to which I have direct creative involvement appear on the Sad Puppies 4 list–each near the top of its category (viz. Nethereal, Sci Phi Journal, Superversive SF, Geek Gab, and, in the case of the Campbell…me).
Obligatory reminder of author’s well-received book for sale.
When I decided to turn my writing from a hobby into a profession, I had no idea how my work would be received. Rather than fret over possible rejection, I just wrote the kinds of stories that I wanted to read, but that no one else seemed to be offering.
Obligatory reminder that the well-received book has an even better sequel. (Eligible next year.)
Along the way, I kept coming across like-minded individuals who were dissatisfied with the current state of SFF. Some of them accepted the challenge of writing for themselves. A few of these people must’ve thought I had something interesting to say, because they invited me to co-host their podcasts and post on their blogs. I continue gratefully doing so.
The takeaway is that, without a NY publisher, and with no advertising budget, resources, or contacts to speak of, Sad Puppies 4 let me compete on a level playing field against this:
the Martian
and tie for first place.
From where I’m standing (next to Andy Weir, as it happens), the predictions of indie making the gatekeepers obsolete look thoroughly vindicated.
I brought books to market, found readers, and–if past years are reliable indicators–stand a non-zero chance of being nominated for a major literary award. All of this was done without granting all of my rights and most of my profits to a publisher.
Sure, it’s survivorship bias to say that if I can do it, then so can you. But I’m not the only example. Indie has produced far greater successes than me.
Oh yeah, that part about zero resources and no contacts? That problem’s been pretty much solved–thanks to my fellow superversives, those who support the cause, and most importantly of all, my phenomenal readers. You guys have achieved what all of the industry experts said was impossible just a few years ago.
Congratulations to everyone who made the list. Thanks to all of the overt and covert superversives out there, to the Evil Legion of Evil, and Sad Puppies everywhere (especially Kate, Sarah, Amanda, and the volunteers who collated the suggestions). And once again, extra special thanks to my readers.
We’re just getting warmed up, and I’m proud to be at the starting line with you.
Update: in the time since this article was first written, my name has also been added to the Rabid Puppies list of Campbell nominees. The Supreme Dark Lord is indeed kind.

There Is No Science Fiction

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

― Spoon Boy, The Matrix

Today I want to express one simple idea, because I feel that for all the words thrown around, few people have grasped this concept, and even fewer have debated it honestly. But to begin with, I will discuss the antithesis to the idea. This antithesis was repeated widely before, during, and after the Hugo meltdown. It is almost as if people are constantly jumping up and down, shouting: ‘there is a spoon, there is a spoon, THERE IS A SPOON,’ because they refuse to countenance the possibility of a world without a spoon. David Gerrold, who can always be relied upon to share his banal devotion to unimaginative mainstream orthodoxy via Facebook, beautifully expressed the antithesis like this:

There is room in this community for everyone who brings their enthusiasm. We have steampunk and heroic engineers and fantasy fans and gothic horror and gender-punk and space opera and cyberpunk and deco-punk and alternate histories and utopias and dystopias and zombies and vampires and all the other different niches that make up this vast ecology of wonder.

None of us have the right to define SF — we each define it by what we read and what we write. None of us have the authority to demand or control the behavior of others. The best that any of us can do is recommend and invite. And yes, this is another narrative — a narrative of inclusion that stands in opposition to the narratives of division.

That’s the narrative I choose to live in.

To use some arcane philosophical terminology, Gerrold is spewing pure bollocks. Admittedly, these are attractive bollocks, that will hold a lot of emotional appeal for many people. Bollocks can be like that. But they are bollocks all the same.

I could carve into Gerrold’s thought process and note the absurdity of arguing nobody has a right to define something, but then insisting everybody is always defining that something as they go along. I could argue we get a superior understanding of the word ‘definition’ by learning from the people who write dictionaries, than from someone who wrote episodes of Star Trek. And whilst no individual possesses an ultimate control of words, I could observe that some people plainly do have the authority to demand or control behavior from others. If a powerful editor wants a little-known author to change some words, then the words will be changed. I could make all those points, but I would be missing the main point I want to make.

For all the talk of inclusion, all the fuss about being one community, all the guff about wanting people to join the world of science fiction, there is no science fiction. Or rather, there is something called ‘science fiction’ if a language community says there is something called ‘science fiction’ and behaves consistently when speaking about it. A different language community might behave the same way, or not. Thus all the words spouted about the singular community that surrounds a single genre only take us around a grand circular tour, leading precisely nowhere.

