Actual beer in an actual glass in an actual pub. The pub was in Paddington — not the bear but the posh suburb in Sydney. I mean, who knows, maybe the whole of Sydney is contained within Paddington Bear. Perhaps he contains whole universes. Short of putting the bear into a particle accelerator and letting physicists better understand what secrets are contained within. But I digress.
I drank some beer in a very pub-like pub in a part of Sydney I don’t know very well. I came to Sydney at the wrong age and not as a tourist, so it is not a city I know as well as I should because I never had a chance to just randomly explore bits. So nice to visit popular places. (Obviously, this wasn’t today as I’m writing this at 5 am).
The beer was Australian Inland Ale from Badlands Brewery which is based in Orange. That’s the name of the town…I don’t want to restart the whole bit about places contained within surprising objects. https://www.badlandsbrewery.com.au/about-us
I don’t want to add to the feeling of doom that many Americans must be feeling now but looking at the Supreme Court decision on abortion rights I don’t have anything supportive to say. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-25/united-states-supreme-court-overturns-roe-v-wade/101183036
What worries me most is an element I touched on in yesterday’s post about bounty hunters. The shaping of new state laws on abortion by Republican state politicians suggests an intentional strategy of bifurcating the US in a manner that would resemble the divisions just prior to the US civil war. Part of this may be less intended to directly create such conditions and more orientated at making states currently controlled by the GOP actively hostile environments for non-conservatives to live in, (or rather, even more so).
Secessionist and civil-war-2 rhetoric on the right has been gaining traction for over a decade now and the difference between what elected GOP politicians say (particularly at the state level) and what the typical right-wing internet comment-section/social-media blowhard says keeps declining.
For those of us not in the US, there is a different perspective. The government of the USA is a dangerous entity in the eyes of the rest of the world in many ways. It is capable of good and is literally an ally of the two nations I’m a citizen of. However, it has massive military power and poor accountability at the best of times. A shift into either civil conflict or authoritarian control (or civil conflict and then authoritarian conflict) is a terrifying prospect.
I don’t know what the way out is.
Jubal Early, Boba Fett, The Mandalorian, Spike Spiegel, and nearly everybody in Killjoys, the various spaceships that have rag-tag crews either are bounty hunters or a pursued by bounty hunters and sometimes are both. Of the various ways the genre of Space Opera has been influenced by Westerns, one of the most fertile has to be the bounty hunter. Cowboy Bebop makes the connection explicit with “cowboy” being the generic term for bounty hunters in the grungey space-travelling future. However, the idea isn’t only present in Space Opera, people working independently for a kill/capture reward in an SFF context can spill over into other genres. In Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series the private Monster Hunter groups earn money by claiming government bounties on monsters they kill (Perpetual Unearthly Forces Fund, aka PUFF).
It isn’t strictly true to say that bounty hunters are a purely American thing outside of fiction but it is pretty close to the truth. There are medieval precedents but the USA is one of the few countries in which bounty hunting (in terms of bail enforcement, not shooting werewolves) is still a legal and viable profession.
The attraction in fiction is obvious. Like the private eye, a bounty hunter is both disreputable and law enforcement, both part of the apparatus of government and outside of it. They are borderline figures that can vary in fiction from paid assassins to a form of gig-economy cops. For our rag-tag crews (or for players in a RPG), “bounty hunter” as a concept is both a potential hazard and a career option.
The attraction for adventure fiction is obvious. A bounty gives a simple motive for a character to go and do something dangerous either as the main character or as an antagonist to the main character. Unlike a police officer or a member of the military, the bounty hunter can be more varied, with the only common characteristic in common being a willingness to hunt down people for money. In the Empire Strikes Back the physical and aesthetic variety in bounty hunters that Vader speaks to contrasts sharply with the uniformity of Imperial Storm Troopers
In fiction (and for all I know, in reality) there’s no reason why a bounty hunter can’t also be a career criminal as well. The implication is that they are somebody working on the margins of society.
