Back to Flint

A follow up to yesterday’s post. One rabbit-hole I had to stop myself running down was Eric Flint’s 2015 post THE DIVERGENCE BETWEEN POPULARITY AND AWARDS IN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Eric Flint, often cast as the token left-winger of Baen’s stable, tread a difficult line during the Debarkle with many of his colleagues or professional collaborators (e.g. Dave Freer) very much advocating the Sad Puppy line. Flint’s overall position could be described as conceding that there was some sort of issue with the Hugo Awards but disagreeing with the tactic and rhetoric of the Sad Puppies and the underlying causes of the problem.

Flint’s diagnosis of the issue is explained in the post I linked to and can be summarised by this proposition:

“the Hugos (and other major F&SF awards) have drifted away over the past thirty years from the tastes and opinions of the mass audience”

This was not a post-hoc reaction to the Debarkle but a view he had held for several years:

Here’s the history: Back in 2007, I wound up (I can’t remember how it got started) engaging in a long email exchange with Greg Benford over the subject of SF awards. Both of us had gotten a little exasperated over the situation, which is closely tied to the issue of how often different authors get reviewed in major F&SF magazines.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Flint goes on to describes the issues he had trying to substantiate the feeling. He acknowledges that the basic issue with any simple analysis to corroborate his impression is that sales data is not readily available or tractable. He goes on to attempt to address that deficit of data in other ways. However, regardless of of his method (how much space book stores dedicate to given writers) his approach only address one part of what is actually a two part claim:

  • There is a current disparity between popularity of authors and recognition of authors in the Hugo Award.
  • Thirty years ago this was not the case (or was substantially less).

Now I have even less access to sales data than Flint and publishing has changed even further since even 2015. Nor do I have any way of travelling back to 1985 (or 1977) to compare book stores then with the Hugo Awards. Flint’s claim is far to subject to impressions and confirmation bias to really get a handle on. I could counter Flint’s more anecdotal evidence of current (at the time) big genre sellers unrecognised by the Hugo Awards with examples form 1985. An obvious one would Jean M. Auel’s whose Clan of the Cave Bear series was selling bucket load in the early 80’s and beyond (The Mammoth Hunters would have been cluttering up book stores in 1985). A more high-brow megaseller from 1985 would be Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s Contact, which, again, did not make into the Hugo list of finalists. Yet, these counter-examples lack bite because the Hugo’s missing a couple of books don’t demonstrate that Flint’s impression is wrong even if they help demonstrate that his evidence for the current (as of 2015 or 2007*) is weak.

However, Flint does go on to make a different kind of argument by using the example of Orson Scott Card:

“With the last figure in the group, of course,Orson Scott Card,we find ourselves in the presence of a major award-winner. Card has been nominated for sixteen Hugo awards and won four times, and he was nominated for a Nebula on nine occasions and won twice. And he was nominated for a World Fantasy Award three times and won it once.
But…
He hasn’t been nominated for a WFC in twenty years, he hasn’t been nominated for a Nebula in eighteen years, and hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo in sixteen years. And he hasn’t won any major award (for a piece of fiction) in twenty years.
This is not because his career ended twenty years ago. To the contrary, Card continues to be one of our field’s active and popular authors. What’s really happened is that the ground shifted out from under him – not as far as the public is concerned, but as far as the in-crowds are concerned. So, what you’re really seeing with Orson Scott Card’s very impressive looking track record is mostly part of the archaeology of our field, not its current situation. As we’ll see in a moment, the situation is even more extreme with Anne McCaffrey and almost as bad with George R.R. Martin.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Well this is more tractable. We can track authors over time through the Hugo Awards and we can look at what we might call ‘windows’ in which they receive awards. So that’s what I did. I grabbed list of Hugo finalists for the story categories (novel, novella, novelette, short story), put them in a big spreadsheet, cleaned up all sorts of things as per usual and went to have a look.

I’ll save a lot of the data for another post. There are two big issues with looking at the data over time. The first is that there are built in patterns to the data that show changes overtime that arise just out of the data being collected. Back in 1953 a Hugo finalist could only possibly have been nominated that once. Likewise a first time Hugo finalist in 2020 has a hard limit on the span of years between their first and last Hugo nomination.

A different issue is exemplified by this grouping of data where span of years if the difference between the first year an author was a Hugo finalist to the last year.

Span of YearsTotal
0201
1 to 576
6 to 1035
11 to 1527
16 to 2021
21 to 2517
26 to 309
31 to 357
36 to 402
fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of a power-law distributi-um

More than half of the data set are one-hit wonders because everybody’s first go as a finalist is a one-hit wonder until they get their next one. That’s quite a healthy sign IMHO but I digress. 70% of the authors are in 0 to 5 year span but there a small number of authors who have large time spans of nominations. The top two being George RR Martin and Isaac Asimov (38 years and 36 years). This kind of data is not summarised well by arithmetic means.

I’ll save some of the geekier aspects for another time. Is there a shift in some of these spans recently? Maybe but both the structural issues with the data and (ironically) the Debarkle itself make it hard to spot.

What we can do though is look at specific cases and Orson Scott Card is a great example. He’s great because he undeniably fell out of favour with people by being an enormous arse and we can corroborate that externally from this data set. However! EVEN GIVEN THAT the table of groupings I posted shows us something that severely undermines Flint’s point.

Card’s Hugo span (last year as finalist minus first year as a finalist) is 14 years. That puts him in the top 14% of writers by Hugo span. Card has been very far from being short changed compared to other authors. These are his 14 year-span companions:

FinalistMin of YearMax of Year
C. M. Kornbluth19591973
Dan Simmons19902004
James Blish19561970
Joan D. Vinge19781992
Orson Scott Card19781992
Robert J. Sawyer19962010

Note that the group is from multiple decades. The broader 11-15 group includes writers like Frank Herbert, China Miéville, C. M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, and John Scalzi. Now Miéville and Scalzi might still extend their span (as might Card but probably not).

Flint goes on to suggest that awards get more literary over time and maybe they do but looking at the data I think Flint is sort of seeing a phenomenon but misreading what it is.

I would suggest instead that Awards favour a sweet-spot of novelty. A work that is too out-there won’t garner enough support quickly enough to win awards. A work that is too like stuff people have seen before isn’t going to win awards either — almost by definition, if we are saying ‘this book is notable’ it has to stand out from other books. For the Sad Puppies or even the LMBPN Nebula slate, this was apparent in works that struggled to differentiate themselves from other stories in an anthology or another book in a series. Jim Butcher’s Skin Game (to pick a Debarkle example) was just another book in his long running series and not even a particularly good episode.

The same applies to some degree for authors. I am not saying John Scalzi will never win another Hugo Award but I don’t expect him to even though I think he’ll be writing good, entertaining sci-fi for many years. This is not because he’s not sufficiently left-wing for current Hugo voters but because we’ve read lots of John Scalzi now and sort of know what to expect.

A future equivalent of Eric Flint in 2036 may look back to 2006 and say “Back in the day the Hugos used to reward popular authors like John Scalzi. Look at the virtual-cyber shelf on Googlazon and you’ll see rows of Scalzi books up to his latest ‘Collapsing Old Red Shirt 23: Yogurt’s Revenge’ – why don’t the Hugo’s give him rockets any more!”**

The Hugo’s move on, it is true but they have repeatedly picked out not exactly brand new talent but authors when they are at a sweet spot of their careers. Yes some have much longer Hugo spans but they are unusual and many are the sci-fi giants of yore and others are people with long gaps between nominations.

Card actually had a good run but even without his more giant-arsehole like antics, it is very unlikely that he would have got a Hugo nomination any time soon. Note, for example, that Card has not yet been a Dragon Award finalist despite having eligible novels and despite the Dragons (championed by Flint) as supposedly addressing the popularity issue.

*[Or 2020, as I don’t think Flint has said everything is fine now.]

**[I suspect future John Scalzi will be more inventive than just rehashing his former hits but also I think he’d actually be quite brilliant at writing a parody pastiche of his own work.]

