I’m a bit out of practice at regular blogging, also the subject is one I didn’t want to drift all over the map with, so I’d like to expand some on “The Awards To Be Named Later”
They have chosen works based on their political emphasis, or the race or nationality of the author, or other criteria aside from that which defines SF/F
More rubbish. I alluded to this in my digression on Lucifer’s Hammer. Assuming all the other problems can be worked out* the idea of Real SF™ makes this a doomed project. Name a fandom, any fandom, and you will have some serious debates about “purity”. Me, I’m a baseball fan. I abominated Astro-turf, dislike the designated hitter, and think interleague play is a debasement for which words fail me (these are probably the only issues on the planet, about which George Will and I have any congruence in philosophical outlook). Baseball’s easy on that score. Even so, every year there is some moment where a clever player manages to game the rules, and cause a ruckus. Then, in the off season, the Rule Committee sits down, and argues, and debates, and figures out what to do about it.
In that regard, Fandom doesn’t have a rules committee. New Wave came out, and we argued (some are still arguing). Cyberpunk came out, and we argued. Any discussion of our hobby (be it lit, costumes, filks, room-parties, single-hall; or multiple venue, media-con, lit-con, game-rooms, con-suite, Ice Cream Social, Rock Dance (or Regency), we argue about it.
Hell, even in the comments at Black Gate I saw one which was just begging for someone to dispute (Pern is obviously Fantasy, not SF). So what happens when someone on the Committee vetoes a book which everyone thinks is Real SF™? What happens if, in the run-up to nominations, someone on The Committee says, “oh, that doesn’t count as SF because….”. All fiction has a message. Zane Grey has one. Raymond Chandler has one. C.S. Lewis has one. What all of those also has, was writing people liked. Not all people, and not all writing (e.g. me and C.S. Lewis. I like most of the Narnia books, find Screwtape pleasantly provocative, and can’t stand the Silent Planet books). Does Ancillary Justice have a “message”? I don’t know. Setting aside that I’ve not read it, I don’t know what Leckie was trying to say.
Did Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” have a message? Yep. Was it a good book? I didn’t think so. Even at that I might have been able to say, “It’s worth reading for the exposé aspect, except that he tacked on this ending which has the protagonist reverse course… why? So Sinclair could add some polemic about the need for socialism. It’s not that I disagree with the message that makes me want to fling the book across the room, it’s that the writing is AWFUL (it might have been less bad as a newspaper serial). I don’t have that problem with Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Both writers meant to tel a story with a social agenda attached. In that regard both are “message fiction”. They have related messages. I like one, not the other.
Why? Because one told the story in a way I enjoyed. That is the criteria by which the Hugos are awarded. The author told a story WSFS members enjoyed. There is no litmus test. No need for aliens, nor tech, nor magic spells, nor asbtruse word games, or made up languages. Time travelling alternate History (Turtledove’s “Guns of the South” comes to mind), as does non-time-travelling (e.g. The Two Georges, nominated for a Sidewise Award). If the fans nominate it (and it meets the time/length criteria) it’s SF. Why? Because World Science Fiction Society members said so.
If you don’t think it’s SF… fine. Put it on your shelf next to the Hemmingway. It still got nominated for a rocket.
I don’t see a way to define a platonic ideal of Real SF™ which works. Does it require Ray Guns? Leaves out a lot of Golden Age SF. Artificial Intelligence? Leaves out a lot of Golden Age SF. Does it require space travel… you see where this is going. SF is a huge, and amorphous, field. It’s always had politics (Saberhagen’s Berserkers, as much as Dune). Some of those political messages we don’t see anymore, because the context is gone (e.g. Alice in Wonderland).
I am not against these awards (neither on principle, nor in practice). Honestly, if they go for it, I wish them all good fortune (though I would warn them, administering the Hugos is a huge undertaking, and that’s without the complexities of nomination, and voting these awards propose: it will take more money, time, and effort than I think has been realised).
But I see some serious problems in execution as presently envisioned, which I think stem from the vision.
*e.g. the difficulties of scaling a web of trust. It’s why there are always cops and informants in all revolutionary movements. ObSF, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Cell structure isn’t to prevent infiltration. It’s damage control for the inevitable presence of it. I don’t even want to know what happens if someone gets to “Level 10 Trust” and then “goes Rogue”, getting booted back down to “Level Zero Trust”. Do the people they vouched for get purged too? If ideological purity is a factor, then gaming this system isn’t that hard; and it probably wouldn’t take more than a couple of awards cycles for someone who wanted to do it. I don’t think Fandom cares enough to do it (heck, if it means they stop dicking with the Hugos the fans I know would be overjoyed to let them give out all the awards they care to name), but short of having non-secret ballots, just a little “contamination” and the ballots are gonna look a lot more like the Hugos than not (though the EPH aspects, married to the ability of the Committee of Judges to purge works which aren’t “Real SF™” would stave off some of that)