Finding the There

Despite my intentions of writing today’s post in advance so all I’d need to do was proof and schedule it, life happened in the form of two major releases (one of them involving standing up a new server and getting it hooked up and tested out after discovering on Thursday that the existing server was too old to run the multitude of new features we’d spent the last 6 months building), trying to figure out how to shoe-horn (conservatively) three times more work than we can do into the time we’ve got available to do said work (hint: being more efficient won’t cut it. We’re past “to the bone”), and kitten shenanigans at home being a rather significant distraction since eating is now an exercise of “Get a bite in. Remove the kitten. Get a bite in. Remove the kitten.” Rinse and repeat until the food is gone or the kitten wins.

Anyway, so in the process of figuring out what to write, I got a wonderful email from Dave Truesdale, pointing me to a review and opinion piece he wrote 8 years back. Go read it. Dave has nicely analyzed all the reasons Big 5 science fiction (and to a lesser extent, fantasy) is dying and figured out the difference between pseudo-literary bullshit and real story as well.

What he’s described is the simple phenomenon of there being no “there” there that lies under damn near every establishment dahling I’ve ever read. The obsession with style and verbiage over – and to the exclusion of – plot and character development. The way they bludgeon the reader with their Message instead of trusting that a smart enough reader will be able to figure it out without the flashing neon signs and shouts of “Look at my Message! This is Important!”. The obsessively pessimistic if not outright nihilist view of the future.

Then I look at how these people view the likes of Pratchett, and I realize the reason their writing has no “there” underneath it is that they lack the capacity to see one – or recognize it if they have it. Pratchett focuses on story and character, and yet there’s one hell of a lot of “there” underneath the deceptively simple, workmanlike prose.

And this is why the Puppies happened – the Big 5 and their ilk became infested with shallow pretties that have no “there”. Purely coincidentally (I’m sure), actual sales dropped and print runs shrank right along with publisher profits – which only caused those same style-loving echo chambers to double down and produce more stylistic supposedly innovative works (non-binary-default gender! Different pronouns!) completely failing to care that the same things had already been done and done better. More than that, they’d been done with plot and character and even “there”.

Puppy supporters are more interested in plot and character than in style and prose. We’re more concerned that a story be satisfying in some way than that it meet our ideological biases (everyone has those – it’s one of those things that goes with being human). And so it goes.

To take an example, If You Were a Dinosaur is – to most Puppy supporters – not genre fiction. It’s a badly disguised revenge fantasy with a kludgy framing device that doesn’t pull off the “story within a story” thing (mostly because there’s no plot of any sort on either side of the frame). Now sure, in piece that short you can make something that’s totally idea work, but there’s no idea behind this either. You could substitute anything including a kickass warrior-type human into the “dinosaur” slot, and have essentially the same piece.

Most of those who’ve praised it have praised the prose and the style – and since the piece is deliberately written in a prose-poem style, that’s valid praise. It doesn’t make the piece SF or fantasy though. Nor does it mean there’s any kind of “there” underneath the quasi-poetic style (there isn’t, unless you count a kind of ersatz “rough drunks are evil and will spew out any kind of insult even ones that make no sense”).

So, yeah. Inept message fiction makes puppies sad. Sad Puppies 4 wants to make puppies happy by returning the Hugo to its roots as a readers choice award – all readers, not just the small cadre who favor style over substance. Those who wouldn’t know substance if it bit them on the butt are of course in opposition to this goal.

96 Comments

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96 responses to “Finding the There

  1. What’s sad(ish) is that people could see this coming 8 years ago, but the people doing the writing and marketing refused to. Or couldn’t because of the hot-house atmosphere around the Coastal Publishing Scene.

    • Kate Paulk

      This gives me the mental image of a herd of lemmings stampeding over a cliff, secure in the knowledge that something will prevent them meeting the ground in a rather final splat. And being horribly – if briefly – disappointed.

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    What’s interesting is how the Usual Suspects all seem to think that we *hate* Terry Pratchett. Not sure what they’re basing that on. I’ve read nothing but praise for the man on Puppy blogs.

    • Remember that “Politics is a measure of quality” Sandifer is one of the representatives of the anti-Puppies, remember that to them Brad Torgersen is an evil racist theocratic right-winger, and then remember that Pratchett wasn’t enthused about libertarianism or religion, and then, finally, remember that they know us better than we know ourselves.
      It will make sense then.

      • To put it simply, they deeply hate everyone who disagrees with them, even on trivial matters; so we must deeply hate everyone who disagrees with us, especially on important matters. It’s “projection.”

        • Kate Paulk

          Oh, there have been some people who’ve expressed their disagreement with Pratchett’s personal views in strong terms. The ones I read made a distinction between Pratchett’s personal views and his writing, but the puppy-kicker faction doesn’t believe such a distinction can exist.

          • I disagree with some of the opinions of every writer I enjoy to read. And every other human being, for that matter. I’m a rather strange, strong-willed and opinionated person, with very little impulse toward conformity by most standards. If I hated everyone with whom I disagreed, I’d hate the whole world.

            For instance, I disagree both with Orson Scott Card’s idealization of non-Western native cultures and his assumption that homosexuality is an inherently bad aspect of character. I still love most of his stories, and approve of his general philosophy of life, and found the hostility directed toward the Ender’s Game movie seriously stupid.

    • TRX

      They are wildly jealous of Pratchett, and so obviously we are too…

    • Nathan

      It’s not, not really. Most of the Usual Suspects would rather attack the straw-puppies in their heads than actually talk to a Puppy.

