Tag Archive | sad puppies

The Cabal That Wasn’t or, SF/F award numbers don’t mean what you think they mean

A tangerine-colored spherical space station spinning in the inky blackness of space. This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

I’m deep in the middle of reading all the Hugo nominees that I hadn’t previously read so I can fill out my ballot, soon. Plus I’ve been working long hours at the day job while trying to keep up with the shambles that the world seems to be trying to turn itself into. So my attention has been a bit scattered. I was a bit surprised about a week or so ago to see a bunch of references to the “No Men Nominated for Hugos” cross my twitter stream. Which triggered an immediate WTF from me, because without checking the actual list, I thought, “But Ted Chiang, James Corey1, Michael Straczynski, Max Gladstone, and James Nicoll are all on the ballot, aren’t they? And those are just the men I can think of without looking it up!” But seeing so many mentions of it, I started to think that maybe I was confusing the Locus shortlist and/or Nebula shortlist.

I did eventually look up the long list, and confirmed that I was correct that all of those men had, indeed, received nominations23. But then I noticed that all of the books nominated for Best Novel were written by a woman4. And when I followed up to find a blog post from someone commenting on the issue and confirmed that, yes, the anger was about the Best Novel category, and how this is a terrible travesty and more proof that a political conspiracy has taken control of the Hugos, which is more proof of the downfall of civilization, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

They try what Asimov5 used to call a Judo Argument: the art of trying to use the enemy’s own strength against him. Asimov was specifically talking about arguments by people of faith to try to use science to prove the existence of god. But it applies to many other endeavors. In fact, the argument that these people who are upset about the Best Novel category of this year’s Hugo awards are using is specifically what Asimov called The Second Judo Argument:

“Suppose something exists, but the chances of it coming into existence due to random processes are so small (as determined by the laws of statistics and probabilities) that it is virtually impossible to suppose that it exists except as the result of some directing influence.”
—Isaac Asimov, The Planet That Wasn’t, essay 17, “The Judo Argument”

So, the argument that is being advanced, here, is that the having all six nominees in the Best Novel category of the Hugo Awards being written by authors of only one gender is so statistically unlikely that the only logical explanation is some kind of shenanigans. The least irrational way I’ve seen this notion expressed is in the form of a rhetorical question, “Are you seriously telling me that no award-worthy book written by a man in the field of science fiction/fantasy was published in 2019?”

Let me dispense with that question, first. There is nothing in the mission statement of the Hugos, nor in the rules, nor in a reasonable description of the awards that says the ballot must feature every single sf/f book which is worthy of a Hugo. Lots of great books fail to make the short list every year.

Since I participate in the awards, earlier this year I nominated five7 books for this award. Only two of the books I nominated made it to the ballot. Now that the ballot has come out, do I suddenly believe that the other three I nominated aren’t Hugo-worthy? Absolutely not! It just so happens that the four books I didn’t nominate that also did make the ballot were all books I hadn’t read8.

The other thing I want to mention about my nominations: when I went back into my emails to check what I had nominated, one of the five books I nominated was by a man. Was I disappointed that book didn’t make the final ballot? Sure! But not because of the gender of the author, just because it was a book I read recently that I really liked.

Let’s move on to numbers10. The other part of the argument is that having a category on the Hugo ballot dominated by one gender is somehow so incredibly unlikely as to prove some sort of cheating is going on. So, let’s look at the numbers, shall we? First, this 2019 article9 gives a lot of numbers: Gender and the Hugo Awards, by the Numbers. Nicoll breaks out more categories than I will recount here. The two most import numbers for our argument are these: how many times in the history of the Hugos has the Best Novel category been only men? And how many times have all but one nominee been a man?

The answers are enlightening. Out of the 66 years that there has been a Best Novel category for the Hugo Awards, 22 times the shortlist has been all men. That’s 33⅓% of all the years. And out of those 66 years the number of times that all but one nominee was a man is 20, which is just a touch more than 30%. So the number of years in which a single gender indisputably dominated is 64%. Which means that having one gender predominate isn’t a statistical anomaly at all.

