The Bifrost Between Calico and Gingham

pyewacket

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!

starshine-2

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.

mistletoe-2

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

Hugos 2016: Reactions to the Shortlist

Finalists for the 2016 Hugo Awards were released on Tuesday. It’s something of an understatement to say that reactions have been mixed.

Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin sums up the anti-Puppy consensus nicely:

Those of us who hoped this year’s massive turnout might give us something more palatable than last year were mistaken; the 2016 ballot and the 2015 ballot are pretty much a wash. The two editor’s categories are much stronger than they were last year. Novel has some very fine and worthy choices (though my own favorite novels from last year are missing). Some talented young writers are up for the Campbell. On the other hand, Best Pro Artist is a joke, Short Story is if anything weaker than last year, and Best Related Work is a toxic swamp.

Thanks to Mr. Martin for stating his approval of the Campbell shortlist, which includes me (and more significantly, Andy Weir). Compliments from such a venerable wordsmith are greatly appreciated.

I wonder, though, what occasioned the visceral reaction against the finalists for Best Related Work?

2016 Hugos Best Related Work

I agree that this list evokes something that merits the description “toxic swamp”. But it’s not the works themselves.
A more balanced perspective

Breitbart’s account, which was more sympathetic to the Puppies, helps to put the Hugo controversy in perspective:

…a number of…conservative and libertarian-leaning authors contended that a large chunk of Hugo voters voted on the basis of authors’ personal political beliefs rather than the quality of their writing. The Sad Puppies aimed to change that, by nominating authors on the basis of perceived quality rather than perceived politics. The Puppies have a particular opposition to “message fiction” — works that are primarily intended to convey a political message rather than tell a good story.

[Last] year, authors nominated by the Sad & Rabid Puppies campaigns swept several categories in the Hugo Awards, leading to outrage from progressive journalists and commentators.

This year, the Sad and Rabid Puppies have done it again. Ten out of fifteen Hugo Award categories have been completely dominated by Puppy-endorsed nominees — double what the campaigns achieved in 2015. The Puppies have also secured three out of five nominations for Best Novel, three out of four nominations for Best Short-Form Dramatic Presentation, and three out of five nominations for Best Long-Form Editor.

In total, the Rabid Puppies swept six categories on their own, while a combination of Sad & Rabid puppy nominations swept a further four.

Despite the Sad Puppies’ consistency regarding their aims, an anti-Puppy narrative persists.

“This is an attempt by various elements of the American right to regain the centre ground of SF from some perceived shift to the liberal left,” said Alastair Reynolds, whose work appeared on both the Sad and Rabid Puppies’ lists.

Author John C. Wright, whose work earned a record number of Hugo nominations last year, demonstrates the incoherence of Reynolds’ complaint:

Our motives were entirely clear, and perfectly obvious to anyone who reads science fiction for love of the genre: if our real motives had been other than what we said, then the voters attracted to us would have been attracted to our stated motives, not our allegedly real yet hidden ones, would not they have? Then the voters would have voted in line with our stated motives, and our real hidden ones would have been thwarted, right?

Former Hugo winner John Scalzi tried to downplay SP and RP’s effectiveness at choosing the nominated works:

In these cases as in several others, the Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it. Few who know the field or the Hugos would give the slates credit for highlighting works and authors already well-appreciated in the genre, many of which have appeared this year as finalists for other awards or on bestseller lists.

A claim to which Mr. Wright likewise prepared a response:

It is one of [those] statements that, even if true, makes no difference to the conclusion: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or the work of Mr. Gaiman was not the normal, boring, trite, sick-minded politically correct crapola on burnt toast shoved down unwilling throats by a small cabal of well connected Tor authors.

The lie here is merely the pretense that our motives were other than our stated motives, so that by winning whom we wanted to win, it somehow does not count, because we really wanted someone to win other than the candidate whose works we supported.

The argument is so illogical, there is not even a Latin name for the fallacy, because no one in the Middle Ages was this stupid that there was any need to coin it: it is merely disjointed.

Darker implications

Critics who accuse the Rabid Puppies in particular of having motives besides rescuing SF from dull message fic are actually onto something. With their recommendations of Safe Space as Rape Room and The Story of Moira Greyland, RP also sought to kick over the petrified remnants of Fandom culture and expose what lies wriggling beneath.

Moira recounts [Warning – not for the faint of heart!]:

My mother was Marion Zimmer Bradley, and my father was Walter Breen. Between them, they wrote over 100 books: my mother wrote science fiction and fantasy (Mists of Avalon), and my father wrote books on numismatics: he was a coin expert.