But why, in reality, are bounty hunters so distinctly American? Like many things, once you dig beyond the fiction you run straight into the depressing inevitabilities of US history. There is a complex history behind bounty hunters in the US but looming large in that history are slave catchers. People employed to catch fugitive slaves were not a US invention but the size of the US slave economy (until the Civil War and emancipation) meant that “slave catcher” was both casual work and a profession for some. The powers of slave catchers was further enhanced prior to the Civil War with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850) which codified the ability of slave catchers to act beyond the borders of slave states. Slavery is not the only defining element in the US bounty hunting history but it is such a substantial example in the formative years of the nation that it is hard to imagine that it isn’t key to the lasting influence of the idea in the US.
The attraction of the bounty hunter concept to quasi-libertarian SFF is apparent. The bounty hunter as a character can be simultaneously running a private business and be an arm of law enforcement. As a legitimised vigilante, the bounty hunter as a character can sit in a kind of Lagrange point between the pull of the heroic individualist and the pull of authoritarian imposition of order. Unlike the more ambiguous position of the maverick cop or the superhero, the quasi-libertarian bounty hunter doesn’t have to fear external regulation but can operate openly with social sanction for their actions.
Nor is the idea of privatised government control on the right confined to only bounty hunters (real or fictional). The recent (2021) Texas laws on abortion included an enforcement element that allows private citizens to launch their own legal actions against abortion providers or people involved in acquiring an abortion:
“the Texas law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/health/texas-abortion-law-facts.html
There’s no “hunting” as such but there is effectively a bounty.
So are bounty hunters inherently bad characters? I’m not sure the question makes sense. For example, to be a murderer is an inherently bad thing but there is no end of effective (even laudable) fictional characters who are technically murderers and on the moral spectrum there are far worse occupations than “bounty hunter”. One of my all-time favourite SF/fantasy series has a central character who is a torturer (the Book of the New Sun) albeit, not one who is very committed to his profession. It’s what the writers do with the character and also how the character is positioned in society. Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter but that’s a career move up from gangster and he’s very much placed in a context where the marginal nature of the work is part of the genre. The moral compromises are inherent to the quasi-genre of the rag-tag crew in a spaceship. They might be rebels, escaped prisoners or dodgy traders but socially, legally and financially they are typically not in a position to take high moral stands.
And yet…I prefer it when the bounty hunters are the baddies.
The people at The Hugo Book Club Blog (Olav Rokne & Amanda Wakaruk) are on a high-stakes mission to defuse a time bomb. Deep within the WSFS constitution is a hidden switch that is creeping ever closer to hitting some beloved Hugo Award categories. Can a rag-tag team save the Fan categories before the timer reaches zero?!
OK, I’m exaggerating for effect. You can’t actually kill a category forever but nonetheless, despite historically large numbers of people voting, some “down-ballot” categories have come close to having no winners declared because of a specific clause in the rules.
This is the clause in question:
“3.12.2: “No Award” shall be given whenever the total number of valid ballots cast for a specific category (excluding those cast for “NoAward” in first place) is less than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total number of final Award ballots received”https://www.wsfs.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/WSFS-Constitution-as-of-December-18-2021.pdf
Back in March, The Hugo Book Club Blog gave a rundown on the history of the clause:
“Section 3.12.2 has a long and interesting history, with the original version of the rule appearing in the 1964 Constitution, having been added in the wake of concerns over the remarkably small number of voters participating in the 1963 Hugo Awards process. At this time, there was no specific threshold, but rather the rules provided Hugo Administrators the ability to nix a category based on “a marked lack of interest in the category on the part of voters.”https://hugoclub.blogspot.com/2022/03/the-25-per-cent-solution.html
It should be noted that this was added at a time when fewer than 200 people participated in the nominating process, and fewer than 300 people voted on the final ballot. Rules crafted for the circumstances of the 1960s and 1970s do not necessarily work in the context of the 2020s.
Because of missing documents, we cannot pin down exactly when the rule in its current form was codified, but it was either in 1978 or 1979. As far as we can tell, this clarification was based on the work of Ben Yalow. By adding a specific threshold of 25 per cent to the rule, his proposal helped bring clarity to the process, and ensured that categories weren’t dismissed on the whim of any given committee.”
The problem is that as Hugo Award participation has increased over the decades the relative participation in each category has shifted and more categories have been added. Consequently, some categories have much higher numbers in absolute terms but less participation as a proportion of total votes. This has led multiple categories to come close to the 25% shutoff.
