Wrap up of the 2018 Hugo Reviews

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Now that I’ve reviewed all the works, it’s time to take a look at the Hugo finalists, and how they fell out this year. Most notable is the absence of Vox Day’s Rabid Puppy inputs, which in the past couple or three award cycles has provided the male diversity. That means ordinary cis men were totally shut out of three of the four Hugo fiction categories for 2018, with Best Short Story, Best Novelette and Best Novella featuring only women, trans and non-binary authors. The Best Novel category also featured two finalists who are possibly political appointees meant as a slap-in-the-face to Vox Day, these being his nemeses N.K. Jemisin and John Scalzi. That leaves the white-male-masterful-crusader Kim Stanley Robinson as the really big wild card in the whole thing.

The next notable feature was the high rate of correspondence between the finalists for the Hugo and the Nebula Award. For the Best Short Story category the only difference was that two men nominated for the Nebula were replaced by women or trans writers. In the Best Novelette category, the same thing happened, but one additional woman was nominated. The most significant difference was in the Best Novel category, where only two of the finalists were the same. This strongly suggests how the same limited system produces both sets of nominees.

Next, the Hugo Awards drew from the same restricted number of publishers as the Nebula. In the novel category, this included: 4 from Orbit, 1 from Tor and 1 from Solaris. In the novella category: 5 from Tor.com and 1 from Uncanny. The novelette and short story categories showed slightly more diversity, drawing from Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Apex. Looking at these results, it’s clear why Rocket Stack Rank only reviews particular magazines. This is pretty much the list of shorter-than-novel publishers with inputs into the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Print magazines are doing so poorly, RSR can probably leave Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF off pretty soon without missing anything important.

Looking at what’s normally counted for diversity, the Hugo has done reasonably well. Best Novel includes 3 women, 2 men, 1 trans, 1 Asian and 1 African American writer. Best Novella includes 5 women, 0 men, 1 non-binary, 1 Asian and 1 African American writer. Best Novelette category includes 4 women, 0 men, 2 trans and 3 Asian writers. Best Short Story includes 6 women, 0 men, 3 Asian and 1 Native American writer. Those who recall my comments from last year will know I’m glad to see a Native American writer appear in the finalists, but we’re still short of Hispanics. These figures work out to be 75% women, 12.5% trans, 8% men and 4% non-binary. Looking at the counted racial categories, it works out to be 55% whites, 33% Asian, 8% African American and 4% Native American. Clearly the preferred finalists are young white and Asian women, while men, African Americans and Hispanics are all hugely underrepresented based on their population demographics. The one finalist works out okay for Native Americans, who are about 2% of the US population.

A couple of things stood out in the themes. First, the list included several repeat appearances from previous years, and also followed the Nebula tendency to nominate the same author in multiple categories. These included Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker and Yoon Ha Lee. The list of Hugo finalists avoided the tendency the Nebula finalists showed for editors, publishers and other industry insiders, but included at least a couple of short works written by popular novelists within the universe of their novels. I took this as unduly promotional. Like the Nebulas, there seemed to be a strong preference for stories with non-binary or trans characters.

This list leans heavily to fantasy and soft science fiction, with a serious lack of ideas and/or hard science fiction. I don’t think Nagata’s work qualifies, regardless that it’s set on Mars. The real stand-out, different work here, again, was Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, which actually attempted to deal with hard science, real politics and real threats to humanity’s future. This is the kind of important work I’d prefer to see appear on the awards ballots.

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Notes on Accomplishing Greater Diversity

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The current initiative for diversity falls out of the policy of multiculturalism. In recent decades, this policy has replaced assimilation, where individuals give up their cultural values to take on those of the dominant culture. Under multiculturalism, the expectation is that society will celebrate the diversity that different cultural values bring. All has not gone well with the effort to incorporate diversity within the dominant culture. In other words, there’s a lot of friction.

One of the big complaints about the issue has been that people talk about diversity a lot, but in practice, the dominant culture remains rigid and unaccommodating. For example, here’s a 2008 blog post where writers of color complain about being forced into writing stereotypes in order to get published. In the SFF community, it’s true that we see a greater variety in races, religions, sexual orientation, disability status, etc., among writers, but there’s actually a difference between counting beans (i.e. publications, statistics on the awards ballot) and establishing real diversity. So, what is real diversity? How would this look on the award ballots, for example? I have a few suggestions to throw out there.

For one thing, I’d expect a broad difference in content and theme. I’ve complained before about the preference publishers seem to have for emotional content over intellectual inquiry. As I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog, there were entirely too many stories out there this year on the theme of child abuse. This tends to crowd out serious SF in favor of emotional stories with a minimal SF or fantasy setting. The quantity of blatant political message fiction in contention for the awards this year is also troubling.

Second, I’d expect settings from different cultures and viewpoints. Real diversity should include more writers from outside the Western dominant culture, for example, writing stories based on Chinese, African or Pakistani culture. It’s true that there are more diverse names on the awards ballots in recent years, but has this really resulted in a diversity of viewpoint? And one of the Sad/Rabid Puppies’ complaints has been the dominance of liberal/progressive themes. Shouldn’t real diversity include other political viewpoints, as well?

