?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Rethinking my Hugo voting

I'm beginning to have doubts about the voting strategy I outlined in my previous post on the Hugos (LJ/DW), where I said I would place No Award ahead of any slate nominees that had not distanced themselves from the slate, even if they were not themselves actively involved in the disgusting hate speech that some of the ringleaders have spewed over our fandom. Essentially there are two things giving me pause:

Firstly, Vox Day has said that he will treat No Award as a victory for the Rabid Puppies. Not that he necessarily gets to declare unilaterally what the victory conditions are, but it does suggest that my previous approach of ranking No Award ahead of almost all slate candidates would not send the message I wanted it to. Arguably nothing would, because Vox Day will try to spin just about anything into a victory, but if there's no way of achieving your goal, it makes all the more sense to redefine what you're trying to do.

Secondly, I've been researching all the slate nominees to try to understand which of them are actively peddling hate and prejudice; which are more passive participants; and which are actively opposed to what the Puppies stand for, but have still been nominated by them for whatever reason, as happened to Annie Bellet and others. Doing that research has led me to spend time in corners of the Internet that I never normally visit, and it's been quite interesting. Horrifying, at times, but perhaps less so than you might think, and always interesting. And one conclusion I've reached is that, while there is definitely a whiff of troll about Vox Day, and more than a whiff of privilege and entitlement amongst the wider group of slate proponents, there is also a genuine disagreement about what matters in storytelling.

I have been making a point of reading the work of all the nominees - even those I consider to be active hate-peddlers and am therefore very unlikely to put on my ballot at all - just to better understand what's going on here. For the most part, I bounce off the slate nominees for stylistic reasons long before I have the chance to do so for anything to do with the content and whatever political implications it might have. There are probably only two or three categories where knowing that something was on a slate might make me rank it significantly differently than I would do on merit; my notes on most of the slate nominees so far say things like "dull", "boring", "unoriginal", "couldn't finish it," none of which are words I associate with Hugo-worthy works. That didn't surprise me too much, because I went in with the impression that some of the slate nominations were just trollage, and finding non-Hugo-worthy works on the slate is certainly consistent with that.

But in tracking down the works and researching their authors, I also found people discussing their work and their reasons for nominating it, in places where I got the impression they felt they were amongst their own tribe and not needing to self-censor too much, and some of what they said there did surprise me. I'm not going to link, for a variety of reasons not least of which is that I think what impressed me was not any one discussion or small set of discussions, but the whole experience of immersing myself for a few weeks in a part of fandom that is not mine. What I found was that there is more of a genuine difference in aesthetic preference than I'd previously realized.

I've seen a lot of comments along the lines of "if they like military SF so much, what's their problem with Ann Leckie's Hugo? Oh yeah, it's that it plays with gender." But actually, while Ancillary Justice with unambiguous genders would be a very different book, it would still not be one the Puppies would appreciate. It's not just her content that makes her different from the kind of military SF the Puppies like, it really is her writing style. The gender ambiguity does throw them to varying degrees, I think, but I'm coming to believe that in many cases their thought process isn't simply "ugh, gender ambiguity, gross, but I can't say that without getting shot down, so let's say it's about ethics in Hugo nominations." For some of them it probably is that - the way Gators were brought in suggests it - but for others, I think it's genuinely "this style is so far removed from what I like that not only do I not understand how anyone else could possibly like it, I actually think it's Objectively Bad Writing. Therefore people who nominate this must be doing it to promote some other agenda, and since it has gender ambiguity in it, or since the author is a woman/a feminist/etc, I'm going to guess that agenda is feminist," when really, the authors and nominators are just quietly and in good faith getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads them to find interesting. Whereas I think on my side of the fence, we collectively and I individually have a tendency to read a Puppy recommendation and think "this style is so far removed from what I like that not only do I not understand how anyone else could possibly like it, I actually think it's Objectively Bad Writing. Therefore people who nominate this must be doing it to promote some other agenda, and since there are some racist/sexist/homophobic tropes in this work, or since the author is associated with the Puppies, I'm going to assume that agenda is racist/sexist/homophobic/just plain trollish." But it's at least possible that really, the authors and nominators are just quietly getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads them to find interesting, and while I deplore the system(s) of privilege that makes their lived experience one where unexamined prejudicial tropes seem normal and natural, and I dislike slates on principle, despite all that these authors and nominators aren't necessarily acting in bad faith.

