By now, we’ve all had a chance to see what the ballot for this year’s Hugo Awards looks like; if not, you can find them here. I was in the room as they were announced by the committee, so please bear that personal presence in mind as you read this post; also note that a discussion about the Hugo Awards and what they say about fandom with Stephanie Saulter, author of Gemsigns and a woman of colour, will feed into discussion in this post.
This looks like a ballot of two halves. Some sections strongly reflect one part of fandom, while others are more mixed. Before we go any further I’d like, with four individual exceptions, to congratulate every nominee on that ballot; especially Ann Leckie, who I am a big partisan of and was more than honoured to be the avatar of at the BSFAs on Sunday when she won best novel, and Liz Bourke, who is both a friend and someone whose writing I hugely admire, among others. Those exceptions are Brad Torgersen, Toni Weisskopf, Larry Correia and – most especially – the truly loathsome specimen Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale.
Before we talk about the bad, let’s talk about the good. Of our five Fan Writer nominees, four are women, none have won before, and (at least) four are very outspoken on social justice issues including anti-racism, feminism, and gender and sexuality issues. I won’t claim I always agree with them or their politics, but I wouldn’t expect to; I respect them, the integrity of their positions and writing, and perhaps more significantly, I respect their willingness to stand up to the people on the other side of these issues, the truly toxic souls who don’t believe (for instance) that women can be science fiction writers, or who believe that left-wing politics are evil.
This combination of well-written work, integrity and good politics are also clear in some of our semiprozine and fanzine nominations; The Book Smugglers are a wonderful pair of writers and their blog, whilst sometimes truly infuriating (sorry, Thea and Ana!) and focussing largely on parts of the genre I’m not very engaged with, is still absolutely fantastic work and they’ve really been willing to stick their necks out on the issues over the past year; similarly Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and Beneath Ceaseless Skies all promote progressive fiction, progressive writers, and articles and pieces on progressive issues. They’re well put together and interesting sites I recommend to you all.
Best Related Work continues the theme of progressive, well-done projects being rewarded; Kameron Hurley’s We Have Always Fought essay is a slight entry on this section of the ballot, but it is undeniably a brilliantly researched and well-written historical argument about the genre and the marginalisation of female protagonists in it, and Queers Dig Time Lords, from the title onwards, highlights the role and existence of the similarly-marginalised queer community in its various permutations, especially in this strangely popular part of the fandom.
The final part of this ballot that I really want to celebrate is the Campbell awards; these are inherently awards for newcomers, but this year they are also an award for often-marginalised parts of our fandom. The ballot only has one white man, one white woman, two men of colour, and a woman of colour; all of these writers look at diversity and feature diverse cast, in fact often focusing on characters of colour, and look at larger progressive issues. This all demonstrates that the upwards trajectory of the genre is one that the next generation is going to consolidate.
There’s also the mediocre, unobjectionable work on the ballot. While I like some of Stross’ work, I’ve not managed to get through Neptune’s Brood (though it’ll be my next book now), and Mira Grant’s Parasite is an unobjectionable, fun read, very similar to the Newsflesh books; readable, but again, not the best of the year by any means. Across the rest of the novels on the ballot, only Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice strikes me as a really strong work pushing the genre forward and doing interesting, new things with space opera; especially as a debut novel, this is fantastic work. For the most part I’ve not read what’s on the rest of the fiction ballots, but it is here where the objectionable work is concentrated.
Splashed onto a fan ballot that is an absolutely beautiful example of some of the best and brightest the genre has, some of the most forward-thinking authors and commentators, are some truly toxic presences. First and foremost amongst these is the appalling Vox Day, real name Theodore Beale. VD has been published by, among others, WorldNetDaily, a fringe rightwing site, and has espoused the views that implies; he is an outspoken white supremacist, male supremacist, homophobe, transphobe and all-round bigot. That vile streak of hatred has been so violently, loudly and bluntly espoused by VD that the Science Fiction Writers of America expelled him, and his status as a tax exile from the United States is an interesting twist on his outspoken patriotism. He is well outside the genre mainstream, but he and the slate he promoted for the Hugos – Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, Toni Weisskopf – received enough nominations to ensure that they made the ballot, self-admittedly in order to troll the rest of the fandom.
It’s become common on Twitter to decry those who accuse VD’s slate of ballot-stuffing. I’m just going to note how truly toxic these individuals are from the perspective of the rest of fandom, and that there was a 43% increase in nominations this year as compared to last year; while LonCon3 is one of the largest WorldCons ever, I don’t think that alone can account for this jump, especially with VD and his crowd out there actively campaigning for people to nominate a slate to troll the genre. The toxic underbelly of genre, that has cruelly attacked so much of fandom (and especially its already marginalised and vulnerable members), has managed to claim one of the highest profile parts of the genre for itself, and that cannot be overlooked.
On the other hand, Stephanie Saulter reminded me that she’d seen racism increasingly marginalised in her lifetime, and that sight had always been accompanied by the same thing fandom is seeing in VD (and among other writers). In her opinion, what we’re seeing here is the spasming rage of a dying breed of bigots. That the scale of those bigots has just been revealed only means we now know how many there are, though that’s an exact figure that will have to wait until after the award is announced and nomination figures are released.
I continue to think Saulter is, on this topic, overly optimistic, and that Scalzi’s advice that these people’s work should be treated on their merits are both wrong. The latter comes from a place of immense privilege; whilst VD has a longstanding feud with Scalzi, he remains a straight white middle class American male with a huge fanbase; that insulates him hugely from the damage and indeed fear that VD’s base can and has incited in others. The former has a lot more credibility with me; Saulter’s life experience and the changes she’s seen in her lifetime give her a historical insight into the present situation that honestly ought not to be overlooked. However, I think she’s wrong.
When 10% of SFWA want Theodore Beale as their president, when enough people are willing to pay the money to put Beale and his little cabal of racists onto the Hugo Award ballots, that’s not the dying gasps of racists. That’s the tip of the iceberg; fellow-travellers, those who don’t <em>quite</em> endorse how extreme he is but think he’s onto something, the UKIP members to VD’s BNP (to use a British political analogy) are all invisible to this harsh metric. I think (and I don’t know if Stephanie Saulter agrees) that this is something we need to actively, completely root out; our fandom cannot survive if it continues to nurture VD and his ilk, if it continues to provide him with a platform. The nice liberal-fandom bubble social media allows many of us to live in is not representative, or at a minimum not as representative as we would wish.
Let’s come clean, confront that fact… and throw these arseholes out.
NB: This isn’t the Hugo Awards Committee’s fault. Once VD &co got their nominations, there was nothing in the Hugo rules to allow them to exclude these bigots from the awards. That’s our fault as fandom. It’s our job, not the Committee’s, to no-platform and exclude those people, both by changing the rules (risky) and by getting more heavily involved rather than walking away. Things don’t get fixed when we leave them, they’re only allowed to decay more.