99 thoughts on “Back to Flint

    1. Very interesting. I do think the Hugo Awards, at least, currently have a strongly political component. Also, you should consider the cultural shift that will take place in a 10-15 year period. That’s enough time for a whole new generation to mature.

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      1. Lela E. Buis: I do think the Hugo Awards, at least, currently have a strongly political component.

        The Hugo Awards have always had a political component, because SF has always had a political component. Look at the opposing full-page ads in Galaxy magazine in 1968, each with dozens of SF authors either supporting or opposing the Vietnam War. Look at the No Awarding of KSR’s “The Lucky Strike” in 1985.

        Anyone who claims that the Hugo Awards didn’t used to be political has no idea what they’re talking about.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This post is unsatisfying because it’s riddled with conclusion-driven arguments, Take your closing as an example:

    “Note, for example, that Card has not yet been a Dragon Award finalist despite having eligible novels and despite the Dragons (championed by Flint) as supposedly addressing the popularity issue.”

    You don’t really believe that the Dragon Awards function as claimed and neither do I — how would Brad Torgersen have won if they did? So Card’s lack of success there is no kind of litmus test for the premium Hugo voters place on “popularity.”

    In the absence of actual sales figures, I like to look at Goodreads statistics because that’s a vast audience of readers who are demonstrably engaged with books.

    How much attention did Goodreads give some of Card’s recent sff books? Card’s 2017 book Children of the Fleet has 2,808 reviews. His 2019 novel Lost and Found has 1748.

    By comparison, one of this year’s Hugo nominees Gideon the Ninth has 18,965 reviews.

    Card is still popular — 2K reviews is nothing to sneeze at — but nothing in those figures would predict much clout with awards voters.

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  2. This post is unsatisfying because it’s riddled with conclusion-driven arguments, Take your closing as an example:

    “Note, for example, that Card has not yet been a Dragon Award finalist despite having eligible novels and despite the Dragons (championed by Flint) as supposedly addressing the popularity issue.”

    You don’t really believe that the Dragon Awards function as claimed and neither do I — how would Brad Torgersen have won if they did? So Card’s lack of success there is no kind of litmus test for the premium Hugo voters place on “popularity.”

    In the absence of actual sales figures, I like to look at Goodreads statistics because that’s a vast audience of readers who are demonstrably engaged with books.

    How much attention did Goodreads give some of Card’s recent sff books? Card’s 2017 book Children of the Fleet has 2,808 reviews. His 2019 novel Lost and Found has 1748.

    By comparison, one of this year’s Hugo nominees Gideon the Ninth has 18,965 reviews.

    Card is still popular — 2K reviews is nothing to sneeze at — but nothing in those figures would predict much clout with awards voters.

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    1. Fair point on the Dragons. I was going to point out the AML Awards as well but they are overtly about literary merit rather than popularity — Card had a lifetime recognition in 2016 but his novels or shorts haven’t had recognition since 2006 (I think). Notably Correia and Torgersen have (so the the awards aren’t picky!)

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  3. This fits well with a response I’ve seen to comedians griping about how they used to be hot at colleges and such and now aren’t: well, yeah, you got older. As long as there’s been a distinct college-and-related audience for standup comedy, it’s gone for younger comedians, people in their 20s, 30s, maybe early 40s. There has never been a time when comedians in their 50s and 60s were hits with the college crowds. You have to cultivate a different audiences, because the kids don’t care, and this seems broadly true regardless of material. You’re simply not in sync with what they’re interested in.

    Thinking of Hugo awards as having a built-in threshold of over-familiarity/over-exposure likewise makes sense to me.

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    1. I’ve often wondered if comedians making this complaint were simply oblivious that they’ve become dad jokes.
      While Jerry Seinfeld got a lot of attention for complaining on this topic, a friend of mine says he retracted it later and said if you’re having problems, don’t blame the audience (apparently that’s been his usual stance in the past).
      Someone else pointed out that older, bigger name comics are likely to be more expensive too.

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  4. I remember reading Flint’s post at the time and shaking my head, because while I don’t doubt that the bookshelves at Flint’s local B&N look like that, no bookshelf in any bookstore I ever visited, either in Germany or the UK or elsewhere ever resembled what Flint apparently saw in 2007. True, you can probably find significant amounts of George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Tolkien in pretty much every bookstore and you can usually find a lot of Charlaine Harris as well or at least could in 2007, when she was at the height of her popularity. Jim Butcher is pretty common either, but no longer quite as common as he used to be due to his lengthy dry spell. But a lot of the authors he lists are either authors you occasionally find in stores, but not steadily, authors whose books you used to see a lot (Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, Raymond E. Feist), but no longer do and authors whose book you see very rarely, because their books are either not easy to find on this side of the pond or because tastes are different. That said, I remember going into a B&N or Borders in the US in the late 1990s and being stunned that they had a whole shelf of Mercedes Lackey books (her books are not very common in Europe), but still didn’t have the one I was looking for.

    Also, even if we equate presence on bookstore shelves with popularity, which isn’t necessarily true – remember The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which was everywhere for a while, but then vanished along with its author, because it didn’t do as well as expected – a lot of the authors are either way past their prime (OSC, Anne McCaffrey, who died in 2011), they write a lot of tie.in stuff (Herbert/Anderson and R.A. Salvatore), they write long series where individual volumes don’t stand alone very well (Robert Jordan, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Anne Bishop, David Weber, Flint himself, etc…), they write extruded SFF product, which simply isn’t very original, or they write in subgenres Hugo voters don’t much care for. For example, urban fantasy hardly ever get a Hugo nod, unless written by Neil Gaiman. Even the extremely popular Seanan McGuire only got series nominations for her urban fantasy novels, not individual nominations. Epic and grimdark fantasy don’t do well at the Hugos either, unless it has that certain something extra.

    Finally, it’s interesting which hugely popular SFF authors, often more popular than the people Flint listed, he misses. It’s not just writers like J.K. Rowling (who won a Hugo), Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins (neither was ever nominated, probably because their success was pre-Lodestar) or Stephen King who are missing, but also Diana Gabaldon, Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh. At least Andrews and Briggs are usually shelved under SFF. Gabaldon and Roberts/Robb are usually shelved elsewhere, while the shelving of Feehan, Kenyon and Singh varies from store to store. Yet Flint never even mentions these authors, probably because they’re not on his radar, because they don’t write the sort of thing he reads. Even though they were as popular in 2007 and 2015 as they are today.

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    1. //The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which was everywhere for a while, but then vanished along with its author, because it didn’t do as well as expected //

      I have to confess that I quite liked it but the hype was a bit odd

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      1. I’m not counting Puppy nominations as legit, sorry Mr. King. I’m sure he’ll cry all the way to the bank.

        I have heard Nora Roberts described as a gateway drug. It’s true. Of course, the fact that she’s an excellent craftsperson doesn’t hurt. Her Robb novels are near future SF murder mysteries, with plenty of plots, characterization of all the supporting characters (really, who doesn’t love Mavis, Dr. Mira, and the dynamic duo of Peabody and McNab?), and occasional grisly topics. I mean, there’s space habitats, flying cars, different relationship structures, whatta ya want? Like RAH only no speechifying.

        @sweetgum: I am always baffled as to why more cis-het men who are interested in cis-het women don’t read romance. What better way to get to know your interest’s interest, as long as they’re reading modern romance and not dated crap? They’re missing a big source of info, as well as books that have beginning, middle, and ends

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      2. The J.D. Robb books are great gateway drugs that can beused to get mystery/crime fiction and romance readers interested in SFF. Ditto for her Nora Roberts books with fantasy and SF elements. When I recently rearranged my personal bookshelves, Robb and Roberts took up way more than Flint’s 4 feet of bookshelf space and I only have a fraction of her books.

        I think that the prejudice against romance novels is often based on outdated stereotypes, e.g. the rapey “bodiceripper” with Fabio on the cover, the “woman running from house” gothic, the Greek Billonaire’s Secret Baby type Harlequin/Mills & Boon, etc…

        However, the modern romance genre is a lot more varied than that. You can find romances for any orientation, in any setting, for any genre/subgenre, with any level of sex, violence and humor.

