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Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f

A quote from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A quote from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

Recently someone posted these images of a couple of paragraphs out of Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing which is only one of the times he told this story. At the age of nine Bradbury fell in love with the Buck Rogers comic strip in his local newspaper, and began cutting out and saving the strips and so forth. His classmates at school teased him for loving such a ridiculous and unlikely story. The teasing eventually drove him to tear up with collection of carefully cut out comic strips. And he was miserable for some time afterward. The bit I found most profound in this version of the story was his realization that the classmates who made fun of the stories he loved weren’t his friends, they were his enemies. It was a realization that resonated deeply.

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

But it’s a realization that is difficult to remember when one is on the other side of that divide. We’ve all been there: a friend or relative is completely enamored with an activity or book or series or movie that we just can’t stand. And try as we might, we can’t understand what they see in it. Assuming that the pastime in question isn’t something that harms anyone (so let’s leave dog fighting and fox hunting and the like out of the discussion), it shouldn’t matter to us where their enthusiasm goes, right?

And yet it it can bother us a lot.

Some works of art (movies, books, TV series) are racist or sexist or misogynist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, but still have some redeeming qualities. We’ve all liked something which had some problematic stuff in it. The original Dune novel is homophobic (the more evil a character was, the more gay they were, no good character is even bi-curious), for instance, but I still really enjoyed the novel when I read it as a teen (and the first few sequels). I still like the book, but now that I’ve become aware enough to recognize the homophobia, there is a caveat when I recommend it.

I wrote a lot of fan fiction in my late teens and early twenties and some of it utilized the same problematic trope as Dune: the few bisexual and gay characters I wrote back then tended to be at least a bit on the wicked side. This was true for a while even after I started coming out to myself as queer. So while I can’t excuse the inherent homophobia in a lot of stories written in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s, I understand that it doesn’t always come from an actively malicious place. I’ve also written before about how shocked I was when, after someone pointed out a certain amount of sexism in a story I’d written, that when I looked at a lot of my other works with that in mind, there was casual sexism all over the place. So just because someone is able to enjoy a piece of art because of a small amount of problematic content that doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the prejudice.

However…

While I’m willing to let other people like whatever they want, I’m not required to approve of their choices or withhold judgment. If someone only likes things that are extremely anti-semetic, for instance, it’s perfectly okay to infer from that predilection that the person is more than okay with anti-semetism. Furthermore, if:

  • the only works a person likes pushes a misogynist, homophobic, racist agenda;
  • and/or if they actively try to exclude works that give marginalized people a place at the table;
  • and/or if they actively harass fans who recommend works that center marginalized people;
  • and/or if they campaign against writers or artists because of their race, ethnic background, sexual identity, et cetera;
  • and/or if they say that portraying queers or people of color and so forth in a positive manner represents an existential threat to civilization…

…they have clearly shown that, like Bradbury’s classmates, they are not friends, and are actually enemies. Not just enemies of queers and other marginalized people, but in my not-so-humble opinion, enemies of science fiction/fantasy itself. I firmly believe and will always insist that sf/f is ultimately about hope. Even the most dystopian sci fi and gruesome horror hinges on a glimmer of hope. I am not being a hypocrite or intolerant if I decide to stop spending time with enemies (which includes exposing myself to their opinions). I am simply following Bradbury’s example: I’m taking my dinosaurs and leaving the room.

That’s enough about that, for now.

Voting on the Hugo Awards ends soon, and I’ve been fiddling with my ballot off and on for a while. Because of the move, I didn’t get around to downloading the Hugo Packet until later than usual. And because the unpacking is still going on and June at work was all about lots of very long hours, I’ve been having trouble reading all the stuff that made the ballot which I hadn’t already read.

Anyway, the status of my ballot as of Wednesday night is behind the link…

Read More…

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“The human race might have one more chance…” – more of why I love sf/f

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions & Universal Television.

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions &
Universal Television.

Almost everything I thought I remembered about the original Battlestar Galactica television series was wrong. I started working on this post after Richard Hatch, the original Apollo passed away. I’d written some thoughts on my memories of the show, and was doing some research to put dates and context to my memories and discovered that my brain had apparently retconned lots of things. Since part of that post had involved recounting discussions that my old friend, Doug, and I had had about the show, and I had recently re-told the story of Doug and the Train Crossing to a friend, I decided to set the Galactica post aside for a while and write about my friend, instead.

Now, the things I misremembered about the series had almost nothing to do with the episodes or the storylines. And I’m at least a little bit curious as to why my brain made the changes in recollection that it did. The gist is: my recollection was that the series premiered shortly before my mom, sister, and I moved out to the west coast following my parents’ divorce (when I was 15 years old), that I initially liked the series but became dissatisfied with it as the seasons went on, and was slightly curious years later when the follow-up series Galactica 1980 was released, but was even more disappointed in how poorly the show had aged.

Which is all very, very wrong. And some of it was wrong in ways that are kind of flabbergasting. The original series premiered the same month as my 18th birthday and a little over a year after the worldwide premiere of the original Star Wars. It was only on the air for one season (24 episodes). And the gap between the ending of the original series and the premiere of the follow up was only 8 months.

Glen A. Larson originally conceived the series in the mid-sixties as a group of about three television movies called Adam’s Ark. It was a synthesis of space opera themes with Mormon theology (Larson having been raised in the Church of the Latter Day Saints). Larson had been unable to sell the idea to anyone. Even when a couple years later Star Trek became briefly a minor hit series. (Star Trek, of course, wouldn’t become a sci fi behemoth until later, after reruns had been running in syndication for several years).

Then, in 1977, the movie Star Wars was a worldwide blockbuster hit, and suddenly every network, movie studio, and anyone else in the entertainment/media/publishing world was looking to cash in on its incredible success. Larson’s pilot script looked very attractive.

