Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Prometheus Award Nominees

Location: Sasquan in Seattle, Washington.

Comments: The interesting thing about the 2015 list of nominees for the Prometheus Award is not who is on it, but rather who is not. Even though the set of authors that make up the core proponents of the "Sad Puppies" very clearly view themselves as being on the libertarian side of the spectrum (and in some cases they have inserted segments into their books that are clearly pandering to Prometheus Award voters), and yet, there is zero overlap between the set of books they promoted for the 2015 Hugo Award and the set of books that were chosen as finalists for the 2015 Prometheus Award. In short, despite sharing an ideological bent with many of the authors promoted by the Puppies, the Libertarian Futurist Society didn't see fit to even consider honoring any of the novels that were pushed for the Hugo ballot with a Prometheus Award nomination. If the Puppy slate is in fact about recognizing good books that the Hugo Awards have overlooked because they are supposedly ideologically biased, why is it that the works on the Puppy slates have been, with some rare exceptions, pretty much ignored by all of the other genre related awards? In fact, no one making decisions regarding other awards has seemed to think the stories promoted by any iteration of the Puppy slates have been worth nominating. It would be one thing if the works favored by the Puppies were getting nominated for many other awards while being snubbed solely by the Hugo voters. But they haven't. They have been ignored by all the major awards because they simply aren't good enough.

Note: Locus Online listed Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold as a Hall of Fame nominee for this year. However, Falling Free was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, which means this supposed nomination confuses me because I don't think the book can be inducted again. I have omitted the nomination for the book from this list.

Best Novel

Influx by Daniel Suarez

Other Nominees:
A Better World by Marcus Sakey
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Hall of Fame

'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison

Other Nominees:
As Easy as A.B.C. by Rudyard Kipling
Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury
Sam Hall by Poul Anderson

Go to previous year's nominees: 2014
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2016

Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Blogger Hop April 24th - April 30th: The Wanderer in Fallout 3 Is from Vault 101

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Does the title of a book make or break your choice to read it?

I would like to say "not usually", but given that we are affected by advertising (and book titles are functionally advertising) in ways that we are not usually consciously aware of, this is unlikely. One reason I try to not be too affected by book titles is that I know that, at least in the science fiction world, authors usually don't have a lot of input when it comes to titles, especially of pieces of short fiction. I know of some cases in which an editor changed the title of a piece of short fiction without even telling the author he was doing it. So the connection between a title and the contents of a story or book seems to me to be kind of tenuous at best.

On the other hand, I do love some titles that are evocative. Poul Anderson's No Truce With Kings is one of my favorite titles. Isaac Asimov's The Star, Like Dust, and Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket, Like Grains of Sand have always struck me as being particularly beautiful. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination are fantastic titles. And so on and so forth. I don't know if a great title inspires me to pick a particular book to read, but I'm reasonably certain that it doesn't hurt.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: "One Hundred and Two" Is a Song by the Judds

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 24, 2015

Follow Friday - 18 U.S.C. § 207 Restricts What Former Federal Employees Can Do

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Mountain Rhinestones and Book Yabber.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: How did you come up with your blog title and address? Does it have a special meaning for you?

I thought the name sounded cool. It also, I think evokes what one does when one reads science fiction or fantasy, although when I picked the name I didn't really think I was going to focus on writing reviews. In fact, if one goes back to read the first few posts I made on this blog, one will find that they are mostly rambling and unfocused essays with no particular thematic connection to one another.  It took me a couple of years before I decided that focusing on books reviews with a handful of rambling and unfocused essays sprinkled in here and there was the format to go with. Mostly though, I picked the named because I thought it sounded cool.

Coming up with the address was easy: It was the same as the name I had chosen for my blog and it wasn't taken.

Subsequent Follow Friday: Four Years Is 208 Weeks

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review - Saga, Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Short review: Two tabloid reporters try to track down Alanna's story while everyone else takes a brief break to develop some interpersonal relationships. Then The Will is stabbed in the neck and everyone starts fighting again.

Tabloid reporters
On the trail of a story
Warned off by The Brand

Full review: Volume Three of Saga continues the story begun in Volumes One and Two, recounting both the events which took place immediately before the final panel of Volume Two, and at the same time showing the consequences of the decisions made by the many characters leading up to this point in the story. Although this volume is clearly part of an ongoing story, it has the feel of the ending of a chapter, as several story lines come to a head and are wrapped up after a fashion. As with the previous two volumes, the story is beautifully illustrated by Fiona Staples, who uses her artwork to tell Vaughan's story in a brilliant and flawless manner.

Although this serves as kind of a "season finale" for this section of the overall Saga story, the volume opens up by introducing a pair of new characters to the cast: A reporter named Upsher and his photographer Doff, bother working for the tabloid Hebdomadal. The pair have been called in by a wounded Landfall soldier and placed on the trail of the hottest story of their careers - unraveling the reasons why Alana ran off with Marko. Adding these characters gives the story some much needed humor as well as an opportunity to further explore Alana's background and flesh out the universe around them. The trail takes them from an interview with Alana's stepmother, who also happens to be her former high school classmate, to an encounter with Alana's former commander, to a rather odd meeting with a Landfall intelligence officer who asks the pair to drop their investigation. And when that doesn't work, Landfall sends a new freelancer - The Brand - to dissuade them.

Hidden in the humor of two tabloid reporters' misadventures is an indication of the danger Alana and Marko's union is to the powerful forces that control Landfall and Wreath, and the extreme lengths to which each side will go to strike at their foes. Alana's former commander states that the reason he had her transferred to prison guard duty is that she didn't follow an order to destroy a bridge full of fleeing civilians quickly enough - opining that the local civilians were, by definition, enemies and therefore fair game for killing. When a sniper takes a shot at the tabloid reporters (hitting Upsher), the robot officer nearby responds by calling an orbital artillery strike against the entire building he believes the sniper to be in, clearly heedless of any civilian casualties that might result. Time and again, the ruthlessness and callousness of the forces fighting the central conflict of Saga is reinforced in blunt terms.

The second story line that weaves through this volume is the ongoing brooding of the freelancer The Will, accompanied by his growing entourage consisting of the former slave Sophie, Marko's former fiancee Gwendolyn, and his constant companion Lying Cat. With their starship damaged, the four wait for the repair company to come and make it operational, hunting flying sharks to pass the time and feed themselves. Unfortunately, they begin having visions, with The Will seeing, and having extended conversations with, his deceased girlfriend The Stalk, leading to the aforementioned brooding. This interlude allows the various characters to develop their relationships with one another, resulting in Sophie getting her name to replace being called "slave girl", Gwendolyn and The Will to have a relationship that is at times caring and at times violent, and a fairly surprising turn of events. The most critical sequence in this portion of the book is a scene between Sophie and Lying Cat, in which Sophie expresses some self-criticism, and Lying Cat provides the perfect counter. Despite the sweeping scope of the overarching story, it is these kinds of small character moments laced throughout that make Saga so compelling.

The meat of the volume is, of course, the story focused on Alana, Marko, and Hazel, as well as Klara and Izabel as they travel to Quietus to meet J. Oswald Heist, the author of A Nighttime Smoke, the trashy romance novel that brought the star-crossed lovers together. After dealing with some of the rather unpleasant fauna of Quietus, the troupe finds Heist, who turns out to be somewhat different than they expected. Following some awkward introductions, everyone settles in for a mostly tranquil interlude of drinking and board games in a lighthouse surrounded by a vast field covered in the bones of the dead - symbolism that is both rather obvious and rather heavy-handed. As with the other story-lines in this volume, character development is front and center, leading to the discovery that Alanna seems to prefer to avoid conflict, or even making difficult decisions, with sex. This contrast, between the impulsive and somewhat flighty Alanna, and the steady and contemplative Marko serves to demonstrate both that they balance one another out, and hint as potential problems for their relationship in the future. When she conspires with Heist to push her daughter-in-law towards a career the reader is shown how manipulative Klara can be, but Vaughan also takes care to show that Klara is both a grieving widow and a caring sexual being in a sequence that suggests that Izabel may be much more than those around her have assumed she is.

