It's been a month since the Hugo Awards 2015 ballot was announced, and the effect of the two Puppy slates understood. It feels to me like things have died down, and the initial explosion of anger and accusations has settled down (some). Or perhaps I've stopped paying attention to it as much as I originally was - coming out of the rabbit hole, so to speak.
I'm sure that the rancor will continue to simmer on a low boil over the next few months and then as the actual Hugo Awards approach it will ramp up again. "The culture wars have some to science fiction and fantasy" was one quote, and while that's certainly true I also think the culture wars have been around in SFF for a very long time, in many different arenas. Certainly the New Wave movement in the 60s was a form of culture war, as was the rise of feminist science fiction in the 70s, Cyberpunk in the 80s, multicultural awareness in the 90s and now. One thing I do appreciate about SFF fandom is that it gets issues out into the open and discusses them. Some times the discussion is heated and pointed, but the topic is out there. "Mundane" society seems to often push things into closets and under beds until they explode.
I've tried to look at my own opinions and attitudes about the Hugo situation (HugoGate?), because that's going to help me decide what I want to do when voting for the Hugos. And I do definitely want to vote on the Hugos. There are a lot of suggested strategies out there, from "NO AWARD EVERYTHING" to "vote solely on merits without NO AWARD". I, in the past, have been someone who has used the last strategy. I figure if something got onto the ballot, then there were enough people backing it that it should have some merits. I believe I've only used NO AWARD once or twice in my Hugo voting history.
But this year is different, if for no other reason than the circumstances require reflection.
I interpret the opinions of the Sad Puppy backers as being something like this: We don't like what's getting nominated for and winning Hugos. We feel types of works are being neglected, those being military sf, religious sf, conservative sf, popular sf. We think this is due to a conspiracy of a liberal, SJW, cabal that is more concerned with what a work is about versus the quality of the work. Works that hit certain social/cultural checklists - liberal, racial, female, multi-gender, etc - get the backing of the cabal and the cabal manipulates everything to make sure these works get nominated and win. And we (SP) don't like that, and are going to do something about it.
(I'm putting aside the Rabid Puppy opinion because I think there's a lot of out-and-out malice behind that. Rabid Puppy does intersect a lot with Sad Puppy, and there is history of alliance between the two groups. That definitely casts a negative light on Sad Puppy and makes it very hard to consider Sad Puppy with any sort of objective attitude.)
I can have sympathy for the first few sentences of my summary of the SP opinion. I too have looked at Hugo nominations and winners and thought "*That* got nominated and/or won? Really?" But all that means is that my opinion can be different than the opinion of the mass of Hugo voters. This is not a surprise to me. I wouldn’t expect a mass of voters to have the same opinion as me on everything. I do think there is a insularity in Hugo voters in that they likely have similar opinions and likely reinforce those opinions. Sometimes I agree with those opinions, sometimes I have different opinions.
But once I see SP getting into "conspiracies" and "checklists" and "manipulation", that's where I diverge. Saying that because something doesn't agree with your opinion, it must be a cabal and a plot and malice - this feels like paranoia to me and turns me off. It reminds me way too much of the kind of statements I hear from Tea Party and from FOX News - there is a conspiracy, we are under attack, we are being prejudiced, we are the victims. That feels to me like people being afraid and appealing to fear simply because their position of cultural dominance is not as strong as it used to be.
The funny thing about all this is that, to me, it's very apparent SFF is a dominant force in popular culture. 18 of the top 20 grossing movies of 2015 were SFF. SFF works regularly top the lists of best selling books. There are SFF TV shows over all the channels. It is a giant pool and we can all sit in it and be very comfortable. Awards do tend to be insular in nature - look at the Oscars, the Emmys, the Nobels, the Pulitzers, the Man Booker Prize - and often do not mass popular tastes tastes.
I don't know what I think about this. Maybe the Hugos should be huge and hundreds of thousands of SFF fans should vote on them. It would mean that YA and spectral romance might dominate the Hugos. But if that's what the fans love and think is the best, what's the problem?
I think the word "Best" creates problems, because "Best" is a wide-open word with a lot of potential meanings. The intention might be to rewards a certain level of literary achievement. But if that's supposed to be the "Best" then maybe works like "The Road" or "Them Lovely Bones" or "The Buried Giant" should win - they have a high level of literary accomplishment, and use genre conventions, so why not?
In the end, "Best" is in the eye of the beholder and "Best" for the Hugos is in the eye of the voter. You nominate works that you think are the best. I've read people who write in comments and blogs "well, I didn't read everything so how can I know what is the best?". That kind of concern is, in my opinion, not the way to look at this. You can't read everything, so work with what you have. If you liked it, you thought it was good, and you'd like it to have the potential to receive a Hugo, then nominate it.
And that's the core of my disagreement with the SP actions. They created a slate of works they felt were the best using their criteria, but then they marketed it to supporters not using the attitude of "here's what we think is great, read it and if you like it then nominate it". They marketed it saying "let's stick it to the establishment, let's stop the liberal/feminist/multicultural cabal and get them where it hurts by taking away the Hugos". I fully believe that people who voted to support the SP slate (and especially the RP slate) didn't read everything that was suggested, compare it to what else they might have read, and say "you know, I think that is the best, I'll nominate it" but just voted in line with the recommendations to make the "culture wars" point. That's why I'm betting there was more divergence from the SP (and RP) voting bloc in categories where it was more likely that the voters had more experience and more opinion - areas like movies, tv shows, probably novels, maybe fanzine/fancast.
So when I vote, I do plan to read all the works and rank them based on what I think is the best. But if I have a work that I don't think is very good, and that I don't want to give a Hugo to, then I will rank NO AWARD above that work or works (and not list the works in question). Because I believe that some works are on the ballot not because a large group of voters thought the works were the best, but because a group of voters wanted to stick it in the eye of an imaginary conspiracy of people who didn't thought differently and had different core tenets.
Really, more people should use NO AWARD in the way in which its intended - I don't think this work is good enough to receive a Hugo award. That happens now, even with the works that do win the Hugo - there are always votes that rank NO AWARD over the winning work.
But I will keep an open mind and be willing to find something I liked that I didn't think I like. And, in the end, I hope everyone else takes a similar attitude. And come August, we will see how this all shakes out.