They filmed the pilot, ABC bought it, put the series on the air with an incredible budget that wouldn’t be exceeded by any other TV show for many years, and we were off. The show did incredibly well in the ratings for the first month or so, until CBS shifted its schedule to put the very popular All In the Family and Alice up against it, causing Galactica’s ratings to slip a lot. Of course, the series might have slipped anyway. The initial spectacle of billions of people killed in the opening battle (not to mention the show’s willingness to cast more famous actors in roles that died within the first several episodes) really seized the imagination. Whereas a lot of the filler episodes were, well, pretty bad. And some things, like the robotic dog pieced together from parts to replace the real dog (killed in the pilot) that had once , were very cheesy.

And while those special effects were lightyears beyond anything seen on television before, they were very expensive. So the network expected not just good ratings, but unbelievably good ratings.

Still, the show had a lot going for it. It didn’t hurt that I had a big crush on Starbuck, of course. But I also had a different kind of crush on Apollo. It wasn’t until some years later, when I got to rewatch some of the original series after I had actually admitted to myself that I was gay that I realize I had the hots for Starbuck, but Apollo was who I wanted to fall in love with and settle down.

Hatch’s character was different than the typical leading man at the time. Unlike the reboot series, Apollo had a warm relationship of mutual respect with his father, Commander Adama. In the pilot he met and practically adopted Boxy (the young boy whose dog had died) helped reunite the boy with his mother, prompted fell in love with said mother, married her, and even though she is killed shortly after the wedding in a Cylon attack, remains a good father. Heroes had been family men before, of course, but unlike some previous fictional fathers, Hatch made you believe that he loved his stepson.

There was a lot to like about the original Galactica. Cool space battle, for one. The Cylon Centurions were a bit cheesy–their chrome colored bodies were always so shiny and unscuffed, even after tramping through a sandstorm on yet another planet that looked like a Universal blacklot generic Western landscape with inexplicable lights added to make it look spacey(?), for instance. But both individual Cylons and the fleet were appropriately menacing. The show did a good job of making it feel like the stakes were real. And the notion that even after the mass murder of billions of people, a group of survivors would claw hope out of disaster and look for a new home was more than just heartwarming.

The show had some problems, as well. Some of them are typical problems of producing a weekly science fiction television series with 1970s technology and practices. Others were more thematic. The fundamental premise from the beginning was that contemplating disarmament as a step toward peaceful co-existence was the most foolish thing people could do. Given the nuclear stand-off between the U.S. and our NATO allies on one side, and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies on the other, and the very active policy and treaty debates going on at the time, the show was staking a blatant political position. Related, throughout the original series, the military leaders were shown time and time again to always be right, while civilians (particularly any who advocated non-violent philosophies) were always wrong–and not merely wrong, but naively and disasterously wrong again and again.

Remember that the next time someone claims that sci fi has only become political recently.

While caught up in an individual episode it was easy to ignore those problematic elements. Besides, I loved Commander Adama, he was a hero and a great leader! And his son, Apollo, respected him, and we saw a lot more of Apollo in action on screen and he was clearly a good man, brave, loyal, and so forth. Even the sort-of-rebellious Starbuck respected Adama! Therefore our affection for Adama was not misplaced, right? Except, of course, that the examples of civilians who had a different opinion than the military command tended to be one-dimensional or transparently designed to either be unlikeable or pitiably naive.

So Galactica was hardly nuanced.

I liked it. The idea of fighting on against impossible odds is almost always appealing. People who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with nothing more than hope, courage, and a bit of cleverness are fun to root for. And Galactica gave us that aplenty.

And you can hardly fault a story for that.

Highly illogical canines and the 2016 Hugo awards

“Highly Illogical — Vulcan for Dumbass.

“Highly Illogical — Vulcan for Dumbass.

I wrote a lot less about the Hugos this year than last. I participated in the nominating process. I was greatly disappointed that having so many new nominators didn’t prevent the Rabid Puppies from bloc-filling several categories again. And I read (or tried to read in some cases) everything that was nominated which I hadn’t already read in time to fill out my ballot. Saturday night, I was very happy to see that the horrible things the Puppy slate-voters forced onto the ballot didn’t win. I was also happy that there were fewer categories that we had to No Award this year.

Not writing about it so much this year was intentional. One benefit of that was that I had fewer vitriolic comments come in on this blog that I had to delete rather than approve. I was a lot less anxious about what the results of the voting would be than I was last year. I’m not sure how much of that was because last year the Hugo voters overwhelmingly rejected the Puppy slate, rather than a result of actively avoiding writing and thinking about them as much.

I am quite certain that at least part of the reason I was less emotionally distraught going in was that I didn’t force myself to read all the way to the end of every entry in short story, novella, and novelette this year. I gave each entry three pages to hook me, and if they didn’t hook me by then, I stopped and put them beneath No Award on my ballot. Reading some of that awful stuff—stories that would have been rejected for poor composition, lack of plot, or gapping logic holes by most of the fanzines I’ve ever been associated with—and getting outraged at the knowledge that such poorly crafted material had displaced more deserving works was a big part of why I was so upset last year.

The works that won this year are great and quite deserving. A couple of them were even things that I nominated, so that was fun.

There was some drama at WorldCon, at least some of it related to the proponents of the Puppy cause. But I also hear that a lot more very cool stuff happened.

I don’t think I want to get into that. And a bunch of what I would like to say has already been said by other people: Abigail Nussbaum observes in Sunday, August 21, 2016 The 2016 Hugo Awards: Thoughts on the Winners,

“The one thing I keep learning, again and again, as I study this award is that, much as it frustrates me, much as it throws up shortlists that disappoint me, much as it often seems stuck in a middlebrow rut, the Hugo is always what it is. It doesn’t take thousands of new voters to keep the Hugo true to itself, because the people who vote for it every year will do that job themselves. With something like half the voters we had last year, we still managed to send the same message: that we have no patience for astroturf; that we have no time for writing that embarrasses the paper and ink used to print it; and that this is an award that can be gamed, but it can’t be stolen. This year’s Hugo voters had no trouble telling junk from serious nominees; they saw the difference between the nominees being used as shields by the puppies and the ones that truly represent their literary tastes and politics. And even more importantly, in the best novel and best novella categories in particular, Hugo voters recognized some of the finest and most exciting work published in this genre in years.”

