So what now, Hugo?
Is this, as the Puppies’ detractors suggest, all about straight white males trying to protect their turf from interlopers like the women who snagged nearly two-thirds of the Hugo nominations for fiction in 2012? The Puppies’ fiction picks were indisputably male-dominated, with only three female authors out of 17; yet some of the group’s most dedicated members are women such as writers Sarah Hoyt, Amanda Green, and Cedar Sanderson. (The latter two were Puppy nominees for Best Fan Writer, which recognizes sci-fi related nonfiction work for nonpaying or low-paying magazines or websites.) And Hoyt told me in our email interview last spring that her personal worst example of the Hugos’ political corruption was a 2013 win for a white male: the Best Novel award to “Redshirts” by John Scalzi, a satirical riff on “Star Trek.” Hoyt, who dismisses the novel as “bad fanfic,” thought the award was blatant cronyism on behalf of Scalzi, a recent president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and one of the fandom’s high priests of “social justice” ideology.
Then there are the politicized “message” stories. Thus, last year’s Best Novel Hugo went to “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie, whose protagonist belongs to a futuristic human civilization with no concept of gender distinctions and with “she” as the universal pronoun. The Best Story winner, “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu, dealt with a Chinese-American man’s struggles with coming out as gay. (The “fantasy” part was a clunky plot device: a mysterious phenomenon that causes anyone telling a lie to be instantly doused in water.) Also high on the gripe list is last year’s nomination for “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky, a short story that even some of its fans concede is not really science fiction or fantasy. It is the internal monologue of a woman who daydreams about her comatose fiancé—the victim of a hate crime by men who apparently thought he was gay or transgendered—becoming a human-sized dinosaur.
Of course, quality is a somewhat subjective thing. Two of my friends who are avid readers of sci-fi and fantasy, disagreed sharply on “Dinosaur”: one thought it was an piece of pretentious dreck whose nomination could only be explained by political correctness; another, who has little patience for PC, wasn’t crazy about it but thought it was well-written and could be appreciated on merit. Yet another friend thought the Puppies had a legitimate complaint about the Hugos’ cliquishness but undercut it with their own mediocre nominations.
Perhaps the real issue isn’t the quality of any specific work, or even the prevalence of “message fiction” in the genre; it’s that, as cautiously Puppy-sympathetic nonfiction writer and data scientist Nathaniel Givens has argued on his blog, “the message has never been so dogmatically uniform.” What’s more, Givens argues, the current crop of pro-“social justice” authors who dominate the field not only use their fiction as a vehicle for ideology but seek to enforce conformity throughout the fandom, posing a genuine threat to intellectual diversity. He points out that, by contrast, the Sad Puppies “went out of their way to put some authors on the slate who are liberal rather than conservative.”
“Man, I owe you a blowjob,” Duvall said.
“What?” Dahl said.
“What?” Hester said.
“Sorry,” Duvall said. “In ground forces, when someone does you a favor you tell them you owe them a sex act. If it’s a little thing, it’s a handjob. Medium, blowjob. Big favor, you owe them a fuck. Force of habit. It’s just an expression.”
“Got it,” Dahl said.
“No actual blowjob forthcoming,” Duvall said. “To be clear”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Dahl said, and turned to Hester. “What about you? You want to owe me a blowjob, too?”
“I’m thinking about it ,” Hester said.