What they did to me is a matter of unfortunate public record: suffice to say that both parents wanted me to be gay and were horrifed at my being female. My mother molested me from ages 3-12. The first time I remember my father doing anything especially violent to me I was five.

Sadly, Moira’s story is far from the only instance of prominent figures in old SF Fandom perpetrating–or turning a blind eye toward–such abuse. It should go without saying that anyone involved in science fiction; any minimally ethical human being, would greet the exposure of this systemic rot with sober gratitude.
In his blog post highlighting the Best Related Work category, SF author Chuck Wendig offered this comment:

“That feels like what we have going here. We’ve got ticks in our culture. Latching on. Leeching blood. Staying hidden until they’re bloated up and by then, you’ve got a real problem.”

I’d fully agree with Mr. Wendig’s appraisal of the situation–if he were describing the pedophiles lurking within traditional Fandom as parasites. Absurdly, he applies that label to the folks who are working to unmask the abusers.

Of course, the mangy curs and distempered doggies also got their grimy jaws around the throat of the thing. Inside those nominations you’ll find some, ahh, real eye-openers. I won’t go into specifics — you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t. And if you don’t, just trust me when I say, some of those categories are a real diaper fire.

There’s a sickness here. We’re covered with ticks. We call them trolls, and they are, but that’s also a way to dismiss them — as if they’re just cantankerous outliers hiding under bridges. People say, “Don’t feed the trolls,” as if that’s ever worked. I remember in elementary school they told you to ignore bullies, too, and that never worked worth a good goddamn because they just came harder at you next time, pissed that you didn’t give them the time of day. You can’t ignore ticks, you can’t ignore tumors, and you can’t ignore trolls. Ignoring them means emboldening them.

Perhaps if Mr. Wendig and his ideological fellow travelers had been less concerned with thought-policing genre fiction and more concerned with policing the child molesters in their midst, the Rabid Puppies’ trolling wouldn’t have been necessary.

Incidentally, this is the same Chuck Wendig whose book Aftermath served as the canary in the coal mine for Star Wars’ descent into PC propaganda. Yet he accuses his critics of misogyny while dismissing the testimony of a female abuse victim.

Star Wars: Aftermath

Call the Rabid, and even the Sad, Puppies trolls if you like. Just know that they stand for fun SFF stories with actual speculative elements, and against sycophants who demonstrably value the intellectual purity of their captive awards above the safety of the children in their care.

There is sickness in Fandom, Mr. Wendig–a sickness of the soul that abhors beauty, goodness, and truth; and a sickness of conscience that sacrifices the innocent for self-flattery.

Another thing you’re right about: we’ll keep coming at you harder. Until your gates come crashing down.

Sad Puppies: The Superversive Mandate

Sad Puppies 4

The highly anticipated Sad Puppies 4 recommended reading list has been released. Just in the nick of time for Hugo Award nominations, which close at the end of this month, these works were suggested by SF fans from around the world and across the web.

The full list can be found here.

Suggestions were completely open to the public, and SP4 even received signal boosts from genre heavyweights who’ve taken issue with past Puppy campaigns, like Mike Glyer and George R. R. Martin. These factors support the view of SP4’s recommendations as a representative sample of broader SF fandom’s tastes.

Sad Puppies 4 gave the fans a chance to speak. What did they say? If the most-suggested works are any indication, SP4 voters made a statement that echoes what folks like Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, and Tom Simon have been saying for a while, now.
The Superversive Mandate

I’ve written previously on the Superversive literary movement.

A quick recap for those who are just joining us: the Superversive movement seeks to return SFF to the service of beauty, truth, and the good–a service which the curators of literature in NY publishing have  not only abandoned, but betrayed. Tom Simon in particular has called for overturning the gatekeepers’ subversion of SF, not from below, but from above, i.e. superversion.

Judging by SP4 participants’ choices, most of them are sympathetic to Tom’s vision. So many recommended works contain superversive elements, or were written by authors affiliated with the movement, that it’s no exaggeration to say that Sad Puppies 4 represents a superversive mandate.

Hugos asterisk
The old guard’s open contempt for 70% of their audience may have contributed to the backlash.

SP4 List Highlights

Here are highly placed entries from the official recommendations list that contain superversive themes, were written by superversive authors, or both.

