Final Hugo Ballot 2015

Less then a week to go to Hugo voting closes, so here’s my final ballot. First, to recap, the categories I’ll be no awarding for Puppy-related reasons:

  • Best Novella
  • Best Novelette
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Related Work
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Long Form
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fancast
  • Best Fan Writer
  • John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo)

Which leaves Best Novel:

  1. The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison.
  2. The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu
  3. Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

Best Graphic Story:

  1. Ms. Marvel, v1 — Adrian Alphona, G. Willow Wilson
  2. Saga, v3 — Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  3. Sex Criminals, v1 — Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
  4. Rat Queens, v1 — Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch

Best Semiprozine:

  1. Strange Horizons — Niall Harrison
  2. Lightspeed Magazine — John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies — Scott H. Andrews

Best Fan Artist (the only category with no Puppy infestation):

  1. Ninni Aalto: cute cartooning, in a mix of Finnish and English
  2. Elizabeth Leggett: gorgeous paintings
  3. Spring Schoenhuth: also nominated last year for her jewelry, a reminder that fan art doesn’t need to be two-dimensional
  4. Steve Stiles: a regular nominee, decent enough but nothing special
  5. Brad Foster: another Fan Artist regular, with the most nominations and wins of everybody. He doesn’t need any more, does he?

And that’s the Hugo Awards dealt with for another year. Thanks to the Pups, it cost less time than last year, but I’m still filling my ballot in at the last possible moment.

Snowcrash as written by Reddit

MetaFilter has fun kicking around Ernest Cline’s latest nerd pandering novel. To be fair, it does sound awful:

We’re also told the government has been tracking the habits of its elite players, and when they arrive at their virtual battle stations, they find their favorite snacks waiting for them, their favorite songs queued up to accompany their virtual space fights, not to mention a “special strain of weed that helps people focus and enhances their ability to play videogames” that’s been cultivated just for them. In one revealing moment, Zack calls his mom in midst of the alien invasion and says the words that burn in the heart of every gamer who has ever felt demeaned for the hours they lavish on their favorite hobby: “All those years I spent playing videogames weren’t wasted after all, eh?”

Ugh.

But what struck me the most was this:

Armada is a book designed entirely around getting the reference—high-fiving the readers who recognize its shoutouts while leaving everyone else trapped behind a nerd-culture velvet rope of catchphrases and codes.

Now that’s, as both the MeFi discussion and the original article acknowledge, something that’s deeply ingrained in nerd culture, but Cline’s use feels off. It’s not just that he has contemporary teenagers (or future ones, as in his first novel) obsessed with the pop culture, all the pop culture, of their fathers and grandfathers (mothers not featuring so much), it’s the way in which they do so. Cline’s protagonists are consuming pop culture, not creating it, taking pride in collecting it and showing off their skills in doing so by constant name checking and referencing it.

It’s a very pre-internet view of geekdom, from a time when such knowledge was hard to come by, when it was sometimes genuinely difficult to find a piece of pop culture ephemera if you hadn’t picked it up or seen it when it first came out. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been for at least a decade or two, so that attitude in people who supposedly grew up in the internet age jars. Not only their obsessions are too old for them, but the ways in which they express them are too. Ultimately this is what makes Cline a bad writer, this simple failure to understand that 21st century teenagers wouldn’t have the same hangups as him.

(Title courtesy of Artw.)

Best Novel Hugo vote 2015

I don’t have to telly you I won;t be voting for any Puppy candidates, right, so the question becomes which of the three non-Puppy candidates will get my vote. Even diminished, this is a great shortlist:

    The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison.

    The Goblin Emperor at heart is a very traditional power fantasy, about the boy of humble origins who becomes emperor by happenstance and now has to very quickly learn how to survive in a world of political intrigue he’s completely unprepared for, filled with people who either want to manipulate him or replace him with a better figurehead. It’s one of those fantasy scenarios other writers can write multiple trilogies about to get to that point, but Katherine Addison has her goblin hero confirmed as the emperor within five pages, the rest of the novel being about him getting to grips with his new job, woefully inadequate though he feels.

    The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu

    What makes The Three-Body Problem almost missing out on the Hugo shortlist deeply ironic, is that it’s exactly the kind of oldfashioned hard science fiction the people behind this year’s vote rigging were supposed to be all in favour of. It revolves around the mystery of why all those physicists are killing themselves, the answer to which seems to be that fundamental principles of physics are broken… There are some great moments of sense of wonder, of conceptual breakthrough in it, as well as some characters Asimov would think were a bit two-dimensional.

    Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

    Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won about every major science fiction award going: the BSFA, the Clarke, The Nebula and the Hugo, the first time any author won the four most important awards in the field with the same book, let alone with their debut novel. Anticipation has therefore been high for the sequel, not least on my part. Would Leckie been able to keep up the high standard of her debut? Would Ancillary Sword build up on it or be more of the same? Is Ann Leckie really the major new sf talent she seems to be or just a flash in the pan?

