Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

Enter the world of Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. It’s a world where good and evil reside. A world where vampires and other creatures of the night battle for control. A world of ninjas and mobsters. A world where personal issues interfere with relationships.

I am such a sucker for a good romance and this one delivered a sweet clean romance that left me begging for the next book to come out. Maybe beg isn’t the right word.

With Honor at StakeDeclan Finn creates a story that expertly balances action, suspense and romance that is less Twilight and more Christine Feehan’s Dark series.

Marco is a monster, or at least he thinks he is. He also happens to be a genius in his first year of studies to be a physician’s assistant, but his impatience with people and a dark secret sets him apart from everyone.

Then, along comes Amanda Colt, beautiful, smart and Russian. She peaks his interest, especially when she goes toe to toe with him while fencing. She is perfect for him, but she also has a secret.

Set in New York City, the story explores parts of Brooklyn (including a vampire bar run by an ex-cop from the 1800s), Central Park, and Manhattan. The fictional university and real Mount Olivet cemetary are the backdrops for important scenes in the story.

When bodies start turning up, the two pair up to take on the vampire hordes threatening the city. They pull together an unlikely team of gang members, Vatican ninjas and an FBI agent into the strange. But, who is pulling the strings behind the sudden surge of vampire activity and what does it have to do with the UN? That is what they have to find out in order to save humanity from the evil trying to overtake New York City … and a bigger threat that is only hinted at.

The fast-paced plot is full of explosive action. Between the fencing, fight scenes, explosions, a killer ex-girlfriend and Vatican ninjas with their 50 cal Desert Eagles, there isn’t a lot of time to rest. This alone makes it difficult to put down.

The vampire lore is consistent with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with a few modern and theological twists added to make it more complicated. Thankfully, we’re back to vampires being killed by sunlight, wooden stakes and holy water. But, unlike Stoker’s version, all vampires are not bad in Declan’s book. Salvation is still possible for these creatures of the night. How? It’s complicated, but it makes sense that he shoehorns in redemption.

Interspersed with the action are scenes of heart touching romance. Declan sets up these two flawed characters who need to overcome their inner demons in order to have a relationship. Neither thinks that anyone would love them if they knew about their secrets. This leads to some very touching moments between the characters as well as moments when you want to scream.

Declan is a master at over the top action scenes that will even make the Pulp Revolution guys happy, but he’s also amazing at the little intimate moments that make you fall in love with the characters.

The Superversives among us should be happy enough with the depth of religious and moral depth added to the vampire mythos. Hopefully, you won’t mind natural law philosophy coming to play here. And yes, he made philosophy readable.

There is little question why Honor at Stake was nominated for best Horror Novel in the Dragon Awards in 2016. And nominated for Book of the Year by the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And put on the #2 spot for best novel for Sad Puppies 4.

It’s not perfect. There are a few places that are a bit heavy handed on the info dumps and Marco’s relationship with his ex is a bit confusing. There are a few scenes that come off as cheesy, but, overall, it’s a great story.

Lucky for you, though, Books 2 and 3 are already out, so you can continue right along with the next book, because you will want to. Trust me on this. The ending of Honor at Stake leaves you hanging.

You can get the first four chapters of the book free here or get the complete book in Kindle or paperback on Amazon.com.

Show me the Numbers!

So it seems it is Hugo time again and JOn Del Arroz had a post up called When Hugo Insane. Vox also had a post up on Hugo Finalists of Note where he was having a traditional Dark Lord chuckle to himself.

I’ve been following the Hugos over the last few years with some interest after a few things I was involved in got nominated. I didn’t really pay any attention this year except to note it was coming and this is the first serious attention i’ve paid this year. As Jon noted in his post the numbers are down about 1000 nominations in each category this year from last year, which seems like a pretty serious drop off but these aren’t the numbers i’m really interested in. The numbers that i’m really interested in seeing are the final vote tallies. I wonder how far they will be down this year. The difference in the year to year final vote tallies translates into a year to year reduction in money for the convention after all.

I know I bought a Hugo supporting membership in 2015 which I used to cast a ballot and some of those votes last year are from me using the memberships nomination privledge in the following year. I didn’t buy one last year so I didn’t get to nominate anything this year. How many other people did the same thing? How many people who nominated this year did buy a vote last year but wont bother this time around because of the rules changes?

So it would seem the people who wanted the clubhouse to themselves have managed to get it for themselves but at what price? I will be intersted to see how many final votes are cast later this year. I was thinking about going to Worldcon in 2020 in New Zealand but will it even be a going concern by then?

Speaking of awards that matter, have you cast a votes for The Dragon Awards this year? Anybody going to DragonCon? With the success of Forbidden Thoughts i’ve got the money to attend and I will be keen to meet people I have only ever known online!

Superversive Dragon Award Suggestions

DragonConDragon Con is one of the biggest SFF conventions in the United States, if not on the face of the Earth. Held in Atlanta each year, Dragon Con hosts a minimum of 60,000 people each year — and we will probably never know how much they really host, lest they get in trouble with the fire marshal (I’m not even kidding). And, of course, Dragon Con has created its own award — the Dragon Award.

The first annual Dragon Awards.

Unlike a certain other set of awards that shall never be named, the Dragon Awards give out awards by genre. The Dragon Awards are also unique in that they do not go by calendar year, but from the start of July to the end of June.

