Home » SFF Fans Can’t Read; Only True Fen Can

SFF Fans Can’t Read; Only True Fen Can

The central premise of the Sad Puppies campaign (led in its third iteration by Brad Torgersen)  is to show that the Hugo Award no longer reflects the tastes of the overwhelming majority of science fiction and fantasy fans. As Brad says:

Because (as I have stated many times in the last few years) “fandom” does not really represent FANDOM anymore. From the 1930s to the 1970s you could probably say that, yes, the group of people attending World Science Fiction Convention were the “core” of the consumer audience, and could actually carry on a coherent conversation about “the state of the art” in Science Fiction & Fantasy. The genre(s) had not exploded yet, on the popular cultural landscape. Star Wars and Judy-Lynn del Rey had not happened yet. The enterprise was not “big” the way it is BIG now. But as soon as the genre(s) did go BIG, the “center” was lost. As I pointed out last year (“Wence Fandom“) this isn’t your grandfather’s SF/F anymore. The Venn diagram of FANS is a crazy pastiche, and not all of the circles overlap with one another. There are people coming into “fandom” blissfully unaware of “fandom” as it existed from the 1930s, until Stars Wars and Judy-Lynn del Rey overturned everything. They are comic book enthusiasts, or as often as not, comic book movie enthusiasts. They are video game players. They are people who fell in love with SF/F on the small and the big screen…

And that’s OK.

The aim is to demonstrate the utter lack of relevance by getting works which do appeal to the vast majority of fans onto the ballot, and watching to see what happens. If past performance is a predictor of future events, what will happen is cries of shock and outrage from those who routinely vote on the Hugos, along with scathing personal attacks on anybody who dares to suggest that their voting criteria is based on anything other than merit.

Except, if you look closely, you find this:

Fandom does not care how many books you sold.  Fandom does not care how commercially popular you are.  (That’s actually not really true:  fandom generally tilts against commercially successful properties BECAUSE they are commercially successful.)

That comes from this piece by Steve Davidson, who claims that fans vote the way they do because, in essence, they have a better understanding of what makes a story good than people who just happen to like it. In fact, if too many people like the story, that indicates it is flawed in some way and less worthy of praise/awards. Notice that to his way of thinking, the simple fact that a work is popular is enough to condemn it. You don’t even have to read it. If too many people like it, you should be biased against it.

That’s the bias that Sad Puppies is all about exposing and Davidson freely cops to it. It reminds me of this:

Now, a lot of folks who support the Sad Puppies campaign have theories about the origin of this bias. How is it that a small group of people take it upon themselves to declare that most people are not smart enough or cultured enough or politically aware enough to know whether a story is actually good or not. And it is that speculation that draws the most attention from the defenders of their sacred award. They claim it has nothing to do with politics, but drum out authors who take political positions they disagree with regardless of the merits of their work. They claim it isn’t about gender politics, yet celebrate madly any win by anybody who isn’t male. They claim it isn’t based on sexuality, but preach endlessly about how the award nominations aren’t inclusive enough, again, disregarding entirely the merits of the stories nominated. Yet all along, they persist in holding to the belief that only they, the special few, have the discernment to choose the truly deserving stories.

Cast aside the idea of artistic merit for just a moment. Can you imagine any business or industry that could survive for long with that kind of attitude towards their customers?

Yet the leading literary representative organization for SFF, World Science Fiction Society sends that message every day. “Your taste is horrible. You spend you money on things you like instead of the things we try to tell you are important! Gotothemall!”

Is it any surprise then that SFF book sales are plummeting while SFF based video games, comic books, and movies are dominating the market?

“But popularity is no way to measure artistic merit!” they whine.

Except, by definition, it’s the only way to measure merit. The goal of art is to reach out and touch another person, to engage them on an emotional level. Two things go in to every work of art. First, there is a vision. The artist sees something new, different, or exciting. Second, there is communication. The artist uses his medium to communicate that vision to another human being, so that she now sees something new, different, or exciting. If the vision is unworthy of communication, the same old boring stuff, then the art fails. Similarly, if the work fails to engage the audience, to communicate that vision, then it is a failed work of art.


And making excuses like “Well, they just aren’t smart enough to get it,” is a lousy excuse. It is the artist’s job to make sure they ‘get it.’ Not serve it up on a silver platter, predigested for them, but the artist has a responsibility to provide a knife and fork if she wants her audience to do the work. In fiction, that knife and fork can be the characters, the plot, or the setting. Something must draw the reader into the artist’s world in order for the vision to be passed on. And the better the artist sets that hook, the more popular the work will be and, more importantly, the more people will be exposed to the vision.

Anything that biases against popularity does a disservice to the vision. And that means that the attitude of the true fen is what will kill SFF.

Not Sad Puppies.

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