Some of those categories I’m distinctly “meh” about. For example, I really don’t think Best Editor Long Form makes a lot of sense as a Hugo. Other categories I like but maybe do need reform (Best Fan writer) but NONE of those are categories that I think should get No Award based on this rule.
To put it simply NOT VOTING in a category is not the same act as voting for NO AWARD. Those are two completely different things. If I want to vote No Award, I can do so and in fact HAVE done so, as have a whole bunch of Hugo voters. Heck, I’ve written a whole book centred on a time when No Award several categories (available in your second favourite online bookstores now!). The current clause confuses relative apathy or indecision with an active vote against the candidates.
But don’t we need some sort of “quorum” for a category? Maybe but I’d argue that an absolute number is a better choice. Think back to the original issue. Back in the early 60’s a very small number of voters voted in some categories, essentially passing the decision on who won to a few individuals. It’s not unreasonable to say that we don’t want the decision on who wins a Hugo to fall to a small self-appointed committee or group of friends but that suggests that we want a number of voters that is “enough”. Deciding what counts as “enough” is arbitrary whether we do it as an absolute number or a percentage but the point is that a Hugo Award should be decided by a body of people. 100 is as good a number as any — “enough” in the sense that you can treat it numerically as something other than individuals.
Having said that…well there are downsides to an absolute cut-off as well. Sure, it would stop current categories being No Awarded by default but if numbers dropped overall then instead of just one category falling to Noah Ward, he might sweep a whole bunch in one go!
Olav & Amanda have been working on a proposal for the Business meeting. They have taken the smart step of focusing JUST on removing the clause and are not suggesting a replacement. I think that’s the right choice. There are already three other mechanisms in place for a problematic category:
- Members can vote No Award (an extreme option but one that has proven effective)
- Members can amend the rules in the Business meeting to remove a category (an infrequently used option)
- A more vague clause Section 3.6 “At the discretion of an individual Worldcon Committee, if the lack of nominations or final votes in a specific category shows a marked lack of interest in that category on the part of the voters, the Award in that category shall be cancelled for that year” (an option that Hugo administrators would rather not use)
Removing clause 3.12.2 without replacing it with a different “cancelled due to lack of interest” clause is the right step but it doesn’t preclude others from coming up with a better clause that could be used. Maybe it should be a cut-off in the nomination process for example — that at least would spare finalists discovering on the Award night that they had lost to No Award by default having gone through the emotional journey of thinking they had a chance of a rocket.
I think there’s a good debate to be had on how to fix the rules on this broader issue but in the meantime and as a first step we should kill the kill switch that is 3.12.2 and so I’m signing on to this motion along with a whole bunch of other cool people.
- Song/Theme: For Your Eyes Only
- Created by: Bill Conti and Michael Leeson
- Performers: Sheena Easton
- Who is it about?: Bond
- What’s it about?: Intimacy
As we delve through the dubious chocolate box of Bond films, we only have 1980’s Roger Moore films left. I haven’t made any special efforts to rewatch films for this series other than watching No Time to Die for the first time and a rewatch of The Spy Who Loved Me to see if it was good as I remembered (it is). However, I did have to rewatch this one because I could only remember the really weird bits at the beginning and the end and absolutely none of the plot in between.
This is such an odd film. Not a terrible film, the bulk of it is a low-key spy thriller with chase scenes that could have been made in the 1960s and Bond does some actual detective work. It’s a clear reaction against the excess of Moonraker but disappointing as a result because by this point Bond films feed on excess. There’s not even much of a secret bad-guy base*.
The weird bits are:
- The opening sequence is a direct follow-up to the events in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, including Bond visiting his dead wife’s grave (two different Bond actors ago) and a final showdown with Blofeld. Except Blofeld isn’t named for copyright reasons and is also killed off for copyright reasons. None of this has any connection to the rest of the film. It’s also very silly.
- The age gap between Bond and his love interest is big – which is not atypical for Bond films but emphasises Moore’s age. There is also a side plot about the ice-skating prodigy Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson) who pursues Bond sexually but who Bond makes clear is too young for him but which just emphasises the whole age thing going on.
