Giving Fredric Jameson the side eye

Quick, which famous cyberpunk novel is recapped here:

On one of those, this is a heist or caper story, in which a group of characters has been assembled to steal a valuable property (in the event a computer hard drive) from the advanced computer of a powerful transgalactic corporation, whose headquarters is based on a satellite in space. In fact, this ostensible corporate theft turns out to be an elaborate screen for something quite different, namely the junction of the two gigantic computers of these rival corporations, and their unification into the most powerful force in the universe (a story not without its family likeness to Ray Kurzwell’s influential fantasy of the post-human “spike,” and in fact already filmed in the 1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project).”

Fredric Jameson thinks it’s Neuromancer. His essay was linked to on Mefi last night and the extract annoyed and intrigued me in equal measure:

“I merely want to remind us that cyberspace is a literary invention and does not really exist, however much time we spend on the computer every day. There is no such space radically different from the empirical, material room we are sitting in, nor do we leave our bodies behind when we enter it, something one rather tends to associate with drugs or the rapture. But it is a literary construction we tend to believe in; and, like the concept of immaterial labor, there are certainly historical reasons for its appearance at the dawn of postmodernity which greatly transcend the technological fact of computer development or the invention of the Internet.”

It’s a conclusion that you could argue is (trivially) true but misses the point of cyberspace and it would be interesting to follow Jameson’s reasoning, but if he’s wrong about something as fundamental to the argument as the plot of the novel he’s basing his critique on and something so trivially checkable, how can I trust the rest of his argument, that he’s honest or careful with the rest of his sources?

Cry little Puppy, cry

Some little shit keen to ride a neonazi’s coattails to imagined Hugo success whinges about being called dishonest:

I did nothing dishonest. The puppies did nothing dishonest. They played by the rules. You know, I get that you object to the fact that they participated. But you have no grounds for saying that I or anyone else did anything dishonest here.

What you’re doing is ugly. It’s just plain ugly. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

For all the internet hard mannery eminating from the Pups, boy are they thin skinned. That seems to be a rightwing trait: not only wanting to win, honestly or otherwise, but wanting their enemies to admire them for doing so, rolling over on cue. But that’s something puppies do, isn’t it?

Puppy persecution complex

Only in Puppy land is being nominated for the John W. Campbell Award, arguably the highest honour a new SFF writer can get, evidence for a massive conspiracy against and persecution of, Mormon writers:

Both were nominated for the Campbell Award for Best new writer in their first year of eligibility. They didn’t win. Now, that award allows you two years of eligibility, and over the years many writers have has two shots at winning – but neither Larry nor Brad were even nominated in their second years of eligibility.

Reality check: in 2011, Larry was one of five Cambell nominees out of a field of at least 107 candidates; in 2012, while Brad had slightly less competition when he was nominated, only 104. In other words, you have roughly a ten percent change of even getting one nomination during that two year window.

There’s no need to invent conspiracies to “explain” why neither Brad nor Larry won a second nomination; they should be glad they got even one when most of their peers didn’t.

If you want to change the Hugos, understand their history

Okay, I don’t want to begrudge anybody their Hugo rant — ghu knows I’ve written enough and in fact I’d agree with quite a bit of this criticism:

Okay, I’ve been rambling on for too long, but basically it comes down to this: most of the categories of the Hugo Awards are not fit for purpose. They are dependent on knowledge that the voter cannot have, or they make distinctions that are irrelevant to most voters, or they require comparison between items that cannot sensibly be compared. And these problems, or variations of them, extend into just about every one of the 16 categories there currently are in the Hugo Awards. It’s a systemic problem that ties in with the problems of governance and the problems of relevance that I have already highlighted.

But.

It lacks something, something that I’ve only begun to understand the importance of thanks to the slow rolling Puppy disaster of the last few years, and that’s a) a willingness to engage with the Hugos and the WSFS as it is, not as you’d want it to be and b) any sign of understanding the history behind it. If you’d design an award from the ground up, you wouldn’t have ended up with the Hugos as they are; if you had a proper board to organise it, you might end up with something like the Oscars.

