Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Hugo Award's Struggle for Relevance: an ArmadilloCon 2015 panel

It's not too much overstatement that blood was expected to flow on "The Hugo Award's Struggle for Relevance", a.k.a. the Sad Puppies debacle, panel at the ArmadilloCon. But the discussion was instead polite and even funny at times. Here are the main points of the discussion. (Pretty much everything is paraphrased.)

The panelists were Lou Antonelli, Justin Landon, Michelle Muenzler (moderator), Marguerite Reed, and Jacob Weisman.

The discussion opened with moderator Michelle Muenzler asking who exactly the Hugo Awards represent. A lot of fandom claims they don't represent them.

On one hand, Hugo Awards are the only science-fiction and fantasy genre awards that the general public (at least the portion that reads those genres) has at least heard about. But upon closer look, Justin Landon said, only a very small part of the SF/F-reading population has heard of Hugos, cares about Hugos, or lets Hugo Awards influence what authors they read. At the end of the day, it only represents the Worldcon voters. Marguerite Reed agreed that people who vote on Hugos are a small percentage of SF/F readers. Jacob Weisman too agreed with everyone else that this award represents mainly, or only, the fans who bought memberships to Worldcon.

The Hugo Award's Struggle for Relevance: an ArmadilloCon 2015 panel: left to right: Michelle Muenzler, Jacob Weisman, Lou Antonelli, Marguerite Reed, Justin Landon.
Left to right: Michelle Muenzler, Jacob Weisman, Lou Antonelli, Marguerite Reed, Justin Landon. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.

If that's really the case, why are we worried about what the future of Hugo Awards means for the future of the speculative fiction genre?

I could say that there was a brief argument as to whether the fans who bought WorldCon supporting memberships were "true fans". But in reality, none of the panelists were presumptuous enough to divide the fans into "true" and "false", so it was more like a meta-argument, a survey of popular arguments. For example, one could say that the "true fan" would be considered someone who buys Worldcon memberships and votes for Hugos year after year. But the panelists agreed that the definition of a fan can't be as restrictive as that. Marguerite Reed said that she didn't believe that everyone who bought supporting membership was a true fan, and that no doubt some people bought it for questionable reasons, such as to put Sad Puppy nominated authors on the Hugo ballot; but she is willing to welcome all those people into the science fiction community. She hopes that they will like it enough to stay. Jacob Weisman said that, on the contrary, it might bring such a deep divide that people will opt out, as happened to the Nebula Awards a few years ago.

Justin Landon had very harsh words to anyone who likes to divide fans (even the politically-motivated Hugo voters) into true geeks and not true geeks. He, too, has been accused at conventions of being a fake geek. "When we see someone to come into our community, how screwed up it is to say, you're not one of us, get out, just because you're a conservative?" he said.

The Hugo Award's Struggle for Relevance: an ArmadilloCon 2015 panel: left to right: Michelle Muenzler, Jacob Weisman, Lou Antonelli.
Left to right: Michelle Muenzler, Jacob Weisman, Lou Antonelli. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.

All this discussion or meta-discussion about true vs. fake fans/geeks seemed a bit pointless to me. The notion of being a science fiction fan or geek is so subjective, it's not like there could ever be a test administered who is and isn't a true fan or geek.

Lou Antonelli, who was nominated for Hugos by the Sad Puppies, said that he regretted how it turned out, and that he didn't want the Hugo ballot to be full of authors nominated purely based on political agenda.

Lou Antonelli. Whenever you have a system with laws, you chug along until someone finds a loophole, and then you rectify it. So maybe this year we will introduce some provisions. I think people should have fewer nominations than there are places on the ballot, to assure that there won't be a slate. It is ridiculous when someone is nominated more than once in the same category. I hope some reforms will come out of it. I got nominations, but I'm not happy with the way it turned out.

Naturally, other panelists asked Lou why he is not happy with the way it turned out (especially since, according to Marguerite Reed, Lou in his blog called current science fiction "dystopian slipstream pornography", or something like that); and more importantly, why he didn't recuse himself from the Hugo ballot, like so many people had. He said that he stood on it as a matter of principle, to not give in to the abuse that people heaped on the nominated authors.

