On the Hugo Awards and dysfunctional politics

I've received a number of messages and comments since my post about the pending sweep of the Hugo Awards final ballot by the Sad Puppies campaign. Many of these messages say that I simply want my political side to dominate the award, and that conservatives had to band together to save the science fiction and fantasy genre and/or destroy their opponents.

What's funny about this — aside from anyone assuming to know my political views or even where I stand on different issues — is it means some people now view the Hugo Awards through the prism of the United States' dysfunctional political system. For those outside the USA, this basically means that there are people who want to split our genre into two parties which continually attack each other and want nothing more than to destroy the other. Compromise and understanding and communication and simple human decency are out because the other side is so evil they must be wiped from the genre.

This is disturbing on many levels. First, it's a extremely wrong approach to life. Second, I don't want our genre to be split like this. Third, it assumes that all authors and fans are motivated primarily by politics, which is totally asinine. For example, Lois McMaster Bujold, who won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Novel, freely admits "her writing is not political or ideological." I'd say many if not most SF/F authors and fans fall into this category.

In addition, such an "us or them" approach to issues in our genre assumes that even those authors and fans who are politically motivated can be aligned on a simplistic USA-centric political model. There's a reason the World Science Fiction Convention is called Worldcon — one can find SF/F authors and fans around the globe and in every culture and country. Because of this, a large number of authors and fans can't be placed within the spectrum of our dysfunctional political system.

To understand what I'm getting at here, I'd dare anyone to place Scottish author Charles Stross, who has been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel seven times over the last decade, on a simplistic USA-based left-right/liberal-conservative divide. For a glimpse at Stross' complicated political views, check out his statement about last year's Scottish independence vote.

All that said, there have long been strong political viewpoints in the American SF/F genre and it would be silly to ignore this. As Stross once said, "The history of American SF is of a genre that was profoundly infused by political ideology." Very true. The SF/F field in the United States has always been made up of people from across the political spectrum — libertarians, communists, radical right, radical left, socialists, Republicans, Democrats and every political viewpoint you can imagine. Since genre fans are rather outspoken, arguments and disagreements have flowed through our genre since its formation.

However, to my knowledge no side every talked about totally destroying the other, or risked splitting the genre and possibly inflicting permanent harm on either Worldcon or the Hugos. Instead, different sides debated and argued using the written word. For example, when Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960, many people were outraged about the novel's politics and view of war. But these people didn't try to game the Hugo nominating process to keep Heinlein off the ballot or place their own novels there.

Instead, these authors and fans responded to Starship Troopers with their own fiction and critiques. Harry Harrison wrote his famous 1965 satirical novel Bill, the Galactic Hero in direct response to Heinlein. Joe Haldeman also disagreed with the view of war in Starship Troopers and was influenced by both Heinlein's novel and Haldeman's own experiences in Vietnam to write The Forever War, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Instead of Heinlein being angry about Haldeman's novel and starting a campaign to force the genre to see things his way, the famously libertarian author approached Haldeman after the Nebula Award ceremony and said The Forever War "may be the best future war story I've ever read!"

I've disagreed with many people in the genre over the years. For example, I've critiqued several statements that Mike Resnick has made. But that doesn't mean I don't like him or can't enjoy his stories. And if he writes a great new story, I'll vote for it. The fact that he's received an amazing 36 Hugo Award nominations, and won five of those Hugos, means I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

I bring up Resnick because he recently said something very interesting about the Sad Puppies campaign. In response to supporters of the campaign saying on Facebook that recent Hugo Award winners had made the awards worthless and "defaced the legacy of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke," Resnick said the following:

"I have voted against at least as many Hugo winners as for them. I have thought better books and stories lost. But I have never felt that the fact that I didn't like a book that some editor paid money for and a majority of my peers voted for made it a bad book or story, just one that didn't appeal to me personally. I understand why you want a certain author or publisher to win; I do not understand why you, and so many like you, feel the awards of the past quarter century are worthless."

I'm in total agreement with Resnick on this.

In addition, Resnick later added in the Facebook thread that "A lot of prior Hugo winners were not liberals. I'm one of them ... When someone says, as so many have said here on Facebook, that they can't stand the award winners, that translates as their being unable to stand Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Niven, all multiple Hugo winners."

Well said, Mike Resnick. Well said indeed.

The Hugo Awards belong to all of us. And that should never change.