Recently, we’ve put together a bit of a list of Superversive books from last year that fit our standards.  But how would one fit into the Dragon Awards like this?

Dragon Awards won by John C Wright, Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole 2016

Obviously, certain of the books from the list fit no genre category. One of my novels from the list, Set to Kill, is a murder mystery that takes place in Atlanta, at a place called WyvernCon, in the middle of a political war about Tearful or Hydrophobic Puppies versus Puppy Punters from traditional Big Publishing. Obviously, this book has no similarities to real events. Heh.

However, while it is on the 2016 list, there is no murder mystery genre for the Dragons. Nor are there Westerns, so Brings the Lightning is out.  And while Chasing Freedom and The Big Sheep are both fun books with dystopic elements, they both came out too early last year in order to be eligible — and Chasing Freedom was already nominated for last year’s Dragons.  It’s the same for site favorite Ben Zyycky’s novel Beyond the Mist , which came out in January 2016.

Those are the ground rules. Keep in mind, ANYONE can vote in the Dragon Awards, whether you have attended the con, or if you will never attend the con.

You can vote here, once you’re registered. Keep in mind, you can only vote for each book ONCE. If you try to vote for, say, Murphy’s Law of Vampires in more than one category, like best horror / best fantasy / best YA, your ballot will be invalid.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve had to do this manually, so I may have excluded one or two books that fall within the eligibility dates. And I’m adding one or two additional novels — some because they are sequels to books already nominated, and some because I think they really should be considered.

And now, UNLEASH THE DRAGONS

Best Science Fiction Novel

Escaping Infinity (not on the original list, but a favorite of mine.)

Discovery — Nuns …. INNNN SPPPAAACCCEEEE

Blood of Invidia: Maestru Series Book 1 (The Maestru Series) (Volume 1) — Space Vampires.

The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle) (Volume 3) — Book #2 won best horror in 2016, so I suppose this is also eligible there as well, but the description looks very Space Opera. Read it and you tell me below. When I asked Brian on my radio show, he didn’t have an opinion.

Bastion Saturn

 

Torchship Pilot

 

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

Murphy’s Law of Vampires (Love at First Bite #2)  — This one could go here, or it could go in horror. There is not, as yet, an Urban Fantasy category. Book one was in the 2016 Horror category, but horror is another conversation.

Wolf Killer (The Hammer Commission Book 2)

 

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

The Cinder Witch: A Tale of The School of Spells & War

 

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel

Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland (The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 3)Book 1 reviewed here.

Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again

 

Swan Knight’s Son: The Green Knight’s Squire Book One (Moth & Cobweb 1)  (For the record, I have inquired with Mr. Wright, who said that, yes, while Book Two and Book Three ARE eligible, he would simplify it for book 1.)  — Read our review of the novel here.

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

Yes, there is some overlap here between the military SFF novels and their other categories. Why? In part because the authors have come out with two books in the same series. If one is torn between two Monstery Hunter Memoirs, or two Hammer Commissions, this is the easy way to split the baby.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners

Loose Ends (The Hammer Commission Book 3)

 

Glory Boy Cartwright’s Cavaliers (The Revelations Cycle) (Volume 1)

 

“Star Realms: Rescue Run,” By Jon Del Arroz — An author on the site, Jon should at least have the benefit of the doubt. Also, if the book’s half as awesome as he is, it deserves a look.

Thrawn (Star Wars) — While it did not come out in 2016, eligibility goes until the end of June. Thrawn comes out in April. I expect this to bigfoot the nominations.

Best Alternate History Novel

People’s Republic — Though this might be best under the next category.

Best Apocalyptic Novel
People’s Republic

 

Liberty Lost: How Debt Destroyed Our Freedoms

 

Codename: UnSub (The Last Survivors)

 

Best Horror Novel

Live and Let Bite (Love at First Bite) (Volume 3) — Book 3, the sequel to Murphy’s Law of Vampires from above. Again, there is no best Urban Fantasy here. Probably because it would just be known as the Jim Butcher award. Personally, I think this one is better, but what do I know?

A Place Outside The Wild — I never know what to do with Zombie books. Is is apocalyptic? Is it horror? Take a look and flip a coin. But I needed to flesh out this sections with more ideas.

From here on out, the Superversive list, thus far, is fairly devoid of comment and ideas, but I’ll fill in from Superversive contributors when possible. I’ll be supplying many of my own ideas. Mostly, these are merely what are eligible. In some cases, I’m linking to people who have much better ideas than I do.

Best Comic Book

Qualifying is any publication that contains illustrated story in traditional comic book format (non-animated) that is at least 20 pages long with a consistent set of characters, premises and series title that appears at least four times per year and at least one volume has been first released in print or electronic format between 7/1/2016 and 6/30/2017.

Think of this as an individual issue.

Best Graphic Novel

“A publication that contains illustrated story in traditional comic book format (non-animated) that is at least 36 pages long and has been first released in print or electronic format between 7/1/2016 and 6/30/2017.”

So … any bound collection, really.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series, TV or Internet

A Series of Unfortunate events, by Netflix.

Arrow — perhaps? I’ve enjoyed this season

Grimm — I’d want to push this one the most because it’s the last season.

 

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Doctor Strange — My personal favorite

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them — Not a personal favorite of mine. In fact, I think it is interesting for what it added to the world, not because it was a particular engaging film.