One place where I disagree with Nussbaum is about the nature of the drop-off in voting numbers this year compared to last, after last year had such a dramatic surge of new voters. Last year’s number of voters was 5,950, which was a big leap from the 3,587 ballots cast in 2014. This year, the number dropped down to 3,130, which is in the ballpark of the 2014 number. However, as many people pointed out, 2014 had an usually high number of Hugo voters. In fact, from 1976 through 2010, the average number of ballots cast each year was about 1100.

So to argue that the voting numbers this year have dropped back to the level before is a bit shaky. Yes, last year after news broke of the Puppy assaults on the award, a couple thousand more fans than usual purchased WorldCon supporting memberships. Based on all the blogging and how they voted, those extra memberships were people coming to vote against slate voting, or at least the worst of the slates. But that the numbers didn’t leap that high this year doesn’t mean those extra fans all gave up. I know of six people who voted for the first time ever last year because of the Puppies, and who also voted this year. That isn’t a scientific sample by any means, but 3130 votes is a lot higher than the pre-Puppy typical number.

Also, last year wasn’t the first year that the Puppies ran their campaign, it was simply the first year that they managed to take over entire categories on the ballot with their bloc voting scheme.

She’s right that it is harder to get people to do something they’ve never done before consistently, but I don’t think that all of us who had never voted before last year are going away.

Then over at WeHuntedTheMammoth.com we have: Fake sci-fi boys cry salty tears over Puppies defeat at the Hugo Awards, which observes:

“[Theodore “Vox Day” Beale] is trying his best to spin the defeat as a victory (“we have the SF-SJWs exactly where we want them at this point in time”) but even the fake sci-fi boys on Reddit’s gamergate hangout KotakuInAction can see what happened. And they are indeed sad little puppies about it.”

The Reddit conversation in question links to this wonderful Guardian article: Hugo awards see off rightwing protests to celebrate diverse authors which observes:

“Another attempt by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups to hijack the science fiction award goes to the dogs, as authors and titles not in their campaign take top prizes.”

And past Hugo-nominee Saladin Ahmed had a couple of good observations on Twitter:

The Hugos went to some very deserving works. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (which won Best Novel) was one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years; it’s hard to describe, but it is a book about a world where apocalypse events happen with great regularity, but it is also funny and hopeful even while commenting on the nature of inequality. And “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (which won Best Short Story) was the a truly delightful take on Artificial Intelligence while being a comment on the human condition. I could keep going on, because oddly enough, my first choice in most of the categories of the ballot were also the winners. They were all really good. To read a good run-down of who won, you can check out this blog: The 2016 Hugo Awards or Fandom 2 : Puppies 0:

“To sum it up, in spite of canine interference, women won or co-won Hugos in nine of seventeen categories. All four fiction categories were won by women, three of them women of colour (plus a man of colour winning as translator). So inspite of the rabid puppies doing their worst, we still have one of the most diverse list of winners ever. And even though a couple of IMO puppy hostages finished under “No Award”, we also puppy hostages winning. Actual puppies, however, lost and lost badly.”

And I could repeat all the arguments I and others have made before of how the claims of the Sad and Rabid Puppies are highly illogical, but you’d have more fun reading the Guardian’s Book Blog where Damien Walter reads and reacts to some of the Puppies’ favorite authors, Hugo awards: reading the Sad Puppies’ pets:

“[T]he Sad Puppies don’t want any of their books to end up on bestseller lists or TV screens. It’s the same frustrating paradigm that British MP Michael Gove hit upon when he said that people were sick of experts, or what Donald Trump plays upon when he rails against “professional politicians”. We’re seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect played out on a mass scale, and the Sad Puppies are just a speck in that wider problem.”

Okay, the Puppies will be with us for years to come, just as we have never gotten rid of white supremacists nor men who want to take the right to vote away from women. But over time, the movements wither. As we’re seeing right now with the upsurgence of the Teabaggers and other Trump supporters, hate can rear its ugly head again. But in the long run, light dispels darkness and love beats hate. All this anger about people other than straight white dudes winning every single award is the dying gasp of a shrinking fraction of the population.

Vox Day and his ilk will keep trying to whip up trouble as long as he thinks it will help him sell books. But I think history is clear that he is going to be appealing to a smaller and smaller group of people. And as Mr. Spock once observed: “Without followers, evil cannot spread.”

Fortunately, there are people actively working to spread good. Alexandra Erin points out that the point of conventions or Hugos and any other awards is about connections and feelings of genuine admiration: WORLDCON: Comedy tomorrow, Hugos tonight. And once again George R.R. Martin hosted the Hugo Losers Party and handed out awards to people and publications that would have made the ballet without the slate voting: Alfie Awards.

Hugo Ballot 2016: Why I’m not reviewing this year

A scene from the 1938 serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, © Universal Studios.

A scene from the 1938 serial, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, © Universal Studios.

Last year as I worked my way through the nominees for the Hugo Awards, I posted reviews of most of the categories. It was my first time voting, and it was the first year that the Sad/Rabid Puppies had managed to completely take over several categories of the ballot with their bloc voting scheme. This year, the new people running the Sad Puppies presented it as a recommendations list, compiled openly from suggestions from readers of their blog. Since most categories had too many nominees for members to just copy and paste the slate, they wound up having no more or less success than any other recommendation list.

