Sunday, August 23, 2015

In which terrible people do not win the Hugos

So I have not been mantaining le blog because Real Life came along and I started a new (awesome) job. Basically I get to make cookies all day, feed people and then clean up after myself. It's fantastic.

Anyhoo, I did not intend to ever comment on the fucking Sad Puppies fiasco with the Hugo Awards. This was a thing I cared about, but in the way that you care about, IDK, contracting flesh eating disease.

If you do not know what the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies are, these were a group of people--by their own admission, mostly white and male, and by my personal judgement call, universally terrible--who decided to hijack the extremely byzantine Hugo nomination process and vote for all their friends, fellow ideologues and a couple of folk who got mixed in by mistake (these people promptly ID'd themselves by declining the nom). Their issue was that the books, stories and things getting Hugos were too socially consious and they wanted to go back to spaceships and an absense of politics. You know, like Star Trek!

Because that show totally supported the dominant paradigm in every possible way, right?
What's sad is that it worked. The Puppies ballot, with few exceptions, made it into every category, demonstrating both the apathy of most voters (Frankly I'm amazed a fan-driven award system even HAS an editor category) and the Puppies total misunderstanding of what science fiction is. And a lot of the nominees, and I mean a LOT of them, were connected to a truely awful human with the internet handle Vox Day.

I do not like Vox Day. I do not like his politics, which I would call neanderthal-ish if that weren't an insult to hunter-gatherer cultures everywhere. I do not like his books, which is a dislike wholly separate from his politics (Dude. You are not GRR Martin.). He identifies as a Christian with all the accuracy of an actor in blackface, and his nom-de-plume literally translates to "God Speaks", which I think says everything we need to know about the person. There are few human beings who can make me go from zero to "Nuke it" as quickly as Vox Day. Being nommed for a Hugo by Vox Day is somewhat akin to contracting syphilis. It means you need to re-evaluate your life choices.

However, there was good news: No Puppies nom won. This meant that several of the more esoteric awards (IE that editor award) went to No Award rather than a Puppy, but sci-fi fans in general made it clear that we might squabble over particulars, but we don't do bullshit.

Pictured: Unicorn rainbows for all. Not pictured: Bullshit.

What motivated me to write this, however, was an article obviously written by a Puppy supporter (I'm not linking, but the website starts with a B and rhymes with "Wal-Mart") in which the author proclaimed that by refusing to allow a Puppy to win a Hugo, Social Justice Warriors were "burning down the house".

This indicates that not only do the Puppies (or at least, this particular Pup) not understand science fiction, they also don't understand people.

First off, they make the mistake of assuming the backlash against them is Social Justice Warriors not wanting Good Books with Bad Politics to win things, and that by refusing to let GBwBP win things, we are somehow destroying society. That is not what this is. What this is are a bunch of literate nerds going "You want to manipulate us? Seriously? Oh fuck you." It's backfired like Uncle Buck's car, is what I'm saying here. It's not the politics that killed their ballot, my darlings. It's the dick move of making that ballot in the first place. People are celebrating that the Puppies screwed the pooch, so to speak, but it's a sick kind of celebration, relief instead of joy. You can't celebrate victory over something that should never have happened in the first place. This is the kind of celebration you have when your stalker ex finally violates the restraining order enough to go to jail. It'll be gone a while, but you know it'll be back. Nobody is happy about this. And the only person who set fire to something was the Puppies. 

But that's not the biggest error the Puppies made. No, that big error was to choose science-fiction as their last stand and final defense. It might look good on paper, but from an ideological standpoint, that's kind of Custer's Last Stand, if Little Bighorn had happened to have an unguarded storm drain running right up the middle of the 7th Cavalry, packed full of defensive Lakota.

See, science fiction is, has been, and always will be, a forward-thinking medium. Its nature demands a certain amount of agnosticism if you want it to be an observation and not a manifesto, but that's the science part talking. Science Fiction at its foundation is just as questioning as, well, science itself. In its earliest forms, everything was a what if. What if we had space ships? What if we made it to the moon? What if we were invaded by things from another planet? You can even see the development of the term Science-fiction by the early authors who knew they were doing SOMETHING, but had no idea what--in explaining his vision of Heaven as being initially painful for souls, C.S. Lewis uses the word scientifiction in an attempt to describe the body of literature he was drawing on as a source. These were questions that the then-modern science and culture couldn't answer, so the authors tried to. Here's what time travel would be like. Here's how thoroughly fucked we'd be if space invaders happened.

