Broken Hugo Fisking – D Jason Fleming
So somebody named Chris Meadows has decided to weigh in on L’affaire des chiots triste, and as with most of the mainstream “explanations” of what’s going on, his take is, to use a favored word of good Social Justice Warriors everywhere, problematic.
Why the Hugos are broken, and whoâ€™s breaking them now
Gosh, sounds promising, doesn’t it? And authoritative, too!
The Hugo Puppies affair proceeds apace. As it will for at least the rest of this year, and probably the next as well. Everyone is having their say, and some excellent things have been written about the whole matter lately. Iâ€™ll get to those in a moment.
One of the things that the whole Sad Puppies Affair has brought to the fore for me, personally, is my total lack of patience or respect for what you might call the Argument By Posture, or Argument From Attitude. There are a great many people, largely on the left, who believe that no logical argument is needed, all one need do is express contempt or, sometimes more artfully, mere dismissiveness by affecting a certain pose and using loaded words without dealing in actual content.
(I have been blocked by any number of these people after both pointing out the vacuity of what they were doing, and treating them to precisely the same thing. I am, of course, always the bad guy in such situations.)
So, let’s just say that Meadows sets off my alarm bells with “proceeds apace” and the affected world-weariness of the first two sentences in general.
Also, it’s hilarious to note that he does not actually count those on the Sad Puppies side of things as having anything “excellent” to say, because of course not. This, also, is of a piece with the Argumentum Ad Poseurum, since he again is inserting his judgement before anything else, a rhetorical placing of the thumb on the scales. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The Internet Breaks the Hugos
Whether youâ€™re for the Puppies or against them, there canâ€™t be any argument that the Hugo nomination and voting process is badly broken. The interesting thing is that the process hasnâ€™t changed appreciably for years or even decades. It didnâ€™t just break on its own. No, the same thing happened to it that happened to so many other processes and industries that had long been taken for granted. The Internet happened.
Well, actually, there has been a lot of argument that the Hugos were just fine, dammit, until those dastardly Sad Puppyvolk came along and Ruined Everything. It is in fact only in the past week or so that there has been acknowledgement that the nomination and voting process is deficient.
Which, please note, is what Larry Correia has been saying for three years.
But, of course, the Sad Puppies cannot be permitted to be correct, so the Old And Busted argument is “the Puppies ruined it allllll!” and The New Hotness is now “Everybody Already Knows About This, And The Fact That These Jerks Are Winning PROVES It And They Must Be Stopped!”
But Meadows goes further, with an argument that’s, well, interesting.
I mean, “the internet broke everything”? Really? Yes, he is apparently serious.
The music industry. Movies. Television. Books. Newspapers. All of these institutions have found the solid bedrock foundation on which they built their business crumble to shifting sand as the Internet gave people ways of either getting their stuff without paying for it, or getting the same stuff legitimately but more cheaply. The Internet has been a great democratizer, and that hasnâ€™t worked so well for institutions that relied on a top-down distribution model.
Openness and “piracy” are ruining everything.
Ignore, for the gods’ sakes, that gigantic pachydermic-looking thing in the middle of the room.
The music industry? The one that tried suing kids for millions upon millions of dollars for daring to make mix tapes? The one that tried to get away, in the ’90s, with claiming that you did not “own” CDs you purchased, and had no right to resell them, share them, or even let anyone but the purchaser even listen to them? The industry that deliberately set things up so that no musician could become a success while retaining ownership of his music? (Don’t believe me? Then listen to Buddy Holly, in 1957, begging his former record company to allow him to record his own songs.) But forget all that, the problem is the internet letting those damned kids record and copy and share without permission. Their business was built on a solid bedrock foundation. Yep.
Movies? There are lots and lots of problems with the movie industry, and despite the shrieking hysteria you occasionally hear from Hollyweird, “piracy” really isn’t one of them. An industry whose budgets are outpacing inflation nearly as badly as universities’ has inarguable problems, and those budgets aren’t caused by “the internet”, they’re caused by magical Hollywood accounting under which no movie ever, ever shows a profit, and unions jacking up their rates to try to compensate for that.
And on and on.
