Puppies wee on your shoulders and tell you it’s rain

This is rather rich coming from the man who wanted to destroy the Hugos:

It should go without saying, but apparently I need to plainly state the blatantly obvious, everyone should read the nominations and vote honestly.

First you shit the bed, then you scold everybody else for wanting to clean the sheets. That seems to be the Puppy talking point du jour. Case in point, this douche:

Voting “No Award” over a work that one thinks has been “nominated inappropriately” is really a vote against the process of nomination, and should take place in a different venue, at the WorldCon business meetings where the Hugo rules can be discussed for possible change.

No.

That’s not how it works. That’s reinventing Hugo history and rules to suit your own cheating. This is another tactic straight from the Republicans’ Culture Wars playbook, an attempt to bind your opponents actions with rules and expectations you yourself aren’t bound with and which in any case you’re making up yourself. This working the refs has had far more success than it should’ve in American politics largely because of the braindead political media swallowing it hook, line and sinker. Not so much in fandom though. Nobody with any familiarity of Worlcon fandom’s history and culture believes that it’s dishonest to vote No Award over any nomination that got there through blatant slate voting, or that fans have a duty to be “fair” to nominations which stole their place on the ballot. That didn’t work when the scientologists did it, nor will it fly when it’s a bunch of whiny crybabies running cover for a racist asshole wanting to promote his vanity press.

My gods it’s full of puppy poo!

This year, more then ever, the Hugo Voting Packet resembles the curate’s egg: parts of it are good, other parts not so much:

The packet contains the full text of three Hugo-nominated novels, The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, plus excerpts of Skin Game by Jim Butcher and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie.

That gets you two of last year’s best novels and nobody will force you to read the Kevin J. Anderson. Many of the other categories are of course soiled with Puppy droppings you don’t want even if free, but there are some gems among the dross. Especially so in the Best Graphic Story category, with no Puppy nominee included and complete PDFs of Sex Criminals Vol. 1, Saga Vol. 3, Ms Marvel Vol. 1 and Rat Queens Vol. 1.

Though the Hugo Voting Packet should be seen as a bonus, rather than an inalienable part of buying a supporting membership for Worldcon, for plenty of people this of course has been the main benefit of membership, after getting to vote for the Hugos and all that. For those people this year’s packet is far from a bargain, despite the presence of the books listed above. Another reason to smack down the Puppies..

Showcase Sunday: The Atom

cover of Showcase Presents: The Atom Volume One


Showcase Presents: The Atom, Volume 1
Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson and friends
Reprints Showcase #34-36, The Atom #1-17
Get this for: Gorgeous Gil Kane art and more inventive than usual Gardner Fox scripts

Though it isn’t quite true that the sixties renaissance at Marvel was due to the work of three men: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, it is more true than false, in contradiction to DC. There the whole Silver Age revolution took place while the company as a whole went on with business as usual. The Batman and Superman titles would largely stay out of it until the mid-sixties and there wasn’t an equivalent to that core of Lee, Kirby and Ditko driving everything. Therefore there was much less of a house style to DC’s superhero titles, as we can see if we compare Carmine Infantine’s work on The Flash with Gil Kane’s work here, on The Atom. Both in their own way are emblemic of DC’s Silver Age, but even when both are inked by Murphy Anderson, you couldn’t mistake the one for the other.

Like the Flash, the Atom got his tryout in Showcase, which by the time he got his spot, had perfected its formula: three sequential issues, followed by another three if needed, or in the case of the Atom, directly into his own magazine. As with The Flash, most issues of The Atom had two stories, with the second often dedicated to the Atom’s adventures in time thanks to professor Hyatt’s time pool, introduced in issue three, which also saw the debut of Chronos the Time Thief. Of course, like the Flash, the Atom was a reworking of an existing DC superhero, in this case just a bruiser whose small stature and his girlfriend mocking him for it set him on a path to fight crime — in the Golden Age this was actually one of the more complicated origins.

