by Sunita

This week’s links lean heavily toward the Hugo awards. I’m sure most of you have read plenty about them; Robin has been providing links in several DA news posts, and Natalie has done an excellent, comprehensive job in rounding up a wide variety of reactions and canine defensive maneuvers. I’m linking to a handful of pieces that I don’t think are in either of those locations and which you may not have seen.

First up, Pep at Two Dudes in an Attic talks about the Puppies from the perspective of a white, male, Mormon reader of SFF. I found the Two Dudes blog a few months ago because Pep (I think it’s mostly Pep) wrote three great reviews of Aliette de Bodard’s fantasy trilogy. And he’s a political scientist, so his reviews sound the way I think. It’s not at all because the Dudes’ pseudonyms are Pep and Jose and the early ratings are in terms of football teams. Nope. Anyway, his take on the Hugopocalypse is pretty unambiguous:

Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.

Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, and to bookmark the blog. The posting schedule is erratic but the content is worth waiting for.

The second post is one Athena Andreadis linked to in one of her great posts on the Hugos. You should follow Athena’s blog too, if you aren’t. She writes about science, gender, and SFF, and she writes stories and edits SFF anthologies in her spare time (I guess days on the East Coast are longer, because that’s the only explanation). Joshua Herring takes apart Abigail Nussbaum’s troubling and confusing post about why she is going to vote No Award rather than vote for Laura Mixon. I don’t know Herring, but this is an excellent demolition of an argument that should have collapsed of its own weight:

The “bad” in Nussbaum’s argument isn’t her concern that connected people in SFF fandom get a pass on bad behavior. It’s extremely important in any community to make sure that the rules apply equally to everyone, and on one view the primary political problem is how to achieve exactly that. Rather, the “bad” is in assuming that Sriduangkaew is an easy target because she’s low-status. She’s not. She’s an easy target because she has a clearly-documented pattern of abuse that affected a lot of people in recent years. It’s fine to say that Mixon doesn’t deserve a Hugo for picking on an easy and deserving target – I would be inclined to agree with that, actually. But the implication that giving Mixon a Hugo would send some kind of signal to anyone that SFF only ever cares about abuse when it’s a low-status internet troll is not supported by the facts, and I don’t think anyone honestly has that impression. Rather, it’s just the opposite: people feel more comfortable excoriating Sriduangkaew because it happened right in plain sight. With Frenkel, there’s really only whispers. There was one concrete complaint at a convention, that complaint was responded to a bit half-heartedly, and then, after outcry from the community (a bit of a tick against the idea that the powerful are off the hook, when you think about it), responded to more severely. Otherwise, it’s just an accumulation of “trust me, I know someone who knows for sure,” which is grounds for suspicion, but isn’t evidence.

The Ugly. What really make Nussbaum’s post objectionable, though, is the rank Guilt By Association logic on display.

“Worst of all, unsurprisingly, are the comments, which confirm my impulse from back in 2012 that most of the people who would take an anti-Requires Hate stance are ones that I want nothing to do with. It takes a mere instant for someone to show up and announce that Sriduangkaew’s existence proves that all anti-racist writing is bullying. Another wonders aloud whether Sriduangkaew is “really” Asian. In her essay, Loenen-Ruiz writes that giving Mixon a Hugo demonstrates the genre community’s commitment to protecting the weak and vulnerable. I think the comments on Mixon’s report demonstrate something very different.”

Which amounts to a naked admission that Nussbaum doesn’t want Mixon’s post to win because while Sriduangkaew might be a bastard, “at least he’s our bastard.” Abuse is bad and all, mkay?, but someone questioned whether she were really Asian, and it’s like waaaaayyyy more important to me not to be associated with such people than to call out abuse you guys! But seriously, even if you think I’m exaggerating and there’s no bad guilt-by-association argument here, the logic is still downright shoddy.

Look, the Hugo award situation is a mess six ways from Sunday, as is the WF/RH/BS fallout. Both situations are creating extremely unpleasant bedfellows. But that doesn’t mean you judge the validity of an argument on the basis of who’s making it. You judge it based on the evidence presented. It’s fitting that the “he’s our bastard” quote Welling provides is from FDR, since as President he did more to create a strange-bedfellows Democratic party than anyone in its history. Sometimes, many times, that’s the coalition you get.