The actual problem is that the internet eliminated the need for gatekeepers, and The Establishment in each industry no longer gets to dictate to everybody else what they will like and what they can and cannot do.
Does piracy exist? Sure. Is it a problem? I tend to think not, generally speaking. Unless, of course, you try to force prices higher than the market deems reasonable, in which case, yeah, you’re going to get pirated a lot and paid very little. But that’s another blogpost.
But no, ignore all that, ignore all those industries violations of decency and cronyism with Congress to keep gaming the law (remember the Disney copyright extension of 1997?), and all other evidences of their corruption and glorious comeuppance once the internet hit.
IGNORE IT, I SAY!
Because the internet is ruining everything. There, isn’t that much easier? Much happier? Now shut up and eat your garbage!
(Who wants to lay odds that Meadows really, really hates Fox News and yearns for the days when media bias and malfeasance was never exposed “didn’t exist”?)
But the Internet hasnâ€™t had to affect institutions directly to cause these problems. Sometimes all it takes is connecting people together outside of those institutions. The entire point of the Cluetrain Manifesto was to warn corporations that consumers now had the power to talk to each other the world over about those corporationsâ€™ products, and if the corporations didnâ€™t take note and engage in a two-way dialogue, they were going to be roadkill on the Information Superhighway. When Cluetrain was first published, in 1999, this was a pretty bold statement. In the years since, itâ€™s become recognized as a fact of life, not just for corporations but for everyone.
I’m not sure which is more interesting here, Meadows’ pimping of his own past work, or his use of the 1996-fabulous term “information superhighway” with the not-clever-since-maybe-1997 roadkill metaphor.
What has this to do with the Hugos? Um, well, internet. It’s destroying everything, you know.
Anyone remember in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when the Japanese were buying up everything and that was what was wrong with life, the universe, and everything? No?
So, here we have the Hugo Awards, adapting their voting process to the Internet by making it possible for associate members to enter ballots by web instead of just mailing them in as before, without taking into account that the Internet makes it possible to organize concerted campaigns by letting people post communications to everyone else on the Internet. Something like this was inevitable. Perhaps the only thing to be surprised about is that it didn’t happen sooner. (And, given that this is the third year in a row there has been Puppy activity, and it takes two years to implement Hugo rule changes, perhaps the Worldcon folks should have started considering this problem a little earlier, before it became the full-blown crisis that it is this year.)
“Perhaps the only thing to be surprised about is that it didn’t happen sooner”?
Meadows, in a capital feat of Missing The Point, manages to ignore that the Sad Puppies maintain that it did happen sooner — that’s why Sad Puppies exists.
Oh, and Harlan Ellison was saying that it existed way back in 1995.
And the other thing Meadows completely fails at noting is that Sad Puppies played by the rules as they stand, was open and transparent about what they were doing, and were decrying the secret, behind the scenes collusion and deal-making.
You know. The whole point of the exercise.
And this could be only the beginning. When I was chatting with SF and romance novelist Mercedes Lackey the other day, she made this prediction:
I cannot WAIT until someone lets the Romance Writers know about this, and how to get a book on the Hugo ballot.
Romance readers outnumber SF readers by about 100 to one, and a very high percentage of them would be gleeful to only pay $40 to get one of their beloved writers an award.
Romance writers are extremely savvy women about energizing their fan bases. They were using social media for that long before SF writers started.
I want to see their faces when Diane Gabaldon takes the Hugo in 2016.
You know, I was chatting with Bigfamous Namedrop the other day, and she said:
So Diana Gabaldon might win a Hugo? She’s been writing a time-travel fantasy series for, what? Twenty years? More? Sure, it’s romance, but it’s also time-travel fantasy. Does the “romance” label somehow render her Too Uncool To Deserve A Hugo?
As a point of interest, when your horror-show hypothetical result is still more deserving of a genre win than an actual Hugo-winning story — and yes, I mean the dreadful dinosaur piece of wankery — then maybe, possibly, perhaps you are arguing from a position of weakness.
Food for thought, Meadows.
Are the Hugos out of Touch?
