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Posts Tagged ‘Hugos’

The Rabid Puppies have announced their 2017 agenda, and the Sads probably will soon if they haven’t already (I’m not paying that much attention), both dissing any modern, progressive SF, and the “Blue” side is pontificating about how the “Red” side is stuck in the 50s, and it’s pretty much the usual for what passes as society these days. And while, as I say, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention, it’s kind of hard to ignore completely if you spend any time at all on the net. So despite myself, I’ve come to a conclusion.

It’s not just the Puppies who need to be swatted on the nose with a newspaper, it’s all of you.

I am not taking sides here; this playground needs a teacher. If you kids can’t learn to sit together quietly and leave each other alone, the entire class is staying after school, soccer practice be damned.

Right-wing writers and fans–science fiction is growing up. Get over it. There’s plenty of room left for what you want to read; I know for a fact that you’ve gone out and started your own magazines and a publishing house (not to mention Baen). Good for you. Now stop complaining that the liberals are a bunch of lily-livered weaklings on the one hand, and that they’re bullying you on the other.*

Left-wing writers and fans–nobody ever said growing up meant you had to forget what it was like to be a kid. If you did, you wouldn’t read science fiction. Yeah, I know it’s not the juvenile lit all your friends think it is, but they do think that, and you have to live with the stigma. So stop acting so smug. And for heaven’s sake, when you take on the fans on the other side of the aisle, quit talking like you have a Master’s in literary criticism! (Even if you do–especially if you do.) Nobody understands you except other Ph.D. candidates,** and you’ll never get your point across if you’re condescending.

Which brings me to my point: Nobody is communicating. A writer friend told me long ago that “talking to somebody isn’t communication. Communication requires two people to talk to each other.” That doesn’t mean shouting back and forth, that isn’t communication. It requires speaking and listening.

If this is too hard for you, then be quiet. That’s all, just be quiet. Go about your lives and don’t bother anyone else. We all have our own problems, honest. Nobody needs to go out and find more.

And with all that time you’re not arguing, you could do something constructive, like lobby for the space program. There are a lot of other fans doing that, and you know what? Not all of them like the same books you do. But now you’ll have something you can communicate about.

 

*And leave the Hugos alone! You spend almost as much time decrying their relevance as you do trying to run them.

**I have a degree in English and I don’t understand what you’re saying half the time.

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It is a comment upon current circumstances when I say that my limited participation in Hugo voting this year honestly does not proscribe my ability to air my feelings on the proceedings. In full disclosure, I only voted in one category because I lacked the time to survey the field in more depth, and in fact, I gave that one No Award. Oddly enough, it was not one of the categories pre-empted by Puppies of any stripe.

Nevertheless, the entire process is worthy of discussion. As was the case last year, the various Puppies tried to game the system, but this year voters were onto them and they had markedly less presence on the final ballot. Needless to say, that they had any effect at all disproportionate to their numbers was unfortunate. Not only does the presence of any kind of slate demean the voting, but it actively bars others’ choices from appearing. You can proclaim your candidates’ merits all you like, but if you have to resort to underhanded methods to gain their nomination (even if it isn’t technically cheating), then you forfeit the opportunity to persuade anyone to agree with you because you have eliminated free choice. In the end, you are limiting these works’ acceptance (and sales) because no one wants anything that’s being forced down their throats. Ask any child with a cold.

Now Mr. Beale, who’s behind all of this, would have you believe that “everything is going according to plan”–just like every supervillain cackles two seconds before Captain Justice bursts through the skylight and brings his little foray into world domination to a halt. As will happen here. Voting slates will never be completely erased, but their influence will wane to the point where no one will want to pay for a Worldcon membership simply in order to exercise what little destructive power they have left.

The question, of course, is why do this at all? What do they get from wantonly disrupting someone else’s fun? I have no answer, unless it’s because they lack the imagination to make up their own.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. This, too, will pass. Whether the Hugos themselves matter, that’s another discussion–one that perhaps we will have when the current crisis abates. I look forward to it.

 

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It’s often said that “Life imitates art.” But as I posited in my last post, that doesn’t normally happen in SF. And yet, here we are: We have a presidential campaign that imitates a Hugo campaign.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Donald Trump campaign v. the Rabid Puppies.* Lately (and not-so-lately) it has become the fashion in certain quarters to wonder if the Donald is trying to lose the nomination.** I mean, the things he says…about women, immigrants, war heroes… Is there a non-white male group he hasn’t tried to alienate?

And then there are the Rabid Puppies. Now these guys I’m sure are in it for the laughs. It’s another example of someone trying to tick everyone else off, and I can’t see that it’s serious. It’s just a way to “stick it to the Man” (assuming in this case there is a “Man”) and see how much fun can be had. It’s “Bart Simpson Goes to Worldcon.”

The surprising thing in both instances is how well it’s worked. Last year the RPs pretty much swept the Hugo nominations, to everyone’s surprise, which lead to a conclusion that no one is proud of. This year Trump has lead the Republican field for months, and if he gets the nomination, I don’t think the results will make a lot of people happy.

