Get Those Old People Off My (Artificial) Grass

Fans on The Lawn in Loncon 3's Fan Village. (You know, some of them don’t look that old to me.)

Fans on The Lawn in Loncon 3’s Fan Village. (You know, some of them don’t look that old to me.)

The Daily Dot thought all the geezers were a drag on Loncon 3.

“Worldcon is like a family reunion,” said longtime convention-goer and fanzine writer Curt Phillips, at a panel about the history of Worldcon. After a few days, I could only agree. It was indeed like being at a family reunion, in that it felt like you were spending your time with elderly relatives. You might want to talk to them and listen to their stories, but you’ll have to tolerate some offensive and outdated opinions along the way.

Daily Dot greatly preferred the Nine Worlds con held the weekend before Worldcon but did not play fair, inserting a complaint about the San Diego Comic Con that was totally inapplicable to Loncon 3 —

Nine Worlds also made sure their code of conduct was displayed clearly on their website, which is more than you can say for SDCC.

Seriously, that’s the last thing in the world you could fault about Loncon 3.

I also think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the Daily Dot modeled the greater acceptance of diversity they claim to want.

For many, the Worldcon experience was just not worth it if your comments were constantly at risk of being shouted down old men. Either some drastic changes will have to be made, or those younger fans won’t come back at all.

When writing about the generation gap at Worldcon 2013, author Madeline Ashby phrased this rather more brutally: “It’s okay, because someday they’ll all be dead.”

I see Ashby’s curse repeated all the time but I don’t take it to heart. Anyone who lives long enough will be getting the same treatment from the generation that follows. I don’t actually wish it on the Daily Dot’s writers, however, nobody has ever been able to stop it from happening, either.

Final Notes on Loncon 3

Officer Sue Smith Interrogates Brad Templeton, attending Loncon 3 via telepresence.

Officer Sue Smith Interrogates Brad Templeton, attending Loncon 3 via telepresence.

By Francis Hamit: Loncon 3 ran so well that it begs a record of small things that worked and should be added to the list of “best practices”. I speak as one who has attended 111 conventions, including 10 WorldCons and NASFICs. Full disclosure: I have never been involved in “con-running” and am not a SMOF.

First of all, security here was left to the professionals who work at ExCel. The UK has a very strong security consciousness and culture. There are CCTV cameras everywhere in London, and security officers in black suits and ties are ubiquitous. Rather than oppressive, their presence is reassuring in a city with a recent tragic history of terrorist attacks. In the USA, this function detailed to fan volunteers, whose quality ranges from poor and indifferent to jack-booted thugs. I spent twenty-one years in the security industry, and have an appreciation for the fine details of the art.

An innovation here was the provision of “Listeners”. These were people that attendees could go to with their concerns and complaints, or if they just needed someone to talk to. It was emphasized that first-time attendees should be especially aware of this service. I don’t know how much this was actually used, but I suspect that many molehills were prevented from becoming mountains because this service was there.

The Press Room was run by professionals for professionals, and, as a result, was able to not only handle Mundane reporters from mainstream media, but turn their presence to advantage and avoid the usual “look at all the funny people” journalism.

The Fan Village, and the prohibition of parties in hotel rooms, were also a unique feature that should be emulated. No elevators, er, lifts, were broken at this convention, and everyone got enough sleep (maybe).

The long lines at every turn were a detriment, because they soaked up time that could have been spent enjoying the convention. This was probably unavoidable and unplanned because of the last-minute surge in registrations, and the size of the convention, which was record-breaking. Perhaps additional volunteers could have been requested from the lines, of people who had experience with cons in other places, to help out an hour or so to speed things along.

Part of the programming was provided in German, because of the number of German fans attending. This made it a truly “World” con. Whether or not it could be emulated in the USA is an open question.

The huge expanses of concrete and distances between events and functions seem inevitable, but given the “graying of fandom” factor, more attention needs to be paid to disabled access. There were a number of incidents where people on mobis ran into each other and were injured.

