(1) I encountered this oasis while researching today’s scroll — Nelson Lowhim’s clever story “Sasquan, worldcon and the science fiction convention”
…Leaning back and inhaling the sterile convention center smell, I realized that I’d sat on a book. I pulled it out from under me and examined the cover: on it a gallant woman rode a chariot being pulled by naked men. They were headed to a shining light at the end of the road.
It was thin, the book, and so I read through it, the writing clean enough for me not to stop and the premise interesting enough for me to flip the pages. When I was finished, unsure with the ending, I threw the book on the table where it collided with the sculpture.
It was then that I noticed a shift in the atmosphere and the smell of something like rotting feet. Out from the shadows in a corner stepped a large man. I froze. For not only was he large, not only did he wield a large sword, but he moved with the kind of nimbleness that signifies a specifically potent violence.
“Treat the book with a little more respect, small man.”…
(2) Marko Kloos – “My Sasquan Weekend”
So we were at the Hugo Losers party, mingling with old and new friends and generally having a good time, when GRRM had a special surprise for us. He brought out a table full of trophies made from 1950s hood ornaments which he called the Alfies, after Alfred Bester, the winner of the inaugural best Novel Hugo in 1953. George started giving them out to various people who would have been on the ballot without the slates, especially in those categories where the nominees all came from the slates.
And then he awarded one to Annie Bellet, who withdrew her short story from the ballot the same day I withdrew my novel…and I thought to myself, “Self, he may call you up there too.” The room was packed with people, many of them authors and editors of works you’ve probably read, and I basically had two or three minutes to think up something to say that wouldn’t make me look like a giant jackass.
(3) Angela Blackwell on Bull Spec – “The Exploding Spaceship Visits Sasquan – Worldcon 2015”
Panel organizers appeared to try to bring diverse authors onto panels but like many conventions could really have used some oversight from a diversity coordinator. Many “diverse” authors were on panels with topics which had nothing to do with the type of writing they do. It looked as if someone said, “Oh, we need diversity on this panel so let’s randomly pick a diverse author we used somewhere else instead of broadening our panelist pool and finding a diverse author who fits the topic”. Also “diverse” authors need to be put on panels about the subgenres they write about not just on generic panels….
Next year’s Worldcon will be in Kansas City. We hope their panel organizers learn from the many comments on Twitter and Facebook as well as at the convention about how different authors were placed on panels and what panel topics were chosen. All the members of the community need to feel welcome and none should be stuck in a “diversity” box, or a “minority political opinion” box.
(4) Ellen Datlow has over a hundred photos from Sasquan, many from GRRM’s Hugo Losers Party, posted here.
(5) Lou Antonelli on Facebook
Thought for the Day: In light of the way he depicts social occasions in his fantasy writing, I was rather surprised anyone would accept an invitation to a private event from George R.R. Martin. (wink)
(6) Campbell nominee Rolf Nelson – “Sasquan post, obligatory”
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect being totally ignored, but that’s largely what happened. No offers of being on panels. No interviews. Nobody to introduce me. No packet available that was supposed to be ready for me. No open attacks on me. No large shows of support for the puppies. (Some background on the puppies here: http://sfauthor.net/burning-down-the-house/ ; I was a “rabid puppy” nominee. Five second recap: the insiders worked the nominations and voting in back rooms and parties for years, and didn’t like it when an outsider did the same thing, out in the open, and better, shutting them out of a lock on the awards). Normally new writers are loaded up with panels and shown around and introduced to folks. For me and most of the non-TOR-books nominees? Nothing. So I wandered around, watched, listened, talked to a lot of “average SF con attendees.” They were mostly nice, and most knew little or nothing about the whole puppies thing. Most who knew something had a warped left-wing version of events in their heads. I managed to line up 3 interviews of my own by walking down to the press room and asking “want to interview a rabid puppy?” including one with Amy Wallace of Wired (http://www.wired.com/2015/08/won-science-fictions-hugo-awards-matters/ ) who talked to me for 20 or 25 minutes, but didn’t use any of it (flatly contradicted what I said, in fact, perhaps because I was recording the interview, too, so she could not out-of-context sound-bite me).