Why take us on this tour? People play illogical language games when their goal is to confirm their pre-existing bias, and to exert irrational pressure on others to adopt the same behavioral norms. Whilst Gerrold wants to sing hymns to the holy objective of unity, this is a disguise for a primitive instinct: the demand for conformity.

Gerrold wrote about variety, but crucially he put it into the context of a single ecology which contains everything else. The problem with this line of thinking is that the notion of ecology is a human abstraction. The constituents of this ecology exist without spending a moment contemplating this abstraction. The physical world has plants, that climb high and compete for sunlight, and which grow deep roots that compete for nutrients. There are animals, which feed on the plants. There are animals that feed on other animals. And there are microorganisms that might kill animals, or turn them back into soil. Ecology is what you get when a fuzzy human mind tries to understand this endless, unbounded, microscopic, individualistic, rapacious, and callous competition through the prism of a single abstract system. By doing so, these minds often get a queasy notion of what the ‘ideal’ system would look like, and thus intervene to prevent natural competition. They are like 18th century landscape gardeners, who so perfectly administer to current fashion, that they destroy what is wild in order to pursue a myth of natural beauty. The truth is there is no single nature, no single ecology, and no single science fiction. There are only many competitors, with many different ideals.

David Gerrold can believe whatever narrative he wants. After all, he wrote an episode of Star Trek, and hence is an authority on the subject of science fiction. But other people can believe whatever narrative they want. I believe that if a community insists repeatedly on unity, whilst behaving in a belligerent manner to non-conformists, then it is oppressive and exclusionary.

The sole purpose of a vote for ‘no award’ is to exclude. It communicates that the work is not good enough to meet the community’s standards. Such a device would not be employed by a community which prioritizes inclusion over all other objectives. But then, an overly inclusive community might fear being taken over, or losing control of quality. I would never dispute the right of a community to set limits on who belongs to that community. However, I will point out hypocrisy when I see it. A community that blandly sings the praises of inclusivity, whilst methodically excluding non-conformists, is a community of hypocrites.

The hypocrisy of the one true community is tedious to listen to. They are fandom in general, but they only represent themselves. They determine the very best in science fiction, but are only a small band of amateur enthusiasts who wanted to participate in one specific convention. They are everybody when they want to be everybody, and nobody in particular, when they want to be nobody in particular. Which is it? Are they all, or some? Listening to how this cadre describes itself, I feel that most of them no longer have any idea who they are.

The world is big, and contains many people. There is room for two science fictions, or three science fictions, or four or five. If David Gerrold holds up a book and says ‘THIS is science fiction’, I can moan that it is not, and there will be no grounds for one to prove the other wrong. Perhaps I will read a book recommended by Jonathan Ross instead, despite his exclusion from the one true community. The world can, and does sustain multiple communities. Jonathan Ross has an extremely large community of fans (87,000 likes on Facebook), David Gerrold’s community of fans is much smaller (1,500 likes on Facebook), and my community of fans consists of just me and my mum. Nevertheless, they are all communities, and whilst some might be larger, that does not make them better.

Perhaps some people see no difference between a spoon and a fork. Others are sensible of the differences between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon. The same variations could occur in the perception of science fiction. So if one community chooses to go in one direction, and a second community chooses to go in another, what are people hoping to achieve by insisting there must be only one community, and only one genre? They are acting like bossy editors. If confronted by an intolerably authoritarian editor, we should walk away and seek another editor. The way the world is changing, because of progress in technology, business and personal freedom, our range of choice will continue to flourish.

Those who crave change are unlikely to succeed by joining a society of Big-Endians and asking them to break their eggs at the little end. Some editors and readers are Big-Endians. Others are Little-Endians. Fighting is unlikely to change that. On the other hand, if the Big-Endians insist that theirs is the one true way to break an egg, I sympathize with anyone who wants to scramble their silly rules, and turn them into an omelette.

Notice I have got this far and I have not mentioned the most telltale sign of the illogic professed by the high priests of the one true community. They claim to worship the one great overarching genre. They shed tears and beg for others to mend their wicked ways, and thus make their community whole again. But if there is only one community for science fiction and fantasy, why do they need the word ‘and’?

Science fiction started small. The first ‘Worldcon’ was attended by just 200 people, less than 1 per every 100,000 people living at that time. (To be fair, I should note that the attendance would have been slightly higher, but some people were excluded because of their political views, leading them to hold a rival event instead.) Did the behavior of that community of 200 people give rise to a privileged lineage, where their tribal ancestors will define science fiction for all time? Or might free people step up at any moment, and proclaim that their tastes are different, and that if the one true community rejects their tastes, then that just proves there must be more than one community?