Third, I’d expect diversity to include a broad sampling of ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, both among the writers and the characters. One of the characteristics of recent ballots is the complete absence of white men, for example. Hispanics and Native Americans are also consistently shut out of the awards ballots. In some cases, preference for LGBTQ writers and characters may be at the point of displacing the straight and cis-gendered.

A while back, I got comments that recommended I look at the diversity on the Hugo ballot this year. So, how does it stand up under this kind of analysis? There are some good points here. First, there are four black writers and two trans writers on the ballot, both of which are under-represented minorities. There are also both men and women on the ballot, even if they’re not arrayed according to demographics. There are writers with disability. There is variety in the type of works, including fantasy, science fantasy, dark fantasy, space opera and hard SF.

On the critical side, this ballot tends to lack in intellectual diversity, suffering the usual preference for emotional over intellectual content. Although 8 of the works are nominally SF, Cixin Liu provides the only serious, hard SF, and is also the only writer from outside the dominant UK/American English culture. The contenders lean heavily to women writers of fantasy or science fantasy, and without Vox Day’s activism, there would be no white men on the Hugo ballot at all. Half the finalists were published by Tor, which means the company’s particular brand dominates, shutting out small presses and independents that might be publishing more diverse and cutting edge work.

The Hugo is a fan-based award, and by now it’s clear the rules allow particular groups to dominate the voting. So how could WorldCon increase the diversity of the results using these criteria? Broader participation?

More on Awards Pressures

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Following up on award pressures, here’s an article in the Guardian that claims British literary fiction is actually being undermined by a handful of powerful book prizes. You’d think that high-profile prizes would be good for the industry, as they recognize excellence and point readers to where the best fiction is. Winning the prize generally gives a big boost to sales for the book. However, this article suggests that the costs associated with entering a lot of books into the larger competitions tend to limit the submissions to publishers with deep pockets. That means small, independent publishers that might actually be publishing the most cutting-edge work are sidelined and the larger publishers set the standard for what the public reads.

According to literary agent Jonny Geller in this same article, “Literary fiction is under threat…due to a combination of factors – reluctance by major houses to take risks; a bottleneck in the distribution chain [and] diverse voices being ignored by a predominantly white, middle-class industry.” Geller goes on to note the pressures on the prize juries. “Every major literary prize is under the same pressures – the balance between picking books that break new ground, challenge readers and those books that will be popular.”

There are other issues, as well. Past literary judge Tom Leclair notes in another article that the different tastes, criteria and loyalties of judges mean that disagreements can lead to horse-trading type compromise. He also relates experiences where fellow judges tried to give awards to their friends or to other authors represented by their own literary agent.

These people are talking about large, national awards, of course, which are normally juried. However, one can draw parallels with the SFF industry awards. We’ve seen the recent move by the Puppies to promote Hugo slates. This is very visible promotion, but how much does less visible promotion affect who wins? And what effect does author/publisher reputation have?

Brandon Kempner at Chaos Horizon notes the tendency of award winners to be re-nominated. In a similar vein, Natalie Luhrs recently completed her annual “slice and dice” of the influential Locus Reading List and commented on repeat appearances. Her review notes that white men continue to dominate the list, while the same small group of women and people of color appear year after year. Is this a tribute to their reputations, or just a form of tokenism?

Gays no longer a minority?

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Another group that apparently no longer qualifies for the diversity category is ordinary gay men. See one article here that explains how “white” gay men are no longer discriminated against. In this case the UK National Union of Students (NUS) wants to ban gay white men because they’re somehow responsible for discrimination within the organization. Referring back to the last couple of blogs, presumably “white” in this case means Caucasians, plus any other ethnic groups that have also achieved the privilege expected from whiteness. In other words, discrimination based on just gayness is no longer appropriate, and you have to be one of the counted minorities (black or Latino in the US) in addition to being gay, in order to be judged still a great diversity hire.

One clue to what’s going on is in David Kaufman’s article on the same subject here. He suggests that gayness has allowed underqualified white men to be promoted at the expense of women and minorities, and that “…diversity and inclusiveness policies must address the needs of those who’ve been excluded most…” So, looking at it this way, there’s only so much diversity space available and it needs to be reserved for particular, especially oppressed groups–not gay white men.

Considering the SFF community then, there’s only so much space available on those book pages. Does it need to be reserved for those particular minorities who have been most oppressed in the past?

Finalists for the Dragon Awards

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paper-and-pencil
While I’m looking at awards, here’s the new kid of the block. The Dragon Awards seems aimed to award fan favorites, and they’ve encouraged campaigning and fan initiatives in the nomination process. Although I understand the list below hasn’t been officially announced, it is out and about. So, we can have a look at the results and see 1) who’s popular and 2) who has a fan base that stepped up to nominate.