(7) Melinda Snodgrass – “There Is and Was No Conspiracy”
So now I have to address the boatload of idiotic conspiracy theories that have sprung up from the fervid brains of the Puppies both Sad and Rabid.
No, George did not know in advance who had won and who had lost. He had to wait for the pink sheet that detailed the Hugo nominations before he could figure out who was going to receive an Alfie. I know because I had to check in with him when thing were running late for presenting the awards, and he told me in harried tones that he had had to wait for the breakdown to come out and everything was running late.
No, George did not buy 3000 memberships and tell them how to vote. Has anyone looked at fandom? Herding cats wold be easier. And seriously — George is the guy who loves this award. He would never, ever game his beloved Hugos.
No, the Puppy votes were not “discounted”. It’s the Australian ballot. It’s confusing. Here’s a link where Ranked Voting is explained. Try to understand. So you don’t get your money back.
No, you can’t sue. You have to show harm before you can get into court, and you have to have standing to bring a lawsuit. If someone calls you a banana that might hurt you deeply, but the court will not provide a remedy for your pain. You voted/you lost. If your argument had merit I’d be suing over the 2000 election. Let it be noted that I didn’t.
(8) Jim Hensley on Unqualified Offerings – “Social Engineer-ing”
Ken Burnside writes the best “pro-Puppy” retrospective on the Hugo Awards that I’ve seen. It’s frank about the pain he felt from the way some people treated him during the controversy but impressively free of bitterness. The piece is long, but what interests me most is something he doesn’t quite say, and possibly doesn’t quite realize. Here’s what he does say, about what he identifies as the “Heroic Engineer” genre, also known as competence porn:
Heroic Engineer Stories drive a lot of sales. Nearly every SF author I know who doesn’t need a day job writes an action-adventure series, where the Heroic Engineer/Officer/Competent Protagonist Solves The Problem. They sell, and they sell to a male demographic, often current or recently retired military, and that demographic skews conservative.
Let’s zero in on the last sentence. It states that SF competence porn sells to people who see themselves in the protagonist. They are pleased to read stories in which they recognize people like them.
Which is exactly what gets called affirmative-action “box checking” when the protagonist is female, non-white, queer or some combination of those. Often, particularly when Puppy advocates are writing, when readers derive pleasure from seeing themselves in those protagonists, they are accused of favoring representation over quality, even though representation can be a marker of quality.
I remember when I first saw Apollo 13 in the theater, my overwhelming, thrilled reaction was: “My people!” Those very clever, very white nerdboys in Mission Control, trying to save the lives of the astronauts via kitbashing and pedantry reminded me of myself and my friends in a way hardly any screen protagonists had heretofore. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with an ex-service-member deriving pleasure from stories about guys kinda like him saving the world with shop tools and shaped charges.
But there’s also nothing wrong with a black woman deriving pleasure from stories about black women on Mars, or gay men enjoying stories about gay men dealing with unexplained phenomena. This even goes beyond the issue of representation-as-quality – that stories with people of color, LGBT folks and women of agency better reflect the world as we know it and our plausible futures. While the old stereotype of science-fiction and fantasy as nothing but wish-fulfillment stories was unjust, wish-fulfillment remains an element of much fiction, and most adventure fiction. There’s simply no case that non-white, non-straight, non-male readers’ enjoyment in seeing themselves reflected in fiction is somehow less legitimate than the pleasure that “a male demographic, often current or recently retired military” takes in the same phenomenon.
(9) After Chris Meadows meets Michael Z. Williamson at the gun show, he reviews and approves Kate Paulk’s plans for SP4 – “Whether Sad Puppy or opposed, fans are people, too” .
That’s a much better way to approach the matter than coming up with a slate with just a small number of candidates, the way Brad Torgersen did last year. As Paulk points out later in the livestream, Torgersen didn’t fill every category on the Sad Puppy slate with five candidates, but its having fewer than five left room for the Rabids to come in and piggyback on them by putting five on theirs. It also resulted in some candidates that Puppies might have nominated, such as the Heinlein biography, getting left out because Torgersen didn’t know about them to put them on the slate. Listing all suggested nominees will make a lot more sense.
