I have a few things to say about the Hugo Awards this year and the sadly rabid puppies who did what puppies do all over them. I know that, as puppies, they will keep on doing what puppies do, because they can and because they are full of the bubbling rage of denied entitlement, so I offer this suggestion. If the puppies really want to put the stories they think have been neglected up for consideration against all the other award-nominated works, don't load up a voting slate with crap that ranges from mediocre to barely readable. Because for this year's Hugo's, that's what they did, with few exceptions - most of whom pointedly disavowed themselves from the puppy kennel by declining their nominations.
If puppydom really wants to make a statement about what it thinks speculative fiction should be, then they should lead with their best. Nominate - as individuals, not as a slate - the very best of what they like in science fiction and fantasy. Honour original ideas, good writing, strong characterisation, tight plotting. Because nominating material that is merely competent, or worse, is not the way to showcase the kinds of fiction one loves.
Seriously. I read all the Hugo-nominated works in the fiction categories this year. And rejected the puppy offerings as not worthy of an award, a rejection based on merit, not genre or content. There was a lot of bad to mediocre writing there. There were some competent and interesting pieces, and one or two things that suggested real potential. But nothing that demonstrated the level of skill that merits a
Hugo. And that had nothing to do with the kinds of stories being told, some of which I enjoyed despite the quality of the work.
If indeed there are great works out there being overlooked or ignored, then next year, when we look at nominations for the best works of speculative fiction, let's see the best of all of speculative fiction's many faces, including the genres beloved by the puppies - because work that's good will be recognised for what it is. It doesn't need a slate to support it. And if the Hugo voters as a whole decide that no, the quality expected in a Hugo winner isn't there in the puppies' choices - then if puppies want awards for the stories they like to read, they should demand that kind of quality from the writers of the kinds of fiction they prefer. Whining that they are being shut out purely because they are puppies doesn't cut it.
And that brings me to another point. Not everything that one enjoys is award-worthy. I love Mercedes Lackey's writing, she pushes buttons for me that few others do. But I don't think her work is Hugo or Nebula or World Fantasy Award calibre. And that's all right. Maybe your most favourite authors will never win an award - because they are competent writers who know how to tell a story that you and others think is lots of fun to read, but are not trying to challenge you, or blow your mind, or take you somewhere you've never been before. Writers who lack the special something - originality, skill, perspective, vision, depth, power, insight, whatever - that lifts a book beyond the competent and entertaining. There's nothing wrong with that. Not every book can or should be an inspiration to other novelists, an example of the best a genre can produce.
In the long run, if we take them (or at least some of them) at their word and believe that this fuss is all about neglected kinds of stories and not that they just aren't comfortable with stories that challenge assumptions and decentre privileged viewpoints, then surely the gap between us is not as huge or as unbridgeable as they seem think it is.
Take me as an example. I've been a fan for going on fifty-five years. I read the old and the new with pleasure. I grew up on Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and all the same folks they did. I read widely in the field now, as I always did. Space opera, military science fiction, planetary romance, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy - I read and enjoy these as much as I enjoy more philosophical, sociological and politically themed speculative fiction. I read for fun as much as I read for challenge and enlightenment. I accept that certain kinds of stories - urban fantasy and milsf, for example - are less likely to be found on the nomination lists for many reasons, some of which are inherent to the nature of those kinds of stories. But that doesn't mean I've stopped reading these kinds of stories, both new and old.
(I'll also note that when works that do draw on the motifs and themes of those "neglected" neglected kinds of stories do get awards, puppies claim they are tainted by the "message" of the work or the "intersectional politics" of the author. John Scalzi and Ann Leckie have won awards with books that sure read like space opera and milsf to me.)
But there is something else that's true of me that may not be true of some puppies. As the years have
gone by, my tastes in reading have grown and diversified. I still enjoy the things I used to, but I enjoy more kinds of things than I did then. The field of speculative fiction has changed, and grown, found new stories to tell and new viewpoints to tell them from. But the traditional kinds of stories are still around, still being written, and shock of shocks, I can read and enjoy them both.
Unfortunately, I'm afraid that there is more to this than a desire to restore certain kinds of stories to their traditional place nearer the mainstream of speculative fiction. Reading the pronouncements and conversations on various blogs, full of puppy paranoia, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the puppies are frightened and confused by speculative fiction that takes the defining question of the genre - what if? - and puts it in the words of people who do not have the same experiences and perspectives that they do. It was fine to ask what-if when the asker was white, American or occasionally British, preferably male, unquestionably cis and straight and binary, and espoused good American values or at least some approximation thereof. Certainly, there have always been those who spoke from outside that narrow vision, asked the questions no one with those forms of privilege would ask. But mostly, in the beginning of the genre, they were not loud or visible or numerous enough to be disturbing. But as more and more "other/ed" voices began to ask what-if, and to challenge all the accepted viewpoints from which what-if had been asked before - well, that's when some people started to find it scary.
And that, unfortunately, is a gap that may be harder to bridge, the gap between those who can only imagine limited sorts of new worlds, in which they can remain the same as they ever were, and those who are willing to go further and question everything, even their own vision of themselves.