But you don’t.

The Hugos are the way they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses because they’re the result of a decades long specific democratic process and the 2015 categories and rules are the fossilised remains of this process. You cannot understand the Hugos properly unless you not only know that the Best Semi-prozine category was created to shield all other fanzines from the Locus juggernaut, but also that the same sort of thing happened with the Best podcast category, the long struggle to get comics recognised properly and why there are two editorial categories and what went before that.

And not only that, you need to know the process and rules under which these changes are made, like the proposers of E Pluribus Hugo frex do seem to. You need to understand how the business meetings work as well as why and how it was established, even without Kevin Standlee to prompt you. You need to be a bit of a process nerd to be honest. (You also need to realise that much of this was designed by Americans, who seem to have a national weakness for over complicated voting systems with huge barriers to entry…)

This bone deep understanding and awareness of what is and isn’t possible given the history and current structure of WSFS and the Hugos is likely why people like Kevin Standlee might be a bit dismissive of such criticsm as well as looking overly lawyerly. That’s the risk of being an insider, you have a much better grasp on the mechanism of the system and less of an idea of what it looks like from the outside

But what you should also realise is that knowning this history and being familiar with the whole process more than likely also gives you an overwhelming sense of how fragile the whole structure is, how easy it is for a well intended proposal or rules change to damage or destroy WSFS. I see a deep fear and wariness behind that “slow and prone to complexify process, a desire to err on the side of caution, knowning how close it has come to all going kablooey.

That’s not to see genuine criticism and real change isn’t possible, but you do have to be aware of the limitations you’d be working under and know it will take more than a few blogposts to make it so. At best such a blogpost can function as a rallying cry, but you still need to do the footwork afterwards.

Books read June

Twelve books read this month as I took some effort to get my totals up. It brings my total number of books read in the first half of 2015 up to fortynine, putting me more or less on course for my goal of a hundred. As you can see below, now I just need to catch up with my reviewing too…

A Very British Genre — Paul Kincaid
A dated (1995) but still usable short introduction to the history of science fiction & fantasy as a British genre. As with a history, it gets slightly less usable the closer it comes to its present. Also interesting to see as a time capsule of what British SFF was like twenty years ago, before so many of the current giants had even started getting published, or had just begun to do so.

The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu
One of the three non-Puppy candidates for the Best Novel Hugo, a very Asimovian hard science fiction story. Asimovian because it’s all about ideas and characterisation falls somewhat by the wayside.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August — Claire North
Winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Harry August relives his own life over and over and he’s not the only one. The end of the world was always coming, but each new life it comes faster…

The Tropic of Serpents — Marie Brennan
The second book in the series of Faux-Georgian natural history fantasy memoirs of a lady dragonist. Great fun, intelligently written and well done dragons are always interesting.

The Renaissance at War — Thomas F. Arnold
One in a series of military history chapbooks I picked up, this is a very readable introduction to the topic of European warfare in the late fifteenth and sixteenth century.

Hero Complex — Sean O’Hara
Anime influenced superhero crack fic.

Warfare in the Seventeenth Century — John Childs
Followup to the Renaissance book. Interesting but of course Eurocentric.

Wave without a Shore — C. J. Cherryh
A short, early philosophical science fiction novel from Cherryh.

The Amoeba in the Room — Nicholas P. Money
A nicely readable introduction to the wonderful world of microbiotic life, sometimes marred with unfortunate attempts at humour.

A Man of Three Worlds — Mercedes García-Arenal & Gerard Wiegers
A very interesting biography/history of Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew who worked as an agent, merchant, spy, arms dealer and more around the turn of the seventeenth century, working for the sultan of Morocco, the Dutch Republic and others.

At the Seventh Level — Suzette Haden Elgin
One of those somewhat forgotten and overlooked female authors, who sadly died earlier this year. This was the first novel of hers I’d read and it was an interesting one.

Throne of the Crescent Moon — Saladin Ahmed
Well done oriental fantasy that reminded me slightly of N. K. Jemisin’s Killing Moon duology.

