So the Sad Puppies list is up. Has been up, in fact, which shows you just how closely I follow Hugo drama in the pregame season.
Hint: Not closely.
That having been said, it looks like a pretty diverse set of recommendations, the sort of thing you’d expect a diverse group of people with diverse interests to nominate in an open process that encourages diversity.
And if it’s successful, it’ll almost certainly wind up being labeled as the next coming of Hitler.
(As an aside, aren’t we running out of Hitlers at the moment? Have we, in fact, reached Peak Hitler? I mean, Godwin’s Law is all well and good, but there comes a time when there’s just so much Hitler out there that the very concept of Hitler is devalued.)
Because once you get politics involved in an award, even once, the whole process is tainted pretty much until the end of time. Not because politics are bad, but because people are bad. At least on average. There are at least some enlightened souls out there who can look past an authors politics and/or predilections and enjoy their work for what it is.
I’d like to think I’m one of those people, but it’s hard to know if you are or not, to be honest. I mean, I find William Butler Yeats to be a frankly rather disturbing and borderline contemptible human being… but he’s also one of my favorite poets. At the same time, my preferences in fiction are definitely something that probably align more closely with most of the Sad Puppies than not, since I do tend to shy away from boring message fiction on the ground that it’s freaking boring. And there are authors whose behavior in last year’s Sad Puppies debacle have pushed me towards never buying any of their books again.
I have to draw that line between willingness to acknowledge that someone is talented, and willingness to help them profit as a result of that talent.
To flirt with Godwin’s Law twice in one post, one could argue that Hitler was a relatively talented politician. I still wouldn’t vote for him.
Awards in particular are something of a quandary in this respect. I mean, most awards exist solely as tools of recognition, without cash prizes or other means of profit. But that recognition itself is often a source of profit, the ability to hold up your honors are proof of your talent and value, something to bring to the negotiating table when the time comes to figure out your remuneration.
Even I’m not above being a political asshole at times.
What bothers me about the whole Sad Puppies situation is how often the existence of talent in the opposition has been denied, by both sides in this small battlefield of the culture war. Obviously that was Correia’s point in kicking off the whole affair; to expose what he considered to be ideological filtering in the Hugo nomination and voting process.
Personally, I think he was right. Not because of some grand cabal of liberal hypocrites willing to trash good authors on the grounds of political dissent, but because communities develop specific cultures, and those cultures create preferences.
And WorldCon has its own subculture, and as a result its own preferences, and those preferences lean towards the kind of pretentious twaddle that bores me to tears. But hey, it has the right messages, and that’s what’s important.
Or is it?
You see, there’s something that bothers me more than the denial of talent on the grounds of ideology, and that is the degradation of talent in the service of ideology.
One of the problems you run into, and this is something I’ve seen in other mediums as well, is that when you place the perceived political and social value of a work over its artistic value when determining merit, you get, well, precisely what you deserve. Passive, politically-correct-for-your-critical-lens pablum. A checklist of boxes to be marked off, with the expectation of accolades if enough boxes are checked.
You get boring message fiction. Or games. Or art of any kind.
What’s disturbing is when you’re reading an excellent novel and suddenly a checkmark shows up. Blatantly, jarringly, outside of the rhythm and flow of the work itself, a wild checkmark appears and abruptly takes you out of the world you’ve been visiting. I’ve had books that I’ve otherwise enjoyed that I’ve had to set down for a day or two to get past that moment, where someone courting a particular ideology decided that they’d hit an acceptable spot to shoehorn in something that would appeal to that subculture. Not because I don’t agree with the notion in question, but because it was so obviously written in as a disposable line, a throwaway character, something mentioned in passing to check the box and then move on and never be spoken of again.
You want a homosexual relationship in your novel? Great. Do it in some other way than introducing a character for a single paragraph who inexplicably needs to tell the audience how much he loves his husband before he’s immediately shuttled off into the background, never to be heard from again.
That sort of writing shouldn’t be rewarded, because it’s bad writing, even if it appeals to your personal beliefs.
The sad part is that in courting a small but vocal and locally influential subculture, authors might receive the critical acclaim they crave, but at the same time find themselves failing to achieve financial security.
Say what you will about Larry Correia. Call him a hatey hatemonger of Hitler-y hate, but realize that he’s laughing all the way to the bank because his books sell. And chances are that they sell considerably better than those of the politically-correct author you favor.
And that statement applies equally to either side; once you start pandering to a group to gain their approval, you’re stuck with them, until such time as you wise up and branch out. Authors on both sides of the political divide have, in my eyes, sacrificed success on the altar of ideology, and while it’s their choice to make, it’s one that leaves me strangely depressed.
Because the resulting works are worse than they would be without the checklists. Inferior versions of what might have been had the creator not got bound up in politics uber alles.