Monday, May 4, 2015

An Ever Changing Landscape

Hi folks, Mark here with a few thoughts on how I view the SFF world. Sorry if this comes off a little fragmented, but I've had some disjointed rumblings that keep threatening to come together.

Lately it seems just about every day someone slides something onto my Facebook feed regarding the chaos attending this year's Hugo Awards and upcoming WorldCon. Many of the posts come from sources much more integrally associated with the award and its impact on conventions and publishing in general.  If you are interested in the ins and outs of the matter, I would direct you to them as better sources. I do not feel connected to the issues or how they relate to some of the other sabotage behavior that has touched on folks loosely connected to Hadley Rille Books. I'm not positioned to comment save generally.

I think the whole thing is silly beyond belief. It reads like the adolescent chatroom flame wars I used to encounter on the message boards of some of the bands I used to follow some years ago. Now, I'm not minimizing those with real, invested emotions and material. I'm just tired of the hyperbole. I've had to block a few folks because they cannot seem to post about anything else.

And the negativity is galling.

The more I read about the back and forths from the various camps the more I liken it to two Napoleonic Era naval ships trading broadsides, achieving nothing save turning each other into battered wrecks.  I do not see how, long term, this sort of thing can be helpful to our craft, the Con experience and the market in general.

Apparently, our little slice of the genre pie is not immune to the pc police and the reactionary rebels. I have begun to tune out the noise, but I have also begun to tune out my enthusiasm for the convention experience. And I fear for the health of publishing in general. Everyone lobbing pompous diction (yes, I know, I do too, now and then) on the nets is not making anything better.  We are starting to look like many other areas of our culture, and that is a shame.

Who pays when the real world intrudes on our imaginary landscape? If we start turning against each other and fall to squabbling over increasingly empty honors, how does that make us look?

The truth is SFF needs to grow up.  At times I have felt that our genre heading allowed us to adopt a mock superior tone; mostly as a response to being ignored by "real literature" and those who write criticism.  We reveled in being aberrant. We rallied around our awards and celebrated our words in spite of the roaring silence from the wider world. We were a club with giants as members. We were privy to secret knowledge with informed, inclusionary eye-winks. We were the wandering Jews relegated to pulp fiction status, respected by none other than those lucky, lucky few who accepted the words and understood the latent power of the language of ideas.

I wonder if the worst thing to ever happen to the genre was its popular success.  The bigger "it" got, the more insistently came the calls for "it" to be taken seriously.  And when film tech caught up with story tech, a marriage of commercial explosion formed.

"Money, money changes everything..."  And at present the affect has not been altogether positive.

We were once the progressives. Now we look like idiots fighting over cheesecake while the Titanic's deck begins to tilt. Wow. We have all but rendered the Hugo award useless. WorldCon cannot avoid the taint of controversy. The folks putting on the con deserve better.

Review slandering/pandering, cyber-harassment, piracy, spam-voting, flame-wars, shrinking markets and fewer publishers, judgemental hypocrisy; this is a list that just should not BE.

Every year I teach Orwell's 1984, and every year I see more and more of what his bleak tale posits showing up in our world. We have switched our enemies in mid-speech, and this time the enemy is us. What better way to lose control of all the important things than by fighting over illusions?

Mark Nelson


Terri-Lynne said...

It feels like back in the early days of women going into the broader workplace back in the 70s. The only way to be taken seriously was to do and be in all ways like a man in a power suit whether skirted or pants. This world has donned the "become one of them to be considered as good as they are," mentality. We have lost something essential to what the genre is. Sadly.

Anonymous said...

There's so much to comment on here, I don't even know where to begin. Like you, Mark, I'm on the outside looking in. The Hugo universe has always been a distant reality to me, populated by a small fraction of fandom that has somehow become thoroughly convinced of its own dominance. I'm not sure what this latest scandal means for the greater good, but I, too, am tired and ashamed of all the vitriol.