So what I'm taking from all this reading is that actually, people's ideas of what constitutes good writing diverge more than I thought possible, and perhaps the way to deal with all of this mess is, after all, just to deal with the issue we were supposed to be voting on in the first place, which is "What were the best SFFnal works of 2014?" and its implied corollary, "What makes a good SFFnal work?". That's a matter of aesthetic philosophy, and philosophical questions are better illuminated by debate and evolving consensus than disposed of by majority vote, but if we view the vote as a contribution to the debate rather than something that settles the question once and for all in victory for one party and crushing defeat for another, perhaps we will yet be okay. Assume good faith, rank the works in order of perceived merit, and see what happens next.

Except the active hate peddlers. I will be leaving all of them unranked below No Award, because there is no way I will willingly be party to asking POC fans to watch their fandom honour a man who thinks they're not fully homo sapiens, no matter how good or bad his work may be.

This entry was cross-posted from Dreamwidth, where there are currently comment count unavailable comment(s). View DW comment(s).

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
atreic
Apr. 21st, 2015 10:30 am (UTC)
This is an interesting, articulate and wise post. I think the insight in "this style is so far removed from what I like that not only do I not understand how anyone else could possibly like it, I actually think it's Objectively Bad Writing. Therefore people who nominate this must be doing it to promote some other agenda. But it's at least possible that really, the authors and nominators are just quietly getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads them to find interesting, and despite all that these authors and nominators aren't necessarily acting in bad faith" is worth thinking about more than we have been in the Hugo Storm - principle of charity and all that...

I guess the main take home message is 'if you can't understand why someone is doing something that you dislike and that hurts you, go and listen to them and meet them in their own spaces' Not that everyone should be _obliged_ to do that, but if we want to understand, it's where the answers are.
purplecthulhu
Apr. 21st, 2015 12:28 pm (UTC)
Very interesting post - thanks! On slashdot I'd mod it up as 'insightful' :-)

The more I write and see reviews of what I've written the more I realise that what people are reading is not necessarily what I wrote. This can be a result of expectations - this story is in Analog so how can it relate to mental illness, urgh! - different background assumptions - I'm sure as a Brit my assumptions are very different from sone USians - to, as you note, writing style.

On the writing style front, I wonder how much this has to do with educational attainment or the educational system you went through? A system that says 'this is the right way to write' would produce a very different set of expectations to one that exposes students to a range of styles and says 'these all work, what do you like?'.

It will be interesting to see what feedback I get on the story I just sold to Analog since it involves a black female viewpoint character working for the UN to sort out the US after it's turned into an ecological disaster area, while the 1% have withdrawn to their private upload heaven. Somehow I think Brad Torgersen isn;t going to like it :-)
widgetfox
Apr. 21st, 2015 10:41 am (UTC)
There is a nice thing on Scalzi about how VD will spin anything into victory, which I took seriously.
purplecthulhu
Apr. 21st, 2015 12:21 pm (UTC)
Yes - that was an interesting post and, as I see it, fully consistent with VD's past practice.
sashajwolf
Apr. 21st, 2015 04:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, I saw Scalzi's after I wrote this. I agree with a lot of it.
nancylebov
Apr. 21st, 2015 12:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for doing the work of exploration.

I bounced off Ancillary Sword, though I might give it one more try. However, I think that most people who like milsf want something pretty much like real world military in sf settings, and AS might be too different from that, aside from any other issues.
nwhyte
Apr. 21st, 2015 01:03 pm (UTC)
On the first point, VD is obviously trying to troll us. A victory for him, objectively, is when candidates win whose nomination he supported. If he suddenly decides that No Award, whose nomination he did not support, suits him better, that's his business. But objectively, if No Award wins, VD's candidates lose, and his assertions to the contrary are desperate attempts to deny reality.

I do accept the point that aesthetic judgements still have a role here. But my own view remains that we are not being offered a choice between like and like. A majority of the nominees got on the ballot because of VD's campaign, ie as the result of a political campaign led by a misogynist racist. I can't ignore the issue of the integrity of the process; for me it is determinative.