    I will be happy to see any of these three novels win, but this will be my voting order. Ann Leckie has had such a good year already I’d rather see either Addison or Liu win, but Addison slightly more just because how much fun The Goblin Emperor was.

The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu

Cover of The Three-Body Problem


The Three-Body Problem
Cixin Liu
Translation by Ken Liu
302 pages
published in 2008 (English 2014)

If it hadn’t been for Marko Kloos doing the honourable thing and withdrawing his nomination, The Three-Body Problem wouldn’t be on the ballot for this year’s Best Novel Hugo. And that would’ve been a shame, since The Three-Body Problem is the first translated novel to make the shortlist. The start of a trilogy, it originally came out in China in serialisation in 2006, with the novel version coming out in 2008. The English translation was done by Ken Liu, who has won a Hugo Award himself. The sequels will come out this year and next.

What makes The Three-Body Problem almost missing out on the Hugo shortlist deeply ironic, is that it’s exactly the kind of oldfashioned hard science fiction the people behind this year’s vote rigging were supposed to be all in favour of. It revolves around the mystery of why all those physicists are killing themselves, the answer to which seems to be that fundamental principles of physics are broken… There are some great moments of sense of wonder, of conceptual breakthrough in it, as well as some characters Asimov would think were a bit two-dimensional.

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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?

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.

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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.

Mistaken Hugo voters or just unlucky writers?

Eric Flint, in the middle of another what’s likely to be an illfated attempt to talk sense into the Puppies, also talks about the way in which the Hugo Awards have overlooked or slighted some of the best authors working in science fiction & fantasy over the decades:

The Hugo voters, in their wisdom or lack thereof, decided that Christopher Anvil, Hal Clement, L. Sprague de Camp, Richard Matheson, Andre Norton, Fred Saberhagen, James H. Schmitz, A.E. Van Vogt and Jack Williamson were not very noteworthy. Of those nine authors, five of them are now in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and two out of the other four—Anvil and Schmitz—have had their complete works reissued in modern editions. (Full disclosure: Okay, fine, I’m the one who edited those reissues—but they sold pretty damn well for reissue volumes.)

Quite clearly, the Hugo voters were… ah, mistaken. (That sounds more dignified than “full of crap.”) Those are not the only times that Hugo voters have been…. ah, mistaken. They certainly won’t be the last, either. In this, the Hugos are like all awards. You win some, you lose some, so to speak.

It would be nitpicking to complain that Jack Williamson and Richard Matheson at least did get some Hugo recognition, that Van Vogt wrote his best work before the Hugos got established, or that some of the examples aren’t actually all that good, there still remains the question of how so many writers with such long careers were overlooked (and Flint’s examples could of course be extended with dozens more). Is that really the fault of the Hugo voters, just bad luck, or perhaps the simple fact that not all deserving kids can win prizes every time?

Surprisingly, I think it’s the latter. The long and short of it is that in any given year, there are twenty places on the Hugo ballot for a fiction writer: five each for Best Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story, give or take the occasional tie. That’s a high bar to clear for any writer, to get one of those slots, never mind win. Especially since the seventies, when fantasy and science fiction have exploded in popularity and size, the chances are high some deserving novel or story is going to be overlooked. (I know that even without the Puppy shenanigans, I easily had six or seven candidates for five slots in the Best Novel category.)

I think Flint has made a category error in other words, in complaining that deserving writers have been overlooked when the awards are actually for stories. It’s no good saying that a given writer is good enough to get a Hugo Award, you need to prove that in a given year, any given year, their best work would stack up to or beat that of their competition. And of course you also have to back that up with more than just your own taste. Jo Walton attempted to do this, in a series for Tor.com a few years ago, comparing what was won and nominated to what wasn’t, but as I recall for the most part she’d been satisfied that each year at least had credible candidates for each category, with some notable exceptions.

Now my personal opinion, which I think I share with Flint up to a point, is that the Hugos did start to falter from somewhere in the late seventies or early eighties as the SFF field exploded but Worldcon stagnated and aged. So many of the novels winning the Hugos in the last thirty years to me are no more than decent rather than brilliant, occasionally awarded for who wrote rather than their own merits. This again changed for the better in more recent years, thanks in no small measure to the Hugo Voter Packet and the better promotion of supporting memberships, but then the Puppies happened.

Intersectionality is just another word for solidarity

I’m always leery of arguments like this, that want to dismiss the different axises of oppression various groups of people struggle with in favour of some vulgar marxist idea of the working class and not asking too many questions. Too often this has been used by alter kakkers to just dismiss any struggle that doesn’t fit in their century and a half old ossified world view:

Where people on the left should be focussed on what unites us, us here referring to the working class rather than the left in general (lol, as if that’s going to happen), as workers -the foundations from which we can build the new society- we now see attempts to stratify through definition the working class under the guise of intersectional analysis. An intersectional analysis is a useful tool to have in one’s box if one is studying Sociology or writing academic papers but in the real world it doesn’t translate well, not well at all. In fact one of the reasons that I began my abstention from generalised political activity was the emergence of this approach -along with the increasing popularity of privilege politics- as I saw early on that the praxis that would develop from this approach would inevitably see a return to the embarrassing ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ which permeated the radical politics of the 1970s/80s (before my time -I’m not that old!).