The Rabid Puppies stuck with their bloc voting scheme, though this year their notorious racist/homophobic leader, Vox Day, tried to be clever, putting on his list some authors who have been critical of the Puppies in the past, but who also were likely to be nominated by a lot of regular Hugo voters. Since no matter what happens, Vox always claims that the outcome was a victory and that all of us fell into his trap, I assume that when a couple of these big name authors win he’ll be crowing afterward. And if they don’t win, he’ll say this proves that the Hugo voters are part of an evil cabal who refuse to give any award to anyone he recommends. Or something.

Anyway, this year the voting process for me was a lot less stressful than last year. Last year I tried to read every nominee, regardless of whether it was on one of the slates. I wanted to be able to say with a clear conscious that I gave every work a fair chance and only deployed the No Award option when it was deserved. Which meant I forced myself to slog through some truly awful, extremely poorly written stories. And that gets to be depressing after a while.

A friend asked why I was doing that rather than what she did: she started each story, but if by the third page or so it hadn’t hooked her so that she wanted to keep turning the pages, she stopped and put the title under No Award. “The awards are supposed to be for excellence, after all.” I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that. If a story isn’t good enough to hook me, then it doesn’t deserve my vote. Simple!

That made this year a whole lot easier. I mean, seriously so, so very much easier. Because once again, most of what the Puppies nominated did not pass that test. Yes, No Award was my top pick in more than one category.

The Retro Hugos were a bit more fun. The regular Hugos recognize works published in the previous calendar year. So the stories and other works we’re voting on for the 2016 awards all had to be published in 2015. The Retro Hugos are for works published many years ago, in years when there was a World Science Fiction Convention, but no awards were given. It’s an optional award that can be held at a WorldCon that is either 50 years, 75 years, or 100 years after one of the years when no awards were given. MidAmeriCon II, this year’s WorldCon, took nominations and is taking votes for works of science fiction published in 1941.

Why that was fun for me is because, first of all, a huge number of the short listed works are stories/books/movies with which I was already very familiar. Heck, I have copies of three of the five shortlisted novels on my own shelves! A bunch of the short stories, novellas, and novelettes are in anthologies that I have on my shelves. I own on DVD three of the movies (one is a serial) nominated in Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and four of the shorts nominated in Dramatic Presentation, Short Form!

Also, Raymond A. Palmer was a golden age editor who deserves to be way more well-known than he is, and so it was fun to vote for him in the Best Editor, Short Form category!

Anyway, this year’s Hugo Ballot and Packet are disappointing in that so much bad stuff was pushed onto it by the Rapid Puppies, and I remain irritated thinking about all the good stuff published last you that ought to have made the ballot but didn’t because of the bloc voting. We absolutely have to pass the E Pluribus Hugo rule change this year, so that bloc voting becomes harder to do in the future.

The Rabid Puppies piddled all over this year’s Hugo Ballot, again. Like Men’s Rights Advocates, GamerGaters, Trump voters, and other angry (mostly) white (mostly) men who claim they are being oppressed any time that people who don’t look like them manage to achieve more than marginal representation, they’re going to keep causing trouble. But as I and many others pointed out last year, their malicious posturing brought a whole lot of fans who are queer, feminist, and people of color into the Hugo voting process who weren’t involved before. While each of those groups may make up a minority of the total fandom populations, I know that collectively we outnumber the Puppies.

Science fiction is the fiction of the future. Even its dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci fi is, ultimately, about hope for a better tomorrow. Love trumps hate and hope trumps resentment. And no one can take the hope for the future from me.


ETA: If you’re looking for who actually won, go here: Here are the winners of the 2016 Hugo Awards – Once again, slated works were largely outvoted.

It’s about time – why Star Trek’s Sulu reveal is overdue

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

So the new Star Trek movie opens in general release in less than ten days, and word is out that the film includes a brief appearance of Sulu’s husband and their adopted child. George Takei (who originated the role of Sulu way back in 1966 when the episode “The Man Trap” first introduced audiences to the voyages of the starship Enterprise) has said this is unfortunate, because it violates the original vision of the character. George has become, over the last few years, America’s favorite gay (metaphorical) uncle, and frequently his comments on pop culture, queer rights, homophobia, and related topics are spot on. But he’s completely wrong here.

Make no mistake, George isn’t saying that Roddenberry didn’t want queer people in the future. George has spoken before about the conversations he had in the sixties with Roddenberry about addressing sexual orientation in the story. Roddenberry thought it would be a bridge too far for the networks. Roddenberry had already fought tooth and nail to get an African-American woman and a Japanese-American man on the regular cast in prominent roles—and he felt he was already skating on thin ice. Also, if you look at some of the writing Roddenberry did in the notes to other writers working on the series and on the first motion picture, you’ll find references to Kirk, at least, having had affairs with men at least at one point in his past. So it isn’t that George thinks Roddenberry and the original vision of Star Trek without queers, it’s that George thinks that Sulu was obviously straight in the original, and that a better option would be to introduce a new character.

There are more than a few problems with this line of reasoning. The most important is simply this: if the first unambiguously queer character introduced into the Star Trek universe is a minor character that no one has ever heard of before, that leads to automatic tokenism. The audience will, regardless of their own feelings about queer people in real life, naturally see this new character as the gay crewman. He won’t be seen as an integral part of the universe who just happens to be gay, he’ll be seen as the character being added for no other purpose than to check off a list. If, on the other hand, a character who is clearly integral to the story is revealed to have been queer all along, that his or her colleagues have known about the same sex spouse all along and none thought anything was odd or remarkable about it, that shows that Star Trek is the future Roddenberry envisioned: where people are accepted on the merits of their character above all else.

The less philosophical problem with George’s argument is the assertion that this is a radical re-imagining of the character of Sulu that throws out everything we already knew about him. I’m sorry, George, I love you, but there is nothing in the way that you played Mr. Sulu in the original series, nor in the scenes, dialog, and actions that we ever saw on-screen, that precludes him being queer. Sure, that’s that one deleted scene from Star Trek: the Motion Picture where Sulu tried to awkwardly come on to Lieutenant Ilia—but first, it’s a deleted scene, so isn’t really canon, and second, a bisexual or pansexual Sulu is still a queer Sulu who might well end up falling in love with a man and deciding to settle down.

