At the end of the Hugo debate – should there be an end – one thing will be true: and that is that speculative fiction will have failed in a truly spectacular way in regards to equality.
As a genre, what has emerged in the wake of Sad Puppies has reflected very poorly on us, authors and fans alike. At the centre of it is the claim that Affirmative Action has ruined awards, because a) minority groups can only get awards through movements and b) white, straight, able bodied guilt is what is soothed by that debate. I have seen people agree with that. I have seen people claim that that is not a bigoted statement. I have seen people claim that one person cannot be Native American because he’s white looking. I have seen it said about others. I have seen people rant about gender, about race, about… well, about everything, and it’s been ugly and appalling.
I suspect that this shit will follow us all around for a while. When the ballot was first released, I thought that it would not do much to the diversity of speculative fiction, the ever growing diversity, and the embracing of difference that I believe is at the part of the genre, but now… Now I am not so convinced. Now I think this shit is going to drive people away. I think this is going to silence voices. I still hold out hope that I’ll be wrong, and that my earlier belief will be right, but… well, we’ll see.
The Godless on the recommended reading list for the first and the long list ballot for the second. A vote for either would help give a signal to noise boost for me, but you could also use the list to vote for work that you think deserves a bit of a signal boost that is not mine. I wouldn’t be bothered by that because that’s what I think awards are good for. I know, I know: I just said awards can be good for something.
It’s true, though. One of the things the Hugo debate has addressed poorly is this idea that popular books don’t win awards. That’s not a true statement in relation to the Hugos, I want you to understand, but it is true for others, so lets for a moment take it at face value. Lets not unpack all the things that make a popular book, all the demographics, all the statistics, and so forth. Lets just focus on the quality of the book. Firstly, I think we can all agree that popular doesn’t mean good, just as unpopular doesn’t mean bad. No book is worthy of an award in and of itself based on its readers. After all, if you hang around in any art form long enough, you’ll find an endless parade of talented people who were ignored, and hacks for made millions. It works both ways, as well. Sometimes you’re a hack who made nothing, and an artist who made something. Sometimes you’re ignored for real reasons. Other times you’re popular and enduring for the right reasons. But being popular and on an award ballot does… what, exactly? Get you readers? Truthfully, if you’re popular, people have made their choice about you already. They’ve read you, or read about you. Maybe a few will take a chance on a book if you win because they’ve always meant to, or because you deserve a second chance. But not much’ll change. If you’re popular you’re still gonna be popular. Now, on the other hand, an author who is struggling to raise a profile gets a lot from an award win. They get a leg up. They get seen. They get to escape the wasteland of good authors who never found an audience. It’s a good thing to see. It’s something to rejoice. It ensures that a lot of other things are happening, as well, from the inclusion of new authors, to new ideas, to new concepts… but mostly, it’s just nice to see an author get a leg up. Now, how high that leg up is a thing we can debate, but it’s not the focus here. I’m just saying some awareness is nice for the author who doesn’t have it. And I’m saying an award can help that.
That, by the by, is not an endorsement to vote for me. I’m doing fine. Sure, I’m not INSERT NAME OF HUGELY POPULAR AUTHOR YOU LIKE but last year the Godless was in airports. It was given nice position in bookstores. I’ve been around long enough to know that those are pretty nice things and that other authors would offer your first child for it (not their own child, but someone else’s). So, by all means, vote for me if you wish, and thank you if you do, but if you find other authors whose book you liked like mine, and you think they can do with a bit more signal than me, then go for it.
It’s a hard business, make no mistake. You’re here one day and gone the next. But it’s important for us to all to make sure that the authors who have talent don’t disappear without being read.