Hugos, Puppies and Terrorists (20/4/2015)

This is supposed to be a post about the Hugo slate, but I’m going to digress for a while first.

I grew up in England in the seventies and eighties. My memories of that time are of (among other things) a background noise of Irish terrorism. I lived in a conservative part of the country, both upper and lower case, and “terrorism” was universally how it was presented. A lot of people where I lived commuted into London to work. Occasionally a bomb went off. They hit train stations for a while, now and then, which is why there haven’t been any litter bins in London stations for a very long time. We didn’t talk about it much. It was a bad thing that was going on in the background. Occasionally my dad would be late home when he was working in London because of a bomb threat, but not all that often. Even when he worked in Northern Ireland for a few years, it was still background noise. It was only decades later that I put the pieces together. My dad was a chemist. His area of particular expertise was explosives (we still have some German chemistry textbooks from his days in university straight after the second world war, because back then Germany was the cutting edge when it came to blowing things up). He worked for the Ministry of Defence, for a while he worked in Northern Ireland. I’ll never know for sure because he’s gone now and so I can’t ask him, but for a while, somewhere in a lab using science, I think he hunted bomb-makers.

We rarely talked about it. It never intruded much on our lives. I was aware of it, and later, when I was older, I was aware of the causes and the grievances. My one and only point with all this, really, is that it didn’t change how we lived our lives, what we did, who we talked to, where we went or what we thought. The mantra of the times, whenever it came up in conversation, whether in politics around the dinner table, was that we should carry on as we were, keep on with our lives as though nothing was happening because otherwise the terrorists would win. I don’t know how well we really did that as a society at the time. I didn’t live in Northern Ireland, I’d heard about internment but I didn’t really know what it was; yet it seemed to me at the time, living in my rather narrow bubble as it was, that the philosophy, at least, was right. Looking back now, it seems that civilisation eventually succeeded. The terrorists changed many individual lives. The response of the state changed many lives too, and very little of it for the better, but in the grand scheme of things we didn’t fundamentally change. Thirty years on, people have largely stopped blowing each other up. The landscape is much the same, but for the most part there are words instead of violence.

In a way I have deep anxiety that we are losing this new so-called “war on terror.” This time we are letting it change us. We are letting it make us be afraid, and amid that fear we are shrinking the cage in which we live and giving away little pieces of the freedoms we have allowed ourselves. It’s an old adage in politics: fearful people are easier to control. I hope, thirty years from now, I’ll be able to look back and relax, to see that yes, we wobbled like we did before, but we got over it, and we didn’t let fear win, because fear is what lets monsters grow among us.

So look: the puppies of all various adjectives are not terrorists. They gamed the system, that’s all. And before anyone rushes to change that system, have a good long look around at all the other awards out there. The Hugos aren’t broken and they don’t really need fixing. You don’t like the slate? Go to Worldcon and vote no award. Threats of disrupting the awards for the rest of time are just that, threats. Don’t let fear or anger or outrage change us. It’s sad that people feel they have to be this way, but don’t try to shut them up and don’t try to keep them out, because that’s when some far worse monster slowly grows behind you.

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