Standard Right Wing Talking Points and Casual Sexism

This might be the new tagline for John C. Wright’s Hugo nominates story “An Unimgainable Light”. From Nerds of a Feather:

An Unimaginable Light: Imagine a thought experiment dealing with the nature of being human by  playing with the nature of robots and mix in some casual sexism and some standard right wing talking points. Then, imagine the story is even more didactic and poorly written than it sounds and you have the beginning of what John C. Wright’s awful “An Unimaginable Light” is. The reality is so much worse. Rich Horton notes that much of the context for the story is tied to Wright’s collection God, Robot and perhaps it would read very differently in that context, but coming into the story as a discrete piece of fiction I can only say that it is bad. It is not worthy of being considered for the Hugo Award.

Seriously, when will people understand that the story is literally an argument *against* casual objectification of women? It’s not even subtle. The person who “casually objectifies” women is literally nicknamed “Skinner”. Because he flays people. He’s not the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for.

As for “Standard right wing talking points”…here are the other Hugo stories. This is taken from books.zennaro.net. All emphasis mine:

A Fist of Permutations in the Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
Hannah and Melanie are two sisters, with the ability to bend time and reality. Unfortunately there are limits of what they can achieve, and when one succumbs to self hate, suicide, family transphobia, and hate crime, the other traps herself in a never ending loop of alternative realities, fueled by her sense of guilt, desperately trying to change an unchangeable past.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
This is the story of Tabitha, and Amira. Their stories, and their roles are the archetypal stories and roles of women in fairy tales. The same fairy tales that we still read to our children, often without realizing how misogynistic they are. One day, as Tabitha walks around the world to repent for having revealed to her mother she was a victim of abuse, she meets Amira. Their encounter will deeply change their lives, their way of thinking, and of living.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
A very interesting, and very fine example of message fiction, focusing on women rights, and rape. Given the brevity of the story, it is hard to say anything about it, without spoiling it. I would just say that it is a great piece from a Hugo / Nebula / Sturgeon / Locus finalist writer.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin
All the great metropolis on Earth, when they get big enough, and old enough, they must be born. Now it’s the turn of New York, and a homeless queer black man find himself tasked with the role of facilitate this birth [sic]. But nothing it easy: there are mysterious enemies that want to prevent this from happening. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts his reluctant midwife.
I found the short story interesting, in particular the way it touches some very actual themes like xenophobia, and homelessness. The story is not as good as Jemisin’s previous work.

(Carrie Vaughn’s story seems pretty neutral ideologically, for what that’s worth.)

But, sure, the issue here is that there are “standard right wing talking points” in John’s story. THAT’S what we should be concerned about!

Mostly I notice that this Hugo Award year, at least in the short story category, is divided on deeply ideological lines – there is no question that John’s story is very definitely on the conservative side of the ideological divide. But they’re not even trying to hide it anymore; message fiction is being acknowledged and stories are being praised specifically for the ideologies they happen to be pushing.

If you want to see something from someone who *actually* seems to be neutral, here are some good reviews from Reddit, of all places:

The gist of his notes on John’s story:

It’s an interesting thought experiment and is more metaphysical and philosophical than science fiction in feel.

I really enjoyed this story, though it is up to you to decide if the $5 purchase price is worth it to read this Hugo nominee.

See, this reviewer seemed to like other stories more, including stories I’d probably dislike myself. And, hey, that’s fine; at least his judgments don’t seem to be based on “Is my preferred political viewpoint being expressed?”

Because that seems to be the theme of this year’s Hugo Awards. How depressing.

The Superversive Gundam Series: Gundam Unicorn

“Superversive” and “Mobile Suit Gundam” doesn’t get associated often. Over the course of the history of this giant franchise of Japanese science fiction, there’s been a strong note of despair and incidents of nihilistic excess that cannot be ignored. (If Yoshiyuki “Kill ‘Em All!” Tomino is involved, be ready for it.)

