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On the “New Movement” in SF/F: An Archived Twitter Thread

Wrote this up on Twitter just now; archiving here for posterity. Because this is a Twitter thread, please note that the very first graf below is referring to the screen cap of text below it.


So, I do have a take on how this movement functions, strictly as a practical matter, and involving the Hugos and other awards. I will share it with you in further tweets in this thread.

(Quote is from Elizabeth Sandifer and taken from here: https://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/four-tiny-essays-on-sf-f)

How it works:

1. The modern corps of acquiring editors, in both NY publishing and in short fiction, has SIGNIFICANTLY more women and/or (out) LGBTQ+ folks, and more diversity generally. Stories they buy reflect their interests, and the sales numbers are good, so they keep at it.

2. When the Puppy nonsense happened, people committed to more diverse storytelling either entered or re-entered the Hugo voting pool to counteract the Puppy brigade. When they were routed, Puppies and their sympathizers flounced. Those interested in more diverse stories stayed.

3. Generally speaking, the stories over the last few years written by more diverse storytellers and selected by more diverse editors are *really fucking good*. The table stakes for award consideration are higher these days, and all writers have to step up to this new level…

… white dudes are not excluded from the Hugos or other awards (said the white dude who had a Hugo nod last year), and they win their share. But the operative phrase is “their share.” The field is wider now, and better, and the default to them has decreased significantly.

Sandifer is correct that this shift is as significant as any that has come before, and possibly more so, because previous movements were still largely about white dudes. But I would suggest it’s not only about the aesthetics of today’s SFF; it’s also the MECHANICS of the field…

… WHO is acquiring, WHO is voting and WHO is writing — and how it’s selling and making a mark in the larger culture. Diversity in each case has broadened the field, in what’s bought, what’s read and what wins awards. As a field we’re better for it. It starts with the editors.

Final note: Because the aspects of this new shift are as much about the state of the industry as they are about the aesthetics, I strongly suspect this is not so much (or merely) a “movement” as simply(!) the new normal in the field and the basis of further growth.

As a postscript, I wrote about some of this before in this essay here, and particularly point 4:

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2021/09/12/thoughts-on-the-debarkle/

/end

Oh! Shit! Forgot the traditional closing cat picture. Sorry!

Originally tweeted by John Scalzi (@scalzi) on January 18, 2022.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

49 replies on “On the “New Movement” in SF/F: An Archived Twitter Thread”

I, for one, welcome our new diverse masters (mistresses?)

Seriously as an old white male author who appeals to only a niche readership (folks who never got over Jack Vance), I’m happy to hear a wider variety of voices in SF.

I was never terribly comfortable with the idea that to be a science-fictioneer, I would first have to get an engineering degree. I was useless at math.

“Bring on the new stuff” ought to be the natural motto of SF readers.

I stopped reading SF in college (early 90’s) because it was all pretty much all the same and repetitively boring. I came back into it in the mid teens because of the diversity. It’s not overwhelmingly dominated by the same stories written by basically the same people that cis straight white dudes have been writing since the 40’s. If it was, I wouldn’t have started reading SF again. Different perspectives, different ideas, different approaches to storytelling and character. Honestly a lot of the greats of the ‘golden age’ weren’t really timeless (this is true of any genre of literature). They were fine examples of the peak of the field at that time. Over the past few years I’ve gone back and re-read (or tried to) some of my favorites from high school and college, who are all the big names from back then, and they just are so clearly of their time. Not just in plot and character development but even in writing style and language choices. Like anything, literature must adapt or die.

Maybe they should have an award for best book by a white dude and then this crowd would be satisfied (probably not). Anyway being an old white dude I can tell you that I have read many great sci-fi books in the last decade (a lot of them not by white dudes). I don’t follow the awards very much but I know the field itself seems to be very alive and exciting.

::Maybe they should have an award for best book by a white dude::

Sure, call it “The John W. Campbell Award” –

Whaddya mean, that’s already taken?

Okay, call it “The Harlan Ellison Award for Toxic White Male Privilege”.