By now we’re all familiar with the Puppiesâ€™ contention that the Hugos no longer reflect the popular reading tastes of the general public. But did you know the Puppies may have at least part of a point? No less a personage than Eric Flint has spoken out to say that the Hugos are somewhat out of touch after all—but not for the reasons the Puppies think, and theyâ€™re going about trying to â€œfixâ€ it the wrong way. The far-far-left Flint would seem like the last person one would expect to agree with the Puppies on anything, but he makes a pretty good case.
Again, let us look at the ever-shifting goal posts. (In all fairness, I have no idea if Meadows ever did this shift, but since he’s arguing the “Everything Is Awesome” position, with careful attenuations to admit that not quite everything is awesome, but the Puppies are still drooling morons, it’s completely fair to bring up this shift.)
Old & Busted: Baen Books Is Not A Real Publisher And Is Conservative (BOO! HISS!), Too.
(Another logical fallacy is implicit here, the Argument from Cooties — if something is “conservative”, it has cooties, and everyone even tenuously associated with it has cooties, too, and therefore doesn’t need to be dealt with, merely smeared.)
New Hotness: Baen Books Superstar Eric Flint Is Lefty And Therefore Awesome (because he lets me argue that the Puppies are right, but still wrong wrong wrong!!!)
Now, let us pause to consider the argument, made by more serious-minded folks than Meadows, that the Sad Puppies are indeed correct that something is wrong with the process (note: yes, a distortion of the SP’s actual position, but let it pass for now), but incorrect about how to fix it.
Note that, prior to the Sad Puppies victory this year, according to “everybody” (that is, the popular establishment opinion), Everything Was Awesome except for Larry Correia’s Hugo nomination which, because Larry is a nasty non-leftist, was Too Abhorrent To Discuss. But the problem was Larry, and Vox Day, and the wrong kinds of fans getting involved in the process.
But this year, the Sad Puppies dominated the nominations before the whisper campaigns got certain authors to withdraw their works because of cooties. And while, at first, we still heard that Everything Was Awesome, that excuse just wasn’t flying anymore.
So, now, thanks to Sad Puppies 3, people who have a violent allergic reaction to any nonconformist wrongthink are admitting that, well, okay, something is wrong.
In other words, the Sad Puppies ended up both Speaking Truth To Power and Starting A Conversation.
Why are these things only awesomesauce when lefties do them? (Yeah, yeah, I know, “Because SHUT! UP!”)
Flint is so long-winded in his explanation that itâ€™s hard to find bits to quote, but the fundamental causes he lays at the feet of Hugosâ€™ disconnection are threefold: First, thereâ€™s simply too much stuff being written these days for people to read more than a small fraction of the potential output while itâ€™s still eligible for nomination. Second, the categories the Hugo covers (novel, novella, novelette, short story) no longer reflect the ways in which fiction is actually published. Third, the tastes of the people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them have diverged over time from those of the average person.
[Eric Flint quote omitted.]
Flint also thinks that limiting the awards to one particular item per specific year leads to a lot of excellent works failing to be consideredâ€”both because thereâ€™s not room for them all to be nominated, and because many people may not even get around to reading something until years after it was published.
Flint’s proposed fix is expanding the categories to account for more types of fiction than are currently covered, or even scrapping the current system of annually-delimited awards outright in favor of more overall-in-field recognition. But he admits that institutional inertia makes it unlikely such a thing will ever happen.
It’s quite cute that Meadows is trying to enlist a Baen author’s arguments against the Sad Puppies (whose organizers are largely comprised of Baen authors and indies).
The problem is, Flint’s arguments would have been just about equally apposite in the early 1990s.
Too much stuff being written these days? Gardner Dozois’s “The Year’s Best SF” anthologies always documented raw numbers in an expansive introduction, such as how many genre novels were published in a given year. I got that anthology from 1989 through about ’94, and every single one included an implicit apology that Dozois could not possibly have read all ~500 novels published in the preceding year, and then noted books that others had mentioned thinking highly of.
If that aspect is broken now, it was broken twenty-five years ago too, and why is it only okay to discuss it now?
The answer is “never mind, we’ve found an argument that will co-opt the Sad Puppies and still let us mock them for being stoopit”.
