Monday, 10 August 2020

SF Furore Part 1: The 2020 Hugo's

Jeanette Ng would cancel both of the men here, and anyone reading their work.

Another year has passed. Another set of Hugo's have been won. And another row has broken out in fandom. What a surprise. Not!

For those who aren't up on the history of science fiction, let's just say that the roots of SF, as a genre, began circa 1921 (give or take), as a way of justifying literature that wasn't aimed at improving the reader, but rather providing some entertainment.

Exciting stories featuring new technology.

Hugo Gernsback coined the term "scientifiction*," for scientific based fiction, which later became science fiction. Or, as Forrest J. Ackerman later called it, Sci-Fi.

The SF genre started in the pulps as mere "entertainment," that has arguably evolved over the years into a literature that examines the impact of technology on the human condition.

Arguably, because a genre is just a marketing category. Whether or not stories have to comment on the human condition versus just being entertaining is arguable; an opinion, not a fact.

A reminder, last year Jeanette Ng won The Campbell Award for best new author, which I commented here, resulting in it being renamed The Astounding Award (technically not a Hugo, but awarded at the Hugo ceremony).

This years row is over various faults like: how dare George R. R. Martin's mispronounce authors names; the time that the virtual award ceremony ran with his waffle; then the final straw, GRRM mentioning the names of people who won this years Retro Hugo awards, promoting their importance to the genre, despite having been deemed unmentionable, after Jeanette Ng canceled them.

Arguments over these issues that have been all across SF&F social media.

Comments from both SF&F fans and professionals, commentary that frankly beggars belief. It's like children calling each other names in the playground, except these people aren't children, and an an awful lot of them want to cancel writers who they find problematical.

Please don't get me wrong on this, one has to face the fact that neither were nice men, but what they brought to the world has value beyond their faults.

Both of Lovecraft's parents died while confined in a psychiatric hospital, and as a child he had chorea minor, and later what appears to have been atypical depression. He also died at age 46; health outcomes back then were poor, and today we know that both genetics and the environment can affect how people grow up to become who they are.

None of which forgives his bigotry.

But, to deny his contribution to SF&F for being a bad person is just plain wrong.  He wrote within a modern tradition of existential nihilism, explored the delusions of living in an anthropomorphic universe, and addressed mankind's insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things.

Creating the Mythos alone, argues that Lovecraft's influence transcends his feet of clay. That and the fact that he is still being discussed till this day, inspiring writers to create cosmic horror, says it all.

Campbell's contribution to SF&F are twofold: he wrote (Who Goes There, which became the film The Thing); and his editorship of Astounding Magazine.

He died at the age of 61, which would now be considered young. And I couldn't help but notice that his pictures show him smoking. We now know that smoking affects the respiratory system, and blood circulation to the brain.

I mention this, because as Charlie Stross once observed, isn't it funny how men of a certain age tend to have changes of personality from health issues (high blood pressure). Again, none of this forgives his bigotry but, those times were not our times.

Things were different then. To deny that Campbell totally reshaped the genre, transforming SF from its Pulp roots into a discussion of how technology will affect the human condition, and cancel him, is again just wrong.

By all means have an opinion. But stating opinions to generate arguments, which are not facts, is pointless. 

One doesn't need to subscribe to the values of creators to see that their creations add to the richness of the human condition. Not withstanding the fact that both Campbell and Lovecraft were both crazy nut jobs, men with feet of clay, doesn't mean the good they did should be thrown out with the bad.

Jeanette Ng, and those who support canceling people are doing more damage to the genre than either Lovecraft or Campbell.

NB: *1915 according to Pulp Librarian @PulpLibrarian


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