I’m not a professional writer. I haven’t pursued the muse in the makings of the craft. I’m an engineer and designer. Because most of my work has been in rather eclectic things, the average person will not encounter what I create, but their lives will be enriched from them through better manufacturing methods and being able to detect toxins in foods. I’m not sure what experiments have been run on the Free Electron Laser, but I imagine that something significant was learned.
In any case I’ve been asking myself why I’ve been devoting so much time to the Hugo Awards, science fiction and the future of science fiction and fandom. Then I saw this.
I think that each and every one of the puppies is to some extent the kid under the stairs. We are the odds that instead of looking inward at our rage, try to look forward for better things. We need reasons to escape the messes that are our lives, the worlds where we don’t quite fit. I think that we need the dream, as impractical as it is. We need our Thorbys or Harry Potters. We need to know that there is magic in the world because otherwise there is nothing but despair.
The return for that is that we have to make some effort to make sure that the magic is there for the next ones to come along, whether it’s real thing like Space X and going to the moon or it’s the next Harry Potter. If we don’t at least try we are diminishing ourselves. We have an obligation to send the magic forward.
I don’t think that the puppy kickers understand that anymore. A long time ago a clerk at a hobby store in NYC that’s long gone said that he didn’t model trains, that he kept his professional and personal life separate. There are certain advantages to that in that if the work turns sour, you don’t lose what you love. I think that that’s what happened to the puppy kickers. They’ve spent so much time in the minutia of editing, producing, marketing and printing books that to a large extent they forgot why they were there in the first place. Everything has become about the business to them, not what the business is about.
That brings us to the awards. If you are in “the business” the advantage of an award is obvious. It’s the potential for additional sales. Especially for that turkey that you just bought because it had the right message and 80% of the copies keep coming back from the stores. Given the numbers it’s much easier to get a Hugo than to block buy a best seller and it’s a little easy to do something like this.
Now I’m not saying that the puppy kickers are giving Hugos to imaginary books. Well at least not yet, though some of the titles they have nominated or awarded require a vivid imagination to believe that they are readable. That’s the problem with living in a bubble with cloudy walls. They’ve gotten so wrapped in their own passions that they have forgotten what science fiction was supposed to be about.
I suspect that the corporatization of publishing made this easier. In my experience the emphasis on numbers tend to mean that the product sort of disappears from the picture. People get so afraid of missing their quotas that they stop innovating and taking risks is right out. And it’s easier to squeeze talent, especially when there’s always somebody coming along with a book in the door. And if the message is the “right” kind of message or the author has the “right” kind of “diversity” so much the better. For all the talk we got from the traditional publishers last year about the commoditization of the publishing industry, they people in the publishing industry have managed to a pretty good job of that themselves. The whole business of the traditional publishing industry seems to essentially treat books, their product, like groceries.
This is what the business schools in the Ivy Covered Snob Factories teach and the managers that those schools crank out never seem to understand that in the real world, that groceries and literature have somewhat different customers, most of the time. At least everybody buys groceries, but not everybody reads a lot of books, let alone science fiction. As the people in charge of the publishing business don’t have the experience in publishing that the people who used to run it had, all they can do is manage people and move budgets around. After all every book is the same, right? Just push the books in the stores, which had become chains run by corporate types and watch the sales. Which means the shelves sort of look like this.
The problem is that as time has gone on the editorial staffs have recruited not from people in the book business, because the positions that existed in the past no longer existed and had been replaced by college educated people, English majors, mostly women. Recently the senior editor at Tor Books UK cheerfully said that 90% of the staff was women, right before Tor Books UK was closed down.
The reason that Tor UK closed down is that same reason that all the SF imprints are in trouble. The readership has deserted them, by and large. The biggest problem is that the bigshots in the publishing industry don’t seem to actually read the dreck that they are pushing. Their big problem is that nobody else is either. People by and large just don’t find the politically correct LGBT porn that the swells at the publishing industry are pushing attractive. In an age where SF movies make a BILLION dollars and SF games sell in the millions a big run on a SF or fantasy book, unless it’s Harry Potter or some other YA title is 50,000 books.
Here’s the NY Times bestseller list. I find it amazing that the book at the top of the list is a found draft of a book that was published 50 years ago and pushed on us all in high school as great literature because of it’s take on racism, an issue that sort of disappeared in that earlier draft. Is there so little interesting readable stuff being published that a first draft of a 50 year old book is the only thing noteworthy. Looking at the rest of the list that might actually be the case.
The problem has also come to SF, where I saw a recent complaint that the SF section in Barnes & Noble had “the same 20 stories by the same five authors.” This comment was from a puppy kicker. It is nonetheless true, as anybody who has gone to a Barnes & Noble lately knows. The same stuff keeps getting recycled over and over. Good for Mercedes Lackey, Raymond E Feist and David Weber. Not so good for the reader looking for new stuff.
