No Award

It’s official. Literary awards mean nothing and are little more than political plays. The actual content of a book and whether it meets the criteria of the award is irrelevant. Let’s review the evidence.

  • Last years Man Booker Prize went to The Sellout, a book about prejudice against blacks in America, in the year that Black Lives Matter dominated the headlines.
  • Underground Railroad, another racial fantasy tale, won the Pulitzer and, more worryingly, the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
  • This years Women’s Prize for Fiction went to The Power, which dares ask the question, ‘What if the power were in women’s hands?’

Now, hold that thought.

It was just announced that the 2017 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize was won by Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex, and this is the point where I have decided that something is fishy in the publishing waters. Not only did Testosterone Rex, which has a rating of 3.73 on Goodreads, win against such books as In Pursuit of Memory (4.17 from 18 ratings) and I Contain Multitudes (4.21 from 3,730), but one of the judges on the panel was Naomi Alderman, the author of The Power. What a coincidence.

There have already been a number of writers pointing out the flaws with Cordelia’s work, but this goes a step further. When it is so clear that a book was chosen for its political point-scoring alone, how can you ever take this award seriously? And you can’t use the popularity line. People are fascinated by the microbes inside us (and they should be educated about this topic) and are obsessed by the brains of the octopus, as written about in the shortlisted book, Other Minds. It clearly isn’t a particularly good book. The only reason it won is because of the explicitly political line it is trying to push.

If you look at the reasons the judges give for these awards it speaks plainly to their intention. Underground Railroad was chosen for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for a number of reasons, but without a doubt the main one was to give the award itself some literary prestige. It is somehow vitally important that science fiction be taken seriously by mainstream writers. And what did the judges have to say about the book?

And finally, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which takes literally Samuel Delany’s notion about sf literalising the metaphors. If you look at the Wikipedia entry on the system that helped slaves, you’ll find the statement that “The escape network was not literally underground nor a railroad.” Here it resolutely is, and we follow one slave’s attempt to get to safety, as well as some of those on her trail. It is, the judges say, “a deeply subversive alternate history” and personally I was left wondering if this novel is set just before the civil war or closer to our present time. One judge noted how the novel argues “even before oppression exists, resistance exists.”

The first novel to win the Clarke Award, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, was also about an individual in an oppressive society asserting their humanity and agency. It has spoken to us and haunted us for over three decades now. It became a film and now a television series, and protestors have been dressing up as handmaids in America.

Of course, speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale, the judges had this to say about Testosterone Rex:

Every man and woman should read this book on gender bias. Testosterone Rex is an important, yet wickedly witty, book about the 21st century which touches on the current debates around identity and turns everything on its head. Pressingly contemporary, it’s the ideal companion read to sit alongside The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.

All these books are connected by a thread. Can you pull at it?

The theme with all of them is political correctness. And is it any wonder when politics has infested every corner of publishing? Just look at the blogroll on the front of The Bookseller’s homepage:

booksellerpolitics

And for a more personal example, the other day a colleague told me that she was turned off a book because she looked up the author, and he looked too ‘Right’. What does this even mean? This is where we are at.

There is without a doubt a bigger issue at work here. With the Man Booker Prize coming up, it will pay to take heed of what ideology is in the air. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this article, but the main point it tries to make is that publishing is increasingly at the behest of corporations. As we see every day, companies fall over themselves trying to prove their diversity/equality credentials. Awards are actually a few steps ahead of the publishing companies. This is not a conspiracy nor a concerted effort. It is the natural flow as everybody tries to follow each other. There is money to be made, after all.

Tracking the Decline #2: Diversity in Literature

The previous Current Year wasn’t a great one for literature. First of all, let’s take stock that America publishes basically one new book per person. That’s one totally new book for every living person in the U.S. of A. That doesn’t include books published elsewhere (though of course issues of translation come in). That definitely does not include the endless dirge of self published titles that continue to be churned out. So, all in all, there are more books than ever and of course that means it’s harder to make it than ever. Average Is Over.

