Neotraditionalists are those who have dominated the WorldCons and Hugo awards over the past 20 years or so. They consider themselves the “old guard” and are concerned about the purity of the process used to nominate and select the awards. The quality of storytelling, not so much.
One of my favorite authors has been Lois McMaster Bujold, and I’ve been an intermittent participant on the mailint list of her fan site, which she occasionally visits herself, for the odd bit of commentary and clarification. These are some out-takes from my commentary there, so are mostly self-quotes. Since my comments were inciting controversy and the standing etiquette on that list is to take such subjects off the list.
Last month I attended a presentation by J.A Jance, a writer of murder
mysteries. She recounted that after she had several published and
successful books, she called the local University and offered her services
as a writer-in-residence for their creative writing program. She got the
response “Oh. We only do literary fiction here. We don’t do genre
fiction.” [Boom. The villain in her next murder mystery was a professor of
creative writing]. I have seen a similar complaint uttered by various
other authors of Science Fiction. These claim that academia is dominated by
cognoscenti who utterly disdain genre fiction: SF, Fantasy, romance,
mystery, etc. I tasted a bit of that attitude myself when I attempted a
class in creative writing. As one audience member put it, the type of
literary fiction esteemed in academia is stuff in which nothing much
happens to characters you don’t like anyway. It also doesn’t sell.
There are those (including myself) who believe that SF&F has been infected
by the same type of attitude. Over the past 20 years or so, the segment of
fandom that votes on the Hugo awards has become increasingly elitist and
favors works that are socially edgy, bleak and dystopian, weak on
story-telling merit, or otherwise unpalatable to a large segment of fans. I
have seen multiple claims by casual readers of SF that the declining
general appeal of Hugo award winners has driven them away from the field.
I’m not sure what the appropriate response to “Quit foisting dreck on us,
we demand some better candidates” is, but I’m pretty sure a panicked “The
Barbarians are invading!” isn’t it.
It doesn’t take very many highly vocal members of a group posing as
representative of the group to create a misleading negative impression
of the entire group. An attitude of ” ‘No award’ is better than anything
your crowd would vote for” is as about as snobbish and contemptuous as
I’ve ever seen.
There is also an occupational hazard among critics of art, literature,
music, food, or what have you. Those who see many examples of an art form
often develop different tastes than those who are more casual about it.
It happens that such a critic may become jaded by seeing many
examples of art, then become overly critical of popular works and overly
fond of innovative works, however unpopular, and then dismissive and
derisive of the general public for its lack of taste. The natural consequence is that the public reciprocates and rejects the critic.
Such critics need not be professionals or academics.
> How about “‘No award’ is better than letting a highly-vocal, unpleasant > minority, whose leaders have been vocal and gleeful about tearing down the > award, dictate what counts as good SF/F.”
Well, both sides have been hurling invective at each other. But I don’t
read vocal glee in tearing down the Hugo awards in what I’ve seen of
SP. That reasoning for no award sounds a little scorched earth to me.
One of the vocal proponents of the political correctness theory of literary
merit has recently posted a diatribe that reads as if it might have been
ghost-written for her by an orc-maid and seems to be actually gaining
recruits for the opposition.
>Very true! Except that the Hugos today are no more likely to skew that
> way than they were in decades past, in my opinion. 2013 gave the Hugo to > Redshirts, for crying out loud! It’s a great book, but not at all > abstruse or in a heightened literary style or anything. Just solid > middle-of-the-road SF adventure story with a large helping of humor.
Well, yes, occasionally something good does slip through.
[I should amend that. I haven’t read it, but the accounts I’ve heard indicate
that it’s not all that great a book. The least bad of inferior crop, ]
I am minded that the US Constitution set up a voting system such that the
electors in each state would each make an independent judgment about the
best person for the job. This scheme fell apart, perhaps inevitably, with
the rise of political parties and the introduction of slates of candidates.
The situation with the Hugo awards has become similar, although this seems
not to have been the original intention of SP. Their reasoning seems to be
that SF&F publishing and the associated awards have become dominated by
those who favor, celebrate, and praise gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender
activities and values, along with those of women and minorities, in the
name of diversity. Authors and fans who are insufficiently enthusiastic in
their praise and celebration of such activities and values have been
feeling increasingly marginalized for years. The SP activity has brought in
and is bringing in many new fans, with, possibly, a diversity of opinions
However, when I read comments that have the flavor of “This is our
playground now. Homophobic, racist, sexist, Christofascist bigots and other
unpersons are unwelcome”, I am minded to paraphrase Polgara to Ce’Nedra:
What an absolutely charming display of enlightened tolerance.
Such a partisan split in the field is regrettable, but speaking as a
veteran of a long-term covert struggle for dominance that squeezed me out
of something I cherished, I prefer a more open conflict