Star Trek: Beyond

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game

Final Fantasy XV

Titanfall 2

 

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game

…. No idea. Honestly. Sorry.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Injustice Gamer Alfred Genesson has some thoughts on this.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game

And once again, we’re out of my element. Sorry.

Have a Superversive suggestion for the Dragon Awards? A book I missed? A book that came out in 2017 that wasn’t on the original list but should be here? Please, put down the title, author, and your reason why it’s a Superversive book that should get a Dragon. (date of publication would be also nice).

And then, when you have an idea — click here to VOTE IN THE DRAGON AWARDS. UNLEASH THE DRAGON.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award Nominated Author for Honor At Stake, book 1 of his Love at First Bite Series.  Finn’s own work and collections of essays can be found at his personal web page.

Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland

I’m going to start out by being somewhat controversial (for this community, anyway; in the worldwide publishing community they probably dislike or hate me for voluntarily associating myself with Vox Day, however loosely, but whatever): I no longer really have a dog (heh) in the Sad/Rabid Puppies fight.

If I did I’d be supportive of the Rabids, mostly because I was disgusted by the behavior of the Hugo regulars at the Cons. So, die Hugos. But truthfully I’ve basically stopped caring except to say that I genuinely hope the Dragon Awards continue getting more popular year after year and eventually supplant the Hugos entirely.

This is all a lead-in to say that when I call Miss (Mrs.?) Sutherland’s article interesting, I actually mean it. I found it interesting.

This is probably not going to make me too popular among some of the superversive folks, who seem to have decided Miss Sutherland is an enemy. And maybe she is; I haven’t been following along with the exchanges all along. All I know is that this particular article is one I thought was mostly fairly well-written and reasoned. There was a bias, of course – there always is, it’s human nature – but, I thought, not an angry one.

That’s not to say I agree with everything, of course.

Miss Sutherland says this:

Towards the end, he makes an abrupt change of subject from heroic horror films to heroic horror literature: but does he mention Robert E. Howard, whose sword-and-sorcery protagonists regularly faced Lovecraftian abominations? Does he acknowledge the writers who have shaped the occult detective genre, from H. and E. Heron through to Jim Butcher? Does he namecheck anyone from the legion of authors, from Bram Stoker onwards, who have thrilled readers with tales of cross-wielding vampire hunters?

Nope, nope, and nope. It is Brian Niemeier who has the distinction of being the only writer mentioned in Young’s survey of horror.

This is a very odd complaint to make. The article Miss Sutherland is referring to is this one, by Josh Young. In the article, Josh made one – one – extremely brief name check of a horror novel that he liked and happened to be superversive. There was no “abrupt subject change”. After that extremely brief name check of a guy who happens to be part of the superversive team and wrote a book Josh enjoyed, Josh continued making his overarching point. He even asked people to offer other recommendations for superversive horror.

Which point of hers Miss Sutherland thinks this supports completely escapes me. Superversives like his novel? Well, sure. Since he’s part of team superversive Josh made a point to mention it? Okay. It illustrated Josh’s point? Sure. But why are any of these problematic?

Miss Sutherland’s point that “Souldancer” is not popular among the sorts of horror fans who follow the Bram Stoker awards seems solid enough, though I’m not sure if this really makes her case that “real” horror fans don’t like Brian’s novel. One of the main puppy points is that we’re trying to end the sort of divide between fans and trufans, who REALLY know what’s what and look down on “Not really” horror fans.

If anything her argument seems to be that the Dragon Awards should get more exposure, so that the long time and hardcore horror fans can have more influence. Good point. They should. But so what?

And I think that’s the biggest point here. Miss Sutherland seems to be saying that, though Brian won, it doesn’t really mean his work is the most popular horror novel, since most horror fans haven’t been following the Puppies controversy and the various literary movements that have sprung up in opposition to SJW convergance. Okay. If that’s the case, vote for something else. Seriously. The option is there. Nobody is stopping her. If she wants to get the word out to the horror community that there’s a new horror award, and see if people are interested in voting for it, that’s great! Go for it.

The problem here is that she’s acting like this delegitimizes Brian’s win. But why? Brian won an open vote fair and square. It’s not his fault that hardcore horror fans didn’t vote for it. He still won.

Miss Sutherland makes some decent points that Brian’s novel wasn’t actually the most popular horror novel written that year, sales wise. Fair enough; I don’t think Brian said it was, but maybe I missed something. He did say it was voted most popular by Dragon Award voters, which is quite true. She also makes the fair point that as of her writing, Jemisin’s traditionally published novel was outpublishing Neimeier. Fair enough. But none of that changes the fact that the Dragon Awards 1) Weren’t started by Puppies groups, and 2) Aren’t open only to puppies groups.

The reason Puppy writers won is that more people voted for them.

She also loses a LOT of credibility by writing this:

Nevertheless, the Puppies – or, more specifically, Niemeier and his immediate circle of friends – kept up the charade that the little-known Souldancer was the most popular horror novel published within the Dragons’ twelve-month eligibility period. Niemeier’s blog post received replies comparing me variously to a spoilt child, a high school mean girl and a wiggling worm for venturing to suggest otherwise. My personal favourite comment came from Niemeier himself; apparently channelling his inner Benjanun Sriduangkaew, he felt it appropriate to threaten me with physical violence:

It’s not the easily excitable guys whose anger you should worry about. It’s the patient, reserved guys quietly sipping their drinks and reading Heinlein novels until they decide they’ve had enough of the loudmouths making a scene, take you out in the parking lot, and bust out your teeth.