This is not universal, and recently a series not only shook itself loose of that legacy but managed to be Superversive. That series is Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Re:0096, and you can watch it free and legal here (subtitled into English) or (for American readers) on Adult Swim’s Toonami block on Saturdays (dubbed). If you prefer (and you can find them, and read Japanese) there are print versions; Unicorn originally was a light novel before its series adaptation.

The reason I mark this series out as Superversive has to do with the subject of the story, which concerns itself with the origin of this setting’s creation and the corruption that took root at the beginning to subvert the real potential for the uplifting of Mankind into a more perfect form- Newtypes (i.e. psychics, telepaths). The conflict of the story revolves around those seeking to maintain the undermining lie upon which all of this meta-narrative’s conflict revolves, or expose the truth to all of Mankind and thereby risk the collapse of a corrupt order into utter chaos in the effort to restore the original intention of the founders of the Universal Century era.

And by saying that much, I likely spoiled some of it. My apologies.

This is a series featuring giant robots fighting battles where our protagonist is reluctant to fight, tries to love his way through it all, and–especially once he gets a literal princess at his side–actually manages to pull some measure of it off. Why? Because that desire to love his enemies leads him to the truth, and that truth is the means that leads him to achieve his victory in the end despite facing down multiple superweapons and just as many black-hearted antagonists who’d throw billions to Baal (not so figuratively) than admit that they serve a lie.

While many Gundam series conclude with bittersweet success for the protagonists, if they succeed at all, this time it’s properly uplifting. There’s a reality to it that isn’t present in others, and a decided lack of nihilism despite all of the suffering and death that occurs. While I’ve yet to watch a Gundam series that lies to me, this is the first one that ended in a way properly uplifted me, like after I watched Star Wars the first time lo those many years ago.

In short, this is a beautiful series in all ways possible. Short of a Miyazaki masterpiece, it is rare to get such a treat in most franchise anime. Recommended.

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: Space Opera Edition

It’s Space Opera Week. While a lot of people who love this style of story are content to read or watch them, a significant number of us want to make our own. There’s plenty of writing-specific advice around, so I’ll focus on those of us who want to game them instead.

So, you want a Superversive Space Opera? Where do you start? Well, if you’re not doing GURPS Lensman, you still want to have that book (or the novels it’s about) handy. That example will be the model you’ll find easiest to adapt for gaming purposes.

Your players play characters who champion their cultural traditions and institutions. This means you’re some sort of Galactic Patrol, formally or otherwise, because the standard gameplay scenario involves dealing with predatory actors seeking to undermine your people. As active agents, you have reason to seek out such trouble and put a stop to it.

Your players play pro-active characters. Be it by acting on orders from another, or one of the players coming to the table with a plan, a Superversive Space Opera relies on the characters being the ones driving the game and that means acting according during play. This is not a place for passive or reactive people; that’s for other media.

Your game has a solid moral core to it. Just like playing Pendragon Superversive Space Opera requires that the players engage with a solid moral foundation. This is best made explicit to the players at the beginning (again, like Pendragon) so you can have everyone on the same page and not waste time doing that after you’re underway.

Do that, and you’re golden. Now you see why I recommended having those Lensman books handy. These elements are not only present, but front-and-center where they can’t be ignored, which is what you want when you’re looking for a model to adapt to your game at your table. There’s plenty of others out there, so pick what you want to use and commit to it. The fun you have will depend on the work you put in, so have at it.

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: Why Is It So Rare?

There aren’t many tabletop RPGs, or supplements thereof, that are clearly or explicitly Superversive. However, many such games (and the official settings sold so eagerly for them) contain that potential. The publishers explicitly sell their games, and those settings, with a slant of “Be the good guys against the bad guys!” Yet it is increasingly rare for actual Superversive play to occur, something that’s been a known issue in gaming forums and sites for over 20 years.

Well, there IS an explanation. Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier made a post his blog today regarding this sort of discussion as it applies to the Big Two of the American comics world, D.C. and Marvel. As those two big giants routinely miss the point, so do their fellow travelers in the tabletop gaming world. As I know first-hand that SJWs in comics, gaming, film, television, and SF/F publishing all network via the convention scene it’s not hard at all to see how this moral malaise spread to all of these cultural subsectors.

