As soon as the Nebula Awards wrapped up, I reluctantly looked at the Hugo nominees, hoping there might be a few new glittering titles worth reading. Now that’s a pisspoor attitude to have toward one of the few popular award programs for my preferred genres of good writing, but there we are. After several years of small-minded snipes and scandals, I was not excited about the Hugos. I must admit, however, the 2017 nominees look pretty good on the surface. Will 2017 be the year that we stop trying to make science fiction great again and simply try to produce good writing and tolerate our unique talents and differences?
The full list of nominees is here. You will see a lot of overlap with the Nebulas in several categories and a smattering of titles that bellow their continued alignment with a particular contrariness purporting to be authentic, bold and politically incorrect. They may be any or all those things to some readers. I just find them boring and/or childish, but this is not another critique of the Sad Puppies, or whatever they are calling themselves now. It’s a musing on how our polarized literary landscape mirrors the polarized political landscape. It seems that the reactionary protests among some authors about “real” science fiction, fantasy and horror and their disgust with writers and works that don’t follow the traditional scripts and genre features were just foreshadowing of what we see happening today in many different parts of society and political expressions.
I hope the writerly community is on an upward trajectory, but even if it is questions and considerations remain. Where, in the continuum of motivations, does this reactionary surge come from? Is it more fear- or hate-based? Can that even be quantified or does it simply depend on the individual? While we go on arguing nature versus nurture, my experience in the world of public health makes me wonder if perhaps fear/hate is caught like a virus. If it is the latter, how do we inoculate ourselves? The well-known public health preventive measure of social distancing seems exactly what we should not do, so maybe that metaphor doesn’t hold up.
Second question: isn’t it fascinating how the reactionaries have laid claim to the idea of free speech? This was brilliant on their part, and something those of us who identify as liberal or progressive should consider carefully. If we do indeed agree with free speech and the remedy for bad ideas being more speech, then why is there so much effort to limit the reactionaries’ speech? I don’t agree with any of their propositions and I still have faith that sunlight is a good remedy for small or mean ideas that diminish our imaginations and our potentials.
Words can warn us of harm but they don’t harm us themselves until they’re codified into law, government and institutions. Perhaps we should be glad those who want to demean others are so intentional and obvious. It’s the ones we cannot see that worry me most. The ones who over-write what others post online and divert participants from the intended conversation through their rants and ruses. The ones who fund and judge awards and publications. The ones who control distribution channels.
This, however, leads to the third question: do we really understand power and how its wielded? What if the reactionary elements who want us all to adhere to rigid understandings of humanity and art and anything else, gain enough power to dim the sunlight (as a metaphor for truth)? What is the solution to that? More speech? Integration? Non-cooperation and nonviolence? We are lacking a cohesive vision for ourselves. We know civilizations have risen and fallen many times and we can point to this or that reason, but short of dramatic natural calamities, I’m not sure our explanations indicate we know where the tipping points actually occurred and I’m not sure we would always recognize those events in the modern context even if we generally knew what to look for.
The liberal-minded should stop sitting back and luxuriating in their sense of moral superiority and their love of diversity. The world is much more than what we think it is, and it is shifting in many of its social and political dynamics right now. The world owes us nothing. Books are easily burned and computers are easily hacked. We are the only protection for ideas, words and civilization.* Knowing this, we need to find ways to decrease fear in general and fear of human expression in this world in particular.
We, writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, are the ones who have chosen not to be constrained by the here and now. We are the ones willing to tolerate the presence of the unknown ahead, behind and all around us. It’s the best of positions, if you ask me. There will always be bullies among us. So what? We can choose them for our teams once in a while, join their teams when it suits us, and leave them to themselves at other times. Cut down on the clicks, mean girls. Fewer threats, mean boys. Let’s focus on the writing and be more clear-eyed about the lessons learned from our imagined worlds.
*Reminder: August 22nd is Ray Day.