Sounds ominous…

Teresa Nielsen Hayden hears distant rumblings of discontent in fandom, possibly having to do with the Hugo Award nominations this year. It might just be that the Sad Puppies campaigners — happy to function as foot soldiers on another front in the right wing’s kulturkampf — has gotten its act together and managed to bulk vote its slate onto the ballots. The question is, given that this is true, is this a problem?

In the short term, yes, as it will mean other, more deserving candidates get excluded from the ballot, which in most categories is limited to five places, occassionally one or two more when multiple nominations get the same amount of votes. Slate voting like this, even if it can only get one or two candidates in each category and they have no real chance at the Hugo itself, means others will lose out on these places. And Hugo nominations can be important, especially for new writers, to establish a reputation as being worthwhile to pay attention to. Losing out on this because somebody thought making a political point is more important than actually rewarding good writers is bitter.

In the slightly longer term, if those who oppose the Sad Puppies are tempted to do the same as they, the damage may be greater. The Hugo Awards have been problematic for a long time, voted on by what you could uncharitably call a clique of ageing fans, but was starting to evolve away from this in recent years, the backlash against which erupted last year with the first Puppies slate. Remaking the Hugos into a popularity contest of warring politically motivated slates will put an end to this evolution. The same if we attempt to invent rules that makes this sort of slate pushing illegal.

Normally I’m not one to say we should just ignore the trolls, but perhaps in this instance we should. Voting in the Hugo costs money and to keep it up year after year in such a way as to be effective even more so. This campaign will run out of steam sooner or later but can do some real damage if we let them in the meantime. In this case what we need to do is to keep nominating and voting those writers and books we genuinely think are worthy of a Hugo, not engage the Puppies on their own level.

This makes no sense, but that’s libertarians

Well, this is nice and loony. Holly Lisle quits the SFWA because taxation is evil:

SFWA moved from Massachusetts to California for the purpose of allowing SFWA to claim tax dollars to offer grants. I’m aware that there were other—good—reasons for the organization’s move, but this particular poison pill in the changes made to SFWA requires me to walk away and never look back.

[...]

“Giving” grants taken from tax dollars is nothing less than theft of taxpayer money. This action forces people who have no interest in the careers of writers receiving grants to support those writers’ work, no matter how distasteful, badly written, or objectionable they might find it.

The first thing I don’t understand about this, apart from the general libertarian looniness of thinking of taxes as theft, is why Lisle waited so long, as the SFWA members voted about this in 2011. Why wait fopur years to get indignant?

But she also seems to have misunderstood what exactly the SFWA gained from this: not direct grants from the government, but tax deductability of donations to the organisations as well as the ability to hand grants rather than loans to members in dire straights. Both are fairly standard for charities and I don’t understand why this would be a problem even for the most hardcore of libertarians. She should be glad the government misses out on money it could’ve claimed.

Imagicon report

looking out over the main hall of Imagicon

Imagicon was the first Dutch science fiction convention I’ve gone to in well over a decade. It’s a new, one day con running for the second year and wasn’t quite what I expected. Before we get to the meat of my con experience, first a couple of (minor) criticisms. First up, as you can see from the picture above (barely) the main room, with all the dealer and other stands, had to be reached down a spiral staircase which was a bit awkward even for me, but I couldn’t spot quite how people unable to take those stairs could get down. The panel rooms too had to be navigated by stairs. Since I saw at least one person in a wheelchair pootling around the con this wasn’t an insurmountable problem, but a bit more sign posting at least would’ve helped. That in fact was my second issue with the con: lack of easily accesible information and hype about the guests of honour. It was great meeting Alastair Reynolds, but he seemed remarkably sparsly attended and the con didn’t seem to have publicised his coming that much.

Terry Pratchet - Going Postal cosplay

But than what the majority of congoers seemed to be going to the con for wasn’t authors or panels, but cosplay. Now cosplay isn’t quite my thing, in that I’m far from knowledgable about that part of fandom, but it was great seeing so many people doing wonderful things with costumes and dressing up. What struck me was how friendly and genuinely welcoming all these cosplayers seemed, both to each other and the people pestering them for pictures, even at the end of the con. This in fact could be said of the whole con. The staff and volunteers were efficient and helpful, there didn’t seem to have been any awkward incidents and the con was on the ball enough to have its code of conduct rules up bright and visible. There was a weapons check station immediately after the entrance frex; another sign of how cosplay orientated the con is?