The number of people who enjoy science fiction has grown immensely, all over the world. Many more people watched Guardians of the Galaxy than know it won a Hugo. It is unsurprising that the mythology of a single community has been cracked wide open by that growth in popularity. The bigger a group gets, the harder it is to maintain conformity within the group. In that respect, I dream of a million different science fiction communities, and fear anyone who insists on unity. It is better to have many tribes and let individuals choose which they belong to, than to stifle growth and innovation by insisting all must adhere to the same standards for quality, and that all must pass the same tests for admission and reward.

Maybe the name ‘science fiction’ will fracture further. If so, that is a good thing. Cracks in the pavement allow weeds to grow. Though some will see only a weed, I also see the diversity of life, struggling for existence, fighting to reproduce itself. Let those who erect walls and govern institutions waste precious time and energy on weeding. Sowing seeds is more fun.

I know how some might respond to my arguments: but we are the ones who love diversity, whilst you hate it! They are not liberals. The following words were written by a liberal.

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

The true lover of diversity must also love diversity of thought. Human minds, if allowed to flourish unstifled, are much more varied than human bodies. So let there be a myriad of science fictions, each defined differently by rival language communities. If we do that, we will see there is no science fiction. There are only stories, including those we like, and those we do not like, whilst no community can demonstrate it has superior taste to any other. If their ideal for the genre is not to your liking, then recognize that your genre is no longer the same as theirs. If editors exert their authority, seek a new editor, or become one. Evolution succeeds because it welcomes alternatives.

There is no genre but that which we choose for ourselves. There is no community either; they are reflections of each other. So forget genre. Kill genre. Give birth to your own genre. Then you will be free of unnatural constraints. There was a time before science fiction. I look forward to what will come after science fiction. Enjoy good writers, follow individuals you admire, question authority and despise overarching systems. Then your stories will truly be free.

The Internet Will Kill the Hugos

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.

― Isaac Asimov

Some people may not believe me. But the truth will be recognized by anyone who understands technology, and how it changes the way people behave. An award that was born in the 1950’s is dying, and not before time. For my own part, I come to bury the Hugos, not to praise them.

Over 5,000 supporting members have signed up to this year’s Worldcon, almost double the number from last year. There has been an extraordinary outpouring of words about votes and nominations and puppies and CHORFs. Some might take this as evidence that the Hugos are in rude health. I believe this is another example of human societies turning their back on technology, when it suits them. That the context is a science fiction convention only adds to the irony.

The controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards has encouraged a surge in supporting memberships for Worldcon. People have been giving supporting memberships away. This year’s Hugos have received more mass media coverage than usual. All of this has been enabled by technological progress, in the form of the internet.

It is the ubiquity of the internet that permits anyone – me included – to broadcast their opinions about the Hugos. The deep penetration of innovative communication tools and techniques, and the broad acceptance of new cultural norms that surround them, allows people to rally supporters and friends, and to rile strangers and enemies, with unprecedented ease. The internet amplifies the potential for controversies like those which have surrounded the Hugos, and increases the attention they receive.

However, the Hugos themselves have not embraced the internet. On the contrary, the meagre use of the internet by Worldcon organizers demonstrates a sad refusal to adjust to modern times. Their motives are understandable; they want people to physically attend their convention. However, the awards could be unleashed, and managed across international frontiers by placing it wholly in cyberspace. This has not happened because the awards are subordinated to the needs of the convention.

Societies that cannot accommodate technological change may persist for a generation or two, but they become easy prey for those who have evolved. A herd mentality may make Worldcon members feel good, but adaptation is a superior strategy to groupthink. Has this group of people adapted to the modern world? Not really. They continue to follow a behavioral pattern mapped out decades ago, before the internet existed.

Worldcon members can vote for the Hugos online. But why should the “premier awards in the science fiction field” still be associated with a physical meet-up? That approach was optimal in the 1950’s, and for a long while after. It is no longer a good way to serve your goal, if the goal is to promote an art form, and to engage with the greatest number of fans. The internet has changed what is possible. The internet connects us to millions, when we used to be satisfied with reaching thousands.

