Aug 252015
 
puppy threats

fresh puppy “threats”

Over the weekend, the overwhelming majority of SF Fandom smacked the Sad/Rabid Puppies on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. It was a smashing victory for civility, when even those who normally enjoy the “old school” style of SF said “We’re not OK with you guys being assholes, cut it out.” No decent person will want to be on a Puppy slate after this. Matthew Foster put it better than I could*.

As by now I SHOULD HAVE expected, this has resulted in a number of Puppies saying that this is Fandom burning its own house, and crowing about a victory? Fascinating.

It’s wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to address them all. Primarily, the Puppies are using words (“burning down”, “salting the earth”, “nuking”, “pyrrhic”) that imply an action which weakens the winners. They seem to not understand the concept of You Never Negotiate With Terrorists. They are cowards, and they expect everyone else to act like cowards. I’m fortunate to live in a country where these sorts of fearful men are laughing stocks. I’m fortunate to be part of a fandom that feels the same.

But, as Alonzo Fyfe once pointed out, you can tell a lot about someone by the type of mistake they make, particularly when it is repeated and consistent. What can we infer about the Puppies** based on their claiming No Award as a victory?

We can assume they are the people who don’t actually care about Science Fiction at all, and certainly don’t care about SF Fandom. They are happy to see fandom “burned down”, and they hope to keep doing it again and again. They’re willing to pay money just to spite others.

This has been shown to be a losing tactic. I think we’re actually best served by signal-boosting their words. The vast majority of people are driven away by this sort of dickishness. The louder they proclaim it, the more people will turn against them.

The most interesting inference, however, is that they know they are weak. They don’t expect to gain any more followers, ever. They have maxed out their strength, and now they are working furiously at charging up the base. Why else employ a tactic that that alienates you from any new potential allies? Their leadership doesn’t expect further support, and is scared of losing the hardcore believers they already have. They know they are leading an army of cowards. They know that at the first sign of a loss cowards will turn tail and flee, leaving their leaders high and dry. They need to hold onto the fantasy that even a refutation as resounding as the spanking they got on Saturday is actually a win. Now they’re doing their best simply to avoid a rout.

Amplify their words. Let everyone see them thrashing about. Their own flailing damns them more than anything we could say. :)

 


*For those without Facebook, his public post says: Gotta love this from Sarah Hoyt, (as I take the wording from the WSJ: …the “fury” of the reaction to the Puppies has proven their point. “That is the reaction of a small clique that has engaged in log rolling or years to reward its followers and those they approved of,” she said before the Hugo ceremony.

Too keep up the false narrative, she finally has to jettison the “small clique” that she claims runs everything, because it was a very, very big clique last night. It was...everyone except the pups. So I believe to recast her quote to makes sense, it would be, 
“the fury of all of fandom against our small clique of puppies has proven our point: that all of fandom has engaged in voting for years to reward the stories they approve of–and we don’t like that.”

Yes, now it makes sense.”

 

**To be more accurate, I should specify I mean only the Puppies who do claim that. Not all Puppies fall in that category, and I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush. I will use the term “Puppies” in this post as short hand for “Puppies who think that No Award is a victory for them”, but please keep in mind that this isn’t all of them. I don’t even know if it’s a majority or not.

 

Aug 232015
 

IMG_20150823_181412148Lets get the awards themselves out of the way first. As you’ve all heard by now, the Puppies were shut out. The community managed to successfully defend themselves at the first level. Congrats to all of us, I’m proud. :)

I had thought it possible there would be some disruption of the awards. Not necessarily anything physical, but maybe booing or chanting or yelling, which would slow things, stop the proceedings, and need to be dealt with. Before I arrived in Spokane I had been half-expecting it. There was not a peep. If there were any puppy supporters in the audience they were well behaved. I will admit that I am partially impressed that they managed to keep their civility about them. The entire thing went off without a hitch.

But by the time I actually walked into the auditorium, I no longer expected the Puppies to be a problem, because this was just the continuation of their entire week-long trend.

Long time readers may be aware I’m a bit of a drama-chaser. I don’t like it personally in my life, cuz who has the time for that shit? But I love to watch it. So I was seeking it out. I made many of my panel choices based on things I thought may draw puppy ire. I went to John Scalzi’s reading, which was hilarious and delightful. There was not a single bit of contention. No boos or hisses or people standing up to ask jerk questions. Maybe this is because John Scalzi is razor sharp and intimidating to anyone without genius-levels of charisma and IQ, and they were scared to speak out. Maybe they were intimated by such a large room full of huge Scalzi fans. I don’t know.

I went to the panel on “Writing About Controversies” which was unofficially THE panel to discuss the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy situation. I thought maybe here, of all places, someone would stand up to ask a challenging question during the Q&A. Nothing.

I went to a handful of social justice panels, thinking maybe someone would boo or challenge there. The rooms were more intimate, the audience smaller, and the panelists fairly low-level and unthreatening. I left early out of boredome in several cases.

I attended the business meeting where the rules changes were discussed to address the puppy problem. Here, I thought, is a perfect place for them to strike. It is a very formal, palimentary system (more on this later, it was fascinating!), and it would have been pretty easy to sabotage. I saw one issue run off the table just because it was contentious and there was enough bickering and debate that time ran out on it. A group of less than a dozen puppy-supporters could have thrown a serious monkey wrench in the whole thing simply by exploiting rules without doing anything against the letter of the law (as they like to do). They could have tried continually calling points of order, or offering amendments, debating rulings, objecting to proceedures, etc. They could have run out the clock on everything. I’m sure there’s some way of dealing with this, but it would have gummed up the works if they did it smartly. Nothing at all. It’s like they weren’t even there.

I know there were some around. I ran into one at my hotel’s breakfast bar, and we had a good little discussion. It was very civil, and we went away with respect for each other as human beings. I talked to a couple friends who also ran into a puppy or two. But all in all, it was like they weren’t there. Turns out they are cowards in real life, and only strike out at others when they can do so comfortably from behind the safety of their keyboards.

One may think “Isn’t it possible they are just good people, who don’t want to disrupt a party and ruin the days of other people for no reason? Why are you Saying they are cowards, rather than that they are civilized people?” Nay, I reply. When they can hide behind screens and keyboards, and don’t have to see the faces of the people they are hurting, they are more than happy to destroy someone’s day. They are *gleefull* about it. They cackle about how good it feels to see an anthill and start stomping it (which is a direct quote from a puppy commenter on my blog, I’m not making shit up). I don’t do Twitter myself, but I hear you can see all sorts of abuse on there right now.

But lets grant that those online comments are from the worst fringes of the movement. The fact remains that the puppy supporters were excited to vote a slate so they could hijack the Hugos for their self-aggrandizement. And as I predicted in “Why Vandals?” none of them bothered to show up for the actual party. If the party was left just to them, they’d have a nearly empty convention hall and no one to run it. They do not care about the con, or the people who attend it. They didn’t attend the business meeting to try to make things better. They didn’t put forward any bids to host the 2018 WorldCon. That they didn’t try to further mar the convention by ruining things in person isn’t a mark of civility, it’s simply the modus operandi for internet cowards.

It really dawned on me just how worthless the Puppies are when I went to the business meeting, and during the watching of the fan-recognition part of the award ceremony. These are people, later on in their years, who have been SF/F fans for significantly longer than I’ve even been alive. They’ve spent *decades* of work putting together these conventions. They are dedicated, and in love. They aren’t the authors, they don’t get the accolades themselves. They’re just passionate about SF. I really came to realize how much WorldCon is by and for the fans. I was very disappointed that more puppies didn’t come to the con in person. I was very disappointed that ALL the puppies didn’t come to the con in person! They would have seen that joy and passion for themselves. Maybe that is part of the reason why the puppy supporters who did come didn’t boo or shout or try to disrupt anything. They saw the love and the passion for themselves, and couldn’t bring themselves to be assholes any more. The ones who stayed home, safe behind their keyboards – they are the ones who will continue to be dicks. Because they were cowards, and wouldn’t come to see what they were vandalizing in person. Assholery feeds on cowardice, which leads to further assholery, in a neat little circle. It’s fitting.