Let’s be perfectly clear: this year is the first time, in 66 years of Hugo history, that the Best Novel category has only had women as the authors. But by no means is it the first year that any gender has had a disproportionate place on the ballot. While there were 22 years out of that time when the category had only men, which is a subset of the 42 years out of 66 in which one or fewer of the nominated works’ authors was a woman.

So, at this point we have discredited the idea that the ballot invalidates all work by male authors, and we have invalidated the assertion that a single-gender ballot is statistically unlikely. Maybe that’s where I should stop, but there are more problems here. Those problems are implied above, but the people whose arguments I have dismantled have demonstrated a decided inability to understand implications, so I have a bit more to say.

So, despite my dismantling of the arguments above—specifically that statistically there isn’t a problem in this year’s ballot—that doesn’t mean that there is no change worth discussion. For some context, let’s look at this recent essay: The Decade That Women Won. There has been a change in which gender dominates. What can we infer from the data?

Mathematically from the nomination and winning data we can’t conclude much. Having one gender disproportionately represented is the statistical norm for the entire history of the awards. All that’s happened in recent years is which gender of author that is being nominated most often has changed. There are a lot of perfectly reasonable explanations for this that don’t involve any shenanigans:

  • It could be that enough people are making an effort to read outside their comfort zone that they are encountering more books written by women than they used to.
  • It could be that reviewers and compilers of recommended lists are making more of a conscious effort to review a more diverse selection of works.
  • It could be that social media and other modern communication possibilities provide more ways to circumvent gatekeepers11.
  • It could be a slow generational change that’s just hit a tipping point.
  • It could be that a lot of the fans who are women and/or queer who bought their first WorldCon supporting membership in 201512 in order to protect the integrity of the awards from a slate-voting scheme stuck around13 and we tend to read a more diverse selection of sf/f books than the old guard
  • It could be that more women are managing to sell in the sf/f market than in decades past, and their increased presence is starting to have an effect.
  • It could all be statistical noise.

There is another form of the Judo Argument being used by the people unhappy with this year’s Best Novel nominees: “I thought all you people were opposed to discrimination, yet here you are cheering on the discrimination of men.” First, when I cheered when I saw the list I wasn’t thinking “Oh, look! No men!” No, I was cheering because two books I’d nominated had made the list, and two more that I’d heard enough good things about that I was already planning to read had made the list. Second, when we talked about discrimination against women and other marginalized communities in sf/f publishing and such, we had more statistics than just award ballots. We could show the statistical disproportions in who was published, which books were reviewed, which books were on recommendation lists, and many other statistics which all skewed very strongly toward cishet white men. We don’t have any such statistics showing a sudden skewing in the other direction. Even now, all those other numbers still favor cishet white men. And third, for decades the same people who are complaining now have insisted that an all-male or nearly-all-male ballot absolutely wasn’t discrimination, so they don’t now have the moral right to make that argument.

And that’s the crux of it: the people complaining now never cared during any of those years that no women were nominated. They don’t actually have any trouble with disproportionate nominees or wins. They only have a problem when it isn’t men who are being recognized.

In other words, they aren’t arguing in good faith, which is why their arguments fall flat.


Footnotes:

1. James S.A. Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck… but both of them are men. I just always forget their names, but I know it’s a pen name for two guys, right?

2. Straczynski is nominated in the Best Related Work, and Nicoll in Fan Writer, so if the other people were up in arms about the fiction categories, then I guess we can’t count them, but…

3. Here’s where I pedantically remind myself and the reader that people are not nominated in the fiction categories, but rather specific works of fiction which happen to be written by people.

4. At least one is a trans woman. Which I only mention because at least one of the commentators out there who are angry about no men being nominated in the Best Novel category this year had a side rant about the trans person and how having a trans author on the ballot somehow proof that something untoward has happened in the voting process. The trans woman is a woman, so for the rest of this entry I’m just going to agree that all the authors nominated in the Novel category this year are women, because they are.