Gil Kane showing of his sense of kinestics

Sixties Atom was much more interesting of course, based in a science fictional origin. A piece of white dwarf star matter had fallen to earth near Ivy Town, where scientist Ray Palmer (named after Amazing Stories editor Raymond A. Palmer) found it and experimented with it. Palmer was attempting to find a reliable way to shrink down objects for reasons and thought the white dwarf fragment could help. In the end it turned out he could use it to shrink himself down with, but nothing was stable. So enter the Atom, the world’s tiniest crime fighter. Having not just the ability to shrink, but also to regulate his weight, moving from feather light to his “full 180 pounds weight” while six inch heigh, means the Atom can move about quickly while giving him a concentrated punch when needed. It also means Gil Kane gets to do a lot of great action scenes, utilising his skills to the fullest. His Atom is constantly in motion, hopping, punching, using the environment to reach his opponents and knock them out.

The Atom gets bonked on his head more than Hal Jordan

Talking about getting knocked out, that’s something the Atom himself does a lot too, almost as much as Hal Jordan is over in Green Lantern. Almost every story when the writer feels the need to drag a fight out or slightly complicate matters, something accidently falls on the Atom’s head, or some crook flails wildly and just manages to hit him, or something else happens that makes it all slightly less one sided. Though hilariously dumb when taken out of context, it does make sense in the sort of fights he gets into, with thugs flying everywhere and crashing into furniture as the Atom yanks their legs out from under them. Nevertheless it’s a miracle he never suffered a concussion; he should’ve been as punch drunk as an ex-NFL player by now. But it’s perhaps only when reading so many of these stories one after the other that formulas like this become noticable. These are after all still stories meant to be discarded, with little attention paid from issue to issue to continuity; it also must’ve helped that The Atom appeared bimonthly. You wonder if the original readers noticed these things or not…

As said, there’s little in the way of continuity in these stories, bar the occasionally reappearance of certain villains or crooks. Like Barry Allen in The Flash, Ray Palmer shows up complete with a girlfriend and like Linda West, she’s a professional woman, working as a criminal lawyer, not wanting to marry until she’s proven herself as a lawyer. A hint of feminism there? Of course, in the Comics Code world of Silver Age DC, she’s the sort of criminal lawyer who only defends the innocent, usually her friends, so you wonder how busy she is…. But it is interesting to see how many of DC’s early Silver Age heroes had working girlfriends: Flash, the Atom, Green Lantern and of course Hawkman and Hawkgirl. A far cry from the childish antics of the Lois Lane/Superman “relationship”.

Gardner Fox was of course a veteran comics and pulp writer already when he wrote The Atom and what I like about his scripts is that he often bases them on some piece of scientific or historical or even legal knowledge, which is then dutifully footnoted, only for it to get all crazy as only a silver Age DC comic can. All done seriously, but in one story based on how lactic acid builds up in muscles, you have the crook ironing the Atom to give him precognosis because apparantly that buildup gives off “ato-energy” which in turn caused precognosis!

To be honest, in the end you rarely read these comics for the story, but rather for the great Gil Kane art, which comes out very well in black and white indeed.

Supergirl



I sort of see why people were mocking this when it first came out a couple of days ago, what with looking more rom-comy than superheroy in places, but really this looks fun. A superhero who actually wants to be a superhero and has fun doing it? Not to mention that it looks like this is basically the same way Superman was introduced all the way back in the first Christopher Reeves movie, with the wanting to be normal, the clumsiness and awkwardness, even the picking out a costume scene.

A bit more soap opera in your superhero adventure isn’t a bad thing; that’s how Marvel got so big after all, it keeps your heroes grounded and it makes it more interesting than just an endless stream of hero vs villain fights.

the only things I could’ve done without were the awkward gay joke in the middle and the inevitable secret government service keeping taps of superheroes being hostile without reason, especially not when it’s yet another Gruff Black Military Guy.

Puppy proofing the Hugos

So now we’ve had three years of increased Puppy manipulation of the Hugos, culminating in this year’s disaster in which a clique of rightwing whingers functioned as cover for a fascist bellend to get his vanity publishing project on the ballot. Cue much justified outrage, but what are we going to do about it so next year won’t be a repeat? For this year we all should vote no award over all Puppy entries, but how to make sure next year we don’t have to do it again?

