In light of the controversy swirling around the Hugo Nominations, I thought it would be worthwhile to define one of the leading causes of puppy related sadness: boring message fiction.
The modifier ‘boring’ is an important one. Message fiction does not have to be boring, pretentious literary dreck; nor is boring, pretentious literary dreck necessarily message fiction.
What distinguishes message fiction from other kinds of fiction is that it is primarily agenda-driven. That is to say, message fiction is created first and foremost for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Since authorial intention is often unclear, we tend to only notice the blatant cases — the ones with long-winded preachy sermons by one-dimensional characters who are only heroic by virtue of their cause. Nevertheless, message fiction is propaganda within a narrative wrapper, where the story, whether well crafted or not, is merely the delivery mechanism for the message. This definition applies to message fiction that is conservative or liberal, Christian or pagan. A good story, i.e. one with a compelling plot, theme, characters, and style, can still be message fiction if and only if the author wrote it to deliver a message.
Please note that message here is not theme, although a theme is a kind of message. Themes are universal, and can have philosophical, political, and moral associations. They can be general subjects, like the themes of Power and Domination in Lord of the Rings, or more pointed, like “you are a special little snowflake”, the theme of every commercial ever made. Most good writing allows the reader to synthesize the meaning of the theme for themselves.
Let’s briefly consider the original Star Wars, and imagine that George Lucas wanted to revamp it once again, but this time wanted it to be message fiction. Suppose also that he wanted to change as little as possible, since the film is considered good by most people, and he wants this to be good message fiction. All he would have to do is demythologize the labels and change the names of The Rebel Alliance and The Empire to whatever cause he wanted to support. So instead of The Empire, it could be The Patriarchy. Or instead of the Rebel Alliance, it could be the Macho Conservative Alliance. Or the Jedi could be the Social Justice Warriors.
Undoubtedly, those changes would be considered unnecessary, and stupid. But it certainly would not make Star Wars boring. For that, you’d need to make Luke Skywalker mope about Tattoine forever and, you know, never go on the adventure.
Sad Puppies opposes the boring message fiction. An important distinction.