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      3. I noticed the same thing about afternoon soap opera. Long after General Hospital had shaken up the formula, I’d see references to soaps (on TV shows, particularly) where the plotlines sounded like radio serials from the 1940s.

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      4. While part of it with men SFF readers is the girl cooties thing, woman SFF readers are probably more important now in terms of category field exposure and Hugo voting — which also freaked out the Puppies. And part of attention paid again has to do with where the person’s works are published and when, especially in relation to series. Nora Roberts/Robb’s SFF books and others like hers are shelved and/or cross-marketed in romance, general fiction and sometimes mystery. They’re cross marketed to the SFF category media, but they weren’t for awhile and not as much as to other areas like mystery. Gabaldon’s mega romantic fantasy historical fiction series started in mass market paperback in general fiction. It eventually got some cross-marketing to category romance/paranormal romance and eventually it got a lot of SFF fans, but by that time, she was well into the series and Hugo voters tend not to do mid-series books unless they already nominated the first books in the series or again if the particular entry is seen as having a big impact/contribution in SFF. With the t.v. series adaptation, she’s gotten a lot more SFF fans.

        Charlaine Harris has never been a romance writer. She wrote mystery series and was a successful mid-list mystery novelist when she decided to write a vampire mystery thriller series. She had a hard time selling it, not because mystery never publishes SFF — they do a good bit of it — but because they didn’t think her mystery fanbase would go for it. When she did get a deal, it was published in general fiction and cross-marketed to mystery/her fans. They did some and eventually more cross-marketing to category fantasy since many vampire titles were doing well then. The series rose up the bestseller lists and it started to be shelved in multiple spots, including category fantasy and including special riser displays in that section. But, since it started out in general fiction, it wasn’t immediately on SFF fans radar for the Hugo. She’s done other fantasy series since but none of them have gotten enough votes apparently.

        Paranormal romance writers like Feehan and Kenyon are sold in romance, not SFF, though they are cross-marketed to SFF — more than they used to be — and to the horror category market when it launched in the mid-oughts. YA/kids stuff rarely ever sees any Hugo nominations. Contemporary fantasy that is very thriller-oriented like Briggs and Andrews seldom gets Hugo or other award nominations, but that’s changing, because again, Hugo voters do vary year to year and over time.

        Stephen King was published where horror writers were published — general fiction. While he knew and was involved in category SFF — the first part of Dark Tower was published in the Mag of SF and Fantasy — horror writers were generally seen as separate back in the 1970’s and 1980’s and didn’t get nominations to the Hugo or the Nebula. They just assumed the horror writers would be nominated for the Stoker award instead, as the big American horror award. King did get nominations and wins for the World Fantasy Awards, the British Fantasy Awards and the Stoker, plus a couple of noms for the more recent Dagger Awards in mystery. Same for the big horror hitters — Barker, Straub, McCammon and Koontz, though Koontz did get one Hugo nom. But times have changed a bit. But Joe Hill, who is published in general fiction also and cross-marketed to category SFF and horror, also only got a Hugo nom for work on a graphic novel, not his written fiction.

        So Flint isn’t going to mention them because they mostly aren’t category SFF and they might skew the theorem again as data points. The we were once this but now we’re that claims never look at the entire field or bestseller lists data because otherwise they don’t hold water.

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    2. Gabaldon, Robb, Collins, and likely some of the others have romance cooties all over their books (with female main characters who have plenty of agency), so of course they don’t appeal to Manly Man Flint.

      Collins would probably have been up for a Lodestar if that had existed back then. The first movie got nominated for BDP Long

      Roberts/Robb is the mega-gigantic-bestselling American author of the day. She’s sold over 500 million books, and somewhere north of 200 separate novels.

      I actually met Stephen King just attending a Worldcon like anyone else (years after he’d written “The Shining”, and the movie came out, even!) and if “The Dark Tower” isn’t SFF, what is? Yet his kid got nominated and not him.

      I know people like zombies, but I’m not sure how Flint expected McCaffrey to be nominated 4 years after she died either.

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      1. Disdain for female main characters always baffles me when it comes from guys who are, at least theoretically, romantically/sexually interested in women.

        Gabaldon’s novels, with their quite brutal violence and manly man heroes, could probably serve as a gateway for readers (perhaps even Flint) who wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a genre romance. At least, I’m a cis-het man, and Gabaldon—together with old reviews of Heyer novels on tor.com—led me to reading a fair number of straight-up historical romances by various authors. The dialog is often snappy and fun, and the focus on the interior life of the heroines is not uninteresting to someone who is interested in women.

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      2. I’ve known a few men who read Gabaldon’s books, which were actually quite subversive of romance conventions when they came out (Claire’s married to someone else, more experienced in bed than Jamie, older than him …). And Nora Roberts JD Robb police procedurals would probably work for a lot of men too (they certainly appeal to me).
        I suspect a lot of it is the coding that romance is Girl Stuff and therefore unmanly, unless it’s wrapped up in a suitably manly package and not branded as romance primarily (though Gabaldon’s was in general fiction in the bookstore I used to work with).

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      3. Though Flint did include Charlaine Harris and Anne Bishop, both of whom are romance-heavy as well. But then it was very difficult to ignore Charlaine Harris at the height of the popularity of True Blood, when she had ten books simultaneously on the New York Times bestseller list at one point.

        Stephen King was a Hugo finalist in 2016 courtesy of the puppies. He lost out to Hao Jingfang, but then the story really wasn’t one of his best works. I also have no idea why the Hugos never recognised Stephen King when he was at the height of his popularity, though King has been nominated for and won the Stoker, World Fantasy Awards and British Fantasy Awards many times.

        Authors like Diana Gabaldon, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, etc… are exactly the sort of authors that the Best Series award was created for, with long successful careers and series, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I keep nominating them, too, but hardly anybody else does.

        And yes, it’s frustrating that the romantic side of SFF is often so completely ignored by the SFF community at large. For example, Nalini Singh is not even listed on the “confirmed participants” list of CoNZealand (and I am on that list, though I’m a relative nobody), even though she is very likely the most popular New Zealand SFF author. Of course, it’s possible that Singh doesn’t do cons, but it still seems like an odd omission.

        @sweetgumandpines and @frasersherman
        I have actually recommended Diana Gabaldon to fans of grimdark fantasy with, “There’s a lot of blood, grit and violence.” And yes, Gabaldon does not write typical genre romance at all. I’m glad to see fellow Gabaldon and Robb fans here BTW.

        Georgette Heyer is of course an excellent writer of historical romance and historical fiction, though sadly some of her books are marred by antisemitism, e.g. that awful moneylender scene in The Grand Sophy.

        For more historical romance recommendation, Laura Kinsale used to write great historical romances with unusual characters and settings. Flowers from the Storm is about an aristocrat who winds up in an insane asylum after he suffers a stroke and a quaker woman who is the only one who realises what’s wrong with him. The Shadow and the Star is partly set in Hawaii and stars a male former child sex slave turned ninja and a very virginal shop assistant. Her best work is from the 1990s and she hasn’t published much of late.

        Carla Kelly writes fine and grittier than usual regencies, often featuring seafaring characters, as well as western historicals. She’s Mormon and some of her western romances have religious content, so stick to the regencies, if that bothers you.

        Alyssa Cole had a great historical trilogy called The Loyal League featuring black Union spies during the Civil War posing as slaves and falling in love. For more historical romance by black writers and featuring black characters, try Beverly Jenkins.

        Jeannie Lin writes historical romances set in Imperial China as well as Asian steampunk.

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      4. @Cora Buhlert—Thanks for the recommendations (and I agree that the moneylender in the Grand Sophy is really unfortunate, to say the least. I’d love to be able to recommend the book to my daughter, but I can’t for that scene alone).

        I rather like Stella Riley’s series set during the English civil war and the Protectorate (starting with _A Splendid Defiance_).

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    3. …remember The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which was everywhere for a while, but then vanished along with its author, because it didn’t do as well as expected
      “Vanished” is an odd way to describe an author who published another novel (The Swan Thieves) the following year and the acclaimed and successful The Shadow Land in 2018.

