renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
If you would like a fiery discussion about the Hugos, please see my tag on pinboard, containing all the passionate Hugo discourse you've ever wanted! Here, instead, I want to talk about my perspective as a new fan to this process. I'm almost tempted to not count my participation last year, because I missed all the verbal fireworks due to other professional obligations. This year has been a different matter.

There's a story here, and it starts with the reactions to Justin's post, Can we stop talking about the Hugos now?, the comments to which I caught up on Tuesday morning. It ended with this tweet from Scott Lynch (which may or may not be related to Justin's post), which caught me at a really bad time.

I used the word "silence" to discuss how I was feeling, but after a short discussion and after hearing his definition of the word, I revoked my comment and apologized, because while I used "silenced" on the fly, what I meant was "scared, and therefore afraid to speak". In this context, "scared" is a better term, because it encompasses silence without all the skeevy power dynamic issues. His tweet made me feel scared and disappointed that a professional author I admired was buying into a trend I find problematic. I wasn't scared of him in particular, but of the aforementioned trend that this specific tweet allowed me to sort of solidify into a position. It summed up a lot of my fears: to speak on these topics, to have feelings, to be disappointed, to say I'm disappointed, to be told my disappointment doesn't matter unless I'm also doing X or Y, to be called bitter, or be accused of insulting the opinions of other fans. But most of all, it makes me afraid because I worry about having my expression of disappointment turned into an attack on creators, which is the last thing I want to do.

This is my second year formally involved with the Hugos. Although I'm aware that most people passionate and invested in the Hugos don't intend to frame this space as one that is very rigidly policed, that's what it looks like to me, personally, as a new member of this specific fandom, on the outskirts. That it might be better for your safety and reputation to just sit down and be quiet.

The online SF/F community surrounding the Hugo can be frightening to have an opinion in, because as the tweet above puts it, it's easy to be slotted into two camps: the "Hugos are Broken!" camp or "You're all Tasteless Plebes" camp, both of which seem to get you and everything you say dismissed as loud/obnoxious/unimportant. Thusly crowned by a gallery of commentators and observers, your conversation ends up evaluated and placed in the verbal discard pile of "irrelevant nobody" and goes no further. Scott Lynch isn't wrong, but I think framing the argument that way is flawed. It's a perfectly valid criticism to say that many of the expressions of disappointment often lack a certain depth of critical analysis, or that they take the opposite approach and become a doctoral level thesis on how much popular votes bring out the worst of the mouth breathing fan. But we do ourselves no favors by pretending that every piece of dissent is dismissible like this and deserves to be discarded with flimsy or disrespectful rebuttals. All that results in is a wank fest on an annual loop, minus the delicious orgasms; everyone is unhappy and unfulfilled. That's not even considering the people coming out of the woodwork to accuse others that express anything other than explosive joy over this downright complicated and confusing process that they're whiners, their grammar means they're too dumb to engage intellectually with a topic (really?), that any criticism and expression of emotion that's not exuberance over a slate is an explicit charge of failure of the Hugo and Worldcon, and if you don't like it, why don't you just change things via democracy, when perhaps that's not the point. Some of us simply can't change things that way; money is a very complicated issue, and those of us that struggle with it are no less valuable for our lack of it. Very few current positions about the Hugo nominees allow for a multi-faceted opinion. Bitter or elitist, right or wrong, happy or angry, active part of the process or inactive part of the process. How binary.

I don't believe the Hugos are broken or that we need to march on Worldcon in mass to edit the constitution. What I believe, and what can't fit into a clever tweet, soundbite or quote, is that the SF/F community lacks nuance and generosity: toward the Hugo award itself, the people that nominate, the people who vote, the people who are their peers and competition, and the people who are passionate about it in a myriad of different ways. The "bitterness" over the release of the nominee list is practically (how did Rajaniemi put it?) a weaponized meme used to mock and shame people into silence before the nominees are even announced. Before they even came out this year I was already dubious about saying anything that wasn't "yay nominees!". I'm really, really new to this process, compared to some fans who have been around for 20+ years, but it feels like speaking out about your thoughts on the nominees very quickly turns personal and hurtful, where you can get pecked to death by technicalities, smugly told how ignorant you are, or effectively harassed for being unwilling to engage in ways people approve of — on both sides. That's not a healthy environment, and it doesn't really inspire people to participation. The only way to encourage nuance is to invite it, not make lolmemes about bitter Hugo rants that become part of the culture; no longer a funny joke, but something that makes real people feel unsafe or disinterested in the award or the award's culture.