The true realization of just how awful they are didn’t hit until the nomination stats were released afterwards. Before that point, it was just a theoretical “Man, I wonder how the year would have been different.” Afterwards, you could see exactly which stories were obstructed by the Puppy’s spite. Which authors were denied the recognition for great work. There are some truely fantastic stories that would have gotten nominations if not for the Puppy’s vandalism. Most tragically, a story by Eugie Foster would have received a nomination. Eugie Foster died tragically last year. By all accounts, she was an amazing person and a great writer. Who knows if she would have won? But now she’ll never have the memorium of “Hugo-nominated author” that she should have received. Because of the Puppy’s butthurt. I’ve tried to engage them before, and be reasonable. After today I’ll go back to that. But for today, I’m allowing myself to be angry. Fuck those guys.

Aug 122015
 

John C WrightThe last few days everyone in Hugo-ville has been in a tizzy about Lou Antonelli contacting the police in Spokane. I’ve seen it referred to as a SWATing. Guys… no. Chill the fuck out. A SWATing is when the SWAT team actually breaks into your house. It’s terrible for a number of reasons, but primary among them the fact that American police are notoriously reckless and an innocent person could be killed. This is a SWATing. What Lou did isn’t SWATing. He wrote a letter, asking for extra police protection at a public event.

Yes, he’s crazy, and he used paranoid language that shows how off-the-deep-end he is. But police do occasionally get such letters from crazy people, it’s not a big deal. And let’s be real for a second – wouldn’t we all feel a bit better with extra security around this year? I’ve heard similar worries from the non-Puppies (called Happy Hippogriffs from here on out for brevity) – they’re also scared that the Puppies fans are dangerously emotional and a few lunatics on the fringe might try to start trouble. I’ve had this expressed to me in private, and seen it online as well. We’re all a bit nervous. Lou just had the misfortune of letting his fear show in public, and targeting the Master of Ceremonies with lunatic accusations while doing so. Cut the guy some slack.

Everyone is quoting the Aug 1 episode of the Superlative Livestream. This is a roundtable discussion by a number of Puppies & Sympathizers, and I think very few people have actually listened to it, because there’s some far more interesting stuff in there! I’ve now listened to it, so you don’t have to. ;) Here’s some highlights.

At ~27:40 someone complains about how many people “shelled out forty bucks just to vote a spoiler vote”, which at first I thought showed crazy amounts of obliviousness. The entire Puppy movement is just one big backlash of the aggrieved, uniting to shell out forty bucks for the satisfaction of casting a spoiler vote! That is their raison d’etre! And now they’re trying to take the moral high-ground, saying that’s dirty pool? Then I realized it was John C Wright talking, and I laughed. The man knows exactly what he’s doing, he just has more chutzpah than anyone currently writing. :)

An interesting insight into the Puppies’ view of us: at ~1:17:25 one complains that “the thing with a lot of these people is that they don’t know people of faith”. Which… wow. Is the problem really that the Puppy voters simply don’t know any Hippogriffs? How else could you imagine that the Hippogriffs don’t know any people of faith? A large portion of them are people of faith! Of the remainder, I guarantee close to 100% know people of faith. We live in America, the most religious first-world country on the planet. It’s nigh impossible to NOT know someone of faith. We are all very much acquainted with people of faith, and the fact that you think we aren’t makes me suspect you’ve been being told some very interesting stories about us.

He then goes on to say that this makes having a chaplain protagonist “non-PC.” I don’t understand how this follows, even in the abstract. If any Puppy is reading this, and agrees with his sentiment, can you clarify what he means?

The same Puppy at ~1:20:15 says that he lives in Texas where they “are very different” because “you don’t have to apologize if you mention God or you say “God-bless-you” when someone sneezes”. Again, I want to know where the hell he’s getting his opinions about the outside world. Generally, mentioning God is not something anyone apologizes for. I mean sure,  it may be considered rude to start arguing Religion and/or Politics depending on the situation, but that’s normal social convention. There’s an old saying about it. That’s just not starting shit at the dinner table. Simply mentioning your God is never something I’ve seen anyone have to apologize for – more often than not it meets with approval.

But seriously, the BIG kicker here is his assertion that anywhere in the US someone would have to apologize for saying “God-bless-you.” That’s ludicrous, to the point that I wouldn’t have believed a Puppy had made that claim if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears. It doesn’t even have religious connotations anymore! That he thinks there are places where you’d have to apologize for saying that means his view of people who are outside his group has been so twisted and distorted that we must be little more than baby-eating mutants! He feels that his in-group is so persecuted outside of his enclave, that the outside world would turn on him for a simple wish of health after a sneeze! NO WONDER the Puppies are so happy to part with $40 to spoil the award party of the enemy side! They have a conception of us as truly awful people. This is the thing I was talking about in Defense Against The Dark Arts. What kind of person thinks it’s ok to distort the worldview of those who respect his opinion to turn them on their fellow citizens in this way? Ugh.

Which brings me to John C Wright. I kinda love this guy. He’s extremely intelligent, and well-spoken, and he has this wonderful, rich voice. He’d make such an amazing Quirrell. And he is *passionate*, which I really admire. I loved it when he was crazy Libertarian, and I still love it now that he’s crazy Catholic. This guy does not give one fuck about what his opposition thinks, because they are wrong. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Warrior, and he’s amazing to watch. Have I mentioned that I like to watch that kind of thing? I loved reading PZ Myer’s blog for the same reason. Intelligent, passionate, and a warrior. PZ would be what the Puppies call a “Social Justice Warrior” (SJW). John C Wright is the right-wing equivalent. He is absolutely a Conservative Justice Warrior (CJW?), and his fiction screams it. Hell, HE screams it, he doesn’t hide it for a second. He starts off the livestream acknowledging it! But the real fireworks come near the end, and for some reason I haven’t seen it referenced anywhere else.

Starting at ~1:18:00 John Wright says that “they’re an enemy religion to our religion. They know it.” Followed at ~1:18:45 with “They worship Moloch by means of abortion, and they worship Baphomet by means of sodomy.” He’s obviously talking in metaphor, but damn, that is some awesome metaphoring! That’s straight-up biblical. And it’s refreshingly honest. None of this namby-pamby bullshit about “You can say God-bless-you without apologizing for it.” Jesus, that argument is just plain sad, it crumbles as soon as anyone bothers to spend five freakin’ minutes with the opposition. But the claims that we support access to abortion, and we’re cool with sodomy? Entirely true. You think those things are bad, we don’t. That’s something real. That’s something worth engaging. Huzzah to Wright, for cutting past the bullshit and getting right to the beating heart of the divide. You, sir, have my respect. In the odd way that one respects a strong opponent.

Jul 292015
 

v2-explodingThis year has been extraordinarily bad in terms of fiction nominees for the Hugos, which I blame primarily on the Puppies campaign. However it’s not a total loss, there is at least one work in each category that I genuinely liked, and would vote for. Which puts me in a bit of bind, because now I have to decide if I should No Award or not.

There are two major objections to the Puppies’ campaign (aside from plain old bad taste, which is a venial sin at worst).

  1. Block Voting. Three men chose a slate of works (based on inscrutable criteria) and encouraged adherents to vote a straight ticket without considering other works. It seems highly likely that most people didn’t even bother to read the works they voted to nominate. This overwhelms the normal scattered popular vote, and reduces the Hugos to a party-system. Right now there’s only one party (the Puppies) but even if there were multiple parties I would still be unhappy with this result. Having winners chosen by the leaders of whichever party can attract the most loyalists is distasteful. It’s the same political machine that runs US politics, and everyone hates it. Why would we want to adopt that system for anything?
  2. Dark Arts. The Puppies gathered members and fired up their base by using the tried-and-true method of tribal hatred. It’s simple red-vs-blue antagonism. The Puppies’ message is that an evil leftist cabal of “Them” have been oppressing “Us.” Every single thing that really pisses off the right about the left was painted onto the image of “Them.” And we can defeat “Them” and really rub their noses in shit simply by paying $40 and exploiting the very system they have so much faith in! The Puppy Triumvirate found a pressurized reservoir of discontent and resentment that was straining to explode, stoked it further, and tapped some of that energy for their own purposes. All this does is turn the Hugos into another contest of who can hate who harder. All other considerations (such as artistic quality, or personal integrity) get thrown aside when we’re engaged in an existential struggle against the Other Tribe. That is not what I want the Hugos to be about.

