About where certain authors should fuck off to

The Hugo awards have provided us a few controversies. There is, of course, my quixotic quest to turn a consumer culture against one of the principal sellers of cultural product. However there have been a few other things brewing below the surface. And these have mostly been questions about whether certain prickly works deserve to be included. On all but one of these issues I’d rather remain silent. This is because, in all but one of these issues, I have not yet read the work in question.

I have read George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into The Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition) and it’s…

Well…

It’s art criticism.

Now I’ll precis this by saying first that it isn’t good art criticism. And I wouldn’t be voting for this blog entry to get a Hugo award. But if it did somehow win the Hugo (something that is more likely thanks to reactions such as calling for Worldcon to censor the title) it still wouldn’t even be the worst rageblog to ever be given a Hugo for best related work. Not by a long shot.

I’m calling the Fuck Off Into The Sun blog art criticism because I’m treating award ceremonies as art works. Luhrs certainly makes an honest attempt at critique when she says, “The proper role of an awards show host is to keep the audience entertained between awards and get the fuck out of the way of the people being honored. Martin did neither.” And this blog does not read like a grievance letter about Martin’s poorly organized loser’s party but rather a systematic attempt to look at the tone of the awards ceremony, its adherence to the tropes of the genre, its ethical and aesthetic characteristics, and the messages it communicated. That’s art criticism and that makes it an appropriate nominee for a best related work Hugo. That it wasn’t very good is neither here nor there.

But, of course, things have gotten silly. I read the blog on the strength of its amusing (if somewhat over-long) title when the Hugo nominees were announced. When I told some co-workers who aren’t tied to the “fandom” scene about the Hugos this essay was the one they wanted to know more about. Even normies have heard of George R.R. Martin and it isn’t surprising that they wanted to know about why someone wanted him to fuck off into the sun – or that they wanted to know why this opinion would be popular enough to be nominated for an award. And I laughed. I told them there’s a long tradition of such silly entries in the Related Work category because not that many “fans” care about it and it’s easy to slip something onto a ballot with even a small kernel of support. Let’s not forget the minimum threshold for entry onto the Related Work ballot this year was 31 votes.

I said there wasn’t a chance in hell it’d actually be the winner. I mean even that Bronycon video was a better critical work. And there was that tantalizing translation of Beowulf; there was a highly rated book of critical analysis about Octavia Butler for goodness sake – related work has an embarrassment of riches this year. But this idea of subjecting a nominee for an award to scrutiny for a supposed ethics violation of the convention that is hosting the award for which she was nominated is some next-level childishness.

I’ve talked before about the defensiveness of the consumptive fan – the idea that even the weakest criticism (and this is weak criticism) is met with extreme hostility because the associated identity as a fan is so fragile that it cannot suffer anything that might harm the reputation of the product the fan has invested meaning in. It’s been pointed out already that the calls to censor the title of this nominee have come from fans of George R. R. Martin including one who runs a fan website that is not affiliated with the author. Of course this will almost certainly end up as an example of the Streisand Effect and frankly, if by some unlikely circumstance the Fuck Off Into The Sun blog wins the Hugo it should be presented to Luhrs by the administration of the Westeros site – after all, they will be the ones who have given it to her. This is, as I said before, all very silly. Thin-skinned fans can’t bear the thought of their favourite TV Producer / occasional novelist being criticized for being an old, white, wealthy American who acts like an old, white, wealthy American. They have constructed so much of their own identity with their affiliation with the Game of Thrones brand that her criticism, which was pretty obviously a surface level criticism wherein Martin was being used as a stand-in for a series of systemic grievances that are hard to get at in a blog post and thus not exactly a thorough evisceration of his oeuvre, was too much for them to take. It was as if Luhrs’ act of criticism was an assault upon the fans. This sort of fan behaviour is, as I’ve harped on about many times, to the detriment of the arts.