To be honest, Worldcon fandom has been caught with its pants down by the Puppies, too slow to react to the first two attempts to game the Hugos. We all thought, and I was no exception, that after the Puppy nominees were trashed in the actual voting last year, the spoiled brats behind it would get the hint and fuck off. Instead they doubled down. And because of the deliberately slow ways in which Worldcon rules can be adapted, any change now will take two years to come into effect. Though I’m not sure any rule change will eliminate the Puppy threat, there are a couple of interesting proposals, the most complicated one at Making Light. But again, even if that one passed, it would still need confirmation at next year’s Worldcon and only come into effect in 2017.

The other method of preventing slate voting has been social control: until the Puppies, few people have tried it because it’s Just Not Done. Only outsiders, like the Scientologists, attempted it and those were punished quickly. With the Puppies though, that isn’t working anymore, or at least not to the extent it used to. They’re caught up in their rightwing culture war victim complex and hence insensitive to these kind of appeals. It’s still worth keeping that pressure up though, so nobody approached for participation in a Puppy slate has ignorance as an excuse. Meaning only those fully invested in the Puppy narrative will be onboard and fewer “innocents” are hurt.

But what we really need to realise is that the Puppies are just a symptom of the problems the Hugos have. An exceptionally annoying symptom, but a symptom nonetheless. The real problem is, and has been for years, is the number of people voting and especially nominating. Less than 1900 people voted for the Best Novel Hugo, the category with the most votes; 2122 ballots in total were sent in. That’s not much for a potential voting audience spanning last year’s, this year’s and next year’s Worldcon membership. This is where we need to improve and this is something that can be improved almost immediately.

LonCon3 had over 10,000 members: get all those to nominate and slate buying becomes slightly more expensive. But how do you get them to vote? Once LonCon3 was over, it was up to Sasquan to rally voters, but that only started in January, or four months later, far too late for those not into core Worldcon fandom to remember to nominate. What’s needed therefore is for the nomination process to open earlier, something which the WSFS rules don’t say anything about, so which can be done without needing that lengthy rule changing process. And while it is easier for a Worldcon to only start considering nominations in January, I think this is important enough to justify that added difficulty.

What I would like to see is having electronic nomination ballots open as soon as possible, either in January of the eligible year (e.g. January 2015 for 2016 nominations) or, if that’s too confusing, too much of a hassle, perhaps after the previous Worldcon has finished (September 1 for the most part). That way it also becomes easier for those already involved to keep a running tally for the year. It would also need not just opening the nominations, but promoting the nomination process as well. Get the members of the previous Worldcon involved, get them enthusiastic about nominating. It’s something next year’s Worldcon, MidAmeriConII, could start up already.

So let’s see if they’re up for it.

2014 noticable SFF novels

UPDATE 22 May: Added the Lambda LGBT sf/fantasy/horror nominees minuse the two short story collections to the list of nominations.

What with most of the major SFF awards having announced their nominees, or even winners, save for the Gemmel Award for Best Fantasy and the World Fantasy Award, it’s possible to make a list of the most critically acclaimed novels published last year. The Puppy candidates for the Best Novel Hugo have of course been omitted, as they cheated to get on the list. I’ll update it once more nominations and winners are known.

Looking at the list and the large number of singularly nominations, there’s a large spread in what the various awards think is noticable science fiction and fantasy, with not much overlap between the UK and US based awards. Genderwise there are thirty men nominated and twentyfour women, with the latter so far having the upperhand six to one in actual wins. What’s interesting if slightly disappointing is that Sarah Tolmie’s The Stone Boatsmen, one of the best novels I read last year, hasn’t been nominated anywhere. At least Corinne Duyvis’ Otherbound got a honourable mention at the Tiptrees.

Award Winners (with nominations and which award won in parentheses0:

  • The Girl in the Road — Monica Byrne (1, Tiptree)
  • The Book of the Unnamed Midwife — Meg Elison (1, PKD Award)
  • Viper Wine — Hermione Eyre (1, Kitschies)
  • Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie (4, BSFA)
  • Grasshopper Jungle — Andrew Smith (1, Kitschies)
  • Station Eleven — Emily St John Mandel (2, Clarke)
  • My Real Children — Jo Walton (1, Tiptree)

Multiple Award nominees – in order of number:

  • The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu (5)
  • Memory of Water — Emmi Itäranta (4)
  • The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison (3)
  • The Race — Nina Allan (3)
  • Elysium — Jennifer Marie Brissett (3)
  • The Peripheral — William Gibson (3)
  • Europe in Autumn — Dave Hutchinson (3)
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August — Claire North (3)
  • Lagoon — Nnedi Okorafor (3)
  • Area X Trilogy — Jeff VanderMeer (3)
  • A Darkling Sea — James L. Cambias (2)
  • Wolves — Simon Ings (2)
  • Lock In — John Scalzi (2)

Singulars:

  • Half a King — Joe Abercrombie
  • The Doubt Factory — Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Steles of the Sky — Elizabeth Bear
  • City of Stairs — Robert Jackson Bennett
  • The Girl with All the Gifts — M. R. Carey
  • Waistcoasts & Weaponry — Gail Carriger
  • The Clockwork Dagger — Beth Cato
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — Becky Chambers
  • FutureDyke — Lea Daley
  • Child of a Hidden Sea — A. M. Dellamonica
  • The Bullet-Cather’s Daughter — Rod Duncan
  • The Book of Strange New Things — Michel Faber
  • Trial by Fire — Charles E. Gannon
  • Full Fathom Five — Max Gladstone
  • Afterparty — Daryl Gregory
  • The Magician’s Land — Lev Grossman
  • Afterparty — Daryl Gregory
  • Cuckoo Song — Frances Hardinge
  • The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley
  • Ascension — Jacqueline Koyanagi (actually a 2013 novel)
  • Coming Home — Jack McDevitt
  • Empress of the Sun — Ian McDonald
  • Defenders — Will McIntosh
  • Clariel — Garth Nix
  • The Bees — Laline Paul
  • Raising Steam Terry Pratchett
  • Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches — Cherie Priest
  • The Memory Garden — Mary Rickert
  • Bête — Adam Roberts
  • A Better World — Marcus Sakey
  • The Emperor’s Blades — Brian Staveley
  • Influx — Daniel Suarez
  • Butcher’s Road — Lee Thomas
  • Echopraxia — Peter Watts
  • The Martian — Andy Weir
  • The Way Inn — Will Wiles
  • The Moon King — Neil Williamson
  • The People in the Trees — Hanya Yanagihara

Below is the list of awards I’ve taken into consideration. I’ll add the results for the WFA and Gemmel once they come out. Only finalists or winners have been looked at. Because some awards have multiple novel categories (e.g. the Kitschies have two: one for best novel, one for best first novel) the number of winners will be greater than the number of awards.

Omdat



Bloem was a Dutch band who had their greatest hit with a somewhat corny song a couple of years before this one, a true one hit wonder. I stumbled across this one on one of those nostalgia tv channels; it’s been years since I last heard it. Only a minor hit, a darkly cynical pisstake off the inferiory complex of Dutch language pop singers, “because French is so much more romantic and English more mature”, at a time when the Nederpop boom was just gathering steam. The eighties were a time when a new generation of Dutch musicians, inspired by punk and its d.i.y. ethos no longer wanted to imitate English or American pop but went to sing in their own language. But sadly for Bloem it was too late. A couple of decent songs, two albums and lack of support from their record company meant they called it quits in 1983.

The Baen fallacy

Eric Flint is one of Baen’s old guard of authors, somebody who has been writing and editing for Baen since at least the nineties. He’s also one of the more insightful of Baen’s stable of authors, being an old lefty rather than a rightwinger, though it’s only noticeable in his fiction because his gun toting heroes defending the American way of life are unionised. Whereas a Larry Correia or Brad Torgersen show little evidence of thinking things through, acting purely on rightwing reflexes, blaming everybody else for their failures to get Hugo nominations, seeing conspiracies in the everyday actions of fandom, Flint thinks much more nuanced and sophisticated about why the Hugo Awards have failed to reward much of the sort of science fiction Baen publishes. Unlike them, he isn’t so much looking for excuses as for looking for explanations. He’s still wrong though, but he’s interestingly wrong and he provides as clear headed a defence of what I like to call the Baen fallacy as is possible:

But, sooner or later, that stops being sufficient for the in-crowds. At first, they want more than just a good story. Which, in and of itself, is fair enough. The problem is that as time goes by “more than just a good story” often starts sliding into “I really don’t care how good the story is, it’s the other stuff that really matters.”