More importantly, it’s also the way that a lot of other places make Hugo recommendations. That’s how John Scalzi’s “Fans Award Recommendation Threads” work, for example—people plug stories they personally think are worthy and recommend that others read them. And people have historically been fine with that kind of thing. There’s no attempt there to make a specific list of just a few works in each category. There are also people out there attempting to list and discuss every possible eligible work for 2016, so people will know what’s available.
Torgersen might have meant the 2015 slate as a list of recommendations for things people should read and then nominate if they liked them (though he wasn’t really very clear about that in the original announcement), but the problem with a list that has just a few candidates on it is that a lot of people will choose to nominate it as-is without actually bothering to read the works on it. They might not feel like they have the kind of time it would take to read everything, but that list is right there and it’s easy to copy and paste. Hopefully more people will be moved to nominate stuff they actually read this year.
(10) Elton Gahr on Life, the Universe, and Sci-Fi – “My Controversial Opinion on the Hugo Awards”
I know I’m a bit late commenting on the Hugo awards, but the recent Hugo awards controversy annoyed me enough I wanted to comment with my own super controversial opinion on the Hugo awards. I apologize before I tell you because I know that it’s going to surprise and possibly upset some people, but the award for the best science fiction story, novel, etc should go to the, wait for it… Best story.
Basically what I’m saying is that most of the people involved in the argument are wrong regardless of which side you’re on (though I’ll admit if it makes you feel better that some are more wrong than others). If you’re voting for people instead of the work of fiction they wrote you’re wrong. I can understand not voting for someone if you really dislike them simply because you don’t want to support them. But voting for someone because they are a white male, a black Hispanic woman or an aboriginal Australian when you don’t believe their story is the best is just wrong and it doesn’t really matter why you’re doing it. Ignore the author and vote for the story you like the best. That’s what the award is for….
I have no problem with people putting together a list of stories that they think are the best though it seems clear that isn’t going to be a good idea. I’m also very pleased that more minorities and women are writing science fiction. Part of the reason I read science fiction is to see the world from the point of view of people who see it different from me. And if they write the best science fiction story in their respective categories they deserve to win, but honestly anyone who votes for them because they are a minority or a woman when they don’t believe it’s the best story is voting wrong.
So that’s basically it. My controversial opinion about the Hugo Awards is that the rabid people on both sides of this are idiots. If I heard someone saying that women or minorities shouldn’t be involved in science fiction I’d have a hard time not punching them in the face. It’s 2015 and we are supposed to be past that type of thing. But I really don’t feel much better about the people on the opposite extreme. If you won’t vote for someone just because they are a white male then there is no difference at all. If you assume someone is racist because they disagree about what the best story then you need to consider that they might just like something different than you and that’s O.K. and if you vote for someone who didn’t write the best story to make a political point you’re helping to prove the people on the other side right.
(11) Jonathan Jones in the Guardian – “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius”
It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.
No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.
I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon. In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.
(12) Damien G. Walter – “Sorry Jonesy, but I can write for the Guardian and love Terry Pratchett”
I never had the good fortune to meet Terry Pratchett, but I’ve been reading his books since I was eleven. My favourite Discworld tomes – Mort, Small Gods and Going Postal – have been read a half dozen times each at least. I also hold a Masters degree, have been a senior university lecturer, and am a columnist for The Guardian, the very same bastion of middlebrow values that Jonathan Jones penned his opportunistic attack on Terry Pratchett. Unlike Jones however, I see no conflict in being both an intelligent educated human being and loving the fuck out of Terry Pratchett’s discworld books.
(13) Christopher Priest – “You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You, Mister Jones?”
Finally, the works of Sir Terry Pratchett. I have been provoked to write this essay today by an article in the Guardian’s blog, by the newspaper’s arts correspondent Jonathan Jones. As a display of closed-minded prejudice, and an astonishing willingness to brag about it, there have been thankfully few precedents. Here is how Jones starts:
It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short. No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.
Unsurprisingly, the online comments on this pathetic piece of ignorant journalism have swarmed in (at the time of writing, just under one thousand), and for once almost all of them agree with each other. I will be surprised and disappointed if Mr Jones retains his job with the Guardian, at least in the capacity of an arts correspondent. I have rarely seen a letter of resignation so overtly and shamelessly revealing as this. I was forcibly reminded of a letter my old friend John Middleton Murry wrote to the Observer many years ago on another, not dissimilar, matter: ‘I note your organ does not have a reporter in Antarctica, and suggest that this would be a suitable posting for Mr Martin Amis.’