My problems with the slate this year are specific and hard to discuss without that nuance. It's frustrating watching people see Bujold and pat themselves on the back for inclusion of women writers, when Bujold has been on the ballot multiple times (regardless of year). I don't wonder about the quality of her work, but instead get disappointed that because it's so deep in a series, standalone or not, that means it's inaccessible to me in the time I have to prepare to vote. I get disappointed when I wonder why it's her and not a multitude of other women writers who are smart and creative and writing good work, and why we didn't we pick someone doing something new and nonserialized (which could also be said of Blackout, but a trilogy a different beast). I wonder about tokenism — the habit I see of the same women appearing over and over, because people are comfortable and too afraid, biased, lazy, whatever — to read more widely. On the other hand, I see Scalzi's nomination and I wonder if he's nominated because Redshirts took a beloved work of fandom and used it to ask critical questions. I wonder if it's there because of the interesting metatextual puzzle, the critical paths to explication of a genre the book offers to people willing to follow his lead, or if it's because he's John Scalzi and so many of us love him for his ability to teach us via his blog. I struggle with how to read books and love/dislike books, especially with authors I follow on social media. Pretending there's not something there that's influencing me would be to lie to myself. So of course I'm going to ask whether John Scalzi, smart and critically engaged and trusted, is there for his book or there for his positive and enriching influence on the genre, because I've struggled with it elsewhere (see: John Green). I think we can ask similar questions about anyone on the list, and unpack threads upon threads of intriguing, interesting theories and discussions that don't have to hurt. But that's not what happens. It's not a discussion; it's a debacle.

I have no problems with McGuire/Grant on the list four times for fiction. Good on her and congratulations for beating a system stacked against her with tons of writing. Jodie has been singing her praises for months so I'm excited to read her work. In actuality, I could make the same argument with her I did for Scalzi: she greatly enriches genre outside of her fiction (and it's how I'm more familiar with her). It's definitely possible to have that discussion without falling into the bitterness/elitism trap, but it's difficult and that's the problem. I'm sad that Justin's article inadvertently stumbled into a historical gendered pattern of talking about women, but also interested, because if he hadn't, would we be able to have that conversation? I didn't see it on any of my multiple read throughs and so I learned something from people with a different perspective. Still, I'm not bothered by her presence in those categories. If anyone wonders why they can see this for reference, and I can agree to disagree with those unhappy with her position the last few years, even though I see their point.

My issue with McGuire's place on the list comes by way of the Fancast category. Change in all the fan categories is slower than a seven year itch and twice as frustrating. I resent being told I should be happy about the change because progress and discard whatever disappointment I have because it's bitter/wanky/irrelevant. Yes, I'm happy about progress, but that doesn't erase my frustration with the repetition of who makes the shortlist for these categories or make that criticism any less valid. It's not just for "doing good work" to me, but about the ability of everyone: nominators, voters, and nominees, to recognize peers. It's harder to unpack because it's not just about podcasts full of professionals under a fan category (because they're fans, too), or fanzines or fan writers nominated 5+ times (with some wins), but about generosity again. It's about how we as fans can be generous and inclusive to people who lack our positions, our privileges, our platforms, and our fanbases and widen and enrich our category and fandom by expanding the voices everyone hears. It's about welcoming new and different people from different walks. The fact that the winner last year and all the same nominees are present in Fancast is a huge disappointment personally, because I know that there are so many more people saying smart, thoughtful things, that deserve to be celebrated. I want fan categories to turn over; I want the people in them to be able to evaluate their presence and make way for new voices, even, as I said in Justin's post, if it's only for a year. Don't we all benefit from the widest possible field? Again, it's not even about quality, it's about inclusiveness, and building the genre community of the future. I don't want to argue quality and I never have. But we so easily seem to end up there and angry at one another.

