Tag Archive | fandom

Rabbit Holes, Wardrobes, and Magical Doors—escaping into better worlds with sf/f

“A book, too, can be a star. A living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” —Madeleine L'Engle

(click to embiggen)

Among the albums my parents owned when I was a kid were a number by comedians who were popular back in the 50s and 60s—and there was one where the guy told a long, hilarious tale which ended with the words, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.” Which led into another that was quite entertaining, but even moreso because you had heard the previous one. Which is a long way for me to say, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but first I really needed to write about Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Which I did last week.

When I heard McGuire say that as a child she loved stories where the child protagonists went to a magical world where they became heroes and warrior-princesses and the like, but was always so angry that they then had to go back home, I was nodding emphatically in agreement. I wanted to get lost in the misty woods and find myself caught in a war between goblins and elves. Or go around a bend on a lake shore and find myself face to face with a giant beetle who greeted me and told me we had to run because danger was coming and so forth.

Except I didn’t want to have to come home again after the first adventure was over. The other world was so much better than the real world. I recall one time when I asked a teacher I trusted why the stories always ended there, she wasn’t very understanding. “Wouldn’t you rather be home with your mom and dad and all your friends?”

She didn’t know what to say when I asked, “What friends?” I didn’t add that if I could run away and never see my father again I would be the happiest boy in the world. This isn’t to say that I never had friends as a child. But being the kind of kid who was always quickly labeled a sissy (or worse words) and a weirdo whenever new kids met me, combined with the number of times we moved because of my dad’s work in the petroleum industry (ten elementary schools across four states), I never had a lot of friends. This particular conversation happened less than two months after we had moved yet again, and I hadn’t yet really found a friend at the new place.

Another time that I told someone how much I wished I could live in one of those magical worlds, the person tried to convince me that the things which seemed like an adventure would not be fun. “Real monsters aren’t just scary, they actually hurt you.”

I had learned through multiple experiences that if I told such adults that I already lived with exactly the kind of monster who actually hurt you that I would be disbelieved at best. Because the kinds of adults who will see a ten-year-old with stitches and multiple contusions on his face and one arm in a sling, look that kid in the eyes, then lecture him that if he was just more well-behaved his father wouldn’t do these things to him not only don’t know what monsters are—they enable monsters.

That reality is precisely why portal fantasies appealed so strongly to me as a kid. And why the endings were always so frustrating.

Let’s pause a moment to go over some terminology. A portal fantasy is a story in which people from our mundane world enter into a different, fantastical world, through a portal of some kind. Classic examples are falling down a rabbit hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or through the enchanted wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or carried off by a tornado in The Wizard of Oz, or being injured and losing consciousness to wake up elsewhere as in the Thomas Covenant books.

A portal fantasy is different than an immersive fantasy, where all of the action occurs within the fantastical world and there are no characters who come from the mundane world. Think of Lord of the Rings or The Last Unicorn or any of the Conan the Barbarian stories. It is also different from an intrusive fantasy, where magical/fantastic creatures somehow come into what otherwise appears to be our mundane world—sometimes the narrative assumption is that the magic has been there all along, but for whatever reason most of us are unaware of it and thus don’t believe in it. Think of Dracula or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or A Wrinkle In Time.

The particular appeal of the portal fantasy for a kid like me is that in the fantastic world, I would have options that aren’t available to me in the real world. I didn’t see how any of the monsters and evil overlords in the fantasy books were worse than things my father (and the whole structure of society that enabled child abuse) did to me. As a kid, I may not have really understand the concept which is summed up by the old adage, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” but there was one thing that the protagonists of the portal fantasies had that I didn’t have in the real world: agency. The kids transported to the magical kingdom may have been put in perilous situations, but they weren’t powerless.

It wasn’t just when I was a young child that other people critiqued my enjoyment (and enthusiastic recommendations) of portal fantasies. In my teens and later, an additional critique was added: “You just want a happy ending.” This was usually served with a heaping helping of cynicism about how happy endings don’t exist in the real world, and people who don’t understand that are defective in some way. All of that judgmental cynicism is also the foundation of critiques (that often comes from certain people who call themselves fans of sf/f) which dismiss many works of speculative and fantastic fiction as merely fan service.

I have two responses to this line of argument.

First, go back up and re-read the bit about having to survive beatings from my dad that led to hospital trips. I suspect I know far better than the people who make the happy ending argument just how bad the real world can be. And I survived that. And you better believe that part of the reason I survived it is because fantasy books helped me to imagine a life where the monsters could be conquered. That alone should justify the existence of so-called escapist literature.

For the second and more important response, let’s go back to the Wayward Children books and the author thereof. There are two things I’ve come to expect from a Seanan McGuire book:

  1. At some point in the story she will break my heart,
  2. By the time I get to the end, I will be holding my hands out (metaphorically) toward the author like a Dickensian urchin and will plead, “Please, may I have some more?”

And to be clear, I mean there are things that happen in the stories (not just this series) to the main characters that make me physically shed tears as I’m reading. Sometimes McGuire has left me sobbing uncontrollably with some developments that happen. Characters in her stories do not always get a happy ending. Many very unhappy things happen to them. So if all I wanted was happy stories where nothing bad ever happens, why do I keep reading her stuff (excitedly pre-ordering things when I can; and recommending the stories to others)?

Because I never get the feeling that she is doing it just to shock me. She never allows harm to happen lightly—even to the bad guys. Death never happens senselessly. By which I mean both that the bad things always makes sense within the world, but also because the bad things are integral to the plot. It always feels genuinely that she knows this pain and she understands it. These stories don’t sensationalize or revel in pain and suffering, they show pain because real people suffer things that hurt this much. In the real world, far too often the pain of many types of people is ignored, rationalized, and even celebrated.

