I was telling friends online yesterday, re: George R.R. Martin’s lengthy posts on the Puppy Wars, that I have a lot of sympathy for his cranky-old-man, oh-for-fucks-sake-you-children weariness with the whole affair. If anybody’s entitled to any “IN MY DAY” speeches, it’s definitely Martin. He is the ancient dragon, rousing himself with angry rumbles, to respond to the hordes of gnomes raising a ruckus outside his cave–and he isn’t terribly particular about which gnomes started the fight, or which ones look tastier.
But now even the dragon is wary of the eventual outcome of this debacle, and I have to say, I have a hard time finding any flaws with his reasoning.
I have an equally hard time not being depressed about it, particularly after seeing one of his commenters raging about “romance novels in space” and “bodice-rippers” and “vomit”. Martin, in his dragonish wisdom, roared at him to go away.
But the gnome got his words out anyway. The blow was delivered. And it’s just yet another example of the kinds of blows raining down upon those of us who are getting derided as “social justice warriors”. Women–all too often the ones getting snarled at for writing “romance novels in space” (for definitions of “romance novels” meaning “anything with a woman’s name on the cover, or with a female lead character, or women who serve any function in the story above and beyond being love interest for a man”). Queers and queer allies–getting snarled at for writing “filthy sodomy”, or even just getting angry demands about “why does this particular character have to be gay?! Why is this important to the story?!”, as if having a gay character in the story at all requires special plot-based justification. Writers of color–whose works have to struggle to get filed under SF/F AT ALL. Or writers who are writing non-white protagonists–who find their characters whitewashed on the covers.
And gods help you if you actually match more than one of these categories at the same time.
We’re the ones being accused of “destroying science fiction”. If we say “look, I’m not going to read anything else by person X ever again because of his or her public behavior”, we get sneered at for not being able to separate the art from the artist. And now we’re also the ones being threatened that, should we choose to vote “NO AWARD” on any category in the Hugos this year, that the other pack of gnomes will gleefully destroy that category and make sure that no award is awarded in it ever again.
Look. I can intellectually allow for the possibility that somebody with whom I disagree, politically or religiously, is capable of writing a good book. Maybe even a great one. There are a whole hell of a lot of people who loved Ender’s Game, after all. But that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to actually read that book. You know why?
Because I see exactly zero leeway out of the other pack of gnomes that the same is true for us. All it takes is one pair of women showing affection on camera–even if it’s just holding hands while they walk off into the spirit world–to get them shrieking about destroying a show. All it takes is one important supporting character shown on camera to be gay for no other reason than because the character is gay to get an author challenged on her character decisions. You never see anybody going “but why is this character heterosexual?! Why is this important to the story?!”
In a genre perfectly happy to accept elves, dragons, and aliens, I see none of that other pack of gnomes being willing to stop and go “hey, maybe this story that stars a woman, or a person of color, or a queer person, is still actually a pretty cool story“. Write out swaths of a Star Trek novel in Klingon? Awesome? Put Spanish into it? BLASPHEMY! How is that fair?
I don’t see those other gnomes willing to say that “I like this particular type of SF, and it’s okay if other folks like other types of SF, it’s all good, we’re all fandom.”
Here’s another thing I’m willing to agree to. Even before the Puppies debacle erupted, there has been concern in fandom that the Hugos are not truly representative of all that the genre has to offer. I’ve seen concerns about whether the Hugos belong to Worldcon, or to all of fandom. I’ve seen the Hugos called a popularity contest. All of these are legitimate arguments to make, particularly given that what makes a particular act of creativity “good” is so often a very subjective experience. Sure, there are some objective standards you can use to judge whether a writer is in command of his or her craft–use of language, coherency of plot structure, etc. But you can have novel A and novel B that both show that a writer can meet those objective standards, and you will still have readers with wildly different reactions. And those wildly different reactions are going to still reflect themselves in any awards campaign that builds its list of nominations by polling the opinions of fandom. If that list is coming in from only a tiny subset of fandom, I agree, this is a problem.
I can’t speak for any other gnome in this bloody, rancorous campaign. But as for myself, I agree that there needs to be room at the table for all. Even the gnomes I don’t agree with. These issues about the Hugos are issues that need to be discussed.
But, as I saw Mr. Martin himself point out, there is a big difference between asking for a seat at the table–and overturning the table so nobody else can sit down.
Right now, all the chairs are on fire.
Me, I want a fire extinguisher.
Final note: There have been a lot of developments in the last twenty-four hours on this mess, including Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos backing out of their nominations, and Connie Willis declining to be a presenter. I will be making a point of checking out Bellet and Kloos’s works, particularly Kloos, even though he writes military SF and I don’t normally read that. I will also be bumping Willis further up my To Read queue, to support them all with what had to be extremely difficult decisions.
Meanwhile, Dara has a roundup post of links of interest over here.