Finally, as I sat in the concourse one day, that fandom in general needs to go on a diet and find a good chiropractor. We are woefully out of shape, and I am no exception.

Respectfully submitted.

Loncon 3 and the Graphic Novel, Guest Of Honour Bryan Talbot

Bryan Talbot signing at Loncon 3.

Bryan Talbot signing at Loncon 3.

By Francis Hamit: At the Press Briefing before LonCon3 officially started, the Artist GoH, graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, said that being selected made him feel as if his art had finally moved beyond being considered mere “comic books” to being “literature”. He is quite well known in the UK, and the subject of a recent documentary The Graphic Novel Man: The Comics of Bryan Talbot. This hour-long presentation was shown on the fourth day of the convention and it seemed to me that not only had his art evolved into a form of literature, but a way to put cinema on paper. His subsequent lecture the same afternoon demonstrating the wide range of techniques and graphic devices confirmed this. He laid out the various ways to format a page so that the reader’s eye is easily led through the images and text that comprise the narrative.

About the creative process, Talbot said, “When I get an idea, the first thing I do is write it down. Then I create a ‘bible’ for the graphic novel in a loose-leaf notebook so that I can move between the sections and make notes. Research is next, as I reference images and create ‘mind maps’ as a useful way of working through complete scenes and getting the order of scenes.

“Structure is very important. I chart the scene progression so that you can see the whole story, scene-by-scene, and the number of pages needed to tell the story. I create layers from the photo references as a basis for the individual panels, and add details. I make rough sketches that pre-planned of papaer are a mixture of words and pictures, so that the story changes at the right instants. Each moment is a moment in time. I choose which instants is needed to break the scene.

“The script is next, it is a page number and panel number description, which the editor approves; I then polish and improve the dialogue. A complex scene requires a description of when things are taking place as well as where.

“The layout can be on a grid or freestyle. Freestyle melds panels into a collage of images. Grid panels provide a ‘proscenium arch’ that you can look through, proportionate to the page. The Golden Mean (2 to 3) is used in American comics. Freestyle layouts let you have lots of open space.

“The placement of text and speech balloons is critical. It is vitally important that the reader not read them in the wrong order. Double-page layouts must form a whole. The pages have to work together and be harmonious. The palette is important, as a historical reference. We give each scene a different ambient color, and use composition lines to lead the reader’s eye from one panel to the next.”

I found this presentation extremely interesting because I’m not really up on comic books or graphic novels. Since I am in the middle of collaborating on a motion picture, I see the parallels between this and cinema. Part of our process is what is called ‘storyboarding’, where shots are planned in advance on paper. Graphic novels intrigue me because they are the dominant form in many other countries with huge audiences, such as India, China, and Japan.

Bryan Talbot has a PDF of his lecture on his website and it is something that even text-bound dinosaurs like myself would do well to read.

Loncon 3: A Stroll Through the Dealers’ Zone

The ExCel is big and friendly, if you don't mind walking.

The ExCel is big and friendly, if you don’t mind walking.

By Francis Hamit: One of the notable aspects of the Dealers’ Zone at Loncon 3 was the number of “small press” publishers who took advantage of Loncon 3 to display and sell their books. Two big British publishers were also present, as well as a couple of University presses. Also, displaying their wares or cause were some British nonprofit organizations.

“Small press” is a term that avoids the curse of “self publishing”: generally condemned for its poor editing and execution. (The truth is that while some eager writers in their rush to get to market have failed to live up to the standards of traditional publishing, the majority of those at Loncon 3 avoided this self-defeating behaviour, and had product indistinguishable from the mainstream. Everyone uses short-run print-on-demand technology now.) Since Leigh and I have our own publishing company, we are sympathetic to small press entrepreneurs, and had we any science fiction titles, might have also had a table. Here are some photos taken on the last day. We are happy to report that everyone not only covered their costs but seemed to be happily in profit.

Ticonderoga Publications' Liz Grzyb and Russell B. Farr

Ticonderoga Publications’ Liz Grzyb and Russell B. Farr

One young, pretty, and very smart scientist in the Fan Village said to me scornfully that 90% of self-publishing is crap, to which I replied with Theodore Sturgeon’s famous line, “My dear, 90% of everything is crap.” The high sales reported by small-press dealers indicates that this deplorable attitude is finally going away.

