Nebula Shorts: “Going Dark” by Richard Fox

Third on our list is Going Dark by Richard Fox. Appearing in the Backblast Area Clear Anthology edited by JR Handley, Going Dark is a MilSF story that connects with Fox’s Ember War series (currently being adapted into a graphic novel format by Jon Del Arroz for Arkhaven Comics see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/another-look-at-crowdfunding-data/ )

The story starts on the war torn streets of Utica City:

“Naroosha saucers zipped overhead, shooting rapid bolts of energy at the Terran Union fighters flying low over the horizon. The snap of Union gauss weapons mingled with the crack of alien weapons; stray bolts cast quick shadows as they vanished into the high cloud cover. Just outside the school, the dark polymer cover on the road bulged out, then flattened with a creak. The road cracked as something beat against the underside, like a hatchling trying to break from its egg.

Richard Fox, Going Dark (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

Out from under that road bursts a set of soldiers. Led by human Sergeant Hoffman (dressed in genre-requisite power armour) is a group of big artificial soldiers, colloquially known as “doughboys”. These soldiers are big and if not necessarily stupid, verbally limited.

“Opal tried to duck into the hole, bumped a shoulder against the bricks, then slapped a hand against the front of the crumpled fender and wrenched the car aside with a grunt. He hurried through the new opening, weapon ready at his shoulder. “Trying not to get noticed, Opal,” Hoffman sighed. “Opal sorry. No shoot until order,” the big soldier trotted past a wall of lockers and went bounding up a stairwell.”

Richard Fox, Going Dark (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

They are each named after precious/semi-precious stones, sometimes with numbers. They also all talk in that same style shown with “Opal sorry. No shoot until order,” Mel Brooks fans will be disappointed to learn that at no point do we get the line “Opal only pawn in game of life,” even though there’s at least one scene where it would have worked.

Hoffman’s Battle Construct Auxiliary Company 117 continue their mission contacting a group of rangers pinned down by enemy fire. In the course of the fight the doughboy Diamond rescues two rangers by physically picking them both up but is wounded in the process.

“Hoffman slid down the rubble and found Diamond kneeling between two Rangers at the base of the wreckage. Diamond’s chest heaved, a smoking patch on his back. “Medical… attention. For-for-for them,” Diamond’s cyborg hand twitched with some sort of palsy. Hoffman slid to a stop next to the Rangers. One had lost an arm, her flank blown open, and ribs stuck out from the wound. He didn’t have to check to know she was dead. The other Ranger moaned weakly. Hoffman tried to open a channel to sector command, but his IR wouldn’t connect. The Ranger’s visor popped open and a man looked to the gray sky, one eye purple and swollen shut. “Heard doughboys were ugly,” Lieutenant Ford said. “Looked… damn beautiful when he picked us up. You—you look familiar.”

Richard Fox, Going Dark (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

Hoffman looks familiar to the ranger because each of the human leaders of the doughboys has exactly the same face. The doughboys imprint on the face of their leader so they know who to take commands from. Speaking of which, Hoffman discovers he can’t contact the other doughboy leader he is with.

On further investigation, Hoffman’s fellow human leader has ben killed in the fighting and Hoffman transfers command of a set of orphaned doughboys to himself.

“Realignment protocol seven Charlie. Imprint to Hoffman. My face. My voice. Confirm?” Hoffman asked. “Imprint to Vaccaro. Con-con-con—” Zircon’s head snapped from side to side. “Imprint to Hoffman. Confirmed.” Hoffman took his hand away and repeated the procedure with the other survivors. “You guys are twitchy,” Hoffman said. “Zircon 2-2, what lot number are you and your squadmates?” “Lot Alpha. Construction date—” “Alphas? I didn’t know any of you were still around,”

Richard Fox, Going Dark (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

Later, back at base, these older model Lot Alpha doughboys malfunction and start attacking recovered wreckage of the enemy alien ships. When Hoffman is sent to intervene, the malfunctioning doughboys deactivate, effectively dying on the spot. If that wasn’t traumatic enough for poor Hoffman, he’s immediately called back to the maintenance bay where the injured Diamond is not in a good way. With Opal standing guard, Hoffman tries to reassure the dying doughboy, when a stranger arrives:

“Look… there must be some bad code in there,” he said and put a hand to Diamond’s jaw. “We’ll get the techs in here and do a reboot. It’s nothing. You’ll see.” “That’s not what it is, son,” came from behind him. A man in Ranger armor stepped into the room and shut the door. The uniform bore no unit patches, rank insignia, or even a name stenciled on the chest. “Piss off, grunt, this is doughboy business,” Hoffman said. “I’m no grunt,” the Ranger took his helmet off and the cold grew worse. There wasn’t a human inside, but a silver being with a man’s features. Hoffman reached for his rifle, but stopped when Opal made no move against the newcomer. “What are you? Why isn’t Opal crushing your skull?” Hoffman asked. “Smart,” the silver man jerked a thumb at the doughboy. “They’re hostile to all non-humans, but I put a few exceptions into their programming.” “You? But you can’t be—” “Marc Ibarra. Pleased to meet you. The doughboys are my creation. Let’s not get into this,” he waved a hand around his metal face. “Neither here nor there for the issues at hand.”

Richard Fox, Going Dark (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

It turns out the doughboys have a built-in obsolescence. Diamond cannot be fixed and despite Hoffman’s pleas, Marc Ibarra refuses to prevent Diamond’s death. Instead, after some reflection, he offers Hoffman something else: a deactivation code that will end a doughboy’s suffering.

With tears in his eyes, Hoffman shares some final words with Diamond and then activates the kill code. Diamond dies in his arms.

The story mixes a sentimental ending with a more conventional MilSF story of future troops fighting aliens. I don’t know if the doughboys are meant to come over as an attempt at a comical trope but the shift to the “Old Yeller” ending didn’t work for me. The silvery Marc Ibrra character popping up to explain the plot made little sense out of context but I assume followers of Fox’s novel series might be more aware of the context.

At the level of basic wordsmithing this is substantially better than “Interview for the End of World”. Where the Rhett Bruno story had sentences which trip you up, Fox’s story has a stronger and more readable style. However, there’s nothing new here and there’s nothing notable. “Not terrible writing” is a low bar to cross and it managed that but nothing further.

Also like Rhett Bruno’s story, I note that some of the surrounding stories in the anthology this story appears in, are better. The very next story in the anthology after Fox’s isn’t brilliant but it starts like this:

“Do you know how many fantasies begin with two soldiers stepping out of their freezers, wearing just their boxers?” asked the vampire.

THE BATTLE OF PURPLE BY NAVIN WEERARATNE (in Handley, J.R.. Backblast Area Clear: Anthology Vol. 1 (p. 1). Bayonet Books. Kindle Edition. )

That’s a start to a story that invites the reader in and shows some awareness that short form fiction has its own demands. Both the Bruno and Fox stories are written in the style of standalone chapters of bigger novels (or series of novels). That doesn’t make them bad stories but in the context of a set of awards where they are being judged against other stories by people who aren’t familiar with the broader context. For example, it’s hard for me to judge how well the novella Artificial Condition by Martha Wells works as a thing in itself rather than as the next Murderbot instalment.

In short, Going Dark is competent writing but an unexceptional story. It’s hard to see what, if anything, sets it apart from any one of many MilSF stories written last year.


137 thoughts on “Nebula Shorts: “Going Dark” by Richard Fox

  1. Thanks for reading. The same story will be published in June in The Year’s Best Military and Adventure Science Fiction
    Vol. 5.

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  2. I felt there was a bit of the same problem with Puppy 3. Some of the stories there were clearly stepping stones in longer series.

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    1. Yes. Shorts as missing chapters or as parts of something bigger are unlikely to be good contenders for an award.

      Rhett Bruno dropping by and providing extra background has really helped me appreciate his story better – in particular, I misunderstood the central character – but that illustrates the core issue. The story needs to work with less support when considered with competing stories.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. camestrosfelapton: the core issue [is] The story needs to work with less support when considered with competing stories.

        Exactly. Saying “but your criticisms of this work are made clear in other works in the series!” does not make a flawed story award-worthy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A lot of the stories that were on the 20booksto50K list were parts of an extended series. One of the recommended novels was the fourth book in its series. Another was the eighth. Several of the short fiction works also appear to be short works within a longer series. Writing long series seems to be their thing.

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    1. Yes, it’s shorter fiction as promotion and/or bonuses for fans. Nothing wrong with that from a promotional perspective but it suffers from the same problem as middle books in a series for awards – hard to judge as stand alone works (unless the early volumes were already finalists) and therefore unlikely to do well in awards.

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      1. A lot of indie anthologies contain taster stories for longer series. I had a taster story for one of my series in an indie anthology last year as well. However, I made sure that it was a story that could stand alone, even if it tied into a longer series.

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  4. I’m surprised how many “taster” stories get published by the regular SF/F magazines. These usually do have a plot (not always!), but their real purpose is clearly to attract readers to novels or series by making the world and/or characters sound interesting.

    I’m surprised how many 3-star stories have enticed me to read what turned out to be excellent books. I need a better word for them than “taster,” though.

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    1. Greg Hullender: I’m surprised how many “taster” stories get published by the regular SF/F magazines. These usually do have a plot (not always!), but their real purpose is clearly to attract readers to novels or series by making the world and/or characters sound interesting. I’m surprised how many 3-star stories have enticed me to read what turned out to be excellent books.

      Unless they’re really interesting, the tasters which clearly have blatantly missing plot, worldbuilding and/or characterization, to the extent that it impairs the quality of the story, have the opposite effect on me. I figure that the rest of their work will be similarly flawed.

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  5. Does anyone else get an uncomfortable racist vibe about the doughboys? The whole premise reminds me too much of the ‘native troops with a great white officer leading them’ trope. The doughboys’ language especially feeds into racist tropes.

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    1. Maybe if you’re an inherently racist person that thinks only white people can be effective leaders…

      You read the story about artificial soldiers with no race led by someone whose race is never touched on and jump to a racist conclusion and it really says a lot about your bigoted mindset.

      Explains your take on it. Racist.

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      1. Tropes can have racist elements to them Richard that aren’t there because the author intended them to be there. Fiction doesn’t live in a vacuum (not even fiction set in space).

        “race is never touched on” – the story has a distinct group of human (or human-like) people (the doughboys) who are essentially in a servile role for humans and who have a cognitive impairment. That’s a theme (intended or not) that touches on related representations of race in other works. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, that’s just how storytelling works. Each story rests on connections with other stories and the reader’s experience with other stories. That I can see a chunk of Rudyard Kipling there is partly a compliment but also that’s a huge pile of racial and colonial baggage that comes with that.

        *EVERY* SF story that has intelligent alien species in it carries with it connections with how different societies have talked about questions of race and about whether cognitive or social differences are biologically innate or more mutable. Is it always a theme at the forefront of such stories? No. But it is part of the broader dialogue in society.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Not everything is about race, Cameltoe. Making everything you encounter an element of manufactured outrage is an indication of a real dificiency in adult coping skills.

        Learn to enjoy things for the things they are. You won’t be such a miserable little person.

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      3. Well you are correct that not EVERYTHING is about race Richard and the only outrage I’m seeing is from yourself.

        Discussing race, ethnicity and racial tropes is not a taboo subject. It is a reasonable area of discussion within literature.

        I believe I have more than adequate coping skills…and I long ago learn to enjoy things for the things they are but also learned to enjoy discovering what a thing *IS*.

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      4. Richard, if I may ask a serious question: why are you so defensive and nasty over the slightest criticism? You must know it’s not a good look.

        Liked by 3 people

      5. Being called racist is not ‘the slightest criticism’. Baseless insults should be called out for the bullshit they are.

        You are a very odd person.

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      6. You weren’t called a racist.
        A racist would be somebody like that John Margolis character who dropped by (based on those Goodreads comments he left) i.e. somebody who flings racist abuse around.

        As far as I know, you haven’t done that. Saying there’s racist tropes in somebody’s work is not the same as saying somebody is a racist. I’ve already explained why.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. So you’d be okay with someone saying there’s a child molestery vibe to you, but insisting you’re not a child molester in the same breath?

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      8. Been done Richard by a different slate-connected author having a meltdown. However, your analogy is flawed. You aren’t your books. The content of your books isn’t you. That itself is an important lesson for today.

        Could you write a story that has unfortunate connotations with child abuse that you didn’t intend? Sure, things can look like things without the artist/author intending them to. If I wrote a story and a reviewer pointed out and explained what they meant I wouldn’t throw a tantrum (mainly because I’m an adult and I engage my critical faculties before shouting) and consider if they had a point.

        Liked by 2 people

      9. Really? Since you don’t know anything about me, you’re not exactly in a position to judge. And apparently you can’t comprehend the difference between criticizing the writing and criticizing the person. Just for your edification, Jessica did the former and not the latter.

        But if you’re the type who considers being called racist worse than actually being racist (and again, that’s not what was done here), then you and I have nothing to discuss. Please, carry on and continue to spew your disingenuous manufactured outrage.

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      10. Thank you for solidly confirming your place on my “never, ever read even if you’re desperate to fall asleep” list.

        Personal insults instead of engaging the argument are a sign of a per son who is aware of his shortcomings but has no adequate defence. Racist tropes are still racist even when no race is explicitly mentioned in the text. Being aware of and calling out racism is not and never will be racist. What you did just there is called DARVO https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/defineDARVO.html. That was a bad take and you should feel bad about it.

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      11. I addressed the complete lack of a racial element in the story. A point you ignored.

        Racist assumptions come from a racist mindset. And my stories don’t appeal to racists. I feel great about that. Keep reading your Margaret Sanger for your bed time story.

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      12. You simply stated that there was a complete lack of a racial element in your story. I’ve read your story and while I can see why you might believe that, you are wrong. There are not OVERT racial elements in your story but that wasn’t the claim.

        As for your stories not appealing to racist, well I’ve got bad news for you. That John Margolis character who left racist abuse on Goodreads? He absolutely LOVES your books. Not your fault, obviously but sorry, at least one racist finds your stories appealling 🙂

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      13. Wow, Richard, seriously??

        I enjoy milsf every now and then — in fact, the old Dorsai books were some of the most formative lit of my youth — but you are currently doing a truly lousy job if you’re trying to entice more people to read your stories. Are you truly such a precious snowflake that you melt down every time somewhere dares to offer any criticism of your work?

        I had the very same thought as Jessica when I read the synopsis of your vella. As others have pointed out, “racist vibes” are not at all limited to white vs. black — or yellow vs. red, or any other particular color designation. Your story clearly has a sort of “master race” in the troop leaders — with a Germanic name, no less, AND sharing a single face (in metaphorical reflection of some sort of racial ideal?) — and this “master race” rules over the subservient, ignorant, semi-verbal, and evidently at least somewhat “noble” slave race. Yup, racist vibes abounding.

        You may not have noticed those racist vibes when you wrote the story, and you may not have intended for them to be there, but that doesn’t make them magically disappear.

        If you can’t handle literary criticism without throwing tantrums as you’ve been doing here, social media may not be the place for you.

        Liked by 2 people

      14. i>You may not have noticed those racist vibes when you wrote the story, and you may not have intended for them to be there, but that doesn’t make them magically disappear.
        And if he didn’t notice them, and didn’t intend for them to be there, it says a great deal about how he sees the world.

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  6. I went back and found that comment by that Margolis person. ‘Goat fucker’ is pretty universal for an insult in any community with lots of live stock. Australians and New Zelanders call each other that all the time.

    The English refer to the Welsh as that too (steming from old laws that had less punishment for fucking a goat than stealing one, so any Welshman caught stealing a goat claimed to be fucking it for a lesser sentence).

    To suggest that the Hamid guy was called a goat fucker because of his suggest race implies you think only Arabs would fuck goats.

    Which is either ignorant or racist of you.

    Which is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m 100% confident that John Margolis is not English or Australian. I’m also confident he didn’t verbally abuse the other Goodreads member on the belief that he was Welsh or Kiwi. EIther way, yes it is racist.

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      1. So you’re assuming that Hamid can’t be Welsh or any other ethnicity just because of his name? That’s racist.

        People change their names after converting to Islam all the time. Hamid could be any ethnicity. So now your Islamophobic too.

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      2. Nope. I’m making no assumptions about Hamid. I’m making some pretty obvious assumptions about Margolis and what Margolis thinks.

        You see the difference? Hamid could be anybody. It could be an assumed name. He could be a sockpuppet. He could literally be anybody.

        Margolis, on the otherhand, reveals a lot about himself and the nature of his character. And Margolis reacts in a particular way. Margolis is an open book – I mean, I doubt that’s his real name but the nature of his character (unless he is a brilliant actor and I doubt that) is an open book.

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      3. You’re revealing a lot of inherent bias, Flipflop. None of it good.

        Maybe donate a month’s ad revenue to a reparations fund to make amends. Someone would appreciate the free lunch.

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      4. Every time a person writes they reveal inherent biases Richard. The difference is I’m happy to examine them rather than shouting at people who point them out.

        As for ad revenue – I don’t get any. This is a free blog, ad revenue is all WordPress’s. You can lobby them to donate to a worthy cause if you like.

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      1. Very much so! Systemic even. We spent quite a while trying to obliterate the Welsh language too, though it survived. Our efforts did send a colony of Welsh to Patagonia though (an effort to preserve their language and culture in the face of English oppression), where they also kept a version of Welsh alive against all odds.

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      1. Of course they are. Also enter the deliberate misreading of comments. All part and parcel of Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender tactics so beloved of the Right Wing. Richard keeps trying the only thing he knows what to do when he feels attacked. And it’s definitely interesting that he considers the slightest criticism of his writing to be a personal attack, to be answered by personal attacks. That’s yet another tired-out Right Wing tactic.

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    2. @Richard —

      “To suggest that the Hamid guy was called a goat fucker because of his suggest race implies you think only Arabs would fuck goats.

      Which is either ignorant or racist of you. ”

      Now you’re just being disingenuous, Richard.

      Try Door Number Three: the term “goat fucker” is widely known in the US as a derogatory epithet applied to Muslims. Of course, you already know this. Please stop pretending to be stupid.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. True, sex with livestock is a fairly common insult, but the type of livestock varies. In Germany, people from certain rural areas are sometimes accused of having sex with pigs and sheep, As someone said above, it’s the same with different national groups in the UK insulting each other.

      Implying people are having sex with goats is usually levelled at muslims or people believed to be muslim, though. That also crosses nationalities – sex with goats comes up in Germany, too. Most famously, comedian Jan Böhmermann used that epithet to refer to the Turkish president.

      However, I’ve never heard someone call a Saarländer or a Welsh person a goat fucker, though both are accused of having sex with livestock a lot.

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    4. You know what, Richard? Making excuses for racists is not making you look any less racist. If you don’t like being called racist, then stop doing, saying and defending racist things. This is not rocket science.

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  7. Hoffman being a Germanic name does carry a certain “white” vibe to it, and the doughboys’ dialogue does rely on decades-old racist stereotyping, whether you intended it or not.

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    1. Comparing the Dougboys, inhuman and treated as expendable by everyone in the story but Hoffman, to non-white soldiers that have been led by Anglo officers dehumanizes those non-Anglo soldiers.

      Damn, dude. Check your privilege.

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      1. Comparing the doughboys being treated as expendable by everyone in the story but Hoffman to OTHER STORIES in which a set of military personnel are treated as expendable because they aren’t white is just flippin obvious Richard.

        Again: YOU DON’T WRITE IN A VACUUM. Even if you are unaware of it, you are borrowing from stories you’ve read that borrowed from stories their authors read.

        For example: JK Rowling uses anti-semitic tropes in her Harry Potter books. Is she actually anti-semitic? Certainly not intentionally so!

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      2. @Richard —

        “Comparing the Dougboys, inhuman and treated as expendable by everyone in the story but Hoffman”

        You’ve just proved our point, Richard. The doughboys are seen as inhuman and expendable, just as subservient races have been throughout human history.

        Now, disclaimer: I have not read your story. And I’m not likely to, given your reactions on this blog. So I don’t know whether the racial aspects of your story were handled well or poorly — are you criticizing the racist construction of that society, or are you supporting it? — but denying that it exists is just silly.

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      3. Using progressive language to defend racism does not make you a progressive, Richard. Just so you know. You’re still trying to DARVO us and it’s not working because we see through your smoke and mirrors.

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    2. There’s nothing wrong with Hoffman except for the spelling (it should be Hoffmann), but I picture a white person, simply because the vast majority of people called Hoffmann and Hoffman (that was a German singing duo in the 1970s and 1980s) know are white.

      Of course, this would make the doughboys white, too, since they imprint on their leader. But the problem here is not the race of the doughboys (which is flexible anyway), but that their broken speech patterns carry unfortunate echoes of how non-white characters have been traditionally portrayed in anglophone literature (and elsewhere as well). The doughboy nobly sacrificing himself is another common trope of colonial era literature. That’s what people are reacting, too.

      It’s pretty obvious from the summary that Hoffman has a lot of sympathy for the doughboys and that the author has, too. But that doesn’t mean that the story does not contain unconscious racist tropes. Because problematic tropes tend to creep into fiction, even when we are not consciously using them.

      Finally, just because I can, here is a video of Hoffmann and Hoffmann performing “Rücksicht” in 1983: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwXnirJ9824

      Hoffmann 2 sure had a marvelous porntastic mustache (and sadly took his life barely a year after this performance). Also, those who understand the lyrics may find that they apply to this discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for linking to that, Cora. It’s very reminiscent of some U.S. music, it made me think of David Gates and Bread and Everything I Own in particular. The lyrics are also very good and thoughtful.

        It’s a pity that 20BooksTo50K spends so much of their time and effort teaching authors how to increase sales, and apparently none on teaching them how to behave like professionals.

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      2. It was (West) Germany’s 1983 Eurovision entry and finished fifth, as far as I recall. I was about ten when the song came out and didn’t much care for it at the time, but it has grown on me a lot since then. Definitely one of the best German “Schlager” of the period.

        And the lyrics were simply too perfect for the situation not to share.

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  8. “Opal sorry. No shoot until order.”

    Ah, thank you, Jessica! Youreminded me of where I’ve heard that way of talking to yourself in third person (as if you don’t have the concept of “I”). It was from “Tintin in The Congo”. But then I think I remember Tarzan using it himself in older comics (can’t confirm, haven’t got them still). But as Camestros showed in his review (from Blazing Saddles) it was a language patteen not only used as racist trope, but for all seen as “simpletons”. I can find countless of those in my comics.

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    1. Oh yes, comics did it all the time, too. As did Tarzan (white guy gone native), Hulk (white guy gone green) and even Winnetou (noble Apache chief from German literature). It’s the speech pattern associated with characters coded as “savage”, noble or otherwise, and it goes back to the nineteenth century and maybe even earlier.

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  9. It’s interesting that he has the set up of one side in the war using what sounds like mostly robots and the other choosing instead to have cyborg slaves — human bodies engineered to be docile instead of machines. That’s way less effective than machines, but as we know, people frequently use ineffective methods in order to have an elevated identity status in their culture (that’s half the point of having bigoted social systems — control and seizing of resources and then getting to have an elevated, superior social identity.)

    So the story is essentially about a slave overseer who is somewhat less nasty than the slave owners (a white savior colonial narrative,) and so gets to execute the slave who the slave owner has decreed no longer useful. So the military set-up is pro-colonialism, pro-slavery, but there’s an undercurrent for this particular story of anti-slavery, or at least, anti-poor pet ownership, but only from the pov of the owners and only on doing slightly more humane treatment to the slaves, not breaking slavery. I.e. Hoffman is a limited person who knows what they are doing is wrong, but does not break from his society, at least not in this story.

    Unlike a real life set-up where the slaves are real people who are intelligent and being oppressed, the story universe deliberately sabotages the ability of the slaves to be pov characters, to be real people. They are instead humans who have been made into livestock, not only in slavery — which is the aim of slavery — but in ability to participate in the story. This biological engineering then is reminiscent of biological experiments done on slaves and slave prisoners at various points of history, such as the Nazis’ experiments and the British/American slave owners’ breeding experiments of black and brown and indigenous slaves, one of the worst things humans do to each other. The story attempts to slightly humanize the slaves, but can only deal with the perspectives of the slave owners, which are warped and limited by the society they are in.

    So like the other story in the award category, it’s a story of warped, flawed and delusional people of power, but this time in an autocratic, dystopian, and horrific society that echoes the most depraved societies of human history. Diamond and Opal are tragedies of torture and all they can do is die, like a horse or an ox. They can’t offer any real truth to the slavery experience because their voices have been — literally — silenced. Hoffman is their whiphand and their witness by default, but in the end, his witness is useless. He can mourn them like putting a pet dog to sleep, but raised in a psychopathic society in which he is not even able to have his own face, he cannot truly understand them or even his own role as a kind of elevated slave. His intelligence is, like his slaves, deliberately limited by his society.

    I’m not sure that a story in which there are no characters to root for and where most readers will basically want to burn them all to the ground and have the other side win the war is going to have good odds on winning the award, but it certainly is swimming in dark waters.

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    1. That was essentially my response to this story: it was impossible to regard the main character as anything other than a mindless servant of his masters, who’d been programmed into supporting and continuing his masters’ appalling treatment of not only the beings who fought under him, but of himself and those like him. The erasure of the human overseers’ individual identities was almost as horrifying an aspect as the creation of sentient beings whose purpose was merely to serve as expendable combatants. And it did leave me wondering why I should be rooting for this side, or how the other side could possibly be worse.

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      1. Well I guess the other side is deadly aliens, from his book series? But you know, maybe the aliens should win.

        Stories from the perspective of villains or people participating in villainy can be interesting. Octavia Butler’s novel Wild Seed is a prominent example of a villain pov story. But a lot of people aren’t big fans of that sort of story where it is hard to support the main character, something that Bruno’s story also may run into, though his protagonist is more sympathetic.

        All of the four stories in the category so far that Camestros has reviewed have taken some chances: Bruno’s story focuses on a flawed wealthy man in an on-going apocalypse as the protagonist, making life and death choices and not doing it well. Fox’s story is a slavery dystopia of humans turned psychopathic. Clark’s story uses magic realism and the traveling talisman structure rather than a three act structure — emotionally powerful and fanciful in imagery but more historical than personal. Greenblatt makes use of second person for a SF story built around debunking ghosts. And Harrow’s story looks like it probably also doesn’t have a three act structure. All of those choices are going to dissuade some voters, even though the voters are authors, going against some of their stylistic preferences. It’s going to be a matter of which story seems to have the most artistry and weight in those experiments for the most voters.

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      2. Storys from the perspective of a villain can be good, if the writer is clear that the character is the villain. Another example is the manga/anime Death Note.
        Re Kats point: Brunos chances, the same as Clarks and Greenblatts are definitly done delibarate. I am not sure about Foxstory. I mean soldiers like the doughboys should make readers unconfortable, that Fox has isues with it here is strange.

        And about racist troupes or words and beeing racist: You can absolutly use somethink that comes of as racist, without having those views. I myself used an antisemetic word as kid and teenager quite often (it was in my view a milder word for cheeting), didn’t know the background but was shooked when I learned of the origin of the world. I just didn’t know the conection of this “normal” word.

        And readers come from a different background then the writer, they can interprete stuff in it, that could be completly alien to you as writer. (For milder example Harry Potterfandom and “Snape is a vampire”)

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      3. Enh, even many liberals will, like Mr. Fox, try to make bigoted hierarchies a matter of personal, moralistic, isolated and extreme fringe behavior of a few people, instead of what they are — systemic, institutionalized backbones of our cultural social and economic systems, an everyday situation we all soak in, which we’ve been socialized to see as normal and to accept — until someone points it out and challenges it and the discrimination and suffering it causes, to move our particular cultures closer to equality.

        When that happens, people do one of two things — take a closer look, realize the whole system of discrimination and how it affects people and start to make changes for greater equality, at least in their own patch; or deny that the discrimination and the unequal hierarchy exists or at least has anything to do with them, while trying to threaten and silence the people pointing it out as irrational, threatening, disruptive liars. They choose the latter because they don’t want to give up the social rep and identity they have in our society of bigoted hierarchy, because it’s what they know, and because they’ve been socialized by that hierarchy to see it as normal and to see it as normal to blame those marginalized by it for problems in the society and for their own repression. You can point out statistical data, scientific studies, unconstitutional laws, personal cases, etc. to somebody in deep denial that our societies are multiple bigoted hierarchies all day long; they’ll just whine that you’re trying to make them look bad and trying to get them.

        Because changing the system scares them about what will happen and how they’ll be viewed (and sometimes what goodies they think they’ll lose.) Which always seems to be more important than the people who end up dying and suffering from institutionalized bigotry in government and laws, business, institutions and on the street. Equality is fine as long as it doesn’t bother them and if so, then you better stop bringing it up because clearly you’re going overboard, etc. If there is enough of a mass of public concern within a society over hierarchical bigotry, then we slowly get changes towards equality, which is why I get to vote, work in various professions, be a lawmaker, etc., even though I’m a woman, because of efforts in the past. But I still have a secondary, unequal status in society with plenty of discrimination because we have a lot of people pretending that isn’t going on and any attempt to change it is just to control men, or a lie or both, etc. Until we get enough mass public pressure again.

        Trying to explain colonialism and how it has affected cultures and bigoted hierarchies is just pretty pointless with someone who is in deep denial about systemic bigotry. That colonialism then developed hand in hand with racial bigotry because the British made up the concept of “whiteness” and “blackness” as a justification for slave labor, where the black and the brown were claimed to be unintelligent, animalistic, disposable property who should be grateful they got to live while the colonial countries took their stuff and tortured them — that’s not something a lot of white people want to face. That this dynamic of colonial justification for conquering and slavery is symbolically reflected in literature, including very often in science fiction and fantasy, as a normalized social idea because we are so used to it in our societies, is not a discussion that they want to have — or want others allowed to have. It’s a very uncomfortable one with modern political implications.

        But that doesn’t meant that Fox is untroubled by racism and colonialism, as can be seen in the story, in which the main character is troubled about what happens to what are essentially symbolic stand-ins for all the black and brown people who were forced to be military fodder for colonial armies from the British, French, Dutch, etc. But whatever troubles the characters have over their extreme, psychopathic society, they are suppressed by that society — the society does not change. Which again is very symbolic of our real life societies, both past and present, and how they used colonialism/bigotry. But that does not look like a discussion you can actually have with Fox about his work because he doesn’t accept that racism is institutionalized and everywhere, rather than a moral lapse of a handful of people, and that it is very easily reflected in most of our literature as a major theme, deliberately and accidentally.

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  10. Is it just me or was anyone else struck by the resemblance of Hoffman to Andrew (or Eric) von Shrakenberg from the Draka series. Especially the former, commander of serf-soldiers.

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  11. [CF – comment edited. The comment contained speculation on the writer’s military service. I don’t believe the commenter was aware of the writer’s stated history of service but as the comment effectively calls that into doubt I have removed it.]

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    1. Want to compare DD-214s? Doughboys call everyone sir. [edited by CF: I’ve removed the comment from Jessica.]

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      1. So it’s deliberate. You chose to make your doughboys into slaves. And you wonder why I maintain that the story seemed filled with racist dogwhistles?

        Oh by the way, there’s an entire world outside the US border. I can’t “compare DD-214s” with you because the Royal Canadian Navy doesn’t have such a beast.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. They Doughboys are weapons. Semi-autonomous AI and not alive. They can’t be slaves.

        And if you’d read the story more carefully you’d know why their programming was kept simple. And again; don’t apply your racist outlook on everything you see. It’s tedious.

        Even Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But you keep up tying yourself into knots at ever imagined slight. You’ll end up a very happy person until your cats abandon you.

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      3. You keep calling me a racist for spotting the racist dogwhistles in your story. Deny Attack Reverse Victim/Offender seems to be the only tool you can use to defend your indefensible choices.

        You need to be aware that we see what you’re doing here.

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      4. They Doughboys are weapons. Semi-autonomous AI and not alive. They can’t be slaves.

        Fox can’t have it both ways. Either the Doughboys are living, feeling beings whose deaths are tragic, or Hoffman is psychotic for treating the “death” of a biological robot as a tragic event. Since the text supports the former conclusion, none of Fox’ protestations are going to change that retroactively. If Fox intended the story to read otherwise, it ought to have been written otherwise.

        And as always, the racist dogwhistles are still there.

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      1. Can’t have the mask slip off your audience for everyone to see what’s really underneath, can you?

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      2. I lightly moderate comments Richard. I’ve given you a lot of latitude and yes, I’m partly protecting you from personal attacks (including unintended ones). It would be irresponsible of me not to.

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      3. I’m an adult, Cameltoe. I am not so weak minded that insults from your audience of envoius snobs and ankle biters is…what do you vile people call it? Getting ‘triggered’?

        Children need safe spaces. I can see why you want one for yourself.

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      4. I have to make judgements based on how people present themselves Richard. I can’t read minds, I can only observe how people behave when criticised. Based on your pattern of comments I have judged that you are not somebody who is coping well with the rough and tumble of the comments here. That’s just how it is.

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      5. I’m content with putting a spotlight on the inherent racism of your audience. You’d think that might prompt some self reflection on your end, but cognitive dissonance is a bear.

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      6. How bizarre that an author would be so un-self-aware that they don’t recognize that anything they write is going to reflect their lived experience and perceptions of the world.

        The themes in your story are themes you’ve encountered elsewhere during your lifetime, in reading, and movies, and real life; you didn’t invent them. You used them in your story because you thought that they would make a moving story. Just because you didn’t intentionally refer to other things doesn’t change the fact that what you wrote does indeed relate to other things.

        You as an author need to recognize that readers are going to also relate the themes in your story to other works and real-life situations. That’s how literature works. All art and literature are in conversation with other works. How strange it is that you don’t understand this.

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      7. Yeah, and then he shows back up and just blithely ignores the refutation of his so-called “points” by everyone, in favor of misogynistic insults (“cameltoe,” which I am ashamed to admit didn’t dawn on me until now is a gendered insult), dragging Margaret Sanger into the conversation for no reason (other than maybe she founded Planned Parenthood and helped women), and accuses Jessica of being a spinster with lots of cats, or something.

        Notice what all of those digs have in common?

        Richard, you are not putting forth a good look here, to put it mildly. Please step back from the computer and think about what you’re doing. You’re driving away potential customers, flailing about like a madman, and making a complete and utter ass of yourself.

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      8. Sanger was very popular with the KKK in her day. She spoke at their rallies. PP kills more black babies than are born some years. So you have her eugenics work to rid the world of imperfect children, her KKK affiliation, the modern fruit of her labors and her own words…but just can’t quite connect those dots.

        Got it.

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      9. I can’t say I no anything about the topic of this side discussion but it seems like at least several of your points have already been debunked earlier in the thread.
        You’ll need to address that to move the argument further. That’s my handy debate tip for the day 😬

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      10. Planned Parenthood does not kill any babies. Richard, you either need to address your comments to issues which are actually relevant to your story, or stop commenting.

        Because all of this looks like you trying to distract from the issue of the contents of your poorly-written story, a story for which you do not even have the self-awareness to recognize what tropes it is engaging.

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      11. Richard —

        “Margaret Sanger created Planned Parenthood with the express reason of ‘eliminating the Negro population’. Her words.”

        That’s a lie. It’s a freqently repeated lie, but still a lie.

        The phrase you refer to is actually discussing her fear that people will MISUNDERSTAND her goals, and ERRONEOUSLY believe that she wished to exterminate Negroes — which she most certainly did not.

        Here is her actual statement: “The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

        She did have some regrettable eugenicist ideas — but lots of people did at the point in history. In fact, many (most? I haven’t counted) states had forced sterilization laws for “undesirables” during that period. So it would be unfair to single Sanger out from the crowd.

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      12. I don’t have an issue with bashing eugenicists from the past though. However, the idea that it magically contaminates anything they ever touched is a bit weird. Aside from anything else it would make doing statistics hard if I threw away anything somebody who favoured eugenics had invented.

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      13. Cam —

        “I don’t have an issue with bashing eugenicists from the past though.”

        Ehhhh, I agree to some extent. OTOH, speaking of Sanger specifically, her version of eugenics wasn’t even nearly as objectionable as many others during that time. See Kip’s linked Politifact article for a bit more detail.

        Liked by 2 people

      14. Which authors do you know are OK with their work being falsely labeled as racist and their background called a lie?

        I’ll wait.

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      15. It’s been pointed out that your work touches on tropes which reflect real-life examples of racism. You may not have intended that, but that’s what your story does. And people here have explained in great detail how your story reflects those tropes. That doesn’t make your work racist; it means that your work engages with the themes and tough questions around racism.

        So if you don’t like the fact that you’ve unconsciously engaged with these questions in your story, then you should be more conscious when you write your stories of what sort of tropes you are engaging with, and avoid dealing with ideas such as servants who are deliberately made stupid and disposable as cannon fodder, and middle managers who perpetrate systems which are unjust to both them and the people who serve under them.

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      16. @Richard —

        “Which authors do you know are OK with their work being falsely labeled as racist and their background called a lie?”

        The issue is not that you object to what you see as insults (I do not agree with your interpretations, but again, that isn’t the issue). The issue is the way in which you choose to express your objections.

        Again — you are currently doing a lousy job of enticing anyone to read your books. Calm, civil responses are much more likely to lead to productive discourse than the flamethrower approach you’ve been using so far.

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      17. Richard, I am spending a cold and rainy afternoon perusing online gardening catalogs and mulling over which additional plants I can’t resist buying this year. I highly recommend spending some time indulging in whatever your personal favorite hobby is, as a much healthier alternative to letting your knickers get into such a terribly uncomfortable twist.

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      18. I don’t recall making a personal attack against Richard, today or any other day. If I wrote something which could be construed as such, it was not intended to be so.

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      19. Which authors do you know are OK with their work being falsely labeled as racist and their background called a lie?

        It seems that there is at least one author who is willing to lie about Sanger.

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      20. It seems as if the only person who is being triggered here is you, both by criticism and analysis of your story (and for your sake, I really hope you don’t read low star reviews at Amazon or Goodreads) as well as by some remarks about your military service. So you’re not immune against being triggered and you certainly seem to want a safe space where everybody thinks your story is wonderful. Your triggers are simply different from those of most other folks here.

        As for Margaret Sanger, whom I’m not familiar with, since I’m not American, the fact that she held some problematic views common to her time, even though she did a lot of good otherwise, shows that no one is immune from absorbing biases from their environment. But it’s important to recognise that you have certain biases, so you can address them. This is doubly important for writers, because such biases can and do creep into our fiction, whether we want them to or not.

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    2. I made the assumption I did because Fox’s story committed an egregious sin against military courtesy and did not explain why. Typically, it’s people who have never served in the military who make that mistake. Fox could improve the story immensely (and keep others from making the same assumption I did) by inserting a very short explanation into the story. A line something like “It bothered Hoffman that their programming made them call him ‘sir’. He worked for a living, dammit!” would be all it takes.

      Of course, not even that will make the slavery and racist dogwhistles magically go away.

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      1. Note that what passes for “military courtesy” in one environment does not necessarily pass for “military courtesy” in another environment. When I was active, if we’d done the language-local equivalent of calling an officer “Sir”, we would have committed an egregious breach of etiquette.

        When you’re responding to an order from en ensign, you respond with a quick and sharp “Yes/No, Ensign!”, for one from a General-Major, you respond with a “Yes/No, General-Major!”, etc, etc, so on and so fort. If they’re currently not in uniform, you simply drop the honorific/title (so it becomes “Yes/No”) and instead of using their title as a pronoun (“Do Captain know where I can find X?”, “Do Lieutenant know the way, or would Lt. want directions?”), you simply use “you”.

        It does mean that you VERY QUICKLY learn to read uniforms from all branches of all services, because it’s impolite to be impolite.

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      2. But still Ingvar, I’m pretty certain that your Sergeants would ‘gently’ let you know how they felt if you accidentally treated them as if they were an Officer. It’s all part of how Sergeants (and Petty Officers) the world over take care of maintaining the core traditions of the military.

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      3. Jessica, as long as we said “yes, Sergeant”, “no, Sergeant” and generally referred to them as “sergeant” while in uniform…

        Mostly, we had privates. Then, the next rank up was a lieutenant, then we had a few captains, a handful of majors, and a smattering of majors. Well, OK, we had a few sergeants around during basic, and as far as that went, it was essentially the same “yes/no sergeant!” routine as with any officer.

        And, every single officer we had, had started as a private. There was no “go straight in as an officer”, if you wanted to be an officer, you climbed the ranks, and once you’d climbed high enough, you could then apply for officer school (where you would, no matter what rank you started with, instantly be transformed into… a sergeant).

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    3. They Doughboys are weapons. Semi-autonomous AI and not alive.

      In Dread Scott, Taney characterized black people in the United States as a “subordinate and inferior class of beings”. Nazi doctrine held that Jews, Slavs, Roma, and others were untermensch, effectively declaring them to be an inferior subhuman species incapable of living in civilized society. Characterizing a particular group of people as being less than human is part and parcel of racism throughout history.

      The fact that you don’t see how including an intentionally created subhuman group of beings in your story could be seen as giving the story racist thematic elements is simply stunning. It is hard to understand how someone could be as completely lacking in self-awareness as you claim to be.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Cam, are you putting all comments in moderation now? I certainly wouldn’t blame you.

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  13. Richard Fox: Thank you for calling attention to Margaret Sanger’s background. So few people know about her, but it’s vital for people to become aware of her relationship with the African-American community. For example, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say (checks notes) “Words are inadequate for me to say how honored I was to be the recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award. This award will remain among my most cherished possessions. While I cannot claim to be worthy of such a signal honor, I can assure you that I accept it with deep humility and sincere gratitude. Such a wonderful expression of support is of inestimable value for the continuance of my humble efforts… I am happy to be the recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award and I can assure you that this distinct honor will cause me to work even harder for a reign of justice and a rule of love all over our nation.”
    while Coretta Scott King bravely said “I am proud tonight to say a word in behalf of your mentor, and the person who symbolizes the ideas of this organization, Margaret Sanger. Because of her dedication, her deep convictions, and for her suffering for what she believed in, I would like to say that I am proud to be a woman tonight.”

    P.S. How often does one have to type “Cameltoe” before one’s computer jumps to the conclusion that that’s the word you always want?

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    1. “Cameltoe” also has a rather sordid history (besides being a misogynistic gendered slur), since it was the insult used by a commenter Cam has since permanently banished to the spam filter, the infamous Phantom. As to where both Phantom and Richard picked it up, it’s from the folks at Mad Genius Club.

      All of which is to say Richard knew full well what he was doing when he typed it, and his passing it off to “autocorrect” is egregious nonsense.

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  14. “The Doughboys are weapons. Semi-autonomous AI and not alive.”

    So the story is about Hoffman, a solider not allowed to have his own face, mourning that one of his laptops had the motherboard crash and will have to be replaced? What is the point of the story then? That Hoffman is mentally ill and suffering from delusions? The dough boys are shown rescuing soldiers and wanting them to have medical treatment, which sort of makes them more complicated than just being weapons like a tank.

    The story is about a society at war that regards the dough boys as not human, not alive machines — programmed computers put for some reason in android form — but Hoffman then goes against that view and treats the robots as a thinking life form worthy of respect and connection, of one’s disconnect as a death. Which brings us back to slaves. In science fiction, authors routinely have used robots, particularly android robots, who have AI and some form of self-awareness, as symbolic representatives of human slaves, to look at the issue of what is sentient life, of civil rights, and of human treatment to each other. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Aldiss, which was made into the film A.I., the current Alita, Battle Angel movie based on a graphic novel, The Positronic Man and many other stories. And of course, the reboot of Battlestar Galactica was entirely about that issue.

    All of these stories reflect colonialism and imperialism from our own history, where racial identities were created by imperialists to designate slave castes and races, using those they decreed brown and black as sub-human or in-human — livestock, machines, or often as cursed, not with full human souls, made of mud, etc., tying into fantasy folklore like the Hebrew golem and leading to the concept of humanoids denied agency like and as slaves in SF — Frankenstein’s monster, Asimov’s I, Robot, etc. In particular, a military story with such creatures, whether they are engineered cyborgs or engineered A.I. androids, as disposable soldiers reflects human history of Europeans who called themselves white using those they decreed black and brown — and thus sub-human — as disposable soldiers in war, with expected training and loyalty to their “white” officers, just as the dough boys are programmed towards officers like Hoffman. (And aliens are also used in this sort of representational, parallel symbolism as antagonists (black and brown invading hordes,) or slaves/prisoners who are Other — District 9 using aliens as black people, Avatar using aliens as indigenous people, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forrest, etc.) In every case, the Other is what is made and/or decreed sub-human, in-human, required to be slaves or villainous inferiors.

    Sometimes this symbolism is deliberate and meant to be critical of the pro-colonialism, pro-slavery “white man’s burden” social systems of human history. Sometimes it is simply embedded because the pro-colonialism, pro-slavery social system is familiar in our English language literature and supported in stories to maintain the narrative of racial superiority hierarchy we grew up with, the idea of a superior, fully human “race” — white people, and an inferior, not fully human “race” — black people and brown people. It may be partially criticized in those cases, as Fox’s story initially seemed to do, but in a white savior narrative, where the story is centered on the oppressor and the oppressor’s choice to decide a particular Other or group of them is somehow special and should be saved or helped, thus making the oppressor the hero and the enslaved and denigrated still stereotypical Other and inferior, if nice, and there to simply be props for the white character’s journey. (The recent Oscar winner, Green Book, goes that route directly and historically.)

    So symbolically, it doesn’t really matter if Diamond is a partially human cyborg engineered to lack voice and intelligence or an in-human A.I. android programmed to obey. (Realistically, Diamond should not be in a humanoid form at all — it’s highly inefficient, but the use of that form sets up the slave/designated sub-human dynamic.) Diamond is still symbolically the disposable slave Other of colonial oppressors, Diamond’s existence and disposal seen as justified in the service to Diamond’s self-decreed “betters.” Hoffman’s reaction to Diamond reinforces that symbolism (and gives it a British army feel, also the very familiar cultural go-to in literature.) So yeah, a lot of readers are going to react to that imagery, especially since the whole story is built around it. It still presents psychopathy in the society and lack of agency by those decreed the Other. The voice of the slave servant is still silenced, etc.

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    1. And, of course, the word ‘Robot’ was popularized from R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and is derived from the Czech term for ‘forced labour’… also, the ‘robots’ in the original play were basically biological machines built in a factory.

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      1. Yes. One of the cool things about science fiction and fantasy as types of stories is that they use unreal elements, ones given a natural, scientific basis for existing for SF and ones given a supernatural basis for existing in fantasy. And those unreal elements can then be used as stand-ins for real life people and situations, and readers will notice, interpret and play with that whether it was a very deliberate choice by the author or not. Which is why SFFH gives a whole other aspect for discussion as literature.

        So robots, particularly androids, aliens, elves, orcs, engineered dolphins, clones, golums, genies, anything with sentience or partial sentience, are used as the Other, the different from the “standard,” ruling humans. And they can thus stand in for inferior villainous attackers, inferior or called inferior slaves and serfs, prop allies who are there just to help the superior heroes, etc. — using human relations without necessarily getting into the actual humans, but fully capable of using the stereotypes that otherize humans or criticizing those stereotypes through the symbolized Other. That’s pretty much Literature 101.

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      2. Kat Goodwin: That’s pretty much Literature 101.

        I think that the problem here is that you have someone writing stories who has only ever read books and stories, but has never thought to analyze or engage with them critically (as in “scholarly criticism”, not as as in “griping and criticizing”), and has never had any educational courses which did this, either. So it has never occurred to them that this is even a thing, that all stories are in conversation with other stories and/ or with real life, and that all stories reflect the author’s own life experiences, past reading, and biases.

        Hence you get an author who has never had any awareness that there are all these other things going on with fiction, insisting that there is no such thing going on in their fiction, either. It’s the same as it would be with someone who drives a car insisting that it runs just because they’ve put gas in the tank and turned the key in the ignition.

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      3. Literature 101 indeed.

        Heck, I got an engineering degree, but as one of the half year’s worth of required non-technical electives I took a science fiction literature course, which involved reading and commenting on eight different books (including A Canticle for Leibowitz, Native Tongue… I don’t remember all of them, but Native Tongue especially is hardly a politics-free zone). You could write your own short story (which I did) but you then had to provide critical commentary on it as well.

        Really, one gets the impression that some of these people haven’t even seen the Turkey City Lexicon; just reading that and understanding why things are on there should be required for anybody who wants to write SF. (You don’t have to agree with it, of course,but it’s a general case that you should understand what ‘the rules’ are and why they exist before you set out to break them.)

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  15. I find the discussion of eugenics very interesting and find some paralels to how it was discussed in Sweden.

    As some of you may know, Sweden has the dubious “honour” of creating the first Racebiological Institute in 1922 and it was active all the way into 1958(!). What is less known is that politicians got cold feet from its director already in 1935 and replaced him with a strident anti-nazi, Gunnar Dahlberg. Dahlberg stopped all research on “race” the year after and instead focused the Institute on heredity. So while the name of the institute was kept, already by then the “science” of “race” had gone out of practice.

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    1. That was actually kind of clever — instead of shutting it down and leaving a vacuum for some other horrible person to fill, repurposing it to something useful but not malign.

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    2. I would like to point out here that Sanger’s eugenicist ideas were NOT related to “race” as we think of it today — that is, they weren’t related to the color of one’s skin. She did use the word “race” in her writings, but she was talking about improving the HUMAN race, not the white or black or purple race.

      Don’t be fooled by folks like Richard who evidently swallow any lie they’re told as long as it supports what they want to hear. As has already been pointed out, even people like MLK knew that Sanger was no racist.

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  16. On a more pedantic note than most of the above conversation, I refuse to read stories with incorrectly punctuated dialogue. Based on the samples, Fox uses commas not only when a line of dialogue is followed by a speech tag (correct), but when a line of dialogue is followed by an action statement (incorrect).

    For example, “I’m no grunt,” the Ranger took his helmet off and the cold grew worse. That is two sentences rather than a sentence and a speech tag. Accordingly, it should be punctuated: “I’m no grunt.” The Ranger took his helmet off and the cold grew worse.

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      1. Yeah, the rules for punctuating dialogue are opaque to a lot of people. I don’t hold grammatical errors against anyone in casual contexts, e.g. blog posts or comments, and I’ll tolerate them in nonfiction if the meaning is otherwise clear. But I hold fiction to a higher standard; I prefer fiction to be an immersive experience, and incorrectly punctuated dialogue throws me out of the story.

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    1. Oh, yes. The whole story is so badly-punctuated that I was mentally correcting it as I read. But I figured that there were much bigger problems to address with the story than that.

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