PS: Smudge is shaming you for having forgotten him….

One good outcome of the whole Puppy thing for me was discovering the awesome work of NK Jemison, who I’d never heard of prior to them hating on her.

Having recently revisited some of my favorites from the 70s and 80s, I find I have a hard time caring about the characters after reading a lot of more recent Sci-fi.
There are still some great aspects of that stuff, and there are some stories and characters that still stand up, but a lot of it is hard to get through.

The Puppy Wars reminded me once and for all that I cannot ignore the politics and personality of the writer no matter how much I might like the fiction of a given writer.

Luckily the fiction of each and every Sad or Rabid Puppy is so damn shitty that is not a problem.

As a white guy sci fi writer who will probably never see or touch a hugo, much less win one, I have to say I am 100% with you on #3, especially the really fucking good comment. My own reading tastes have gravitated towards the POC and queer writers recently as well. Maybe because, like most sci fi readers I am always looking for something new and different, but maybe because as you say, they are RFG. That said, You can be damned sure I pre-ordered your book.

If any genre should be able to embrace diversity, it should SiFi/F. It is good to see some much new stuff from various viewpoints on the market.

Maybe it can roll over little things, like the Puppies, and sail cleanly to a better place.

I’m both glad to learn there’s been this much of a sea change (in what for so many decades was a white boys’ club) and ashamed that my personal reading is so far behind the field.

Have I read any of the Best Novel winners of the past ten years? (A quick check shows I’ve only read one, something called “Redshirts” by some white guy.)

I’m 61, and my ever-growing To Be Read pile will outlive me. But I gotta start reading more new stuff.

I made an active effort over the last two years to read some new-to-me works by new-to-me authors. That was when I discovered that I’m incredibly bored with almost all the stories told by straight cis white men. Almost every new (to me) book that has excited me in recent years has been by someone who was not white, or not straight, or not a male. Not just SF: there’s so much incredible work out there!

At 61, I’ve found a whole new ginormous candy shop.

@ Cat Eldridge:
“The Puppy Wars reminded me once and for all that I cannot ignore the politics and personality of the writer no matter how much I might like the fiction of a given writer.”

Very well said! I’m now finding that the politics and personality of the writers bleed through into the writing to a degree that I am unable to ignore. I’ve tried re-reading books I used to like, written by various members of the Rabid Weasels group — and the sexism, racism, misogyny and homophobia was right there all along.

Every time something like this comes up, I am reminded to be amused once more by the fact that at the very “best” the Puppies accomplished nothing except some minor procedural changes for one group of awards. Very possibly, by causing a reaction to them, they actually achieved the EXACT OPPOSITE of their goals. Mind you, for many of the most toxic, complete and utter failure is pretty much a lifestyle by now and even the “successful” members of the cabal (A certain Monster Hunter comes to mind) can’t seem to get what they really want.

Also, every time stuff like this comes up, I’m tempted to go see what idiocy the RSHD is up to, except of course you can’t cause his blog got terminated. Not by him, mind you. Which is kinda impressive, I didn’t know Blogger actually had standards you could violate.

I largely agree with much of this, but I do find it odd that some of the best selling and best received books in scifi and fantasy over the past 10 years have not even been nominated for a Hugo. Take Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series. It is a huge seller, been optioned, and has spurred multiple podcasts and fan sites. It seems strange that none of the books even received a nod. Another example would be Victoria Schwab. She sells incredibly well and has one of the biggest fan followings in the fantasy community. Her latest book The Invisible Life of Addie Larue spent a year on the NYT best seller list. Again, seems very odd to not even get a nod. So while I don’t think there is any active plot to not include white men, it does seem that the community has shifted. While it may have been an ‘old boys club’ before, it is still a club today, however not one run by white men. It does nominate a lot of great authors (Becky Chambers’ win was well deserved as her books are excellent), but it does generally keep in line with being a ‘club’ that nominates based on who is in the club.

