Talk with me about being a fan of science fiction and fantasy

2014 Hugo for best noveletteFor my regular readers, I’m about to talk about the controversy around the Hugo awards, and I’d like you to keep reading even if this is something that you normally aren’t involved in. (If you want backstory, here’s a really quick recap at Strange Horizons (just the second paragraph), or for more details here is a summary at 109 and one at The Slate.)

I’m going to start by defining some terms, because I suspect that this blog post will also get some traffic beyond my usual readers. These are not all dictionary definitions, but how I am using them in this post. Since many of the terms have mutable meanings, I thought it would help if you know what I mean.

Definition of Terms (You can tell that I was on the debate team in high school, yes?)

  • Fandom – The community of fans who regularly attend fan run conventions.
  • fans – Anybody who enjoys a particular thing with great passion, be that SFF, anime, or the Cubs.
  • SFF community – fans, fandom, writers, editors, and anyone who is connected with science fiction and fantasy in any media.
  • Sad Puppies – A group of fans, inspired by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, who feel that conservative writers are excluded from fandom.
  • diversity – The inclusion of the full range of humanity in fiction.
  • supporting membership to WorldCon – This is $40 and entitles you to vote on the Hugo awards, receive the voter packet, but doesn’t cover attendance.

Watching the debate about the Hugo awards, I’ve noticed that both sides are saying that the wrong fans are making decisions. To this I cry bullshit. I suspect that the majority of fans in the SFF community have experienced some form of shunning or shaming from people outside the community who look down on SFF as juvenile. That climate is changing, but for many of us, that was a reality.

Are we really going to do that to each other now?

The next thing I’ve become aware of — and I want to thank everyone who has already come by to share their experience — is that people who identify as Sad Puppies are frequently coming from outside of fandom, while being firmly part of the SFF community. This means that they haven’t been part of the conversations that fandom has been having within itself.

I think it becomes easy for fandom to think that it represents all of the SFF community because it’s a pretty diverse group. It doesn’t. The reason that this is important to remember is that when we are having conversations about diversity in SFF, we’ve begun using short hand. We’ve got a whole bunch of folks who are taking part in fandom for the first time, and we are not inviting them into the conversation AND we’re being angry because they don’t know all of the back story. I know that when I first joined the conversation about diversity in fiction, that I tripped over a lot of assumptions simply because I’d never been asked to examine them before. I didn’t even know that these assumptions of mine were there. If not for very patient friends, I would probably have run from the anger (justifiable anger) and not become part of fandom.

Again, are we really going to do that?

Now — not everyone has the time and energy to dedicate to educating people. I am fully aware of that. I’m not asking that all of fandom goes on a mission of education. But I am asking that those of you who do have the energy to take some time to invite people to ask you questions.

And finally… Vox Day. I have seen a number of people referring to his post in which he has declared war on the Hugo awards. Specifically, he has said that in 2016 he’ll rally his fans to make sure that No Award wins every category. “We are the reavers and the renegades and the revolutionaries, and we don’t give a quantum of a damn about pieces of plastic or the insider approval they represent.”

Which means that in 2016 no Hugos would be awarded.

To which I say… why is anyone afraid that this will happen?

My dear fandom, people from the larger SFF community, fans of my work, fans of Larry Correia’s work… there are more of us.

So this is my call to action for all of you — Become more inclusive. Invite your friends and family to participate. Buy a supporting membership for someone who can’t afford it. Welcome people who like different work than you do. Ask them to recommend a book. Read it. Recommend something to them. Talk about why you like it.

But please, please let’s stop trying to make fandom a special little enclave. It has always been the place where people could come, regardless of what they were fans of, and be welcome. It’s where we can wear Regency attire next to a Transformers cosplay. This isn’t to say that we should tolerate bad behavior, but liking something different isn’t bad behaviour.

And to my readers — If you can afford it, I encourage you to buy a membership to WorldCon and become part of fandom. If you cannot afford it…  I will buy a supporting membership to WorldCon for ten people, chosen at random, who cannot afford it. I am in no way constraining how that member nominates or votes. All I ask is that you read the nominations and join the conversation.

FURTHER EDITED TO ADD: One More of the nominees (and some other fans) have reached out to me and asked if they can match my pledge. They want to do it anonymously to avoid swaying anyone’s vote. In addition, Ellen Klages has also donated ten memberships* SO that means there are TWENTY THIRTY  FORTY-FIVE FIFTY-FIVE SIXTY-FIVE SEVENTY-FIVE EIGHTY-ONE ONE HUNDRED supporting memberships available. I encourage others to reach out to your own communities as well.

(This form is for requesting a supporting membership. The comment form is allllll the way at the bottom of the page.)

Application closed at midnight central on April 17th.

For everyone else, I’m going to keep this thread open to answer questions and try to facilitate conversation. Anything that I think is rude, goes into the trash. And my definition of rude? Come on… If you need that to be defined, then just walk away from the keyboard. The key is be nice. Don’t be awful. Treat others with respect.

Any questions? (Oo! And recommend your favorite bit of SFF)

Edited to add:

FURTHER EDITED TO ADD: After a lot of thought, my plan is to decline any potential Hugo nominations next year, since it’s been pointed out to me that people who benefit from this will also be eligible to nominate next year. When it was only ten nominations, that didn’t seem like it would sway anything. Seventy-five? It feels unethical to take advantage of any partiality that might create.

13 April 9pm – I want to thank everyone who participated. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten zero writing done the past three days and really need to, so for my own health, I’m going to close comments tonight when I go to bed and leave them closed. Again, thank you.

The application will remain open until midnight Central time on April 17th.

303 Responses

  1. James

    Again I am responding to the call for action to buy supporting memberships in order to vote. My opinion is this makes Worldcon a buy a vote for the Hugo’s organization.
    I do not encourage anyone to buy a supporting membership or ask for help in buying one if you can’t afford one in order to vote for a Hugo award.