Quite a showing for such a young movement.
Many creators of works listed above wouldn’t describe them as superversive. Some might actively deny affiliation with the movement. But whether intentionally or not, all of the works above celebrate heroic courage, treat beauty as something real and transformative, honor objective truth, or a combination of multiple superversive elements.
Speaking from Experience
For once, I’m not just some armchair pundit peddling secondhand opinions on the internet.
To my amazement, five projects to which I have direct creative involvement appear on the Sad Puppies 4 list–each near the top of its category (viz. Nethereal, Sci Phi Journal, Superversive SF, Geek Gab, and, in the case of the Campbell…me).
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Obligatory reminder of author’s well-received book for sale.
When I decided to turn my writing from a hobby into a profession, I had no idea how my work would be received. Rather than fret over possible rejection, I just wrote the kinds of stories that I wanted to read, but that no one else seemed to be offering.
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Obligatory reminder that the well-received book has an even better sequel. (Eligible next year.)
Along the way, I kept coming across like-minded individuals who were dissatisfied with the current state of SFF. Some of them accepted the challenge of writing for themselves. A few of these people must’ve thought I had something interesting to say, because they invited me to co-host their podcasts and post on their blogs. I continue gratefully doing so.
The takeaway is that, without a NY publisher, and with no advertising budget, resources, or contacts to speak of, Sad Puppies 4 let me compete on a level playing field against this:
the Martian
and tie for first place.
From where I’m standing (next to Andy Weir, as it happens), the predictions of indie making the gatekeepers obsolete look thoroughly vindicated.
I brought books to market, found readers, and–if past years are reliable indicators–stand a non-zero chance of being nominated for a major literary award. All of this was done without granting all of my rights and most of my profits to a publisher.
Sure, it’s survivorship bias to say that if I can do it, then so can you. But I’m not the only example. Indie has produced far greater successes than me.
Oh yeah, that part about zero resources and no contacts? That problem’s been pretty much solved–thanks to my fellow superversives, those who support the cause, and most importantly of all, my phenomenal readers. You guys have achieved what all of the industry experts said was impossible just a few years ago.
Congratulations to everyone who made the list. Thanks to all of the overt and covert superversives out there, to the Evil Legion of Evil, and Sad Puppies everywhere (especially Kate, Sarah, Amanda, and the volunteers who collated the suggestions). And once again, extra special thanks to my readers.
We’re just getting warmed up, and I’m proud to be at the starting line with you.
Update: in the time since this article was first written, my name has also been added to the Rabid Puppies list of Campbell nominees. The Supreme Dark Lord is indeed kind.

Sad Puppies: Lords Temporal and Spiritual

Last time, we talked about the drastic changes currently underway in sci-fi fandom, and the media that are driving those changes.

People with their fingers on the pulse of fandom have observed that SF is becoming more tribalistic. They’re right.

Due to the dominance of movies, TV shows, video games, and even eBooks, today’s geeks are having a much more homogeneous SF experience than fans did back when print was king.

As a result, sci-fi has swept the world in a bloodless revolution. Today fans can gather by the hundreds of thousands at mega-conventions like Gen Con, Dragon Con, and the San Diego Comic Con with not a scintilla of conflict. We are one friggin’ huge happy tribe.

If sci-fi has broken into the mainstream and allowed millions of nerds to party together in relative peace and harmony, then where’s the much-hyped friction coming from?
Enter the Inhibitors

Hugo-nominated author Mike Flynn has written about how people will fall into one of three broad categories when faced with change.

Resistance to Change

Innovators will champion a new idea just for the sake of novelty. They drive change, but their motives aren’t always selfless. They could be narcissists, or on the make for a fast buck.

Conservatives will consent to change, but not until they have reasonable proof of success. Some are true skeptics. Some are hardliners. Some just have cold feet.

Inhibitors will not agree to make changes under any circumstances. However convincing the innovators’ logic, and however sound the conservatives’ data, the inhibitor’s mantra is “No!”

It’s worth considering the three demographics that Flynn says make up the inhibitors’ ranks:

  • Monopolists who resent any challenge to their perceived rights and status.
  • Die-hards who have said the opposite for so long that they can no longer back down without losing face.
  • Traditionalists who like the old ways just because they are the old ways.

 

Caveat: it’s vital to note the context of this post, which is technological advancements in entertainment media. It’s also worth pointing out that different people can be different types at varying times and in response to various kinds of change.
For example, when it comes to morality I’m definitely a traditionalist inhibitor. That’s because if history has proven anything, it’s that change has killed, and will kill, everyone.
Yet as our good friend Dr. McLuhan informs us, technology is morally neutral in and of itself. Applications of technology can be morally good or bad, but a light bulb has no content.
I took a conservative approach to eBook technology and self-publishing in general. I was traditionally published first and only went indie when hard evidence indicated that it was the smarter move.
Nonetheless, there are still those who are beholden to the big NYC publishers and their obsolete business model. Interestingly, these folks’ behavior perfectly fits the classic inhibitor profiles.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Monopolists who resent any challenge to their perceived rights and status.
John Scalzi
Die-hards who have said the opposite for so long that they can no longer back down without losing face.
David Gerrold
Traditionalists who like the old ways just because they are the old ways.