These somewhat idyllic intervals crash into one another, because in Saga no peace can last for any appreciable length of time. In a story with a war set on autopilot as the backdrop, it is perhaps fitting that the catalyst moving Gwendolyn to arrive on Quietus just after Prince Robot IV is the result of a crisis caused by compulsions beyond Sophie's control. The collections of confrontations that results resolve multiple threads, at least on a temporary basis, and result in a character's death that is at the same time both shocking and completely expected. What makes this death even more significant is that the identity of the killer is a detail that should have significant repercussions in the future. In a larger sense, all of the threads in the story resolve in a manner that is somewhat shocking and yet somewhat completely expected, which serves to create an interlude in the action by the end of the volume, but an uneasy and easily broken interlude.

Saga, Volume 3 manages the difficult task of wrapping up the first three installments of the series in a satisfying manner while also setting up the next set of stories. Though much of this volume is dedicated to character development, it is punctuated with incidents of action and extreme violence, which shatters the tranquility, making them seem even more distressing. The shock and horror engendered by the violent highlights are so effective because this volume does focus so heavily on character development, investing the reader not only in the lives of the protagonists, but also those hunting for them, and even the comic relief tabloid reporters. By painting the ground-level characters on all sides of the conflict in a sympathetic light, Vaughan has created a story that illustrates the true cost of warfare, while also showing the indifference and callousness of those who quite willingly send those characters onto a collision course with one another. Saga, Volume 3 paints a beautiful, but deadly picture that wraps up much of the story that has developed to this point, but also leaves enough threads hanging to leave the reader looking forward to seeing what lies in the future.

Previous book in the series: Saga, Volume Two
Subsequent book in the series: Saga, Volume Four

What are the Hugo Awards?

2015 Hugo Award Nominees

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Graphic Story

Brian K. Vaughan     Fiona Staples     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, April 20, 2015

Musical Monday - Spock's Dog by Five Year Mission

This is the first Musical Monday song and video that I am actually in. There is a good chance that it is the only one I will be in for the foreseeable future, mostly because I have extraordinarily little musical talent. The redhead is in this video too, but that's not that exciting for her, because she was already in a music video before when she appeared in The Doubleclicks video for Love You Like a Burrito. Now that she's been in two music videos, her fame might go to her head. We are over there in the percussion section, listening to Andy Fark tell everyone to hit the beat "on the two and the four, and not the one and the three".

This is what passed for an alien
holding an alien in the 1960s
This video was recorded last year at Starbase Indy, a Star Trek themed convention held every year in Indianapolis on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Because the redhead and I seem to visit Indianapolis so often, we have made several nerdy friends there, and most of them are also in this video, either singing or sitting in the mostly tone-deaf percussion section with us. The song is part of Five Year Mission's upcoming Spock's Brain album, which will feature songs relating to the infamously bad Star Trek episode Spock's Brain, as well as songs about Spock in general. This song is a humorous take on a fairly silly scene from The Enemy Within in which an "alien" was made by the prop department by putting a unicorn horn on a dog, which was then handed over to Leonard Nimoy.

This is the sort of thing that gives me hope that fandom will survive all of the unpleasantness that is surrounding WorldCon right now. Because this is what fans do: They get together and sing a song about a goofy event in an episode on a show that they all love even though it went off the air nearly fifty years ago. Part of the joy of fandom is creating things. Making costumes, writing fanfic, writing fanzines, volunteering to put on conventions, sewing tribbles together, and yes, putting together a Star Trek tribute band. Fans create communities, and create tangible expressions of their love. No set of self-absorbed authors greedily grasping for undeserved awards can change that.

Previous Musical Monday: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Star Wars Main Theme

Five Year Mission     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Blogger Hop April 17th - April 23rd: "The 100" Is a Post-Apocalyptic Novel by Kass Morgan That Was Made into a Television Series

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Ending a book I loved is sad and beginning a new one is apprehensive for me. What about you?

I don't normally have this issue, because I usually read three or four books at the same time. This means that when I finish a book, I am not apprehensive about the one I'm going to read next, because I'm already reading the next one. This also means that when I finish a book, I'm usually not sad, because I'm already in the middle of another as well. This isn't the primary reason I usually read several books at once - I do it mostly because I am impatient and don't want to wait to get to the next book in my mountainous to-be-read pile - but it is a nice side effect.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Wanderer in Fallout 3 Is from Vault 101

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 17, 2015

Follow Friday - There Are 206 Bones in the Average Adult Human Body

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Mistress Case.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Here is €/£/$100,000. Buy something. Anything at all! What would be the first thing you choose, and why?

A house. Or rather, a down payment on a house. I know it is a little boring, but nothing else that I would want to spend money on would be something I could realistically have unless I had a house to keep it in. Even now, my relatively sizable book collection is mostly stored in boxes and stacked against the wall in the bedroom because there is literally nowhere else to keep it. I can't build a nice library for my books until I have a house. I can't have a workshop for making cosplay props until I have a house. I can't have a crafting room laid out the way I want. And so on. Everything else hinges on obtaining and moving into a house of my own, so that would be the first thing I would spend money on.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Biased Opinion - No, You Probably Can't Separate a Work from Its Author

I'm going to start by discussing beer for a bit. Several years ago economist Dan Ariely conducted an experiment about preferences that he described in his book Predictably Irrational (read review). While a professor at M.I.T., he presented patrons at a bar near the university with a taste test of two beers. One beer was identified as a Budweiser, and the other was proffered as "MIT Brew". The testers were offered a sample of each, and then asked which one they would like a glass of. A majority of taste testers preferred the "MIT Brew" and accepted full glasses of it to enjoy.

Later, Ariely conducted a second set of taste tests. This time he told the prospective tasters that the two beers were a Budweiser and a Budweiser that had a few drops of balsamic vinegar added. After the testers had sampled each of the offerings, they were also asked which one they would like a glass of. Predictably, almost everyone who participated disliked the beer laced with balsamic vinegar and preferred the unadulterated beer.

The twist that should surprise no one is that the "MIT Brew" was just a Budweiser with a few drops of balsamic vinegar added. But why the difference? Why is it that when tasting the beer blind, a majority of people preferred the balsamic vinegar beer, but when they knew what was in it before they took a taste, the testers almost all hated it? The answer is simply that they had more information in the second situation, and they developed expectations as to what the vinegar-beer combination would taste like, prepping them to find it distasteful. The key understanding here is that neither preference is more accurate or more "true" than the other. The people who tasted the beer-vinegar combination blind who said they liked it more actually liked it more. The almost universal distaste people expressed for the beer-vinegar combination when they were informed what it was ahead of time was their actual preference. The salient point is that your tastes and preferences are not fixed and immutable. They change based upon the information you have.

Many people hold to the idea that there are "true" preferences that people have, and if we could just get rid of people's preconceptions, we could determine what people really like. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how human preferences work - a misunderstanding that can have substantial real world consequences. Consider the example of "new Coke". In 1975, Pepsi began running a blind taste test they called the "Pepsi challenge" in which consumers were asked to taste a sample of Coke and a sample of Pepsi in a blind test. Under these conditions, consumers favored the taste of Pepsi1 Needless to say, Pepsi aggressively marketed the results of these taste tests, despite contradictory results from taste tests run by Coke that had been not been conducted as blind trials. The pattern that was established was clear: Pepsi would outperform Coke in blind taste tests, and Coke would outperform Pepsi in open taste tests.

