I started this blog entry two weeks ago, I meant to get it done before going on my holidays but… well that just didn’t happen so I’ll have to see if I can pick up the thread again.
If you haven’t been paying much attention to the recent fuss over the Hugo science fiction award then I for one am in no position to criticize since I’ve only vaguely been listening to what turned into a fairly unedifying spectacle. So what the heck was it all about? A group calling themselves the Sad Puppies made a public attempt to push through their nominations by gaming the voting system. On face of it a clash between liberal and reactionary elements, the latter being a white-boy club trying to keep ‘thems girls and blacks out of ‘our’ competition’, much like the whole Gamersgate thing of a few months ago that I paid even less attention to.
On further examination though, the situation is… less clear cut.
Going be what I’ve read, there is no doubt that the Sad Puppies included in their numbers some individuals who seemed to be unpleasant pieces of work, unfortunately it would appear that exactly the same could be same of their opposition, respectively Theodore Beale and Benjanun Sriduangkaew AKA rage-blogger Requires Hate. While I think it was probably right that the Sad Puppy nominations were ultimately voted down, I also think that no matter what some say, this was far from a victory for anyone.
Let me give an excerpt from Guardian Newspaper:
A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF. The lead sci-fi news story of recent weeks is Ernest Cline’s high seven-figure advance for a third novel, which will presumably pander to exactly the same Beavis and Butthead demographic as Ready Player One and Armada.
I’ve highlighted the line I find the most important. I enjoyed The Martian* while the winner of last years Hugo for best novel was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, left me underwhelm. The idea that someone doesn’t like the Martian or does like Ancillary Justice does not in anyway offend me. What I do find unacceptable from both side of the Sad Puppies argument is the sense that you are not permitted to have your own preference. Certainly I’ve heard individuals attempting to get in a few digs about self-publishers and the supposed crap they produce, which mostly rolls off my back because it is so blatantly self serving. What I do find irritating however is the self proclaimed experts – such as the one above – who plainly believe the average reader should not be allowed to decide for themselves what they enjoy.
It is unfortunate that we don’t appear to be will to accept that what constitutes ‘good’ is a deeply and purely personal determination. There is no such thing as single right answer but we don’t seem to be able to do that, instead we seek to make the whole thing adversarial and in the case of Hugos, slightly pointless. So let us all perhaps try to remember in future that works of fiction are primarily a form of leisure and whether we judge a book to be good or bad is according to whether it entertained, not whether it made the right political message.
*although I have low expectations of the film
Additional information on the whole saga can be found HERE