Hugo reading 2018: Best Fan Writer category

I’ll be doing this whole category in one sweep, so settle in, because this might take a while.
Mike Glyer has provided a series of links to representative work on File 770 (usually he provides a mini fanzine, but this year he has caring responsibilities that made this difficult).

The first three are in the realm of SF politics.  “Axanar Lawsuit Settled” is a straightforward report of the settlement between Axanar, creators of a fan-made Star Trek Film, and Paramount and CBS, the producers of Star Trek itself.  It seems that Paramount and CBS decided to let Axanar keep showing their film, provided they made no profit from it.  We then have “Jon Del Arroz Off BayCon 2017 Program, Claims Decision Is Politically Motivated”, in which he presents Jon Del Arroz’s statement, alongside BayCon saying “well, actually, we just wanted to have different speakers some years, rather than having the same speakers every year, so we declined to invite a bunch of our regulars, and in fact we’ve already invited Del Arroz back for next year, though we’re kind of reconsidering that now.”  It seems to be a reasonably even-handed story, quoting each party substantially and in context, with a small amount of commentary, but the comments go ballistic because anything with US politics in it tends to do that now.  The final piece is “Saying No”, which I’d describe as being Puppy-Adjacent, and in part addresses those comments.

There is a fun article called “Oscar Gaffe Brings Back Memories of SF Award Blunders” which reminisces about various times when the wrong names were read out at the Hugos and the Nebulas (the one about Gene Wolfe is particularly wrenching).

We then have obituaries for Peter Weston, Ed Bryant and Milt Stevens, none of whom I knew, but they are again well-written pieces.

“Pixel Scroll 12/31/17 Another Scroll Over, a Pixel Just Begun” is an end of year round-up of interesting articles which are mostly other people’s end of year round-ups.  Recursive!

Basically, I’d characterise Glyer’s work as good, straightforward journalism.  It doesn’t set my world on fire, but he’s very reliable and I tend to think of him as my trusted source of fandom news.  He’s certainly worthy of being on the ballot, but it will be interesting to see what the other writers in this category are like.

Next up is Bogi Takács, who has provided six essays to review.

“The Mutant’s Apprentice: Superhero registration tropes, power fantasies and Western-centrism”  talks about why superheroes and magic users tend to be subject to compulsory registration or guild memberships.  Takács’ thesis is that this was intended to be a way of talking about racism and anti-semitism without having to do so directly (or in ways that censorship boards would object to) – but that this became subverted in the minds of (white, male) fans as being about people being oppressed because they were exceptional, just as many fans of comics view themselves as oppressed by the mainstream… thus leading to the opposite effect to that intended by the artists.  It’s a depressing thesis, but Takács writes about it convincingly.

“[Novel review] A Jewish State in Germany? Judenstaat, Or Historical Speculation in the VHS Era” is a review of a novel by Simone Zelitch in which after World War Two, a Jewish state was established in Saxony.  It sounds bizarre and fascinating, actually – the novel is apparently very much steeped in Jewish culture, and also knows its Eastern European / life under the Communist Regime tropes, with Chasidic Jews living in Soviet-style apartment complexes and the tension around the fact that many Communists were secular Jews.  (Takács is Hungarian, and expresses appreciation of the fact that Zelitch got so much right, which is unusual for novels by Americans set behind the old iron curtain).

“[Novella review] The Kid from Hell by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (multiple translators)” was apparently such an effective and moving anti-war book that it was banned in Hungary, its country of origin, for many years, and could in fact be read in translation in English well before it could be read in Hungarian. It is set in a ‘utopian’ far future where Communism has triumphed and is trying to ‘progress’ new cultures to make them happier.  As the authors of this were Jewish (a community which the Communists also tried to progress), the ambiguous nature of this help is made clear.  It sounds like an unpleasant book – the viewpoint character is a deliberately horrible person – but I’m fascinated at this window into works written in Communist Hungary.

“[Novelette review] Alone, on the Wind by Karla Schmidt (translated from the German by Lara Harmon), Clarkesworld #88, August 2016.” is a brief, fairly negative review of a book that it well-written and well-translated but has some fairly problematic tropes.

