Perspectives: What if you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong?
Insanity is repeating the same experiment over and over and hoping for different results
Probably not Albert Einstein
Now, that’s a bit rich, coming from a writer, and me especially. But hey, I’m a bit stunned and even more idiotic than usual: today was Australia Day, our first as Australians, and as a new Australian I might have got a bit confused about that expression ‘Throw another Chimp on the Barbie’ (I’m sure that’s what they said)?
It was not a pleasant experience, especially for Barbie (the Chimp may view this differently, proving that point of view is really, really relevant.) and Barbie has specifically requested that no one does it again, on pain of getting tenderized (which again is a question of perspective. It’s easier for the one doing chewing, but harder for the one who gets tenderized.)
Which loops around to perspectives and points of view, both of which are very relevant to writers. It’s worth thinking about, because how the writer or reader sees things based on their preconceptions, sometimes makes the same issue look vastly different. One of the things I tend to do a lot in my books is to have characters whose worldview is not typical (or even human). The rats (and the bats) in Rats, Bats & Vats, the dragons Bitar and Smitar in Pyramid Scheme, the Alien lead character in Slow Train to Arcturus Kretz (who I originally named ‘Meth’ – for the obvious reason that ‘Meth’ would mean nothing related to crystal meth, to an alien) They’re a cow to write, because you still need readers to invest in them, to care. They’re also very useful as a way of showing rather than telling ‘What if you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong?’. As a matter of intent, I don’t let them preach but simply let them be. The reader can think about them or not. The story isn’t a gimmick centered on this, they are just features of the story.
It’s been curious to see how these different world views shape both the way people write, and see the world beyond that. We’re into the final stages of needing to register as a Hugo voter for the Sad Puppies 3 campaign. Now you might say ‘this is the third attempt, why are you repeating the same experiment over and over again. It failed last year.’
You might, as this poster –‘Captain Carnage’ on Brad Torgersen’s ‘Why Sad Puppies is going to destroy Science Fiction’ argue:
If you guys want to get specific works that you believe do interest a wide audience on the ballot (which is fine, of course), I think you are making some mistakes here. The biggest of them is pissing off people you have to be in good terms with to win a Hugo. Saying that Hugo voters like stupid books is not going to help you, because you need a sizeable cut of regular Worldcon goers’ votes, even if you get new people to attend. I very much doubt that accusing people of political biases when in fact they only have different tastes than you is getting you anywhere.
Why not do a positive campaign? Why not say that Ancillary Justice was a good and fun SF novel (which I think it was) and, by the way, look at this great book by Eric Flint of Tad Williams or whoever?
The problem ‘Captain Carnage’ – (CC to save me typing) has is that he begins from a totally different world view to most the Sad Puppies. He assumes that the typical Sad Puppy supporter wants a work that he likes to win the Hugo Award, because that would give the author of their choice cachet, legitimacy as writers, and recognition, and that the WorldCon goers would be important for that. CC assumes that because it very important to him, it is to others. He assumes his (or her) worldview is neatly central and held by 99% of all people who could read sf, and that Worldcon attendees are typical and representative, and despite the stats showing the left-wing and far left wing nominees and winners to be close to infinitely improbable, there is no political bias, or at least not an important one. He assumes the system is fair and reasonable (it has given him pretty much what he wants, books he likes therefore it must be), and that it is possible to win by playing nice, unlike last year in which the Sad Puppy slate came last…
The Sad Puppies look at the same situation somewhat differently. Firstly, they didn’t set out to win the Hugo Award, having almost no interest (other than possibly some vague nostalgia for the award when it actually was a good signal to a wide audience of readers about what they would probably enjoy) in the award. It has little value to them. For them the important thing was to show it was politically biased (and, um, to have fun mocking the SJW’s who took it all very seriously). They set out to do the direct opposite of what CC assumed they wanted – to show that the ‘winners’ in the recent past had no cachet, deserved no recognition and had no legitimacy. To force into the public eye the fact that what been the sf/fantasy’s premium award was now simply a worthless left-wing cause de jour rubber-stamp. To show what a biased and minority group the Worlcon Hugo voters and nominees were. The only way for the Sad Puppies to lose, was to win (and even then, they had the happy thought of ‘splody heads to console them, as the award is important to CC and friends, who would then have to admit they were at least as good as their idols), and the only way for the Worlcon/Hugo establishment to ‘win’, to establish it was legitimate contest not biased by political affiliation, was to lose. The Sad Puppies forced the the WorldCon/Hugos old guard into a place where they showed the system is not fair or reasonable to an awful lot of people who had never considered it before. The Sad Puppies slate already knew it was not possible to win by ‘playing nice’ or doing anything else. They’ve all been the targets of the loony left while trying to play nice, for years. (the record is pretty clear. There hasn’t been a ‘nice’ winner who isn’t left to far left for years.) So: As far as the Sad Puppies are concerned they succeeded last year, beyond their wildest expectations even, it was fun watching the SJW ants scurry and squall, and therefore doing it again makes sense. If you want to support them go here.
