A sad day for science fiction
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March 20, 2015
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A sad day for science fiction

I’ve been quiet these past few weeks. I have half-written several short stories, Infopedia entries aplenty, all sorts to say and discuss, but I’ve had my head down getting the last few scenes written for the third Human Legion book. I’m aiming to hit that milestone next Tuesday: 95,000 words of action, surprises, tragedy, and maybe a little romance. And plenty of dead fish. I will then give it another round of consistency checks and editing before offering it out to any beta readers who are generous enough to offer to help take a look and tell me all the things I’ve got wrong :-).

More on beta reading very soon. But not today because today I’m too angry.

It’s not been easy scene-crafting these past few days because I have allowed my procrastination engine to be fed by an ongoing civil war in the SF community over the most prestigious science fiction literary award: the Hugo. Actually, as I watch in disgust while a small but vital part of the science fiction world hurls abuse at itself, it seems to me less like a civil war and more like naughty children brawling.

To them I say: “Stop it! You’re bringing shame on the wider SF community, and damaging a great institution in the Hugo.”

I can hear the brawlers’ childish replies now: ‘She started it!’, ‘He called me names!’, ‘It wasn’t my fault!’ Except, of course, the tenor of the scrap has been anything but childish, and that is the real problem. There have been ugly personal attacks, with intolerance and bigotry on open display. And stupidity. A great deal of stupidity.

There are a few honorable exceptions. George RR Martin is one. He’s an adult who is very much taking sides in this dispute, and is angry. And yet, unlike those acting as children, from what I’ve read, he’s taking on his opponents by engaging them with civilized argument rather than ugly trolling. I’m far beyond caring whether he’s right or wrong in his arguments. What I care about is the way the argument is conducted.

Because to all those who feel that personal abuse, rumor-spreading, and awarding 1-star reviews to books you haven’t read are valid forms of debate, I say again: shame on you! You are demeaning all of us in the community of science fiction.

What’s particularly angered me today – enough to break my silence  – is that I learned an author I admire very much, Marko Kloos, has withdrawn his nomination for the best novel award. This is a terrible blow to anyone who supports well-written science fiction. He’s stated very clearly why he’s withdrawn (although that hasn’t stopped people immediately misinterpreting to support their own agenda). He’s withdrawn because he feels the Hugo has been debased this year, and if he ever wins that award he wants to know he won it purely on merit. He’s right: the award has been debased. It’s been irretrievably smeared with hatred.

I don’t hold up much hope that anyone will listen to me, but I’ll try to point out some things that are blindingly obvious to those, such as myself, who are looking in on this fight from the outside.Hopefully once I’ve done that, my procrastination engine can stay switched off.

First some background, for those who wonder what I’m ranting about.

The Hugos are voted on by members of a science fiction literary convention called WorldCon. It’s the most prestigious convention for a branch of the SF community that calls itself Fandom. Last year the total number of votes cast for the award was about 3,500. It’s easy to look at that number and dismiss it as so tiny that it’s irrelevant. For comparison, I am a very minor league author, but even I had a sales peak this January when I sold more than 3,500 Human Legion books in just three days.

But to those of us for who love to consume SF in the form of the written word, the Hugos do matter. Maybe not as much as they once did, but their connection to the great SF works of the past gives them a significance that is irreplaceable.

They matter to me personally. The starting point of the path that led to me being a professional SF writer is a former winner of the Hugo best novel award called The Forever War. If it hadn’t won that award, it might not have been available on the shelves of my library in England, waiting for me to discover it as a teenager.

Now, to what they call in my country, stating the bleedin’ obvious.

One of the central beefs in this brawl is the claim that a traditional form of SF storytelling, typified by space opera, has been crowded out by other styles in the Hugo voting, even though space opera remains immensely popular outside of fandom. Well, I love space opera, and epic adventures where big events happen, and there’s conflict and hard choices. I don’t know about the voting as such, but I agree that space opera and military SF can sometimes be considered second rate by fandom. I encountered that myself recently when the British Science Fiction Association’s review journal described the writing of Al Reynolds and Peter F Hamilton as ‘irrelevant’. So, yes, I have sympathy with this point of view.

There’s another side in this punch-up that feels diversity in science fiction is under threat, and therefore needs defending. For me, science fiction is the literature of ideas. Good ideas require imagination and originality. I don’t care where that precious originality comes from, but the more diverse the backgrounds, approaches, and styles of any group of authors, the more fertile their wellspring of originality will be. I have sympathy with this point of view.

I love space opera, military SF, diversity and challenge, traditional storytelling, and innovation. I tend to read a core of novels that are traditional space opera or military SF, and leaven that by ranging far and wide, often way outside SF/fantasy.  What I like to read isn’t important, but it does (apparently) need stating that it’s very simple to enjoy BOTH traditional and non-traditional science fiction.

