The current unpleasant thing happening in the SF world - there's always something - is the hijacking of the Hugo award nominations slate by a group of vested interests with leanings to the extreme right. Neo-fascists isn't too strong a term. They're racist, homophobic and intolerant of anyone who doesn't subscribe to their ultra-conservative religious beliefs. I won't even begin to unpack the grisly complexities behind this, the Sad Puppies versus the Rabid Puppies, but if you're coming to this completely cold, here is as good a summary as any:
It's a vile, offensive stunt, cynically motivated, and one that does real damage to the reputation of the Hugo award. At the moment, within the constitution of the World Science Fiction Convention, there is only so much that can be done to limit the harm. Those who know the system better than me are trying to work out which is the best strategy for limiting the impact of the Puppy slate - whether it's best to attempt an honest ranking of the nominated pieces in each category, or simply vote "no award" in each slot. Unfortunately, the Puppies have more or less guaranteed to pull this stunt year after year unless their nominated stories pick up the awards. Presently it's not at all clear what can be done, while preserving the spirit of the Hugos.
I'll be honest - I've had a decidely mixed relationship with the award. As a young SF reader, I was drawn to books that had won the field's two big awards - the Hugo and the Nebula. They seemed like badges of merit that could be trusted. Of course I had no idea how these awards actually functioned. That only came later, once I'd entered the field as a writer and begun to understand something of the wider SF community and its mechanisms.
I always thought it would be great to win a Hugo or a Nebula. Technically, I've been a professional SF writer for twenty five years, although I'm not sure whether Interzone, where I made my first sale in 1989, would have been considered a qualifying market. Nonetheless, I got paid and soon began to try placing my stories and novels with other markets. There were times when I couldn't sell anything, and it still took a decade before I got a book deal, but at no point did I feel like the field was actively conspiring to prevent me getting ahead in my career. I just figured that I wasn't quite hitting the right marks. It never bothered me that I wasn't on the radar of the Hugo or Nebula awards. That, I hoped, would come later, if it came at all.
I did eventually get a Hugo nomination. That was in 2011, at the Reno Worldcon. It was for my story Troika, which I'd written three years earlier. I was stoked - absolutely over the moon.
As it would be my first Hugo ceremony as a contender, I made a real effort to smarten up. The evening was exciting. I remember waiting in the holding area before the ceremony proper, looking at the changing light over Reno as the sun went down. The sky was an intense lemon yellow, something I've only ever seen in the desert. I didn't really rate my chances of winning, but at the same time, I couldn't honestly dismiss them either. I was a bag of nerves as the novella category finally rolled around.
I didn't win. No biggie. I'd made it onto the ballot - that was all that mattered. Afterwards, I went to one of the parties running in one of the big hotel suites. The atmosphere was jolly and I enjoyed winding down from the tension of the ceremony. I hung out with the Locus crew. It was a relief that the whole thing was over, and my mind was turning to the long journey I had facing me the day after, and the early start that was necessitated.
I missed the 2012 Worldcon for some reason or other. In 2013 I made it to San Antonio. My wife was with me in town, and since she didn't have a membership, and rather than leave her on her own for the evening, I thought the best thing would be to skip the Hugos and go to see a film. As it was I fell soundly asleep in the cinema, so I'd probably have nodded off during the ceremony as well.
In 2014 I was again at the Worldcon, but I'd been involved in a starship seminar all afternoon (as you do) and once more couldn't make it to the ceremony. I went to the pub instead, catching up on the news as it filtered through via social media and the live television feed running in the pub.
I hadn't gained another nomination since Troika, and far from heralding a long and glorious imperial phase of hitting the Hugo ballots with ominous regularity, I'd actually done progressively worse in each successive year. My stories were not only failing to make the nominations, they were sliding ever further below the cutoff! I'd be lying if I said this didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the Hugos just a wee smidge. The truth is, lots of writers get one nomination in their careers. Be grateful for that, I suppose. Plenty of writers better than me have never had a nomination at all.
Enthusiasm dented, though, I didn't bother voting after 2011. I didn't feel sufficiently well informed about the state of the field to do so. My reading was falling ever further behind the curve, and besides - I felt that if I had horses in the race, or at least potential horses, it wasn't really my job to vote. I wouldn't vote for myself, but equally I didn't want to vote myself off the ballot by unwittingly nudging another piece ahead of my own.
That said, it never occurred to me that there might be some kind of institutional conspiracy going on to keep the likes of me off the ballot. And even if I had suspected that - well, screw it. Life's too short. Move on and worry about something else.
SF is about tolerance, inclusiveness - the accepting of other viewpoints, up to a certain point. Or at least, it used to be. Most of us involved in the field, I think, still want it to be like that. Friendships are more important than ideologies. Art is more important than doctrine. The Puppies can't see that, though. A handful of middling talents haven't yet managed to get their works on the slate through orthodox means, so they've elected to game the system.
The odd thing is - or perhaps it isn't odd at all - is that the ongoing trouble with the Puppies only makes me feel more warmly disposed to the Hugos. I certainly should have voted. It would have taken a lot more of us to outweigh the block voting effect of the slate ballot, but that's no argument not to have tried. As I've mentioned earlier, I've been striving to read a lot more short fiction this year, and I already feel a lot better informed about the state of the field in 2015 than in recent years. And yes, while the Hugo award has been damaged - it's hard to see a way around that, irrespective of what happens later in the summer - I would still like to win one eventually. I hope the award can weather this storm, and continue on as it should be - a prized part of SF's collective heritage.