For those who might have missed it, here is the link to Part I, in which I question the "privilege" narrative.
I apologize for the unplanned four month hiatus. Life - and then a bout of depression - intervened, making it very difficult for me to sit down and convert my thoughts to pixels.
While I was away, of course, the Great Hugo Controversy of 2015 reached its climax at an awards ceremony in which the assorted Puppies were not-so-subtly mocked and five categories were burned to the ground. This result, I feel, was all too inevitable; pockets of niceness aside, modern-day Fandom can be a very unpleasant place for folks of my philosophical bent. I've been an "active," con-going fan since the early oughts, and if I had a nickel for every occasion in which other fans unthinkingly "hit" me simply because they presumed everyone present thought the same way, I'd be a millionaire. "Christians are douchenozzles!" is not an appropriate utterance when discussing the merits of, say, Harry Potter, but that has never stopped anyone from airing their personal prejudices against me and mine. (And yes, while the Puppy lists included authors with many different political persuasions, I'm pretty confident the Puppy voters tend to be rightist in their sentiments.)
But let me turn now to the main purpose of this post, which is to pick up where I left off months ago in my take down of the Dominant Spin. I promised back then that I would next tackle the question of "quality," and now seems as good a time as any, especially since several anti-Puppy commentators, in the process of running their victory laps, have chided us for voting for works that "sucked." "Learn to write better," they say, "and maybe you'll have better luck next time."
In order to respond to this charge, we have to understand what the AP's consider to be "good" science fiction, and I don't think it simply boils down to politics. To be sure, much of their rhetoric emphasizes the goals of so-called "social justice" when it, for example, demands an end to "the binary gender default" or insists that we refrain from reading works by "straight, white, cis-male" authors. But based on my analysis of the stories that have captivated the AP's over the past few years - not to mention their complaints regarding some of the works that we SP's consider meritorious - I would also argue for the importance of innovation and poetic prose in their critical mind-space.
An AP respondent on Larry Correia's blog once stated, quite tellingly, that in a race between a work by a widely popular author (like, for example, Larry himself) and a work by, say, China Miéville, he would always put aside his personal feelings regarding which work was more enjoyable and vote for Miéville because the latter stretches boundaries that the former does not. Similarly, I have seen at least one AP remark that Jim Butcher's Skin Game is the literary equivalent of a box of chicken nuggets. To paraphrase: "It's fun, but in the end, it's not exactly "good for you" -- and just as no one would consider giving Mickey D's a Michelin Star, no one should consider giving Butcher a Hugo." Underlying both of these sentiments is the assumption that "ground-breaking" automatically means "better." It doesn't.
When we SP's read comments like those described above, we make a sound roughly equivalent to someone barfing up three feet of intestine -- and to be quite frank, we have just cause for doing so. Number one, science fiction is genre fiction. It is meant to be written for and consumed by popular audiences, not approached like an hor d'ouvres at the Inn at Little Washington. Does this mean science fiction can't absorb new ideas, new modes of expression, or new points of view? Of course not -- but it does mean that, past a certain point, innovation for the sake of innovation will alienate your likely audience, who will pick up your story or your novel expecting that the few basic rules of the genre will be followed. Number two, we have seen how, in its quest to be "new and exciting," the avant-garde in other creative fields has overwhelmingly succeeded in making a pretentious mess of "high culture." Case in point: Tracey Emin. Emin snookered a bunch of cultural elites into proclaiming a pile of bed linens and refuse "art" precisely because those fools are so desperate to be "challenging" and "transgressive." Forgive us for being hesitant to go down that same road with our SF.
I have also seen AP posts that compare the plain prose of SP-favored authors with the literary prose of AP-favored authors and then confidently declare that the latter is superior. And indeed, when it comes to being evocative, authors like Thomas Heuvelt and Ken Liu do have Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen beat. But it also matters what the pretty words actually say. Style does not necessarily indicate substance. Style can, in fact, be used to cover up an author's complete failure to imagine the Big Idea that is supposed to be one of science fiction's hallmarks. I decided to jump in and become a Hugo voter around Sad Puppies I; since then, I have seen a number of stories - particularly in the short fiction categories - that use fantastic elements as superficial glosses over what, in truth, are extended ruminations over characters' emotional states in which nothing of any consequence actually happens. In many of these cases, the emotion is very well-rendered, but digging deep reveals a foundation of sand. The textbook example of this phenomenon is "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," in which the event that inspires the "content" of the story is based on an improbability and the point-of-view character is left powerless to do anything but rage at her plight.
Bottom line, in leaning so heavily on originality and style, the AP's fail to grasp other ways in which "quality" can and should be defined. Writing a tight plot that grabs a reader on page one and sustains that reader's attention until the very end is itself a very difficult skill to master. So to is writing characters who, while simple, are also funny and appealing. So to is inspiring interest in a scientific concept that is not well understood by the general public. So to is inspiring wonder or fear at the universe as a whole. It might behoove our detractors to expand their viewpoint a little and entertain the notion that our recommendations were and are based on honest appreciation for talents that have so far remained beneath their notice.
ETA: Welcome, Instapundit readers!