I’ve hesitated to wade into this mess. Not because I’m particularly cowardly, but because so many thoughtful people with far more stature in the field then me have very eloquently spoken out about the Hugos and the slate. I’m speaking of course about George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis. Here’s what I thought I could add to the discussion.
Brad Torgersen who is one of the Sad Puppies wrote the following on his webpage —
“A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.
These days, you can’t be sure.
The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?
There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?
A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.
Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.
Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.
Do you see what I am trying to say here?”
Torgersen presents these alternative stories as if they are a bad thing. I don’t agree. The world has changed. People have different expectations about what is normal or accepted, and the rules have changed which means while the traditional has its place it’s not the only place where we all have to live.
We inhabit an amazing world where technology has advanced to the point that I can have a real time conversation with a person on the other side of the planet. A person whose race and culture and gender are vastly different from mine. Where in the words of Carl Sagen we are all living on a “small blue dot”, “…a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Yet we’re all the same species with the same drives and loves and passions. These are the things that bind us together. Why we have told stories around campfires for thousands of years, familiar stories of love and loss, bravery and heroism, themes that cross every culture and transcend our differences.
While the underlying themes may be the same the solutions to these themes can differ and that’s wonderful. It would be such a boring world if there was only chocolate ice cream or just vanilla ice cream. How much better to have Spumoni, and raspberry, tutti frutti, butter pecan….
Science fiction is now a world wide source of entertainment from our movies to our TV shows. Shouldn’t our prose also try to reflect this wonderful kaleidoscope of human diversity? In fact prose is probably the best place to present this fascinating dance of differing outlooks and beliefs, to speak to and hear from people who aren’t just like us.
I think it deepens and enriches our genre when we have women, and people of color and the LGBT community, and different religions or no religions discussed and explored.
Over the years I’ve had people ask “what do you do?” and when I tell them I’m a writer their initial reaction is “oh cool”. Then they ask what I write and when I say science fiction the reaction becomes “Oh, that’s kid stuff. I don’t read science fiction.” By broadening our field to include this rich symphony of different voices I think science fiction has graduated from being that “Buck Rogers, kid stuff” into a genre which is perfectly positioned to discuss big issues and the deepest human motivations in really interesting ways.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for some good old fashioned buckle and swash, but that shouldn’t be the entirety of our field. Let’s not eat just vanilla ice cream or sing one kind of song. Let’s explore all of the wonder that the minds of humans can imagine. I see no evidence that the buckle and swash is being forced out in favor of a more diverse fiction. The pie is getting bigger not smaller. More books are being published. More voices are being heard. Today readers have an expansive feast to be enjoyed.
What I’m trying to say is none of us should be afraid. It’s a small blue dot and because of advances in technology we have the ability to hug each other close and face the void united in our humanity and celebrating our differences.