  2. David Dorais

    Last time I procrastinated and my ballot didn’t get counted coming in too late somehow; so I am fixated on reading thru and voting as early as I can. Tho I am saddened that it appears that No Award will be my fallback too often. Not just because of the ballot stuffing being done by the Sad Puppies movement but also, over the years I’ve been reading SF (1964), I am still more comfortable with a few old line pulps and a few well vetted by critic paper novels. So many nominations are from online only sources which I don’t have the money to subscribe to them all. I feel left out and clueless by all this new media by the young whipper-snappers. So I depend sometimes on Dozois and now Strahan and Locus to point towards the good 10% of them. The trouble is, it is or will be too late to use this method for this particular ballot. I really prefer the old school lack of success and ghettoized genre smallness which SF, F and H had prior to Star Wars and other successful media made the genre too big to even skim thru to know intelligently what was going on and trending. You have to deliberately specialize in your reading. For me personally that is the new space opera and the rare example of good truly hard SF based on good speculation in science and not so goddam soft sci or fantasy based with SF tropes disguising its meme. Also too much glut of dystopian escape to disguised fantasy negative crap (zombies, vampires, apocalyptic) because that is what sells. I wan to read positive visions of the future where we fictionally find a way to fix things. The best SF displays a way to inoculate yourself against Future Shock. The New Wave spec fic-ers have won and it is too much of a unfollowable muddle. This may be great for writers who want the freedom to write whatever the hell they feel like and the market is now happy to help them. Way too many crossover slipstream spec fic mash ups with no narrative focus in aid of the reader. Especially true of European writers but also effecting N. American writers because, well, they have to eat too, not just write to spec (pun intended)…Sturgeon’s Law has been overwhelmed by the apparent success of the conflated marketplace, because even the 10% is too many novels to even try to look at.

    1. Craig

      It should be noted that relying on Locus will cause you to miss a lot (notably, in the last three years they have only one entry for Baen, which is questionable for a supposed survey of the field).

      No Weber, no Flint & Spoor, no Chadwick, no Gannon, no Correia, no Lee or Lee & Miller, no Spencer, no Van Name, no Hoyt. Writers who are diverse in style & subject. These aren’t no-names – Gannon is a Nebula nominee, Flint & Weber are bestsellers, Spencer a former Campbell winner, Chadwick was a star game designer who had a Steampunk game out (Space:1889) before Steampunk was even a thing.

      Not all of them are going to be to everyone’s taste. But none of them, except Bujold, when Locus is listing around a hundred titles a year?

      That is certainly…. odd.

  3. David

    This will be my first year being able to vote for the Hugos. It took me an embarrassingly long time to discover what the Hugos were, what they meant, and how I could become involved. I was so looking forward to it.

    And then the entire Sad/Rabid Pupply explosion happened. I’ll be honest: my enthusiasm for voting on the Hugos this year was very dampened due to how the nominations turned out.

    After reading this post, and seeing the support this effort has gained from other sources, I feel more hopeful and optimistic. I know it doesn’t fix the problem, but hopefully it’s the first step in the right direction to getting more fans regularly involved (and hopefully preventing something like this or worse from happening again).

    Thank you, Mary.

  4. CVConnell

    I’ve been a SF/F reader since I was around 8 or 9. Fortunately, my public library had a pretty good shelf, though since it was in the ‘adult’ library I needed my mother’s collusion to get at it. I didn’t know about ‘fandom’ – I just knew that I liked this stuff. I’m pretty sure that I read just about everything on those shelves, be it hard SF or fantasy. As I recall what I read back then, a great deal of what was published in the 50s & 60s included social commentary of one sort or another, what I gather is now part of what the SP group finds offensive. So if they’re looking to get back to old style ‘real’ SF, they’re barking up the wrong tree.
    I personally, even though now in my upper 60s, read and like a wide range of SF/F. I like hard SF, I like urban fantasy and YA, I like (occasionally) a good Doc Smith style space opera, (I VERY much like Mary Robinette Kowal stories, and buy them right away when they appear), small press publications, and a wide range across the (pardon the expression, political) spectrum. I know that several of the authors I enjoy reading seem to be on the SP ‘we like this’ lists, to judge by various comments I have seen. I also enjoy books from authors whom they seem to hold in aversion.
    I didn’t even know about ‘fandom’ for many years; I just read the stuff. I don’t consider myself to be any kind of ‘trufan’ though I’ve been going to cons, including WorldCons, for over 30 years. Cons are a place where, when you go, people don’t treat you like you’re weird — they’re family. But despite what some people have said about being treated exclusively, rather than inclusively, at cons, I haven’t seen much of that going on. As a reader and as a con-goer, I don’t take the attitude that it’s ‘my way or the highway’. And although I’m not one of those touchy-feely, hugs-everyone-they-see types, I do try to be friendly to those around me. Of course not everyone is going to be friendly to everyone around them — they may have a hangover, be short on sleep, be in a hurry and not want to chat, and so forth. But I certainly don’t assume malice, or some kind of evil plot against some aspect of myself, when I encounter someone who isn’t prepared to make nice. Very few people at cons wear big signs saying ‘you’re going to hate me, because I’m conservative and have values other than yours.’ I don’t give a darn about other people’s issues, and most other fans don’t either. So I have to take with a grain of salt tales about how some people have been treated unkindly, or even viciously, by nasty judgmental ‘trufen’ who hated them because of (whatever). They’ve obviously had the misfortune to bump into one of ‘those’ family members — the ones no one wants to associate with at family reunions.
    I was shocked this year to see that a group (ANY group) would try to disenfranchise everyone else who was nominating books (and other works) that they felt were GOOD, just to make a point. Each year, I scrupulously read my way through as much of the previous year’s work as I can, including the three SF magazines I subscribe to. And then I nominate. I don’t nominate on the basis of a political or social agenda. I only nominate work that I feel represents good, well-written stories (I seldom go to the movies or watch TV, which pretty much limits any votes for that). This year, among other things, I nominated one of Brad Torgersen’s stories; however, due to the efforts of his friends, I’ll never know if enough other people also liked it enough for it to end up on the final ballot.
    And then I vote. I greatly welcomed the introduction of the Hugo reader packets some years ago, since it made it possible to actually read quite a few things that I would have otherwise missed. Even though I am really, really annoyed about this year’s nominations situation, I will read everything I can (it’s possible that at least some items may be missing from the reader packet, but I’ll do my best), and then try to do an ethical job of voting for QUALITY. Not based on silly notions about an author’s politics or social leanings, which I have little or no knowledge of anyway, but was it a good story. I expect that most other WorldCon members who bother to vote will do the same. And if enough other people also vote for quality, instead of just to bolster a political agenda (or to oppose the SPs by voting No Award – Pease Don’t!), perhaps the Hugo will not end up being particularly tarnished after all.