But the thing about asking what ifs is that eventually we start questioning assumptions that scare people. Like what if there was a society entirely without women? (Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold, go read it it is awesome). Or what if the dominant paradigm stops being white men? And that's where science-ficiton goes from being a day-dreamy genre to being something possibly dangerous--which it is, and has been, from day one. The heavy-handed colonialism of early sci-fi is the result of white men just starting to dip their toes into the great, untested sea that is Equality and going, "gee that water's really fucking cold." What made that dangerous was the fact that their what if admitted, for some micro-fraction of a second, that maybe, just maybe, the universe wouldn't always belong to them. The argument can be made that every Alien Invasion narrative is just white culture's dormant fear of immigration finding a safe, subconscious expression--combined with the fact that hey, we did this to every other culture on the planet so why should we get off easy?

I think it says something that Alien Invasion stories were never really that popular. It's a tiny part of the genre, not the genre itself. And that kind of tells you that science-fiction is not, and never was, a friend of dominant paradigms. Any dominant paradigm.

See, I picked that picture of Kirk kissing Uhura for a reason. Gene Roddenberry could have just said "What if people got spaceships?" and left it at that. He did not. Having a 1960s culture in a far-future spaceship makes about as much sense as imagining Victorian England maintaining its inhibitions re: sex in the presence of a fully functioning internet and he kinda got that. Instead, he applied the same what if that gave us the Enterprise to people. What if we make it to the stars. What will that do to us? And then instead of rehashing all of human history, he decided to break fucking everything. Sticking a black woman on the bridge of the Enterprise in a starfleet officer's uniform meant a whole lot more back then, when women weren't officers and black women weren't there at all, and most people were actively working to keep things that way. (There's a story about Woopi Goldberg watching Star Trek as a child and running in to her parents yelling "Mamma, mamma, there's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" and whenever I start evaluating my cast's racial balance, I remember that story and break out all the other flesh colored crayons. Because we need about six billion more of those moments)

Gene Roddenbury asked "What if we worked through our sexism, racism and other assorted -isms?" and put Uhura on the bridge. And it scared people. Maybe not as vocally as we'd like, but it says a lot that when that kiss was scripted, everybody who didn't work directly on Star Trek told Roddenbury to turn it into a hug (and William Shatner basically made his O face for every take other than the one with the actual kiss, which is why that still shot exists) so that an interracial relationship could not be acknowledged or even implied. And it says a lot about Roddenbury and his cast that they actively sabotaged their own show to get that kiss on air. It says that they knew how important it was going to be, and they knew it needed to happen. Objectively, a kiss isn't a big deal. But neither is a bus seat, or a water fountain. Sometimes the only way we can say I matter is by taking a stand on the little things; it gives us footholds to step up to the big ones.

Star Trek had a lot of goofy moments, oddball plots and terrible, terrible special effects. But it held on in a way that Battlestar Galactica and other space-ship 70s shows didn't, and that was, IMHO, because it wasn't just applying the what ifs to tech, but also to people. It began to demand that science-fiction take a hollistic approach to storytelling--that it is not enough to tell your story, to ask your what ifs, from a single perspective, especially if that perspective belongs to the dominant paradigm. If you want your what ifs to be accurate, or at least realistic, you have to include everybody. Every gender, every race, every religion. Everything. If you don't, you might as well just pull a Plan 9 From Outer Space and dangle a hubcap in front of the camera. It's gonna be about that realistic.

Science-fiction challenges us to look forward and project the universe we want to see in terms of nature, technology and culture--a task that also challenges us to question our current reality. If this is what we want, and we don't have it now...why? Why don't we have spaceships? Why don't we have hoverboards? Why don't we have equality? Why do we believe that it takes a couple centuries to get a black woman in an officer's uniform onto the Enterprise? Why is true equality still considered science-fiction? And then it brings us to the ultimate what if, the point of the whole thing...what if we tried to change that right now? We want this future...what if we tried, as Captain Picard would say, to make it so?

And the thing is? These stories with non-binary genders, multicultural casts, full-spectrum relationships and inclusive narratives? Are. fucking. fun. It is as enthralling to play with the idea of a starship captain in a hijab as it is to toy with various ideas for the drives--possibly more, if you realize that a female Muslim captain will matter a whole lot more than your variation on Roddenbury's hyperdrive. Science-fiction is a game where nobody loses as long as everyone gets to play. Limiting yourself to a straight white might as well just stay on Earth for the duration.