(Brian’s post contains the over-arching conversational thread, and I encourage you to read it before you come back here, because I’m explicitly building upon that thread as it relates to Superversive RPGs.)

There are two key observations to be had here. The first is by Jeffro Johnson (said here):

If you want people to employ traditional virtues in service of civilization, they first have to be able to imagine them. Heroism and romance were suppressed specifically to make it easier to destroy a people. The poindexters hold loyalty in contempt and sneer at sacrifice. They think goodness is for chumps. And they have held the reigns of culture for decades.

By the time that Dungeons & Dragons exploded into the mainstream around 1980 (there’s that timestamp again), this degree of cultural subversion had already occurred. If not for the brief turnaround in the zeitgeist by films like the original Star Wars through to the mid-’80s (e.g. Flash Gordon, Krull, Raiders of the Lost Ark) the degeneracy would have concluded well before the turn of the century. Instead, one last generation had the opportunity to have the Superversive shown to them in their early years.

In short, without examples of the Superversive to fire our imaginations, many of us will never even think to play that out in our fantasy adventures when we play tabletop RPGs no matter how well either the rules or the settling allow for it– and that, right there, is a major factor for why explicitly Superversive tabletop RPGs such as Pendragon remain niche games in a niche hobby.

Following that aforementioned thread, this observer nailed why the very publishers that comprise the thought-leaders in tabletop RPGs constantly undermine the Superversive potential of their own creations:

But they can’t imagine that. Reason number two is because of their self-imposed lifting of hypocrisy as the “ultimate” sin. It is better to not have a code at all than to have one and fail to live up to it. This is reflected in the method by which they try and tear down icons – hell, they even said it in Spider-Man 1 (Toby MacGuire), “the thing people like best is to see a hero fall.” (Paraphrased). They cannot fathom that the (a) the purpose of a code, even an unreachable one, is to set a goal for all people to strive to achieve, and (b) that you can’t live up to it all the time is because we are flawed, fallen, and human. However, (c) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.

I’ve seen this first-hand. They can’t conceive of it at all. The non-stop mockery of virtue, of the pursuit of a moral or ethical standard, and the misunderstanding (often willfully so) of what “hypocrisy” means all contribute to this subversion of the ostensible claim to “heroic adventure” (which they also misunderstand).

You see this in the long-form when the rules for games in strongly moral settings, such as Star Wars, keep getting watered down to allow for that demoralization to feed upon itself at the table. You see this in the creep of their Pink Slime amorality into their rules and settings, and the pushing of clearly subversive messages (i.e. yet more virtue-signalling) into every part of their business output- product and service alike.

While there are some people left in tabletop gaming who haven’t been fully converged, most long ago bent the knee and drank the demon’s blood- they are part of the cult, and they hate you. This is why the Superversive is rare in tabletop RPGs: they hate it. Don’t give them your money, or your children.

Just as readers closed their wallets and walked away from The Big Two in comics, and do so to the Big 5 in SF/F, this is necessary in tabletop gaming. Close the wallets, and walk away from Omelas- it’s YOUR child they forsake.

(And yes, this is much the case for videogames as well.)

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: GURPS Lensman

There was a time when Steve Jackson Games made a lot of supplements for the GURPS line that served to adapt influential or popular SF/F books into something viable for use as a tabletop RPG setting. While the choices were necessarily constrained by both internal budgets and licensor friendliness, we got a few gems here and there- and none coruscate more brilliantly than Gurps Lensman.

For people who were not around when the Lensman series was in its heyday, or missed the reprints, you would not believe how far into the Memory Hole this series went until recently. When this book got published in 1994, there was at least one whole generation (if not two) that never heard of these books or knew of what great influence they had on SF in books, comics, film, and television world-wide. I was one of that many, and I could not find a copy of any of them in any local store for love or money. This was a close as I got.