In the early 1980s, apparently reacting to Pepsi's dominance in blind taste tests and their own shrinking market share, Coke decided to create a new formula for Coke to replace their old one. They secretly conducted extensive taste tests, comparing their new formula against both Pespi and the existing Coke formula then on the market. The "new Coke" formula consistently beat its competition, scoring well above either Pepsi or the traditional Coke formula. Coke set about unveiling their new flavor, putting out several advertisements showing how the new formula had fared in blind taste tests. The company figured that having conducted blind taste tests they had ferreted out the "true" preferences of consumers, and having this "objectively" better flavor in the cans bearing their logo would prove to be an unbeatable combination.

It wasn't. It was a marketing disaster.

But why? After all, "new Coke" had beaten both of its rivals in blind taste tests, and by wide margins. The testers had consistently stated that they preferred the new formula. But when the formula was released into the market, it was roundly reviled by large numbers of consumers. How did this happen? It happened because Coke made a fundamental error: They assumed that blind taste tests revealed the "true" preferences of consumers. But what blind taste tests reveal is what people prefer in blind taste tests. The trouble is, people don't make purchasing decisions blind, and they usually don't consume beverages (or anything else) blind. Your preferences are not invariable, but are rather highly flexible based upon the contextual information around you. People who bought Coke preferred Coke in part because they knew they were buying Coke. The testers were not lying when they said they preferred the taste of "new Coke" in blind taste tests, they actually preferred it at that time. Those same people were also not lying when they said they preferred "classic Coke" when they were tasting it out of a labeled can, they actually preferred it at that time. Information changes your preferences.

A further point is that information changes your preferences even when it isn't directly related to the thing you are evaluating. It seems relatively obvious that the logo on a can could inspire brand loyalty which would make people change their preference as a result. On the other hand, evidence shows that preferences are affected by all kinds of extraneous factors. Going back to another Dan Ariely experiment: He handed out free cups of coffee to college students on the condition that they filled out surveys rating the coffee. The students were directed to a condiments bar that included odd ingredients such a paprika, cloves, and cardamom to dress up their coffee. On some days the condiments were set out in Styrofoam cups labeled with red marker. On other days they were set out in fancy metal and glass containers with nice metal spoons. No matter how they were presented, no one used the unusual condiments, but on days in which the condiments were set out in fancy containers the students rated the taste of the coffee much higher than on days when the condiments were set out in Styrofoam cups. The point to remember is that your preferences are affected by things that you probably don't even realize are related to the thing you are rating.

Given this evidence, one has to consider the frequent exhortation delivered to readers that they should try to read books and stories without considering the character of the authors who wrote them. "Separate the book from the author" goes the oft repeated mantra. But if elements as subtle as the types of containers that condiments are contained in can affect how much you enjoy coffee, is there any realistic possibility that a reader can avoid being influenced by his knowledge concerning the author let alone any number of other factors? Knowledge about something affects how you perceive that thing, and it does it in ways that you are not even conscious of. You can try to react in an "unbiased" way, but just as one could not change their reaction once they found out that there was vinegar in the beer, you cannot change how knowing than an author is a racist, a sexist, or a homophobe affects your perception of their work. Not only that, you cannot consciously evaluate how much that knowledge affects your perception, so there is no practical way to counter this effect.

So when an author who has spent much of his time alienating a particular set of award voters insists that the only fair thing to do would be to read the works he has promoted with an open mind and evaluate them on their own merits, he is essentially asking for the impossible. Not because the readers would refuse to try to do such a thing, but because they will inevitably be affected by their knowledge concerning that author's actions. This means that even though I read, for example, The Exchange Officers before I voted for the Hugo awards in 2014 and evaluated it honestly, my knowledge concerning Larry Correia's antics colored my perception of the story - and it did so despite the fact that Correia didn't write the story. I had information concerning how the story got on to the ballot, which necessarily affected how much I liked the story on a level that I was not, and am not conscious of. How much? I don't know. Would I have liked the story a lot more if I had read it without knowing what I know? Possibly. But I can't know. No one can. Once you have additional information it colors your preferences irrevocably.

You might be thinking to yourself that you are a fair-minded person and can overcome your biases. The trouble with that thought is that your preferences have been changed without you knowing it. You cannot overcome your biases, because you don't know they are there. The taste tester cannot consciously choose to prefer Pepsi when they are blind testing a soda, and then consciously choose to prefer Coke when they are buying it off the shelf. Your preferences exist separate from your conscious choice. Information changes how much you like beer, coffee, or cola. Information also changes how much you like books and stories. You cannot evaluate a book without being affected by what you know about its author.

1 There are some methodological problems with this style of test other than the blind nature. Some researchers contend that in a "sip test", tasters will tend to favor the sweeter drink over its competition, even if they would not prefer the sweeter drink over the course of an entire can or bottle. This would explain why the sweeter Pepsi consistently outperformed Coke in the blind "Pepsi Challenge" taste tests, but does not provide any explanation for why Coke tends to outperform Pepsi when tests are conducted "in the open".

Biased Opinions     Home

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Random Thought - Eight Things About Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword That Have Nothing to Do With Gender

Among a certain group of tearful canines, it is an article of faith that Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (read review) was only regarded as notable, and only won the bucket-load of awards that it won, because of what they call the "pronoun gimmick", even though many seem to have not actually read the book (and some, like John C. Wright, have advanced this notion even after explicitly stating they have not read the book). The fact that many of Leckie's detractors hold this opinion despite not reading her books is especially interesting given that the Sad Puppies have been extremely insistent that it would be terribly unfair of anyone to render an opinion about their work if they had not read it. This self-contradiction on the part of the Puppies does not surprise me: After all, they are by and large hypocrites and liars. The Sad Puppies are also reliably wrong about pretty much everything.

Some have also called the story derivative, although they never seem to be willing to specify exactly what Ancillary Justice is derivative of. This is also somewhat amusing given that one of the Sad Puppy arguments has been that the Hugo voters have not given enough attention to licensed fiction, and if licensed fiction isn't extraordinarily derivative, then nothing is. Not only that, one of the leading Sad Puppies wrote an impassioned argument claiming that the fact that science fiction wasn't derivative enough was ruining the genre. Of course, claiming that a work is "derivative" is almost always silly - there are very few truly original works of any kind. If one judged the worth of a work by its originality, there would be precious few worthwhile books in the science fiction field. Even classics of the genre such as Foundation, Starship Troopers, and Ender's Game would be considered "derivative" under a strict standard of originality. The real question is not whether one's book contains a strictly original idea, but rather what the author does with the ideas presented. The brilliance of a work of art is in the execution, not in the originality. "Ideas" are a dime a dozen. Taking an idea and doing the hard work of turning it into a finished story is the difficult part.

The salient point here is that Leckie's Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword (read review) have so much more going on in them than a gender "gimmick" (as the books' detractors are wont to call the use of female pronouns throughout). So here are eight things contained in the two Ancillary books that have nothing to do with gender:

1. Language: A lot of people noticed that the Radch language doesn't have pronouns that differentiate by gender. But the Radch language also doesn't have a word for "tyrant". Nor does it have a way to express the concept of a human civilization that is not part of the Radch Empire. Where did these holes in the Radch language come from? Were they intentionally edited out of the lexicon? Were they never present? The lack of such words obviously says something very interesting about the Radchaai, and has some interesting implications that have not yet been explored in the series.