The last two pieces, “[Short story collection review] So You Want to be a Robot – 21 Stories by A. Merc Rustad” and “[Comics review] Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos & Hwei Lim. Image Comics, 2016”, were perfectly good pieces of writing but didn’t do so much for me – perhaps because they are more standard, straightforward reviews, and so there is less of a point of difference here between Takács’ writing and the writing of other reviewers.

Overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Takács’ work.  Having grown up towards the end of the Iron Curtain era, I’m fascinated by these sorts of internal glimpses of what was behind it – the cultural history, if you like.  It’s not a perspective you get a lot of in SF written in English, and I’m very glad to have it.  Takács definitely winning so far for me.

Next, we have Sarah Gailey, who has provided three articles.

Facing Facts: American Identity is Based on Alternate History” is a very compelling piece pointing out that the history we tend to learn in schools is already alternate history – it’s a history where everything was fine, where wars were only fought for good reasons, where exploring the world was about discovery and bringing civilisation, not about greed or gold, where slavery didn’t exist, or where it did, slaves were treated well, where racism was solved in the 1960s.  It’s a provocative point of view, and one that will stay with me.

It’s also a strangely frustrating view, in the light of her own alternate history fiction – because while she certainly had a diverse cast in her story, she didn’t seem to me to be doing a lot with her alternate history setting.  I realise that this is harder to do in a novella format, and particularly if what you want to write is a light-hearted caper, but given how creatively she thinks about history and alternate history when writing an essay, I can’t help feeling a bit sad that she wasn’t more creative when writing a story set in an alternate America.

Next, we get an essay from Uncanny magazine – ‘City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman‘.  This is a lot of fun.  It’s about living in Gotham city if you are just a regular, poor person, who grew up in an orphanage after your dad got killed by a supervillain and your mum ran off to become a supervillain.  The trouble is, the kind of jobs you get if you have a limited education and money tend to be pretty basic – building, painting, a bit of security.  And if your boss happens to turn out to be a supervillain, guess who suffers the consequences?  The story does a nice job of interrogating the Lone Vigilante Hero trope – as well as the Beneficent Billionaire trope.  It’s nice that the billionaire funds orphanages, but why does Gotham City need so many? It’s nice that the vigilante hero fights crime, but how is it fair that he can do so outside the law, and with no regard for bystanders?  Might there not be better ways to ‘save’ the city, if one doesn’t have to be seen as the hero at all times?

I’m sure there are holes in this argument.  I’m sure that Andrew will come here and pick them.  But as someone who isn’t all that invested in the Batman mythos, I found this a delightful deconstruction of the idea.

The third article provided by Gailey is “This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017“.  I have not seen Blade Runner.  I don’t know what it is supposed to be about.  Gailey hasn’t seen it before either, and is a bit horrified by the familiarity of what she is viewing – boiled down to sheer plot, we have a man who takes the job of tracking down and killing escaped slaves.  There is one slave he doesn’t kill – he keeps her for his own, instead.  And – at least to Gailey’s viewing, the protagonist is the character we are meant to feel sympathy with.  We are meant to see him as a good man making difficult choices, and the slaves as not fully human.

Not having seen Blade Runner, I have no way of knowing what the intent of the directors and writers was.  But reading the synopsis… yeah.  That does seem to be what it’s about.  The replicants are AIs, not human, but it does still seem to have some really disturbing parallels to the sort of racism and police brutality that has been getting so much news coverage in the last few years.  And I can certainly see being unable to see anything *else* in the movie once one has seen that.

Gailey is definitely a worthy nomination for this Hugo.  At present, I’m having a hard time choosing between her and Takács for best writer, because while I love Gailey’s work so far, her worldview is more familiar to me and similar to other things I read – Takács has perspectives I don’t encounter often.

Moving on to Charles Payseur, we get five articles to read.

