Jun 302015
  June 30, 2015

As anyone who’s followed me in the last few months knows, I support voting No Award for all Hugo categories where a majority of the nominees are illegitimate (“illegitimate” is shorthand and well explained elsewhere). The Novelette category is one of those. It is unnecessary to read the stories to vote as their quality is immaterial. Only one of the nominees should be on the ballot, so voting based on the quality of stories whose existence on the ballot makes a mockery of the Hugos is a huge mistake. Thus, there is no need to read Puppy approved stories.

But I am.

It will not change my vote, but I am reading them. And reading them is causing a whole other level of desire for No Award. I’ve already mentioned my general thoughts on the short stories. The Novelettes…well…here’s where the Pups have found a new way to piss me off.

I love short fiction. Always have. I like it more than novels. It is precise, idea-filled, and satisfying in ways novels never are. From Poe to Bradbury, the best of fantastic fiction has always been in short fiction. And of short fiction, the novelette is my favorite. It has just enough time to dig in, without filler.

So, am I going to complain about the poor quality of the Pups choices? Or that of the single non-Pup choice? No. None of them have thrilled me, but that is not my point here. No, my complaint is that the Pups have managed to nominate something that isn’t a novelette. Short fiction get so few accolades. Certainly its writers get little money and less acclaim. I know that too well. But at least short fiction gets nominated for short fiction awards…except when it doesn’t.

Which leads me to Championship B’tok, a Pup nominee for novelette. Which it isn’t.  A novelette that is.
I’m going to ignore the quality of the writing, and instead, dwell on just what it is and what it isn’t. If I were to review it as a novelette, I’d have to tear it apart for some rather damning issues. It has not much of a beginning and it has no end. It has characters and major events vanish from the story without comment and a good deal of what is happening, and to whom it is happening, is not explained. That makes it just about the worst novelette ever written.

Because it isn’t a novelette. It is a segment, a few chapters from a novel-to-be, set in a still larger series. When considered in that light, there is nothing wrong with it not having the best of openings, since chapter two of a novel doesn’t need to have an opening. Nor is it a problem that it has no ending, since chapter 11 of a novel definitely should not have an ending. A character vanishing? No problem. He can return in chapter 22 and discuss the mysterious problems with the ship he was sent to repair (a chapter not part of this segment). It’s all fine and dandy for part of a novel, provided the rest of the novel gets written, but as a novelette, as a stand alone work of short fiction, it is not worthy of consideration.

More than that, its nomination is an insult to short fiction and short fiction writers. This is not the fault of the author, but of the Pups who nominated part of a novel for a short fiction award. The author is just doing a bit of clever marketing. For those reading his ongoing series, it’s all fine. But this is about an award for short fiction, for the generally over-looked and under-appreciated novelette writers. And the Pups have found another way to fuck it up.

Are Pups unable to see short fiction? They have shown blindness in so many ways I should not be surprised by one more. Like Steven Colbert’s ironic character, they claim not to see race. And a strong case can be made that several of their choices for related works cannot be seen to be related to anything pertinent. Apparently, they cannot see novelettes either.



Jun 292015
  June 29, 2015

game-thrones-season-5So, after all the screaming and shouting and threats and pain–I mean on Facebook and blogs, not in Westeros–I finally got around to Season 5 of Game of Thrones and it was…Not Bad. It was a little slow, a bit dull in spots, but had a pretty good final two episodes, so I give it a “not bad.”

What it wasn’t was frightening, edgy, shocking, or controversial. People and news writers having a slow day liked to whine and complain how this season somehow did something that hadn’t been done before. Nope. Or just did some “edgy” things too often. Definitely nope. Why people don’t want fictional bad guys to do bad things is beyond me. The complaints and “suggestions” have been amusing to read.  (The funniest comment I ran into was one that was upset that Sansa Stark had not suddenly transformed into an action hero, grabbed a weapon, and killed a far stronger individual in a non-combat situation–That wouldn’t have violated the character or the society or the story at all; I can only guess someone suggesting that has never read a book…or lived in the world.)

