Interesting days for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Seems my return to the genre community could have been timed better. Ah, well. As Ursula LeGuin once observed, you can go home again as long as you accept that home is a place you've never been before.
Marko Kloos has become, alas, a casualty of the culture wars presently raging in Worldcon. He withdrew his Lines of Departure from the Hugo Awards final ballot in order to remove his name and his work from the current Hugo Awards controversy.
With Kloos' withdrawal, Jim Liu's translation of Liu Cixin's well regarded The Three Body Problem has been elevated to the final Hugo Awards ballot. I plan on going forward with the review of Kloos' Lines of Departure nonetheless. I will simply add The Three Body Problem to my pre-Hugos review slate. That should be and happy addition to my workload, given the reputation of Liu Cixin's entry.
I regard the withdrawal Kloos' Lines of Departure as a profound pity. Both the book and its author seemed well regarded across the community leading up to the announcement of the final ballot. Indeed, John Scalzi, hardly a member of the puppies fan club, has championed Kloos' awesomeness and endorsed Lines of Departure to the Scalzi readership. It's a sad state of affairs when an author with broad appeal is pressured from award contention because a someone with reprehensible views likes their work. One would have thought a book that could appeal to both John Scalzi and Vox Day is precisely the sort of book that should be a contender for the Hugo.
Alas, the quality of one's stories seems to have become a secondary consideration when Hugo Award worthiness is measured.
Of course, it is an ill wind that blows no one good. If nothing else, the sturm und drang surrounding the Hugos appears to have re-energized the larger science fiction community's engagement with the Hugo voting process. George R. R. Martin commented in his blog post What Now? that a air of complacency has surrounded the nomination process in recent years, with many Worldcon members abdicating the nomination process to a small group of Worldcon insiders. As I pointed out in 2,122, for every voter who submitted a nominating ballot this year, at least seven of the ~16,000+ eligible voters did not. I'd expect to see next year's nominations get a lot of love from the science fiction community. With more fans voting, the 2016 nominations should represent a much broader cross-section of (lower-case) fandom's population.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the Hugo Awards' current open nomination process will survive beyond 2016. George R. R. Martin wrote in the same blog post that Worldcon members currently in control are crafting changes to the voting rules. The proposed changes are intended to preclude interlopers from nominating 'undeserving' authors and their works for Hugo Awards in the future. By definition, such rule changes would have to limit the democratic nature of the nominating process; shifting influence from the general public (who can buy a supporting Worldcon membership for $40) to insiders who can be, it is supposed, counted on to nominate works that reflect the will of Worldcon's current movers and shakers.
Those speaking for Worldcon have gone out of their way in the last month to emphasize that the Hugo Awards are bestowed by Worldcon, and not by the science fiction and fantasy reading public. This suggests that Mr. Martin is correct and that plans are motion to take at least the the Hugo Award nominations out of the hands of said reading public. This could be done in a number of ways. For example, Worldcon's insiders could vote to limit the pool of eligible Hugo Award nominators to those Worldcon members who regularly attend the event. They could weight the nominations of attending members more heavily in order to reduce the influence of nominations from supporting members. They could appoint a panel of judges empowered to select a final ballot of deserving nominees based on works submitted by Worldcon's rank and file members, thus taking the final ballot out of the hands of the rank and file. And so on.
In order to protect the Hugo Awards from being rigged, it appears Worldcon's deciders are poised to rig the Hugo Awards, an irony not lost on Mr. Martin:
"[The Sad Puppies] started this whole thing by saying the Hugo Awards were rigged to exclude them.... So what is happening now? The people on MY SIDE, the trufans and SMOFs and good guys, are having an endless circle jerk trying to come up with a foolproof way to RIG THE HUGOS AND EXCLUDE THEM. God DAMN, people. You are proving them right. "
While Worldcon owns and bestows the Hugo Awards, they have commonly been promoted as an expression of the reading public's will, as the most democratic of literary awards. At the end of the day Worldcon has been defined by its membership, i.e., any and all of the reading public who wished to participate and paid for a membership. It has been, at least nominally, a community of equals whose sole common denominator was a love of the genre.
It is deeply disappointing to learn that some of that membership now wish to be more equal than others.
As I've written elsewhere, science fiction and fantasy have long been a big house with open doors, and lots of rooms in which to dream. Squids from space, Bug Eyes Monsters and granite-jawed starship captains legitimately share the table with Breq, Pyanfar Chanur and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. This is not a weakness of the genre. It is the genre's strength, this cross-pollination of the ridiculous and profound, the vulgar and the high-minded.
Those who value that house and the stories told therein should be exceedingly slow to judge who does and does not deserve a place at that eclectic table. We are an unlikely-to-the-point-of-absurdity community of wild and obstreperous minds, opinions and dreams. Our stories are born in the midst of tumult. Ours is not a respectable house, and we are not possible otherwise.
Babies and bath water, my friends.