I don’t want to celebrate pain. Celebrate the moments of happiness and love that characters seize despite misfortune? Yes, please!

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Doubling-down isn’t how you make sf/f for everyone… and being southern isn’t a license to condescend

Emerald City gatekeeper from  1939 Wizard of Oz asked, "Just who do you think you are, honey?"Although I already covered some of this last Thursday (Stop digging, don’t you see how deep you already are?), another incident has come to light that makes it even more clear that there are sadly a lot of people committing one of the most classic blunders—no, not that one about going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line—no, this one is from the Nixon era: it isn’t the crime that brings you down, it’s the cover-up.

I’m speaking metaphorically, though. I am not trying to imply that anyone has committed a crime, nor that they are trying to hide it. In the case of the Silverberg incident, while there was plenty that is of the gatekeeper-y style of racism/sexism (not to mention the bigoted trope of calling any marginalized person who is being anything other than deferential “angry”) in the original offense, the real problem came when he wrote about how he isn’t racist or sexist—using racist and misogynist arguments to do so. So, the original comments could have been apologized for as thoughtless or ill-considered (and hypocritical), the denial just made the unexamined misogyny and racist presumptions undeniable.

Turns out two weekends ago at LosCon Greg Benford got himself in a similar problem. Mike Glyer at File770 has several posts with statements from several people and there’s a lot to unravel, but the upshot was that Benford made a number of dismissive comments about works written by one black woman in particular and younger-than-him women writing sf/f in general during a panel, and then during the question-and-answer portion of the panel a pro sitting in the audience tried to call him on it and there was much yelling and recrimination.

The convention staff’s inconsistent handling of the subsequent complaints from multiple people in the panel are generating a lot of pedantic argument and deflection. I don’t feel like re-litigating that, I want to focus on the dismissive words and the problems there. The topic of the panel was supposed to be to discuss who the future Grandmasters of SF/F might be. One of the statements Benford made as part of a general dismissal of a lot of stuff being written today was, “If you write sf honey, gotta get the science right.”

A lot of people are trying to defend Benford by saying that everyone else is being bigoted against southern people by taking offense. They are making the claim that “honey” is used as a polite term to address a stranger in many social circumstances in the south. And they are right to an extent, however, it is not always polite, nor is it an entirely ungendered term, as Benford’s defenders are trying to claim. Straight men in the south never use “honey” to address another man, it is always gendered. Queer men can use it either way, though straight men are quite likely to take offense if a man refers to them as honey. Women can use the term to people of any gender and often it is considered a polite form of address, but it depends on the context.

An older woman might indeed address a younger person as “honey” if they are either asking them to do something, or suggesting that the way the younger person is behaving might be inappropriate for the situation, and so forth. The younger southern person would not take offense, and neither would anyone listening. Southern culture does have a very strong strain of respecting one’s elders, for one thing; the term “honey” in this case signals a difference in social standing. But if the significantly younger person were to call the older woman “honey” in the answer, she would be affronted, and other people overhearing would all agree that the younger person was being rude. Because this is inverting the social standing: the younger person’s use of the term “honey” in such a case signals that the older person doesn’t deserve the respect ordinarily accorded to elders.

If a man uses the term to address a woman who is not a close family member or intimate partner, it also signals a difference in social standing. But depending on the context, the difference being asserted might be simply that the man believes that all women naturally must defer to him. While it might sound friendly, it’s definitely got a message of “respect your betters (and that would be me)” about it.

As another old white bearded guy from the south, I have also used the term “honey” when addressing someone who wasn’t my husband. And as a queer man, I have used it without regard to gender. But I also have had friends explain to me that it just amps up the condescension when I do that. I didn’t consciously intend it, but once it was pointed out, I realized I have to learn to stop saying it, because they are right. Not just that it sounds condescending (which it does). And also not just that it can hurt someone to be talked down to that way whether I intend it or not (which it does). But also because now I know both of those things.

So, since Benford identifies as straight man originally from the south, we can safely infer that his off-the-cuff remark was aimed solely at women writers, and that it was more of an admonishment than friendly advice. It also is a bit of classic gatekeeper BS that conveniently is never used to disqualify any science fiction written by straight white guys. Something that John Scalzi pointed out in a chuckle-worthy way:

https://twitter.com/scalzi/status/1068581430840737795

Another of my favorite authors, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, started a thread (which others contributed to) that gives more examples of science fiction written by white guys where the science is very, very wrong, but no one of Benford’s camp would ever say wasn’t sf.

https://twitter.com/silviamg/status/1068549863866953728

Read the whole thread here.

Another Benford comment that was directed at a specific author is even worse: asserting that a trilogy which recently won three Hugos in a row isn’t all that because “psychic powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.” Which is another favorite gatekeeper trick to exclude people. Never mind that every one of Benford’s own books could be boiled down to a single “idea” that someone had written many years before he started being published. But that’s the nature of gatekeeping: rules are stated in a way that sound like an objective criteria, but aren’t applied to works by white straight cisgendered men.

But others have also explained that a bit better. Annalee Flower Horne did a twitter thread explaining how “the notion that ideas and tropes can never be re-used in SF and that anyone trying must be new here would be funny if it weren’t such an insidious tool of exclusion.”

But at this point I’m still just describing Benford’s original offense, and not how he dug himself even deeper into the hole. I’m not going to link to it because it’s hosted on sites that I refuse to give any support of. But his response boiled down to accusing everyone else of being too sensitive and lamenting the so-called victim culture. Ah, yes, that tired old chestnut! Every classic blunder deserves a classic racist/misogynist/homophobic dog whistle, I guess. But just to be clear: if you claim that other people are being too sensitive, all that really means is that you’re offended because you think you should be able to disrespect whoever you want and never face any consequences for it.