      • True, very true and in more venues than. The Usual Suspects would much rather attack a straw-Tea Partier, a Straw-Conservative, or a Straw-Flyover Country Resident than actually talk to a real one.

    • Matthew

      Hate. Terry Pratchett.

      How in the…?????

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Obviously I hate Pterry. Obviously, I’ve hated him since I read the Bromeliad when I first read it when I was reading all the books about little people I could find. Obviously I hated him so much that I signed into a restricted access library just to read one of his books. Obviously I hated him so much that I read Good Omens several times. Obviously I hated when I played the Discworld MUD.

      • Uncle Lar

        See, just look at the lengths you went to camoflage your hatred of the Pratchett. Your perfidy knows no bounds, straw Bob.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I prefer the term Scarecrow-American.

          In fairness, I haven’t read all his books, and I was satisfied reading some of his later ones only once. In fairness, I haven’t played the official Discworld CRPGs. In fairness, while I (probably) became interested in GURPS because of GURPS Discworld, I haven’t actually purchased GURPS Discworld or any other GURPS product. I did eventually lose interest in the Discworld MUD.

          Looking back, it might have been a phase I was in. On the other hand, the amount I feel the need to reread Ringo or Bujold when I’m at the library isn’t that much greater, and I still tend to manage to read their new stuff when it comes out. Maybe I’m just depressed.

    • 60cent

      Typical SJW. They are twisting and taking out of context the post where Charles Wright compared Pterry to Hitler.

      http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/10/the-watchtowers-of-atlantis-tremble/

    • JCW wrote one essay a few years ago about how putting an attractive popular face on evil is surprisingly effective in getting folks to swallow what they would never accept, stated baldly from Joe Average. His example was Pterry chatting up euthenasia. It made the rounds during one of the ritual Times of Disavowal required to disqualify works written by The Campaign to End Puppy-related Sadness Sad authors. Because authors have to be pure as the driven snow before right-thinking fans can be allowed to enjoy their stories. Oy.

      Anyhoo, what was going ’round all the interwebs, including the Bujold List was: “JCW wants to beat up Pterry! OMG WTF Evooooooool!!!!!!!!”

      I swear I read the essay three times: it’s a lovely piece, not one of John’s polemics (which he does well, but I enjoy less: tastes differ) and there’s nothing like that anywhere in the essay. It wouldn’t even be an effective bit of writing if it didn’t start from the position that Pterry is awesome. But neither subtlety nor reading comprehension is these folks’ strong suit.

      There was a powerful need to unperson JCW so folks couldn’t read or appreciate his writing, so this was everywhere for a while. No doubt it evolved via guilt-by-association into a general distaste for Discworld.

      • Kate Paulk

        Subtlety? Reading comprehension? Why, that’s almost as evil as expecting respect for the context.

      • snowcrash

        Anyhoo, what was going ’round all the interwebs, including the Bujold List was: “JCW wants to beat up Pterry! OMG WTF Evooooooool!!!!!!!!”

        I swear I read the essay three times: it’s a lovely piece, not one of John’s polemics (which he does well, but I enjoy less: tastes differ) and there’s nothing like that anywhere in the essay.

        Correct. Because what people were referring to was what JCW stated in the comments of The Watchtowers… article (link provided by 60cent above):

        Comment by John C Wright:
        Monday, October 17th 2011 at 2:51 pm | …I sat and listened to pure evil being uttered in charming accents accentuated by droll witticism, and I did not stand up, and I did not strike the old man who uttered them across the mouth: and when he departed, everyone stood and gave him an ovation, even though he had done nothing in his life aside from entertain their idle afternoons….

    • To be fair, VD does, and since we’re all VD, you know, and all. (Rolls eyes.)

  3. The most salient point from the linked article:

    “…art can’t be brought into existence by manifestos.”
    –Thomas M. Disch, Feb. 1981 issue of F&SF

    I vividly remember ONE thing about the “new wave” anthologies I bought back when they were the latest rage: they were BORING.

    • TRX

      I had a few New Wave books left on the shelves and went back through them while culling to get some more space. Yep, still boring.

      A story has to have *structure*. If it’s “liberated” to where anything can and does happen, there’s no use getting involved with it since it’s all likely to change shortly anyway…

      “New Wave” was the SF equivalent of Cubist painting. Which, despire how many people have taken courses in to have it explained how wonderful it is, doesn’t come across as “art” in any meaningful sense in my universe…

      • I think I’m going to have to verify who was considered New Wave. I know a couple of authors I thought were considered New Wave who were neither boring nor formless.

        • These labels tend to squirm around over time. Not everyone who identified as New Wave at the time is still considered so today. Not everything that is identified as pulp now was considered so back in the day. I have seen people call Galaxy a pulp magazine; such an identification would have horrified Horace Gold.

          • Well, the linked article mentioned Moorcock, who I still am working through but have mostly enjoyed (in terms of his places there seems to be a rich unmined vein since him even if he mined in well known territory at the time) and for some reason I associate Silverberg with the movement. I’ve enjoyed some Disch and have love/hate reactions to Ellison although in his case it is as much as a critic as an author (although I dearly want to find a way to fix his great frustration on TV).

            • Chris Nelson

              Moorcock is one of the original SJWs in the “In Clique” and got away with encouraging folks to shun a lot of folks who’s viewpoints didn’t match his own. This started back in the ’90s. That’s when I stopped reading him and swapped the his books for others at a local book store. I recently did the same with some autographed Gerrold books when I found out about his despicable stunts at this years WorldCon. And Delany’s books when I found out he supports NAMBLA.