So this use of Dark Arts must be discouraged. I cannot ignore the consequences of what would happen if the Puppies’ tactics were to propagate. And they will propagate if they’re seen to be successful. Regardless of how much I personally enjoyed a couple of these nominees, I cannot rate any work that was on a Puppy Slate above No Award.

If you have a Hugo vote this year, I urge you to consider the ramifications of the Puppies’ tactics, and vote No Award as well.

Jul 242015
 

300x300xhugo-awards.jpg.pagespeed.ic.AsqaLzncTzThese reviews got long, so I’m breaking them into two parts. Novelettes yesterday, Short Stories today, as that’s the same order we discussed them in my bookclub.

Overall Puppy Note (preemptive!): It’s impossible not to talk about the Puppies heavily when reviewing these stories, since the Puppies vandalized the Hugos this year. As such, many of my reviews address them directly. Based on the readings of the Sad/Rabid Puppy nominations, there are two things I think can be definitively said about the Puppies. The first is that they don’t much care about thinking through the implications of their worlds or spending mental effort to make them make sense.

The second is that (to quote an esteemed bookclub member) they are heavily invested in their own moral superiority. In retrospect, the second should have been obvious simply by taking their own rhetoric at face value, but I guess sometimes the obvious eludes me unless I really have it hammered home by reading the same moral over and over in a group’s fiction. Perhaps I was fooled by their claims of “Hating Message Fiction” and “wanting to nominate works that aren’t message fic.” As a reminder, the Puppy leadership complained about Message Fiction by saying:

 

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

 

But let’s let the works speak for themselves…

 

Short Stories

 

On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli

Much like yesterday’s Ashes to Ashes, this is an bland tale with mediocre prose. At first I was intrigued by the premise – a planet whose physical properties demonstrate that souls exist! After someone dies their consciousness remains localized near their point of death, due to (ahem) the planet’s magnetic field. It is a fully functional person, able to think, feel, learn, communicate, and weakly interact with the world!! Holy shit guys, the afterlife is real, and it’s on this planet! Immediately I was snapped into Awesome Transhumanism mode. This is obviously where all humans will rush to now, when they are close to death, so they need not be annihilated by the destruction of their body! How will society change when Death has finally been defeated, at least locally? How long before our scientists can create a device that mimics the (ahem) magnetic field of the planet in other places, allowing us to achieve immortality anywhere in the universe? THIS IS GREAT!

Oh wait, no. It turns out that the moral of the story is that DEATH IS GOOD. And by not dying all the way, the poor bastard is being denied the awesomeness of death. The goal of the rest of the story becomes to kill him again, because it didn’t take the first time. You did not die enough! Die more! The kindly chaplain has no qualms about resorting to trickery to achieve this, but fortunately(?) his victim is cool with dying, so when he finds out what’s happening he doesn’t put up a fight. Apparently “he would rather be nothing, than a ghost on a strange wold.” Cuz fuck strange worlds man. Death is so much better than novelty! Arrrrrgh.

If you like poorly-written BLATENT Deathist propaganda, this is the story for you. I find it morally repugnant.

Puppy Note: Wow. The novelettes hinted at this trope with Ashes to Ashes (“Death is the solution to all your woes!”), but it’s really hammered home here. The Puppies embrace Death, and seem to want their fiction to demonstrate the moral superiority of Deathism. Every character’s goodness and/or wisdom is proportional to how gracefully they accept their own voluntary extinction. A purposeless extinction at that. And they call themselves the culture of life. O.o

Anyway, this is obviously Message Fiction. The Puppies actually love Message Fiction, as long as it’s their message.

 

The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright

Wright intended this as a Sunday School sermon, and that’s basically what it is. You can read it as it’s intended – another way of presenting Catholic Dogma to the laity – and roll your eyes. Yes, as written this should never have been accepted into the Hugo’s because it isn’t Sci-Fi or Fantasy or Horror or anything, it’s just straight-up religious indoctrination. But here’s the wonderful thing about really old religions – they are horrific. The most effective tool for conversion to atheism is (IMHO) simply taking off the blinders and reading the Old Testament as it is written, taking it all at face value. It is the story of a Lovecraftian Eldritch Horror which men have been worshipping to gain advantage over others on Earth. Wright’s story, by staying true to the source material, tapped directly into that. If you ignore his intentions and just read it as a straight horror story, you’ll find an excellent piece of existential horror that will leave you terrified. See my full post about it for more on why, if you’re interested.  It is easily my favorite story on this ballot, and I’ll be voting for it to win. I’m with you Fox! We must kill God!

Puppy Note: Sermons are the original Message Fiction. This story is literally nothing but a very thin veneer over what is 99% message. There is almost nothing here EXCEPT the Message. Any Puppy who ever claims that they’re against Message Fiction again will be exposing him/herself as a liar. You can interpret it as a pro-God message (boring) or a death-to-God message (Yeah!!) but either way, it’s Message Fiction. I personally don’t have any problem with Message Fiction. I think Message Fiction is the best kind of fiction (because if you aren’t trying to say something, why are you bothering to write?), as long as it’s done well. I thought this was well done, so I enjoyed this a lot. :) But the Puppy Hypocrisy is stunning.

 

A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond

This is a Basic Story in the most basic sense of the word. It is literally “Warrior gives his life to save his people. Yay!” with nothing else. This isn’t bad, of course. Every one of us needs to read stories like this when we first start reading fiction. These sorts of stories are the bedrock on which our literary taste grows. All the nuance and subtle play of complex works depends on the reader already being familiar with the basic warrior ethos story. And this also has Kaiju in it, which we all need to experience for the first time at some point. You can’t fully appreciate Evangelion without knowledge of the Giant Robot genre. You can’t fully appreciate Magica Madoka without knowledge of the Magical Girl genre. You need to build up to great works by starting with the simple stuff.

And as a simple story, this works great. It’s competently written. Unlike the other pro-death stories, which are pro-death purely for the sake of being pro-death, in this story death is shown to be a bad thing, but one which it is noble to accept when it leads to the greater good. A warrior who sacrifices himself to save his people. That’s inspiring, it’s a good moral.

But it is undeniably Simple. It is a Basic story. We all read this story dozens of times when we were children. There is nothing new here for anyone over the age of ten. Why is another version of such a simple story on the Hugo ballot? There is absolutely nothing new to see here. I am absolutely flabbergasted.

Puppy Note: Do the Puppies simply not understand what awards are for? The rehashing of childhood tales is not an award-winning endeavor.

Message Fic – yup. It’s a good message: “Heroes will lay down their lives to save others, if they have to. Be heroic!” But it’s still message fic.

 

 

Totaled”, Kary English

I’m very torn on this story. It is easily the best written of the five, by far. The premise is great, and the story was interesting. But it focuses on the wrong story. I guess the author wanted to tell a touching story of a dying mother letting go of her children, and she completely missed the implications of what she’s writing.

When the worst people in our society do horrendous things, and we lock them up in the worst places we can create, and they keep doing terrible things to other prisoners and guards even within those prisons, how do we punish them further? We lock them up in solitary confinement. Because forced isolation is painful to humans. Painful enough that many jurisdictions consider long-term solitary confinement to be cruel and unusual punishment, equivalent to torture. So when I learned that the protagonist in this story is a brain in a jar, essentially someone suffering from Locked-In Syndrome I figured it was going to be somewhat horrific. But the author skims right over this, and never gives us any indication that the protagonist is on anything other than an extended no-phone vacation.

