Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hugos, Edition Wars, Critically-Acclaimed Junk, Journalism, and Why I Don't Bother - a Rant

WARNING: This began as a google+ post and has not been edited and probably never will be edited.


  Well, the Hugos and I don't really have a lot in common. I love a good SF story, sure, and some past winners of the Hugo are great writers.
   But winning the Hugo didn't make them great. And a lot of great writers never won a Hugo and more were never nominated.
  More critically, a lot of the winners are, in my opinion, not very good. The classic example is "They'd Rather Be Right". Ever read it? It is DREADFUL. A terrible, terrible book that has been used as a 'what not to do' example in creative writing books for decades. It was, however, the winner of the second ever Hugo for Best Novel. That's right, the 2nd Hugo for best novel went to a written-to-order book so bad one reviewer commented [paraphrase] 'the fact that it won by vote throws the idea of universal franchise into doubt'.
  So why *did* such an awful book win?
  Langford (who has won 28 Hugos during his life. Yes, 28) thinks the book won because one of the co-authors was popular as a writer of short stories so many voters selected it based on his name. And let's face it - the annual stories about 'worst x to win a Hugo' are a tradition in SF fandom. This is because it is based on voting by a very small group.
  For years and years the highest number of votes was about 1,000 and it was typically about 500-700 for a loooooong time. That is NOT "SF fandom as a whole picking the very best x from this year" that IS "a narrow group of people expressing their opinions in a particular way".
  Which is fine.
  Why would I care?
   'This narrow group of people is working to keep out members/products they don't like'?
  Meh.
   'The award used to prestigious and now the actions of the people in the group have tarnished it'
  Ummmm. "They'd Rather Be Right" was the SECOND EVER Best Novel winner. The Hugos were never that prestigious.
   In a very real way I see the kerfuffle about the Hugos as very much like edition wars or 'story games vs.'.  Let me show you what I mean.
  I don't play 3e any more. I know that some people think PF/3e is the Best Game Ever and I am vaguely aware that some of those people think 1e/2e suck; and some of them think less of me for liking 1e/2e/OSR.
  I don't care.
  I am NOT going to argue that 1e/2e is 'better' than 3e not do I think less of them because they prefer 3e to other versions. Since this is true their own emotional investment has just as low an impact on me as their opinion.
  Think of it this way;  Some people like the Yankees, some people like the Mets. Just like I don't care if someone has an emotional response to me being a Braves fan I don't care if they have an emotional response to me playing AD&D 2e Skills & Powers.

  So there is a group of people somewhere that I don't know and don't typically interact with that think I can't be a "real" fan of SF if I am x or am not y?
  I don't care, any more than I care if someone somewhere thinks I am not a "real" TRPG player if I don't play system z in such-and-such a manner. Sorry, folks, I am too busy writing and running my games with family and friends to notice what someone I don't know thinks about people they don't know.

  "But, Rick!," you say, "Don't you care about quality? Promoting and supporting good games, good supplements, good books, and good other stuff?!"
  First, of course that isn't true. Second, they are unrelated.
  Yes, I think 1e/2e is better than 3e. But this isn't a life or death situation, it is a game and I know that my preferences in this case are largely subjective. Do I think a lot of SF that is critically acclaimed isn't very good? Yes, and I think that is much more objective than game preferences, too. If you want to see a real rant that will upset people, ask me for my list of 'SF books I think are over-rated'.
  See, when it comes to genre fiction I concur with Sturgeon's Revelation - 90% of all of it is junk. Sometimes junk is popular (Flowers in the Attic sold forty million copies. Forty. Million. Copies.) and sometimes junk is critically acclaimed (They'd Rather Be Right, The March, The Executioner's Song, etc.). Telling me 'a clique of insiders just gave an award to a junk book!' is like saying 'that group of journalists is promoting a narrative rather than objectively reporting the facts!'.
  Yeah, I know
  People have been breathlessly telling me,
  "Did you know that [really obscure person  whose only distinguishing traits are politics and membership in some obscure group] admitted on Twitter that they [voted/wrote/play/attacked someone] only because of politics and ideology?"
  Here is a good representation of what that looks like to me;


Of course they are - that is part of what they do. Heck, those are often large contributors to why people join committees or become journalists - to promote their own ideologies, politics, narratives, preferences, etc.

  What was that? 'What should be done about it?'
  Well, that is up to you. The Hugos seem to be a pretty typical response. Group A dominates a rather small pond, outsiders want change, there is a struggle.
  Gamer Gate is also pretty typical; Group X and Group Y learn they actually despise each other; name-calling commences and quickly escalates to attempts to shame and ostracize.

  Hmmm? 'What is Rick going to do about it?'
  Nothing.
  Well, nothing different.

  In 1990-91 I interacted with the top award-winning journalists in the world when I was in military intelligence in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The best of the best; the cream of the crop.
  I haven't read a newspaper since I returned. I treat TV and radio journalism as low-rent reality shows. When a news story breaks I wait at least 2 weeks for the story to settle so it might be possible to find out what actually happened. I had no idea 'video game journalism' was a thing until tons of people told me about it.

  Fr the last I don't know how long I only buy fiction from writers I have enjoyed in the past or when I can get a free sample of their work (kindle/nook) or pick up a cheap copy at a remainder bin or something. I will put down a book and swear off a writer pretty quickly these days, too. I have very little leisure to read and refuse to waste it.
  I have never bought or read a book because it had won the Hugo, Nebula, etc. and, based on sales, I bet you haven't, either.

  Besides, there is something else at play here, too. I don't want to boost the signal of people who are trying to use me, especially if they don't like me.
  Here is something that I have seen far too often in the last few years,
  Someone on the internet: "Can you believe what person A said?"
  Me: "Who in the name of Jedidiah Buxton is person A?"
  Soti: "Oh! Well, they are involved in [really obscure/niche/whatever group] and they are really upsetting me by saying X"
  M: "Never heard of them."
  After a few days, though, lots of other people are talking about them, too, so I eventually look them up and...
  They are nobodies trying to leverage internet infamy into cash. They are saying and doing outrageous things to both win the support of fringe groups and to get notice from others.
  And it often works, letting people earn a living, even get rich, by doing nothing but saying loopy things on the internet.
  A loooong time ago I had a (now long gone) anonymous blog on the internet. One of the rules back then was 'when your blog gets to a decent size (which back then wasn't much) pick a fight with a more prominent blogger and hope for a feud to drive traffic to your site. Once you plateau from that, make peace and keep going.'
  There are a fair amount of people trying to do something similar today with the internet. Just like I didn't participate then I won't participate now.

  So, at the end of this long rant I urge you - relax.