Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The World is not Black and White. Hugo-related ramblings.

I've been to one WorldCon, the one in London, and I'm planning to go to Finland in 2017. (Yarn stall! Yay!) So when I received that membership, and with it the Voter's Packet, it was the first time I ever got involved with the Hugo Awards. I read some of the stuff and voted on the things I'd read - mostly the short stories and novelettes.

Then, this year, there was the Great Puppy Hugo Kerfuffle. If that has passed you by, a quick search will drop half the Internets on you, all with an opinion (or sometimes an Opinion, or even AN OPINION) and sometimes taking sides for the Puppies or the Non-Puppies (which are also referred to as the Social Justice Warriors, or SJWs, sometimes) and sometimes decidedly not taking sides. There's more to read about that than you probably want to read. (You could read this, for a sum-up. Or this, and make sure to read the linked stuff too.)

So why am I taking this up here, now, since the Hugos are over and both sides either say they've won, or lost, or whatever they think they did? (Puppies either wanted to take over the Hugos or destroy them, they're not very clear on that matter. Either way, they did have an impact on the award ballots.) Because I've read books by one of the instigators of the Puppy thing, Larry Correia.

I wouldn't have bought the books on their own, but somehow his Grimnoir series ended up on our e-reader. (Yes, we succumbed to the lure of electronic paper. Yes, it's nice. Yes, for some things I'll still prefer books printed on paper. But e-reading has its merits, too.) I think that the books were part of a Humble Bundle we bought a while back, so that's how we came by them.

Knowing about the kerfuffle, I was a bit unsure on whether to read the books... but hey, giving them a peek does not hurt, right? Well. I gave them a chance, and I ended up reading all three volumes, and definitely enjoying them. There's humour of the kind I appreciate, there's lots of intrigue and there's things to puzzle out (in some cases a good while before the characters do, which made me feel smug); there's lots and lots of action, there's magic that is half-explained and half-mystical.

There's also diversity in the cast - important men and important women driving the story. There's a bit of love, and a bit of bro-mance, there's a German and there's a black guy and there's a Portuguese guy. There's also a fat man. The writing is solid and, in my opinion, suits the action-driven story. There's also lots and lots of guns, and caliber mentions, and violence with blood and brains spattering, so it's not for the squeamish.

The basic story is Good vs. Evil, with the evil side being taken by the Japanese, and their Chairman at the front, at least in the first of the three books. (I won't talk about the rest here, as it may be spoilery.) It's not all black-and-white, though - there's some folks doing bad things to achieve a "good" goal, too.

So. Knowing what I knew about the author's campaign against the Hugo, and the Puppies slate, and the things said against him, or implied against him, or actually, mostly, the things he wrote that everyone from the Other Side (TM) thinks about him though they're not actually true... I was really pleasantly surprised. (Now that I'm writing this, I think that I read most of the accusations allegedly done against Correia in his own writing, where he stated them and then vehemently said that he, of course, was none of that. In a way and tone that very much made me think that there was probably a bit of truth to them.)

I did enjoy the books, but knowing about all the personal and sorta-political background story, it felt a little weird to do so, as the Puppy Thing really irked me. I cannot completely part the writing from the author. That may be a good thing for a person: I've supported artists because I like the person for their personal qualities or their way of seeing and approaching life, though do not much care for their actual art, for example. But of course it can also mean that I won't support someone because of their political or general stance on things, and, more importantly, because of the actions they take in this field.

Without the Hugo Kerfuffle, I would choose the Grimnoir books as an Xmas or birthday present for some friends of mine who I'm sure would enjoy them. But... the world is not black and white, and I will not buy these books on their own, because of the Hugo Kerfuffle and the actions the author has taken.

Yes, the Hugo Awards are a special and weird critter, and the voting process may be flawed. Awards are different, though, and all of them are a flawed and weird critter in some way. (I think of them a bit like recommendations from friends. There are some books I will not read if certain of my friends praise them, and there are some awards that make me very suspicious and usually mean I won't want to read the book.) However, just being nominated for the Hugo (which Correia was!) has proven to boost careers, or so I'm told. Not winning the Hugo, obviously, sucks more than getting the rocket, but being nominated once may also mean being nominated again. And not getting the rocket but being nominated should not suck at all, but be a reason for joy.

Larry Correia, to me, sounds very, very bitter about the Hugos and how they are allegedly given to people on political correctness basis instead of on good writing, so they're totally biased. Well.

I can get being bitter about being close, and then losing out. (Hell, it happened to me, years ago, with a stipend, and I'm still slightly bitter about it.) What I've read from Correia in blog posts and comments and so on, though, sounds a bit like bitterness is, or has become, the basic flavour of life for him. (I've met a few people who had bitterness as their basic flavour, and these were not happy people no matter how successful or wealthy they were relative to others. They also have a familiar tendency to over-interpret real or perceived slights against them, and to see conspiracies against them almost everywhere. Makes them hard to be around.)

But there's a difference between being bitter and trying to destroy a thing. Even if that thing may look crooked, or weird, or biased. There's also the basic fact that every award is biased - because choices are biased. We, as people, as voters, are biased. Everyone has a personal story that will come in. Nominating someone for an award, and voting for an award, or any other benefit means that you wish that person success - whether it's for reasons political, personal, or for the quality of their work, you're wishing them success and trying to help them get that success.

In 2014, when I voted, I was utterly happy that J. Chu got a Hugo for the Water that Falls on You from Nowhere story - I love that story (and I think the water element is sufficiently weird, and definitely necessary to the story, for it to qualify as speculative fiction), and I loved that he got recognition for his work. (Just in case you're interested in my personal taste, there were two short stories I didn't like at all: Selkie stories are for Losers, and If you were a dinosaur, my love.)

Those who are trying to destroy an award like that, making it possible for someone previously little known to persuade a writing career? I'm not wishing them success in a way that would mean I'd vote for them in the future, even if their writing were utterly brilliant. I'm fine if they are bestselling authors, and I don't begrudge them being well-paid pro writers at all, but I'll not vote for them for an award. Because that's my personal choice, and I'm allowed to make that choice, just as everyone else voting is allowed to make the choice they deem best. I hope (well, I think all those who honour the Hugo hope) that quality of writing will be a very important factor in this, but it's not the only factor. Quality of work is never the only factor in any process of choosing some person over another person.

Maybe the voters of the Hugo back then did not wish so much success to somebody pro-gun. Maybe it was just that there was more wishes of success to someone else perceived as less visible straightaway - there's no way to tell. What I can say, at the end of these long ramblings, though: If the crowd making up the (regular, pre-puppy Incident) voters for the Hugo (who pay for that privilege, by the way, so there's already a very specific selection process right at the start) are inclined to vote for the less-visible, less-recognised writers who do works of quality - I'm all fine with that.

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