Hugosauriad 3.2: Our Lady of the Sauropods by Robert Silverberg

The cover of the September 1980 cover of Omni boasted that “Robert Silverberg returns” without any further clarification on the manner of his reappearance. Silverberg (who pops in and out of this narrative in various roles) had taken a hiatus from short fiction due to the poor return compared to the effort and skill involved:

“…I abandoned short-story writing in 1973 after doing “Schwartz Between the Galaxies” and felt only relief, no regret, at giving it up. Short stories were just too much trouble to do. You needed a stunning idea, for one thing—the ideal science-fiction short story, I think, should amaze and delight—and you had to develop it with cunning and craft, working at the edge of your nervous system every moment, polishing and repolishing to hide all those extraneous knees and elbows. Doing a good short story at that level of quality meant a week or two of strenuous work, for which the immediate cash reward in the 1970s was likely to be about $250, and then maybe $100 every year or two thereafter if you had written something good enough to be reprinted in anthologies.”

Introduction to ‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

Silverberg didn’t win a Hugo in 1981 but Lord Valentine’s Castle was a finalist for best novel and Our Lady of Sauropods was a finalist for best short story. The finalists for 1981 feel like an inflection point for this project also with a host of familiar names but ones that span from the beginnings of the Hugo Awards to the present day. For example Clifford Simak won best short story that year for Grotto of the Dancing Deer, while in novella George R R Martin was a two-time finalist. In fanzine and fan-writer there’s File 770 and Mike Glyer! Meanwhile, Best Dramatic Presentation is all full of exciting stuff I saw as a kid.*

Our Lady of the Sauropods could be described as Jurassic Park in space, indeed consider this line:

“After that unfortunate San Diego event with the tyrannosaur, it became politically unfeasible to keep them anywhere on earth, I know, but even so this is a better scheme.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

A t-rex in San Diego is an actual plot point in Jurassic Park 2! Which is even more remarkable given Silverberg wrote this ten years before Michael Crichton wrote his first Jurassic Park book.

The set-up is a space habitat established at the L5 point that has been established as a conservation area for dinosaurs.

“We don’t pretend that the real Mesozoic ever held any such mix of fauna as I’ve seen today, stegosaurs and corythosaurs side by side, a triceratops sourly glaring at a brachiosaur, struthiomimus contemporary with iguanodon, a wild unscientific jumble of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, a hundred million years of the dinosaur reign scrambled together. We take what we can get. Olsen-process reconstructs require sufficient fossil DNA to permit the computer synthesis, and we’ve been able to find that in only some twenty species so far. The wonder is that we’ve accomplished even that much: to replicate the complete DNA molecule from battered and sketchy genetic information millions of years old, to carry out the intricate implants in reptilian host ova, to see the embryos through to self-sustaining levels. The only word that applies is miraculous. If our dinos come from eras millions of years apart, so be it: we do our best. If we have no pterosaur and no allosaur and no archaeopteryx, so be it: we may have them yet. What we already have is plenty to work with. Some day there may be separate Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous satellite habitats, but none of us will live to see that, I suspect.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

The habitat is largely left alone apart from occasional visits from scientist from a nearby human habitat. The protagonist and first-person narrator is a woman who had set out to do a routine observation tour of “Dino Island”. Normally such tours would be done from the safety of a mobile capsule but her mobile unit severely malfunctions leaving her with no food, weapons or communication. She will have to survive for thirty days alone in the artificial jungles of Dino Island.

It is only hours after her module burnt down that she begins to suspect sabotage. A professional feud with a colleague who wanted Dino Island to be opened up for tourists leads her to suspect that she has been set up to die in what will appear to be a tragic accident.

In the first few days she survives using her wits and knowledge of dinosaurs. She avoids predators and finds food and copes with the warm wet climate but finds she is having increasingly strange thoughts. Then a clumsy accident leads to a badly sprained leg — not in itself a serious injury but leaving her too debilitated to forage for food or water.

Aid arrives mysteriously. Eggs at first and later meat. Eventually she comes to a startling conclusion: “I think the dinosaurs are taking care of me.”