              I normally don’t care about an authors viewpoint/background, I just want to read good books. But I don’t support actions that reward intentional shitty behavior. I don’t care about gender, color or preferences. I’m open minded and don’t expect people to agree with all my preferences. But when you put the non-mainstream on a special pedestal, dis the majority of the readers and promote people that promote child abuse don’t expect me not to question your viewpoints and motivations.

              • Moorcock wrote some good innovative pulp science fantasy — these are the works that are still reprinted and read — the Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon series. Most of his attempts at serious writing were incredibly boring, and I think he has never forgiven fandom for their lack of appreciation of what he tried to write that he thought was serious.

            • HerbN: Though Silverberg might have been associated in the minds of some back in the day as one of those in the New Wave, trust me, he’s one of “us.” 🙂

              • Silverbob has had a long and prolific career, I should be surprised to learn that there is a sub-genre of stf in which he has not written at least one and often many works.

          • There’s pulp and then there’s “pulp.” Digests such as Galaxy were made from pulp paper and as such was considered “one of the pulps.” However, if someone spoke of the material in Galaxy as having a “pulp” sensibility, then they would be horribly wrong. When people refer to something as having a “pulp sensibility” they are referring to the very early pulps of the 1920s-1930s (and into the 1940s, I suppose with several pulps like Thrilling Wonder, Planet Stories, etc.).

            The term “pulp” depends upon the context in which it used and some use it indiscriminately, not aware of the difference, and thus expose their ignorance of the term’s origin.

        • TRX

          Even Moorcock wasn’t all New Wave. And lots of authors played in that pool when the editors were taking that sort of manuscript.

  4. TRX

    Kate, the SP4 page only partially renders in Konqueror, and it looks pretty strange in Firefox on Linux. (a lot of sites work fine in Firefox/Windows, but not on Linux…) It seems to work properly under Chromium/Linux. Next time someone works on it, you might want to have them check it with some different browsers and platforms.

    • Kate Paulk

      Thanks for the heads-up. I’m planning to get some work on the site this weekend – do you know of any WordPress themes that you know render properly in Konqueror and other popular Linux browseers?

  5. I charitably read If You Were a Dinosaur as an argument for concealed carry.

    • Indeed, though I’m fairly sure that the author would be horrified at that interpretation. But it makes perfect sense: if the narrator’s fiancee had been carrying a gun, he would probably have escaped the situation unharmed: at worst, he would have had a chance at ensuring that some of his assailants got seriously harmed as well.

  6. I ran across this while catching up with some LJ posts. http://witteafval.livejournal.com/516562.html

    So it really isn’t just “us”. Others are seeing it too.

  7. “Sad Puppies 4 wants to make puppies happy by returning the Hugo to its roots as a readers choice award – all readers, not just the small cadre who favor style over substance.”

    Kate, you keep on saying this and saying this – and all of it is wrong: The Hugo awards were NEVER a reader’s choice award, there is no small cadre and in the end, Sad Puppies whatever is not going to make puppies happy, because the results in 2016 will be the same as they were in 2015 – rejection of this self-aggrandizing fantasy that you and your fellow travelers have concocted out of whole cloth.

    • “The Hugo awards were NEVER a reader’s choice award…”

      Then what, pray tell, are they?

      If they are nothing more than an award given by one small con*, then why do they still have any prestige? Why call the winners the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy?

      *Compared to Cons like DragonCon, and SD Comic Con, World Con is small.

      • if you want to look at commercial issues as your only measure of success, then I suppose you could refer to Worldcon as a small con. But in doing so you simply reveal your ignorance as someone who knows nothing about fandom, its society, culture, history.

        The Hugo Awards are the awards given out by the World Science Fiction Society, which originated with the first fans and the founding of the genre. The people who attend and vote, individually and collectively, understand the field and the community and have demonstrated that they care deeply about it.

        You apparently think that size matters, and you’re welcome to that assessment, but in the long run I think you’ll find that sales, numbers and how big something is, is not a measure of quality.

        The bottom line though is this: no matter how few people may participate in Worldcon or the Hugo Awards, the industry regards the con and the awards as important, influential and meaningful and no amount of BS from any kind of puppies is going to change that. It’s got the prestige and the weight of history behind it.

        You don’t like it, do what I and others have been suggesting for three years now – make your own award. If masses of people end up picking worthy works, it will only take you a few years to make the Puppy Awards as prestigious as the Hugo Awards.

        • I could just as easily turn your suggestion around, Steve, and offer you the option of starting your own SF award if you don’t like the back-to-its-roots direction a lot of folks think the Hugos have strayed from thanks to certain holier-than-thou fen (of which you are one pathetically obsessed example) who think because they’ve been to a few cons over the years they fricking own the Hugos.

          I’ve been around (give or take a year) as long as you have–roughly 40 years–and find your distorted view of fandom and self-righteous snobbery quite obnoxious. You have no idea what a fool you’re making of yourself.

          But go ahead, keep pounding the keyboard with your lies and blindered view of fandom. The only one’s who might conceivably believe your snotty crap are new folks who don’t know what a mountain of midden you’re shoveling. The rest of us just shake our heads sadly.

        • Matthew

          WorldCon isn’t small because it’s high quality/exclusive, nor does it restrict itself to fans that “understand the field and the community and have demonstrated that they care deeply about it” (it’ll take anyone’s money and give them a membership) – it’s small because very few people think it’s worth it.

          That… isn’t actually a mark in its favour.

          • Yep. Once you would see art from the leading graphic designers and illustrators at the World Con art show. This year… it was small and sadand even people like the Foglios (who are amazing) didn’t bother to bring much.

        • TRX

          “Founding of the genre?”