  5. Todd Thorne

    It is interesting to step back and consider the clash of dynamics transpiring within this whole situation. I see three in particular, all of which are touched on across this inspired post and its heartfelt comments.

    1. We have writers involved in the overall situation who are publicly attributed with divisive, even offensive viewpoints.

    It can be hard to remain rational when facing such people. Emotions get stirred. Name-calling resounds and accusations fly. The overall participants try mightily to marginalize the offenders or, at the least, ensure their own views and perspectives remain greatly distanced from and untainted by the offending ones, sometimes to the extent where that then becomes the primary focus. If this happens to a majority of participants, hopes for a constructive debate are lost. Without that debate, change for the greater good is improbable.

    2. Popularity contests, by their nature, carry a risk that some of the constituency will be disenfranchised.

    No matter what your leaning, if there aren’t enough voices like yours in the contest, odds are you’ll experience some disappointment. Prolong that sufficiently and people will feel compelled to either walk away or take more drastic actions to influence the outcome. Such actions could be within the confines, ethos and rules of the contest. Some without. In the worst cases, infighting ensues and the contest degenerates into a bitter, contentious struggle between factions. In the best cases, the minority mobilizes to advance their cause and candidates accordingly, garnering success, thus inspiring similar reactions from the other contest groups. Clearly if the contest is to survive, draw in more participants, and deliver more compelling outcomes over time, the latter not the former must prevail.

    3. The Hugo awards represent the true will of the fan base.

    Yes. Though, by design, only for a subset of the greater SFF community. Specifically for the Hugos, it’s the membership of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS, which 40 USD can purchase for one year, as noted). Thus the demographic of the WSFS is the beating heart of the popularity contest behind the awards. The greater the diversity and inclusivity of that demographic, the stronger that heartbeat grows. This is what is troubling about comments from Sokyrka, Daniela and others who are dismayed by what they find–or not–going on within that demographic, to the point it turns them off.

    Ultimately for this situation to have a winning outcome, we must ensure a civil debate continues, a healthy, competitive awards process is fostered, and the foundational fan base grows much wider in its breadth, not just its depth. That’s a tall order. Not impossible though. Not as long as people are willing to take positive action, no matter how large or small, to achieve it.

    Thanks, Mary, for stepping up and taking action.

    While I’m here, I have to put a plug in for Harry Harrison and The Stainless Steel Rat. Also A. E. van Vogt showed me how much immense wonder could be packaged into a short story.

  6. Dave Mann

    Thanks for replying, and thoughtfully, too. The whole “Bad puppies lay down with racists, rape apologists, and women haters and bring fleas, GO HOME BAD PUPPIES” “not in MY neighborhood” is intimidating. Reminds me a bit of when I was a kid. We took short trips, what we could afford. We went to a small spot in Illinois. Saw re-enactors making wood roof tiles with 2 handed knifes. Blacksmithing horseshoes. Lacing up vegetables to dry in the sun “for winter”. Then we saw a film which showed people getting killed, and most of their friends leaving. As a child, I asked a lady why did they do it? She said that angry frightened people do things they normally wouldn’t. I decided then to try to not be one of those people. Some folks now perceive me as one of those people, and that is unfortunate. Perhaps the Hugos will be changed to have a broader base of voters. I thought it was something bigger than a fan award, just for Worldcon. Loved seeing when Girl Genus won it because I have followed them for years (yes I have seen it more than once). Saw that it’s own introduction lists it as “presented annually since 1955, are science fiction’s most prestigious award”. I hope it stays that, and doesn’t become just the “Worldcon’s favorite” award. There is too much history to lose if that happens. This whole thing is making me reconsider if I really want to go to DucKon, which friends I have known for years have invited me to. I was really considering it and now it has been canceled because of financial issues. Sad.

  7. Barb Caffrey

    Mary, I appreciate what you are doing to try to bridge the divide. Somehow, writers need to start supporting other writers again rather than attacking them — and I don’t know how to get that done, except to try to meet people halfway and understand the distress on both sides.

    Then try to alleviate that distress.

    You are doing that, and I thank you for it.

    Anyway, as to how I got involved in reading SF&F? I read Andre Norton — “Ice Crown,” “Forerunner Foray,” and many other novels, including the Time Traders saga, the Witch World novels and the two books about Murdoc Jern and his companion and friend, Eet. I read Madeleine L’Engle. I read RAH, but liked “Time Enough for Love” much more than any of his juveniles (save, perhaps, for “Double Star”) — all this before I was 14 years old. (Did I fully understand all the sex? No. Did I think Lazurus Long was an interesting individual? Definitely.)

    Then I went on to Donaldson, Le Guin, Lackey, MZB, Bujold, and so on. Every so often, I discover or rediscover an author I hadn’t known about before or hadn’t considered in quite that way — that’s how I started reading Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, for example. It’s how I discovered Stephanie Osborn, too — her SF/romances about hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick and Sherlock Holmes (brought to our time via the World of Myth/parallel universes theory) are not to be missed. And when I read Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Fires of Nuala” a few years back and reviewed it, my enjoyment of Ms. Kimbriel’s writing sparked an excellent pen-friendship.

