*So in March? April? Cathy young interviewed me about the Hugos, and I gave her my trademark long answers. Her article is up now, but she’d graciously agreed to letting me post my original answers when it came out, so here it is (not a verification thing, she’s okay, even if she is a journalist.;) I thought you might want to see it, is all.*
(1) Were you/are you directly involved with the Sad Puppies project, or are you simply a supporter?
I’m a friend of Brad’s and Larry’s and have taken part in a sort of free-floating email discussion of the Hugosplosion since the first one when Larry was doing it for a joke. There was then the second when he set out to prove that people of the wrong opinions/wrong views couldn’t win the Hugo.
That second one included two of my works on the suggested slate. They didn’t make it, partly because I didn’t even mention it to my fans (or at least not the short stories.) And I didn’t mention the short story because I had no idea it was suggested. (It wasn’t one of my best. It’s almost fanfic for my Shifter world.)
Here I must interject that I’ve been very ill for about two years (more, but the very only the last two years) which brought my reading and, unfortunately, my writing to a halt. So some of those emails (and the participants vary because it’s not a conspiracy and people keep adding/dropping people, including friends and spouses) I merely skimmed. I got enough to get Larry’s point, and I defended him from some of the crazy accusations, such as that he was buying votes. BUT I wasn’t participating very actively. I neither nominated nor voted last year, because for a free-lancer health difficulties mean money difficulties, as you probably know, yourself.
When discussion came around to this year, Larry said he’d proved what he wanted last year, and was not running a slate this year. It was mooted that I should. By that time, I knew I’d likely need major-ish (turned out far more major and explained my issues) surgery early in the year. So Brad volunteered. His goal was not the same as Larry. His goal was to reclaim the Hugo as a brand of “something people will want to read.”
Unfortunately, though I bought a supporting membership this year, I didn’t even nominate, because I was dealing with health crisis from December onward, as well as a house move. This will make my answers to some of these questions fairly odd. (Not helped by the fact I’m still in recovery.) Sorry.
(2) What do you think Sad Puppies was primarily a response to: stories getting Hugo nominations/wins for reasons of ideology rather than merit? Or, conversely, worthy sci-fi/fantasy literature not getting nominated because of ideology? Or both? Can you give me some examples of stories or books that you believe won/got nominated undeservedly (other than “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”), and ones that were unfairly excluded?
I can’t speak for the rest of the participants. This is a centerless movement, a lot like the Tea Parties. I know Brad’s goal is to “restore” the awards, and also that Brad is well to the left of me. In Portuguese classification terms, which since it’s all left provides greater amplitude of dividing the left into segments, I’d say Brad is a social democrat. This means he has no objections to the politics in the winners, only to ineptitude.
Now that I think about it, I also have very little objection to the politics (save when they’re predictably boring.) Most of my objection to recent wins of the Hugo doesn’t even rest in If You Were A Dinosaur My Love being nominated. I hate that story because of how it portrays “every man working class” in America (and yes, I know it’s been said this “rough bar” isn’t working class. Because, you know, the Harvard Faculty bar is truly dangerous. I mean, I don’t know about your area, but in every place I’ve lived in the true underclass doesn’t congregate in bars. Flophouses and crackhouses [we had one down the street twenty years ago], maybe, not bars.) Heck, how it portrays every man working class anywhere. My grandfathers were both carpenters and my mom’s brothers were in the trades. It didn’t make them raging bigots, even if one of them had a crude sense of humor.
But it wasn’t what I call the Dinosaur Abomination nor even the fact that for years I haven’t been able to use the Hugo as a guide for what to read that convinced me something had gone very wrong. No, it was Red Shirts win. I’m sorry, that book is at best bad fanfic, and yet it got the honor of being “the best of the year” against, if I remember the year correctly an excellent (ie better than normal) Lois McMaster Bujold book.
I know you’re going to say taste can’t be argued, and this is true, but it prompted me to start looking more closely at the awards, and what I found and had already known at the back of my head, is best encapsulated in my friend Dave Freer’s words, back at Mad Genius Club:
“I used to be a member of SFWA. I used to get the Nebula nominations notifications. They were fascinating, pre 2010… because they listed the names of those who voted for them.