Fandom is more than just puppies barking

Reading this comment from Ursula Vernon on File 770 made me sad:

And then we had Requires Hate and I was gobsmacked. I had no idea who most of these people were but holy crap, what an awful thing. And then SP3 happened and what the hell and then even more awful people come out of the woodwork and sure, Beale’s always been a whiny troll but who are these people like Williamson with those horrible insensitive jokes and all these sad little opportunists going “Notice me! Notice me! Let me hitch myself to this wagon! Notice me!”

And it’s all very discouraging. And the longer I stay, it seems like the more horrible things come out, and I wonder if there will ever be an equilibrium reached.

This is not what fandom should be like, but unfortunately assholes are everywhere, even in sf fandom. But though they’re currently the loudest and most visible part of fandom, they’re not the whole of it. It’s only human to talk more about outrage than about all the everyday kindnesses that pass unnoticed, which is why British fandom has its Doc Weir award. Most people you meet in fandom, online or real life, are just normal, decent human beings. Which can be hard to remember when all you read about is a small part being incredibly nasty about having to share fandom with people who are not like them and don’t like Nutty Nuggets.

But there’s also the point that much of the sound and fury generated by those Puppies is a reaction to the fact that fandom is changing and getting more welcoming to people who may not just dislike Nutty Nuggets, but don’t like breakfast cereal at all. It’s a backlash against the idea that fandom can improve, grow more diverse, not remain the playground of a bunch of paranoid, spoiled, rightwing brats.

Hero Complex — Sean O’Hara

Cover of Hero Complex


Hero Complex
Sean O’Hara
394 pages
published in 2014

Whether or not you’ll like Hero Complex can probably be determined by whether not the following passage intrigues or annoys you:

Ryder leaps onto the wall of an apartment building and runs straight up the side. She’s almost to the eaves when she jumps again, this time somersaulting high into the air, coming to apogee several yards above the monster. She flings her arms apart and the night is illuminated by stroboscopic beams from her—I’m not seeing that right. There’s no way she’s shooting lasers from her boobs.

“Of course not. That would be ridiculous,” Jensen says.

I thought as much, but given how many ridiculous things have occurred lately, I wanted to be sure.

Ryder snags a tree branch with an outstretched hand like it’s a trapeze and flips herself around.

“Everyone knows laser beams are invisible in clear air. Those are charged particle cannons,” Jensen says.

Read more

Privilege and Worldcon

I missed most of the kefuffle over the proposed Best Saga Hugo this weekend as I was busy being an apprentice SMOF having volunteered to help revitalise Holland’s oldest sff fan organisation. What happened was basically that a group of fans, inspired by Eric Flint’s thoughts on expanding the Hugos, proposed adding a Best Saga category for multiple volume books/series as well as eliminate the novelette category. People objected strongly to the second part and were somewhat skeptical of the first and the proposers reacted by amending their proposal to omit the axing of novelettes. All in all a great example of how fandom is supposed to work: debated out in the open, with people listening to justified, constructive criticism and acting on it.

The best criticism I read of the original proposal, though unfortunately published after it had already changed and slightly misaimed, was in N. K. Jemisin’s open letter to the WSFS about unintended consequences:

the novelette category has until lately been a good entry point for new and underrepresented writers to gain recognition. Why? For all the reasons “sagas” privileges established successful white guys, basically: short fiction must rely (usually) on quality rather than preexisting financial success to prove itself; it requires a much lower investment of free time to write; and short fiction in general is less about comfort food than challenging the reader with new ideas and perspectives. The competition is actually more fierce for short fiction than it would be for sagas; there are more markets willing to publish novelettes than there are publishers willing to grind out multiparters, and the short fiction markets pump out multiple stories, multiple times per year. It’s just that fewer of the barriers that make it hard for non-white non-men to compete exist here. Women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups usually do pretty well when they’re working with a level playing field.