All of the controversy, tantrums, and libel over Sad Puppies can be chalked up to big fish in the shrinking legacy publishing pond who are standing athwart inevitable industry changes, desperately flailing their arms, and yelling “STOP!”
What can Puppies do against such reckless hate?

The lies told about the leaders and allies of Sad Puppies have been so numerous and so absurd that picking the most ridiculous lie in the bunch is like spotting the fattest maggot wriggling on a dead horse.

But a close second to Arthur Chu’s risible attempt to disqualify Brad Torgersen as a racist is the accusation, repeated in the mainstream media with Goebbels-like bombast and frequency, that SP’s goal was the politicization of the Hugo Awards.

As the story thus far shows, not only are claims of Puppies injecting politics into the awards the diametric opposite of the truth, politics is just a red herring in this whole controversy–a fig leaf used to conceal the CHORFs’ fear of change and to justify their attacks on the agents of change.

What must Sad Puppies do to overcome their unprincipled opposition and make fandom safe for what the CHORFs denounce as “Wrongfans” having “Wrongfun”?

The answer is: nothing.

Given that the CHORF phenomenon is an atavistic reaction to inevitable changes in fandom driven by inexorable advances in technology, we needn’t take any specific action to defeat them. Just as new theories ultimately triumph when the prior generation of scientists die off, SF will continue to thrive and grow long after the last CHORF’s demise.

There is, however, a far more pressing reason to keep engaging with the SF mainstream; to keep telling our stories.
SF authors work for the fans.

Tolkien rightly said that the only reason to tell a story is to tell a story, i.e. the purpose of storytelling is entertainment. This is the true credo of Sad Puppies.

Storytelling to make a political point to the detriment of fun is what the Puppies have always been steadfastly against. An author’s publisher is not his boss. His readers are.

Luckily, the growing sense of community spreading throughout fandom is bringing together a number of sub-tribes who are vocally dedicated to the principle of Fun First.

“Author” and “authority” come from the same Latin root for the admiration and obedience due to great personages by virtue of their mighty deeds. The European nobility descended from those who helped to hold society together in the chaos after Rome’s fall.

Prominent figures have arisen to lead their tribes through the upheavals currently transforming fandom. Some of them have been lauded with titles befitting their work on the fans’ behalf.
The Evil Legion of Evil

In sum, the three ideas of the so-called reactionary Evil League of Evil are that that Science Fiction stories should be workmanlike, honest, and fun. Stories should serve the reader rather than lecture, sucker-punch, subvert, or hector him. Stories should give the reader what he paid for.

–John C. Wright, Grand Inquisitor of the Evil Legion of Evil

 

Supreme Dark Lord

Vox Day, Supreme Dark Lord

A modern-day Renaissance man as accomplished as he is controversial. Vox’s publications include works of science fiction and fantasy, as well as economics, political philosophy, Christian apologetics, and more. His incendiary online persona–purportedly adopted in response to unprovoked attacks by Tor SF Manager Patrick Nielsen Hayden–facilitates Vox’s preferred rhetorical style of “counter-punching”.

Vox has also edited numerous Hugo-nominated works and has been nominated for Hugo awards as both an author and an editor. The SDL has found success in several fields besides publishing, including the music and video game industries.



Though the title of Supreme Dark Lord was bestowed by John C. Wright as a rather playful gesture, the degree of loyalty that Vox inspires in his readers gives one pause to consider its implications. Hundreds of Vile Faceless Minions currently serve at his command. Their efforts proved effective enough to ensure an SP/RP sweep of last year’s Hugo nominations and secure a Best Novel win for The Three Body Problem. Much speculation surrounds what Vox will do next.

 

Larry Correia International Lord of Hate

Larry Correia, International Lord of Hate

Outstanding accomplishment in multiple fields seems to be a condition of ELoE membership.

Not only is Larry Correia a best selling author, Hugo nominee, and Audie Award winner, he has pursued successful careers in accounting and machine gun sales. In addition to the ELoE, he is also a member of G.I. Joe.

Larry started Sad Puppies to prove the bias exercised by an influential Hugo voting clique against out-group authors. He took up the mantle of the International Lord of Hate in mockery of detractors who hurled baseless accusations of bigotry against him.

Having been vindicated for three consecutive years, the ILoH has retired from Sad Puppies to focus on writing kick-ass urban and epic fantasy for Baen Books.