I’m not trying to knock George Takei’s acting skills, here. I’m just saying that queer people and straight people often don’t act any differently in the vast majority of day-to-day situations. There are many reasons that a metric ton of Chekov/Sulu fanfic was written long before the motion pictures or the reboot movies existed, for instance.

Finally, if you think that Roddenberry’s original vision is the only way the story of the Star Trek universe should move forward, we should circle back to those odd notes of Roddenberry’s about Kirk’s sexual past. Roddenberry was an adherent of a belief that was prevalent among some liberal thinkers in the sixties that sexual orientation was merely a social construct. That every human was really, deep down, bisexual or pansexual, and any proclivities otherwise were merely the result of social conditioning. That view isn’t accepted any longer; medical science indicates something those of us who have grown up queer in a homophobic society have been saying for a long time, the sexual orientation is an innate quality. Some people are innately hetero, some innately bisexual or pansexual, et cetera.

But if we must rigorously adhere to Roddenberry’s original vision, then having Sulu in one timeline prefer men, and in another be ambiguous is perfectly fine.

Ultimately, I think that Simon Pegg and the current producers are right: the original series is silent on Sulu’s orientation. This isn’t a change or contradiction of anything we knew about the character before. And having a major character who is already part of the canon revealed to have a same sex spouse is the better way for Star Trek to embody a bit of Vulcan philosophy: that the universe is made up of infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

Someone who loves the same books as me…

“Happiness is discovering someone who loves the same books as you do.” lastlemon.com

“Happiness is discovering someone who loves the same books as you do.” lastlemon.com (Click to embiggen)

This was a very busy weekend. Seattle’s Pride Parade was Sunday, the Locus Awards Banquet was on Sa turday, and there were many other things we either needed to take care of or wanted to do. I’ve never attended the Locus Awards weekend, before. I actually hadn’t really realized it was a thing, despite having followed the Locus fanzine for years, and having each year looked forward to seeing which books, stories, zines, and so on would win the award.

I should pause here, in case you don’t know what the Locus Awards are. Locus (The Magazine of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field) was founded back in 1968 as a fan produced news magazine and to promote a WorldCon bid. The ‘zine has continued for decades since, printing news about fannish and pro activities in the SF/F realm. In 1971 Charles N. Brown, the founding editor, decided to have the readership nominate and vote on deserving works in the field, in order to help the Hugo awards. Think of it as an organized recommendation list. Readers and contributors to the zine recommended books and stories and editors and so forth, and voted on them. The Locus awards has different categories than the Hugos, and since you don’t have to have a membership at WorldCon to participate, in theory the awards may draw on a more diverse crowd.

What I like about them is that they have multiple novel categories. While the Hugos just have Best Novel of the Year, the Locus Awards separate Science Fiction novels from Fantasy, and also have a separate category for Young Adult novels and first novels. Anyway, the recommendation list that is generated in the process alone is a wonderful resource for finding good things you would have otherwise not heard of.

Even though I have been reading the list of winners every year for a long time, it somehow never occurred to me that there was an award banquet, and even more important on a personal level, I didn’t know that the banquet has, at least for the last several years, been happening right here in Seattle. I found out because a woman mentioned it at a panel at NorWesCon, and handed out fliers.

The event is like a miniature sci fi con. There are a couple of Readings by pros the night before the banquet, followed by a party, then on Saturday morning there are a couple of panel discussions. There is an autograph session and a bookseller is there ready to sell you books by the authors who are signing, and there is the banquet. In addition to the awards, there’s several silly activities that have grown up as traditions around the event, such as a Hawaiian shirt contest (Charles Brown, Locus’ founding editor, was famous for his fondness of loud Hawaiian shirts).

We both have been having worse than usual hay fever lately, so neither of us have been sleeping well, and we both wound up taking naps Friday afternoon after work that lasted late enough that we skipped the Friday evening activities. Saturday, we made it to the event and had a great time.

First, no one told me that there would be free books. Apparently the publishers of books that make the shortlist often send boxes of the books to the event. So those (and other books) are set out in little piles on each banquet table. And a bunch more are on a give-away table in the back. We brought home free books whose retail prices definitely exceeded the cost of tickets to the event!

It was also just a fun event. There were a lot of familiar faces there (since I’ve been attending Northwest sci fi conventions for nearly three decades), but it was a smaller crowd, and a much higher percentage of the attendees were pros.

The event also overlaps with the first week of the Clarion West six-week summer writing workshop, and we wound up sharing our table with three of the students from the workshop. They were really nice, and were a diverse group: one guy was from Chicago, a woman was from Wales, and another guy was from India.

I knew our new acquaintances were “my kinda folks” when the young woman from Wales picked up one of the books in the free pile and said, “I should not pick up a new book that is this thick when I have no free time for the next several weeks” then, a second later she gasped and said excitedly, “It has a map!” and the other two immediately stopped their banter to add comments about how books with maps are temptations one can never resist.

I had been about to make a similar observation. Having written about it before: “Some of my favorite books have maps…”.

Whenever I go to a con, I come back feeling excited in new ways about my writing. Some of it is from hearing authors at panels talk about their own troubles and triumphs writing. Some of it is from learning new things or finding new stories that inspire me. Some of it is because I almost always wind up sitting in a corner somewhere with my laptop or iPad or a paper journal working on one of my stories in progress, and being out of my usual routine makes me look at the plotholes and so forth differently.

But a big part of it is simply the joy that comes from meeting other people who love the same kinds of books I do. Shared joy multiples. Chatting with another person who loves something you love, explaining to each other which bits made you squee and so on, increases that wellspring of delight inside you.