Then there is the bit of legalistic wrangling that has become the lynchpin of the complaint of these disgruntled fans: “Comments directly intended to belittle, offend, or cause discomfort including telling others they are not welcome and should leave…” This is honestly kind of laughable coming from the same concom that took several days to debate whether to retain a GoH who was the administrator of a forum that included Trumpist Insurrectionist discussion. We need to seriously consider whether a person who administered a safe-space for hate speech is an appropriate guest of honour but we wouldn’t want anybody to feel unwelcome. And this cuts to the heart of the problem I raised during the Baen’s Bar imbroglio. There is no way to make everybody welcome. A welcoming space for a bigot will be, by definition, not a welcoming space for the subject of bigotry. Now I am not calling Martin or his fans bigots, nor am I suggesting that Discon III should be unwelcoming to Martin – who is something of an establishment at the Hugo awards notwithstanding how he may have succeeded or failed as a presenter. Rather I’m saying that the idea of censoring the name of a Hugo nominee in order to avoid the risk that Martin or, more importantly, Martin’s fans might get their feelings bruised is childishness. So no. George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into The Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition) should not win a Hugo. But it has earned its place on the ballot and the fans who are lobbying to censor it should take a deep breath and learn to cope with a world where some people may have bad things to say about popular old rich men.

Hugos: Have we forgotten Disney Must Pay?

Yesterday the 2021 Hugo Award nominees were announced. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on it. Harrow the Ninth and The City We Became are both high up my to-read list. Aliette de Bodard is one of my favourite authors in general – I’ve previously written about her books and I’m very tempted to dig up “The Inaccessibility of Heaven” soonest for all of the Hugo nominated print fiction on offer this year.

I am also very excited to read Beowulf: A New Translation, by Maria Dahvana Headley Moving out of print work, dramatic presentation, Long Form, includes the best comic book adaptation to come out in the last few years with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and another very strong contender within the category with The Old Guard – a movie I enjoyed perhaps not as much as Birds of Prey, but would still consider one of the best genre entries of 2020.

Short-form dramatic presentation has strong contenders with the series finale of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which is a possible contender for a future Kid’s Stuff essay and with the series finale of The Good Place, for which I have a lot of affection. All in all this slate of finalists looks far better than the painful slates we suffered through during the tumultuous Sad Puppy years. And yet I’m not happy.

Because it seems like the entirety of SFF has forgotten that, as of the time of writing, Disney still has not paid Alan Dean Foster. Disney’s insufferable expression of unadulterated brand-as-entertainment, The Mandalorian, is nominated in short-form dramatic presentation not once but twice, and the Pixar movie Soul is nominated in long-form dramatic presentation. I have never felt even the slightest whit of interest in The Mandalorian as I consider the entire enterprise almost entirely lacking in artistic merit. On the other hand, Soul may very well be a very good cartoon. I don’t care. It’s shocking that the genre “fan community” would show so little concern for the material conditions under which artists labour as to heap fan-accolades upon the Mouse that Eats.

Recently Disney bought and shuttered a minor competitor of Pixar in Blue Sky Studios. This is on top of their widely-covered acquisitions of Fox, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar that have marked its monopolistic quest to control all of entertainment over the last fifteen years. In my opinion there is no greater threat to artistic expression, in the world, than Disney. Not even Amazon is as harmful. Disney has now begun using its streaming service to directly supplant cinema as a result of the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic, charging exorbitant mark-ups to access feature movies like the Mulan reboot in which Disney attempts to cement its ownership of a poem older than even Beowulf and Raya and the Last Dragon. There is no reasonable frame in which Disney’s corporate maneuvers, their acquisitiveness and their monopolism can be divided from their art.

Disney’s rapid acquisition of genre properties should be of grave concern to genre fans. It has a long history of homophobia, colonialism and racism. It is a four-quadrant obsessed producer of massive tentpole films in which people don’t fuck or swear, queers exist in subtext alone, and where violence is safely PG-13. It is deeply in bed with the US military. Disney’s vast acquisitions have the effect of flattening and circumscribing the imaginations of audiences who have very few options that aren’t the Mouse. And this also plays into the construction of consumer communities that reduce the act of engaging with art to merely being an unpaid amateur brand ambassador. And so I’m pleading with fan communities to remember that Disney doesn’t care about artists. It just cares about hoarding art and treating it as a revenue stream. If we’re fans of art and not of brands we must show Disney as much distain in 2021 as we did to the Sad Puppies in 2015. The risk to art from Disney is far greater than the risk to art ever posed by the Puppies.