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      1. Oh. I have to say I had the impression of a vanishing as well. I enjoyed The Historian and would have read another book by her but…didn’t encounter them. Which, is just odd. I’m not doubting your point, just curious about the impression I had of an author arriving with an apparent big splash and then I didn’t hear anything — apparently I wasn’t paying attention (which wouldn’t be the first time).

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    4. I mean, General Hospital had an evil genius (John Colicos, original BSG Baltar!) plotting to freeze the world, followed by his vengeful widow Elizabeth Taylor (!) causing problems, and that was just 1981.

      “The Edge of Night” was literally Perry Mason with the serial numbers filed off, so always had a strong mystery/crime component.

      Not a lot of time to worry about Sissy and Junior down at the malt shop, with organ music droning in the background.

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      1. Loved General Hospital during that period.
        Then there’s the turn of the millennium Passions with Juliet Mills as a black magician, a cameo appearance by Bewitched’s Dr. Bombay and lines like “My house sank into hell — all my clothes are in there!”

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  5. Flint’s claim that the Hugos used to be about awarding popularity is just plain wrong to begin with. Certainly past Hugo finalists have had a level of popularity, but the Hugos have always been more about recognizing originality and novelty than popularity.

    Flint’s problem (as with Spinrad and the Puppies) seems to be that his tastes have remained static, while the Hugos’ Overton window has continued to move forward over the years.

    As Cam has pointed out, sure, many past Hugo finalists are still producing quality work — but how many of them are producing work that is vastly new and different from their own or others’ previous works?

    Why should Hugo voters be recognizing “Second Verse, Same As The First”?

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    1. “Flint’s claim that the Hugos used to be about awarding popularity is just plain wrong to begin with.”

      Flint’s commentary (and the commentary of many other Pup and Pup-adjacent individuals) reminds me of the various ancient Greek chroniclers writing about the Spartans. They would write something along the lines of “Well, Spartan society is corrupt and doesn’t live up to its ideals now, but 50 years ago they were a moral and admirable society”, and then you go back and find another ancient Greek writer writing about the Spartans 50 years earlier, and they also say something along the lines of “Well, Spartan society is corrupt and doesn’t live up to its ideals now, but 50 years ago they were a moral and admirable society”. And then you go back and find a writer from 50 years before that, and they say the same thing. And so on. Things were always better about 50 years ago.

      Flint is just doing the same thing. Music was better when you were a teenager. No matter when you were a teenager, the people then could really make music, not like the shit music today. Your parents said the same thing when you were a teenager. The current teenagers will say the same thing when they are grown-ups.

      The science fiction Flint read when he was 12 is the best science fiction. Everything that was published after he turned 30 is just lousy in comparison – except for the stuff written by people who are trying to rehash the stuff he read when he was 12. Their stuff is great, and why doesn’t anyone praise them? He’s like a baby boomer who goes to a Blue Oyster Cult nostalgia tour and wonders why they don’t get nominated for Grammy awards.

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      1. Back in the 1990s, when conservatives were still tongue-bathing the 1950s as a peaceful utopian time when everything was perfect, someone put out a book looking at what conservatives in the 1950s thought. They were in a remarkably familiar panic, convinced the end times were nigh: integration! Juvenile delinquents! Sex in the movies! Marijuana! Beatniks! Communists! Women are taking over the country!
        Similarly since dating as we know it began a little over a century ago, a part of society has been freaking out about how the young are turning America into Sodom and Gomorrah.
        I made the mistake of reading George RR Martin’s 1983 Armageddon Rag recently and there’s a lot of whining about how all the music since the 1960s completely sucks.
        And in comics, both DC and Marvel have done major character reboots (erasing Peter Parker’s marriage, bringing back Barry Allen from the dead) because someone high up in the company thought they were bringing back the grand old days when comics were best

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      2. In 1974, Otto L. Bettmann (of the famed Bettmann Archive of images) put together an invaluable volume called The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! This book detailed all the ways that the 19th and early 20th century golden days of the USA were a horrid hell-pit from which we were glad to escape, with chapters on the various sorts of pollution, the nastiness of food, the horrors of travel, the soul-sucking boredom of the prairie, juvenile delinquency, squalor, and so much more, illustrated with items from his archives.

        An example I often quote is air pollution from cars. When it was all horses, every city and town had livery stables, and these were a source of pestilentially malodorous bales of urine-soaked hay and straw which, along with road apples, littered every street (the streets, by the way, had pigs in them) and were then stamped into a fine powder by the horses going over and over it. This powder was wafted up by frolicsome zephyrs and would blow in through every window of every home, rich or poor, regardless of how tight they tried to make them–a stinging, itching, eye-watering powder none could avoid. You can bet there was cheering at the invention of the internal-combustion engine.

        I highly recommend this book. I literally loved my copy to pieces when I scanned every page of it, and have since purchased a brand-new used copy to replace it. It’s a thorough antidote to the simple-minded nostalgia of idiots who think everything was better Back Then. It wasn’t–not even for WASPs–and it sure as shooting was far worse for anyone who wasn’t a wealthy white Christian male.

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      3. In Asimov’s autobiography, he talks about what he heard about his ancestors from his father. This great-grandfather was a great scholar, as was that great-uncle, but this father’s uncle was an exception – a very simple man. In other words, the people that Asimov’s father only heard about was great, but the ones that he met in person didn’t have the advantage of being represented in golden memory.

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    1. Well, to be fair, sometimes the first verse never got a chance, because it appeared before there were Hugos. However, the Foundation trilogy did get its deserved Hugo nod as the one-of best series Hugo in 1966. There really was no need for Foundation’s Edge to win. And Heinlein was nominated up to his death for increasingly substandard late period work. Not sure Speaker for the Dead needed to win either, though I’m okay with Ender’s Game winning.

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      1. Cora Buhlert: Not sure Speaker for the Dead needed to win either, though I’m okay with Ender’s Game winning.

        Actually, I thought Speaker for the Dead was far superior to Ender’s Game (which had far too many unexamined problematic aspects). And I vaguely remember some Filer saying in the past few years that SftD was the book he actually wanted to write, but that EG was the worldbuilding setup to get there.

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      2. camestrosfelapton: Same – it also made Ender’s Game better in a way.

        … by examining some of the unexamined problematic aspects of Ender’s Game.

        That the problematic aspects of Ender’s Game seem to be what so many fanboyz have idolized as the awesomeness of the book is so incredibly discouraging — and yet so utterly predictable. 🙄

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  6. It’s interesting that you mention Jean M. Auel. I was in high school, a fan (I had subscriptions to all three magazines), but I was a long way away from organized fandom. You saw the Cavebear books everywhere, but I don’t recall hearing much of anything about them from inside the genre—maybe Baird Searles gave one of them a dismissive review—I don’t recall. The genre was much smaller, and much more insular then back then. Auel was never in contention for a Hugo, because no one at the time thought of her as an FSF writer. Stephen King either.

    The real difference between then and now is that fandom (or at least the part of fandom that vote for the Hugo) seems much more willing to look over the ghetto walls.

    This was brought home to me a few years back. I haven’t followed the field consistently over the years, but I recall looking at a list of recent novel winners and being surprised at how many I’d read. This involved a certain degree of dumb luck (what if I hadn’t picked up Spin off the library shelf that one time) and biography (Gaiman was a rock star in the comics world which I had been following at the time), but a significant quantity of winners had made a splash outside the genre. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Strange & Norrell were notable successes in the mundane world and Harry Potter was a kidlit sensation. Had any of them been published in the eighties, I wager that it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to think of them as genre.

    I’m not sure if I have a point to make, except that it does rather give the lie to the notion that the Hugos don’t respond to popular success nowadays.

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    1. When Auel’s books came out, most of the reviews IIRC stressed their authenticity (to the extent a book about cave people could be) and presented them as borderline realism. It would never have occurred to me they were SF. I was quite surprised when I read them and learned she has SF neanderthals who have ancestral memory powers but an inability to learn anything new.
      I know what you read about randomness. My usual approach to finding new authors is to walk into the library, pick a book off the New shelf and check it out. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. There’s so much good stuff out now, and so much more than I have time to read, that any systematic effort to find good books seems pointless.