“Mapping Smutty SFF – Part 1: Getting Started” is about writing fun SFF with queer characters, and the difficulty of genre and market boundaries, where ‘serious’ SFF is willing to have ‘sex, but not erotica’, and queer sex or relationships tends to get automatically branded erotica.  And also about being someone who tends to fall between the SFF and the Romance / Erotica categories with his writing, with a side dose of sheer irritation at people who turn up their nose at romance/erotica on principle without having read any of it.  It’s a little rambling, but an enjoyable article with a few bits of practical advice and suggestions about publishers for this sort of work.
“MAPPING SHORT SF/F: Part 2: Fun Short SFF” is about finding SFF that is fun, which Payseur defines as inspiring joy in the reader.  And the way ‘fun’ is often undervalued in SFF, because of a desire to be considered a serious genre (and is thus easier to find in YA SFF, perhaps because fun is also associated with being childlike).  And then he helpfully lists a lot of places where you can find fun fiction, with examples.  I think this review would be a lot more use to me if I wasn’t in the middle of my massive Hugo Reading Project, but I might keep it for later, since fun, escapist fiction is generally what I”m in the market for.
“Year of Garak, part 10: “When It Rains…” “Tacking Into the Wind” “Extreme Measures” “The Dogs of War” & “What You Leave Behind” is part of a series where Payseur has been following Garak through Star Trek.  I skimmed this one, because I think one does need to care significantly more about Star Trek than I do (i.e., to have seen more than two episodes ever) to get much out of it.

“LIVER BEWARE! You’re in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #12: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR”.  What it says on the box.  It’s a review of what turns out to be a really terribly bad Goosebumps books, which Payseur hates quite thoroughly.  I’m enjoying his writing style while drunk and infuriated, but that’s about it.

For a contrast, “PRIDE 2017 GUEST REVIEW: THE ART OF STARVING BY SAM J. MILLER” is a sober, thoughtful review for a book that Payseur likes very much.  Again, it’s a good, well-written review, but I must admit, I’m reaching my limits for reading reviews of books I haven’t read.  I really want to finish this category today, because it will be a pig to read on my Kobo (too many PDFs – I’m home from work with horrible cramps, so now’s the time to read things on my computer), but I’m hoping very much that the other two writers aren’t too review heavy!

Overall, I enjoyed Payseur, and am ranking him about equal with Mike Glyer.  Which means I have two ties in my lineup, and that’s going to be great when I go to vote, but I’ll deal with that then!

Camestros Felapton provided a kind of anthology of bits and pieces from his blog, which initially made me groan at its length, but I was so very wrong.  This was great fun, and turned out to be exactly what I needed to read today.

There was a really fun and spoilerific review of The Last Jedi, which I have not seen yet, but I love spoilerific reviews of things I haven’t seen, so that was fine, which particularly looked at how it plays with and subverts tropes from earlier films.  He made the interesting and quite plausible argument that once one sets aside the purely political criticisms, many of those that remain in fact spring from people who hated the prequels but nonetheless internalised them in particular ways that have shaped their expectations.

Other reviews in the area of science fiction were a discussion of whether Hidden Figures can be counted as science fiction (it’s about science, it isn’t a documentary, it’s fictionalised…), and an article about the ways in which he thinks the new Star Trek just doesn’t work (mostly because it can’t quite decide what it’s trying to do.).  Another article was a little piece of research about Henry Still, who was nominated for a Hugo in 1956  alongside Ellison, Silverberg and Herbert in the category of upcoming writers, and then disappeared off the radar.  He tries to discover what happened to him and may well have succeeded.

Ask a Triceratops had several columns about writing.  I especially enjoyed the article about use of the first, second and third person, followed by a description of fourth person in its many variants. This is apparently the preferred triceratops style, and consists of the perspective of somebody discussing events indirectly.  I liked the playfulness of it, with grammar and literary tropes being the toys of choice. I also enjoyed the discussion of Triceratopian sub-genres and literary tropes, which mostly involve drunken T-rexes climbing trees.

Timothy the Cat has a few pieces.  There is a review of La La Land which is a dialogue between Camestros and Timothy.  Timothy thinks that he is going to see a Star Wars film, and takes a while to be disabused of this notion.  Having found that it is not, he decides that, fine then, it’s really just like Inception.  He seems to mostly find this in order to annoy Camestros.  This made for a highly entertaining and surprisingly insightful review, which also managed to include the main critiques I’ve heard of the film. Nice work.  Timothy also goes to WorldCon, which turns out to be the vet.  This is also funny and sarcastic and endearing.

There were several nice creative pieces.  I adored the review of Great Britain (“While the deeply amoral but wonderfully costumed historical series of “Great Britain” won huge ratings in the past, critics have claimed that this was “largely due to a hugely powerful navy forcing us to watch”.), and the piece on How to Cook a Frozen Pizza the Hugo Way, which gently parodied each of last year’s Best Novel nominees

“The witch Frisby approached the oven, her humanist boots clipping the floor in a rhythm like the spears of Menelaus approaching the walls of Illium.