Closing Ceremonies End Loncon 3 on a High Note

The line for the Closing Ceremonies

The line for Closing Ceremonies.

By Francis Hamit: On the last day the organizers of Loncon 3 ended their four-year adventure with some well-deserved, self-congratulatory pats on the back. (Yes, it’s a cliché, what the hell, sue me.) The original pitch film that won London the bid was shown again, without the sound (not sure that there was any, since I hadn’t seen it before) but this may be not only the largest Worldcon ever, but one that ran so smoothly, and without noticeable glitches, that subsequent events will be hard put to meet, much less exceed, the standards set by this ConCom.

The co-chairs bid adieu.

The co-chairs bid adieu.

The Guests of Honour were once again presented, and Brian Aldiss, who was present at LonCon 1 and is one of the great authors of our genre, was serenaded with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” by the entire audience. The GoHs were all presented with engraved crystal awards as a remembrance. The event was then Closed, and the organizers of the 2015 Worldcon in Spokane, Washington, USA, named after a mythological beast, were brought out to urge everyone to attend their event, Sasquan.

Brian Aldiss is serenaded with "Happy Birthday."

Brian Aldiss is serenaded with “Happy Birthday.”

Hugo Statistics Dress Sad Puppies in Black Armbands

First The Good News: Julie Dillon is the first woman to win the Best Pro Artist Hugo in 45 years. [*] And as I write, you can see a fine example of her work on the masthead of A Dribble of Ink, winner of the 2014 Best Fanzine Hugo.

Yes, Aidan Moher has finally won the Hugo he has coveted for so long. What we began with a certain amount of mutual irritation has evolved into a gentler, almost Fred Allen/Jack Benny-style feud (see for example here and here) – so congratulations, and better Aidan should win than a stranger!

Far more startling was to see Sarah Webb win Best Fan Artist on the first ballot while every other nominee registered fewer first place votes than No Award. For all the discussion in social media of the best way to tactically vote No Award, it’s a surprise to find that having the most impact in a category with no connection to the politics that fueled it.

And Now, The Rest of the Story: Meanwhile at Monster Hunter Nation HQ, it’s time to lie back and stop thinking of England. No matter what people hoped or feared would happen as the Hugo Awards were announced, only one of the 7 shortlisted nominees endorsed by Larry Correia finished ahead of another nominee in their category – basically, they ran last.

Corriea had asked his readers to nominate his novel Warbound plus a slate of 11 other recommendations. Warbound and 6 other beneficiaries of the “Sad Puppy” campaign made it. The most successful among them was Toni Weisskopf, who actually received the most first-place votes in the Best Editor – Long Form category, though she finished fourth in the runoff.

Correia took the high road in his Hugo Aftermath Post

First off, some people are upset and saying there was fraud. I understand your disappointment but I truly don’t think so. In all of my dealings with LonCon they’ve been totally professional and honest. On things like Toni’s, yes, that is confusing as hell, but that is how the Australian system works. One of the original goals of Sad Puppies was to test the Hugo nomination process just because there had been allegations of “lost” noms in prior, and as a retired auditor, I’m a sucker for statistical analyses. SP1 gathered data, and SP2 gave me comparisons. I saw zero indication of fraud. I’ve only been awake for an hour, so I’ve only skimmed the new numbers, but they appear to have shaken out about where expected. So don’t get mad at LonCon, they did their job (and as I can attest, getting accused of fraud without evidence is annoying as hell.)

He followed by explaining yet again why he thought his “Sad Puppies” campaign was justified and how the voting results prove his point – because it’s not as if he was going to suddenly smack his forehead and exclaim, “Wait, I was wrong!”

In the general exchange of social nukes set off by “Sad Puppies” it was a surprise (though by no means a disappointment) that No Award failed to take a single Hugo category.

Furthermore, the nominees receiving the most first place votes in a category tended to win wire-to-wire.

Suspense mounted in the Best Novel category leading up to the vote because no one could predict the impact of Larry Correia’s voting bloc or the strength of support for the Wheel of Time series, while Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, despite winning the Nebula, seemed handicapped by the publisher’s refusal to put the complete book in the Hugo Voter Packet.

The suspense was unwarranted, as it turns out. Ancillary Justice began with a comfortable lead, getting 1,335 first place votes. The Wheel of Time series had the next largest number of first place votes, 658. However, Wheel of Time finished in fourth place in runoff voting.

There were only a couple of really tight races.

Lightspeed Magazine won the Best Semiprozine Hugo by 16 votes. Two UK-based publications, Strange Horizons and Interzone, hung with Lightspeed Magazine for the first four passes, however, the home-field advantage did not hold true. When Interzone was eliminated almost one-third of its votes dropped out (having listed neither of the survivors in next place) and the remaining votes were divided almost equally between Interzone and Hugo-winner Lightspeed.

Only in a few cases did the eventual winner ever trail. In Best Novella, “Six-Gun Snow White” had a 14 vote edge on “Equoid” after four rounds, but lost by 83.

In Best Dramatic – Long Form, “The Rains of Castamere” was only 11 votes ahead of “The Day of the Doctor” after the fifth pass, but picked up a majority of the votes left after Orphan Black was eliminated, and won by a comfortable margin.

In Best Pro Editor – Long Form, Ginjer Buchanan trailed Toni Weisskopf by 7 votes after the third pass, but ended up winning by over 200 votes.

The “Who are you mad at?” index shows more voters listed the following nominees behind No Award than any others (except for Toni Weisskopf, who is included for comparison, and Wheel of Time which was controversial for a different reason.) (Not ranked in order).

Sad Puppies Finalists Runoff votes No Award
Warbound 1161 1052
The Chaplain’s Legacy 999 602
The Butcher of Khardov 1222 687
The Exchange Officers 1146 736
Opera Vita Aeterna 855 1232
Toni Weisskopf 568 186
Elitist Book Reviews 510 334
Wheel of Time 1306 672

But if the “Sad Puppies” say they had it tough, just show them the “take no prisoners” mentality at work in the fan categories. Many finalists got fewer first place votes than No Award — the fate of 4 out of 5 nominees for Best Fan Artist, 4 out of 7 nominees for Best Fancast, 3 out of 5 nominees for Best Fan Writer, and 1 out of 5 nominees for Best Fanzine.

Turning to the nominating statistics, Vox Day compiled this list of the number of nominating votes that put each of the “Sad Puppies” on the ballot, and scoffed at the supposed “bloc vote” —

Larry Correia 184 (Best Novel)
Toni Weisskopf 169 (Best Professional Editor – Short Form)
Brad Torgersen: 111 (Best Novella)
Dan Wells 106 (Best Novella)
Brad Torgersen 92 (Best Novelette)
Vox Day 69 (Best Novelette)
Sarah Hoyt 38 (failed to make final ballot for Best Short Story)

Just the same, the bloc vote for Vox Day’s Opera Vita Aeterna kept Ken Liu’s “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” off the ballot.

Paging through the rest of the nominating statistics I observed that Neil Gaiman, by declining a nomination for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, allowed Mira Grant’s Parasite on the ballot – it finished third.

Ender’s Game came within six votes of being shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form. With another couple of nominating votes, two more Doctor Who episodes could have been finalists in Short Form (which would have thrilled my friends who run Gallifrey, I’m sure.)

On a personal level I found it rather surrealistic to see that in the Best Fanzine category the next five top vote-getters after the finalists were essentially the zines that would have been on the final ballot just a couple years ago – Banana Wings, The Drink Tank, Argentus, SF Signal and File 770. Time marches on.

Update 08/19/2014: As Arnie Fenner points out in his comment below, Diane Dillon, along with husband Leo, won the Hugo for Best Artist in 1969 and deserves the “first-ever” designation, though Julie Dillon’s win is still a breakthrough since she is the first woman to win the Best Artist Pro Hugo in 45 years.

A Few Comments on Loncon 3

Overview of the Fan Village at Loncon 3.

Overview of the Fan Village at Loncon 3.

By Leigh Strother-Vien: I’m thrilled that younger fans are having a good fandom to come into. But we older fans *sigh* need softer floors, smaller venues, or reallyreally fast medical breakthroughs — everything aches. Aside from that, LonCon 3 has been a friendly place to be. I’ve enjoyed chatting with random people: in queues, and sitting in food courts, standing next to dealers’ tables, waiting for a lift, etc.

The Art Show was, unsurprisingly, Very High Quality, and I’m glad to say that the artists are asking for prices that reflect more accurately their worth, i.e., I couldn’t afford what I Really Liked (at least, not yet).

The Dealer’s Area was diverse with lots of booksellers as well as the usual Neat Stuff.

But, mostly what struck me was the general feeling of Good Will. And, I believe, the exceptions were mostly due to aches and pains (and jet lag). Which are inevitable with a large con, apparently.

Good Con. Kudos to the ConCom and their volunteers.

Loncon 3: Random Notes On Programming

ExCel hallway during Loncon 3.

ExCel hallway during Loncon 3.

By Francis Hamit: With over 600 items available and no way to attend them all, I can only write about the few I saw myself. Those were interesting, and well prepared, by people with professional background. Effort was obviously expended by the organizers to provide geographical balance in the spirit of a “World” science fiction convention.

The panel “How Does Bookselling Shape The Genre We See” included Guest of Honor Malcolm Edwards. “It’s been ‘gloom and doom’ (in bookselling) since the 1970s,” Edwards said. The impact of e-books and the pricing policies of have driven many brick-and-mortar stores, including the Borders chain in the USA, to the wall or out of business entirely.

For all of that, publishers still rely upon early feedback from booksellers, communicated through reps, for feedback. Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) are routinely sent, and the pre-publication orders influence decision-making. Early enthusiasm can make a best-seller. In some cases, the relationship is defined by money. Shelf allowances are routinely paid, as if books were simply another item in grocery stores (my local Ralphs’ is my local bookstore). There is another method, where the publisher tries to influence the buyers for the chains to gain larger initial orders (you can’t sell it if you don’t have it). Waterstone’s, a UK bookstore chain, has 330 shops, but normally only orders 250 copies of a new title. Per Malcolm Edwards, individual buyers have now become teams of buyers, who are very cautious, and tend not to order books by authors who are not recognized brands, at all. Management generally prohibits local managers from buying directly from local authors, because space is at a premium. Independent stores exert influence over their customers through word-of-mouth and hand-selling. Publishers traditionally made a lot of money on back-list books, because nobody wants to start with Volume 3 of a series. “The amount of space dedicated to a particular author in a store has been squeezed,” said Malcolm Edwards, “Shelf presence, having three books or more by one author, is needed to create buzz, or word-of-mouth.”

E-books and online discounts do have an impact, but customers still come in to read and find new books. Brick and mortar stores are still viable, because they offer more choices without being confusing due to massive amounts of data. However, less choice actually helps increase the volume of sales, and e-books sell better if they are also available in print editions. Publishers now prefer Trade Paperbacks because they have higher margins. Mass market paperbacks do not make as much money and are probably going away. A related panel was called “The Politics and Economics of Cover Art”. This drew a standing-room-only audience, and emphasized the role of design in appealing covers with the goal of getting a customer to actually pick up the book. (Social Science research indicates that if someone actually does this, the chances that the book will be sold are about 50/50; a sense of ownership is created even before the sale). Panelists agreed that in an ideal world, the design should match the content. Said one panelist, “A lot of covers do suck, and are gender-inappropriate and offensive (there are objections to the tits-and-ass approach, where it has nothing to do with the content and to ‘white washing’ or using an image of a white person when the protagonists are not white).” Another panelist said, “I have to ask, is this how I want my company to be represented, or my author represented?” While another pointed out, “We’re being a little irresponsible if we don’t acknowledge that the publisher’s job is sell a lot of books.” “Who reads the majority of books? Women! So why are we marketing to boys? We need to be very leery of boy-versus-girl marketing.” No covers were shown to back up these points. “We have a really closed group of illustrators who get most of the work; they are almost entirely male, there are not a lot of female illustrators doing this work, so we see the same guys over and over, and we only see their esthetics. Product consistency and on-time delivery are more important than innovation.” But as another panelist pointed out, if people weren’t buying the books, we wouldn’t have this problem. It’s driven by what people are buying, and we have no idea what works.” Two-thirds of books are sold in non-bookstore locations (such as grocery stores). They don’t want to give shelf space to anything that will not sell through. And very simply, small presses do not have the resources to access these channels.

