So I’m still following the Hugos … and I’ve noticed a worrying conception forming. A conception that has sprung both from conversations over on my other blog, and from public statements from the anti-puppies, the insular group. As I’ve been reading through and following along, I’ve come to an interesting—and worrying—possible conclusion.
I may not be a Science-Fiction and Fantasy fan.
Which is shocking. I always thought I was one. But no, according to a lot of these posts and comments I’m seeing and reading, I am not a “fan.” Or, to use the terms that some of the insulars have started to use, I am not a “trufan,” a term which, quite honestly, reminds me quite a bit of the ridiculous amount of self-inflicted (and mostly declarative) segregation in the gaming community between the “PC Master Race” and the “Console Gaming Peasants.” The console gamers aren’t really gamers, you see. They’re just casuals.
The problem is that where in the gaming world, a lot of the big, respectable organizations in gaming don’t really acknowledge this subset mentality because let’s face it, it’s not healthy for the gaming community at all, right now the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community seems to be doing the exact opposite. The big names, the big groups who should be recognizing this for the crappy, base-splitting ideology that it is, have instead decided to run with it, and many seem to be trying to exploit it in one way or another. It’s like if a car dealership during the McCarthyism era had seized on the idea and used it to sell cars. “Filthy commies drive [rival dealers brand],” they say. “You’re not a filthy commie are you” (Disclaimer: for all I know this actually happened, which in hindsight would be both amusing and terrible)?
So, where is this going, this whole “fans” versus “trufans” mentality? Nowhere good, that’s for sure. I mean, I’d always considered myself a fan of Science-fiction and Fantasy, even from a young age. Crud, the books I write and sell now, I’ve filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy. But in the interest of full disclosure, apparently I can’t just claim that anymore. So, here’s how I arrived at that conclusion, along with the smattering of commentary I’ve picked up that challenges that conclusion.
When I was eight, I read The Hobbit, followed by The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always assumed that was fantasy. This might not be the case anymore. But for me, it was fantastic, and a whole new spectrum of reading opened up in front of me. From Tolkien I jumped to Salvatore (starting with the Drizzt series), Brooks (Shannara), Prachett (Discworld), Clarke (Rama), Zahn (known for Star Wars books, but he wrote a ton more), Douglas (standalone fantasy), Crichton (Jurassic Park is science fiction, or at least that’s what I thought), Wies, Bradley … and dozens of other authors, far too many for me to ever remember. If it was Science-Fiction or Fantasy, and was in my library, I probably read it. When I went to college I wrote what was Science-Fiction and Fantasy (or, at least, it had magic and crazy future tech and space travel, and even my dedicated class on the writing of Science Fiction said it was Science Fiction … though I guess that was wrong). When I published, I published what I thought was fantasy. Apparently … it’s not? And apparently … I’m not a Science-Fiction and Fantasy fan?
The reason’s I’ve picked up for this have varied. But there are two that really stick out to me as quite alarming and worrisome. The first is that yes, I had been reading, but that I hadn’t been reading the right authors, and therefore I’m not a Science-Fiction/Fantasy fan. I’ve had his argument proposed to me as a way to distinguish between ‘real fans’ and ‘people who self-identify as fans but aren’t.’ Apparently, if you’re a ‘real fan,’ you’re reading Sci-Fi/Fantasy from some list of “approved” authors (this is my word for it, I’m sure others have used a less-forthright term for it). I’ve seen this argument used in several places online recently, with regards to the Hugo Awards, as a way to “separate” the ‘real’ readers of Science-Fiction and Fantasy from those who are … I don’t know, just pretenders because they’ve only read Harry Potter, The Dresden Files, and Lord of the Rings so far? And who picks these “approved” authors in the first place? Am I supposed to find this group and appease them to be a “real” Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader?
I’m seeing startling similarities here between the “Glorious PC Master Race” and the “Filthy Console Peasants” already. Except most don’t take that one seriously.
Apparently, though, according to these stances, part of what makes me a “Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan” is having read certain authors. I can still read the other stuff, but if I haven’t read this stuff, I’m not a real fan? I guess?
The other argument I’ve seen is about as blunt, and about as odd (and again, from the insular group). This stance argues that there are “fans” and “trufans,” and that the difference is that the “trufans” are the ones that go to and host cons. Somehow, this gives them an inherent superiority over those plebs who can’t attend a con or aren’t interested in it.
Now look, I get that some of these cons, in the past, have tried to be as open as possible. And I suspect that now, quite a few of them probably don’t like seeing this attitude spring up, unless they’re one of the ones that doesn’t want non-“trufans” to attend.
But this attitude? Not cool. When I was a kid, my family didn’t have money to play with. My parents were up to their eyeballs in debt between being self-starters of business and buying a house. There were weeks when bean for lunch and dinner on the table were all we could afford. We didn’t have money for extravagance. And we lived in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, too. There wasn’t even a road out. You had to fly or take a boat.
So conventions? HAH! Those were for well-to-do people. So my friends and I would talk Sci-Fi and Fantasy on our own. We never went to any conventions. We’d all read books and chat about them the same way people chatted about television shows and games (which we would chat about too). We mused on the martial talents of dark elves and debated on the endings of Sci-Fi mysteries. We had fun. We enjoyed it.
So that makes us lesser fans, apparently. Weird. And even now, I don’t have the money to make it to conventions unless it’s local and I get a good deal. I’m an author, and that means I don’t have much dough to play with. Until now, I’d always assumed that was fine. I have plenty of Sci-Fi/Fantasy interested friends both in real life and online that I can chat with about it. I didn’t see any problem with it.
