The Hugos, Social Justice, and SF/F

Since everybody and their cousin— even including The Wall Street Journal— is talking about the Hugos, I’m going to put my two cents in. I’m a historical fantasy/alternate history/speculative fiction writer, and an unpublished one at that, so I don’t have any great artistic platform from which to speak (if you want that, go check out what George R.R. Martin has to say). But I am a sci-fi fan, and I would like to voice a few thoughts.

First, congratulations to the winners! Guardians of the Galaxy definitely deserved the win, as did Orphan Black (a show I might or might not binge-watch on Amazon Prime). I haven’t read The Three-Body Problem, but it has a intriguing premise and has been collecting sales and awards.

Which brings me to my second point. What bothers me about the Puppies outlook and approach* is that it presents a false dichotomy between entertainment value– that is, a story which is told in a compelling way– and ‘message’ value– a story that actively promotes a particular worldview. I would argue that:

  1. All stories promote their worldview, even if they’re not hitting you over the head with it;
  2. Speculative fiction, whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, AH, or any of the related genres, is a particularly fruitful avenue for exploring real-world issues, particularly the fraught, ambiguous, complex ones. Orphan Black, for example, asks some deep questions about identity and science ethics;
  3. The best stories in any genre pull us in because they are about us. They touch on key pieces of the human experience, no matter what their setting;
  4. The best sci-fi, in my opinion, is both entertaining and thought-provoking. You should not have to choose. Ursula LeGuinn exists. Star Trek exists. Octavia Butler exists. I could go on all day here.

On the other hand, the Puppies do have some points (ignoring Vox Day, who seems to enjoy stirring up controversy for its own sake). There are plenty of people on the left who have bought the ‘entertainment vs message’ dichotomy (and thus pick ‘whacks reader over head with message’ over ‘compelling story’), and there’s plenty of people who use obsessive identity politics to shut down conversations, ignore problems in the SFF community, and putting the ostentatious show of ‘supporting diversity’ for liberal brownie points above actually magnifying marginalized voices. (In fact, this year’s Best Fan Writer winner was about just such a troublemaker masquerading as a voice for oppressed groups). And stories that pummel readers with their message (no matter where the author falls on the political spectrum) at the expense of plot or worldbuilding or character development are, bluntly, obnoxious.

I wholeheartedly want the SFF fandom to become more welcoming of people of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, etc. I also think it’s important that awards for quality literature be awards, not tools to make a political point or a trophy for popularity and knowing the right people. If we can make the SFF/speculative fiction community more welcoming for everyone, we’ll get a diversity of stories and viewpoints and tastes that will hopefully give us more innovative, challenging, entertaining stories to enjoy (and shower with awards).

*Aside from the ‘game the awards system to make a point about people gaming the awards system’ business, and the undercurrent of ‘fandom is only for People Of A Certain Demographic’. To be honest though, I see this more as a self-serving tantrum than anything else.


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