One thing I’ve discovered over the years as an author is that most people don’t really read books as much as they claim they do, and that, except for the comparatively rare devoted readers, any conversation about publishing and books lasts less than five minutes with most people, no matter how educated or intelligent they are. But as my wife reminds me, the same is true about her profession – voice and opera. When I went back to my college reunion last month [the first and possibly the last reunion I will attend], a number of my classmates made kind remarks about the number of books I had written and published… and in less than a few minutes the conversation was elsewhere – and these men were all high-paid and respected professionals. Interestingly enough, perhaps one of the best conversations I had was with the one who’d become a professional guide and bush pilot in Alaska. But then, only a handful of all of them have ever read science fiction or fantasy.
I suspect other authors, especially F&SF authors, run into the same situations, and I have no doubt that devoted readers have the same problem. Why else would so many flock to conventions? And why else would so many F&SF readers take off weekends and sometimes even a week to mix with other readers and professionals and would-be professionals in the field? [As a side note, this casual disregard for the written word is possibly why those individuals who are not F&SF readers join book-reading clubs, because that may be the only alternative for them.]
Some of the most involved F&SF readers do feel incredibly strongly, as evidenced by the furor over the Sad/Rabid Puppies slate voting for the Hugo awards, strongly enough that a number of those involved even reject suggestions that some moderation just might be in order, all of which reminds me of the ancient political furor over Barry Goldwater’s 1964 declaration that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And… moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
The problem in both politics and the current Sad/Rabid Puppies kerfuffle is that each side’s assumptions behind the words differ. Conservatives view “liberty” and “justice” in terms of property, while liberals focus on human rights. I’d like to think that moderates realize that both property and human rights are essential to a functioning society.
Likewise in the F&SF kerfuffle, it seems to me that the Sad/Rabid Puppies tend to focus more extensively, at times almost exclusively, on the importance of action, storyline, and individual worth and action, while the more “liberal” side insists that the context of the society/world in which storylines exist should play a far greater role, and that no functional future society should be racially/culturally unidimensional. The Sad/Rabid Puppies appear to believe that the other side wants to continue using the Hugo awards to reward works and individuals that further their goals, while the “liberal” side believes that the Sad/Rabid Puppies want to wrench the awards back to representing the male, patriarchal U.S. culture of the 1950s. That’s an oversimplification, since each group has individuals who don’t fit those definitions, but I think it captures the gist of the conflict.
The sad problem is that the unspoken simplistic assumptions on each side ignore their commonalities, and the fact that, for F&SF to continue as a vital form, elements of both sides need to be represented and that neither should “dominate” the awards. Of course, since the politicians and all too many voters haven’t been able to comprehend this concept, why should mere readers and authors?