Worse than that, it quickly becomes apparent that her co-workers and boss at the brain-research facility are FULLY AWARE THAT SHE IS CONSCIOUS, and don’t give a damn! Instead they use her as slave-labor to advance their research. So we have a story of someone in constant isolation, unable to interact with the world aside from simple yes/no responses to one other person during regular working hours, being used for slave labor, with the understanding that she will die in six months and nothing can be done to alter that.

And somehow this isn’t a horror story??

I am horrified that the author was able to take those circumstance and try to write it out into a touching story of a dying mother saying her final goodbyes. I mean… it’s a good story. It’s well written and emotionally touching. But it seems like focusing on the story of a conflict with your in-laws when two blocks over there’s a genocide being carried out.

Puppy Note: I don’t quite know what to make of this. Again, it seems to be a story about accepting death, but at least this time death is portrayed as something to be sad about, rather than something to be welcomed. A surprisingly good entry, considering the Puppies’ track record so far.

 

Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa

Pure drek. The villain is one-dimensional, the hero is invincible, and tech-jargon is used as a replacement for anything that might be thought-provoking or compelling.

I said before I like Good Message Fic. This is the opposite of that. It is the worst kind of message fic. It is actually The Worst Argument In The World, put into story form. It is very simply “My ideological opponents are Hitler. If you agree with them, you are as bad as Hitler.” I’m not kidding. The author doesn’t use the name “Hitler”, but the antagonist is a genocidal, racist, megalomaniacal dictator.

There are interesting stories to be told of people trapped in situations where they have to behave horrendously or suffer terrible consequences (turning over the Jews in their attic or be killed themselves). These stories are full of tension and drama. Fortunately, our Turncoat protagonist doesn’t have to make any such hard decisions. The moral of the story seems to be “If you aren’t really onboard with literally committing genocide, and you can easily switch sides, turn the tide of battle, and not have to worry about taking any sort of risk to yourself… then heck, why not?” It’s not really inspiring.

Puppy Note: The most outrageous example of “heavily invested in their own moral superiority.” Message Fic with nothing to say. Seriously, you complained about the Hugo’s promoting “Message Fiction” because gay characters are portrayed positively, or a spacefaring society doesn’t make gender-distinctions and refers to everyone as “she”, but then you nominate a story whose sole purpose is yelling “my opponents are Hitler!” without even bothering to try to portray your own arguments sympathetically? What is wrong with you?

 

Book Club Note: As I said yesterday: I strongly encourage all book clubs to do something similar to this once a year. Reading shorts is a nice change of pace. Also, it provides immense reading-time-to-discussion value! Reading all the Hugo nominated Short Stories and Novelettes took half the time (or less) of reading a single novel, and with ten shorts there is SOOOO MUCH to talk about! We went significantly over time. A very favorable ratio, even compared to the best books.

 

Let’s hope there’s less Puppy Poo next year though.

Jul 232015
 

300x300xhugo-awards.jpg.pagespeed.ic.AsqaLzncTzThese reviews got long, so I’m breaking them into two parts. Novelettes today, Short Stories tomorrow, as that’s the same order we discussed them in my bookclub.

 

Overall Puppy Note (preemptive!): It’s impossible not to talk about the Puppies heavily when reviewing these stories, since the Puppies vandalized the Hugos this year. As such, many of my reviews address them directly. Based on the readings of the Sad/Rabid Puppy nominations, there are two things I think can be definitively said about the Puppies. The first is that they don’t much care about thinking through the implications of their worlds or spending mental effort to make them make sense. The second is less flattering, and so I’m putting it off until tomorrow’s post, where it is much more thoroughly supported (due to it being more strongly represented in the Short Stories).

 

Novelettes

 

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart

A decent, if fairly unremarkable tale. An example of “didn’t bother to think through the world-building.” The basic premise is that a technologically- and militarily-dominant alien species is oppressing a human settlement on a planet they both colonized, and the humans chase them away by exploiting a simple superstition in their religious beliefs. “Drive Away Your Alien Overlords With This One Weird Trick!” They have a fear of bodies buried under the earth, and so are willing to give up military dominance of billions in infrastructure to get away from those scary buried corpses. If anyone bothered to think on this for more than ten seconds they’d realize any such belief system would have been weeded out of the memetic ecosystem aeons ago. No expansionary society can have a belief system so easily hacked. If one guy with a shovel can overthrow any size military occupation in a single night, your belief system will not propagate.

The story itself failed to strike much emotion. No one seemed particularly harmed by the alien “oppression”, as far as I could tell we were supposed to be cheering for the humans merely because they are human. That’s OK, I guess, but it’s not compelling.

Puppy Note: The story’s basic premise is remarkably stupid (but sadly not the stupidest thing the Puppies nominated). But it had to be stupid, to get across the moral of the story, which seemed to be “Your religion is stupid. Look how stupid it is, we can exploit it so easily! It’s important to have a non-stupid religion, like ours!” /sigh

 

Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner

Oh dear lord. Remember how much I hated The Dark Between The Stars? THIS IS THAT BOOK, IN STORY FORM! Just apply everything I wrote in that review to this story. To recap: “as much emotion as reading a bad history textbook” and “there is not a single person in this book. There are a bunch of plot-advancing devices that have names. But they are empty husks, whose only purpose is to get us from Event A to Event B to Event C, and give us no reason to care about any event or any person.” Holy cow is it bad.

Puppy Note: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This is not a short story. It’s a novel excerpt. For the Puppies to have nominated this is an insult to the Novelette award. There is no character building, plot arc, anything, because there can’t be! It’s one chapter out of a novel. This is like nominating a movie trailer for Best Short Film. This is a clear example that either the Puppies didn’t bother to read their slate before they voted on it, or that they have no idea what these awards are supposed to be recognizing. It took a Novelette nomination away from an actual novelette, which is a damned shame. That alone puts this below No Award. The awful quality is just the kicker.

 

The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator

A gorgeously written surrealist piece, with extremely evocative prose. While reading it I actually experienced vertigo, and felt like I was somehow reading upside-down, even though the words were still right-side up. The premise was fascinating, and the survivors’ struggle to simply exist without flying into the stratosphere was fantastic. I absolutely loved most of it.

But I hated the protagonist. He is an extremely creepy stalker, who spends the entire story hunting down the girlfriend who broke up with him because he refuses to accept her breakup. When he finally finds her at the end of the story, trapped with a broken leg in her house, he again confesses his undying love and complete stalker-tude. To her credit, she reiterates that they broke up and it’s over, even in her position! He refuses to accept her breakup (again!), then goes into her bedroom and discovers that she is totally over him and started dating someone else. So he goes into a slut-shaming tirade and leaves her to die.

I generally like damaged characters. And I love villains! Villain stories are among my favorites. But I really despise entitled misogynistic assholes who we’re supposed to sympathize with and consider the heroes. That is not a villain story. So this piece didn’t leave me with the delicious sense of evil and tragedy that a good villain story leaves you with, it just left me feeling slimy and gross. Ugh. I’m kinda torn on this work, as the wordcraft and world is so evocative. But ultimately I just can’t like a piece that reads like it’s glorifying something this ugly.

Puppy Note: The only non-Puppy work on this ballot!

 

The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn

A very welcome surprise! This is a fantastic piece! The prose is superb and the voice is extremely strong! You cannot read this without immediately knowing just what the protagonist is going through, and feeling every single bit of it right along with him. And smiling the whole time. :) I especially love the banter between Teo (the protagonist) and Sammi (his travelling companion). Teo is a very old-school “honor and glory” type. He does what he does because it is awesome, and he is awesome, and he wants to be remembered down the ages and sung about, because we’re all going to die and that is true immortality, etc. It’s inspiring and exciting and swells the chest with pride. Sammi is a barbarian who speaks in broken English, but is obviously the smarter of the pair. He’s got a razor wit, always ready with a snarky quip, and always does the practical, smart thing in any situation, even if that would be seen as “cowardly” by the bards. He doesn’t give a crap about someone singing about how heroically he charged into the mouth of a dragon, he’d rather sneak up on the dragon, poison its food, and live to tell about it. Sammi is also incredibly admirable in this regard, and I would honestly consider him a Rationalist character. The interplay between the two of them really makes the story, and it was fantastic to read! Plus the storyline was pretty engaging too!
Oh! And did I mention the budding romance between Teo and the guy who’s been hunting him down? It is adorable, especially because it seems that right now Sammi is the only one who realizes what’s happening between the two of them… those two still think they hate each other! /squee!! It’s masterfully done, and I tip my hat to Mr. Flynn.

