Wednesday, August 5, 2020

an odd remark

Of all the criticisms I've seen of George R.R. Martin's hosting of the Hugo Awards, the most surprising is Robert J. Sawyer's. He focuses on Martin's use of nicknames for various senior and deceased authors. Even Sawyer, who's been active in SF for decades, felt excluded by these names he's never used, and wonders how it feels to people newer or from outside the social community. It's as if Martin is saying, "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not."

I've seen accusations of this before, concerning writings from the SF community aimed at outsiders, but I've never felt that way about it. Even when I was very new to fandom, I found that writings full of in-references were saying to me, not "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not," but "I'm part of a community, and you can join it." If you learn the lingo and the folkways, you can be part of it too. I did so, and found this was the case.

I think the first writing addressed to the general public that took this tone was Isaac Asimov's introduction to first Hugo winners anthology in 1962. Rather than writing about the stories, Asimov told personal anecdotes about the authors and about the conventions where the awards were given. His editors were dubious about this approach, but Asimov said that readers would feel themselves inside the world of SF, and that proved to be so.

Of course, there are reasons why this wouldn't work. One might feel not welcomed by the community, and one needn't be female (in what used to be a largely male world) or a minority to feel that way: that was the main complaint of Larry Correia of the Sad Puppies. Interestingly, it was George Martin who was most active in trying to get Larry to give specifics, to find out if it was genuine rejection or just the friction and argumentativeness common within any hyper-intellectual community. But Larry had little additional to say and the question was never pursued. (I've certainly had occasions of my own when I've felt stepped on or unwelcome, but it wasn't the community as a whole which treated me that way.)

But there are other reasons. Some people come in with chips on their shoulders, feeling rejected if they're not absorbed instantly, without having bothered to learn the lingo and folkways of the group they seek to join. But there's also the possibility that the person writing the in-groupish material is merely doing it badly. I see a combination of those here.

Let's consider the nicknames that Sawyer notes. Let me note that, though I don't know the people involved (I've casually conversed with Robert Silverberg a few times, though I'm sure he has only the faintest idea, if that, who I am, except that I'm obviously part of the community), I'm well familiar with all these nicknames, having seen them in print, and heard them in conversation, over the years.

"Silverbob" is not a term you'd address Robert Silverberg with to his face. It's a contraction you'd use in referring to him casually. It's free for anyone in the community to use, and I've probably done so myself, though as noted I hardly know him personally. But it feels odd to have it employed consistently. "Piglet" for George Alec Effinger, however, is a different matter. I know that it's a nickname he had in his very early writing-workshop days, but I also know that he hated the name and in later years rejected it entirely. Possibly GRRM, who knew Effinger well in their salad days, feels he has a survivor's rights to use the name; but I'm sure he knows also that Effinger disliked it, and that he was only able to use it without objection because Effinger is deceased.

Sawyer can't remember if GRRM called Asimov "Ike," and neither can I, but if so, the situation is the same: deceased person being called by nickname to which he firmly objected in life, to which being deceased he no longer has a say on.

Which leads me to conclude that Sawyer is right to be annoyed, but not for exactly the reason he thinks. GRRM's sin in this department was not that he used nicknames that his audience didn't know, but that he gratuitously overused them. There is a difference between employing terminology that you're inviting your audience to learn, and waving it around like a talisman, and this may have crossed the line.

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