 

Sarah Hoyt

Sarah Hoyt, Beautiful but Evil Space Princess

The purpose of this is to create a new ‘idea’ in science fiction, a new way to look at the genre.  Properly observed (and I’ve observed it) I think the genre should be a way to play with possible futures, with possible outcomes, with possible ideas.  The wonder of science fiction lays in the open possibility.

–Sarah Hoyt

An American author originally from Portugal, Sarah Hoyt writes both traditionally and independently published science fiction. Among her many accomplishments, she is a card-carrying Mensa member and a Prometheus Award winner. She is a co-organizer of Sad Puppies 4.

Sarah has founded a literary movement known as Human Wave which aims to maximize authorial freedom and cultivate SF’s sense of wonder.

 

John C. Wright, Grand Inquisitor

By all accounts, one of the best living authors of science fiction. Mr. Wright was formerly published by Tor Books, but his works now appear, by his choice, predominantly through Castalia House. He is a Nebula Award nominee and has a record six Hugo nominations.

Like his fellow ELoE members, SF writing isn’t Mr. Wright’s first career. Unlike them, he failed at his first two careers. It’s chilling to imagine what the world would have lost had he succeeded.

A lifelong philosopher and relatively recent convert to Christianity, Mr. Wright’s thoughts on science fiction are too copious to list here, but his Hugo-nominated collection of essays is a good place to start.
The Superversive SF Movement

What, then, can we do, those of us who are not Progressives? We cannot fight subversion by its own methods; that only makes the hole deeper. But if subversion means ‘turning from below’, there can be such a thing as turning from above. We have nothing to gain by digging a bigger hole, but we can build right over it. It seems natural enough to me to invent a new word for this by changing part of the old one; so I call it superversion.

–Tom Simon

Tom Simon

Though the Evil Legion of Evil boasts one of the greatest working science fiction authors among its members, the Superversives have perhaps the greatest essayist currently writing in the English language: Tom Simon.

Mr. Simon, a Canadian independent author, coined the term “superversive” and defined it in a landmark essay. Superversive SF turns the tables on subversive celebrations of lies, evil, and ugliness by overturning it from above with truth, goodness, and beauty.

“…[C]ourage is the essential quality of a superversive story: not the dumb, dull fortitude that passively endures in the face of suffering, but the courage that allows the character to take action – to risk becoming a hero.”

Superversive science fiction has much in common with, and is a natural ally to, Human Wave SF.
Jason Rennie

A Hugo-nominated podcaster and the editor of Sci Phi Journal, Jason has risen to leadership in the Superversive movement. He carries out his editing duties and moderates the Superversive Livestreams from his home in Australia.

 

L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright

A superb author of SFF short stories and novels (and the editor of my book), Jagi is a leading public voice and a tireless behind-the-scenes organizer of the Superversive SF movement.

In the venerable tradition of chivalric diplomacy, Mrs. Wright’s marriage to Mr. Wright cements the Superversive-ELoE alliance.
These are just a few of the authors who are working hard to ensure that SF remains open to truth, beauty, endless possibility, and most of all, fun.

The future of the fictional future is looking bright.

Interview: Sad Puppies Spokesmanatee Wendell the Manatee

Wendell the Manatee

Harvard Business School, the Florida state legislature, and interdimensional insurance agents know him as Wendell T. Manatee: CFO of CorreiaTech. Crusaders against Puppy Related Sadness know him as the spokesmanatee for Sad Puppies. But this aquatic American largely remains an enigma to his legions of adoring fans and whiny detractors alike. The manatee himself recently sat down (actually, he floated inside his giant fish tank at CorreiaTech HQ and called me via Skype) to share some insights on his personal motivations.

BRIAN NIEMEIER: Thank you, Mr. Manatee,  for taking time out from overseeing the Monster Hunter Nation server upgrades to address the public’s insatiable appetite for all things Wendell.

WENDELL THE MANATEE: Mewoooooooooooo.

BN: Wow. Eloquent though they are, your printed quotes failed to prepare me for the heart-melting rapture of hearing you speak in person. I am utterly disarmed and profoundly stirred!

WM: Weeeewooooooo.

BN: Hilarious! Such a legendary wit would have been the toast of the Algonquin Round Table.

(Starts laugh-crying uncontrollably.)

WM: Mehwhoooo?

BN: (Finally composing self) Sorry. Just needed a moment. I’m still here.

WM: Fleeeerp. Mehwoo?

BN: To talk about your background, your work with Larry Correia, and your involvement with Sad Puppies.

Not to step on your fluke, but fans might take exception to the term “dork fest”.

WM: Foooooooooooo.