That remembered elation can help carry you over the rough spots in your next round of revision.

I feel a Tingle, tingle, tingle…

Puppies in tin foil hats

Puppies in tin foil hats (Click to embiggen)

It’s Hugo voting season again, and as I’m reading through the stories that have been nominated, I’m once again confronted with a number of choices that were placed on the ballot by the bloc-voting scheme of the Rabid Puppies. I’ve had at least one friend ask why I even care, which I suppose is a legitimate question. There are several reasons, but one of the biggies is this: it has been demonstrated that being nominated for a Hugo can have a significant impact on the sales figures for a book and/or author who was not previously really well known. In other words, folks who are mid-listers and below receive an immediate improvement in sales when they are included in the short list for the Hugos. If such a person goes on to win, there is a bigger increase in sales. And many authors have attested to the fact that when they won at a point when their career was struggling, that agents or editors who previously hadn’t shown any interest come knocking at the door.

Because no one has ever taken the equivalent of exit polls when people leave physical bookstores or log off of online stores to determine why people buy specific books, we have less hard data about the long term effects winning awards on someone’s sales. Library data indicates that books which have won the Hugo, Nebula, or Clarke awards have much higher circulation rates (more people check them out, they remain on the shelf for shorter times between check-outs, et cetera). Some marketing research seems to support the idea that when browsing, people are more likely to pick up and look at book that says “award winner” on it than those that don’t.

Which is all to say that one of the reasons I care is because getting nominated or winning the award can significantly benefit a writers’ career, particularly one that is not otherwise well known. So spiteful schemes to push works of dubious quality onto the ballot causes actual harm to the people who otherwise would have made the short list. Super spiteful schemes, like this year’s Rabid Puppy slate, which push material that the organizer chose precisely because of how bad it is, are even worse.

Which brings us to one of this year’s nominees: “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle. Tingle (not his real name) is a niche erotica author who produces a lot of really weird erotic fiction that is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. He had never even heard of the Hugo Awards before his nomination was announced, and had to have it explained to him by an interviewer who was asking him for a reaction. His immediate reaction was to say that he despite getting nominated for an award because of it, he is definitely not in favor of bloc voting.

Tingle said his son told him he needed to look into the folks behind the puppies, especially Vox Day.

Tingle said his son told him he needed to look into the folks behind the puppies, especially Vox Day.

He has since educated himself on the topic. This inspired a series of Gif- and video-illustrated tweets mocking Vox Day, the racist & misogynist guy running (and profiting off of) the Rabid Puppy campaign.

Tingle also wrote a new “book” for the occasion: “Slammed In The Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination.”

That wasn’t the end of his trolling of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. He has since asked Zoe Quinn, who is hated by the puppies and their allies the GamerGaters, to attend this year’s WorldCon and if Tingle’s story should win, to accept on his behalf and give a speech about whatever she wants. So if the puppy loyalists vote for Tingle’s story, they give one of their most hated people another public forum to talk about the issues they hate being talked about: Weird porn author who was dragged into Hugo Awards mess pulls off epic troll.

He didn’t stop there. He realized that despite the fact the Vox Day has managed to use the Rabid Puppy campaign to radically increase traffic to his blog and publishing site, and to sell more books to the sorts of racist, homophobic, misogynist fans who apparently previously didn’t know how to find them, Vox had never purchased the Rabid Puppy web domain. So Tingle bought it and set it up as a site to mock Vox and to promote some of the authors that Vox has so often publickly denigrated: Chuck Tingle thwarts devilman Vox Day, buys TheRabidPuppies.com for HARD buckaroos.

sometimes devilmen are so busy planning scoundrel attacks they forget to REGISTER important website names. this is a SOFT WAY of the antibuckaroo agenda but is also good because it makes it easy for BUDS WHO KNOW LOVE IS REAL to prove love (all).

please understand this is website to take DARK MAGIC and replace with REAL LOVE for all who kiss the sky.

Tingle hasn’t just turned his unique satirical eye toward the puppies. His commentary on the transphobic bathroom laws and similar nonsense, “Pounded In The Butt By My Irrational Bigoted Fear Of Humans Who Were Born As Unicorns Using A Human Restroom” is available (as all of his delightfully weird titles are) on Kindle.

I don’t think that there is anything particularly award-winning about “Space Raptor Butt Invasion,” but Tingle’s actions are definitely award-worthy. I know I’m not the only regular Hugo vote who is considering putting Tingle’s story above No Award on my ballot because he’s been both a good sport about this, and so delightfully entertaining in his take down of the Rabid Puppy ringleader. And for a man who finds many weird ways to put the phrase “pounded in the butt” into story titles, he’s been much more civil in his attacks on Vox Day than Vox has ever been to anyone.

If you want more details on Tingle’s campaign against the bigots: Satirical erotica author Chuck Tingle’s massive troll of conservative sci-fi fans, explained.

When I first started to draft this post, I had more information and links about the Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies, but I think that Cory Doctorow was right on the money when he recently said, “the two groups who want to kill the Hugos call themselves “Rabid Puppies” and “Sad Puppies” for fantastically tedious reasons you can look up for yourself if you care to.” Re-hashing the reasons they’ve launched these campaigns and the inconsistencies and contradictions in their arguments is tedious. We’ve all written way more about it than they deserve.

Tingle’s bizarre and hilarious response reminds me that life, reading, and storytelling are far too important to take seriously. It’s much easier to enjoy a good story if I laugh about something frivolous first than it is if I’ve been ranting about someone being a jerk.

So I’m going to go read another of Tingle’s stories, then get back to the serious work of reading and writing sf/f.


ETA: Chuck Tingle isn’t the only person who writes silly stuff that is more worth your time than the rantings of outraged people. May I humbly suggest:

Monster Mashed by Grave Robbers from Outer Space, or

John Scalzi Is Not a Popular Author And I Myself Am Very Popular

Adventure awaits: more of why I love sf/f

A silver rocket from the classic Flash Gordon serials.

