Grimly and Without Joy

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The 2015 Hugo nominations have come out.

Normally this is a great moment of satisfaction for me. I usually have not read all the nominees on the slate, so it’s like getting a Christmas present from my fellow science fiction geeks. Hugo nominations are generally so broad that what percolates up from the mass hive mind are usually stories that I don’t mind giving a bit of time to read and compare against each other. Most of the time, I find something interesting in this.

This process only works if it’s a true random percolation, though. The last few years, though, there has been a campaign called the Sad Puppies that suggests that the Hugo award is too liberal and too invested in identity politics, thus choosing works that are turgid and uninteresting instead of stories full of spaceships and laser guns and manly men, I suppose.

Now the first year of this slate, it fell under the radar. The second year, they managed to get a few works on the ballot — works I read, and in some cases, enjoyed. Were they truly Hugo-worthy? No, not as much as other things on the ballot, but with one exception, I didn’t mind reading them.

This wasn’t enough, I suppose. This year, the Sad Puppies managed to put together a slate. Not just one or two works in a category — that wasn’t enough. This was enough to disrupt the random percolation of works to the point where whole categories of the Hugo awards are dominated by this slate — and I wonder what I’m missing that would have risen to the level of a Hugo nomination in any other year. (I suppose I’ll find out when the long list comes out — it’ll be harder to dig up the works, but I might have to read them.)

I’ll read the works. I take my duty as a Hugo voter seriously, and I will rate the works as I see fit. I may end up ranking No Award above them all if I don’t feel any of the works nominated rises to the level of a Hugo in my opinion. It’s the best I can do in a situation I am obviously not happy about.

But I feel as if something I enjoyed has become a grim, thankless task. Politics is never far from any human endeavor, but this year, it feels like it’s all politics. Because here’s the part I elided around: part of the reason for this slate is that certain folks thought the Hugo wasn’t conservative enough.

Now I’ll freely admit, I’m not exactly conservative in my politics. I went to Berkeley, after all. But everything I was taught both in my deeply conservative home town and in liberal Berkeley is that you treat people with courtesy and respect, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. Do I always live up to this? I’m a human being, I’d be lying if I said I did. But it’s a good yardstick to work from.

There are people nominated this year that seem, from my vantage point, to go against this yardstick. Their words are, at best, ill-conceived, and at worst, vile hatred of anybody not like themselves. Bigotry and misogyny are rampant. Is this truly the best science fiction has to offer? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m wrong.

There’s a saying that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. And while I’m not going to just toss every work on the Sad Puppies slate out without actually looking at them first — see the above about treating my duty seriously — I can understand why others would be tempted to do just that.

But it means this year’s reading will be done grimly and without joy.

I’ll probably have more to say about this in the future, as I start to read, but this will do for now.

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