The second point, that the categories don’t cover how fiction is published, is incredibly open to argument on both sides, pro and con, and that lies outside the scope of this fisking. If the thing needs to be hashed out, it will be, but for now, readers know what a novel is, what a short story is, and the in-between categories of novellette and novella aren’t exactly hard to figure out either. If changes need to happen, well, that’s what Emergent Order is for. It will happen if it needs to, without anybody needing to control it. (Which, come to think of it, is what so frosts the Anti-Sad-Puppies like John Scalzi. They don’t get to dictate, and that’s Wrong.)
The third point is interesting, though, in how Meadows is trying to square the circle.
“Third, the tastes of the people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them have diverged over time from those of the average person.”
This is, shall we say, a problematic argument to make when you also accuse “people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them” to be “ballot stuffing” because they’re voting in ways you don’t approve.
See, the Hugo is “the fan’s award”, and has (until this year) always been presented as such.
But in recent years, a certain cadre has “cared enough to bother” with the award. And Sad Puppies comes along, declares “we care enough, too, and there are more of us!”
Which has lead to rather delicious public admissions, such as Theresa Neilsen-Hayden declaring both that the Hugo is not “the fan award”, and that “the wrong kinds of fans” must be kept out of the voting process.
Which, by the by, is exactly the sort of mindset and behavior that Larry Correia and the Sad Puppies said was the problem to begin with. Not that “the process is broken”, but that the process had been taken over by a self-appointed, self-congratulatory “elite”, and that they would not take well to intrusions from the riff raff.
Well, thanks to TNH’s admissions, among others, we have crystal clear evidence that that supposed “elite” was not theoretical, but real, and they have very publicly Not Reacted Well to being exposed and shown up.
So what it comes down to is this: if “average people” suddenly “care enough to bother to take part” in the Hugos, does that mean that the tastes of the average person are now more closely aligned to the tastes of people who care enough to bother to take part, or does that mean that suddenly the rules must be changed to keep these awful people out?
The Sad Puppies are simply trying to make “the people’s award” reflective of the people again, and not a self-appointed clique that took over the process to puff its members up while pretending to represent the mass taste.
The Anti-Sad Puppies just want to shut out these knuckle-dragging uncouth savages from the process.
Understanding Vox Day
It’s also worth noting that laying all this disruption at the feet of the Sad Puppies campaign might actually be a mistake. If you dig through the statistics, you’ll find something interesting: the Rabid Puppies campaign by Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale), whose slate had significant but not total overlap with Sad Puppies, actually did better in the nominations than Sad Puppies. When the two slates conflicted, the Rabid choices won out. Ten works that were on Rabid but not Sad made it into the final ballot, while only three works that were on Sad but not Rabid did (and they generally did so only because Rabid didnâ€™t nominate a full slate in those categories). Itâ€™s possible that if no one had submitted a Sad Puppies nominating ballot at all, the end results would have still been largely similar.
And now begins the part of the game where smear-by-association sets in, with the super-neato twist of using it also to denigrate the target further by insinuating that Evil McBadPerson is more effective/competent/lock-steppy than those silly Sad Puppies.
More argument-by-cooties, in other words, with the extra attempted insult of “cooties are better than you!”
Doesn’t this mature, respectable, and, hell, I’m not afraid to say the word, honorable behavior just make you puff up with pride in all the Good People who aren’t so stupid as to actually associate with Sad Puppies? Doesn’t it? Huh?
The thing is, a lot of people don’t seem to know a lot about Beale beyond the fact that he was kicked out of the SFWA for using its official Twitter feed to disseminate a blog post in which he called author N.K. Jemisin a â€œhalf-savage.â€ Bealeâ€™s defenders have tried to insist that his words (and those of multiply-nominated author John C. Wright, whose work Beale publishes) are taken out of context, but lately (and to John Scalziâ€™s amusement) Sad Puppies leaders Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have tried to distance themselves from him. (A bit too late, given that he’s already gotten what he wanted out of them, but better late than never I suppose.)
Dear gods this is tedious.
