It’s almost impossible for me to write a regular column on fandom writ large, and not comment on the recent controversy over this year’s Hugo Awards. By way of background, they’re named after science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback, and have been awarded every year since 1955 “for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.” They’re generally consider one of, if not the premier award for science fiction. The awards are nominated and voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society, whose only real requirement is an annual membership fee. (Forty dollars the past few years.)
This year, members Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia organized a “Sad Puppies” campaign to get a select group of authors and works nominated. Ostensibly, this was to return the awards to a more pop culture focus and away from more literary works. Torgersen argued that they have been “giving ‘science fiction’s most prestigious award’ to stories and books that bore the crap out of the people at the theater: books and stories long on ‘literary’ elements… while being entirely too short on the very elements that made Science Fiction and Fantasy exciting and fun in the first place.” Although it ignores that several winners have essentially been very pop culture focused, and that some people have argued that the awards were going to works that were too popular instead of challenging literary pieces.
In light of those widely differing opinions on what is considered “popular” or “literary,” I’m left to believe that Torgersen’s argument is simply a justification for his not liking certain authors that have been nominated in recent years. There’s no hard and fast rule of how “popular” and “literary” are defined, after all, so it boils down to Torgersen and Correia being sore losers. (Both have been nominated for Hugos, but have never won.)
And it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the diversity of authors that had been receiving nominations in recent years has been effectively eliminated in favor straight white men. Although I’m not aware of any blatantly racist, sexist, or homophobic statements by either man, Torgersen and Correia are effectively saying by virtue of their campaign that science fiction should be the exclusive domain of white men. They’re saying that the best style of science fiction is the likes of John Carter and Buck Rogers, stories written by white men about white men. Where race is never an issue because everyone is white. Or, on the off chance that race is brought up, it’s through the metaphor of space aliens who are saved by their white savior.
I’ve long argued that what makes fandom—any fandom—fantastic is when it allows disparate people connect with one another. When people find commonalities and make friendships with one another based on them, regardless of how they might disagree on other topics. What Torgersen and Correia are doing is the opposite of that. They’re deliberately trying to make science fiction “their” fandom, exclusionary to anyone who doesn’t fit their ideal. (Not so coincidentally, “their ideal” being essentially themselves.) It’s a small-minded approach, particularly for science fiction, and I hope that the counter-campaign to get fans to vote “No Award” for everything but Best Novel (which seems relatively unimpacted by the Sad Puppies campaign) is successful. Furthermore, I hope it sends a message to Torgersen, Correia, and other sore losers like them that their bigotry, even when it’s masked by justifications of “popularity,” is unwelcome.