A silver rocket from the classic Flash Gordon serials.

It’s that time of year, again, where I’m waiting for the Hugo Packet to arrive so I can start reading things that have been nominated for the award. And while several categories have again been piddled by the Rabid Puppies, I am still looking forward to the experience. Particularly since I learned an important lesson last time: the point of the awards is to recognize excellence. I’m not obligated to read stories to the end—as I always have as a small-press editor, where part of my mission is to help the writer improve the story if necessary. These stories have been nominated because, allegedly, they are great stories. So, this year I’ll give each story three pages to hook me. If by that point I’m not feeling interested enough to keep reading—regardless of whether the story was on anyone’s slate—then it goes under No Award on my ballot.

If I am enjoying it, I’ll keep reading. The only stories that will go above No Award will be the ones that kept me hooked until the end. Then I’ll rank those and move on to the next category.

It may be a very busy few months, since only one of the novels that were nominated is one I’ve already read. It’s easy enough to read five each of short stories, novellas, and novelletes in the time frame, and graphic novels usually go relatively quickly, but the novels take a bit more time!

With this new rule, I suspect that I’m going to enjoy the process this year a bit more than last year. Because the reason I care about any of the awards is because I love science fiction and fantasy. I don’t just love it, I frikkin’ love it. I have written before about how I can’t remember a time when sf/f was part of my life, because even when I was a small baby my mom read aloud to me from whatever book she was reading at the time, and she is one of the world’s geekiest Agatha Christie and Robert Heinlein fans.

Thanks to her, my childhood was full of a lot of science fiction. For a few years we faithfully watched episodes of Flash Gordon on channel two every morning, for instance. And our regular trips to the library (and used book store, when we lived in towns big enough to have one) usually resulted in several fantasy or science fiction books coming home with us.

It was one of those used bookstore runs when Mom found a copy of Dune in paperback. That book always sticks out in my memory because it was the first time that Mom was reluctant to tell me details about the book while she was reading it. It was also the first book that Mom told me I would have to wait until I was older. I know she really liked it, because it never once went into the pile of books she was thinking of trading in when we were preparing to visit a used book store. The fact that it was forbidden but also apparently really good instilled more than a bit of longing.

But it was rare for her to restrict my access to books. She never seemed to worry that I might not understand most books. If I asked to read one of her books, she’d let me, and she was always willing to discuss the story. There were times when I would try one of her books and I’d call it boring, though sometimes it was probably more because I actually was a bit too young to be tackling that particular book.

I loved browsing in the science fiction sections of the library or bookstores. Looking at the cover art, which was sometimes a bit weird and confusing, but always otherworldly. Each one seemed to beckon, promising strange and wondrous adventures if I would brave those pages.

Science fiction was always about possibilities, to me. I never felt that some sci fi wasn’t for me. I always felt welcome. Science fiction, particularly the way Mom enthused about it, was about making the world a better place. About going to new worlds, or creating new inventions, or learning what it would be like to live with aliens—or elves, or dragons. Do I wish more of the sf/f available in the 60s and early 70s had been more inclusive? Yes. Just as I wish more of present day sf/f was inclusive of people of color, queer people, et cetera. We’re getting better, but still have a ways to go before the representation matches the real world.

Whenever I pick up a new science fiction book, especially if it’s one that’s been recommended by a friend, I get a flash of that feeling of wonder and anticipation; the sense of strange adventures beckoning. For a moment, I’m that little boy in the bookstore, clutching a story, and about to plunge into something wondrous!

We have always been here, part 2

Cover, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1954.

Cover, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1954. The prevalent belief, at the time, was that the vast majority of readers were men. What does that tell us about the intention of this artwork? (Click to embiggen)

I get tired of having to defend my wish that stories include diverse casts of characters. Not just because I’m a gay man who wishes that my favorites shows, books, and stories would include people like me, but because I remember what it was like being a queer child and having no idea that there was anyone else in the entire universe like me. And therefore, I can empathize with other children who aren’t straight white cis males who never see people like themselves as the heroes of any story, and thus grow up not thinking that they have a place in this world.

But as I’ve said before, it isn’t just about having characters that various readers in your audience can relate to. It is also a matter of portraying a believable world. The real world has people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, and so on. It is simply unrealistic that a random sampling of any fictional world is going to consist solely of white, cisgendered, straight people. Especially the overwhelming majority of them male.

And there’s one other aspect, but award-winning sci fi/fantasy author, Saladin Ahmed explained it in a succinct set of tweets:

Ahmed is referring to the likely fanboy reaction to this article: J.J. Abrams says Star Wars will get an openly gay character. And the word “likely” is wholly unnecessary, as I’ve already seen angry reactions to the article around the net.

As he said, the people who object when a non-white person is cast in lead role in a movie that isn’t about race issues, or queer characters are included in a story, and so on, always argue that it’s just furthering a political agenda to include any non-white, straight characters. Especially when it comes to queer characters, they angrily ask, “Who cares who is having sex with you?”

Well, obviously, if you’re getting angry, you do.

But let’s go back to the original Star Wars trilogy, for a moment. I was in a very crowded theatre on opening weekend for Empire Strikes Back, and when Leia declared, “I love you!” then Han replied cooly, “I know!” there were whoops and lots of exclamations of, “YES!” from all over that theatre. Three years later, at the first showing of Return of the Jedi, when Leia and Han have their big kiss at the end, there were even louder cheers and clapping. So a lot of people did care about who was in love with who, who was kissing who, and so on.

I want to repeat that: fanboys cheered and applauded a kiss near the end of a special effects-laden space opera adventure story.

So, they did care and they still do care about who is in love with, who is kissing, and yes, who is wanting to have sex with who.