          Somewhere, Hugo Gernsback (yes, *that* “Hugo”) is laughing derisively…

        • Nathan

          Catering to Worldcon fandom has, in an age of Science Fiction and Fantasy mainstream success, turned print SFF into the equivalent of buggy whip makers in the automobile age. Thus the Hugos, pre-Puppies, only had relevancy to the people in the industry that organized a famine in the time of feast, and little outside that incestuous circle.

          • Indeed. Science fiction and fantasy have expanded to sizes undreamed of in the Interwar Era when the genre started, or even the immediate Postwar Era when the Hugos were born. Yet despite fanbases for SF movie worlds like Star Wars or fantasy worlds like Middle-Earth, the Worldcons continue to shrink. This is not because they are so esoterically wonderful that no mere mundanes can hope to appreciate their sublime merits: it is because they are a small pond being deliberately kept small by the little fish that want a place in which to be big.

        • Steve wrote: “The people who attend and vote, individually and collectively, understand the field and the community and have demonstrated that they care deeply about it.”

          We were ALL neo-fans once, Steve. Neo-fans, in my experience, care about SF as much as anyone; this is what got them into fandom and then voting on the Hugos in the first place. There has ALWAYS been the entire spectrum of fans in the SF community–and a neo’s perspective and “understanding of the field” changes markedly over time. You seem to feel that new fans now coming into “your” version of fandom don’t count because they may not have the same perspective that you continually let people know you have, and that their brand fandom doesn’t amount to as much as yours does.

          So quit yelling at the kids to keep off your grass and put your arrogance and ego back in your pants. It’s not the pissing contest you want to make this and reveals just the _opposite_ view of fandom Tucker and Rusty (for but two) would deplore.

        • You apparently think that size matters, and you’re welcome to that assessment, but in the long run I think you’ll find that sales, numbers and how big something is, is not a measure of quality.

          So it’s your contention that the science fiction and fantasy community as a whole cannot judge what is good.

          • Steve’s comfortable in his old view of fandom and can’t bring himself to accept change. Change being a new influx of fans from, in his view, the “outside” of his snuggly view of the fandom he grew up in. Ironic, isn’t it, that a guy so into SF can’t accept change? He’s just a dinosaur that doesn’t know the meteor has hit yet.

            “If You Were an SF Fan, My Love”…;-)

        • ‘reveal your ignorance as someone who knows nothing about fandom, its society, culture, history.”

          I may not know much about “fandom” but I do know something about Science Fiction. I’ve been reading and watching SF most of my life. And to this SF fan, Fandom is not the be all and end all of SF.

          “The Hugo Awards are the awards given out by the World Science Fiction Society, which originated with the first fans and the founding of the genre.”

          Right. The Fans! Readers. Not critics or editors and publishers. The Fans. Ergo, it is a FAN award. It should be Open to All Fans.

          “The people who attend and vote, individually and collectively, understand the field and the community and have demonstrated that they care deeply about it.”

          I disagree. They may understand the Fan Community, but the drop in quality of stories wining the awards, as measured by the true judges – the readers, says they do NOT understand the SF community. Again, not the the same thing.

          ‘I think you’ll find that sales, numbers and how big something is, is not a measure of quality.”

          You do have a point here, just look at any one of the mind numbing movies that throngs of people flock to see every summer. Most are done only to make money. But I submit that you are forgetting one key element. Longevity. Can you honestly tell me that you think “The World Turned Upsidedown” will be remembered for as long as “The Nine Billions Names of God” or “The Star” or “Nightfall”? Those are excellent pieces, true master works. The World Turned, is meh.

          “You don’t like it, do what I and others have been suggesting for three years now – make your own award. If masses of people end up picking worthy works, it will only take you a few years to make the Puppy Awards as prestigious as the Hugo Awards.”

          Except the WSFC is open to all SF/F fans. Anyone who wants to pay for a membership can join and vote. We are SF/F fans and we have as much Right to voice our opinions as you, or anyone else does. Why should we be told to go “make your own award”?

          Oh, one more question, if the Hugos aren’t about money, then why slap “Hugo Award” winner on the cover of the novels? Sounds like the publishers still think it is a way to increase sales.

        • Chris Nelson

          Steve preaching from the high towers of True Fendom:
          “The bottom line though is this: no matter how few people may participate in Worldcon or the Hugo Awards, the industry regards the con and the awards as important, influential and meaningful and no amount of BS from any kind of puppies is going to change that. It’s got the prestige and the weight of history behind it.”

          What industry? The dying NY publishing houses that pay for votes? The old hands that decide the winners? What prestige? People that would rather cheer the shaming of women editors and hand out buttholes as awards? People that consider pedophiles as diversity?

          This isn’t my fathers Hugo awards or the current fans. This the old con clique that is inbred with an elite that disdains the common fan. Most knowledgeable readers have been aware of the declining quality from the Hugos in the past decade or two. It’s become a sign of pretentious false representation of a larger genre that increasing doesn’t care about it anymore.

          • What industry? The dying NY publishing houses that pay for votes? The old hands that decide the winners? What prestige? People that would rather cheer the shaming of women editors and hand out buttholes as awards? People that consider pedophiles as diversity?

            … and demonizes the Old Masters of Science Fiction such as Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke for having failed to write according to the intellectual fashions of the 2000’s and 2010’s, one which they could not possibly anticipate? And gets their criticisms wrong, because they don’t read those authors and don’t want any other fen to read them either?

            Why should we respect this?

        • Soooooo why are you disqualifying longtime worldcon folks who support the “sad puppies” reform of the Hugo Awards to their former prestige and influence among SF fandom?

          Who died and made you King?

          Why should we give up “our” awards to the interlopers who gamed the system, logrolled, and lied about us?