But maybe this is all to the good. Systems that lie in place unchallenged for too long become complacent; people adjust to the status quo, never noticing that maintaining the status quo, over the long term, is called “stagnation.” So once in a while you have to stir things up. People don’t like it when their comfortable status quo is stirred up, particularly those who have made it to the top of the heap. (This doesn’t mean that the stirrers are necessarily right, merely necessary.)

Is it painful? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. Is it necessary? Unfortunately, yes. And even more than that, it’s inevitable. But the result is that people realize that the system does not operate on auto-pilot, that it needs attention, just like in all those stories about generation starships that encounter problems a hundred years later and somebody has to exceed himself to fix them. We haven’t reached that point; we only have to rouse ourselves a little bit, pay a little attention, and a new, perhaps better, status quo can be achieved. It may not be quite the same, but that’s how the system works.

 

*Last year, I could have included the Sad Puppies, but they claim to have reframed their narrative and I have no reason to doubt them.

**This is not an invitation to discuss political issues. Thank you.

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It being that time of year (in both worlds), I find it natural to wonder (because I have a very unhealthy imagination) whether it would behoove us all to restructure the Hugos to be more like the college football championship playoff series, and if so, how one would do so. (If you don’t give a short-circuited lightsaber for football, do not despair, all will be made clear.)

In football (generally speaking), all of the eligible teams in the country are ranked on a weekly basis by a committee of knowledgable and influential football pros/fans which considers win/loss records and strength of schedule. At the end of the season, four teams are picked for the play-offs, which take place in two stages: the semi-finals and the championship. Simple. In the Hugos, eligible works are nominated by members of the Worldcons (present and immediately past), and five or six reach the ballot, where the winner is selected by a system so convoluted that several (secret) master’s (of fandom) degrees have been awarded for papers explaining it.

The football playoff system is the result of decades of trying to determine a fair way to pick a champion, and although in its infancy, seems to be working. The Hugo system is the result of decades of the same process without significant difficulty, until recently when it seems not to be working. You can see the similarities. A playoff system is a good solution for both.

Witness the advantages (for the Hugos and fandom): A committee of knowledgable pros and fans sifts through all 10,000 possible nominees every year as they are published, and rates them monthly. Think of the time savings for the rest of us! Who would bother to read a story that has no realistic chance of winning? At the end of the Hugo season, a final list of four is published in each category, which constitutes the Hugo ballot. “Okay,” you’re saying about now, “that only replaces fan nominations with a selection committee. How is this better?” To which I reply, “Wait. There’s more.”

The fans do not vote for the stories on the Hugo ballot. There is no vote.

Each author is allowed to select one main character from  his story. Each such character is then inserted into a playoff round against a character from another story in the same category. (Yes, this only works for fiction, but it could work for Best Editor and Best Artist, too, and we could televise it.) Those characters then compete on the basis of pre-selected criteria, such as Depth of Characterization, Likability, and Character Growth. The semi-final winners would then face each other and the ultimate victor would receive the Hugo.

Think of the fun we could all have by comparing stats every week. Think of the arguments over All-time Best in the area of Thematic Relevance. The mind reels.

And the sponsorships! “The Apple Hugos.” “The Blizzard Entertainment Hugo Pre-Show.” With that kind of money, the Worldcon (presented by Bank of America) wouldn’t even need to charge for memberships!

Over the years, certain authors will be seen to attract more lucrative sponsorships, and, naturally, they will receive more nominations. More nominations = more sponsorship money = cheaper Worldcons. Meanwhile, we would be able to argue to our hearts’ content with no responsibility to vote. What could be more American?

 

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There has been a lot (yes, way too much) time and energy spent the last several months on the Hugo awards, and what’s supposedly wrong with them, and the ancillary (pun intended) issues that have arisen since, like the latest nonsense about suing the Worldcon over a supposedly invalid ballot. As has been reiterated many times, and specifically (if incidentally) pointed by the latest “legal” kerfuffle, these things are really a tempest in a very small teapot. Honestly, as much as we’d all love to have one, who wins the Hugos matters to very few people. (Mostly, the people who win one, or don’t.) The same goes for whether the ballot was fairly drawn, or voted on, or if the system can be reformed.

Now, ironically, all the hoopla and hollering has not failed to engage and entertain a lot of people. Or maybe “enrage and entertain” would be a better description. (And I will be the first to admit I am among that number. Of course, my interest has been wholly academic, particularly in the latest skirmish, since I am a legal professional.) But why?

Why is it, that we, the SF community, self-charged to be the farseers, the chosen few who at least try to predict the future (however poorly), are so caught up with present-day minutiae? Come to think of it, why is the world so caught up in present-day minutiae? Obsession with movie stars, for example, is nothing new; when my great-grandmother’s closets were cleaned out years ago, we found stacks movie tabloids dating back to the 1950s. (And yes, I wish I had been allowed to save them.) But now, we have television channels devoted to this kind of thing, and we make stars out of people who’ve never been in movies. (And then we put them in movies, with predictable results.)