BN: With your Harvard MBA and your membership in an endangered species, you were free to write your own ticket. Why manage the finances of a D-list author of explosion porn?

WM: Flooooooo.

BN: So it’s all because of Lance Henriksen. Fascinating.

WM: Mehoooowhoooooooooon…

BN: Careful. You know how prone people are to misreading those kinds of comments as threats, and Mr. Henriksen is formidable enough to make Alien 3 almost watchable.

Young Wendell
Even as a child, Wendell was right at home in the public eye.

Back on topic, was there a specific pitch you made that convinced Larry to hire you?

WM: Meeeeeww-oooooo.

BN: Yeah. You can only milk thinly veiled B movie and X-Men fanfic for so long. I tried the same thing with 90s anime and Dune, which barely pays for the movie tickets I need to stay out of the cold. (Indie author pro tip: if you buy one for the first showing, they’ll let you stay till closing time. And you can hide in the crawlspace under the screen after that!)

Like I told that derelict who lives in the hobo camp in the woods by the interstate: “Punk, I an’t trading no electric blanket for no bag of CVS disposable razors!”

Where was I? Oh yeah. Did you have a vision for breaking out of the niche market for war game nerds and gun nuts?

WM: Mewwwooooo. Moooooo-gurgle gurgle.

BN: Great point. Romance is huge. I’d hop on that gravy train faster than you can say E. L. James if only I understood the physical and emotional bonds that are so popular with humans.

WM: Hoooon?

BN: Aquatic mammals, too. Sorry. Why did Larry veto the shift from gun porn to regular porn? It can’t be moral qualms. He’s a libertarian.

WM: Meew-whooooo.

BN: I suppose that finding the mandatory female pen name for him would be a daunting ordeal.

WM: Moo.

BN: Let me get this straight. You’re saying that you came up with the idea to do Son of the Black Sword!?

WM: (Pauses to take a bite from what resembles a Primanti Brothers sandwich, except the coleslaw seems to be made from iceberg lettuce, waterlogged straw, and ranch dressing.)

Wendell shark-wrestling
Shark wrestling: one of Wendell’s many hobbies.

Meeeeeeeeeeeen.

BN: Congratulations. Still, you have to admit that Larry does all the toiling in the word mines.

Let’s take a moment to talk about your personal history. You were born and raised in the ocean off the Florida coast. Manatees are renowned for their fierce determination, but yours took you in an unusual direction. You graduated from the Ivy League. where you earned a reputation as a–pardon the expression–party animal. Your exploits on the wrestling team have led some to call you a jock. You’ve also found time to cultivate world-class skills in Call of Duty.

WM: Fleeeerp.

BN: Yet you’ve had your share of setbacks: your narrow defeat in the race for your home state’s legislature in 2012, losing Time’s Person of the Year to the Ferguson protesters, your arrest for slapping a cosplayer, and most discouraging of all, being mistaken for Chris Matthews by a White House aide. Any one of these tragedies would have crushed a lesser man. To what do you owe your unconquerable tenacity?

WM: Mooorr-gurgle gurgle.

BN: (voice breaking) Your sage words have overcome me once again. If your detractors only had ears to hear, this divisive conflict in science fiction would end, and all fans would embrace as brothers. Have you spoken with George R. R. Martin?

WM: (Shakes his ponderous bulk in the negative) Moowhooooo.

BN: Yes, the resemblance to a whale shark is uncanny. It was clearly an honest mistake. I’m sure you can get the restraining order dismissed.

WM: Mehoooowhoooooooooon…

BN: You’ve become the public face of Sad Puppies. Why associate with that campaign?

WM: Eeeeewhoooo.

BN: I had no idea! People who think of you as a stoic tough guy will be equally shocked and touched by this intimate revelation.

WM: Hoooooon. Gurgle. Gurgle.

BN: With that single remark, you’ve put paid to every accusation lodged by the puppy-kickers. I stand in awe of your rhetorical mastery!

WM: (Plunges his yawning jowls into a barrel of CHEETOS.)

BN: (Voice raised over sounds of crunching) Thank you, Wendell, for gracing us with this portrait of courage, ambition, and yes, vulnerability. Before we wrap things up, do you have any parting words for our contemplation and enrichment?

WM: (Munching continues unabated until the connection times out.)
Interviewer’s note: a link to this video later arrived in my inbox.