Science fiction has always had a closer relationship between the authors and the fans than most of publishing. The idea of conventions where authors and fans get together doesn’t seem to happen for mystery or romance. In mainstream fiction that idea is right out. Readers are just supposed to read the books, not talk to the authors. Of course this makes it hard to communicate in any other way than just not reading the dreck anymore. Which is exactly what is happening.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Here’s Tor.com’s push for a new author and book they are selling.
Sorry, but sexual plays are not what the typical science fiction reader imagines when they pick up a book. At least no without some thought and depth into why things worked in the alien world. Depth is something that’s lacking in all too much modern SF. Much of that has to do with the effects of literary status envy. The people in charge of the imprints at the Traditional Publishing houses tend to be far more concerned with literary stylings couple with Progressive maundering and PC groupthink than the kind of depth that good science fiction requires. Look at this list from Io9. The kind of literature love by English professors everywhere.
In science fiction the fans historically have had a closer relationship with the creators through the magazines that produced most of the SF and the conventions. One reason this worked well is that many fans came from deep technical backgrounds and had jobs at such cutting edge places like Bell Labs.
By and large traditional publishing didn’t enter into SF in a big way until the 1970’s and 1980’s. SF was always considered by the gutter by the proper literary crowd. It wasn’t until Star Wars and the Star Trek reruns being so popular that the big houses saw money in the gutter. So the big house set up SF imprints and brought in the heavyweights of SF to run them. This worked out well for them in the beginning but after about fifteen years or so things started to change.
English majors from the Ivy Covered Snob Factories simply have no experience with the cutting edges of technology and the philosophies behind it to be able understand what it’s about. It’s worse than that. The romanticism of the radical Progressive movement goes back to Blake’s “satanic mills.” The prevailing view that comes out of the Ivy Covered Snob Factories is that not only should elites never get their hands greasy, but that technology is evil. They seem to think that only the elites should have the benefits of human efforts and that the rest of us should live “sustainably’ in small villages or something. They also seem to think that technology is indistinguishable from magic.
This led inevitably to editorial choices that fit those prejudices. Less David Brin, more Mercedes Lackey. Fewer spaceships, more fantasy. This hasn’t been all bad, but it’s resulted in the lost of a vision of progress. In fact due to all the doomcrying that infected the colleges and Progressive movement back in the 1970’s, technologies and invention are more likely to be seen as evil than good. Straight from the romantics of the 19th Century that made up the reading of their liberal arts education.
That editorial slant has taken SF in some strange directions. Where, in the past, stories used to be about advanced technologies saving the planet, now stories seem to abound with people wreaking havoc with technologies. More Frankenstein than I Robot. That is when they don’t follow the latest doom fad from the progressive establishment. Science fiction had more or less become the stuff that college professors like. It had gotten out of the gutter. Literary status envy problem solved.
The problem was that it was style over substance. The problem with this is that it wasn’t what the readers expected from SF. Historically though, SF has been about story and ideas over style. What was being published turned that on it’s head. As Brad put it, it wasn’t “nutty nuggets” anymore. So by and large people went elsewhere for their nutty nuggets. There’s a reason that the tie in and manga sections are larger than the traditional SF section, most of which will actually be fantasy.
It would have been all too easy for the puppies to just give up and let the Hugos and SF sink into obscurity. Larry did Sad Puppies for fun, something the puppy kickers seem to be devoid of. He also did it to demonstrate just vacuous the nomination process had become and how closed the clique that seemingly runs SF had become. Look, if a couple of hundred votes can get a book nominated in first place SF is in REAL trouble. Just for fun, the next year Larry proposed a few different things from authors he liked, which got nominated. And then the screaming started. “How dare the wrongfen come in and nominate books for OUR awards.”
Well here’s the thing. The Hugo Awards don’t belong to Tor, Locus, or the NESFA as much as the people there like to believe they do. The Hugos belong to fandom, all of fandom. The Hugos are the one that fans can do to tell the powers that be what we, the readers, want SF to be. The CHORFs saw fit to not nominate The Martian for a Hugo, because of technicalities and because it wasn’t supported by the “in” crowd. This is the same crowd that nominated the ENTIRE Wheel Of Time series last year. This is the sort of thing that the puppies want to change.
The puppies don’t care about the bling. We do care about having a future for SF. The puppy campaigns are our way to create an affirmative campaign, showcase new talent and increase readership. The Hugo Awards, while an important part, is only part of the activities, most of which involve pushing books on blogs and PJ media, raising awareness and going to cons. All of which are typical fan activities.
In the end we owe it to the future to keep the hope alive. The puppies aren’t going away because we feel that we owe it to the people in the future to ensure that they have the same sort of access to dreams that we had. SF was once in the gutter, but at least it was there. By taking it out of the gutter and giving it style the elites have forgotten what the substance was about. The puppies want to bring the substance back.
The Hugo Awards Series.