The Contradictions of the Current State of Science Fiction and Fantasy

So, I do, in fact, now follow the current politics of science fiction and fantasy a bit, and heard about the latest call for reconciliation and comments on that, and want to focus on one post by Steve Davidson on it. The post is a bit of a muddled mess, but he tries to respond to what he thinks are all of the arguments from the other side … and, well, his responses to them are not good, to say the least.

Let’s start with his assessment of the latest round of “cheating” that the “Puppies” are starting:

What I’m seeing is a lot of snark and a lot of setting the Hugo award voters up for the gotchya we all knew was coming: worthy works nominated for all the wrong reasons, forcing voters to either endorse Puppy slates or vote against their own interests. TOR, John Scalzi and David Gerrold are well represented in the puppy “recommendations”. All three have been previously identified as leaders of the cabal that has been “fixing” the awards for over a decade. Together, words directed at them by puppies have got to encompass fully 95% of all of last year’s puppy vitriol.

Yet there they sit on a puppy “recommendation” list in a cynical bid that allows them to claim “fairness”. (As a further check: why are “puppies” so underrepresented on these lists? Could it be that an honest assessments finds them unworthy? Or is that just another clue that the current exercise is nothing more than political theater?)

So, let me summarize the past year’s Hugo voting as I see it from my admittedly rather limited perspective. Various Puppy groups (Sad and Rabid) put up what they called “slates”, which were list of recommendations to nominate and maybe even vote for. There was some public outrage over this from various others, which included demands to vote “No Award” in categories where the nominations were dominated by Puppy recommendations. When the votes came in, a number of “No Awards” were, er, awarded, and a number won’t. The various others declared victory … but so did the Puppies. And in my opinion, the latter probably did better, because among those “No Awards” were works and people that probably did deserve to win an award. One of the pushes for at least the Rabid Puppies was to show that there was at least unofficial slates that were dominating the awards, and when there were candidates that seemed to be deserving that weren’t awarded it only indicated that maybe that was the case, and that people were voting “No Award” because of the unstated slates instead of on the basis of the quality of the work. If almost all of the categories were “No Award”, then it could be seen as fan backlash and anger … but at least some of the Puppy slate nominees actually won. If “No Awards” were only given out when there were clearly no deserving candidates, it would be a rejection of the works themselves. But Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden Files book — a series so famous even I’ve heard of it, and even read one, I think — and a very respected editor couldn’t even get wins out of their own categories. This … did not look good for the various others.

So, I do imagine that a lot of this is political theatre as well, but it’s equally and even more devastating political theatre. Imagine that they get these nominations through. Then the various others will have a set of nasty choices to make. Do they “No Award” the Puppy dominated categories? Then they’d have to say that the works of those they claim are perfectly fine authors and in fact are doing precisely what they want Sci-Fi to do aren’t good enough to get an award. Do they vote for those people? Then they make a case for people voting on the basis of association, unless they can demonstrate that the works really are superior to all the other candidates, which might be a hard sell. “No Award” everything? Then they prove that they effectively have a slate. In this case, they really can’t win. And if the authors refuse their nominations, then it again looks like a political move instead of one about the quality of the works. That’s … not good either.

So if the various others want to deal with this, they need to understand what playing politics really means. And it’s exactly this that gets me thinking that maybe re-reading “Fate of the Jedi” isn’t such a bad idea after all …

But let’s get to the arguments:

A. all fans should be allowed to vote for (what used to be) science fiction’s most prestigious award. Members of Worldcon have been keeping this thing to themselves for too long.

This is demonstrably false. 1. Anyone can become a member and all members enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other member. 2. “Prestige” has nothing to do with numbers. 3. If you want a popular award for SF/F, go create one. I assure you, the cabal will not interfere in any way. (I’ve spoken to them all and they promise.)

So, in one argument, Davidson says that anyone can be a member but then admits that the numbers of Worldcon members are rather small. This is only highlighted more later when Worldcon is compared to things like Dragoncon. So, if anyone can join, but relatively few do, why is that? Is it because they don’t care enough, that they aren’t real fans? Or is it because becoming a member is burdensome for some fans, so much so that the precise benefits aren’t worth it? And if all fans can join, why aren’t the Hugos then considered a popular award for SF/F? If getting in isn’t hard, and so all interested fans should be able to do it, then why doesn’t it represent fans?

B. The Elites who control Worldcon are a cabal controlled by TOR/John Scalzi/David Gerrold/the Nielsen Haydens. That cabal represents social justice liberalism.

