I just re-read “Is this art?” Great post, and short, take five minutes to go read it if you can. Most relevant part is:
> If Person A uses the word “art” to mean “something beautiful that required skill to create” and Person B uses the word “art” to mean “something intentionally created to make a statement,” then it seems like their debate over whether the urinal is “art” should be resolved as soon as they clarify what they meant by the word.
> As far as I can tell, the disguised query in this case is usually “does this deserve to be taken seriously?” which can be translated in practice into, “Is this the sort of thing that deserves to be exhibited in a gallery?”
If the Larry and Brad can be taken at their word, they seem think that the answer to the question “Does this work represent the best of SF?” should be answered with “If the casual reader picked up a book for entertainment reading, would the Hugo winner be the best SF book of the year for that?”
This does make some sense — most people read fiction purely for entertainment. Their primary criteria for judging a work of fiction is “Was it fun to read? Did I have a good time?” So Larry and Brad have a point when they say that the Hugos do not represent the “large majority” of the reading public. The majority of the reading public is picking up a good yarn. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the same way I watch TV, or watch movies. For these sorts of things, you want Indiana Jones. You want the heart-of-gold guy having awesome adventures and cracking wise the whole time, who has loyal friends and scary enemies and wins the heart of the girl at the end. This is a fun-as-hell tale!
But some percentage of the SF readership considers SF to be Serious Business. It’s not just for fun, it is Art. I confess I am one of those people. I’m ok with admitting to being slightly snobby in SF reading. FFS, I run a silly Harry Potter Fanfic Podcast, I gotta have *something* I can be snobby about! Everyone needs are least one thing to snob over, whether it’s cooking, or reading, or gun use/knowledge. My thing is genre fic.
If you’re a bit snobby and consider SF to be Art, simply “being fun” is not a good enough criteria for an award. There’s lots of that. My criteria goes further… things that include “Making me feel an emotion really hard” and “Great skill in writing” and “Making me think” and “Being innovative and pushing the boundaries of the genre.” “Being fun” is included, but it’s not primary, and sometimes it takes a hit to make room for all the other things. Indiana Jones is great, but it doesn’t make me think, and in 2015 is certainly is not innovative or pushing the boundaries!
This is why some authors can consistently put out multi-best-selling books but never get a Hugo award. They put out great work that’s popular, and it’s fun to read, but that’s not what the Hugo award is for. I even get the impression that most people who pick up a book for fun-reading know this. They know that awards go to heavier stuff with an art focus, so they don’t look for an award sticker (or avoid it) if they don’t want something like that. Instead they look for the “Best Seller” line on the cover and buy that. It’s only when they want something more involved that they’ll pick up something that won awards. I think that the casual reader is ill-served by the Puppies’ initiative, because while they can still get the fun best-sellers by buying best-sellers, they don’t have a way to find the more artsy stuff when that’s what they’re in the mood for.
Larry and Brad wanted to make the Hugos into a “Best of what’s fun and popular!” award, because to them that’s synonymous with “Best of SF.” Their biggest problem was that generally the people who care enough to participate in the Hugos disagreed with them. We’re in it to argue over the artsy stuff. The people who share their opinion that having fun is the primary point of fiction don’t care enough to get involved. They pay for the best sellers and read them and have a good time. Why should they care if some geeks who take all this too seriously spend hours upon hours arguing over this point or that? Why would they invest that time, and that effort, and pay $40, when they already read their fun book and moved on to the next one?
The only way to marshal the forces is to turn them Rabid. In America that means the Culture War. This has already been refined to a science in the USA so the playbook is common knowledge. Make it a Red vs Blue thing, paint the other side as oppressors who are unfairly manipulating the system to keep out the people they hate, make it about standing up to an entrenched & corrupt power in order to defend the aggrieved common man, etc. Both sides do it. And BOY does it work for getting attention!
Which means that the Hugo’s future depends on how virulent the Rabies becomes. If things are left to shake out on their own, I’m of the opinion the pleasure-reader populace will go back to reading best-sellers and not caring much about the Hugos. It just isn’t worth their time and money on purely literary grounds. The only way to keep this movement going is to continue to fan the flames of Culture Warfare, keep the base riled up about how much the SJWs are assholes and need to be kicked around. That’s possible of course, the news media has been doing it for what… two decades now? It’s our country’s most popular drug. And Vox Day would love that result. I’m not sure if Larry and Brad have their hearts set on it as well. I get the feeling they honestly cared more for the genre than the politics, and just got carried away with the rush of popularity. But at this point they might be too committed and may be happy to go along with making the Hugos another Culture War battlefield. Just goes to show that nothing is sacred in war.
I don’t consider SF/F to be necessarily Art. That’s not to say they can’t be: I’ve already said that a work that’s Fantasy is Humanity’s greatest work of Art. To me, they’re just two categories that sometimes overlap.
I’m curious, how does your interpretation of “Good SF/F” treat Asimov’s “The Last Question” and Clarke’s “Rendezvous at Rama”? I consider these to be almost definitional: what SF is, when everything that isn’t SF is stripped away. What do you make of “The Martian”?
