[Update 16/07/2015 Michael Z Williamson, author of Wisdom from My Internet reviewed below, has announced on his blog that he will be voting No Award across the board. His argument being that the Hugo’s and award like the Nebula’s are no longer any good because of the quality of the nominees. Oddly he seems to be talking about the past rather than his own nominated work and also his feelings have been hurt by name calling (this from a guy who was recently making jokes about a recent mass shooting). The good news is that even the author of Wisdom from My Internet will put No Award above it.]
So you have brought a new puppy home. The puppy will run about your house and may cause some disruption. Your new puppy may also do a big poo on your carpet. These are important facts to understand if you wish to own a dog. Prior to 2015, these were not important facts for anybody interested in literary rewards. Yet thanks to Brad Torgersen’s Sad Puppy campaign, readers of the Hugo Award packet sooner or later have to face the enormous turd that the boisterous ball of fur has deposited in the center of the room. In this case the fecal matter is a puppy nominee for best related work called Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z Williamson. Early on I ranked this as the worst overall of the Puppy Nominees but aside from that I haven’t reviewed it here for two reasons.
- Initially I was cross that such obvious rubbish had been nominated and I didn’t see much worth in an angry review.
- I decided not to spend my energies being mean to authors – even the weakest of writers is doing a brave thing by putting their writing out there. Additionally I thought Kary English made some good points here: http://karyenglish.com/2015/04/on-anger-power-and-displacement-in-the-hugos-part-one-of-possibly-several/
A couple of things have made me reconsider this. Firstly Wisdom from My Internet really is so genuinely awful that it is important when considering the legitimacy of the Sad Puppy campaign. Secondly Michael Z Williamson’s recent social media ‘jokes’ on the Charleston murders, indicate that I need not be too concerned about hurting anybody’s feelings. Having said that, this isn’t a revenge review – the issue is the work not the author – and the author clearly has a sufficiently thick skin that I don’t need to be worried about inadvertently offending him.
Of course this review is quite late to the Hugo debate and is written some time after I first read the work. It is safe to say it hasn’t got any better. The simplest way of thinking of WfMI is to imagine a comment section on some Internet site. Now imagine some sort of jerk who posts some a vaguely humorous short comment with a rightish slant and sometimes gross offensiveness. If they were to stick around and try to argue the point of what ever rubbish they posted you would call them a troll but often it is more a sort of hit and run type thing. Sometimes there is no political ‘payload’ other than a kind of weak protest against ‘political correctness’ – which amounts to little more than somebody demanding the right to be a bit of an arse. Now imagine NINETY-SIX pages of that. Yes, a compilation of bits of crap that people of all political leanings prefer to skip over when reading the comments sections of blog posts – the sort of stuff that the scrapings at the bottom of the barrel turn their noses up at. At some point, it is clear, somebody (presumably under the influence of alcohol) said to Mr. Williamson that this stuff was all hilarious and should be put together in a volume and published. Perhaps they were being sarcastic when they said it – in which case the book fails the first important part of humor: the need to be able to understand a joke. Here are some less objectionable examples:
WfMI: Hitler didn’t kill any Americans until we invaded, and had no WMDs. FDR lied, people died. WfMI: I am really enjoying the perfectly normal POST-GLACIAL WARMING.
Basic sort of rightish, contrarian fare. These bit aren’t exactly jokes but they are presented in a way that suggests a basic unwillingness to assert the politics behind them seriously while still sort of trying to advance the underlying spin. It is a very weak and cowardly kind of politics. A kind of quick shout of ‘sod-off’ without trying to cope with a counter-argument. Here is a more biographical one:
WfMI:Regarding, “You didn’t build that,” I was told, “You didn’t teach yourself English.” You’re right, THE CHURCH OF !@#$ING ENGLAND taught me at a private school in England, with neither American nor British tax dollars, so suck it, bitch. BTW, language is the ultimate libertarian pursuit–English-speaking nations do not have an official language bureau, and the US doesn’t even have an official language. It’s whatever we collectively agree it is, and private outfits publish dictionaries and style guides for grammar. The government does not create our language.
A sharp retort to that silly leftist! Hoorah! – It takes an incredible amount of un-reflectiveness to cite the Church of England in your defense of your libertarian grounding. The Church of England – the established church whose head is the Queen of England and which is a constitutional part of England? Never mind that nobody learns their native language straight from school or that language is a social construction that is impossible within the asocial framework of a purely individualist view of society or the basic fact that Michael Williamson certainly did NOT build the English language, or that government for good or ill certainly do partly shape languages (did this private CofE school forget to teach their pupils about the British Empire?) Yes, it is easy to pick on the faults in these attempted bon-mots but that is the point. It is part of their nature that they are essentially a substitute to thinking – and I don’t mean ‘thinking’ in some sort of over intellectualized academic style, I mean just pausing to consider if what is being said is true.
WfMI: New quote from Michael Moore — “People own guns because they’re racist.” Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and the Dalai Lama? How about: “People listen to Michael Moore because they’re morons”?