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    2. Jean M. Auel is an interesting example, because her novels were huge mainstream successes and at the very least SFF adjacent. Of course, they’re not very good, but then a lot of what was nominated for and won Hugos in the early 1980s was not very good either.

      Another SFF novel that was a huge mainstream success and didn’t even get a Hugo nomination was “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Yes, she has since fallen from grace for obvious reasons, but in the early 1980s, “The Mists of Avalon” was everywhere and read by people who never read SFF otherwise. Plus, MZB was part of the SFF scene and did have previous Hugo nominations. My copy of the novel as a blurb from Isaac Asimov. Of course, knowing what we know now, the Hugos dodged a bullet there, but it’s still a very strange omission.

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  7. I never ever wanted to be remembered of Mr Card again – his books are removed from my library and I don’t touch anything from him. I guess, I‘m bad at separating author and work.

    While you‘re supporting my conjecture pointing in a similar direction, I think your arguments are statistically insignificant.

    I miss Le Guin, her first work Left Hand of Darkness got a Hugo in 1969, and her latest one was 2018 (for related works). That’s a huge timespan.

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  8. Flint’s essay was ridiculous and the Puppies’ claim that popular books were ignored in the nominations of the last 15 years (or twenty or thirty or whatever number they picked next) was disproved so many times by so many folks with basic data that they started switching to other arguments.

    The Hugos are voted on by a specific fan base — those who attended WorldCon and cared enough to use their right to vote and those who had attended the year before or were willing to pony up some cash to associate vote. They are dedicated category fans, by which they are fans of SFF who are willing to read a lot of new people in SFF, which allows there to be a category market in addition to SFF published in general fiction. While these fans may read widely in SFF, they concentrate on category market SFF by specialty SFF imprints which supply the category market shelves (Tor, Orbit, etc.) These category fans also consume much more category specialty media and reviews than the majority of SFF fans.

    So non-category SFF authors seldom get nominations for Best Novel (or anything else written), even if they sell well. If they do, it’s usually because they were a really big seller that also did well cross-marketing to the category market and got a lot of category media reviews and coverage. The rest of the Best Novel nominees are ALWAYS lead titles that are category bestsellers or higher — category bestsellers are those that sell on the lower but still viable rungs of the bestseller lists, making them lead authors in the category SFF market and much talked about and reviewed again by category media.There are no nominees for the Best Novel Hugo who aren’t lead, bestselling books in the category field throughout the entire history of the award. There can’t be nominees for Best Novel Hugo that are not popular and good sellers because otherwise not enough category fans who go to WorldCon have heard of them and read them to nominate them with enough votes.

    In the shorter fiction categories, the focus is a little different. The percentage of dedicated category fans (and WorldCon members) who read short fiction is much smaller and got a lot smaller than it used to be in the 1990’s, when the wholesale collapse led to a collapse in magazines and the emphasis on importance in category SFF shifted firmly from magazine fiction to novels. Writers who get nominated in short fiction may not be bestsellers in novels, although many of them are. But they do all get talked about for their short fiction or for the particular story in question in category media — they have buzz, which is popularity, even if it isn’t cash sales that novels get. That popularity leads a small percentage of WorldCon members to seek them out and read them and nominate them.

    The Puppies didn’t give a hang about short stories except that a lot of non-white authors and white women authors were held to be taking over all the Hugos — because those were the stories that category media was talking about and so dedicated fans sought out and read and nominated. What they concentrated on and what they based their the Hugos no longer do popular books argument on was the Best Novel category. The one which has bestselling nominees.

    So if you go back 5 years before the Puppy whining to 2008, the nominees for Best Novel are Michael Chabon for a massively bestselling novel that was non-category SF but heavily cross-marketed to the category readers and category media, John Scalzi’s Lost Colony — lead title/category bestseller, Charles Stross’ Halting State — much buzzed about category bestseller, Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback — category bestseller, and Ian McDonald’s Brasy! — lead title/category bestseller. All those books were popular, big selling by lead title, well known category authors plus one non-category author heavily marketed to SFF fans, including happily pressing flesh at SFF conventions.

    And you can just keep going on up to the present. You will have the occasional “new” author like Ann Leckie whose book becomes a category bestseller and then larger bestseller right out of the gate. Others are more established lead title authors. But all of the books are category bestsellers — are popular and thus well known to category fans who do the nominating. Nobody obscure wanders into the Best Novel category of the Hugos. It’s a popularity category. It’s just the Puppies didn’t like who was selling well in the category market and caught the voters’ eye.

    Every single big name in SFF fades in awards. As I pointed out before, there are clusters of names who come up a lot in all the writing categories and then are replaced gradually by new clusters. Card didn’t “fall off” nominations or book sales just because of his political attempts to harm gay people. Most people, including a lot of SFF fans, had no idea he held such views, and category media didn’t always bring it up. But when he finished the Ender’s Game trilogy, he started not getting a lot of enthusiasm for his books in category media. The Alvin series did well for the first few books or so and got nominations but then people felt it petered out. Same with the Homecoming series which started out as a big bestseller and then sort of slid downhill in sales and people’s interest. And that was before his stances on gay people were widely known even within the category market. Card is prolific and his titles do sell to his fan base, but he hasn’t come up with anything else category fans and media find particularly fascinating except for Ender’s Shadow. He was in the cluster of the late eighties, early nineties who got a lot of attention and like any other author, his rate of success on noms drops and he’s replaced by a new cluster of names who get nominations and then keep getting nominations for awhile as they get increased attention and buzz about what they are doing. But whether an author is fading out of a cluster on nominations or coming into one, they are all popular.

    But it isn’t just the popularity of sales and being widely known that gets nominations as very popular authors have never had nominations even back before 1985. It’s that you are doing something that category media and dedicated category fans find interesting and contributory. Flint was trying to argue that what the category market and Hugo voters as a dedicated sub-set of that market find interesting about popular books is different in subject matter and writing style than what they found interesting in popular books before 1985. Which isn’t true. On Wings of Song, Dreamsnake, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, The Lathe of Heaven, etc. are all considered literary works that were popular sellers in the category market and not particularly different in approach from Ancillary Justice, The Obelisk Gate or Spinning Silver. And they are all, past and present, category bestsellers or higher.

    Trying to pretend that what is popular in SFF during a particular time period is monolithic in ideology and style and then shifts to another monolithic setting in ideology and style is always going to be a faulty argument, especially if you try to narrow it to award nominations. Because the data is right there to show that it’s not monolithic. For every cherry picked data point you push to support your we-are-one theory, there’s another one that doesn’t support it. And because part of the assessment of the books is completely subjective, you can’t establish rigidity of thought in fiction. Book sales and being lead titles from publishers is relatively easy to track and objective, factual data. Whether a book is left wing or an adventure book versus a thought experiment, etc. — and how much that affected a work getting nominated — depends on your personal, subjective pov of the book. When comparing books of the past and present, “because I said so” is not the definitive argument about any book.

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    1. Kat Goodwin: So non-category SFF authors seldom get nominations for Best Novel (or anything else written), even if they sell well. If they do, it’s usually because they were a really big seller that also did well cross-marketing to the category market and got a lot of category media reviews and coverage.

      I think it’s also the case that frequently, the “mainstream” or “literary” SFF which hits the mega-bestseller lists is, to the extremely prolific readers who are Hugo voters, passé or run-of-the-mill, something similar to what they’ve seen dozens of times before. A recent case of this seems to be Elizabeth Knox’ The Absolute Book — raved about as “revolutionary” fantasy by people who aren’t particularly well-read in fantasy, but the reactions from people who are well-read in fantasy seem to be “sure, it’s fine, a good read”.

      The day that the Hugo Award ballot starts consisting of extremely-popular, run-of-the-mill mega-bestsellers is the day that I stop caring and participating.

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      1. JJ: “I think it’s also the case that frequently, the “mainstream” or “literary” SFF which hits the mega-bestseller lists is, to the extremely prolific readers who are Hugo voters, passé or run-of-the-mill, something similar to what they’ve seen dozens of times before.”