Obviously, others take a different approach!
woodpijn
Apr. 21st, 2015 04:03 pm (UTC)
"for others, I think it's genuinely "this style is so far removed from what I like that not only do I not understand how anyone else could possibly like it, I actually think it's Objectively Bad Writing. Therefore people who nominate this must be doing it to promote some other agenda, and since it has gender ambiguity in it, or since the author is a woman/a feminist/etc, I'm going to guess that agenda is feminist," when really, the authors and nominators are just quietly and in good faith getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads her to find interesting. Whereas I think on my side of the fence, we collectively and I individually have a tendency to read a Puppy recommendation and think "this style is so far removed from what I like that not only do I not understand how anyone else could possibly like it, I actually think it's Objectively Bad Writing. Therefore people who nominate this must be doing it to promote some other agenda, and since there are some racist/sexist/homophobic tropes in this work, or since the author is associated with the Puppies, I'm going to assume that agenda is racist/sexist/homophobic/just plain trollish." But it's at least possible that really, the authors and nominators are just quietly getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads them to find interesting"

Yes, I agree.

During last year's Sad Puppies controversy (when I was new to the whole thing; I've read more on both sides since) I wrote "My own impression is that there are two fundamentally different kinds of story here, and it seems plausible that most people will prefer one kind over the other, and may well believe the other kind (which they see as inferior) is only in the ballot for political reasons (because it can't be there because of its merit)."

Very few people on either side seem to acknowledge this possibility, even GRRM (that I've seen), who is otherwise very sensible and balanced.
starcat_jewel
Apr. 22nd, 2015 04:29 pm (UTC)
If you allow the thought of how VD (or anyone else, for that matter) will react to influence what you do, you are giving him control over you.

(A less-fraught example along the same lines: if you always eat dessert first because your parents wouldn't let you have any, they are still just as much in control of you as they ever were.)

The only intellectually honest way to approach this issue is to decide for yourself how you want to vote, and why that way works for you, and then do it. I know how I'm going to cast my votes, and nobody gets to tell me I shouldn't -- not VD, not GRRM, not David Gerrold, not anybody. The same goes for you, and for anyone else reading this.
sashajwolf
Apr. 22nd, 2015 11:23 pm (UTC)
Indeed, no-one gets to tell me how to vote (or at least, if they try I don't have to listen). However, there are many situations where another person's likely reaction influences what I do, because I don't make my decisions in a vacuum. I make them with a goal in mind, and that means I need to take account of all the factors that affect my chances of achieving that goal, including "other humans exercising their free will". That doesn't mean they control me, unless I become so obsessed about a particular goal that I can't re-evaluate it when the cost becomes too high, or the chances of success drop too low, or something happens to call into question my reasons for setting the goal in the first place. In this case, new information led me to decide that the chances of success were too low, and other new information caused me to reassess the nature of the problem; so after considering the new information, I revised my goal, and in the light of the revised goal, I modified my proposed course of action. That seems to me to be the right process.
juliansinger
Apr. 23rd, 2015 05:28 am (UTC)
Yes.

I've extended this sort of thing both to understanding that they like different SFF than I do, and to taking them at their word that they really do feel alienated and distressed by the current state of the world. Which is not to say I can or will do anything about *that*, other than sympathise and tell them that there are some folks who are listening, and not trying to be antagonistic.

It won't do a lot of good in most cases, but it'll at least make me feel I'm bringing the right kind of energy/approach to things.

(Also, this is all applies to folks not Beale, who is a troll and not someone to take at his word.)
sashajwolf
Apr. 23rd, 2015 12:40 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on all of this. I have been thinking of other situations that - while being considerably more serious - have structural parallels in that they involve a small number of dangerous extremists attracting support from a larger disaffected group who feel they are not being heard. Terrorist movements are one such situation, and extreme political parties are another. In those cases, experience seems to show that the most effective response is to engage with the larger disaffected group, listen to their concerns, and where possible, offer them ways to address those concerns that don't involve large-scale destruction - be it of governments, local communities, or fannish awards.
whatifoundthere
Apr. 24th, 2015 05:52 am (UTC)
... and while I deplore the system(s) of privilege that makes their lived experience one where unexamined prejudicial tropes seem normal and natural

See, this is where I snag, which is why I can't really follow you to the end of the sentence where you say that these aesthetic/ideological judgements might not come from bad faith. I think technically you might be correct, but your wording gives too much ground.