Eventually, form gets increasingly elevated over content. “Originality” for its own sake, something which the mass audience cares very little about—and neither did Homer or Shakespeare—becomes elevated to a preposterous status. And what withers away, at least to some degree, is a good sense of what skills are involved in forging a story in the first place.

To put it another way, every successful author has to master two skills which, although related, are still quite distinct: they have to be good story-tellers; and they have to be good writers.

Of those two skills, being a terrific story-teller but a journeyman writer will win you a mass audience, and is likely to keep it. On the flip side, being a journeyman story-teller but a terrific wordsmith will win you critical plaudits but won’t usually get you much in the way of an audience.

Before I explain why Flint is largely wrong about the Hugos, I do want to acknowledge that he gets two things right, in that I mostly agree with him that a) the SFF field has become too big for any one award to keep its finger on the pulse off and b) that the way the awards are structured exacerbates this, with various categories that perhaps made more sense historically than they do now. But he goes further than that.

His idea is that the Hugo Awards have lost their relevance not just for the above two reasons, but also because the Hugo voters have become elitist and out of touch with popular tastes in science fiction, something the Puppies have also alleged, but which Flint is smart enough to know isn’t through conspiracy, but rather for perfectly natural reasons. The problem remains that this just isn’t true and doesn’t explain anything that couldn’t have been explained by his first two arguments.

If anything, the Hugo Award over the past three decades has always trended towards rewarding middlebrow books or stories; just look at that list of Best Novel winners and nominees. You can say a lot about winners like Scalzi, Willis or Jo Walton, but not that they “elevate form over content”. Even last year’s winner, Ancillary Justice is a familiar sort of space opera only enlivened by its novel use of pronouns.

Neither does his implied comparison of Hugo voters to jaded art critics hold water. Even apart from the fact the Hugo voters renew themselves each years solely through Worldcon moving cities each year, the hardcore Hugo voters are largely ordinary fans, not professional critics and even if a large portion of those are professional SFF writers, as the Nebulas have shown, this is no guarantee for enlightened tastes. If there’s any conclusion you can make about Hugo voters, it’s that by and large they like familiar sorts of SFF, ambitious but safe, by authors they already know. Also that this tendency perhaps is worse at smaller Worldcons based in the American heartland. Case in point: Scalzi’s Redshirts won when the Worldcon was held in Texas.

But there’s more wrong with Flint’s argument than that neither the Hugo track record nor its voters fit his characterisation and this is the Baen Fallacy: that idea that critically acclaimed is always and forever in conflict with popular taste, as if Dhalgren never sold a million copies. It’s a core tenent of what you might call the Baen philosophy of publishing science fiction, which leads to the idea that sales figures are the only true measure of quality and that “story telling” always trumps any other consideration. There’s also this idea that there’s this silent majority of Baen readers out there not bothering with the Hugos or much of SF fandom who are the true fans because they buy the books, and, in its pernicious form, that “elitist” fans and publishers keep them down, content to take their money but sneering at them all the time.

Course, it was Baen itself which said their readers liked their books to have the same sort of consistency and interchangeableness of Del Monte canned fruit, so who is sneering at who exactly? It fits in well with Torgersen’s idea that real fans like books that are the same as every other book they’ve read, just like their cereal. Again, it’s the supposed populist sneering at his own readers tastes and they lapping it up. But the Hugo voters are elitists?

What seems to have started as a commercial strategy by the late Jim Baen to distinguish his new publishing venture from other science fiction publishers has metastasised into a massive inferiority and persecution complex. Baen himself, conservative as he was in his politics, has never let those stand in the way of publishing both good and commercially viable science fiction and fantasy, was never under any illusion about the qualities of his bread and butter authors like Flint, Ringo or Weber. He aimed his advertising at those who just wanted a good yarn and damn the writing qualities, but his followers seem to have mistaken this advertising for reality and worse, seem to believe everybody thinks this way or lies.

But if we come back to Dhalgren, the most difficult book by one of the most literary minded writers of science fiction, who’d go on to write a series of postmodern fantasies and yet this was a million seller. In the Baen worldview, this was only possible because everybody bought it to look cool or hip or intelligent and not because they genuinely liked it. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Rather, Dhalgren is the poster child for the idea that critically acclaimed, difficult books can be bestsellers and often are. Sometimes the Hugos even recognise them.