It appears that Worldcon2015 will have more non-attending members than attending members. The disproportionate growth in Worldcon supporting memberships demonstrates an inconvenient truth. The awards could be managed separately from the event. There are only two reasons to connect the two: marketing, and a subsidy for the physical convention. By connecting the two, the legitimacy of the award is undermined. This is supposedly an award given by all fans, wherever they are. So why confuse a voting electorate with a membership system that prefers some fans to others?

Associating an internet-based vote with a convention inevitably skews the vote towards the population who live near to the convention’s location. If the organizers of a ‘world’ event really wanted to maximize the diversity of participation in SF, they would separate the convention from the award, and lower the cost of voting. If Worldcon attendees want to vote on the Hugos, let them pay a lower entrance fee and then pay an additional top-up to vote, set equal to the cost of a supporting membership. Then the awards would not be treated as the hostage of the event, used to generate increased revenues for the convention by increasing publicity and creating a subsidy for those who physically attend. Let the convention be sold on its own merits, and the award be voted for by fans, irrespective of where they are. There is no need to confuse the two.

Consider the cost of participation in the Hugos. To vote currently costs USD40. What the heck are they doing that costs USD40 per voter? This is a small-scale internet-based ballot to decide the winners of a cultural award. USD40 is much more than it costs most governments to handle international postal voting in public elections, although they obviously have to be managed to a higher standard in order to prevent fraud.

If the goal was open democracy, demanding 40 bucks for the right to vote would be considered an outrage. And obviously the cost will have a different impact around the world, because no allowance is made for average national incomes. If the organizers want diversity, the cost of voting should only be a few dollars. The actual cost reflects two goals which are opposed to diversity: erecting barriers to create exclusive tiers within ‘fandom’, and the maximization of revenues.

One of the joys of the internet is that it is so inclusive. Since the 1990’s, the roll-out of commercial internet services has done more to remove barriers of wealth, nationality, race and gender than decades of political posturing. On the internet, nobody knows if you are a dog. So long as you can afford the cost of accessing the internet, it does not matter if you are old, black, Inuit, disabled, gay, Jewish, transvestite or French. If you have access, you can express your opinion.

However, the data from the Worldcon memberships shows the Hugo Awards have totally failed to be the inclusive global force it pretends to be. At the time of writing, this year’s Worldcon has 10,157 members. 8,263 of them are from the USA. The huge rise in supporting memberships has done nothing to increase the international diversity of Hugo voters.

For reasons that I struggle to understand, the organizers of Worldcon2015 have taken a massive step backwards when it comes to the transparent presentation of demographic data. Worldcon2014 provided a straightforward table, so you could analyze memberships by both nation and type. Worldcon2015 gives you totals by nation, and totals by type, but no cross-analysis. Is this because they are embarrassed by the lack of diversity? The number of supporting members is more than double the number of members from outside the USA. It does not take a mathematician to realize the growth in supporting memberships has resulted in even less international diversity amongst Hugo voters.

Literally anybody on the planet should be free to say they are a fan of SF, and to vote on what they considered the best work of the year. One of the Hugo categories is ‘Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form’ (a stupidly outdated way of saying ‘Best Film’). Are there only a few thousand people on the planet who are competent to judge if Guardians of the Galaxy was better than Interstellar? Of course not. Nobody ever went to see a Hollywood film because it won a Hugo, but these awards are treated like they represent the opinions of fans everywhere.

Ignoring the international nature of SF film culture reveals the inward-looking nature of some ‘fandom’. We can make excuses for why written stories may not succeed when taken across borders, but it is harder to make excuses when it comes to the medium of film. Consider Solaris, a 1972 film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky is one of the greatest film-makers of all time. Ingmar Bergman said:

Tarkovsky for me is the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.

Solaris was both a science fiction film, and a work of genius. It was so good that some arrogant Hollywood types decided they could make some easy money by remaking it in English. Was the original nominated for a Hugo? Of course not. It was made in the Soviet Union. One of the greatest SF films was ignored by a ‘fandom’ which ignores films distributed outside the Hollywood system. Am I supposed to believe that George Clooney has better taste in SF films than most SF fans? The failure to nominate Solaris for a Hugo was excusable in the 1970’s, when it was harder to know about foreign cultures. There is much less excuse for a current ‘world’ award to exhibit an unrelenting bias towards Hollywood films, though it clearly persists.

The organizers of the Hugos do not care if Koreans (current Worldcon members = 0), or Indians (3), or Africans (1) express an opinion on what was the best SF film of the year. They do not care if there are thriving movie industries in those parts of the world, or if they make good SF films. As a result, I will not learn about those films by taking an interest in the Hugos. The bias towards Hollywood films should be a telltale sign of cultural bias, but the in-crowd seem unaware of the lack of international diversity in the culture they choose to consume. That is why they do not deserve to influence others. But mercifully, that is also why the Hugos will die.

