When I was growing up in Ireland during the 1980s and ’90s possessing a passion for Science-Fiction almost inevitably led one to holding Left or Centre-left beliefs. Before I became interested in politics proper (and I’ll admit to having been reared in a “political household”) the progressive ideas that permeated Sci-Fi strongly influenced my view of the world. Because of Isaac Asimov and the Foundation series I was an atheist and humanist before I was aware that such philosophies even existed; thanks to Alan Moore and the Ballad of Halo Jones I was a feminist before I knew that equality required a label; and in tribute to Iain M. Banks and the Culture books I was a liberal before I learned that a laissez faire approach to how human beings wished to live was considered a definable thing. Of course becoming a pinko, PC, do-goodie, bleedin’-heart liberal was partly down to a healthy childhood dose of Fenian-tinged Irish republicanism. The more I learned, the more I wished to emulate and practice what I admired. If I looked to Patrick Pearse and “Not merely free but Gaelic, not merely Gaelic but free“, I also had an eye on Nemesis’ more simple – if less significant – “Credo!“.
In terms of nationality and identity we are all accidents of birth and I was simply lucky enough to grow up on small island nation off the north-western edge of Europe that was open to influences from around the globe. Through that fortuitous happenstance I was exposed to the best of European SF – British, Franco-Belgium and Italian – while enjoying similar offerings from the United States, Canada, Australasia and Japan (similar because they were filtered through the views of publishers, editors, distributors and TV executives in Ireland, Britain, France, Belgium and elsewhere on the Continent who were catering first and foremost to the preferences of their own domestic markets). Books, comics, graphic novels, movies, television shows and, of course, art crafted my mind and personality.
Naturally, that does not mean that Sci-Fi lacks right-wing tendencies. While from the 1960s onwards Europe’s genre communities have moved very much to the Left (no doubt due to the influence of the ideological flirtations of socialism and communism with what we used to be known as “hard” SF, notably in the USSR) other people in other places have had far different experiences. In the United States Science-Fiction has always had a right-wing tilt, something that was once evident on this side of the Atlantic in the acquisitive imperial eras of the 19th and early 20th centuries. However while world wars, revolutions and post-colonial crises have eroded the conservatism of European SF in the US the Cold War and War on Terror seem to have encouraged it. This is particularly evident in the “culture wars” that have divided (and in some cases defined) American politics for some two or three decades now and which have inevitably infected the worlds of gaming and genre fiction. While the first has reached its zenith (or nadir) with the-so-called “Gamergate” controversy, the latter has experienced a slow rumbling series of conflicts and scandals that until recently rarely appeared outside of geekish circles.
Finally the idealogical to-an’-fro has reached its inevitable crescendo with what we might call “Hugogate”, a scandal spinning off from the annual Hugo Awards for the best in Science-Fiction publishing. This prestigious industry event is overseen by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and voted for by eligible fans. This year there has been a concerted effort by a number of ad hoc – if related – groupings to promote two suggested voting-lists known as Sad Puppies 3 and Rabid Puppies, with the aim of putting a block of politically acceptable writers – i.e. appealing to conservative and right-wing sentiment – into every nomination category. Many of these unfortunate individuals, most of whom seem to have nothing to do with with the campaigns, will have had their nominations overshadowed by the controversy and the growing accusations of vote-rigging (one can argue the latter point – as in when does lobbying become rigging? – but it is pretty much debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin). The Sad Puppies list is being run by Brad R. Torgerson and Larry Correia while the Rabid Puppies slate is being pushed by the writer – and unapologetic defender of White Anglo-Saxon and Protestant culture – Theodore Beale (a.k.a. Vox Daly), a hugely divisive figure in the world of SF publishing (if our very own climate-denying, bible-thumping politicos of the DUP were to do Sci-Fi, Beale’s is the type of Sci-Fi they would do!).
The author Philip Sandifer has probably been the most vociferous in his condemnation of the “politicisation” of the Hugo Awards and the World Science Fiction Convention or Worldcon:
“The Hugo Award Nominations have just been successfully hijacked by neofascists.
I want to pause, before I make any comments on the implications of that statement, and make it unambiguously clear that this is what happened. There were, this year, two organized and overlapping slates of proposed nominees – the Sad Puppies, promoted by Brad Torgersen, and the Rabid Puppies, promoted by Theodore Beale, who writes under the pen name Vox Day. Of these slates, the latter was the more successful and influential, with 87% of its proposed nominees ultimately getting nominated, forming 68% of the total Hugo nominations. Every single work nominated in the categories of Best Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, and Editor (both long and short form) came from those two slates, including two nominations for Theodore Beale himself, one in each editor category.
Theodore Beale opposes women’s suffrage, saying, “the women of America would do well to consider whether their much-cherished gains of the right to vote, work, murder and freely fornicate are worth destroying marriage, children, civilized Western society and little girls.” He believes that black people are less human than white people, saying of a black woman that “genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens.”
I admit that these two quotes leave me slightly uncertain as to what to say. They are, obviously, preposterously vile things to say. But they are so vile that they defy the usual rhetoric with which we respond to loathsome views. They are not positions or claims that polite society is really equipped to engage with. They are so far outside the bounds of what is socially acceptable in 2015 that it is difficult to imagine many forums in which they would even be permitted to be aired. I’d go with something glib like “even Fox News would sack someone who publicly expressed those views,” but even that seems insufficient. Truth be told, I have trouble thinking of any mainstream groups or organizations where someone who publicly espoused those views would not be ostracized.
Except, apparently, orthodox sci-fi/fantasy fandom, in which Theodore Beale has sufficient clout within orthodox sci-fi/fantasy fandom to select 68% of the Hugo Award nominees.
To be frank, it means that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom does not have any legitimacy right now. Period. A community that can be this effectively controlled by someone who thinks black people are subhuman and who has called for acid attacks on feminists is not one whose awards have any sort of cultural validity. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to functional communities. And the fact that it has just happened to the oldest and most venerable award in the sci-fi/fantasy community makes it unambiguously clear that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom is not fit for purpose.”
Science-Fiction – and Fantasy Fiction – in the United States deserves better than this. However one is left to wonder, with the increasing domination of the moving image over the written word, if the published form is now in permanent decline? And will the literature that emerges from this time of straitening cater only to a culture of flag-waving jingoism in order to survive?