Up Yer Arsenal, Worldcon!

So, the 2016 Hugo Awards have been awarded. And, to be honest, they’ve really, really pissed me off. So much so that in this rant I was tempted to toss my “No swearing” rule, but then decided that I still believe that if you can’t say something and express anger and upset about something without swearing, then that’s a problem you need to work on, and so I’ll stand by that. But, still, I expect in this post to let the anger and hate flow through me, and rant about how badly Worldcon has managed to screw up their own awards … and it all comes down to the idea of “No Award”.

See, the accusation that the Puppies have been making is that the Hugo nominations and voting have been done on the basis of politics rather than strict quality, and so if you promote Social Justice you get recognition and if you promote, well, politics other than that you get buried. In order to see if that’s the case, the key thing to look at is not necessarily who wins, but in fact is who gets “No Awarded”, meaning that they finish below the “No Award” result in a category. So, in order to blunt the strategy, as I’ve said before all they need to do is play fair, which means that in general the works that really couldn’t possibly deserve an award end up below “No Award”, and those that could deserve an award — even if the work isn’t the best in the category — end up above it. Last year was disastrous for them, as they made a number of obvious “No Award” blunders, including putting Jim Butcher — of “The Dresden Files” — below “No Award” for best novel, which is hardly credible. So this year I was very interested in seeing whom they buried below that line.

And, when I checked it early this morning … they hadn’t included that in the list yet, except for the categories where “No Award” took the category, which meant that they were burying that very important criteria, which was enough to really tick me off. They’ve added it back now, but obviously not in time for The Verge to pick up the results without the “No Award” included when it didn’t take the category. This made it look like they were trying to hide those results after the criticism they got for what ended up “No Awarded” last time, and forced me to go and look it up. And this year they weren’t stupid enough to “No Award” Jim Butcher — and, in fact, didn’t “No Award” anyone in the “Best Novel” category. But they did “No Award” entire categories, which is suspicious. And digging through what was “No Awarded” — and remember, at the time I had to go and calculate that myself — I knew that I didn’t know the works and so couldn’t really judge, until I got to one category, which is where my anger really took hold:

They “No Awarded” Shamus Young for “Best Fan Writer” … on their way to “No Awarding” everyone except the winner.

No, it’s no secret to anyone who has read my blog for any length of time that I really like Shamus’ work. He’s also written, in the recent past, an entire series examining the “Mass Effect” series in terms of story, along with other, earlier examinations of story in other Fantasy and Science Fiction games. There’s no possible way to look at the actual quality of his work and say that he wouldn’t deserve a Hugo. Yes, you might think that others deserve it more and aren’t on the ballot but the Hugos do not work that way! So the most reasonable explanation is that people didn’t know who he was, knew that he was on the Puppy “slate”, and voted “No Award” over him just because of that. Which is the exact behaviour that the Puppies complain happen! Are you guys morons, or just very stupid?!?

But, even in my rage, I am still called upon to be fair, so maybe there was another reason. Maybe people felt that his work didn’t really fit into that category. Well, the Hugos themselves have a criteria for that, and if they felt he fit, he fit. It’s ludicrously unfair to vote “No Award” higher for someone that the Hugo committee decided fit the criteria because you disagree with their judgement. Vote him last, sure. Vote him “Sucks”, no. So, maybe this is just standard for people that most people have never heard of, as most people, especially in the less prestigious awards, don’t bother to read the works, but instead vote on name recognition, and if they haven’t heard of them they give them “No Award”. But this, then, would be an issue with the Hugos and the entire “No Award” category, especially since the Hugos — as we keep getting told — aren’t supposed to be a popularity contest, and so are supposed to allow more obscure works and authors to come to the fore. Having “No Award” finish ahead of a work or author or creator is obviously not going to make people think that’s a quality work.

And so, it is clear that there is no valid excuse for “No Awarding” Shamus. And if that’s the case, then I have to look at the other categories, and note that there are a lot of them were no nominee was “worthy”, or only one nominee was “worthy”, or only two were “worthy”. Look at the “Fancast” category, for example. You’re telling me that none of them were worthy of consideration? At all? And only one “Fan Artist”? Only two “Fanzines”? What criteria are people using to determine that? And “Supernatural” and “My Little Pony” aren’t worthy of consideration in “Short Form Presentation”? Really? This is utterly ridiculous, as it’s too unlikely to be believed. And yet they want me to swallow that. And if that’s not enough, the whole “Related Work” category was “No Awarded” despite the top “No Awarded” work being one that George R.R. Martin liked and expressed shock at the suggestion that only Castalia House — Vox Day’s publishing house — would publish it. Yeah, I think I can take Martin’s opinion as being at least mostly unbiased and somewhat accurate in that case. So it seems clear that some really screwy fudging happened here.

Which then forces me to turn my attention to the winners. Is N.K. Jemisin’s work really deserving of the Best Novel? Well, I’ve seen one reviewer quoted as saying this about it:

As one reviewer of the 2016 Best Novel put it: “the main character became more and more unlikable as the tale goes on. She ends up in a gay/poly triad, has a child with the gay member of the group, and then essentially decides she’s not cut out to be a mother and goes on and on about how she doesn’t really care about the toddler, ditching him. All of this after a main hook where she’s supposed to be frantically searching for yet another child who she seems for forget for years at a time.”