5. Asimov was a Grandmaster of Science Fiction and for most of my teens and twenties I thought he was the greatest science fiction author ever. He has considerably tarnished in my eyes since I learned how he treated (and groped and otherwise sexually harassed) women who he encountered at conventions and otherwise. But the notion of a Judo Argument: someone trying to use their opponents’ principals to disprove the opponents’ conclusions, is apt6.

6. For more reasons than one.

7. One of the rules which the World Science Fiction Society adopted recently in order to make Slate Voting Schemes less likely to succeed is that nominators are allowed to nominate no more than 5 titles, while the top 6 nominees will appear on the ballot.

8. Although one of them was a book I had already bought but hadn’t yet read, and one other was in my wishlist, for what it’s worth…

9. Coincidentally written by a man, and even more coincidentally, one of the men I mention earlier who is on this year’s Hugo ballot!

10. In an earlier draft of this post I started to go into statistical theory, because my major at university was mathematics, and if I had gone on to graduate school my plan was to go into statistics, probability, and game theory… but all the math makes some people dizzy. Besides, the people who have asserted the argument I’m refuting clearly don’t understand logic, so…

11. And yes, there have definitely been gatekeepers.

12. My gay self, my bi husband, and a number of others, for example

13. Just as I and my husband have.

He has no sock(puppet)s, and he must cry wolf*—bullied bullies are everywhere

April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction. Cover art by Ed Valigursky

This cover art by Ed Valigursky for the April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction shows a completely different kind of sci fi puppy than we’ll be talking about today.

I started to assemble this post about an aggrieved conservative sci-fi writer last week, but other things kept coming up, and since the kerfuffle seems to have blown over, I wasn’t sure there was much value in throwing in my two cents. But then a couple of the most recent developments in some national news stories made certain similarities between the actions of certain distressed pups and other angry white men. I decided that with so angry white men claiming to be victims, and maybe it was worth looking at a fairly inconsequential example that played out over a handful of days to get some insight into the motivations of the others. So, first, the meltdown of one of the fringe members of the melancholy canines.

Note: At no point in the following will I link directly to the angry, profanity-laden posts of the bullied bully. All links are to others talking about the situation. Some of them link to the rants, if you really need to read them.

So, a writer who markets himself** to a particular subset of science fiction fans—conservative, pro-gun rights—got really upset when some editor at Wikipedia tagged his wikipedia page to discuss possible deletion. The original article looked like it was lifted almost entirely from his own web page, and the only citations it had was to his blog and webpage. Under various editorial guidelines of Wikipedia the article certainly didn’t appear to meet the minimal criteria for keeping. I mean, come on: a bunch of the links on the first author’s page were places where you could buy his merchandise and his custom knives!

Of course, this happens all the time. Articles get flagged. There is one author’s article (that got referenced in some of the rants) that was tagged over seven years ago… and it has never actually been deleted. Part of the purpose of tagging such articles is to try to get some attention to them so that people will clean them up, add citations, and so forth.

Anyway, because of the angry screed, dozens of people went to Wikipedia and screamed at the editors, accusing them of being angry libtards targeting conservative writers. Which, given the fairly well-documents conservative bias of Wikipedia editors, is more than slightly hilarious. Said wikipedia editors quickly determined that a certain number of the angry attack accounts were sock-puppet accounts belonging to the aggrieved author, and banned his account (though the discussion continued).

Equally of note is that a large number of identifiable actual liberal members (or not-so-liberal but still despised by the aggrieved author and is allies) of the sci-fi community logged in to argue against deleting the conservative author’s page, arguing that his long publishing history, award nominations, and so forth qualified him as notable. They also helped clean up the article and added a lot of third party citations (to places like Publisher’s Weekly, Locus Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Stars and Stripes, et cetera). In other words, the people he always claims are out to get him were actually helping.