Yes, Chris Meadows, yes: Cool Kid John Scalzi will now confer upon you Righteous Awesomeitude, okay? Could you just, you know, do the fellating somewhere the rest of us don’t have to watch? The whole toady-on-bully thing just doesn’t do it for me, you know?
Now, apart from the porntastic aspects of this, the (pardon me, but it is the word) smear continues. Just a few points of interest:
1. Vox Day is not a part of Sad Puppies. Yes, yes, some of his work was included in the recommendations of Sad Puppies 2. He has no connection to Sad Puppies 3. It is not defensive to say this, especially as people on the Anti-Sad Puppy side continually try to smear by association.
2. Rabid Puppies was, as I understand it, inspired by two things: the partial success of Sad Puppies 2, and the fact that it would piss off John Scalzi and all his toadies.
Rabid Puppies is the responsibility of one man, Vox Day. And he is responsible for himself. Neither Larry Correia nor Brad Torgerson are accountable for the words or deeds of another adult human being. That’s because, he’s, you know, an adult.
Unlike Chris “I learned to argue from the mean girls in eighth grade” Meadows.
(Now watch: if he responds, he’ll ONLY bring up argumentum ad hominem, and not the many, many, many, many, many factual deficiencies of his position, which I’ve been pointing out at length.)
3. Vox was ejected from the SFWA in violation of the rules of the SFWA.
Just kind of a minor point about how The Establishment operates. They are totally willing to break their own rules, just so long as they win.
Unlike, say, the Sad Puppies, who are openly playing by the established rules. And winning.
Here’s a great opportunity to remedy that lack of knowledge. Writer Philip Sandifer has written an epic analysis of Beale and Wrightâ€™s political and religious position and how it informs the stories they’ve written and nominated for Hugos. I think that this should be required reading for anyone who wants to take part in the the discussion, whichever side you’re on. I hope I remember this piece when next year comes around, because I feel it should earn Sandifer a place on the 2016 Hugo ballot for Best Fan Writer. It’s extremely long, but well worth reading.
Vox is a bad-wrong-odious-wrongthink-BADPERSON, we get it already.
Also? He’s not part of Sad Puppies, and thank you for reviving guilt by association as Totally Awesome. The shade of Joseph McCarthy smiles upon you, Chris Meadows.
What Would Heinlein Think of the Puppies?
As I’m about to demonstrate, if you want to know the answer to this, Chris Meadows is pretty much the last person to look to.
Finally, let’s consider one of the deities the Puppies claim to idolize: Robert Heinlein, who wrote a lot of terrific pulpy action adventure back in the day. One of the Puppies’ major goals is to get more of that kind of stuff and less preachy message fiction in the Hugos, after all.
Chris Meadows would appear to bathe in pure smug. It takes quite a lot of smug to do a double-reverse implied scare quote, after all.
Yes, there are scare quotes around “deities”, you can feel them purely through the power of his contempt.
Actually, this is so jam-packed with idiocy, I’m going to deconstruct it phrase by phrase:
Finally, let’s consider one of the deities the Puppies claim to idolize
As my added emphasis makes clear, Meadows is striving mightily to engage in impression management. The snarky “deities”, the stiletto of implying that Sad Puppy claims are inherently untrustworthy, and the not-at-all accidental implication that we’re insane religious fanatics, all in less than a dozen words.
This isn’t an argument, this is inept propaganda.
Hey, I managed to cull two words that weren’t a sneer! Yay me!
who wrote a lot of terrific pulpy action adventure
As to “terrific”: right.
As to “pulpy”: great Hera, I could do an essay on this one attempt to sway readers through implication instead of reason and facts, but I won’t.
But let me say this: Meadows is either a fool or a scumbag. Take your pick. [We’re going with both – ed.] Robert A. Heinlein was the very first science fiction writer in America to break out of the “low brow”, “ghetto” of the pulp magazines and into the “respectable” slick magazines. The very first. He was the guy who was So Good, the snooty editors could not deny him because of his genre. This is the author being praise-dismissed with the word “pulpy”.
“Oh,” Meadows is going to claim, “I was praising his quaint, old-fashioned, non-modern style!” Well, not in those words. But make no mistake, it’s left-handed praise, and it’s meant that way.