I didn’t do as good a job last week about explaining one aspect of why this doubling-down is not just pointless, but also ethically wrong. Fortunately, Brianne Reeves did a much better job:

“Imagine this.

You are at a playground. A gaggle of four year olds is running about. One of them is not paying attention and accidentally sends another plummeting off the equipment and into the asphalt. Suddenly, there is screaming and crying. Mothers race to the scene.

What do you do next?

You fix the wound as best you can, and the child apologizes. Not necessarily for the shove, but for the inattention. They didn’t *mean* to cause pain, but their lack of awareness meant that another is in pain.”

I mentioned above the time when a friend called me out for using the term “honey” in a condescending way. I wasn’t intending to belittle the person I was talking to, but intention isn’t an exculpatory factor. My friend was hurt by my words, and that is on me. More importantly, once I have had this explained to me, the onus also is upon me to avoid such thoughtless words again. It is tough breaking old habits, I know. I have screwed up since that was pointed out to me, but the answer isn’t to blame my friend for being overly sensitive. The onus is on me to keep trying to do better, and apologize sincerely when I mess up.

It’s also galling when a professional writer, of all people, tries to claim that words don’t matter. They do. We should take pride in taking responsibility for what we say and write.

Stop digging, don’t you see how deep you already are?

“Friendship is not about people who act true to you face. It's about people who remain true behind your back.”

(click to embiggen)

Shortly after the last Hugo ceremony, a kerfluffle happened when a member of the Old Guard made some less than nice comments about one of the winners on a mailing list consisting of several hundred people. At the time I posted on twitter that, “An old white guy who used a Hugo awards speech to make an extended dick joke has no business calling anyone else’s comments vulgar.” So let’s do a summary:

N.K. Jemisin is the first author to win the Hugo for best novel three years in a row. These three best novel Hugos were not her first awards. Several years ago when she won another award, a person who has since became a notorious racist provacateur who happened to be an officer of the Science Fiction Writers of America at the time used the society’s official mailing list to send out racist and sexist comments (calling Jemisin, an African-American author, a “savage” was not the worst part of the comments). He was ousted from his position at the time, but subsequently from his own publishing house and blog he proceeded to rally people to harass Jemisin and every other non-white, non-male, non-straight science fiction/fantasy author he could identify who was getting positive attention.

So, when Jemisin won her third Best Novel Hugo in a row, she made some comments about the harassment campaign. Comments that the vast majority of people who saw the speech thought were funny and apt. They weren’t angry comments, they were triumphant. And she is hardly the first award winner to mention obstacles that had to be overcome in order to even be a nominee for the award.

But one member of the old guard of sf/f (Robert Silverberg) didn’t like the comments, and on a mailing list that he thought was private (but come on, hundreds of members!) he made comments that were racist, misogynist, dismissive, and hypocritical about Jemisin’s speech. He characterized her comments as vulgar, graceless, and angry. Which, as I commented above, is pretty rich from someone who used the speech at a previous Hugo award ceremony to make a long, elaborate (and worst of all, not funny) dick joke. Never mind the weird anti-semetic thing at another Hugo ceremony, nor sponsoring a weird conspiracy-theory petition about a sci fi organization a few years ago. Since these remarks came to light, various other professionals in the community came up with other examples of him being misogynist.

Further, while admitting that he had never read any of her stuff (despite being a Hugo voter who gets a free copy of each nominated work each year that most of the rest of us voters use to read before we cast our ballots), he indicated that he was skeptical that she deserved the awards.

Here’s the thing: if you are not a member of a marginalized community, and you tell a person in that community that they should tone down what they are saying about their own experience being discriminated against? You are guilty at the very least of mansplaining. Which, in case you don’t know means:

explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer.

Here’s the other thing: if you’re a long time Hugo awards participant but you can’t be bothered to check out the work of someone who has won several times recently, yet still feel entitled to opine on whether they deserve any of the awards, it’s time for you to hang up your hat and go out to pasture.

This has become part of the conversationn so many months later because Silverberg contacted the publisher of the fan news site, File 770, all upset because he thought some comments others had made about his comments were libelous. Let me state for the record that, as a person who has professionally been involved in libel cases and sat through long convoluted conversations with lawyers about libel, those comments aren’t anywhere close to libel. At all. But, because he felt that way, he demanded that the publisher post his 1500 word essay about racism and sexism to reply, and oh, my goodness, talk about being deep in a hole and deciding to dig yourself deeper!

A few words of advice: if you ever begin any paragraph with the phrase “I’m not racist” everything that comes after is a lie. It you say “I’m not sexist” again, that is a lie and everything that follows it is. But, even worse, if you try to defend yourself by saying, “Some of my best friends are…” You have just demonstrated that you are so deeply steeped in ignorance on the topic that you should be too ashamed to ever show your face in public again.

It is impossible to grow up in a society without absorbing that society’s racist, sexist, sectarian, and homophobic prejudices. The best any of us can hope for is to not be intentionally racist or sexist or homophobic; learn from our mistakes and keep trying to do better.

Silverberg hasn’t helped his cause with this essay. And besides the complete lack of awareness, another issue is the self-victimhood. He—and a lot of people defending him—make a big deal about how his original comments were made on a mailing list that he thought was private, and therefore he is the victim because his privacy was violated. First, let’s turn to Miss Manners on what one should do if something you said in private gets leaked to the public:

Admit your wrongdoing. Don’t try to blame it on being misheard, the vendetta of other people, or her paranoia. If you said the wrong thing and you were caught out, fess up – however painful it might be. Don’t put it off – do it right away, in private if you can.

It doesn’t matter if he thought it was a private conversation. It was bigoted commentary, period. And if his private comments become public, the only honorable thing to do is admit that what you said was wrong. Period.