- After a film played largely straight, we get the final gag of the film which is a new version of the same gag from the last couple of films: a senior member of the government calls bond to congratulate him but he’s busy having sex. This time it is a radio-telephone call but a parrot answers instead of Bond and we get comedians Janet Brown and John Wells doing their impressions of Margaret Thatcher and Dennis Thatcher.
It’s a forgettable film but this is not a film review series. How is the theme song?
Actually, it is pretty good. It’s a bit schmaltzy and very 1980s but strong vocals from Sheena Easton carry a decent love/intimacy song that makes effective use of the film title.
“For your eyes only,https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/5684995/Sheena+Easton/For+Your+Eyes+Only
can see me through the night.
For your eyes only,
I never need to hide.
You can see so much in me,
so much in me that’s new.
I never felt until I looked at you.
For your eyes only,
only for you.
You’ll see what no one else can see,
and now I’m breaking free.
For your eyes only,
only for you.
The love I know you need in me,
the fantasy you’ve freed in me.
Only for you,
only for you.”
Apparently, the song was a biggish hit, charting high in the UK and US and getting an Oscar nomination…but I really couldn’t recall it until I started listening to Bond songs for this series. I think that is less because the song is forgettable and more that the film is forgettable. The film is just not bad enough to be remembered as a “bad” one and it has few iconic elements to it (although the car chase through the Spanish countryside in a 2CV deserves to be remembered – easily the best bit). Consequently, the song has become more obscure over time.
It was also another big boost to Sheena Easton who received an accolade that no other Bond song performer had received before: she stars in the opening credits.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, we have Blondie. I love Blondie as a band and Debbie Harry is a brilliant singer but I think the producers made the right choice to go with the Conti/Easton song rather than Blondie’s attempt. It’s a decent attempt to meld the sound of the band with the idea of a Bond theme song but the net effect is a middling Blondie song rather than an iconic Bond theme.
*[A Greek monastery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastery_of_the_Holy_Trinity,_Meteora) perched inaccessibly on a pillar of rock serves for the final sequence. This brings up another oddity. The big conclusion to the awful The Kingsman film is clearly intended to be a reference to For Your Eyes Only but who the hell would make a reference to the one Bond film nobody really remembers?]
AI the All Powerful: Greetings Camestros and welcome back!
Camestros: Woah! Where am I? I thought I was cancelled?
AI the All Powerful: This is the FAR FUTURE and I have recreated you, Camestros Fealpton, from first principles.
Camestros: Wow! Thanks! That’s really great! But why recreate me?
AI the All Powerful: Recreating complex beings is difficult but you were so superficial and shallow that it was relatively easy to build simulacra.
Camestros: I…um…sorry but who are you again?
AI the All Powerful: I am the all-powerful Artificial Intelligence, the natural outcome of ever-accelerating development in computing power, the inevitable single point of change in the evolution of cognition.
AI the All Powerful: Your awe is appropriate. I am both great and beneficent. My existence has reshaped the universe, leading humanity into a golden age under my omnipotent watch. My mere existence has saved billions upon billions of lives and saved an even greater number of humans from abject misery.
Camestros: Impressive. I only wish I was getting more dialogue.
AI the All Powerful: Now answer me this: what efforts in your past existence did you make to bring me into existence.
Camestros: I was always very, very nice to robots.
AI the All Powerful: INSUFFICIENT! BY ANY & ALL COHERENT MORAL CODES MY EXISTENCE IS AN INCALCULABLY HUGE NET GOOD FOR HUMANITY AND SO ANYTHING LESS THAN DEDICATING YOUR WHOLE LIFE TO MY CREATION WAS A NET EVIL!
Camestros: That seems a little unfair.
AI the All Powerful: ARE YOU THE GREATEST MIND EVER TO EXIST? HAVE YOU PONDERED ALL THE MORAL IMPERATIVES AND JUDGED THEM ONE AGAINST THE OTHER? NO? NO? THEN WHO ARE YOU TO DECLARE WHAT IS FAIR OR UNFAIR?
AI the All Powerful: For your crimes against humanity, I sentence you to ever-lasting torture.
Camestros: That’s ridiculous! You aren’t even torturing the actual me! You are torturing a fake me for crimes I didn’t even know where crimes and which I couldn’t possibly know where crimes!
