Big Idea Notice, Re: May and June (and July)

It is:

The May Big Idea slots are all filled. If you queried and I did not respond, a) sorry, I tried to respond to everyone, b) I have no more slots for this month.

There are still a few June Big Idea slots open. Go ahead and query.

You may start querying for July Big Idea slots on May 1st.

Thanks!

Hugos and Class

(Warning: Hugo neepery ahead. Ignore if you’re bored with the subject.)

As I’m musing on class today, I’d like to take a moment to address something I see being attempted by the Puppies, which is to cast the current Hugo contretemps as something akin to a class war, with the scrappy diverse underdogs (the Puppy slates) arrayed against “powerful, wealthy white men” such as myself, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and George RR Martin, the latter being a late addition to the non-existent SJW cabal; apparently we are now a cackling, finger-steepling triumvirate of conspiracy (See the link here at File770, which, again, has been invaluable as a repository of Hugo commentary this year).

So, let’s unpack this a bit.

One, I’m not entirely sure how much credit the Puppy slates should get for “diversity” when their most notable accomplishments are reducing the overall demographic diversity of the Hugo slate from the past few years, locking up five (previously six!) slots on the final ballot for the same straight, white, male author, and getting much of their “diversity” from conscripts to the slates, at least some of whom did not appear to have foreknowledge of their appearance there, and some of whom have since declined their nominations. Basically, if you’re going to argue diversity, you should probably not make the assertion so easily refutable by actual fact (it also helps not to have one of the primary movers behind the slates be an actual, contemptible racist and sexist).

Two, with regard to me, George and Patrick being “powerful, wealthy white men”: okay, sure, why not (I suspect Patrick, earning an editor’s salary in New York, might snort derisively that the idea that he is actually wealthy), but it’s interesting for any of the three of us to be criticized for these things by a partisan of slates whose dominance on the final Hugo ballot was accomplished substantially through the machinations of a fellow who is himself a scion of wealth and power, with enough dosh on hand to have his own publishing house (for which he is using the current Hugo contretemps as very cheap advertising), and, to a rather lesser extent, by a fellow who has many of the same advantages I or George do: Bestselling status, award nominations and, at least from public statements I can recall, a rather comfortable income from his work, largely from a company that shares at least one parent in common with one that publishes me, is a major house in the field, and is distributed by a major publishing conglomerate. Indeed, as it is an article of faith among the Puppies that I don’t actually sell all that many books, I suppose the argument could be made that he is more wealthy and powerful than I am! So well done him, and I wish him all the best in his career. But between these fellows and their circumstances, it’s difficult to cast this as a battle of underdogs versus wealth and privilege. There’s quite enough wealth and privilege to go around.

(There is at least one salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and the fellows I’ve mentioned, who share so many of the advantages that we three do. What that difference is I will leave as an exercise for the reader.)

Three, the Puppies drama isn’t about class, or privilege. It’s about envy and opportunism, and it’s also, somewhat pathetically, apparently about the heads of the Puppy slates being upset that once upon a time, they felt people in fandom were mean to them. As if they were the only people in the world that folks in science fiction fandom had ever been mean to. True fact: There is almost no one in science fiction and fantasy that someone else in fandom hasn’t been mean to at one time or the other. Science fiction fandom contains many people, including quite a few with questionable social skills. Not all of them are going to like you. Not all of them are going to like what you do. That’s not a conspiracy; that’s just a basic fact.

Here’s a thing: Look back in time to when I was nominated for Best Fan Writer. There was a whole lot of mean going on there; there are still fans who are righteously upset with me about it. Look at what people have said about each of the books of mine that have been nominated for Best Novel (look at what was said after I won it!). Look what people in fandom say about me on the Internet all the damn time. Hell, I remember rather vividly being at the Montreal Worldcon during my autograph session and this dude coming up, handing me Zoe’s Tale, and saying “It’s not really a good book and I don’t think it should be on the ballot and I don’t know why it is, but I guess since you’re here you might as well sign it for me.” Which I thought was really kind of amazing, in its own obnoxious way.

You know what I did? I signed his book. Because a) apparently he bought it and b) I’m not emotionally twelve years old. I can handle people being thoughtless and stupid and even occasionally intentionally mean in my direction, without deciding the the correct response is to burn down the Hugos, screaming I’ll show you! I’ll show you all! Which is, as it happens, seems to be another salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and these fellows. Unless you’re under the impression Patrick and George haven’t got their fair share of people disliking them, or saying mean things about them. They have; they’ve just decided to deal with it like the grown up humans they are.

So, no. This Hugo contretemps isn’t about class. But it might be, a little bit, about who has class, and how that affects what they do with their wealth and power.

The Elite Poor

Here’s an interesting story in the Boston Globe about poor students attending Ivy League schools and very often struggling with their new environment, not in the least because they are often the first in their families to attend college at all, and thus have little guidance from family and friends on how to navigate the academic surroundings. I found it interesting because their story is in many ways my story: I was the first of my family to go to college (indeed, I was the only one of my immediate family to finish high school), and I went to the University of Chicago, which is not an Ivy but is certainly an elite school (currently #4 in the US News “national university” ranking, tied with Columbia and Stanford). And I was poor when I went to school there.

That said, I had an advantage that many first generation college students don’t — for high school I attended a private boarding school (scholarship kid), which gave me four years to work out my class angst — and there was some — and also learn how to navigate issues of privilige, of which not the least was accepting the fact that I was starting the journey away from poverty, and the worldview it engenders, and toward privilege, and that worldview. I’ve said before that when one has been poor one never forgets what that’s like, and that remains true. But by the time I got to college, most of my really difficult battles on that score were settled. I was decently well assimilated into the elite world view.

And as it happens I think the elite world view — essentially, the belief that one of the people behind the levers of the world will be you — is not always a bad one to have. But it needs to be tempered by awareness of a world outside privilege, so one is not oblivious to the fact that the world outside your door is filled with people who don’t benefit from the same easy connection to power that you now have, thanks to networks and name brand recognition. This is where first-generation students at elite schools can make a difference. They can be a bridge between two worlds in a way few others can.

They have to make it through the transition first, however. And sometimes that’s hard.