This year’s Hugo Awards, debatably the most prestigious award in sci-fi literature, has crowned N.K. Jemisin a queen of the genre, awarding her Best Novel for her latest book, The Fifth Season. The book itself is a literary feat that capitalizes on the current socio-political climate – and literal climate – of today. It relays a world in which every five years the ‘Supercontinent’ sees cataclysmic violence against Earth in the form of apocalyptic climate change.
While publishers gloat and Jemisin is probably off somewhere celebrating in a champagne bubble bath and eating french fries, not everyone is so keen on the win.
Two campaign groups, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, hold the claim that sci-fi has been oversaturated with left-leaning, liberal-championing writers. Both groups see the growing receptiveness to a wider spectrum of writers as a bias towards writers who don’t fit the diversity bill – most notably white dudes. They see it as a swap of space opera for P.C. pandering, traditional sci-fi for some preachy liberal agenda, and a general hijacking by a blind fumbling towards diversity. Although it’s understandable why some readers may view Jemisin’s win, and publisher’s attempt to ‘tint’ the status quo of white male authors in the genre as a rather superficial advocacy of diversity: a.k.a. prizing sheer numbers over content and other (non-racial) forms of diversity, the Puppies don’t seem to lean towards any logic of the sort.
Theodore Beale, coordinator of the Rabid Puppies was banned from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America after his blatantly offensive remarks, calling Jemisin an “educated but ignorant savage.” He also added this comment to boot: “Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of N.K. Jemisin is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.” A hearty dose of racist comments aside, the groups also continuously try to rig the vote in favor of their own slate of authors, which is just plain annoying.
Before sharing the rest of the wins – which I promise I’ll get to – it feels important to offer a reality check regarding black authors and diversity more generally in the genre. Black writers are severely underrepresented in sci-fi publications. A look at racial stats in speculative fiction magazines and online publishing portals this year shows that in a pool of 2,039 short stories published across 63 magazines, only 38 were by black authors. Within the sci-fi publishing community, only 11.3% of employees identify as Hispanic, Black, Pacific Islander, Native American…or any non-white background.
Beyond racial bounds, the sci-fi industry, contrary to the beliefs of Puppies, has room to expand intellectually and experimentally in terms of content, narrative, and style. “SF/F has definitely changed from the golden age of science fiction in the ’50s,” Zachary Leibman, assistant editor at Running Press told Publishers Weekly in 2014, but “from a business standpoint, [publishers] always want to see what’s going to be the safe bet, and that tends to be very regressive. There can be a tendency to be more hesitant to represent diversity. If you can get people to engage with the material, though, they’re very hungry for these books and they appreciate them.”
Only 3% of U.S. published sci-fi works are written in/translated from other languages, and very few (with exceptions like Night Sky), talk about mental illness, physical handicaps, or characters that veer more generally from the norm. Diversity isn’t something reductive to race and gender, but a widespread shift that hopes to have traditional and deviating story lines equally embraced by publishers.
Jemisin’s win was a triumph over these vitriolic groups as well as a thumbs-up in the way of diversity, but her win wasn’t the only excitement to come out of the weekend’s ceremony. Nnedi Okorafar walked away with Best Novella for her critically acclaimed Binti.
Best Novellete was awarded to Hao Jingfanq’s Folding Beijing, which originally appeared in Uncanny Magazine. Best Short Story was given to “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer. The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman nabbed a win for Best Graphic Story.
Best Dramatic Presentation, long and Short-form respectively, were taken by Drew Goddard’s screenplay, The Martian, and Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” collaboratively written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King.
We’re almost there…
Best Editor: Ellen Datlow (short form) and Sheila E. Gilbert (long form)
Best Professional Artist: Abigail Larson
Best Semipro Zine: Uncanny Magazine
Best Fanzine: File 770
Best Fan Writer: Mark Glyer
Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles
Any of your faves snag a win?
Featured image courtesy of NKJemisin.com.