You see I think the Hugo organizers and regular Worldcon fans have the whole damn thing all wrong. It’s a book which is great and popular with a wider audience that lends cachet, legitimacy to the award, and recognition to Worldcon, not the other way around. Redshirts and Ancillary Justice wins did little for their authors, and damage to the Hugos. Being seen to be fair and reasonable OUTSIDE their circle counts. Inside is irrelevant -they believe it anyway. It’s up to the very small minority of sf readers who go and support the WorldCon and Hugo status quo to play nice if they want credibility, and, um, support for what is a shrinking Con, and one heading for being as marginalized and irrelevant as some the literary left-wing Cons. The population of sf/fantasy readers is still growing, and proportionally, and compared to others, WorldCon isn’t. It was only due to the Sad Puppies that had the last WorldCon in the black, and that was marginal. Yet other Cons are growing and very profitable…
Think of it as an anti-boxing campaigner getting into the ring. The local boxing fans and the boxer hate his guts and would love to see him pounded to a pulp. Even the referee is willing to turn a blind eye. They assume he’s getting into the ring to win, because from their perspective that’s the only reason you would. But, from the campaigner’s point of view, he wants the boxer to pound him to a pulp without the referee stopping it, with the audience screaming ‘kill him’, ‘maim him’… because the whole thing is being filmed and broadcast, and will lead to the sport being damaged in the public eye, more severe controls and possibly the death of the sport.
Knowing the two perspectives, what would be smart thing for the boxer, the promoter, the referee, and the fans to do? What will the WorldCon fans, the Hugo winners past, and those voting and nominating, and being nominated do this year? Are they smart?
It’s like the argument that sf is dying. This means we need ‘moar diversity’, ‘moar women’, ‘moar PoC’, moar ‘non-binary’ writers sf on the logic that 1) There aren’t any. 2) They will come if we build it 3) only those people could buy it as editors, write it as authors (and write nothing else) and people of those categories would read it by no-one else, although the old readers (supposedly all white, heterosexual and male) would continue to buy it, or are irrelevant.
You’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong. Firstly, sf isn’t dying. If anything, it is growing, just not from the big 5 trad publishers. Secondly, sf led the diversity charge. Traditional publishing has more women editors than male, and, in the younger cohorts, more women writers, and any men that happen be there are outspoken third generation feminists. More outspoken than their female counterparts. Looking at the demographics of possible readers, if you assume (incorrectly in my opinion – see point 3) that you can only write for what you are, what they need is less. Point 1) merely displays gross ignorance of the genre, with so many examples of today’s ‘modern’ being 50 years old and about as ‘new and original’ as prostitution. 2) has proved the wrong way around. ‘They’ll leave if they don’t like it’ might be more accurate. And there is no point in possibly attracting 0.2% of the population if to do so you have to lose 20%. The trick is not to lose your old audience in the possibility of gaining a new one, especially if that gain is a small one. In sf writing that IS possible, because we’re not selling one product. That is something traditional publishing has yet to learn. 3) Sf authors have proved, repeatedly, that they don’t need to be men to write men (Miles Vorkosigan), and to write men that heterosexual men can also enjoy (the writers just have to be able to accept that not all of them are villains) or that men can write women characters (Honor Harrington) that women enjoy. Hell, all that needing to be xyz to write xyz proves… is that you’re a very inadequate writer. A competent author NEEDS to be able to get into perspectives that are not his own, and to understand them, even if the writer doesn’t like them. I got into the head of Bianca Casarini and Sophia Tomaselli in This Rough Magic (Heirs of Alexandria), although the women made me want to gag. I wrote the whole of Joy Cometh With The Mourning: A Reverend Joy Mystery from an unmarried, devout female Anglican priest’s point of view. I wrote part of Slow Train to Arcturus from points of view that ranged from Amazonian tribesmen to gay female, to devout fundamentalist Christian, to bi-sexual Alien. I’m merely a competent hack. So far only the bi-sexual Aliens have told me I didn’t come close. For a great author, it should be easy.
You’ve got the whole thing all wrong.
Look at it again from a different point of view.
Making experiment work this time, depends on changing that perspective. And the actual truth probably has a little bit of more than one perspective in it.