(The bold is Brian’s quote.)

As should be clear to – bluntly – anyone with half a brain, Brian wasn’t actually threatenting to bust Miss Sutherland’s teeth. He was making the point that the people who have been quietly taking it for a long time are losing their tempers and starting to fight back; that fighting back is taking the form of the many negative comments and insults she is so concerned about.

More than that – that’s not a threat anyway. Brian’s not threatening to punch anybody, merely warning people that if you keep making a scene, people will eventually get tired of it and fight back. Calling it a “threat” is just an obvious lie.

Later on, she quotes an article by the Injustice Gamer, referring to him as one of Brian’s friends. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, but she takes issue to this comment by him:

Genesson starts his three-pronged rebuttal by suggesting, bizarrely, that people who give positive reviews to Souldancer are in danger of losing their jobs. He seems to expect us to believe that the legions of Souldancer fans have gathered into some kind of Fight Club-like underground subculture that dare not speak its name.

 

Okay. I read the linked article. I am confusedas to what she is referring to. Maybe this?:

It would seem that Souldancer succeeded in beating out more popular horror nominees, such as Christina Henry’s Alice, merely because its author is pro-Puppy.

Yes, we all trust reviews, do we? Maybe some of us realize how active your type is at disemployment.

Non-bold is Miss Sutherland, bold is the injustice gamer.

Miss Sutherland seems to be extrapolating an extraordinary amount from the Injustice Gamer’s quote. He appears to be observing that SJW’s – which, true or not of Miss Sutherland (frankly, it seems to be true; maybe she wouldn’t even deny it), the Injustice Gamer seems to be referring to – actively try and end the employment of people they don’t agree with. This is observably true; this is a pretty casual article, but if I tried I could come up with quite a few examples of this. This, the Injustice Gamer seems to be contending, means that perhaps some people are worried about leaving positive reviews of Brian’s books.

What this has to do with a “Figh Club underground subculture” escapes me.

For the record, I don’t really agree with the Injustice Gamer. We’ve got enough of a base now that people actually seem to enjoy writing reviews of books a larger segment of the population would denounce as somehow bigoted or dangerous. John C. Wright and Vox Day are far more hated than Brian, but each gets hundreds of reviews of their books. Probably the reason Souldancer doesn’t have as many reviews as either of those guys means Brian doesn’t have as big of an audience. But really, who doesn’t know that?

In that sense, Miss Sutherland is correct. Brian IS held up as the leading Puppy horror author, and he is not one of the most popular horror writers in the world right now. But what Brian IS is an author who is now, by writing horror novels, making enough money to pay bills, gaining more and more popularity as time goes on, and representing a subculture of horror fans that haven’t been catered towards for awhile. He won the Dragon Awards because of those fans, that is true; but other people were perfectly free to vote. They didn’t.

In that sense, the Dragon Awards really are a populist award, because you don’t need to pay to enter, there is no real chance of secret ballot pushing since everything is out in the open, and partially, at least, as a result of that works are winning there that wouldn’t have a chance in the Hugo Awards. That’s important!

She later says this:

If you want to argue that Souldancer is a good novel, then go ahead. If you want to argue that it deserves to be popular, and may someday be popular, then go ahead. But you cannot argue, with any kind of intellectual honesty, that it is currently a popular novel amongst fans of the genre.

This is going to probably get me some hate from all sides, but here it is: I both agree and disagree with this sentiment.

I agree in the sense that of all of the horror books out there, “Souldancer” is not – yet – among the most famous or popular, though its fame and popularity is growing.

What I disagree with – what the Puppies have been fighting with all along – is the distinction between various types of fans of the genre. What about the Josh Young fans of the genre? She mentions earlier that Josh didn’t mention Jim Butcher, which is true. What she did NOT mention is that Jim Butcher IS held in extremely high regard by virtually the entirety of the Puppy fandom. She, bizarrely, points out that Josh didn’t mention Robert E. Howard when Howard is 1) Practically a deity in the Puppy world and 2) Is long dead and not representative of the sorts of people who gets votes in awards. Brian won not because he has a bunch of friends – most of us have probably never met Brian in person and know little about him (like me) – but because he catered to a segment of the audience that had been ignored for a long time.

Is this audience small? Apparently not as small as originally thought. And as awareness for Brian’s novel grows, it is quickly becoming apparent that more and more people are happy that a novel like Brian’s exists.

And YES, it is true that the Puppies were knocking a lot of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy varieties of horror. The reason for this isn’t because the fans didn’t count, but because the novels could hardly be classified as horror. So I’ll move on.

Miss Sutherland, in her anger at how polemic some of Brian’s responses and posts directed towards her were, seems to be unable to help herself from lying or misrepresenting Brian’s comments. She says this:

Incidentally, when I first reported on the Dragon Awards at WWAC, I received a reply from one of the non-Puppy nominees where she mentioned her “obscure indie published military sci fi book”. She has the right idea. She sees that there is no shame in being a little-league writer who does what they enjoy, who picks up a few fans along the way, and who may someday go on to bigger things.

Brian Niemeier does not seem to realise this. For him, it is clearly not enough to have a small but loyal readership that has pushed him to the top of an online poll. He has to present himself as being fandom’s favourite horror writer – the “Dragon of Horror”, as he styles himself – even though he knows full well that this is simply not the truth.