It is interesting to note that this appears to be an entry in a serial story (a previous story in the same storyline having been published in 2012, and the main storyline obviously not even close to resolution at the end of this novelette). However this isn’t just an excerpt, it really is a full story in the serial style – it has a beginning, middle, and end, and leaves you feeling satisfied. It’s much like a single episode in a season of Buffy – advancing the main arc of the season while still being a good self-contained narrative on its own. I’m happy to see serial works coming back in print form, I had assumed they were dead outside of cyberspace.

Puppy Note: Michael Flynn is an old hand in the Hugos, having six previous nominations. It’s a good thing the Puppies came along to right the injustice of him being shunned by the SJW circles and Hugo elitist conspirators, who had kept him from getting his due recognition…

Also, I get the feeling that the Puppies aren’t great at reading subtext, because I suspect that many of them would not have nominated a story with an budding gay romance. Either that or they didn’t bother to read their slate before nominating it *cough cough*.

 

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra

This started out strong, and I thought I was going to like it just as much as The Journeyman. The prose is good, and it’s written in that clever modern style that’s so fun to read. You know the one, you see it in most urban fantasy and some steampunk, very Whedon-esque. I was cruising along, having a good time, when we got to The Puzzle. I really like puzzles in my fiction! Some of my favorite works are basically very elaborate puzzles for the reader to figure out, with narrative and character, so I was excited. And this puzzle was introduced as something that a team of scientists had been working on for 30 years! And if they failed at it, they lost their home planet and had to move back to Earth! Wow, this is gonna be awesome. I am looking forward to some intense Insight Porn, because that’s half of what Rationalist Fiction is about, right?

While he’s describing the puzzle, halfway through the second paragraph the solution is obvious. He’s not even done setting it up yet and already I can tell what the answer is. Seriously a team of highly motivated scientists couldn’t figure that out after 30 years???? It’s not even a good puzzle!!! In fact it’s almost insulting to my intelligence how simple it is! I thought maybe I’d just been spoiled by the Insight Porn that is LessWrong and Cracked and SSC, until I got to the solution the author wrote…

Which was even stupider than I could have imagined, because I graduated middle school. I’m gonna spoil it for you, but don’t worry, you aren’t missing anything. The cows on their world, that have spent 30 years eating, reproducing, and doing nothing else, but are all wearing Apple Smart Watches? The Smart Watches were actually made by the symbiotes living on the cows, who have spent 30 years eating, reproducing, and doing nothing else. Oh, and did I mention this is a pre-industrialized world? Let me take that back… this is a pre-agricultural world.

That’s right. The symbiotes created those Smart Watches (using stone tools??) on a world without any industrial development at all. No factories, no refineries, nothing. I’m not the world’s smartest person. But I am aware that to build a Smart Phone/Watch takes literally centuries of industrial development, as we bootstrap up the tech ladder to produce the high-precision machinery needed to make such things. You don’t chisel one out of stone. It would take a society of hundreds of thousands of people (at least) all in extremely specialized careers to have the infrastructure needed to make this. That sort of society is impossible to hide, especially for thirty years! And it would collapse is suddenly everyone within it stopped acting like a modern society and instead hung out with cows, eating and reproducing and NOT GOING TO THEIR DAY JOBS IN THE FACTORY FOR 30 YEARS!!

I was personally insulted by this story’s lack of respect for my intelligence. It assumes I am a drooling idiot, and I’m willing to read whatever this author will shovel out on a whim without bothering for one second to think through the implications of the world he’s created. I actually hate this story. >:(

Puppy Note: Again, it seems the Puppies can’t be bothered to think through any of the implications of their world, or spend even two thoughts on world-building. Also, how did this get published in what is supposedly a Hard SF magazine? Doesn’t the “Hard” in “Hard SF/Hard Fantasy” mean “took time to think about what is being proposed so that it makes some damn sense”?? This story is not SF, because for the cow-parasites to have “made” the Smart Watches basically means they magic’ed them out of thin air. It is a fantasty story with conjuration magic, that is dressed up with techno-babble. Really? Adding techno-babble to your fantasy story is all it takes to be considered SF for Analog’s purposes? That is a low bar.

 

Book Club Note: As I do every year, I strongly encourage all book clubs to do something similar to this once a year. Reading shorts is a nice change of pace. Also, it provides immense reading-time-to-discussion value! Reading all the Hugo nominated Short Stories and Novelettes took half the time (or less) of reading a single novel, and with ten shorts there is SOOOO MUCH to talk about! We went significantly over time. A very favorable ratio, even compared to the best books.

 

Short Stories tomorrow!

Jul 102015
 

Dark_Between_the_Stars_2014_1st_edThe Dark Between The Stars, by Keven J. Anderson

Synopsis: A “space opera.” War among the stars, as humans are attacked by The Darkness (not the band).

Book Review: First, a minor quibble. This book isn’t SF, it’s Fantasy In Space. You will have to make a conscious effort to forget any physics you know to preserve the suspension of disbelief. It’s interesting that sometimes these things work and sometimes they don’t. I’m a fan of Star Wars and Warhammer 40K, and both of those are known to laugh at the idea of being constrained by basic common-physics-sense. But they have a flair, a certain bombast, that makes you eager to play along. This novel lacks that, and the result is groan-inducing.

But to get to the heart of the matter… Guys, I tried with this book. I really did. I felt the Puppies deserved a fair shake and I did absolutely everything I could to give them my fairest. After all, they have to their credit Warbound which was good in parts and wasn’t bad overall, and Parliament of Beasts and Birds which I quite liked. I can’t just denounce something without actually reading it. But after slogging through 220 pages of this abomination I could not read a single page further, and I was only about 1/3rd of the way through.

This is not a story. This is an outline of a story with a few physical descriptions fleshed out. You know those “Here’s a refresher of what happened last season” 5-minute clips that come out when a new season of a TV series begins nowadays? Imagine nothing but an entire book of that. Events are summarized, but no details are filled in. The result is a story with as much emotion as reading a bad history textbook. Allow me to demonstrate:

“Elisa was so furious and indignant she could barely think straight” is used to display anger. Can you feel the anger radiating off the page? Me neither. But it’s nothing compared to this next line, delivered after a mother witnesses her son die:

“That meant her son was dead! Anger warred with her grief.”

Let me be very clear – I’m not taking two sentences out of context of a greater tapestry. That is literally the entire effort that Anderson put into showing us the grief of a mother watching her child die before her. The paragraph before this was things blowing up, the paragraph after is exposition telling us things we already know (how her son got here), and the paragraph after that is descriptions of how damaged her ship is. The entire book is like this! The author does not give a single fuck about his writing, so why should I? Other examples:

“The survey ships orbited the small moon, and the readings were unusual enough that Keah decided they warranted a hands-on surface investigation. Adar Zan’nh agreed.”

“Sparks showered from control panels throughout the command nucleus, and the life-support systems shut down.”

Dry narrative that fails to evoke emotion, and the most-mocked cliché in Star Trek, at the same time!

“Sendra gave Garrison a gaze full of meanings, regrets, questions, and not-so-subtle flirtation.”

HOLY SHIT GUYS!! The only time I’ve read a line like this before is in fanfics that are parodies of bad fanfics!

But the complete lack of emotion and terrible writing aren’t the worst of it either. By far the worst part of all this is that there is not a single person in this book. There are a bunch of plot-advancing devices that have names. But they are empty husks, whose only purpose is to get us from Event A to Event B to Event C, and give us no reason to care about any event or any person. This book is empty. Not Recommended.