Now if you wish to claim all of Game of Thrones pushes the envelop, I’ll go with that. Not my envelop, but I can see how it might push someone else’s. But Season 5? No, this was a tame season. Less blood. Far less gore in general. Less sex. Less nudity. Less oppression and cruelty. Not a single head was crushed with eyes gouged out and blood spraying everywhere (now that was a season that pushed things). Really, for the first 6 episodes, almost nothing of any kind happened. Characters lounged around a lot. They discussed politics and the snow. A few unpleasant things happened here and there, but nothing that deserved much conversation.

The one thing of note for the Season was how safe it all seemed–cinematically. The camera avoided the unpleasant when it should have grabbed it and shoved it down our throats. We should be made to feel uneasy from what is on screen, not from whatever baggage we bring to the viewing.

I sound pretty negative, but starting about three-quarters of the way through the seventh episode, things picked up. Finally people (and non-people) started stabbing each other. Finally the plot progressed. It would have been better not to have so many non-event episodes, but the activity in the final eps made Season 5 one of the weaker seasons, but still acceptable TV.

We also got a few nice character deaths (I’ll skip names). Nothing nearly as satisfying as Season 4 supplied, but still, a few happy little deaths. There is talk online (as there always is) that one of the deaths will be reversed. That would be unfortunate as he was an annoying character and his death makes Westeros’s sun shine a little brighter, but I do understand the speculation. Too much time was  spent on a mystery connected to the character. Killing him makes all that time wasted–not a good thing for a TV series, or a book. Unless Martin and co have another way to make the mystery relevant, there is a structural problem if the character is not resurrected, and a general problem if he is.

Jun 262015
two reels

Hu Bayi (Chen Kun), Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) are ex-tomb raiders living on the streets of New York. Their last failed mission drudged up painful memories for Bayi who now mopes in the “sick” West. Years earlier, Bayi and Kaixuan had been part of a youth corps during Mao’s Cultural Revolution where both had fallen for Ding Sitian (Angelababy). When their group stumbled upon an ancient site, everyone, including Sitian, was killed except for Bayi and Kaixuan. Upset with the current state of affairs, Kaixuan, who was opposed to giving up the business, takes a job with a mysterious cult that will allow him to search for a flower he’d promised Sitain he’d find for her. Bayi and Yang, seeing trouble, follow to rescue him.

Mojin may be based on the same books and characters as Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, but you’d never know it if you weren’t told. These are action heroes and their comic relief in a full out action fantasy, where kung-fu, leaping three times further than any real human could, and shooting grappling hooks like Batman are the norm. No one blinks when zombies appear or green flame burns through rock.

Mojin starts with a lot of promise. There’s about as much depth as one could hope for in Bayi’s and Kaixuan’s troubled past and Shirley Yang looks to be a strong and beguiling character, with Shu Qi owning the screen. The cult leader is a fine villain and her Japanese schoolgirl assassin is straight out of Kill Bill. But things fall apart quickly. The sidekick’s humor is never funny, and the sidekick’s sidekick is an embarrassment (when your sidekick has his own sidekick, you can guess there’s going to be a problem). He never stops talking and I so wanted him to. He is either moaning and complaining or attempting juvenile jokes. It quickly reaches a point where the film plays better with the sound off. Yang, who looked like she would be the protagonist, turns out to be a worthless damsel, with Bayi repeatedly saving her, whether she wanted to be saved or not, as she screamed at him.

Once they all start traipsing about the temple, the focus is on mediocre CGI over story. characters shift in location randomly and survive in close up what definitely would have killed them in the far shot. Looking cool trumps making sense. After a while I just gave up and figured “stuff happens.” Some of it looks good. but it is much less than it should have been.

Like Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, Mojin dips into politics, but in an odder and more uncomfortable way. My understanding is that the cultural revolution is seen as a dark time in China. That’s what I got from my Chinese stepfather. But Majin looks back at it with warm nostalgia. The youths went too far, destroying statues and chanting all the time, but this is presented as the foolishness of the young, not a problem with the larger political situation. Mao’s teachings are seen as great philosophy and several people, including Bayi, take solace from his words. “Why can’t we get back to the good old revolutionary days of Mao” isn’t the kind of message I’d expect Chinese censors to be comfortable with. Those same censors were no doubt happier with the grave robbers being mostly miserable, suffering for their profession, and ending up with no financial gain. Of the two sources of supernatural magic, one is Scoopy Doo’d away, which also allows for a hit at religion and cults, while the other is explained, though it makes no sense. But then the government concern isn’t that it make sense.