These two ‘opposing’ points of view are nothing of the sort! They can easily co-exist, and do so in many readers, which is one of the reasons some of us in the wider SF community stare so aghast at all the intolerant bigotry on display that insists they cannot.

There are still those in this dispute who make their points in more or less reasoned argument, despite provocation. Kudos to you.

But to everyone else:

If you want to disagree with someone, please try reading and understanding what they are actually saying, rather than what you assume they mean. Then explain why you disagree without hurling abuse.

And to anyone who does hurl abuse online. Or calls on ‘their’ science fiction supporters to hurt the careers of ‘enemy’ science fiction authors by awarding 1-star reviews on Amazon: shame on you! Because you bring disgrace on all of us in SF. I don’t care if we do share a basic belief on what constitutes good writing, if you troll your opponents, you do not do so in my name.

Finally, here’s some much-needed advice to anyone who, like me, appreciates diversity in science fiction. No matter how many times the following argument is repeated, using it will always make you look stupid and bigoted…

“I celebrate diversity in science fiction, so long as it’s not the style of science fiction that you like. Science fiction is stronger for having a multitude of voices, so long as none of them are yours (you whining man-babies).”

Come on, people! You don’t work for Minitrue. Step back for a moment, and consider how silly this argument is. You are so much better than this.

Rant over. Now I can get back to work.

However, I will post a related topic late next week about real book sales data, which will maybe shine a new light on this whole bun fight of ‘Sad Puppies are reactionary losers’ vs. ‘The Puppy Killers are an elitist monoculture’.

If you’re as fed up with this PuppyGate shambles as I am, I’d love to hear your comments, but please (1) no abuse aimed at anyone but me and (2) I gotta work, so I might be a few days to reply.

22 Comments

  1. Lawrence Jackson says:

    Sadly, the Hugo is an award for insiders by insiders, everyone wants some kind of accolade, to cheer for their team, and many think everything is a team sport with one winner. There is room for everyone that is what self-publishing is about. I do not like fantasy, westerns, or detective novels. I don’t read them but would not stop others from writing or reading them. The test… will anyone pay to read them.

    • timctaylor says:

      Hi Lawrence, I’ve been trying for a couple days to not arrive at the same conclusion: that the Hugos are relevant to insiders only. I’m still fighting that end point, but it has the feel of a doomed rearguard action. Disappointing, but I was doing some number crunching on sales data today. Seems to me that science fiction literature is very popular right now with or without the Hugos.

  2. Rene Douville says:

    I’m with you 100% and would never listen to anyone who suggests I give 1 star to books just to bias results. I also am somewhat concerned that we do not fall into the trap I feel readers of literature “in general” seem to of literary snobbery—e.g. SF is not real literature and should only be considered if it is emotional and stylish. (As you can detect, I run into this with “readers” around me and I hate to say this but often it is “soft” story readers who feel the stories have to have a message.

    Space opera is by far my favourite reading style and I think often lead the way into innovative thinking leading to better inventions and applications of science as we know it.

    Rene Douville

    613 838 6078

    Skype: douville

    • timctaylor says:

      Thanks, Rene. Space opera offers such a vast canvas for ideas that a good author is like a personal fitness trainer for my mind, leaving me with that satisfied feel I get after a good workout, sauna, massage, and maybe a cool glass of beer.

  3. Tim says:

    Hi,

    Ok .. so to be clear …. On this current argument taking place ..

    Soap opera vs other categories of Science Fiction?
    Soap Opera not getting the deserved respect?
    Authors trying to knock down reviews on others (or thru proxies) by entering 1 star reviews on Amazon?

    Interesting … in all the reviews I have done .. only once have I given 1 star for one book I read by an author because I had a difficult time reading the story because the story was being told by a third party view … meaning, wrong tense of words used.

    Books regardless of category should all be viewed by the merit of the story, interest in material, editing etc. Classification should make no difference.

    I will need to google some of this argument ..

    Have a good day. Look forward to the next book.

    Tim Kipfer

    • timctaylor says:

      Quite so. I don’t think I’ve given a one-star review. If I don’t like the book I don’t review. Maybe because I think of all the work gone into it. But I do give bad reviews for books where I know the author could do better, or has ruined what could have been a good book by clumsily stuffing a political message into it. I do enjoy good stories that encourage me to think about a topic. But it is a very, very difficult thing to achieve without appearing preachy.

  4. Jeff M. says:

    Tim, I so very much agree with you rant. I am not an awards-person, I don’t care if a book, show, movie, song is an award winner, or if it is mainstream popular. If I like it that’s good enough for me. I truly wish that everyone everywhere would put on their BGPs & grow-the-heck-up. There’s enough hate in the world already that we don’t need to invent more. As a retired military’s person I have seen enough. Take the high road Tim! Keep doing what you do to the same high standard you do it, and demand quality from others around you in whatever they do.