It goes back much further into the history of science fiction and fantasy than Star Wars, of course. The reason that those earlier examples almost never included any same sex relationships is not because there weren’t any queer writers or readers of science fiction, it was because everyone was closeted. They weren’t closeted because they wanted to be, but because they often had to be. Remember, until the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that intimate consensual sexual conduct was a fundamental freedom protected by the Constitution, same sex activity was a criminal offense in many places.

We have always been here. For instance, in the 1920s and 1930s, Edgar Pangborn wrote a lot of pulp stories in the mystery, fantasy, and sci fi genres which featured very passionate male “friendships.” The relationships were never overtly gay, but clearly were meant to imply it. He wrote those stories under a variety of pen names. He didn’t start publishing stories under his real name until the 1960s.

Jim Kepner was the publisher of one of the first magazines advocating for gay civil rights, ONE Magazine, beginning in 1953. But before that, operating under the fan name, Jike, he was an active member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. During the 1940s he published a sci fi fanzine called Toward Tomorrow. Within that ’zine, and in other fanzines, he was only one of several fans who wrote speculatively of how society might evolve to include greater gender equality, racial equality, and acceptance of various sexual orientations.

A page from a science fiction fan zine from the 1940s, with Tigrina (Lisa Ben); not to mention Ray Bradbury. Courtesy ONE Archives/USC

A page from a science fiction fan zine from the 1940s, with Tigrina (Lisa Ben); not to mention Ray Bradbury. Courtesy ONE Archives/USC. (Click to embiggen)

Another member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society back then, Edythe Edye operated under the fan name Tigrina. In 1947, using the pseudonym Lisa Ben, she founded Vice Versa, the first lesbian magazine published in the U.S.

In 1953, when straight author, Theodore Sturgeon, explored gay themes positively in the short story “The World Well Lost,” it caused at least one editor to try to organize a blackball system to prevent it, or anything like it ever being published. The blackball scheme didn’t work. The story was published. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Sturgeon and other writers occasionally returned to the subject over the next couple of decades.

It was far more common, yes, for queer characters to be portrayed negatively. In some works, you could tell how far into the depths of evil a character had plunged by how much bisexual or homosexual activity they engaged in—Dune’s Baron Harkonnen being a prime example. My point is that queer fans and writers and artists have been around for as long as science fiction and fantasy have existed. The argument about whether or not we should be allowed to participate or be portrayed has been around just as long.

Queer people have been around for as long as people have existed. They will exist in every fantasy and science fiction world. Whether they can safely live openly in those societies will vary, just as it does now in the real world, and has varied in different historical periods. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, it is unrealistic. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, you either really suck at world building or you suffer from heterosexism. If you claim you can’t include us until the right storyline comes along, you may be in denial about how much homophobia (subconscious or not) you harbor.

Not every story will include romance, obviously. I have discussed with some folks the fact that in my current series of fantasy novels, while there are several characters I know who are bisexual or pansexual, most of them aren’t obvious. There is at least one clearly identified gay couple, and several clearly identified straight characters, but that’s it2. So, I’m a queer writer who isn’t sure I’m representing queer characters enough. Therefore, I’m not saying that writers who don’t have a lot of obviously gay characters in their work are bad people.

I am saying that if you have absolutely none at all, that is just as much of a “agenda” as anything certain people accuse queer people of pushing when we ask for inclusion. Whether consciously intended it, or not, that’s at the very least enabling an anti-gay agenda.


Footnotes:

1. Yes, that is an anagram of lesbian, and she did it intentionally.

2. There are shapeshifters in my universe, and at least one shapeshifter who has appeared prominently could be interpreted as a trans character. There are other characters in the world that are definitely transgender, but haven’t yet appeared in a story3.

3. I’m not advocating quotas. As Mr Ahmed said above, quotas are bad for art, but so is monotony.

It’s Hugo time, again!

"Reading is the creative center of a writer's life...  you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you." - Stephen King

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life… you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” – Stephen King (click to embiggen)

Last week they started emailing the Hugo nominating PINs (personal ID numbers) to those of us who have memberships to WorldCon. Mine arrived Friday night. During last year’s voting period I started a list of stories and such that were being published last year I thought were good enough that I’d want to nominate this time around. It’s a fairly short list because most of the reading I did last year was stuff that had been published in previous years. So I need to do some more research and reading!

George R.R. Martin has a nice post up explaining why it is important for everyone to [n]ominate the stuff that you enjoyed best last year. Let your own individual voice be heard.

To nominate you need to have either an attending or supporting membership to last year’s WorldCon (Sasquan, in Spokane), to this year’s WorldCon (MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City), or to the 2017 WorldCon (to be held in Helsinki). If you already have one of those, your PIN is either coming in email, or will be included in your snail mailed Progress Report II (if you chose that for updates rather than email). Check your spam folders if you think you should have gotten it and it hasn’t arrived. They are still mailing them out, though, so don’t send a panicked message to them, just yet.

A lot of people are putting up their “oh, by the way, I had this stuff published this year that could be nominated, if you happened to have read it and enjoyed it.” I only had one short story published, and in an APAzine at that, last year. But I do blog about science fiction and fantasy here a bit, and I suppose that means technically I could be nominated in the fan writer category. *wink* Hey! A guy can dream, right?

More seriously, as I work on my nominations, I’ll try to put together a list of some things I think folks should check out.


In completely unrelated news: The Ali Forney Center, which provides support, nourishment, and shelter to homeless LGBT youth in New York City, is trying to raise money to purchase the church of anti-gay hate-spouting preacher, David Manning. The church has been ordered into foreclosure for non-payment of over a million dollars in utility bills (on top of other fines and debts). I forgot to mention when I posted this earlier, that Manning’s church has been officially designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Anyway, as of this morning, they had reached 49% of their goal in just three days. The foreclosure auction is later this month. If you can donate to this opportunity to turn hate into love, please do!

Donate to the #HarlemNoHate campaign today!

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