Lou Antonelli. I think Letters from Gardner was good enough for Hugo nomination, good enough to make it on the ballot otherwise. But I said, I didn't need two nominations. And then ... I refused to be bullied and insulted. So I stayed the course. The first short story was withdrawn by the nominee, Annie Bellet, because she couldn't take the heat. When she went down, I decided I wasn't going to let that happen to me.

Justin Landon pointed out that while some nominees indeed withdrew because of the bullying they got from "people we would identify as social justice warriors", other nominated writers withdrew themselves without being bullied.

Lou Antonelli. I would rather make a decision that turned out to be wrong, but not bow down just to be popular.
Justin Landon. I have a lot of empathy for people like Lou, who worked in science fiction for many years, and one year they get a chance to get nominated for a Hugo, and I can't imaging being in their position and having to say "no". I don't want to beat up Lou. I don't envy position you are in.
The Hugo Award's Struggle for Relevance: an ArmadilloCon 2015 panel: left to right: Lou Antonelli, Marguerite Reed, and Justin Landon with a glass house in front of him, ready for people to throw stones.
Left to right: Lou Antonelli, Marguerite Reed, and Justin Landon with a glass house in front of him, ready for people to throw stones. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.

If, as everybody on the panel agreed, conventions and organizations can run their awards however they see fit, it begs a question, voiced by Marguerite Reed: Why didn't Sad Puppies have their own award? Justin Landon thinks it is because Sad Puppies are intent on destroying the Hugos. So then the question is, what are we going to do about it? Justin Landon thinks we should still vote. Not voting would be worse for Hugo Awards.

Justin Landon. If you want to vote No Award in some category, go ahead. But if you vote that way in all categories, you are making a statement. But statement-making is what Sad Puppies do. {I think he says, don't do it.} If you don't want to read sad puppies, don't read them. How many people before voting for Hugos, read everything on the ballot? (Nobody in the room raised their hands.) If we vote No Award in every category this year, what will it mean for Hugos next year?

But does it matter if Hugo Awards are destroyed or made irrelevant (which is likely to happen if many people vote for No Award)? Panelists and audience think it does.

Jacob Weisman. Science fiction and fantasy genres are more fragile than realized. More books are published but fewer numbers per title are being sold. Too much acrimony will shrink fandom because of the culture war.

A fan from the audience echoed that concern. "In the past, the science fiction community always healed itself, because there was a sense that it was important to maintain the community. This time, there are many who do not feel the preservation of the community is more important than getting their agenda met. This makes this a far more problematic and "dangerous" time in fandom."

The TL;DR version: the panelists would like you to go and vote for the Hugos no matter what. Find something you like, or at least are not opposed to, in as many categories as you can, and vote, and let the Hugo Awards continue.

Monday, August 03, 2015

ArmadilloCon 2015: What You Should Have Read in 2014-2015

A bunch of authors, editors, critics and booksellers discuss their science fiction, fantasy and horror picks of the year.

Some books got a nod from more than one panelist. This year those were Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven, Ken Liu Grace of Kings, Kim Stanley Robinson Aurora, and Neal Stephenson Seveneves.

Below are each panelist's recommended books, and his or her comments about why they are worth reading.

John DeNardo recommends

Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois. If you don't read short fiction, here are 3 reasons why you should read this collection. 1. "The Regular" by Ken Liu. I made a mistake of starting it late at night. it pulls you in, and you can't wait to find out what happens next. The way he does it, alternating viewpoints. The way he reveals these plot twists. 2. Rachel Swirsky "Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)". A pinocchi'esque story about father and inventor whose daughter has cancer, so he transfers her memories into a lookalike automaton. It is heartbreaking, but not for a reason you think. It is very moody and emotional. 3. Nancy Kress "Yesterday's Kin", also sold as a short novel by Tachyon. A story of first contact -- a ship landed in New York, and has been there for several weeks, and nobody is able to make contact, because the ship is surrounded by a force field. A geneticist is called to make contact. She also has family issues. The aliens affect her family and relationships.

Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven. It is is a great character study of people. For our muggle friends, who don't like science fiction, this is a very accessible book -- it is something we could share with our friends mainstream readers. (Also recommended by Justin Landon.)

Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl & Bill Campbell.

Neal Stephenson Seveneves.

John DeNardo. One of the things I like about science fiction is worldbuidling, and Seveneves is stuffed with it. I even thought there was too much worldbuilding. I never thought I would say it about any SF. But you'll learn about orbital mechanics in a way that you'll never think you are learning about orbital mechanics.
Willie Siros. It is Stephenson's best work since Baroque Cycle. It is Moonfall done right. Bad stuff happens, and mankind doesn't step up to the plate well. It's not really apocalyptic, and it ends with a more hopeful ending than you would think halfway through the book. It is amazingly well-written, very tight, more accessible than his other books.

Andy Weir The Martian. It's all about problem-solving. John DeNardo could especially relate to it because he's an engineer by day, and engineering is all about solving problems. In "The Martian" you don't feel like you're getting a science lesson. And it is very positive, at least for someone who is stuck alone on Mars. The most the character would say is "I'm not feeling up to it today", so you know what he is going through, but it's not in your face.

Justin Landon recommends

Joe Abercrombie Half a King, Half the World and Half a War (forthcoming). Justin Landon is a sworn fanboi of Joe Abercrombie. 'Nuff said.

Bradley P. Beaulieu Twelve Kings in Sharakhai -- Middle Eastern-flavored world; protagonist is 18-year-old woman who is a gladiator and a smuggler.

Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It was self-published before it was published traditionally. It's like Firefly, but better. Cleverer, more charming, more real. It is social science fiction about a family living on a spaceship, and how they deal with relationships and xenophobia.

(Forthcoming) Kate Elliott Black Wolves, coming out this fall. It is phenomenal. The protagonist is 70-year-old beaten up woman, well past her prime, and has to figure out a way to protect her father's legacy, king's legacy, her grandson's legacy. Show me another fantasy that shows a capable old woman!

Robin Hobb Fool's Assassin

Rebecca Levene Smiler's Fair. Rebecca Levene used to be a Dr Who writer. It is Night Circus if G. R. R. Martin wrote it.

Sara Lotz The Three. The story is a thriller that may or may not be supernatural -- it is up to you. Four airplanes crash around the world simultaneously. Everybody dies. But on 3 of them, a young child survives. On the fourth there is apparently no such child, but there are rumors that a child might have survived. And so the rumors start that those children are the 4 horsemen of apocalypse. The book is written as a memoir of a woman reporter.

Alex Marshall A Crown for Cold Silver. Epic fantasy but without all the stuff that we hate about epic fantasy: progressive, not sexist, without all the baggage. Very aware of the tropes in the genre, and tries to do something unique.

Michelle Muenzler recommends

Darin Bradley Chimpanzee. In an economic downturn, a professor is in danger of having his education repossessed. So he tries to give it out for free, teaching people in public parks, so he could give it away before it's taken from him. But it's not legal, so he gets caught in a revolution.

Kameron Hurley The Mirror Empire -- great worldbuilding.

John Hornor Jacobs The Incorruptibles is set on an Earth a few dimensions way over there. It has one of the most frightening descriptions of Elves. They take the place of native Americans in this weird version of a western. Is it a terrifying and wonderful story. (Justin Landon added: "And it is not available for purchase in the US, except here in the dealers' room.")

Nicole Kornher-Stace Archivist Wasp is about a girl whose job is to kill ghosts, to make them stop bugging people. But instead she decides to help one of them. She gets pulled into a weird underground world, and learns the real reasons of apocalypse.

Mary Rickert Memory Garden is about old women who may or may not be witches.

Kazuki Sakuraba Red Girls -- three generations of a family, three very engrossing narratives. It spans the time from 1970s to the 2000s.

Willie Siros recommends

Ben Aaronovitch The Hanging Tree

Paolo Bacigalupi Water Knife. Published as a trilogy, but it is not. It has a discussion of the future water wars that are coming to the US as the drought continues. An asssassin arranges for water to go from one place to another, regardless of what the people who think it's their water, think. Texas is such a wasteland that refugees who are trying to get in to Colorado and Oregon, are dismissed as Perry's ramblers.

