The Joe Doakes Challenge

I promised myself that after I heard two hundred people make this comment, I would publish it. Unfortunately, I lost count after twenty, because I am innumerate.

So I have no idea how many times I have heard remarks like this, from Joe Doakes over at Vox Populi:

In my youth, Hugo and Nebula on the cover meant “Good.” Since about 1990, it’s meant “Politically Correct.” But the point of reading SF/F is to escape the relentless political correctness of modern American life so I quit reading it.

He goes on to say

I’ve been digging back through the last couple of decades of Hugo and Nebual winners, trying to find something worth reading to change my mind. “Among Others” won both in 2012 and the library lends Kindle books free, so why not? The heroine is a SF/F reader herself so every page lists SF/F titles she’s read, which is fun because I’ve read most of them and found a few others to try.

But get this . . . the SF/F books listed in the story are our kind of books, written long ago and mostly by White men exploring fascinating intellectual concepts.

For crying out loud, even the Characters in modern politically correct SF/F hate modern politically correct SF/F.

Let me ask my readers to take the Joe Doakes challenge. Look at the first twenty years of the Hugos, and in your mind assess the worth of the books. Weigh whether or not they are imaginative, well crafted, and form the backbone of any well read SF reader’s library.

1953 Alfred Bester: THE DEMOLISHED MAN
1955 Mark Clifton & Frank Riley: THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT (aka THE FOREVER MACHINE)
1956 Robert A. Heinlein: DOUBLE STAR
1958 Fritz Leiber: THE BIG TIME
1959 James Blish: A CASE OF CONSCIENCE
1960 Robert A. Heinlein: STARSHIP TROOPERS
1961 Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
1962 Robert A. Heinlein: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
1964 Clifford D. Simak: HERE GATHER THE STARS (aka WAY STATION)
1965 Fritz Leiber: THE WANDERER
1966 Frank Herbert: DUNE
(tied with) Roger Zelazny: …AND CALL ME CONRAD (aka THIS IMMORTAL)
1967 Robert A. Heinlein: THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
1968 Roger Zelazny: LORD OF LIGHT
1969 John Brunner: STAND ON ZANZIBAR
1971 Larry Niven: RINGWORLD
1972 Philip José Farmer: TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO
1973 Isaac Asimov: THE GODS THEMSELVES

The one right after this, one year beyond my cutoff date, is Arthur C. Clarke’s RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA for 1974, and excellent book.

For myself, I have read all these score of books save one, and have reread half of them more than once. What about you, dear reader? How many of these stories do you love?

Here is the last two decades:

1995 Lois McMaster Bujold: MIRROR DANCE
1996 Neal Stephenson: THE DIAMOND AGE
1997 Kim Stanley Robinson: BLUE MARS
1998 Joe Haldeman: FOREVER PEACE
1999 Connie Willis: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG
2000 Vernor Vinge: A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY (Tor)
2002 Neil Gaiman: AMERICAN GODS
2003 Robert J. Sawyer: HOMINIDS
2004 Lois McMaster Bujold: PALADIN OF SOULS
2006 Robert Charles Wilson: SPIN (Tor)
2007 Vernor Vinge: RAINBOWS END (Tor)
2009 Neil Gaiman: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK
2010 Paolo Bacigalupi: THE WINDUP GIRL
tied with China Miéville: THE CITY & THE CITY
2011 Connie Willis: BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR
2012 Jo Walton: AMONG OTHERS (Tor)
2013 John Scalzi: REDSHIRTS (Tor)
2015 Cixin Liu: THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM (Tor)

Note that GREEN MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson is one year before my cutoff date, also an excellent book.

Here the situation, in my case, is precisely reversed from the first two decades. I know or have read almost none of these books, dislike most of what little I have read. I think two of them are brilliant science fiction and one is a charming and uncynical fantasy well worthy of the award and many rereads.

Here is the Joe Doakes Challenge, for those bold enough to take it. Get out a pencil and make a not, for both lists, these three things:

(1) Which works possess the basic craftsmanship of our guild, i.e. a solid but imaginative story well told. Note also which have dull or hateful characters, little or no plot, or rely on gimmicks or nostalgia for their appeal.

(2) How many are among the softest of SF subgenres, such as alternate history or magical realism.

(3) How many are larded with a pretentious but sophomoric profundity or attempted relevance by presenting heavy-handed message fiction rather than science fiction. Is the number rising or falling?

How many of these stories do you love? Count and note the number.

Compare the two numbers. Based on this count, how often is the Hugo Award a sign of approval, or a leper’s bell warning a reader of sound sense and a craving for imagination to stay away?

* * *

UPDATE: As predictable as nightfall following sunset, certain Morlocks pretend to take umbrage with me for something they pretend I have said, or some secret motive they pretend they can detect in my heart, which they pretend their telepathic powers (which they pretend they have) can read.

For those who toy with the notion that I am asking in some sort of slanted fashioned, or am motivated by some dark agenda, please note that the winners are matters of public record, beyond dispute. I did not add nor subtract names from the list.

Indeed, if I had wanted to slant it, I would have given only the last ten years of books, since I notice more than one clearly Hugo-worthy book lingering in the Nineties and early Naughts. Had I left off DIAMOND AGE, BLUE MARS, and DEEPNESS IN THE SKY, it would have lowered the number of outstanding stories on the second list. I did not.

Neither do I voice any opinion about any book I have not read. Neither do I claim that all the books on the second list are absolutely worse than all the books on the first list: I am trying to direct your attention, dear reader, to you own assessment of the worth once you, not I, put a number value on it. And the challenge is to see if you see a pattern. If you do, it speaks for itself, and I need say nothing. If it does not, again that speaks for itself, but at least you are not relying on a vague, general impression.

I would not bother to add this caveat, save that in the current adversarial circus atmosphere created by the clownish antics of the howling Morlocks, it is necessary to defang their false accusations before they are uttered.

Some, indeed, have accused me of belittling ANCILLARY JUSTICE, a book I have never read and thus have never voiced an opinion about the merit. I have been vocal in criticizing the publicity, however, which I have read, for its unrelenting praise heaped on a simple and stupid idea, namely, that of avoiding the pronoun he. The praise is so unrelenting that I had to read nine reviews of the book before I found one which mentioned the plot rather than this politically correct gimmick. When a challenge a fan to tell my what he liked about the book, he mentioned an idea that I had used in a book ten years earlier (which therefore, based on the description, did not seem very imaginative to me) and then a comment later, he began ranting on and on about the need for feminist gender-pronoun emasculation in society.

I realize that this is an impossible concept for Morlocks to grasp, but I am able to make a distinction between the merit of the work and its utility as a propaganda tool for spreading political correctness.

I am able, unlike those who hold politics to be everything, to dislike and despise the propaganda tool value of a book without having any opinion whatsoever on its entertainment value and craftsmanship.

A man of my disciplined and careful habit of thought is not likely to fall into the error of having an opinion about a case whose evidence he has not examined, a candidate he has not heard speak, an idea he has not heard described, or a book he has not read.

Why do the Morlocks bother to level an accusation any alert person can see is a blatant lie? Because they are not speaking to the alert, but to each other.

My theory: The comments are ritual devoid of meaning. They are lies and meant to be heard as lies by ears that are comforted by lies. It gives them a sense of power to be reciting things they know to be false, and to force their neighbors likewise, and a sense of unity, herd-comfort. As if the truth were a posture of some hated yet unconquerable king, on which their lies were a mustache and goatee they had graffiti’d