So, this happened:
When the totals were released for the Hugo nominations and people could see what might-have-been/should-have-been on the ballot instead of what the Puppies shoved on there, I was startled to see that Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F would have been on the Best Related Works ballot. I’d known, in a vague way (because at one point Jim let us know) that Invisible was eligible, but I didn’t really think a whole lot about it. I got caught up in the Hugo madness after the Puppyclypse, and it completely slipped my mind.
So seeing it there felt like a blow one catches in surprise, unprepared. Am I disappointed that I can’t add “Hugo-nominated” to my credits on my cover letter? Well, yes. At this stage in my writing career, I’d be pretty foolish not to know that would give it a little boost. But is that what really hurt? No.
I believe very strongly in Invisible, in what it set out to do, in what Jim’s vision and his generous sharing of his time and his platform were meant to accomplish. Each essay in the collection speaks to me, and hopefully to others. They’re voices saying “I too am human. See me. Understand what it means to be to be able to see myself in the work that’s put out. Give me a little time, a little space, a little empathy, because I want to be present in all of this.”
The LGBT people who are tired of the “Evil, Dead Lesbian” trope and the promiscuous gay guy and the trans prostitute. The PoC who are tired of every dark-skinned character being the bad guy. The women who only get to see themselves presented as a prize for the hero to carry off or the evil stepmother. The people with medical conditions that no one bothers to understand and who are usually presented as a “lesson” for the hero to learn. See us. Let us be people and not conditions a character is burdened with.
To have had the opportunity to be part of that is an experience I will cherish forever. I’m so proud of it, and everyone who shared themselves there. To know that others acknowledged it and thought it was worthy of the nomination is an enormous honor. And to see it shoved aside by the very behavior that we were setting out to combat is immensely painful.
Here are Brad Torgersen’s own words when announcing this year’s slate: “Likewise, we’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.”
There it is. Affirmative action. Box-checking. You only got your awards because you’re a victimized group and we feel sorry for you. Everything you said in those essays? Yeah, we don’t care about any of that. We don’t see you. We don’t want you here. We want our status quo back.
I grew up having to scrounge for strong female characters in my fiction. I wanted Chani to be a 3-dimensional character who wasn’t just the savage mother of Muad’dib’s son and daughter. I mention her particularly because the hints of who she was made me want so much more of her story, which of course was never forthcoming. I wanted female characters who weren’t victims, who weren’t vain witches or helpless princesses, who weren’t rape victims and prizes that were handed out.
Then, I “met” Jill. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle blew me away, in no small part because of Jill. She was strong, adventurous, and with a strong father and a strong lover she still made her own decisions, made her own way in the world. In fact, she decided to walk away from both those men, despite loving them terribly, because it was the right thing for her own life. She had agency, and lordy I loved her. So when Katharine Kerr wrote an essay about “Boy’s books” in Invisible, it dizzied me. Was I really sharing space with one of my heroes, talking about exactly what she helped bring to my life… because she needed it in hers?
I love Invisible, I love everything it stands for. I watched the Hugo awards with bated breath, waiting to see if the Puppies’ hateful message would be rewarded. When it wasn’t, what I felt was mostly relief, but also pride that fandom was truly rejecting this behavior. That they were standing up for their beliefs, their diversity, their commitment to fair play. But I can’t help but think how differently my heart would have been beating if I could have watched those awards with excitement and pride in the work itself, and in all the people on all the ballots who worked so hard and so well to get there. That, for me, is tragic.