The Science Fiction is Settled

Science Fiction is the fiction of Ideas. It’s the testing ground for the possible and the impossible. It asks questions. The most important being “What if?” And then it tries out the answers, trying to find the moral or scientific answers to questions Humanity hasn’t faced for real yet. And often these extrapolations come up with some very uncomfortable answers.

For instance, What if we could clone people? Are they the same person or not? Are they people at all? If they are not, can we harvest their organs to save the life of the original person? Pretty much all of the answers can be pretty horrifying, as are the solutions to the issues they raise as well.

Not every science fiction story is going to be all skittles and cream. A story can be great and make us think and still be horrible to contemplate. Nobody reads 1984 and thinks the world it portrays is something wonderful they’d like to be a part of. Well, nobody SANE, but there are plenty of people who have no problem with Winston Smith’s image of the future, as long as it’s their boot and someone else’s face being smashed forever.

But some out there do not like hearing contrary voices. They don’t like anything that disagrees with the conclusions they’ve already arrived at (or had spoon-fed to them). The uncomfortable questions and disturbing answers are not for them. They want affirmation. Science Fiction that does not support their dogma is an offense to them. It’s not enough that they don’t have to read it, they don’t want anyone else to read it either. They don’t want it to exist. And they will use social pressure, blackballing and worse to make this so.

So I was recently shown a link to an essay on the website of Amazing Stories (a Canonical example of the fourth step of Burge’s Law of Institutional Liberalization) written by David Gerrold, and in the beginning, he gets it. He states the purpose of Science Fiction reasonably well:

This is the primary function of science fiction — to be the Research and Development Division of the Human Species. This literature is the laboratory in which we consider the universe and our place in it. It is the place where we ask, “Who are we and what is our purpose here? What does it mean to be a human being?”

Well, his basic questions are a bit more narcissistic, a bit more reflective of the turn in SF from Hard Science to Soft Science. My example of cloning above certainly fits that, but the Universe is bigger than just us Human Beings. Narrowing down the question so far can focus on the inconsequential parts of a much bigger idea, like a Golgafrenchim Marketing Consultant holding up the development of the wheel because they’re not sure what color to make it.

Now, Gerrold’s theme at the start of his editorial is Change, and in that context, I can fully endorse this passage:

No other genre is as ambitious, no other genre considers as many powerful and disturbing questions. All the other branches of literature are about the past, they’re about how we got here, as if here is a static place. Only science fiction is about the future. Only science fiction is about change.

And then, tragedy strikes. Because to Gerrold, Change has an Arrow on it, with a single destination, and it’s pointing to the left. He launches into a paean about Immigrants and diversity and the global village because Diversity is Strength! And then:

So, yes, it is inevitable that science fiction authors will explore that diversity — expanded roles for women, new definitions of gender and sexuality, the contributions of People of Color and other non-white ethnicities. We’ve discovered the overlooked skills of the aged and the disabled, the unusual and extraordinary ratiocinations of people who are neuro-atypical. The next generation of authors are exploriong [sic -M.] vast new landscapes of possibility — places to explore and discover ways of being human previously unconsidered.

It’s not that SF CAN explore those things, but that SF SHOULD explore those things he seems to think. Forget exploring the stars or asking “What if we’re not alone in the universe?” Nah, we’re alone, so let’s spend all our speculative energies on exploring our own bad selves. He grudgingly admits that while we have probes going past Pluto, “some of our most ambitious authors are turning their attention to a different frontier —exploring the workings of the human soul.” I suppose our navels give us much more instantaneous gratification than the stars. But really, that kind of narcissism is only interesting to the narcissist.

And at this point, we can see where the train leaves the tracks, because he switches from talking about science fiction, to the science fiction community, while trying to carry the same points. He talks about the changes in the SF Community from all these new folks of diverse backgrounds showing up. The only problem with this theory is that they have always been here. There’s a case of DoubleThink going on here when the same folks who like to claim Mary Shelley as one of the first female authors of Science Fiction, and then set it out there as if women are something new, and even more patronizing when they act as if their side’s genuflecting to Feminism is somehow responsible for their appearance. No, this is not a change. Try reading some C.L. Moore and realize that not only have women been in SF all along, they have been awesome.

Likewise with minority writers. The publishing world is, or at least was, the ultimate meritocracy. Since most of the business was conducted by mail, a publisher had no clue about the racial background of an author. Bias was eliminated through the medium of the Manila envelope. It takes very little research to find out that Black authors have been writing science fiction since the turn of the century. No, not this century, the previous one. Likewise for Gay authors, an obvious example being from the previous list, Samuel R. Delany. He was first published in 1962. That’s FIFTY FIVE years ago. This “change” Gerrold is touting really is nothing new.

If there is a change, it is that today we are seeing a push to elevate these diverse backgrounds above the quality of the work. Bloggers are pledging to read only female authors for a year, magazines are organized around the author’s sexuality. And that is a change that can only work to the detriment of the genre. But this gets worse.

Gerrold says that these writers are writing for themselves, the stories they want to read, and writing their own experiences into them. This is also nothing new in Science Fiction. Fandom even has a word for these kinds of stories: Mary Sue. Yes, most writers write for themselves, this is why there are slushpiles and fanfiction websites (And some might say Indy). SUCCESSFUL writers write for everyone. They write for an audience, and reach across self-imposed barriers that pigeonhole humanity into narrow little categories.

Pigeonholes are small, maybe they’re comfortable, but they are narrow. And if you’re writing for a narrow audience, that’s going to be a small and unremarkable work. And with a genre being aimed at small sub-groups of the fandom, rather than at those ideas that are common across all of fandom, the fiction shrinks. And that can be proven simply by looking at the sales figures for science fiction even compared to the shrinking book market, and declining SF magazine sales, and the shift from literary to media fandom. Literary SF, pursuing the change Gerrold is lauding, has ill-served the audience, and they’re turning away from it. I guess fans don’t like being pigeonholed.

And this is where he starts throwing shit at people. Or rather, straw men. You see, packed into this essay, which by the halfway point has devolved into a thinly disguised attack on anyone who didn’t take his side in the Hugo Wars, he dismisses anyone who objects to this change which is strangling SF as having trivial reasons, e.g. “This isn’t what I expected,” and “This isn’t the way things are supposed to be,” and “I don’t like broccoli.” Seriously, he runs with that last one. Apparently wanting science fiction to explore big ideas as it always has, instead of reveling in an authors reflections on what it means to be a member of the intersection of fifteen different minority statuses, with a smidge of SF-nal window dressing, is clinging to outmoded tradition and akin to disliking vegetables as a child might. (Or perhaps he has never forgiven President George H.W. Bush for famously refusing to eat broccoli on Air Force One once. Folks of his stripe have knitted LONG enemies lists.)

You see, all this introduction about SF being about Change, and defining that change as the emergence of narcissistic navel-gazing natterings is just so that he can call anyone who doesn’t embrace that as neanderthalic bigoted throwbacks.

Instead of discussing the content and the quality of the stories, some people made derogatory comments [about] the race, gender, sexual orientation, and behaviors of other authors. These were comments that were rooted in bigotry. I should point out here that bigotry is not an expression of hatred as much as it is a demonstration of fear, insecurity, and cowardice. It’s natural to fear the unknown — real courage is embracing it.

God help me, but I’m gonna invoke Vox Day. “SJW’s Always Project.” And here’s the perfect illustration of DARVO and Gaslighting. Since the Puppies were always about the quality of the stories, and Gerrold’s side has always been about denigrating writers on the basis of their race (if white), Gender (if male), sexual orientation (if straight), etc. He’s managed to swap the sides in this statement, trying to claim the moral high ground, and in the process ceding that the other side had it. As an old white male himself, Gerrold had best tread carefully among his fellows, since he’s terribly short on intersectionality points.

And that, perhaps is the real point of this essay. One which he inadvertently makes himself, if you’re not viewing it through SJW lenses. He must maintain his cred that he’s one of them.

There’s an old Russian story about a Communist party meeting, and when the party chairman’s name is mentioned, it is required to stand and applaud his name. The clapping continues and continues, loudly and uproariously because nobody wants to be the first one to stop clapping. After ten or fifteen minutes, the audience is in agony, but nobody dares to stop out of fear. Simply put, because even though it gives everyone else the excuse to finally stop, the first to stop is never seen or heard from again.

This is the danger of playing the Virtue Signaling game. And he goes right out and illustrates this as if it were proper thinking.

Larry Niven has wisely said: Never throw shit at an armed man. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.[Italics added -M.] In fact, one could distill this into a much more general rule. Never throw shit. Never stand next to anyone throwing shit.
This is profoundly good advice.
There has been too much shit-flinging. Monkeys are good at it, but human beings have made it an art form. Some of us enjoy shit-flinging so much that we forget we’re human beings, we become fecal trebuchets.

Now this is extraordinary advice, considering the speaker was the Master of Ceremonies at the single greatest celebration of shit flinging in the entire history of SF Fandom (One of his claims to fame in his bio at the end of the piece). This is a classic example of “Let’s stop after I get my last shot in.” Of course, on the internet, nobody gets the last word, not even me.

So again, he’s projecting his sins upon others. (Also, he missed the point of the Niven quote.)

And why? Because for the next few screens worth, he goes on and on about one single idea. “So let’s have this conversation be about remembering our essential humanity — and what we must do to preserve it. It’s this simple. If someone is throwing shit, verbal or otherwise, silence is interpreted as agreement.” [Bold mine. -M]

Fine, this is why I am not being silent, because he has been at the forefront of the gang denying people’s essential humanity. And this goes back to well before the Hugo Wars. He blocked me on Facebook ages ago when I took offense to one of his many (since purged) screeds about how Republicans should be put to death that came up on a liberal friend’s feed. The list of shit he’s thrown, and shit he’s been silent and complicit about is long and horrid, and I’m sure he feels smugly satisfied about every single turd.

But there’s the root of it. This is why he has to make this point calling everyone who disagrees with him in the slightest misogynist, racist, and homophobic. Because in SJW-land, you HAVE to. If you miss one Two Minutes Hate, then your silence is interpreted as agreement, and they will attack you twice as bad for being a traitor to the cause.

And we have seen this a lot lately. Black Feminists calling out White Feminists for trying to be allies, but not getting it the right way. The Liberal coprophagic cannibalism has been amusing to those of us who don’t play that game, and must be absolutely terrifying to those who do. They are required to speak up, because remember, silence = consent (Except during sex, then it’s all “Mother may I?” every ten minutes, minimum), but get it wrong — and there is no right answer for an angry enough questioner — and it’s the Gulag for you!

Everyone’s pretending to be a piranha as hard as they can, because they’re afraid of being found out as a fake and eaten first. So that is why Gerrold wrote this screed, to prove that he’s still one of them. He wrote it to try to enforce uniformity in the Fandom mind by insisting that anyone who objects to the state of things in the genre is only a racist, sexist, homophobe, and should a) shut up, b) join him in condemning anyone else who disagrees (because silence is just as bad). And he wrote it to trivialize any disagreement. He invokes the war of the Lilliputians over which end of a soft-boiled egg to break as an example of how unimportant Fanish infighting is (unless it’s about a plastic rocket award). We should all just be of one mind and side with him and everything will be fine, as long as we keep virtue-signaling every time we open our mouths and condemning the unbelievers.

And of course, this constant stream of virtue signaling must be reflected in all of SF’s writing too, even if it doesn’t sell or entertain, because nobody wants to be the first Communist to stop clapping. But if we are all in harmony and agreement, where do the new ideas come from? Where do the debates and intellectual discussions come from? Where is the future in looking at ourselves in the now? If everything is static and centered about narcissistic navel gazing, then where does the change come from? You know, I think I’ve read a few SF stories about how dystopic societies where uniformity of thought was enforced are. We could learn from that.

As for Gerrold, the man can fold himself until he’s all sharp corners and stick it up his asterisk.

 

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The Claw!

You’ve all seen those claw machines, often in the entrance to supermarkets or in arcades in malls. They have a bin full of cheap stuffed animals, and maybe some really special prize, like an iPod or something embedded in the middle of them, and as a test of “Skill” you can steer the claw around over the bin and attempt to win something nifty. Although more often than not, you end up with nothing. The game is rigged, of course, but if your heart is set on winning the prize, you will pump WAY more cash into the machine than it would be worth to just go out and buy the damned thing.

Let me repeat, the game, is rigged. It’s rigged in ways you don’t even know about. If you search online you can even find manuals for the machine that explain how they can be set to vary the current for the electromagnet that makes the claw grip, so that even if you have a good hold on the prize, it will slip free before it gets to the drop off point.

Now some of them are set up differently, and maybe just for fun you can experiment with one to figure out just how rigged it is. And maybe answering your intellectual curiosity about what a rip-off it is could be considered a win, but if you go in determined to prove you can win that damned iPod and beat the machine, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So what’s this got to do with the Hugos? (Come on, you KNEW this was going to be a Hugo post, didn’t you?) It’s about the Puppies.

Sad Puppies was an exploration about how the game was rigged. If you follow the history with an open mind, you’ll know how at each stage whoever was running the SP took the suggestions from the TruFen as to what they had to do to be acceptable, and after doing exactly those things, the big prize somehow, just somehow, fell through the claw with extreme prejudice. When Larry saw that he had been celebrated at first as a new author, nominated for a Campbell and everything, and then got 86’ed as soon as his politics became known, he suspected there was a bias against conservative authors (at least the openly conservative ones). He was told “Oh, there’s no bias. Conservative authors are just fine, they just have to get on the ballot. As long as they’re good, that shouldn’t be a problem, because it’s all about the quality of the work.” Thus in SP2, Larry turned out his fanbase, offered up a small number of suggestions that he thought were particularly worthy, and as soon as some of them got on the ballot, boom, the fix was in. (Note, I’m not saying anyone CHEATED, per se. But clearly the voters voted on a basis of something other than the quality of the work, because they didn’t just lose, they were no-awarded.) In fact, Larry turned out his accounting skills and concluded there had been no monkeying with the votes. The bias was in the electorate. It was a perfect Xanatos Gambit. If all his suggested works lost, then he won because his point was proved. And if some of them won, well then good SF won, the Hugos were honest, and we could all get on with our lives secure in the notion that there are true and fair votes in the world. Naturally, we got the former. And with that, Larry retired from the game.

So the next test was to get a larger sample from a larger pool of suggestions to get a better idea of what was meant by good. That was SP3 and Brad’s much more comprehensive list of candidates selected not for specifically conservatism, but for quality based on a number of suggestions from various trusted sources (including some closed FB groups), and a huge “Get out the Vote” campaign (which I have been assured by Tor’s pet statistician wasn’t actually all that effective). The intent was merely to provide a broad number of choices in every category, not what eventually happened. The results of this got Fouled by the Rabid Puppies, but more about that later.  The fix there was much more obvious in the form of thousands of heretofore disinterested parties becoming voters (sometimes through monetary subsidy), specifically for the purpose of nixing every Sad Puppies candidate, and thereafter becoming disinterested once the mission was accomplished. Combined with social pressure to withdraw exerted on several authors, and the generally toxic atmosphere on social media, and yeah, the fix was in. Bias and politics were the words of the day. The result was the single most toxic example of a Hugo Awards presentation in history.

But an olive branch was offered. Some said that the true sin of SP3 was offering exactly five candidates in every category (Which wasn’t actually the case, but never mind that, it’s the seriousness of the charge, not the facts that matter) and that a recommendation list with more, or fewer candidates that people could pick and choose from would clearly not be an attempt to put up a slate. Of course, this could have also been suggested as an attempt to water down the puppy vote, but let’s not consider that either. So for SP4, Kate produced an open suggestion website. Anyone could make suggestions, even anti-puppies, and a few did. SP4’s results were even further fouled by the Rabid Puppies, but the actions against the list shows that the olive branch was a lie.

So at this point, it was pretty obvious to the founders of Sad Puppies that the game was rigged, and there was no point in putting any more quarters into it. Sad Puppies 5, now in Sarah Hoyt’s hands, was proposed to simply become a book recommendations site, and was deliberately delayed in order to miss the Hugo deadline. In fact, the only reason an announcement was made at all was because an overzealous acolyte of the Rabid Puppies side attempted to pull an Al Haig and hijack the campaign, claiming that Sarah was out sick, and that HE would step forward and lead the puppies unto victory. That needed to be slapped down quick, and it was. Much sulking has ensued since then, including coordinated blog posts from various minions slamming Sarah for not taking up the fight.

Now if the goal of the Sad Puppies were to probe how deep the fix was in in the Hugo electorate, the goal of the Rabid Puppies was to Win. The organizer has a bit of a beef with the SF community, to put it mildly, and taking one of their awards would be a coup. The first attempt was no real master stroke. Having seen how effective Larry’s fanbase had been in getting nominees on the ballot in SP2, the easiest, no effort way to get in was to hijack the list, add himself and a few of his house’s authors to the list at the top, knock off the bottom items to fill out a slate, and mobilize his fanbase as well. With so much commonality to the lists, it would be impossible to sort out whose supporters were whose. Which as a tactic to make his influence appear larger than it was, was successful. SP and RP got conflated and slammed in the social media, and the real media, by design. Some people still can’t tell them apart. But good Tactics sometimes make bad Strategy, and the backlash the organizer engendered resulted, as I said, in one of the most toxic Hugo ceremonies ever, as well as in rules changes designed to make the Hugo nomination process even more opaque than the final vote process.

It wasn’t much better the next year, when his spitefulness towards the fandom made him pollute the nominations with crude gay porn titles. If he couldn’t win, he was going to ruin the whole thing. It merely cemented the backlash, but it didn’t require the overkill numbers unleashed the year before to shut him out, thus those excess no-award voter accounts were released.

Skipping ahead to this year. It becomes really simple to see why he sent an acolyte to announce he was commandeering the helm of SP5. Clearly he believed that the Sad Puppies had an army of followers and if he could co-opt them to his cause, he could finally win, or at least do real damage.[1] The Kickers, on the other hand, had rigged the game even more, making it harder for any small group to dominate the nominations, but a sufficiently large one, like say, tor.com fans, with properly distributed votes, could capture a large number of nominations, and they did. And in the coming years, another fix is going in that will allow any sufficiently large cabal to de-nominate anything they don’t like[2] (They call it 3 Stage Voting, or 3SV, but it’s NOTHING like what I proposed).

I don’t think though that this is going to stop him from shoving more and more quarters into the damned machine, trying to grab that Trophy. The Sad Puppies have proven their point, and are off to chase more good fiction. The Hugos don’t interest them any more. The Rabids though, they’re out to win, no matter how much the game is rigged, and how destructive the results end up being. That’s a feature to them, not a bug.


[1] I imagine this scene playing out something like this tableau from a Magical Girl anime:

The Supreme Dark Lord gazes malevolently at his henchman. “What news of our new Allies, Major Fish?”

Major Fish, resplendent in his iridescent fish-scale cape, bows obsequiously. “They will be here within the hour, ready to obey my, er, your every command, my lord.”

“Excellent, General Fish.”

“Thank you sir.”

The Supreme Dark Lord laughs malevolently, “Muahahaha! With the combined strength of TWO puppy armies, my plan will be unstoppable! The Rocket shall be MINE!”

“Please sir, could you tone down the malevolence, it’s starting to creep me out.”

“No, I paid a consultant a great deal of money to achieve this level of malevolence, and I’m going to make the most of it. You may go, Major.”

“Damn!”


[2] The proposal literally gives anyone with 600 votes in his pocket, or 20% of the electorate if it’s larger than 3,000, the ability to knock out any of the top 15 nominees until 5 get through the process. Why was the floor number of 600 chosen? Because that’s greater than the largest estimate of the number of Rabid Puppies voters, and well under the 1500-2500 No-Award voters that were mustered for SP3. The only good thing about this obvious fix is that it sunsets every year and has to be passed again each time. Hopefully it will fail in Helsinki. Actually, scratch that. They all deserve each other.

Where’s the Beef?

So, back during SP3, the TruFen claimed that all those thousands of newly minted voters were dedicated SF fans who truly and deeply cared about the Hugo Award and didn’t want it taken over by those nasty, scruffy Puppies whom they claimed were all kinds of things they were not. Lot of that going around, this claiming people are what they are not. Those stalwart folks who suddenly appeared just in time to vote NoAward don’t really seem to care THAT much about the award, because now that the voting and nominating rights they bought for Sasquan have gone poof, well, how many of them are back? Pitifully few. Indeed, it looks like Hugo Nominating rates are way back down to where they were before the Sad Puppies were a gleam in Larry Correia’s steely eyes.

After this year’s nominations came out, I made a casual observation that it seemed like fewer people nominated period, than there were people who voted NoAward that fateful year. Then it occurred to me to check to see if that were true. So I fired up the spreadsheet, compared the 2015 results and the 2017 nominations, and yeah, in all the major categories, and where NoAward won, those defiant arsonists defenders of the Rocketship were nowhere to be found. Two Thousand plus dedicated fans couldn’t be bothered to participate in the nominating process this year.

HugoChart

This, by the way, is not good financial news for WorldCon. 2-3,000 memberships is $100-$150,000 they won’t have in their coffers, and that kind of money buys a LOT of Wooden Asterisks. The Sad Puppies might have been the best thing to happen to WorldCon in a long time, but now that they’ve “Gone and started their own award” (which really, they didn’t) some WorldCon treasurer is probably wishing they were still around.

Who Goes There?!

So, the latest stray dog that everyone has been kicking is Laurie Gough’s misguided screed on The Huffington Post assaulting the idea of self-publishing. Now, it would be easy, so, so easy to join the dog-piling and point out things like Kiwi having a higher rank than any of her books, or point out that from all reports, while they might not be from a Vanity press, they are chock full of vanity. Or even the point that she’s writing for free for HuffPo. I mean, when both Larry Correia AND the readers at File770 are taking your article apart, you know you’re on the wrong track. (I don’t think anyone needs links from me to find these).

But I would like to address the main thesis of her piece, the idea that Publishing Industry Gatekeepers are the key to quality and that Self-publishing lacks them, therefore it is all crap (“An insult to the written word” in her terms). Now the easiest way to counter a universal claim like that is to pick out counterexamples. That’s already been done.

No, my point is that she is wrong about the lack of gatekeepers. There are actually more gatekeepers now than there are editors and publishers and agents in the entire publishing industry.

I’m talking about you, the reader – both individually and collectively. Individually, because you now have a vastly broader range of works to choose from. You are no longer constrained by the biases of a publisher and his marketing department telling him “Urban Fantasy is over,” when you still want to read about the corner bodega with the dragon instead of a cat. And collectively, through your actions on a site like Amazon. When you and all the other readers go to Amazon, you are informing each other about what is good or bad by what you buy, or not, as reflected by the Amazon ranking (conveniently divided by subgenre), and what else is good through the “Also Bought” mechanism. And individually, again, through your star ratings and reviews. Your actions are both informed by those who have gone before you, and they guide those who come after you.

Through this mechanism, the whole gatekeeping function has been crowdsourced, and the sheer number of people involved cancels out individual bias. Or rather, that bias has been channeled into more relevant recommendations.

But wait, there’s more. There are independent reviewers, people with their own blogs who help sort through what’s good, whether by trying to point out the Emperor’s truant trousseau, or daring the murky depths to bring up an overlooked pearl. Similarly, through reviews and reading lists posted to Goodreads, the internet has made word of mouth a primary source these days. Do you want to know if the latest Star Wars movie is worth seeing? Check FaceBook or Twitter or Gab (If you’re lucky enough to have gotten an account yet). And the best thing is, even though there are millions of people out there with differing opinions, chances are you’re already listening to the opinions of people you trust, who see things similarly to you. Whether it’s Larry Correia posting a “Book Bomb” or File 770 rounding up links to new books, you more than likely have already found a source of recommendations you are likely to follow.

True, Amazon and the Kindle have basically taken the slushpile and put it online, but you don’t have to go through it yourself, everybody else has already done it for you. And your reading choices are not being filtered by a bored, underpaid English Lit grad in a cramped New York office who is pining for the days of making lattés at Starbucks, who is the TRUE  Publishing Industry Gatekeeper, long before the Editor in Chief sees a word.

Papers, Please.

Today’s movement among the elite in the publishing industry to concentrate more on the ethnicity of authors, rather than the quality of their work is nothing new. I recently ran across an example of it dating back to 1938, with regard to JRR Tolkien.

When The Hobbit came out in 1937, things were headed for a pretty dark place in Europe, and in 1938, when a German Publisher wanted to produce a German translation of it, well, first they had to be sure of Herr Tolkien’s heritage, (After all, while it’s a fine German surname, who knows what could be corrupting his blood, right?) so they asked. His reply had that delightfully English way of twisting the knife.

From the source article:

25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully,

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Publishing elite and the other SJW’s in the writing and fandom industries are insisting that the ethnicity of a writer is important. That white writers are writing too many white characters, and should include more diversity in the characters in their stories, while at the same time accusing them of cultural appropriation if they do, as well as somehow stealing opportunities for non-white authors in the process. They are unable to see the contradiction between these two demands, as they only have the attention span to focus on one at a time – the memory of one is forgotten by the time they switch to the other – whichever one they need to employ against the target-du-jour.

They seem to think that minority readers can’t possibly enjoy a story unless it has a main character who “looks like them,” and they blame this for declining readership in a demographic that has never had a particularly high reading rate historically (instead of blaming, say, inferior schools and cultural influences against reading).

Clearly this MUST be true, because lord knows, not being a female, tawny-furred, Hani completely prevented me from enjoying all of the Chanur books I could get my hands on. Minority readers must find this incredibly demeaning and patronizing. But those who take up the weapons of the Social Justice Warrior never do so to build things up, they do it to seize power from the destruction they wreak. They have been winning, at least until now, and the results speak for themselves.

Alas, after 20 years of creeping Social Justice being implemented by the NYC Publishing elite, shrinkage of the readership is exactly what is happening. Sales among the Big 5 are down and declining. Writer advances are down, even without correcting for inflation (which makes it even worse). More and more people simply are not reading for pleasure and spending their entertainment dollars elsewhere. Conclusion, this is not the method to grow the readership. Vetting writers by their ethnicity or other characteristics is a vile practice, and it was obvious to Tolkien. Why it is not obvious to everyone today is a tragedy of today’s culture.

There should be writing opportunities for ALL writers, regardless of ethnicity, but certainly with regard to ability to write. Judging a writer by anything OTHER than the ability to write is counterproductive.

More Validation

Not gonna comment on the Hugos, not yet anyway. But something did come up about one of the OTHER rules changes that are floating around at the Business Meeting. One of them, “A.4 Nominee Diversity”, sounds awfully familiar.  Despite the name, it isn’t SJW bait. It addresses one of my other suggestions from a year ago, but Implements it in a bass-ackward, voter disenfranchising way.

The idea, according the the camera shot of the projection screen I saw, was to stop a single author or TV show from dominating a category. I hadn’t really considered it an issue with authors, but Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form was turning into “Which was your favorite episode of Doctor Who this season?” Their solution: If there are more than two works from the same show, or more than two books with the same author (or that have two authors in common for multi-author works), then the third and subsequent entries get dropped from the ballot and replaced with things from further down in the pack.

What that means is that if nearly everybody nominated 4 or 5 Doctor Who episodes, and a few other items filled in the rest, you could, in theory, when combined with the 5% rule, get a ballot with two Doctor Who episodes on it. Okay, I exaggerate, it’s an edge case, and who knows what the other anti-slate measures proposed would do to a set of nominating ballots like that… they could end up with nothing. Or maybe something that just cleared the 5% threshold would be on the ballot as the third highest nomination getter.

It’s a pretty distorted way to solve the real problem. Now, I hadn’t considered multiple books by the same author as a problem (I’m guessing this is just a reaction to a certain, *sniff*, undesirable writer getting 6 nominations in the past) but in terms of TV shows, my suggestion was to nominate a program, rather than an episode. That way, a show everyone liked could get a lot of nominations, rather than having them spread out over 4 or 5 different episodes, AND they would leave four other slots open. It just seemed fairer, and didn’t have this nasty aftertaste of eliminating things that people really liked. There’s just too much emphasis lately on finding reasons to replace things that got a lot of nominations with something that got fewer.

If there is hope, it lies in the Proles Fans

I am greeting with endless amusement the recent movement among Hugo circles to embrace three stage voting. This comes in the wake of the analysis of that ridiculously complicated system they proposed last year using last year’s data (which the rest of us mortals have no access to because they claim they can’t sufficiently anonymize it – yet they DID give it out….) turned out to not be as good at eliminating all the puppy candidates as they hoped.

I’m so amused, because anyone who’s read this blog knows that it was April last year in “So you want to Fix the Hugos…” where I first suggested three rounds of voting. For those who can’t be bothered to look, I proposed that there be a second round of ballots among the top N nominees (I said 25, but some categories won’t support that many) so that all of the fans who made nominations that were at the tail end of list would have a chance to have some actual input on what makes it to the Finals. This idea was soundly ridiculed by the folks who thought their multiply-renamed system was going to be a panacea.

You see, the reason I thought this would be a good idea is because one of the most common complaints among fans is “Nothing I nominated made it.” This leaves the fans feeling like they have no investment in the award. They aren’t interested in the results, they don’t vote again, and the voter pool remains small and, ahem, manageable. The problem all along has been that there are SO many candidates, and fannish tastes are so broad, that if one were to sort the nominating votes in order of popularity, you have one of those long asymptotic graphs. Dozens or hundreds of nominees who only got one, or a few votes, and then finally the top few who got dozens to hundreds of votes. But if you total it up, those top nominees still only got a small percentage of the total votes, on the order of around 10%. This was the vulnerability that made the Hugos susceptible to manipulation (And long before the Puppies came along). The part of that graph where 90% of the nominations exist has been referred to as the “Tail.” Part of the problem is that people have been spending WAY too much time looking at the “Head” of the list and trying to figure out how to knock out the nominees they don’t like that they’ve missed the obvious.

The problem, and it’s a problem common to most folks of a particular political vein, is that they’re trying to counter human behavior with Mathematics. This never works. But the other problem is that they’re ignoring the SOURCE of the data they’re feeding into their formulae — the Fans. The Fans are an incredible resource, and a solution to their problem that they are afraid to make use of, because fans are a Wild Magic, and unpredictable, and hard to control. Math is Safe, math is predictable, but math can’t tell you what is good SF (The Cold Equations notwithstanding).

Even with the Three Stage Voting idea, they’re coming at it all wrong. Some proposals involve “Negative Voting” which they want as a way of getting a gang together to knock out entries they don’t like (They do love them some of that No Award veto power!). They propose empowering the administrators to add or remove entries, or even remove individual voters they don’t like. It’s like they still don’t trust the fans to vote the “right” way. And let’s not even think about the canned Medusa’s head of their mathematical Slate Detection dream, which they swear would NEVER generate a false positive….

They also forget the axiom “Never give the [Government/ConCom] a power that you don’t want used against you.”

My answer is still the same as it was a year ago. Trust the fans, let them pick who should win the Hugo. Have a second round of voting to re-enfranchise those whose choices didn’t make it through the “Primary.” When the finalists are chosen by the entire electorate, rather than just the ones who voted for the top 10%, you really can’t argue with the decision being that of the Fans.

And for those who say “Where are they going to find the time to read the 15 semi-finalists?” They’re fans, what do you think they’ve been doing all year? Waiting for the Hugo packet to decide what to read? (Besides, you had no trouble before with people voting AGAINST things they hadn’t bothered to read in the last couple of rounds.)


Oh, and I’d also like to reiterate my other proposal, that Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form consist of nominating a PROGRAM that had a new episode in the target year, rather than individual episodes.