Ask A Triceratops! – TTFN!

askatriceratops

“Hi Susan.

This is Bob from Fungus Town. Are you coming back soon? A giant bird ate Simon. Also Triceracopter doesn’t seem to be around? Have you seen them anywhere? It is weird that you are both away at the same time? Hoping you might have bumped into them on your travels.
All the Best,
Bob
PS Cheryl says ‘Hi!'”

Hi Bob,
I’m just helping out a friend. I’ll be back soon. If I see Triceracopter I’ll tell them about Simon and the giant bird.

[2018 Folks: I’m heading off for the time being. Keep those questions coming in!]

Reviews, aggregation and consent to be talked about

The fandom theme of the week for me seems to be on the topic of consent to be talked about. I’ll start with the absurd and work my way to the more subtle.

The absurd first of all.

Science fiction writer Richard Paolinelli kicked off my week with this tweet:

“Can @AusFedPolice tell me if @CamestrosF , a citizen of Australia, is violating Australian law, i.e. Chapter 33A-Unlawful Stalking, 359B(c)(ii) with his online attacks on myself, @jondelarroz and many other writers? He is attempting to ruin our ability to earn a living.”

This was so absurd and so counter to actual facts as to be laughable. However, the intent was clearly serious and I imagine Richard’s feelings are sincere, even if they are wholly at odds with his own behaviour.

Essentially Richard is not happy with me discussing him. Actually, I rarely do so and the most substantial discussion I’ve had about him was when he had attempted to engage me in a discussion (in the mistaken belief that I was either an agent of Mike Glyer or actually Mike Glyer).

It would be easy to dismiss Richard Paolinelli’s concerns because of his wider online behaviour but it is part of a spectrum of concerns around online discussion of others.

Mike Glyer has received more than his fair share of related complaints about him posting SFF news stories about people who don’t want to be covered by his site File770. Most notably many on the Sad Puppies side of the Puppy-Kerfuffle became increasingly hostile to Mike’s coverage. Again – easy to see their objections as absurd given their own behaviour, yet it isn’t only Sad Puppies. Reviewer and Shadow Clarke Jury member Jonathon McCalmont also had strong objections (again not well expressed) to being covered by File770.

In all of these examples, we have public comments being discussed publicly but the originators of the comments feeling as if there is either an intrusion into their life or a misuse of their comments.

Wayyyyyy over onto another side of this spectrum we have sealioning and harassment by trolls i.e. repeated, unwelcome and clearly intrusive attempts to engage a person in a discussion of what they said — typically done in bad faith or worse for the express purpose of trying to make somebody avoid saying anything for fear of being hassled.

I think there is a clear gulf between Mike’s news coverage and actual harassment. That doesn’t mean bloggers shouldn’t be mindful of when what they believe to be legitimate coverage of a person’s public comments have become distressing to that person but public discourse is an intrinsic good thing. It is simply not a viable ethical principle to only talk about the people who have given express consent to be talked about.

Skipping forward to the end of the week and there is a more interesting case that falls closer to being an ethical dilemma around related issues.

Rocket Stack Rank’s Eric Wong released a new feature at the review & review aggregation site entitled “Best SF/F by People of Color 2015-2016” which you can read about here and here.

Now personally I don’t like claims of “Best X…” whether it is in lists like this or in anthology titles. My dislike is moderated somewhat by the fact they can’t possibly be an objective assessment of what is best and hence readers know to take “best” with a hefty pinch of salt. Even so, I wish people wouldn’t do it and use a title that better reflect what the collection is (e.g. ‘our most liked…’, ‘our favourite…’). Having said that RSR did explain the actual process they had done to aggregate the list.

One reviewer, Charles Payseur (of Quick Sip Reviews) was unhappy about RSR list. His objections were manifold – a general objection to RSR’s approach, the nature of such a list being built mainly from reviews by white authors and finally, the use of his reviews to help compile the list.

Which is interesting on multiple levels. I think it is obvious that Payseur has:

  • Every right to be unhappy with his work being used to create the list.
  • Every right to ask not be used in this way.
  • Every right to ask not to be used at all by RSR.

However, that is not saying a lot. The question is what ethical obligation would RSR have to comply?

I think the answer is none but it is close.