One of several proper Thors

In the cosplay several themes dominated. There was a surfeit of Doctors, plenty of superhero movie & game cosplayers, including three Jokers and at least two Black Widows (but oddly enough only one Hawkeye) as well as several Lokis and Thors, like the one to the left. All of which incidentally cosplayed by women — considering the new, female Thor outsells the old, male one not that surprising perhaps. But there were also more idiosyncratic choices, like Moist from Lipwig above. I’m not quite sure about the gender mix of the cosplayers, but it seemed to me the women were in a slight majority, though the all male Ghostbuster squad made up a lot. Most of the cosplayers seemed to be in their early twenties or even younger, (though there was also one elderly Pratchett wizard walking around), a good sign for a new convention. If Imagicon can keep hold off and expand on this audience, it should be in for a long run. It’s also good for fandom as a whole to have such a successful convention of course. Perhaps next year it could expand for an entire weekend?

Helsinki in 2017

There were pockets of old skool fandom as well amongst all the cosplay. The NCSF, the oldest existing fan organisation in the Netherlands was represented with a stand, as was the Worldcon, as you can see above. It’s not so much that you expect hordes of people to sign up on the spot, but it helps to be visible, explain to people who only vaguely know about Worldcon what it’s all about and hopefully get some enthusiasm going for Helsinki in 2017. I put a stint in as well, for roughly an hour; I also met up with Emma England, from Dublin 2019 and may have agreed to volunteer.

diversity in fandom panel

The highlight of the con for me was the diversity in fandom panel, which featured, from left to right Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Carolyn Chang, Marieke Nijkamp as moderator, Corinne Duyvis & Marilyn Monster. Diversity is of course something fandom is struggling with and it was good to see it tackled even at a con like this, not the first place I’d expected it. The panel was lively, with everybody contributing in a relative equal matter and it was good to hear so many different perspectives. The audience was engaged as well, asking some good questions, with no nitwits to drone about some irrelevancy. The moderation was done with a deft hand, a serious of loose questions guiding the panel and with a good eye for audience questions.

a drama of cosplayers

Quite a contrast to the other panel I went through, which was undermanned as it was only two blokes, talking about a similar subject, Fandoms: a Critical Eye, supposedly about the schisms and fighting between and within various fandoms. They meant well, but with no moderator and too limited a spectrum of opinion it never quite came of the ground. That one of the panelists was the classic older pedant didn’t help. Again, he meant well, but put his foot in his mouth several times. It needed moderation to keep to the subject and a wider range of people to actually be on the panel. A bigger audience would’ve helped as well..

Umbrella, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Leia

On the whole this was a great convention to kickstart my con season; Eastercon’s beckoning in two weeks. I bought some books, volunteered a bit, met up with a friend, got to meet some interesting new people all too briefly, had a chat with Alastair Reynolds who recognised me from Twitter, all in all a good con. Can’t wait for next year.

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!

For more cosplay and other pictures, take a look at Willem Hilhorst’s Facebook page.

Wolfhound Century — Peter Higgins

Cover of Wolfhound Century


Wolfhound Century
Peter Higgins
303 pages
published in 2013

Despite buying more books than’s probably good for me, I still keep a library membership and thanks to that I still end up finding science fiction or fantasy writers and books I wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Case in point: Peter Higgins Wolfhound Century, which I saw lying on the pile of new fiction books near the entrance and whose cover drew my attention. Reading the back cover blurb and the first few pages was enough to take a punt on it. They confirmed what the cover artwork seemed to suggest, that this was a fantasy novel inspired by Soviet Russia, not a setting you see much in fantasy.

The protagonist, investigator Vissation Lom, is the classic honest cop in a totalitarian system and his honesty has of course made him enemies. Nevertheless he’s one of the best investigators in Vlast, which is why he has been summoned to the capital Mirgorod by the head of the secret police. He is to stop and catch Josef Kantor, a terrorist protected by powerful forces from within the Vlast security apparatus itself. Without ties to any of the political factions in the capital or the security services, Lom is hoped to have a better chance at getting Kantor.