He may not be that old, but his criticisms are. There’s always been a tension within socialism about how to define the struggle. Rightwing socialists tend to define it narrowly, purely as the struggle of the working classes against the bourgeois and anything that isn’t directly related to that struggle as a distraction. Depending on the decade — or century — you’re talking about this could mean feminism, civil rights, gay rights, or today, intersectionality and online activism.

The leftwing has always defined the struggle much more broadly. There’s a long and proud tradition within socialism and communism of not just fighting for the rights of (white) working men, but also recognised from the start that you can’t build a classless society when half the population is still powerless because of their gender, that it’s immoral to let the welfare of the British worker depend on the continuing exploitation of the Indian worker. So there’s always been a strain in socialism that defined the struggle much broader than just defending workers’ rights, that strived for an utopia for all people.

That is intersectionality pur sang and the thing about it is that it works both ways. There’s always a tendency to assume that these causes always distract from your own, much more worthy and important one, but intersectionality also gets you allies. That’s what happened in 1984 when at the height of AIDS paranoia stoked homophobia a group of London gay men and lesbians reached out and supported the South Wales Miners Strike:



Both groups were canny enough to understand that they struggled against the same oppression. The gay and lesbian activists recognised the police violence and oppression the miners were subjected to from their own experiences with them and believed in solidarity enough to not just recognise it, but take action. And the miners reprociated, send delegations to Gay Pride, supported them in their struggle. It was of course mocked by the establishment — now the perverts support the pits, as The Sun put it.

But you might say, gay liberation, strikes, those are real political actions, real causes, not frivolity like what I’m talking about, but that was far from the mainstream view back in 1984. So many socialists for so long saw homosexuality as a capitalist perversion, not as part of their struggle, not something that could be easily portrayed in terms of class struggle. And that’s why this bloody cartoon included in the post annoys me so much:

cartoon by RednBlackSalamander

Not just because it’s a lazy cheap shot and doesn’t understand that in 2015 it’s really hasn’t been possible for at least a decade to pretend that that online space is less important than offline spaces. No, it’s because I’m old enough to know that all the examples of worthy causes given here –take back the night, ending rape culture, lgbt rights — would have been ridiculed and dismissed as fauxtivism and middle class vanities not too long ago. It’s breathtakingly ignorant.

Now AW Hendry started his post by mocking the Sad Puppies, which is how I stumbled upon it, thanks to Mike Glyer’s sterling work rounding up Puppy related material. He used it as his example of how people waste time with online activism and throughout his piece the unspoken assumption is made that online doesn’t matter and economic considerations should be much more important than cultural fights like this. What this misses is that, even apart from the simple fact that quite a few of us now live our lives as much online as in the real world, online follows you home — ask Zoe Quinn or any other SWATting victim. What he also misses is that the struggle over the Hugos is more than just the misplaced vanity of a few rightwing culture warriors: as Kameron Hurley explained, the Hugos meant she got $13,000 more in her post-Hugo book advance.

Not the highest of stakes perhaps, but for your average struggling writer that is a large chunk of money. I also have the suspicion for at least some of the ringleaders, this kerfuffle is a way to help themselves to some of that sweet, sweet wingnut welfare. People like Tom Krautman or Dave Freer may seem dangerously unhinged to normal people, but they’d fit in well with Vox Day’s old haunt, Worldnet Daily. Voxy himself of course is trying to establish his vanity press as a serious rightwing proposition and arguably does all this for the publicity. Which means for him at least it’s not the winning that’s important, it’s keeping the fight going, the better to keep fleecing suckers.

Puppy baiting for fun, not profit

Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens gets it right when they say we’re wasting time, energy and attention by engaging the Puppies:

But the fact is, Happy Kitten energies were wasted on fighting a culture war on a battleground selected by the opposing side when they could instead have been reading, writing, buying, enjoying and celebrating some first rate SFF. The Puppies are opposed to SFF that is diverse or deals with gender or political issues or is technically ambitious. I think there’s a lot that Happy Kittens can do for that sort of SFF, apart from engaging in a debate where nobody is really going to change their views.

They miss one thing though: for all the outrage and anger it generates, it can also be fun to blogivate about how awful those people are. At least for those of us not the victim of harassement campaigns. It’s whack-a-mole, but it doesn’t have to cost too much energy as long as you manage to restrict yourself.

Apart from that, they’re right. We should focus as much on promoting diversity as fighting hatred. We can’t ignore the Puppies completely because they will continue to keep ginning up trouble, but the sort of low level aggrievation as showcased in Mike Glyer’s invaluable roundups isn’t really worth the trouble, even if it can be fun. Better to do something constructive by donating to Con or Bust frex.