Thursday, April 05, 2007

Oprah has better taste than Fandom, or the insatiable desire to be persecuted

The Hugo nominees are out.

Believe it or not, the nominees aren’t that embarrassing this year. There are notable omissions to, particularly, the best novel list, but none of the nominees are laughable choices. The nominees, in the unlikely case that you’ve just returned from sabbatical, are:

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

-Blindsight by Peter Watts

-Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

-Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon) by Naomi Novik

-Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

While I voted for two of the five nominees, there are two prominent novels that were snubbed by this year’s balloters.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was the best fantasy novel released in 2006. If every fan with nominating power had read it, each and every one would have nominated it. At this point I believe it’s just a matter of getting the word out on Lynch’s groundbreaking new series. (Look for a review of the second installment of the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence, Red Seas Under Red Skies later this week.)

The other neglected heavyweight of 2006 was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. And what should be more embarrassing to fandom than snubbing this masterpiece is the fact that media diva Oprah Winfrey has just announced that The Road is the next selection for the bestseller begetter, Oprah’s Book Club.


Shame on you, fandom.

(And hey, aren’t you glad you listened when I told you to pick up The Road first edition? Oprah’s going to make the prices soar... )

Once again, I have little opinion on the short fiction of 2006. I have not read enough to make an educated decision, and an informed vote is the only sort worth making.

There are a couple of gems in the related books category, the awe-inspiring John Picacio art book and Julie Phillips’ splendid treatise on James Tiptree Jr. I’ll probably share my thoughts on the other categories at some later time.

But I wanted to get to the infuriating conjured outrage that is circulating on the live journals of some SF fans with an overwhelming need to find something to be offended over.

This years Hugo’s are sexist and racist.

At least that’s what’s being said.

It appears someone (many people) have gone through the fiction nominees and realized that there is only one female nominee, and despite Worldcon taking place in Japan, there are no Japanese authors on the ballot. And of course, the inevitable conclusion has been reached that this must be due to institutional prejudices.

Because, it could not be possible that in this particular year, there were no works from female or Japanese authors that truly struck a chord with fandom. No, there is an ‘old boys’ skiffy club’ which has decided we’ve had enough female and minority winners for a while.

I believe quite strongly that taking a writer’s sex into consideration when nominating a work is sexist, whether it be against woman or man. I believe quite strongly that taking a writer’s race into consideration when nominating a work is racist, regardless of ancestry. Furthermore, I believe that the work is what matters, not the genitalia or culture of the author. It is completely alien to me to look at a work of art and consider the sex, race, or religion of the artist. And I am having a hard time discerning just how people can view things in this manner and then purport to be against discrimination on the basis of sex or race.

Science Fiction fandom is not a collective with any sort of nimiety of prejudice. It very well may have been at one point, but we’re talking about a conglomerate that awarded the Nebula for best novel to a homosexual African American from Harlem long before the death of Martin Luther King. We’re talking about a genre that has been on the cutting edge of feminist fiction for decades. And that same feminist fiction has won a slew of Hugo’s and Nebula’s.

If one wants to argue the quality of the nominees based upon literary and genre merit, I’ll be the first to sit down, listen, consider, and express my own feelings. I could literally do this for days. But to argue which works belong on a list solely on the existence or absence of dangly bits in the respective author’s nether regions or the geography of an author’s forbears is prejudice of the highest order, and demeans SF fandom a hell of a lot more than leaving 100 works of the same quality as The Road off the ballot ever could.

For the Hugo award to have any value whatsoever, it must be awarded to the best work of the year in it's respective category.

Regardless of any other consideration.

William Lexner

P.S. Vote For Blindsight.

Comments on "Oprah has better taste than Fandom, or the insatiable desire to be persecuted"


Blogger Greyweather said ... (7:28 PM) : 

This comment has been removed by the author.


Blogger Greyweather said ... (7:31 PM) : 

"Once again, I have little opinion on the short fiction of 2006. I have not read enough to make an educated decision, and an informed vote is the only sort worth making."

Almost all of the short fiction as available online now actually (all but one novella and one short story).


Blogger William Lexner said ... (7:07 AM) : 


I apologize if I did not make myself clear.

There is so much short fiction published every year that I am unable to read a significant percentage of it. As such, I do not believe myself to be a sufficient judge of what ought to be considered the best. So rather than vote in a category where I have insufficient information, I refuse to nominate.

Now that there are short fiction nominees I will read them all and make a decision based upon the nominee list, but that is hardy sufficient to say it's the best of the best, merely the best of the list.

At the same time, I believe I read enough novels to form an educated opinion.