I’ve blogged many times about bigots who don’t think they are bigots for all sorts of misguided reasons, including this one: the mistaken idea that if you don’t say it to someone’s face on purpose, somehow it isn’t racism/sexism/homophobia/whatever. You can’t claim to be an ally when you are trash talking the person behind their back. You can’t claim not to be a bigot when you are spouting bigoted things out of earshot of the people in question. How hard can it be to understand that?

Silverberg is an author whose work I have written positive things about. And I’m an old, white-bearded sf/f fan just like him. I understand that he sincerely thinks he’s the victim here. I also understand that he couldn’t be more wrong, and it just makes me feel a lot of pity for him and his ignorance.

But let’s try to close an a more upbeat note:

Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist – Avenue Q – Original Broadway Cast:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

You don’t have to love what I love, but not all differences are merely opinions

"I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love."

“I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love.”

I’m a nerd, and an old one at that. So, for instance, I watched Star Trek: the Original Series when it was on prime time television back in 1966 (I was in kindergarten and first grade, but I watched them!). And I have a giant collection of classic Doctor Who episodes in our disk library. And every time my family moved to a new town during my childhood, I quickly found, checked out, and read every book by Heinlein, Bradbury, Le Guin, and Asimov I could find in the school and public library. And so on, and so on. But I also happen to love watching my favorite football team play. And I love finding science fiction and fantasy authors whose worlds don’t erase queer people, women, people of color, and don’t replicate the patriarchal white imperialism that much of the scf fi I grew up on assumed to be normal.

I don’t think that I should impose my faves on other people. I will enthuse about things I love so emphatically that it sometimes comes across that way, and I am sorry to anyone that has felt that I was pressuring them to like everything I like or dismissing their difference of opinion.

At least I’m not as bad as some people. One of my friends was recently scolded for using the phrase “sportsball.” The person doing the scolding said that sportsball was a derogatory term that implies that people who like sports are bad. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.

I’m a football fan (specifically most often the Seahawks) and I use the phrase “sportsball” all the time. Sometimes I use it when the topic under discussion is a sport that I am less well informed about, such as professional Soccer or Basketball. Sometimes I use it because I know that I am talking to people who do not like sports, and I am attempting to signal that I understand they might not find the topic as interesting as I do. And sometimes I use it to communicate the fact that I know it is an entertainment and a luxury and not of real importance to the life and well-being of 99% of the planet.

For someone to leap to the conclusion that “sportsball” is a derogatory term is laughable, at best. I, certainly would never disparage someone simply for being a fan of one or more sports. Unless that person is a fan of the New England Patriots, or the Dallas Cowboys, or the Philadelphia Eagles—because those fans are just not right in the head. To be fair, plenty of them think the same thing about Seahawks fans, but that’s one of the weird things in sports culture, at least the portions of it I’ve been involved in—we trash talk each other’s teams all the time.

I have a very old friend who is a big fan of the Arizona Cardinals, and he teases me by calling my team the Sea Chickens all the time. And I have been known to make the comment that his team’s mascot should be a possum, because they play dead at home and get killed on the road. There’s also one of my sisters-in-law who is a big Kansas City fan, and before the last divisional re-org, our teams had to play each other twice a year, so we have been known to taunt one another whenever the other’s team loses.

But those are people I know, and we know that just because we’re super enthusiastic about our faves, that doesn’t mean we’re talking about something that really matters in the big scheme of things.

That isn’t true of all forms of criticism, though. It’s one thing, for instance, if I say that I really enjoyed reading the science fiction of Robert Heinlein when I was younger. Or how much I learned from reading the non-fiction of Isaac Asimov (and also loved his sci fi work). It’s quite another if I tell other people they must like those writers or else. Particularly if they are offended by Asimov’s personal sexual misconduct, or Heinlein’s sometimes rampant jingoism (and his weird attempts to not be racist or sexist that come across very differently today).

I don’t deal well with certain types of scary movies. I have nightmares, they crank up my anxieties, and sometimes I get physically ill. I have friends who can’t watch really violent shows for similar reasons. Certain shows sometimes hit some of my other buttons—characters who remind me of my abusive father, for instance. Worse, situations that remind me of specific beatings. So there are some shows and even some stories, that I get partway through and have to put aside. There are a couple of authors whose work I refuse to read any longer because they are overly fond of certain tropes/actions/plot devices that have a similar effect on me as those aforementioned scary movies. My approach to all of these things I dislike is to not buy them, not read them, or not watch them. I don’t tell other people they are bad people if they partake of those things.

“We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

(click to embiggen)

However, there are other books I don’t read or shows I don’t watch because the stories themselves promote and revel in various kinds of bigotry or oppression. There is at least one author who took that beyond the fiction to write op-ed pieces in various publications calling for laws to oppress certain categories of people (women and queers, mostly), who fundraised for organizations who actively sought that oppression, and who even in some of the op-ed pieces explicitly encouraged the bullying of children who appeared to be queer, and wrote justifications for gay bashing. For those kinds of things, I can’t just stand by quietly. I speak. I write critiques. I encourage people not to spend money on those things. And, yes, I do think less of the people who read those works.

That’s different than referring to something one doesn’t enjoy as much as other people by an intentional misnomer.

And don’t get me started about separating the art from the artist. Scroll back up a few paragraphs where I explain that I love work by certain people who were less than exemplary in all aspects of their lives.

The thing is, it’s okay if you don’t love the stuff I love. As long as what I love isn’t causing harm to you or others, or encouraging harm of any kind to you or other people, I think I should be able to enjoy it, and you can ignore it, and we can be friends. And if I happen to say I don’t like something you love, that isn’t an attack on you. Even when my critique is emphatic, I’m commenting on it, not you.

