By now, if you follow science fiction, you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards. If not I would highly suggest reading this Wired piece, which spells it out pretty well. You can read more from the perspective of a female science fiction writer, C.A. Hartman, right here..
But to sum up, there seems to be a faction of sci-fi writers/readers who are uncomfortable with minority voices winning awards. These voices are worried too much about the message and not enough about work that people actually want to read. So they made a concerted effort to nominate books they deem more worthy based on their popularity and that they’re fun to read.
I could only drop my jaw at the notion that someone would complain about a sci-fi book having a message. That’s always been the POINT of sci-fi. Science Fiction has always been about using the future to make statements about our present society.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that science fiction should also be fun and or interesting to read. There’s nothing I hate worse than books written by academics that seem solely created in order to make some kind of point, the story and characters being merely a vehicle. As an editor told me once, remember, not matter what the story, you’re always telling a story first and foremost. I think about that in journalism and in fiction writing.
That being said, it seems like these whiners (and yeah, they’re whiners, sorry) don’t seem to grasp the point that a story can be both. When I think about authors such as Marge Piercy and Octavia Butler, I think of books I really enjoyed reading, but that also had something to say. Why should those two be mutually exclusive?
Another argument made by these Sad Puppies, as they call themselves, is that these are books read by a handful of readers, when there are much more popular works being overlooked. But I think Game of Thrones author George R. Martin said it best when he explained “The reward for popularity is popularity! It’s truckloads of money! Do you need the trophy, too?”
As the Wired article points out, it’s hard to deny that there are some racist underpinnings. It gets murky. Surely all the white authors aren’t just writing boobs in space stories, and all the minority authors are writing thoughtful science fiction. But, much like GamerGate, it does reek of angry white man syndrome. They do seem to be targeting a lot of minority authors, with the implication that they’re being nominated simply because they’re minorities. I doubt that is true. But even if we accept their surface reasoning, it doesn’t hold up. I would argue that the stuff they think should be nominated, fun stories without a message, isn’t even really science fiction. It’s more space fantasy. At least, based on the definitions of science fiction given to me by people much smarter than myself.
It’s also made me think about how my own work – where would Robot Awareness fit in? I think RA is the closest I have to boobs in space – but I absolutely have larger messages contained within the text. I play with narrative form (one chapter is told through the lens of a police report; another is told backwards). But I care about my characters, and they come first. I wanted Robot Awareness to be a fun read, first and foremost. Other works, like my upcoming The Sand Runner, has something to say too. But with all my work, I aim to write something people can read and enjoy, even if they don’t think much about larger themes.
The point of the awards is to inspire and reward innovation in literature. It gives credence to great books that don’t always get the credit they deserve. They’re books that are about more than boobs in space, as one person once described science fiction to me (which sparked a heated argument to be sure!). To me, if we accept that that’s the point of science fiction, then SadPuppy is off-base and I hope they fall by the wayside.