Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Right Geek: Opening a Moderate Conversation on Fandom with "Standback"

The Right Geek: Opening a Moderate Conversation on Fandom with "Standback"

More on the Daisy Hill Hugo Farm
Dear "Standback,"

Again, thank you for your willingness to talk about these controversies without shouting or vitriol. Constructive discussion is indeed sorely needed; if we can at least get to a place of mutual understanding, that will only redound to fandom's benefit.

Disclaimer: Like you, I don't represent anyone in particular; other Pups may dispute some of the points in my analysis. Still, I've been active in the various Puppy groups for a while, so I'd like to think my impressions are fairly accurate.

Let's talk first about what I like to call the "pre-history" of the Sad Puppies. For the past fifteen years (at least), the character of fandom has shifted in a way that many Puppies find very troubling -- and by the way, for the vast majority of our number, this has nothing to do with race, gender, or sexuality. A significant number of us are women who accept the precepts of first wave feminism at the very least. A number of us are "people of color." And a number of us are gay or, at minimum, amenable to leaving gay people alone to live their lives as they see fit. No -- what has disturbed the Puppies is the increasingly strident tone that many fans have adopted in support of their favored cultural and political causes. In our perception, the vague "codes of conduct," the "shit lists," the pilings on, the endless internet flame-wars, and the non-falsifiable accusations of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. have all created an environment that is extraordinarily hostile to points of view that don't hew to a particular left-wing party line. The result? We've felt unwelcome and stomped on for what, to our mind, should be recognized as sincere and well-meant differences of opinion.

Over the same time frame, the Puppies have also become concerned about the artistic direction of our field. The "Human Wave" movement, the "Superversive" movement, and the more generalized complaints about "message fic" and "grey goo" that started gaining steam before last year's Sad Puppies campaign are all flailing attempts by the Puppies to describe the flatness we've perceived in many recent award winners -- particularly in the shorter fiction categories, where the stylistic sophistication and emotional catharsis beloved by creative writing professors and MFA programs the world over appear to be crowding out more accessible stories with identifiable plots and recognizably science-fictional ideas. Have the aforementioned accessible stories been shut out of the mix entirely? No, thankfully -- but prominent fannish critics have definitely been agitating against any "traditional" authors who happen to be short-listed. When Larry Correia was nominated for the Campbell back in 2011, for example, one such critic hyperbolically proclaimed that a win for Larry would "end writing forever."

Finally, before the Puppies became a controversial sensation, many of the same people were getting nominated for the Hugo year after year after year. Now, this state of affairs may have been justifiable if fandom were really tiny, but it's not. As I remarked in my previous post, thousands of science fiction works are published and bought every year, and the most recent circulation figures I could find for, say, Asimov's or Analog exceed the number of people who voted in the Hugos in 2012 by over 1000%. To us Puppies, the proposition that a couple thousand super-motivated Pre-Puppy World Con voters were in any way representative of the fandom in the aggregate was and is ridiculous on its face.

So we got involved.

I've already acknowledged the flaws in our process. We should've checked the eligibility rules more carefully before making our suggestions, we should've widened our crowd-sourcing pool, we should've included more options on our list, and we shouldn't have called it a "slate," as that wasn't really what we intended it to be. Additionally, while we've recommended authors who were conservative, liberal, apolitical, and every flavor in between, we've often failed to separate our political disputes from our artistic arguments when responding to our detractors. But overall, we Sads really did just want to vote for what we liked; we wanted to give several very successful authors and editors a fighting chance to be recognized, and we wanted to highlight some newer writers (like Kary English) who may otherwise have been overlooked. Was there also a little "we hate those guys!" folded into the mix? I'd be lying if I denied it; as I explained above, a lot of us have been "hit" in the fandom over the years, and the anger has been simmering for quite a while. But this "resentment vote" was driven less by a desire to destroy the Hugo and more by a desire to assert our right to dissent without being abused.

I can understand our opponents' being upset that their choices were effectively locked out of the ballot by the combined activities of the Sad and Rabid Puppies campaigns. Indeed, I highly respect certain prominent Antis - like Eric Flint and George R.R. Martin - who've written calmly worded blog posts on the subject. What I can't understand is the manner in which other Antis have often expressed their disappointment. Steve Davidson is, even now, busily trying to define us out of the fandom even though many of us have loved science fiction for decades. Others, meanwhile, have repeatedly called us vile and defamatory names in some very high profile venues and have yet to retract their statements. And the less said about the comments on File 770, the better.

Do we have unsavory characters on our side? Yes. However, I do think there's a critical difference between the Puppy trolls and the Anti trolls: the Antis, as a group, have more power in the fandom. You may scoff at this, but I invite you to consider several key facts. Number one, it wasn't the Puppy position that was spread far and wide in mainstream entertainment publications once the 2015 ballot was announced. Number two, among the Antis behaving badly were editors and art directors from at least one major publishing house, while among the Puppies behaving badly was -- well, no one of any import. Number three, we lost. The Antis trounced us when it came to the final vote and felt perfectly free to gloat about it in public afterwards; indeed, I saw at least one officer of SFWA congratulating the Antis for their "victory" on Twitter. And lastly, there's a objective double standard in the way the opposing trolls are treated. While the Sad Puppies are urged to denounce Vox Day and other malefactors, Requires Hate continues to be published in Clarkesworld with nary an acknowledgement of the contradiction.

Above, I mentioned our resentment. Sadly, the events of last year did much to sharpen those feelings of ill-will. That's why you're hearing talk of "conspiracies" -- and why you may have heard a Sad or two saying, "To hell with those twat-waffles. They can fuck themselves with rusty chainsaws for all I care." Personally, I think this is deeply unfortunate; though our respective groups may have irreconcilably different tastes in science fiction, there's no reason we can't find some common ground when it comes to the need for more civility in our disputes -- not to mention greater participation and viewpoint diversity in both the nominating and voting rounds of the Hugo Awards. MOAR recs, MOAR voters, and MOAR discussion? Sounds good to me! So let's try to make it happen.

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