Which got me thinking about privilege in fandom generally and the WSFS in particular, in the way its decision making processes are set up. As you know Bob, there’s always been this tension about Worldcon and the Hugos especially of having this ideal of being representative of all of fandom and the reality that only those that have and spent the money, time and effort to get involved in Worldcon, either supporting or attending get to vote. For the Hugos itself this is relatively straightforward and with a fairly low barrier to entry: forty bucks gets you voting rights plus the Voting Packet.

Where it gets awkward is with the site selection process for future Worldcons. You have pay a site selection fee (which also doubles as a supporting membership for whichever con wins) and you have to sent in a paper ballot, rather than being able to vote online. That’s somewhat of a disadvantage for lazy slobs like me.

Far worse is the business meeting. Any member can make proposals, but to defend and vote on them you have to attend Worldcon. And since any proposal needs to be affirmed by the next con as well, you have to do this at least twice. Which is rather a huge barrier to entry, overcome only by those with the time and money to spent two years or longer on it, or of course those who are so deeply involved with Worldcon that this isn’t a huge sacrifice for them.

And I don’t want to knock those people, nor Worldcon. There are good reasons why the current Worldcon structure was set up and these barriers just an unfortunate side effect, not as far as I know a deliberate attempt to exclude people. But the effect is the same and it does make it harder for those without the means to chase Worldcon each year to get involved.

Having a successful boycott is not the point

Irene Gallo calls the Puppies what they are: nazis

As I predicted, Tom Doherty’s public dressing down of Irene Gallo for her (correct) comments on the Puppies failed. Having scored one success Day and co have doubled down and unleashed the dreaded boycott threat on Tor. All the usual idiots are of course crowing about Tor tasting Puppy power while everybody else has at turns been slightly depressed about it and somewhat upbeat about the slim chances it has of succeeding. And they’re right that the chance of Tor giving in to ridiculous demands like this are small:

Tor must publicly apologize for writings by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Moshe Feder, Irene Gallo, and John Scalzi that “demonize, denigrate, slander and lie about the ‘Puppies’ campaigns”

That’s not going to happen, nor is Tor going to fire anybody about this: there aren’t enough Pups to provide a proper boycott. At best they can hope for a similar “success” as the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney for being too gay friendly. At worst, they shoot themselves in the foot because Tor also publishes John C. Wright. But focusing on whether or not the boycott can succeed is missing the point. The point of the boycott is the boycott.

As I said before, Day is following the Tea Party/Breitbart Culture Wars playbook. Gin up outrage, energise your base, focus their attention on the designated enemy, then fleece the suckers. Vox knows how the game is played because he’d been working for Worldnet Daily one of the low rent rightwing clearing houses his daddy had set up until he became too loony even for them. What are the odds on the next instructions of Day, as “leader of the Rabid Puppies”, will next issue instructions that the only proper way to boycott Tor is to instead buy books by goodthink publishers like Baen or his own vanity press?

The key is not to win, the key is to keep the fight going and make some money doing so. That’s been the career path for whole generations of roghtwing bloviators: fart out articles and blogposts and books about the evil of libruls and blag your way onto wingnut welfare. But to do so you need that red meat to keep the suckers in line. Without the month late fauxrage at Gallo’s comments the Puppies wouldn’t have anything to talk about. But this? This they can spin out until long after this year’s Hugo results are revealed.

It’s hard to deal with this. Just ignoring it is one option, not giving the oxygen of publicity to these people, but can obviously backfire. You can’t deal with this thinking these are normal fans, and that just ignoring it will starve this “controversy” of the fuel it needs. People like Day (and Larry and Brad) are perfectly capable of keeping the fire stoked indefinitely. Not responding just cedes ground and helps them keep up the pretence that they’re speaking for some imagined silent majority.

Rather, their more noxious opinions and writings should be exposed to sunlight, because the natural response of normal people not obsessed with partisan politics like the Puppies is to run the hell away from the circus. That’s also why somebody like Hoyt is so angry at Mike Glyer for accurately quoting her on File 770. Somewhere she’s aware of how she sounds outside her little echochamber. And that’s why Natalie Luhr’s showcasing of Michael Z. Williamson greatest hits is important. It removes the pretence that these are just fans rather than collossal assholes.