 
Must thou once again use such words, Mycrust? We have had words on this thou and me already. Speak more on the cooking of this ‘pizza’ and less on witchcraft.

Speaking of Mycroft, Camestros’ review of Too Like the Lightning was particularly thought-provoking.  He likes it, but can’t recommend it – he agrees more with its detractors than its fans, and thinks that it is woefully incomplete, but he still likes it.  I found myself agreeing with a lot of his review, while still loathing the book itself.

All in all, this turned out to be the ideal reading for someone lying around feeling miserable with cramps – a pot-pourri of light but relatively serious articles, quirky humorous pieces, and strange little cartoons or poems – nothing requiring too much concentration, but all entertaining and with plenty of variety.

Also, he’s an Aussie! Yay for Aussie writers!

I’ve added his blog to my feedly, and he’s going to the top of my ballot.

Foz Meadows provides us with 5 articles to read.  The first, “Westworld: (De)Humanising the Other” is a review of the HBO show Westworld, which sounds absolutely horrific, frankly.  Apparently it’s very well acted and directed, but… well, the very premise of people being able to go to this theme park where all the hosts are AIs who behave like humans and can pass a Turing test but basically exist for tourists to act out their Wild West fantasies on or with (mostly on, apparently) is pretty repellant.  Meadows deconstructs this further – beyond the inevitable (and gratuitously sexualised) abuse of the AIs, there is the treatment of LGBTQI characters (who are either villainous, doomed, or both), and the extra level of degradation dealt out to Hosts who appear to be people of colour.

To be fair, I’ve never heard of the show, but if the premise is as written, it’s hard to imagine how it could be anything other than deeply squicky.

Her next article is called “Shin Godzilla: Disasters, Tropes & Cultural Memory”.  This is a Japanese disaster film, and Meadows’ review centres around how different the tropes are to the sort of tropes found in American disaster movies.  Japan is a country that puts a fair bit of effort into disaster preparedness and values cooperation and knowledge, and the movie reflects this, with the disaster/monster itself as the main antagonist to be defeated – American disaster movies tend to reflect an idea that if disaster strikes, it will be every man for himself, and any sort of organised structure or authority (the government, the army) will in fact be adding to the problems and be something the heroes have to overcome.  This is a troubling cultural insight – libertarian ideals seem to be baked into US culture at an even deeper level than I’d have thought, even in the so called ‘liberal’ media.

“YA Discourse: Witch vs Vulture” deconstructs a recent controversy among YA readers and reviewers over Laurie Forest’s book, Black Witch; a review that quoted it extensively, claiming that it was deeply toxic and bigoted; and the inevitable flustercluck in response to that review.  The key sentence, I think, is this one:

Which is what Sinyard means when she says The Black Witch “holds no regard to the feelings of marginalised people” – the big emotional reveal is seemingly predicated on the reader either learning from, being surprised by or sympathising with Elloren’s transformation, which means caring enough about her – caring more about her than those she victimises – to feel invested in the first place. And if you, as a reader, are one of those she victimises, then that’s unlikely to be a fun experience.

She moves on from the book and the general controversy around it (which takes the shape of pretty much every controversy I’ve seen around a book in the last decade) to thinking about cultural change online and the intersection of this with young people who are just beginning to make their own literary judgments online.  There are so many obnoxious folk out there who like to pretend to want to be educated on Diversity 101 that people have been burned out on helping them, and start defaulting to rudeness in answering those sorts of questions, which is rough on young people who genuinely are trying to figure things out (and possibly the goal of some of the obnoxious folk in the first place.)

The essay also discusses issues of censorship, of how we respond to ‘bad’ books and what makes books ‘bad’ in the first place.  It’s a very thought provoking essay, and well worth reading.  Also, I love a good fandom drama dissection, and this was a very good one indeed.

I didn’t really engage with the last two essays, “Movie Thoughts: SF, Pulp & Grit”, which is about Alien: Covenant, and “Final Fantasy FXV: Thoughts”.  I think they are perfectly good examples of their type, but of limited interest to me.