Blogger Unknown said ... (11:35 AM) : 

Interesting post, William, as I agree with most of your points. But there's this one wee little comment with which I have to take some issue - the one on the sexism/racism.

Maybe it's due to having taken classes on the subject or having lived for a while in an area where I was an ethnic minority, but people are going to take race and gender into account for a helluva lot of things, even unintentionally.

I disagree with the implications of your statements on people taking race/gender into consideration when reading a work. I do that all the time, just as I do when I take male authors of various backgrounds into account. It allows me to consider possible subtleties that might not be visible if everything were whitewashed.

But that certainly does not mean that I'm going to laud an author just because he/she is of a "minority group." No, that I can agree is a form of discrimination. I just wouldn't go so far as stating that one can read all these diverse works in the same fashion.

Doesn't happen. And thank God for that, as otherwise I would have become bored with fiction a long time ago!

Other than that, I do agree with what you said in the post.


Blogger William Lexner said ... (2:14 PM) : 

Those are the works the fans voted for. And I don't believe that people vote for a work based on genitalia.

If forced to consider it, and I honestly had not in those terms, I'd have to say there were significantly more very-good to great works by male authors than female authors in SF/F this year. (Again, I am speaking novels.) I don't know why that is.

But I certainly don't feel guilty for the fact.

As I've stated elsewhere, if you want a female only Hugo ballot, I'd be happy to vote that way...

Just provide five superior works from female authors. This year we did not have that. Not even close.


Blogger William Lexner said ... (2:17 PM) : 


That last post was in response to someone who was attacking this same subject on my 'Best Books of the Millenium' posting.

To which I just shake my head.

It must be a pretty shitty world to live in, seeing prejudice in everything.


Blogger Redag said ... (2:19 PM) : 

Another voice here in support of taking all information about an author into account when assessing their work. We never gain from blindness, especially when that blindness (claiming to be race and gender blind in cognitive decisions) is undermined by the fact that our decision-making process is not perfectly transparent to ourselves.

This is not to say that I necessarily believe the Hugo nominating process is adding a layer of discrimination against women to the awards process. It is possible that many of the factors resulting in the discrepancy originate in deeper societal issues. But the numbers are persuasive that women are under-represented in the awards.

There's a lot of anxiety about race and gender discrimination issues, and the idea that you can achieve blindness to these factors is an appealing way of not having to grapple with that tension, but it removes genuine analytical tools, and skews results.


Blogger William Lexner said ... (2:27 PM) : 

Are you serious?

So not only are you saying that this process *is* sexist, you are also saying that I am sexist. And racist.

I just don't know it on a conscious level.

I reject your theories as folly, and I don't care how many angry books you've read on this subject or what theory you subscribe to; your belief that no one can be color or sex blind is nothing but an admission that you are a sexist and a racist, and that you can not contemplate that someone else could possibly not be.


Blogger Redag said ... (7:58 PM) : 

That we have profound areas of our decision making process that are not rational is pretty much settled. So yes, I do not believe we always know our motives when we take action. That said, I am emphatically _not_ stating your Hugo choices are influenced by gender or race. In fact, my message indicates some skepticism if there was a major layer of such bias in the Hugo nominations themselves, or if the results were largely determined by prior layers of gender-linked effects.

I do believe we all partially instantiate the race and gender biases of our culture. Or, at the least, that if left unexamined there is a tendency to drift in that direction.

This effect is not the functional or moral equivalent of being a doctrinal adherent of racism or misogyny.

Race and gender issues remain with us primarily because people are convinced that the open and dogmatic practice of prejudice is the only way a society can oppress women and minorities.

As for myself, I would have knocked off the Novik and put the Bakker in, on the novel list.


Blogger Unknown said ... (8:25 PM) : 

I see where you're coming from here, William, and like I said above, I basically agree. But if we were to do such a thing as an all-female ballot (not something that I would care to see done, to be honest), which ones could even be contenders?

Catherynne Valente's The Orphan's Tale: In the Night Garden would almost have to be a candidate there, I would imagine. But yet she is little known outside of a few circles.

Kelly Link would be ineligible for this year's, obviously. Le Guin hasn't released one in a few years. Sarah Monette probably wouldn't get the support, so... is rather difficult to think of five women writing currently that would be eligible and ought to be considered for these awards. Maybe someone can think of a few more?


Blogger William Lexner said ... (9:47 PM) : 


I was out of line with you and apologize. Since this argument began I have been accused of much and more, and I have become overly emotional and defensive.

That is no problem of yours, and I was wrong. I'm sorry.


LeGuin did release a book this year, the second in a series called Voices.