    (This is how I always thought fandom was supposed to be.)

    I’m always glad to find new writers. That’s how I found your books about Jane and Vincent; I’ve read and reviewed three, and hope to read the fourth soon (a review will follow not too long afterward, guaranteed, over at Shiny Book Review). That’s how I found Ann Leckie, and that’s how I found Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven.”

    I try to celebrate writers wherever I find them, even if I don’t always understand or even agree with what they’re writing. That’s one reason I find this particular strife to be so disquieting, and it’s one reason why I hope that somehow, some way, SF&F will find a way to both celebrate story and inclusivity. (Surely there’s a way, isn’t there, for reasonable people to come to some sort of accommodation?)

  8. Pattie Lee

    Boycotting is one thing, and bullying another entirely. Don’t bully and don’t give in either…cookies go to everyone here for supporting fandom all the way around!

  9. Mark Potter


    Until this post I had honestly never heard of you. I read voraciously, to the tune of about a hundred books a year. Some the of the authors I really enjoy are SP authors (which is what brought me here) but I don’t limit my reading by any stretch even though 90% of it is SF/F. I have also never used awards as a way to choose to books so SP, over all three years, has been a spectator sport for me. I think what you’re doing is very much in the spirit of what the ideals behind SP are and pretty spot on. I didn’t and won’t be buying a Worldcon membership because I’m really too apathetic to vote. However I want to show my support to you, for the way you are conducting this discussion. I know the Hugo matters to some portion of fandom, and not a small portion, and what you’re doing here is laudable. Thanks for being a voice of reason, even if I don’t agree with you on everything. You seem like the sort of person I could enjoy a beer with (or coffee if that’s your bent). I’ll be looking over your work with hopes of buying one or more of your books.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Conversations where everyone agrees about everything generally wind up being very dull. If we’re ever at a con together, beer is in order. (Or single malt, which is my preference)

      Since the SP authors tend to write stuff on the swashbuckling end, may I suggest starting with my fourth book? Valour and Vanity is a heist novel. (It’s a series, but they all work as standalones.)

      1. Mark Potter

        I’ll start there but outside of the SP authors I absolutely love Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Daniel Polansky, Joe Abercrombie, Brian McClellan, Seannan McGuire (at least the Toby Day books), and many others.

  10. RichardP

    I’ve been going to or supporting WorldCon for almost 40 years. Frankly, the Sad Puppies thing is *overdue*.
    Yes, there are people being actively excluded *by fandom*. This is not new. As I mentioned at Not A Blog plenty of openly religious and socially conservative people who have been part of fandom for decades don’t just ‘feel’ excluded, they can point to specific incidents, incidents that have become more frequent in recent years.
    Let’s focus on what the Hugos are actually about (or are meant to be about): -writing-; good writing; entertaining writing. Leave politics where it belongs, in politics, and let’s be as race-blind as MLK asked us to be and do what we love; read books and talk about books for the sake or reading and talking.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Actually… I think the problem isn’t politics at all. I think the problem is that a few assholes can mess it up for everyone.

      For years and years, women have not felt safe at SFF conventions. Not because every man was going to grab her, but because there were enough that did that you could never be sure who was safe. Even worse, no one was calling the behavior out. Which meant that a few assholes ruined it, and by being silent, everyone else was complicit.

      Where we run into conflict is that a lot of the things that are making spaces safer for women are because people are calling out assholes for sexism. BUT because so many people have been unwittingly complicit for so long, there’s a lot of behavior that used to look acceptable (even though it never felt comfortable to the recipient) that is now getting pointed out. So it feels like the rules have changed. And they have. But that doesn’t mean that anyone is targeting openly religious and socially conservative people. It means that the assholes, who happen to be openly religious and socially conservative, are getting called out for bad behavior. And then, because they are assholes, they don’t listen and adjust behavior to avoid the problem. And they keep doing it.

      Which makes people angry and then the calling out because loud and full of rage.

      And then it leads to a cycle where the person things it’s because of their background, but really it’s just because they are an asshole.

      So for me, the answer isn’t to stop talking about politics/ideology/religion, it’s to be better at listening to other people when they talk about their experiences.

      (Also, when MLK talked about judging by “the content of their character” he wasn’t talking about ignoring a person’s experiences and culture. He dreamed that one day skin colour wouldn’t be a barrier, but we aren’t there yet.)

      1. Sam Wibatt

        Quite right – this is a few assholes gaming the system.

        Until the Hugo rules are fixed to prevent that from happening, I don’t feel inclined to buy a membership to help dilute the effect.

  11. Bill Reich

    “Racism against white people isn’t a thing”

    This is about forcing a change in the ordinary meaning of a word. It isn’t unreasonable that the word be changed because we already have “bigotry” and other words to fit those other situations but it is not obvious nor is it obviously correct.
    And I’m too much of an old curmudgeon to accept a change in the meaning of a word without comment.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      If I may? In sociology, the short definition of racism is “a race based system of privilege.” So the professional use of the word in critical thinking is much more specific than the dictionary definition. So, in critical thinking about race, “racism” is not a broad synonym for “bigotry” and prejudice. This isn’t a new change in the meaning, it’s just that we’re using the professional, narrower, definition instead of the very broad dictionary based one.

      This is why I started with definitions up top, and jumped in to slow this conversation down. We have at least two groups of people who are using the same word to mean different things.

      1. keranih

        MRK –

        Professionals working in their fields all have their jargon and trade words – which writers use to give depth to dialog and description for characters in those professions. A blacksmith would not describe a piece of metal which they were fashioning into a tool in the same way a busdriver or an er nurse would. Likewise, a competent er nurse uses different vocabulary when speaking to the physician than with the patient.