Payseur has gone onto expound what he sees as the ethics of consent in these circumstances but reading through what he has written, I find it hard to find a coherent principle at work. That’s OK – I do a lot of thinking out loud directly to the world also. However, I don’t feel I understand Payseur’s objections well enough to paraphrase them correctly.

However, I can see two related ideas that could be in play (but I’m neither saying these are Payseur’s or not Payseur’s)

  • Exploitation of Payseur’s name and/or reputation to give credence legitimacy to RSR’s list.
  • Exploitation of Payseur’s work (as in what he has created and also his labour) to create the list.

These are both stronger points than simply not wanting to be talked about.

Of the two, I think the first is the stronger objection but looking at how RSR present things, I think they stayed on the right side of an imaginary ethical line – I don’t see anything that looks like they are implying the reviewers they aggregated endorsed the list or that they are using the reputation of reviewers like Payseur to promote the list. Having said that, it is safer to err on the side of caution and I think it is here that RSR is most right in conceding to Payseur’s request.

This first point also relates to some of the ethical issues around the Sad Puppy 4 recommendation lists (e.g. Alistair Reynolds asking not to be included) and the 2017 Dragon Awards (e.g. various authors asking for their finalist status to be withdrawn). The line here is around consent to be associated with a thing or being ‘forced’ to participate in a thing.

The second point really comes down to fair use. Reviews, criticism, critiques even public attacks necessarily derive from the work of others. I literally exploit stupid things Vox Day says to generate column inches – heck, I’m exploiting the work of both Payseur, Hullender and Wong in this very column! That is the nature of public discourse – there isn’t a way of having a discourse that isn’t built upon what others have said.

In RSR’s case, we have a somewhat different form of discourse: aggregation of data. Now it should hardly be a surprise given many of my posts that I’m very much in favour of seeing aggregating derived data as a legitimate fair use of other’s work for the purpose of public discourse. I’ll concede that is different in style from a review or a critique but it is also important because it provides insights into a field. It is by its nature transformative and is by no means ‘free’ and requires its own labour.

I don’t think it requires the consent of those who create public information if the aggregation is genuinely transformative (and respectful of privacy and other ethical considerations). Not only that requiring or expecting consent for such activity would be detrimental to public discourse. It’s not just RSR, its a wide range of other activities such as the Fireside Report, that looks at what is produced by wider fandom and identify trends or other underlying values.

Have a fully thought through all of that? Nope – happy to revise my opinion accordingly but it is a discussion worth having. There clearly is a spectrum of behaviour here and consent does play a role but so does the more general good of public discourse.

Back in control…

Having dodged the nationwide manhunt for Canberra’s most-wanted renegade blogger and succesfully navigated at least two space-stations (OK maybe they were airports but they felt like space-stations), I’ve got the keys back to the blog.

Susan T. has a final farewell post (for the time being) and Tim and I are gearing up for Hugo season – which should be fun.

Ask A Triceratops! – All Aboard For Fungus Town!

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“What is it like living in fungus town? Are the fungus people aggressive? Is it true that they are all zombies?”
G. Romero

“Hi Susan, I hope I’m not being too nosy, but I was curious about your ‘copter. Is it a harness you can take off? or is it a cyborg enhancement? or were you born with it?”
sjl

Fungus town is a great place to live and the fungus people are really quite lovely. There is a deep seated biological imperative deep within the fungus genome that makes them want to infect anything with a functioning nervous system with spores but there are ways of bypassing this strange aggressive compulsion.

Fungus people are alive and well and so not ‘zombies’ in the modern sense. Also they lead independent lives and have their own thoughts, wants and aspirations.

Unfortunately, if you turned up in Fungus Town without taking the proper precautions they would turn on you, forced by the fungoid-compulsion to tear you apart and turn you in to the surreal base of a giant fungoid fruiting body.

Robotic nervous systems do not turn fungus people into rage monsters and you will find many robot people living happy lives in Fungus Town. Cybernetic nervous systems are a way of biological animals living safely in Fungus Town and, without going into too many details, that’s why I have a some, shall we say ‘mechanical’ parts to me.

Ask A Triceratops! – Inter-species Dinosaur Culture

askatriceratops

Ed asks me a question about my recent column:

“Why is this one “Ask a Dinosaur”? Do triceratops speak for ALL dinosaurs??”