But I think the Weird Al said it best:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

No true Martian… or, the myth of the true fan

Art by Bruce Pennington

Art by Bruce Pennington

I find that if I dither over a blog post I feel strongly about, eventually someone else writes something on the topic that says some of what I want to say much better than I have been. I don’t find the phenomenon frustrating, in fact often the publication of these posts help me hone in on an aspect of the topic which I feel most strongly about in such a way that I can express the idea better. This week, there were multiple posts on the topic of what constitutes a “real fan” that are worth sharing. For instance, Camestros Felapton posted: You don’t control who gets to be fans in which he talks about people who, when faced with evidence that a majority of people like things that they don’t, look for ways to exclude those people from fandom:

“It’s the same con-game as used by Palin, Sad Puppies and most recently by Vox Day… declaring themselves the champions of the ‘real’ fans or the ‘real’ people. If you are leftwing or heck, just want to read comics with more realistic women in them, then magically you aren’t real anymore and your purchases don’t count.”

Many years ago this phenomenon was referred to, in fannish circles, as the True Fan Fallacy. Who gets to decide who is a true fan and who isn’t? But it isn’t just in fandom where it happens (which is one of the point Camestros makes in the above linked post).

From a fairly early age I was frequently teased, harassed, dismissed, and/or bullied for not being a “normal boy.” I was called sissy by other kids, and I was called a faggot and a sissy by various adults—including teachers and pastors—because I was interested in things or acted in ways they didn’t think a boy ought to. Then I was accused of not being a real Christian when I pointed out contradictions between things some religious leaders said and the actual words of Christ recorded in the Bible. Then I was accused of not being a real American for a wide variety of reasons (my favorite is still being told I wasn’t a real American because I believed in the separation of Church and state—you know, a concept championed among the Founding Father’s by both the author of the Declaration of Independence {Thomas Jefferson} and the author of the Constitution and Bill of Rights {James Madison}, and further actually enshrined in the Constitution itself!

Just as this last year I found myself being accused by some people of not being a real Star Wars fan because I actually enjoyed The Last Jedi? Me! Who saw the original Star Wars in theatres on Opening Night as a teen-ager in 1977, and then scraped together money from my part-time job to go see it in the theatre twelve more times that summer. And then stood in line over night to see Empire Strikes Back and two years later again for Return of the Jedi on their opening days. I’m not a real Star Wars fan, though, because I disagree with these man-babies who actually think the original trilogy, which was all about a Rebellion against an Empire, wasn’t political???

And yes, I understand that my invoking my history with the original trilogy sounds an awful lot like gatekeeping. But here’s the thing—I don’t believe that anyone who wasn’t alive back then and didn’t see the movies the same way I did are not fans. I admit that I’m giving those who are so clueless as to think the original trilogy wasn’t about politics some serious side-eye, but I’m not saying they aren’t fans of the original series.

I have a good friend who was barely one year old when the original movie came out—and he’s one of the most passionate Star Wars fans I know. It doesn’t matter that he came to the movies later than me. It doesn’t matter than he and I disagree about some things in the various movies. He’s a fan, and the myth of Luke and Leia and Han and Chewie and Obi Wan belong to him just as much as they belong to me.

This discussion of who is a real fan and who isn’t lately centers around stories where white straight men aren’t the only characters who get to be heroes. Guys are upset that a black man, or a woman, or a non-white woman may get to have major roles in the story. And heaven forfend if some of these characters in the spotlight are queer!

Back in 1983 I was sitting in a theatre on opening day for the Return of the Jedi and I was very confused early on in the movie. Why, oh why, was Jabba the Hutt, a slug-like alien, so lasciviously interested in two different mammalian female characters? I mean, I realize that in a universe with many sentient races, there will be some characters no matter what species who get off on putting any other sentients in leashes, but what possible reason would Jabba have to put Leia in that damn metal bra? It made absolutely no sense to me at all.

I understand that thousands (or maybe millions) of straight fanboys in the audience didn’t notice that discrepancy. I understand that it jumped out at me because I’m a queer guy and I wasn’t distracted by Carrie Fischer’s bared midriff. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a valid quibble for me to have with the movie.

Also, for each of the original movies that I saw in those theatres, at every single showing it wasn’t just guys in the audience. There were just as many girls and women in each crowd as there were boys and men. And even in the very whitebread part of the Pacific Northwest where I was living at the time, it wasn’t exclusively white people in those audiences, either. Furthermore, I wasn’t, by any means, the only person sitting in all of those theatres back in 1977 who went home to fantasize about Luke and Han hooking up romantically.

Queer folks, and women, and people of color have been fans of sf/f for as long as there has been science fiction and fantasy. We love those stories and those characters and those worlds just as much as any other fan. We’re buying books and going to movies and watching the series because we actually enjoy those books and movies and series. We’re not pretending. I don’t have the time to watch movies I don’t really like, and I certainly don’t want to spend money on books that I don’t enjoy reading.

You don’t have to like the same things I do, just as I don’t have to like the same things you do. But if the only fiction you object to winning awards is stuff that is written by people of color or women or queer people (and you insist that those authors’ sales are the results of “affirmative action” or “virtue signalling”) you aren’t fooling anybody. Everyone can see your bigotry, and we’re not impressed.

Hugo Winners 2018 — and how close my ballot was to the final winners

I like to think that the robot represents fans who love sci fi that includes non-white people, women, queers, the differently abled as more than tokens, and the skeleton the others...

I like to think that the robot represents fans who love sci fi that includes non-white people, women, queers, the differently abled as more than tokens, and the skeleton represents the other kinds of fans.