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George Takei’s Racism Is Good for Science Fiction

George Takei, the actor who played the original Sulu in Star Trek, has some enviable qualities. Takei is likable, he has a gift for social media, and he possesses a wonderfully deep voice. However, he is not the smartest person in the world. This was recently confirmed, when Takei used an obviously racist slur to lambast a senior judge. Takei followed-up by arguing it was not racist to refer to the judge as a ‘clown in blackface’. A wiser man would have hastily admitted his faults, and apologized. Takei has now apologized, though the apology is so indirect and self-regarding that it only makes Takei seem even more conceited. But we should thank Takei for his flaws. Takei’s fame depends on his role in science fiction culture. Some treat science fiction like the path to enlightenment pursued by a misty-eyed seer, able to diagnose the illnesses of the present and chart the course to a utopian future. Takei has reminded us that SF culture also includes its fair share of stupid buggers.

Takei’s comical brouhaha began when he was asked, on a news channel, what he thought of the judgement of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The court determined that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right following a 5-4 vote of the judges, but Thomas was in the dissenting minority. Perhaps we should stop and reflect at this point. Takei, a man who is famous because he pushed pretend buttons on a 1960’s television show, was asked to review the legal opinion of one of the top judges in the USA, as given in a tricky case of historical significance. Maybe the USA’s legal system is imperfect, but I struggle to understand how a more utopian future will be realized by asking aging actors for their opinion on everything. Undaunted, Takei held forth. In particular, Takei objected to Thomas’ legal opinion on the grounds of too much ‘blackface’.

In a way, Takei was right about one thing, because Thomas does have a black face, or rather a dark brown face which people in some societies describe as ‘black’, as compared to paler skins. Thomas is the only Supreme Court judge who is black. But the intelligent amongst us know that judges should be chosen because of their skill at reaching a judgement, not because of their color. So, by any normal understanding of racism, Takei was being racist.

Realizing that he had committed a terrible faux pas, which would alienate him from many right-thinking, word-policing fans, Takei needed to excuse himself. He did this by pointing out that ‘blackface’ describes how actors applied make-up in order to play characters with different racial characteristics to their own. By that logic, highlighting how a black judge has a black face is not racist, because only a white judge could put on a real blackface.

I find Takei’s logic to be desperately contrived. It is certainly not of a calibre I would want from somebody who reviews the decisions of top judges. Instead of just leaving his insult with the assertion that Thomas is black – an accurate if irrelevant statement – Takei reinvented it as a much more racist slur than we first imagined. Thomas is black. But Takei tells us he meant to compare Thomas to a white man who is pretending to be black. It was one thing to needlessly refer to Thomas’ race, but it is something else to imply Thomas is a traitor to his race. And hence, we progressively learn that Takei’s deep voice is not evidence of deep thought.

There is no point bashing Takei. He is not smart enough to be worth it. He said something stupid and offensive in the heat of the moment. Then he slowly and carefully considered how to backtrack without losing face, and so wrote something even more stupid and offensive. When William Shatner came to Takei’s defence, I think he was being sincere.

My guess is that Takei is not a racist, in a malign or systematic way. His racism was of the easy, casual, everyday variety. Thomas wrote an opinion that came to a conclusion that Takei did not like, so instead of addressing Thomas’ argument, Takei started talking about the color of Thomas’ skin. Many people are prone to such irregular leaps in their thinking. They feel a logical argument has reached the wrong conclusion, but being unable to express what was wrong with the argument, they attack the individual instead. That was what Takei did. We should thank him for doing this, because it shows that policing thought will never succeed, because some people are not thoughtful enough to be worth policing.

Takei’s argument was especially misjudged because Thomas’ argument had a certain beauty to it. These are the words that Thomas wrote, and which prompted Takei’s diva meltdown.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

You do not have to agree with Thomas’ conclusion to see that he presents an elegant and attractive argument. If a slave suffered the worst indignities, but still felt they were dignified in themselves, or that they were dignified in the eyes of God, then who should argue the slave was wrong to think that way?

Takei vehemently rejected Thomas’ point of view. As a result, he reveals the narrowness of his own thinking.

To deny a group the rights and privileges of others is to strip them of human dignity…

Takei’s thinking is narrow because it has not occurred to him that some believe human beings have immortal souls. It is not necessary to agree that humans have souls, to understand what a difference this would make to a person’s outlook. A slave has no less spirituality than any other person, and the role of the spiritual in your life will profoundly influence your understanding of a concept like dignity.

Thomas’ argument follows tracks laid down by ancient thinkers. This is not surprising: those same thinkers also influenced the original writers of the US constitution. Socrates believed we have souls, and that the soul could not be harmed by the actions of others. The only way an individual can damage a soul is by doing harm to themselves. Boethius, in The Consolation of Philosophy, concludes that the suffering caused by his own unjust imprisonment is of no importance, because the gifts of fortune are unreliable. Temporal assets, like health, wealth, or power, can be taken away, so soul and the intellect must be the route to true happiness. In the Bible, the character of Job comes to a similar understanding. After he is beset by disasters, Job better appreciates God’s design:

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.