2. Breq: Breq used to be a collective consciousness made up of the Justice of Toren and its ancillaries. Now she is a single ancillary left with what she believes are the memories of the whole. Imagine that you were mostly destroyed and the only thing left was your pinky finger, which carried on without the rest of you. That's Breq. What does it mean for a collective intelligence to collapse into a single unit? We've seen some of the issues come up in Breq's difficulty with individual genders - which probably stems from the fact that she was comprised of ancillaries of both genders before the rest of her was destroyed.

3. Ancillaries and Crewmen: Ancillaries are former humans brainwiped, implanted with various pieces of equipment, and then made part of a starship. As far as the Radchaai are concerned, they are equipment and not people. But Anaander Mianaai has decreed (under pressure from the alien Presger) that there will be no new ancillaries, meaning that ships must be crewed with humans as they run out of potential ancillaries stored in coldsleep. These human crew insist that they be treated like ancillaries - Breq tells us that they would be very offended if she did not do so. But ancillaries are non-persons in the Radch system. They aren't even on the social totem pole. Why would humans want to be treated like ancillaries? In Ancillary Sword, Breq's human crew is referred to by the same names that would be used if they were ancillaries - Kalr Five, One Var, and so on. Are their names permanently gone? If they are promoted to become officers, will their ancillary service count?

4. An Ancillary Emperor: Despite the fact that ancillaries are non-persons in Radch society, the entire empire is ruled over by what is essentially an ancillary. Anaander Mianaai is a collective entity comprised of a single intelligence controlling hundreds or even thousands of bodies. How is it that a society that regards ancillaries as nothing more than equipment could so easily accept being ruled by an immortal version of the same thing? Why is Anaander a person, but ships made of ancillaries are not?

5. The Radch: The Radch itself has not appeared in the books yet. It is a Dyson Sphere that no one who has appeared in the books has even been to. Given the vast resources needed to make a Dyson Sphere, and the enormous amounts of energy that would be available to such a civilization, what need does the Radch have for their outside empire? What is the inside of the Dyson Sphere like?

6. A Certain Humanocentrism: When Breq reveals herself to Anaander Mianaai and takes the side of one of the warring factions within the emperor, Anaander makes Breq into a citizen of the Radch. Anaander does not ask if Breq wants to be returned to a position as a ship made up of ancillaries, and Breq does not suggest it. Given that Breq was a ship for centuries, or even millennia, why was this not presented as an option? It certainly seems like it would have been within the technical capabilities of the Radch, but it isn't even momentarily considered. If you lost 99.9% of yourself, would you be happy being told that this is the way you are going to be from now on, and by the way, here's a status that probably doesn't mean very much to console you?

7. Technological Stagnation: Breq finds Seivarden near the beginning of Ancillary Justice. Seivarden had been one of Breq's officers when she had been Justice of Toren. But Seivarden was an officer for Justice of Toren more than a thousand years ago. Seivarden was out of circulation for so long that her entire family died out and no one remembers them. Despite this, Seivarden is able to take her place as one of the officers aboard Mercy of Kalr when Breq is made its captain. Could one imagine an officer transported from 1000 A.D. serving aboard a modern warship? Or one from 1900? Or even 1950? The clear implication here is that the Radch has not seen any substantial technological development in thousands of years. Why is that? Is this an intentional limitation imposed by Mianaai? Is Leckie implying that there some hard limit to how far technology can develop?

8. Imperial Expansion Foiled: We are told that the Radch was originally built upon an aggressively expansionist policy. The Radch would conquer worlds, kill most people who resisted, transform others into ancillaries, and rule over the rest, with citizens of the Radch taking over running the place to become wealthy. This expansion was halted long before the events of the books, at least in part because the alien Presger forced Mianaai to do so. In an empire built on acquiring wealth by conquering others, what happens when that empire is forced to stop expanding? Is the stagnation of the empire related to the stagnation of technology? If Mianaai wanted to return to expanding the empire, could better technology be developed that would allow the Radch to take on the Presger? Why do the Presger care about the state of human politics anyway?

Random Thoughts     Home

Monday, April 13, 2015

Musical Monday - Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Some people thrive on nothing but hatred. They are dangerous, but kind of sad. Such individuals have nothing of their own, so they lash out at the world willing to tear down what others have constructed for no reason other than such things exist. As Springsteen has Starkweather say in the lyrics of this song, "There's just a meanness in this world". One has to wonder what the difference is in the mindset between someone like Starkweather and someone who thinks throwing acid on the faces of women is justifiable1, or believes that shooting a young girl in the head is okay.2 Except in degree, how is Starkweather different from a man who fantasizes about beating gay men to death in the street3, or whose only regret about a meeting with an enfeebled man is that he didn't punch him in the face?4 And what does it say when someone excuses such people on the grounds that they were polite about their vile viewpoints?5

But there's only so much destruction such people can wreak. Starkweather killed eleven people (not ten, as the song suggests, because the lyrics only talk about the people he killed after he met Caril Ann Fugate). But he was stopped. Those who are racists, sexist, and homophobes are likely finding that the general public doesn't share, and will not put up with, their views. In some cases, greater publicity is shining a light on views previously expressed by some misogynistic homophobes that they would rather not be given wide attention.6 In the end, history shows that the power to destroy is usually temporary and is overcome by the will of the community to build. Starkweather was executed for his crimes. The modern vandals like Beale, Wright, and Torgersen will simply be consigned to the irrelevance they so richly deserve.

1 Theodore Beale on throwing acid in the faces of women who get out of line: "[A] few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability.

2 Theodore Beale on shooting children in the head: "[I]n light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable."

3 John C. Wright on beating gay men to death: "In any case, I have never heard of a group of women descended on a lesbian couple and beating them to death with axhandles and tire-irons, but that is the instinctive reaction of men towards fags."

4 John C. Wright relating his thoughts on the time he met Terry Pratchett: "I sat and listened to pure evil being uttered in charming accents accentuated by droll witticism, and I did not stand up, and I did not strike the old man who uttered them across the mouth: and when he departed, everyone stood and gave him an ovation, even though he had done nothing in his life aside from entertain their idle afternoons."

5 Brad Torgersen on how nice Theodore Beale is: "Ted Beale (Vox Day) and I disagree on a lot. We approach the SJW crusade from rather different viewpoints. But Beale’s been a gentleman with me, and I with him."

6 I have said elsewhere that the worst thing that could happen to writers like John C. Wright is that people would actually read their material. Proving that I was correct, Wright has apparently been going back through his blog to scrub off many of the more virulent misogynistic and homophobic comments he has made. This seems to me to only serve to demonstrate that he is, in fact, a coward unwilling to stand by the hateful things he has said in the past. Unfortunately for Wright, Archive Today exists, and many of his vile, poisonous, and spiteful statements have been preserved for the ages.

Previous Musical Monday: Legend of Korra Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Spock's Dog by Five Year Mission

Bruce Springsteen     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Blogger Hop April 10th - April 16th: People Who Think Springsteen Is Upbeat Should Listen to "Johnny 99"

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever received a bound galley from a publisher for review? What did you think about it? Were you surprised at anything?

I have received a few bound galleys to review. I even have one unbound galley print that a publisher sent me. They are pretty much books that haven't gone through the full process of editing and formatting yet, which means that you have to be a little more forgiving when you read them, and extrapolate a little bit to imagine what the final, polished product will look like. This extrapolation requirement is why I am not a huge fan of bound galleys for reviews - there just isn't a way to reliably do that, which means to a certain extent when one reviews based on a bound galley, one is reviewing in the dark a little bit.

To digress a bit, I remember when George Lucas announced that he was going to release a remastered version of the original set of Star Wars movies to add some new interstitial scenes and clean up some special effects gaffes that had been in the original prints. I recall focusing on one element in particular that had bothered me in Star Wars: When Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader are having their light saber battle, there are a couple of instances in which the coloring done on the light sabers was incompletely done and one can see the black batons that they were actually holding for fight sequence. My first thought was that this would certainly be fixed in the remastered version of the movie. After all, it was a fairly obvious technical error, and something that pretty obviously should have been fixed. And then when the fixed up version came out, this had not been addressed at all. I was so very disappointed.

And this is what seems to happen when one tries to project what changed will be made to a galley when it is transformed into a finished product. The issues that you, the reader, had thought were ones that were most glaringly obvious are not the same ones that the author and publisher saw. And things that you figured were fine were things that they thought needed to be altered.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Trajan Became Roman Emperor in 98 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 10, 2015

Follow Friday - The Peugeot 205 Was a Supermini Car Produced Between 1983 and 1998

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Bloggers of the week - Exploring Pages and Read All the Things.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Have you ever had a reoccurring dream? What was it?

I don't really have any recurring dreams. In fact, I rarely dream. Or at least, I rarely remember dreams. Sometimes I have a vague recollection of a dream when I wake up, but it is almost always jumbled and fades from my memory in less than an hour. I don't know what this says about me, but it probably isn't good. I kind of wish I had dreams that I remembered, but daydreams like that aren't dreams, so I'm pretty sure my brain won't undergo a radical restructuring that will result in me regularly having dreams, reoccurring or otherwise.

Previous Follow Friday: Philip the Arab was Born in 204 A.D.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2015 Clarke Award Nominees

Location: Sci-Fi London at Foyles Bookshop in London, United Kingdom.

Comments: In 2014, when writing about the Clarke Award nominees, I wondered if the locus of science fiction might move to United Kingdom, given the attacks mounted by conservative authors upon the Hugo Awards. Now 2015 has rolled around, and the attacks have turned into a full-scale ideological assault that has, at least this year, produced a Hugo ballot of highly dubious quality. In contrast, both the Clarke and BSFA Awards have produced excellent nominee slates, studded with great fiction. In short, while American awards seem to be stumbling as their spiritual leader is hounded by yapping cretins, the British-based awards are hitting their stride. If the politically-driven onslaught that has assailed the Hugo Awards continues for a few more years, then my prediction that the locus of science fiction will move to the United Kingdom seems likely to come to pass.

The mere existence of the Clarke Award (and other awards) is why, as with all rage-filled campaigns, the Sad and Rabid Puppies are destined to be frustrated no matter how many times they choose to redefine their goals. The worst possible outcome for the Hugo Awards would be for the awards to be, as one Puppy organizer gleefully hopes, "left as a smoking crater". An only slightly less bad outcome would be for the Hugo Awards to become a battle of opposing slates, destroying the anarchic expression of love that the award has traditionally been. Even if either of these come to pass, then the Puppies will have actually achieved nothing. Fans whose affection for the genre is fueled by love will migrate elsewhere, leaving the Puppy organizers standing amidst the ruins they created wondering why they still don't get any respect. Having the Hugo Awards be sucked dry of credibility or even destroyed would be mourned, but there will always be awards like the Clarke Awards, the Nebula Awards, and the BSFA Awards that will take note of and honor good quality genre fiction. So let the Puppies wail and gnash their teeth. Their ranting will never get them what they desperately want, and ultimately, they will be unable to destroy fandom, because they simply do not understand it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

What Are the Arthur C. Clarke Awards?

Go to previous year's nominees: 2014
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2016

Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Biased Opinion - Sad Puppy Falsehoods, Tantrums, and Failures

Apparently Larry Correia's Sad Puppy campaign garnered him enough votes to get his book Monster Hunter: Nemesis onto the Hugo ballot1. And then he declined the nomination. Normally declining a Hugo nomination is done for magnanimous reasons: Authors such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have declined nominations because they wanted other, lesser known authors to benefit from the accolade. Correia, as usual, managed to turn his refusal into an obnoxious, classless, and in some ways cowardly move. He stated that his reason for withdrawing was to take the spotlight off of him and his work so as to make the issue the "movement" that he kicked off. But what this also does is place Correia in the position of having, in effect, a "shadow" nomination that can never be tested against the competition. I suspect that despite his braggadocio, Correia was stung by the reaction he got when a wider audience than his usual devoted fans encountered his work last year when Warbound was on the Hugo ballot. Once it got out into the wider world, the reaction to the novel was decidedly less than enthusiastic, and even though he talks about being a big tough guy, it seems relatively obvious that Correia is actually quite thin-skinned when it comes to his work. So backing out of a nomination means he can have his "fame" from being nominated, while also being reasonably sure that those who are not part of his adoring fanbase won't bother to read and comment on his work.

But as part of his exit speech, Correia decided to try to make a mission statement for the Sad Puppies that is simultaneously one of the most revelatory and dishonest pieces of writing that he has put forward.
This is just one little battle in an ongoing culture war between artistic free expression and puritanical bullies who think they represent *real* fandom. In the long term I want writers to be free to write whatever they want without fear of social justice witch hunts, I want creators to not have to worry about silencing themselves to appease the perpetually outraged, and I want fans to enjoy themselves without having some entitled snob lecture them about how they are having fun wrong. I want our shrinking genre to grow. I think if we can get back to where “award nominated” isn’t a synonym for “preachy crap” to the most fans, we’ll do it.
Let's unpack this screed for a bit. First, the Sad Puppies have loudly stated that their campaign is "not political". To defend their position, they trot out their support for works by authors such as Annie Bellet and their affinity for writers such as Eric Flint. "See, we have socialist friends! We can't be a political movement!" But this is such a weak argument as to be laughable. When one couches one's goals in terms such as "an ongoing culture war" against "social justice witch hunts", then your movement is political. Not just implicitly, as it would be if you nominated no one but conservative authors, but explicitly and overtly. If you define a group as your enemy, and then create a campaign aimed at attacking that enemy, you're engaged in a political campaign. Further, if you place works on your campaign slate with the purpose of "making your enemies heads explode" (as Correia stated concerning his placement of Theodore Beale's Opera Vita Aeterna on his suggested slate for 2014), then your movement is not only political, it is petty. These sorts of actions also make it very difficult to believe that the campaign is, as the Sad Puppy proponents are always quick to say "about getting good quality works on the ballot".

But one also has to take a look at what Correia is ranting about. He says he is in favor of "free expression" and his opposition are "puritanical bullies"2. He says he wants writers to be free to write whatever they want without fear from "social justice witch hunts" or the risk of "offending the perpetually outraged".3 And it is here that just how truly thin-skinned Correia is becomes painfully apparent. It also becomes apparent just how truly full of bullshit the Sad Puppy campaign is. Because the questions that come to mind to ask in response to Correia's rant are: Who is preventing writers from writing what they want to write, and how are they doing so? Correia has ten novels in print. Brad Torgersen, the Sad Puppy coordinator for 2015, has had seventeen works of short fiction and a novel published over the last five years. Sad Puppy darlings Michael Z. Williamson and John C. Wright have published at least a dozen novels each. These authors, and many of the others that Correia claims to be standing up for, have long track records of writing conservative, religiously oriented, and frequently "politically incorrect" works of fiction. Exactly who or what is preventing them from writing what they want?

The answer is, of course, no one. What has happened is that Correia, Torgersen, Wright, and so on have had their work and politics criticized by reviewers and commentators. The worst thing that has happened to them is apparently that they haven't been given awards for their work. That's it. That's the "social justice witch hunt" that Correia is opposing: That people will read his work and find it unappealing because of the very politics that he and other authors inject into it. That people appearing on panels at conventions might say unkind things about the books of conservative authors. And when one breaks down Correia's statement, that is really the only thing that could even remotely be described as a "social justice witch hunt". That is not a defense of free expression. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Correia and the Sad Puppies, by his own admission in his Hugo exit speech, want to quell free expression. The campaign is, at its heart, the Sad Puppies saying "stop criticizing the books we like, and if you don't we'll scream some more about how you are censors and how much we love free expression". But this is a pernicious argument because science fiction fandom has always been a conversation that goes back and forth, with positions espoused, and criticisms - at some times quite impolite - launched back. When people criticized Heinlein's Starship Troopers for having fascist overtones, or Farnham's Freehold for conveying some fairly broad racist sterotypes, Heinlein didn't wail that he was being oppressed by the enemies of free expression. Further, no one called such criticisms a "social justice witch hunt" and then tried to organize a campaign with the implied aim of silencing his critics.

Correia's exit speech then turns to the faux populist argument advanced by the Sad Puppies, saying ,"I want fans to enjoy themselves without having some entitled snob lecture them about how they are having fun wrong." But the only people who have spent copious amounts of time telling fans they are having fun wrong are the Sad Puppies themselves. Brad Torgersen spent a copious number of words explaining to Worldcon voters that they were being fans wrong, and that people who like anything other than rocketships and rayguns in their science fiction are destroying the genre. The Sad Puppies seem to be almost continuously outraged that Rachel Swirsky's If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love was voted onto the ballot in 2014 by the Hugo nominators, and that John Scalzi's Redshirts won the award in 2013 with the sometimes implied and sometimes outright stated assertion that no one could have actually liked those stories enough to honestly vote in their favor. I have seen more than one Sad Puppy supporter state that those who favorably reviewed Saladin Ahmed's book Throne of the Crescent Moon could only have done so because they were trying to curry favor with the "social justice crowd", and not because those doing the reviewing thought it was actually a good book.4 If that is not telling fans that they are having fun wrong, I'm not sure what is. In point of fact, just mere moments after decrying people telling others they are being fans wrong, Correia says, "I think if we can get back to where “award nominated” isn’t a synonym for “preachy crap” to the most fans", effectively stating that people who like the things he regards as "preachy crap" are being fans wrong.

But the fact that the Sad Puppies are a hypocritical, anti-free expression, anti-"wrong fan" political campaign is not new information, it just hasn't been laid out quite this boldly before. For example, in another post explaining his motivations for creating the Sad Puppies, Correia states:
I started this campaign a few years ago because I believed that the awards were politically biased, and dominated by a few insider cliques. Authors who didn’t belong to these groups or failed to appease them politically were shunned. When I said this in public, I was called a liar, and told that the Hugos represented all of fandom and that the awards were strictly about quality. I said that if authors with “unapproved” politics were to get nominations, the quality of the work would be irrelevant, and the insider cliques would do everything in their power to sabotage that person. Again, I was called a liar, so I set out to prove my point.
And the blunt truth is, Correia is a wrong on every point in this diatribe. One might note that this was apparent even before Correia launched the original Sad Puppy campaign in 2013, as Brad Torgersen had been nominated for a Hugo Award in 2012. Even before he began tilting at imaginary windmills while imaging nonexistent conspiracies against writers with "wrong" politics, his alleged point had been disproved by recent nominations not only for Torgersen, but also for authors such as Mike Resnick, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Eric James Stone, all of whom appeared on the Hugo ballot prior to the first iteration of the Sad Puppy campaign.

The Hugo awards are broadly about quality, and even though it doesn't always pick the "correct" winner, it almost always picks a good winner. This is a point that Correia simply does not understand, possibly because, as has been made apparent in the last couple of years, he doesn't seem to be able to distinguish good quality fiction from mediocre or even bad fiction. In 2014, Correia's proposed slate put five works on the Hugo ballot: Dan Wells' The Butcher of Khardov, Theodore Beale's Opera Vita Aeterna, Torgersen's The Exchange Officers and The Chaplain's War, and Correia's  own novel Warbound. They did very badly in the final voting, placing in last or next to last in every category, with one placing below "No Award". Correia claims this makes his point. He's wrong. What it proves is that the works were judged on quality and found wanting. Correia, Scalzi, and many others stated that people should read the nominated works and judge them on their quality. So I did. I read every single one of them. I even read the first two novels in that preceded Warbound in Correia's Grimnoir trilogy to make sure that I didn't miss any of the context in the nominated novel. And then, in recognition of the actual quality of the stories, I left all of them off the ballot in favor of "No Award". The nominees from the Sad Puppy slate were simply not nearly as good as the other nominated works. In a pure quality-based assessment, the Sad Puppies lost to "No Award" on my ballot. They earned those places.

Facing the reality that their books were given a fair chance by a wider audience and roundly rejected is simply not an outcome that Correia and his Sad Puppy buddies are prepared to accept. Instead, the Sad Puppies reacted by throwing a tantrum, stomping their whiny feet, and claiming that there was a secret cabal that unfairly worked against their books. The Sad Puppies wrap themselves in a fiction of their own making and in effect tell voters like me that we are bad fans because we didn't vote for them. They spin an invented tale of a conspiracy that shut them down, rather than the much more plausible possibility that the voters simply didn't like what they had to offer. But the "left wing conspiracy" to shut out their favored works is part and parcel of the Sad Puppy manifesto (and is yet another reason why the Sad Puppies are a political movement). When people point out that a slate of works to be effectively bloc voted upon runs counter to the accepted social customs of the Hugo awards, the Sad Puppies squeal in anger, "But those lefty social justice warriors do it too." Unfortunately for the Sad Puppies, there is precious little evidence that suggests that is the case, and a lot of evidence that it is not. When pressed, the Sad Puppies almost always seem to point at people like John Scalzi, saying that his posts on his blog Whatever in which he has, in the past, given notice of which of his works from that year are Hugo eligible, are evidence of voting slates. Or other posts in which Scalzi has created an open thread and invited either creators or fans to suggest works they think are worthy of a Hugo nomination. In public, the Sad Puppies have expressed befuddlement at the idea that people could find a difference between such actions and their decision to create and promote a curated slate. This, to me, indicates that the Sad Puppies are being disingenuous, because the difference is both stark and easy to find. On the one hand, telling people what you have done or what you love that is eligible is simply providing information. On the other, creating a slate and offering it as a means of voting to, as many Sad Puppy supporters have said, "stick it to the social justice warriors", is another thing entirely. Even the protestations by Correia and Torgersen that they told their followers to only vote for the slate if they agree with it ring hollow in the face of their numerous posts telling their fans that those evil lefties had been doing unethical things behind the scenes (with no evidence to back up these claim), all the while insulting them for liking the wrong thing (while providing no real evidence of such insults other than providing distortions and falsehoods). The Sad Puppy movement is, in effect, based upon distortions, falsehoods, and outright lies.

The Sad Puppies are fond of saying that this shadowy cabal of Hugo voters vote in "lockstep" in favor of people with the "correct" political persuasion, but this is belied by the vote tallies in the Hugo nominating round. For those who do not know how the nominating process works, the short version is this: Anyone who is an attending or supporting member of the Worldcon for the current, previous, or next year may submit a ballot nominating up to five works or people in each of the Hugo Award categories. The five works or people with the most votes in each category are placed on the final ballot so long as they also received more than five percent of the total votes cast in that category. Every year, after the Hugo Awards have been bestowed, the statistics concerning the voting are released, including the nominating tallies for the top fifteen entries in each category. For example, in 2014, the nominating vote tallies for the Best Novel category were:

368Ancillary JusticeAnn Leckie23.1%
218The Ocean at the End of the LaneNeil Gaiman13.7%*
184WarboundLarry Correia11.5%
160The Wheel of TimeRobert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson10.0%
120Neptune's BroodCharles Stross7.5%
98ParasiteMira Grant6.1%
96The Shining GirlsLauren Beukes6.0%
92A Stranger in OlondriaSofia Samatar5.8%
91A Few Good MenSarah A. Hoyt5.7%
84The Golem and the DjinniHelene Wecker5.3%
81The Republic of ThievesScott Lynch5.1%
74Under a Graveyard SkyJohn Ringo4.6%
70London FallingPaul Cornell4.4%
69Abaddon's GateJames S.A. Corey4.3%
67SteelheartBrandon Sanderson4.2%
66River of StarsGuy Gavriel Kay4.1%
* Neil Gaiman declined the nomination

Looking at this breakdown, one has to wonder where the "lockstep" voting that the Sad Puppies are wont to complain about is. Where is the vote-buying by Tor that they keep harping about? Where is the domination by "message fiction"? What these numbers show is an anarchic mixture fueled by love of the genre with a fractious electorate splitting their ballots across a number of titles. As with so many other Sad Puppy claims, when one looks at the issue, one finds that their baseless conspiracy theories simply don't hold up. One could go further back and look at 2013 to see a similar vote array:

193Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasJohn Scalzi17.34%
138BlackoutMira Grant12.40%
1352312Kim Stanley Robinson12.13%
133Captain Vorpatril's AllianceLois McMaster Bujold11.95%
118Throne of the Crescent MoonSaladin Ahmed10.60%
101Monster Hunter LegionLarry Correia9.07%
91The Killing MoonN.K. Jemisin8.18%
90Caliban's WarJames S.A. Corey8.09%
74ExistenceDavid Brin6.65%
69Glamour in GlassMary Robinette Kowal6.20%
68The Drowning GirlCaitlin R. Kiernan6.11%
62The Hydrogen SonataIain M. Banks5.57%
61RailseaChina Mieville5.48%
58Discount ArmageddonSeanan McGuire5.21%
56Range of GhostsElizabeth Bear5.03%
55LibriomancerJim C. Hines4.94%

As before, there is simply nothing here to support the notion that there is a secret cabal of voters that are rigging the nominations by voting in concert. I'm sure the Sad Puppies will express outrage over the presence of Redshirts atop the list of nominees, claiming that this is evidence that Tor and the shadowy cabal they imagine exists somehow rigged the results. On the other, and more sensible hand, one might note that Redshirts also won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2013, a poll with a fair number more voters than the Hugo Awards, demonstrating that the novel had broader appeal than the Sad Puppies assert. One who isn't inventing conspiracy theories to justify their position might also note that Redshirts is a best-selling humorous riff on a well-known and loved trope from one of the most popular science fiction franchises in history. To a certain extent it would have been surprising if it had not been nominated by a notable percentage of the voters. When one looks at the vote tallies for the Hugo nominations, there just isn't any real support for anything the Sad Puppies assert concerning lockstep voting, vote buying, or any of the other nefarious deeds they assert have been commonplace in an effort to justify their current campaign.5

Perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence against the idea that Hugo voters have worked in "lockstep" at the behest of band of shadowy masters is the success of the Sad Puppy campaign. The simple truth is that a campaign like the Sad Puppies only works if they vote as a bloc and everyone else is disorganized. The Sad Puppies, as strong as their voting bloc was in the 2015 nominating process, only represented about fifteen to twenty percent of the total number of people who cast nominations for the Hugo Awards (which, I would note, bodes ill for their chances of having much success in the general vote, which uses an instant runoff voting system that is very different from the nominating process that makes it much more difficult for a dedicated minority to dominate the voting). If there actually was an organized secret cabal aligned against them who was voting in "lockstep" as the Sad Puppies claim, then their campaign would have no chance of working. Their own success simply disproves everything the Sad Puppies claim about the Hugo voting process.

However, the Sad Puppies claim that all they really want to do is put good fiction on the Hugo ballot, so who could possibly oppose that. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that in 2014 they placed some very decidedly not good stories on the ballot and taking them at their word, the problem is that the Sad Puppies really don't seem to be able to differentiate good fiction from bad fiction. Take Correia's assertion concerning the "quality" of the nominees from the 2015 Sad Puppy slate who made it onto the Hugo ballot:
And seriously, you’re telling me Jim Butcher, the god father of an entire genre, isn’t worthy? Marko Kloos indy published sci-fi book has sold literally over ten times as many copies as last year’s winner Ancillary Justice, and people love it, but it isn’t worthy? You’re telling me that Kevin J. Anderson, industry pro, 23 million books in print, three decades of working in fandom and helping other authors, isn’t worthy?
Notice what Correia has not mentioned on this list? He doesn't say that the books that these authors were nominated for this year are any good. Instead he points to how many books Kloos and Anderson have sold, and in Anderson's case it isn't even how many of The Dark Beyond the Stars have been sold. Instead, we get Anderson's career sales highlighted, which would be relevant if the Hugo Award was for best career sales. But it isn't. Time and again, when called upon to explain what they mean by "quality works", the Sad Puppies fall back on total sales, apparently unable to understand any measure of value greater than how many dollars one has made by writing. Unfortunately for the Sad Puppies, the Hugo Award category that Anderson is nominated in is "Best Novel", and I have see even Anderson's own fans say that this is far from his best work. Correia points to Anderson's status as an "industry pro", which is an entirely irrelevant point, as everyone who has been nominated for Best Novel in the last several decades has been an industry pro. He also tout's Anderson's "three decades working in fandom and helping other authors", which makes Anderson seem like a nice guy, but is also entirely irrelevant with respect to whether his novel is worthy of a Hugo nomination. But this defense of Anderson's worthiness seems somewhat hypocritical for Corriea, as he has decried the fact that authors who go to conventions and interact with those he derides as being part of "fandom" are often more successful when it comes to awards. For Correia to now use this as a selling point to prop up a somewhat less than exciting nominated novel seems, well, pretty self-contradictory.

Correia's argument about Butcher is just as incoherent as the ones he made for Kloos and Anderson. Let's concede for the sake of argument that Butcher is the godfather of the urban fantasy genre (he's not, but we can leave that aside for now), what does that have to do with whether or not Skin Game is a worthwhile nominee? Just as Anderson's career sales numbers make no difference, whether Butcher is or is not a "godfather" of urban fantasy is also entirely irrelevant to whether he should win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The question that must be answered is whether the specific book that has been nominated is a Hugo caliber book. I have not read all fifteen volumes of the Harry Dresden series, but the reaction that I have seen from every person that I know who is both a Jim Butcher fan and is aware of the Hugo Awards has been incredulity that Skin Game was nominated. Not because, as the Sad Puppies would have one believe, they thought he was being kept out by a politically correct bunch of gatekeepers, but rather because they didn't think it was anywhere near good enough to put on the ballot.

But even that tepid defense of the three Best Novel nominees from the Sad Puppy slate belies the low quality that pervades the slate. John C. Wright has two nominated works from the Sad Puppy slate (and four other works that were nominated from the Rabid Puppy6 slate). I've read some works by John C. Wright, and he's a terrible writer. I'll read his nominated works, as they are almost certainly going to be in the Hugo voter packet7, but unless he has dramatically improved as an author, any slate that includes his writing simply isn't serious about promoting quality works of fiction. Further evidence of the complete lack of care concerning quality fiction displayed by the Sad Puppies is the Best Related Work nominee from the slate titled Wisdom from My Internet, a rambling collection of one-line political jabs by staunchly conservative Michael Z. Williamson that reads like the author culled through a dozen conservative political chain letters and picked out the worst parts of each to string together into a "book". Needless to say, given these sorts of nominees, one probably shouldn't expect much quality from many of the nominees.8

One irony is that the Sad Puppy ballot failed to do anything regarding one of the points that Brad Torgersen argued vociferously when ranting about how terrible the current Hugo awards are. That point being that, in Torgersen's opinion, the Hugo voters are somehow ignoring comics. This claim was pretty hard to support under any circumstance, given that the Hugo awards have an entire category dedicated to honoring graphic stories, but it became completely untenable when the Sad Puppy slate was revealed and they were only able to offer up a single proposed nominee. One would think that if the Sad Puppy campaign really was about promoting quality fiction, then its supporters would have been able to come up with more than one nominee that was treated as little more than a joke by Comics Alliance. For all their talk about how the Hugo awards fail to properly recognize comics, when the time came to put their money where their mouth was, the Sad Puppies were unable to produce a worthwhile ante. Their unwillingness to do anything more than pay lip service concerning the issues they claim to be concerned about speaks volumes concerning the Sad Puppy campaign, revealing it to be little more than a political slate with no other purpose.

The fact that the Sad Puppy slate is an entirely political and entirely unsavory campaign is most apparent when one considers the reactions of those who were not told they were being placed on the slate. Despite Torgersen's protestations that he contacted and received an affirmative response from everyone that was placed on the Sad Puppy slate, this has been revealed to be a lie. When this information came out, I was unsurprised because, as I have noted before in this post, the Sad Puppies' entire campaign is backed by people who have at best a casual relationship with the truth. Matthew David Surridge, nominated by the slate for Best Fan Writer, has stated that he was never asked to participate on the slate, and declined the nomination when it was offered, providing a rather lengthy explanation in which he deconstructed most of the Sad Puppy talking points and showed them to be false. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, nominated for Best Semiprozine, has repeatedly stated that they were never contacted before being placed on the Sad Puppy slate. Dave Creek, originally placed on the Sad Puppy slate, asked to be removed, and in a later explanation as to why stated:
Larry Correia, on his blog, talks about the list getting "SJWs" (Social Justice Warriors) to have a "giant, public freak out." He's referred to people he defines as SJWs as "control freaks" and "thought police." Their primary sin seems to be promoting diversity among writers, as well as among the characters created in SF stories.
Those who were coopted onto the slate or, as seems to be the case with nominees such as Annie Bellet, who consented to be added without really understanding what they were signing on to, seem to have been included as a smokescreen for the heavily conservative slate, so as to provide the Sad Puppies with the ability to protest that they are not a campaign dedicated to getting conservative authors onto the ballot. But when your suggested ballot is dominated by authors like Tom Kratman, John C. Wright, Michael Z. Williamson, Ken Burnside and Tedd Roberts, and yes, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, then it is pretty obvious what the real point of your campaign is, and it isn't to promote good works of writing no matter the political ideologies of their creators. The purpose of the slate was, as Creek points out using Correia's own words, to make his political enemies have a giant freak out.

In the novel Starship Troopers, retired Lieutenant Colonel DuBois offers then high school student Johnny Rico a first place ribbon in a recent race, while knowing that Rico in fact placed fourth. Rico, as DuBois intended him to, finds this act meaningless, as it recognizes him for an honor not earned, while actually feeling some pride in his actual accomplishment, although it is not nearly as illustrious as finishing first would be. This is why people like Surridge and the creators of Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine are so ambivalent about finding out that their nominations were the result of being chosen for a slate that is all about politics rather than quality work. It is apparent that the nominees who were not consulted in advance can see that the sense of accomplishment that comes from being nominated for a Hugo Award has been tainted by slate voting, and their nomination probably feels as meaningful as if they were handed a first place ribbon for a sixth place finish. One might think the other Sad Puppies would notice this, and feel some shame regarding their own ribbons, but they are too caught up in their vendetta against an imaginary enemy that they don't realize that their "accomplishment" is as meaningful, and will be regarded as being as valid, as that of Rosie Ruiz.

1 I say "apparently", because we won't know for certain that he was nominated until the full statistics are released following the Worldcon in Spokane this year. The Sad Puppies have been caught in at least one transparent lie already regarding whether or not the people who appeared on their slate agreed to be on it or not, so we really can't be sure of anything they claim at this point.

2 This is a bit rich coming from someone who backed a slate that included John C. Wright's works. Wright, for those who do not know, exploded in a fit of rage that would be humorous if it weren't intended so spitefully when the animated series The Legend of Korra included two women holding hands as a sign of their romantic relationship, attacking the creators of the show with, among other invective, the following: "Mr DiMartino and Mr Konietzko: You are disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth. You have earned the contempt and hatred of all decent human beings forever, and we will do all we can to smash the filthy phallic idol of sodomy you bow and serve and worship." It seems pretty clear that if there are puritans present, they are part of the Sad Puppies. Lest anyone think that is Wright's only kind of venom, he has stated that having the Muslim Ms. Marvel Khamala Khan on the Avengers is "the same as if, during World War Two, a comic book made one of their heroines a member of the Nazi party". Homophobia and anti-Islamic bigotry in one package. Would it surprise anyone to find out he's a raging misogynist as well?

3 At this point, I will state that anyone who uses the term "social justice warrior" or any variant of it in an unironic manner as an attempted insult has pretty much demonstrated that they have very little to say that anyone with any sense should bother to listen to. Correia's oft-expressed hatred for "SJWs" is yet another indicator that he really isn't a particularly deep thinker.

4 I'm not going to delve into the racist implications of such statements other than to say that while the Sad Puppies always get very offended when anyone points out the fairly non-representative make up of their promoted slates, these kinds of racist and sexist attitudes expressed by them and their fans seem to show through quite often.

5 I have seen Theodore Beale make the claim in various place that he has secret evidence that "SJW" collusion has taken place. On the other hand, Beale is an anti-vaxxer, creationist, and a conspiracy theorist who believes that the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado was a plot by the U.S. government to seize everyone's guns, so there's really no reason to believe anything he says.

6 Not content with the reactionary nature of the Sad Puppy ballot, which contained exclusive male nominees in the Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best related Work categories, and a couple of token women and minorities here and there, Theodore Beale put together a mostly complimentary, but even more ideological "Rabid Puppy" slate that seems to have been mostly aimed at adding himself and a number of works by John C. Wright put out by Beale's small press Castalia House to the ballot.

7 The Hugo voter packet is a recent addition to the Hugo award process. Publishers and creators who control the rights to nominated works are asked to place those works or excerpts from those works into a packet to be distributed to the eligible Hugo voters so as to allow them to be better informed when they cast their votes. The Hugo voter packet was probably partly responsible for the lousy performance of the Sad Puppy nominees in 2014, as the voters were able to read for themselves just how weak they were when compared to their competition. The Hugo voter packet was originally the creation of Sad Puppy bete noir John Scalzi, who originally created and distributed it independently of the the official Hugo Awards process. I doubt any of the sad Puppies have done anything nearly as notable or fan-friendly as this single act on Scalzi's part.

8 In an instance that might be called poetic justice, the Sad Puppy slate may not even reflect the preferences of its creators. Observers have noted the absence of Cixin Liu's novel The Three Body Problem, and William Patterson's biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Vol. 2- The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988 from the Sad Puppy slate. Both of these works would seem to be the kind of works that the Sad Puppies would enjoy quite a bit, and in the case of the Patterson book, would have been a heavy favorite to win Best Related Work given the competition provided by the mostly miserable slate-driven nominees. When asked, Correia stated that the Patterson work would have been on the Sad Puppy slate had he known about it in time, while Beale has said he would have put Liu's book on as well but he did not have time to read it before crafting his slate. One danger of a slate, regardless of its motivations, is that it will crowd out works that should be promoted, potentially foiling even the preferences of the curators of the slate.

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