There is a pervasive psychic connection between all the dinosaurs on the habitat and with her increased exposure to them she increasingly becomes attuned to their thoughts, until she has a final revelation:

“I feel the intense love radiating from the titan that looms above me. I feel the contact between our souls steadily strengthening and deepening. The last barriers dissolve. And I understand at last. I am the chosen one. I am the vehicle. I am the bringer of rebirth, the beloved one, the necessary one. Our Lady of the Sauropods am I, the holy one, the prophetess, the priestess. Is this madness? Then it is madness. Why have we small hairy creatures existed at all? I know now. It is so that through our technology we could make possible the return of the great ones. They perished unfairly. Through us, they are resurrected aboard this tiny glove in space. I tremble in the force of the need that pours from them. I will not fail you, I tell the great sauropods before me, and the sauropods send my thoughts reverberating to all the others.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

The dinosaurs have saved her but they’ve also saved her for a reason: the dinosaurs are back and ready to take back the planet!

“I stretch forth my arms to the mighty creatures that surround me. I feel their strength, their power, their harmony. I am one with them, and they with me. The Great Race has returned, and I am its priestess. Let the hairy ones tremble!”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

Aside from it having a woman protagonist who also enacts a bloody revenge against a shitty colleague, this is the most pro-dinosaur of all the stories so far. There has been a conceptual shift in portrait of dinosaurs from out-dated lumbering and stupid monsters who were replaced by smarter, better mammals to creatures that are smart and swift and whose reign over Earth was unjustly curtailed by happenstance.

Having said that, this connection of ideas between dinosaurs and revolution isn’t wholly new. It is there in the second part of A Case of Conscience and even in the various hunters-shooting-dinosaur stories there is a trope of a dinosaur killing over entitled idiots.

I can’t say this is connection that I would have thought of prior to starting this project and yet dinosaurs and revolution is something that we will meet some more times before we are done.

Rex mortuus est, vivat T-rex

Next time, a dinosaur story with no dinosaurs in it: Dinosaurs by Walter John Williams

*[Actually I’ve never seen the movie version of Lathe of Heaven]

Hugosauriad 1.?: A Paleozoic Side Trip — Gerry Carlyle & Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes

Cora Buhlert cleverly derailed my forward progress on my dinographic investigations by tweeting me this picture:

The cover is from 1949 and from the text layout it isn’t immediately clear if the cover is meant to illustrate “The Portal in the Picture” or “Hothouse Planet”. It is, in fact, an illustration of Hothouse Planet which was first published in 1937 in ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’.

So is that a dinosaur or is that an alien monster and what, exactly, is going on with that tongue? A search for other images of Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes provides some variations on the theme of tonguey t-rex:

The story isn’t that hard to find online. It looks like various people have grabbed the works of Arthur K Barnes and put modern covers on top of his stories about interplanetary hunters.

The story is quite interesting. I hadn’t heard of Barnes before (I’m not well versed in the pulp era) but it is a fun story even if full of colonial 1930s attitudes. The story introduces an interesting character: Gerry Carlyle who is a hunter of alien creatures with a twist:

“Roy! Awake! Arise! Today’s the great day! The British are coming! Wake up for the event!”
Roy Ransom, Strike’s assistant staggered into view, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.“British?” he mumbled. “What British?”
“Why, Gerry Carlyle! The great Carlyle is coming today. Inhis special ship, with his trained crew, straight from the Interplanetary Zoo in London. The famous ‘Catch-’em-alive Carlyle’ is on his way and we’re the lucky guys chosen to guide him on his expedition on Venus!”
Ransom scratched one thick hairy leg and stepped underthe shower with a sour expression. “Ain’t that somethin’?” he inquired.
“You don’t look with favor on Mister Carlyle?” Strike chuckled.“No, I don’t. I’ve heard all I want to hear about him. Capturing animals from different planets and bringing them back alive to the Zoo in London is all right. I’d like the job myself. But any guy that rates the sickening amount of publicity he does must have something phony about ‘im.” He kicked toward the short-wave radio in one corner of the living room.”

Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937

As you are astute readers you have probably guessed the big surprising twist about the identity of Gerry Carlyle:

This day was to be one of many surprises for Tommy Strike and perhaps the greatest shock of all came when he stood beside the sloping runway leading into the brightly lighted bow of the ship. For, awaiting him there, one hand out stretched and a cool little smile on her lips, stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.“Mr. Strike said Barrows, “this is Miss Gerry Carlyle.”The trader stared, thunderstruck. In those days of advanced plastic surgery, feminine beauty wasn’t rare but even Strike’s unpracticed eye knew that here was the real thing. No synthetic blonde baby-doll here but a natural beauty untouched by the surgeon’s knife-spun-gold hair, intelligence lighting dark eyes, a hint of passion and temper in the curve of mouth and arch of nostrils. In short, a woman.But Miss Carlyle’s voice was an ice-water jet to remind the trader of earthside manners.“You don’t seem enthusiastic over meeting your temporary employer, Mr. Strike. Something wrong about me?”Strike flushed, angry at himself and his own embarrassment. “Oh oh, no.” He fumbled for words. “That is,I’m surprised that you’re a woman. I — we expected to find a man in-well, in your position. It’s more like a man’s job.”Sub-pilot Barrows could have warned the trader that this was a touchy point with Gerry Carlyle but he had no chance.The young woman drew herself up and spoke coldly.“There isn’t a man in the business who has done nearly aswell as I. Name a half-dozen hunters. Rogers, Camden, Potter— they aren’t in the same class with me. Man’s job? I think you needn’t worry about me, Mr. Strike. You’ll find I’m man enough to face anything this planet has to offer.”

Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937

The story revolves around an attempt to capture a specimen of the illusive Venusian Murri, a creature nobody has managed to bring back alive (for interesting reasons). In the course of the hunt, Carlyle and Strike meet other Venusian creatures and have a run in with the ‘natives’ (because of course they do). Carlyle, while very capable eventually learns why it is handy to have a man around and the whole story ends with a less than wholly consensual kiss.

She tried to stand erect but her knees betrayed her and shefell into the trader’s ready embrace. He tried to look stern.“Well, young lady, I trust you’ve learned two lessons this night. One, that even a Gerry Carlyle can’t always have her way— especially with the Murris. Two, that a mere man, even if only to make an occasional unwanted sacrifice, can some times come in pretty handy.”
Gerry became acutely conscious of her position and she tried to free herself with no great earnestness. Strike laughed. She turned a furious crimson and he laughed at her again.
“Simply a vaso-motor disturbance,” she explained frigidly.
“Is that what you call it? I rather like it. I want to see more.”
Strike kissed her and Gerry’s vaso-motor system went completely haywire.

Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937

So, a predictably bad end to a story where a woman in a ‘male’ role has to be put in her place by a male character. Prior to this Carlyle gets some great lines and is largely shown as being compotent. There’s an idea of a major subversion of the big-game dinosaur hunter here. Carlyle is a woman, practical and focused on the job which isn’t hunting creatures for sport but to populate a zoo.

It’s that last point that made me want to pull this story into my broader narrative. I was going to point out in my next essay that there is a shift from the 1950s to the 1980s that goes from dinosaurs as big game to be hunted to dinosaurs being creatures to be conserved whether in zoos or parks. The idea crops up briefly at the end of Anne McCaffrey’s Dinosaur Planet Survivors when the alien Theks discover that it was they who had set up the planet Ireta as a place to conserve dinosaurs many millennia ago. It’s a concept we’ll meet again and again going forward. Finding a similar concept decades earlier is really interesting, particularly given the prevalence of big-game hunters after dinosaurs in the 1950/60s stories I’ve looked at.

