Monday, August 24, 2015

On the spaying and neutering of puppies, sad, rabid and otherwise

The 2015 Hugo Awards have come and gone, resulting in a record five (5) categories where "No Award" was given in response to the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempts to game the system and ensure the treasured rocket ship trophy went to those deemed appropriate by their particular clique. Log rolling's happened with the Hugo Awards before, as well as the Nebula Awards, but this is the first instance I am aware of where said efforts were fueled primarily by ideology as opposed to friendship and/or personal desire.

To put this in context, there have only been five total "No Awards" in the entire history of the Hugos up to this point. Here are the results (detailed breakdowns may be found here):

BEST NOVEL The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
BEST NOVELETTE “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST GRAPHIC STORY Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST SEMIPROZINE Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
BEST FANZINE Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
BEST FANCAST Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN ARTIST Elizabeth Leggett
By any measure, the Puppies' efforts have been a spectacular failure on their part, but they've been crowing loudly online that blocking otherwise worthy works from making the ballot, hijacking the awards and forcing no award in several categories if victory in their eyes. Essentially, they're gloating at others' misfortune. The whole mess is a blemish on the genre and just makes me sad more than anything else. There have been both Hugo and Nebula winners in the past that I did not agree with--heck, there have been some that incensed me (generally cases where a brilliant central concept or wish-fulfillment element pandered to the SF reader, masking excruciatingly clunky writing)--but never did it occur to me to organize a group to 1) ensure my genius prose was nominated and 2) ensure those other, lesser works rewere not nominated. Awards voting is driven in large part by tastes, and tastes change. Don't believe me? Check out the past winners of the Hugo Awards. Changes in readership tastes are reflected in the winners throughout the decades. If the Sad Puppies are upset by recent Hugo winners, I can only shudder at the thought of their outrage when the New Wave overtook SF in the 60s and started winning awards, or when Cyberpunk went nova in the 80s. Truly, I thought the Puppies' premise fatally flawed and their response misguided at best. I was acquainted with a few involved, but when I tried to broach the subject, it quickly became apparent there were very different worldviews at work. I'm not talking apples and oranges, I'm talking apples and polyester leisure suits. So rather than tilting at this particular windmill, I relegated myself to the sidelines, as I had little hope of changing any minds, not to mention the fact I had no works nominated nor was I voting on the awards this year. My biggest involvement came via reposting some of George R.R. Martin's clear-eyed analyses of the so-called "Puppygate" via my Facebook page. File770 also has an extensive round-up on Puppygate-related links, if that's a particular rabbit hole you choose to fall down.

Apparently, that was enough to earn membership in PC Parasites of the SFWA, an elite group of 20 writers defined as "Humanity replaced by PCness. Immoral, vicious, insane monsters feeding on society." I've never considered myself to be "Politically Correct," but then I don't go around intentionally being an asshole women and minorities or people with different ideas than my own to prove I'm not PC, so your mileage may vary. Maybe common courtesy and civility are passe now--I can never keep up with these things. In any event, fellow Parasites include George R.R. Martin, Jim C. Hines, Laura Resnick, Steven Brust, John Scalzi and Stephen Gould, among others. So the company I'm keeping is pretty damn impressive. Naturally, I'm going to add this to my official biography and resume. I'm just afraid someone will eventually realized I've allowed my SFWA membership to lapse and kick me out.

Alas, even though the Puppies lost in spectacular fashion, I doubt this means the end of Puppygate. The fact that they pooped in the punch bowl and gave unending amounts headache and heartache to many, many people is a badge of honor for them. They consider this heroic. Most rational observers consider it psychopathic. Even the authors only associated with the group on the fringes have shown a remarkable tone-deafness to the entire scope of the problem, refusing to see the forest for the trees (if I may badly mix metaphors). The bad blood and ill will engendered by this controversy will not dissipate any time soon, and I have to wonder about long-term consequences to careers and friendships.

I would hope that lessons have been learned, and that cooler heads will prevail in the future, but I fear the only lessons learned are bad ones and there's a big future in kerosene and matches.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Armadillocon 2015 in the rear view mirror

Armadillocon has come and gone for another year. The 2015 edition was a very good one, indeed. Attendance seemed significantly up from last year, panels were well-attended and an energy permeated the con that had been absent in recent years. Most everyone I talked with seemed to feel the same. The guest lineup--GoH Ken Liu, Special GoH James Morrow, Editor GoH L. Timmel Duchamp, Fan GoH John DeNardo, Toastmaster Stina Leicht and Artist GoH Rocky Kelley--was very active and accessible, interacting with attendees and panelists all weekend. There was an impressive number of new panelists as well, the concom going out of their way to seek out and invite regional pros who haven't attended before. That injected a good amount of new blood to the regular panelists, and the panels themselves were stimulating and thought-provoking. Again, it was clear the concom didn't just recycle the programming items from past conventions, coming up with new topics, or clever variations on older topics, instead.

My panels were well-attended and boasted some very intelligent people who all had insightful commentary. For "Researching Your Book," I brought along a huge stack of Venus science books I'm using as reference for Sailing Venus just to scare people a little bit. J. Kathleen Cheney, Jaime Lee Moyer, Cary Osborne, Lee Thomas and Ernie Wood kept things lively and as you might suspect, each writer had different approaches to the question of how much research is necessary. I was then drafted to sit in on the "New Twists in Urban Fantasy" panel, as some of the panelists hadn't made it to the con that Friday. I kind of prattled on about the overlap between urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, and how they're not necessarily the same. As I hadn't written any urban fantasy in quite a few years, I didn't have much to offer, but thankfully John Moore, Carrie Clevenger and Mari Mancusi knew their stuff. A lot of discussion was devoted to how publishers are declaring certain sub-genres like urban fantasy, dystopia, etc. "dead" and refuse to consider new work in these areas, but such work is still being published under different branding by an array of publishers, and quality work will always make it into print regardless of publishing trends.

On Saturday, my fellow panelists for "The Hobbit Movies" were Lillian Stewart Carl, Aaron de Orive, Paige Ewing, Shanna Swendson and Troyce Wilson, and while everyone agreed Peter Jackson had gone off the deep end with silly video game computer effects that went on far, far, far too long in the films, we disagreed a surprising amount on what the worst transgressions were and which additions actually improved the story. That doesn't change the fact that Jackson would've been better off sticking to his original plan for two films rather than three. "Writing a Strong Teen Protagonist" was the first of two panels I moderated, and Peni Griffin, P. J. Hoover, Jake Kerr, Mari Mancusi and Trakena Prevost all had far more experience writing YA than I, which made my moderating job so much easier. And interesting discussion of the differences between YA and Middle Readers ensued, along with some thoughts on the emerging "New Adult" category. Writing teens is hard, simply because teenagers are still figuring out who they are at that age, and their moods are inherently volatile. Writing teens as small adults is a no-go, and writing parents as incompetent boobs is just as bad a cliche. The absent parent--either through death, divorce or indifference--is another recurring trope that's difficult to stomach, but sometimes unavoidable as so many YA books are coming of age stories where the teens acquire their own agency, so to speak.

My other panel to moderate, "Speculative Fiction as a Mirror to Religion," went by fast. I mean fast. We started out and the next time I checked my watch, we'd run five minutes long and could've continued another two hours at least. James Morrow was the 800 pound gorilla on the panel, for obvious reasons, and he was wonderfully challenging in the best way possible. But he didn't hog the panel. On the contrary, Matt Cardin, Katharine Kimbriel, Ari Marmell and Shanna Swendson all jumped in with enthusiastic, thoughtful comments, having particular fun with the influence that the superstitious King James had on the translation of his eponymous version of the Bible. I used my story, "The Makeover Men," as an example of a exploration of misogyny that could not exist without both science fiction and religious fanaticism, but the story is currently not available online, unfortunately. This panel was probably the highlight of the con for me. So many ideas were flying back and forth that I cannot even begin to remember them all.

Other highlights include the Space Squid 10th anniversary shindig/flash fiction contest, Stina Leicht hitting no. 6 on the BookPeople best seller list, engrossing conversations with Don Webb, Sean Patrick Kelly, Joe Lansdale, Rhonda Eudaly, Bill Crider, Lawrence Person, Scott Cupp, Lillian and Paul Carl, lunch with Lou Antonelli, moving tables with John Picacio and drinking some of the magnificent Fin du Monde (a Belgian triple) at the Montreal Worldcon bid party. Oh, and I discussed with Chris Brown the possibility of reviving a misbegotten collaboration we threatened to write way back when, so feel free to be afraid. Good stuff all around, and I can't wait until next year.

Feel free to share the photos below, just be sure to include appropriate credit.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

Sir Terry Pratchett died yesterday after a battle with early-onset Alzheimers. People far more eloquent than I have eulogized him elsewhere, and the hundreds of obituaries provide far more detail and understanding of the man and his life than I could hope to compete with. So I will just stick to what I know.

I didn't enjoy Pratchett's books. This disappointed me greatly. I remember getting The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic via the Science Fiction Book Club not all that long after they became available in the U.S. and being distressingly unmoved by them. I'm not sure I laughed even once. It's not that I couldn't see what he was doing or the tropes he gleefully lampooned--that should've been catnip for me, and indeed, was what caused me to seek them out in the first place--but the prose lay lifeless upon the page for me. Over the years, as I grew more widely read and Pratchett's Discworld satires grew progressively more sophisticated and cast an ever-expanding net, I revisited his work. Strata, Interesting Times, a handful of others I can't quite recall (Mort? The Fifth Elephant?) remained stubbornly closed to me. I could see the jokes. I could see the biting commentary. I understood what he was accomplishing, and saddened by the fact I could not participate no matter how many of his books I read.

I have exactly one Terry Pratchett story.

Back in 2000, at Aggiecon 31, Pratchett was guest of honor and I was a regional guest. I hadn't been able to get close to him because of the swarms of fans that followed him everywhere, but we had one panel together. Fate conspired to seat me right next to the man. As we introduced ourselves, I said, "I'm Jayme Lynn Blaschke, and I write short fiction because I don't have the discipline to write novels."

Without blinking an eye, Pratchett said, "I'm Terry Pratchett, and I write novels because I don't have the discipline to write short fiction."

He was a witty, friendly and effortlessly funny man in person. I could not help but like him immediately, and count myself fortunate I had the opportunity--however brief--to make his acquaintance.