The events of last week’s Hugo Awards reminds me of one friday night long ago at the hotel I work at.
Five guests–three guys, two gals–piled out of a taxi and proceeded to make my evening hellish. They had been out drinking. They chanted and bellowed as they came into reception and laughed in my face when I asked for quiet. I had to physically prevent one man from banging on stranger’s doors, presumably for the hell of it. Matters reached a crescendo when another of the men produced his flaccid penis and started waving it about (a surprisingly common occurrence in the weekend hotel game) much to the delight of his comrades.
At this point I threatened to call the police and have them thrown out. The change in the guests’ demeanour was sudden and profound, but not in any way you might think.
Their leader, Mr Penis, began to admonish me. That night, it turned out, was the last night he, his brother (Mr Door-Banger) and his sister-in-law would spend together before the latter two moved to Canada. One of the two women actually started to sob on the other woman’s shoulder and I’ve this stark mental image of the other woman’s face, scowling at me like I’d perpetrated the most cold-blooded atrocity.
What left me speechless was that none of them were putting it on (trust me, I can tell drunk acting): they genuinely believed themselves hard done by, victimized even. Anyway, they did as I asked. They also tried to get their money back the next morning.
The spectre of that enchanted evening arises each time I read a blog post, tweet or comment by almost everyone affiliated with the ‘Sad Puppies‘ campaign now the awards are over and they got beaten in almost every category. That same incomprehensible shift in mood from mocking hilarity to headmasterly admonishment permeates each line.
Because, well, many a Sad Pup will laugh and tell you they did win actually, because losing proved their point: the Hugo Awards are a cliquey charade of left-wing scolds and now, courtesy of the Pups, the whole world can see. Excepppt…
…except the Puppies are also outraged. Outraged and, yes, hurt (much like Free Willy and his pals I mentioned above) because many hardworking and talented professionals had lost, ending up below ‘No Award’, simply for the crime of being nominated by the Sad Puppies. The same Sad Puppies who, I’m sure you’ll remember from a paragraph ago, were set on mocking the Hugos as a cliquey charade.
And that, in effect, is the incoherent paradox of Puppydom, generally speaking. To toe that campaign’s line, it would seem, one has to hold two irreconcilable beliefs simultaneously.
A: ‘The Hugo Awards have become a worthless, self-regarding leftwing joke and the best way to highlight that is to show it up with a joke of our own.’
B: ‘They’re are many authors, editors and artists worthy of a Hugo but who are criminally overlooked due to their politics. We shall move as one to bring voters attention to them.’
While these two beliefs aren’t antithetical they’re far from complimentary. The Hugos are to be loudly mocked yet they are also to be struggled for in earnest. The Sad Puppies have never been able to square that rhombus. Not in any way which might persuade the common-all-garden SF fan.
These two near-opposing aims somehow functioned well enough before last weekend’s awards but, post-results, they’re beginning to curdle alarmingly. Just Google it, just scan the relevant hashtags. It’s a pile-up. Yes, there’s a cheap pleasure in watching the victory dance of a people willing themselves triumphant against all the facts, one gilded by their simultaneous claims of maltreatment, but I can’t imagine it’s a dance that’s comfortable to perform. Try tapping your head and rubbing your belly. Now try doing both those things as a blog post.
Impossible, to make sense of the surface detail when it is so rich with sound and fury, with light and heat. A cool head must reach for the scalpel and pull back the subcutaneous, inspect viscera unseen. What is it, exactly, that fuels the Puppish hysteria?
For my money, the 2015 Hugo Awards are an excellent snapshot of the early 21st century, oddly similar to those Victorian daguerreotypes of a horse in full gallop against a gridded backdrop. In this telling snapshot (the ‘decisive moment’ as photographic legend Henri Cartier Bresson called it) we see a backdrop of unstoppable globalism foregrounded by a China about to leap upwards (qv, Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem, winner of the Hugo Novel category) and a Middle America in descent (witness the Puppies’ open anger and subconscious fright).
And that, for all the S.P’s talk of a return to ‘good old fashioned storytelling’ and ‘ray guns and spaceships’, is what its movement dearly desires: certainty. Just like in the old days of Campbell and Gernsback. But certainty is the one thing the 21st century, in all its ragged and ever-accelerating glory, has no power to give.
One symptom of being a chronic certainty-nuzzler is, of course, to forever see the world in black and white, manichaean terms. So far, I haven’t read a single Sad Puppies blog post that refers to a middle ground within the Hugos’ wide electorate. Everyone with a Hugo vote is either a fair-minded individual (i.e. a Puppy), a social justice warrior or a ‘useful idiot’ of same. Witness…
“And what’s even sadder is this pathetic collection of power-hungry little Hitlers have destroyed what was once a genuinely respected award. “
Such is the outlook Kate Paulk, author, blogger and leader-apparent of Sad Puppies 2016 (Buckle yourselves in, folks!). A baroque example, admittedly, but at heart fairly typical of the SP campaign’s disconnect from the reality on the ground. To Paulk, if you didn’t use your vote like the SP’s told you then you were in lockstep with the shadowy cabal of mean, hissy-fitting SJWs/Communists/Decepticons. No excuses.
The idea most Hugo voters were motivated not by politics but by a wish to stick it to a bunch of pompous gits intent on ruining a much-loved event is not even laughable to Paulk. It’s more like she cannot even register the fact. To vote unpuppish was to be a… I dunno… a Stalin clone in a test tube or something. You were willing to burn the ground and salt your loins rather than let anyone else have it.
Any glance at 2015’s winners dispels this garish canard. How, for instance, would a mass ‘SJW hissy fit’ explain that win in the fan writer category, Laura Mixon’s takedown of a troll who hid their psychopathology behind a mass of faux social justice rhetoric? Surely a lockstep leftie march would have crushed that eventuality before it began? Instead the ‘Mixon Report’ won with votes to spare.
And why? Because fandom’s wide and battered middle finally woke up and drew a line in the sand. Against the worst excesses of leftwing hypocrisy on one hand and the most thuggish excesses of right-wing stupidity on the other. Simples.
That’s the overlooked lesson of Hugo 2015 I suspect: read the awards’ statistical entrails and you can discern the moderate majority- the people who read spec-fic because it gives them that tingly head-feel synonymous with thinking for oneself- have had about enough. Enough of the flag-wavers, enough of the shit-stirrers and the ‘thought-leaders’. My guess is that’s what happens as an online community matures: the sleeping middle gets a sense of itself. It would be in the Sad Puppies interests to learn how to treat that waking beast with respect. At the very least they should note its very existence.