So please do not vote for any Disney owned artworks at this year’s Hugo awards. And spread the word.

Hugo roundup

There’s been a pretty big book worth of ink spilled over the Hugo ballots. Here’s what some people are saying:

This is what I’ve read so far, and could remember how to find. A note, I don’t agree with all of what’s been said on this list, and unless my comments include a specific endorsement (such as calling something “on of the most detailed and thoughtful analyses of the Sad Puppies) inclusion on the roundup should not be construed as overt endorsement of the comments therein. Furthermore, unless I include specifically incendiary language (ex: “rants about SMOFs and SJWs”) inclusion should not be considered criticism of the comments. My criteria is literally, “I read it and thought it mentioned something unique regarding the debate.” Please share links of interest in the comments and I’ll update the roundup periodically with additional links.

The problem with Hugo – Assessing the work on their merits, a moderate approach

So this was a thing that happened. Short form, after three years of concerted, non-stop campaigning, the sad puppies managed to game the system of the Hugo Awards sufficiently to stack the ballot to the point where there are some categories where, quite literally, there is no choice but Sad Puppy options.

Furthermore, in some of these cases (though not all) the options presented by the Sad Puppies are so obviously included just to stick one to the “pink shirts” that, even disregarding the inside baseball of the various cliques involved, “no award” is the best available option.

I don’t say that lightly. Now I’m going to break down the categories one-by-one and discuss what I know of the entries on them. And in the process, I’m going to act like I don’t know the Sad Puppies exist as a thing because I want it to become apparent how blatant ridiculous this ballot is. But before I do that, I want to talk about options.

The Way Forward

We have a few options going forward:

  1. Fully politicize the Hugo awards by forming an organized slate of candidates to counter the Sad Puppy clique.
  2. Abandon the Hugo awards to the Sad Puppies.
  3. Push for a complete redesign of the Hugo Awards

Now, of these options, I think 2 is by far the worst. I’m tired of ceding ground in public space to conservative interests, of seeing Overton windows constantly sliding right.

So let’s examine the other two options.

A fully politized ballot

Despite my previous (very public) comments regarding the inseparability of art and politics, I actually think this is not a good option. I’m no more interested in turning the Hugo Awards into a permanent battleground of the Culture Wars than I am in abandoning them to become the paleoconservative awards for genre fiction.

Unfortunately, I think that this is what probably will happen short term. Certainly, for the 2015 Hugos it’s going to happen, because, as I’ll show later, it’s effectively impossible to vote in the majority of categories in the Hugo awards without it being politicized.

Since I refuse to throw my hands up and abandon the awards to the Sad Puppies, any voting that happens kind of will end up being political.

And any changes to the structure of the Hugo Awards will require successful votes at two successive Worldcons, so we’re probably looking at the same sad fight next year. However, notwithstanding this stop-gap measure to prevent the Hugo Awards from honoring grossly inappropriate throwbacks, I think that the real fight should be to change the Hugo Awards structure so that it’s harder to game the system.

Changing the Hugo Awards

Ideally, the Hugo Awards should be honoring the best SFF has to offer, rather than the thing any one camp was able to push forward as the best avatar of their political vision. But with the current structure that’s hard to do. So what are some options?

Raise the price to nominate and vote

No. Unlikely to work, kind of jerky to boot. I only mention it because it’ll invariably come up as a suggestion.

Eliminate multiple nominations

When a single author has been spammed across every nomination in a category it’s clear that some rigging is going on. So I’d suggest this as a first measure: a single individual or organization will not be allowed to be nominated more than once for any given award, and not more than three times for all award categories. In the event that a nominee receives more than one qualifying nomination in a category, whichever work receives the most nominations is the one that goes on the ballot. The others are discarded. The same applies if a person is nominated into more than three categories. The strongest nominations stay. The weaker nominations are tossed.

I think this might be one of the easiest fixes for the problem we’re facing right now. It’d, at the very least, mean that a greater diversity of nominees would be on every ballot, and would slightly weaken the power of voting blocs aligning behind specific high-profile incendiary candidates.