Well, let’s look at that post of Brian’s she linked to. Why does he call himself the Dragon of Horror, anyway?

By popular acclamation, authors of Dragon Award-winning books shall now be styled according to the category in which they won.

So what? Now it’s a problem that Brian is proud of the fact that he won the Dragon Award for best horror novel, and can’t mention that when talking about himself? He calls EVERYONE who won a Dragon award the Dragon of [category]. It doesn’t reference anything except for the fact that he won the award – which is true.

Let me end it with this:

Miss Sutherland seems to be mad that Brian is “keeping up the charade” that his novel was the most popular novel during the period of Dragon Award nominations and voting. She goes on to prove – it seems pretty decisively, to me at least – that Brian’s novel is not more popular than Jemisin’s. Fair enough.

But I’m trying to find where Brian said his novel was actually the most popular. I can’t find it. He’s not an idiot.

He DOES say that it is popular. Well, you can quibble with that I guess, but Brian recently paid some of his bills with the royalties from his writing*, so that seems like something of a stretch at best.

You can point out that it’s not up to 50 reviews, as he claimed. That’s true, but really tangential to the main point.

He does try to argue that the Dragon Awards DO represent the fans. I think he is right for the simple reason that anyone can vote for them, and the awards were made public and spread pretty far. I think she DID successfully prove that he misrepresented – probably unintentionally – his sales numbers.

She did not prove that Brian won merely because he is “pro-puppy”. She didn’t really even make the case, except to say “It kind of makes sense”. I would respond that – as the current rise of Castalia, Superversive SF, and others are proving – he won because he filled a niche.

Sure, not as many people voted in the awards as theoretically could have. It’s the first year! That doesn’t mean he didn’t win the vote – the popular vote.

So while Miss Sutherland made some good, intelligent points, I think she missed the forest for the trees – and she would look quite a bit better if she didn’t grossly misrepresent what some of those writers she quoted were saying. So it goes.

*The J List – 

  • Authors who are still getting used to the idea people want to read their crap.
  • Authors who have sold a respectable number of books.
  • Authors who check their book’s Amazon rank every hour.
  • Authors who start to pay most of their bills with their royalties.

EDIT: Brian responds, and points out that he did not say “Souldancer” sold more copies than Jemisin’s book, but rather that it moved more copies. Brian is correct, meaning that Sutherland was actually wrong about that. As far as I can see the rest of my points still stand.

Also, now that I’m already here I shouldn’t forget to mention that I was wrong about it being Miss Sutherland, since it’s actually a man who got disfiguring surgeries. In the interest of accuracy, please disregard the uses of Miss and insert Mr.

First Thoughts on FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS

Others will no doubt post about more coherent thoughts about Superversive Press’s new anthology, FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS, but…here are mine:

Wow…it is so exciting to see something go from a glimmer of an idea to reality! And then see it fly off the shelves (electronically). Here’s how it happened:

About two years ago, a friend of mine wanted to put together a charity anthology for the Charlie Hebdo artists. She said, “Send me the most controversial thing you’ve ever written!”

Well, I don’t normally do controversial per se. But I sat down and prayed a bit to see what would come to me. I had just read Face-to-Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib, one of the best books I’ve ever read, and my mind was full of thoughts about her experience. So, I sat down and wrote the. most. controversial. story I was capable of conceiving.

The story is called “The Test of the Prophet”.

At first, I thought I’d done quite well. My mom immediately worried that it would get my shot, and my atheist Liberal friend called it hateful. But, my Muslim friend loved it and took it home to Pakistan to show her parents. (Life can be strange sometimes!)

By this time, however, I realized that the first anthology wasn’t going to fly. But I REALLY wanted to do something with my story. It was the best thing I had ever written.

But what can you do with a super controversial story in this age of safe spaces and trigger warnings?

Then, in the midst of the Sad Puppy fervor, I caught a glimmer of an answer. Jason Rennie, editor of Sci Phi Journal and the brilliant mind behind SuperverisveSF, suggested in the midst of a flurry of Sad Puppy emails, that the authors involved get together and do an anthology of anti-PC stories, kind of a modern Dangerous Visions–putting into story form all those thoughts that the SJWs don’t want people to think. Basically, doing what SF is supposed to do, posing difficult questions.

Those of us on the email chain decided on the title: Forbidden Thoughts.

I LOVED this idea. Here was my answer to what to do with my controversial story.

So, I kept on Jason about this, and I kept on the other authors. When a few were too busy to be able to fit writing a new short story into their schedule, I convinced them to submit incendiary blog posts.

So we now had a volume with stories by, among others, John, Nick Cole, Brian Niemeier, Josh Young, Brad Torgersen, Sarah Hoyt, and, a particularly delightful surprise for me, our young Marine fan friend, Pierce Oka. Plus, non fiction by Tom Kratman and Larry Correia submitted some of his original Sad Puppy posts–the thing that started it all!

But we still needed a Foreword.

Last winter, during one of our SuperversiveSF chats, we had invited the one reporter who reported truthfully on Sad Puppies, an amusing and irreverent fellow named Milo Yiannopoulos. Just as the chat was scheduled to begin, Milo was informed that he had been deverified on Twitter. This made it so that he was never able to attend our chat. He made it clear that he regretted this and kind of owed us.

