Just when I thought I was done with the Hugo Awards and with all this year’s drama and trauma, I ended up reading Looking Forward on Looking Backwards at the Hugo Book Club Blog co-authored by Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne. I don’t know which one of them I talk to on twitter, but they seem like pretty good people.
Anyway, the blog post focused on the Retro Hugos, which are sort of “lifetime achievement awards” for science fiction and fantasy authors who were active before the Hugo awards existed. Being an “older fellow,” I’ve read more than a few in my day, plus a lot of old school Hugo Award Winners. That is, science fiction Hugo winners before the Hugos (in my personal opinion) became less about the quality of a story and more about the “wokeness” of the tale and the writer (both being a necessity these days it seems).
To quote their blog in part:
Because they are voted on primarily by people who were born decades after the original publication dates, the Retro Hugos are less likely to recognize work that has not been reprinted. This means that the average Retro Hugo voter inevitably experiences the works they’re voting on through a filter created by the intervening generations. Other than Erle Korshak, Cora Buhlert, and Gideon Marcus, we’d be hard-pressed to name a Hugo voter who is likely to have read a 1945-era pulp magazine cover-to-cover and experienced the works in something like their original context.
Besides the fact that people like John W. Campbell and H.P Lovecraft come with pretty abysmal pasts, there’s this. Also, the Hugo voting system narrows the field of people who can nominate and vote even further. On top of all that, if you believe fantasy writer Jeannette Ng and her cohorts (she still hasn’t blocked me on twitter yet, but that could change at any moment), which I recorded HERE, even going back to stories written forty, thirty, or a mere twenty years ago, there was such a serious lack of “wokeness” in those writers and their tales that they just aren’t worth reading.
This is the moral equivalent of burning history books or whole libraries, and tearing down statues and entire museums. If the objective history of the development of science fiction and fantasy writing doesn’t dovetail into current sensibilities, we’ll just denounce the writers and then ignore their works (yes the cancel culture does exist).
“Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana
But classics such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s novel 1984 tell us so much about the world we live in right now. Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reading. I mean, some works are classics for a reason.
And even if they’re not, they sure can be a lot of fun.
I’ve been trying to get through the E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series, mainly because I didn’t read it when all of my friends were back in Junior High. I figured I owed it to myself, especially since so many other, subsequent SciFi novels cite it. I made it through Triplanetary and First Lensman, but it was a real struggle. Even novels Smith wrote in the 1950s still read like they were written in the 1930s. Man, it’s a slog. I’ve got to get back to it at some point since, after all, Smith pretty much invented the space opera. I read them for the sense of history they impart, but yeah, sometimes old is just old.
But going back to the books I’ve read which either won a Hugo or were nominated, there are some I will always return to. I will always re-read 1966 winner Dune by Frank Herbert. I really need to get back to 1968 winner Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. I can only read 1970 winner The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin every so often, basically because Le Guin’s writing is the equivalent of trying to walk under Jupiter’s gravity. It takes a lot of effort.
1970 nominee Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut was his anti-war novel based on his own experiences as a soldier in World War Two, and I hope it’s required reading somewhere.
How can anyone live and not read and re-read 1971 winner Ringworld by Larry Niven?
In 1972, the year I graduated High School, Philip Jose Farmer rightfully won the Hugo for To Your Scattered Bodies Go, although Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and Roger Zelazney’s Jack of Shadows were and are fabulous in their own right.
Okay, obviously, none of these need a “retro” Hugo since they are authentic winners or nominees, but the people voting for the Hugos today, probably weren’t even born when those books first saw the light of day. Even if they became aware of them, would they spend the time reading them? My guess is not. That’s their loss in my humble opinion.
But they are so much fun, so interesting, so edifying in many ways.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Dismiss the past at your own peril. Who knows? Reading something you would ordinarily pass on might end up being a rewarding experience. At least you could try. After all, I purposefully read The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I can’t say I’m a big fan of any of those books, but I did get something out of each of them I wouldn’t have otherwise.
In a similar vein, I went to Cora Buhlert’s blog and read Reactions to the 2020 Dragon Awards Finalists or the Sound of Puppies Crying. The title alone made me cringe, and I was prepared for yet another onslaught against the puppies. I mean, it’s been five years. Can we give it a rest now?