Ah yes but Carlyle is collecting alien creatures not dinosaurs. True but let us return to the weird creature on the cover. It is called a Whip:

They swivelled about to gaze upon the most terrifying of all products of Venusian vertebrate evolution. Fully fifty feet the monster towered into the mist, standing upright on two massive legs reminiscent of the extinct terrestrial Tyrannosaurus rex. A set of short forelegs were equipped with hideously lethal claws. The head was long and narrow resembling a wolf’s snout, with large ears and slavering fangs.Everything about the nightmare creature was constructed for efficient annihilation, particularly of those animals who mistakenly sought safety in the tops of the tall trees.
“A whip!” yelled Strike, turning to the cathode-gun carriers, sudden apprehension stabbing him deep. “It’s a whip! Let him have it, quick!”
The crew looked uncertainly to Gerry Carlyle, who promptly countermanded the order.“Not so fast. I want this one alive. They’ve nothing like him in London.”
She flipped up her rifle, fired at a likely spot. Strike groaned as the monstrous whip squealed shrilly again and again, staring down at the tiny Earthlings from fiery eyes.Then from that wolfish snout uncurled an amazing fifty-foot length of razor-edged tongue, like that of a Terran anteater. Straight at Gerry Carlyle it lashed out, cracking sharply.

Hothouse Planet by Arthur K Barnes Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937

I think that is sufficiently dinosaur like to count.

Gerry Carlyle apparently has many other adventures. Hopefully, there’s one where she thumps that guy.

Just a tiny bit more on Wikipedia

The outcome of the second article up for deletion (Tom Kratman) was “keep”. The net effect of what the highly fragile souls surrounding Michael Z Williamson were calling an ‘unpersoning’ was zero articles deleted and both articles get some extra references and tidy-ups. It’s just like a Stalinist show trial but one were they come round to your house and makeover your living room with new curtains and also not send you to prison or anything.

Ironically, Kratman got a more definitive result because his article got brigaded less than Williamson’s. So far the only substantial attempt to delete a Baen author’s page was by Williamson when he demanded his own page got taken down.

The net effect on Williamson has a huge up-tick in people reading his Wikipedia page:

Actually my main purpose for this post was to put some useful links up:

Might be worth watching in case there’s a sudden rash of deletion attempts by some example of fragile masculinity…

Hugosauriad 3.1 Dinosaur Panet (I & II) by Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffery’s Weyr Search won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella making her the first woman to win a Hugo Award. Weyr Search would go on to form the first part of her first Pern novel: Dragonflight. Unfortunately for this project, dragons are excluded from consideration despite their many commonalities with dinosaurs. It was a rule I regretted considering how often McCaffrey’s genetically engineered dragons would cross paths with the Hugo Awards. For example her book The White Dragon was a finalist for Best Novel in 1979^. Three of the other four finalist for Best Novel that year were women with Vonda McIntyre winning with Dreamsnake.

Interestingly (at least to somebody hunting for a dinosaur connection), The White Dragon was not McCaffrey’s only book published in 1978. Her other published novel that year was Dinosaur Planet which is far for more suitable for a dinography but much less suitable for a Hugo Award.

Dinosaur Planet simply is not very good. It fails in two essential dimensions: the plot is thin and the central characters are both uninteresting and unlikeable. Yet there are insights to be had by looking at unaccomplished books by an accomplished author. McCaffrey’s track record in producing works that were popular beyond fandom and critically acclaimed, makes it easier to state that the issue with the work were not due to a lack of talent or skill on McCaffrey’s part.

The background to the story is the Federated Sentient Planets, a coalition of space faring species that appears in several of McCaffrey’s series but which is not really an on-going continuity between them. In the case of Dinosaur Planet the FSP consists of three species: humans, the Thek (a kind of slow talking silicon life form) and the Ryxi (a bird like species). The humans are further sub-divided: regular ‘light world’ humans, ship-based humans who have never lived on a planet and ‘heavy world’ humans who live on higher gravity worlds.

The ARCT-10 is an exploratory vessel that has dropped off a human team to explore the supposedly untocuhed planet of Ireta. Elsewhere in the same solar system a Thek team are exploring another planet and the Ryxi another. The ARCT-10 goes off to investigate a ‘cosmic storm’ leaving the team to fend for themselves.

The team’s main concern is charting the mineral wealth of the planet, in particular heavy elements. Varian (co-leader and main protagonist) is an exobiologist and is puzzled by the seemingly incompatible range of animal life on the planet, including a bizarre geometrical creature as well as red-blood megafauna. Meanwhile the geological survey finds an odd lack of mineral wealth in the area they are surveying and then discovers evidence that the whole planet has been surveyed before.