This is a hard category to judge, because everything was pretty good.  Camestros Felapton is definitely getting my first place vote.  After that, I think I have Sarah Gailey and Bogi Takács (final order may change), the first for some really interesting essays, and the second for a really interesting perspective; Foz Meadows, Charles Payseur and Mike Glyer are kind of equal fourth for me, but will probably go in that order.  I feel bad about putting Glyer last – I feel bad about putting ANYONE last.  Really, there was nothing bad in this section, so I may still mess around with my votes down the track.

Felapton was a real find, however.  I’m very glad I read him.

Hugo reading 2017: Foz Meadows

Last of all of the fan writers is Foz Meadows, who has provided us with four nice, long essays in her Hugo Voter Packet.

Bad TV Romance: Could you not?

Her thesis here is that TV writers pretty much feed M/M slashfic in three ways: by making male/female relationships predictably oriented around whether they will get together romantically; by avoiding platonic female/male relationships in order not to distract from the central romance; and by having relatively few female characters anyway, so your same sex interactions tend to be M/M.

“Thus: having firmly invested your audience in the importance of a romantic relationship, you then proceed to use all the juiciest romantic foundations – which is to say, shared interests, complex histories, mutual respect, in-jokes, magnetic antagonism, slowly-kindled alliances and a dozen other things – in male/male scenes and then affect gaping surprise when your fan base not only notices, but expresses a preference for it.”

I think she hits the nail on the head there.

She also queries why ‘will they, won’t they’ is the default, and suggests that this is rooted in an idea that having romance as a primary narrative is too feminine and thus devalued. As a romance reader, I can only nod along wisely and sadly.

It’s a good essay, and pointed out several things I hadn’t thought of before.

Dragon Age: Meta, thoughts and feelings

This is mostly a post about a video game, and since I don’t play video games, it’s a bit lost on me. Foz talks about the delight of getting to play a queer character in a video game. She then talks about the game’s portrayal of slavery, of race, of terrorism, and also about the game’s implicit biases.

It’s a strange and illuminating article. I didn’t know there was so much storytelling in video games, or that romantic relationships were a big part of them. I didn’t get a lot out of it – it’s hard when someone is writing in depth about issues with something you’ve never heard of – but it’s a good piece, even if it isn’t for me.

Diversity: more than white women

This piece talks about how women tend to be pitted against each other in media – put explicitly or implicitly in competition for the heroes or for the audience – and how this comes from an idea that telling stories about people other than straight white men is doomed to failure. All other characters exist only in relation to them.

Meadows points out that while this is slowly improving for white women, it’s not working so well for other groups. And that when other minorities appear on shows, they get killed off at a much higher rate. I hadn’t realised that the old motion picture production code actually required depictions of queerness to end in tragedy (so that viewers would not think that queerness was acceptable).  Of course, this is no longer the case, but people still tend to do it.

Gentleman Jole and the Vorkosigan Saga: Thoughts

Oh, this is fun! Meadows starts by comparing the revelations about the central relationship in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen with the fanfic written by my friend Dira Sudis – hooray, I have read both the novel and the fanfic! – and then she goes back and traces Joel’s appearances in previous Vorkosigan books, pointing out the hints that one can find, if one knows what one is looking for (or if one is as clever and intuitive as Dira Sudis evidently is), that suggest that Bujold planned this quite some time ago.

Meadows then moves on to talking about the women in Bujold, and honestly, I’m just having a heap of fun now, and not reading critically at all. I love her vision of Gentleman Jole as the final, cathartic, closing bracket of the story which started in Shards of Honor.  Miles takes over for so long that one can forget that Cordelia was the protagonist first, and the voice which carried us into the series. Reading this essay makes me realise that Gentleman Jole probably is the last word from Barrayar (though Meadows doesn’t think so). Cordelia’s story is complete, and it was her story to start with.

I love this essay. It makes me want to go read the whole Vorkosigan saga again, which is never a bad thing.

And now I’m conflicted about where to put Meadows on my ballot.  I loved Luhrmann’s essay about romance; I loved Meadows’ essay about Bujold, and I think by now everyone knows how I feel about Chuck Tingle.  I think I shall stubbornly put Tingle first, and Meadows second, with Luhrmann coming in at third and Nussbaum at fourth.  I wish I could somehow indicate the big gap between fourth and fifth place on my ballot, but it isn’t a No Award-sized gap, so the rankings will just have to speak for themselves.