And with this supplement, I had everything I need to fully engage with a Lensman’s perspective- to see it all the way someone granted the power of the Lens (and the duties that come with it) does, to do all that they do, and to risk all that they risk in defense of something figurative and literally bigger than themselves. This isn’t just partaking in the things that build, sustain, and invigorate a culture into a civilization; this is being one of the very pillars of Civilization, a load-bearing pillar upon which the fates of billions–even trillions–rests. Far beyond being a Knight in King Arthur’s court, this is what being a Jedi should be (but isn’t).

Despite the issues that every GURPS edition has with high-powered milieu, this supplement does do the setting justice. Sure, you can play something other than a Lensman, but that’s not why you have this supplement: you’re there for being Civilization’s greatest agent, advocate, and champion. It’s no different than not playing a Knight in Pendragon. Even if you don’t care for GURPS, what’s here will be transferable to the ruleset of your choice; the technology notes are often in real-world (Imperial) units or otherwise giving real-world referents so you can easily make this work for you at your table.

If the Amazon link above doesn’t have what you’re willing to pay, go try directly from Steve Jackson Games; they may have it in PDF at a price you’re willing to accept. Either way, if you’re into tabletop RPGs and seek out ways to play Superversive games, you’re a zwilnik to not have GURPS Lensman in your library.

Rumors, Bargains and Lies

As was mentioned recently on someone else’s blog, it’s not nice to spread rumors.

Sadly, rumors have become a way of life, in SFF publishing as well as the real world. After all, just imagine if a professionally published author, or someone with a publishing house, went after a small, independently published author. In public. I mean, just imagine what that would do to them — or theoretically do to them. A personal attack from an established professional in your field? One can only imagine what the end goal is — personal or professional destruction.

For example, last year, when George RR Martin went after the Best Related category in the Hugos, calling all of it a toxic swamp. Many of those books were about serious, real world issues that needed to be addressed, and problems that needed to be fixed. Then there was Chuck Tingle, but that’s another story.

Then there were the numerous people who went after Brian Niemeier.

Even I had a flurry of rumors flung at me recently. I’m still trying to find out what drugs someone had to be on to accuse me of being a womanizer — hilarious to anyone who has ever seen me in person, and has seen my fashion sense.

Now, there are even rumors flying around about Lovecraft and Heinlein, even though they’re dead. Heinlein is accused of being sexist. Lovecraft is accused of racism, et al. The Heinlein accusation is stupid, if only because his heroines were smarter than the average bear. The Lovecraft accusation is totally irrelevant to writing about elder gods.

Over in the “real world,” rumors seem to have taken the place of news, and accusations du jour are headlines, with the corrections and the full story taking a back page somewhere.

Rumors are hateful, soul-destroying and corrupting things. You have to wonder about the people who spread the rumors. What goes through their minds as they do it? What motivates bigger names to go out of their way to crush smaller names? Some of these people waste thousands of words with snide jabs and subtle smears. Seriously, who does that? How do they even have the time do to that? Especially GRR Martin, doesn’t he have a book to finish?

Be Superversive — our job is to uplift, elevate. Rumors don’t accomplish that.

Here’s a solution: Catholic Vampire Romance novels….

Or Arthurian romance fighting off the end of the world.

Or a better written Harry Potter….

Because sometimes fiction makes everything better.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Bringing Home The Baycon (Or What I Learned From Being Blackballed)

Forward: I would like to thank the Superversive group for allowing me a platform for my voice to be heard. I wouldn’t be nearly as brave as I am in speaking out without people like them. Superversive fiction truly is changing the world of entertainment, and I look forward to it growing in its reach. – Jon Del Arroz 

A couple of weeks ago,  I found out that I had been blackballed from speaking at my own home convention, a place I’ve loved and cherished for almost a decade. This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.

Most shockingly, the event organizers (of whom I know very well and very personally) in question did not respond personally, but delivered a form letter to explain the ostracization. It’s disingenuous and displays a dismissal and dehumanization of which I could hardly conceive.

From a  global health of fandom perspective, it leads me to the question: if an organization such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention doesn’t stand for Bay Area authors, and doesn’t care about Science Fiction first and foremost, what is the point of the organization? If other cons across the country are operating similarly, does a change need to occur?

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