I am not going to blog about the whole Hugo nonsense. I have very fond memories of the Hugos from my youth. One of the things on which my brother and I would go halfsies every year was the collection of the Hugo nominated short stories. But since then, the awards have suffered a decline. I continued to buy the collections, mind, but about ten years ago realized I wasn’t actually reading them and that was the end of that.
Mind you, most of this is probably not so much the decay in the awards as the fact that I’ve noticed, over the years, that my reading has got way more selective. Used to be that if I started a book, I had to finish it, no matter how much it disgusted me. Then around my thirties (and small kids) things started changing, and books fell into three categories “read through”, “read beginning until disgusted, then skim the rest.” And “drop half read.”
Drop half read included the Harry Potter teenage whine installment. Probably prompted by the fact that at the time I had two teenagers. I just set it down, face down, which by itself is bad news, as I BOOKMARK books I’m enjoying. And then I forgot I was reading it. And since life entered one of its “interesting” phases and the kids cleaned that room for three months, when I cleaned it next, I found it wand went “oh, yeah, I was reading this.” Never restarted, though.
If I could track down this change in my reading methods, it was when I realized I had just read the beginning of one book and the second half of the other and NOT REALIZED IT.
This mind you was when I had a two year old and a five year old, so addled was where I lived, pretty much, year around. Also, I have beyond sucky memory for names. (One of the reasons I beg you not to have characters with the same first letter and last letter to their names. Because I will never tell them apart. Jane and Janine used to be the same to me, since – uncertain about English names – I just read the first and last letter. Now they’re not, but if I set the book down and come back a day later, I will not remember the difference.) Both books were “noir-cozy-mysteries” set in London. Well, maybe procedurals, I don’t know. But not like American procedurals, where you get the nitty gritty of the investigation. Instead the emphasis is on the main character’s (usually a policewoman) personal life, conflicts with her role, and how this notches in with solving the crime. The result is this almost-cozy feel.
Anyway, what used to happen (this was before we took vacations, even in Denver. Afterwards, this ritual became “the beginning of a long weekend in Denver) is that we’d go to the mystery book store in Denver every six months. They were new/used and the used were reasonably priced. When we started going there, two full paper grocery bags ran just over 100 dollars, which was a lot of bang for the buck. So we’d come back and those books lasted me three to six months at which time, if we had money, we went back. (I read slower with the kids attached to me.)
So I finished this – I thought – book, and the ending was satisfactory and everything. But there was some detail that bugged me. I don’t remember what, now, but let’s say in the first book, the murder happened by jumping out the window while in the solution to what I thought was the SAME book, they went on about how the rope had led them to the killer. I thought this was very weird, so I went to the beginning and read through the first murder and realized it wasn’t the book I’d read. Then I tracked the other book down where I’d left it a day before, when I had to go do something for the kids.
I think it was at this point that I gave up on “I’ll read every word.” Because if books were that generic, why would I?
And that’s my main complaint of most of the Hugo nominees/talked about books. It’s not that they’re bad… It’s more the same reason I stopped watching TV dramas/comedies. I can tell from the setup how they’re going to end.
In the same way, though some occasionally surprise me, more and more, in science fiction, when I start reading a novel or short that has earned the approval of the glitterati, I know exactly what twists it’s going to take and how it will end.
Some of this, undoubtedly, is that I can see the strings and pulleys, because I know the craft – as I’ve warned those of you I mentor, when you learn the craft it ruins some of your reading enjoyment – but the other part is that I know what the approved path of thought is. In the same way I could predict where that (discovery Channel?) future evolution program would go, because I know what they hate, and first they eliminated mankind, then anything that resembled us, including all mammals (and there was no logical reason for it, there was thin-veiled handwavium) and ended with intelligent octopi swinging from trees. (I wish I were joking.) The octopi were a little surprising because silly is surprising, but I knew it would be something like that, or an insect, or something.
In the same way, the overriding characteristic of all those “highly approved of” works is… “yawn.”
Perhaps they dramatically excite the members of the choir. What do I know? They don’t do much for me, though.