And here endeth the Best Fan Writer reviews!  One more novel, and then a quick fly through the voter packets for the three series that I haven’t read yet, and I’m done!

Hugo reading 2017: Mike Glyer / File 770

Fan Writer number 5 is Mike Glyer, who writes File 770.

His Voter Pack starts with two brief articles from File 770, one about terrible holiday ornaments on sale in July, and one about why we shouldn’t erase people who finished below No Award in the Hugos from the nomination list (his argument amounts to – not everyone who has ever finished behind No Award is a puppy, and also, we should acknowledge our history.

He then provides us with a couple of obituaries he wrote last year, one for Bill Warren and the other for Ed Dravecky. They are very nice obituaries. I didn’t know anything about either man, and now I know a little. I don’t really know what else to say about these.

And… that’s all, apparently.

It’s perfectly serviceable writing. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing much that holds my attention. It goes above Puppy Jeffro Johnson and No Award, but below Tingle, Luhrs, and Nussbaum, all of whom provided me with far more entertainment.

Hugo reading 2017: Pretty-terrible.com

Powering through the Fan Writers here! And we now reach Natalie Luhrs, who apparently has a website called pretty-terrible.com . This is an excellent website name and I endorse it.  For the Voter Pack, she provides five essays,

The first essay is called Who lives, who dies, who tells her story? and is about Hamilton, which she evidently loves to bits.  She compares it to Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables (which she feels are essential viewing before going to Hamilton). Since these are my two favourite musicals, I suspect I am the right target audience for Hamilton.

I love her enthusiasm, but I find myself wincing at some of her sentences. And there also seemed to be some odd little gaps of knowledge, given the things she did know, particularly about how musicals / opera work. Hard to put my finger on, but so far, I find her adorable but not very incisive. She does make me want to see Hamilton, though.

Next, we have A brief analysis of the Locus Recommended Reading List, 2011 – 2015. I think I may have read this before.  It is an analysis of who and what make it onto the Locus reading list. Luhrs prefaces it by saying that she does believe the staff at Locus work very hard on this list and intend it to be comprehensive, and that there is a lot of new work each year to review. But she also thinks they do need to start being aware of their biases.

This is a nicely scientific study, in that she starts of by explaining her methodology and how she categorised people, noting the reasons for categorising them the way she did, and the possible problems that arise from this. There are charts. And tables! And I am suddenly thinking of the tutorial I did last week on Pivot Tables in Excel, and I really want to get my hands on that data and play with it in Excel. But I digress.

Her findings are not surprising for anyone who ever looks at any of these lists. Male authors and editors dominate every category except for first novel and Young Adult, and non-binary authors are largely absent (and only appear in the short fiction categories). White authors also dominate every category, though people of colour are slowly increasing their minority, and it’s an even worse ratio than the Male / Female one. She also looked at repeat appearances, and found that once you’ve been on the Locus list once, you are much more likely to appear there in subsequent years. And then she links to the dataset, which means I CAN go at it with my Excel Pivot tables! Yippee!

(But I probably won’t.)

Essay number 3 is called Is this a kissing book?, and oh, bless you, Ms Luhrmann, you’ve actually written an essay about romance novels which respects romance novels and their readers! You just overtook Abigail Nussbaum on my Hugo Ballot. (But not Chuck Tingle. Nobody overtakes Chuck Tingle.). Basically she has a list of things that people should do before they write an article about romance novels and yes, yes, yes, PLEASE do all those things. The list (which I think I may have read before, actually) includes handy things like: try reading one. Particularly, a recent one. Maybe even more than one! And: try visitng the online romance community and see if they’ve already written about this. Pro-tip: they have. Use this as a starting point. And: don’t blame rape culture and sexism on romance novels, for goodness’ sake.

I want every journalist who decides to write something stupid about romance novels for Valentine’s Day to read this article. Please.

Essay four is called Silencing Tactics and You. This is a nice dissection of what silencing tactics look like and why they are a pretty awful thing. I especially like the attention she pays to different disadvantaged groups using these tactics on each other, partly because of an idea that there might not be enough justice to go around. She then talks about coping tactics, but acknowledges that really, cope however you have to, because this stuff is nasty.

