About an hour before the Hugo Awards shortlist was revealed, the book bloggers on my Twitter feed collectively braced themselves for what we all saw as an inevitable shit-show. After last year’s Sad/Rabid Puppies debacle, where the process was hijacked by reactionaries to make a hazy point about the supposed politicising of science-fiction and fantasy, we all knew the chance of a repeat was high. Alas, it’s not always good to be proven right.
This year, the nominees follow a similar path from those of 2015 – a clear hijacking of the voting process in order to fill up categories with those deemed preferable to the ‘evils’ of SJWs and political correctness gone mad. This year’s illustrious group includes a writer for World Net Daily, a YouTube channel with screeds dedicated to GamerGate endorsed targets Anita Sarkeesian, Bob Chipman and Tim Schafer, a related work entitled ‘Safe Space as Rape Room’, and of course Vox Day, with one piece called ‘SJWs Always Lie’. It’s not even worth making a sarcastic joke about their success in keeping politics out of SFF. There’s no irony bell loud enough to convey the emotion.
There are of course some excellent and very worthy nominees amongst the mess – Alyssa Wong, Nnedi Okorafor, Ann Leckie and NK Jemisin being notable examples. I’m happy their work is being recognised, and I’m disappointed their joy has been tainted in such a way.
This year, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign reached a tipping point that the industry could not ignore, thanks to two straight years of no people of colour amongst the acting categories. The opposition to this grassroots work spewed the typical lines about there being no deserving nominees, about the PC Outrage Police, and so on, but the one that particularly needled at me was the smug dismissiveness of the awards themselves.
“The Oscars are meaningless, they never give awards to the best, they’re all about the campaign”. And that’s true: The Oscars are a bizarre industry back-patting festival that prizes a narrow range of people and stories with the purposes of benefitting the industry on a purely profit driven level. That’s nothing new, and indeed, awards in general are awarded with the implicit purpose of driving sales. The Hugo Awards are part of that – with publishing still struggling and sales dropping, midlist writers need that little boost that can make all the difference.
Awards are not and have never been solely used as a marker of merit, and shouldn’t be viewed as such: But what they can be used for is to provide a weathervane of the changing industry and the people and trends that drive it. That’s why what the Sad/Rabid Puppies have done matters. They may not be the most prominent voices in the industry, and their abhorrent views may be condemned in public, but the fact that they were allowed to fester for so long undisturbed speaks volumes.
Awards send signals, and when for the second year in a row the same names dictate to a big enough crowd how to hijack proceedings and shut out deserving, inclusive voices in favour of anti-progressive screeds and bigotry, that sends a message Vox Day and his ilk intend for us to hear loud and clear – You are not welcome in this community. This sandbox is ours and your presence in it should be mocked, vilified and erased.
The Duchess of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Margaret Cavendish, wrote The Blazing World in 1666. A bizarre mish-mash of utopian fantasy, romance and philosophy, the work stands as one of the pioneering forces in science-fiction and one of the first true sci-fi novels, a full 152 years before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. For a genre seen so frequently as one exclusively for men, it’s notable how women have always been there. People of colour have created incredible and influential science-fiction for a long time. The inclusiveness of SFF is written off as a recent development rooted in some kind of feverish radicalism determined to wipe out cishet white men everywhere. Everytime I hear cries about Rey being a Mary Sue or people of colour on a space ship being unrealistic, or queer content in a video game being political correctness gone mad, what I hear is ‘You don’t deserve to exist. You don’t get to be a hero’.
Science-fiction and fantasy will move forward. It will continue to evolve and tell amazing, strange, radical and highly political stories, as it has always done, and the Puppies will cheer false cries of victory regardless of the outcome of the Hugo Awards: Their choices winning will be a sign that the industry agrees with them, and another No Award sweep (which is my predicted outcome) will simply be proof that they’re downtrodden underdogs who stood up against “Outrage Culture”. The truth is that nobody wins in this scenario because we end up having to participate in their Us Versus Them mentality in order to show a sturdy opposition to their nonsense.
Eventually, they’ll be left behind as the voices who have always been there refuse to participate in their cultural smudging. This particular kind of vandalism hurts us all, but those voices who needed the amplification of the Hugos will suffer the most, so it’s up to the rest of us to ensure that doesn’t happen. They’ll be left behind, but they still need to be called out and condemned for the dangerous vandals that they are. Get out your wallets, your microphones and your pens. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll always be here.