The Hugo Winners were announced on Sunday night at Worldcon 76 in San Jose. As I said when I posted about my own ballot, this year’s big difficulty was choosing which to put in number one in every category. I really enjoyed all of the stories nominated, and with the exception of only one nominee out of the whole ballot, felt that everything nominated this year had award-worthy merits. There were a few things in some of the categories that weren’t to my taste, but I understood why they appealed to other fans. As it was, my number one choice in six categories was the actual winner, and in five of the other categories my number two choice was the winner. So I’m pretty happy. Oh, and though we aren’t supposed to comment on things like this, I can’t help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude that the one and only piece that I “No Awarded” came in dead last in its category.

Before I comment further (and link to some other reactions to the ballot), I should list the actual winners, just in case you haven’t found this information elsewhere:

Best NovelThe Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

Best NovellaAll Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Best Novelette — “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer

Best Short Story — “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Best SeriesWorld of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Best Related WorkNo Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Best Graphic StoryMonstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long FormWonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short FormThe Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland

Best Editor, Short Form — Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Best Editor, Long Form — Sheila E. Gilbert

Best Professional Artist — Sana Takeda

Best SemiprozineUncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

Best FanzineFile 770, edited by Mike Glyer

Best FancastDitch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace

Best Fan Writer — Sarah Gailey

Best Fan Artist — Geneva Benton

Best Young Adult BookAkata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer — Rebecca Roanhorse


First, Nicholas Whyte has a breakdown of the statistics and voting that I found fascinating. Cora Buhlert has some very insightful (as always) comments on the winners. Camestros Felapton has his Hugo reactions and the comments contains some great observations. And Alexandra Erin has some interesting thoughts about conventions, awards, fandom, and what it all means.

A lot of the other blog posts and stories you will find out there are focused on N.K. Jemisin’s historic win: she’s the first person ever to win the Best Novel Hugo three years in a row. Two years ago it was big news that she was the first African-American woman to win in that category. As one person observed on Twitter: that historic first was more about how exclusionary society and the Hugos had been during the 60-some years of Hugos before that. So that win was only historic because the community had previously been less than welcoming. This year’s historic moment is much better: she’s won three times in a row because her novels are awesome.

The fact that I even point this out is used by certain people to try to prove that these wins are undeserved, or that those of us who voted for these works are doing so for some kind of political messaging rather than because we actually like the stories in question. And all I can say to them is: we already know you are bigots and a-holes, so we don’t really care what you think.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will let you in on an important detail (which I didn’t quite realize myself until a few minutes ago when I dug out all my Hugo ballot emails from my email archive): at none of these last three years did I chose Jemisin’s novel as my number one choice on the ballot. Each year her novel was my second choice. This year, for instance, I really quite liked her book, and it was a difficult choice, but there was another novel (Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee) that I liked slightly better. Similarly last year and the year before there was another book that I liked better than Jemisin’s, so I put them just above hers. Do I wish that my choices each year had won? Well, yes, but I was also quite happy that Jemisin’s book won each time, because I liked each of them, too.

That’s because I’m able to understand that just because I likes one book slightly more than another that doesn’t mean that my favorite is somehow inherently a superior work to the others. Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe there aren’t ways to grade the quality of the writing or plotting or execution of a story, just that everything else being more-or-less equal, my tie-breaker is going to be different than yours.

It is true that I find stories written by women, people of color, or queer people are more likely to resonate with me in ways that stories by white cisgendered heterosexual guys do not. That isn’t because the white cis het guys are inferior to the other people, it’s because in our society white cis het guys get to operate on the lowest difficulty setting and thus are less likely to perceive some aspects of our society that the rest of us have to deal with. I’m a white guy, yes, but I’m also an out gay man who as a child was unable to hide my queerness; growing up I experienced society differently than my straight contemporaries. I saw unfairness in places where they found opportunities. I saw barriers where they found open doors and welcoming arms. The way I was marginalized isn’t the same way that people of color or women and so on are marginalized, but writers from those groups ran into similar barriers and injustices. Their perspective is going to be, in many cases, more like mine than not. So, yeah, I find the stories they tell and the viewpoints they employ more interesting.

So, yeah, I’m more likely to read books by these authors—not because I’m refusing to read white cis het guys, but because they are more likely to be recommended by the reviewers I have learned have similar tastes as mine, they are more likely to write about subjects I find interesting, and (most importantly) when I begin reading their stories, I’m more likely to be pulled in and keep turning the pages.

I read stuff written by men. I vote for stuff written by men. Checking my ballot, I see that works written by men made it into the top half of several categories on my ballot. But I had to go look—I didn’t remember because that is not how I choose which pieces to vote for. By the time I’m fiddling with my ballot, moving the entries around, all I’m thinking about is the story and how I felt while I was reading it.

I only nominate stories/magazines/shows/podcasts I have read/watched/listened to. Once the ballots are out, I do my darnedest to read all of the things that made it to the ballot that I haven’t already. And when I’m reading, I’m not thinking much about the author. Because if they have done their job, the story is going to consume my attention.

To sum up, I quite enjoyed this year’s ballot. I have a couple more authors on my list to look out for. It was quite fun. And as I said after I turned in the ballot, now I have a lot of other things in my to-read pile that i need to get back to.

But, before I close, I highly recommend you watch N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 Hugo Award Best Novel acceptance speech.:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Course Correction vs Necromancy—a follow up on exclusion at sf/f conventions

“Brad T, Larry C's critique of WorldCon was never in substance ANTI-gatekeeping but rather them wanting "SJWs" gatekept OUT. Brad T in particular wanted Hugos to go to trad "Nutty Nugget" style works *REGARDLESS* of what fans wanted. Both Brad & Larry have been vocal in wanting SF cons to be traditional & to keep programming the old guard. I suspect if SHoyt could reanimate the corpse of RAHeinlein, that's who would be on every panel in perpetuity. SP was about being against the *NEW* & different.”