Also, I like her conclusion.

I hate that I keep on having to point this out but: being marginalized or oppressed does not give you a bonus to your saving roll against being an asshole. And it’s beyond shitty to use those parts of your identity as either shields against criticism or weapons to attack others, particularly when they are trying to speak or be heard.

The last essay in the booklet is called Three Easy Steps to Fix the World Fantasy Convention. I can already tell I’m going to like this, because I have a secret and unhealthy fascination with watching the inevitable online fallout from every convention ever.  There is always someone doing something awful, someone else enabling it, someone justifying the whole thing, and a whole lot of people shouting about it.  I should not enjoy this.  And I do, really and truly, feel bad for the people who are hurt in every go round.  But despite all of this, it’s very relaxing to watch a trainwreck unfold that one really has absolutely no way of affecting and thus no responsibility for (I know this sounds heartless, but I’m the sort of person who feels guilty every single time I don’t manage to write the magical letter that stops my government from doing something awful.  Some part of me feels that if I could just find the right words, I could fix it.  But apparently, I have absolutely no delusions about having the write words to fix SFF convention drama, and the bliss of it being Someone Else’s Problem is unparalelled…).

Anyway, Natalie Luhrs might actually have the right words, and she is using them.  She summarises the various issues at the World Fantasy Convention over the last five years, briefly notes some of the reasons for these problems, and then suggests steps that can be taken to fix things.  These steps are sensible things like paying attention to accessibility, having a Code of Conduct, improving communications, and becoming an incorporated organisation or a limited liability company.  Basically, she wants them to behave like proper, professional event managers.  Which doesn’t seem unreasonable.

I really enjoyed these essays.  As previously mentioned (many, many times), it’s going to be hard work for anyone to beat out Chuck Tingle (count the double entendres in that sentence if you dare), but Luhrs is coming a close second. So to speak.

Hugo reading 2017: Asking the Wrong Questions, by Abigail Nussbaum

Abigail Nussbaum apparently has a blog called Asking the Wrong Questions, which is an appealing title at least.  She lives in Israel, and may be the first Israeli ever nominated for a Hugo Award.  God knows what sort of politics this is likely to add to the Hugo ballot.  Hopefully we’ll never know.

Nussbaum provides us with 6 essays as her Hugo Reader Packet.

In Ex Machina. Nussbaum talks about how giving robots gender (which always means making them female, since male is a neutral quality here) reflects anxiety about women and what makes a woman really a woman.  Nussbaum then looks at this through a trans lens – after all, the anxiety and feelings about gender that underlie the question of whether a feminised robot is a ‘real’ woman are not too far from those that underlie the question of whether a transwoman is a ‘real’ woman.  Also, of course, an artificial intelligence who is created to look and feel female has had gender (and its restrictions) imposed on it in ways that it might not have chosen.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted by Russel T Davies is a fun review that makes me want to watch the adaptation.  Nussbaum outlines the (many!) problematic aspects of Shakespeare’s text, and then suggests, amusingly, that Davies’ solution to these problems is to present the story as if it were an episode of Doctor Who, which “oddly enough, turns out to be an endlessly rewarding choice.”  I’m not sure I understand what makes something seem like an episode of Doctor Who, but I’m amused by the idea. I also like her remark that “honestly, if you’re putting on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in two thousand and fucking sixteen and you haven’t made it even a little bit gay, you’ve done something seriously wrong.”  This fits right in with our Shakespeare reading group’s hermeneutic of ‘if in doubt, assume innuendo’.  I really enjoyed this essay.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead Westworld, Season 1, and Marvel’s Luke Cage, Season 1, are all interesting and extensive reviews things I don’t have any particular interest in.  Nussbaum does a meticulous job of unpacking the ways in which racism is addressed – and the ways where it is left unaddressed – in The Underground Railroad and in Luke Cage.  She is particularly interested in the ways in which Luke Cage distances itself from the Black Lives Matter movement, despite being a show that is intentionally about black stories and about crime, and thus sitting squarely in a place where it could do a lot with it, and concludes that a large part of the problem is that the show is very loyal to its genre, and misses opportunities as a result.  As for Westworld, she doesn’t think highly of it, and definitely doesn’t sell me on it either.