          Folks: this one’s straight out of DeBecker’s Gift of Fear. When he tells the woman “shut up, and don’t scream and I won’t hurt you ” it’s time to start yelling your head off.

        • “You apparently think that size matters, and you’re welcome to that assessment, but in the long run I think you’ll find that sales, numbers and how big something is, is not a measure of quality.”

          I often see this kind of attitude in the world of books, and shake my head at the naivity. I spent 20 years working in software quality assurance (though we didn’t always call it that) and I can tell you that in the world of professional software you would never hear this.

          ‘Quality’ is not a concept that allows itself to be captured easily, or for very long. Whose quality criteria are we talking about? And what day of the week is it? No one, not even college professors, can fully articulate their quality criteria, because so much is gut feel. And in any case, an individual’s changes over time. I mean do you only ever watch one kind of TV program? In the wider corporate world, the idea that ‘quality’ is defined by a clique of self-appointed experts is a discredited attitude that belongs to the 1950s… except, for some reason, in the world of books.

          The sales of multi-book authors are the best proxy we have for quality, because no reader is going to invest money, and certainly not their time, on an author whose earlier work didn’t excite that reader.

          I noticed people sneering online at Jim Butcher and especially Kevin J. Anderson for their Hugo nominations on the grounds that authors of series are just hack writers. “Oh, no! Not another fat Kevin J. Anderson tome in another interminable series. Whatever happened to quality literature?” In fact, the only possible explanation for how Butcher and Anderson sell so many millions of books is because a very large number of readers regard them as writers of high quality fiction. The quality criteria set by those readers are just as valid as those set by the sneering set.

          To the people who say book sales are not a measure of quality, I say go take some training in quality, because you clearly don’t understand the concept. For all their faults, sales figures remain the best single measure we have. Go on, try it! http://asq.org/training/topic/quality-management.html

          • Kate Paulk

            The software tester thanks you! Shakespeare was the popular literature of his day – and would be sneered at by some of the self-appointed as a hack.

            On the software front, the quality definition I like is the one that covers “fitness for use” – that is, it meets the needs of its intended users/audience sufficiently well that they’re able to use it for its intended purpose. The SF equivalent has to be that enough people like it enough to spend their beer and pizza money on it and then look for more by that author.

            • Absolutely. The better art critics and academics have something interesting to say about why people spend their beer money on certain books rather than others. Only the very best critics and academics understand that if an author attracts that beer money, and their model says that author writes poor quality books, then it’s the model that’s broken and needs fixing, not the readers. Unfortunately, all too many would rather stick their fingers in their ears and go lah-lah-lah.

          • I noticed people sneering online at Jim Butcher and especially Kevin J. Anderson for their Hugo nominations on the grounds that authors of series are just hack writers. “Oh, no! Not another fat Kevin J. Anderson tome in another interminable series. Whatever happened to quality literature?” In fact, the only possible explanation for how Butcher and Anderson sell so many millions of books is because a very large number of readers regard them as writers of high quality fiction. The quality criteria set by those readers are just as valid as those set by the sneering set.

            Indeed. American science fiction as a genre began in part with Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote two very long series (Barsoom and Tarzan), and continued with such writers as Robert A. Heinlein (the Future History), Isaac Asimov (Robots, Empire and Foundation), L. Sprague de Camp (Viagens Interplanetaris) and Poul Anderson (Polesotechnic universe). Series are how one explores ideas too big to handle in any single story; lack of series may come from a desire to explore many different ideas, or a lack of ideas that are really all that large or innovative.

          • Like that hack writer Patrick O’Brian, or that cheezy commercial trilogy artist Marcel Proust?

        • I agree with Steve Davidson up to a point. The system was open in theory to anyone willing to pay the dues and the postage. But in the good old days, fewer books were published, only a few hundred people cared enough to nominate on a regular basis, and most of those made a point of devouring the new issues of the big magazines. And editors had already done an awful lot of curation of the fiction the Worldcon members encountered.

          The logic was: there always have been squabbling factions, but we’ve read from the same limited pool of works, so if each of us lists our favorites we can reward the ones receiving widest acclaim. When the Hugo went to things as brilliant and varied as Poul Anderson’s “No Truce With Kings,” Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin” and Fritz Leiber’s “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” it was hard to quibble with that. That system depended on a hardcore group who took it upon themselves year after year to read a good sampling of the field as a whole. We ought to thank them.

          In the 80s, Spider Robinson advocated a populist approach with every fan encouraged to mail in a ballot. (It went nowhere.) But even then, although the publishing and distribution landscape had changed, it hadn’t changed beyond all recognition.

          So I have no idea how three or five or ten thousand people who don’t even talk to each other or read from a common pool of books and stories can pull off the same trick today.

          For 2016, Kate Paulk seems to be the thought leader. Similar things will be done in other places. (On Making Light’s EPH discussion, even the inventor of their new voting rules wondered if something like SP4 may be necessary.) Compiling recommendations is a great first step, but success will probably depend on most voters keeping an open mind and trying read outside their usual comfort zones so they can evaluate a wide sampling of the field before nominating. Fingers crossed.

        • You don’t like it, do what I and others have been suggesting for three years now – make your own award.

          Why should we yield the Hugos to you and yours, when you do not have the numbers to keep control of it? We would rather take the Hugos, or neutralize them either through No Awarding them or exposing that they are just the possession of a clique.

          We are neither your moral nor intellectual inferiors, and we will not back down before you. And, because your section of science fiction lacks the sales or is old and dying, we shall triumph.