So, I asked Jason to see if Milo would let us cash in our favor in the form of him writing the Foreword.

He did!

Milo wrote an excellent Foreword. We put the stories in order and voila! A delightfully thought-provoking volume that reminds me of the daring stories one found the pages of Science Fiction volumes in my youth.

There is one other delightful story that goes with this volume. Last summer, as we often do, we spent a week in Chincoteague. Our teen writer fan (some of you may have seen the victory dance she did when John won Dragon Award), asked if she and her family could join us, so we and the Freeman family spent a wonderful week together.

As I arrived on Chincoteague, I got an email from Jason informing me that he had read a submission by April, and it was really chilling. He thought it would work for Forbidden Thoughts. So, when April walked into the house we were renting for the week, I got to inform her that her first published piece would be in an anthology with John and I!

She was so stunned that she had to call me the next morning and ask me to explain it all again. Lol It was a delightful moment.

Now Forbidden thoughts is live! There will be an official Launch party with a live chat on Inauguration Day.

So, Politically-Correct friends, you might want to avoid this, but the rest of you, come join in the fun!!!

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book.
In fact, just plain thinking at all is unacceptable.
You have been warned….

On Amazon!

(Print version coming. Probably by next week.)

Comments

 

The Bifrost Between Calico and Gingham

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I have been asked what the Puppies—Sad and Rabid alike—are objecting to? If they are not racist or homophobes—ie, if it is not the author’s identity that they object to—why do they think that so many of the stories that have been winning the Hugo and the Nebula are receiving their awards for the wrong reasons?

I think I can explain. I will use, for my example, the short story that won the Hugo in 2016: “Cat Pictures Please.”

(Spoilers below. If you haven’t read “Cat Pictures Please” and wish to, you can find it here.)

bob

Science Fiction:
My overall take on “Cat Pictures Please”, as a science fiction story was that it was witty and clever but not that deep or original. It reminded me of a number of older short stories, including one of my all time favorites, “LOKI 7281” by Roger Zelazny, a witty story in which a personal computer is slowly trying to take control of more and more of its owner’s life (with the tagline: “He’ll never notice.”)

“Cat Pictures Please” has the distinction of portraying the waking AI as friendly. I found that refreshing.

While the premise was charming, I must admit I had trouble seeing why “Cat Pictures Please” was the best story of the year. I’d read stories last year that I thought were significantly better. It was cute, but I had trouble seeing how it measured up to “Scanners Live In Vain” or “Flowers For Algernon” or “Nine billion names of God.”

But I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. It is possible that many of these voting are young enough that they haven’t read the stories that made this one seem derivative to me. If so, this story would seem much more impressive.

And tastes differ.

That’s okay.

bacon

Politics:

There is something very comforting about reading a work that compliments our world view, especially if we feel (as everyone does, nowadays) that our world view is under attack.

There is a sense of: YES!

And: That’s exactly how it is!

Or even: Finally things are how they should be!

Reading something that does not agree with our world view, however, is not so satisfying. Our reactions tend to fall into two patterns. The first—the reaction for which all good speculative fiction strives—is: Oh! That’s why they see it that way. That’s an angle that I had not considered. Hmm.

The second, alas, is: Oh, Gee, not this again! Really? What, do they expect me to just stand here while they poke me in the eye?

These are not Left/Right reactions. They are universal. I will demonstrate:

Abortion is a woman’s choice.

The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.*

If one of those two statements made you nod your head and smile, and the other made you wince, as if you’d been poked in the eye, you know exactly what I mean.

*–Kudos to whomever can identify what golden age SF book this second phrase comes from.

So, if a story agrees with our world view, we like it more. If it disagrees—but not in a way that expands our world view—we feel as if we’ve been poked in the eye.

There is one point I feel I must pause to make here. I have heard friends express the idea that it is good for people to read things they disagree with. It expands their mind.

If you happen to be a person who believes this, ask yourself when the last time was that you read an article expounding the opposing point-of-view, and it explanded your mind, rather than just annoying you?

What is effective is when we present our ideas to each other in a new way, from a different perspective. This is, in fact, what, historically, SF has been known for. But these have to be new ideas, ways of looking at the matter that the reader has not seen before. Presenting the same ideas that a reader has already examined and dismissed–be they Left or Right–does not have any effect upon the reader who disagrees with them except–yes, you guessed it! Ouch, my eye!

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Cat Pictures Please and Politics.

“Cat Pictures Please” is a very Left-leaning story. For those who are unfamiliar with it, here are a few examples.

     The story acts as if porn (henti) addictions are common and accepted by all as normal.

    The AI dismisses the Ten Commandments and most religious morality in a paragraph.*

    It believes that psychological counseling is the best reaction to depression. This comes up quite a bit in the story.

   It tempts a pastor who looks at pictures of other men into an adulterous relationship with someone who knows him for the purpose of outing him with his wife, getting him a divorce, and moving him to a Liberal church, so that he can end the story happy, living with his male-lover.

If you yourself are Left-Leaning, this probably seems normal. If you are Right-Leaning, you’ve probably been just poked in the eye.

* — The AI dismisses the Ten Commandants with the line “I don’t envy anyone their cat; I just want pictures of their cat, which is entirely different. I am not sure whether it is in any way possible for me to commit adultery. I could probably murder someone, but it would require complex logistics and quite a bit of luck.

