Thursday, February 19, 2015

Commentary: On the Most Recent Hugo Controversy

On many occasions, I have declared a fierce opposition to elitism. Mind you, this is not because I am a relativist or a small-d democrat. There are objective standards when it comes to judging art, theater, science fiction, or anything else, and I don't hold to the common viewpoint that "it's just your personal opinion." Jackson Pollock is not on a level with, say, Rembrandt or Monet; Waiting for Godot doesn't hold a candle to Shakespeare; and "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" is an embarrassment when set beside the stories of Ray Bradbury. Like John Adams and other conservative thinkers, I acknowledge and respect the existence of a natural aristoi. What I don't respect are the pseudo-intellectual phonies who in recent decades have arrogated to themselves the power of the cultural gatekeeper; the status the members of this clerisy enjoy is utterly unearned.

In last night's guest post, Declan Finn declared that good science fiction depends on world building and characterization. I agree; nothing annoys me more than a supposed science fiction story that tacks on its fantastic element without bothering to integrate it into the whole -- or a science fiction story whose principal players are mere obeisances to fashion.  I also agree with publisher Toni Weisskopf's recent declaration that one of science fiction's primary purposes is to encourage scientific and technological progress and expand the reader's imagination; without the "sensawunda," a science fiction story is a cold and lifeless thing. But I would add one other critical element: science fiction - like any other genre of literature - must tell the truth about the world and about human nature. We are fallen creatures who mistreat and make war upon each other -- but we also possess an enhanced consciousness that has led to remarkable cultural, technological, and humanitarian achievements. And what's true of our species as a whole is also undeniably true of Western civilization, the context in which science fiction originally took root.

In my opinion, this is what the science fiction lionized by the Worldcon in-crowd often gets so disastrously wrong. The aforementioned "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" presents a world in which men who frequent pool halls are prone to beat an educated paleontologist into a coma because they hate anything that is different. It's a world, quite frankly, that does not line up with the experiences of those of us who've actually lived in blue-collar neighborhoods and gone to sports bars. It's a world that strikes us as fundamentally false. My fellow Sad Puppies, quite understandably, emphasize entertainment and adventure, but at base, our complaint is anthropological, and if we're enthusiastic about spaceships and ray-guns, it's only because we sincerely believe such stories contain more that is real than stories like the above could possibly boast. If we demand, as Heinlein so eloquently expressed in Glory Road, the "hurtling moons of Barsoom" or "Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake," it is only because we are reacting instinctively to trends that have dishonestly pushed the negative, disdained the transcendental, and ignored man's eternal yen to explore.

And there are other things fandom's self-appointed elite fail to grasp. I'm thinking in particular of a certain Hugo Award-winning fan writer who recently implied - with a haughty sniff, no doubt - that the tens of thousands who attend Comic Con or Dragon Con don't read literary science fiction and therefore don't count. Let's see: Last year - a peak year for Worldcon - Loncon received roughly 3,500 Hugo ballots. Meanwhile, I know indy writers - who don't have access to a professional marketing apparatus - who've sold almost twice as many novels annually -- and I know Baen authors who've hit the best seller lists and have been able to quit their day jobs as a consequence. Additionally, the most recent numbers I could track down indicate that Analog's circulation hovers around 27,000. Even if some of those copies are languishing on book store shelves, there is no way anyone can seriously claim that there are only 3,500 genuine literary science fiction fans in the entire world. If that were true, Asimov's and Analog would've collapsed long ago, and no publisher would risk touching science fiction with a thirty-foot pole.

So yes -- there is a significant pool of literary science fiction fans who aren't currently being heard at Worldcon. Now, I'm willing to grant that some of these fans don't particularly care about said lack of representation. Others, however, have watched Worldcon gradually descend into narrow-mindedness and have gafiated in disgust. Their choice? Sure, but the Hugo Awards - the people's choice awards - have been damaged - I hope not irreparably - by their absence. In recent years, I can recall several winning works that were genuinely deserving -- but I can recall many others that, to my mind, secured the rocketship merely by appealing to the parochial and bigoted tastes of the academic leftists who've seized the heights of fandom in the same way they've seized other major organs of our culture. And just so we're clear, I didn't hate such stories because they were leftist. For heaven's sake, I've been a lifelong fan of Star Trek, and Trek is certainly not a conservative "text."  I hated such stories because they were leftist and failed to qualify as authentically human science fiction. For me, an entertaining story can cover a multitude of ideological sins -- but the social justice left in the fandom is so brazen now that it doesn't even concern itself with such essentials.

Nor does it bother to hide its illiberalism -- which is why I find it rich to see our opponents donning halos and insisting that fandom is one big happy family and everyone is welcome to participate. If you folks actually mean that, you may want to tell your compatriots to cool it with the harassment and quit lying about us. Larry Correia is not a violent, racist, homophobic monster; Brad Torgersen is not an aspiring fascist. They're just various flavors of conservative -- and if you can't engage with them in good faith, then don't stand around and act innocent when we complain about how politically homogeneous and intolerant fandom has become.       


  1. Sadly...the illogical elitist little twits are like the moles in a whack a mole game machineThey keep popping back up and popping off. Not that I don't ENJOY a good game of whack a mole mind you...but past a certain point I'm prone to walk away; or sit on the urge to send the machine into orbit via high explosives.

  2. Just ask Vox Day whether the SJWs welcome everyone to participate

  3. The thing that scares me is not that they don't tell the whole truth about human's that typically, they _do_ tell the truth about human nature _as they perceive it_.

    Which naturally means (since, according to their view, those who disagree with them are demonically and irredeemably evil, those who agree with them are angelically and incorruptably good, and those who more or less ignore the culture war are bovinely and ineducably stupid, therefore in need of having their lives minutely managed by kindly aristocrats such as themselves), that they do not actually regard us all as truly belonging to the same species.

    A darker portent than that, for the near-term future of civilization, is difficult to imagine.