I would never read a book because it won an award. All culture is a matter of taste. It makes more sense to be influenced by my past experience, by the advice of friends, and by individual editors and reviewers with good taste. It makes less sense to be influenced by the votes of individuals who I do not know and who represent nobody but themselves. As a result, the internet is killing the Hugos, even whilst it props them up with a burst of increased publicity. Overall, the internet diminishes the power of the Hugos, by making it easier to receive opinions about a wider range of content, from sources that we know and trust.

If I wanted to be influenced by strangers, I could read their blogs, or follow their tweets, or see their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. And if I prefer to seek out the newest film from Studio Ghibli, instead of some dross from Hollywood, the internet will help me. The internet is often like an echo chamber, allowing people to hear their own opinions reflected back at them. But it also gives us choices that would not be possible otherwise. It gives us freedom, and diversity, and alternatives. Thanks to the echo chamber, some will convince themselves that the Hugos still represent a meaningful expression of taste. Stepping outside that echo chamber, fewer will be listening. And if the global SF market expands, then the Hugos may suffer more than it benefits from that growth, because of the failure to decouple an international award from a predominantly American convention.

To rejuvenate and extend the authority of the Hugos would be simple: separate the voting from the convention, and thus encourage many more people to vote, from all around the world. But that is not going to happen. Meanwhile, the internet gives me access to many more opinions, but it does not increase the amount of time I spend reading. That is why the influence of the Hugos will continue to diminish. The Hugos served a purpose, but by sticking to an outdated model for human interaction, they will become increasingly anachronistic. So the Hugos must die, and the sooner the better.

The internet has room for many opinions, and an award is an expression of an opinion. I do not care who pays 40 dollars for the privilege of identifying themselves with ‘fandom’, for the same reasons I prefer Solaris to many films which were nominated for the Hugo. Real diversity now surrounds us, in the optical fibers and radio waves that bring us the internet, wherever we are in the world. That diversity is incompatible with the cultural straightjacket worn by the self-selecting Worldcon ‘fandom’. The Hugos are dying; long live the internet, and the liberation of science fiction.

Transhuman and Subhuman Part II: The Hobbit, or The Desolation of Tolkien

the desolation of tolkien

“My wife had to stuff a wide handful of popcorn flavored food substitute into my face, in order to smother the broken, wretched burbling — shoot him … with …  an elf arrow.” —John C. Wright

Newer blockbusters may have driven the second Hobbit movie from the popular consciousness, but John C. Wright deftly uses The Desolation of Smaug as an object lesson in how even great works can suffer in the hands of artists who don’t understand them.

“The Hobbit, or, The Desolation of Tolkien” is the second essay in John C. Wright’s Hugo-nominated anthology Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truths. This essays features a lighter tone than its predecessor, but proves no less enlightening.

Though he professes to have loved the first Hobbit film, Mr. Wright found its sequel sorely lacking in artistry, internal consistency, and basic intelligence.

A recurring motif of his essay is the “stupidity hammer”, from which the author felt himself subject to repeated blows of increasing viciousness throughout the film.

Whether due to Legolas’ Mary Sue-style antics, the tacked-on dwarf-elf romance, King Thranduil’s inexplicable, villainous heel turn, Gandalf’s solo expedition against Dol Guldur, or Bilbo’s failure to seal the barrels holding his friends before dumping them in a frothing river, the stupidity hammer’s desecrations leave precious little of Tolkien’s beloved masterpiece unspoiled.

Wright mentions a scant few grace notes: the majesty of Thranduil’s throne room, the visual perfection of Mirkwood’s canopy filled with black butterflies.

Sadly, Peter Jackson’s bizarre reliance on the stupidity hammer impedes his potentially excellent craftsmanship. From the pure gold of Tolkien’s venerable tale, he forges a hyperactive, incoherent series of video game cinematics tarnished with political correctness.

RavenCon–A Small Convention In the Spotlight

John C. Wright and I shall be appearing at RavenCon in Richmond, VA on Saturday and Sunday.

Info here:

Ravencon is a great convention. This year, they happened to have guests on both sides of a number of big controversies…controversies that developed since all these guests were invited.

Out of respect for this great convention, we are urging everyone to treat one another with respect–whether or not the other guy is respectful in return.

Let’s have fun in person and keep the arguments in the Blogosphere.