The OF Blog: The Mouse That Wants to Roar

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mouse That Wants to Roar

As expected, the various Hugo results have generated some discussion. I'll use Westeros as one example since it is, perhaps, the epitome of certain quasi-faction of spec fic fans who feel "alienated" and "left out" from the Hugo process. These are the people who have certain "favorite sons" (and daughters, on occasion, but more often than not, this is a male-centric bloc here) that they expect will be favorites for whatever categories they are nominated in (the other categories can go to hell as far as they are concerned).

But when the results are announced and someone like Mary Robinette Kowal wins over a Scott Lynch or Joe Abercrombie, after their initial "who the hell is she," the almost immediate reaction is a "Well, I knew these awards aren't for me!" or "The Hugos don't represent my tastes," and so forth. Some time ago, I felt much the same way, until I decided to explore a bit further and see what was out there that wasn't being discussed in the mega-forums of certain epic fantasy authors.

What I found is that SF fandom is quite a bit more diverse than what many might suspect. In fact, it's close to the point of there being no mutual intelligibility between the various factions. If I had to guess, I would say that the vast majority of those complaining at Westeros about the Hugo voting probably didn't raise an eyebrow at seeing Helix in the Semiprozine category, despite a rather vocal uprising a month or so ago about its editor's rather bigoted remarks and subsequent puerile behavior. Just as many are not likely to be aware of the creation of Shadow Unit as are those who are familiar with the rather asinine question of "paying" bloggers. So many groups, each with its own set of foci and satellite concerns, so little time to be aware of what's happening in other circles.

Although I don't have as much time at the moment to devote to SF matters due to the new school year beginning last week at a new school, I do try to stick my head in to get a sense of what is transpiring in many different circles. Some I somehow manage to miss most of the time; others I am kept well-informed. But it is rather amusing at times to see all the various mice in the genre trying to roar for attention, as if they were in virtually self-contained quarters that are sound-proofed against the other various currents active in fandom.

14 comments:

Jonathan M said...

Good call.

You are quite correct that SF contains a multitude of different tribes and you are also correct that SF awards are one of the few things that bring them all together and therefore into conflict.

The one that fascinates me is the Best Fan Writer Hugo because looking down the long list of nominees, I hardly know any of them. But, upon googling, I find that a lot of them either edit fanzines or frequently write for them.

So clearly the "Best Fan Writer" is responding to a certain demographic, even if it one that I am not in and am largely ignorant of.

Ellestra said...

I alway found it strange how so many people consider the fact that 'they wouldn't choose this' as a proof some (all?) awards are meaningless (I'm sorry to say that but you've also been guilty of this). It's like assuming the people who voted are less smart/ sophisticated/ have poorer taste then them. One may not like others choices but that doesn't mean they are bad ones. It irritates me so much I even wrote about it :P.
I'm especially baffled by people who complain that Hugo and Nebula winners are too sf. These have been created as sf awards and it's hardly surprising they still have the sf bias. If one is more into fantasy there's always World Fantasy Award (although I have problem with the 'World' part of the name).

Joe Sherry said...

So, my wife frequents some Disney related message boards, the Disboards, and whenever there is some new special promotion for discounted room rates or some great deal on dining, the members of the board get into a tizzy because they're afraid that people from the disboards will flood the call centers of Disney World and somehow make things worse off for them.

Totally ignoring the fact that no matter how big the Disboards are in the online Disney community, the Disboards are really only a fraction of all people who actually go to Disney World.

Then think about the Hugos. For the novel there were only 745 total ballots counted. Less for the other categories. Only 365 ballots for the Campbell.

That's not a lot of people. Bitch if people want to, but another 10-15 ballots in the pool and Scott Lynch may have won the Campbell, or if those 24 people who thought that nobody was good enough to win, voted for someone else, the final ballot could have changed.

Shoot, the vocal population of Westeros could have ponied up for a voting membership of Worldcon and swung the whole damn thing towards Lynch. Not so much Durham, because good as he is, he didn't get much voting support.

This isn't to say that the winners aren't worthy, but rather that in this democratic award, there isn't a huge voting public and if people don't think the Hugos represent them, for a fee they can vote and quite possibly swing the whole thing.

Scalzi only lost Best novel by 9 votes in the end, after all.

The thing that gets me about the whole thing, though, is the assumption that folks are voting AGAINST fantasy writers rather than voting FOR someone they might actually like. Some people (myself included) might actually like Mary Kowal's work and given that only 365 even bothered to vote for the Campbell, yeah I can see that there are enough people who like her work and thought she should be recognized.

As for the crack (from Westeros)on Kowal having no other nominated fiction. When Elizabeth Bear won the Campbell she had published three science fiction novels (in short succession) but her Hugo nomination came from the fact she was published in Asimov's (and wrote a pretty good story)...and Bear never did get nominated UNTIL she was published in Asimov's...probably because the short fiction voters READ Asimov's and F&SF but not so much the other online mags or vote for those stories outside the Big Two (forgetting Analog). If Mary Kowal is published in Asimov's then she too may pick up a Hugo nomination, but it isn't because her previous fiction wasn't good.

Joe Sherry said...

Pardon...that comment was way too long.

Larry said...

Ellestra,

My own opinions change and evolve over time, so while I used to be more of the "meaningless" crowd, further thought and discussion with others has convinced me to be a bit more patient and pro-active. While I highly doubt I'll ever be active in "fandom" in the sense of WSFS, I'm no longer that haughty hotshot who thinks he's automatically better; different is neither better/worse, just merely that, different.

Jonathan,

Yeah, I noticed that about the Fan Writer candidates. The more active I am with this blog and activities, the more I've heard of them, albeit it in passing. That being said, I believe those people serve a different purpose and audience than say this blog or any blog for that matter.