Clearly white men turned out to vote their taste on this one. Out of the forty-six nominees in the main fiction categories below, there are 12 women. That’s about 4 men for every woman that made the list of finalists. Of the forty-six, 4 were racial minorities (that I could identify). These include Larry Correia (Hispanic), N.K. Jemisin (African American) and R.R. Virdi (Asian). Jemisin is a finalist in two categories. Presumably this reflects the interests of attendees at DragonCon.

Interestingly, I’m seeing some different names in this list. If you normally watch just the Nebula Awards, the Locus Awards and the Hugo Awards, you get the idea that there is only a small group of people who are representing excellence in SF and fantasy fiction writing. However, looking at this group, you get the idea that these awards are only showing one side of the picture.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel (5 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Agent of the Imperium by Marc Miller
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Life Engineered by J-F Dubeau
Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwitheriing Realm by John C. Wright

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal) (6 men/1 woman – 3 racial minorities)

Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
Blood Hound by James Osiris Baldwin
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Grave Measures by R.R. Virdi
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel (4 men/4 women – 0 racial minorities)

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Trix and the Faerie Queen by Alethea Kontis
Updraft by Fran Wilde

4. Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Allies and Enemies: Fallen by Amy J. Murphy
Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson
Chains of Command by Marko Kloos
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber
The Price of Valor by Django Wexler
Wrath of an Angry God: A Military Space Opera by Gibson Michaels

5. Best Alternate History Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

1635: A Parcel of Rogues by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
1636: The Cardinal Virtues by Eric Flint & Walter H. Hunt
Bombs Away: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
Deadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry
Germanica by Robert Conroy
League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

6. Best Apocalyptic Novel (4 men/2 women – 1 racial minority

Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
Dark Age by Felix O. Hartmann
The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
A Time to Die by Mark Wandrey

7. Best Horror Novel (4 men/2 women – 0 racial minorities)

Alice by Christina Henry
Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Honor at Stake by Declan Finn
An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Review of SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day

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Edward Lear
This is another Hugo finalist for Best Related Work, published by Castalia House. It’s a book-length work, coming in at 236 pages.

Day starts the narrative with his run for the presidency of SFWA, noting deficiencies in the way the organization was running at the time. One of the examples he gives is that in 2013 the organization supported particular publishers and refused to admit writers who published with smaller houses or who self-published; another was how voting was restricted to only particular elite members (some of these issues have since been corrected). Day then moves on to outline the practices of social justice extremists who act as thought police, attacking people as a means to further their agenda without regard to the “truth” of the accusation. His main thesis is that individuals should take a stand against these SJW extremists and provide a counter activism.

One of Day’s problems is that his tone can be annoying to some readers. Plus, he gets personal, attacking people he’s got issues with. However, he does make some good arguments here. He tends to be focused on the fate of white males (presumably because he looks like one), but fails to note that attacks by extremist SJWs (such as person-of-color Requires Hate, for example) often target people of color, as well. He’s explaining his own activism here, and it’s an interesting look into his philosophy. Three stars.

Wrap of the postmulticultural, postblack moment

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55327_girl-writing_mdFinishing up the discussion.

So how do these trends I’ve been discussing translate to what we see happening in the SFF community? It’s kind of hard to sort out, but I’ll give it a try. Change is always uncomfortable, and mainly the recent confusion means is that we’re in the thick of it.

For one thing, there’s now a big difference in viewpoints between generations. The traditional minorities (women, people of color, LGBTQ) have all made great strides toward reaching equality of opportunity, often because of their own activism. Most magazines and anthologies now post a diversity statement and often make proactive efforts to include diverse voices. Young writers are happy to take advantage of these opportunities, but seem unaware of the activism that led to the inclusion. I’m seeing a number of articles lately from older writers and editors that note how the erasure of pioneer minority SFF leaves young minorities thinking they are the first generation to write SFF.

For another thing, bullying about political correctness is on the increase. One reason for this might be the recognition that multiculturalism as a policy only provided lip service to change and didn’t do enough to produce real opportunity. Possibly minority activists are increasing their efforts for change as they now feel the decline in support for diversity. Younger writers especially seem less tolerant of what they see as transgressions and likely to respond unfavorably.

As bullying has increased, so has the backlash. Because multiculturalism as a policy pits minorities against white men, they have in some cases suffered real injury to their reputation, opportunities and careers. This is made worse by political and generational differences. The sentiment in response has not been pretty. Cue the Hugo controversy.

Last, pressures are again on the increase for assimilation of minorities. One reason for this is the shift in public policy. Another influence, which I haven’t seen recognized in the quick research I did on this, is the leveling power of popular culture. Assimilation is a real force. Young minorities are now more likely to define themselves through popular culture than through their traditional cultures, which they may not find entirely comfortable.

All these opposing forces have led to a situation where the cultural mosaic is pretty sharp edged. What should we do about it? Well, multiculturalism did have its good points. We might consider white men and conservatives as minorities and respect their culture appropriately.

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