The Hound and the Fury 6/22

aka Destination: Loon

Today’s roundup features Brad R. Torgersen, Paul Weimer, Vox Day, Edward Trimnell,John C. Wright, Barry Deutsch, N. K. Jemisin, Adam-Troy Castro, Jared Dashoff,  Jason Sanford, Rebecca Luella Miller, Spacefaring Kitten,  Melina D, Lis Carey, John Seavey, Rick Novy, Helena Bell and cryptic others. (Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editors of the day Kary English and Rev. Bob.)

Brad R. Torgersen on Mad Genius Club

“So you want to write an award-winning Hard Science Fiction story?” – June 21

[Begins with a series of insights about writing sf professionally.]

Now, for a few personal caveats. These are just my prejudices and biases speaking, so take ’em or leave ’em.

Endless polishing is death on productivity, and death on learning. I never learned anything from spending months or years tinkering with the same piece of work. Give yourself a personal rule, for when you’re going to stop on a specific work, and move on to something new. Either how many revisions you’ll do, or how much time you’ll devote to finishing touches once you’ve put THE END on the tail, etc. Just don’t get locked into thinking you can make any story perfect. I can speak from experience: good enough really is good enough.

Downbeat endings suck. They are ‘literary’ and some critics and aesthetes love them. But they suck. If you’re going to roast your characters in hell, at least give them a little silver lining at the end? Some kind of hope for a more positive outcome? Your readers will thank you.

Stories that demote humanity to being puny and insignificant, also suck. We may be small and/or not as advanced as other intelligent life in the universe, but we didn’t get to where we are now by being meaningless dullards. Humans are crafty and stubborn. Never say die. We should be reflected as such.

Some of the best HSF I’ve ever read, inspired in me the notion: Wow, this is how it could really happen! Be it space colonization, or warp drive, or first contact with another intelligent species from somewhere else in the galaxy. When you play by the rules — keeping the universe as we know it relatively intact, accessible, and consistent — you’re shining a light on a possible path. Not predicting the future per se, but illuminating a way that things might develop. That’s the kind of story that may inspire some teenager somewhere to become a rocket scientist.

Speaking of which, leave the “playground equipment” around for your readers to mess with. That’s a Niven-ism. If the reader gets to the end of your story and can imagine events continuing on — populated by your characters, the reader in character form, or both — then you’ve really won. Because you’ve made your world and your story so engrossing, the reader doesn’t want to leave! That’s a reader who will want to come back for more. That’s a reader who will be loyal, and tell others about your work.


Paul Weimer on Blog, Jvstin Style

“Campbell vs the New Wave, and Brad Torgersen” – June 22

I do think that Torgersen is missing a large bet on a lot of stories. And I am not sure that Literary=downbeat=suck is an equation that works. HEA and HFA are fine and dandy, but those aren’t the only stories. Hell, look at Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee stories as an excellent counter example. I’m sure Baxter would be surprised to be called literary. And he definitely does not suck.

What strikes me from this article is how it fights the whole Campbell vs the New Wave argument that I’ve opined was at the heart of the Sad Puppies.. One of the File 770 group called him Neo-Campbell. So there you have it.

Torgersen post shows that SF fandom and authors are STILL fighting the New Wave conflict, decades later. The past isn’t dead, its not even past.


Vox Day on Vox Popoli

“A necessary endorsement” – June 22

Refusing to take a side and trying to remain above it all will no more bring an end to the tactics he dislikes than the League of Nations prevented World War II. Misbehaving bullies can only be stopped with superior force. To stop the lynch mobs, Mr. Trimnell should help us bring them to an end by multiplying our force. We will abandon the tactic as soon as the SJWs do… like Ronald Reagan with the Evil Empire, we will trust, but verify. But until the SJWs give up their rhetorical tactics of name-calling, marginalization, and disqualification, we will continue play by the Chicago Rules and exploit every mistake they make and every opening they give us. The TOR boycott is nothing more than holding TOR Books accountable for the wholly unprofessional behavior of its SJW employees, behavior that would have gotten a minimum-wage Walmart greeter fired on the spot.

Furthermore, there is no symbiosis. The SJWs are not dependent upon anyone’s outlandish statements; if an opponent has not said something objectionable, they will simply lie and claim he did, then run their usual insult-isolate-disqualify routine. We, on the other hand, have a rich and continuously replenished pool of outlandish statements from which to choose to use against them.


Edward Trimnell

“Debating the Tor boycott” – June 22

I expressed my disagreement with Vox’s position on the Tor Books boycott…and Vox expressed his disagreement with my disagreement.

My dislike of boycotts remains.

I remember the mindless campaign orchestrated against Orson Scott Card a few years ago. Card’s sin was basically to express a view of marriage that was all but universal (including among liberals and Democrats) until ten years ago. Yet the SJW mobs did their best to silence Card, urging a nationwide boycott of the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, and barraging the offices of DC Comics until Card was dropped from the company’s Superman project.

Ah, but that is exactly the point….say the forces behind the anti-Tor boycott. The SJWs do it.

I believe it is important to remember what separates the freethinkers from the SJWs. The freethinkers seek to outthink their opponents with a more persuasive argument in the marketplace of ideas.

The SJWs seek to silence their opponents through harassment and intimidation. (This should surprise no one, since the SJWs are almost all anti-market and anti-free speech.)


John C. Wright

“The Three Laws of Morlocktics” – June 22

[Quotes a long string of comments from File 770 but purports not to know the source, then says –]

The fear seems to be based on the grounds that her calling me and you neo-Nazi homophobic bigoted misogynist racists was cricket, but my accepting her lame apology like a gentleman (so she and I could get back to work) means that secretly I, and the other fine people called Sad Puppies who would like to reform the Hugo Awards, and return the award to be granted for merit of the work, rather than for the political correctness of the work, now have or may soon concoct an cunning yet dastardly plan!

The women who sound indistinguishable from phobia-afflicted delusional neurotic believe I and mine intend to send Daddy Warpig (the one Gamergater who expressed support for the Sad Puppies slate) to New York to blow up public monuments there with Vatican-made explosive rosaries, and dox and vox and vaporize Miss Gallo.

Because my expressions of neutrality and your letters to Tor asking for professional courtesy are so appallingly frightening that is creates an atmosphere of unsaferiffickness. Or something.

I would say that if women are that easily frightened, it is up to us men to make sure that no cad and no blackguard is ever allowed to speak to them. And if political argument over a pathetic space-yarn award gets the ladies this scared this quickly, it seemed that the Victorian standards for male and female roles were entirely correct. The poor, fainting, delicate damsels in distress must be keep safe from all the bumps and jars of the real world.

Either that, or these nags and termagants are a scandal and an embarrassment to their sex, because they are pretending to be frightened, when they are not, to arouse the very feelings of Victorian protective gentlemanliness that they at other times despise.

Which is it to be, ladies? Equality of the sexes in political matters? Or ultra-damsel-gushing, shriekingly school-girlish, play-pretend hysterical so beloved of the Left? The two are mutually exclusive.

Leftism or Equality?

Pick one.



N. K. Jemisin

“An open letter to the WSFS about unintended consequences”  – June 22

Whoa. Did you guys think this through? No, seriously. Beyond whether “The Wheel of Time” could get a Hugo, or whether you, personally, like short fiction or not. Did you consider how proposal B.1.3 looks, both within and outside SFFdom? What message it sends about WSFS priorities? Consider the context. In a year when there’s been intense mainstream-media coverage of an attempt to ideologically tarnish the Hugo Awards, effectively making them less representative of the genre’s current dynamism and way more representative of racist white guys’ vanity publishing, this proposal compounds that problem. Let me break down how this looks to people outside of the WSFS process….

So let’s review. In a year when misogynists, white supremacists, and homophobes have already managed to use the Hugos to advance their own interests, along comes this proposal making it easier for privileged white men to gain recognition, at the direct expense of the marginalized. I’m going to assume it’s an unintended consequence that this proposal effectively reinforces the Puppies’ efforts; there’s been no reason to think that anyone on the WSFS is anything other than professionally neutral on the matter. Until now. So, c’mon ya’ll. Did you really think this through? Is this the best time for B.1.3? Are you really willing to throw short fiction under the bus just to give bestsellers another accolade? Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus, to give more affirmative action to successful white men?


Adam-Troy Castro

“Spaying the Hugos” – June 22

The proposal to simplify the Hugos by eliminating the Best Novelette category and replacing it with a Best Saga category is an excellent start, in large part because it will completely eliminate any interference with those fresh young talents who nobody is ever interested in and who just complicate things.

But it doesn’t go far enough. A few more appropriate changes would certainly help usher the awards into the twenty-first century.

First, eliminate the short story and novelette awards as well. As everybody keeps pointing out, the short fiction markets are dying and the annual competition for an award not supported by the free market is unseemly. Short fiction has never produced anything of worth, anyway. Name just one time it has. I bet you can’t.

Make the contest all about novels, the big awards that really mean something, and make the smallest award the one for best stand-alone novel, because everybody also knows that stand-alone novels are for writers with no staying power…..


Jared Dashoff in a comment on Whatever – June 22

Over the years, long fiction in the greater speculative fiction category has moved towards publishing works in series, rather than stand-alone works. Stand-alone works are still published and are eligible for Hugos in various categories, but some of us thought that the expansive works, where the individual volumes may or may not stand alone and be worthy of a Hugo themselves, deserved recognition. So we set out to create a Hugo for them. Best Saga became the title mostly because as the work gets longer, the title of the Hugo gets shorter.

Having attended many WSFS Business Meetings between us, and personally having been on the Head Table before and being on it this year, we felt the sense of the Meeting (i.e. how many that generally attend the Meeting feel) was that another professional fiction category would throw off the balance if a category was not removed. Based on long discussions and floating the idea past folks, we settled on the Novelette category. This bumped up the maximum word count for a short story, and dropped down the minimum word count for a Novella. No work that had been eligible was no longer eligible, it was just eligible in a different category….

In response to this opposition to the Novelette collapse, we contacted Kevin Standlee, Chair of the Sasquan Business Meeting, to ensure we could amend our proposal so long as it was before the deadline for the submission of New Business. We are now in the process of doing that and amending the discussion text to remove any reference to the Novelette collapse. Some original proposers have decided not to join us in this effort.

Going forward, the proposal will only include the addition of the Saga Hugo and that will need to pass or fail on its own merits. If it fails, we will be sad, but we accept that it was not the Business Meeting’s want to create an award for such works. If others wish to submit a proposal related to the shorter fiction works, that is their prerogative, but I will not be submitting one nor supporting it.


Rebecca Luella Miller on Speculative Faith

“Awards And The Problems Behind Them” – June 22

The irony of the brouhaha is that the Puppies seem to be arguing against the politicizing of science fiction and it’s preeminent award by politicizing the method used to select the award winners.

Having been behind the scenes for the Clive Staples Award in the past, I know a good deal about the ways people try to game the rules in order to help those they hope will win. One reason CSA instituted judging the short list—the finalists—by a panel of qualified judges was to avoid this kind of deck-stacking which would reduce the award intended to honor good writing and storytelling to a popularity contest (or a philosophical statement).

Yes, there are diversities among Christian writers, and some would push the point by “gaming” an award if they could.

Other awards have bypassed readers altogether in order to steer away from the popularity contest approach (come vote for my book even though you haven’t read it, just because you know me, sort of). But those are susceptible to other problems—unqualified first round judges, high entry fees, sponsoring organization promotion requirements, poorly conceived judging sheets, and the like.

In short, no award is likely to be perfect, but one that combines readers’ choice with qualified judging evaluations seems as if it has a better chance of honoring the year’s best book.

The Hugos? Seems to me they have gone the way of the Oscars and in the process have opened the door to a horrible mess. This long-running award is in the process of making itself irrelevant to readers.

The Clive Staples Award, on the other hand, is a tool which can help readers learn about the books that other readers value.


Spacefaring Kitten on Spacefaring Extradimensional Happy Kittens

“Kitten/Puppy Dialogues (on Pizza)” – June 22

In the comments to the last Wednesday’s post titled Answering Peter Grant, a Puppy supporter called Xephon has been vocally criticizing me for several things I’ve said. The arguments in his/her first few short comments made little sense to me, so I thought the discussion was going nowhere, but then this lengthy account landed on the comment section.

I’m still unconvinced, but Xephon brings up some points I want to respond to, and because this is going to take up some space, I’ll rather do it in a new post.

The sickening truth is that the anti-Puppies need Beale more than the Puppies do. He’s done nothing for my side except stir an increasingly rancid pot. Those of us who have distanced ourselves have learned that we are wasting our time, because all we hear from the other side is, “because Vox Day”. You need him to be your bogeyman, the focal point for your opposition. If he didn’t exist, someone would have invented him.

One of the funnies recent developments in the discussion around Hugos is that the second you mention Theodore Beale/Vox Day, somebody charges in and accuses you of “because Vox Day” fallacy. It sure is an interesting variant of “playing the ‘Playing the Hitler Card’ card”. Let me state once again that Beale’s Rabid Puppies slate swept the Hugo ballot. Your demand that everything related to him should be removed from the Hugo discussions does feel a bit odd — especially when we’re talking about his boycotts and other schemes.


Anony-Mouse on Cedar Writes

“Get out and Vote!” – June 22

Do NOT vote NO AWARD for anything. Yes, I know the temptation to make a statement by putting something below No Award at the bottom, but in the unlikely case of close races NA can have an adverse affect on outcomes because it’s a weighted ballot. And frankly, it’s a pet peeve of mine. NO AWARD is a political statement, and this isn’t supposed to be about naked politics.

Do NOT vote at all for anything you do not think is worthy, regardless of why you do not find it worthy. See previous.

DO try to vote for at least one good thing in each category rather than leaving the category blank. For example, some of the fanzine/semiprozine entries have been nothing but contemptuous of dissidents against the establishment. I will not vote for them. Others have been accepting of everyone, I will rank them.


World of Pancakes

“Retraction regarding the Sad Puppy John C. Wright” – June 22

I don’t do this sort of thing very often, but I’m retracting my last post. Let me explain why. In repose to charges of homophobia, Wright said the charges were a lie and responded in a fashion which could be described as equally “homophobic” and “bizarre.” I wrote a long-ish piece taking him to task for this. It’s a solid bit of work, but I’d like to disavow it as of now. Since posting this piece, I’ve read a good deal more of what Wright has written outside of his novels. I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Wright has enough going on his life that piling on like this is neither fair nor necessary. I stand by the content of what I wrote, but, given Mr. Wright’s situation, it was needlessly mean of me to write it.


Melina D on Subversive Reader

“Hugos 2015 Reading: Best Graphic Story” – June 22

[Reviews 4 of 5 nominees.]

It was so wonderful to read a category and understand why all the nominees (that I could access) were nominees. These had quality story telling, good art (and art telling stories which I appreciate so much), interesting plots and characters, character development, humour, and in some cases, extreme ‘feelings’. These are the things I want in all my fiction (except the art, of course) and they’re never restricted to one ‘type’ or ‘style’ of fiction – romance fiction can deliver these things as well as epic fantasy, historical fiction as well as apocalyptic fantasy.

When you hold the quality of this category – just the writing and story telling to start with – up against the others, you really see how bad most of the work in the short fiction and related fiction categories are. And you have to ask why? Why didn’t the slate people put forward work that is well written and engaging? (Or more of that work?) Is there a lack of well written and engaging work which is action oriented/classic age/milSF? Is there a publicity issue for works that are well written and action oriented/reminiscent of older stuff and? Or did this slate become a cynical/destructive force designed to reward certain writers/publishers while ‘punishing’ others?


Lis Carey on Lis Carey’s Library

“Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews” – June 22

This is a 2015 Best Semiprozine Hugo nominee. Beneath Ceaseless Skies is an online magazine of literary adventure fantasy. It’s visually attractive, and it offers some impressive fantasy fiction. I was pleased to find an archive that allowed me to check out the 2014 issues, the relevant issues for this year’s Hugos. An extra delight is that it offers audio fiction as well as print. This is an altogether fine magazine, and I’m very impressed.


Reading SFF

“2015 Hugo Awards Reading: Cixin Liu – The Three-Body Problem (2008/2014)” – June 22

I liked that the novel posed lot’s of mysterious questions and even answered them in a way that made sense, at least most of the times. While there are a lot of things in this novel that I liked a lot, there are a few things that I did not like as much. Mainly, this is not a character driven novel. This novel is about the science, not the characters. It’s very hard SF (which is fine), but it’s so hard, that at times whole passages read as if they were taken from a popular science text-book on futuristic physics. I guess it’s difficult to have everything: an imaginative and engaging story, cool science and great characters. The Three-Body Problem scores 2 out of 3 of these, which is a very good score.


John Seavey on Fraggmented

“Review: Ancillary Justice” – June 22

I think that’s why, despite appreciating ‘Ancillary Justice’, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. There is a plot, and it’s actually a very clever one. But Leckie takes a lot of time in getting to it; she’s got a lot to say about the Radch, the empire that controls vast segments of the galaxy, and she wants you to really get a handle on the reality of living in the empire they’ve created. Vast chunks of the novel are taken up explaining customs, linguistics (yes, including the bit the book is famous for, that the default gender is “she”) and politics of the Radch, long before the plot ever kicks into gear.


Rick Novy on Entropy Central

“Lampooning the Hugo Awards – Free Short Story” – June 22

aka…The Bluegills, the Bream, and the Shiny Stones

Every once in a while, a writer will produce a piece of fiction with a short shelf-life. Such it is with a story i wrote a couple of months ago. The intention was to make a statement about the 2015 Hugo Awards, so I lampooned it. I shopped the story to three pro markets that I thought might be able to handle the expiration date. One market called it amusing but not right for the magazine. I happen to agree it’s amusing, and the editor is probably right about it not being a good fit.

I decided the shelf life of the story is now way too short to try to sell the story again, so I’m posting it here for free. I hope you enjoy it.

Without further ado…


911 thoughts on “The Hound and the Fury 6/22

  1. Jim Henley,

    There is no puppy-kicking on File 770, absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount.

    FWIW, in my eyes you have shown admirable restraint. Though picking and choosing which of one’s principles one is going to stand up for is probably not quite as admirable.

  2. Speaking of stories featuring London, I noticed a number of people picking up A Darker Shade of Magic for Torday Friday. I have a question for anyone who has finished it.

    I bounced off about halfway through, when vg frrzrq nf gubhtu Cevaal vf orvat gerngrq nf gur ehyre bs Terl Ybaqba, gur rdhvinyrag va cbjre gb gur eblnyf va Erq be Juvgr Ybaqba. Ohg va snpg gur Cevzr Zvavfgre (Ybeq Yvirecbby) naq Cneyvnzrag jrer sne zber vzcbegnag: vg jnf gurl jub cebfrphgrq jnef naq znqr crnpr.

    Qbrf gur snpg gung Terl Ybaqba unf n shaqnzragnyyl qvssrerag naq fyvtugyl zber qrzbpengvp tbireazrag guna gur bgure havirefrf rire trg npxabjyrqtrq? Be qbrf gur obbx xrrc cergraqvat nf gubhtu Ertrapl Ratynaq jnf n zbanepul va n erny frafr?

    By that point I was already feeling kind of dubious, because the “Regency London” parts were, shall we say, not impressing me with their authenticity. The use of “okay”, for instance …

  3. @McJulie: “It’s easy to get snooty about things when you don’t go into specifics. WHY did she think of A Wrinkle in Time as merely okay and Tom Sawyer was a true classic? She didn’t bother to say, so it just came across as a very lazy, received-wisdom position.”

    Reminds me of a certain species of depressed canines when it comes to the merits of slated works versus the shortcomings of past nominees, now that you mention it…

  4. @Emma: … the Gentlemen Bastards, and so many more besides, do not stand on their own.

    I take issue with this: each of the books in Gentlemen Bastards has a complex central plot (or plots) that *does* stand on its own. In The Lies of Locke Lamora, the central plots involve the Grey King and the Austershalin brandy con; in Red Seas Under Red Skies, they involve the Sinspire con, and the task that Jean and Locke end up saddled with; in Republic of Thieves, it’s about election fraud.

    It’s true that some of these central plots are rooted in developments from previous books — the stuff related to the Bondsmagi, for example — but Lynch very carefully provides quick recaps to catch new readers up to speed (and I tend to think he does a decent job of it — maybe you don’t?)

    I would agree that the GB series is at its most powerful and resonant when read as a series — but hardly that its volumes can’t stand on their own. In fact, I would say that all the flashback material in The Republic of Thieves is intended to make it possible for new readers to pick it up as the first book. Is it better if they’ve read the first two? Sure — but I think it could stand on its own just fine, though I admit that in the end, this is subjective. If you don’t think it could stand on its own, maybe you could say more about why you think so?

  5. Of course Colliers is Welsh! (I didn’t ever mean to imply otherwise, but I worded that badly).

    The Cougar Gold tin is just decorative; it has one of those pop-off lids, and the cheese is wrapped in plastic inside, as I recall. (I don’t come from quite a large enough household to go through a whole wheel, so I usually just bought partial wedges from the Seattle QFCs that carried it.)

  6. Aaron –

    . If a writer can’t tell a story in under three hundred thousand words, then that is weak writing. if you have to read five “novels” to have a story worth reading, then that is weak writing

    Can’t? Bullshit. There’s plenty of authors who can but choose to write a story in 300 thousand words. It’s a different style of storytelling completely.

  7. Matt Y: Beat me to it. “I want to tell a story at length X” is not an admission of being unable to tell it at any other. Further, some writers just are stronger at some lengths than others. It’s almost like there are different ways to be good. Whoda thunk?

  8. Ginger: Just finished Lock In, and loved it… I wrote a quick review for the Large South American River, and it’s going on my list for the 2016 Hugos.

    Oh, Ginger. I am so sorry to tell you this; but Lock In was published in 2014, and may well have been one of the books knocked off the Hugo ballot by the Puppy slate. 🙁

    Here. Have a free prequel novella as some small consolation. Unlocked at or on Kindle.

  9. Are you saying that Dune and Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Amber are bad writing? Really?

    1. Each novel in the Dune series stands on its own.
    2. The Lord of the Rings is a single novel.
    3. Each volume in The Chronicles of Amber stands on its own.

    You’re not making a very good case here.

  10. Can’t? Bullshit. There’s plenty of authors who can but choose to write a story in 300 thousand words.

    If they were good, they would be able to make each novel stand on its own. Many series writers do. A series writer who can’t or won’t is engaging in weak writing.

  11. @ Aaron

    1. No they don’t.
    2. But it’s certainly not the size of Nine Princes is it? Don’t move the goalposts.
    3. No they aren’t.

  12. Jack Lint on June 23, 2015 at 1:43 pm said:

    Beer in SFF? Obviously The Drawing of the Dark, but seems there should be more. Other than Romulan ale, which probably isn’t an ale, I’m having a hard time thinking of any other good references.

    If I read through the rest of the comments, it’ll be tomorrow, so I’ll risk repeating someone: “Beer Bad” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. “It comes in PINTS?” quote from The Fellowship of the Ring. And who could forget Arthur Dent’s final pint in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

    Boundary Bay Brewing Company (Bellingham, WA) catered our wedding 17+ years ago. I asked them because their Scotch Ale and their Amber Ale are world class.

    I got a cheese plate in New Orleans (the city with the best food in the world – alongside Lucky Dogs), and a featured cheese was Mount Townsend Creamery, from my home town on the Olympic Penninsula.

    The cool thing about beer and cheese is that Washington State may be a contender, but so are so many other places.

    Wine? Washington wins hands down on price v quality.

  13. 1. No they don’t.
    2. But it’s certainly not the size of Nine Princes is it? Don’t move the goalposts.
    3. No they aren’t.

    1. I’ve read them. They do.
    2. I didn’t give either LotR or Amber as an example. I’m not moving anything.
    3. I’ve read them. They do.

  14. @Ann, I hope you enjoy the Pollock!

    @rrede, I have been known to save the newest version of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books for a couple weeks just to have them for flights to London, because they are my current favorite series (and rather likely to remain so, assuming they keep being as good as they have been). Harry Potter would be perfect for long flights, too.

  15. There’s no simple generalization about how to build a novel/prose romance/satire (not all prose fictions of book lengths are, technically, Novels, and most SFF works are prose romances). In some cases concision is a great virtue: nobody ever thought that Heart of Darkness needed to be longer, or The Stars My Destination. In other cases – nobody would say that Sterne, or James, or Trollope, we’re at all similar and all were served well by a relatively long form.

    “Series” are sometimes multi-volume novels, and WOT fell pretty firmly into that category. (Personally, I think it suffered from its scope, partly as a result of the limits of Jordan’s skills.) ASoIaF is also in that category, but better handled. The justification lies in the writer’s success, partly, and also in their aims: the Amber series works by being impressionistic rather than comprehensive, but if you want to cover a world and its history as part of your topic, you probably want more scope.

    Most series do have works which can formally stand alone, but a fair number of three-to-five novel series are pretty explicit about their dependencies.

    The Matthew Swift and Peter Grant books work well as standalones, and are comprehensible without a full background, as are Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books (I have friends who bounce off Swift but love Grant and Verus).

    Most of the long series with relatively close dependencies are not really novels (studies of character) so much as extended prose romances, and the greater scope allows for the multiplication of incidents and the extended worldbuilding which have always been among the characteristics/virtues of the romance (consider the prose Lancelot, or the Orlando Furioso). By contrast, The Goblin Emperor has all the traits of a well-constructed novel, but the worldbuilding is gestural and the incidents are limited in number and scale.

    This probably means that some sort of different awards may have their place for these two types of excellence. Whether this approach (rather than, say, a Hugo for worldbuilding excellence in a long fiction work) is another question.

  16. @Aaron:

    A Game of Thrones stands on its own just fine. Other books in the series have been good enough to be nominated on their own.



    A Feast For Crows, I’m looking balefully in your direction. I firmly believe that the only reason that book got a nom for best novel was because people had been waiting so. Damn. LONG for it and were so excited that it had finally come out. It most certainly does not stand on its own.

  17. JJ: *cough* Robert Jordan *cough*

    Gabriel F. I’m sorry, but your Dark Lord is in another castle!


    Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the WoT books, for the most part (though there are a couple of characters I would just as soon spank as look at).

    Brandon Sanderson deserved a Hugo himself for taking the hot mess that Jordan left him and turning it into a cohesive, satisfying finish.

  18. This from P J Evans was interesting:

    There was, actually, another slate hiding in the ballots that year – it was filkers. We found out later.

    A filker slate is very interesting! Given that this was 1984, I’m assuming they didn’t publish a list of five things on the internet. Is this useful in helping us understand better exactly what we mean when we use the s-word?

  19. If a writer can’t tell a story in under three hundred thousand words, then that is weak writing. if you have to read five “novels” to have a story worth reading, then that is weak writing.

    I think I disagree with just about every part of this, at least with caveats.

    Tolkien could certainly tell a story in under 300,000 words. LORD OF THE RINGS, though, is longer, as has been pointed out, and I don’t think that’s weak writing. My favorite of his works is a lot shorter, but I don’t think that means that everything he did should have been.

    I also don’t think “have to” is the way a lot of readers look at it — though I would point out that Zelazny’s first Amber cycle was five novels. Not long novels, but still, if you wanted to get to the end, you either “had to” read five novels or you “got to” read five novels, depending on whether you like them. And they stand on their own to varying levels.

    But the “proper” length of a novel isn’t some ideal and golden number of words. It was very often set by commercial constraints, and still is, but those constraints change. Paper costs, binding capabilities, sales velocity at different unit prices…the length of a novel was often set by crass commercial concerns. As customer behavior changes, as packaging concerns change, all these things change.

    I like good novels. If they’re long and good, great, if they’re short and good, also great. If they work both as standalone and as pieces of something bigger, great. As long as they’re good.

    Alan Moore’s currently editing down his next novel, which was at last report over a million words in manuscript. I bet it doesn’t come in at under 300,000. But I also bet it won’t be due to weak writing, lazy writing or commercial dicking around.

    There are nine and sixty ways, and all that.

  20. May Tree on June 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm said:

    And gamergate forum is pissed off at Wikipedias handling of Kevins request.

    From that page:

    Hmm…. He claims to be the CURRENT chairman…

    *shrug* I hadn’t updated my user profile since I was returned to the Chairman’s seat. (I’d served a term in the past, was returned to office in 2013, but I wasn’t Chairman at the time I composed the version of my user profile they quoted.) I’ve updated it. I’d thank them, but I don’t want to create yet another account to do so.

    It’s not hard to prove who I am or to contact either the WSFS MPC or the current Worldcon to complain about my actions, and I’ve invited anyone questioning my decisions here or doubting my “reality” to make such contacts. I’ve also told the MPC what I did in this matter. It’s actually the first time I recall anyone claiming to be a Hugo Award winner who can’t be verified as being one. It seemed worthwhile to question the claim.

  21. @ Aaron

    2. I didn’t give either LotR or Amber as an example. I’m not moving anything.

    Mea culpa, that was John Seavey who was also in the “short novels/non series are better” discussion and I conflated you. My bad.

  22. Aaron – If a novel writer was good they could tell it as a short story and have it be the exact same anything longer is weak writing 😉

  23. Alan Moore’s currently editing down his next novel


    *runs to library*

  24. Brian’s desperately trying to get someone to argue with him about slates, and he’s speaking in royal plurals again.

  25. A friend of mine was once lamenting that he missed the days of excellent 50,000-word novels. I told him that there are plenty out there; the problem is just that they are generally intertwined with another, very weak, 50,000 word novel about the same characters who are doing things like raising their eyebrows, sipping their drinks, opening and closing doors, and contemplating the good 50,000 words.

  26. Happy-Puppy:

    It’s entirely possible some people voted for Yiddish Policeman’s Union over some kind of status anxiety, or even a desire to award a well-reviewed, non-SF author–sci-fi and fantasy has long had the “can’t get no respect.” But it’s important to note that the second half of the book kicks butt–clever mystery, well-solved, and that there isn’t a super-strong contender to knock it off out of the other nominees–I’ve never read the other four, but Scalzi’s The Last Colony is probably the best known.

    Now, if The Name of the Wind had been nominated–and I’m kinda gobsmacked it wasn’t–well, Name of the Wind would’ve been robbed if it didn’t win because that book is PHENOMENAL. Side note: How did it *not* get nominated? Anybody know?

    What’s your dream pick for best Hugo novel, 2008 (not restricted to the nominees).


    It’s called VOICE OF THE FIRE.

    The new one’s called JERUSALEM.

  28. Emma: People are writing wonderful series, and people are writing crappy series. But the distinction between the two is definitely not “can we pretend this book isn’t actually part of a series”.

    My feelings exactly. I would also say “People are writing wonderful series in which the individual books do not stand well on their own, and people are writing crappy series in which the individual books do stand well on their own.

    The ability (or lack thereof) to stand on its own is not a definitive marker of a series book’s quality.

  29. I’d thank them, but I don’t want to create yet another account to do so.

    You would think that given that you’ve been chairman many, many times in the past that they would have been able to extrapolate this to “He’s probably doing it again this year.” But this would, sad to say, probably be overestimating the intelligence of your average Gator.

    Anyway, condolences congratulations on becoming part of the Great Conspiracy To Silence Entirely Valid and Important Concerns About Ethics In Video Game Journalism. Your check is in the mail. 🙂

  30. I’m sitting here cringing at Aaron’s assessment of long books because my first novel was 330,000 words (okay, it’s never been pro published). The next few were 200k+

    And they’re my most popular books. I won’t say the first one didn’t need editing down – I eventually removed 30,000 words from it – but it needed to be that length to tell the story I wanted to tell, and I never planned a length but just the story. When it was done, it was done. The word count was irrelevant.

    It would never be a commercial proposition but I never intended it to be. I am not the best writer by a long way, but I don’t suck, and I don’t think this first book is weak.

    But what do I know?

  31. Thanks, Kurt! I had already looked it up and am placing an inter-library loan as we speak 😉

  32. @Kurt Busiek: Terriers!

    @Happy-Puppy: Love you, man, but disdain of the literary mainstream for SF/F is almost a generation gone at this point. When the New Yorker runs profiles of Gene Wolfe, the game is over. I remember mainstream disdain for SF quite well and it used to enrage me, but these days, on the rare occasion some critic or author actually ventures to deprecate it, they just sound quaint. And make me feel almost nostalgic.

    @To Whom It May Concern: There is definitely Amber fanfic. Roger Zelazny wrote five volumes of it in fact, called the “Merlin Chronicles.”

    Okay, I’ll go.

  33. Side note: How did [The Name of the Wind] *not* get nominated? Anybody know?

    That’s a great question. I wasn’t paying attention that year, but I’d be glad to hear from anyone who was. Did it come at an unfortunate time of year (too early/too late)? Was it an obscure book whose audience grew only slowly as word got around?

  34. For anyone who purchased A Darker Shade of Magic (or another of Schwab’s books), if you’re in the Nashville, TN area, she’s speaking and signing at Parnassus Books on Thursday: Here are the details.

  35. Simon Bisson on June 23, 2015 at 3:39 pm said:

    @MPMRommel: some really interesting new London breweries that are inspired by the Pacific Northwest: Beavertown (Black Betty is a decent CDA) and Belleville (which has a touch of Belgium as well).

    During Loncon, the most recent Worldcon in London, I rode Emirates Air Line (the skyride over the Thames) to a tiny kiosk of Meantime (it’s on Grenwich Penninsula), and had some very Seattle-style beers there.

  36. Obviously the crack about the Merlin Chronicles being fanfic is out of bounds. I’ve developed a lot of respect for fanfic over the years.


  37. Gabriel F: I’ll agree that King can write a long book worth telling (although even he had a few, like ‘Needful Things’, that could benefit from tightening). But I think that he only had one multi-volume saga, ‘Dark Tower’, and that definitely passes the “Does this have a story that needs more page space than Amber?” Test. It’s a big story that unifies everything else he’s ever written, weaving through thousands of realities with a huge cast of fully realized characters. If, say, sorry to offend anyone who likes it but ‘The Wheel of Time’ had been that deserving, I’d have less objections to them. 🙂

  38. I’m trying to think of series where the individual novels *don’t* work as standalones, or don’t work as well:

    Garth Nix’s Lirael would have frustrated me immensely if I hadn’t been very indulgent because I loved Lirael’s main arc — because it really does end on a huge cliffhanger.

    Laini Taylor’s second novel in the Smoke & Bone trilogy also didn’t work all that well for me as a standalone novel (and I got so annoyed that I was rather put off from reading the third volume (I should really do that)).

    And Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series is maybe at the top of my list for working better as a series than as individual books, though I ADORE IT — I don’t think that books 2 and 3 would work at all if you hadn’t read book 1 (or 1 & 2, as the case may be). Book 4 *might* stand alone; probably would stand alone. I think.

    ETA: to quote JJ at 7:53: “The ability (or lack thereof) to stand on its own is not a definitive marker of a series book’s quality.”

    Yes, THIS.

  39. @Gabriel F.: In Amber DRPG fandom, some of us eventually satirized our own disdain for the…books that don’t count by conceiving, first, the idea of Snooty First Book Purists. SPBPism has a kernel of plausibility to it insofar as Nine Princes in Amber does, in many ways, read substantially differently than the subsequent books – though I don’t think we ever encountered actual SFBPs.

    But the ultimate Amber snobbery, we decided, was Snooty First Chapter Purists. These people argue endless theories about whether Corwin ever got the cab.

  40. Emma: look at Seanan Mcguire’s October Daye series. Every book manages to recontextualize the character arcs and plot arcs of its predecessors to a huge degree (which makes re-reading an absolute treat). The most recent book managed to completely re-configure the reader’s understanding of the entire series, going back to the events of the very first book. Doing that—and doing that well—took an extraordinary amount of skill.

    Oh, I am so with you on that. I’ve never understood why the October Daye books don’t get more love.

    That damned Seanan McGuire. She made me enjoy books about Mythic Fantasy, of which I’m not terribly fond and rarely choose to read. She made me enjoy books about Zombies — which I absolutely abhor and, in my book choices, avoid like the plague.

    I found it very hard to argue with her 4 fiction nominations in 2013, even though I didn’t think Blackout brought much new to the table in that series. That woman has some seriously hardcore writing skillz.

  41. Without staking out a position that either long works or short works are the best works (while I mostly read novels, I love the way a good short story can blow my mind), can we acknowledge that some books would have been much stronger at a shorter length?

    I think it was a Tad Williams doorstop of a book (midway through a series) that I finally bounced off of. From memory, the characters had been shrunken (?) and were trying to make their way through a jungle(?), and the descriptions of the foliage and the giant insects just went on and on and ON. Without intending to, I found myself slamming the book shut and shouting at it “Write less, Tad!” Haven’t felt inclined to pick up one of his books since.

  42. Re: 2008 Hugos.

    Best Novel (382 nominating ballots cast)
    65 Brasyl by Ian McDonald
    58 The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
    58 Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
    41 The Last Colony by John Scalzi
    40 Halting State by Charles Stross
    30 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hal lows by J. K. Rowling
    29 Making Money by Terry Pratchett
    29 Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
    26 Queen of Candesce: Book Two of Virga by Karl Schroeder
    25 Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
    25 Mainspring by Jay Lake
    25 Ha’penny by Jo Walton
    21 Ragamun by Tobias Buckell
    20 The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds
    19 The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

    It came in 2nd for the Locus Award for Best First Novel

    I think that, especially in this period, “first of an epic fantasy series” is a really tough sell to Hugo voters. We’ve all been burned so often, by series that go downhill or turn out to be not what we really wanted, or that are just so damn similar to all the other epic fantasy series.

  43. Ok, fine, I haven’t taken my turn this week…

    Brian, when you say that something is going to “help us understand better what we mean” to whom, exactly, are you referring?

    Who’s the us? Who’s the we? Please be specific and show your work in the margins.

  44. Jim Henley: To Whom It May Concern: There is definitely Amber fanfic. Roger Zelazny wrote five volumes of it in fact, called the “Merlin Chronicles.”

    Shaddup. It’s still more Amber.

    Jim Henley: These people argue endless theories about whether Corwin ever got the cab.

    Dammit, I don’t have time right now to do a re-read of Amber!

  45. @aeou:
    Thank you for the recommendation for Standing on Zanzibar. That actually looks very good, and right up my alley in terms of the intertextual stuff.

    Have you tried keeping a list on your computer of everything you read, and when? That helps me keep track of stuff. What are you reading and enjoying right now? (Me: Neuromancer and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, both for the first time.)

  46. Seconding all the love for McGuire’s October Daye books. Also, seconding JJ on never thinking that I’d love a book about zombies, but I still wish Feed had won the Best Novel that year. Blackout was a good ending to the series, though not sufficient to make me think it deserved a Hugo win on its own. Nomination, certainly.

    I haven’t really loved either the InCryptid books or the Parasite trilogy (the latter feels like way too much of its worldbuilding duplicates stuff that shows up in Newsflesh). But the Toby books are wonderful.

  47. If a writer can’t tell a story in under three hundred thousand words, then that is weak writing.

    Lord of the Rings was written as a single story, broken into three separate books a the the publisher’s request. It clocks in at 473k words.

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