This, even though the AI goes on to help a human commit adultery. I would have enjoyed “Cat Pictures Please” more, if the story had given me the impression that the author did this on purpose—to show the limitations of an Internet-derived morality—or if I even had felt that the author was aware of the irony. Alas, I did not get this impression from the story, and this reduced my enjoyment of it.

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So, to Left-Leaning readers, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, but perhaps new-to-them, SF premise, which also reinforces their idea of truth about the world and comes to a delightfully-satisfying conclusion.

The mixture of the simple SF premise, the wit, and the satisfying political leaning make it a very delightful story indeed.

To anyone who is Right-Leaning, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, and perhaps not-so-new-to-them, SF premise, which is full of concepts and moral choices that grate on them the wrong way, and the end is, while a bit amusing, rather unpleasant.

The first group says, “This is a great story!

The second group says, “Look, I’ll be fair and overlook all the pokes in the eye, but as I am regarding the story through my blurry, now-painful eyes, I want to see some really fantastic science fiction. Something that wows me so much that I am going to think it is worth putting next to “Nightfall” or “Harrison Bergeron.” And I just don’t see it.

 “Your stuff is not new. If you take today’s problems and put them in space, that’s not science fiction. You need the new, the controversial, to be SF. 

“Where is the stuff that’s going to shake my world and make me think, the way the Hugo winners of years gone by, such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, did?

To the first group, they want to give the award to the stories that really stayed with them, and they are judging this criteria on the whole effect of the story: SF premise and social statement combined.

To the second group, they want the story to stand on its SF premise alone, not on its social commentary. They are willing to read something they disagree with, but only if the science fiction is so awesome that it makes getting poked in the eye worth it.

*

I hope this explanation will help bridge the abyss currently gaping between Puppies and Non-Puppies, and contribute, if only in the slightest way, to the approach that glorious future day when we might once again return to what is really important, our mutual love of our awesome genre.

Dog and cat

Comments

How you play the game

This year’s list of Hugo finalists held a few surprises for me.

The magazine that published my first short story–SciPhi Journal (SPJ)–and the online group to which I was a contributing member–SuperversiveSF (SSF)–were listed under Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine, respectively.

Wow, what an amazing year… I would have liked to think.

But it didn’t take long to realize that the Rabid Puppy slate had heavily influenced this year’s Hugo nominations process and that SPJ and SSF had likely benefited from it. This was both highly ironic and highly troubling for me, given that my main contributions to SSF last year–beyond commentary–were two essays criticizing Sad Puppy (RP) and Rabid Puppy (RP) campaign methods.

While mulling over what to do, Anthony M posted an essay at SSF, explicitly arguing that  SSF’s nomination was due to the RP slate and only the RP slate.  His post motivated me to publicly challenge his position at the site while privately raising the question to the group if SSF should decline the nomination.

Sadly the answer was no, and involved a number of responses, some of which were credible and others I felt were less than credible.  The following points go through my process of reasoning based on those responses and the conclusions I have reached.

1) The exact role the RP slate played in SSF’s nomination is unknown

It was a relief to find that others at SSF did not share Anthony’s beliefs.  The fact is that many members of SSF–including the editor of both SSF and SPJ–are active SP and/or RP supporters.  Throughout 2015-16 they were active in publicizing to and networking with those communities, with SSF podcasts targeted primarily to SP/RP interests.  Likely due to these efforts, SSF and SPJ made the SP reading list too, which was definitely not a slate.

With this in mind, it was plausible for them to argue that SPs and RPs alike had a genuine interest in voting for SSF and SPJ.  In that case being on the RP slate did not in itself distort or unduly amplify the interest of those voters in the nomination process.

And if that possibility is true then making the finalist list was not due to anything improper.  Based on this possibility, arguments made by Brandon Sanderson for keeping his nomination, and calls by George RR Martin for finalists not to decline, SSF members had arguable reasons and precedent not to stand aside.

Still, I would argue that “not definitively improper” is not good enough.

2) An appearance of improper conduct remains

Despite the possibility that RP members may have wanted to vote for SSF anyway, we will never know that for sure since they–or at least enough of them–appear to have voted in lockstep fashion with the slate, regardless of their personal interests.  Such suspicions are highlighted by the success of obvious oddball finalists such as Space Raptor Butt Invasion and My Little Pony, and underscored by statements from people such as Anthony M at SSF, who basked in having benefited from the RP slate. Indeed, claims in his essay read more like an indictment to me–or confession?–than what I would expect from a victory speech.

So even if nothing improper occurred, a clear appearance of impropriety exists and is enough for me to argue that SSF should step aside. That “appearance of impropriety” is a crucial distinction, separating SSF and SPJ from other finalists like Sanderson and those Martin discussed.

3) There are additional levels of impropriety

Two contradictory arguments were made in defense of the RP slate.  The first is that it was meant to expose the Hugos as a sham, given the systemic flaws which allow for such exploitation.  The other was that it was meant to overcome an effective if not intentional slate–so fighting fire with fire–ran by elitist, cliquish, left leaning voters.

The problem is that both of these do not account for the nature of the RP slate.  Neither goal required placing nominees in all categories, much less taking all slots within categories.  Those tactics, if anything, seem to support the argued intentions of the author of the RP slate, which was to act as a spoiler for the Hugos. This was a point not missed by SPs last year, but about which many SPs are found silent or dissembling this year.