One thing that I have noticed about the Hugo awards, at least as long as I’ve been actively nominating and voting (2010) is that they reward innovation, not just quality and popularity. When I nominate and vote, I try to select works that are unlike anything I’ve seen before, that blow my mind, expand my horizons, stretch my imagination. And it seems many other voters are doing the same.

A lot of popular works by white male authors aren’t being nominated because the authors are white and male, but because they’re not innovative. They’re the same style of space opera we had since Asimov, the same style of military SF we had since Heinlein. Don’t get me wrong, I hugely enjoy reading a good space opera or military SF, but to win an award, you have to do more.

Conversely, many marginalized authors had to innovate to stand out, because they have been pushed to the margins. They’re being nominated, and win awards, not because they’re women, or POC, or LGBT, but because they are writing SF that is fresh, creative, and pushing the genre forward.

I have been reading SF for 60 years. This is not the first time that everything has changed. And just like the other times, I believe that SF will be the better for it.

@ dmac
Did you nominate any of your favorites? Worldcon members nominate for the Hugos – are you one? Not surprising that what they like, wins. And recent winners of Best Novel have also been best sellers – though maybe not the ones you prefer.

In general, I’m not a member, as I don’t think I read widely enough. But recent winners have impressed me very much.

@Scalzi
This is very welcome news. Thanks!

dmac:

“I do find it odd that some of the best selling and best received books in scifi and fantasy over the past 10 years have not even been nominated for a Hugo.”

Yes, and also, some of the best-selling and best received books over the last 10 years have been nominated for Hugos. Just different ones. There will always be books that could have been nominated that weren’t (Not nominated: Any of the Lord of the Ring books, any of the Hitchiker’s Guide novels). The good news is that the club in this case is one anyone can join; Worldcon memberships are open to all (with the means to purchase them).

Has it been long enough for me to complain about my inadvertent aid to the “puppy slate”? I died in the middle of the whole thing (great surgeon, ignored my DNR, sigh) and spent 10 days in a coma, so i heard the run up, and came out of the hospital to find the book i edited (ha! I was given a word file of “pithy quotes” with no rhyme or reason, i had to do EVERYTHING ELSE. Which I’d been kinda excited for, it was pitched to me as “today’s ‘Notebooks of Lazarus Long’ and Heinlein is STILL my favorite*. And the writer still owes me $50, too…) was somehow nominated for a flipping HUGO!
It DID NOT DESERVE THAT NOMINATION. I’m proud of the work i did on that book, yeah, but it really didn’t deserve that. (But i deserved at the very least the rest of my payment. And maybe a thank you in the author’s note or something. But he got divorced very suddenly while i was recovering from death, and seems to have legitimately forgotten i existed)

*have those idiots READ any Heinlein? He had non white, non Male, non straight characters EVERYWHERE. And their stupid slate bumped the 2nd half of the incredible biography of him… argh…

@ Cat Eldridge:

“The Puppy Wars reminded me once and for all that I cannot ignore the politics and personality of the writer no matter how much I might like the fiction of a given writer.”

Odd, but I can’t think of many (any?) writers whose fiction I enjoyed in spite of their personality. Maybe Norman Mailer?

@ dmac:

“Her latest book The Invisible Life of Addie Larue spent a year on the NYT best seller list.”

YA stuff is a slightly harder sell when it comes to award nominations, IMO. Same goes for Pierce Brown. Not sure I can find fault with that approach.

@ Leon Stauffer:

“even the “successful” members of the cabal (A certain Monster Hunter comes to mind) can’t seem to get what they really want.”

Indeed, the invisible hand of the market has clearly sided with the SJW-in-sci-fi movement. I.e. the increased attention the Puppies garnered via petulant whining did not translate into increased sales. Guess they’ll be keeping the day jobs after all.

This New Movement is most welcome to this long-time SF/F reader. I remember (unfortunately) the days of white male-centric SF/F as ones where people such as myself were treated as either invisible or a stereotypical afterthought. Needless to say, writers and authors who act as if those were hallowed days worth returning to get my full side-eye.

