Ten years ago tomorrow, I wrote up my choices for the 2011 John W. Campbell Award (as it then was) for Best New Writer. This turned out to be a fateful blog post. In sixth place out of five, below "No Award", I listed Larry Correia with this assessment of his book Monster Hunter International:
6) Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. I do have little hesitation in putting Monster Hunter International last. It is relentlessly single-tone, derivative and predictable, and I can't see how anyone could rank it above any of the other works included in the package. To an extent the John W. Campbell Award is about the future of the genre; books like this take us way back to the past, with the incidentals slightly jazzed up for the twenty-first century, and I think it would be embarrassing for the genre if Correia won on the basis of this.
I stand by this; I think it was harsh but fair, and voters by and large voted for other people (the winner was Lev Grossman). And I wasn't just picking on Correia, though he may have felt so; for comparison this is what I wrote about that year's winner of the Hugo for Best Novel, which came in two huge parts, Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear:
(First half🙂 The portrayal of wartime Britain is relentless and in the end wearyingly sentimentalised, the history students too busy being caught up in the moment to reflect on what they are doing there and what they might learn. There is an awful lot of running around and missed communication, and then the book ends in mid-story, without even the dignity of a decent cliffhanger, the publisher expecting you to buy the next volume to see how it ends. I will, but will wait until it is available as a second-hand paperback.
(Second half🙂 It is a mild improvement on the first volume, in that there are actual signs of plot around page 400 and again around page 600. But the tone is wearyingly sentimental as ever, and the characters just dull apart from the two cheeky kids; and in the end, if the time continuum is going to respond to time travellers in such a way as to preserve History As We Know It – and there is never any good reason for Willis's characters to think otherwise apart from her need to inject emotion into her writing – it's difficult to get excited about it. I also spotted more errors of setting here than I had noticed in Blackout – premature mention of the Jubilee Line by over three decades, and reportedly vast distances separating the Tower from Stepney (actually about a mile and a half apart) and St Paul's from Bart's (five minutes' brisk walk).
I suppose the good news is that it will probably take Willis another six years to publish her next book; the bad news is that it too will probably win awards it doesn't deserve.
I will admit that I am sometimes grumpy and brief in what I write about novels – I find it much easier to write at length about non-fiction books (as a glance at my recent reviews will demonstrate). I don't pretend to write for anyone but myself; I generally try not to be performative (with occasional exceptions).
But my brief caustic note about Monster Hunter International had a substantial afterlife, and mutated out of all recognition in the telling of Larry Correia, as analysed by Camestros Felapton here and even more so here:
In later years, Correia would recount that either a “European snob reviewer” or a “British blogger” wrote either that “If Larry Correia wins the Campbell, it will END WRITING FOREVER” or that if Larry Correia wins the Campbell it will end literature forever”. I have searched for reviews saying these things but have not found them . It is likely that Correia had read Whyte’s review as he would note:
“The other day when I was googling my name I found one place that ranked the Campbell nominees. They placed me at #6. Out of 5. Apparently I wasn’t “nuanced” enough for them. Or as they said, I was a relentlessly single tone throw back. Oh, how the literati elite hate me.”
And closer to the convention he would increase the number of people rating him sixth:
“I am the least favored to win by the literary critical types, (in fact, I’ve seen a few places where they have ranked me #6 out of the 5 finalists) but that’s cool, because I am the only author eligible that has had a gnome fight or trailer park elves. (or as one critic pointed out, I am a relentlessly single tone throw back, and another said that if I win it is an insult and a black mark on the entire field of writing.) SWEET! I’m so unabashadly pulpy and just happy to entertain, and thus offensive, that I make the inteligensia weep bitter blood tears of rage.”
Basically, nobody ever wrote that Correia winning the Campbell Award would "end writing forever" or "end literature forever", or that it would be an "insult" or "a black mark on the entire field of writing". "A few places" suggests more than two people rating him sixth out of five; I don't believe that anyone stated that in public other than me and one commenter on my blog, which is two people in one place, rather than "a few places". Those statements by Correia were, simply, lies (or fiction, if you will), distorting my words, made up to feed his narrative of victimhood and drive the marketing campaign for the Sad Puppies. (I won't complain about being called a "European snob reviewer" – I've had much worse, from more important people than him. I would not claim to be "literati elite" either.)
If I had realised that Correia was so thin-skinned that he would be provoked by my review, and by other slights whether real or imaginary, to launch a campaign to wreck the Hugos, would I have moderated my tone? Obviously I regret and deplore the Puppy campaigns, but I disclaim any responsibility for Correia's actions. He is legally an adult and should have been able to behave like a grownup. Some people like his writing; some don't; I am in the latter category, and strangely enough the subsequent behaviour of Correia and his allies did nothing to change my mind.
Last week the BSFA resurrected Christopher Priest's Guest of Honour speech at Novacon from 1977, which addresses a lot of these issues. It's full of great lines, but this paragraph seems particularly apt:
The advocates of the pulp tradition simply cannot see beyond the ends of their noses. Science fiction has existed in British and European literature for about a hundred years. It existed as a natural part of all literature. Writers outside the science fiction category, both major and minor, have turned to the speculative themes of sf as a means of saying something. They did this before Gernsback came along, they did it all through Campbell’s so-called Golden Age, and they continue to do it now. After fifty years, pulp science fiction has improved itself to the point where the half-dozen or so best sf writers can compete with writers outside. This is my principal indictment of the pulp tradition: it put the clock back and created something worse. Gernsback and his imitators siphoned off speculative literature into crass, commercial magazines, and made it into trash. After fifty years, we’re just recovering.
Looking forward to seeing Chris Priest again at this year's Novacon, all being well. I hope that I never encounter Larry Correia in person.