"Military SF: continuity and change." with Ashley Pollard, Rohan Shah, Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson and Myke Cole.

“Military SF: continuity and change.” with Ashley Pollard, Rohan Shah, Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson and Myke Cole.

“Military Science Fiction” included Ashley Pollard (a nurse with military experience), Joe Haldeman (a Vietnam veteran who made his reputation with The Forever War, which was his MFA thesis, and is still in print forty years later), Robin Shah (from the Economics field with an interest in the military), and Jean Johnson (who has no military experience of her own but is extremely enthusiastic about the military), and the Moderator, Myke Cole (a Lieutenant in the US Coast Guard, who is writing a military fantasy series called “Shadow Ops”; Cole has served three tours in Iraq in Special Operations and is still on active duty).

Said Lt. Cole, “You do not have to serve in the military to have a military consciousness. Joining the military is a bit like being put in an orphanage. The genre has become a bit discontinuous, and strong male protagonists are the tradition. Readers have been really pleased to see more strong female protagonists. The military is as complicated as the larger society is, and reflects many of the same issues, and what is happening today in the real military is the change in the nature of casualties. While more lives are saved on the battlefield, there is a huge increase in the number of psychiatric casualties. Killing is not a fundamental human activity. Drone operators are getting PTSD, despite their remoteness from the battlefield. During the Cold War, we developed an addiction to high technology. We’re now in an age of insurgent warfare, with a renewed focus on Special Operations. That affects the kind of training I get.”

“Does Military Science Fiction need to change to remain relevant?” asked Ashley Pollard. “Physical Fitness is much less, because fewer people do hard manual labor, such as farming or (heavy) factory work, and in wars, it’s about breaking things and people. There is a cognitive dissonance, and the larger society gets about a minor amount of casualties, compared to previous wars. If the culture is unwilling to sacrifice people, then wars are likely to be lost.” (It becomes a matter of political will; this was why the Vietnam War was lost.)

"Spies We Still Love" with Tim Phipps, Elizabeth Bear, Nicholas Whyte, Gillian Redfearn, Stefanie Zurek.

“Spies We Still Love” with Tim Phipps, Elizabeth Bear, Nicholas Whyte, Gillian Redfearn, Stefanie Zurek.

The “Spies We Still Love”, was moderated by Nicholas Whyte, who vaguely admitted to having some background in real life, and included Tim Phipps, American author Elizabeth Bear, UK publisher Gillian Redfearn, and German small-press publisher Stefanie Zurek. Whyte began with a trip down memory lane with television series from the 1960s, such as Mission Impossible and I Spy. Phipps said that Mission Impossible was a very tightly structured show that played espionage very very straight. Elizabeth Bear pointed out that, “What is interesting is the caper aspect of that show, and how are they going to pull that off? Whereas The Avenger” and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. are parodies, making fun of James Bond.” The John LeCarre novel, and then mini-series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was groundbreaking. Tim Phipps said, “It takes State conflict, and makes it very personal.” Which led to the series known as Spooks in the UK, and as MI5 in the US. Phipps also really likes Person of Interest which has as a protagonist a super-computer, aided by a billionaire and an extremely burned-out CIA agent. Other series were discussed, but as yet it seems that none of the panelists have yet seen the new groundbreaking series about deep-cover KGB operatives during the Reagan administration called The Americans.