Demonstrably false. 1. Everyone who is a member of Worldcon “controls” Worldcon (business meeting, Hugo voting). 2. If you are not a social justice liberal and are a member of Worldcon, the cabal represents more than just SJWs. 3. There is no cabal. The voting record (freely available online) amply demonstrates this at least insofar as the Hugo Awards are concerned. 4. What’s wrong with social justice anyway? (Don’t answer – entirely different subject.)

Um, if you’re saying that something is demonstrably false … shouldn’t you actually demonstrate it? At any rate, just because not every member of Worldcon would be an SJW doesn’t mean that there isn’t a majority of those who are who are dominating the votes. To put it in terms that someone who is interested in social justice can understand, in Western societies there are actually typically more female voters than male voters; would that fact alone demonstrate that Western society cannot be male dominated?

C. (Elite) fandom is too small to have so much influence. Other conventions have tens of thousands of attendees and are more popular and influential. Worldcon should be more popular and influential.

Demonstrably false. 1. SIZE DOES NOT MATTER when you are judging quality. 2. SIZE DOES NOT change history, or tradition. 3. Size does matter when one is trying to sell books. Worldcon and The Hugo Awards are not about selling books. 4. Popularity is not a measure of quality. Sales are not a measure of quality. 5. Further – the influence that Fandom has is the influence it gives to itself. Those fans who join Worldcon have chosen to accept that influence for themselves. You do not have to accept it. Your non-acceptance can not change how anyone else feels about it.

1) Neither does a vote. If you want to judge on quality, then you don’t get a bunch of random, self-selected people together and get them to vote on it. You get experts together to assess the works on the agreed upon standards for quality and determine what really is the best.

2) If your organization only represents a small percentage of Science Fiction and Fantasy fans, then you have no relevance to them. And if you have no relevance to them, then you have no influence. If you want to bank on the name and history of the Hugos, then that will only hold out for so long. If your awards aren’t relevant to most fans, they’ll ignore them, and thus putting “Hugo Award Winner” on a book will have no meaning.

3 – 4) Potentially true, but in a medium where works are built to appeal to a certain audience, if you constantly have to trot out the argument that it doesn’t matter how well it sells it’s still the highest quality in the pack, you’re going to have to explain how it can be such a quality work when it can’t achieve its main purpose. SF/F is not supposed to be pure artistic literature, you know.

5) Are we getting into the “real fans join Worldcon” argument here? So, if I don’t join Worldcon, does that mean that I’m not a real SF/F fan, despite reading it almost exclusively for all of my life, and writing pretty much in it for all of my life, too?

D. Fans were mean to…

Demonstrably false. 1. What you all saw as meanness was in fact revulsion. Understandable after you all shat in the punch bowl during the dinner party. 2. What do you expect after three years of being told the Hugo awards are meaningless, its voters are under the sway of a cabal and you non-elitists are the only ones who know what real science fiction is? 3. Notice that in the previous rebuttal, I did not need to mention any of the bigotry, misogyny and downright hate that often accompanied those other statements.

We have to look at what that expressed “revulsion” was revulsion for … and also note that then the meanness from the other side can be justified the same way. If people were mean to each other, they probably should all apologize for that and work to work together to figure out what SF/F should really be.

E. So-and-so DESERVES a Hugo Award

Demonstrably false. 1. Life ought to have amply demonstrated to you by now that the question of which hand fills first is not the one waiting for wishes to come true. 2. No one DESERVES a Hugo. Not Isaac Asimov, not Robert A. Heinlein, not Ray Bradbury, not anyone. 3. Individuals vote for the Hugo Awards and there are as many methods and reasons as there are voters. The beauty of the award is the collective consensus that is arrived at by having so many generally well-informed voters participating (or choosing not to because they are not informed enough. In their own personal opinion. (4. this is why “making the award more popular” would undermine the entire enterprise. Hugo Voters/Worldcon attendees self-select because of their deep and abiding interest. That interest is usually accompanied by deep familiarity with the field. Any other methodology would reduce the Hugo Awards to what the puppies claim to want – a popularity contest in which the only measure is how many copies were sold or how many dollars were earned.) 5. If influence really swayed the vote, aren’t you arguing for TOR and your other targets to pretty much be winning every year?