Jun 162015
  June 16, 2015

As those of you who are following my every word and wait with bated breath for my next post know (that would be you Frank), I support voting No Award in all illegitimate categories this year, as well as for those with too few legitimate nominations to make the vote meaningful. That leaves 4 categories and Graphic Story is one of them. So for a change, I get to play reviewer. Looking at each nominee, in reverse order of how I will vote for them:


Reduce-Reuse-Recycle6. The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate

As this was a Pup slate nominee, it was getting last anyway, but it also earned it. There’s nothing wrong with it. It isn’t unprofessional or offensive or any other negative term I could come up with; it is just completely outclassed. This is a minor league cartoon book getting stuck in the majors. It is like many, many other cartoons I run into on the Internet. If I happen upon something like this, I might read one or two jokes, and then done. I wouldn’t bother to search it out again, but it was fine to have run into it.

I feel a little sorry for it. It shouldn’t be reviewed with the big boys. It is what it is and that’s fine. Award-worthy? No.

Continue reading »

Jun 132015
  June 13, 2015

Multiple people have suggested that I just stay out of the whole Puppies mess because it will only upset me, and besides, “What’s the point?” I have answered that in part in one place or another, but thought I should address it as a whole at some time, and Eric Flint’s essay, In Defense of The Sad Puppies made that time now.

Eric is one of the sharper and wiser voices in the whole Puppy Mess, plus he’s a damn fine person to sit and talk to while nursing a white wine at Nebula Awards Weekend. But in this case, he got a couple things wrong. Only one thing concerns me here, which is, “What is the Point?” Eric, like others nearer to the angels than I am, want to solve the situation by calm, reasoned discussion. I have heard similar sentiments from a number of people I respect in the field. Or to use Eric words:

partly in the hope that I can persuade the Sad Puppies to change their minds…

The debate/argument/brawl…that we are now having over the Hugo Awards is one that I would like to end. I’ve been mostly arguing against the Sad Puppies not out of animosity…but because I am trying to persuade them that their analysis of the situation is faulty and the course of action they’ve adopted is futile at best.

A noble sentiment. Here’s the problem: It won’t work. At all. Zilch. Reason, thought, philosophical arguments—none of those will help. There will be no calm, well considered ending to this. There will be no persuasion—or so little as to be within any margin of error. It won’t be ended by persuading the Pups to change their mind, or to reevaluate their course of action. Nor will reason change the anti-pup’s minds. I’m not saying it won’t end, or that people may not end up changing their minds, but not this way.

People don’t work that way.

OK, I suppose I need to back that up. Luckily, I was married to a girl trained in psychology for 26 years (with her for 26 years, not that she was training for 26 years). Two factors are in play: Motivated Reasoning and Backfire. Both are related to cognitive dissonance. “Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values” (Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance—Thank you Wikepedia). In other words, people don’t like it when their beliefs are contradicted, so their minds will do whatever they can to relieve the stress. Not find truth, but relieve the stress.

When we (humans—not Puppies or SJWs or conservatives or liberals, but humans) become emotionally involved in a belief, we cling to that belief, inventing ways, often convoluted, to keep it in the face of all evidence. We do not look at contrary evidence, rationally consider it, and then come to the best conclusion. We only do those things, to the extent that we do them at all, when forming new beliefs and with ones that hold no emotional importance. If we are emotionally involved (like in the Puppy Mess), we use motivated reasoning.

This model envisions respondents as processing and responding to information defensively, accepting and seeking out confirming information, while ignoring, discrediting the source of, or arguing against the substance of contrary information. (DiMaggio 1997; Kunda 1990; Lodge and Tabor 2000—Thank you Google).

So, if you try to persuade a Pup that he isn’t oppressed, that slate voting isn’t swell, etc., etc. he will ignore any facts you might have (like listing conservative writers who’ve been nominated for awards) or discount those facts because they come from the wrong people. Yes, it is a matter of the Pups being dense, but dense in the way humans are. We’re all wired this way.

Ah, but it gets worse. Backfire.

We’d like to believe that most of what we know is accurate and that if presented with facts to prove we’re wrong, we would sheepishly accept the truth and change our views accordingly.

A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that’s not what happens, that we base our opinions on beliefs and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere to our original belief even more strongly. (In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter, NPR July, 2010).

You can find the study yourself—it was all over the Internet. (If you want details, this is a nice overview)

So, not only do humans disregard logical arguments and facts contrary to their position, hearing those make them hold their belief stronger. And we’ve seen this. I’ve been told by others that know Brad Torgersen better than I, that he wrote mainly about exciting, old-timey, science fiction adventure being left out in favor of message fiction when he started his role of Pup in Chief. But as his facts were called into question, as his views were challenged, he slipped more and more into Larry-speak, and even Vox-speak, of oppression and secret cadres of leftists and vague but great evils that oppose him and those of good nature. And he upped his insults, such that it is very hard to find anything from him now that doesn’t include simple name-calling.

I could go into more on why and how people do not change their views when confronted with facts and reason. Eugie used to talk about areas of psychology dealing with how people take emotional views and make them part of their identity, and then cannot give up those views without losing their sense of self. Separately, I noticed in graduate school, where I trained in logic, that almost no one would accept a logical argument that contradicted their non-logically held beliefs. But, I don’t need any more. Motivated reasoning and backfire will do just fine.

Now the Pups are dug in deep. It matters to them. There is anger, and a sense of community. And those who oppose the Pups equally Believe, with a capital “B.” No one is changing anyone’s mind.

I am not saying no one ever changes their mind. Obviously people do, but for emotional issues, it takes emotional events. Traumas, both bad and good (yes, I just said you can have good trauma—live with it) can do it. Life changing events. It works even better if the event is related to the belief, even if the connection is tenuous, but it isn’t necessary. If a person finds their life altered, their identity changed, there is less need to clutch at old held beliefs. So, if something horrible happened in Larry Correia’s private life, he might change his views (I had a good example, but decided specifying terrible things that could happen to Pups was not the best way to go). Or perhaps Vox Day might fall in love. Find his dream girl. Better yet, find his dream girl in a Hugo winning WOC, one who isn’t repulsed by the new Vox. Then we might see a Vox who rejects his Pups, and his blog, and his life up to this point. The same is true for anti-pups. The death of my wife has effected my views, but only in that I see most problems in the world as nothing but minor inconveniences—so no switch in kind, just in degree. A major trauma to some other anti-pup might make that person reevaluate his anti-pupdom.

But none of that does us any good. We can’t count on anyone going through a major life change.

So, what’s the point? Why all the words from so many people? If it isn’t to change the minds of those who hold positions—or shouldn’t be since that can’t work—what is it?

Partly, it is to bring new people, those who have yet to develop an emotional attachment, to one side. The more Pups, the more they can feel like they are winning. And the same goes for us anti-pups. Actually winning is another matter. And partly it is to whip up the troops and to keep that sense of community that humans crave. The second is important because, while the entrenched will not switch sides, they may lose enthusiasm. Some other movement may come along which is more important or simply newer. A string of police shootings of blacks could sap some of the anti-pups (hmmm, except that hasn’t happened). A politician suggesting more thorough gun registration could pull off some Pups. People get tired.

So, how does this end? Not with Eric persuading or David Gerrold’s call for respect. Not with valentines saying “All is forgiven” and kumbayas. We, humans, are creatures of grudges. We should try to be better beings, but never forget reality while doing so. Those who forget history…

There will be no ending, no defined finish. But there can be, and almost certainly will be, a fading. There will be fewer articles, fewer rants, fewer votes cast for political reasons. It can gently drift away until it is a footnote. Or it can lessen, but still split fandom for years to come. How this works out depends on how it fades. If enthusiasm dies quicker from the anti-pups, the results will be less equality than in recent years, a continuation of the dominance of white authors, a touch less innovation in known writers, a reduction in the quality of writing, and a greater acceptance of minor racism and sexism in fandom, (keeping in mind those grand statements only apply to awards and to a corner of fantasy and science fiction fandom—the Pups are not going to be altering racism in general society—so how big a deal this is to you depends on how close you are to that corner). If it dies quicker in the Pups, things will float closer to how they were: increasing equality, a lessening of dominance of white authors, more innovation, and greater condemnation of racism and sexism (still just in our pocket of fandom—again, don’t get too excited by those lofty phrases). Either way, the effects will not be that large, except for The Hugos, where the awards will lose some of their prestige if the Pups end up more on top, and slowly gain most of it back if the Pups end up on bottom.

Of course things could get worse. New Pup leaders could arise who have the charm of Vox and the mouth of Larry. We could start getting death threats and rape threats.

I expect a very slow fade, with people snapping at each other for a few years at least, and grumbling when alone with their colleagues for many years. I hope the Pups will fade faster, but as it will be most likely determined by general fatigue, there’s no way to know. One “side” could fade faster (keeping in mind there really is only one side to this mess—the Pups are the side; everybody else are just fans who got stuck in a fight they didn’t ask for) if its leaders faded. If Vox or Brad or Larry were to go through some life change, or just get caught up in other matters, the Pups would fade faster and we’d have less Puppy smell. There are no leaders in the fans who dislike the pups, but some, like John Scalzi, David Gerrold, and George R.R. Martin might have more of an effect if they walked away in disgust.

So, what’s my point? Why do I write all these words over so many posts? Partly it is an obsession to support what I think is right, even when it will make very little difference. Partly it is because I know how she felt about the Pups, and would feel about their mess, though she’d have said a great deal less about it. Partly it is to help out friends. Partly it is to whip up the troops as I’d prefer less Puppy smell. Partly it is to be part of the community. But mainly, for me, it is a distraction. Because this was Eugie’s world, it feels a little important, and because it is not what I spent my time doing before, it doesn’t feel lonely, which makes it a good distraction. And that is the point.

Jun 122015
  June 12, 2015

So I’m back. I’ve been quiet online for the week as I was off at the Nebula Awards Weekend, and took the long way around getting home.

It was, as expected a wonderful experience, and while I cannot say it was fun (I don’t have fun) it felt meaningful and important, and sometimes like seeing family—with all that might entail. Eugie knew this world, and the people so much better than I, but I had some acquaintance with it. I reconnected with many in the writing field, like Mary Robinette Kowal, Rachel Swirsky, Lee Martindale, Cat Rambo, Steven Silver (who had me carrying boxes…never a good idea) and met many others I knew through their work, and sometimes online communication, such as John Joseph Adams, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ursula Vernon, Ken Liu. I was lucky to meet and end up in multiple conversations with Eric Flint. I think the best times I had at the event was just sitting down with him and chatting.

I had surreal moments, like after having talked to Joe Haldeman for twenty minutes it suddenly striking me that this is JOE HALDEMAN—the man who brought thought and pathos to military SF with The Forever War.

The panels and workshops were interesting—I probably gained the most from the Intellectual Properties workshop—a class filled with lawyers both speaking and in the seats—and not simply because I spoke for a few minutes (on why, as a writer, you need to plan your estate). I could have used this more months ago. It would have saved me some trouble. I also spoke on a normal-lengthed panel on estates, with Michael Capobianco, (widower of Ann Crispin) and Joan Saberhagen (widow of Fred Saberhagen). I think I might have actually helped some people, and it was nice to be around Michael and Joan, both spectacular people.

Eugie Oakland Cemetery 1100Of course the big event was the Nebula Awards. The banquet room was noisy so I could only speak with those right next to me, but since Jack McDevitt was next to me, that was all good. The food was…OK. Banquet food is never great. The ceremony was a big change from the last one I’d been to, since the emcee was Nick Offerman doing comedy. The winners were gracious and by now you probably know Eugie didn’t win, though I don’t think I could have gone up if she had. I’m afraid I made a rather public spectacle of myself during the In memoriam section early in the ceremony. When Eugie’s name and picture (that picture) came up on screen I fell apart. Well, it’s not a party till someone cries.

It was pleasant to see the community in harmony. Sure, we had some discussions of puppies, but even those were fun. There were no arguments, no silliness, no nasty comments or claims of abuse. The whole thing was a celebration of art and artists. I’m glad I could be there for Eugie and that her colleagues had seen fit to honor her with a nomination.