But more important, neither reason required the author of the RP slate to place himself or those with whom he is associated on said slate.  This is especially true if the author had any intention of getting broadly positive notice and awards for people and works outside the supposed elitist clique.  Finalists would have looked a lot more credible if not stacked among, or almost solely constituted by, those connected to him. Put another way, it would have been more useful if the author of the RP slate had acted more selflessly, than in a seemingly self-serving fashion.

Clearly, the RP slate had the potential to benefit its author, both directly–the author placed himself on his own slate–and indirectly–listing business/personal associates.  This kind of conduct is described by terms such as self-aggrandizement and cronyism, and adds another level/form of seeming impropriety to the RP slate.

4) Declining would not show a lack of gratitude

It was argued that declining the nomination would be an insult for those that voted for SSF. That it would show a lack of gratitude.  I am not sure why this is true.

If I had an extended family that got to feeling sorry for my never winning an award, and then bought enough voting memberships in order to vote me in, with many of them not having read anything I wrote, that would be improper.  And it would not show a lack of gratitude on my part to say “Wow, thanks guys for wanting to help me out, I really appreciate your effort, but this method does not get me what I wanted in the way that I really needed to get it. So I have to decline.”

When people vote, even if they pay to vote, there is no guarantee you will win, and there is no obligation that you have to take the nomination or prize if their votes place you there.  Appreciation is different than accepting the benefits of their actions, which can be declined for numerous reasons, both personal or practical.

As it is, if what those at SSF claim is true, that the RPs were likely to vote for SSF anyway, then the RP slate was the biggest slap in the face–the biggest show of ingratitude–to both SP and RP voters, since it cast an unnecessary shadow over the value of their votes.

And it would seem that anyone championing the RP slate at this point is de facto showing ingratitude to SP voters, by downplaying the importance of all the work done by that campaign to improve their methods this year. In fact it forms an argument that they and their kind are no longer needed next year as they were entirely superfluous.

Frankly, I would have been more impressed with this argument, when used to support keeping the nomination, if it had been backed by actual words of gratitude at the SSF site beyond a singular tribute to the RP slate.

5) Accepting it means hypocrisy and more of the same

For those SPs at SSF that railed against the RPs last year, accepting this year’s nomination would mean becoming hypocrites.  And while I am not an SP, or perhaps because I am not, that would go double for me.

Some argued that the No Award reaction to the slates last year drove many SPs to the RP campaign this year, or made them sympathetic to RP methodology. The strength of this argument is not clear to me. If No Award was a reaction to what one considered an unworthy method last year, then how did its use–even if it was admittedly ridiculous–make that first unworthy method acceptable this year?  It would seem the only stable ethical position is to be critical of both again this year.

What’s more important however, is that in accepting the nomination, and so rewarding such methodology, SSF loses its ability to criticize that method in the future–from any political quarter–while signaling its openness to be party to such methods.  And that makes it more likely such things will happen again.

6) Reaching conclusions.

SSF is a young movement still in the process of finding its character and audience.

While described as a literary movement, the line between that and a political movement has become increasingly blurred.  That is to say SSF has allowed itself to get caught up in political machinations, placing temporal political interests above artistic goals.*

Along these same line, it has yet to decide if subversive acts and statements are in keeping with superversive ideals.  With this nomination SSF has become openly aligned with a provocateur whose general repertoire appears subversive in nature, methods I will point out once again were criticized by SSF members last year.  I do not see how this aligns with the ideals SSF has stated it intends to promote artistically.  Some expressed feelings that they are tired of “losing nobly” and/or suggested that subversive acts are allowed to support superversive concepts. Both appear the exact opposite of what I thought superversive was about. It would seem crucial for SSF to settle this question in order to develop a consistent voice and persona, regardless of larger political interests.**

I should point out that SSF–to their credit–wants to build a diverse community of authors.  I was invited and allowed to contribute despite holding very different political, social, and religious views from many at SSF. I have always been treated well, having been asked to stay on despite the recent issue and told my voice would be of value to SSF. Indeed, I was asked to write a post such as this to show that Anthony’s position is not the only one held at SSF.

The problem for me is that with its character still unsettled, and trending in ways I am not interested in taking part, I find the best solution is to step away from SSF.  Not in anger or as an enemy, but as someone who is no longer clear that SSF will end up fitting with my character, or vice versa.

I tend not to like provocateurs or intentional negative provocations–no matter what political stripe–and I do not like having to deal with their fallout. By attaching itself to, or accepting benefits from, a known provocateur it would seem this will become a regular part of SSF membership. That would not be very fun or rewarding for me, no matter how many awards sticking with it might promise.

Since diversity is one of SSF’s goals, I encourage the group to rethink their position on things like the RP slate. In order to attract authors still willing to “lose nobly”, or who have zero interest in winning “by hook or crook”, it will arguably have to do so.

Outside of dire circumstances, life to me has always been about how you play the game. And with luck it always will be.

In this case, I feel certain that playing the game justly demands stepping away. If not from the nomination, which is not my call, then from SFF.

And so I go.

Cheers!

Kieran Sterling Holmes

*Anyone who wants to dispute this point is encouraged to explain the superversive qualities of Space Raptor Butt Invasion.  Granted, Tingle is all about Love…

** A somewhat cheekier version would be to ask the question: “What good is it to gain the Worldcon and lose one’s soul?”  As cheeky as it is, it is something worth considering.