        Yes and no. First, a lot of the SFF published in general fiction, including bestsellers, isn’t considered literary and is frequently put out in mass market original paperback, just like the category titles. And all the category market titles are considered mainstream mass market — for the masses — whether they are also considered literary stylist or not. The use of the word “mainstream” means pretty much nothing; it’s a marketing strategy meaning we’re daring outsiders (not mainstream) and they’re not (mainstream). But there’s no difference between the range of SFF in general fiction and the range of SFF in the category market. The category market is simply an additional market of SFF titles that come chiefly from SFF imprints rather than general fiction imprints. Who publishes you is the main determinant of which shelf you’re on in stores, not your writing style.

        But some SFF titles that are published in general fiction are heavily cross-marketed to the category media, conventions and through other publicity to SFF fans who read category titles, including shelving the titles or displaying them in the category section as well as the general fiction sections. A lot of SFF category fans will check those out and they may be unimpressed with them, but it’s seldom just because they’re not “original” because the books in the category SFF market aren’t original and are also similar to what fans have seen dozens of time before. The fans have to subjectively like the story and in the case of award nominations feel it contributes to and builds upon the body of SFF literature and is a strong story to them personally, regardless of whether they find the premise startling or not.

        Obviously stuff by white guys tends to be seen as more contributory than others but it can vary. In Chabon’s case, he is an SFF fan and a booster of the category field, refusing to consider it separate from general fiction, showed up at conventions as promo for the book, talked about major SFF authors who were published in category, etc. But most of his work isn’t SFF and was published in general fiction, so his SF was also published in general fiction and cross-marketed to the category market. And enough Hugo voters liked the story and felt it contributed to nominate it. The reverse also happens as category authors are often marketed to general fiction audiences and sometimes as literary writers — N.K. Jemisin, Connie Willis, Michael Swanwick, China Mieville, Catherynne Valente, etc., and before that Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, etc. Quite often general fiction readers who like a SFF author will think they’re not in the category market simply because they don’t know all the marketing going on. Witness Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks.

        It is a marketing strategy in general fiction to claim that a writer publishing SFF there has “elevated” that raggedy ass category genre stuff for general media’s hook interest, usually when they are also selling the author as a literary stylist, and it’s very dated and annoying as a technique and never true. But it doesn’t necessarily turn off Hugo-voting dedicated SFF fans if they like the book anyway and if the book is talked about a lot in category media and among fans.

        “The day that the Hugo Award ballot starts consisting of extremely-popular, run-of-the-mill mega-bestsellers is the day that I stop caring and participating.”

        But it does consist of extremely popular, well known bestsellers and sometimes mega-bestsellers — and always did. That’s the point. 🙂 The disconnect between what’s popular and what’s nominated for the Hugo Best Novel Award does not exist.

        Juan: “In his acceptance speech that the Hugos tended to recognize the new.”

        They do go for new stars, but they also repeatedly reward old stars who they think are doing contributory books. Usually it’s a cluster thing for a few years, but an old author might come back on the ballot if they feel that author had a book that made a big impact in that year.

        There are two main groups of Hugo voters: 1) dedicated category fans who are also dedicated to supporting WorldCon and the Hugos and so pony up to vote even in years they aren’t attending the convention; and 2) dedicated category fans who are able to show up for that particular WorldCon in that particular location, which may or may not be in the U.S., and decide to take advantage of the right to vote for the Hugos. So the Hugo voters in any one year are always a mix and with more international WorldCons, you’ve gotten a more global (but still popular) palette in recent years, but still not significantly different. There are millions of SFF fans and only a few thousand decide the Hugo awards in any year because it’s their convention/organization award. The Puppies are actually vaguely worried about the make-up of WorldCon, that it isn’t dominated by white, man, conservative American values. Which meant that they declared WorldCon to be dying, which made no sense either. It’s not popularity that is the issue for them, because all the Best Novel nominees are popular. Instead, it’s perceived social status, in the SFF field and the wider world.

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      2. It’s quite common for books to be published as mainstream, and then move to the SFF shelves six months later. They are first pitched to a wider audience, who don’t regularly look at the SFF shelves, but it’s the SFF people who have a lasting interest in them,

        And yes, not all work with SFF content which is published as not-SFF is, or claims to be, literary. Gabaldon and Roberts are proof of this; also Michael Crichton and, for that matter, Dan Brown. Genre fans often take the world of fiction to be divided into ‘literary’ and ‘genre’, but it isn’t: there is a vast mass of popular mainstream fiction, sold simply as ‘Fiction’, with no genre label, but also not meant to appeal to literary critics. Some work with SFF content falls into this field. I don’t see why this should not be so; genre labels don’t just refer to content, but also to traditions and communities and expectations – there are books about crime which are not Crime, and books about romance which are not Romance. And there’s no reason why people who write about futuristic or otherworldly themes have to direct their works to a particular tradition or community.

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  9. In 2015, I did a panel on the Sad Puppies with Flint when he was guest of honor at Necronomicon (Tampa Bay, FL area). Flint opened with more less the same thing as his blog entry, that there was a disconnect from what was popular and what was nominated and the Puppies’ efforts were an attempt to correct that. I countered by saying that they came off by being anti-diversity and he agreed that was true. I wish I had recorded the panel, but it was a civil panel and I was definitely anti-Puppy

    When Allen Steele won the Best Novelette Hugo in 2011 for “The Emperor of Mars”, he was surprised, and said In his acceptance speech that the Hugos tended to recognize the new.

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    1. I was reading the replies to his original blog post almost in realtime (I’m a bit of a Flint fan), and the way the Puppies, especially Brad T. and James May drove Eric to ever more exasperation was a wonder to behold.

      Since he is friends with a few Puppy-adjacent writers I don’t think he’s going to very publicly disavow his original stance, but it was obvious a day or two later that he was completely on-board with the view that the Puppies were dominated by rabid bigoted reactionaries.

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    2. One of the key problems with the argument is it’s often founded on the disconnect between “what is popular” and “what is popular with me and my friends”. There is the presumption that “the SFF me and my friends are specifically into” translates into the larger world, and if that isn’t reflected in the awards, then the problem must be with the awards, and not with me and my friends not being aware of the larger trends.

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  10. No doubt Card has fallen out of favour because of his views, but he has also become less interesting as a writer. What he has produced in the last twenty years or more is mostly either Mormon allegory (in the strictest sense of the term) or, increasingly, his own fanfic. (Plus at least one overtly political work, I think.)

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      1. And in a genre that *by definition* likes/is based on “the new”, someone writing the same stories he wrote in the 1980’s and 1990’s isn’t going to get much attention and enthusiasm, regardless of their politics, religion, or race/gender/etc.

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    1. This also applies to Anne McCaffrey, whose later work increasingly became “yet another Pern novel”, though the Crystal Singer books and several of the Talent books came out in the 1980s and 1990s. But I don’t recall the Crystal Singer books and The Rowan, Damia, etc… getting Hugo nominations.

      Meanwhile, Brian Herbert is engaging in some literary necromancy and churning out endless sequels to his father’s once seminal works with the help of Kevin J. Anderson. And that sort of thing simply isn’t Hugo worthy, no matter how well it sells.

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      1. Worth noting that the last time Card even made the longlist was the aforementioned Ender’s Shadow. Before that? Alvin Journeyman in 1996, and that was pretty far down the longlist.

        McCaffrey was last longlisted for The Skies of Pern in 2002 and some of the other Pern novels also made earlier longlists.

        I don’t see Brian Herbert in my Hugo longlist spreadsheet at all.

        (Caveat: my longlist spreadsheet starts in 1989, and is missing 1990-1992 and 1997.)

        I mention all of this because it’s not like any of these authors are just barely missing out on nominations — they’re not even close to sniffing the ballot.

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      2. Honest question, Cora.

        Why?

        I get that the vibe of rolling a dead man’s body for loose change is a bit unsavory. The flip side is that they could certainly come up with something interesting and well written.