        I know that sociologists have more closely defined the word ‘racism’. But when the blacksmith, the busdriver, and the er nurse talk about ‘racism’ and when they read it in the newspaper – they use the word as laypeople use it. For laypeople there is no dual definition. When they say someone is ‘racist’ they mean a person of exceptional bigotry who exercises that bigotry with the intent to harm others. They do not mean “a fellow human subject to unconscious absorption of the mores of their society, just as all of us are.”

        I have more recently seen this dual use of the same word or concept to be called the “motte-and-bailey” defense – which is a type of verbal fencing that, imo, borders on the disingenuous.

        Continuing to use this word in this manner is a major barrier to communication and bridge-building, and it gives yet another weapon to people (on both sides) who already have far too many options for beating on the rest of us.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          I agree that using any piece of jargon without defining how you’re using it is a major barrier, which is why I jumped in to explain how racism was being used by the original poster who said, “Racism against white people isn’t a thing.”

          It was clear that they were going to be talking at cross-purposes, because they were using the word in two different ways.

          However, it’s incorrect to say that no one outside of the profession uses “racism” in this way. Over in liberal land in SFF, we had a bunch of very serious conversations about race a couple of years ago, so there’s a big sub-set of people who because much more educated in critical race theory. That, in turn, is showing up in convention programming so there’s a substantial group within SFF that uses “racism” in the “a race based system of advantage” sense.

          I’m really, really grateful that you provided the alternate definition, because it demonstrates how these conversations can go off the rails.

          (And suddenly my debate training, of starting with definitions, makes sense.)

        2. keranih

          However, it’s incorrect to say that no one outside of the profession uses “racism” in this way. Over in liberal land in SFF, we had a bunch of very serious conversations about race a couple of years ago, so there’s a big sub-set of people who because much more educated in critical race theory.

          Yes. I was there. I saw it. It was ugly and vicious and nasty. What I saw was a number of people who were professionals (or at least graduate students) in “Critical Race Theory” who forced the use of the narrow definition on the lay people who originally did not use the word in that manner, until to be a member of liberal land in SFF, you had to accept the dual definition.

          Those who did not adopt the new dual definition were told to shut up, go away, or (preferably) both.

          Which is why that dual definition remains highly limited in use, easily mistaken, and weaponized by those invested in “winning” the conversations.

          I am not a social justice paladin, and so it is completely outside my preview to pass any judgement on the vocabulary used there. (There are precedents for members of a group using words in ways that other people outside the group do not.)

          But unless one is going to specify before each use of a word that one is using the specific, specialized term, rather than the more commonly used definition, one can not be surprised when the listener is confused.

          Even though I know that ‘vulgar’ means ‘ordinary and common’ – in the sense of every day – it is generally accepted that if I were to call my friend’s t-shirt ‘vulgar’ I meant something neither neutral nor complementary.

          Again – the use of this word in this way, particularly with the really nasty anti-conservative agendas attached to many of those most eagerly endorsing its use, is a major barrier to communicating across ideological lines.

          It makes people angry. It makes people defensive, and it makes people shut down their end of the ‘conversation.’

          For people who want to build bridges, I ask: please stop using it like this in open dialog.

        3. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          @keranih I would like to make the counter request that when someone says, “I see that we are speaking at cross-purposes. I am using the word in this way” and that way is, in fact, legitimate, that you thank them for clarifying instead of telling them that they are wrong.

          If one is to have open dialog, it does involve listening and adapting for both parties.

          Now, when you say, “anti-conservative agenda” what do you mean?

      2. Reasonably Neutral Observer

        With due respect, this is not a sound argument. If for no other reason that if we’re going to start using professional definitions, you have to let the patent lawyers start using the professional definition of “obvious,” and nobody will like where that ends up, except the patent lawyers.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          I’m not making an argument. I’m explaining why we have two groups of people using the same word to mean different things. Both of those meanings are valid within their communities, because within those communities, everyone is using the same definition.

          When we have two communities coming together like this, there’s bound to be some misunderstandings that are simply based on using the same words to mean different things.

        2. Reasonably Neutral Observer

          In patent law, there is a principle of law usually phrased something like this:

          “The applicant may serve as his or her own lexicographer. However, if the application uses a word in a way not obvious to one of ordinary skill in the relevant art, it is incumbent upon the applicant to ensure that the usage is clear from the context of the application. Any ambiguity introduced by the nonstandard usage of a word or phrase shall be interpreted against the applicant and shall be read as narrowly as possible.”

          The reason for this is that we want patents to be clear. We don’t want to waste time arguing about what the applicant “meant.” (We do anyway, but this is the idea.) So if a word has a commonly understood meaning, it is up to you to say so, clearly, if you are using it in a different way.

          If anything, this principle is more important when discussing subjects of general interest. I understand why some people use the narrow definition of racism, and I understand what they mean by it. I also understand that all arguments are, ultimately, about definitions, and who makes the definition, wins the argument. I feel it’s perfectly reasonable to request that people using a narrower/nonstandard definition explicitly say so when they do it. I am certainly not going to argue with the idea that if you define X to be Y, and Z is not Y, then Z is not X. But that is not how one actually convinces people of anything, other than that you are being pedantically obstructionist. Which obviously I know all about.:)

        3. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          The problem is that when you are working in a community where everyone uses the same definition, then it doesn’t necessarily occur to you that it is non-standard. In your community it is. For instance, I’ve been in theater for so long that I had no idea that “proscenium” wasn’t a common use word. It is part of the natural language of my community.

          So, while in a debate I can say, “here are the terms and definitions” in real life, it doesn’t always occur to someone that they are using the same word to mean two different things.

          For me, the key is to stop as soon as you realize that you are speaking at cross-purposes and take a moment to clarify.

