The business of science fiction, a genre I love, has now entered fully into the contentious, deeply-politicized world of the twenty-first century. Every year, the best novels and short works in the field compete for two honorable prizes: the Nebula Award, voted on by the Science Fiction Writers Of America, and the Hugo Award, voted on by a large collection of fans and writers from across the globe. In the recent past, those who draw up the slate of Hugo nominees have attempted to diversify their nominations across various racial and gender boundaries, with the stated aim of reflecting more accurately the diverse backgrounds of the science fiction works themselves and the people who read them.
Now, a subgroup within the Hugo organization, fearing that literary excellence is being exchanged for political correctness, has established their own set of nominees for this year’s awards, and is pushing the membership to vote for them instead. The link will take you to a good summary of the controversy and a fair cross-section of opinion about what the controversy means.
When I first read about the effort of the Sad Puppies to create a different set of nominees, I was mildly sympathetic toward their aims. I don’t like agenda-driven literary studies or agenda-driven politics. But then, the truth popped into my head, and the truth is, all of us have agendas. Mine, of course, is to become the benevolent dictator of a small Latin American island, surrounded by bikini-clad women serving me broiled fish and mojitos all day. Books Here And There fits so insidiously into that agenda that neither you, my clever readers, nor I will discover its true value until it is too late to stop me from achieving my goal. In the meantime, though, I have to live in the world as it is. And in the world as it is, I have to ask myself, “What agenda is worth pursuing?”
The whole point of science fiction is to lift its readers out of their habitual lives and ways of thinking. Even more than other genres, science fiction insists upon diversity of plots, characters, and ideas, because the reality upon which science fiction grounds itself–the universe–is itself astonishingly diverse: trillions upon trillions of stars, billions of planets, each of which is different from every other. The nominees for any major award within a genre that exemplifies so much diversity ought themselves to be diverse. As I said long ago in my post “Diversity in Literature and Life,” diversity cannot be created overnight, but it can be fostered over time. We ourselves can help the process by reading as diversely as we can. The publishing world may still be skewed toward the white male, but its central purpose–to make money–is color-blind. If publishers see their readers reading works created by women and those of various ethnic backgrounds, trust me, they are going to supply more of them.
What the Sad Puppies are afraid of is that the content of the social discussion reflected in science fiction is going to change, and they can’t control it. But the content of our social discussion is always changing; that change is part of life. Right now, as a white, middle-aged male, I’m feeling pretty marginalized, squeezed smaller and smaller by every aggrieved special interest group on the planet. The very term “white male” is now routinely the butt of whatever joke a comedian wishes to make out of it. But that’s ok. My own actual agenda has nothing to do with the will of certain groups to reflect the diversity of the planet. It has everything to do with my own growth, my own desire to think diverse thoughts, and not be bound by what some group’s idea of diversity may be. That goal means I have to take risks. It means I have to deal with more than a little bit of fear. But it also means that whatever destiny I have, it will be my destiny, and not one that somebody chooses for me.
[Update, April 15, 2015, 2:00–Monica Byrne has published a commentary which extends the argument about the sexism over the Hugo Awards into the realm of publishing in serious magazines and academic journals.]