I should add that Terry Pratchett and I were respectful colleagues rather than personal friends. We knew each other better in the days when we were teenage hopefuls, trying to get our first stories sold. The years went by, we found our publishers and we went our separate ways. I doubt if Terry ever read my books – I read only a few of his. Terry does not need me to defend him – Jones’s article is contemptible.
But I would say that of all the writers I have ever known, or the books I have ever read, Terry Pratchett’s seem to be a dead cert for long-term classic status.
(14) Scott Lynch on Storify – “That awful, awful SJW message fiction”
(2) It's wall to wall female characters mixed in with male characters. Even in the military. Even the INFANTRY. This is treated as normal!
— Scott Lynch (@scottlynch78) August 31, 2015
(15) OK. Now it’s been said.
We got a great Best Novel in #hugoawards from the ISS but disappointed nobody said "No Award them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure!"
— Robot Archie (@RobotArchie) September 1, 2015
(16) Angelique Trouvere has a request:
I’ve attached the photo you included [in Toni Lay’s obituary] of the group shot from the early Trekcon with George Takei and I had a question that I hope you may be able to help me with:
There is a woman sitting next to Elyse on the far left–she’s wearing a red jacket and a white top with dots – she’s an old friend from the cons who moved to L.A shortly after that pic was taken. I visited her there but lost contact with her. It’s been so long that I can’t be sure if her first name is Barbara or Sharon. This photo was also published in Joan’s book, “The Making of the Star Trek Conventions” but it’s a grainy b/w. Would you know her or know someone who might?
If you have the answer e-mail me at mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com and I will pass it on to Ms. Trouvere.
(16) The one true reason why people are writers:
I have decided to give up writing and take up… umm… become… errr… yes, well, I guess writing it is, then.
— Kameron Hurley (@KameronHurley) September 1, 2015
(17) Just what do the Orks want anyway? Multiplexer gives this neglected sociological question extended thought at Critical Hits.
Generic evil for the sake of being evil is boring. The most banal and dull of demi-humans benefit from a bit of motivation, incentives, history and background. Why are the Orks in the dungeon? What do they get out of being in the dungeon? Did they come from a village? How is that village? Can the PCs learn anything about this culture while killing things and looting their stuff? Maybe they have something and the local magistrates want it more?
No one is what they seem and everything has little pull-able threads that unravel into a tapestry of background, story, and tale.
Or maybe the Murder Hobos only want to roll bad guys and take their stuff.
(18) We end today with this highly scientific excerpt from io9 – “Archeologists Tracked Lewis and Clark by Following Their Trail of Laxatives”
Eventually, researchers came across some information that helped clarify things… and that information came from their latrines. Lewis and Clark were fairly well-equipped and well-trained, even if only by the standards of the day. Given what those standards were, it’s surprising that they only lost one person during their trek. According to their own records, they bled people who were feverish, they gave purgatives to people who felt weak, and they administered potassium nitrate (a preservative substitute for salt) to people suffering from heat stroke and dehydration. They also brought along the wonder drug of the day, mercury chloride (otherwise known as calomel), as a pill, a tincture, and an ointment.
Calomel was often used to treat those with syphilis (mercury does work against the bacterium that causes syphilis, but it takes out the host as well, so don’t try it at home) along with nearly everything else, including constipation. And an expedition that ate mainly the game they could catch along the way would have suffered from constipation regularly. In their journals, Lewis and Clark regularly make note of someone having to take one of Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills (because constipation was thought to be caused by an excess of bile) and spending the day purging.
If you know that you and your men are going to spend a day expelling everything they’ve eaten for a week, you make sure to dig a latrine. Most of the mercury that the men ingested went out of the system again, which means that over a century later, historians and archaeologists were able to pin down where Lewis and Clark had stayed by testing old latrine contents for mercury.
[Thanks to Paul Weimer, Martin Morse Wooster, and John King Tarpinian for some of these links. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kurt Busiek, with a signal boost by Shambles .]