To explain what I mean, a completely non-troll-related example. I've been thinking a lot about the VIDA report for 2014 which came out recently. For the too-manyth year in a row, a bunch of well-respected literary magazines, including magazines that I really like and that I've been reading for years, sometimes decades, have had an appalling publication record with respect to women and PoCs. The magazines I read the most often (Harper's, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker) are hovering around 80% male contributors. In the Year of Our Lord 2015, 80% male contributors!

http://www.vidaweb.org/2014-vida-count/#The%202014%20VIDA%20Count%20Overall

In their FAQ, VIDA addresses the claim that this isn't "bad faith", that, oh you know, there are just a lot of white dudes in the slush pile, the white-dude editors are used to reading white dudes' submissions, this is what we've always done and we like it and we're comfortable with it, and the stories are perfectly good ones, so white dudes just "end up" getting published a lot and feminists shouldn't read any hostility or misogyny into it. I think point #5 on that page is particularly instructive:

The suggestion that it’s fair and reasonable to publish work in the ratio that you receive work baffles me. Why? There aren’t any laws about this. The very editors who cry 'no quotas' when the pie charts boldly declare the disparity then insist they’re tied to a quota system determined by their own slush piles. Look: if you’re an editor who’s happy publishing 80% men, 20% women, fine. Own it! You make the decisions, and the rest of us are welcome to critique or celebrate those decisions. Call you a badass rebel, call you a tool of the patriarchy, subscribe to your journal, or cancel a subscription. If you’re on the other hand disappointed by your ratio, blaming the submissions pool isn’t likely to improve the situation in any immediate, effective way.


This is on my mind because my father and I were arguing about VIDA a couple of months ago and he (a highly educated and liberal person) kept saying "but they didn't MEAN to leave all those women out, women just aren't submitting as much, women just aren't in the field," etc. etc. And the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get, because people like my dad (leftists!) just throw up their hands and say it can't be helped. I realize that's not what you're saying in this post, Liz, but even your more thoughtful analysis suggests that the people who keep nominating Heinlein réchauffé are, like, doing their best, and I just don't want to grant that point. I've had to live in their world for my entire life as a reader, and they have made no effort to glance at mine, and they have temper tantrums when they're asked to try.

What I'm saying is that loving (even sincerely loving) only rehashed stories from the 1950s is not some kind of neutral, passive thing that 'just happens'. It is a COMMITMENT. Nobody would ever accuse the editors of The New Yorker to be Sad or Rabid Puppies with some kind of trollish agenda, and everybody is claiming that all those New Yorker writers are just "getting on with writing and nominating the sorts of things their lived experience leads them to find interesting". I don't quite disagree... but at the same time, I just don't feel right calling that 'good faith', because it is an active decision people make to limit themselves to a certain vision of lived experience or of interestingness. Even when there isn't a Vox Day at the helm it makes the world worse and it limits the number and type of stories that are told.


sashajwolf
Apr. 24th, 2015 06:51 pm (UTC)
I don't know, I think for many of them it isn't an active decision. It's just going with the flow, and the result looks much the same, because the flow has been determined by patriarchy. But perhaps for clarity, I should also have said that just as the Puppies won't start liking Ann Leckie's writing if she takes all the gender ambiguity out of it, people like me won't start liking their nominations if they take all the stereotypes out of them. Some of their existing nominations aren't in fact particularly stereotyped. We don't just differ on what should be written, we differ on how it should be written in order to be enjoyable.
pseudohistorian
Aug. 31st, 2015 07:40 pm (UTC)
I'm really late to the party in encountering this post (obviously), but you make some excellent points about aesthetic tastes and the degree to which they're not (consciously) political, so I'll keep that in mind in the future when I consider these sorts of literary controversies.
sashajwolf
Sep. 1st, 2015 03:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to let me know that reading this made a difference to someone's thinking. That's a very rewarding thing to hear.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )