…I don’t care. In fact, I have chosen to remain blissfully ignorant of all but the most general scope of information about all of the drama and controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards this year.
This is not, however, because I don’t care about the fate of the SF genre or the future of the publishing industry. Much to the contrary.
It’s because the Hugo Awards as a standard of excellence has just been exposed (as have too many other institutions and standards in today’s ever more postmodern and fractious world) as a rigged game, one that has apparently been driven by a variety of special interest groups, based on whatever the fashion or whims of the people involved were at the time. Which gives the Hugos about as much significance as a gold star on your score card.
We can at least be somewhat relieved that the Hugos are not the stamp of approval for more serious endeavors– world political leader, let’s say. That doesn’t mean they don’t still set the tone for what the focus will be for the generation and distribution of SF content. It’s like asking all the design houses in New York to just go ahead and ignore Fashion Week or what Pantene colors will be “hip” this year.
As far as I’m concerned, it still matters, a lot, since that content has a much broader scope than it ever did in the past. Since Hollywood, and even some of the more independently focused movie houses, have seemingly given up trying to retain their own writers, and have increasingly been living off the sweat of writers from the SF and other genre fields. It matters because the distribution of the ideas that have been served up by those writers won’t just reach the eyes and ears of a few comic book nerds who want to avoid getting picked on in class by escaping into the latest volume of DC Comics or Interzone. The chosen content, blessed with career success and the potential to have staying power for generations to come, has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people. Everyday, average people who are just going about their business, until these new sets of ideas and perspectives come along to change, if ever so subtly, the way they see and do reality.
If you think I’m overreacting here, recall that writers like George Orwell and Isaac Asimov were said to predict future technology many years before it came into being. And their visions of this future technology may have actually shaped what technologies eventually came into being. Technologies we now use every day- such as the Internet, remotely based digital forms of “credit” or currency, Skype and video chatting, domestic robotics, and preliminary forms of artificial intelligence, to name just a few.
H.G. Wells’s ship that went to the moon at the beginning of the 20th century, as he described it, may not have been the eventual design used to create the Moon Lander- but there is no doubt that it captured peoples’ imaginations, and likely served to fuel the desire to eventually create one that actually could leave Earth and transport a human safely to the surface of another sphere.
More recently in the history of the world, who remembers- as I do- growing up watching the crew of Star Trek play with their little handheld tricorders and thinking to themselves, I so want to get my hands on one of those? Fast forward to 2015- we now have smart phones that have more storage space in one tiny chip than the entire contents of desktop computers from only a few years ago: tiny handheld devices that can monitor your heart rate, level of physical arousal, rate of motion, and body temperature; sense motion in your environment, bring you real time information from anywhere in the world instantaneously- it’s a device the young William Shatner would have dropped his jaw to have seen. All that power, so easy to acquire, that now we give these devices to our children. And the rate at which these powerful ideas and creations are now coming into being is accelerating at a dizzying pace.
And, to go a step further- think about Scientology, and the fact that the founder of this belief system is also a widely published and successful SF author. Think about Ayn Rand. Think about Heinlein. Think about… GASP!… Robert Anton Wilson, for Jerry’s sake. There is no denying the sort of real impact their ideas, words and publications have made on our world, for better or worse.
Not to mention- and yes, I know I am a complete smarty-pants for mentioning it- but some of the technology we have been delivered has now also started to shape not only how we consume media, data and discourse… It has also started to shape the very nature of interactions we are having with one another as people. And that, in probably not just one instance, became sorely evident during the Sad Puppies/Hugo/Publishing fracas that we have just witnessed.
Lines between personal and professional have become blurred. People said and did things that confounded, for a time, questions of whether they had or had not acted with impropriety. We are surrounded, every day, with the New and we keep on acting as though it’s perfectly normal and everyone knows what they’re doing… Even as we encounter situations between individuals and groups that have never happened before, driven by software apps that are made in some completely removed location, inaccessible to the average end user, and continually changing even as we speak.
Now, any of you who have been following the current Hugo discussions will probably expect me to break down into a partisanship rant right about here, but I’m afraid you will be disappointed. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I really don’t care. Those who wish to gossip and argue about who was more right or wrong about who said what or what conduct was engaged in by what person or group of people… All y’all are missing the freakin’ point. Getting caught up in us vs. them rhetoric and getting all butt hurt about partisan issues just makes everyone involved out to look foolish, I’m sorry, but it’s true. Also, I am not going to mention what my personal beliefs are, because frankly they ain’t none of your biznass unless I choose to share them with you. If you are that interested in where I’m coming from, I’m happy to direct you to look at my author bio and read some of my other work on this site.
When I grew up reading my own copies of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s, first smuggled in with the groceries by an indulgent father, later magazines I spent my allowance money to subscribe to, I did not know anything about the literary industry and how it worked. I wasn’t aware of where any of the ideas, tropes or discussions in the science fiction field might have come from. All I knew was that I was just another girl stuck in the suburbs, a place so quiet at night you could hear a pin drop, searching for her own life and her own dreams, searching for something beyond a limiting four walls, hungry with the need to seek, to explore, to learn about the important things in life, to know.