It was all the same names. Jim got nominated by Joe, Mary, Sally, and Charlie. And Charlie got nominated by Jim, Joe, Mary and Sally. And next year lo and behold! Mary got nominated by… yeah, you guessed it. Jim, Joe, Sally and Charlie. And yes, many of the names now screaming in outrage about the ‘evil’ puppies… are the same names. This is not a lie, or conjecture. It’s a fact. Well known, well established and one you can verify. The process is called log-rolling, it’s incestuous, unfair and a very very poor measure of quality.”
I had in fact been advised in workshops to aim to compete in the less “packed” categories where you could more or less buy the award for a couple thousand dollars by buying memberships for friends and family. I THINK – I never engaged in the game – novella was one of the least packed. Ten years ago I had a friend who won at least a short-story award by buying a lot of memberships. (And no, I’m not going to give a name.)
Now, all is fair in publishing and publicity, but when the award bills itself as “the best” in the field, people are going to think the rest is worse/more of the same, and it will turn away new/naïve readers who don’t like the limited selection.
It is in the interest of my livelihood to ensure that the science fiction genre thrives again in books as it does right now in movies and games. You see, I’m a libertarian and not as altruistic as Brad who is a boy scout. I just want to ensure we’re not eating our seed corn.
(3) Following up on (2): I’ve seen the argument (I believe from George R.R. Martin) that last year’s Hugo finalists for best novel were good old adventure stories rather than “message” tracts, and that this shows the Sad Puppy complaints are baseless. Any comment on that?
See the part above where I said I hadn’t had much ability to concentrate on long reads the last two years. However, when Ancillary Justice was praised to the skies and when half of my readers thought it was pretty good, I downloaded the sample from Amazon.
It does show a certain amount of talent. It also has the thumbprints of a first book. The pacing seemed off to me, as did the cueing of where/when the reader is. I chose not to read the rest. In online discussions I keep hearing the story referred to as “a ripping yarn” and “Just good space opera” but two things lead me to believe this is wrong. Even its supporters say “the story gets good after page 40” which if you ever took a fiction writing course is sort of like saying “But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Second, what I’ll call the pronoun gimmick. The character expresses herself in a language that has only the feminine pronoun, even though the characters have two genders like other humans. This causes a distancing of the reader, in that you keep trying to figure out if this “she” has an innie or an outie. It’s human. You want to visualize the characters. This would be justified if it impacts the plot and so I wouldn’t say anything, if the author herself hadn’t said that there is no plot reason for that “gimmick.” I will not hold her to the words of her fans, who seem to think it’s fitting “payback” for English having the male as default. But they miss that English (indeed, all indo-European tongues) only has the male pronoun as default when the gender is not determined, such as when seeing someone in a fog or talking about someone in the abstract. (I bet they’re the sort of people who think History is His Story. Sigh.)
As for the others, Charles’ Stross does sound like space opera, but until I read the actual book, I can’t tell you if it is, or just a vast tract against capitalism. Mira Grant’s sounds like a horror novel of the aliens within kind (again, not something I can comment on for sure unless/until I read the novel) and well, the Wheel of Time is the Wheel of Time. I’m not particularly enthused by vast heroic fantasy epics, preferring contemporary or historical parallel world novels. I might have read the first few books back in the mists of time before Noah built the arc, but I don’t remember it.
I have read (actually listened to, which makes the attention span and concentration thing easier) Warbound and like it, because it’s a painstakingly built parallel world with intriguing rules and intriguing characters (and no, I don’t like ALL of my friends’ writing. It’s a curse in this field to love someone to death and not be able to read their books. But I like this one [And MHI, natch – not in the answer, because not nominated.)
However, even reading the other descriptions, one boggles at “Why Ancillary Justice” with known flaws and from a less experienced storyteller?
Taste, of course, but how representative is that taste? Hard to tell when only a miniscule group voted on the award.