More commentary on the programming issues (click to embiggen)

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about problems with the Worldcon Programming, and more particularly some of the very telling comments some programming staff members made.

The con chair asked Mary Robinette Kowal (who I quoted in one of those posts) to assist in repairing the programming grid. She’s run programming for more than one Nebula conference (and I believe a few other conventions) and seemed a good choice. She made a couple of short comments online right after agreeing, in which she said she had several volunteers to help, and would be too busy for the next several days to answer any questions from people not directly involved.

The con has subsequently published a new schedule, which looks much more diverse (in both topic and participation). I’ve seen several of the pros who had previously said they would withdraw from programming to make room for others since post that they had agreed to participate in at least one event in the new schedule.

I’m sure it was a mad scramble, and my hat’s off to the staff for realizing they needed to fix the problems, for being willing to accept help when it was offered, and to everyone who pitched in. It looks like a great program. I hope this was a learning experience for some people.

And I hope everyone who attends has a fabulous time.

But the best commentary I’ve seen on the topic of convention programming, the desire some fans have to only include popular/well-known/established writers, et cetera, has got to be the amusing short story Cora Buhlert posted a few days ago: Convention Programming in the Age of Necromancy – A Short Story. You should go read it there, because it’s hilarious, but I will include the opening to give you a taste:

At the daily program operations meeting of a science fiction convention that shall remain unnamed, the debate got rather heated.

“We absolutely need to hold the ‘Future of Military Science Fiction’ panel in Auditorium 3,” the head of programming, whom we’ll call Matt, said.

“And why?” his fellow volunteer, who shall henceforth be known as Lucy, asked, “Is military SF so important, that it needs one of the bigger rooms, while we shove the ‘Own Voices’ panel into a tiny cupboard?”

“No,” Matt said, “But Auditorium 3 has air conditioning.”

Lucy tapped her foot. “And? Are old white dude military SF fans more deserving of coolness and air than own voices creators and fans?”

Matt sighed. “No, but Heinlein’s reanimated corpse is coming to the panel. And trust me, he smells abominably. Oh yes, and he’s declared that he wants to attend the ‘Alternative Sexualities in Science Fiction’ panel, so we’d better put that in a room with AC, too.”

A personal note: The first time I was in charge of programming for a convention was an accident. I was on staff as the convention book editor (and I was also responsible for laying out the pocket program), and had previously been a panelist at the same convention. The person who was in charge of programming missed a couple of meetings as we were getting down to the wire, and she wasn’t responding to e-mails or phone calls from anyone. I was getting frantic because I didn’t have content for the program books. Many of us who had responded to the programming survey were worried because we hadn’t heard what panels (if any) we were on.

Turned out that the person in charge of programming had had a massive stroke and was in the hospital for an extended time. The hospital had not been able to contact her daughter (who was also on con staff, but she lived on the other side of the country, and her job at the con was strictly on-site. The daughter was on an extended business travel thing during the weeks all this was going down). The upshot was that at nearly the last minute to finish the program books, we found all this out, and suddenly I was in charge of programming. With the help of a couple of other people (and with a pile of email messages once we redirected the programming alias), I put together a programming grid in about three days. It wasn’t the best programming grid I ever saw, but we got it done.

And panelists were happy. We got a lot of compliments on the programming.

And that’s how I ended up in charge of programming for the following two years at that convention. We had a slightly less frantic process the next two years.

The woman who had the stroke did get out of the hospital and even attended the next couple of year’s convention in a wheelchair. Sadly, one of the things my successor had to put in his first grid as programming lead was a memorial service for her.

I wish I had a more upbeat ending to this tale.

The only conclusion I have is: running programming for a convention takes you in directions you never expected. It is an adventure, but remember that one of the definitions of “adventure story” is something really awful that happens to someone else.

I finally stopped fiddling with my Hugo Ballot

The 2016 trophy, awarded at MidAmericaCon II, designed by Sarah Felix. photographed by Fred Teifeld.

The 2016 trophy, awarded at MidAmericaCon II, designed by Sarah Felix. photographed by Fred Teifeld.

In some previous years I posted my ballot (or some other indication of my choices) on the blog, in part because some followers had asked me to. But this year was difficult in the most wonderful ways. I kept fiddling with my choices in all of the categories because so many of the nominees were so good. I really enjoyed all the stories that I read (the fact that a bunch of works and creators that I nominated made it in various categories didn’t hurt this year). Still, between all the categories there are 114 nominees, and out of that whole bunch there is exactly one that I didn’t think deserved the award.

So, to re-iterate, the hardest part this year was picking which things to put in first place in each category, since I thought pretty much everything this time around was award worthy.

Technically I still have several hours after this post will publish when I can go back in and move things around on my ballot, but I really think I need to stop dithering and just leave it.

Two categories that I almost always decide on last are the Editor, Long Form, and Editor, Short Form. For short form, usually if I recognize which publication an editor worked on, and I’m familiar with it, I feel confident I can rank them. It’s when I don’t know the publication well that I feel a little less certain.

Editor, Long Form is easy if, like this year (and as I recall last year) every nominee provides a list of all the books that they worked on that were published in the year under consideration. Then I have something to judge them on. This category was previously one of the hardest for me in the nominating phase, until I read a suggestion on someone’s blog: look at the list of the books you’ve decided to nominate, go to the publisher’s web site for each, and find out who the editor of that book was.

I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this during the nomination phase with regards to professional artist. If a book that I know is eligible has a great cover, I should nominate that artist. So, next year I hope to have more than one nominee in that category!

Anyway, it’s been a fun couple of months reading the stuff that made the ballot. Now that I’ve finished my voting, I can go back to reading other things in my big to-read pile!