Author Michelle Muenzler gave out cookies to everyone as a way to combat the midday crash. Next to her, fan guest John DeNardo looks on.
Author Michelle Muenzler gave out cookies to everyone as a way to combat the midday crash. Next to her, fan guest John DeNardo looks on. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.

James S. A. Corey Nemesis Games

(Forthcoming) Julie Czerneda This Gulf of Time and Stars. In this book, Czerneda returns to her main species universe, which was the setting of the books she wrote many years ago.

William Gibson The Peripheral. Willie said that after thinking that Gibson's best work was in the past, he was very pleasantly surprised by The Peripheral.

Peter F. Hamilton The Abyss Beyond Dreams

Robin Hobb Fool's Quest

Stina Leicht Cold Iron

Jack McDevitt Coming Home and Thunderbird (forthcoming)

(Forthcoming) David Mitchell Slade House - a much looked-forward-to novel from the author of Cloud Atlas

Michael Moorcock The Whispering Swarm

Alastair Reynolds Poseidon's Wake is part of Alistair Reynolds series that began with Blue Remembered Earth. It is set in near future and examines how society deals with space travel in various ways. A family is raising elephants to intelligence, and by the end of the third novel it seems like elephants will have surprises for us. It is somewhere between popcorn fiction and serious fiction (the same applies to James S. A. Corey Nemesis Games too).

Kim Stanley Robinson Aurora. It asks: if man in 2000 years only managed to keep things made of stone, that could last 2000 years, how are we going to keep a generation ship going? It is really well done and fabulous. Justin Landon adds: "Aurora is tols form a perspective of a developmentally-challenged person, and Kim Stanley Robinson does a very good job of putting us in this person's head."

Several forthcoming books:

John Scalzi The End of All Things

Charles Stross The Annihilation Score

Michael Swanwick Chasing the Phoenix

Robert Charles Wilson The Affinities

Gene Wolfe A Borrowed Man

Skyler White recommends

Max Barry Lexicon has system of magic that's based on language. If you're a word person, or a magic person, it is so delicious.

Elizabeth Bear Karen Memory. Steampunk-inflected western with a very interesting protagonist. It's set in a bordello. It is Elizabeth Bear's strongest novel yet. It is as conceptually interesting as her other stuff, and also has interesting relationships between people.

Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

(To tell the truth, the panelists were not completely clear if they were talking about this book -- which came out more than a year ago, so technically it does not qualify for this year's What You Should Have Read -- or about We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. No one could remember the exact title and author of the book they were thinking of. Then a brief argument broke out whether in Karen Joy Fowler's book there was mention of aliens arriving to Earth's orbit: some of us in the audience who have read it swore up and down that there were no aliens, but one of the panelists claimed that there were maybe a total of 5 lines in the book mentioning the aliens. This made it further confusing which panelists had which book in mind. -- E.)

Max Gladstone Three Parts Dead -- magic is legal-based. There is nothing boring about legal contracts.

Ann Leckie Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy (forthcoming)

Ken Liu Grace of Kings. Incredibly bold, incredibly global, has amazing ability to introduce you to a huge cast of characters, and they are each unique. According to several panelists -- Skyler White, Justin Landon, and Willie Siros -- it has an incredibly unique storytelling structure, a non-traditional, non-western narrative. If you read traditional Chinese novels, it fits into that structure. And if you haven't, it feels completely unique.

Christopher Priest The Adjacent. There is some kind of hop between times, that we don't really understand, but it has powerful applications. It's not hard SF, it is a character study of people who are wrapped up in this event. It is the impending feeling, that things will be terrible, but you don't know why.

Jeff VanderMeer Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy also has creeping dread. It is set in a postapocalyptic future of the American South. This book explores not just conceivable ways in which everything can go terribly wrong, but also impact on survivors, and the ruthlessness of the quarantine. Willingness to sacrifice a few for the good of the many.

Jo Walton The Just City. Jo Walton writes dialogue for Socrates. Just City is a utopian city created by the goddess Athene. They buy enslaved 10-year-olds, who will be become the citizens of that city.