  12. M.A. Kropp

    I’ve been reading SFF for a very long time. (I am old and cranky, you understand.) It looks kind of sad to me to see things like this current Hugo brouhaha happening in a place I always saw as my refuge. The place I could go and find people who may not agree with me on every detail, but who accepted and even celebrated the fact the we are all different, and at the same time, the same. You are right- there are more of us than there are of them, and we should stand up and let them see that.

    As for good SFF, well, I have to recommend your books. All that I’ve read have been enjoyable. I would also recommend John Scalzi, Daniel Abraham, Timothy Zahn, among others. And one certainly can’t go wrong with the classics: Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and the like.

  13. spellproof

    I read a lot (though less for pleasure now than I used to, since I have a very heavy work-related reading load), and have been an SFF fan since I was about 10 years old. For me, it started with gifts from a family friend of The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, and continued with piles of used paperbacks that the same friend would pass on to me when he finished with them. It was a pretty random and diverse selection: the deepest impressions in those early days were made by Asimov, Zenna Henderson, A Canticle For Leibowitz, and Le Guin. Through my teen years, I continued to read a lot of SF, but really preferred fantasy, and read widely in that genre through the 80s and early-mid 90s. Over the last 20 years, I’ve continued to read some SFF (especially fantasy — I got a little obsessed with the Wheel of Time in college, and stayed with it until the bitter end), but have spent at least as much time reading classic novels and literary fiction.

    Despite this, I’ve always felt like I was on the fringes on the SFF community. Although I’ve been to cons, I never really found one that felt like “home” to me. My interests tend to be wide instead of deep, so I dip my toe into a lot of pools both inside and outside what I’d consider “traditional” geek interests: tabletop gaming, video gaming, Star Trek fandom, historical fiction, literary fiction, classical music — you get the idea. I don’t have the deep knowledge of one or two specific areas that has so often been a prerequisite for comfortable participation in con culture. (Not saying every con is like that, especially now — that’s just my experience).

    Anyway, I’ve also never been a Hugo voter for much the same reason. I didn’t feel like I had enough depth in SFF to make the best choices. But like many people, I’ve relied on lists of Hugo nominees and winners to find good stuff to read over the years. As expected, I love some of it and find some of it not to my taste. Such is life, right?

    I’ve become much more interested and motivated this year largely due to a negative reaction to what SP has done. I’m continually baffled by how many people apparently believe that if they don’t like something, no one could possibly like it on its own merits (let alone enough people to, say, select the thing they don’t like as a Hugo winner). That just doesn’t jibe with my experience of the world. I love stuff that lots of other people either hate or are indifferent to. I hate or am indifferent to lots of stuff that other people love. It never surprises me when stuff that makes me go “meh” or “eww” becomes wildly popular; similarly, I am never surprised when stuff that I am super enthusiastic about gets negative reactions from others. There’s no accounting for taste, mine or anyone else’s. There’s no need to posit “conspiracy” or any kind of planned, systematic exclusion of anyone from the Hugos (or any other popularity contest); the simplest explanation by far is just that different people like different things.

    Anyway, this is too long. But I’m someone who’s a longtime fan, who has nevertheless always felt like I’m on the fringes of the community for a variety of reasons. This controversy makes me want to stand up and be counted, though — and I probably will.

    1. Alvaro G

      spellproof, I think this issue is not as straightforward as some people being angry that the book they liked didn’t get an award. It has its roots in a whole section of the fandom not feeling accepted as part of the community for political and ideological reasons.

      1. spellproof

        I am sure that is true of some people. But I’ve seen enough SP-friendly blog posts and comments in recent days to make it clear that this isn’t just about some people feeling like they’re not welcome at the party. There are many who really do seem to find it inconceivable that works they hate or see no value in could in fact be enjoyed and/or beloved by a whole lot of people. Hence the cries of conspiracy.

        The criteria that any individual voter uses to determine merit are wholly subjective. And we’re all welcome to express our opinions, which may or may not sway others. Some people do that in extremely strong terms, to the point of abandoning civility. I think that’s unfortunate, but also not something that is likely to change (on either side). It’s not as if there’s some person or secret cabal that gives all of the so-called “SJWs” their marching orders, which they unquestioningly obey. Calls for civility are grand, and I’m glad to see people like MRK and GRRM doing that. But individuals ultimately make their own decisions about how to behave, and it would be naive to think that the nastiness, whatever its source, can simply be eliminated if prominent voices say it should be.

        1. Alvaro G

          I can’t speak for anybody else, but I sympathize with the SPs because I feel that the atmosphere in fandom is turning poisonous for those who do not have the right beliefs or do not toe the arbitrary ideological line that SJWs want to impose on all of us. I have seen public figures bullied viciously in view of all, and not be defended by anyone, because who wants to be called racist or sexist? I have noticed that in some conversations I need to remain silent because I don’t want to be attacked. And I’m fed up with it. It’s not right.

          I have nothing against women, LGBT or people of color. On the contrary, I think diversity is a good thing and that it enriches us all.

        2. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          Can you help me out? Because I’ve seen a couple of people say this, and I don’t actually know what they mean. When you say, “the right beliefs or do not toe the arbitrary ideological line that SJWs want to impose on all of us,” can you tell me what those beliefs and the ideological line seem to be to you?

  14. Hilary B. Bisenieks


    I just wanted to thank you for this. I grew up following my parents to WorldCons all over the US, and the Hugo ballot was never something taken lightly by either my mother or my father, who only nominated and voted in categories where they felt qualified to select what they thought best represented the genre.

    Although my dad isn’t ahead of the curve as much these days, he still looks to the Hugo results to find out which authors he should keep an eye out for, and I think that providing these voting memberships to those who might otherwise think themselves excluded from the fandom in some way will be a boon, even if it’s been brought about by some—difficulties.

  15. Alvaro G

    I understand what you say and sympathize completely. Women, like everybody, must be able to go to a convention and enjoy themselves celebrating the hobby with like-minded people without fearing that they are going to be harassed in any way.