My last Hugo link is to a long but valuable post from one of Baen’s most prolific and successful authors, Eric Flint. The Puppies have held up the paucity of nominations from Baen as evidence that the Hugos have been hijacked from their True Roots or something to that effect. Flint blasts that argument and several others into little pieces as only a long-time, no-fucks-to-give veteran of the SFF community can. He covers a lot of ground and you should read the whole thing, so I’m only excerpting the muesli passage, which may be my favorite part:

Forty or fifty years ago—even thirty years ago, to a degree—it was quite possible for any single reader to keep on top of the entire field. You wouldn’t read every F&SF story, of course. But you could maintain a good general knowledge of the field as a whole and be at least familiar with every significant author.

Today, that’s simply impossible. Leaving aside short fiction, of which there’s still a fair amount being produced, you’d have to be able to read at least two novels a day to keep up with what’s being published—and that’s just in the United States. In reality, nobody can do it, so what happens is that over the past few decades the field has essentially splintered, from a critical standpoint.

Both of the major awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, are simple popularity contests with absolutely no requirement—or even expectation, any longer—that the voters will have read all or even most of the nominees. In the old days, that wasn’t much of a problem because you could expect that most voters were at least reasonably familiar with the authors and works under consideration. But today that’s not true at all. People routinely vote for “best novel” or “best short story” when all they’ve read is one or two of the nominees, and in many cases, have never read anything by many of the other authors nominated—not to mention being completely ignorant of other authors who never got nominated in the first place.

What happens in a situation like this is inevitable. It’s the same thing that happens in the face of any kind of sensory overload. To use a completely mundane example, the same thing that happens when someone—under instructions from a spouse to “buy some cereal”—turns their shopping cart into the aisle where cereals are sold…

And discovers that, today, there are a dozen different brands of muesli.

Whatever the hell muesli is.

Nine times out of ten, the shopper—out of self-defense—will narrow his or her focus and look for the old standby reliables. You can always count on Cheerios and corn flakes.
The same thing happens with the awards. Willy-nilly, the award-voters look for the standby reliables.

Reviews, blogs, and word-of-mouth play a big part in this, of course. Look at me: I read The Goblin Emperor because everyone was raving about it and I was curious. I don’t vote for the Hugos because I’m not a con-going type, but even if I were, I couldn’t do it justice. Sure there are people who laboriously read everything and vote in a knowledgeable way. But like many voters in political elections, low-information voters look for heuristics and informational shortcuts. And that gets you back to picking the corn flakes.

Finally, the Guardian has an article on the depressing but unsurprising conditions for POC authors. In a study commissioned by the UK writer development agency Spread the Word and contained in a report called Writing the Future, the researchers found that

the “best chance of publication” for a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) writer was to write literary fiction conforming to a stereotypical view of their communities, addressing topics such as “racism, colonialism or post-colonialism as if these were the primary concerns of all BAME people”, said the report’s author Danuta Kean.

Even though the books market today is dominated by mass-market fiction, 42% of respondents from a BAME background wrote literary fiction, compared to 27% of white writers, the report found. Crime, by contrast, one of today’s biggest selling genres, only accounted for 4% of BAME novelists’ output, compared to 16% of work by white writers.

“Writers find that they are advised by agents and editors to make their manuscripts marketable in this country by upping the sari count, dealing with gang culture or some other image that conforms to white preconceptions,” writes Kean.

“Black and Asian authors complained that they were expected to portray a limited view of their own cultures or risk the accusation of inauthenticity if their characters or settings did not conform to white expectations. Failure to comply, many felt, limited their prospects of publication.”

This Catch-22 is yet another example of how POC opportunities come with strings attached: they are expected to do double duty by acting as role models through their visibility as authors, academics, etc., and information/education through the substance of their work. God forbid someone who identifies as POC should choose to work on an issue that doesn’t obviously enlighten the rest of the world about the POC experience. I’ve seen this 2-for-1 attitude in academics for decades, where POC candidates are expected to do research and teaching on identity issues. And we see it in genre fiction, too. It’s a particularly insidious form of “write what you know” that in the end narrows the range of options for writers, readers, and the world of fiction more generally.

Sorry for the downer links, everyone. At least it’s spring and the flowers are finally in bloom.