Of course, nothing stops voting blocs from just finding five different names for each slate and pushing that slate forward just as strongly. But at least they’d have to work harder, and as my later analysis will show, when the voting bloc can’t lean on a single author to push their agenda, the situation becomes more difficult.

Make the Hugo Awards a juried award

Of course this’ll make the selection of the jury a matter of political contention. But if we switched the selection of the nominations list from an open pay-for-vote situation to a juried one, it would at least introduce some accountability. That’s something we don’t really have right now.

Something else?

Honestly, I’m looking for suggestions here, comments welcome.

A breakdown of the award categories

Of course, everything I’ve been saying is predicated on the brokenness of the current list. So let’s look at that in greater detail.

Best novel

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marco Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)

This is one of the two best categories on this year’s ballot. Frankly Ancillary Sword has been my pick for the 2015 Hugo award ever since I read it. Leckie is a genius and her book is a tour-de-force. And I say that as somebody who’s often bored by space opera.

I’ve heard good things about The Goblin Emperor though I haven’t read it. It’s on my TBR list, but, being honest, it’d have to be AMAZING to dislodge Leckie’s book from my top pick.

Jim Butcher has long been one of my guilty pleasure reads. I enjoyed Skin Game, with a big caveat that I thought Butcher leaned FAR too hard on the femme fatale tropes of noir in this outing, and there were small parts of the book that veered into straight-up sexism which I found jarring and which I SERIOUSLY hope he dials back in his next outing. Still I’ll be buying his next Dresden book because it’s an enjoyable read. Would I call Skin Game the best SFF book of 2014? No. Nope. Nooooooope. I would not. But, I wouldn’t really blame somebody who did – Butcher is a very competent and entertaining author.

I haven’t read, or heard anything about The Dark Between the Stars so this one’s a bit of a shoulder-shrug on my part. I have no problem with Kevin J. Anderson, and some of his Dune novels were entertaining reads. But I’m still going to stump for Leckie over him. Because Leckie is a freaking genius.

Lines of Departure puts the military in military SF. I don’t read much straight up military SF (Scalzi notwithstanding) so I can’t really comment. Scalsi seems to like Kloos. But it’s kind of the same situation as with Anderson, I’m more saying “not enough information to comment” than “don’t vote for this guy”

Conclusion: If I knew absolutely nothing about Sad Puppies I’d probably have absolutely no problem with the ballot for best novel. Vote for who you like. I’ll be voting for Leckie first because I REALLY like Leckie and I think she really did write the best science fiction novel of the year.

Best Novella

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Ok so here’s where I do this:  (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

I’m going to start with John C. Wright. The man who, according to the Hugo ballot wrote three of the five best novellas of 2014. Wright called the creators of Legend of Korra termites for confirming that Korra was bisexual. He said they should be, and this is a quote, exterminated.

I’m sorry, but this falls back to my, “you can’t ever entirely separate the artist from the art,” statement and I could no more vote for anything this man wrote than I could one of Orson Scott Card’s paeans to the wonders of child soldiers. By using his author platform to spread hate, he has excluded himself from consideration.

Tom Kratman is also on the list of people who have excluded themselves from serious contention on the basis of the things they’ve said online. Look here and here to see what I mean.

And then there’s Arlan Andrews Sr. He’s on the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation. And they’re a rather… frightening… group of people.

So in the novella category we have three nominees: one who wants to exterminate the creators of a YA cartoon for daring to admit bisexuals exist, one who seems to believe affirmative action is more racist than the promotion of Rushton-style memes regarding “race” and genetic inheritance, and one who is involved with a trojan horse NGO whose advisory board also includes one of the most infamous anti-islamic radicals in the USA.

This grouping doesn’t include the best SFF has to offer. It doesn’t include the best any random grouping of people have to offer. There’s no way I could endorse any of these people.

So “No Award” carries in novella.

And the rest

This is going to take all day so I’m going to hustle things along. Novelette includes more John C Wright, somebody published in an Orson Scott Card branded publication, and a bunch of things I haven’t read. I’ll probably try to get around to those and report back on a future post.

