It’s remarkable how fast word travels on the intarwebz these days. No sooner had I posted the (rather tame) announcement that SAD PUPPIES was coming back for a third go-around, than some people began carping about it. Which is to be expected. SAD PUPPIES breaks the rules. RULE #1: thou shalt not publicly campaign. Even though campaigning (in this award) has been done for many decades. RULE #2: thou shalt not publicly point out blind spots or biases in the voting body. Even though behind-closed-doors rage about these biases and blind spots has also been going on for decades — just not always about the same biases and blind spots. And lastly, RULE #3: thou shalt not publicly criticize Worldcon or “fandom” proper. Even though “fandom” (as an actual, coherent label for a specific body of people) hasn’t been applicable since the 1970s, nor has Worldcon actually represented the largest gathering of the largest body of consumer fans.
So . . . some personal opinions. Take ’em or leave ’em.
I could care less about Rule 1 and Rule 2, since these are endlessly violated anyway. Rules which are perpetually broken behind the curtain, are not actually rules. And if SAD PUPPIES is to be damned for breaking them, fine. At least we’re honest about what we’re doing. I don’t have much patience for people who aim an accusatory finger at us, then do precisely what we’re doing, just sneaky-like. Hypocrisy is hypocrisy, even when it dresses up in its Sunday best and has good table manners.
Rule 3 deserves a larger thought bubble. Because (as I have stated many times in the last few years) “fandom” does not really represent FANDOM anymore. From the 1930s to the 1970s you could probably say that, yes, the group of people attending World Science Fiction Convention were the “core” of the consumer audience, and could actually carry on a coherent conversation about “the state of the art” in Science Fiction & Fantasy. The genre(s) had not exploded yet, on the popular cultural landscape. Star Wars and Judy-Lynn del Rey had not happened yet. The enterprise was not “big” the way it is BIG now. But as soon as the genre(s) did go BIG, the “center” was lost. As I pointed out last year (“Wence Fandom“) this isn’t your grandfather’s SF/F anymore. The Venn diagram of FANS is a crazy pastiche, and not all of the circles overlap with one another. There are people coming into “fandom” blissfully unaware of “fandom” as it existed from the 1930s, until Stars Wars and Judy-Lynn del Rey overturned everything. They are comic book enthusiasts, or as often as not, comic book movie enthusiasts. They are video game players. They are people who fell in love with SF/F on the small and the big screen. They know absolutely nothing of the Futurians, nor of SMOFs, nor of the arcane and occasionally turbulent contest of personalities that rumbled through written SF in the 1950s and 1960s: Campbellians vs. New Wave.
And that’s OK. See, SF/F grew up. It moved out of the basement. It went to Hollywood, got a job, took over the public imagination, and now almost all of the top-grossing theater films of all time are Science Fiction and Fantasy. The nerds won! This is amazeballs awesome, right? Except, “fandom” at Worldcon hasn’t seemed to notice. There are no video game categories at the Hugos, even though SF/F video games (and stories told through SF/F video games) are a global, billion-dollar industry that merely grows larger every year. There is never a tie-in Star Wars novel on the ballot. In fact, the more successful and sweeping a novel franchise’s publication history has been, the more “fandom” seems to dislike it. Witness the literal booing and groans (last year) when it was announced that Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was nominated.
Ironic, since you could populate a substantial city with the number of fans who are ardent lovers of Robert Jordan (and now, Brandon Sanderson.)
You could not fill even the lower section of a modest college football stadium, with the entire attending body of a larger, recent Worldcon.
Which is why (again, as I have mentioned before) the Hugo awards have a relevance problem. You can’t have “science fiction’s most prestigious award” (as advertised right on the web site!) when the total number of people voting for that award, are a very small group of people who have gradually (and often unconsciously) lost sight of the bigger picture.
Take a look at this graphic.
The big blue circle is the total body of SF/F consumers (all types, all over the world) while the little yellow circle is the total body of “fandom” at Worldcon; which ignores games, tie-ins, comics, and other forms of popular SF/F. Now, as with schematics of planetary motion, it’s difficult to draw this to scale. In reality, the yellow circle would be the size of a pea, and the blue circle would be the size of Texas. But you get the idea. “Science fiction’s most prestigious award” lacks prestige, precisely because it’s an award for a “small” crowd with “small” tastes. The vast (and I do mean vast) majority of SF/F consumers don’t know about the Hugo, or if they do know about the Hugo, they don’t care about the Hugo. Or even (worse) the Hugo has come to mean something negative. Because “Hugo winner” or “Hugo nominee” has become code for: too boring, not adventurous or exciting enough, too little speculative or fantastic content, too much ideological preaching, and too little optimism.
