Something very weird happened in the run up to this year’s prestigious Hugo awards, voted for by science fiction fans. In the culmination of a long campaign against what they see as the takeover of the awards by liberals, progressives and feminists, a right-leaning group calling themselves the Sad Puppies, led by author Brad Torgersen, successfully lobbied for an approved slate of books to receive nominations.
Although the Sad Puppies actions are legal within the rules of the Hugos, they have also been controversial. Some people feel it’s not playing fair, and others are concerned by their motives.
Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet, authors who’d been nominated by the Sad Puppies, withdrew their works from the competition, with Bellet saying, ‘All joy that might have come from this nomination has been co-opted, ruined, or sapped away. This is not about celebrating good writing anymore, and I don’t want to be a part of what it has become.’
George RR Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books, criticised the Sad Puppies, saying the Hugo Awards might be permanently ‘broken’ as a result.
It’s an odd story, covered more fully here, (and let’s face it, all over the internet). It also feels like part of a wider culture-war taking place, with both sides arguing the other camp is focusing on ideology at the expense of good writing, film-making, game-design and story-telling.
In another example, Mad Max Fury Road has just been released to calls from Men’s Rights Activists to boycott the film, with Aaron Clarey complaining that ‘Men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.’
And these sorts of battles can turn nasty, with not just trolling and online attacks but people losing their jobs, and threats of actual violence, as the Gamergate controversy showed.
Does any of this matter? Sci-fi’s just for nerds and weirdoes anyway, right? I mean, what do I care if a bunch of sad blokes don’t want to see Mad Max Fury because they think Charlize Theron has too many lines in it, and should just sit around looking pretty while her male counterpoint rules the post-apocalyptic wasteland. I was never that interested in seeing Mad Max Fury Road anyway, and I’m guessing my own favourite sci-fi films of the last couple of years – films like Ex Machina, and Upstream Color – wouldn’t interest these guys either.
Except that when I think of the Hugo Awards, I think of writers I love, who’ve influenced me and been with me my whole life, such as Ursula Le Guin and Kurt Vonnegut. Writers who remind me that sci-fi can be entertaining and important, that funny and action-packed aren’t incompatible with big ideas and plenty of heart.
The claim that explosion-loving, right-voting, hetero, white men are under-served in the TV, film or video game market does seem faintly ridiculous to me (but perhaps there hasn’t been enough sexual violence in Game of Thrones recently?) I mean, a lot of the time popular culture seems like nothing but explosions and sexy chicks.
So what to do? Keep making stuff you love, and sharing it with others, hoping there are people out there who get it. Don’t be intimidated out of cultural space by people who don’t agree with your ideas. Be willing to critique work you have a problem with, whilst not arguing for its non-existence, or threatening its makers with with on- or offline violence.
Come on people, we can manage that, can’t we?