WarriorChecking in on the Hugo debate, I notice the bad behavior is still going on, and the people doing it predict this will continue past the WorldCon awards. That seems to mean these are either closely held issues, or that people just like to fight.

I’m reminded of a George Carlin plan from a few years back on traffic control. Everyone in the debate should be equipped with a plastic dart gun. Whenever someone calls names, SWATs, or otherwise engages in unacceptable behavior, they should be shot with a dart that unfurls a “stupid” sign. Once they have enough of these signs stuck on them, they are easy to identify as a public hazard and the police can take them away. Lou Antonelli definitely earned a couple of “stupid” darts for recent attacks on David Gerrold and Carrie Cuinn.

On to the actual debate: Checking in on File 770 today, I’ve found a link to a blog Brad Torgersen published back in February. Since the comments are closed on it, I’ll give my opinion here. Torgersen is commenting on what he calls the “unreliable packaging” problem. In his analogy, people who love Nutty Nuggets cereal have been getting something else in their box. They see the standard, generic spaceship on the front and expect to get Nutty Nuggets space adventure, but instead they get some off-brand diatribe on racial prejudice or oppression of women. According to Torgersen, this has been driving away the lovers of Nutty Nuggets, which is presumably his audience.

So Brad, truth in advertising is a fairly standard consumer problem, and the answer to this is always “buyer beware.” Once disappointed in my box of Nutty Nuggets, I would certainly go to Amazon and take advantage of their “look inside” and review features to make sure what I was getting in my cereal box. In times before Amazon, my strategy was to follow particular authors, or else go stand in the bookstore and read the first page of every novel on the SF&F shelf until I found one that suited me.

Torgersen has noted a problem that has more to do with publishers sticking generic covers on SF novels than about quality content. The same thing happens in the fantasy genre where everything has either a dragon or a wizard on the cover. The elephant in the room that Torgersen can’t see, though, is change in the market. When I started reading SF, there were very few choices of what to read—a few offerings on the book shelf and a few in the library and that was it. You could also get a subscription to magazines like Analog, Amazing, F&SF or Galaxy. This meant a dedicated audience. Now, SF&F readers are staggered by the difficulty of sorting through millions of offerings to find what they want to read.

In the Golden Age, a few brilliant writers, mostly with a science background, dominated the hard SF field. You got good stories, but also good science. Hard SF was a way to learn about advances in physics, theories of how to colonize outer space, projections of how a war might be carried out. Now the SF&F field has been invaded by serious writers, including MFA’s who have a command of literary technique and a strong desire to make a living as a writer, while the quality of content in hard SF and space opera has declined and stagnated. Assuming the writers nominated for this year’s Hugos are tops in the field of “traditional” SF, it looks like there’s kind of a big skills gap. The hard truth is that traditional SF&F is going to have to up its game before it will be worthy of any real awards. Cruising along with the same old thing isn’t going to work against accomplished literary-type writers.