In other words, while the big consumer world is at the theater gobbling up the latest Avengers movie, “fandom” is giving “science fiction’s most prestigious award” to stories and books that bore the crap out of the people at the theater: books and stories long on “literary” elements (for all definitions of “literary” that entail: what college hairshirts are fawning over this decade) while being entirely too short on the very elements that made Science Fiction and Fantasy exciting and fun in the first place!
I’ll say it again: the Hugos (and the Nebulas too) have lost cachet, because at the same time SF/F has exploded popularly — with larger-than-life, exciting, entertaining franchises and products — the voting body of “fandom” have tended to go in the opposite direction: niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology and flavor, and ultimately lacking what might best be called visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun. The kind of child-like enjoyment that comes easily and naturally when you don’t have to crawl so far into your brain (or your navel) that you lose sight of the forest for the trees.
SAD PUPPIES simply holds its collective hand out — standing athwart “fandom” history — and yells, “Stop!”
Lest more puppies be given Teh Sads(sic).
Please, think of the puppies?
To that end, SAD PUPPIES has basic objectives:
1) Get works and authors onto the Hugo ballot who might not otherwise be there; regardless of political persuasion. Think we’re just a crazy minority of right-wingers out to destroy science fiction? You’d be wrong. For instance, we’d love to see Eric Flint on the Hugo Best Novel short list. Eric is not only a popular author who does the genre credit with his work, he’s a card-carrying Trotskyite. A man who (unlike most slacktivist internet liberals these days) was willing to put his ass on the line for what he believed — back when identifying as a “red” was physically dangerous business in this country.
2) Encourage people who are SF/F consumers (but not “fandom” according to Worldcon) to participate in the nomination and selection of works. To include gamer fans, tie-in fans, movie and comic fans, and everyone else who might want to have a say in deciding who gets selected for “science fiction’s most prestigious award.” But maybe they’ve not gotten the word? Maybe they’ve just been having fun, and the Hugos have simply sailed beneath their notice year after year? “Fandom” seems to think this is a feature of the Hugos: the fewer who vote, the “better” they are. I say it’s a flaw. Bring on the BIG fans. The ones who keep the SF/F pump primed with dollars and enthusiasm every year! SF/F survives and thrives because they put their money where their excitement is. So SAD PUPPIES tries to encourage them to also put their money (and their votes) where the Hugos are.
I don’t have a list drawn up yet. I’ve had a great many very good suggestions, and I am mulling the potential list now. It’s not designed to be an iron-clad “or else” list. Rather, it’s a suggestion. Something to plant seeds and boost signal.
And just for the record, as I discussed with some friends earlier in the month, I am recusing myself from SAD PUPPIES 3. Mostly because I think I’ve demonstrated, after being the rare triple nominee for Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell awards, in 2012, and after two Analog magazine readers’ choice awards, plus a Writers of the Future award, and dual Hugo nominations again in 2014, that I know how to tell a better-than-average story.
There are lots of deserving authors — Tad Williams? Steven Barnes? Chuck Gannon? Kevin J. Anderson? L.E. Modesitt, Jr? — who have all done tremendous work in the field, and who deserve (I think) very strong consideration for nomination. People who can’t seem to buy a Hugo nomination, even with very good books or stories coming out every year. Individuals who have proven (again and again) that they are top craftsmen and ambassadors of the genre(s). They deserve their slice of the Hugo sunlight too. And not just when they die or retire. When they are still working.
3) As a tertiary objective, SAD PUPPIES would like to see the Hugo categories re-structured so that consumer sectors like gaming are not ignored. To do this, some in-roads would have to be made with the World Science Fiction Society. (More on this, as a coherent plan is developed.) Suffice to say, if the Hugos can split off yet another category for what essentially amounts to Worldcon insider baseball, they can at least acknowledge what’s going on out in the BIG world of SF/F. How many people play Borderlands or Skyrim or Minecraft? How many children will become life-long fans because of their involvement in same? The Hugos ought to at least give a nod to this aspect of the larger SF/F culture, among several others.
And . . .
If SAD PUPPIES happens to make a few people cry a Grinchy boo-hoo-hoo along the way, and if we give the Hyper-Progressive Pissypants Club (HPPC) heartburn because we’re ruining things by trying to get the larger SF/F consumer world involved . . . well, that’s just a cross we’re prepared to bear — with a large cup of soda in one hand, and a big bucket of theater popcorn in the other.