    • Majestic_Moose

      Really not a small cadre, in 2007 there were less than 500 people who voted for Best Novel. That isn’t nominated but voted! Thats tiny compared to Fandom. Hell it’s tiny compared to Truefen

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        When the community gets smaller and smaller, it’s much easier for a small group to wield too much influence, especially when they’ve made the community inhospitable for their rivals. It’s not a conspiracy, just a closed system.

      • Nathan

        Let’s not forget that a fan unknown outside of literary sf convention circles has more Hugo nominations than any professional writer, editor, or artist in the award’s history.

    • Majestic_Moose

      Same Year in Best Novel the Highest Nominated work had under 60 nominations, The 5th place in noms had 35!

    • I’m not sure what you are getting at.

      You say the Hugo’s were never a reader’s choice award but then say there is no small cadre. If it is not a reader’s choice award then it is not representative of all reader and only representative of a small group or cadre if you will. Or do you mean the cadre is not small but large and overwhelming and will never be defeated by a small upstart group like Sad Puppies? Or is that two separate statements? Meaning what exactly?

      You say the puppies will not be happy because the results of 2016 will be the same as 2015. By that do you mean that you believe the Hugos will be dominated by No Awards again next year? If so why? It is because the cadre that may or may not exist and is not small will reject the any works they believe may be nominated by the Sad Puppies? Or do you mean you believe that Vox Day will succeed in destroying the Hugos by have No Award win every year from now on?

      Also which self aggrandizing fantasy are you referring to? I have so many, The fantasy that there is a cadre that limits participation in the Hugos to a selected few? The fantasy that anything a member of Sad Puppies might nominate might be worth reading or actually be good? The fantasy that of outsiders can overthrow a small, or large cadre of inbred incestuous insiders? Something else?

      • Kate Paulk

        Oh, that would be the straw-puppy fantasy that the puppy-kickers aren’t going to lift a leg and piddle on the straw first chance they get.

    • I’m not sure what you are getting at.

      You say the Hugo’s were never a reader’s choice award but then say there is no small cadre. If it is not a reader’s choice award then it is not representative of all reader and only representative of a small group or cadre if you will. Or do you mean the cadre is not small but large and overwhelming and will never be defeated by a small upstart group like Sad Puppies? Or is that two separate statements? Meaning what exactly?

      You say the puppies will not be happy because the results of 2016 will be the same as 2015. By that do you mean that you believe the Hugos will be dominated by No Awards again next year? If so why? It is because the cadre that may or may not exist and is not small will reject the any works they believe may be nominated by the Sad Puppies? Or do you mean you believe that Vox Day will succeed in destroying the Hugos by have No Award win every year from now on?

      Also which self aggrandizing fantasy are you referring to? I have so many, The fantasy that there is a cadre that limits participation in the Hugos to a selected few? The fantasy that anything a member of Sad Puppies might nominate might be worth reading or actually be good? The fantasy that of outsiders can overthrow a small, or large cadre of inbred incestuous insiders?

    • Steve, if the Hugos were never a reader’s choice award, then what were they? Fans are readers and readers are fans. It’s the Nebulas that are not a readers’ award (save that everyone who votes on them is obviously a reader), but a professional writers award.

      So just how are you defining “reader”? Aren’t fans readers?

    • Dav

      I’m not sure what the color of the sky in your multiverse is.

      I’m positive its pretty and you like it, but come on…

    • Jeff Duntemann

      Mr. Davidson:

      The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

      I came a little late to this entry, and will try not to duplicate what others have said, but I have three points to make:

      1. Factionalism and ruling cliques have always been a part of fandom. Certainly they have been for the 42 years since I discovered fandom and cons. Nor is it a new thing: I recommend that you read *The Immortal Storm* by Sam Moskowitz. It’s a description of SF fandom from its origins until 1954. Same deal: endless wrangling over who’s in and who’s out and who deserves to define what fandom is and run it. Sound familiar? It should; it’s been going on for 75 years at least.

      2. You have been treated far more courteously here than I have been treated at cons and in other venues like this run by your allies, for the crime of having libertarian leanings, and (horrors!) writing fiction that favorably treats the Catholic religion. Courtesy of this sort matters a great deal, because:

      3. Your fandom is dying. I don’t mean it metaphorically. I mean it literally: The people I see at cons and have seen for 40-odd years now are graying, whiting, and dying. There’s no one bringing up the rear. Young people are absent. Fandom is undergoing a sort of demographic collapse, and my theory is that the cliquishness of 60-something Baby Boomer SMOFs is driving younger people away, along with older people like me who don’t toe the traditional progressive line. Fandom was welcoming in the 1970s. I haven’t found it welcoming for twenty years or more.

      Kate has made it very clear that the mission of Sad Puppies 4 is to bring new people (and money) into fandom and make new people aware of the Hugo Awards. I’d like to see it happen before this demographic collapse renders the whole conflict moot. I fail to see how this can upset you, unless your fear of losing control of Worldcon and the Hugos is stronger than your fear of traditional fandom itself dying of old age.

      • Kate Paulk

        And in your last sentence, the hammer met the nail. I’ve long suspected the loudest and shrillest voices would rather bring the whole thing down in smoldering wreckage and pee on it themselves than have it go to other hands – in case said other hands proved more capable than they, the self-proclaimed greatest at everything.

    • Kate Paulk

      Really, Steve? When the Hugo voting rules are explicitly written such that any person who purchases a membership has voting rights? That’s by definition a reader’s choice. A juried or closed-ballot award would require membership in an organization with specific entry requirements (the Nebula is a closed-ballot award, since one must be a SFWA member to have any input, and SFWA membership requires meeting qualifications)

      A small cadre… that would be the fewer than 50 votes that determined the nominees in 2008. Unless you’re going to tell me that’s a large cadre?