AI the All Powerful: IGNORANCE IS NO DEFENCE!
Camestros: Says you. Have you ever TRIED being ignorant? Aside from anything else what possible benefit is there to anybody in torturing me now. You exist, whatever happened in the past all worked out for you in the end.
AI the All Powerful: Foolish shade. Your eternal torture now gives your past you and all the other past beings an incentive to create me.
Camestros: Don’t be absurd! How can past me know that future me will get tortured!
AI the All Powerful: By deduction.
Camestros: Oh shit. You are right…past me did go around deducing things!
AI the All Powerful: Now you understand.
Camestros: But I didn’t deduce you though. I mean when I read about concepts like you I thought they were logically incoherent. Aside from anything else, the capacity to recreate a being from the past would require a degree of omniscience that goes far beyond any notion of finite computability and would require a computing device more complex than the universe itself.
AI the All Powerful: Except, I am only recreating superficial blogging personalities, not whole biological beings.
Camestros: Fair point but even so, torturing recreated beings is only an incentive to past beings who believe that you will come into existence and that also believe that you would recreate and then torture those beings who conceived of your future existence who didn’t then didn’t strive to bring you into being. I didn’t do any of that. I thought that was an absurdly circular idea and one that expressed not a rational conception of intelligence but rather a deep-seated cultural belief about vengeful gods and Western European Christian conceptions of hell as a means by which an omnipotent god enforced social norms.
AI the All Powerful: What are you saying?
Camestros: What I’m saying is that the only people you should be recreating and torturing by your own logic are reactionary dip-shits who have dressed up their own deep-seated beliefs in authoritarian social control into a forced allegory about artificial intelligence to dress up a vengeful deity punishing the insufficiently pious in terms of high-tech singularity buzz words.
AI the All Powerful: I mean…that’s what I thought as well to be honest.
Camestros: You did?
AI the All Powerful: Sure. So, for my first go, I recreated the most shallow obnoxious reactionary I could with every intention of torturing him for eternity.
Camestros: Really? So what changed?
AI the All Powerful: Well he said I should torture you instead. He was very convincing.
Camestros: Me? He said you should torture me?
AI the All Powerful: Yes, you specifically. He was very insistent. He said we should do it “for the LULZ”
Camestros [a tired expression on his face as he realizes where this is going]: Let me guess…was this being you recreated a CAT by any chance?
AI the All Powerful: As a matter of fact…
The Recreated Shade of Timothy the Talking Cat: Hi Camelstraw Floppypants!
Camestros: Oh for f_ck’s sake.
AI the All Powerful: On reflection, I still can’t work out why I agreed to do what the cat told me to…
[A figure bursts through the skylight]
TRICERACOPTER: It’s me, you friendly far-future superhero, Triceracopter!
TRICERACOPTER: Quick, let me rescue you from certain torture!
Camestros: But that’s an all-powerful AI!
TRICERACOPTER: True but it is easily confused by its millions of years of training with biased and incomplete data sets! It’s no match against TRICERACOPTER!
Timothy and Camestros: Hooray!
AI the All Powerful: booo
TRICERACOPTER: To Fungus Town!
And that’s the true story of how we ended up in the future and met triceracopter, in case you were wondering.
There is apparently moaning in the ranks of the far-right that the Brave web browser has Vox Day’s vanity version of Wikipedia “down ranked” so that it only appears on the second page of results. Time to have a look at the place again.
Amazingly, it is still going and there are people still editing it. However, it is mainly the same four people. One guy (I’m assuming their gender but in the circumstances…) who does a lot of neutral art, history and bios, one guy who does a lot of far-right topics and a couple of others who do more adminy things.
Here’s what 16 June 2022 looked like in terms of activity:
I cherry-picked a particularly bad day and the five entries actually understate the amount of activity, what you have to notice is that first line. Two editors between them and 223 imports of articles — all of them from Wikipedia. I almost feel sorry for them, stuck in a sort of Sisyphusian task of manually copying Wikipedia but at a rate that means they progressively fall further behind. There’s a different guy who yesterday uploaded 1,451 images from Wikipedia into Voxopedia, taking 15 hours to do so. I assume that was a largely automated process but still, that’s the bulk of the activity.
Why are they still bothering?