Sure, this is all for fun, and everybody’s entitled, but there are issues out there that we should be paying attention to: climate change, record refugee migrations, wealth distribution, a presidential election season being run by reality stars. (Somebody has probably actually predicted this somewhere along the line.) Why should we care if No Award got the Hugo for Best Short Story when right outside the auditorium record forest fires, fueled by unprecedented drought, made the air seem less like Spokane than Beijing?

And why isn’t anyone blogging about that?

I have a simple theory: It’s too big. We can’t handle this stuff. This is the sort of thing we elected those guys in Washington to solve for us. See how well that’s worked out.

But you know what? We’re Science Fiction. We think about the big issues, the future. Up until now, instead of the guys in Washington, we’ve let the guys in SFWA do the heavy lifting, so we can concentrate on nominating patterns and voting blocs. Except now the guys in SFWA are right down there with us. We’re letting a thousand ant-like problems distract us from the elephants in the room. Because it’s easier.

I’m not going to sit here at my computer and claim I have the way out. I’m not to claim that I’m any better than anyone else, that I’ve been fighting the good fight while everyone else sat at their bivouac. I don’t, and I haven’t. I’ve fed the monster of small concerns like a lot of others.

But it’s time to stop. It’s time for us in science fiction to stop squabbling about petty matters and get back to bigger things. The kind of looming apocalypses that we can imagine, because we’re not afraid to. The kind of doomsday scenarios that used to be science fiction.

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I don’t like to complain (pause for extended derisive laughter), but I’ve been noticing something recently that ticks me off a little bit, probably more than it should. (No, I don’t mean the Hugos. That mess ticks me off a lot, but I’m trying to get better.) It’s writers who don’t know how to write. And when I say “write,” I mean they can’t use the basic tools of their trade.

One of the books on my shelf is “The Elements of Style.” I regret that I was not introduced to this book until college, but it was required for all freshman comp classes. It’s really basic stuff, like “Don’t use the passive voice.” A little book, chock-full of basic but highly useful advice. As I said, given to all the freshmen.

It’s too advanced for what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about writers who can’t spell. I talk with a lot of writers on line, most of whom are published, many of them more accomplished than I, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them can’t spell. Or reconcile their tenses. Or use proper pronouns. (And I’m not talking about gender roles, I’m talking about lousy grammar.) These are the tools in your toolbox, just as if you were a carpenter or plumber or a doctor. If you can’t write properly in correspondence or a blog post, how am I supposed to be induced to read your fiction?

(Speaking of blog posts, there are those who would benefit tremendously from reading “The Elements of Style.” I’m talking about writers who can’t organize their thoughts to form a coherent 500-word essay. They’re full of irrelevant information, they don’t outline a thesis, and their arguments range all over the page. By the time I’m half-way through, I feel I’ve entered a rhetorical maze from which I will never escape, even if I finish the post. I know I’m never going to read these people’s fiction. If 500 words confuses me, five thousand words could cause brain damage.)

Never let it be said, of course, that I claim perfection, or even superiority. I’m human, I make mistakes, my stories have been known to not be publishable even after extensive editing. (One criticism was that my characters all talked too well.) But I am an excellent speller and I fancy I know the rules of grammar well enough that if I break them, it’s on purpose.

If you want me to buy your books, you should be able to say that, too.

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If you love rich, lush writing, the kind of prose that makes you slow down as your eyes cross the page so you don’t miss a syllable, then you know that the world lost a gem yesterday, when Tanith Lee passed. The author of 90 books and 300 short stories, Lee received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Awards (and was the first woman to win a British Fantasy Award for best novel), as well as numerous other award nominations. I count 19 of her novels on my shelf, probably the most of any author outside of a series.

If you’re not familiar with Tanith Lee, you should read some of her work. Assuming, of course, you can find her books.

In the late 70s and the 80s, Lee was at the top of the chain. She wrote well, she wrote a lot, she sold a lot. But by the 90s, her visibility was fading fast. Between 1975 and 1988, she had fourteen major award nominations, and four wins. Since then, four nominations, plus the lifetime achievement recognitions. Had she stopped writing? No. Had she stopped writing well? I sincerely doubt it.

In 1998, she gave an interview in Locus in which she said, ”If anyone ever wonders why there’s nothing coming from me, it’s not my fault. I’m doing the work. No, I haven’t deteriorated or gone insane. Suddenly, I just can’t get anything into print. And apparently I’m not alone in this. …” Unfortunately, things never got better, and you can’t find her books in retail stores today.

How is this possible? She wrote 90 novels. She had 10 World Fantasy Award nominations (two wins), six British Fantasy Award nominations (two wins), and two Nebula Nominations. She had a Lifetime Achievement Award from World Fantasy. And yet, she couldn’t get a major American publisher to touch her.

There are those who are calling for the overhaul or even elimination of the Hugo awards because they don’t represent the popular F/SF of yesteryear. But apparently even the popular fantasy of yesteryear wasn’t good enough to keep an award-winning novelist in the public eye–or on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. I have written before of the growing similarity between books and television, the concentration on a few sub-genres, the unwillingness to take risks, but I can see now that I have been well behind the curve: Good fiction has been undervalued for years, and now, there’s going to be that much less of it to go around.

#SFWApro

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