But that wasn’t enough! No, being an angry little white puppy he was absolutely certain that there is a conspiracy to bully people like him, so he started predicting specific conservative writers would have their articles flagged next. Then, lo and behold, a few hours after each time he went online to make such a prediction, the authors he named had a deletion tag added to their Wikipedia page by a mysteriously recently-created wiki account. Many of those were very quickly untagged by the administrators.

It should be noted that, in addition to the sock puppet activities that got his account banned during this kerfuffle, the author has a history of getting accounts suspended on other social media platforms for setting up sock puppet accounts to follow him and agree with him. So, applying Occam’s Razor, we can assume that his predictions are not proof he is an oracle, but rather a troll.

The upshot of all this is not only was the aggrieved author’s page spared, but so were all the others that supposedly had been targeted.

The aggrieved author and his allies are so defensive that they don’t notice who is willing to help them. I also think contributing to the problem is how incredibly insular they are. The old version of his wikipedia page and a couple of the others that were briefly flagged only had links to pages controlled by the people who were the subjects of the articles. Yeah, some of the pages had a lot of self-promotion, but I think it doesn’t even occur to them to search for mentions outside their own favorite web portals. It didn’t take long for other people to find dozens of articles outside that insular bubble that mentioned the author or his work.

But despite overwhelming evidence that the content of the articles was the issue rather than any politics, and that people they insist are enemies are more than willing to help out if they see a problem, they insist that they are victims. It’s a classic persecution complex: a delusion that they are constantly being tormented, stalked, tricked, or ridiculed.

Except I think it goes beyond delusion. Being despised is their life blood. One commenter said on one of the blog posts: “Nobody hates them as much as they seem to need to think someone hates them and that is just a miserable way to go through life.” They feel miserable because they aren’t receiving the adoration or acclaim or praise they feel entitled to. But, they can’t admit that they are to blame for how other people perceive them. They need scapegoats. If other people hate them and are conspiring against them, then their misery isn’t their fault. Yes, it is a miserable way to live, but to them it seems less miserable than holding themselves accountable.

And that brings us to other, more serious ways this need to be hated can effect all of us. It begins yesterday when Senator Mitch McConnell took to the senate floor to whine about American citizens pointing out that his actions in blocking election reform again and again despite overwhelming evidence of foreign interference in our elections isn’t in the best interest of Americans. How dare we, the citizens who of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to uphold, express an opinion about his actions! How dare we present the evidence that of actions that at least border*** on treasonous!

His actions aren’t the problem, he insists. No! The real problem is all of us haters. Oh, and any of us citing this evidence are being just like McCarthy—you know, the angry Senator who in the fifties destroyed a bunch of people’s careers and lives without ever actually presenting any evidence that they were enemies of the nation. This is an interesting twist on crying wolf, I must say.

Similarly, the alleged president is still screaming at congresspeople and people of color who disagree with some of his policies, in between is constant stream of insults hurled at various US cities, territories, states, and even people who call him ‘Mr. President’—while at the same time pushing a narrative that people who criticize the US should leave.

Again, the problem isn’t him attacking anyone and everyone, the problem is all those mean haters. And if you think I’m stretching things to compare the alleged president to the aggrieved author: remember the many times that Trump has called into various radio shows and the like, claiming to be someone else praising Trump.

So, I guess a fondness for sockpuppets is another way to spot these angry bullies who think they’re victims.

They claim to be defenders of free speech, yet they are always throwing tantrums when other people say things they don’t like.


Footnotes:

* The title is a riff on Harlon Ellison’s Nebula- and Hugo-winning short story from 1966, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. In no way should this be read to infer that the late Mr. Ellison is involved in any way.

** When describing this situation to some friends I mentioned that all of the author photos available for him feature him holding a gun. And in at least one I saw, holding it incorrectly. I must state for the record that that characterization was wrong: there are also biographical pictures of him holding various hunting knives, swords, or wearing bandoliers of shotgun shells.

*** Personally I think he went way past the border when he blocked the release of the information about Russian interference just before the 2016 election. Everything since has just been him going deeper and deeper into treason.

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…

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.

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

Tom Puppy and the Visitor from Planet Clueless

CELWROWUEAIJmc_A Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy supporter posted an op-ed on the men’s rights site Return of the Kings (he links to and heavily paraphrases one of the Sad Puppy podcasts), “How Female-Dominated Publishing Houses Are Censoring Male Authors” that is a great example of several of the issues that I believe underpin the Sad Puppy position. Never mind that the statistics show that men make up more than 65% of the annual publishing lists of most of the publishing houses, and male-authored books comprise more the 80% of books reviewed in the major publications, this guy is here to tell us that men are being censored!

His proof is an anecdote told to him by a veteran who had written a book about his experiences while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who claimed to have gotten his book through several phases of the publishing process, only to be rejected at the last step because a senior editor who happened to be a woman was offended by one line in the book and said, “he’s an asshole, we don’t want to work with him.” I have a hard time swallowing the story as stated. But even if we take it at face value, the story boils down to an editor deciding that someone who is difficult to work with wasn’t worth the time, effort, and stress required to work with them.

He’s a first-time author, never been published before, has no name recognition, no proven track record. I don’t believe for a moment that it was a single line in the book that set anything off. I suspect that the author had behaved abominably to several people in the process up to that point and the book itself was of only middling quality. An important part of an editor’s job is to recognize which stories their readers will enjoy reading. Another important job is to weigh the costs and benefits of working with a specific story and author. If a particular book does not look like a blockbuster that will sell zillions of copies, it isn’t worth the time and effort to put up with a lot of assholery through the process of re-writes, galley proofs, et cetera.

That isn’t anti-male prejudice, that’s good business practice.

The fact that this anecdote is swallowed without examination—without considering the possibility that one could try to figure out what behaviors led to the characterization of asshole and try changing those behaviors—shows just how big the privilege blinders are on these guys. Imagine! If you’re nice to people they’re willing to help you. If you aren’t, they have no motivation to stick their necks out for you. And deciding to expend your employer’s money and the time of yourself and other employees on turning a manuscript into a published book and then distributing it is sticking your neck out.

This is one of the fundamental blind spots of the various puppies: they are convinced that the only reason their stories aren’t bestsellers and award winners and the only reason that they aren’t met at every convention by crowds of screaming fans must be the result of a conspiracy. It isn’t possible that their writing is mediocre. It isn’t possible that their subject matter isn’t of interest to anyone but angry misogynist racist homophobic men such as themselves. It isn’t possible that their predilection for making outrageous statements comparing gay people to termites in need of extermination might make anyone who knows or loves a gay person less than thrilled to hear more of what they have to say. It isn’t possible that characterizing some woman’s clothing as an all-day slut walk might be off-putting to anyone who is or loves a woman. It isn’t possible that characterizing people of color as half-savages might make people of any ethnicity less than enthusiastic about cheering everything you say.

Instead of exercising our own judgement about what works to read and who to be fans of, apparently we should all feel grateful that they would deign to allow us to bask in the glow of their wit and wisdom.

Visions and Ventures: why I love sf/f

tumblr_nkryuujLIC1sndzdgo2_540I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of fantasy and science fiction. Which is not surprising, since my mother accidentally taught me how to read at an early age by reading to me from her favorite authors (Agathe Christie and Robert Heinlein) and making me repeat back entire sentences. Tales of the fantastic by Heinlein, Andre Norton, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Eager, Edith Nesbit, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, Gordon R. Dickson, Lin Carter, and so many others fed my imagination, encouraged my curiosity, fueled my thirst for science and math, and provided a refuge from the cruelties and contradictions of life.

One might wonder how cruel an existence growing up as a white boy in mid-twentieth century America could be. When you have a physically abusive alcoholic father heading up your working class rural evangelical fundamentalist family, real life can be quite unpleasant—especially for a gay, nerdy kid who talked to himself and was more comfortable with books than kids his own age. Science fiction and fantasy promised worlds where all you needed to defeat evil was a bit of courage, a lot of cleverness, and people you could count on. Every time my dad’s job transferred us to a new town, I would quickly ingratiate myself with the local librarians and proceed to devour every science fiction and fantasy book I could find on the shelves. Not to mention mysteries and science non-fiction books.