I admit, TLDR. I did scan most of it, but Cora’s final paragraphs summed things up nicely:
So in short, there is no conspiracy. Just the award becoming better known, which is a good thing, for the Dragon Awards, Dragon Con and also for the early winners and finalists, because having won/been shortlisted for a respected award is certainly better than having won/been shortlisted for a failed experiment.
Would we still be talking about They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, if it hadn’t won the second ever Hugo for Best Novel? Even if no one has anything good to say about that book and it’s generally regarded as the worst Hugo winner of all time, at least we’re still talking about it.
Which is probably why two other previous Dragon Award winners from the sad puppy camp, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, actually seem to be pretty satisfied with this year’s Dragon Award ballot (which apparently they’ve been telling the world on Facebook, where I can’t see it), even though I suspect that many of the finalists are no more to their tastes than they are to Niemeier’s or Finn’s. However, they know that as the Dragon Award becomes better known and gains more respect, it also positively reflects on their careers.
I’m keeping comments open for now, but if there’s trolling, I will shut them down.
There are probably times when Cora and I don’t agree, but she is always considerate, a stellar researcher, and willing to let an old conservative like me follow her on twitter. She even interacts with me, although I must say the photos of her lunches makes her food look way more attractive than when I do the cooking.
All kidding aside, she’s about a thousand times more gracious in her comments and opinions than I am.
Her blog post only tangentially touches on the Hugos, since she is addressing the Dragon Awards. For those of you who don’t know, anyone can nominate and vote in the Dragons. It also is administered by people who are somewhat more socially and politically conservative than the current caretakers of the Hugos and Nebulas. That’s drawn some ire, along with a few missteps in the early years of the Dragons.
I even voted myself for the past two years, if you can believe it.
Long story short, there is an infinite number of chairs at the table for science fiction writers and their stories, those from the musty halls of the distant past and those who are just cutting their teeth on the craft today. Also, if you really do support diversity, then all manner of writers should be welcome. Yes, let’s stop short of inviting members of white supremacist groups, middle-eastern terrorists, and pedophiles from joining in, but who cares what your political party is, or what social causes you otherwise support? Who cares what your gender identity is or your sexual orientation? Who cares what your religion is or if you’re religious at all? I sure don’t.
A widely varied background of authors will produce a widely varied collection of stories, which is bound to be interesting. Yes, not each and every one will be my cup of tea or yours, but I’ll still be glad all of them are out there because all of those missives will speak to someone who wants or needs to read them.
I really don’t give a rip what the Hugo awards do or don’t do. Yes, back in the day, I’d choose to buy a book because the banner across the top said it was an award winner. That meant it had to be good, right? Well, maybe once upon a time it did.
Oh, I almost forgot. All of this angst over what John W. Campbell, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, H.P Lovecraft, and a bunch of other folks said or did…I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t understand not only why it was never important to me when I was reading them (okay, Campbell was an editor), but why I’d never heard about all this “stuff” before the last year or so (as far as Lovecraft is concerned, I only found out a few weeks ago).
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as the internet, and there wouldn’t be for decades. In other words, there was no quick and easy way in the comfort of your own home, to find out about these people. I just bought a book and read it. It had someone’s name on the cover. If I liked the book, I would probably buy more of them written by the same person. Simple as that. It never even occurred to me to consider what the authors were like as people. I didn’t care. I read stories because I liked them, not because the writer fit some sort of preconceived pedigree.
But these kids (and in my mind, that’s probably anybody under 40 these days) or most of them, have never known a world without the internet, or at least have never been without it in their adult lives. You can look up anything about anyone famous enough to have their biography recorded somewhere. Somehow, that means a story is good or it isn’t, not because of the quality of the writing, but the political and social views of the author. It’s like accepting only the “cool kids” into your high school clique, and when I was in high school, I was never cool.
That’s what I’ve been missing; easy access to the litany of sins of various authors, available at the touch of my fingertips. That’s why I have such a hard time understanding Jeannette Ng and her contemporaries when they fret and fume over the crimes of this editor and that author. From my point of view, unless the issue is extreme (such as Marion Zimmer Bradley who I will refuse to read forever), it won’t take away from my reading enjoyment. Really, Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis were jerks in real life, but I loved their movies when I was a kid.
I mean, Larry Niven and I absolutely agree on just about nothing, but Ringworld is still amazing.
For more on this topic, read Lovecraft Country, Tarzan of the Apes, and What is and isn’t Racism.