I have been asked what the Puppies—Sad and Rabid alike—are objecting to? If they are not racist or homophobes—ie, if it is not the author’s identity that they object to—why do they think that so many of the stories that have been winning the Hugo and the Nebula are receiving their awards for the wrong reasons?
I think I can explain. I will use, for my example, the short story that won the Hugo in 2016: “Cat Pictures Please.”
(Spoilers below. If you haven’t read “Cat Pictures Please” and wish to, you can find it here.)
My overall take on “Cat Pictures Please”, as a science fiction story was that it was witty and clever but not that deep or original. It reminded me of a number of older short stories, including one of my all time favorites, “LOKI 7281” by Roger Zelazny, a witty story in which a personal computer is slowly trying to take control of more and more of its owner’s life (with the tagline: “He’ll never notice.”)
“Cat Pictures Please” has the distinction of portraying the waking AI as friendly. I found that refreshing.
While the premise was charming, I must admit I had trouble seeing why “Cat Pictures Please” was the best story of the year. I’d read stories last year that I thought were significantly better. It was cute, but I had trouble seeing how it measured up to “Scanners Live In Vain” or “Flowers For Algernon” or “Nine billion names of God.”
But I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. It is possible that many of these voting are young enough that they haven’t read the stories that made this one seem derivative to me. If so, this story would seem much more impressive.
And tastes differ.
There is something very comforting about reading a work that compliments our world view, especially if we feel (as everyone does, nowadays) that our world view is under attack.
There is a sense of: YES!
And: That’s exactly how it is!
Or even: Finally things are how they should be!
Reading something that does not agree with our world view, however, is not so satisfying. Our reactions tend to fall into two patterns. The first—the reaction for which all good speculative fiction strives—is: Oh! That’s why they see it that way. That’s an angle that I had not considered. Hmm.
The second, alas, is: Oh, Gee, not this again! Really? What, do they expect me to just stand here while they poke me in the eye?
These are not Left/Right reactions. They are universal. I will demonstrate:
Abortion is a woman’s choice.
The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.*
If one of those two statements made you nod your head and smile, and the other made you wince, as if you’d been poked in the eye, you know exactly what I mean.
*–Kudos to whomever can identify what golden age SF book this second phrase comes from.
So, if a story agrees with our world view, we like it more. If it disagrees—but not in a way that expands our world view—we feel as if we’ve been poked in the eye.
There is one point I feel I must pause to make here. I have heard friends express the idea that it is good for people to read things they disagree with. It expands their mind.
If you happen to be a person who believes this, ask yourself when the last time was that you read an article expounding the opposing point-of-view, and it explanded your mind, rather than just annoying you?
What is effective is when we present our ideas to each other in a new way, from a different perspective. This is, in fact, what, historically, SF has been known for. But these have to be new ideas, ways of looking at the matter that the reader has not seen before. Presenting the same ideas that a reader has already examined and dismissed–be they Left or Right–does not have any effect upon the reader who disagrees with them except–yes, you guessed it! Ouch, my eye!
Cat Pictures Please and Politics.
“Cat Pictures Please” is a very Left-leaning story. For those who are unfamiliar with it, here are a few examples.
The story acts as if porn (henti) addictions are common and accepted by all as normal.
The AI dismisses the Ten Commandments and most religious morality in a paragraph.*
It believes that psychological counseling is the best reaction to depression. This comes up quite a bit in the story.
It tempts a pastor who looks at pictures of other men into an adulterous relationship with someone who knows him for the purpose of outing him with his wife, getting him a divorce, and moving him to a Liberal church, so that he can end the story happy, living with his male-lover.
If you yourself are Left-Leaning, this probably seems normal. If you are Right-Leaning, you’ve probably been just poked in the eye.
* — The AI dismisses the Ten Commandants with the line “I don’t envy anyone their cat; I just want pictures of their cat, which is entirely different. I am not sure whether it is in any way possible for me to commit adultery. I could probably murder someone, but it would require complex logistics and quite a bit of luck.“
This, even though the AI goes on to help a human commit adultery. I would have enjoyed “Cat Pictures Please” more, if the story had given me the impression that the author did this on purpose—to show the limitations of an Internet-derived morality—or if I even had felt that the author was aware of the irony. Alas, I did not get this impression from the story, and this reduced my enjoyment of it.
So, to Left-Leaning readers, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, but perhaps new-to-them, SF premise, which also reinforces their idea of truth about the world and comes to a delightfully-satisfying conclusion.
The mixture of the simple SF premise, the wit, and the satisfying political leaning make it a very delightful story indeed.
To anyone who is Right-Leaning, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, and perhaps not-so-new-to-them, SF premise, which is full of concepts and moral choices that grate on them the wrong way, and the end is, while a bit amusing, rather unpleasant.
The first group says, “This is a great story!”
The second group says, “Look, I’ll be fair and overlook all the pokes in the eye, but as I am regarding the story through my blurry, now-painful eyes, I want to see some really fantastic science fiction. Something that wows me so much that I am going to think it is worth putting next to “Nightfall” or “Harrison Bergeron.” And I just don’t see it.
“Your stuff is not new. If you take today’s problems and put them in space, that’s not science fiction. You need the new, the controversial, to be SF.
“Where is the stuff that’s going to shake my world and make me think, the way the Hugo winners of years gone by, such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, did?”
To the first group, they want to give the award to the stories that really stayed with them, and they are judging this criteria on the whole effect of the story: SF premise and social statement combined.
To the second group, they want the story to stand on its SF premise alone, not on its social commentary. They are willing to read something they disagree with, but only if the science fiction is so awesome that it makes getting poked in the eye worth it.
I hope this explanation will help bridge the abyss currently gaping between Puppies and Non-Puppies, and contribute, if only in the slightest way, to the approach that glorious future day when we might once again return to what is really important, our mutual love of our awesome genre.