The Puppies are taking science fiction’s Hugo awards back in time (so what?)

Via The GuardianThe Puppies are taking science fiction’s Hugo awards back in time. Excerpt and then a comment:

The clock is ticking for the public vote in this year’s Hugo awards, which celebrate excellence in science fiction. Sixteen categories are up for grabs, from best novel to short fiction, fan writing, art and dramatic presentation, and the deadline is 31 July. But this year the prizes are not just about celebrating science-fiction – it’s political war.

There’s usually a kerfuffle of one kind or another – popular authors habitually campaign for fans to vote them on to the list, but 2015 has proved the biggest drama the award has ever seen. That’s because two linked online campaign groups, known as the “Sad Puppies” and their more politically extreme running mates, the “Rabid Puppies”, have been campaigning hard to register supporters and bump their preferred titles on to the shortlists. They have managed it, too: this year’s Hugos are packed with Puppies titles.

There’s no avoiding the politically partisan nature of this campaign. Its leading lights range from respectable rightwingers such as US authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson, through to those with more outlandish views such as John C Wright and Vox Day (also known as Theodore Beale). It’s the Tea Party of contemporary US sci-fi.

The Puppies are complaining that recent Hugo winners have been too highbrow, and argue that winners such as Anne Leckie’s smart gender-deconstruction of space opera Ancillary Justice, or John Scalzi’s witty Star-Trek-inspired metafiction Redshirts are too experimental and literary.

More importantly, as Sarah Lotz says, they’re also suggesting SF has been hijacked by a conspiracy of “social justice warriors” or “SJWs”, intent on filling the genre with progressive ideological propaganda.

The Puppies’ real beef is that SF, and society as a whole, has become too feminist, too multiracial, too hospitable to gay and trans voices. Anti-SJW rhetoric, most of it proceeding from angry straight white men, has flooded online discussions. It’s been ugly. It’s also proving self-defeating. George RR Martin’s intervention, urging people to register and vote in order to defeat the plans of people he call “assholes”, has galvanised the counter-vote.

First of all, awards like the Hugos don’t reflect literary skill or imagination; they’re marketing gimmicks.

Second, it’s ironic that SF should be criticized for being too “highbrow,” when it originated as an intellectuals’ amusement—an intellectual satire on intellectualism, scholars laughing at their own obsession about knowledge and where it might lead. Northrop Frye called it Menippean satire or anatomy, and traced it back to the Greeks.

But the current uproar is nothing new. SF has been a vehicle for political propaganda for centuries, starting with Thomas More’s Utopia, which took the piss out of European politics by presenting an alternative to it.

Yet I managed to scandalize an SF convention circa 1972 by suggesting that a lot of modern SF has a whiff of fascism (and this was over a decade after Starship Troopers).

Personally I don’t give a damn about an SF writer’s politics. Plenty of “social justice warriors” write badly, and writers like Robert Heinlein are superb (Heinlein was a genius at straight-faced put-ons—you could never tell if he meant what he said or was just pursuing a thought experiment to its logical end).

But I do object to writers who can’t tell a good story and expect their political views to keep their readers buying their stuff. A really good storyteller will pursue the implications of the story wherever they lead, even if they call the storyteller’s own politics into question. (I used to unnerve myself by the awful things my politically liberal characters were capable of doing, and I often sympathized with the predicaments faced by my oppressor-villains.)

Regardless of the outcome of the Hugos, I’ll read SF and fantasy that surprises me by finding something surprising in genres that have been beaten almost to death in the last half-century. And I’m delighted that half a century after Heinlein and Tolkien, both genres are erupting in strange and wonderful new directions. If some writers want to express the vision of anxious, angry white American guys, great. If they can express that vision well, I’ll be happy to read them.

I’ll also be surprised. Heinlein’s dead, guys. Utopia doesn’t bomb its way out of its problems.

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