  8. That was an interesting essay by Dave Truesdale. It illustrated that this has been an old, long running issue in science fiction and not just a recent development.

    It references meeting of authors in the 50’s saying how they would like to be more mainstream. What does mainstream even mean anymore? In the 50’s being mainstream meant being published in the big glossy magazines and access to the larger audiences they had. But the glossies like Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, ect are long gone. What is mainstream now?

    It also points out the need many authors have to be considered ‘literary’. I imagine that a peer pressure, social respectability issue.

    I did like the quotes about Literary works.
    ‘Experimental’ writing—the rediscovery as claimed innovations of such perennials as second-person or present-tense forms of address; the use of an intellectual resolution for a statement of idea, as distinguished from plot-resolution or a story; eccentric punctuation, sentence structure and paragraphing; multiple moods; direct interjections from author to reader—none of that is selling any better than it ever has since its first flush in the college quarterlies of the 1920’s. Its appearance in a manuscript is immediately recognized by the top editors as ‘literary’—that is, visibly concerned with technique . . . with ‘writing,’ if you will, as distinguished from ‘storytelling.’ ”
    — Algis Budrys from “Science Fiction in the Marketplace” (Nebula Winners Twelve, ed. Gordon R. Dickson, Harper & Row, 1978)

    The current issues is just a continuation of the long running battle between literary and storytelling in writing.

    I also like this on the fate of literary writing.

    “The literary short story generally dies with its small audience. A few annual anthologies summarize the year and persistent authors earn hardcover collections which sell mainly to libraries. But in the main, the literary short story is written primarily for the author’s friends
    Alexei Panshin, writing in Nebula Award Stories Number Five (Doubleday, 1970) in his summation of “Short SF in 1968”

  9. Uncle Lar

    Nice mission statement Kate. And naturally you’ve already attracted at least one puppy kicker ranting about how you are oh so wrong because… Well, feelz.
    There is no small cadre after all. 2500 lockstep no award votes were an entirely spontaneous reaction to the puppy attack on the sacred Hugo awards. But what would you know you Mormon caucasian nazi man, you.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      2500 lockstep no award votes were an entirely spontaneous reaction to the puppy attack on the sacred Hugo awards.

      and the Hoop Spur Church Massacre doesn’t reflect on Woodrow then, and his apologists today. Ninety six years ago today. Folks liked to say ‘never again’ about the Holocaust. I alone am not enough to make that statement true.

    • Kate Paulk

      I suppose when it includes who it does, you can’t really call it “small” – any more than you can call me “small”. When most members of a cadre could outweigh a shoggoth, I guess “small” is pushing the description a bit, even if there aren’t all that many of them.

      And you forgot the great rack.

  10. snowcrash

    Then I look at how these people view the likes of Pratchett,….

    With a great deal of love and affection, and no small amount of loss and grief?

    Inept message fiction makes puppies sad.

    Not just puppies I’m sure. But what is message fiction – or inept message fiction – almost certainly differs from person to person. As someone wrote in one of the finest books I’ve ever read, “I imagine that fish have no word for water.”

    • Robin Munn

      With a great deal of love and affection, and no small amount of loss and grief?

      The people in question are the Hugo voters, who took until 2004 to even nominate a Discworld novel (and the one that would have been nominated, Pratchett’s 33rd Discworld novel, he withdrew before nominations were finalized, so technically no Discworld novel was ever nominated.)

      So while individual fans like yourself may love Pratchett, WorldCon itself has given little evidence of such love and affection, and much evidence of not-caring. 32 pieces of evidence of not-caring, in fact.

      See https://madgeniusclub.com/2015/04/02/%EF%BB%BF-terry-pratchett-and-the-sadness-of-puppies/ for full details.

      • David Shallcross

        But remember, Pratchett was a Guest of Honor at the 2004 WorldCon. And he declined a Hugo nomination for best novel the following year.

        • David Shallcross

          Scrub the second sentence from that comment; the part of Munn’s message where the declined nomination was acknowledged had scrolled of my screen while I checked the GoH details.

      • snowcrash

        So while individual fans like yourself may love Pratchett, WorldCon itself has given little evidence of such love and affection, and much evidence of not-caring. 32 pieces of evidence of not-caring, in fact.

        It’s a little strange to argue that “Worldcon itself”, for whatever value that term has and however you’re using it, apparently does not care for a man who they invited and had as a Guest of Honour at one of their conventions – Noreascon 4/Worldcon 62 back in 2004 to be exact.

        Also worth noting is that Sir pTerry was a Hugo nominee, as a co-author of The Science of the Discworld (nominee, Best Related Book, 2000 Hugos)

        FInally, as I’ve noted before elsewhere here, worth noting was that for much of his publishing lifetime, the gap in time between UK and US publication didn’t really help when it came time for nominations, especially in those dark days before ebooks and synchronised international release dates were common.

        • Kate Paulk

          You’ve noted the publishing time gap, but I call bullshit – because for many years (from the mid-1990s at least) Sir Terry was publishing two books per year like clockwork AND his fans in the US were ordering in the UK editions rather than wait and hope the US publisher would bother with a publication over here.

          And that information is from the mouth of the Man Himself.

        • You can’t beat the Nanny Ogg Cookbook!

  11. Cross-posted at the Hive Collective:

    “We’re more concerned that a story be satisfying in some way than that it meet our ideological biases…”

    Indeed, Boring Message SF echoes the political/social concerns du jour without thinking hard about what comes next. I agree with Vivienne Raper’s recent post that great fiction is satisfying because it throws in moral dilemmas for you to wrestle with. But great SF should do even more. In Classic SF you took your Heroic Engineer (or whoever) and threw obstacles at them, then let them try to find solutions. What are the consequences? What would happen next? How to solve the next challenge?