  5. Mark Boss says:

    It’s sad to think of scifi readers and writers so divided by controversy and hate. I’d be the first to tell people how smart, welcoming, and intellectually open scifi fans are, so I am baffled by this situation. Doesn’t the world have enough strife already?

    Perhaps money, fame, awards and prestige have drawn us away from the point of it all. From where I stand, the goal of a writer is to tell a good story well, and share it with readers. That’s it.

    Tim, thank you for being a voice of reason on all this.

  6. Tammy Pickurel says:

    Keep making your Art, I love your books. I am a retired Marine and police officer, your’s and Marko Kloos books take me to a place I can see in the future for this planet. When I read your works it is kinda like future history to me. Its sad that politics has to rear its ugly head but it seams to slime its way into about everything. Thanks for the reference too “The Forever War” .I’ll have to give it a try. I know that Robert A. Heinlein was a Hugo winner and I have always loved his work. I can imagine that he would be up in arms about this junk as you are. Again hang in there your work is topnotch to me.

    • timctaylor says:

      Thanks for your kind support, Tammy. The Forever War had a powerful effect on me when I was 14. I read it again a few years ago and appreciated it even more. I hope you do too.

  7. Merkava says:

    Kloos’ novels are quite good. This is sad. Incidentally, I’m a Political Conservative. Both Ellison (Liberal) and Heinlein (Libertarian) and Pournelle (Conservative) and Kratman and Ringo (Conservative) Have written great stuff.

    • timctaylor says:

      I think writers of all political views have written good science fiction. Those authors, such as those you mention, who write *great* Science fiction don’t insult us by trying to tell us how to think, even when they bring their politics to their writing. Instead they widen our minds and encourage us to think for ourselves.

      I remember an SF book series by Scottish writer, Ken McLeod, that won awards from both libertarian and Marxist-leaning organisations. That’s a sign of good writing. Though a better sign, in my view, is that I couldn’t stop turning the page.

  8. Hayden Waterson says:

    I saw your post on Kloos’s blog (yeah i read the 280 or so replies lol). I too am a fan of his work, as I am of yours. Frankly it took me 2 or 3 hours reading through the various blogs (I would say it’s like a 4 sided civil war at this point) to arrive at the endpoint: the hugos are exactly what they’ve been described as in these comments- but it doesn’t matter so much anymore in my opinion, self-publishing and the increasing power of easy-to-access literature is making things like the Hugos, and the cliques that rule them, more and more irrelevant (in terms of money and book success- perhaps not in terms of prestige and ego).

    I’m only sad at any pain Marko has suffered, I also feel for Correia, but the rest I watch torn between tears and laughter, the civil war is so pathetic it’s laughable… when you forget that people like Mr Kloos have been caught in the crossfire.

    • timctaylor says:

      Thanks for commenting, Hayden. After going through all those comments, I can imagine how you’re probably feeling: needing a wash and a beer. You and I have arrived at the same endpoint. I also agree about your point that book buying and publishing have moved on from the days when any one convention, or group, could be said to encapsulate the best of SF fiction. In fact, I have some numbers that I’ll post up very soon that suggests how far we’ve moved on.

  9. SGT Mike says:

    These damn whiny whipersnappers! Grrr……

  10. Joe Spahr says:

    This is the Short list in 1966 for the Hugo:
    Frank Herbert* Dune Chilton Company
    Roger Zelazny* …And Call Me Conrad (also known as This Immortal) The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
    John Brunner The Squares of the City Ballantine Books
    Robert A. Heinlein The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    Edward E. Smith Skylark DuQuesne
    Since then, ideas and storytelling haven’t always won but science fiction has continued improve. Don’t get all in a tizzy, the readers love ideas and good stories. We even like to razz bigots of any sort. If the shoe fits…

    • timctaylor says:

      Tizzy over, don’t worry. You’re right, of course. There was a lot of fine SF back in 66 but SF is an untameable beast that’s never stopped trying to expand, like a literary Big Bang (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor).

  11. Sam says:

    I love space opera’s, I read at least 8 books a week some times more depending on my time. I really don’t know what i would do with out them lol. Maybe we should have a defined category for just “Space Opera” , honestly i might look at a book with a Hugo award but i am more apt to, for example, go off the views of readers from Amazon before i would take the word of a critice or just because of an award.

    • timctaylor says:

      I’m the same. Been thinking about that recently. I was in the British Science Fiction Association until very recently. They do an in-house review magazine. But I found word of mouth, Goodreads, and Amazon did a much better job of helping me to choose books, including pointing out books by authors I didn’t know. For me, the best thing about Amazon reviews is that you get a range of people making them, but there are a lot of (relatively) normal readers. But in a literary journal… not so much.

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