Not sure if this observation is relevant to this discussion, but here goes anyway.

In the early 70’s RAH released Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the most subversive novels written up to that time, and won the Hugo for it because it changed the conversation about sex, religion, established mores, etc. At the same time Harlan Ellison released the epic Dangerous Visions compilations, which also won Hugos and was specifically targeting and deconstructing the “SF/F establishment” of the time, meant to be more inclusive and subversive.

It’s fascinating to see these groundbreakers now referred to as symbols of staid, OWG, purveyors of the current “establishment” that is now being deconstructed by all the diverse authors of today.

The best science fiction, IMO, will always be the subversive science fiction. Then and now. Go ahead, break things. I like it that way.

It’s fascinating to see these groundbreakers now referred to as symbols of staid, OWG, purveyors of the current “establishment” that is now being deconstructed by all the diverse authors of today.

Not only fascinating but absolutely essential if a field is to evolve and survive; failure to change means a moribund field that is slowly dying.

Hey everybody: do you want to have a say in the Hugos? You can join and vote for $50. Which isn’t chump change.

But!

If you’re a Hugo voter you get the Hugo packet, which includes electronic versions of (most) of the nominated material. Which means that last year, for my $50 I got all 14 October Daye books. Plus most everything else written that was on the ballot.

I’m just saying that now that “Best Series” is a category, your $50 essentially buys you a ton of books.
(Did I finish the whole packet before voting? Sadly no. Will I read everything in the packet? Probably not. But I will have it if I want it, and that’s awesome.)

And, of course, the opportunity to vote for our gracious host!

@Fatman
“Odd, but I can’t think of many (any?) writers whose fiction I enjoyed in spite of their personality. Maybe Norman Mailer?”

Less personality perhaps and more politics but I actually enjoyed the Monster Hunter series for a while. Author is toxic enough now that he doesn’t get any more of my money but it was fun while it lasted and it wasn’t like he was ever hiding where on the political spectrum he fell.
Much the same goes for Ringo.

WRT Heinlein’s subversiveness and the tendency to use him as a banner for the status quo, those using him that way are much more likely to be fans of “Starship Troopers”, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” or “Farnham’s Freehold” than “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Not saying they necessarily understood those works (or that I’m entirely certain I do either) but that tends to be their reference point for Heinlein.
Conversely of course, the Heinlein was a subversive crowd tends to gloss over the huge amount of mainstream commercial work he did (by the standards of his age of SF anyhow). He could be subversive of course, and not always in ways we’re entirely comfortable with even now (and in some cases probably shouldn’t be) but he was writing for a paycheck first.

Some stories hold my interest, some do not. I’ve tried – and failed – to find a correlation between this and the author’s gender, sexuality etc.

(And writers I generally like overall have produced a few clunkers that I won’t put in the re-read pile.)

Interesting plots and characters are not the exclusive domain of any ‘group.’

The last 5 years of Hugo awards for professional fiction categories (Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Astounding) that went to individuals have all gone to women. That is 24 wins for women, 1 win for a woman/man duo, and 0 wins for men.

Our host wrote above “white dudes are not excluded from the Hugos or other awards (said the white dude who had a Hugo nod last year), and they win their share. But the operative phrase is ‘their share.'” Is 0 wins over 5 years “their share”. Just looking at award-worthy men over that time I see P. Djèlí Clark who has won 2 Locus, 2 Nebula, and 1 British Fantasy Award during that time but he failed to win any Hugos. He won 3 of those awards this last year for Ring Shout but that finished 3rd for Hugo fandom.

It is a good thing that more diverse groups of people are writing SF/F and are winning awards but if the Hugos turn into an award that only women can win then it isn’t diverse anymore, it just has a new and unique bias.

@Jesse H:

Voters just want to exclude white dudes from the Hugos?

That straw man is mounted on a foundation of pure statis anxiety. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Hugo wins are based on votes that are informed by what people like as opposed to who the authors are.