Um, above you argued that the awards were for QUALITY. If that’s the case, then it is definitely the case that people deserve a Hugo … those people whose works definitely met that objective criteria of “quality”. Quality is not subjective. It is not what you like best. It is not amenable to differing methods and reasons. It is what is objectively the best. Yes, when dealing with literature some subjectivity has to come into play, but you need to decide what you want. Here, you’re pitching it as being a decision based on individual preference … and then argue that it shouldn’t be a popularity contest. But that’s what deciding it on individual preference is: each person deciding it on the basis of what they prefer. If you can’t align that with popularity, then that means that your selection sample doesn’t reflect the relevant populace at all. And if you’re after quality, you can do that by selecting people more educated in the field to make the decision. But that explicitly is not what you claim Worldcon does. So which is it?

F. The slate was not a slate, it was the same thing that Scalzi and others do.

Demonstrably false. 1. It was identified as a slate by its proponents. 2. Recommendation lists are not slates because recommendation lists are not accompanied by an over-riding political agenda. 3. telling people how to vote; recruiting people to vote; curating a list; buying memberships to vote as a block; asking people to march in lockstep is slate behavior. 4. Recommendations STOP at the recommending part and leave the decision making to the individual voter.

I think the overall argument here is more this: it’s no more a slate than what Scalzi and others do, and from his description it’s a fine line here. After all, neither Vox Day or Brad Torgenson actually can force people to vote for what they vote for, so it’s still left up to the individual voter. And he’d have to clarify what “having an over-riding political agenda” means here, because the calls for “No Award” seem to have that in spades.

G. The SJWs/CHORFS/PUPPYKICKERS are taking over the world: women can’t write science fiction: the cover doesn’t reflect the story; there’s messages in there.

Not even worth addressing.

Or stating coherently, it seems.

H. We’re not aligned with Gamergate.

Demonstrably false: 1. “Looking forward to this year. If they thought last year was a scandal, they ain’t seen nothing yet. : )” Daddy Warpig

Um, is Daddy Warpig some kind of famous Gamergater or something? Even if true, that wouldn’t demonstrate that they are aligned, as people can be part of multiple differing movements. Also, the two are related, as they are reactions against a perceived focus on social justice over the quality of the works, so you’ll obviously have some overlap. So, again, when you say that something is demonstrably false demonstrate it false!

I. Sad Puppies are not Rabid Puppies

Demonstrably false: 1. “You’re riding in the same car…” 2. No renunciation of affiliations that I can find.

From what I understand, they had separate names and separate “slates”, and not all works appeared on both. They seem to share similar concerns, but also seem to have separate goals and approaches (Rabid Puppies are more aggressive and more “Burn it to the ground!”, as I understand it). But, again, demonstrate it!

J. The No Award vote was bloc voting (just like what we did)/getting fans to No Award was a win

Demonstrably false. 1. Puppies bloc voted under directive from their ‘leaders’. Fans voted individually and individually determined that what the puppies were trying to do was unacceptable. 2. No Award has always been an option. The route puppies took has only ever happened twice before, not nearly to the same degree and – was roundly rejected those times just as it was this time. 3. Anyone can polish a turd. It remains a turd.

No, there was a campaign to institute this as an option. I can’t believe, for example, that individual SF/F fans decided that the latest Dresden Files novel wasn’t good enough to earn an award, even if nothing else did. Either you aren’t representing actual SF/F fans or they were willing to sacrifice that one because Butcher’s not part of the in-crowd. Take your pick.

The rest of the statement is not, in fact, evidence or demonstration of any kind.

Sigh. You know, I don’t care for at least the Rabid Puppy or Milo approach to this either. To me, this has become all about politics … and I hate politics. But until some kind of reconciliation comes about, my attitude to all of this is now … I don’t care. I have boxes of books and comic books in my house that I can read. I can re-read the books I already have. I have am ample selection of movies on DVD, and a number of gaming consoles with a number of games to play. In short, ladies and gentlemen and invited transgender species … I don’t need you. Until you get your act together and figure out how to publish and promote good works of SF/F so that I don’t have to filter through the felgercarb myself, I can stay out.

I’ll be watching.


One Response to “The Contradictions of the Current State of Science Fiction and Fantasy”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Excellent analysis.

    Daddy Warpig is a prominent gamergater. He supported the Puppies. This is like saying that the democratic party supports the Cowboys because Hilary Clinton is a fan. It’s idiotic.

    (I have no clue if she’s really a fan of any sports team. Just making a point.)

    Here is my analysis:

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