    When you denounced this problem, you were met with a lot of skepticism. People saying: no, that cannot possibly be going on, I would have noticed. But the ones who notice are the victims. Feminists fought against that and rightly so. And it was difficult and it took a lot of campaigning for you to change things. To achieve that, and other objectives, you used many weapons, but some of those weapons are very dangerous and need to be used with extreme care.

    For example, one of those weapons is the ability to form outraged mobs on social networks against an enemy, and get positive (for you) coverage from the media. I’m not saying that this weapon should never be used. It’s extremely powerful, but some objectives are important that they may warrant it. However, it is in everybody’s interest that this weapon be used with a lot of restraint and responsibility, and only when strictly necessary and never against people who don’t truly deserve it, because of two reasons:
    1) Because it’s the decent thing to do.
    2) From a colder point of view, because it’s counterproductive. It’s like the child who cried wolf. When people see that power being used unfairly it creates a great sense of injustice. You make enemies of people who should not be your enemies.

    An example of this being used irresponsible was the whole Jonathan Ross fiasco last year. A completely innocent person was lynched and driven away by an angry mob, for no good reason at all. A well-known writer called Seanan McGuire said that she would not feel safe at the Hugo ceremony if Ross was there. That’s a particularly terrible thing to say about someone. It means that Ross is not fit for human company and that he should be kept away like an animal. And she publicly said this, of a person she did not know, for absolutely no good reason. A huge outraged mob formed on social media (because outrage is also used as a weapon) and Ross was lynched and had to run away. People who knew who he was were saying, “but this does not make any sense, why wouldn’t someone feel safe around Jonathan Ross?”. He’s a charming person and a great host, and would have attracted positive media attention in London and made sure everyone had a great time. Later, when asked, McGuire said that she did not need a good reason because she was talking about her feelings.

    Likewise, another weapon that is used is language. Racist and misogynistic or sexist are such loaded words that they are weapons. But when they are used indiscriminately against people just because they disagree about something, again, it’s indecent, and although in the short term it may get things done, in the long term people are saying, “These words no longer mean anything. They are just political weapons to be used against me.” Again, you make enemies of people who should not be your enemies. The same goes for words like “mansplain” or “check your privilege”. They get things done. They are like an automatic “I win this argument” card. From the moment they are said, the other person can only leave quietly, because anything he may say will mean that he is sexist. His opinion is worthless. But again, they make an enemy of someone who quite possibly should not be an enemy. They are a particularly nasty way of fighting against racism, focusing not on celebrating diversity but in subduing those who are white and male. True, sometimes we do not get it, just like you probably find it difficult to understand that we may feel this way. But explaining something in a reasonable manner is so much more better. Look at how GRRM is talking about this, even though he does not share at all the SP’s position. With someone like that you can talk, and see his point of view and hopefully help him understand yours a little, too. With someone who says we are a bunch of racists who want to keep women and homosexuals and people of color out of SF it’s difficult to talk (unless they are saying this just because they have been misinformed). And the thing is that we no longer care that we are called racists or whatever, because we know who we are and we do not need validation, particularly from people who are behaving that way.

    The only way we will be able to go forward is that we learn to respect each other and understand that we may see some things different but it does not mean that the other side must be (figuratively) beaten into submission and made quiet.

    Another unsavory example was what happened with Resnick and Malzberg at the SFWA. They are two old writers who had a column in the SFWA magazine in which they had conversations about their memories of the business and conventions of years past. I understand that the subject may not be of much interest for many people, particularly younger ones. For others, even younger ones, the history of fandom is interesting. They can be substituted if they are not relevant enough for the purposes of the magazine. What they can’t be (should not be) is unfairly lynched. The thing is that in one of those they referred to a female editor as “lady editor” and said something complimentary about her appearance, like being beautiful and a “knock out” or something. Now, “lady editor” is not a way I would refer to a female editor, but it is just old fashioned, not sexist. Same thing about being a “knock out”. I would mention that if it were relevant, but I would just use beautiful, or good-looking. But these are two old people speaking. They had no sexist intention at all. One has to understand that. They were not the patriarchy out to oppress anyone, they are just two old writers sharing memories. Their use of language is a bit different. But it is sexist only from a doctrinal and totalitarian point of view, devoid of empathy. If you must, a polite email explaining that you know they had no intention to offend anyone, but that the use of the language is changing somewhat and some people may interpret lady editor as a bit condescending would probably have gone a long way. Instead, the atmosphere was so charged that they had to be lynched. When they reacted to defend themselves of the insults they were lynched some more. The newspapers said “sexism in the SFWA!”. Finally they were driven away.

    People talk about microaggressions, and then join a campaign on Twitter to mock Baen, on account of their committing the crime of organizing a short story contest. Look, I’m not saying you can’t make jokes, but under a constant atmosphere of persecution some things come across as mean spirited.

    When Larry Correia was nominated for an award people actually organized themselves online to tell each other that he had to be voted below no award, because he had been active in conservative politics. And no one said that this is not right.

    Really, it is no way to treat people. It makes us feel that there is a war against us. Everybody needs to treat you with respect, but you have to understand that not everybody needs to toe the land to every bit of your ideology. Yours is a valuable voice, but it’s not the only one. Choose your battles. Persuade. Listen to other people too. Understand that not everybody will change their mind whenever you would like, and that it’s OK. There’s no need to metaphorically suppress those people. Don’t run ever people. You do not have 100% possession of the truth. Reasonable people may not disagree about discrimination, but they may disagree about positive discrimination.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts on this.

      If I may… Since we are speaking of language, I’d like to request that you not use the lynching metaphor, since it is a very loaded term with a lot of negative history.

      Second — With the Resnick and Malzberg column, the problem was not that they said “lady editors.” It was that when people said, “I find this offensive” they then called those people “fascists.”

