Hugos 2016

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The World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) is over for another year and, as has been the case for the last few years, it was not without controversy. The culture wars that permeate American society have reached deeply into the doings of the science fiction community. The campaigns of the conservative Sad Puppies and loony right Rabid Puppies to subvert the Hugo Awards were again in play with a limited amount of success. One proponent of the slate was expelled from the convention for hijacking a panel discussion to rant against the evils of Social Justice Warriors and I’m sure other, less public, debates, filled many of the rooms and hallways.

I wasn’t there but it seemed to me that the whole thing had lost some of its sting. Perhaps people have grown tired of it (Man, are my dogs barking!) or perhaps the impending rule changes to limit the impact of slate voting took the wind out of their sails. None of the true puppy nominees won though there were a couple of categories where No Award was given. In the rest there was at least one non-slate candidate to vote for – and in most cases, more than one – and that’s who won.

As I say I wasn’t there but I did watch the ceremony on my computer. After all, having recently won an Aurora Award, I have some interest in the matter of SF prizes. I thought the hosts handled the situation with dignity and lots of humour and did a good job of keeping the tension out of the room. Only Neil Gaiman in his absentee acceptance took a shot at the whole Puppies’ slate – essentially pulling aside the cover that they had tried to hide behind of nominating a few works from outside their own numbers so they could claim victory when those more ‘mainstream’ nominees won. It’s an old trick and would fool no one with any experience in the world.

It made me wonder – just how big is the Puppies movement? Fortunately the voting results give us a clue. Theodore Beale aka Vox Day was up for a couple of awards; he is the leader of the Rabid Puppies so presumably his numbers should be fairly telling. And they were. For Best Novella, his total on the first pass was 67 out of 2903. For Best Editor it was 165 out of 2386. That then is the core group of Rapid Puppies – who presumably would show some loyalty to their putative leader. As for the larger Puppies group? That’s a little harder to pin down but can be winkled out from looking at the results of later passes – how many votes did they get before the ballot expired? Somewhere in the range of 450 (the number of nominations their slate received) to 650 (the maximum number of people who preferred them to No Award) it seems.

So the hard core RBs represent 5-7% of voting fandom and the more casual supporters less than 20%. While everyone denies there is an opposite slate – there is one telling number. A book by Jim Hines featuring John Scalzi and which, I guess (as I haven’t read it), represents the opposite camp, garnered about 188 nominations (out of 2080) in its category (and didn’t make the final ballot) . Conclusions can’t be drawn from a single case but I have to ask: What is all the fuss about?

Looks to me like most fans just want to have fun.

And that’s ten minutes.

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Cat Videos and Other Strange Phenomena

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I didn’t sleep that well last night which always sours my mood. So today I’m mostly going to avoid politics as I need to degrumpify. Hey, if Shakespeare can invent words why can’t I?

I blame my lack of sleep on The Martian – so many ideas. It was a great film – about all the things that are possible when people use their brains and not their brawn to solve problems. A big high-tech thriller without a single gun in sight. People had to challenge themselves physically but not against each other. I heard one reviewer complain that the characters were not emotional. Nonsense – deep emotions were felt and expressed but they weren’t allowed to get in the way of people focusing, using their intellects and working hard to solve problems. I love to see the return of hard science to science fiction – while still remembering what science is all about. People working together to solve problems and help each other.

So, do you like cat videos? This is a different question than do you like cats. I know people who like one but hate the other. However, I love both. And I love aloof adult cats as much as their goofy, cuddly offspring. And I especially like it when they get the best of dogs. So here is a cat video.

Voting – so I couldn’t avoid politics altogether – is apparently a habit. Studies show that if you vote young, you are likely to vote for the rest of your life. Even eliminating the effect of general interest in politics, early voting can make a difference to later behavior. There is a campaign afoot to get voters to take non-voters to the polls. It’s a great idea, especially if the non-voter is 18 or 19.

Speaking of young people, here’s some good news for parents – and bad news. Studies of 14 year-olds show that the biggest influences on their social and political views are not their peers but their parents. When in conversation with each other, the most common point of reference begins with “my dad thinks…” or “my mom says…” So that’s a big responsibility. If you are by nature a racist, you should shut up around your kids. If not, you should understand that they can’t always tell if you’re joking. So be careful about casual racism and sexism.

Our trip to Istanbul is coming up in a few days so we spend a lot of time looking at two web-sites. The first is the weather site which tells me that it is expected to be sunny (mostly) with temperatures between 16 and 22. The second is the Canadian government travel advisory – which currently says you should avoid dark alleys and places where terrorists gather, but otherwise have fun.

I have to say the latest Conservative ad seems ineffective. It is a bunch of quotes from Trudeau, taken out of context, and generally made when he was trying to answer questions from regular Canadians. I guess we’re supposed to think he’s not ready. Of course, the Liberals can’t do that: Harper never answers questions unless they’ve been vetted. And besides I care less what Trudeau says at this point than what Harper doesn’t. Secret Trade Deals? Duffy Scandal cover-ups?

Told you I was grumpy. And that’s ten minutes.

Burning Candles

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There was a time when staying up all night was not only possible, it was routine. In University days, I often pulled all-nighters to get a critical assignment done or at least drafted – unlike some I would do the 24-hour thing a couple of days before an impending deadline. Even then I wasn’t dumb enough to think I was brilliant at 4 a.m. Revisions were a daytime thing.

Through the years I’ve stayed up late to party with friends, to explore a city’s late night culture (an absolute must in Madrid) or just to say I did. I can recall one memorable weekend when I stayed up drinking with political cronies until five in the morning and then grabbed an hour’s sleep and a quick shower before flying off to attend a Premiers’ conference – an event that started the minute I got off the plane and continued well into the next night. Was I groggy? Not in the least – oh, to be 31 again.

These days my candle has been burned down to a mere stub (at both ends) which makes attending a literary convention all that much harder to bear. But all the really interesting conversations take place after midnight so what can you do but try to limit the wine intake and set the alarm as close to your next morning’s events as you can possible get away with?

It doesn’t help when convention planners schedule your morning panels for the crack of ten o’clock. I guess they look at my greying hair and figure I probably eat at 4 in the afternoon and hit the sack by 9. An absolute slander I say. I never eat before 5:15.

Still, you only have one life, so why bother trying to make it long one? Frankly I’d rather spend a couple of late nights with friends – even if I do feel like death warmed over the next day. And I’d far rather stay up to see the sun rise than get up for the same experience.

Which is all to tell you that I’ve been attending When Words Collide – a great little convention held every August in Calgary. I’ve been selling books (a few at least) in the dealers’ room between appearances on panels with topics as diverse as Eco-Fiction and Cyberpunk and Social Order. More than anything I’m getting a chance to reconnect with friends from all over western Canada and beyond. Though I have to tell you it sometimes makes me feel like the grand old man of Canadian SF when I can’t get from the restaurant to the programming rooms without having to stop a half dozen times for a handshake or a hug.

I certainly haven’t had a chance to talk to everyone – but maybe I can catch up tonight.

And that’s ten minutes.

The Auroras

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The Canadian science fiction and fantasy awards (The Auroras) ballot was announced yesterday and I’m pleased to say that I was nominated in the ‘Best Related Work’ category for editing Strange Bedfellows — an  anthology of political science fiction. I’m particularly proud of this work which was crowd-funded and attracted some top science fiction writers from around the world.

What really impressed me about the ballot was its overall quality. If you look at the novel category, you find some of the top names, not just in Canadian SF&F but the top names in the field, including a couple of former Nebula and Hugo nominated and winning writers. The category of YA novel is equally impressive. Both lists feature award winning and best selling novelists (not to mention award-winning, bestselling novelists).

One friend said, ruefully — it’s as good as this year’s Hugo ballot. And he’s not wrong. The Aurora ballot is not always as amazing as it is this year but generally, especially in the novel categories, it represents the best of the year published by Canadian writers. It’s not always perfect and some writers have been neglected — though usually because people aren’t aware that those writers (published mostly in the USA) are even Canadians.

Unlike the Hugos over the past two years, there were no slates involved — though that wasn’t always the case. Some years ago there were examples of block voting that, one year, saw every nominee — including the nominees for the French version of the awards (now dealt with separately from the English awards) coming from the City of Toronto. Now Toronto is a nice place but it’s hardly the only place where good SFF is made. It actually turned out to be good for the awards as it lead to greater participation by other parts of the country in the process. A few simple rule changes (you’ll have to ask the admins what they were) and that problem seems to have gone away. In any case the slate was geographically based rather than political — ‘we’ll vote for all the people we know’ seems to have been the primary motive. Maybe the Hugo Awards folks can learn something from their example.

And of course there is often some gentle campaigning — along the lines of: here are the things I have eligible and, perhaps, here’s a sample of my work if you would be so kind… In fact, those who cross the line and get a little aggressive are mildly rebuked (and often don’t get on the ballot anyway).

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a situation where people felt they had to vote No Award as a first choice. By the way, we’d like to keep it that way — which will probably be the case, since only Canadians are eligible to nominate and vote. Canadians can be plenty passionate about our politics and our science fiction — but we’re just too damn polite to ever become Rabid Puppies.

And that’s ten minutes.

The Hugos 3

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So here I am poking that sore tooth with my tongue again. I wasn’t going to but when you lie awake at night thinking about something, it creates a certain urgency. It’s my version of “I have to write,” I guess.

The whole Hugo thing is really starting to spin out of control. Revered figures in the field have announced they won’t present at the awards; some say they won’t even attend the convention. Meanwhile, two of the nominees — people who apparently weren’t consulted when put on the Sad/Rabid Puppies slate — have withdrawn their nominations. Not sure what that will do to the ballot but it has to add to the taint that this year’s awards will inevitably have. On the flip side, defenders of the Sad Puppies (most go out of their way to differentiate Sad and Rabid Puppies) produce elaborate — though flawed — data analysis of why there may be some basis for their complaints. {I could deconstruct them — as a policy analyst, it is what I do — but who has time in ten minutes?}

But that wasn’t what kept me awake at night. Really, the Hugos don’t matter that much to me. In the eight World Cons I have gone to, I’ve only attended the ceremonies twice. I like awards well enough — I’ve won a few myself and they always made me happy — but sometimes the process makes me tense and sad for those whose hopes are dashed.

The thing that bothers me most about this is the division it is creating among people who mostly have no ‘dog in this fight’ if you will excuse the expression. On a personal level, I think this kerfuffle taints the whole award process, not just the Hugos but every popular award process in the field of science fiction. Usually at this time of year I’m bringing things to people’s attention for the Canadian Aurora Awards. But in 2015 I’m reluctant to do so. I probably will anyway but it won’t be that enthusiastic.

Then there is the impact on people I know. I see people taking sides — arguing and even de-friending each other on social media. Even the most gentle suggestions that there might be merit in one side or the other, leads to arguments. Most of my friends are definitely outraged by events — especially by Theodore Beale (Vox Day) — but some have raised defenses of the Sad Puppy slate or at least of their stated mission. I happen to think they are wrong but I’m used to thinking people are wrong about their political views. I’m more than happy to debate with them and suspect that, if name calling is avoided and reason prevails, I can more than hold my own. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those in the field who are trying to have that debate or trying to make something good happen out of it all.

I don’t think that the Hugo controversy of the last two or three years will lead to the destruction of the awards altogether. Most people — believe it or not — are reasonable and a compromise that works for everyone might be found. But if not — if the Hugos simply become another casualty of the endless culture wars that Americans like to wage with themselves, so be it. Institutions have a lifespan just like people. Some things have to die so other things can grow. If the Hugos go away, too bad, but science fiction as a field will survive and probably thrive — even if we are all confined to our respective ghettos and made poorer both financially and culturally by that.

What I do regret is that some people are going to remain enemies forever — based on a matter of opinion. I’m a loyal person and I won’t abandon friends simply because we have a political disagreement (though I might feel sad about it). But because of that some of my friends might abandon me.

And that’s slightly more than ten minutes.

Haggard

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I spent the weekend at Ad Astra science fiction convention in Toronto. I’m a veteran of the SF Con world, having attended my first one in 1979 when, if I remember correctly, Theodore Sturgeon was the guest of honour. In 1983 I went to my first World Con — in Baltimore — where I met Isaac Asimov, if only briefly. So yeah, I’m old. Which people kindly kept reminding me of all weekend which comments of: you look tired. And my, but you’re haggard.

Well, it’s been a busy winter and it was a busy Ad Astra too. I saw lots of old friends and made a few new ones. As usual these days I spent my time moving between the panels I’d been asked to participate on and the dealer’s room where I was selling books in my role as publisher of Bundoran Press. I managed to attend a couple of readings and made brief appearances at parties on both Friday and Saturday night. In bed by midnight both nights — which may well be the first time that has happened. So maybe I am tired. Or haggard.

Another sign that I may have become an ‘éminense grise‘ was that they put me on a panel on the relevance of classic SF, presumably because I was old enough to have read it on its original stone tablets. Still, I was sitting beside a young writer, Andrew Barton, who was reading classic SF because it gave him insights into identifying the prejudices and blind spots in his own writing. Made me think I might have a few blind spots, too.

I also got to talk about the emergence of James Bond into public domain (in Canada at least) 50 years after the death of Ian Fleming. I suspect I was the only panelist alive when Fleming was still writing. Do I start to detect a theme?

At least I wasn’t completely left behind — I did get to talk about emergent artificial intelligences and the future of the car — which makes me think that it could lead to a reboot of the classic TV show, My Mother the Car. You do remember that don’t you? It was on in the 60s. I think.

Hmm. Well maybe that does make me think it’s time to start on my spring rejuvenation program. I did come across a diet book the other day called: Lose 10 pounds and 10 years. Though given how haggard I feel — I may have to double down.

But that’s ten minutes.

The Hugos 2

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Mostly I want to leave this Hugo thing alone but it’s a bit like having a bad tooth; you can’t help poking at it with your tongue. It doesn’t make the pain go away but at least you feel you’re doing something.

Anyone who knows me at all will know that I have little sympathy for the politics of the Sad Puppies. I’m no gun-loving right wing — just add whatever other adjectives you need — guy who worries about the invasion of — add you own group here. But I’m a democrat and as long as they don’t cross the line, I don’t care what they think nor would I try to silence them. What line? The one Vox Day (what a silly name) constantly crosses. The line between political discourse and foaming-at-the-mouth hatred.

Having got that out of my system, I think most people are over reacting. Just because some people were included on the slates — and it is increasingly clear that some but not all were not consulted on this matter — doesn’t tar them with the same brush as those who promoted them. I suspect they are there because the write the kind of traditional 50s-style SF Torgeson and Correia like and don’t have politics they find too offensive. I also suspect some were included to make a point — i.e. the Sad Puppies aren’t all about politics; see who we included — there be liberals there!

Nonetheless, I think this whole thing is a sad development. I’ve been to 8 World Cons over the years (the first in 1983). That means I’ve voted for the Hugo 8 times and probably nominated about 13 or 14. Last year I read all of the nominated stories and parts of the novels. I couldn’t vote for any of that year’s Sad Puppy slate not because of the politics (which were frankly obvious and naive) but because of the bad writing.

I’ve seen campaigns before but mostly they were fairly disorganized and built around single authors. The fan base of those writers would nominate as a block, frequently only nominating and voting for their favorite. Sometimes their favorite won; often they did not. This happened and wasn’t against the rules. The current campaign of the Sad Puppies isn’t against the rules.

We currently have a Senator on trial for fraud in Canada. He says what he did isn’t against the rules too. It might be a case in both situations of bad rules.

The response of some people is to say we must vote No Award against anyone who was on the slate (which assumes that every other nominee got elected on random chance rather than an organized personal campaign as in past years). Personally, (if I decide to buy a supporting membership and vote) I’d take the high road. Read them all and judge them on merit. Some of these works, editors, artists might be as worthy of consideration as others who have won the Hugos in the past (take a look at some previous winners and who they beat if you want to see my point).

Certainly they shouldn’t be judged based on guilt by association. Though if you want to go that route, I suggest you read up on the life and times of Senator Joe McCarthy.

But that’s ten minutes.