The controversy over the Hugo Awards contains elements of a good dystopian science fiction story. Unfortunately, the media brat-fit over the successful effort to rescue escapist fantasy literature from its political pursuers comes not from the pages of Brave New World but from Slate, Salon, and Entertainment Weekly.
Like sports, video games, and cake baking, science fiction strangely finds itself in the crosshairs of ideological killjoys. Perhaps it was only a matter of time and space before the genre obsessed with time and space became a culture-war battlefield.
“To many of the people involved in this industry, politics and message trump entertainment or quality,” Larry Correia, a New York Times-bestselling bard of monster stories, tells The American Spectator. “But most people buy entertainment because they want to be entertained. Many longtime readers fell away because they were tired of being preached at or having their values insulted.”
So Correia and Brad R. Torgersen, an award-winning scribbler of speculative fiction, launched Sad Puppies, a campaign to remove the political litmus tests that resulted in disproportionately honoring books that flattered the sensibilities of feminists, transgender activists, and the race obsessed but insulted the aesthetic sensibilities of traditional readers. Subsequently, Vox Day launched a competing but complimentary slate dubbed Rabid Puppies to open up the awards process beyond the controlling clique.
Naturally, the campaign outrages those accustomed to an annual ritual of themselves honoring themselves. Slate.com bizarrely describes the campaign by sci-fi’s underground Morlocks to enjoy the sunshine of the Eloi as a bigoted effort expressing a “leeriness of minority voices and perspectives.”
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
Vox Day, himself nominated for two Hugos this year as an editor at Castalia House, notes his Native American ancestry, Correia’s Hispanic heritage, and Torgersen’s marriage to an African-American women. And Torgersen points out the many minority and female authors highlighted among his suggested Hugo nominees, which prompted Entertainment Weekly to publish this gracious correction to a recent piece showing all the justice and restraint of an incited, hungover Romulan: “After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color.”
But the thrust ofEntertainment Weekly’s original piece—that the Sad Puppies campaign seeks a white science fiction of the Right—continues without correction elsewhere in cyberspace. Facts don’t matter in fights over fiction.
“A few years ago I said that authors who did not have the correct type of politics would be actively campaigned against, regardless of the quality of their work,” Correia explains to the Spectator. “After I was called a liar, I decided to prove it and got a handful of conservative and libertarian authors onto the ballot. They reacted exactly like I predicted they would, with a great deal of vehemence and wild accusations.”
This year, the campaign of the Puppies, Sad and Rabid, has succeeded in convincing voters (anyone who has recently paid to attend a World Science Fiction Conference) to nominate a great number of their preferred works. The sore losers, fresh from dominating the proceedings in recent years, implore a “No” vote so that nominees go unrecognized in many categories. Others have haughtily withdrawn their names from consideration lest they be forced to compete with the unclean.
This rule-or-ruin approach to the Hugo Awards mirrors the approach of the ideologues to the genre that the annual honors celebrate.
“I believe good science fiction and fantasy always relies on adventure and exploration as the vehicle, while the message is a passenger in that vehicle,” Torgersen tells the Spectator. “Many authors and editors now put the vehicle onto the back of the passenger. This works great for people already in the monoculture. It either bores or annoys everyone else. Thus literary science fiction has seen its sales drop year after year for over two decades despite science fiction and fantasy being billion-dollar industries on the big screen, and on television, and in video games.”
Writers who value a work’s politics over its literary quality find fewer readers. Is the bottom-line decline following the boorish politicization really a startling plot twist worthy of The Twilight Zone’s “To Serve Man”?
“We believe that the Best Novel award should actually go to the best novels,” Vox Day says of his modest aim. “The best works should be awarded, not only works by the best-connected.”
Day points to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, recipient of more Hugo nominations than Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov, as a case study demonstrating the regression of the awards into something other than a meritocracy.
The Hugos, named for Hugo Gernsbeck, the “editor” who didn’t really edit Amazing Stories, the most famous but far from the best of the sci-fi pulps, probably can’t help but exhibit its original sin in celebrating favoritism over the real favorites. Perhaps recognition of reputation rather than quality remains a mark of all public honors. But for an award far more democratic than the Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy, or just about any that one can point to, and in a literary subset long a target of critical condescension, the sci-fi establishment’s nuclear response to the puppies—really something befitting the Zeons or the Atrions of Doctor Who’s “Armageddon Factor”—ironically strikes as precisely the type of treatment forever meted out by snobs to the entire geeky field.
Ray Bradbury, a storyteller less science than fiction, felt that his appearances in Astounding Science-Fiction, Weird Tales, Dime Detective, Planet Stories, and other pulps sitting at the unfashionable end of the newsstand led gatekeepers to unfairly block his entry into more respected publications. In the same month in which the Enola Gay exploded thousands of science fiction tales, Bradbury dropped stories on Collier’s, Mademoiselle, and Charm under a nom de nerd. They accepted, and he promptly revealed his identity. One senses a similar prejudice revealed by the Puppies from within the science fiction community towards its own not preoccupied with raceclassgendersexuality.
The Sad/Rabid Puppies movement imitates the science-fiction hero’s means of exposing institutional intolerance. One can’t rely on the good graces of snobs—literary, ideological, or otherwise—to gain a fair hearing. For example, those countering the discrimination of the sci-fi guardians now endure insults of “racist,” “sexist,” and “bigot” from the people who have already injured them professionally.
Beam me up, Scotty!