Puppies redux: Nebula edition

It was funny to read this in my inbox, as it was the first time I’ve had any reason to give a thought to SFWA in a long, long time. Possibly the most amusing thing about this latest SFWA kerfluffle is that it is a direct consequence of SFWA adopting my original campaign proposal to admit independent authors to the membership. Sad Puppy leader Brad Torgersen observes, with no little irony, the 2019 version of Sad Puppies:

This past week, some indie authors got on the Nebula ballot, and the taste-makers—many of whom are ardently “woke” political activists—began braying about how a “slate” had ramrodded these indie authors onto the sacred SFWA ballot, and how it was high treason against all things Good and Clean in the genre for *any* “slate” to influence the Nebula final selections.

Nevermind that magazines such as Locus have spent decades publishing “recommended” lists designed and published explicitly for the purpose of influencing both Nebula selection, and Hugo award selection, among others. Such “recommended” lists have been with the genre for a long time, and only now—mysteriously!—has it been deemed evil for such lists to exist. Provided those lists don’t originate from Correct™ sources, with Correct™ credentials, Correct™ political affiliation, and so forth.

Well, predictably, the indie authors came in for a caustic drubbing, and many of them—some being overseas, and not at all familiar with the internecine rhetorical warfare of American literary SF/F—were both angered and confused. And I can’t blame them. It’s difficult to properly unearth the many decades of political and elitist cultural battles which have saturated SF/F in America, and the larger Anglosphere SF/F lit scene, since at least the 1920s.

Suffice to say the whole thing is perhaps best explained through the lens of George Orwell’s landmark 1984. Where you have Inner Party, and Outer Party, and Proles.

Inner Party being comprised of long-time Super Fans (aka: “true fans”) and some venerable editors and authors who’ve labored carefully for years to take up positions of influence and prestige within SFWA, and the broader literary SF/F “establishment” as a whole. They are concerned almost
entirely with their own power and influence.

Outer Party being the newcomer political activist writers from the universities who see all of literary science fiction—and the Hugos and Nebulas, as well as other awards—as a tool for “woke” political activism. All of them aspire to Inner Party status, and are just waiting for the extant Inner Party to literally die off, so that the Outer Party members can graduate to places of Inner Party power and prestige.

And finally the rest of us inhabit the land of the Proles. Fans and authors who were never part of the establishment, and do not attend the so-called “World Science Fiction Convention” (which never was ‘world’ much, even when it went overseas) nor are we active SFWA members. Many of us are indie authors, or hybrids, who often make far more money and have far more readers than any three dozen SFWA trad pub members put together. But we still bear the stigma of self-publishing which is beyond the borders of establishment propriety in the eyes of the Inner Party.

So, when a “slate” created for and by Proles manages to get some Prole selections onto the ballot—which rightfully belongs to both the Inner and the Outer Party!—the Inner and Outer Party take it as an act of ART WAR! And as you know, Bob, nothing is more vicious than ART WAR!

And this meant it was time to launch the social media mobs, Twitter snipers, “woke” punditry, etc. In an effort to get the Proles kicked out of the process, or at least make the world aware of how horrible and evil it is that Proles stood up to be counted. Which Proles are never, EVER supposed to do. Ever. Proles are meant to mind their places in the hierarchy and not cause a fuss. We are to accept what the deciders of “worthy science fiction and fantasy” have declared for us this season, and learn to love Big Brother.

THAT is the state of American literary SF/F, in a nutshell. That is SFWA.

Which doesn’t make it any easier for indie authors or fans, much less indie authors or fans who don’t originate from U.S. soil. The whole thing can seem both ridiculous and conflicted. Which it is. Because any sane outsider looks at it all and does a W-T-F.

Try as they will to style themselves international, the Inner and Outer Party members of American literary SF/F are hopelessly provincial, sharing a painful overlap in ideology, as well as a kind of homogeneous, mushy globalist-liberal outlook. Which, being “woke”, puts a premium on demographics over individualism. Fetishizing ethnicities and sexualities. While remaining borderline-militant about a single-track monochrome political platform.

So, certain Inner and Outer Party folks proceeded to step all over their own unmentionables in an effort to “call out” the “slate” of the indie Proles from the dirty ghettos of indie publishing. And now the Inner and Outer Parties are in damage control mode (yet again!) trying to re-write events, submerge evidence, gaslight the actual victims of the literary pogrom, blame all evils on Emmanuel Goldstein (cough, Sad Puppies, cough) and crown themselves the Good People once more. Who would never, of course, do anything pernicious, because how could they? They are Good! They tell themselves they are Good all the time! They go out of their way to virtue-signal this Goodness on social media! It cannot be possible that they have done anything wrong!

Well, if you’ve seen the ugly carnival long enough, it’s easy to peer through the smog. And I am sorry for all of the Nebula nominees who—being rightfully excited to learn of their nominations—watched that excitement crumble beneath a digital tsunami of accusations and character assassination. I’ve been there. I remember the lies and slander. I know how it happens, and why.

Just shrug it off, and walk away. Neither SFWA, nor Worldcon, nor the Outer nor Inner Parties, have anything for you. They are not the audience, and never were. And the harder they try to enforce their own relevance, the more plain it becomes that this relevance has fatally degraded in the new century.

Meanwhile, no one seems to have noticed that both Tor and Baen are rapidly sliding towards nonexistence. I’ve heard that Macmillan is looking to get rid of Tor from several sources over the last three months. The changes you’ve seen in Castalia’s practices of late are the direct result of Amazon destroying the ebook publishing market, and those changes are hurting the traditional publishers a lot more than a company like Castalia that doesn’t rely as heavily upon the various channels.

The acid test is going to be in April. It’s going to be fascinating to see how well a book that is in very high demand does through the channel versus direct.