Others are arguing differently. I’ve not made it to a con, so therefore I’m not a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan. You can only be a “trufan” if you have the time and money to go to a con. More importantly, my opinion is therefore as a result, like a “Filthy Console Peasant’s,” of less value automatically until I’ve attended one of these cons and become a real fan. Reminds me a little of Pinocchio trying to become a “real boy.” Except here, I think the nose is growing quite a bit.
Look, I understand that different cons cater to different audiences. But one thing that’s certainly true as much with con organizing as anything else is that you can’t say one thing and claim another. And right now, to my eyes, this seems to be the real tipping point for the Hugos. The Hugos site itself, in its FAQ, says that the award is for “… excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.” And so the war really seems to have turned into a battle of who gets to say this. Currently, the argument from the insulars seems to be in part one of disassociation, of pushing away anyone with differing opinions and labeling them “not real fans” since they have to abide by this stance that the Hugos are “open” to all Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. I really don’t want to get into the meat and potatoes of that fight because there’s a lot more to it, and I’m speaking about the disassociation in and of itself, rather than the relation to the Hugo Awards, but that seems to be in part where it’s coming from. A bunch of authors on both sides are waking the slumbering masses of what were once considered Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans in order to vote, but now, in order to throw doubt on the whole thing, some are arguing that some of the fans aren’t really fans, and are clamoring to discredit those they don’t agree with as “not fans.” Sort of in the way the “Glorious PC Master Race” followers will attempt to decry others opinions on the same game by making the claim of “You’re playing it on a console and therefore not truly experiencing it, therefore your opinion does not matter.”
Except the difference I’m seeing right now is that while the gaming community rolls their collective eyes and, at least at the commercial, publisher and review level, ignore most of that, the book industry/fandom/whatever seems to be diving right into it and actively encouraging it. Which, in my experience with other fandoms, is a recipe for disaster. Because I’ve seen what happens when this kind of mentality sets in.
It breaks things. Breaks them hard. Often kills them, or severely weakens them.
And that could happen here. I’ve got to be honest, if we’re going to judge the quality of a “fan” not based on whether or not they have an interest in Science-Fiction or Fantasy, but by whether or not they’ve read “approved” authors, or whether or not they’ve attended a con (or the “right number” of cons, or the “right cons,” as this venue eventually follows), then we’re going to build a fandom that a lot of people won’t want to be a part of. Nobody wants to walk in to a discussion about a book only to be told up front that unless they’ve read the author’s notes, they aren’t even welcome in the group and haven’t really “read the book.” That individual will walk away, and even if they do decide to stay a reader of that book, how likely are they to ever talk about it with anyone ever again?
That’s the future that the Hugos are barreling towards at the moment, and worse, those driving the train seem blind to the afteraffects of it and the ridiculousness of the whole thing. And hypocrisy—the insular group, the one most often self-associated with being the “progressive, open, and inclusive group,” is the same one producing a lot of these “fan/not-fan” mentalities. Already during this whole thing I’ve been told (or heavily insinuated at) that I am “probably not a real Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan” by those who are very openly anti-puppy. And as someone who writes what I thought was Science-Fiction and Fantasy, that’s a troubling development. If I, someone who writes and publishes Sci-Fi and Fantasy, am not a “real” Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, then who the heck is? Is there some form I need to fill out? A license to apply for? Am I going to have to sit in front of some board of approval and answer trivia questions to prove I’m a “fan?” Attend a certain number of conventions to earn my “street cred?”
At the end of all this, if you were hoping for a conclusion, well … there really isn’t one. Because this whole thing is still up in the air, still ongoing. The walls are still being built, and right now is the time to decide whether or not we’re going to keep building them to keep the “wrong fans” out and the “trufans” pure, or if we’re going to tear down the walls and stop. At the moment, though, I don’t see that happening. There’s enough big voices with weight behind them that are determined to keep building these walls, to keep their fandom exactly the way they want it, that I don’t think these walls are going to get torn down.
And with that in mind, I have to ask … why would anyone want to be a part of that fandom? Which brings me back to the question posed in the very title of this blog: I’m not a Science-Fiction/Fantasy fan?
It’s a question I’m asking myself. For a long time, I proudly considered myself one. But now … yeesh, I’m not so sure anymore. Because if I have to have read “approved” authors or attended a set number of cons before I can call myself a fan … well … who’d want to be part of a fandom that’s that anal?
At the end, though, I think I can probably still say I’m a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, at least for now. Because at the end of the day, while those who are pushing to wall of the fandom like this may be fans of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, at the end of the day, and what they’re fans of more, is something else. Sort of like that “Glorious PC Master Race” crowd. It’s not really about the books, and the magic, and the spaceships. It’s about something else. And while times may change so that whatever that group is pushing becomes what, in the public eye, determines whether or not you’re a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, at the moment, I’m still going to hold that it’s a love of magic, spaceships, futuristic events and ideas, and fun.
If the day ever comes that I feel the need to carry a mental “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” card with a checklist of the “approved” activity in the back pocket of my mind just so I can voice my appreciation of the genres, though, I guess I’ll just shove all my books over to “Fiction” and call it a day.
After all, last I heard, no one was basing something as bland as “reader” on specific authors or the number of cons attended. So I guess I’ll always have that?