There’s currently a kerfuffle over the “Hugos,” otherwise known as the World Science Fiction convention’s annual awards for best writing, art, etc. The uproar lies in the fact that one group agreed on a “slate” of novels, short stories, novellas, editors, artists, etc., eligible for the award and legitimately used social media and the rules for nomination to essentially overwhelm the traditional members. The upstart “Sad Puppies” movement did this because, if I understand the matter accurately, they felt that the “traditional” voters were more interested in diversity and social issues than story itself, which is apparently why they labelled those traditional members/voters as SJWs [social justice warriors].
From where I stand on the fringe of this literary internecine kerfuffle, the conflict boils down to the contention by the Sad Puppies that the SJWs have essentially marginalized “story” in F&SF fiction writing while giving awards for non-story concerns such as multi-culturalism, gender diversity, and other liberal beliefs. The so-called traditionalists seem to believe that “good” fiction requires more than merely plot and action.
That’s probably a simplistic summary, but I think that’s the gist of the conflict, in which case the issue is really over just what it takes for fiction to be really good.
As often occurs, I find myself firmly in the middle, because I find straight “action” stories or novels, no matter how intricate the plot, and no matter how clean the style, rather shallow. On the other hand, I find anything that is used that overshadows the characters and the story to be excessive. Yes, there is a place for multi-culturalism, diversity, sexual/gender issues, or any number of environmental and political issues – but only if they’re an integral part of what affects the characters and the development and resolution of story and plot.
I also don’t think that writing an issue-oriented novel for the sake of the issue usually results in the best fiction. I write about women and their issues because, with my background, I’ve been surrounded by intelligent and highly competent women with stories to tell. Likewise, with a long history in politics and environment, I know the stories to be told there, but I never set out with “an issue” as the main focus of a book. The issues arise because of the characters and the story, not the other way around.
So my feeling is that issues shouldn’t drive the story, nor is a novel or a story that ignores the issues that would arise in such a setting anything more than wish-fulfillment escapism – and there’s nothing wrong with that… except that escapism that ignores the issues that should be there if the whole story were told usually fails to be the best fiction, perhaps the best escapism, but not the best fiction.