Nothing in my home town, nor in the mind numbingly regurgitated, lifeless and hopelessly small minded school teachings I was forced to deal with provided me with the answers or ideas I sought after. Creativity, observation, learning to think for myself, asking real questions, engaging in discourse about what it is to be a human being on this planet, and to wonder why and how and what if were the things that really helped. Those things allowed me to imagine becoming and going after more than anything my immediate reality had in store for me (something, I recall, about allowing my mother to find me a “nice husband” with a rich family, with whom I could produce lots of grandkids. Clearly she did not know to what creature she had given birth…!)
I drank up everything I could find in the SF genre (back in my day it was originally shelved in separate areas of “Fantasy” and “Science Fiction” at my local library) that appealed to me. Golden Age potboilers, fantasy, horror, hard SF, poetry, comics, essays, historical fiction, cyberpunk, magical realism, Real Magic, I welcomed them all, and more. I created my own learning and lines of inquiry. I was given a sort of psychological passport to feel free to explore worlds, ideas, concepts and writings that might not have otherwise ever occurred to me. I read well beyond my grade level, my age and experience. I developed an affinity for how certain authors wrote about science, mythology, philosophy, religion, and history that taught me about subjects, concepts and experiences well beyond my race, class, upbringing, sex or the supposed areas of interest others expected me to have. And I loved every minute of it. That early enrichment helped me retain a spirit of curiosity, inquiry and openness to new experience that have stayed with me to this day. Those traits, and the application of them, have further brought me a sense of genuine self-confidence, valuable skills in creative problem-solving, and eventually led me to pursue (despite discouragement from a number of sources) and successfully complete a professional degree- making me the first to gain a Masters in my branch of the family. It has helped me learn the importance of truly understanding how science works- and doesn’t- and how one cannot leave out ethical considerations when attempting, by whatever method is being used, to explore and fool around with the workings of our Universe and all of the beings and elements inhabiting it.
And those benefits I have gained from including SF in my life, are among the same benefits we will be passing along to new generations of readers to come. Some of those ideas may just help shape a new reality we cannot even yet conceive of.
The Hugos are rendered irrelevant to me, now, because I in my naiveté, I had assumed that the stories nominated and awarded had been picked based on their merit as stories. On an exceptionally good or remarkable quality of writing. On originality of ideas. On the basis of good literature– because as any fanfic fan who has read more than ten things knows, the quality of the story is based on how well you can TELL A DANG STORY, not the number of hottie brand name characters, or fashionable-all-over-for-a-minute concepts, you can stuff into one tale.
But, it turns out, I was wrong. Seemingly the Hugo Awards are simply a hyperinflated extension of how the literary field in general operates. I’m not trying to be cynical or critical of any individual people or orgnaizations here… honestly… I’m just really, really disappointed. I just felt the feet and they are definitely clay-like in substance.
I’m disappointed that the industry that so fascinated me as a young woman could, itself, be so addled and wary about the very diversity of ideas, sense of adventure and exploration, and asking of honest (sometimes uncomfortable) questions that are contained in some of its authors’ best works.
I’m disappointed that a field that purports to be about the methodology and values of scientific inquiry could be so petty as to fall victim to personal, partisan squabbles. Aren’t we intelligent, well educated, at least obstreperous enough to go beyond such struggles? Even in the name of Science? Even in the name of quality writing?
What good does it hold for us to live in a world where our children and grandchildren will have access to the most powerful platforms for accessing data and wielding personal influence in the history of the human race- if all they can do with it is continue, more and more, to broadcast the most trivial, divisive, emotionally stunted, and downright lobotomized excuses for media content and thinking/discourse about real issues in the world? We already have seventh graders that can tell you the difference between hundreds of different songs, movie actors or brand name products, but who couldn’t even tell you the difference between one broad leafed tree and another, even if you held a gun to their head. Devo is a real thing, folks, and it’s coming for us, right now. Something has to be done.
I am essentially a nobody on the publishing “scene”. I am just a girl, now a woman, who likes to think, question, and dream, and sometimes write poetry and short stories, among other things. Sometimes I share them. I have a few friends, I know a few people, I may or may not ever get the chance to be awarded anything. Maybe that gives me a freedom, in a way, to say what I really think.
Despite how the publishing industry for science fiction and fantasy chooses to move forward with things, I am going to retain that right to say what I really think, and to continue exploring, learning and reading for myself. I will encourage others to do the same and attempt where I can to instill that love of learning, curiosity, exploration and independence in others.
Because even if you don’t agree with me, you can’t deny that the world today is going to need people who can break existing molds and adapt to a new and ever more challenging future. We are going to need the dreamers, inventors and writers of SF to help us understand, to be a guide, to challenge our thinking, to imagine being something or someone we’ve never imagined before, to investigate that relationship with the “other” and what impact that may have, to ask “what if” and “what’s next”, to predict, to express, to hold up a mirror, to poke fun, to have a rollicking good time, to consider how and when it is appropriate to take a stand, and to consider what, ultimately, as seven billion humans all living on a very very small planet together, it might be worth taking a stand for.
I just hope we have a chance to help shape that future in a way that brings us what we value the most as humans having this collective experience together. Because if we don’t, something or someone else is going to.
And the possibility of what that someone or something else might be… in a world without worthwhile SF… Is not a fate I’m comfortable with imagining.
PEACE OUT- S.B. Appel