Puppies, Reviews, Star Wars, Gwargh!

IMG_20160417_173351The big news in SF is the return of the Puppies. The big news in my tiny world is my first review for Nemesis. My feelings about the two of them are all tangled up. And a lot of it has to do with my feelings about Star Wars.

First, on the subject of Puppies, the nice news. When I went and checked out the Sad Puppies website, it’s clear that the movement is under new leadership, and that it has pivoted in its message. I like the new message much more than the old one. If their website is taken at face value, the most recent Sad Puppies campaign is about broadening the Hugos and getting as many people as possible involved in the nomination process. That way, they say, the award stays relevant.

I can get behind this idea. Is it, to some extent, a thinly veiled attempt to shoehorn more conservatism into the field? Probably. But who cares? If the new Sad Puppies achieve their stated goal, then fandom can decide, presuming that the community doesn’t rip itself apart in the process.

What opponents of the movement will rightly point out is that the awards were more democratic before the Puppies got involved. But they can’t deny that the Puppies have a point this time. The Hugos may have been democratic, but the nomination process wallowed in indifferent neglect.

If this lightning rod of attention is what’s needed to activate the community and foster proactive engagement, then another year of scorched awards and bad feelings seems a small price to pay. Will progressivism win out in the end? Yes, because demographics. Will fandom end up healthier because of this ridiculous process? I sincerely hope so.

Note that I have no opinion about the Rabids. They’re broken people, more sad than rabid. Let’s leave them aside and move on.

The main reason why I really, really didn’t like last year’s Sad Puppies campaign had nothing to do with politics. It had to do with why I like science fiction. A heartfelt statement of that attitude can be found here.

Last year, (if you leave out all the politics,) the Puppies were about campaigning for reliable, well-written, consistent, but fundamentally comforting fiction, AKA ‘Crunchy Nuggets’. I hate comforting fiction. I can get behind the idea of rewarding, well-written fiction, but I don’t want to be comforted. For the life of me I can’t really understand why anyone wants that in their SF. To my mind, SF is the literature of awe, and of exploration and failing, and being stretched. It’s where science meets fiction. That’s why it’s called that. And in science, you fail. All the time. That’s how you learn.

SF, when done well, is excellent and disagreeable and complicated and alarming and wonderful all at the same time. It is not safe. It is, to my mind, the highest form of art that humanity has ever reached for, which is why I write it and want to be a part of it. But that’s for another post.

I think what you’re really looking at with that earlier Sad Puppies campaign, is the difference between people who love SF, and people who love pulp. I am indifferent to pulp. I wish everyone else was too.

Which brings me to the review I got for Nemesis. I love this review. Why? Because Paul likes the book and still points out where he thinks I got it wrong. That gives me a way to do better next time. And he tells me that in at least one way, he felt I overreached. Great! Yay! I love books that overreach, because it means they’re trying to do something other than pander.

I hope all my reviews have a but in them. And here’s the most recent review of Roboteer. This one was a joy to read because I suspect Mark actually disagrees with me about some of the material in that book. Now I want to hug him. Hooray for polite disagreement, the backbone of democratic dialog! If people are feeling challenged by my books, then I’m doing something right. Let’s all agree to challenge each other and get better because of it.

And this brings me to Star Wars, and what SF has become. The original Puppies movement couldn’t have even gained traction were there not a vast, international appetite for bottomless slurry-bucket of warmed-over nostalgia.

20160414_175129I will come clean about something that might even be professionally dangerous. I do not actually like Star Wars. It is not SF. There is no science. There isn’t even any aspiration. The politics is thinly veiled feudalism. The weapons are thinly-veiled broadswords. The space battles are thinly veiled WW1 dogfights. Again. Yes, this time they lumped in a more diverse set of protagonists, but come on.  That’s a pretty low bar. Do people really need a pat on the back for doing that? I should hope not.

I do not care that Star Wars is ‘fun’, or has ‘cool’ spaceships. District Nine was fun. It was also deep, challenging, and fantastic. Octonauts is merely fun. My three-year-old loves it. And furthermore, the spaceships in Star Wars aren’t cool. They were cool in the 70s. Now they’re just old and lame. In the forty-odd years since the first movie, have we really not been able to come up with anything cooler?

And this is what scares me about where SF is right now, that’s so different to where it was when the first Star Wars movie came out. Are we, as a community of writers and readers, about nostalgia and comfort and being spoon-fed pulp? If so, we might as well let the Puppies have the Hugos. Or are we about something else that lies beyond politics. Are we about newness and aspiration and adventure and difficulty and hope? Every book I write is going to aspire to those ends, and maybe overreach and maybe fail. Because there is try and not try. There is no do. That’s what I’m in it for. How about you?