Why The Hugo Noms Make Me Sad

I’m new to science-fiction and fantasy. Not as a reader – I devoured Isaac Asimov short stories in elementary schools and loved Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality in junior high and went through everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote by the time I finished high school. And not as a writer – while I am far from published, my second-grade story “The Witch in the Music Room” definitely had some speculative elements, and my little sisters loved my still unfinished epic about a woman fighting for her son in a all-female fantasy world of killer nuns. But I am new to the genre as an aspiring professional, to the behind-the-scenes dramas and conflicts. I never really knew how the sausage was made. This year, for the first time, I’ve been dipping my toe into the water of the great and wonderous world of sci-fi and fantasy publishing.

And that’s why the Hugo Nominations have made me so sad.

I am a supporting member of WorldCon for the first time ever, so I had the opportunity to nominate for the Hugos. I didn’t. Why? Because as someone just dipping their toe into the water, I hadn’t read enough sci-fi/fantasy this year, in my opinion, to make an informed decision. I read stories and books that I enjoyed, but I couldn’t say if they were the best of the year or not. In the end, I decided that I’d just vote instead of nominating – I would read everything nominated and pick my favorite. That way I’d be sure to know what I was doing. To me, the Hugo Awards are Really Important, and I wanted to give the process the respect I thought it deserved.

Apparently, I totally missed something.

From what I can tell from LiveJournal, Twitter, and more blogs than you can shake a stick at, over the past few years the nominations for the Hugos have turned into some sort of battle between people with a right-wing conservative ideology, who believe that authors who share their beliefs have been unfairly left out of the Hugo nominating process because of a slant in favor of those with more liberal/progressive views (who they call “social justice warriors”), and folks with liberal ideologies, who believe that the views of the right-wingers are hateful and that their books and stories have been left out of the Hugo nominating process because they just don’t appeal to the Hugo voters. The folks on the right, over the last few years, have specifically expressed their displeasure with the process by creating a slate of right-wing conservative authors and nominating them en masse for the Hugos. This year, in particular, they were quite successful, which is why one guy is nominated like 7 times in 3 categories.

Here’s the thing – where in here is anyone talking about the actual stories and books that are being written? We’re all writers – we know how hard it is to put pen to paper and create something that even sells, much less is read, much less is nominated for anything. Personally, I would hate to be nominated for an award because people like what I believe. I want people to one day nominate me for a Hugo because they like what I wrote.

If the Hugos turn into a culture war of SadPuppies vs. HappyPuppies vs. whatever, all it means is that a few influential people on each side of the line get to tell the rest of us what they think is good fiction, that we don’t get to decide for ourselves because we’re too busy trying to make some larger cultural point, that authors will start spending more time blogging about controversy and appealing to the masses and less time writing about what they care about.

That just makes me so freaking sad.

I get that ideology matters. I get that it colors our views. I have no problem with people liking or disliking a story because the writing supports or challenges the way they think.The whole reason I started writing in this dang genre is because I love the way that science fiction and fantasy use other worlds to show us something about our own. And I have no problem with people being upset because their writing isn’t appreciated by the field. I think it’s fairly inevitable as different styles come in and out of vogue – much like we don’t all still wear shoulder pads or rock mullets – but it’s still got to be frustrating to write something that’s good and feel like it’s gotten lost or ignored or been under-appreciated.

What I do have a problem with is reducing written works to the importance of the beliefs of their authors. If who wrote the story is the thing that makes you like it, and not what they wrote in that story, something is wrong. If the Hugos become a competition between people and beliefs instead of between stories and books and movies, then something is wrong. Don’t sway me to your side with screed about what you believe or what the world has become. Write something amazing and ask me to read it. Get my vote the old-fashioned way. Turn me into a reader.

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