This blog is devoted, in its own quiet and respectful way, to diversity in the genre. Everyone has their own take on that conversation, but at the end of the day, I think we would all agree that what matters most is the quality of the story.

For myself, on a very personal level, I'm rather grateful to be able to slip out of the bar unnoticed when the brawls start. While everyone else begins exchanging punches, I just sigh, pay my bill, and go back to my own little writing corner.

Chris Gerrib said...

I sympathize with the "can't we just all get along" sentiment. But as a Hugo voter, I have to say it feels like I'm getting asked to get along after I got bopped in the nose.

I'm also not sure that I agree with Karin. Some of the Sad Puppies say "quality of story" but throw in a lot of shots at "social justice warriors."

Anonymous said...

Chris, by "we" I meant all the people who contribute to this blog on a regular basis, a pretty small crowd in the big picture.

Like Mark, I don't have enough knowledge to express opinions about the Sad Puppies (or any other camp, for that matter). Nor am I a Hugo voter. For anyone who's not familiar with what's been going down in the Hugo crowd over the last few years, this all just seems very regrettable and confusing.

Chris Gerrib said...

Karin - fair enough regarding which we we're talking about.

Unknown said...

KRGastreich wrote: "Like you, Mark, I'm on the outside looking in. The Hugo universe has always been a distant reality to me, populated by a small fraction of fandom that has somehow become thoroughly convinced of its own dominance."

What you feel would be accurate if you restricted that "dominance" to Worldcon and WSFS alone. Or perhaps traditional convention fandom.

The fans who bid for and then run Worldcon have not ever tried to extend their "dominance" beyond the convention they happen to be working on at the moment.

The publishing industry adopted the Hugo Award (and the Nebula) as solid reflections of what the professionals in the field, and the fans who were deeply involved in many different aspects of that field, thought were good examples of the literature.

There are many, many, many other awards conferred by fandom every year. There's no influence exerted by WSFS on those awards. Likewise, you don't see (or at least I';ve never seen) members of a Worldcon going around the web demanding that readers follow their votes or conform to some unspecified way of thinking about the genre.
I suppose if you want to say that the convention fans that attend Worldcon dominate the voting for the award that worldcon created, owns and operates, you could call it "dominance" of some kind, but these claims of external influence outside of worldcon just don't and never have existed.

Unknown said...

I was active in SF way back in the late 1980s when the schism was between 'proper' SF, and media-based science fiction. I won a short story award at a local con, and raised eyebrows because there I was, a confirmed media fan, writing a legitimate short story and -shock horror- winning an award for it. I found it a bit mad at the time - there were enough folk outside fandom gunning for us, without the 'family' turning on itself. I'm not actively involved in SFF now, and in a way, I'm kind of glad. It all seems a bit alien, and not at all welcoming for those of us who are now on the outside looking in.

Heroines of Fantasy said...

Steve, Mark here, cogent thoughts. I wonder if all the slathering we are seeing this past year isn't yet another manifestation of media empowerment. Too much shouting from virtual rooftops, as it were. Folks have gone after writers and now they are going after te venues that popularize writers. Tawdry.

Karin, I'm not sure anyone can stand by anymore and act like Bombadil. We don't take sides, but then no one really takes our 'side' either. Reason and being reasonable still must prevail. Otherwise we fall to soap opera gargling. Not a fitting result for something fine and fantastical.😄

Anonymous said...

Good points, Steve and Mark both.

writerknv said...

Great post, Mark! Sorry I'm just now getting around to it. I absolutely agree with your points here about SFF needing to just grow up. I also agree with your reference to 1984 and changing the enemy mid-stream.

Ultimately, SFF is becoming a house divided; the camaraderie and inclusiveness that once characterized the genre is, ironically becoming fractured by accusations of non-inclusiveness. We are snakes eating our own tail. How can anyone else continue to take SFF seriously when we can't even agree on what kind of literature should be honored? How do we define our genre for others when we can't define it ourselves?