Those men (and I believe that someone upthread made the observation that white dudes have and continue to dominate other awards) aren’t getting votes because they aren’t writing what people think is Hugo-worthy. If you want to make your case without looking like a butthurt and terrified puppy-sympathizer, you’ll have to prove that voters are reverse sexists/racists etc in much the same way that non-puppies and anyone with an ant-eater’s critical thinking and observational skills can prove that white dudes continue to hold privilege in this microcosm of society as they do all others.

I swear, this argument/gripe is so much like Stephen Miller’s complaint about Black farmers being targeted for assistance it’s sickening.

Jesse H:

Eliding the “Best Series” category, I see, even though it definitely counts as “professional fiction” and was won by two (white) men as recently as 2020.

Also I’m not sure how the “Best Dramatic Presentations” are not professional fiction categories, it’s right there in the title (“dramatic” means fictional in this case), and both categories won in the last two years by (white) men.

Also this year, in Best Graphic Novel (which also counts as professional fiction!), a (white) man won, albeit by adapting the work of Octavia Butler. But he got a rocket just the same.

So out of the eight Hugo categories that involve professionally written fiction just this year, three of those went to (white) men. Same number in 2020, albeit in slightly different categories, with four (white) men taking home rockets.

37.5% of professional fiction Hugos going to (white) men in each of the last couple of years seems like (white) men winning their share to me, actually.

If you open the field further beyond the “professional fiction” categories, there are even more men represented among the winners in the cast couple of years, not all of them white this time.

(The Astounding, as everyone takes pains to note each year, is Not a Hugo, nor is the Lodestar, but even factoring those in, men are represented perfectly well.)

Sooooo, not 100% on board with your police work here, Jesse H.

On 3/28/2007 when you were concerned about the lack of female representation in the 2007 Hugos you stated “Data point, noted in a Making Light comment thread but worth noting here, too: In the novel, novella, novelette and short story categories combined, there is exactly one female nominee. Strikes me as a little… odd.” At that time you and several folks at Making Light found similar value in isolating the professionally written fiction categories from the other fannish categories or media categories like Short Form/Long Form Dramatic Presentation. I find a similar value today when evaluating gender representation in winners of professional fiction.

I will admit that I did overlook Best Series and Lodestar so if you add that in there are 32 female winners, 1 female/male duo, and 1 male(pen name/2 dudes) winner. I did intentionally overlooks the Graphic Novel and Short Form/Long Form Dramatic Presentation because when so many different people are involved in an award it is difficult to identify if gender bias is at play. You can look at the Parable of the Sower and say some white dudes got rockets. Others could look at it and say it only won because Butler wrote it. Because of the difficulty in separating these out I intentionally focused on awards that went primarily to a single person so that I could better evaluate how gender related to winners.

Jesse H:

Nice attempt at moving the goalposts, except a) that’s about nominations, not wins, b) as it happens the complete finalist slate in the Dramatic Presentation categories were publicly presenting as men as well so the point would have been the same, c) neither the Best Series nor Graphic Novel categories existed then, so it wasn’t a matter of eliding as not being able to predict the future. Which is to say a discussion about 2007 finalist lists is different than a 2022 discussion about the winners, for several reasons (and even adjusting to accommodate your late-breaking rationalization, doesn’t change much).

What certainly is true is that in the 15 years since 2007, the finalist slates have become somewhat more diverse, which is all to the good.

“Others could look at it and say it only won because Butler wrote it.”

What an interesting way to suggest that someone’s work and effort doesn’t count as creative and transformative in itself. Whoever would say that probably doesn’t have much respect for other people’s work and therefore probably shouldn’t be considered a reliable source of opinion, especially since that Hugo the fellow earned is real and verifiable. What a relief you don’t think that!

Slightly OT, but does anyone know if the Hugo >packet is available in word or some other >accessible-to-a-screenreader format?

The packet is a gift from the individual nominees, so what is made available is decided by the nominee and/or the nominee’s publisher; the same applies to the format – some works are supplied in epub, mobi, and pdf – and some in only one of those formats (and for some works the packet only includes an excerpt).

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