Also, in the glossary at the back there is an entry for “Black Robots: intelligent and evil beetlelike robots…” Yes, it says ‘evil’ in their description. Seriously, was this book written by-and-for eight-year-olds? I was surprised no one cast Magic Missile at The Darkness.

Book Club Review: Hahahahaahha! No. Not Recommended.

Puppy Note: Seriously guys, what the hell? Are you just trolling us? This is one of the worst books I’ve read in years. Apparently simply putting words on paper is enough to get a Sad Puppy Hugo nod. No wonder Brad had to go full post-modern, it’s the only refuge left to him now that he hitched his wagon to this turd.

On the plus side, it really puts into perspective the other books that were nominated. Skin Game and Three-Body Problem and Goblin Emperor all had their faults, and I can’t say any of them were really good. But now that I’ve been reminded what a BAD book looks like, I feel a lot better about those.

Jun 262015
 

Leckie_AncillarySword_TPAncillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Synopsis: A populist-leaning general sides with the underclasses against the ruling elites in a far-future analog of Imperial Rome.

Book Review: Leckie had set expectations high with her debut, Ancillary Justice, which was stunning. In this sequel she delivers in some areas, but falls short of her former glory in a few others.

(note, this is a sequel, so this review has a spoiler or two for the original book)

Her writing is still extremely strong. Everything flows wonderfully, and the protagonist’s ability to see out the eyes of her crew makes for a cool excuse to use a lot of quasi-Omnicient-Narrator tricks while remaining in the first person. It also allows for multiple actions happening simultaneously which we cut back and forth between, which makes for energetic reading. Leckie’s characters feel real, and the emotion in the narrative is strong – you cheer at the protagonists wins, hate who she hates, are worried when she’s worried, etc. This is something that improved a great deal from the first book, where it was harder to identify with the protagonist. And the plot of the novel is also fairly strong and keeps moving at a good pace, you want to keep reading. In fact, this is the first book I’ve read in quite a long time that kept me up waaay past when I should have gone to sleep, because I couldn’t put it down.

Leckie also portrays a very strict, hierarchal society fantastically, with all the protocols and formalities those require. And she does a fantastic job of striking that “underdog” nerve. Yes, I know it’s a teenage power fantasy, to suddenly be the supreme military commander in an area and be able to force the elitist assholes who are literally and figuratively exploiting and raping the underclasses to shape the fuck up and start acting like decent humans or by god you’ll have them stripped of their positions, flogged, and if necessary executed. Yet that power fantasy feels soooo good, and it’s damned compelling. Who hasn’t wanted to be the person to expose the most corrupt powerbrokers and punish them for their crimes? It is a sweet taste, and I reveled in it.

The book’s biggest problem is that it is a Middle Book and suffers from the typical Middle Book problems. The author is mainly setting up things for the final book of the trilogy, bridging the initial instigating action of the first book and climatic action of the third book with a bunch of “moving us from point A to point B” action that isn’t nearly as compelling. The first book is all about One Esk’s quest for the revenge of the murder of the one person she loved, revenge she must take on the Emperor(!), with a climactic showdown in the imperial palace. She swears at the end of that book to keep secretly working to destroy the Emperor, even as she’s outwardly siding with half of her. You’d think that would continue to be the defining struggle, but it rarely gets mentioned. It looks very much like One Esk is doing the Emperor’s will by bringing order to this system, and she doesn’t seem to be making secret plans or cooking up plots to destroy the Emperor at all. The stakes also seem low – we’re placed in a system out at the edges of the Empire that makes a luxury good that no one cares about right now, so it’s entirely untouched by the civil war shaking the important parts of the empire. It feels like the Emperor just wanted One Esk out of the way in a quiet place she couldn’t make trouble, and One Esk complied. There’s some hints that they’re near something important, but of course all that will turn up in the last book, not in this one.

Furthermore, the climax is not very climactic. It’s a brief flurry of violence without any lead-up tension and it’s over in a few pages. I was surprised when the book ended, it seemed very sudden, without anything important having been resolved. There hadn’t been much character growth in anyone, and the ultimate plot of Galactic Civil War was barely advanced. I was very disappointed. Honestly, I wish authors would simply stop writing Middle Books. All trilogies should only be two books long, and jump straight from the first book to the third book with maybe a single chapter taking the place of the second book. They’re almost always a let-down.

I’m not sure how to rate this book. I greatly enjoyed it while it lasted, but I didn’t feel very fulfilled after it was done. Like most middle books, my final opinion will probably depend on how I feel about the concluding book, where the actual resolution to the story rests. /sigh Based on my inability to stop reading it, and the strength of the writing, I’ll go with a provisional Lightly Recommended.

Book Club Review: I’m happy to say that the single-gender thing was not nearly as big a deal this time! Everyone had grown pretty used to it from having read the first book, so it no longer served as a stumbling block. There was still a bit of talk about it, but it didn’t dominate the discussion, thank goodness. I was so over it already.

Unfortunately Ancillary Sword was more simplistic than Ancillary Justice. Ancillary Justice was nuanced, and made cases both for and against its themes of consequentialism and determinism, giving the reader a lot of room for interpretation and argumentation. Ancillary Sword, OTOH, comes down pretty hard on the “populism is good, elitism is bad” side of class struggle. It’s a safe bet that most modern readers will be strongly on that side as well, and it’s emotionally compelling, but it’s not terribly thought-provoking.

There are, however, still quite a number of things to discuss, and we had a good conversation at the book club. Recommended.

Puppy Note: This should be right up the Puppies’ alley–a military space opera with good plotting. The primary message even mirrors their Hugo narrative! A minority of corrupt elites have taken control of the political institutions, and an outsider has to rise up for the common man to set things right. (or as The Phantom would say: “a thorough hill kicking and some ant stomping seems in order.These people gots to learn some manners.”) And yeah, it’s an intoxicating narrative! It’s why I always lean a bit to the Puppies’ side when I read Larry’s blog; he is very good at telling that story. :) So normally I would assume they’d love this. But due to the gender thing I think they’ll assume that the author is on the “wrong” side of the political spectrum, call it “message fiction,” and dislike/hate it.

They’re right that it’s message fiction (as all good fiction is, because if you aren’t saying something about the human condition why are you even writing?), but they’re wrong about the message. Ancillary Sword’s message is their message. It’s populism, and anti-elitism, and standing up for what’s right. They’ll think the message is something about hating men, I guess? Because the Radch society only has one non-gendered pronoun that applies to all people? OK, whatever.

I would be thrilled to be wrong though.

Jun 222015
 

I dashed off a little short story, inspired by the Sad Puppies Hugo Fiasco. I had fun writing it, I hope someone finds it enjoyable to read. :)


Amazing Man flew over the Los Angeles sprawl at a good clip. He’d thought of it as his “patrolling pace” just a few short weeks ago. A high enough speed to cover a lot of ground, but not so fast that he couldn’t track all the small-scale human movements below. It was still too fast for a cape though. The wind would whip it so loudly he couldn’t hear himself think, and his thoughts were pretty important. It was even fast enough to rip the breath from anyone who needed to breathe, so it was a good thing he didn’t. His chest rose and fell out of habit, an affectation he’d adopted to put the people around him at ease.

In a sense this was still patrolling, but now he was looking for slabs of lead shielding rather than crimes in progress. That was the byproduct of another previous effort to put humans at ease, by affording them a sense of privacy. He could, in actuality, see through lead without a problem. He’d been so stupid back then, hopping back and forth like the oblivious nerd trying to impress the popular girl, thinking he had a chance. Even last month he’d let those orphans smear their greasy hands all over his costume, smiling the while. They had no idea how hard it was to get stains out of it! He couldn’t just take it to the dry cleaner. And no Amazing Fabric Cleaning Vision either. All the positions he’d twisted himself into, trying to make the humans happy! For years! And for what? Well, at least one good thing had come from his naiveté–now lead shielding acted like a neon sign flashing “Insurgents Here!”

