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.
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