Defenders of the nail house

(Reblogged from Brad R. Torgersen)

We’re about a week out from the release of the final ballot results, for the 2015 Hugo awards. These results will determine which picks are available for your choosing when it comes time for you to cast your ballot. Best Novel, Best Short Story, etc. Already, the critics of Sad Puppies 3 have been laying the groundwork for de-legitimizing SP3. To include statements which completely misunderstand the point of Sad Puppies. Some of it is innocent. Not everybody’s had time to do a deep-dig on the history of Sad Puppies, nor to be able to discern that each iteration of the project has tended to assume its own personality. What they’re hearing about SP3 is probably hear-say from friends, and much of that is at least one to two years out-of-date. And even then, many of the “facts” put forth, are demonstrably wrong.

But other commentary is not so innocent. There are people who find the very existence of Sad Puppies 3 to be an affront to their personhoods. A sinister outside force come to trouble their precious genre and its establishment. For the people deliberately misconstruing the purpose and thrust of Sad Puppies 3, it’s all about getting out in front and shaping a narrative. They’re smart. They know that truth can be overwhelmed with lies if you just spin your narrative adroitly, and with enough volume.

Thus the charges, in no particular order.

● SP3 is a trojan horse effort conducted by and for the benefit of authors who cannot earn a Hugo award the honest way.

● SP3 is just ballot-stuffing, which ought to be disallowed according to precedent and the rules of ballot-counting established through WSFS.

● SP3 is artificially trying to warp the Hugos out of true; an outside effort conducted by and involving people who are not real fans.

● The SP3 slate works are substandard based on (insert garbledy-garble talk about taste here.)

● The SP3 slate is just a bunch of right-wingers who should go set up their own awards, and leave the Hugos alone.

● SP3 is not legit because its participants were drafted for the effort, and are not willing participants.

● SP3 is not legit because Larry Correia is a terrible human being who is hated by all real fans.

● SP3 is not legit because Vox Day is also running Rabid Puppies and everybody knows Vox Day is also a terrible human being who is hated by all real fans.

● SP3 is a trojan horse for GamerGaters, and all real fans hate and loathe GamerGaters.

● SP3 is just a bunch of straight white guys who are terrified of women, gays, trans, and folks with brown skin.

● SP3 would never happen in the first place if (resurrected conservative editor of the past) could lecture them about their wrongdoing.

● SP3 is a fringe minority faction that does not represent the “main body” of real fans.

● SP3’s slate selections are not the “natural” selections of real fans.

There’s more, but I think you get the gist of it.

Much of this is simply the “in” crowd reacting badly to watching the “out” crowd take a seat at the lunch table. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, according to the dyed-in-the-wool denizens of WSFS and Worldcon, a “real fan” is defined as someone who has been attending Worldcon (and other cons) for a long time, has been properly inculcated into the specific culture of Worldcon and con-going fandom, is someone who volunteers time and effort to cons, generally makes Worldcon (and con-going) a “family” affair, etc. So if you don’t go to Worldcon and you’ve not been part of that culture for a number of years, you don’t qualify as a “real fan” in their definition. And they resent the hell out of anyone who is not a “real fan” showing up to vote on the “real fan” award.

Thing is, the “in” crowd numbers less than ten thousand total, across the entire globe. At any given Worldcon, perhaps half the attendees can actually claim to be regular Worldcon members, and maybe half of those will actually bother to cast a nominating or a final ballot for the Hugos. So, the so-called “most prestigious award” of the entirety of Science Fiction and Fantasy — movies, books, stories, television, music, non-fiction, et al. — is selected according to the tastes and desires of about 2,500 individuals.

Which is roughly equivalent to one quarter of the upper bowl at your typical NCAA Final Four game.

Or about 3.1% of the crowd packed into the stadium at Superbowl XLIX.

Given the fact SF/F can reasonably argue for a consumer base that numbers at least five hundred million people world-wide, it’s a little strange that “real fans” want to keep “the most prestigious award” in the field to themselves.

Or, perhaps it’s not strange at all.

See, Worldcon is like the proverbial nail house. In the 1950s it was nestled in among the fresh post-war suburbs, bright and pretty. The people who lived there were young, or at least younger than they are now, and quite proud of their house and its vibrant, if eccentric, collective personality. For much of the 1960s and into the 1970s, the little house retained most of its original flavor. New folks were brought in, some of the originals left, or died. The culture and basic mindset of the house was kept the same. And everything seemed more or less fine . . . until a guy named George Lucas showed up with his gargantuan set of plans for a huge, gleaming city called Star Wars. Suddenly, skyscrapers and apartment complexes and freeways and all manner of businesses began to shoot up around the house. Until, in the year 2015, the house has become an anachronism. Cheered by a few. Ignored by most. Intensely proud of the fact it defies the world around it. Crumbling at the foundation. And also intensely interested in making sure nobody from the sports bar or the yoga studio or the Gold’s Gym down the street, comes into the little dilapidated house, and puts his or her feet up on the use-worn coffee table.

Because anyone who is not a blooded member of the nail house, doesn’t get to be a “real fan.”

But the award for “real fans” gets to be “the most prestigious award” in SF/F.

See how that works, folks? It’s Taste-Maker 101 strategy. A few, deciding for all.

You’re the outsiders. You are not the real fans. You don’t get to have a say in the Hugos, because you’re not welcome at the table. You haven’t been to two dozen Worldcons and volunteered a thousand hours in various chore-laden positions on the concom or the gofer staff. You didn’t earn your cred, man! Get off their lawn, man! Screw you guys and your video games and your 21st century pop culture sci-fi! So you like The Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You’ve got a Storm Trooper costume? Maybe you playSkyrimor Borderlands? Puh-leaze! That doesn’t count. Only real fans get to decide what SF/F is important and worthy of recognition! The other 399,997,500 “fans” out there? You didn’t pay your dues. You don’t belong.

And so the little nail house shutters its windows and boards up its doors. Happily thumbing its nose at the bustling, packed metroplis that has grown up around the eyesore.

Sad Puppies dares to propose that the packed metropolis is every bit as valid as the nail house. That the guy from the sports bar or the Gold’s Gym is every bit as much of a fan, as anyone in the nail house. That the tastes and enthusiasms of the gleaming metropoliscount every bit as much as the retiree in the nail house. And while nail houses are fun–yeah, stick it to The Man!–sometimes the nail house attitude of “in” versus “out” is merely a colossal waste of time; if not a complete pain in the ass.

Nobody in the nail house owns fandom. You are a fan if you say you are a fan, and nobody is authorized to take that away from you. Therefore you are also authorized to have your voice heard in the field. You: the guy who maybe never went to a single con, but you’ve got dozens of SF/F novels on your bookshelves, and a DVD or BluRay library filled with spec fic and fantasy movies. You also: the girl who loves paranormal romance, and watchesAdventure Time with your kids, and once did cosplay at the regional Comic Con. Or you too: the dude who plays all the latest video games, and can recite line-for-line the script from the latest comic book hero movie.

So really, almost all of the complaints against SP3, can be boiled down to folks in the nail house needing to invent reasons why “invaders” are bad. Morally bad. Ethically bad. Tramplers of propriety. Ruffians without regard for rules. The unwashed. The unclean. Scoundrels.

You, my friends, have been declared unfit company. Do you let the nail house win? Or do you fight to keep your place at the lunch table?

As for the rest of it:

● If it’s a trojan horse for authors, it’s a six-headed horse with three legs, two wheels, a unicorn horn, two cloven hooves, and a whale tail. In other words, a more clumsy trojan horse could not be invented. Sometimes, when we tell you it ‘aint about us, you just have to take our word for it.

● Annie Bellet and Kary English would be shocked to discover they are right-wing. So would Chuck Gannon and Jim Butcher. Rajnar Vajra too.

● We trust Sasquan to run their own con without any “helpful advice” from people who think Sasquan is not grown-up enough to manage its own Hugos. A membership is a membership is a membership, and a vote is a vote is a vote. Inventing technical reasons to toss votes is an admission that the defenders of the nail house aren’t interested in a democratic system as much as they’re interested in a system that protects the status quo as they prefer it.

● It’s true I did forget to obtain explicit permission (for slate inclusion) from three specific authors of which I am aware. Two of them asked to be taken off the list, which was done early and without rancor. One of them happily stayed on, despite the error. It was my mistake, and since this is a completely volunteer effort on the part of everyone doing SP3, I think some honest mistakes can be forgiven. Not that I expect people who literally hate us to ever give us the benefit of the doubt — they won’t. Not now. Not ever.