Joe,

Point taken about how if people want to complain about how others went about choosing their winners that they ought to pitch in the dough and speak up then. I'm taking something else from it, though. Although I've heard of her here and there, I never really sat down and read any of Kowal's works. That's going to change in the near future, once I have a rhythm established at school to where I can resume regular reading!

Jonathan M said...

Yeah, the fanzine people are kind of their own scene. A lot of them also put their work online (File 770 is freely downloadable) but some of them don't even have a website (Banana Wings).

Given this fact, I suspect that a bridge could be quite happily built between the two communities but it is a nice reminder that there are people out there in "fandom" who have very different frames of reference to us.

Jen said...

What would fandom be without this lovely arguments? Very boring, at least. When you can't accept that (gasp!) people have different tastes, it's always some sort of conspiracy.

Liviu said...

When I started reading sf seriously about 20 years ago - before I read lots of sf but it was not the dominant genre for me - I checked out all the sources available for finding or discussing books, including awards like Hugo, bookstore newsletters, sf encyclopedias, the sf magazines I could find easily - there was no Internet, Amazon and such then - and for me the ultimate criterion of awards, blogs, review sites forums became usefulness.

From this point of view pretty much all major awards have a very, very low usefulness, while for forums/blogs/sites, there are 4 or 5 I check and participate in regularly though I am open to try and find new interesting sites always

So I am happy that a vast diversity of views exist and I think of that as an unalloyed huge positive compared to what came before - though of course I see some downsides too, but considering the efforts I used to go to to even find about books, forget about begging my local bookseller to import the latest IM Banks from the UK at a reasonable price 15 years or so ago, I would not return to the "good old days" that some bemoan under any circumstances

Gabriele C. said...

My initial reaction was surprise that someone had won the Campbell Award whom I had never heard about, while I have read the books of the other nominees (I heard about them on blogs, Westeros etc). I thought it was a bit well, strange.

When I learned Koval writes short fiction I realised it was my reading habits (I should read more short fiction, but it's expensive to subscribe to Asimov if you live in Germany) and not the voters that made for a result I could not, at first, understand.

Btw, are you going to analyse the age poll on your sidebar? It looks quite interesting right now.

And I've awarded you a fun little blog award - they're the flipside of the memes and you can spread them as well. :)

Joe Sherry said...

Gabriele: Perhaps give some online zines a shot (no links here, but an easy google away):

Subterranean Online
Apex Digest
Chiaroscuro
Strange Horizons
Clarkesworld
Lone Star Stories
Fantasy Magazine
Helix
Transcriptase

(one of Kowal's stories is available in Clarkesworld, another on Apex, a third at Strange Horizons)

Likewise, if you want to pay for your short fiction, go to Baen's Universe.

There's a good deal of great fiction online, much of it available for free.

Liviu said...

With apologies for going a bit of thread but all the 3 - and Interzone for that matter - dinosaur sff magazines Analog, Asimov, FSF - are available cheaply as multi-format, unencrypted e-issues at Fictionwise, both as single issue and as annual subscriptions.

The single issues are made available for a several months (6 I think, not 100% sure though) window and of course once you buy them or the corresponding subscription, they are available to download forever - I mean as long as Fictionwise is in business - and being unencrypted there is no issue about reading them on any pc, device,... you may care

This is how I got some Interzone issues of interest to me for example, as well as some Asimov's too. And with the Euro/$ rate the way it is, you should get a very good price from Europe...

Some are available in databases that libraries bundle, so for example my library system has FSF available from my home pc with my library card, while for Analog I have to go to read it there on a library computer - so check with whatever library system you have access see what databases they have and if they include those magazines of interest

Gabriele C. said...

Joe and Liviu, thank you for the suggestions. I admit, since I don't like to read on screen (I spend too much time on the computer already) I've not yet delved into the whole e-book technology and the respective sites. I'll give them a look, and maybe I can print out stories for easier reading.

I have a bunch of old print magazines from the 80ies I got from a friend, and somehow I still connect short fiction with those. ;)

Ellestra said...

The decline of awards has nothing to do with voting (or the preferences or age of voters). People have same problems (not representing their tastes) with general polls – look how SFX list was treated.
Before internet all people had as guideline, when looking for an interesting book, were awards. It meant some well read people thought it was a good book. Now they just go online.
It’s just that times have changed and people now have other options. Look at the raise of importance of blog reviewers.

Larry said...

Not much time to answer here (if I hadn't crashed soon after school, I wouldn't even be awake at this time and I'm going to try and nap afterward), but I'll make a few observations:

Gabriele,

Yes, I do plan on writing something this weekend. I suspected my blog had a slightly older readership than some of the usual suspects, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the median age seems to be around 30-35 (I'm 34, so it's nice that half my audience is younger and half older). I thought it'd be more of the 18-30 groups, on the order of 60-70%.

As many here have observed, "fandom" is a very fragmented entity (entities?) and perhaps much of the issue is this notion of a "unified" "fan" vote for books that doesn't seem to jibe with the current situation. I'm reminded at times of dynastic struggles in the sense that there are factions who seem to see themselves as being THE faction and are sometimes barely aware of the other factions, yet each wants to assume (to some degree or fashion) the mantle of representing what "fandom" is. If this weren't the case, then the usual bitching about epic fantasies being left out (it being one of the "newer" parts of SF/F literature, with an effective subgenre history of only 30 years or so) wouldn't be heard so often from certain quarters...

More later in the week, perhaps. I'm off to bed, perhaps to dream about my lesson in the morning about what constitutes US history.

 
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