It's bad, IMO, and the lack of quality is probably why you have not heard of it.

I believe LeGuin is facing the same thing that happened to Heinlein. She's simply lost focus and her work is suffering greatly.

Kelly Link is a top three short story writer working in genre today. It is impossible for me to judge between her and Chiang and Ford. But she can't win enough Hugo's in my opinion.

I think Monette is a decent fantasist, no more. I really did appreciate Novik's work. I think more attention should be brought to it, because it is exactly the type of work that brings new fans into genre. I do not think it should win this year, but I am glad it was nominated.

I love the work of Margo Lanagan, Tamora Pierce, earlier Jacqueline Carey, Robin Hobb, KJ Bishop, Bujold's Chalion work, Patricia McKillip, and a slew of other female authors I could spend all night trying to list.

Bakker certainly deserves a nomination. I blame his publisher for his lack of exposure.


Blogger Ed S. said ... (12:59 AM) : 

Actually I'd blame Bakker himself for his lack of exposure. I've seen many of the other Canadian authors trooping through my local bookstores - Robert J. Sawyer is coming around again this month - but not the slightest sign of Bakker. As far as I know he doesn't have a blog like Peter Watts and others. etc. etc. Maybe someone can contradict me here but my impression is that he has deliberately isolated himself and it's hardly surprising that when names are being written on nomination ballots nobody can remember his.


Blogger Mailyn said ... (8:04 PM) : 

I agree entirely on Locke Lamora. Can't believe it didn't make the cut! I just talked about it today on our Fantasy review blog:

P.S. Great site!


Blogger Redag said ... (10:22 PM) : 

Absolutely NOBODY out-whores Robert Sawyer, so I don't think that's a useful metric to compare Bakker against. That said, Bakker's site is nice, but it could use an update.


Blogger Patrick said ... (6:38 PM) : 

Well, I got to defend my man Bakker on this!

As for Penguin Books Canada, Scott is getting absolutely no exposure from them. Most of you know that I've been pimping Bakker ever since I've read his work, yet I was never able to get Penguin to supply books for a giveaway. For the record, I'm still waiting to receive my THE THOUSANDFOLD THOUGHT from them! In terms of giving The Prince of Nothing the publicity and exposure that series deserves, Penguin's publicity department has failed on ever single level.

And don't you go blaming The Overlook Press and Orbit. Both publishers have done a lot to promote Scott. But Overlook is a small publishing house, and they don't have the resources of publishers like Del Rey Books and Bantam Dell. Still, they've worked with me and others to raise awareness in Scott's books.

As for Scott himself maintaining a blog, how would that help him sell more books? I'd rather get my hands on THE GREAT ORDEAL sooner than to hear the story about what happened to him on the way to the grocery store.

As for doing in-store appearances and other such things, I don't think Bakker possesses the financial means to self-promote himself in such a way.

Though I absolutely love Bakker's novels, I don't believe he is accessible to most mainstream audiences. Which is habitually something that helps you get nominated for those awards. I agree that it's a travesty that his name is not on the ballot.

That being said, I'm just happy that Bujold's name isn't on the ballot this year!;-) Too bad for both Lynch and Bakker, but they probably won't lose any sleep. And as long as they write outstanding works of fantasy that readers enjoy, I'm persuaded that not being nominated for a Hugo will be the farthest thing from their minds!

My two cents!


Blogger William Lexner said ... (12:24 AM) : 

Hey Pat,

I have to disagree about Overlook. I think they are destroying Bakker's chances of being a hit here in the States.

Because they REFUSE to release a mass market paperback. And paperbacks are how you attract NEW readers in LARGE amounts. They ought to sell the rights if they don't want to do it themselves. And they ought to sell the rights ASAP.


Blogger Patrick said ... (6:02 PM) : 


I've inquired about this, but I have yet to receive an answer from Overlook.

I think that, like Pyr, Overlook probably don't have the resources to publish mass market paperback editions of Bakker's novels. And I don't believe any other publisher would be interested in buying the rights to publish someone who is not quite a midlist author in terms of sales, especially if they only get the mass market release rights.

I could be wrong here, but it looks as though Scott is caught in a literary viscious circle. I agree with you 100% that a paperback version of The Prince of Nothing would help matters considerably and give Bakker a lot more exposure. Yet the profit margin associated with such a mass market release is probably not worth the investment for Overlook.

Potential readers can always buy them from But Scott needs paperbacks on the shelves of American bookstores.

Another problem, I believe, could be the fact that both the Canadian and American rights were sold. It would likely have made things easier if the North American rights had been sold to a single publisher.

Oh well...


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