I don’t know where Mr Williamson sourced the ‘quote’ as it is all over the net. The first hit I saw was from the unpleasant site “Stormfront” but multiple websites of different kinds of rightwingness carried a similar “quote”. Following the links back took me to a less incoherent stop: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/12/20/michael_moore_americas_desire_to_own_guns_tied_to_racial_fears.html
Michael Moore: “And I was fascinated in that subject when making ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ of how fear is used to the point where everybody feels like they’ve got to have a gun in the house. Now, not every house has a gun but we’ve got over a quarter-billion guns in people’s homes. And they’re mostly in the suburbs and rural areas where there is virtually no crime and no murder. So why is that? What are they really afraid of? What do they think of — who’s going to break into the house? Do they think it’s little freckled-face Jimmy down the street? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s who they’re afraid of. And it cuts down to the heart of our race problem that we still haven’t resolved. And I thought it would be interesting to take a look at that in the movie.”
Well Moore certainly links gun ownership and racism but he doesn’t say “people own guns because they are racist”. So why misquote? Because the actual quote is long and difficult and shouting “Malcolm X” at it makes no sense. To have a clever riposte you need an opponent who says something stupid and Moore, in this case, wasn’t so obliging. The reaction is fear. Moore’s comment provokes fear because it is difficult and confronting and probably it is difficult and confronting because it is true. Politics and scatology, various kinds of racism and some self deprecating humor fill the pages. The science fiction/fantasy content appears in some sections. In-jokes about role-playing games and Vikings, some pop-culture references to Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek amount to the sum total of its relevance to fandom. So, as you probably didn’t need me to tell you as so many have already pointed it out, this work is poorly written, unfunny and not even particularly related to the category it has been nominated for. Arch-Rabid Puppy Vox Day has publicly listed it as lowest ranked vote for its category and even Michael Z Williamson makes the other nominees sound better in his own foreword. So why is the puppy-poo here? In Wisdom from My Internet Williamson says:
MfMI: I need to thank Brad Torgersen for asking if I’d accept publicity for a nomination, and of course I said yes. Any positive publicity is good for writers and I’ll come back to that in a moment. I had actually expected he’d reference my short story, “Soft Casualty,” which I think has merit as both dark SF, military psychology, and possibly horror.
Elsewhere he has given different variations on the same story. The particular irony is that Soft Casualty is a creditable short-story http://www.baen.com/SoftCasualty.asp . It isn’t worth a Hugo but other Puppy nominees aren’t exactly brilliant and Soft Casualty is far from the worst. So again, why is Wisdom from My Internet on the ballot – well the Puppy slates put it there. But why did Brad Torgersen put it there? While the ‘book’ itself is of no real significance in terms of its content, it is very significant in terms of what Brad was trying to do with the slate.
There have been a number of justifications:
- The puppy-slate was about restoring the action and adventure to SF/F. WfMI doesn’t do that – it isn’t even really about SF/F.
- The puppy-slate was about supporting good work that is being ignored. WfMI isn’t good and it actually makes the author look worse than his writing actually is. Soft Casualty worked as a story because it treated the central character with sympathy even though his plight could have been used for mockery. WfMI makes the author look incapable of empathy and no genre is served well by a lack of insight into a person’s character. Williamson is a demonstrably better writer than he is shown to be by this nomination.
- The puppy-slate was about a push-back against a literary trend in the Hugo Awards. Again WfMI certainly isn’t in any danger of being mistaken for serious literature but is so unremittingly awful that it acts as a positive advert for reading The Luminaries as a refreshing change.
- The puppy-slate was NOT politics honest and not some anti-woman, racist, homophobic campaign. WfMI is a pile of right wing, homophobic and racist ‘jokes’ mixed in with standard US conservative talking points on Obama, climate-change and capitalism. This nomination is even more overtly politically partisan than anything nominated by the Rabid Puppies even John C Wright’s stuff.
- The puppy-slate is about restoring some sort of golden-age of SF/F. WfMI is irrelevant to that.
- The puppy-slate is about celebrating good writing. WfMI has no pretense to be good writing and given that its model is Internet trash-talking, it isn’t even fair to judge it against a notion of quality writing (mind you judged against the genre of internet trash-talking it is still pretty poor)
So why did Brad Torgersen nominate this? I suspect we will never know as Brad T has avoided specific questions about the final nomination process for his slate. Here are some possibilities:
- Was Brad just picking works as favors for friends? Possibly but then why not spend a little time to find their best eligible works. Williamson may pick up some Facebook friends from this book but it isn’t a great advert for his writing.
- Was Brad just using it as a giant trolling of the Hugo Awards? It does read like its main purpose is to annoy leftists and liberals but Brad Torgersen has rejected claims that the puppy slate is political. Further Brad T seems quite serious about the slate and seems unhappy when people don’t take it seriously. While WfMI does make Sad Puppies 3 look like a joke, it has never seemed to be an intentional prank.
- Was Brad genuinely impressed with the work? That is possible but it is hard to imagine anybody would be that impressed with it. It isn’t even clear which bits are original.
None of those accounts really make sense. What I suspect (but can’t know) is that Brad rushed picking the slate. He asked for author suggestions but didn’t have time or the skill to put a slate together. Sad Puppies 3 has all the signs of a rush job but Wisdoms from My Internet is the clearest.