The pathetic fact about sci-fi is that the perspective is still not complete. We have Uhura and Mako Mori, but not much more than that. When we manage to include non-binary genders, we mainly use them as a joke, something for the hero to play off of, and usually the focus of that humor is one of disgust, as if a trans individual is something similar to a fart in an elevator. Homosexual relationships still haven't made it out of the support cast. In short: Science-fiction still treats a large percentage of humanity as non-existant and unimportant, as something unnecessary for the narrative. Like the rest of our culture, sci-fi is still telling people that they don't count.

But a lot of people--an awful, awful lot of people--are asking the question what if we did? What if we did matter, and our voice did get heard? What kind of stories would we get then? And, because they've imagined the stories, well, you might as well tell them. Progressive science-fiction is an oxymoron that shouldn't have to exist. There is no functional difference between imagining a space ship and imagining a progressive culture where everybody counts. Both are images that someone wants to see in the near future--and both are going to require a violent event--rocket launches for one, cultural change for the other--in order to exist.

The Sad Puppies, and their rabid cousins, fail to see this fundamental aspect because it scares them. They exist in a world where value is a zero-sum game--based, in part, on their own assumption that they are value-less. A coping skill for a poor self image is to go "I am garbage, but this person is less than garbage" and then hang the designation of "less than garbage" on an identifiable characteristic. Race. Gender. Preferences. Education. They build a ladder to stand on by knocking out everybody else and stacking the bodies. Equalizing the playing field isn't a chance to help others to them. It's a challenge to their sense of identity, to their own self-worth. And when that image is challenged as profoundly as it is today, they react defensively. Their image of the future is, unfortunately, static and unchanging, because its the only future in which their sense of value remains unchallenged. They want spaceships, but not the changes those spaceships will cause. They want the Enterprise, but they don't want Uhura on the bridge. They want to play in the sandbox, but only as long as nobody else gets admitted. In effect, they don't want the future. They want Christopher Columbus--the watered down Texas Textbook version, not the real deal--to discover the New World all over again. They just want him to do it in a spaceship this time. They want to erase the potential for any future but their own.

And because that isn't a future anybody else would want, let's hope the Sad Puppies are always going to lose. 


  1. As someone who was a teenager or almost a teen when Star Trek was on part of the reason we loved it was because it was about hope. Things are terrible, we're in a war no one wants, the cities are exploding with race riots because the blacks are fed up and anyone who stands up and fights the PTBs ends up dead or in jail. But there in the future people are working together and trying to do better. Maybe corny, maybe not successfully, but they're trying.

    1. Yep. And it wasn't just hope for a handful of people (AKA the PTBs) It was hope for EVERYBODY.

      ...also, judging by the list of events? We need another Star Trek right about now...

    2. Yeah. I kind of lean more towards the Next Generation a bit more, but it would be nice to see more stuff like transgendered characters, ways of handling disability that aren't painfully ableist.

      Also John Varley just based on the Gaea series needs more attention. I must buy more books directly from him because he seems very cool.

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  3. Glad you are doing OK.

    This is why I want to replace Orson Scott Card with Octavia Butler.

    Who seriously needs to have a movie made from her books. If I could see a movie of Kindred done or Parable of the Sower with some fine dark skin sister in the lead I would be so happy. She knew how to write diverse characters, and not just make them stock stereotypes like OSC where everything centers around the cisgendered people who play by the rules and gays are painfully punished if they come out as gay. Ugh.

    Dang he frustrates me so much. It felt so good to stop reading Shadow Puppets and to read Dawn instead. So much more satisfying. There's different people in the world. This isn't a bad thing. A person isn't wrong for being gay or trans or whatever.

    But, she didn't really have a huge amount of gay characters. I want to be a writer and have a full spectrum of interesting characters. Not to mention autistic characters so I must work more on my autistic lesbian werewolf story which I hope will not be terrible.

    1. I really, truely love Octavia Butler. I found her when I was about thirteen and didn't get that there was something significant about her being female and black, and focused pretty much on how THOROUGHLY FUCKING AWESOME she was...and yeah if there were a movie made of her books with decent casting i would watch the shit out of that in a heartbeat.