I felt the question for that column was about the wider distributed culture of dinosaurs. As you may be aware from such drama-documentaries as ‘The Land Before Time’ or Disney’s ‘Dinosaur’, Cretaceous dinosaurs formed a wider meta-society via common inter-species language. Some things equivalent to scientific knowledge were part of a common cross-species culture, as in this case regarding social attitudes formed by dinosaur palaeontology. 

Questions about literary forms I treat as comparing triceratops culture with human culture because triceratops literature is quite distinct from, say, iguanodon literature. As you probably know, iguanodon literature is primarily theatrical in origin and is focused on slapstick. It is technically comedy and they take it very seriously. As a non-iguanodon, I really don’t get it and I can’t really talk about it much. Yet, if I was to ask an iguanodon “What fossilised creature from the late Permian period can you name?” then odds are they would probably say something like “leg-leg-watchouts” or “oopsie-downers”. That stuff was common meta-cultural stuff across dino-society.

The “Ask A Dinosaur” column was about a bit of shared cultural experience. OK – modern dinosaurs (aka ‘birds’) wouldn’t know what I was talking about but that is because of the passage of time and changing culture.

Ask A Triceratops! – We Make Good Pets

askatriceratops

“What is the best pet for a writer to own?”
Brian Wilson

Sound question Brian!

Some popular choices include:

  • Micro-raptor – like owning a small flightless bird but beware! Do not own more than three as they can take down a much larger dinosaur when they hunt in teams.
  • Pterodactyl – don’t let those big wings put you off! They will happily roost on your roof and keep the local mammal vermin in check. Very low maintenance if you have a sufficiently large mammal population (which these days is most places!)
  • T-rex – OK you’ll need acreage and they are notoriously heavy drinkers but if you can afford the meat bill, they are a great muse for the aspiring writer. Best to have a tree on your property.
  • Aquatic reptile – if you have a lake or a Scottish loch, a plesiosaur will feed itself AND attract visitors. Open up a Bed & Breakfast as a side business for all the tourists eager to catch a sight of the mysterious ‘monster of the loch’. As a writer be sure to mine lots of material from your visitors’ anecdotes.
  • Protobadgers – sort of like a carnivorous wombat with badger colouring. Great as a guard dog and if you get bored of them, you can feed them to your pterodactyl.
  • Cat– no don’t, just don’t.

A Letter From Amazing Stories

I finally got a chance to check my emails during my wanderings. There was an email from Ira Nayman about the Amazing Stories Kickstarter campaign. Most of the text is below:

“I’m following up on an email you should have received last week about the relaunch of Amazing Stories as a print fiction magazine. Here is some information that Steve didn’t have to share.

The first issue of the relaunch of the magazine is largely set (with contributions from Alan Steele, Paul Levinson, Kameron Hurley and Drew Hayden Taylor, among others), but in April we will be opening submissions to the general public. I invite anybody who writes speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror and their many derivatives) to go to the Amazing Stories Web site and read our guidelines (http://submission.amazingstoriesmag.com/guidelines/).

As Managing Editor, I have two important goals. The first is: those of us behind the magazine are dismayed at how dark science fiction has gotten over the past couple of decades, and are looking for more hopeful, optimistic stories, of the kind we grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s. (As a humour writer myself, I put a huge premium on fun.) The other is that I want to celebrate diversity, so I am specifically looking for writers from marginalized groups (which, in FSF, means: women, people of colour, and QUILTBAG, among others).

I think it’s going to be pretty…Amazing.

To develop seed funding for the magazine, we are currently running a Kickstarter campaign. Anybody who would like to subscribe to the new magazine ($10 for the first year’s four issue electronically; $25 for a print subscription) can do so there. We have a variety of other premiums for those who might be tempted by swag.

If you previously shared info about our campaign with your social networks, we would appreciate it if you could share some of this new information as well. If you haven’t previously shared info about our campaign with your social networks…well, I’m sure you can tell where I’m going. Spreading the word would be super helpful at this stage.
If you have any question, feel free to ask.

Thanks,

Ira Nayman

Managing Editor, Amazing Stories (Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1898637184/the-return-of-amazing-stories-magazine)”

The Amazing Stories website has been very supportive of this blog over the past few years. It would be good to see this get off the ground. 🙂