        Any author has the potential to write something great. We won’t know that until after we’ve read it. And if an author is being discounted and ignored before their next work comes out, how will we ever know if that next work exceeds any of their prior work?

        Regards,
        Dann
        Wisdom includes not getting angry unnecessarily. The Law ignores trifles and the wise man does, too. – Job:A Comedy of Justice

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      3. “Any author has the potential to write something great. We won’t know that until after we’ve read it.”
        No, not everyone has that potential. Some don’t have talent, some don’t have the desire.
        “And if an author is being discounted and ignored before their next work comes out, how will we ever know if that next work exceeds any of their prior work?”
        This reminds me of arguments that even if a book is terrible it’s only fair to pick up another book by the same author and give them a chance — maybe that was their worst book and everything else is awesome! Yeah, maybe, but nobody’s entitled to a second chance. Similarly, nobody’s entitled to have us withhold judgment on the hypothetical possibility that we might kill the chance they’ll publish a masterpiece down the road.

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      4. frasersherman: This reminds me of arguments that even if a book is terrible it’s only fair to pick up another book by the same author and give them a chance — maybe that was their worst book and everything else is awesome! Yeah, maybe, but nobody’s entitled to a second chance. Similarly, nobody’s entitled to have us withhold judgment on the hypothetical possibility that we might kill the chance they’ll publish a masterpiece down the road.

        Yeah, I realize that Anderson didn’t ask for the 10,000KW spotlight and microscope that is the Hugo Award voting populace, but The Dark Between the Stars — hardly one of KJA’s early works, and not excusable as a novice work — was so bad that I have no interest in ever reading anything more by him.

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      5. It certainly is true that any author has the potential to write something great and that includes unpublished ones. Does that get us closer to understanding the problem?

        I’ll say it differently: how should we and how can we pay attention? I don’t have answer to that.

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      6. dann665 Have you read any of these Dune books that Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have churned out? They aren’t written, they are sketches of what I assume are notes from Frank Herbert, barely fleshed out. Given Kevin Anderson’s writing practices of just dictating while he’s hiking or walking and doing very little revision (if I remember correctly), the quality makes perfect sense.

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      7. The original Dune was a seminal work that wholly deserved the Hugo and Nebula it won at the time, even if the suck fairy has paid a visit in the 55 years since then.

        However, the umpteenth sequel of a 55-year-old work, written by a journeyman writer who specialises in writing novels set in other people’s IP, based on an idea of the son of the long dead original author, is very unlikely to be Hugo worthy. For starters, an idea that was original in 1965 is no longer original in 2020, because the genre has moved on. And what we have with the Dune sequels is a copy of a copy.

        Also, I have read some of Kevin J. Anderson’s many books. As I said above, he is a reliable journeyman writer who can adapt his writing to whatever IP he is writing for this time around and he is good at monetarising that skill. However, “can easily adapt to other IPs” is not the sort of thing Hugo voters are looking for. And though it was original, that lackluster brick of a book that the puppies pushed onto the Hugo ballot a few years ago didn’t do Anderson any favours.

        Will Anderson eventually write a great and Hugo worthy book? It could happen. But that book is unlikely to be Return of the Secret Baby of the God Emperor of Dune.

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  11. // I made the mistake of reading George RR Martin’s 1983 Armageddon Rag recently and there’s a lot of whining about how all the music since the 1960s completely sucks.

    Whoo boy! I read Armageddon Rag right about when it came out. I’d maybe have liked it more if that wasn’t smack dab in the middle of one of the golden ages of American rock. Seeing him whine about Music These Days when, had he been paying the slightest attention, he could have seen Hüsker Dü or Sonic Youth or the Replacements (all of whom, incidentally, well aware of and in dialog with the music of the sixties) was absolutely enraging.

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    1. Interesting. While I automatically assumed Martin bewailing the state of music was bullshit, I’ve never been enough of a music person to judge, not even if I’d read it at the time.

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      1. I was very much a music person at the time (the prototypical college radio DJ snob) but if you weren’t, there was no reason you’d have been aware of it—the indie-rock world then was at least as insular as the SF world, and looked upon above-the-radar success with even greater suspicion. GRRM, however WAS a music person, and his incuriosity Is much less forgivable.

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      2. By then, I was listening to less and less pop music, and more and more classical. I was 16-17 when I started listening to Gershwin, Prokofieff, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel, and managed to get increasingly unaware of current pop as time went by. I sort of knew what was going on, and even had some favorite tunes, but classical gave me spinal chord thrills that pop couldn’t reach.

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      1. Not at all hard on an iPhone. Thank god for UTF-8, I always say!

        I have something of an OCD streak that once manifested itself 10-15 years ago, when I spent several hours correcting the diacritical marks in the metadata of a Träd Gräs Och Stenar album that had clearly been created in a Swedish-specific codepage. This was many years before Discogs.com, and I didn’t know a word of Swedish: it took WORK!

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      2. I used to be able to put in just about all diacriticals easily from my Mac, but even before switching to PC, I was having to backtrack on the subject, as my music player was often not recognizing tracks with characters that weren’t plain, unflavored ASCII in the filenames or tags. What kind of a world is it where accuracy is penalized? I’ve been obliged to choose being right OR hearing the music. German kindly offers alternatives to their umlauts, but even these are sometimes counter to common usage (like with Handel). Not to mention the dogged insistence of many that they know Rachmaninoff’s name better than he did.

        Have to wonder what the next land mine will be. Come to think of it, it’s sort of moot on the music, since the utility that let me update my music player from iTunes was a Mac-only item, and I’ve had to put things in by hand for the last year, but that’s another story.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s not Georg Friedrich Händel’s fault that the English simply decided to leave out the diacritics, as if they don’t matter.

        Anyway, if you cannot write an umlaut, it’s Georg Friedrich Haendel. “Handel” is the German word for “trade” and is pronounced differently.

        Like

      4. When he left Germany, though, he became an English composer, and the spelling of his name changed most of the places it was used. Like people correcting “Schadenfreude” because it’s not capitalized–they are confusing the German word Schadenfreude with the American borrowed word schadenfreude. In English, they say his name about like “handle,” and have for centuries. Wikipedia graciously allows that he was born Haendel (they use the umlaut), but refer to him as Handel throughout, as do the majority of albums of his music that I have downloaded.

        As I say, I used to be proud of putting all those in–perhaps the legacy of my time spent proofreading four languages in the foreign languages department at a college in Georgia, where I also took a couple of quarters of German. Then it became an impediment to hearing my music, and I gritted my teeth and started taking it all out.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Like “handle” is the correct pronounciation.

        In German, it’s also perfectly acceptable to replace umlaute with vowel + e, e.g. ä becomes ae, ö becomes oe, ü becomes ue. Meanwhile, another the ß, another special character used in German that can cause problems, may be replaced with ss. Contrary to popular assumption, it’s not a B but a sharp s.

        However, just leaving out the diacritics, which is often done in the English speaking world, is not okay, because the diacritics change the pronounciation.

        Regarding the heavy metal diacritics, quite often metal bands are stunned, when they tour Germany, that fans and concertgoers pronounce their names as they are written, because they often have no idea that diacritics change pronounciation.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. @Cora:
        Of course, the fun part is that English used to have the ‘long s’ (ſ), the ‘s’ that looks like an ‘f’ to modern readers, which was used for most cases where the ‘s’ wasn’t the last letter in the word. (Greek also has a different version of lower case sigma (σ) for the final letter in a word (ς))

        And it should be obvious to anybody who looks at old texts that the German ‘sharp s’ (ß) is basically just a ligature of the ‘long’ and ’round’ s characters (ſs) with the tops of the two letters connected. I figured this out myself in high school. (Granted, I’d been taking German classes, and I’ve had an odd fascination with alphabets for a while, so I’m hardly a normal person there.)

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Put down your cup of coffee.

    I know I never exaggerate. (saved myself a large bill for replacement monitors there)

    Some authors may not be currently capable of superior work today; but have the potential to do it in the future. Some that have done in the past haven’t done it again in a while and could again.

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of discounting work on an arbitrary basis. “That author can’t….”, “self-published authors can’t…., etc.

