So the nominations for the Hugo Awards (and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is, we must ritually say, Not A Hugo) were announced this weekend, and have already occasioned a fair bit of comment while I was spending quality time with my family. (Here, have some cute kid pics.)
Here are some reactions, and reactions to reactions:
The Novelette Category contains a story by the extremely loathsome Vox Day (a discussion of just one recent-ish example). It turns out that he picked up a recommended slate (blog post through do-not-link) from Larry Correia; File 770 saved me from comparing lists in different browser windows, and points out that 7/12 of that slate made it onto the ballot (in the Best Novel (Correia), Novella, Novellete, Fanzine, and Best Editor Long Form categories. It appears that the slate's suggestion in at least one category, Graphic Story, was not actually eligible.).
It is unclear to me whether some of the people on this slate knew it ahead of time and are happy to be associated with Vox Day. Of the writers, a preliminary Google suggests that Brad Torgerson falls into the latter category, at least, but as Dan Wells does the Writing Excuses podcast with Mary Robinette Kowal (among others), who is anathema to the Vox Day crowd, I suspect he may be an innocent bystander.
Anyway. The real point I wanted to make is this:
John Scalzi, who is (ahem, understatement) no fan of Vox Day himself, is advocating against people refusing to read Vox Day or other works on this slate:
To paraphrase a point I made yesterday on Twitter, how terrible it would be if someone elbowed their way onto the Hugo list to make a political point, and all that happened was that their nominated work was judged solely by its artistic merits.
[ . . . ] If you believe that these fellows pushed their way onto the list to make a political point, nothing will annoy them more than for their work to be considered fairly. It undermines their entire point.
It doesn’t mean you give a work an award, if you find it lacking. But you treat it fairly.
And I disagree with John. Here's why:
Even putting aside things like reading brain—which I'll get to in a minute—it is perfectly moral, or ethical, or taking the high road, or good on whatever axis you want to consider, to refuse to honor the work of someone who has engaged in such hateful and actively threatening behavior as Vox Day. Period.
(ETA: and now the reading brain bit:) There are lots of reasons why people don't read things based on their opinions of the authors. Me, if I know that someone holds views I find morally repugnant, or if I personally dislike them, etc., then I can't keep myself from looking for evidence of those disliked traits in the work, which is unfair to the work, and so I don't even bother. Other people refuse to lend support to live authors, but are okay with dead ones. Other people think the author is dead in the interpretive sense to the extent that they don't care. All of these are valid decisions, because the way people read is so personal and because people make different moral and ethical discussions.
So, no, I feel under no obligation to read Vox Day's work, under the guise of fairness or anything else, and neither should you.
The Wheel of Time, the fourteen-book epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is nominated for Best Novel in its entirety. Here is where I disagree with some quite good friends, and say that even if this makes sense (and I am not convinced that a fourteen-book series really belongs on a Best Novel category, whether or not that is technically permissible), I didn't nominate it and I'm not voting for it, because frankly I don't think it deserves it. Yes, it more-or-less stuck the landing (ugh, I've still never written up the last volume), but the multiple books of wheel-spinning in the late-middle (I've still never read one of them all the way through; err, also, pun not intended) and the incredibly poor way it handles its gender politics mean that as far as I'm concerned, it would be a nostalgia/tribute vote and not one on its merits.
There are some really exciting things on the ballot, too. Ancillary Justice is one of the most talked-about novels in my circles this past year, and I look forward to reading it. A blog post about erasure of women from history is nominated for Best Related Work (next year, I nominate medievalpoc for something—Fanzine? Fan Writer?). Sites I read regularly are nominated in Semiprozine and Fanzine (Strange Horizons and The Book Smugglers, respectively). I've been nominating Abigail Nussbaum for Fan Writer for years, and I'm thrilled to see her on the ballot; Liz Bourke and Mark Oshiro also do great work. [*] And the Campbell Award nominees are, as best I can tell, at least 80% non-white-males (and the cover of Max Gladstone's first book, the 20%, looks like this). So that's pretty great.
[*] Though eligibility for Fan Writer, when it comes to paid-for work out on the web for free, is really messed up under the WSFS Constitution (PDF), and badly needs revision. When it's not 11:30 at night I can elaborate, if anyone cares, but really, I'm mostly convinced that it should be changed to "nonfiction writer" instead, as someone-or-other suggested.
All that said, I promised agnosticism, which is this: I genuinely cannot find it in me to care whether the Hugos devolve into, as James Nicoll points out with characteristic brevity and asperity, political parties, or whether prior community norms about politicking prevail, or Vox Day et al. get bored, or whatever. Worst comes to worst, a few years of concerted effort results in actual winners instead of mere nominations for hateful trolls, and a few year after that, booksellers and the like catch up and realize that the Hugo is no longer prestigious, and, well, SFF fandom is big, even the bits of it that self-identify as fandom, and WorldCon and the Hugos are only a small part of that. Maybe Locus stops overweighting subscriber votes and becomes the popular award of record. Maybe the Nebulas experience a surge in prestige. Maybe I hit the lottery and endow a juried award in my honor. Who knows? But the Hugos aren't that big a teapot, at the end of the day, and if people want to self-identify with them and participate in the community that votes on them, great, they should do that, and if people don't, great, they should do that too.
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