Meanwhile, the heavy-worlders in the crew are acting funny and also supplies are being pilfered. To make matters worse, Kai (the other co-leader) has not been able to contact the ARCT-10 since it went to investigate the cosmic storm. A rumour spreads among the crew that they have been ‘planted’, that is involuntarily set-up as a colony mission rather than a survey mission.

Eventually the heavy-world element of the crew mutiny and attempt to stage the deaths of the team’s leaders in a stampede. The team leaders, making use of a mental discipline called “discipline” (which sort of springs of of nowhere in the story) escape death and take control of the shuttle (which the heavy-worlders have left behind) and hide it elswehere on the planet. With no immediate hope of rescue, the Kai and Varian decide that the remaining survivors will go into a hibernating sleep until somebody (either ARCT-10 or the Thek or humans who work for the Ryxi) come and find them. The End.

Well that’s the end of Dinosaur Planet, the story has just barely started by the time the book ends and for a complete narrative you need to read book 2 (aka Dinosaur Planet Survivors). You’ll note that I can recount the plot without saying “dinosaur”. The other big plot twist is that just before the mutiny becomes manifest, the crew work out that the big animals on the planet are actually literal prehistoric Earth animals — specifically the possibly sentient Giffs are actually pteradons and the fearsome predator called “fang face” is a t-rex. It would be an OK plot twist except, you know, “Dinosaur Planet” as a title kind of spoils the revelation.

I’ll get to Dinosaur Planet Survivors, which is better, shortly but first what is wrong with book 1? The overall plot sounds interesting but the story waffles and meanders before the story kicks into gear and once it does kick into gear…the book is over. There’s so much explanation and background but it is delivered in a way that is neither organic (trusting the reader to piece together) nor efficient (just explaining it simply). The description of the animals isn’t always sufficient to spot which ones are the familiar dinosaurs and which ones are other prehistoric animals and which ones are utterly alien. I’m guessing the dinosaur revelation late in the book was supposed to be a big twist but somebody decided that “Dinosaur Planet” would bring in the sales. Notably, the 2003 combined edition I have is entitled “The Mystery of Ireta” which hides the dinosaur aspect a bit better.

The time wasting narrative style isn’t the only issue. The depiction of the heavy worlders exploits racist stereotypes.

“There was, however, no question that their sheer physical presence–the powerful legs, the compact torso, massive shoulders, weather-darkened skin–provided a visual deterrent that prompted many sentient groups to hire them as security forces, whether merely for display or as actual aggressive units. Contributing to the false notion that heavy-worlders were ill-equipped with mental abilities was the unfortunate genetic problem that, though their muscle and bone structure had adjusted to bear heavy gravities, their heads had not. Consequently, at first glance they did look stupid”

Dinosaur Planet, in The Mystery of Ireta by Anne McCaffrey, page 12, Del Rey 2004

Potentially there is an interesting idea there about human adaptation to different planets and ensuing racial stereotypes. McCaffrey is clear that the heavy-worlders have the same range of cognitive abilities as everybody else and some of the heavy-world characters are scientists. However, they end up being simplistic bad guys, worse the two main characters (who aren’t heavy-worlders) are dismissive and condescending about them. Taking a step back from the plot, the eventual mutiny of the heavy-worlders is laudable given how aimlessly patronising the two leads are.

Worse is the weird vegetarianism in the book. The main characters (and human society as a whole) is vegetarian. This is a plot point because the heavy-worlders start sneaking off to hunt dinosaurs and eat meat. This causes them to ‘regress into more aggressive and macho behaviour (including fighting for mating rights). Again, maybe, with a lot of skill, there’s a story there about cultural norms but nope. The smug civilised vegetarians are the good people and the heavy worlds are descending.