NorWesCon 41 Report — Professor Plum in the hall with the selfie stick

(click to embiggen)

The very first NorWesCon I attended wasn’t actually a NorWesCon—it was called Alternacon in 1987 because some really weird things had happened at the now notorious NorWesCon 9 the year before. The convention hotel canceled the subsequent contract and the committee scrambled to put together a convention at a smaller hotel the next year and chose to temporarily rename the convention. In any case, from 1987 through 2012 I never missed a NorWesCon. For a few of those conventions (1993, 1994, and 1995) I only attended for a single day, but I managed to make at least an appearance at every one up until NorWesCon 35. For a variety of reasons (some of which will be mentioned below) my husband and I chose to skip NorWesCon 36 and 37 before resuming for 38 and 39. We had planned to attend last year, but that was before our old apartment building was sold—between needing to find a new place to live, dealing with my husband’s surgery, packing, and actually moving, we wound up cancelling our plans to attend NorWesCon 40 at the last minute.

This year my husband was on convention staff. I didn’t have any obligations—no fan table to run, no panels that I was on (it’s been years since I was an attending pro at NorWesCon), and I wasn’t on staff. Read More…

Weekend Update 8/12/2017: Hugo Winners and many other things

The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)

The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)

The Hugo Award winners were announced yesterday at Worldcon 75, this year happening in Helsinki. I’m not there, but enough people I know are that my twitter feed was full of news and reactions. And it’s really fun when people whose work you love and who you have met in person are among the people bringing home rockets. I checked against my ballot after, and found that in four categories the person/work that I picked as number one had won. And it looks like in every other category, the winner was in my top three. Of course, as I said at the time, I thought that every category had at least four or five pieces that I absolutely thought deserved the award. It was a good year. And isn’t this year’s trophy gorgeous?

Anyway, the winners are:

Novel:

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

Novella:

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)

Novelette:

“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Short Story:

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Related Work:

Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer)

Graphic Story:

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough (SyFy)

Editor, Short Form:

Ellen Datlow

Editor, Long Form:

Liz Gorinsky

Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon

Semiprozine:

Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky

Fanzine:

Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan

Fancast:

Tea and Jeopardy, presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

Fan Writer:

Abigail Nussbaum

Fan Artist:

Elizabeth Leggett

Series:(Special Category added by option of Worldcon 75)

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards)

Ada Palmer


And I’m sure that in certain corners of the trollnet there is a lot of angry thrashing: Women swept nearly every category at the 2017 Hugo Awards. To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg: and for how many years were the categories literally swept by men (and almost always white men, at that)? Let me repeat: I’m an old, literally grey bearded, cis male white fan who literally learned how to read from Robert A. Heinlein novels, and every single one of this year’s winners were fabulous sf/f works that deserve that award because they are awesome stories.

So, congratulations to all the winners!

Oh, another thing announced yesterday: Worldcon 2019 will be in Dublin, Ireland! It’ll be the first Irish Worldcon! Yay! There’s a lot of other fun news from the con, you can see a bunch of pictures and more here.

On to other things: Terry Gross is one of my favorite people to listen to on the radio. She’s been interviewing people for years, and much of what I like about her show is how many times she made me really connect with and care about people I didn’t expect to. Anyway, she was on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week, and it was funny in a way I absolutely did not expect. Watch the whole clip to learn about her process, but also to get a really good laugh when she tells the story of the time Bill O’Reilly angrily stormed out of an interview.

NPR’s Terry Gross Has a Sick Burn for Bill O’Reilly Walking Out on Their Fresh Air Interview:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.

Lots of people have been freaking out about all the nuclear war talk this week. I left most of it out of yesterday’s round up of links other than to link to an analysis of why it is almost certain that we don’t actually need to be worried just yet. But besides most people not understanding the technological hurdles as to why North Korea doesn’t have that missile-capable bomb there’s more. And Nothing New On North Korea Except Donald Trump’s Freak-Out. There actually isn’t any new news. Only one agency is saying this is a possibility, and that same intelligence agency claimed the same thing several years ago and was shown to be wrong then. Furthermore, Donald isn’t suddenly talking about this because of a security briefing he got. He started angrily threatening war when he saw a headline in the Washington Post… which he has also claimed in one of the fake news outlets, but obviously he doesn’t really think that, does he? Anyway, Rachel Maddow’s clip that I linked is really good. And she had an actual
(recently retired) intelligence expert whose specialty was North Korea for decades. It’s really worth the watch.

Related, I’m really irritated that this is even necessary: From the editor in chief of Christianity Today: The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Inherently Evil. Even though I consider myself a former christian, it angers me to a level that is difficult to describe that there are so-called christian pastors saying the opposite, saying things like Megachurch Pastor Says Trump Has God’s Approval to Start Nuclear War. Geezus! Even the religious right’s favorite president, Ronald Reagan, condemned nuclear weapons as “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” And who can forget what the late evangelist Billy Graham said on the subject: “I cannot see any way in which nuclear war could be branded as being God’s will. Such warfare, if it ever happens, will come because of the greed and pride and covetousness of the human heart.”

Well, we certainly have a president who epitomizes greed and pride and covetousness…

Grrrr! And don’t get me started on the literal Nazis marching in North Carolina… but at least some Republicans are waking up: Former GOP Senator Calls For Trump’s Removal “Donald Trump is seriously sick. He is dangerous. As a citizen, a former U.S. Senator and twelve-year member of the Armed Services Committee, I urge you to act at once. This is an emergency.”

I can’t end on a sour note. So, here’s some much better news: ‘Sense8’ is back in production, and the finale is going to be totally ‘epic’ and Formerly Abused Husky Now Helps Children Who Have Been Abused.

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