So is Meadows making it because he’s an ignorant twit, or because he’s a mendacious jerk?
And really, does it matter?
To continue, “action adventure”: Another loaded phrase that can be excused as “positive”, but as everybody who is ANYBODY knows, “action adventure” just isn’t literary old chap, not important. You know. It’s not nearly on par with a first novel that deliberately calls every character “she”, because Gender Is Socially Assigned, you know. What what?
back in the day.
Get that? Heinlein is OLD, people! And, as every Mentos commercial made in the ’90s informed, us, old is stupid, and young is awesomesauce, automatically!
One of the Puppies’ major goals is to get more of that kind of stuff and less preachy message fiction in the Hugos, after all.
For a guy who, I don’t even have to guess, is on the side that claims to be Far More Nuancier Than Thou, Meadows sure has a rough time understanding a not-at-all difficult to understand distinction between what he claims here, and what Sad Puppies is actually about.
Mr. Meadows, I know this is hard for you to get entered into that gray matter you have, but do please at least try: What we want is fiction that tells an entertaining story first. It can have A Message, or No Message, that’s more or less beside the point.
We’re just tired unto death of fiction that has no story, eschewed in favor of Just One Approved Message, or else a story that Makes No Sense because the message trumped story logic.
We don’t mind messages. We don’t even mind messages antithetical to our own views (unlike you and your hate for Vox Day for having The Wrong Message, as noted above). We just want A Good Story, and if it has a message, fine and dandy, but the Story Must Be Good first.
Which, if you notice, is not what you say above. Because you’re wrong. Whether you’re wrong because you’re too stupid to understand a fairly minimal level of nuance, or because you’re an impression-managing manipulative lying jackass, again, I leave as an excercise for the reader.
Except the Puppies are kind of forgetting something. Heinlein was no stranger to â€œpreachy message fictionâ€ himself. In fact, he had some pretty harsh words for critics who wanted all adventure and no message:
Harsh words for critics who want what the Sad Puppies avowedly Do Not Want. As explained above. So, you know, GREAT ZINGER, DUDE! Just, too bad it doesn’t apply to the people you thought you were zinging.
This is the Heinlein quote (which he got from a comments section, rather than, you know, sourcing it himself):
He will permit any speculation at all” as long as it is about gadgets only and doesn’ touch people. He doesn’t care what mayhem you commit on physics, astronomy, or chemistry with your gadgets but the people must be the same plain old wonderful jerks that live in his Home Town. Give him a good ole adventure story any time, with lots of Gee-Whiz in it and space ships blasting off and maybe the Good Guys (in white space ships) chasing the Bad Guys (in black space ships) but, brother, don’t you say anything about the Methodist Church, or the Flag, or incest, or homosexuality, or teleology, or theology, or the sacredness of marriage, or anything philosophical! Because you are just an entertainer, see? That sort of Heavy Thinking is reserved for C. P. Snow or Graham Greene. You are a pulp writer, Bud, and you will always be a pulp writer even though your trivia is now bound in boards and sells for just as much as Grace Metalious stories and you are not permitted to have Heavy Thoughts. Space Ships and Heavy Thinking do not mix ” so shut up and sit down!
The rule is: Science Fiction by its nature must be trivial.
This of course rules out a large fraction of my work” and all my future work, I think.
I defy Meadows to find one individual even remotely related to Sad Puppies who thinks SF should only be about gadgets. Go for it. Try.
(Which is even funnier, because his Biggest Complaint about Vox Day and John Wright’s fiction is that He Does Not Like Their Speculations About People, because wrongthink!)
If the Sad Puppies have a rule for SF, it is this:
The rule is: Science Fiction by its nature must be entertaining.
This is a rule Heinlein never broke. (You, yes you, the one about to kvetch about The Number Of The Beast — be quiet; you would only be admitting that you missed the joke of what Heinlein was doing in that book. [Seconded! – Ed.])
It’s like he’s speaking directly to the Sad Puppies from beyond the grave, isn’t it?
It’s like Meadows is an idiot savant, except for the “savant” part, isn’t it?