Short story has more John C. Wright, more Castalia House (on why that’s a no-go zone read Stross here) and more I-haven’t-read-report-back-laters. (Of note, Lou Antonelli, on his blog, claims that “typical literary s-f is dystopian slipsteam pornography,” and not in the tee-hee, I love dystopian slipstream pornography sort of way, so I don’t have high hopes for him. But at least he isn’t as publicly awful as the novella contenders.

Related work: Oh hey, look, Castalia House again. What’s that? Patriarchy Press? That’s just straight up trolling now. In fact, considering Patriarchy Press seems to have no visible web presence, at all, I’m inclined to think it is a troll. Perhaps a self-pubber’s imprint name which he thought was droll or something. Regardless, not filing me with confidence here related work.

Graphic novel: An unremittingly awesome field. Possibly even better  than novel. Ms. Marvel? I love Ms. Marvel – anything related to the Inhumans really, but it’s a wonderful book regardless. Rat Queens, yes, yes, yes. Saga is the comic I haven’t read that is most frequently recommended to me by comic fans and non-comic fans alike. It probably deserves to be on this list. The other two? No clue. But with a minimum of three STRONG contenders out of five this is fine.

Dramatic Presentation – Long and Short: An uncontroversial list in both cases. When I first read the Sad Puppy slate when Torgersen released it, I shrugged and said, “they’re not doing any damage there.”  Haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, I don’t watch Grimm and I haven’t seen Orphan Black… YET… but everything on those two lists looks highly appropriate and all will be above “no award” on my ballots.

Best Editor: Hey look – Vox Day is on both lists. Well he’s going BELOW “no award.” Beyond that, I don’t know, need to do some research into what the others edited.

The only weirdness in Semiprozine is the presence of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceasless Skies on it. I’d have counted them as prozines. Loved Women Destroy Horror though. And I know someone over at Apex & Abyss who I wish nice things for. So, yeah, lots of reasonable choices here once you get past the oddness of how they seem to be defining semipro.

Fanzine: I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t go to Revenge of the Hump Day. As far as I’m concerned this “equal opportunity offender” repository for racist, sexist, anti-islamic, anti-atheist and anti-liberal jokes and editorials has no place being lauded by the Hugo Awards.

Other fan categories. I don’t know any of them. Research will be needed before voting. Or I might just leave those sections blank since time is at a premium and I already have a fair bit of research to do in the pro categories.

John W. Campbell Award: Oh, I LOVE Wesley Chu (which reminds me, I have to get around to getting to reading The Rebirths of Tao – it’s been sitting in TBR basically since I finished The Deaths of Tao, despite not being out yet at that time.) So I know who my #1 will probably be. I don’t know the rest of the authors on this list, so if anybody wants to shout out a favourite book of any of them in the comments I’ll happily give it a peek.

Wrapping up this mess

Between Novel and Graphic Novel on one end – which look like proper and appropriate spreads for the Hugo awards, and the unrelenting shit-show that is the Novella category, most of the professional categories of the Hugo awards show tampering from the Sad Puppies, and Vox Day’s more militant Rabid Puppies. (I’m not making that name up.) And this tampering is to the detriment of SFF.

Specifically, the frequent insertion of one small press with an overtly Christian Dominionist mission over and over and over again is a problem. It’s not just “problematic” in the culture wars sense of the term, no, it’s a fucking major problem, one that needs to be solved.

Ultimately, literary awards should be about good literature. But what we have here isn’t a list of good literature. It’s a manifesto of a world where SFF answers to Christianity, fears other religions, hates gays, sidelines women. (Oh yeah, out of 80 nominees, only 21 were created, in whole or in part, by women.)

So we can’t treat this year’s Hugos like a normal year. Because they’re not. And so some collective action might be necessary. I think, ultimately, some people who were stuck on Sad Puppy lists don’t deserve to be excluded just because the Sad Puppies liked them (looking at you Lego Movie) but what I’d say is this: make sure anybody you put above the “no award” line is somebody you know to be worthy of winning an award. Best case: read them first. At least make sure they’re not a bigot before you give them your vote. And don’t put anything from Castalia House above that line.

Because seriously, Vox Day needs to go away.