That’s … not promising. Of course, that comes from Vox Day, who has called her a “half-savage” and supposedly that got him kicked out of a sci-fi writer’s group, so he’s not unbiased. But the description from her own blog is this:

A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.

Which goes right up to the point of being, like, confusing. The more detailed description is better:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Although being willing to break the world to save a family member is actually a common villain trope, and the background is perfectly consistent with the review above. Although P.Z. Myers liked it:

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

Then again, in talking about the “Novella” category, he said this:

This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us.

Except that actually also describes “Star Wars”, which is clearly not hard SF and is in fact Space Opera, so I have to take his opinion with a grain of salt. Oh, heck, I’ll just use the whole block, since he seems to know the words “hard SF” but has no idea what they really mean.

Now, I’d go and read the books myself and see if the category works, but I’m worried that I might be biased, especially after reading this from Jemisin’s acceptance speech:

I’ve thanked them already in the acknowledgements, but I really want to thank the people who talked me down from quitting this book. At the nadir of my Chasm of Doubt — hat-tip to Kate Elliott for the term — I thought THE FIFTH SEASON was beyond my skill to write. I thought no one would want to read it. When it got nominated, I wondered how many of my fellow SFF fans, in a year headlined by reactionary pushback against the presence and performance of people like me in the genre, would choose to vote for the story of a fortysomething big-boned dredlocked woman of color waging an epic struggle against the forces of oppression.

But I forgot: only a small number of ideologues have attempted to game the Hugo Awards. That small number can easily be overwhelmed, their regressive clamor stilled, if the rest of SFF fandom simply stands up to be counted. Stands up to say that yes, they do want literary innovation, and realistic representation. Stands up to say that yes, they do just want to read good stories — but what makes a story good is skill, and audacity, and the ability to consider the future clearly rather than through the foggy lenses of nostalgia and privilege.

So, don’t like the book, don’t find it innovative, or think the innovation was a failure? Think that she really couldn’t pull off a project that ambitious? Well, then you’re clearly part of the same group trying to game the Hugos and you will be overwhelmed by the people on her side, those who oppose oppression and privilege and supposedly really have skill in doing that. And since I’m an obstinate and stubborn man, I’m more likely to tear the work apart than give it a fair shake when told that the only reason to hate it is that I’m just a white man unwilling to let women and non-whites into the game … despite loving a number of female authors, for example.

And so, let me toss out something that I was going to say in another post until this all blew up, by quoting from “Solo Command” by Aaron Alston. The context is that Wedge has had to relieve all his Twileks of service because some brainwashed Twileks have committed terrorist attacks, and one of them has stormed out in utter disgust:

[Wedge]”It didn’t matter whether Admiral Ackbar died. Or Mon Mothma. Their assassins were successful.”

[Nawara Ven]”What? No, they weren’t.”

[Wedge]”Yes, they were. Koyi Komad [the mechanic who stormed out] was their first victim.”

I was already in the state where if a work was listed as a Hugo Award nominee or winner, I didn’t know — and didn’t trust — whether or not it was really a good work. Now, I’m to the point where if I’m looking for something to read because it might be entertaining, if I see that it’s a Hugo Award winning or even nominated work my first reaction will be to refuse to buy it because of the shenanigans around the awards, and less so the shenanigans of the Puppies but more so the shenanigans around the people who will clearly vote down works just because of the politics of the publisher or the author or those who nominated it. The Puppies, at least, played by the stated and even unstated rules — even with a slate, no one can be actually forced to vote that way — while the other side refuse to actually assess the works on their own merits, which violates the entire principle of the Hugo Awards and what they are supposed to be about. I’m likely not the first victim, but I am a victim of the Social Justice side’s idiotic and misguided attempts to foil the Puppies by abandoning everything they claimed to stand for.

And, sure, everyone can say that I’m not important, and so who cares if I now hate the Hugos and will avoid them? Well, I think I’m a relatively important victim for a couple of reasons. First, politically I’m an evil moderate, and so generally will react badly to both extremes. I have no problems with diversity as long as it is done well, and generally dislike works that sacrifice quality to make a point no matter where they all on the spectrum. Losing moderates is never good if you care about popular support at all, because most people are some kind of moderate. Secondly, I’m someone with enough disposable income that if I trusted the Hugos to judge quality, I could pick up a work listed as having a Hugo knowing that if it was good quality but not to my taste I could eat the cost without really choking on it, and thus I could, in fact, actually provide sales.

And now I hate the Hugos and everything it claims to stand for, since it doesn’t stand for them anymore. Good job.

You can dismiss me as another white male who’s wallowing in privilege which is driving my disgust here. You’d be wrong, but I really don’t care what you think of me. At all. You’re not worthy of any consideration from me. All you had to do to defeat the Puppies was play fair, and you couldn’t even do that. Up yer arsenal.

(Note: the reason I had to add the “for entertainment” qualifier above is that I’m still contemplating buying and reading all of the “Best Novel” nominees and ranking them myself, as well as objectively assessing them. But, as it turns out, I can’t: Jemisin’s is seemingly the first of a trilogy, and I can’t stand reading only one of a trilogy or series right now, so even an objective assessment won’t work … especially since in a series you can’t really judge any one work until you see how it supports the series as a whole. So that’s out.)


One Response to “Up Yer Arsenal, Worldcon!”

  1. “And you can go to Hell too …” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Freelance Philosopher « Up Yer Arsenal, Worldcon! […]

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