But what’s going on in publishing? First, the goldmine that was self-pubbing seems to be in decline, for a variety of reasons with the quantity being a main one, and Amazon being dodgy buggers being another. If you look at that report indie authors are actually suffering, and Amazon seems to be making the most gains. The glut is over, as was inevitable.

So we have a huge diversity of books, right? Well, no we don’t, apparently. The problem is that there are just too many books by White Males. UK publishers are getting ‘slammed‘ for a lack of diversity. Publishing risks becoming irrelevant if they don’t start publishing more books by and for POC and LGBTQWIFX. One publisher (Kamila Shamssie I believe) suggested having a whole year where not a single white male was published. It’s all too much. Of course, the only reason the English language market would become irrelevant in this sense is because of the Western immigration plan. Quelle surprise. Pandering to minorities is an absurd idea in this industry. Take Australia. Still a largely white population, POC books just don’t sell in great quantities. Shit stories don’t sell, and people don’t care about your identity politics. If you’re in business you want to sell to the largest demographic. Publishing profit margins are already pretty shithouse, and trust me, publishers take bigger risks than they should. I guess in the UK that the market is increasingly not white English speakers, but that’s a whole something else that plenty of others have talked about.

We don’t even want a diversity of books, especially when it comes to raw numbers. For one, you tend to get self-published authors pumping out generic stories and becoming marketing whores. There’s no diversity there except for the amount, because formulas work. This is not an environment that is conducive for literature or original thought. Sure, those types of books still get made, but they do tend to get drowned out. Very few of the best are both lucrative and thought-provoking. This is a worldwide problem where literature is largely ignored. People don’t read. They are on their phones, they are watching Netflix or they are getting hideously drunk.

It seems to me that publishing thinks that diversifying will somehow be a magic bullet. That if they publish and promote books by POCs and cover topics that are bound up in social justice and identity politics they will finally make great sales. The entire industry is complicit.

Kirkus Prize 2016: the book that won the fiction category is a bloated postmodern mess that links horse racing with race (genetics and class). The non-fiction winner deals with trans issues. Need I say more?

Man Booker Prize 2016: The Sellout definitely did not deserve to win, and indeed the only reason I can think that it did win is that a) it’s humorous and satirical, so ‘something different’, b) it’s postmodern, the aesthetic of decline and c) it’s about racial inequality in America. It is not a book for the ages, nor even a particularly pertinent one for the moment. The shortlist as a whole wasn’t outstanding, but for The Sellout to win shows that the judges do not care a white for quality.

National Book Awards 2016: Again, plenty of good books to choose from, but of course the book that deals with an alternative history of slavery in America won.

So three major prizes where the books won because of politics. You can’t say that there isn’t an agenda. Even in science fiction the politics is real. The Hugo winner is by a black woman, and by all accounts it’s a good book, but science fiction has clearly been appropriated by SJWs and liberals, something the stalwarts tried and failed to fight. The Arthur C Clarke award was also political. Children of Time is a good book, but didn’t deserve to win (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson wasn’t even nominated for the shortlist, which kind of says it all) and indeed it probably won because of the political ‘niceness’ of the ending.

This doesn’t feel like diversity to me; this feels like collusion.

So writers, publishers and almost everyone in the industry are entirely for diversity of numbers when we really don’t need more books, and diversity of race/gender/*insert minority here* so long as it pushes the liberal agenda. But when it comes to publishing a book by Milo Yiannopoulos something that is merely a different opinion, it must be shut down. Authors don’t want to be published by a company that supports freedom of speech. Personally I think that is a helluva brave publishing decision given the political climate. It’s a bit of a gamble, and I don’t think it will pay off immensely, but I also don’t think it will bomb. This is another example of the group think in the mainly liberal industry (and at the same time 1984 is again a bestseller).

The awards, the discussions of diversity, the outrage over Milo: these are all examples of the industry floating ever Leftward. Education is where minds are won, and books are part of that.