    At the very least, if an author is earning a living via writing, then they should be considered as reasonably having the potential to produce something superior. That doesn’t equate to a right to every reader’s attention. I think it is reasonable to expect readers to be open to the possibility even if they aren’t inclined to rush out to buy the next piece of workmanlike production.

    @Camestros

    I’ll say it differently: how should we and how can we pay attention? I don’t have answer to that.

    I think that how each individual decides on which books they read is influenced by a variety of filters. Some are internal “I don’t like horror….”, “I won’t read [insert author name here]…”, etc. Some are external. I’m on a few email marketing lists from publishers and individual authors. That is one external filter. Another would be genre magazines/websites that provide book reviews. Just as no reader could read the entire genre produced in a year, no magazine/website can manage that task.

    One of my personal internal filters is a preference for military veteran authors; including those that don’t write MilSF. If I find a vet has written a book that is even moderately interesting to me, I’ll generally give it a try.

    There will be absolute gems that will be missed. Self-published works are an obvious group. A less obvious group would be a publisher’s decision to push Book A harder than Book B.

    I think the best that an individual can do is to be aware of their filters and to seek out additional resources that poke holes in them. SPFBO is my obvious hobby horse for that purpose, but there are others.

    FWIW, I wondered about the assertion that Hugo nominators were eschewing experienced authors in favor of new authors that was part of the Puppy imbroglio. It doesn’t necessarily respond to your thoughts. But I thought it was interesting enough that I added some data and finally completed the project and posted it.

    Regards,
    Dann
    I miss Taglinator….

    Like

    1. dann665: Some authors may not be currently capable of superior work today; but have the potential to do it in the future. Some that have done in the past haven’t done it again in a while and could again. I am uncomfortable with the idea of discounting work on an arbitrary basis. “That author can’t….”, “self-published authors can’t…., etc. At the very least, if an author is earning a living via writing, then they should be considered as reasonably having the potential to produce something superior. That doesn’t equate to a right to every reader’s attention. I think it is reasonable to expect readers to be open to the possibility even if they aren’t inclined to rush out to buy the next piece of workmanlike production.

      Why?

      Why, after having an absolutely miserable experience spending several hours trying to read one of KJA’s works that had been cheated onto the Hugo ballot, why should I be expected to be open to the (extremely likely very remote) possibility that he could produce something award-worthy? Why, when I have more than 1,000 books on my TBR list — many of which I know I will enjoy — should I be willing to give an author who has massively disappointed me several more hours of my precious reading time?

      Like

      1. @JJ

        As I said in my response above….

        That doesn’t equate to a right to every reader’s attention.

        I’m not suggesting that you owe him one second of your time. I am suggesting that we should all be open to the possibility of superior work coming from largely unexamined sources.

        The two are different things entirely.

        I also have author’s that I’m not rushing to read any time soon. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to catch lightning in a bottle with their next work.

        Regards,
        Dann
        We adore chaos because we love to produce order. – M.C. Escher

        Like

      2. So who’s disagreeing with you? I don’t see anyone in this thread has said “this persons should never get a Hugo because they will never be able to do good work, end of story.”

        Like

      3. I was replying to JJ who was in turn responding to something I had written.

        I never said what you are implying.

        Regards,
        Dann
        In a room full of ducks, sometimes the one that woofs is needed to point out the quacks.

        Like

    2. Dann, no one here said that certain authors are not capable of producing Hugo-worthy works. “Unlikely” is not the same as “impossible”.

      Of course, it’s possible that e.g. Kevin J. Anderson will eventually write an innovative and Hugo worthy novel. And if enough reviewers i trust say that this particular Kevin J Anderson novel is great, I may even give it a try. If it hits the Hugo ballot, i will give it a try by default.

      Also, no one said anything about self-published authors not being capable of producing Hugo-worthy works. Self-published authors have a harder time getting noticed, because they don’t get the same publicity as traditionally published authors and the publicity options that exist for self-published authors usually have a different focus. Also, due to Amazon’s algorithms those self-published authors that regularly top the Kindle charts are usually not exactly the most innovative ones.

      The sweet spot for the Hugos is “popular enough to be widely read and noticed” and “innovative enough to provide a new experience to very voracious and jaded readers”. Do the Hugos overlook good books? Of course, they do. Quite often, my favourite SFF book of a given year doesn’t even make the Hugo ballot. Also quite often, books make the Hugo ballot where I can’t for the life of me see what other people see in it. And the last time the first choice on my best novel ballot actually won was in 2014 – and while that winner was a very good book, it was not my favourite SFF book of the year in question.

      Like

      1. Cora,

        Do the Hugos overlook good books? Of course, they do. Quite often, my favourite SFF book of a given year doesn’t even make the Hugo ballot. Also quite often, books make the Hugo ballot where I can’t for the life of me see what other people see in it. And the last time the first choice on my best novel ballot actually won was in 2014 – and while that winner was a very good book, it was not my favourite SFF book of the year in question.

        I agree. I have a demonstrable reflexive response anytime someone starts closing the circle of works for potential recognition. I hope it’s the worst flaw I have but know otherwise. 8*)

        IIRC, you indicated that the Puppy imbroglio had caused you to be a bit more critical and use NA more frequently. From my perspective, I keep in mind that the finalists are there for a reason. At the same time, I seem to always have a couple that go below NA.

        Also, in my original response, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the Hugos. There are several highly prestigious, broad-based genre awards. They all seem to focus on the same core of 10-15 books. In a genre that produces thousands of works (from awesome to awful) I would expect there to be something closer to 50-100 books worth discussing.

        Camestros

        Thanks for looking it over and the kind words.

        With respect, I don’t see that any of the three perspectives are in conflict. They each describe an aspect of the dynamics involved in an evolving cultural space. At least, I don’t see any one as precluding the others from being non-trivial factors in their own right.

        Regards,
        Dann
        ‘There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.’ Ray Bradbury

        Like

      2. dann665: I am uncomfortable with the idea of discounting work on an arbitrary basis.

        Fine. Then don’t. No one is forcing you to do so.

        What you are really saying here, though, is that you are uncomfortable with other people discounting work on what you perceive to be an arbitrary basis. But it’s other peoples’ right to discount work for any reason they want.

         
        dann665: I think it is reasonable to expect readers to be open to the possibility

        Nope. It is not. You do not have the right to expect anything of other readers. This is a very strange statement coming from someone who professes to be Libertarian.

         
        dann665: I have a demonstrable reflexive response anytime someone starts closing the circle of works for potential recognition.

        No one has closed anything. What you’re actually having a demonstrative reflexive response to is people expressing their own opinions — which they are perfectly allowed to do.

        I would suggest that, instead of objecting to other people saying why they discount a work, your only suitable response is to promote the works you enjoy with cogent explanations of why they are award-worthy.

        Railing against other peoples’ right to label works (and authors) as not award-worthy is an exercise in futility, and one that makes you look like an authoritarian.

        Like

      3. The finalists for the various genre awards can be quite different, though there usually is some overlap, especially between the Hugos, Nebulas and Locus Awards. The various other award usually have their own proifile, though you get books which show up on more than one award ballot and certain books which seem to be nominated for everything, sometimes including literary awards or the awards of other genres. Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union won the Hugo and Nebula, was nominated for the Edgar and Pulitzer. Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet is a Hugo and Nebula finalist and also showed up on the ballots of various crime fiction awards. But that sort of thing is rare.

        Furthermore, those 10 to 15 books that the various genre awards focus on every year tend to be those books which have captured the imagination and attention of the SFF community. And yes, there are books where I can’t for the life of me understand why they are so popular. There are also excellent books and entire subgenres which get very little to no awards love for whatever reason.

        But there’s little you can do about that except tell others about books you loved, particularly the lesser known ones.

        Like

  13. I recently got around to reading Damon Knight’s In Pursuit of Wonder (which made me wonder if he really enjoyed reading SFF all that much) but it got me wondering where I could find similar essays about current stuff in the field.

    I just want to say I’ve enjoyed this post and all the great conversation that’s gone along with it. It scratches that itch. Thank you.

    Like

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