Recently, the world of science fiction was profoundly and righteously shaken by the so-called “Sad Puppies” affair. (It was “so called” because that’s what the organizers called it, so....) I wrote a little about it over at Liberty’s Torch, my op-ed site, here, here, and here. To my way of thinking, it was all to the good, both because it involved a larger number of SF readers in the fan-awarded Hugo nominations, and because the aftermath revealed the hypocrisy, venality, and mean-spiritedness of the “social-justice warriors” who had contrived to dominate the nominations process in recent years.
I thought I was done with the subject, but it rebounded on me. My readers started asking me why I hadn’t taken part in the Sad Puppies campaign. After all, I write science fiction...kinda-sorta, anyway...so why not lend a hand? It might result in one of my books being selected for such an honor in the future.
I appreciated the enthusiasm and admiration of those readers. However, I could never take part in such a campaign -- not because I have any moral qualms about it, but because I avoid any involvement with groups, regardless of their nature or agendas, with a fervor some have characterized as “religious” and others have deemed “psychotic.”
“To be or not to be a joiner?” Hamlet would have cried...if he were a kinda-sorta SF writer named Francis W. Porretto. Yes, that is the question...and the answer is a resounding Hell, no! Allow me a quote from a favorite book: Clarence Carson’s The American Tradition:
In a conversation with one other person, you have discovered that person to be sympathetic, polite, and thoughtful You may go away from such an experience concluding that you have met and are coming to know a genuine human being. Your next meeting, however, may take place in a group. Here the person who was congenial when alone with you may make cutting remarks and align himself with the others of the group against you on matters upon which you were sure you would agree. A little reflection should convince us, if we are not entirely unusual, that we have done the same thing ourselves....
Anyone who has worked with aggregates of people should have noted some differences between groups and individuals. Groups do not think or reason; that is solely a function of the individual. On the other hand, individuals, feeling the strength of numbers, are emboldened to do things which they would be afraid to do alone. Children in a classroom will become defiant if they sense the class is with them, and one may observe them darting their eyes about over the room to assure themselves that the others are behind them. At a more serious level, anyone who has endured the abuse of massed pickets when he crossed the line can testify to the loss of inhibition which accompanies the merging with a group. People tend to lose their sense of individual responsibility when they become part of a crowd.
Now, Dr. Carson was mainly concerned with the sociopolitical importance of groups, and the proper measures by which to civilize them. But the essence of group campaigns, regardless of the cause involved, is the submission of the individual will to the predominant will: at some times the will of a powerful or charismatic leader figure, at other times the will of a majority.
I cannot subordinate my will to that of another person, even theoretically. How, then, should I ally myself with a group substantially more likely to do so and more capable of doing so?
Perhaps it’s an idiosyncrasy of mine. All the same, the inhibition is a strong one, erected over the decades by youthful involvements and mature interactions with groups and evangelists for groups. I consider it a protection for my integrity, and I will not work to dismantle it.
Besides, who needs awards? I want readers first and foremost, and a modest amount of revenue after that. True, an award widely recognized as a mark of excellence would help me to get those things. But now that such awards have become prime targets for politically oriented groups – especially left-liberal groups – they are no longer reliable indicators of quality, being more an emblem of the writer’s endorsement for some common political viewpoint.
So I tend to dismiss literary awards as significant signs of quality fiction, and eschew campaigns such as Sad Puppies. As healthful for the SF field as “Sad Puppies 3” could be, it has already elicited a counter-campaign by “social-justice warriors” determined to re-establish their hegemony over the Hugos. Thus, future Hugo nominations and awards will be more about political alignments and less about good storytelling than ever. That’s the sort of contretemps I prefer to watch from a distance...preferably with a Daiquiri or Fuzzy Navel at hand. (They go great with a good book.)