Outta curiosity, which work of Fantasy is that?
> Asimov’s “The Last Question”
Fantastic story! I loved it, it touches on the deep subjects you want SF to touch, and makes you feel that combination of wonder and awe that really good exploratory SF does so well.
> Clarke’s “Rendezvous at Rama”
Never read it, sadly. :( It’s on my to-read list, but there is sooooo much on that list, and I don’t read as much as I used to. I despair of getting to it before I retire.
> What do you make of “The Martian”?
I liked it. It was a fun read, with cool science problem-solving. It’s not something that blows my socks off, but it’s certainly in a higher-than-average tier of writing. My full thoughts can be found at my review – https://deathisbadblog.com/sff-review-the-martian/
Ooooo the Rama books are good. I couldn’t put them down. Literally. I made my husband read it to me while I drove. (This was back before audiobooks were cheap and easy to download to smart phones. :))
Regarding the Rama books, please note that the first one (Rendezvous with Rama) captures the phenomenon I’m trying to describe with my examples: Pure SF/F with all non SF/F elements removed, and the latter three don’t. This is emphatically NOT to claim that Pure SF is somehow better than Art SF. Obviously, the Ring isn’t an example of “Pure” Fantasy. I just find it an interesting question to isolate what makes SF, SF.
The difference in characterisation is extreme: The first Rama book has professional people going about their professional business in a professional manner, professionally; latter books have all sorts of crazy characters driving the plot in many different ways. The more I think about it, I actually prefer the first book’s characterisations, probably from a “role model” perspective more than anything else.
Greatest work of fantasy and all Art? Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner.
Sorry JRRT & PJ, but Lord of the Rings is not even the best fantasy work with “Ring” in the title.
I was trying to identify works that are “Good (or Great) SF”, but don’t meet your high Art criteria. That being said, I do like the use of repetition in The Last Question.
Ah! I’ve heard much of Wagner’s Ring, but never experienced it myself. I’m afraid I’ve never gotten the hang of opera.
Well said! Thank you!
“Larry and Brad wanted to make the Hugos into a “Best of what’s fun and popular!” award, because to them that’s synonymous with “Best of SF.” ”
Actually if I remember correctly, Larry and Brad were offended that the Hugo was awarded based on ass kissing and political bullshit so they set out to expose same. They did so by encouraging -me- to pay money and express an opinion. Thus far -me- and a few hundred more have done so. That is all that has happened to date.
Personally I abhor “art” in all its objectionable modern forms. I detest art chairs you can’t sit on, art paintings you can’t look at, art movies you can’t watch. If it enrages me, injures me or gives me a headache I don’t want to participate.
I have a particular hatred for reading SF “art” stories with a political message which make me feel sick to my stomach. Example from this year is “Totaled” by Kary English, its a politically motivated Leftist slap at the health care industry. Its disgusting, particularly if you know -anything- about neurology or health care generally. I can explain why, but that’s a long post and there’s numbers.
Note that “Totaled” is A) heavily artsy, B) heavily Lefty and C) a Sad Puppies pick. You’re getting what you said you wanted, and you are still objecting.
That was the point. Proven. War’s over, you already lost.
As to making SF as a genre flourish again, well that really is the Culture War. As with all other forms of media, people are not willing to pay for a steady diet of Leftist political propaganda. Leftist propaganda is quite literally all you can see in Hollywood movies, American television and Big Name American/British/Canadian publishing. If I never see another Intersectionalist global warming post-apocalypse homily touting the glories of collectivism with kinky sex and the dangers of gun ownership, it will be too soon. The vast majority of Americans pretty much agree with me, going by what they spend their money on.
Future best sellers will most likely be something that is fun, subtly supports what I’m going to short form as Tradition, and doesn’t contain the usual Lefty cues and check boxes. That’s where the money is.
Haven’t read “Totaled” yet, will get to it eventually.
>Leftist propaganda is quite literally all you can see in Hollywood movies, American television and Big Name American/British/Canadian publishing
I don’t even understand what world you live in. Do you literally never go outside at all, and simply repeat things you’ve heard on Fox News? There’s plenty out there catering to any audience with a few dollars to spend. A market failure of the type you’re describing would discredit the entire concept of capitalism. Off the top of my head, two major successes in the recent past that lean hard right – American Sniper in movies, The Walking Dead in TV.
>The vast majority of Americans pretty much agree with me, going by what they spend their money on.
WTF? This came literally *two sentences* after the previously quoted line. You have managed the magical Outrage Peddler trick of claiming to be an aggrieved, oppressed minority in the same breath as you declare your overwhelming majority and hegemony. So your position is that the vast majority of red-blooded Americans are being oppressed by a (relatively) small conspiracy of elitists? And that one aspect of this conspiracy of oppression is… to regularly put out movies that you dislike?? I know that’s not right, and I’m obviously misunderstanding you. But my imagination fails me at this point, can you tell me what your actual position is so I don’t misrepresent it?