Los Angeles was in better shape than most other major cities. The fighting here had been brief. The populace had already seen how futile resistance was, and the National Guard had defected to his side before he’d even arrived. He’d probably be able to lift his personal overwatch from LA in a matter of weeks. He hated when people referred to it as martial law. That was downright ungrateful. He kept tabs on the insurgent sympathizers who said it. It was his duty, as the liberator and overlord of America, to ensure that his subjects could enjoy lives free from civil strife. Amazing very much believed in the personal responsibility ethic of “you break it, you bought it.” Even if he’d fixed it rather than broken it.

As he flew over a suburb he spotted a lead slab, installed to shield a basement. He zoomed in with his Amazing Vision and saw a group of young men sitting in a circle, tapping away on their phones furiously. His Amazing Hearing was well-known, no one would speak a word against him aloud anymore, but that was no impediment to the youth. It was almost as if the past five years had been a training regimen to prepare the populace in audio-free communication. Come to think of it, that wasn’t so implausible. It was too bad Steve Jobs couldn’t be brought in for interrogation anymore. Unless… he had faked his own death?? The possibility was intriguing. Amazing would love to end this whole resistance fiasco just by punching the right guy hard enough. Counterinsurgency was frustratingly difficult.

Amazing focused on the tiny phone screens to confirm his targets. Rallying cries of “Death to tyrants!” and “We are Americans, we kill kings!” Really hurtful stuff. He was a far more benevolent ruler than those self-interested liars that had kept getting elected. He altered his course to home in on the insurgents. They didn’t look like he’d expected insurgents to look, with turbans and beards. They looked just like any other group of teens gathered for a social event. Heads bowed over phones, fingers flying, not a word being said. If it wasn’t for the lead shielding above them he wouldn’t have given them a second glance.

He dropped into the basement feet-first, punching through the house above like an unpopular rocker leaping onto an unwilling crowd. He’d intended to appear in their midst with the clarity of a bolt of lightning, or a much more popular rockstar, but shoddy construction ruined his entrance. Debris crashed around him. The billowing dust obscured all vision. Screams of panic, and at least one of grievous injury, filled the room. Amazing frowned. This was almost as bad as the time he’d crashed Dr. Vile’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, thinking it was an Evil League gathering. Those poor grandmas never knew what hit them. Amazing pursed his lips and blew, clearing the air with his Amazing Breath. Slowly the cries died into shocked silence, aside from the screeching kid in skinny jeans clutching a shattered leg. A bow-tied hipster in the corner quietly pissed himself.

Amazing scanned the room with his Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision to find the insurgent most suited to his needs. The one who would be most terrified by what was about to happen, and who would tell everyone he could of the horror of this afternoon. Amazing didn’t have the time to root out every single insurgent cell. He needed to give the impression that he was aware of all subversive action and always just a moment away from crushing it. He figured the best way to do that would be to strike at random times and places across the nation and make sure everyone knew what had happened.

After a couple seconds he focused on the dreadlocked hippie type pressed against the back wall. The hippie enjoyed attention, and didn’t believe in staying quiet. Amazing hoped he had a lot of followers on whatever Insta-share thing he used.

With that Amazing burst into action. A single step and he was across the room, up to the elbow in someone’s chest, his fist protruding from their back. A huge sidestep and he was against an exterior wall, one hand pressed against the concrete foundations, a mess of brain pulp and shattered skull under his palm. A spin and a dash–he literally ran through one of the insurgents, the body exploding in a red mist, before grabbing the bow-tied kid’s jaw in one hand and twisting his head off his body. A final step and he was next to the injured kid. He stomped his chest flat in a single motion. From start to finish, less than one second. He knew the hippie couldn’t have followed it. One second everything was fine, the next Amazing Man was dripping gore and the hippie’s friends were so much falling meat.

“I’m tired of your terrorist shit,” Amazing intoned. “It ends now. Consider this your warning.” The kid stared at him, frozen, not even daring to breathe. Amazing held the pose, unsure of how to exit the scene. Back in his self-effacing heroing days people would thank him at this point, which was his cue to be gracious, salute someone, and fly off. This extended pause was awkward, and there was blood trickling under his collar. Could the kid at least acknowledge he’d heard him?

A strained croak escaped from the hippie’s mouth, which would do. Amazing rocketed out of the basement. He accelerated sharply, hoped the wind of his flight would strip him clean, like a super-powerful air hose. Instead it just dried the viscera onto him, leaving his skin sticky and his creases crusty. In annoyance he flared his Amazing Aura, incinerating everything within an inch of his body, aside from his asbestos underwear. Come to think of it, his costume was also a holdover from his days of cringing appeasement and self-abasement. He had the body of a Greek god. From now on that underwear would be the entirety of his costume.

As soon as he dyed it purple, anyway. He couldn’t have an asbestos-grey costume, even a really small one. He wasn’t gauche.


Amazing Man sat in the throne room of his Amazing-Lair-cum-Presidential-Palace, contemplating how to ferret out his secret arch-nemesis Steve Jobs, when he was interrupted by an approaching clamor. One of his newly-minted Lieutenants of Liberty, resplendent in black-and-purple ballistic armor, marched through the opposite doorway. He came before Amazing’s throne and kneeled, head bowed, helmet under his arm. Amazing was uncomfortable with such displays of deference, but he’d once read it was an important ritual among military organizations. His Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision confirmed that his Liberty Legion found it deeply comforting, so he’d mandated the act. He wondered if this was a universal human trait, or if his organization simply tended to attract people who needed this sort of structure.

Then he realized that he was again making himself uncomfortable to pander to the vagaries of the current in-crowd. That the in-crowd were his loyal followers didn’t change a damn thing. He was done being a simpering puppy.

“Stand up,” he snapped. “Report.”

The man rose reverently, but refused to make eye-contact with Amazing. Probably bad news then. Either that or he was intimidated by Amazing’s manly physique. Amazing found he really enjoyed the liberty of his much smaller costume. He should have done this years ago.

It was probably the bad news though. His Legion was flat-out incompetent.

“My lord, we’ve captured the reporter. She is waiting just outside.”

Success on their first try? Amazing blinked in surprise. That was a new record! He’d been this close to adopting Dr. Vile’s style of punitive motivational tactics (he imagined his thumb and forefinger very, very close together). He didn’t have to worry about a henchman uprising like Dr. Vile had suffered, and he’d been getting tired of failure. He eyed the lieutenant skeptically, not quite sure how to react to good news from underlings.

“Bring her in,” Amazing ordered. With his luck they’d gotten the wrong reporter anyway.

The lieutenant returned promptly with three Legionnaires, escorting a feisty, tough-as-nails reporter. Miss Paula Perry, from the State Journal Weekly. Amazing expected her to see the wall behind him at some point, but she was struggling the entire way across the room, and when she’d finally been deposited at the foot of his dais she simply glared directly up at him. All things considered, this was preferable. It would make the reveal so much more dramatic!

“Ah, Miss Perry,” Amazing greeted her with a smile. “You’ve been in hiding since my ascension, and I feared you’d fled the country! I should have known you’d still be here, riling up the masses. Reasonable responses never were your strong suit.”

He’d practiced that line in a mirror, so he knew it delivered the perfect mix of power and contempt.

“I knew this would happen!” Paula spit at him. “I tried to warn everyone! I’d been trying to warn them all from the first day!”

“Oh, I know all about your warnings. I followed your column, devoutly. I read and tracked every word of yours. Every. Single. Lie.”

Paula pulled back in surprise, momentarily speechless.

“You did?” she asked. Amazing grinned down at her. Slowly comprehension dawned over her stupid face. “You were V.Populi77? You? You didn’t have anything better to do than troll the comments of some weekly columnist?”

“You weren’t just some columnist for me. For you see…” Amazing reached back, picked up a pair of black thick-framed glasses from his throne, and slipped them over his face.

Paula eyes bugged out and she gasped in recognition.

“Emilio?”

