ETA: I missed that there’s been a new development since I started writing this; the folks putting forward the proposal are dropping the novelette clause. Still not liking the “saga” portion of the proposal either, for the reasons I’ve said here and which Scalzi said in his post, but at least the proposal isn’t actively harmful anymore.
Whoa. Did you guys think this through?
No, seriously. Beyond whether “The Wheel of Time” could get a Hugo, or whether you, personally, like short fiction or not. Did you consider how proposal B.1.3 looks, both within and outside SFFdom? What message it sends about WSFS priorities?
Consider the context. In a year when there’s been intense mainstream-media coverage of an attempt to ideologically tarnish the Hugo Awards, effectively making them less representative of the genre’s current dynamism and way more representative of racist white guys’ vanity publishing, this proposal compounds that problem. Let me break down how this looks to people outside of the WSFS process.
The “sagas” proposal privileges not just established authors as John Scalzi notes, but established successful white male authors. Systemic bigotry being what it will, it’s tougher for people from underrepresented groups to survive in this area, let alone thrive in the way that a multipart series would indicate. We need rooms of our own, so to speak. We’re writing from perspectives that tend to break away from the “comfort food” factor that sagas satisfy, of sprawling, rugged power fantasies set in strangely Middle-Americanish futures and carefully cropped medieval Europes. When we do find publishers for (or self-pub) our works, they get less buzz — from professional reviews to the endless “Best SFF of the year” lists composed entirely of white male authors. It’s hard enough to start a career under these conditions, or to sell any single book, but selling well enough to manage a second, or a third, or however many books it takes to get up to 400,000 words, is something that happens only for writers who are very, very fortunate.
(And yeah, I’m well aware that I rank among the fortunate; the Inheritance Trilogy probably would qualify for this “sagas” category.* The Broken Earth might, though I’m only halfway through the second book now so it’s too soon to tell. But notice how few other women of color are successfully writing multipart epic fantasy. Trust me; that’s not because we’re incapable of imagining stories of epic struggle.)
And then there’s the novelettes clause. Scalzi covers a lot of reasons why this is an absolutely terrible idea, and I agree with all of those. But in addition, as C. C. Finlay has also pointed out, the novelette category has until lately been a good entry point for new and underrepresented writers to gain recognition. Why? For all the reasons “sagas” privileges established successful white guys, basically: short fiction must rely (usually) on quality rather than preexisting financial success to prove itself; it requires a much lower investment of free time to write; and short fiction in general is less about comfort food than challenging the reader with new ideas and perspectives. The competition is actually more fierce for short fiction than it would be for sagas; there are more markets willing to publish novelettes than there are publishers willing to grind out multiparters, and the short fiction markets pump out multiple stories, multiple times per year. It’s just that fewer of the barriers that make it hard for non-white non-men to compete exist here. Women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups usually do pretty well when they’re working with a level playing field.
So let’s review. In a year when misogynists, white supremacists, and homophobes have already managed to use the Hugos to advance their own interests, along comes this proposal making it easier for privileged white men to gain recognition, at the direct expense of the marginalized. I’m going to assume it’s an unintended consequence that this proposal effectively reinforces the Puppies’ efforts; there’s been no reason to think that anyone on the WSFS is anything other than professionally neutral on the matter. Until now.
So, c’mon ya’ll. Did you really think this through? Is this the best time for B.1.3? Are you really willing to throw short fiction under the bus just to give bestsellers another accolade? Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus, to give more affirmative action to successful white men?
Think about that again, please. Seriously. Think about it again.
* Some of my readers asked whether the Inheritance Trilogy could be nominated for a Hugo, same as the Wheel of Time, especially with a new novella published in 2014 making it “complete”. I told them no, because I thought it was wrong for the same work to be nominated again when parts had already been nominated for Best Novel in previous years. But I could have pushed the issue.
I’m unable to go to Sasquan this year, but I bought a voting membership. If you’re actually going, plan to attend the Business Meeting. Might want to bring popcorn.