I woke up to find Twitter aflame with people discussing a column in the fanzine Beam that opens with: “So fuck John Scalzi anyway.”
There is a link in this tweet from the man himself where he replies.
There are also some interesting responses on Twitter from Kameron Hurley and Alexandra Erin.
The gist of the piece is simple. The character of the Best Fan Writer category has changed and the writer (Ulrika O’Brien) blames John Scalzi. It’s not a great piece but it is better than it sounds but not by much. The worst aspects are the histrionic claims (“The Hugos are broken, probably permanently and irretrievably.”) and placing all the blame on one person (the aforementioned Mr Scalzi) and the dismissive tone of the choices of voters and often the voters themselves.
It has some merit as a piece that attempts to look at the changing character of a set of awards. That’s interesting and it is probably interesting to a number of people who read this blog who, prior to Puppy shenanigans, were less invested in the Hugo Awards qua Hugo Awards — including myself. Actually, particularly myself on reflection. As the piece says:
“Going from not knowing what a Best Fan Writer is to having a Hugo for it in 18 months is no mean feat. Going from not being a part of fandom in any way (Scalzi marks his entry into fandom to a Detroit convention in
2005), to having a Hugo for fanac in three years, is incredible. Literally.”
I somewhat resemble that remark, having gone from NOT EXISTING as any kind of presence at the start of 2015 to being a Hugo Finalist for Fan Writer in 2018. I’m part of what the writer sees as the problem described as:
“When I do see it, I increasingly find a bunch of total strangers who’ve not visibly participated in fandom, and I see red all over again. I will inevitably be told that the failing is in me, that were I to educate myself, I would discover their merit. As often as not, whatever merit is involved, what I actually discover are more neo-pros doing nothing remotely to do with fandom as we know it, or if they do, only in pursuit of making money off us.”
As I’ve discussed in previous posts on fan writing, there’s certainly many people being nominated for work that is in various ways paid for. Having said that, there’s plenty that isn’t nor was John Scalzi’s blog itself a money making venture (except in the more general marketing sense.)
Taking two steps back and looking at the bigger picture and the actual societal changes occuring in the relevant time period, what do we see? Nothing mysterious and nothing secretly controlled by John Scalzi but rather the increasing and inevitable online nature of fandom, along with generational change. The period of 2000 to 2020, was always going to be one in which fandom would have the kind of generational change that fandom is always having because people get older and people from a younger generation become more influential. To use tired generational-terms, a shift from Baby Boomers to Gen-X with (now) more Millennials (and younger).
The accompanying shift was technological with blogs, blogging networks (particularly Live Journal at one point), social media platforms and commerical pop-culture media sites changing where fan-related discourse was happening. This was a cross-generational change (e.g. GRRM’s Live Journal or how influential Mike Glyer’s File770 fanzine-turned-blog became during the Puppy Debarkle).
The more interesting claim is that John Scalzi is to blame for the Puppy Debarkle itself:
“But perhaps most memorably for many, 2015 was the first Year of the Puppies. The combined efforts of the Sad and Rabid Puppies managed to get their slates solidly wedged onto the short list of many categories, including literary and media ones, leading to much public outrage in the months leading up to the convention, and to a rhythmic tattoo of Hugos going to “No Award,” during the awards presentation. And the audience applauded. Our highest honors were so badly broken that category after category went unawarded, and the fans applauded. Thanks Scalzi. Fuck you.
Yeah, Scalzi. Because beyond distorting the fan categories beyond all recognition, John Scalzi opened the door for anyone who was paying attention and willing to do the leg work to rewrite any Hugo to their own preference. Looking at an award category, deciding that the people currently winning it don’t deserve to, examining the rules to see if they explicitly forbid what you want to do, and then mounting a blog-based campaign to circumvent the spirit of the award by recruiting a bunch of fan-cultural outsiders who never previously nominated or voted in that category to do so – does that sound at all like a familiar pattern? And make no mistake, Scalzi’s blog had plenty of Puppy-leaning types paying attention to it. The incomprehensible, but much repeated favorable comparison of John Scalzi’s debut novel, Old Man’s War, to the work of Robert Heinlein pretty well assured that the Randroids and the pseudo-libertarian ammosexuals would be there in droves.”
Like most of the column, the charge is histrionic and ignores so many other dynamics. Also, Scalzi didn’t open any door. The door was already open, he just walked through it. The only way that never would have occurred would have been if Worldcon and the Hugo Awards had simply dwindled into irrelevance, ignored by new generations of people and a fannish discourse that had expanded into new arenas*.
Having said all that, as a self-appointed student of the Hugo Debarkle, the role of John Scalzi and his Whatever blog can’t be ignored. Go back to the years prior to the Puppy revolt we don’t need to speculate about any nexus between future Puppies and the influence of the blog because we can watch Brad Torgersen (Sad Puppy 2ic) being Brad in the comment section, along with various other notable characters in the performance that would follow. I can’t see anything in those years for which John Scalzi deserves moral blame for though. He was (is) a succesful author who was also keen to engage with fandom when he discovered its delights. That’s hardly a new path. The fan-writer to pro-writer path anything new for the Hugos, something Robert Silverberg reminded people of last year.
There is a broader point to the column. Are the fan categories rewarding fan-works or are they acting a second-tier aspiring pro categories? Firstly, accept there’s never going to be a clear distinction. Secondly, changing the rules is NOT mysterious nor unachievable! Rather than a futile exercise in lambasting John Scalzi (and let’s face it, he’s weathered plenty of lambasting over the years) consider what kinds of things the fan categories SHOULD reward and think about how FUNCTIONALLY they can be defined in our new more inter-connected world.
The question is what fan-writing should be and how it should be celebrated. Which is an interesting one and it is one in which it is worth noting John Scalzi not as John Scalzi the author but John Scalzi the guy who is and was heavily engaged in fandom as it is now.
*[NOTE: I’m not saying existing or former arenas of fannish discourse are irrelevant or inferior, just that other arenas now exist]