The Hugo Affair

hugologoRecently, the Hugo Awards have been in the media a lot more than they usually are, even though it’s coming close to the announcement period for the year’s winners in science fiction and fantasy. [1] Unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons. [2][3] As io9 points out, the Hugo Awards have always been political, but now they will never be anything else. As seen on Slashdot, the current state of affairs has some very familiar roots and apologetics at work. [4] Now, I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, but this requires an examination, if for no other reason than the fact that its an international award system that is being perverted. [5][6]

So, what is going on, and who is involved? Effectively, this is another example of privilege at work in the science fiction and fantasy literature world. Namely, the privilege of white, cisgendered male authors to dominate the spectrum, and to establish what is considered “good” science fiction. The groups at work are sister organizations, Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy (no I will not link to them); organizations headed by conservative white men who’s stated intent is to stop the liberal politically correct agenda from dominating the genres (paraphrased). No, I am not kidding. These men took umbrage when several women and POC authors received Hugo Awards over what they felt were better books, and then decided to bend the system to their will.

Here is some of their reasoning:

“A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.” (Brad R. Torgersen, 2015)

“The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.” (Brad R. Torgersen, 2015) [7]

I’m going to be blunt. As someone who has been reading SFF for over two decades now, covers have seldom, if ever, been strong indicators of what lays on the pages. Even if you push back further, and I have with the number of second hand SFF books I read from the library and secondhand books shops, covers are still not strong indicators of what books are about. What he’s actually arguing is that he doesn’t like people using SFF to explore non-heroic/traditional plots or events. Space colonialists vs aliens because colonialism is awesome? Good to go! Tell the story from the receiving end? That’s bullshit and politically correct crap! Write about women or minorities? Good job, that’s some good diversity! Be a woman or POC author? Your perspective and ideas aren’t any good and any awards you get are clearly only because of political correctness! It’s actually tragically predictable.

Spearheaded by Larry Correia, Brad R. Torgersen is joined by the repugnant Theodore Beale, a.k.a. “Vox Day”, an author who was kicked out of the SFWA in 2013, a process that is ongoing owing to legal issues in Massachusetts. [8][9] This was done because of his vitriolic, racist, and misogynistic comments against other members, including N.K. Jemisen, who he referred to as an “half-savage”. [11][12] Between the two of them, they formed groups with a simple goal, to manipulate the Hugo Awards into awarding white, heterosexual, male (see correction below) authors who write the “right” kind of SFF and to exclude all others. One author I know, B.M., was approached by them because he was white, and not “gay”. He refused to sign on, and some literary heavyweights are weighing in against them as well. [13]

So what did they do? They permanently politicized the selection process for SFF material. By forming dedicated, large scale lobbies, they were able to stack the categories, or completely dominate them with their selections for the entries. It’s very important here to point out that this was not illegal in any way; it flies against the spirit of the Hugo Awards, but not the laws of it. They did this by riding on the wave of knee jerk, ignorant, anti-progressive sentiment that has been building in the SFF community for the last few years. The SFWA debacle was a symptom of what would blow up into GamerGate, a movement that came after the Sad and Rabid Puppy ones, but that has been incredibly beneficial to them. The comments, apologetics, and stances are too similar to not be related.

So what can we do? First off, we can’t bar people from campaigning for books. That’s literally giving them a moral victory by proving that “progressives” are really book “nazis”. What we can do is form our own voting blocs, supporting minority, female, and LGBTQ+ authors. Promote their works to the “mainstream” and the people headed to Wondercon, where all the voting goes down each year. Be vocal against them and their stances. Because seriously, I, and I’m willing to bet the majority of readers who’ve progressed past adolescence, want to read SFF that isn’t boring, predictable, stereotyped, and hackneyed material that has been written a thousand times before. I love my easy read authors, like David Drake, David Sherman & Dan Cragg, Robert E. Howard, David Weber, and R.A. Salvatore. I also like authors who take a different route, like Thomas Harlan, Melissa Scott, or about 75% of the stuff I read in Asimov and Analog magazines.

Fortunately, people are not taking this laying down. [14][15] And we shouldn’t either. Get the word out. Get the material out. This is the kind of status quo maintaining effort that crops up every time POC or other minority populations start to get traction in popular media. This is just one more front on the war for recognition and the same rights and acceptance that white male authors often take for granted. It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, but this isn’t something that should be ignored, or allowed. For an excellent and deeper assessment, I strongly recommend you go here.

It has been brought to my attention that the Sad Puppies slate is not entirely white, straight, male authors. There are a few minorities and females listed on it. That is my error for not looking closely enough at their slate. However, that does not change the thrust of the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy movement to dictate what is acceptable in SFF, or mitigate the openly racist, misogynistic/sexist, anti-LGBTQ+ nature of the supporters (as seen online, obviously I can’t meet/see all of them IRL) of their movement. Nor does it excuse the fact that while the leaders of the movement are happy to harness that negativity, they do nothing to counter the narratives being pushed while claiming they themselves are not racist etc…

So, my apologies for not laying out the best info right off the hop, and a big “No, your movement is still highly problematic in a number of ways.” to the rest of it.