“Yes. Your polite, cringing, and unfailingly nice coworker. I was Amazing Man the whole time!”

“That’s why your stories always praised Amazing Man so much.”

“No!” Amazing snarled the word, then calmed himself as its echoes died away. “No. I was simply trying to counteract your constant hate-pieces. In return you and your coterie of Mean Girls attacked me, tore me down in public, and baited the rest of the journalistic world into hating Amazing Man!”

“But everyone else loved you! Your columns were way more popular than mine! They’re why people read the paper.”

“So you admit my work was better?” Amazing demanded.

“Well… I mean, it was definitely better liked…”

“Then how do you explain THIS!?” Amazing stepped to the side and with a sweep of his arm gestured grandly at the wall behind the throne. “Last year when I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, for an incredible in-depth piece on Amazing Man, I was passed over and the Prize was given to this vile hate-piece instead!”

The wall was solid marble, forty feet wide and rising to a gothic arch seventy feet up. Starting five feet from the top was the full text of a State Journal Weekly article, carved into the marble in giant letters. Amazing had carved those letters himself, with his Amazing Cutting Vision, seething all the while. He’d had to focus carefully, exercising control not to cut deeper on the most infuriating lines.

“Amazing Man Amazingly Narcissistic. -Paula Perry; SJW, Nov 14 2018

As the city throws another parade in Amazing Man’s honor, perhaps we should take a moment to ask if our thanks aren’t misplaced.

In a world of crashing climates, is the best use of a massive super-natural force really the stopping of muggings and personal crime? Millions starve, hundreds of millions are displaced, civil conflict and disease run rampant in half the world. How many could be saved if Amazing Man used his strength to keep a series of massive dynamos spinning? Free, limitless energy would end half our conflicts, and break humanity’s carbon addiction.

Or what if Amazing Man were to allow himself to be studied by scientists, so we could determine the source of his powers?

Consider even the event that has prompted our latest parade, the poisoning of the city’s water supply. While we are all grateful to have been saved by Amazing Man, revelation of his Amazing Water-Purification Vision raises alarming questions. How many lives could he save by providing clean water in developing countries? How many other powers does he have that he isn’t telling us about?

And yet where do we see him? In showy fights with evil geniuses. Or punching common thugs. Flashy actions that are always caught on camera and praised. He is conspicuously absent from the sort of high-impact work that doesn’t come with limelight.

More than anything else, Amazing Man seems to crave affirmation, and anyone who doesn’t provide it for him can go hang. One can only shudder to think what he might do if the news cycle ever changes focus and the affirmation he needs begins to drain away.”

 

It had been carved in the same font the State Journal Weekly used.

It even included the small stock photo of Amazing Man that had run with the column, carved into the wall in bas-relief.

Slowly Paula turned her gaze back to Amazing.

“Are you saying this is my fault?” she asked.

“All of you ivory-tower snobs, trying to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. I was just trying to make the world a better place! But I didn’t fit into your little clique, didn’t toe your party line, so you attacked me at every opportunity. You tried to destroy my career, while you slandered my good deeds, and your incestuous little group rewarded you for it.”

Paula shook her head, looking dazed. Her eyes kept moving from Amazing’s face to the wall behind him and back again.

“It was worse than I thought,” she said, “You’d never be happy as anything less than a messiah figure. Why not just cut to the chase and call yourself Messiah Man instead? Or The Amazing Christ?”

“And you’re still doing it! You have this need to cast me in the worst possible light. The whole system was corrupt, ruled by out-of-touch elites. The masses loved me, and you sought only to tear me down! I had to take back America for the common man, for the overwhelming majority of us underdogs!”

“And that article of mine,” Paula gestured to the wall, “is what convinced you of this?”

“I’d been so naive before that. I read your columns, but I had faith in the process. I believed that I would be judged by the content of my character. Afterwards I realized I never even had a chance. That’s when I decided things had to change.”

“So all of this…” Paula gestured around herself to indicate the Presidential Palace, the Liberty Legions, and presumably the entire Liberated States of America. “All of this was because you felt snubbed by a group of people you don’t even like?”

Amazing ripped the glasses from his face and crushed them in his fist. His responding roar was super-human, shattering all the glass in the Palace and leaving Paula with mild, but permanent, hearing loss.

It’s about ethics in superhero journalism!


Emilio won a Pulitzer that year, as well as a Peabody, an Oscar, a Grammy, a Dobby, and a Tony Award; all purely on merit and not for any other reason at all. Amazing Man won the Nobel Peace Prize. That last one raised a few eyebrows, but it was pointed out that the Peace Prize had previously been awarded to people with a much higher body count than Amazing Man had managed, and wouldn’t it be better to keep it that way? It was hard to argue with that logic.

Miss Perry was released, because Amazing Man was above petty things like personal revenge. She is now happily employed as a Field Hand in the Angola Liberty Farm.

Jun 092015
 

Rocket-future-2This started out as a reply to a comment, and became long enough I decided to make it a post. If you’d like to skip to the chase, the bottom two paragraphs are the important bits, and my point is “It’s time to end the requirement that a Hugo can only be given to a work published for the first time in the previous calendar year.”

On my review of Three Body Problem, Beerwulf wrote:

>As far as the Puppies are concerned there is no “everything else that goes into making a good SF story”, what you consider to be the “everything else”, they (and I) consider to be just optional extras. One of the motivations for the SPs is that SF has become too literary, too concerned with the optional extras and not concerned enough with what’s important, what makes SF, SF.
[…]
I’ve commented before about “Pure SF”: science fiction with everything that isn’t science fiction removed. Even if I agree with everything in your review (which I don’t – I might comment later about that), then this would stand as a great example of “Pure SF”.

I can see that, and it makes a lot of sense. And I agree that what makes SF SF is the important part. I generally dislike EarthFic (Literary Fiction) and consider it a wasteland. All that “everything else” heaped upon itself is just empty fluff without the base. If you’re going to bake a cake, you need actual flour. But I also think that just flour isn’t enough for me. Hardtack will fill you up, but it’s not a joy to eat. I want all those other things too. I guess that’s where the “difference in taste” thing comes in. For some people that extra stuff probably detracts rather than adds.

I will say I enjoyed The Martian. It had enough of the Other Stuff to make me happy, even if it wasn’t quite as well executed as it could be. It was certainly better than Three Body, IMHO.

I’m not sure this really explains the Puppies that well though. They nominated Skin Game, and if we’re talking about the “Pure SF” Stuff, it has none at all. It’s an urban fantasy. They also nominated Parliament of Beasts and Birds, which is religious horror and again has no “Pure SF” in it.

If a contingent of readers did want to bring more “Pure SF” back into the Hugos, nominating the most right-wing or the best-selling SF is not the way to do it. Their best bet would be to alter the Hugos to adapt to the modern world. A LOT of great titles are being passed over due to adherence to archaic rules from the times of print publishing.

Aside from Three Body, what are the two best-regarded recent “Pure SF” books you can think of? For me it’s Wool and The Martian. Both are insanely successful and fairly well written. Neither was eligible for a Hugo because they were first published serially online. (As more and more great works are!) By the time they made it into print (or had a large enough audience that they could potentially be nominated) they had passed the year that they were eligible. This is ridiculous. Most people do their reading online nowadays, and most stuff that’s published online spreads through word-of-mouth. That takes a fair handful of months, no matter how good it is. Putting something online shouldn’t make you ineligible for a Hugo. It’s absolutely ridiculous that neither Hugh Howey or Andy Weir were even eligible for a nomination!

It’s time to end the requirement that a Hugo can only be given to a work published for the first time in the previous calendar year. My own preferred solution would be to extend it to anything published in the three calendar years preceding the convention. This allows for word of mouth to spread. Alternately, it can be changed to making eligible anything released for the first time in a new publication format in the previous year (print as opposed to electronic, or full ebook as opposed to a collection of posts), with previous nominees obviously ineligible. An inability to change this, IMHO, is much more likely to kill the Hugos than any silly Puppy movement.