A story, as an author* once wrote, exists in three times: the time in which the story is set, the time in which it is written, and the time in which it is read. In the case of science fiction, the first of these times will necessarily never come to pass, even when the future date eventually becomes the present and then quickly recedes into the past. We did not send the spacecraft Discovery to Jupiter to rendezvous with humankind’s destiny in the year 2001 (nor did we even send the Leonov — from the Soviet Union, mind you — nine years later to find out what had happened to it). And of course we still don’t have hoverboards or self-lacing Nikes, and in a few years the only Nexus Androids that will be around will look like tablets.
Nor is a story’s third time a static thing, either. A reader today who picks up a Jules Verne novel will marvel not just at the sweeping adventure, but also at the archaic courtesies, the quaint presumptions, and the casual racism and sexism that were simply taken for granted by readers in fin de siecle Europe. Verne’s fiction is often described as the original steampunk — a concept that would not have made sense to anyone reading Verne before steampunk was invented.
It is the second time of a story — the time in which the story was written — that concerns us here.
Science fiction as a genre was born and grew up in the United States between the two World Wars, and as such the literature was dominated for much of its formative years by white males (though, it should be noted, not exclusively men of Anglo-Saxon descent nor of the Protestant faiths).
As times changed, so too did American society’s appreciation that women and people of color were among those who had been created — and should be treated — equal. During that time science fiction evolved too, gradually opening its doors wider to welcome those newly recognized equals and to hear the stories they had brought with them to share. And with this greater diversity of voices, science fiction became a richer, more subtle, more complex literature that no longer simply entertained, but challenged society to aspire to a better future.
More recently, science fiction has become a place in which the the manifold complexities of gender are being explored in innovative and exciting ways, once again inviting us to try and see the world through a different lens — so that once again, the world of yesterday will feel as foreign to us as the world of Verne.
Channel 37 was established as an homage to the style of science fiction of the 1950s, the waning days of the white male dominance of science fiction and immediately prior to the cultural revolutions of the 1960s that broadened the genre’s vision and voices and set the tone for its second half-century. However, though our stories may be set in the retro-future, the time in which they are written — and thus the sentiments they share — is very much the diverse, embracing, affirming, validating present.
The convulsions that have gripped the science fiction community as a result of “Puppygate” are deeply painful to watch, as authors and fans who have claimed the mantle of “classic science fiction” argue that we would be better off tearing down what the collective imaginations of nearly four generations of writers have labored to build.
What needs to be said about this sad situation has already been said more eloquently than we ever could by such lights as Connie Willis, George R.R. Martin, and Eric Flint. But as practitioners of the particular type of science fiction that is at the heart of this debate, we feel that we have something to say about it, too, however humble our own efforts have been compared to their accomplishments.
Our message to the Puppies and their supporters — like our stories, you might be tempted to say — is short and simple: though your stories may harken back to the styles of the past, they can never succeed in reestablishing that past. You are, like it or not, writing in the present, for readers in the present — the big, wide-open, all-embracing present in which women, people of color, gay men and lesbians, and transgender people, representing a broad range of cultures and creeds, have joined the white males in transforming what once was a one-room house into a mansion. And to which voices yet unheard will soon be contributing, we sincerely hope.
By and large, the Hugos are awarded to the builders — the writers who work at the frontier of the genre, exploring new storytelling forms, speaking in new voices, inviting us to see in new perspectives. The stories that the Puppies tell, by definition, don’t represent the leading edge of science fiction anymore, and they haven’t for quite some time.
That’s fine, of course. There is still, and will always be, room in the mansion for the old styles, while new rooms are being added to accommodate the styles to which the Puppies take offense. But that being said, the Puppies need to understand that science fiction is never going to go back to being a one-room house run by white guys.
And we are all the better for it — as a genre, as a fandom, and as a society.
Paul Lagasse and Gary Lester
Co-founders, Channel 37
* — We have been trying in vain to identify the source of this quote. If you know who said it, please leave us a comment below so that we can update the post accordingly. We believe in giving credit where credit is due!