Sad Puppies: what to do?

The more I think about the whole Puppies situation, the more I think my initial reaction during the Emergency Hugo Panel at Dysprosium this weekend is correct: the people driving the Puppy slates do not care for fandom or science fiction, even if they call themselves fans and SF writers, they’re political operators who jumped on science fiction fandom as an easy target for their kulturwars. As Nicholas Whyte succincintly said: this is a political act that needs a political response.

And the first thing to remember is that these people for all their rhetoric aren’t conservatives, but radicals. They have a vision of what they want fandom and science to be and no respect for its values or history. What the Puppies have instead are massive entitlement issues and equally massive egos. They know they’re supposed to be the popular kids, that they have a right to the Hugos, that only a conspiracies of critics and other leftists is stopping their inevitable domination of science fiction.

All of which is pure projection on their part. Because they are the sort of people who lie and manipulate to get their slate on the Hugo ballot, they naturally assume anything they don’t like is the result of similar manipulation. Their own actions therefore are done in self defence against the shadowy conspiracy of Social Justice Warriors. It’s bogstandard rightwing conspiracy thinking that’s motivating the Puppies, the same sort of logic behind the idea that Barack Obama isn’t really the president because he wasn’t born in America, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Engaging them therefore is pointless. They don’t care about anybody who isn’t like them, don’t think anybody who doesn’t share their politics is legitamite. What to do instead?

This year, all we can do is contain the damage. There are basically three short term responses to their wrecking of the Hugos: 1) business as normal, ignoring the slate and just voting on merit, as Geri Sullivan proposed at the Hugo Emergency Panel discussion and also preferred by John Scalzi, 2) No Award everybody on the slate, innocent or otherwise and vote normally otherwise, which is what I did last year with the previous slate and 3), the most radical, No Awarding everything because the intrusion of the Puppies is so massive it’s an unfair advantage for even non-puppies to get normal consideration. This is an option Erik V. Olson explained on Metafilter:

I feel that this year’s awards are fundamentally compromised, and that maybe a better solution is this.

Vote No Award on *everything*.

Why? Because if we honestly No Award every award, then, well, no awards are given in 2015. We now have a mechanism in place to fix them — the Retro Hugos. Normally, we have to wait some large number of years (50, IIRC) to do that, but the other critera is that we only do Retro Hugo’s when there were no Hugo’s awarded.

So, if we No-Award this year, and change the constitution a bit, we could run the 2015 Retro Hugos in 2017.

It’s not a perfect answer — but it could be a better answer than most. It’ll be an award for 2015. It’ll let everyone have a fair shot again. It won’t affect the next years award like an all-kill and extend eligibility would.

There’s no good answer, but maybe that’s the least bad. But I’m personally not willing to vote for the few non S/RP nominees, because they’re not running against the works they should be running against. They’re basically getting a free ride if I do that. It’s not fair to them or to the works that were shoved off by the slate.

Which I’m honestly starting to lean towards, considering how many categories have been tainted. It’s the strongest possible rejecting of slate voting and the puppies, it could provide a fresh new start, but it would depend on enough people joining in, otherwise it’s pointless.

But at the very least all puppy candidates should be No Awarded, should be taught the lesson that if you’re on the slate, you may get nominated, but never win and now your name is mud. This should be done across the board, even for things like the various movies put on the slate, even if these were only put in as a cover. The same goes for the socalled “innocent” or “pressganged” puppy nominees, be they high profile authors who could’ve arguably had a shot at a Hugo on their own like Jim Butcher, or naive fools like Kary English. They cannot win in any category, they must be rejected entirely. Fandom must show it rejects slate voting and it rejects the attempt to make the Hugos into a partisan political mud fight.

And for those who are on the Puppy slate against their will, they should do the honourable thing: withdraw themselves from consideration.