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Friday Funnies: Lighten Up

panel from Ronald Wimberlys Lighten Up

“Lighten Up” is a comic Ronald Wimberly created about his feelings when an editor asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character in a Wolverine comic. As told, it’s one of those incidents you could call micro aggressions, one of those moments where the (unconsciously) racist assumptions underpinning (American) society come to the fore. If you’re not subject to them they can be easily overlooked or dismissed, but as seen here, they do resonate.

What got me thinking is when Wimberly aks whether a black editor would’ve asked him to change that skin colour only to note that he’s never had a black editor in twelve years working in comics. Because Marvel has had black editors in the past; Christopher Priest and Dwayne McDuffie frex. But they’re still rare to non-existent enough at the big comics companies for somebody to be able to work for over a decade without ever encountering one. And that’s a worry, because without people of colour, black people in positions of power within comics, the concerns of their readers and creators of colour will always come second.

Apart from its message, I just like the comic itself. It can be hard not to make a non-fiction comic into a succession of talking heads and static shots with most information carried through the text but Wimberly succeeded admirably. If you just had the text to read you’d miss so much; the continuous juxtaposition with html colour codes frex, or his use of Manet’s Olympia, or that “pin the tail on the racist” panel, a great example of text and drawing contradicting each other.

Reaper Man — Terry Pratchett

Cover of Reaper Man


Reaper Man
Terry Pratchett
287 pages
published in 1991

Even before rereading the day after pTerry’s death, Reaper Man was mired in grieving for me. Because I reread it in 2012, the year after Sandra’s death, when I had fallen back on Pratchett’s Discworld series as comfort reading, something to lose yourself in and forget for a while. And then I hit Reaper Man, in which DEATH has been retired by the Auditors for having become too human, has to find a new living as BILL DOOR and a fragile, predoomed romance starts between him and Miss Flitworth, the never married widow he ends up working as a farmhand for. It’s a novel about death and life and humanity and the essence of it is captured by what DEATH argues at the climax of it:

LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?

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Wrestling isn’t wrestling



In an alternate timeline, if WWF wrestling had had slightly more coverage in the Netherlands in the mid-eighties, rather than being banished to the post-midnight slot on Superchannel/Sky Channel, I would’ve become a wrestling nerd rather than a comix nerd. This video gives a great example of the appeal of wrestling when, as everybody knows, it isn’t real. Starring some people you may recognise.

Long Live the Queen — HA!

Loading screen from Long Live the Queen

Kim Nguyen plays Long Live the Queen

Hanako Games’ Long Live the Queen is a princess story all about facets and demanding respect. You play as Princess Elodie, who must replace her late mother as queen by the end of the year. It’s a princess power fantasy where you learn all about Elodie’s world so that she may navigate politics both at home and abroad and survive attempts on her life. It’s a brutal game, as you learn how to progress by failing and/or dying repeatedly. It’s maddening for perfectionists.

skills menu from Long Live the Queen

Long Live the Queen is one of those deceptively simple spreadsheet simulator games where the appeal is that it is really, horribly, unfairly difficult. Basically the only decisions you can take is what classes to send Elodie to, how she spends her weekend to help change her mood to get bonuses in her classes and hope you can take the right decisions during the cut scenes, which is when all the action happens. Some of the crisis events are triggered, some are random, some unavoidable but all you can only prepare for either by accident or because you’ve played it before and died. (Unless you cheated and had the wiki open next to it.)

Elodie looking depressed from Long Live the Queen

Not a game with much of a visual glamour going on, so if that’s your bag, this is not for you. At best you get scenes like this, with princess Elodie looking at you depressed, angry or happy depending on her exact mood. All the real interest is in beating the story, which has set you up for failure. Having played it for a couple of hours, I can say it’s really frustrating to be blindsided by something you have recovery of; it needs an entirely different mindset to play than the sort of game I normally play, where there’s always room to correct a mistake you make. Here, you die and have to restart.

An all too familiar ending from Long Live the Queen

So instead you have to find out the perfect combination of skill training and luck to make it through the crisises that hound you and hope the game has mercy on you. But it probably won’t.