In a ceremony last night in Spokane, Washington, the judges refused to give out awards in such categories as Best Novella and Best Short Story.
Sad Puppies’ enemies have depicted them as anti-woman and anti-multicultural. (Puppies have denied the charges, based on the inclusion of writers of color, as well as female authors, in the movement’s lists of recommended books.)
If the Puppies’ enemies are right, the Best Novel was a veritable puppy-drowner, The Three Body Problem, a Chinese-language work written by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books. Here is an official list of the other winners.
Significantly, Liu’s work itself explores the diversity issue, among other things, in a plot telling how various kinds of terrestrial beings react to aliens. As summed up by Jason Heller on NPR:
“The Three-Body Problem spans multiple decades and characters, but it zooms in on Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, two scientists in the very near future. Wenjie is an astrophysicist with a haunted past; she’s the daughter of a physicist who was executed during the Cultural Revolution for daring to teach the ‘reactionary’ idea of general relativity. Miao is a nanotech engineer, and he’s been swept up in a virtual-reality, online video game called Three Body that’s so deeply metaphysical, it’s begun to resemble a cult.
“Either of these premises alone would be make for a rich SF novel, but Cixin Liu is only getting warmed up. By the time the book hits its peak, it’s unveiled a conspiracy that spans solar systems—one that not only threatens to alter the human race, but the very building blocks of physics that we’ve evolved to understand.”
Words like “physics” count; for sympathetic critics regard The Three Body Problem as hard science fiction, a subgenre where accuracy reigns supreme. In other words, if the novel’s defenders are correct, the Puppies can’t just write off this work as multicultural fantasy mush.
According to Wikipedia, Cixen Liu is 52 and has been a computer engineer at a power plant in Shanix province and was educated at the North China University of Water Conservancy and Electric Power. He has won the Galaxy Award, the most prestigious SF honor in China, nine times. He is also a Nebula winner.
So what are the Net and e-book angles here?
First off, it’s high time for even more multiculturalism in literature; this is a wired, multicultural world—get used to it. In SF and plenty of other genres, Western writers are going to see more and more competition from nonWestern countries, and services such as WattPad will just accelerate the trend. Young writers from places like Shanix will more easily find feedback and fans. In the semi-fictitious movie The Social Network, Facebook the Mark Zuckerberg character talks about all the high-IQ genius out there in a large country like China. Same idea applies to literary talent (not necessarily the same as IQ).
Meanwhile e-books will make it easier for nonWesterners to find audiences everywhere. If Western publishers want to flourish in the future, then the end of territorially based business arrangements should be a top priority. Otherwise the world will bypass the Old Guard. Reform of obsolete copyright laws would definitely help as well.
For now, congratulations to Cixin Liu!
A different perspective from NPR’s: Not everyone is a Liu fan. Chad Orzel, a scientist who describes himself as a “good, squishy liberal,” says that The Three Body Problem "is loaded with cool ideas—secret societies, scientific conspiracies, alien messages, apparently miraculous events." But then he says it " reads like second-rate Asimov. The characters are incredibly flat, and the key points of the plot are explained in horrible, leaden expository speeches. A lot of the plot turns on scientific ideas, and the speeches where the characters explain science to each other are just excruciatingly awful. The big setpieces toward the end that sounded cool in an online plot summary sounds pretty much the same in the actual book—like an online plot summary of something that would’ve been awesome in a different book. And the big reveal at the end is presented in the form of an awful infodump about what is basically comic-book science."
And just to emphasize again…: Not all Sad Puppies are necessarily anti-feminists or racists. Use of phrases like "Neo Nazi" could be overkill. One Sad Puppies supporter, Peter Grant, as described by TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows, claims to have “spent 18 years as an anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa" and to have "literally exchanged gunfire with real neo-Nazis."
Detail: In some publications it’s Cixin Liu; in others, Liu Cixin (for example, here in this bio in the New York Times). I’m going by Cixin Liu since that’s the way the book’s cover has it. Besides, the Times refers to “Mr. Liu.” I’ll welcome thoughts from TeleRead community members more familiar with Chinese names.
Related: TeleRead’s earlier coverage of the Sad Puppies controversy. I’m confident that Chris will weigh in with his own perspective, which may differ from mine. Also see Twitter reaction to the judges’ choices, as well as pre-ceremony commentary from iO9.