It wasn’t just the imaginary worlds of the various stories I read that provided a refuge, but from the introductions and interstitial texts of anthologies such as The Hugo Winners, Volume n, Best Science Fiction of the Year XXXX, and so forth, I also learned of conventions, where the creators and fans of these fantastic worlds gathered to talk about their favorite books and stories, encourage each other to write more stories, collaborate in various ways, and maybe even have a fun party or banquet where awards were handed out. And that sounded so amazing. Before middle school I knew about the Nebula Awards and the Hugo Awards. I knew that the Nebulas were voted on by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and that you had to be a professionally published SF writer to get in. But the Hugos were voted on by the attendees of WorldCon—by fans and professionals alike. So in theory, at least, I didn’t have to wait until I’d been published to participate in those.

I’d decided to become a writer sometime around the age of five or six. I’d been making my own books out of whatever notebooks or paper I could get my hands on since before I could write. I started writing my own stories as soon as I could assemble my sloppily-drawn letters into words. I was determined to be a writer. And I hoped that someday I might be a member of that community of writers vying for a Hugo.

As an adult, I’ve been attending sci fi conventions for decades. I’ve even been a staff member at a few. I’ve had some of my own tales of the fantastic published, even though most of my published stories have been in fanzines and other small semi-pro publications. I’ve had the good fortune to be the editor of a fanzine with a not insignificant subscriber base. I count among my friends and friendly acquaintances people who have been published in more professional venues, people who have run those conventions, people who have won awards for their sf/f stories and art, even people who have designed some of the trophies. Not to mention many, many fans. I have even occasionally referred to that conglomeration of fans, writers, artists, editors, and so forth as my tribe.

All of that only begins to scratch the surface of why I find the entire Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies mess so heart-wrenching. Yes, part of the reason the situation infuriates me is because the perpetrators are all so unabashedly anti-queer. For this queer kid, sf/f and its promise of better worlds and a better future was how I survived the bullying, bashing, hatred, and rejection of my childhood. To find out that there are fans and writers who so despise people like me that they have orchestrated a scheme whose ultimate goal is to erase us goes beyond infuriating.

But it’s worse and so much more than a bloc-voting scheme.

This is hardly the first time I’ve encountered homophobia, misogyny, and racism in the fandom. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve encountered it among the professionals! While it’s disheartening to have people sneer and make denigrating comments; and it’s chilling to be told people like me deserve extermination. The worst part is to be told that even putting characters that are like me into stories about space battles or post-apocalyptic worlds or bio-engineered futures makes those stores cease to be “real science fiction.”

If your imagination is so small that you can’t conceive of a future where gay people and women and non-white people actually exist and do interesting things—that those people can sometimes be the heroes of the tale—then I just don’t see how your speculative fiction can be very creative. If you can’t conceive of a world with gays and straights, women and men (trans* or cis), and people of all races, living and working together, you’re hardly a visionary. If you’re so afraid to share imaginary worlds with such people, you’re the exact opposite of an intrepid adventurer.


Update: Some of the Sad Puppy supporters have decided to send me messages, accusing me of blindly believing propaganda. The implication seems to be that the various organizers of the Sad Puppies have never said the things alluded to here.

Let me be clear: I’ve been reading the blogs and other postings of John C. Wright, Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia, and Vox Day/Theodore Beale for years, because they’ve been on their anti-SJW and anti-gay kick for a while. Everything I’ve mentioned in this post and previously I have seen myself, from their own words. That they have deleted and revised many of their old posts to obfuscate that doesn’t change anything. They can claim they didn’t say what they said, but we have screen captures and Google caches and Wayback Machine caches that say otherwise.

And even the revised posts are still clearly anti-gay: [The unraveling of an unreliable field | Brad R. Torgersen]

%d bloggers like this: