It’s Important To Report Non-results

You get a hunch, form a hypothesis and gather a bunch of data to test it. Graph or otherwise interrogate the data and…your hunch isn’t right and there’s nothing remarkable about what you found. At that point you have two choices:

  • Throw what you did in the trash because there’s nothing worth saying.
  • Write it up anyway because non-results are important.

In proper scientific research, there is a inherent publication bias because of the first choice. Unremarkable results don’t get published as often because of multiple filters of humans discarding what is essentially dull. Those filters mean that what may be statistical quirks or the results of error stand a greater chance of being published than they otherwise should.

Of course there is another reason for reporting non-results: when you spent part of your day gathering data on a hunch about a publisher’s output only to find your hunch was wrong and now you have nothing to write about.


My hunch was that everybody’s least favourite Finnish publishing house had reduced their output of books. I collated data from Amazon and graphed it using a running total and…no, it’s pretty much the same rate of rubbish being published. Indeed, a bit more as I only counted books rather than their dire comics.


So, sorry but both research ethics and not otherwise having blogpost content means I have to.

The Right Don’t Need To Win To Stop Climate Policy

I perhaps didn’t emphasise this enough in recent posts on Australian politics. Yes, it is complex and factional and there is a lot going on around opinion polls and personalities and feuds. You particularly can’t ignore race and racism in this mess when, as Megpie commented on my last post “instead of the current Minister for Locking Children Up In Camps, we get the Former Minister for Locking Children Up In Camps”

BUT I’m going to focus on a single issue for a moment because it is a big one. Australia is a big country with a relatively small and urban population. The majority of its elected representatives believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity and that the government should take action on climate change. Successive Prime Ministers have promised to take actions on climate change. The non-urban population of Australia is also highly vulnerable to climate change and many Australian farming communities are currently suffering from an extended drought.

BUT Australia is a country with a lot of mineral wealth and a lot of that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of wealthy people. If a government tries to take action on climate change then the political right will move heaven and earth to stop it. There are lots of factors in Malcolm Turnbull’s downfall but it is notable that this specific toppling occurred directly around his attempt to pass a new energy policy – a very insipid policy watered down to extremes to get it past the right of his party but nonetheless, an energy policy.

Rudd, Gillard, Turnbull have each been successively punished by the right faction of the Australian Liberal Party, some select media outlets (two Murdoch controlled) and money from the mining industry. The conservatives in the Liberal Party just demonstrated that they’d happily trash THEIR OWN PARTY to use a kind of mutually-assured destruction tactic to hamper any moves on climate change. And that’s all they need to do – they don’t need to actually govern because ideologically they only need to wreck to achieve results for the vested fossil fuel interest.

Update on Canberra

As was likely Peter Not Actually A Sontaran Dutton was not appointed Prime Minister of Australia by the Liberal Not Actually Liberal Party. Instead the picked Scott Morrison, who is basically like Dutton in lots of ways but marginally less horrible.

So there you go.

How To Edit This Year’s Hugo Novel Finalists Into One Giant Voltron Like Book

Obviously, the best way of approaching the six Hugo finalists is as seperate books with their own distinct plots and characters. However, imagine the book world was under attack by some giant monster and all the books had to team up to fight it, how would that work exactly?

A reader who has considered the matter carefully might say “What are you talking about? Did the fumes from cleaning the cat’s catnip vomit go to your head?” The answer to those rhetorical questions are “see above” and “yes” and “why does the room keep wobbling like that?”

Where to start?

Luckily both New York 2142 and Six Wakes have connections to New York in the nearish future. The Collapsing Empire, Provenance and Raven Stratagem all have space empires in different phases of development. The Stone Sky has to team up with the whole of the Broken Earth series first but its post-apocalyptic back story puts the story way into the future.

So for a sequential order of a giant history of humanity try this order:

1. New York 2142 – in the near future humanity struggles with the impact of climate change

2. Six Wakes – shortly after which humanity develops a unique ‘cloning technology’ and begins space exploration

3. The Collapsing Empire – humanity has continued to colonise space but it’s method of interstellar travel has restricted its capacity to grow

4. Provenance – (somehow) humanity has found a way past the technological limits of space travel and now is spread all over. A remnant of a galactic empire exists that makes use of the ‘cloning technology’ (see 2.) but that’s not important for this book.

5. Raven Stratagem – technology has advanced even further to a peak of reality bending. Unfortunately toxic empires have grown even stronger.

6. The Stone Sky – we return to Earth were hubris and human experimentation have left the planet as a tectonic mess

What’s going down in Canberra Town?

Australian politics time!

What the heck is going on?

The current (I haven’t checked the headlines so I’m assuming he’s still current) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has had his leadership challenged by his party’s MPs. There is a good chance that he won’t be PM much longer.

But they can’t just depose your nation’s leader just like that?

Well yes, they can. That’s how the Westminster system works. For example, Margaret Thatcher stopped being PM in the UK because her own MPs ousted her. It’s meant to be a feature not a bug.

A rare occurrence only used in extremis then?

Um…well…it’s happened to the past four PMs. Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbot by this method.

So who is the challenger?

Initially a guy called Peter Dutton. He’s an ex-police officer with very right of centre politics.

But presumably he’s a great public speaker?

He sort of drones in a way that’s frankly unsettling and makes kittens cry.

But his supporters must think he has some electoral appeal. Is he dashingly handsome?

Come now, I’m not going to start judging people by their appearance. It is unseemly and irrelevant. The key thing is his right wing politics which will alienate many voters.

Did you just say underneath your breath that he looks like a gormless potato?

I would never…ok, yes I did.

But a man of steadfast integrity though?

He might be referred to the high court because of conflicts of financial interest that would make it illegal for him to sit in parliament.

Well it could be worse…

…and he may have used his position to reverse deportation for two foreign au-pairs for reasons he can’t explain…

He doesn’t sound like an ideal candidate?

Well the Australian Labor Party must be delighted but in reality Dutton will never be PM. He’s mainly just a weapon of the right of the Liberal Party to punish Malcolm Turnbull for not doing what they say.

You’ve explained this ‘Liberal’ party before. They’re actually conservatives?

Yes, its because of the Coriolis effect.

And Australia just likes to dump its Prime Ministers?

That’s a more recent phenomenon. John Howard was PM for several terms. This current habit started with Labor PM Kevin Rudd. His ousting was partly due to poor polling but also he was apparently a very poor manager who alienated colleagues.

So it’s a malaise that spread from Labor to Liberal?

Not quite…there are some common factors.

Could you list them as bullet points?

  1. Tony Abbot – aggressive right wing politician who relentlessly attacked Rudd when Abbot was leader of the opposition and then Gillard. As PM Abbot proved less than competent and was ousted by Turnbull but Abbot stayed in parliament to undermine Turnbull for revenge and ideological reasons.
  2. Energy policy. Politically (and electorally) Australia supports energy policies to minimise climate change and move from fossil fuels. Turnbull believe climate change is real and supports action to limit emissions. However, the right of the Liberal Party is vehemently in the climate denial camp and spends every effort to sabotage climate policy and scare monger about energy prices (which have risen in Australia for reasons OTHER than climate change measures).
  3. Immigration. While Australia leans progressively on climate, the same isn’t true on immigration and both Labor and the more centrist elements of the Liberal have adopted frankly appalling policies on asylum seekers to appease the Liberal right and fringe parties like One Nation. Scares about immigration or new immigrant communities are used as wedge issues by the right to destabilise centrist governments. (Oh, you’ve heard this song before…)
  4. Right wing media, in particular ‘Sky News’ owned by…Rupert Murdoch. (Oh, you’ve heard that song before also…)

What’s the good news?

Turnbull is a canny operator with little to lose and a house that has a Scrooge McDuck style vault of money in it [citation needed]. He doing his best to ruin any chance of Dutton becoming PM. In particular he’s made it clear that if he is ousted then he’ll reign from parliament. The government have a razor thin majority of 1 MP, so if Turnbull goes, the government won’t have a majority.

What’s the bad news?

Turnbull’s delaying tactics will help a more moderate replacement get enough support to stand, replacing Turnbull with somebody who would be more electorally palatable. The political paradox that helps fuels this kind of chaos is that the electorate HATE this kind of instability but often reward a new party leader with a boost in the polls. That might be enough for the Liberals to win a general election which will mean another three years of this kind of divisive nonsense from the Liberal’s right.

What’s the other good news?

You get great sausage sandwiches at polling booths on Election Day.

So what is a fan writer anyway?

I appear, for once, to have some sort of verifiable credential on the topic about which I’m writing but I also know that I don’t have a good grasp of the long history/tradition of fanwriting. What is a fan writer, what constitutes fan writing, is fan writing a genre of writing or does it come down to (lack of) money or to the channel of distribution? Also, what does the sport of rugby have to do with this?

The official Hugo rules actually say very little:

Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.

It doesn’t say “non-professional” or amateur. There is an implication from other categories with “fan” in it that implies non-professional is a key element of the term “fan” but the inclusion of semiprozines belies that implication. A semiprozine may pay its contributors and hence according to the rules a fan writer could be paid for their writing.

But those are the rules and I don’t regard formal rules as a good source of meaning. Rules are useful for delimiting meaning when we need sharp categories to settle disputes but they aren’t the ultimate source of meaning — if they were we would have no way of judging whether we have written good rules or not.

I think there are a number of ways people parse “fan writer”:

  1. Writing by anybody in the role of being a fan
  2. Writing by a fan rather than a professional writer
  3. A person who writes for fandom
  4. A person who writes fannish things i.e. within the genre of fanwriting

John Scalzi’s Whatever blog or George RR Martin’s Not a Blog hit three of those four but not the second. I see some concern about fan writing including the blogs or other channels of professional writers but I think those two examples strongly hit other (perhaps more vague) senses of fan writing. Both Scalzi and Martin are heavily involved in fandom. However, the professional aspect is a sticking point for some. I’ll come back to that.

A different issue I’ve seen discussed is what people expect from fanwriting. For example, I’ve not seen anybody explicitly say that fiction does not count as fanwriting but when looking at examples of what people expect from fanwriting, fiction doesn’t count. Fanfiction in particular, despite clearly being non-professional and for fans and of fandom(s) is not typically recognized as fanwriting in the Hugo awards. More recently I saw, frankly puzzling, notion that fan-orientated journalism/news-curation etc such as Mike Glyer’s work at File770 isn’t fanwriting, whereas I’d see that as canonically fanwriting (i.e. if I draw a big loop around what might be fanwriting, that is safely in the heartland and away from the outer borders).

I think people have developed an expectation of fanwriting being non-fiction writing in an essay format of matters to do with science fiction/fantasy and in particular:

  • reviews
  • criticism
  • discussion of the state of the genre

Which, OK, can all be fanwriting but not definitively. I wouldn’t think of Damien Walters’s Guardian columns on SF/F as being fanwriting even though his columns there often hit at least two of the possible meaning I listed above. I note also, as The Guardian isn’t behind a paywall, those columns count as generally available electronic media.

Not-paid-for makes for simple criteria (although as I note, not actually in the Hugo rules) but I don’t like that. I’m unambiguously an amateur and not just in the sense of not getting paid but also in the sense that this blog is purely a hobby (and also in the sense that I make no effort to create a polished product!) But amateur status is the essence of privilege — this is a hobby I can afford to have in terms of time and money and security. I don’t have a lingering student debt, I don’t have to work a second job, I don’t have childcare commitments (and when I did I had no time for anything fannish). Trying to use not-being-paid as a criterion becomes terribly exclusionary as well as hard to police in the era of Paetrons, Kickstarters, etc.*

Likewise, the purity of motive in evaluating fan writing can become a pernicious form of gatekeeping. I don’t disagree with a point Patrick Neilsen Hayden is reported as making that fanwriting is a genre in itself and not a junior level of professional writing but it is also NOT-not a “junior varsity” either. In other words, fanwriting can be its own very loose genre AND also be an entry point. Again this mirrors an aspect of fan-fiction — it is a genre or species of writing in itself that requires its own skills some of which are not easily transferred to or from professional fiction writing but it is also a space where potential professional writers learn their craft or find their talent.

Looking at the different types of writing done by this years Hugo nominees for Best Fanwriter, I think the mix was pretty good. It shouldn’t only be essayists and reviewers but it certainly should include them and include people whose working may be partly monetized (either as gigs at paying sources or via online crowd funding options). As a category I think it is in an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ state — a circular definition that fanwriting is what fans see as fanwriting works fine for the Hugos crowdsourced eligibility mechanism. My main dislike of “Best Fanwriter” as a category is that it focuses on the person rather than the work but “Best Fanwriting” would bring all the definitional issues above to the forefront and I suspect the category would collapse under its taxonomic weight.

Alternatives to fanwriting or additions to the category, might include:

  • A Best Related Work – Short Form as a space to reward essays, reports, speeches etc
  • A micro-ficition award
  • A fan-ficiton award

But, I can’t say I find any of those particularly compelling as ideas.

Wait! I promised some point about rugby at the beginning! Actually I know very little about rugby despite growing up in a family with deep connections to Rugby League and also being brought up in one of the strongest centres of Rugby League in the world and somehow now living as far away as possible from where I grew up and STILL live in a place that is mad for Rugby League. Anyway, Rugby League split from Rugby Union as codes of football because working class players needed some pay to keep playing. There’s a metaphor there about priviliege, the use of amateur status as a means of social exclusion and possibly something about cabbage ears. Luckily I don’t have an editor to tell me I need a better metaphor and a snappier conclusion.

Picking Through Hugo Numbers

Some stray observations from here:

No Award

The spectral monster that both haunts and protects the Hugo Awards haven’t gone, it merely manifests less strongly.  No Award didn’t win anything (despite the claim that categories were ‘burnt to the ground’ in 2015) but still go some votes. Four ways of looking at it:

  1. The number of initial votes
  2. The final number of distributed votes after preferences
  3. The initial rank out of 7 it got
  4. The final rank out of 7 it got after distributed preferences
  • Novel: Initial# 42  Initial Rank 7 Final# 134  Final Rank 7
  • Novella: Initial# 40  Initial Rank 7 Final# 160  Final Rank 7
  • Novelette: Initial# 48  Initial Rank 7 Final# 177  Final Rank 7
  • Short Story: Initial# 44  Initial Rank 7 Final# 167  Final Rank 7
  • Series: Initial# 103  Initial Rank 7 Final# 175  Final Rank 7
  • Related: Initial# 45  Initial Rank 7 Final# 135  Final Rank 7
  • Graphic: Initial# 73  Initial Rank 7 Final# 131  Final Rank 7
  • BDP-Long: Initial# 19  Initial Rank 7 Final# 160  Final Rank 7
  • BDP-Short: Initial# 48  Initial Rank 7 Final# 162  Final Rank 7
  • Editor-Long: Initial# 72  Initial Rank 7 Final# 138  Final Rank 7
  • Editor-Long: Initial# 76  Initial Rank 7 Final# 110  Final Rank 7
  • Prof-Artist: Initial# 51  Initial Rank 7 Final# 85  Final Rank 7
  • Semi-pro: Initial# 70  Initial Rank 7 Final# 93  Final Rank 7
  • Fanzine: Initial# 81  Initial Rank 5 Final# 201  Final Rank 7
  • Fancast: Initial# 90  Initial Rank 6 Final# 115  Final Rank 7
  • Fanwriter: Initial# 87  Initial Rank 6 Final# 149  Final Rank 7
  • Fan artist: Initial# 56  Initial Rank 7 Final# 105  Final Rank 7

In all categories the impact of No Award was minimal. I’ve highlighted categories with above-average levels of No Award. There is a constant baseline of fortyish 1st preference votes for No Award in every category. That increase with less voted on categories, which has a double effect on the proportion of votes that go to No Award. However, after preferences, No Award doesn’t make many inroads.

Two notable categories are Best Series, which got the most ‘nopes’ from voters (but still not many) and Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form which only got 19. Obviously there is a bit of a vote against Best Series (which I can sympathise with) but its not big and had zero impact.


EPH distributes nominations in a special way that should reduce the impact of a bloc of voters.

For Best Novel EPH had little impact on the top four nominees. However, it played a significant role in positions 5 and 6. Raw votes for the contenders for positions 5 and 6 were:

  • Collapsing Empire – 134
  • New York 2124 – 128
  • The Stars are Legion – 137
  • Autonomous – 136

Kameron Hurely’s and Annalee Newitz’s books would have been finalists in the old system. Interestingly the final comparison for sixth place ended up being between Raven Stratagem and  The Stars are Legion. It’s an interesting outcome but I think it shows EPH doing what it claims it would do – leading to a set of finalists drawn from a broader base of nominations.

Novella was more conventional, the top 6 raw vote winners were the finalists. Novelette had a raw vote draw for sixth place which was resolved by EPH. Best Series was a bit of a mess due to withdrawls and inelligibility. Other categories were largely dull aside from:

  • Professional Artist, were again there was some EPH action for 5th and 6th place.
  • Fanzine, were BlackGate was unlucky not to get a sixth place position.
  • Fan Artist, again some EPH shuffling of sixth place.



Post Hugo Post

So first off, thank you to everybody who voted for me. It really was special having Robert Silverberg present the awards. Sarah Gailey was a very deserving winner. I had a respectable showing but I guess the most elegant outcome would have been to have lost to No Award :).

Results here and here and breakdown of results are here

There were plenty of surprises but my only disappointment was that The Divine Cities didn’t win Best Series. Bujold is hard to beat though!

I wasn’t surprised, on reflection, that Sana Takeda won best professional artist — Monstress is exquisite and was my top pick for the graphic story — but I was surprised that Victo Ngai didn’t do better.

The did-Uncanny-win-twice thing happened, once for Best Editors and once as Best Semi-prozine. It’s a bit like Best Film and Best Director at the Oscars — it’s not an award for the same thing but winning either has a strong implication that they should win both. The two awards have too much in common currently and it is Best Editor that needs to change. Of course, both Uncanny and the Thomas×2 were deserving winners and I don’t want to take the shine off their rockets.

Sad that Mike Glyer couldn’t make the awards. He also withdrew File770 from further nominations, which was very magnanimous. Winning a Hugo this time in the first puppy free year since 2012 was important.

I haven’t had time to delve into the nomination stats much yet. Interesting to see how EPH works. As a rough rule of thumb, categories where the red highlighted nominees run consistently stepwise along the bottom, are categories were I think EPH probably had little impact. Where there is a bit of a ‘shelf’ with red text over black, it’s more interesting.

In other non-news it looks like the Castalia House blog has started functioning again – which is dissapointing:)