Not one of us!

There’s an old Peter Gabriel song with some lyrics that really stuck with me when I first heard them as a teen.

If you jump to 1:49, it goes:

There’s safety in numbers
when you learn to divide.
How can we be in
if there is no outside?

People divide into groups, and most of the time they do this to feel better about themselves as compared to the people they exclude. Anyone who has ever felt alienated or left out knows about the wrong side of this arrangement, and anyone who has found “their people,” be they Geeks or Jocks, and felt some kind of innate superiority over those on the outside (say, the “Mundanes” or “losers” respectively), knows the kind of power that has in your life.

But power corrupts, as they say. For some, the best part of being in the in-group is the power to exclude others, and moreso than merely enjoying the company of their fellows.

Online communities take this tendency and turn it up to 11. The developers often provide tools to form exclusive social groups and manage membership in them, and this allows the “Mean Girls” types to grasp those levers of power and wield them to their own ends. It gets even worse when the developers get into the game themselves. Yes, I’m looking at you, Twitter.

But what happens when the whole service has thrown over entirely into one side? Reportedly the Twitter alternative site “Mastodon”, which is known for much stricter community moderation than even Twitter, is entirely dominated by Social Justice-related concerns. Well, refer to the lyrics above.

Wil Wheaton migrated from Twitter to Mastodon a week or two ago, claiming that Twitter’s sub rosa censorship of voices he didn’t like wasn’t strong enough for him because it hadn’t completely banned someone he didn’t like. (For the record, I’m no fan of Alex Jones either, but I don’t need Twitter to keep him out of my life, I just don’t follow him. I take responsibility for what I see on my own.) Apparently Mr. Wheaton is, in fact, a huge fan of letting other people make and enforce his voice-blocking preferences, because he outsourced his enormous Twitter blocklist to others. That seems to be a trait among the left, adding to and circulating blocklists numbering in the hundreds of thousands, built by blocking not only some hated person, but anyone replying to or subscribing to them. Personally, I have about 100 blocked accounts, mostly Junk advertisers and fake pornbot accounts, but every single one of them I added myself (and frankly, I haven’t added to that list in years – I should prune the dead accounts from it). These huge blocklists lead to the situation where people are blocked by folks they have never interacted with, and indeed, a lot of false-positives. This doesn’t matter, because for the blocklist purveyors, the important factor is quantity, not quality. They brag about how huge their lists are in order to get other people to use them, gaining status that way.

So Wil imported a blocklist created by a Feminist, because that seems like a good thing if you’re committed to Feminism, right? But he made a mistake because this particular Feminist was one of the dreaded “TERF” kind (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist IIRC). So littered among the quite possibly innocent people in his blocklist were various Transsexual/Transgendered/Transvestite activists. There’s no way he could know, because when you’re blocking half a million Twitter accounts at once, there’s no time to review every single one of them when you’re counting on a list being full of people you’re supposed to hate anyway.

But this huge blocklist wasn’t enough exclusion of voices he didn’t want to hear for Wil, so he moved to Mastodon, where everyone was like him. Which is to say, really hot on the idea of using the social network’s tools to exclude anybody not ideologically pure enough. The problem is, with virtually no ideological diversity, the SJWs turned on themselves, dividing up and finding excuses to find other members “Nekulturny” and attack them in mobs (while praying that nobody else finds fault with them next, for example, for not being mobby enough). The fact that Wil had blocked any Trans activist in the blocklist on another service that he hadn’t reviewed personally was just such a Social Network Death Sentence. He was chased off the service within days by people supposedly of his same will.

The Irony is overpowering, and totally lost on Wil. But the lesson is more interesting. As much as people claim they want a community of like-minded people, people also love conflict. Intellectual diversity is necessary because it allows for that conflict. Without it, with enough identical rats crammed into a small enough cage, they turn on each other for the most trivial of reasons. With a huge and diverse population, no one group of mean girls can dominate. That is, until the referees put their thumb on the scale, as Twitter has, and then the whole thing starts sliding downhill. (Mastodon uses a lot more than a thumb, puts more administrative power in the hands of the users, and is smaller as well, so the slide is far more accelerated).

It is funny how those who make the most noise about diversity are often the most exclusionary, and their communities of like-minded people are the most vicious viper’s dens. True diversity, where there is such a wide variety of opinions that no one faction can form a powerful majority, and thus all sides must learn to get along, is a much more peaceful and tolerant place. This however is not very likely to be found online, because people do seek their own before seeking power over the group. In the end, the ability to form online communities of like-minded people could spell the end not only of diversity, but of community itself.

 

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Fizzle….

For a long time I’ve been promising to write a piece on the three stories that made me stop reading Asimov’s. I will, once I dig them out of the box they’re in. But along the way there had been a growing dissatisfaction with the magazine that unconsciously led to my “to read” stack of them exceeding eighteen issues. After a while I began to put my finger on why. The stories were all about setting the situation up, and then instead of having an ending, they just… ended. I called this “All count-down, no blast off.”

I recently ran across a story that exemplified this quite well, this whole business of trying to set up a good, meaty Science Fictional idea, then mincing around it without actually taking it on. This was Cat Rambo’s Clarkesworld story “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable” (archive link here) the story itself isn’t that recent, about four years old, but it really typifies the problem I’m getting at. Let’s do a read-along:

Okay, our protagonist Antony is depressed. Really really fucking depressed. We can see how depressed he is in exquisite detail. It goes on and on about how meaningless his life is since Mindy died, whoever she is (His wife. It takes quite a while to get to that detail). We do find out he lives in Seattle (over 90% of Science Fiction stories seem to take place in Seattle these days. Don’t ask me why). He deals with the pain by aimlessly wandering around Fry’s (A west coast electronics chain), getting stoned (because Yay Recreational Pot in Washington, instead of drinking because Boo Alcohol). He’s SO depressed he can’t even talk to his Mom, who calls him every day. And he feels guilty about this because he moved her across the country to be near him and away from his horrible sisters.

I am not loving this story at this point.

But he’s a good boy, and loves his mother, and apparently his mother had a cat he’d gotten her that she really loved which had died a year earlier. (I ended up doing a little math. Mom is Elderly, Cats average lifespan 8-15 years. He’s got to be in his late middle age.) So, since mom might be as depressed as he is, and old folks are better off with something to care for (since, well, her SON isn’t that available with his three months of moping) he decides to get her another cat. Oh, and not just another shelter kitty (PSA: Please adopt shelter kitties. -M), but ripped from the headlines two decades ago, a clone of her last cat, because you can get them by mail order now. And finally we start hitting some SFnal tropes — he apparently has some kind of cash account/brain computer implant called, get this, a “Shunt”, and Drones take deliveries.

I’ve gotten a bit more sensitive over the years about picking up on the unsubtle digs stuck in stories. When he mentions getting his shunt when he’s in college, he pays for it with his aunt’s old gold coins, and mentions that a) she’d died in the SEVENTH Gulf War, and b) that he never regretted it. Let’s take a moment to unpack the SJW Reusable Cloth Grocery Bag in this short paragraph. Who invests in gold? Conservatives. So Aunt Mick (“Mick”??) was a Conservative. Now libs like to imagine Ironic Deaths for Conservatives, so Gulf War 7. Because they believe Conservatives love war, and war never solves anything, so there have been 7 of them. Now the lack of regret appears to be about selling the coins, but it’s hard to tell because the sentence is one comma-spliced mess. That could be saying that Aunt Mick was dumb about investing in Gold because spending them decades ago in college was no loss. Or it means he had no attachment to Aunt Mick anyway, thus no sentimentality about his inheritance.

Anyway, back to the story, such as it is so far. Actually, I’ll jump ahead about, since the story is chopped up into non-linearly arranged segments. He gets the cat, but it doesn’t look like the original, because tortoiseshell fur patterns are a random expression of the genes, and they have a list of critters that this might be a problem with, and therefore Tortoiseshell Cats are Not Refundable. Boom, Title. Mom is lukewarm about the cat, but eventually warms up to it in spite of the differences.

As an idea, it’s a great one. Everyone assumes DNA is like destiny, that you grow a clone and you will get exact copies. Inverting that trope could lead to a brilliant story. Let’s see what she does with it….

Well, apparently because Antony is such a good customer, buying one Cat and getting marginal results, they send him an offer. “Hey, got any loved ones you might want us to make a clone of?” I guess they knew he was really depressed, because he goes on about it for a while after he gets the info packet and decides to blow his retirement money on doing it, and then some, even though they got the cat wrong.

Okay, this is where the story really gets fucked up.

Apparently the process will produce an adult clone. How they get there isn’t touched on at all, but kind of a good thing, since he probably doesn’t even have 20 years left to wait for his girlfriend to grow up before he kills himself over his depression.  (If someone doesn’t kill him first getting sick of his moping.) So, how do you make an adult clone with an adult mind. Well, apparently, secretly, those shunt thingies have enough memory capacity to download your entire brain.

Holy shit! Talk about “We have altered the terms of our privacy policy”! Not only is the shunt company secretly invading the privacy of their customers in the most intimate way possible (Shunts are also mentioned as enhancing sex), but they are providing that information to a third party without a release. I guess there’s a posthumous lack of rights. That’s a huge damned story in itself. I mean, imagine a story where that kind of data is subpoenaed in court, but that is dodged by saying it’s not admissible.

But here, that huge idea is merely used as a shortcut to get to the goal of a perfect replacement clone. And our Hero’s reaction to this news? Go for it.

And even though this procedure is an experiment, only in its third iteration, he has to pay for it. Good lord that looks like scamming the bereaved. But none of that is reflected upon.

Now apparently they don’t think the Shunt is enough, and they mention pulling in social media and such, and they send someone to research her shopping habits and interview him about details of their life together. So apparently there is active editing of the memories to be implanted, but this is totally glossed over. Really, it doesn’t occur to him to “Improve” her? I mean, that’s a huge story idea right there. Nothing is done with that.

Finally, we get to see her clone, sort of. Her appearance is kept very brief, and spoken of indirectly. She is subtly different, but that isn’t really explored too much, maybe a paragraph, a very indistinct one.

Antony decided that against the doctors orders, he’s going to tell her the truth. Because, you know, she’s not an EXACT copy, but now he can finally mourn his old Mindy (What the hell has he been doing for the last three months?) and start over with the new one if she wants to. And Wow! That right there is a Big story, telling a person they are actually the reconstructed clone of your dead wife. That would be one hell of a tale to tell. It would be worth putting up with all this dithering about and moaning to see how that turns out. And what does Cat Rambo do with this story next?

The End.

Yeah, that’s it, that’s where it stops. The whole angle with the cats being different is to make a point about a human clone being different, only those differences are not explored at all. The existential questions that Science Fiction alone is equipped to explore, glossed over for expediency, and then finally ignored just when they should come to a head. All of this story, 3500 words of it, leading up to what happens if you tell a clone she’s a clone, and it stops right before you tell her. It stops without telling you what happens with the story it’s actually leading up to.

All count down, no blast off.

Fizzle.

And that is typical of what passes for short SF these days.

When Snowflakes Attack!

In my last post, I mentioned how important it is for those playing the SJW game to make sure their every utterance is in line with whatever the intellectual flavor of the month is, because power and position seems to be gained by being the first to point an accusing finger at any deviation. I suggested that this was why Gerrold wrote his “You’re either for us or you’re agin’ us! And Silence = agin’ us!” screed. It doesn’t matter how much support you’ve given the cause in the past, or how many intersectionality checkboxes you can mark off, you have to maintain appearances because one slip and the pack turns on you.

Everybody knows this, although some like to pretend it isn’t true, but one need only look at the recent Unpersoning of Greg Hullender to see the proof. Greg is well known for his book reviews and especially for the mountains of irreproducable statistics he gleaned from his exclusive access to “impossible to anonymize” Hugo nomination ballots that proved both that the Puppies were an insignificant number, and how essential it was to change the voting system to get rid of them. (Something like Climate Science there — you have to take it on faith because you’re not allowed to check the data). Reading some of the referrers linking back here, I also learned he is gay and had a long history in LGBT activism.

You would think with credentials like that, and all the water he carried for the cause, he would be safe, a scion of the Left, but no, he made the mistake of not conforming to the whims of the Pronoun Police, and in one sentence, an offhand reference to how misused pronouns pulled him out of the story, he was doomed. Apologies were demanded, reviews were edited or deleted, and he was retconned out of existence on that site.

Who knows? Maybe he can redeem himself in the eyes of the SJWs by coming back and swearing on a stack of Ancillary Nouns that he was wrong and now believes utterly in the transient nature of Gender being immutable, and that pronouns can be whatever we want them to be. But he will always be damaged goods to the movement.

So let this be a lesson to all you aspiring Social Justice Warriors out there. It is not your place to lead. Throw away any illusions that your opinions will influence the future of the movement. Those opinions are a threat. You will be drummed out for having them. Just follow the opinions the thought-leaders set out for you, absolutely, in lock step, every single one of them, even if they make no sense to you (You’re not allowed to think that! Stop analyzing these things for yourself!). Never miss a chance to add your voice to the latest Two Minute Hate, because missing it is a sin. And know that even if you’re perfect, someone can and will use the contradictions to rat you out. So have fun playing that game.

As for Greg. I feel that in his heart he approached his positions with thought and rationality. I disagree with them, but I can at least respect that. And alas, that is what doomed him. But who knows, maybe he’s gained some freedom as a result. I hope he grabs it and comes back stronger, and independent.

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 then set it out there as if women are something new, and it’s 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 out 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.

 

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.