● Larry and Vox ruffle feathers. I get it. If you simply can’t get over the fact that Larry originated Sad Puppies, or that Vox is running a similar effort called Rabid Puppies, nor can you see that Sad Puppies 3 is its own thing . . . well, like I said, those who’d not be inclined to give us the benefit of the doubt, would probably find some other reason to bitch. Even if Larry and Vox were entirely absent from the equation this year.

● Taste arguments get silly very quickly. There is no objective litmus test in the arts for what is “good” and what is “bad” stuff. Plenty of shit on the usual Hugo ballot these days. But then again, some people simply love that shit. SP3 is here to diversify the total shit from which you get to pick. Because the other guy’s shit stinks, but your shit is awesome. Right?

● GamerGate appears to be the one topic everyone is prepared to spout volumes about, but precious few people understand in detail. Almost everyone who got up on a high horse about it, did so with virtually no understanding of the chain of events. They just wanted an excuse to bash (insert target here.) Suffice to say, video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and a large hunk of the games played are explicitly SF/F. I see no reason to divorce this segment of the audience (players) just because of a tabloid gamer news kerfuffle that went viral.

● SP3 isn’t anti-(insert victim group here) it’s pro-(insert audience enjoyment here.) Now, maybe we do look askance at stories which include no real SF/F content and which involve imaginary dinosaur revenge or a gay dude getting soaked, but this is because we remember when SF/F was about swords, dragons, knights, bold princesses, brave heroes, massive starships, interplanetary quests, and the far-flung — and hopeful! — destiny of humankind. We’d like to see more of that, actually. Without having (insert politically progressive cult-of-social-justice finger) waved in our faces.

● If the above statement just mortally offended you . . . oh well.

● We cannot speed dial eternity, to ask Jim Baen what he would have thought of Sad Puppies 3. There is one individual who knew Jim probably better than Jim knew himself, and she’s okay with Sad Puppies 3. All she asked of us is that we try to be on our best behavior. As the guidon-carrier for SP3 I have taken her advice to heart. And I’ve avoided hyperbole as much as I am able, given some of the ignorant and caustic vitriol hurled in my direction.

● Anyone who thinks SP3 is fringe, or that SP3 is a tiny group trying to vainly make a dent in the Hugo selection process against “the will of the people” as it were, hasn’t been paying attention to the will of the people. Again, one third of the upper bowl at a Final Four Game, versus all the crowds at all the Superbowls, ever, combined. Plus tailgaters. SP3 is merely tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “See this thing? You get to have a say too.”

● First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win. SP1 and SP2 were stage 1 (“ignore”) and now SP3 is on to stage 2 (“mock”) so I imagine SP4 and iterations beyond will reach stages 3 and 4. I won’t be holding the guidon next time, butsomebody will. And there ‘aint a damned thing the gaspers and hand-wringers can do about it.

A final thought, as to setting up a whole new award. It might come down to it, if the denizens of the nail house invent ways to keep out people they deem to be not “real” according their definition. But the field already has numerous awards. The Hugo is perhaps the only touchstone which is still more or less recognized to be a “ground floor” accolade, with history that goes back to the post-war period and the Campbell era. The time when Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov bridged the gap between the pre-war pulps, and the Vietnam-era New Wave.

In this sense, the Hugo is like the Stanley Cup. Each final ballot adds a new stack or layer to the bottom of the cup, with names inscribed on it. Not everyone will be a winner. Not everyone takes the cup home. But their names (and the names of their works) will still be inscribed on that cup for all time.

Which is where my personal motivation comes in: there are authors and editors in this field who’ve labored for years, or even decades, without recognition. Some of them are men and women I admire. Some of them are men and women who’ve become my friends. I’ve already had my name on that cup three times. I would like to see their names on that cup too. If for no other reason than I think they deserve to be counted. We were here, and we were part of this field. This includes indie authors and authors going great guns in non-traditional ways. It includes fresh, new authors who’d struggle to get noticed. People with talent and skill. And also publications and editors who aren’t on the “usual suspects” list, therefore the Hugo passes them by.

If there were another touchstone of equal merit, SP3 would be barking up that tree.

But the Hugos are the Hugos are the Hugos. And, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they belong to all of us.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.