Two faces of fandom: Doc Weir & Sad Puppies

Martin Hoare with the doc Weir Award at Dysprosium 2015

During the closing ceremony of this year’s Eastercon on Monday, the Doc Weir Award was handed out to the bloke on the right, Martin Hoare. Martin is one of those people who has been active in fandom, mostly behind the scenes, for years and decades, quietly helping British fandom ticking over. There are a lot of these nutters spending their free time doing things like setting up artshows at cons, or organising real ale bars, printing newsletters, etc, all with no expectation of reward and little public recognition. The Doc Weir Award is British Fandom’s way of drawing some attention to these unsung heroes, named after somebody the majority of fans never met since he died long before they were born. Arthur “Doc” Weir was somebody who had found fandom late in life and had flung himself headlong into it. It was in his memory that the award was set up in 1963, making it more than fifty years old: hard to think of a better example of fannish timebinding and tradition. There’s no monetary part to the price, just a trophy you get to keep for a year to drink your choice of alcohol out off. For all the ongoing controversies, the day to day aggrevation fandom can stand for, it’s sometimes good to remember that this is fandom too, full of some of the nicest and hardest working people you’ll ever meet.

emergency Hugo panel with Niall Harrison, Charlie Stross, Vincent Doherty, Gaie Sebold and Kari Sperring

In sad contrast to this stood the news we got the day before, of the way in which the socalled Sad & Rabid Puppies slates had managed to pack the Hugo nominations, in response to which an emergency panel was convened. Niall Harrison, Charlie Stross, Vince Doherty, Gaie Sebold and Kari Sperring all were eloquent about the damaged done to the Hugo and the room as a whole was outraged and hurt by it. If you come late to this whole thing, basically two groups of rabid rightwingers with massive entitlement issues set out to game the Hugos by running slates of ideologically acceptable candidates (and the occassional useful idiot) then got their followers to vote for them, with the socalled Sad Puppies run by Brad Torgenson and Larry Correira being the most visible of the two, seemingly providing cover for the more reactionary Rabid Puppies slate run by Vox Day and John C. Wright. Correira had the cunning to withdraw himself from consideration while Torgenson didn’t manage to get nominated in the first place even with the slate, but that still left Vox Day & John C. Wright stinking up the Hugos, as well as a host of supporting assholes and the occassional useful idiot.

The response at Eastercon was one of disbelief, horror and despair about what happened. That something bad was coming was well known, with various rumours doing the rounds in fan Twitter and such, but the sheer scale of it depressed people. It seemed that the organised temper tantrum had gotten what it wanted in terms of attention, that all the good work done in the last few years of making fandom and science fiction more diversive, more welcoming, was done in vain. It was not a happy mood that the con was in that Sunday. All the good cheer of the rest of the con, seeing all those people coming together to celebrate a mutual love for science fiction and fandom, for a moment was hidden behind this cloud of grief. While it’s not yet clear what we should do, we should keep in mind the last words of Joe Hill:

Don’t mourn, Organize!

Dutch Comic Con

Hawkeye and one of the numerous Deadpools squaring off

Coming back from Imagicon last week I was sat with some cosplayers discussing rumours about the Dutch Comic Con, being held this weekend. Apparantly the organiser had run into money troubles, various guests had cancelled or were supposed to threaten to cancel and it was all a shambles. Worrying news, as I’d just bought tickets for it, but on the other hand most of the guests were of little to no interest for me, various actors and such, some coasting on their appearances in a fondly remembered decades old SF classic, some being supporting actors in a current telvision fantasy hit. All great for those who like that sort of thing, but it’s not my fandom. For me therefore I didn’t matter too much as long as the con went ahead: worst case scenario it would just be another comics con, where the main attraction is the opportunity to buy loads of shit at reduced prices. Best case scenario it would be something special, more in line with English or American comic cons.

Red off Team Fortress 2 represents, but where was Blue?

The end result turned out to be somewhere in the middle. The con seems to have consciously modelled itself on the San Diego Comic Con and similar, with the main attraction being the media stars and the comics reduced to a supporting role. The disadvantage there being that if you’re not quite as interested in that sort of stuff, there was indeed little else to do but walk around and look at the various merchandise and retailing stands. Unlike Imagicon, there was no real programme other than the various Q&A sessions with the guests and the movie programme running in the cinema, no real room to sit down for a while otherwise. After a few hours of this, I really felt it.

Mortal Kombat cosplay courtesy of InuNeko Cosplay

What made this more than just another “stripbeurs” was the audience, which like at Imagicon was young and very much into cosplay, as the pictures here show. Jazzgul Some indeed, like Hawkeye in the first pic there, were at both cons. What I liked about the cosplayers was their enthusiasm, skill and generousity. People were more than happy to pose and some groups and people were very popular. There was some real creativity there as well: not just your Deadpools, Storm Troopers, Black Widows, Lokis and Thors (this time both in male and female versions), but I also saw a captain Haddock, a trio of Giffen era-JLA cosplayers doing Guy Gardner, Fire & Ice and an absolutely adorable father/baby combination dressed up as Where’s Wally. As always the cosplaying seemed to be roughly equally divided between immediately recognisable movie/tv superheroes, obscure to me but apparantly massively popular figures from anime/manga/videogames and the occassional sui generis character, like the frog man from Fables I saw.

Guy Gardner, Ice & Fire from the Giffen era JLA

Now I could’ve taken many more pictures of cosplayers, were it not for the pressures of the crowds. I’ve heard reports that at its peak the con had some 16,000 visitors and I can well believe it. At times getting through the crowd was … difficult… Doctor StrangeThe layout of the con didn’t help. There was a huge, largely empty hall for the Q&A/music sessions, there was the main hall where you came through which was badly lit and confusingly laid out with the main sponsors and retailers, as well as the space for the autograph sessions, which took up a huge chunk on the side of the hall with crowd barriers and such but where you could only see which person was signing once you skipped the barriers and walked to their table. The secondary hall, where all the smaller retailers and standholders were located, also had a lot of wasted space at the edges and at least one lane that was too narrow, leading to huge traffic jams. It didn’t help one of the ways to reach it was through one of the con center’s food outlets. What happened to the artist alley was even worse, a few picnic tables put together in a corner inbetween the main and secondary halls, easily overlooked. Not helping matters was the lack of sign posting everywhere.

artist alley, in a forgotten corner of the con

These are all typical first con growning pains and if the con is repeated next year, I hope they’ll go for a different layout. For my part, I had a blast visiting and talking to the people manning some of the smaller stalls, like the people at the new comics artist collective Taus Art, your archetypical indie comics makers. I also spent half an hour talking to Eelco Koper, whose Superhelden magazine is busy addicting a new generation of readers to the best of all ages superhero comics, including Paul Grist’s Mudman and Dave Sim’s Cerebus (!). And because the audience wasn’t quite in the Eppo range, I could also spent some time chatting to Eric Heuvel and Marissa Delbressine while they were sketching, which I’ll scan in and post separately.

Supergirl, Two Face and annattaZ yalpsoc in the middle

Considering it seems the con has been a success and assuming it will be repeated last year, what would I like to see done differently?

  • A better layout, with less wasted space, room for people to just sit and hang out that’s not part of a food court, better lighting in places, more room for cosplay and photographing of same outside the main traffic
  • Much better signposting as well as more announcements of what’s going on
  • A proper artist alley, preferably combined with all the fan organisations and others now lost in the crowds amongst the stand retailing overpriced statues
  • Multi track programming with more to do than just listen to Q&A sessions with actors or getting your picture taken with the Batmobile and a larger emphasis on the comics part of the con.
  • Less perhaps of the traditional Dutch comics con stuff, more of a focus on US and Japanese comics/fan culture.

That should do it.

“Our protagonists, our characters, can be anyone.”

Elsinore with black Ophelia

Katie Chironis is the team lead and writer for Elsinore and for Gamasutra she wrote about how her team approached diversity in the game:

Elsinore is an adventure game set in the world of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – which places it, historically, in 16th century Denmark. Since we began work on the project a year or so ago, I’ve shown the playtest build to family, friends, and strangers alike. After they’re done playing, intermingled with their feedback on gameplay, they often point to Ophelia and ask: Why is she black?

My answer is always the same: Why shouldn’t she be?

Which to me at least is sufficient answer. If anything has shown its adaptability it’s Shakespeare after all, but there are always morons who want to argue the toss about the plausibility of a black woman in 16th century Europe. Hence Chironis’ focus on historical research, even though the game itself isn’t very historical. It’s easy to nitpick her argument in the context of her own game, (as seen in the MeFi thread here), but that misses the point she’s making. Games need to be more brave at embracing diversity and not whitewash history, not cling to a faux-historical perspective that can’t see anybody but white men be assassins or knights.

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.

Read more

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.