I don't believe criticism has to be inherently negative or that these discussions are impossible to have without devolving into passionate, angry threads where no one can hear anyone else over their own fury. I want to talk about what the repetition means, for us as a community and the Hugo as a powerful award that's always going to grow and change as we grow and change. I want to talk data and be a nerd about comparisons to other ballots in past years and have discussions about diversity and learn how to talk about women and unpack our biases and prejudices and be better fans and people. I want to learn the history of the community I've joined without being scared to speak and ask questions and talk about how I feel. It's the curse of knowledge; it's hard for older fans to imagine not knowing, and so that makes explanations harder. I don't want to frustrate people, but I am a new fan and I don't have tons of social/historical context and don't know where to get it other than talking about it and reading everything I can get my hands on and listening to everyone. Surprisingly, reading a bunch of threads with fans yelling at each other doesn't provide much in the way of benefit.

I don't believe we necessarily need to be nicer to one another, but wow, the last few days has proven to me that we could all definitely stand to be more patient. Here, have a cute kitten gif:

Date: 2013-04-05 06:30 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] kingrat
Some of these points are very much why i don't have an opinion on Hugo nominations, much. I don't have a problem with the Hugos being what they are, other than i wish for all awards to be open to underrepresented groups. But the type of book that gets Hugo noms isn't generally important to me, so it's not my award. C'est la vie. I would like for there to be an SF award for books that make people think. Much of the criticism i see of the Hugos is that they don't reward experimentation. And that's not something i care much about either. I hope that some day there's an award for what i like, but i'm not invested in it being the Hugos, and until then i will content myself with awards like the Tiptree, which is about making you think about gender. And i generally stay out of Hugo nom fights because i don't have the oomph to argue and cajole people about it. There's just so much tslking and not a lot of listening.

Date: 2013-04-05 03:10 pm (UTC)
jinian: (clow reads)
From: [personal profile] jinian
I can understand the disappointment. If it helps, I don't know anyone who thought this particular Bujold was very good. Others in the series are brilliant, and I recommend reading them when you have a chance, but this nomination is pretty clearly "ooh we love Bujold" rather than "unmissable book."

I've definitely had my life enriched by reading the Tiptree lists.

Date: 2013-04-05 06:41 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Perfect kitten gif :D

Date: 2013-04-05 06:49 am (UTC)
copracat: Emma Peel looking up from a newspaper (Emma reading)
From: [personal profile] copracat
Your kittens are very cheering and soothing at the same time.

For me, the Hugos have never been unbroken. They've just been on a long, slow journey of fixing themselves via the involvement of resilient kinds of people like you and an actual diversity of works being published, nominated and voted for.

One day, maybe, one year, I will look at a Hugo list and see a list of works I mostly want to read, rather than a list works I know mostly not to read.

Date: 2013-04-13 05:19 am (UTC)
copracat: dreamwidth vera (Default)
From: [personal profile] copracat
I know what you mean about being introduced to new writers. Kind of being involved in fandom has done that for me. I was pretty ready to leave all of pro SFF to expire in its own self-importance (yeah, I might still be a bit bitter about some things from my youth) but it is lovely to be recced some fabulous new generation pro writers.

Date: 2013-04-05 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] smugglerana
"I resent being told I should be happy about the change because progress and discard whatever disappointment I have because it's bitter/wanky/irrelevant. Yes, I'm happy about progress, but that doesn't erase my frustration with the repetition of who makes the shortlist for these categories or make that criticism any less valid."

Yes, this. That basically sums up both my feels and my perception of what has happened in the past few days.