      Pretty much everyone understands that unintentional sexism/racism/ageism happen. The thing is that an act of sexism causes damage whether it is unwitting or intentional. And someone doubles-down, it becomes intentional.

      When Larry Correia was nominated for an award people actually organized themselves online to tell each other that he had to be voted below no award, because he had been active in conservative politics.

      I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed. The problem was not Larry’s politics, because there were other people on the ballot with similar politics that year. The problem was that he had subverted a seventy-five year old process by creating a slate and creating it with works that were designed to “to poke the establishment in the eye.” It was the stated intention to try to break the Hugos that got everyone upset.

      1. Alvaro G

        The problem is that if I do not use the term lynching I have to use a longer sentence describing it, and that gets tiring when you have to say it several times. I will not use it here, though, since you requested it.

        So people told them politely and they started shouting fascists? Somehow I find that difficult to believe.

        No, I have not been misinformed. I was not referring to his Hugo nomination, but to his earlier Campbell nomination, which is what planted the seed that ended up starting this whole thing.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          So people told them politely and they started shouting fascists? Somehow I find that difficult to believe.

          Yes. It’s all in print, if you’d like to read it.

          No, I have not been misinformed. I was not referring to his Hugo nomination, but to his earlier Campbell nomination, which is what planted the seed that ended up starting this whole thing.

          Ah. I misunderstood. My problem is that I never heard a peep about his politics, and if anyone is socially connected, it’s me. Can you point me to one of these posts so I can get some context?

  16. CathyFowl

    I really wish, at times like these, that I wasn’t stuck in a small Central European country and could do something too.
    Unfortunately I’m not even sure if I would be eligible to become a supporting member at all. (Seeing that I would not be able to travel to the US anyway…)

    I’m starting to be really displeased with being just a passive observer. Any advice as to how I could help this cause would be much appreciated.

    (P.S: English isn’t my first language so I apologize if my phrasing is weird or plain wrong.)

    1. Alvaro G

      English is not my first language either. Cathy, and you write perfectly.

      Supporting members do not have to travel, because they do not attend the WorldCon. They just receive information and the pack with a lot of reading material (many nominees give permission for this, so that people may judge them when voting. Most of the short fiction will be there, and probably some complete novels.)

  17. ZeeWulf

    As a sad puppy supporter. ..involving more people and having the greater conversation while putting forward a diverse set of works is pretty much what the majority of us want.

    1. Chris Tierney

      ZeeWulf, I believe you.

      If you don’t mind, may I explain my perspective and see if it makes sense to you?

      For me, the public actions of two people are overshadowing the whole thing.

      Larry Correia: My impression (which may be wrong but which is based on things he’s written) is that he did SP 1 & 2 to make people mad and/or to prove some point about the Hugos by getting nominated and then losing. He’s still heavily involved this year even though Brad took the leading role. So even though the stated aim of the campaign has changed, it still has the same name and still involves the original guy who started it with a different goal than you and Brad are expressing. Larry also specifically reached out to GamerGate to tell them about the campaign this year, which I think was doing a huge disservice to Brad and people like you, because it makes it march harder to take seriously the idea that the campaign is not still about riling people up.

      Vox Day: Because there is so much overlap between his slate and Brad’s, it’s impossible to tell how many of the nominations came from people like you, acting in good faith, and how many came from people like him. The fact that the RP slate seems to have done better overall than SP makes it more likely that it’s mostly his supporters, in fact. And he has made it very clear that he just wants to watch the world(con) burn. I freely stipulate that no one has any control over what he does and it probably feels unfair to have people associate his actions with SP, but he can’t just be ignored.

      So, even though I believe that you and many others are acting in good faith here, I’m really skeptical about the motives of some other nominators. And I think a lot of people who feel the way I do are trying to work out a way to stop the bad actors from messing things up for everybody, without hurting people like you who just want to see works you love have a fair chance.

      Does that make sense? Do you understand where I’m coming from? Thanks for reading.

      1. viktor

        “Larry also specifically reached out to GamerGate to tell them about the campaign this year”. Please provide a link wherein Larry does that.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          I’m going to provide the link with the goal of helping you understand my perspective. I am not interested in either of us proving anything, but just explaining how things look, okay?

          Larry asked for links of SJW attacks for a reporter. That reporter was Milo Yiannopoulous, who is a prominent figure in GamerGate. Knowing the history of the GamerGate movement and what happens when Mr. Yiannopoulous posts, it is hard to look at that as anything except an attempt to bring specific people to the attention of GamerGate.

        2. viktor

          I see where you are coming from, but I disagree.

          Larry contacts a Breitbart reporter. This reporter is interested. Larry provides info to the reporter. The reporter previously had exposed some Gamergate shenanigans .

          This is “reaching out to Gamergate”? I call it “offering a story to a sympathetic outlet”.

          Yeah, I suspect that that Venn diagram has a lot of overlap, but I think Larry is reasonably in the clear on this one.

  18. Galen Strickland

    Why couldn’t this have happened *before* I paid for my supporting membership? 🙂 It’s not like it was in my budget, since I’m on fixed income, but I didn’t want this year to go by without my input.

  19. Will McLean

    This a generous offer from you and your anonymous donors. But particularly you, since you are declining a potential future nomination.

    Thank you for this.

  20. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

    I want to thank everyone who has been participating. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten zero writing done the past three days and really need to, so for my own health, I’m going to close comments tonight when I go to bed and leave them closed. Again, thank you.

    (The application for supporting memberships will remain open until midnight Central time on April 17th. At which point, there will be a random drawing.)

  21. Reziac

    Mary, I want to thank you for your kind generosity, and I hope that everyone who participates will do so with an eye to voting fairly for the works, not as dictated by agenda.

    And likewise, should any SPs offer the same generosity for less-fortunate fans, I hope that no one will accuse anyone of trying to buy votes — on either side of the controversy. I don’t believe that was your intent, nor would it be theirs.

%d bloggers like this: