seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
So apparently the Hugo Award nominees were announced this weekend, and it was a huge triumph for the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy slates.

I don't think it's some huge perversion of justice for a popular fan award to be manipulated in this way, but I do think it's a clear manipulation. And I think the problem that non-Sad Puppy fans are faced in future nominations races is that the solution of creating some oppositional non-Sad Puppy slate is preposterous because there wasn't in fact a conspiracy of fannish insiders coordinating the nominations in past years. Non-Sad Puppies is not a bloc with a unified aesthetic approach to science fiction. It's just everyone in fandom who isn't a troll.

The initially baffling thing about the SP/RP slates is their aesthetic choices are baffling. Last year, the problem with Larry Correia's Warbound was that it was so incredibly worse than the other four nominees for best novel. Even supposing every voter for the Hugos read all five novels and evaluated them purely on aesthetic merits, it's hard to imagine Warbound having a shot at winning. (This wonderful post by Matthew Surridge about his reasons for declining his Hugo nomination does a great job of explicating the broader aesthetic problems with the Sad Puppy manifesto.)

If Sad Puppies had truly wanted to position itself in favor of purely popular SF, the slate would have looked a lot different. If Sad Puppies had truly wanted to position itself in favor of well-written but right-ideologically-oriented SF, the slate would have looked a lot different. The Prometheus Award manages to find quality libertarian SF every year with very little controversy, after all.

But the choices are no longer baffling when you consider the SP/RP slates as a pure act of trolling. The choices, in fact, are better if they aren't great, because the purpose of SP/RP is not to win awards, it's to piss on the choices that the Hugo Award voters were making before they got involved.

This is not good for the Hugo Awards. Either Ancillary Sword or The Goblin Emperor win against a weak field, or a weak novel claims the prize. And moreover the whole structure of the voting process is damaged. There almost certainly WILL be a left wing slate next year, no aesthetically superior to the Sad Pupply slate, and the result will be to crowd quality out of the competition.

However, I wonder if Sad Puppies will paradoxically turn out to be good for Worldcon as an institution. Nominations for the Hugos were up more than 200 ballots, which may mean 200 extra supporting/attending memberships as compared to Loncon3, which posted recorded attendance for a Worldcon. Whereas the Hugos represent a judgement on the part of fandom about the best works of SF written in a particular year, proven out over fifty years to be a reasonably reliable marker of quality, Worldcon just represents a large and incredibly diverse group of SF fans getting together to have a gigantic party together. If Sad Puppies calls more attention and brings more new members to Worldcon, that is all for the good for Worldcon. Worldcon benefits from diversity, even diversity of the kind Sad Puppies may bring.

Regardless of the outcome of the Hugo voting, I encourage anyone who is passionate about science fiction to consider attending a future Worldcon. Sasquan will be my third, and it is my firm intention that it will be my third of many, because I had so much fun both at Chicon and at Loncon.
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Futurity, the steampunk indie rock musical I saw with [personal profile] freeradical42 when they workshopped it at HERE two years ago, apparently had its official 'premiere' three months ago, and I just bought the new cast recording. It is fantastic and now I want fic. I'd like steampunk zombie Julian Munro, and anything less grounded in Julian's imagination that shows how Ada feels about Julian, and I want more about the General, especially the fic where the General is an Observer, because I love crossroles shit.

At present, the list of fandoms I'll be nominating for Yuletide is

Danger 5



And hoping someone else will nominate Embassytown/the rules will change so I can nominate Embassytown.

In other tiny fandom news, still working my way through the Hugo nominee packet, which is wonderfully fun. "The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell is a ridiculous and awesome novelette, about a world where Newton's discoveries were more proto-quantum mechanics than proto-relativity, and this branching in science history has reshaped the present and the future. Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" appears to be the best of a weak crop of Best Short Story nominees. It's not great SF, but it is a great story, about the costs of being a stranger in a strange land. And if "Remedial Chaos Theory" does not win, it will be a serious miscarriage of justice.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

Ok, so I speak as someone who preordered but has not yet read Colson Whitehead's Zone 1. I speak as someone who has loved three of Whitehead's other novels, loves zombie stories, and was eagerly anticipating the fusion. I speak as someone who's been a genre fan all his life and a litfic fan just as long. And lastly, I speak as someone who thought the NY Times reviewer sounded kind of dumb.

But Charlie Anders's rebuttal rant is even dumber, so I wanted to tackle the questions he wants to ask the Times reviewer.

Q: Have you ever dated a porn star? How did it go?

No, I haven't, and I doubt that Duncan has either. That's not the point of the metaphor, however. The point isn't to position the reader as the person experientially dating the porn star, but as the person observing the intellectual dating the porn star and wondering how their relationship works. And I, and I would assume Mr. Duncan, have done that. We've all seen relationships that seem a mismatch of high/low culture and speculated about their nature. That Anders opens with this question show only that he didn't bother thinking about the metaphor.

Q: Are you aware that "porn star" is a job, not a class of person?

Yes. Are you aware that metaphors are literary constructs that involve partially applicable comparisons? Also, are you aware that regardless of the class of person, porn star is a job that generally involves the production of shabby, unartistic films of people having sex in the most tawdry situations? Of course you're aware, or you wouldn't have been offended by the quote. So get off your pseudo-feminist high horse already. You're not pissed because Duncan denigrated porn stars, you're pissed because you got compared to a porn star.

Q: You say in your review that literary authors are "hard-wired or self-schooled to avoid the clichéd, the formulaic, the rote." Are you aware that most literary fiction is full of cliches? Elsewhere, you've written of your admiration for John Updike's Rabbit tetralogy — are you aware how many cliches those books have spawned?

Dude, Anders, are you seriously unaware of the difference between spawning cliches and containing cliches? No, really, who did you think you'd fool with the argument that John Updike didn't try to avoid the rote?

Q: There's an undercurrent, in your Times review, of frustration with the readers of your werewolf book, The Last Werewolf. Have you actually had exasperating interactions with genre fans who felt that your work included too much reality? What form did these interactions take?

I can't speak for Duncan, but I sure have. I've been talking up Colson Whitehead's zombie novel for months to friends who love zombie novels and attracted no interest. It's not what they want in a zombie novel, that kind of realism. And that's okay. That's what attracts me to a lot of genre fiction, the fact that I can escape into worlds of fantasy and imagination. And also explosions. But I do nonetheless feel an exasperation that there isn't more crossover between genre fans and litfic fans. Many of the reasons I read books like Infinite Jest are the same as the reasons I read books like Glasshouse.

Q: Have you read Dhalgren? The Female Man? House of Leaves? The Wasp Factory? The Dispossessed? Air? In what way do you feel these books failed to show readers "the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange"? (Something that you seem to feel genre readers will be unable to cope with.)

Yes. Yes. No. No. Yes. No. More importantly, in what way do you think these extraordinary novels make up the typical fare of genre readers? What percentage of genre readers do you honestly think have read The Female Man or Dhalgren? Don't you suspect that the people who read those novels are readers of literary fiction, not readers of genre fiction, by and large? Didn't you notice that Dhalgren is a parody of Finnegans Wake and The Dispossessed has more to do with Thomas More's Utopia than it does with anything that you'll see on the new books shelf in the Barnes and Noble science fiction department? And that Danielewski's "House of Leaves" is unquestionably the work of a literary novelist slumming in genre in the exact same way Colson Whitehead's new novel is.

Q: The heart of your discontent with genre fiction seems to be that it doesn't allow writers to tackle all of reality — just the parts of it that are fantastical. That there's a certain psychological complexity, or texture, that gets lost in the fixation on monsters or whiz-bang gadgets. (William Gibson voiced a similar complaint about the state of the genre when he wrote Neuromancer the other day.) But wouldn't you agree that there's more than one way to write about "reality"?

Sure, why wouldn't I agree with that? Is that controversial? What point are you really trying to make? That genre fiction is secretly realistic through some sort of alternate route into realism? Do you really think that passes the smell test? (I have criticized Neuromancer elsewhere for cleaving too tightly to ideas about reality. I think Neuromancer is something of a failure as a genre novel because of Gibson's refusal to really let himself imagine.)

Q: You also quote from Susan Sontag saying "Whatever is happening, something else is always going on." Which actually contradicts the thrust of your review — since you seem to think that in genre fiction, whatever is happening is all that's happening. Don't you think you missed the point of the Sontag quote

Okay, now's about time to ditch the term 'genre fiction' because I think you've been willfully misunderstanding it through the whole questionnaire, but I've tolerated that. When the reviewer was writing about genre fiction, you and I both know he wasn't talking about all speculative fiction. We both know he was talking about the genre of zombie fiction, because that's what Colson Whitehead has stumbled into from his threatening position as a MacArthur fellow. And I want you to honestly tell me, Mr. Anders, that the majority of zombie novels do more than just tell about what's happening. This is a genre that is all about explosions and shotgun blasts. That's why we read it. And Whitehead is trying to do something different with it, he's trying to tell the story of what else is happening when those shotguns are being fired. That's all Duncan means, and you know that.

Look, your questions reveal a pride in your genre, and that's fine. There is plenty to admire about speculative fiction, and there is plenty of speculative fiction that is highbrow, sophisticated, thoughtful, whatever term you want to use. But this is a genre founded on bug-eyed monsters and laser blaster shootouts, and if you try to sidestep that you end up building an argument that isn't really about what genre fiction is. You can be as proud as you like, but you're not actually defending SF against the hordes. Nice try. Do better next time.
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Went last night to the NYRSF reading for my first time in the new venue (which tells how long it's been. I think the last time I went was last January). Rose Fox guest-curated and Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire read, but sadly I got there late and only heard Seanan McGuire. I'm pretty sure this is the second or third time I've missed Valente reading on account of my lateness. Eventually this must be remedied.

McGuire offered the choice between the creepy story and the funny story, but the funny story she read was also brilliantly creepy, a story of mad social science on the loose. I think I need to hunt down more of her work.

Afterward there was an awkward freewheeling Q&A with both authors. It was interesting to hear two complementary but very distinct perspectives on the anxiety of influence, aspiration, and the writing process.

And then we went to a bar and overflowed the place and overwhelmed its kitchen and there was entertaining conversation with old and new friends for several hours.

I want to rec a story: [personal profile] zephyrprince's "Three Accounts of Fratricide. It was originally written for the '09 [community profile] in_the_beginning fest, but its posting was delayed, so I think it got overlooked. Well, I think every fic involved in that fest got overlooked, to be honest. The six or seven stories that emerged from it are universally astonishing. (Including my own, I say frankly. The two stories I wrote are still unquestionably my best work) But "Three Accounts of Fratricide" got particularly overlooked.

It's a good week to call attention to it because in the Jewish annual Torah reading cycle, we just read the story of Cain and Abel. But any week would be a good week to talk about it, because Cain and Abel's story is a really insightful one. Steinbeck uses it brilliantly to drive East of Eden, because it casts shadows about love and family and society in all directions, because Steinbeck's obsession with sprawling portraits of life almost inevitably drew him to Genesis.

And [personal profile] zephyrprince seizes some of the shadows and runs away with them. Our author doesn't go far. Unlike Steinbeck, the driving interest here is in small details of character. What was really going on, if you study someone so closely that they reveal their secrets to you.

[personal profile] zephyrprince presents three answers. And what I love about the answers presented is how logical they are, how emotionally resonant, how powerfully they illuminate the ensuing sections of Genesis, how consistent they are with stories like Lot's story, Leah and Rachel's story, Dinah's story, and how WRONG THEY ARE. The story subverts not just Biblical morality, as I mentioned in my original comment on the story, but Biblical order. These are stories about characters I believe in, characters I want to know more about, and yet I know somewhere in my heart that these characters cannot exist in the Bible as written, with God as he's written. And I am fascinated to no end by that tension.

I'm fascinated because obviously Cain and Abel's sisters are part of the story, but could they possibly have been part of the story in that way? I'm fascinated because the call to be your brother's keeper is one of the Bible's sharpest calls to social justice, but Cain and Abel were history's first brothers, and they really didn't know the rules, did they? Why couldn't their love have been as consumptive and destructive as their hatred?

Anyway, if you want to read Cain/Abel slashfic, this is your place to go.


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