There wasn’t much choice until indie. It was Baen or conform.
Now? Shrug. I’m not even sure how much difference if any the Hugos make. It all seems like inside football, when facing a worldwide potential readership.
And eh – she says, after remarking the grapes are too sour to eat anyway – I don’t have a dog in the fight.
So I’m not going to write about the Hugos. I’m just going to say that when there is a storm all over FB about how the awards need to be awarded to more “women” and “people of color” you’ve lost the plot.
Leave alone for a moment the disgusting, viscerally repulsive racism of assuming that the inside of a person’s head always matches their skin color/gender. And let alone the fact that all this smacks of “special award, for extra-deserving minority.” (As a minority – double, if you count women as a minority – I’d like them to take their award and stick it up where the sun don’t shine. I’ll win on my own terms, in competition with everyone of whatever color or gender, or not at all. Not that anyone is offering me an award, of course, since I’m a gender and ethnicity “traitor” (How can you betray something you never swore allegiance to, anyway?))
We’ll leave that alone, mostly because I found myself typing obscenities on the subject on a friend’s FB page last night, and no one wants to see that (right?)
Let’s just consider, for a moment, that their motives are pure. That they think that not having women or people of color among the nominees is the result of racism and sexism (which would mean they don’t expect anyone to judge on the merits of the STORY, but never mind.)
That just shows how the award has fallen. Because if it were given to the most popular work among the fans, no one would care (or often know) what color/gender the writer is.
There is this Reiner Kunze poem which I haven’t run across yet, in my book-clearing, and which at any rate, I only read in German and so will quote from memory, possibly with omissions/additions.
The trees grow top on top
None is taller than the others
The branches filter the rain so the
Torture of thirst is avoided
The trees grow top on top
None sees more than the others
To the wind, they all whisper the same.
And this is the real problem with most stories (genre or not) these days, at least those that come out of the literary-industrial complex. It is not that they’re produced by white people or brown people, or purple people. It’s not that the person who wrote them has a penis or a vagina. That doesn’t matter or shouldn’t matter. I’m not saying there won’t be markers/assumptions, though a really good writer can write convincingly from another perspective, without breaking a sweat.
Those things don’t matter, because that’s not, in the end, what you write with. (I can see typing with a penis, but if you type with a vagina you should take your act on the road, or at least get a webcam.)
You write with craft, with art, and yes, with a bit of your soul, but those don’t always match the external bits. (You’d think the people going on about the tyranny of cis-thisandthat would get that, no? Even when it doesn’t refer to gender? That someone truly imaginative can imagine growing up in say Elizabethan England, and for that time BE that person?)
If you’re not subduing your inner self to what the establishment expects you to be, not trying to conform to “what all the right people think”, not trying to be accepted by the cool kids, if you truly try to think for yourself – particularly in SF – your work will surprise. It might not shock, but it will surprise enough to keep the jaded palate reading.
And you won’t be a tree in a forest of identical trees, none of them worth the pulp paper they’ll eventually become.
Because writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy is not a form of social science. It’s not your “duty” to right the wrongs of the world, or even to “change the world.” The teacher who told you that was wrong. Oh, sure, if you can make people THINK after they finish reading you, great. You might even make them see things your way. (Or not. I enjoyed many a leftist writer without doing more than roll my eyes at his assumptions.) But that’s irrelevant.
What you really need to do with your science fiction and fantasy (or mystery, or horror, or romance) is ENTERTAIN your reader, so that as they close the book they think “that was money/time well spent. I’d read the next one.”
Everything else will come after that, by accretion. But that is essential. Because if you don’t do that, none of your beautifully crafted message that is going to uplift and change the world counts for anything.
And also chances are the reader can see your message coming ten miles away and is running in the other direction even if he agrees, because he’s read it SO many times before.
So, if there are going to be general genre awards (dubious in the days of distributed publishing) let’s make them about fan enthusiasm and good writing. Let the man with the most interesting story win.
Even if he is a she or a he/she or a she/he, and even if he’s white, or purple, or a chameleon who takes on local coloration.
I don’t care. So long as the story is good.