Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Voting for Hugo Awards: Best Novella

Further to my complaints about getting novel excerpts instead of novels in the voting packet, someone on File 770 pointed out out that The Fifth Season is also included – I didn’t check that one carefully since I already own an e-copy. I own three of the five nominees, and might conceivably buy the other two if I like the excerpts enough.

I’m moving on to the novellae. 

_________________________
BEST NOVELLA (2416 ballots)
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
Appears on the Sad Puppy list but not the Rabid Puppy slate. I previously read and reviewed this story about a sacred-earth-carrying, locs-having bright African student in space. 
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. A bunch of talking animals (mouse, salamander, porcupine, etc.) that wear clothes. Plus they’re super-serious, grim, asskicking types.  My stopping point: “Scantily clad females carried trays of liquor to powerful males, threading their way through poker tables and roulette wheels.”  If you thought The Wind In The Willows needed more cocktail waitresses, this may be the story for you.
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. An engrossing fantasy tale about a youth that accidentally acquires a powerful demon while tending to a dying sorceress. Contains gender role sensitivity and a distinct lack of action – how did this get on the list/slate?  An entertaining read, mainly due to the depth of the character and world building.
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. I think it’s a love story. In a solipsistic world where everyone is emperor of their own server (custom designed based on their innate personality as it naturally develops), a man and a woman exchange awkward sentimental gestures..
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. This is a revenge tale set in a grim and dark world involving a gritty tough spacer lady, Scur. It has some veiled references to people of the book, and to the “slow bullets” comprising identity and culture, which can be dangerous if limits are exceeded. And it has an ending more satisfying than I expected.

My vote: these stories are light years ahead of last year’s novellae. Except for the one about the grim and macho furries – that one made me flash back to 2015.

I have to admit Brandon Sanderson caught me off guard, since I tend to think of him as writing fantasy with excruciatingly well-planned details, and here he is writing something almost postmodern – although the part with the fundamental incompatibility of the sort-of-lovers’ different innate personalities felt sad and real. So did this future where humans are rare and precious and swaddled in multiple layers of bubble wrap.

Lois McMaster Bujold, on the other hand, got me to read a story about demons, and telepathic communication, with more romance than fighting, in a backstory-dense fantasy kingdom. These are all things that I tend to consider warning signs, and yet Ms. Bujold made me interested in them.

Alastair Reynolds, meanwhile, almost turned me off at the beginning with that gratuitous rape-like scene. Then there was a little more explanation about the slow bullets, and the people of the book, and Scur and her world, and a big emotional climax in which Reynolds illustrates exactly why a mere two-dimensional payback scene is just not enough.

It’s much easier to blame the slate for foisting disagreeable authors upon you when you don’t like the authors to begin with. I will note that I find the Puppies much more tolerable as populists than as provocateurs trying to make peoples’ heads asplode (see Related Work).

But what about when the evil wicked slaters try to force feed you good stories? And what if it’s probably the last year any slating will happen given the obsessive attention that the Worldcon organizers have devoted to this matter? Do I really want to shut out good authors who didn’t exactly beg to be slated? And the answer to that is no.

I’m still inclined to vote Binti ahead of the others – because it’s not on a slate, because it’s far removed from US politics and/or culture wars, because I want to signal boost it so they’ll make it into a movie someday.

But I’m always open to hearing a good story. I’ll vote for Bujold, Sanderson, Reynolds and Polansky underneath it, in that order.



Saturday, May 28, 2016

Voting for Hugos: Best Short Story and Best Novel

The packet came out today!  I’ve got all the nominees downloaded to my phone.

Both the short stories and the related works came in two separate downloads, the porny version and the clean version. I’m of the opinion that naming a porn story as winner would be a step below No Award. Plus I’m a little bit irate about being forced to mention the porn if I want to blog about the Hugos this year, and I’m trying to mention it as briefly and tangentially as I can. The Puppies are complaining about the science fiction community sheltering creepy sex offenders in their related works selection and inflicting creepy sex on us in the short story section. Since I don’t want public libraries to have to restrict future Hugo short story compilations to readers over 18, I ain’t voting for any of this trolly nonsense.

For the short stories, the nominees are:
  • “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
A very brief puppy-slated story about an alien’s amazement over human tenacity following a war in which it is discovered that, unlike the aliens, humans understand sacrifice. 
  • “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
This is that story I linked twice.  I guess I like it. 
  • “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
This is a troll entry, parodying If You Were A Dinosaur My Love by Rachel Swirsky. The Puppies seriously hate this story, a sad tale about the narrator’s lover being beat up for being foreign/gay/trans and/or all of the above; if they had only been a dinosaur they could’ve fought back.  I’m of two minds about this story: (a) I thought it was touching, at least the first time I read it; and (b) I don’t think it’s science fiction.  Anyway, ain’t voting for no troll post.
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
“African men thought of themselves as lions, and they lived like kings of beasts, entirely content to lounge around living off the labor of one or more of his lionesses.  And the girls who succumbed to their exotic appeal could not return to China, not those who bore half-African bastards, anyway.  It was a growing problem …”  So, this is a story about weaponized vaccines and genetic warfare. Bleah. I took a shower after reading it. 
  • Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)
Again, ain’t voting for no troll entry. Even if it was written by the most goofy, lovable, personable pornographer on the internet, Dr. Chuck Tingle.

Deliberations didn’t take long: Naomi Kritzer for the win, followed by No Award.

BEST NOVEL

When I first contemplated getting involved in this Hugo fiasco to help raise the drawbridge against the nefarious Puppy invasion, one of the big selling points involved getting copies of five novels included in my voting package. Brand new corporately-published science fiction novels cost big bucks, like twenty-five of them, and the idea of getting the sci fi community’s carefully vetted best-five for the price of voting is tempting. 

Last year was my first year doing this, and not all of the novels came in full-length form. The Ann Leckie and Jim Butcher selections were provided only as excerpts.  While I could see that a nominated author might want to give voters only the creamy center of their confection without having to plow through the dry, crusty outside, the idea of forcing voters to invest their own money to evaluate a nominee strikes me as profoundly cynical. Especially given that the science fiction community has quite a few members that don’t have a lot of money.

In fact, I’ll wager that very few people would be willing to spend approximately $125 on hardcover books for the sole purpose of evaluating them. I’ll go spend $25 on, for example, the next installment of A Song Of Ice And Fire, but that’s because I know in advance I will like it.  I have no such preconceptions about the nominees here. 

This year, the only complete novel provided in the packet is Seveneves.

(In a horrific wide-margined, tiny-typefaced pdf version that I’m going to try to hack for greater phone-reading-visibility.)

I can almost sympathize with the Puppies at this juncture. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a corporate publisher manipulating the best novel award given the reluctance of most of the voting base to shell out for high-priced brand-shiny-new novels. Many of the working novelists have already received these books as ARCs or for advance blurbs, so they’re not paying for them. And most fans these days seem to be wrapped in subcultures that would only encompass one or two of the nominated works.  The File 770 crowd, for example, is hot for Leckie and Jemisen but doesn’t really talk about Butcher and didn’t seem to like the science in Seveneves. A lot of Puppies might be willing to shell out for Butcher in hardcover but would balk at laying out the investment for Leckie and Jemisen. 

And further … I’m only a cheapskate most of the time, which is how I manage to live in San Francisco without a trust fund. Occasionally I’m a spendthrift who thinks nothing of dropping three figures on reading material, or jaunting across the country to attend a con where I have too much social anxiety to discuss reading material with other people. I can afford all these books, and I’ve already paid money for two of them (and would like a refund with respect to Uprooted). I’m outraged for the 1986 me, who borrowed a friend’s tattered copy of Neuromancer and read it, enrapt, during a long public transit commute. That version of me couldn’t afford even one hardback, and the idea of that version of me being steered toward spending their scarce book dollars on some steaming pile of corporate dookie because some narcissist executive who probably pals around with pedos manipulated it makes me frown. 

So in response to this corrupt slating of an already corrupt system, I’m going to issue the dirtiest vote I ever intend to vote in my entire life.

I’m nominating Seveneves, even though I haven’t read it. I will read it later, after it wins, when it’s on sale.

Because it’s the only novel included in the packet.

I liked Stephenson’s first book, SnowCrash, which was inspired by Neuromancer and told the tale of Hiro Protagonist delivering pizza but none of his subsequent characters lodged in my brain so I don’t really recall if I’ve read anything else – waitaminute, didn’t he do Zodiac, about the eco-avenger with a raft?  I liked that one, and I can recall his style was kind of infodumpy and his plots were kind of confused and forgettable, but overall his books are enjoyable. And it’s the only novel included in the packet.

I wonder if all the past years’ packets have always included complete novels. I mean, obviously the standard would be to provide eligible material in the packet, so I wonder who was the first diva to only offer up an excerpt?

This book was part of the Puppies’ “let’s slate things people were going to vote for anyway” strategy, but I think the Bill Gates recommendation nullifies that slightly. Whether or not it’s any good, it got Gates reading science fiction again, just like The Martian did with me. The idea of Bill Gates buying more science fiction books is a good one, since he can afford to buy them all.  Plus he’s very bright, and he may come up with a way to nullify this wicked stranglehold the Puppies and the corporateers seem to have on science fiction.

Also, it was the only one included in the packet. Must be present to win.  


EDIT: A postscript re corruption: it is possible that the corporate publishers are withholding complete versions this year in response to the slating. It does seem like a lot of people are treating the 2016 Hugos as though they didn’t count, myself included.  It still strikes me as greedy, though, and I’m still voting for Seveneves on that basis.
RE-EDITED: Also, the packets are a recent innovation, and the idea of punishing an author by making them provide their best work gratis would lead to a lot of competition as people scramble to produce bad writing like mine. Further, the idea of a punitive awarding of a dirty vote to something I haven’t read was probably ill-advised, and inspired by struggling with getting these pdfs into a phone-viewable format. Possibly reading slated short stories put me in a bad mood as well. Current plan: read all the pdfs, possibly purchase Seveneves, Butcher's novel and Leckie's novel if sufficiently intrigued. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Voting for Hugos: Best Picture

So far we have a resounding No Award in Related Work, and for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) …

Last year I was kind of stuffy about refusing to vote in a category until I’d seen/read/experienced all the nominees.  I was playing fair despite the slate, and consequently I read some stories way past their bouncing point.

I don’t know if it quite falls under No More Mizz Nice Guy, but this year I’m not going to hold myself to the same rules. For instance, I don’t need to watch a superhero movie to know I’m not going to vote for it against The Martian and The Force Awakens.

Same goes for Ex Machina, another hot AI chick love story, a subject which seems cloistered in a demographic I don’t share. I’m all in favor of annoying men hooking up with robots or realdolls or smartphones or whatever, just as long as I don’t have to pay attention to it.

I glanced at Mad Max: Fury Road on Amazon. It costs twenty bucks, with no short-term rental available. There are some movies I know in advance that I would like to own for twenty bucks, and this isn’t one of them. I never got into the original franchise, which featured ultra bigot Mel Gibson. I’m told this installment has counterbalancing feminist propaganda, which is sort of like telling me, “hey, this broccoli and herring salad has cilantro in it!” 

So that leaves me with The Force Awakens versus The Martian.

A corporatized reworking of a childhood favorite, or the most awesome and exuberant Mars tale since "Oops I Did It Again." 

I’m already leading with my emotions by excluding 3/5 of the movies based on whim/price, and when it comes down to it, a vote for an award such as a Hugo is a gut-based call anyway. And my guts would never forgive me for putting yet another angsty hot-AI-chick story or superhero installment or Mad Max chapter ahead of either TFA or TM.

So which movie stirred my guts the most?  TFA had quite a few gut punches, especially toward the end. TM made me cry though, with that scene where he’s launching randomly in their direction and gets caught up in a web of red, and where the recent father chose to extend the mission – little human connectivity moments like that.

Have these movies inspired me to do anything in particular, other than blog about them?  Well, let’s see. TFA caused me to make vague plans to go to Disneyland.  But I was probably going to do that anyway, since I’m fond of Disneyland. TFA also lured me into an actual theater.

The Martian, on the other hand, gave me hope for the continued existence of science fiction. It came from a place totally removed from the publishing scene and its infighting. Andy Weir is making his next movie with Ridley Scott, and is having all kinds of ridiculously overwhelming success, and I doubt if having “oh yeah, he also got a Campbell award because the skeksis were too busy fighting over the corpse of corporate publishing to give him best novel” blurb on his novel in addition to all that other stuff would make him shine any brighter. Weir just made corporate publishing look old-fashioned and stodgy – maybe they are.  He made me decide to bypass querying and agents and corporate publishers and all that crap, which might be a bigger decision than going to Disneyland in the long run. I might succeed, I might fail, but at least I know it’s possible.

Weir and The Martian also got me interested enough in the science fiction community to see what’s been going on over the years, and consequently I discovered the web version of File 770 and all the wonderful folks who chill there. It inspired me to learn about the Sad and Rabid Puppies and their detractors, in my struggle to figure out who to blame for the lack of awards for The Martian. In the last year or so, since all this has been going on, I have read a metric crap ton of recent science fiction as a result of File 770 and all this other reading. I have discovered books like Options by Robert Sheckley, and Bride of The Rat God by Barbara Hambly. Which is my current read, and I’m loving it so much that I don’t even mind that the Hugo packets are being delayed because of all that pornography I was recently complaining about.

After years of deliberately not reading science fiction so I could do a better job of writing it, I’m now rolling blissfully in piles of it, and I have The Martian to thank for encouraging me. 

The Martian gets my vote. Followed by TFA, and then No Award.




Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bouncing Off Of Books

At File 770, people sometimes use the term “bounce” when talking about books. This means you didn’t like it, and you can’t exactly point to any fatal flaws either, but you just couldn’t get interested.

A bounce is somewhere between like and dislike. It’s as though the book you are reading escaped from a parallel universe, full of people you’ve never met enjoying activities that you probably wouldn’t like, such as reading books like this.

I think it works sort of like compatibility with other humans. Sometimes you hit it off with people, and you can talk effortlessly for hours. Some people are agreeable enough, not best friend material but perfectly fine as a neighbor or co-worker or workout buddy. Some people immediately get on your nerves, signalling that an argument is likely to happen if you continue talking. And some people are absolutely in the neutral zone, where the bounce point lies.

Since human brains have this tendency to make up excuses explaining why we do things, sometimes it can be tempting to overthink bounces. “Oh, I didn’t like that because it’s about people from Wisconsin, plus the author used ‘invariably’ six times.”

I prefer to think of it as being like an inverted USB plug. A failure to engage. Deceiving yourself into thinking that you bounced because, for example, it was too romantic, while ignoring the fact you’ve enjoyed reading romances penned by other authors, could limit you from enjoying future romantic stories. Sometimes minds meet, discover they have nothing in common, and keep on going.

When I was younger I used to think it was virtuous to try and keep reading past the bounce point, sort of like eating broccoli. Later on, I realized that my dislike for broccoli is fixed, and while my bouncing point for stories might not be innate, there’s no point in plodding through prose that isn’t really registering.

Sometimes dislike can be involved, such as when one immediately drops a book due to some character’s tasteless remark, but sometimes the bounce occurs before dislike has a chance to set in.

The bounce can involve timing. Maybe I’m in the mood for a big dumb epic and this particular book is all aescetic and intellectual. Or maybe I’m in the mood for ascetic intellectualism and this book is too dumb and epic.

I think it’s dangerous to tie bouncing to things like politics, religion and virtue. Not liking a story is one thing, but accusing it of warping young minds to support an conspiratorial agenda to sneak fluoride into our drinking water or whatever leads to witch hunts and moral panics, which are bad things for all artists.

Unless, of course, it really does have disgusting values that lead you to drop it like a PopTart fresh from the toaster when the icing is still partially liquefied. But now we’re talking about books that have crossed over into active dislike territory, not books that make you bounce.



Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Science of One Sunny Night, Part Two

Hooray, Bill Gates is back to reading science fiction, and he just posted a review of Seveneves. Which I will get around to reading as soon as I get my free Hugo voter copy.

Three cheers for science fiction! And it occurred to me that I avoided the subject of the domes in my previous post about this. After the asteroid impacted earth there was an extended period of darkness. Most of the plants and animals died out. Humanity moved into domes, and spent three generations living in close quarters, eating vatgrown food and drinking reclaimed water, and undergoing draconian rules about birth control, not throwing loud parties after midnight and things like that. Right around the time the domes were built there had been a near-miss pandemic. Everyone was mindful of the importance of genetic diversity, and so concentrated effort was made to invite everyone into the domes and keep a good balance of humanity alive.

Some people refused to live in the domes. They died.

There were domes all over the world, and they had internet connectivity so they could keep in touch. In North and South America, the land itself was drastically changed since it was closest to the impact, and borders melted away. People formed new friendships/relationships/countries over the internet, and once they left the domes they met up and built new societies over what was left of their continents. Some wanted to live in futuristic post-cash cities, while others preferred a rural and disconnected lifestyle. Some wanted to dispense with bodies entirely. There was room for everyone.

Being optimistic, I let some of the smaller creatures survive – rodents, bunny rabbits, small dogs, wrens. In all likelihood they wouldn’t – the lack of sunlight would bring about a lack of plants, and anything that lived on those plants would starve. As a soft-hearted animal lover, I arranged for the dome-dwellers to work out cetacean feeding arrangements, so that the whales and dolphins could get through the catastrophes without going extinct, although I did limit their habitat to uninhabited areas of the mid-Pacific.

By the time my story begins humanity has been out of the domes for hundreds of years. Some strides have been made toward remediating all that planetary damage – besides the crazed bioengineers with their unearthly powers, I’ve also got some luddites living behind pollen curtains, ensuring the planet’s collection of heritage seeds survives, and some heroic cowboys who ride around checking soil nitrogen levels and like that. In some areas the seas have been restocked with delicious bioengineered fish that adjust the chemistry of the water while swimming in it. Right now while I’m writing this we silly humans have managed to murder most of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, but in my future we not only figure out how to grow it back, we unlock the ability to use it as a moderately intelligent, self-repairing building material.

It’s a different planet, though. Not the mostly-tame, mostly-accessible one we have now. On this planet, the waves are as tall as skyscrapers and the storms rage. You might run into bioengineered monsters, assuming the sun doesn’t bake you alive. People stay close to home, unless they’re traveling along the designated paths, in large groups for safety.

One thing I realized early on in my worldbuilding is that my future people would have a completely different relationship to physical things. They have limited space, they have a tradition of recycling the nonessentials, and they have 3D printers (“fabs”) that can make whatever you need – barstools, forks, ukulele strings, chess pieces. So there aren’t a lot of collectors, or hoarders.

Am I making a prediction about what 3748 is really going to be like, or whether humans will be around to see it? No. I’m just telling a story about what things might be like if we undergo some worst case scenarios and cosmic catastrophes.

Am I making a political statement in favor of GMO? Nope. My characters live in a world in which GMO is unavoidable; we don’t. The extent to how much GMO is permissible is one of the major themes, and it’ll all come to a resounding conclusion at the end of book three.

And then I’ll go build another world and write something else.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Nebula Winners -- Uprooted and Updraft

I’ve made a horrible mistake, in that I confused Naomi Kritzer with Naomi Novik in at least one blog post. I have no excuse for not keeping better track of all the various Naomis in my zone, and in fact I believe I owe at least one of them a birthday dinner.

Naomi Kritzer wrote Cat Pictures, Please, which did not win a Nebula, but it is going to win a Hugo. I liked it so much I've linked it twice.  I follow this Naomi on Facebook. She is a writer who is Going Places, mark my words!

Naomi Novik wrote Uprooted, which won the Nebula for best novel and which I partially read several months ago. It starts out impersonating a Grimm fairytale set in Poland, and then turns into a torrid submissive-female fantasy; I’m not really into that so I deleted it off my Kindle and moved on. I can’t figure out if this is a story for people who loved Twilight or people who hated it and would rather see it with more Polish magic-users, but I can tell you that it’s definitely not a story for me.


I'm several chapters into Updraft by Fran Wilde, winner of the Andre Norton award for YA. It takes place in an unusual civilization where everyone’s aerial and flies around on big handcrafted wings. Our heroine does something brave and dumb, thus getting herself into the mysterious order of mystery. A very gentle book for people who like feathery fantasy. 



Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 Nebula Winners

List of winners.

I see lots of female winners, and lots of repeats from the other awards lists. I haven't read the YA winner but I've just purchased a copy and it's now lying around in my electronic to-be-read pile.

Why am I focusing on awards?  I don't intend to win any, but I do think awards give you a snapshot of what's happening in a particular industry.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rest in Peace, Katherine Dunn

http://www.pamplinmediagroup.com/pt/9-news/306619-184653-award-winning-portland-writer-katherine-dunn-dies-at-70

We shared a name but we weren't related, and even though we’re both writers, I could never write anything as great as Geek Love in a million years.

Geek Love is the story of Al and Lily Binewski, their little traveling carnival, and the children they deliberately poisoned in utero in order to create their very own homemade freak show. It is narrated by Olympia aka Oly, an albino hunchbacked dwarf who is the most normal of the siblings, unless you count Chick, the youngest, who only looks normal. Oly explains her childhood and what became of her curious family while telling another story about an heiress who pays women to willfully discard their unique beauty. And a stripper, with a tail.

I feel myself stepping close to the “that’s not appropriate for YAs!!!!!” border once again by discussing Geek Love, which absolutely has some mature themes even though there’s no sex, and the violence isn’t too lurid.  It might even be YA, since Oly is a YA during one of the story arcs. It’s kinda-sorta science fiction, or maybe it’s horror, or perhaps it’s dark fantasy – it’s kind of hard to tell. It might even be regular mundane old litfic, except for the fact it’s neither regular nor mundane, although it is extremely literary.  Brilliant, too.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Science Behind One Sunny Night

Enough of these silly awards for now. Back to the business of writing science fiction. When I started writing in the fictional universe where One Sunny Night and all its sequels takes place – I’ll just call it 3748 for ease of reference – I realized I had to do some worldbuilding, but first I had to do some world destruction.  Then I built a future on top of it. 

For the world destruction phase most of which takes place centuries before 3748), my main doomsday scenarios had to do with:

1.       Climate change, featuring ocean acifidification
2.      And a meteor that destroys Central America, and causes some volcanoes, which cause tsunamis (probably a little bit smaller than this one).

I realize all science fiction writers probably claim their big list of foundational hard science was eaten by wolverines, or succumbed to a computer virus. Mine may still exist, but I can’t find it. All I have are some secondary notes with lists like:
           
            Different O2 composition in the air leading to rapid oxidizing of metal;
Extreme turbulence = no more airplanes (even if you could make them out of something that doesn’t immediately rust and fall apart);
Variable oceanic Ph due to released oceanic methane following rise in temperatures;
Let’s throw in a super plague too, because why not.

All of this information kind of melted into the text as it underwent a great many revisions on its way to becoming a story. I reduced the earth to an uninhabitable mess, and then I added some wise, clever, brave humans that survive all of this, nonchalantly. Hundreds of years ago. They have totally moved on, and yeah, yeah, in 3748 everybody understands overconsumption is bad, although it’s not like you can really do it any more.

I gave them some mighty bioengineering, that allowed them to fix it so their skin didn’t blister in the fierce warmth, or sizzle away upon contact with deoxygenated seawater.  They can make preservative to keep metals viable as long as you keep slathering it on, and they can farm all their food in hydroponic vats. They build everything out of “composite” – I’m not entirely sure what that is, but it’s durable and flexible, and you can use it to build ship hulls that’ll last up to three years before dissolving.

Of course, the mighty bioengineering also gave me an excuse to throw in some evil bioengineering, such as the circuitry-eating microorganisms and the oxygen-farting pliosaurs (I figure once you start allowing technology that’ll let doctors field-repair shattered spines, your characters are going to need some powerful counterbalances). Not to mention that one guy, this really irritating supersmart arrogant ultra-competitive guy, who happens to be so gifted at all this tech wizardry that he cloned himself hundreds of times and called it a corporation, er, country. Most of them are harmless and a couple are actually saintly. Good luck sorting them out from the rest.  

If you couldn’t tell from all of this, I’m an optimist. If you gave me the option of bringing back sea cows and thylacines and velociraptors and even pliosaurs, I’d do it. In a red hot minute. Since they won’t let me near the laboratories due to this potential … zealousness, I’ll just have to do it in my fiction.

And then there’s anthropology, which is also a science, or at least some of it is. My rule of thumb for human behavior 3748 was “were they doing it 2000 years ago? When the pyramids were being built, when the Romans were going the house, when the druids danced around Stonehenge? If so, I threw it in. Drinking alcohol and coffee, flirting and having relationships (although there is lots of cultural variation as to what’s acceptable, just like now), parents raising children, communal eating. Dancing, listening to music and enjoying stories. Having pets. Getting into stupid pissing matches that escalate into wars. Being jerks to each other over money. Reading science fiction stories. 

Economics is a humanity, not a science, and since there seem to be competing visions of future economies (with accompanying moral baggage), I included several of them, ranging from commies to voluntary simplicitarians to caste-oriented free market maniacs to gold-hoarding agrarian preppers (or maybe they’re actually closer to being posters than preppers). And none of my characters care about economics, even though some of them are rich and some are poor, and that changes. 

Religion isn’t a science either, so while it does exist in 3748, sometimes in surprisingly subtle ways, I’m vague as to the details. All my characters are too busy staying alive to attend any services. And politics is definitely not a science, but nevertheless, I came up with a world where people manage to not be mean to each other most of the time while spying on each other to make sure everything’s nice and sustainable.

On my first few drafts I had info dumps that explained all of this, but they kept getting in the way of the excitement so I edited most of them out. I’m putting them all here, because that’s what blogs are for.  

            

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Viscerally Reacting to the Hugos

The other day I called up my blog and Google was down. I was briefly convinced it was all because I used Sensitive Words in that one post about the Hugos, and that the SWAT team would be arriving any moment to subdue me. Even though George R.R. Martin had a similar visceral reaction and called the entire Related Works category a toxic swamp

As far as the other categories, the Rabid Puppies have made their mark on all of them, and File 770 did a handy scorecard. I think this is probably the last year they’ll be able to pull off the slate tactics given the proposed rule changes at the next Worldcon, so aside from that one category, I'm going to just vote for whatever I like the most. 

Part of the appeal of voting for Hugos has to do with receiving a curated package of the year’s best science fiction. This was torture last year, but this year’s nominees aren’t so bad – Stephen King’s in there, and Neal Stephenson. Plus My Little Pony tends to make me feel warm and happy inside.





Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Cat Came Back! Further To The Hugos Post


I thought I’d mention that short story nominee Tom Mays rejected his nomination and then Cat Pictures, Please by Naomi Kritzer moved onto the ballot, and I am happy about that. Here,I’ll link it again.  TOLD YA this was a good one! Bet it wins!



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Meanwhile the Locus Awards Are Being Sexist

 The Hugos are being NC-17 this year and they don’t even have a YA award.  The Locus awards have a YA award, but the nomlist for this award is currently being accused of sexism.


Now I’ve just discovered Joe Abercrombie, and I’m enthralled. I love good characters, which will probably surprise my readers since I write such bland ones. Joe Abercrombie does it right. I don’t begrudge him two nominations on any list.

The only other name I recognize is Terry Pratchett, who is very cozy and British. I enjoyed Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, and I’ve read a few of the Witchworld series.

I’ve read a few reactions to this. Some people are outraged by the lack of women, considering that women write most YA. I’ve seen parallel discussions regarding what exactly YA is, and who reads it, and whether only YAs should vote for YA awards.

There seems to be an unspoken convention that all books with YA protagonists are YA but I don’t believe that is true. To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange are grown-up novels about YAs which are often taught to YAs in school, but they’re not YA in the same way as The Outsiders or Hunger Games, and now I’m struggling to draw the distinction. One or both of the Abercrombie books has an adult cast, raising questions of whether a YA story can be about adults.

The Abercrombie book I’m reading right now, The Blade Itself, has an adult cast. There have been some deaths, and descriptions of horrible torture (medically accurate ones with realistic sequelae – I salute this), and there has been a tease/flirt scene, but so far nothing has been unduly gruesome or bleak. In fact, you could almost say it’s a swashbuckling tale in the vein of Count of Monte Cristo.

I don’t feel like I’ve read enough YA to be able to tell whether deserving women writers were shut out by these nominees. I know I need to read more Abercrombie books, plus I always need to read more books in general, and maybe this Locus list will stir up a discussion of exactly which women-authored works should have been nominated. 


2016 Hugo Awards: Porn, Puppies and Pedophilia

So the 2016 Hugo nominations just came out, and I’m not even sure I should blog about them here in my blog about YA and science fiction. Holy cow, it’s even worse than last year.

So this year the Sad Puppies’ list was helmed by women, and they played cooperatively with the other kids in distributing their recommendations. The Rabid Puppies, meanwhile, managed to get a porn parody and a couple of essays about pedophilia onto the ballot, among other things.  Some of my nominations – Andy Weir and The Martian, Mike Glyer and File 770 – made the list, but others got shafted, like Wylding Hall and Cat Pictures, Please

I’m not even going to talk about the porn parody here, although I did think it was funny.  As for the pedophilia essays, they both generally allege that liberalism and homosexuality lead to pedophilia. The nominations list came out on April 26, 2016. The very next day, April 27th, former United States Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (Republican) was sentenced to prison for molesting children. So much for the claim that pedophilia is caused by political persuasion.

One of the nominated pedophilia essays, entitled Safe Space as Rape Room, lists several prominent SF writers that have also been pedos, then extends some flimsy causation theories to insinuate it’s all a big conspiracy.

The other one is a personal account written by Moira Greyland about her abusive mother Marion Zimmer Bradley [“MZB”], who wrote a feminist revisionist version of the King Arthur story called Mists of Avalon, among lots of other things, during a decades-long career as a successful sf/fantasy novelist.

MZB occupied a corner of the sprawling Bay Area subculture of science fiction afficionados, hippies, neuroatypicals, mystics, creatives and similar escapists.  I occupied a different area of this subculture, when I was young and dreaming of being a science fiction writer myself, hanging out with my fellow tattooed alternative types, playing music and stuff. I had some interesting adventures and met some weird people. I refuse to discuss any details until I’ve outlived everyone involved, but I got to go to some cool parties and chill with fun people, including some decent writers, the only one of which that I’ll namedrop is Fritz Leiber, since he was old and infirm and I was too shy to say anything, so there wasn’t much interaction. And I’ll namedrop Captain Colourz too, since he did one of my tattoos. At all relevant times discussed herein I was a consenting adult. 

Kind of a boring one, in fact. I’m straight, but I’ve always been a tomboy that likes guitars and computers and Dungeons & Dragons, and therefore I’ve always felt more comfortable with people who clash with traditional gender stereotypes. Guys that wear eyeliner, women who are good at math, people like that. The corner of the subculture where I hung out emphasized consenting adulthood,  because it included families, and nobody wanted their children to get molested, nor did they want the non-subculture authorities prying into their family lives and uncovering scandals such as open marriages and homosexuality. 

I was interpersonally backwards when I first encountered the subculture, coming from a family that didn’t believe in socializing. We moved frequently, and dad didn’t really like it when we interacted with other people, although we all did it anyway. A total of five people attended my dad’s funeral, all of them relatives. During the punk era my lack of social grace wasn't really a problem, and later on it became a moot issue when I learned that I’m happiest when I do most of my socializing through handheld devices such as computers and guitars, but upon leaving the nest I had no idea how normal people socialize, and things like choosing hostess gifts or exchanging holiday cards can still throw me into a panic.

I usually tell people I grew up in a cult when they notice my unusual affectations from that period – I wasn’t really coerced or imprisoned, but there was a considerable amount of groupthink, along with some power tripping regarding going along with the groupthink, and I turned out to be allergic to that.  Due to this allergy, I didn’t get along with the MZB-related cliques at all, because I always seemed to be getting into arguments with control freaks and their pseudoscience … er, with my fellow dreamers who differed slightly in the expression of those dreams. I quickly racked up several enemies in the sf/fantasy world, torpedoing my reputation in the bud.

Fortunately I had plenty of dreams and could survive the dashing of a few, so I gave up on the whole science fiction novel plan and wrote madcap nonsense for zines, and then I ended up in the alternative press, where I wrote hippie mysticism and developed fresh, new antagonistic relationships with journalists.

And then, right around the turn of the century, I became disillusioned and I got divorced, and I cut people off – including my NorCal nerd and alt-press subcultures – because I felt the need to recalibrate my moral compass. I ultimately became kind of a boring liberal who is mainly into pragmatic things like accessible healthcare and reducing carbon dependence.

Ms. Greyland, who was unfortunately not a consenting adult at all times discussed herein, also recalibrated. She became a social conservative who opposes gay marriage.  I disagree with her, but I can understand that pedophilia might lend a whiff of rot to everything a child associates with the experience.

I don’t feel right voting for Ms. Greyland given the political message attached to her work. Yet at the same time, her account stirred up memories. During a particularly harsh time in my own life (twenty-two years ago today, in fact), I was given some remarkably sensitive assistance by a person who had been victimized by MZB. I’m not going to provide any details on this person’s identity but I hope they’re happy and healthy, and if they care to get in touch (and can handle my lack of social grace) I’d love to buy them dinner sometime.

And you know what? MZB was a bitch. Fuck her, fuck her books, fuck her enablers, fuck all her fellow pedophiles, and fuck her again for being fucking evil enough to fucking inspire me to use the F word here in my YA blog, repeatedly. I’ll stop now. I probably won’t do it again.

And you know what else I don’t like? Bad arguments. I don’t believe college sports, or religion, or politics, or science fiction, or homosexuality causes pedophilia. I think respectability “causes” pedophilia, because pedophiles seem to flock to whatever they think will make them look respectable. You can’t really ban respectability because it attracts pedos.  It’s like banning babies because some of them will grow up to be serial killers. Or members of the House of Representatives, or players of college football, or fans of science fiction.

So here’s what I’ve decided as far as Related Work goes this year: this particular vote-dispensing machine doesn’t produce feeding pellets for rats that press the slate button, and I’m going to vote No Award for this heavily slated category, but I do think that Ms. Greyland’s piece is worthy of some discussion, so here I am, discussing it. Both of the essays were hard to read but Ms. Greyland’s especially brought tears to my eyes. I wish her some much-deserved happiness.

Over the years I’ve drifted away from most science fiction – not from reading it, but from the interpersonal drama involved in liking it in conjunction with others. This whole Sad/Rabid Puppies versus the Hugo awards is a case in point. I’m trying to imagine the Motion Picture Academy spite-nominating a porn film for Best Picture, and I can’t.  

And yet I love science fiction stories, and I realized I couldn’t go to my grave without composing a few of my own. I think that the pendulum is swinging in a direction against tolerance for all kinds of wicked people including pedophiles, and I certainly don’t object at all to the backlash-inspired practices that are becoming prevalent today, such as anti-harassment policies, and everyone carrying a videocamera in their pocket, and less wiggle room with regard to consent.  

And that's all the thought I want to give to the Related Works category this year. I’ll write about the other categories later, after I read them.  



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 Marketing To Do List

Find a creative person to design bookmarks.  Check.
Print some bookmarks.
Go to conventions.
Leave some bookmarks on the bookmark table.
Talk to people, trade bookmarks.
Make more friends that go to conventions.
Offer to buy them lunch and/or a beer if they take some of my bookmarks to their conventions and leave them on tables.
Print and sign books.  Nope, not doing that.
Professional haircut. No no no no no.
Billboards, zeppelins. Not yet. Maybe in 2017.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reading More YA - Chase, Paige and Haddon


The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase

I mentioned this one earlier under its original title, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden.  It was recently re-released for Kindle under the Haunted House title, and it’s still sublime.  Mary Chase was the playwright who came up with Harvey, and her children’s story is full of dark whimsy, as neighborhood bully Maureen encounters a family of wicked Victorian sisters. Oh, and the darkness is that classic-era, unnerving, subtle discomfort type darkness -- not the modern abuse and cruelty variety. Chase is a good enough writer to give you nightmares without detailed descriptions of felonies. 

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I recently read the first in an action fantasy series that takes place in an evil and twisted version of the Land of Oz. Our hero is a teenager chosen to be the assassin that takes down the wicked sorceress Dorothy, while avoiding capture and torture/execution at the hands of her fiendish henchmen (the lion, the scarecrow, the tinman). 

It’s a story inspired by Wicked, and by all those YA stories about teenagers who are chosen to fight the big bad, but it’s also exciting and original, and well versed in the original Oz series (the fate of former proto-suffragette Jellia Jamb is nightmarishly gruesome).  I will probably find myself reading several more stories in this compelling and page-turny series.

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

This book is, according to a forum I was recently reading, a neurotypical’s take on what it’s like to be neuroatypical. 

As a matter of fact, my brain has latched onto the concept of neuroatypicality and neurotypicality, and I’m currently immersing myself in related research, for future books. A lot of neuroatypical people seem to regard this story as being a little bit insulting, sort of in the same vein as the appropriation issues I was blogging about earlier. 

In fact, I lean toward the neuroatypical myself, although I grew up back when we used to call it “eccentric” or “geeky” or “free-spirited.” Back before everything became a diagnosis. I’m not too fond of diagnoses myself and try to avoid them as much as possible, but I’ll allow that I’ve got some fairly hardcore environmental sensitivity issues (which is why I’ll only venture into movie theaters for something major, like Star Wars) and I’m good at databases and videogames; make of that what you will.

And not only that, I live in San Francisco, which has a longstanding reputation as being a neuroatypical sanctuary, a haven for science fiction afficionados, hippies, commies, loudmouthed women and so on. In fact, that’s probably what sent me into science fiction, a genre founded by eccentrics, as opposed to the neurotypical-dominant world of mainstream fiction, which considers the subject to be either freakshow material or worthy of a Very Special Epsiode.

Dog In The Nighttime is more toward the Very Special Episode setting, as a boy with some kind of undefined Autistic Spectrum Disorder learns a parent has been lying to him all these years, prompting an adventure.

Personally, considering that the neuroatypical were being treated by forcible lobotomy within my lifetime, I’m very much in favor of a sympathetic book for neurotypicals to read (with an accompanying Broadway musical for neurotypicals that don’t like to read).  At the same time, I can acknowledge that people might have an issue with the cutesy, mascot-like presentation of autism drawn here, with a protagonist that pingpongs between high-functioning self-awareness and Rain Man inspired meltdowns. 

While reading this book, I kept thinking about Ignatius J. Reilly, hero of A Confederacy of Dunces, a similar kind of guy to Christopher Boone except without the early 21st century medicalization take. And I thought about the legions of super-bright and socially-odd characters that populate science fiction stories from Ender’s Game through Flowers For Algernon. There are enough neuroatypical characters to support a neuroatypical book club, and this rather medicalized and infantilized, variable-functioning character earns his place among them with a page-turner of a story with a few remarkable insights.

Dog In The Nighttime is a depressing reminder of how the real world feels about neuroatypicals who wander outside the boundaries of speculative fiction. It’s a good story for inspiring empathy in normal-brained parents-friends-associates, but it’s not a very good story for actual neuroatypical people, who will likely be confused/enraged by the way the author has compiled a pile of random symptoms into something disguised as a character. I can overlook that because the author has actually pulled off making an autistic character lovable.