Date: 2013-04-05 07:57 pm (UTC)
sauscony: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sauscony
For those saying Captain Vorpatril's Alliance isn't all that great or has no fans, here's one. I loved it and thought it was one of Bujold's best books in years. I'm finding the Hugo discussion (and talk about other awards in years past) very off-putting because I realize I'm on the fringes of SF fandom. Most of the really controversial Hugo and Nebula winning books by women are books I liked or loved (The Quantum Rose and Tehanu spring immediately to mind). I like what I like and I guess I'd make a horrible awards voter because I don't go with consensus and I don't really understand how to judge quality, if it appeals to me, then I think it's a good book. I also don't read a lot of new releases. I've been a World Fantasy voter and I will be again in 2015, but I didn't read tons of new releases the year I got to vote and there's nothing that will force me to read something as unappealing to me as a George R. R. Martin book just to see if I think it is award-worthy.

Date: 2013-04-06 05:13 pm (UTC)
bovil: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bovil
I didn't read or vote for A Dance With Dragons last year because I hadn't read the 5 books of prior story arc needed to make sense of it.

The Vorkosigan Saga is a series of self-standing books and stories. Only a very few feature narratives that continue over more than one book. Then again, the order they were written and published in bears no relation to the setting's and characters' timeline.

Please don't feel you have to be steeped in Bujold to read and enjoy CVA. Mind you, I haven't read it yet either, so the only opinions I have on it are based on reviews and comments by friends. Give it a chance, and drop out if you find yourself lost.

Date: 2013-04-06 09:49 pm (UTC)
bovil: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bovil
Pardon me while I ramble.

I think a lot of people invested in the Hugos can tell the difference between a nuanced argument and a polemic. There are plenty of both that follow every major event in the genre award schedule. There's nothing wrong with ignoring a polemic, particularly an admitted polemic.

I think people (in general, inside and outside Worldcon) complaining about nominees and lamenting the great stuff that didn't make the ballot (for whatever reason) is great. The people reading the blogs and journals and complaints get a chance to learn about great stuff that's not on the ballot.

I'm less thrilled with people who only complain and can't follow up with works they think are being overlooked. It's kind of like the Clarke Award short list complaint this year: Sure, there aren't any women on it, and that's bad, but the jury reviewed and listed from the pool that was submitted to them, while attempting to be true to the award's rules. Complaining that there isn't enough "X" among the nominees may mean there isn't enough "X" in the first place. Changing the award isn't necessarily going to solve that shortcoming.

I think there is some merit in Lynch's tweet. A lot of arguments can be boiled down to "the system is broken/fixed" (gotta love that punnish juxtaposition) and "the nominators/voters are idiots." Not all of them, but a lot of them.

I don't even have a problem with the "the voters are idiots" arguments. I nominate in categories I'm versed in and leave others blank. The Hugos are a popular award (from WSFS/Worldcon members who care enough to nominate) and nominations are going to augur to popular works (popular with WSFS/Worldcon members who care enough to nominate). That's why, at least the trial and first year, fancasts seem to be same-old same-old (and I wrote the rule, hoping for better). Looking at the long list from the trial last year, there were several podcasts below the top 5 that broke the 5% barrier, so it's probably not hopeless. If it is, we let the category die in 2 more years.

The voters are the voters. Idiots or not. The system reflects their will.

I do have a problem with some of the "the system is broken!" arguments. I'm an analyst by day, and I'm pretty good at discerning how systems are supposed to work and whether or not they're working as designed. I've only been involved in the Hugos for a few years. I created the independent hugo_recommend community on LJ in 2007. In the last 6 years I've watched (and in some cases helped) WSFS lower the cost of entry for supporters, increase the nominating franchise to members of seated future Worldcons, and improve category rules to recognize changes in fandom and the industry. The system isn't flawless. It's most definitely flawed, but people are actively trying to identify problems and correct them. I can understand why these people (and in some cases, I'm one of them) get frustrated with repeated "the system has to be scrapped and replaced with my great idea!" arguments.

I have a big problem with "the system is fixed!" accusations. I have no reason to believe the administrators of the award are acting with anything other than integrity.

Date: 2013-04-06 11:45 pm (UTC)
daveon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] daveon
This. Yes.

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