Nussbaum’s article on Arrival (2016), and how it adapts Ted Chiang’s story “Story of your life” is perhaps my favourite piece in this packet.   I enjoy the way Nussbaum reflects on the choices made by the director, particularly speculating on which were made essential by the different medium, and which were less so.  Book and film are two quite different stories, it seems, but they both sound fascinating in their own ways.

All in all, these are interesting essays, though I don’t think my tastes overlap a lot with Nussbaum’s.  Definitely a worthy contender for Best Fan Writer, but I’m still putting Tingle first at this stage, because he is so much fun, and has, in my view, provided a real service to the community over the last year.

Hugo reading 2017: Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog

Jeffro Johnson apparently has a space gaming blog and is published by Castilian Huose. Puppy alert! On the bright side, his voter packet is a mere 27 pages. I can handle 27 pages of puppies. I think.

The first item he gives us is a retrospective on “Song in a minor key” by C.L. Moore, and he starts by summarising the pulp ethos as ‘There is always a woman’. I raise a suspicious eyebrow, but I’ve never really read any pulp fiction, so I’m not going to argue. Yet.

… ah, and here we go. He feels that the romantic elements that these mysterious or classy dames bring to a story have been cruelly torn from him by writers of ‘serious’ science fiction, and of course by feminists. But pulp fiction has the last laugh, because apparently it is still being read today, whereas all this dull, respectable science fiction doesn’t get read because it ‘made satisfying the critics a higher priority than serving the reader’. This is because without these ‘romantic elements’ we no longer have human beings with human motivations.

Evidently, the only possible motivation a hero can have in life is unravelling the mystery (and, one suspects, the clothing) of one of these exotic creatures known as women. (Evidently, such an exotic creature could never be a hero in her own right, because what possbile human motivation could she have? She’s not even a proper human, really.) (Sorry, I’m feeling astonishingly objectified by a mere three pages of text, and it’s making me cross. Which is an achievement of sorts.

The next retrospective is of “A spaceship for the king” by Jerry Pournelle. His thesis is that Pournelle created what would inspire the jump drive of the most popular and best developed science fiction role playing game, which is apparently ‘Traveller’. I have no idea about any of this, and don’t really care, but it’s nice that he takes the time to be randomly insulting about The Force Awakens.

Next, our esteemed friend is going to tell us why short stories are awesome. Oh dear – is he going to put me off writing short stories for life? No, he actually has a reasonable thesis this time, which is that short stories give you a chance to speed-date authors without making a big commitment. OK.

We we have an article on why Joanna Russ Feared Heroic Fantasy. I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘because she is a mean feminist who wants to take away all our toys’. Let’s see… Oh, not quite. He quotes her talking about how too much escapism is bad for you, and then quotes lots of important male authors saying that this attitude is wrong and deluded. And then he uses this to explain that the world really needs pulp fiction or there will be no astronauts.

I’m probably not being entirely fair, here, but I don’t think Johnson is, either. Rather than analyse the rest of his essays separately, let’s just say that his theme is very much one of ‘can’t we go back to the old days when things were fun, and there was D&D and lots of action and mysterious, yet hot, women, and manly male heroes?’ And I’m actually with him on escapism being a good thing. I like escapist fiction! But he wants to escape into a world of Ayn Rand and John Wright and Lovecraft and Larry Correia. Or, more wholesomely, perhaps, Lord Dunsany, and Tolkien and maybe Asimov, but Asimov doesn’t really have hot chicks and is a bit too respectable, so maybe not.

It’s a world I’m not welcome in, and that’s fine, really. But I wish he didn’t feel the need to be so obnoxious about the places where I would be welcome.

i have a feeling Johnson is not going to go high on my ballot.

Hugo reading 2017: Chuck Tingle

I’m putting all of this behind a cut, because Chuck Tingle may be hilarious, but he is in no way safe for work.

Chuck Tingle, for those of you who who don’t know, is a writer of very strange, very silly, gay erotica (for a value of gay that includes gay sex with dinosaurs, Starbucks holiday cups, and the Euro).  It does contain some science fictional themes, but mostly the reason the science fiction community knows about Tingle is that he was nominated by the Rabid Puppies last year, in an attempt to undermine the Hugo awards and show how stupid they were, and he promptly turned around and began trolling the Puppies relentlessly and hilariously. 

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