On the other hand, if you think that humans are purely physical beings, then it is easier to sympathize with Takei’s point of view. If humans do not have a soul, then there is nothing more important than their day-to-day treatment and comfort. If dignity has no spiritual aspect, it can only be understood in terms of the material and the legal.

Some may point out that Takei is a Buddhist. I am not a Buddhist, but I am forced to wonder if Takei’s understanding of Buddhism is as malformed as his views on race, and his grasp of law. Buddhists are conscious of the role of suffering in this world, and how personal enlightenment is the only escape from that suffering. Whilst Thomas was clearly following a Christian tradition, his view of the inviolability of human dignity is easier to reconcile with Buddhism than Takei’s argument that dignity depends on law.

Whether right, wrong, or confused, Takei is entitled to his opinions. As nobody has scientifically proven the existence of souls, Takei’s position has some merit. Maybe there is nothing more important than governments, and laws, and how they work in practice. But Takei was wrong to describe Thomas as a ‘clown’. A more thoughtful person would have understood that their difference of opinion is founded on a genuine and sincere disagreement about the nature of this universe. It is conceited to deride others for their spiritual beliefs. And Takei made a fool of himself by questioning Thomas’ competence as a judge.

Why am I analyzing this minor episode in such depth? Because there are so many parallels to debates that consume science fiction ‘fandom’. Small, petty, and unimaginative people like George Takei can sincerely believe they are as wise as Solomon. Idiots can be popular and successful. They can gather many followers. Chanting the tropes that define them, a community’s repeated confirmation of its own bias will lead its weaker members to conclude they are much wiser than they really are. Four legs good, two legs bad. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. With great power comes great responsibility. Pop fiction can deliver the same lines as great philosophy, but that does not make Stan Lee the equal of Voltaire. At the same time, audiences can behave like a mirror. When they perceive depth in others, they may only be witnessing their own superficiality.

There will always be some who mindlessly repeat slogans and mottos, whilst castigating, alienating, and demonizing anyone with a different outlook. Science fiction is not immune to this disease. When warriors like Takei start calling people names, they will insist this is forgivable, natural, and even desirable. That was why Takei felt entitled to lose his temper and racially abuse an intelligent and successful African-American, then deploy indignation and misdirection to retain an ill-deserved sense of moral superiority.

George Takei is convinced he is morally good. Takei’s belief in himself allowed him to do something morally wrong, and then to excuse his behavior afterwards. He is not the only person to suffer this combination of failings.

Because science fiction deals with the future, and alternative possibilities, it will encourage some people to believe they are smarter than they really are. They think that by consuming science fiction, they have a better understanding of the world than others. They are mistaken. Science fiction is a form of entertainment. It is not a division of science or philosophy. The best science fiction may complement science and philosophy, but the relationship is not infallible. It is easy to remember how Clarke contributed to the development of artificial satellites. It is even easier to forget that Asimov thought positronics would be commonplace long before medicine learned the secret of artificial insemination. And yet, the world has witnessed many more test tube babies than walking, talking robots.

Even good science fiction will often have a wayward understanding of how the universe works, or of the nature of human beings. The worst science fiction will fall much shorter. And because tastes vary, some will prefer the worst to the best. Fans with poor taste are still fans, but we should be wary of their pomposity. They should always be discouraged from believing they define taste, no matter how many of them believe it. Defining taste is a way to control people by bullying them, little different to arguing that the color of a judge’s skin should influence his decisions.

I hope that George Takei’s embarrassment will remind others to be more humble, and more respectful of genuine differences of opinion, and taste. Better still, it may discourage some of the lazy knee-jerk name-calling which dominate the outpourings of people who, like George Takei, consider themselves to be social justice activists. It is easy to use words like ‘racist’ to unfairly smear others. Takei’s racist outburst, which deserves to be described that way, begs the question of how honestly and consistently such pejorative epithets are used.

I have hope… but I am not wildly optimistic. As Bertrand Russell pointed out:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

The community of science fiction fans probably has the same proportion of fools and fanatics as the general population. We might fear that science fiction attracts even more than its fair share; fools and fanatics like stories that confirm their point of view, especially if the real world stubbornly refuses to yield to their fantasies. The answer is not to respond to fanaticism with equal and opposing extremism. Such tactics only encourage the true fanatics. It is better to wait for them to embarrass themselves. We can then politely identify the failings of the fanatics, whilst expressing our faith in the even-handed skepticism of the majority of the audience.