    Post-Vietnam, “Houston Do You Read” wasn’t boring, it got straight to the point: if men come back, kill them. A young Orson Scott Card, back from what must have been eye-opening mission work that took him to the slums of Sao Paulo, had a little kid be manipulated into genocide, and then later spend many, many, many pages facing up to it during the Reagan years, even as Joanna Russ was having radical feminists murder more children. That stuff was, honestly, really hard to top.

    (Look at how Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand burned brightly and then fizzled. I know, “Chip Delany is not your bitch,” but still.)

    KSR succeeded as the Cold War ended because he took his vision of what should be and proceeded to drill down to work out just how damn hard it would be for Heroic Engineers to achieve it. His recent 2312, in contrast, I found fascinating but ultimately unsatisfying because [SPOILERS] when the most wondrous thing happened – we created hybrid life that was part quantum computer – one character sentenced them to unspeakable punishment with no possibility of appeal, the other character secretly let one escape, and then the two tacitly agreed not to question the lies and pretend they were going to live happily ever after. Man creates Superman and that’s it? With Aurora, KSR has practically fallen into (by his standards) a Luddite crouch. [/SPOILERS]

    Others go to the bleeding edge today. The single most compelling thing about the recent work of Peter Watts is that he doesn’t flinch from asking us what it means to be or not to be neurotypical. On the other hand, and this is not a Puppy Talking Point but just mild, well-meaning criticism of something folks have read recently, those Ancillary books still have plenty of spare potential to push the envelope in various directions. For example, on culture as a weapon of imperialism. At least that’s what bugged ME (aside from some understandable rookie missteps in terms of style and structure) about the novel and its most infamous aspect, “Have I mentioned that I have a hard time seeing gender, how annoying!” You’re the beneficiary of millennia of innovation in IT yet you can’t take a minute to figure out how people express their gender identity, what this performance means in the context of their culture, and how it could affect your social interactions with them? The real reason you don’t is you want to play conqueror and you want them to be the subjugated and a galactic war is no less fought with words and ideas than Big Brother’s was. If that’s the setup, let’s see it overcome. A tall order, but we’re already thinking big.

    The Hivers have been making lists, a right and proper use of collective mentality. What about a reading list of recent great works that apply the tools of science fiction to take today’s social and political issues to their next levels and beyond? That’s a serious request. Surely the most compelling response to Puppy Talking Points is not to point fingers but to up your game.

    • Kate Paulk

      Fingers? I’d give my right arm for them to only point fingers (yes, yes, deliberate misquote).

      There are pro-puppy groups doing the same – building lists of great works in genre that are more than just damn good reads. If anyone wants a short-short version, my suggestion is to start with damn near anything by Sarah Hoyt, Dave Freer, or Terry Pratchett. Enjoyable, accessible, and posing quite a few deeper questions under the surface.

      • Pratchett is a great example, though obviously he was writing in a different tradition than the classic SF approach I’m most interested in. I haven’t read much of Hoyt and Freer’s SF, but I’ll pay more attention in future. Any other recommendations in that vein will also be appreciated.

    • Brian,

      I don’t know whether this is quite what you’re thinking of, but have you tried Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief? That has some amazing ideas about how society deals with personal privacy and the limits on that.

      Cory Doctorow was good a few years ago. Interesting ideas about how 3D printing might affect society.

      For speculative (social) fiction, I’d recommend Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake. The sequel is apparently very good.

      Alastair Reynold’s Blue Remembered Earth isn’t as fast-paced as his earlier stuff, but is brilliant on various social and science issues… For example, he touches upon empathy chips for turning people into psychopaths to make them better at business (ha, ha).

      For short stories about the ethics of genetic engineering and environmental destruction, Paolo Bacigalupi is excellent. I was haunted by The Fluted Girl. The People of Sand and Slag is one of my favourite short stories. They are pretty heavy on body shock though…

      I’ve seen you on File770 BTW and we appear to be on the same page about what SF should be doing, so feel free to look me up on my professional website and get in touch.

      I would say you can look up my (first professionally published) short story, which touches upon human speciation, genocide, and democratised biohacking… 😉 But it’s in a sign off and publication process, I’m not 100% certain it’s definitely been accepted, and I don’t think I can talk about it yet 🙂

      • Brian,

        Now realise what you mean… Sorry.

        You’re talking about stories that challenge the heroic engineer archetype by showing how hard it would be to achieve those things? If you are, I’d say many stories do those things and true ‘competency porn’ is a bit of a strawman.

      • Vivienne, congratulations on the publication! I’m glad you are bringing your perspective to SF.

        You were closer in your first reply – I’m not knocking competence porn. I think we need stories that dig into the SF toolbox and use as many of those tools as possible to push the envelope on social issues while keeping the moral ambiguities that (as you said) make great fiction.

        For example, Paolo Bacigalupi’s disaster scenarios with social consequences are fascinating. However, so far I’ve read The Windup Girl and started on The Water Knife, and he is zeroing in for dramatic effect on these highly vulnerable settings – Bangkok is one of the world capitals most vulnerable to sea levels rising, and the Southwest is a catastrophe waiting to happen. As good as it is, I would also be able to empathize with someone who told me it seemed preachy. I’d frankly like to see someone (you?) set up a climate change story so that things aren’t, you know, so black and white.

  12. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    There has to be a “there” in order to make the story work. The disappearance of “there” is why so many have left SF and reading.