Kai and Varian are so deeply unlikeable that I was hoping a t-rex would eat at least one of them. This is how Varian is introduced:

“She was tall, as were so many types born on normal-gravity planet like Earth, with a slender but muscularly fit body which the one-piece orange ship-suit displayed admirably. Despite the articles dangling from her force-screen belt, her waist was trim, and the bulges in her thigh and calf pouches did not detract from the graceful appearance of her legs.”

Dinosaur Planet, in The Mystery of Ireta by Anne McCaffrey, page 4, Del Rey 2004

For most of the book they meander, lie to the rest of the crew, drug some of the crew to make them more tractable and later trick some of the crew into going into a hibernation sleep that will last for decades. Although they sort of pick-up on the fact that the heavy-worlders are up to something, they are remarkably passive about it until everything is too late.

So what is going on? McCaffrey is a better writer and plotter than Dinosaur Planet suggests. The book isn’t lacking in ideas but they don’t come together. Wikipedia says of McCaffrey that at the time:

“Futura Publications in London signed her to write books about dinosaurs for children.”

However, Dinosaur Planet isn’t a children’s book or a ‘juvenile’ although it has some features of one. In particular there are some children characters but they aren’t well used. It also doesn’t deliver on the dinosaur element.

What McCaffrey is attempting becomes clearer in Dinosaur Planet Survivors. Kai is wakened from ‘cold sleep’ by a Thek who has landed on the planet to check on what has happened to him. Several decades have passed. Once awakened Varian takes a flight in one their vehicles to scout out what has happened while they slept. On this flight she spots a handsome, semi-naked man fighting a T-rex with a spear*. She helps him out and discovers that he is a descendant of the heavy-world mutineers. His name is Aygar and he is out proving his manhood on a ritual hunt.

All of Dinosaur Planet really was a giant, over complex set-up to create a science-fiction backstory for Aygar. The use of ‘savage’ racial stereotypes for the heavy-worlders, the mysterious megafauna, the hibernation, the mutiny all work to create a situation where there is a planet with dinosaurs and hunky guys who hunt them. It’s like McCaffrey saw a classic pulp cover of a Conan like man fighting a dinosaur and thought “how can I get to this scene but via the medium of hard science fiction”.

Briefly, Ireta is as promised a dinosaur planet but it has been hard work to get there.

Unfortunately, it isn’t to last. The rest of Dinosaur Planet Survivors becomes focused on wrapping up the mutiny plot line and the ‘mystery’ of the planet. There are some better characters introduced or elevated: notably Lunzie and Sassinak who later were used in the non-dinosaur related sequels that McCaffrey wrote with Elizabeth Moon and Jody Lynne Nye in the 1990s (collectively called Planet Pirates**).

The mystery of the planet is revealed when the Theks remember that they set this all up millennia before but had forgotten about it. Which was a hypothesis in the first book but dismissed because the Theks don’t forget things.

In the end we have two books worth of back story. They are, in effect, a construction site. A huge, over detailed explanation of how to get a planet of noble-savages fighting dinosaurs in a shiny chrome plated science fiction universe. McCaffrey wanted to write a modern Pellucidar but establish its bona-fides with spaceships. Sadly, after all that work, we don’t ever get the Pellucidar aside from the one scene of Aygar fighting the dinosaur. There’s a tiny tease of a romance plot with Varian unsure of her affection towards Aygar versus Kai but that too comes to nothing.

Of course, McCaffrey does pull of this trick of a fantasy story underpinned by a sci-fi back story with her Pern novels and with great success. Dinosaur Planet is not a great story but its failure also exposes insights into the process McCaffrey was adopting. Flipping the story round and starting with Aygar and him fighting a T-Rex and then revealing the hidden history could have been a tremendous story. Instead McCaffrey had different books to write and given the love for the books she did create there is little point worrying about a better book that she could have written. Not every idea from a creative mind is a success.

Next time: Robert Silverberg returns…

^[I should also add that The White Dragon won the Gandalf Award for Book-Length Fantasy at the same Worldcon. The Gandalf’s were a not-a-Hugo awarded using Hugo rules ]

*[the man has the spear, not the T-Rex]

**[I haven’t read these but from reviews they appear to be a lot better than Dinosaur Planet]

Michael Z Williamson’s Wikipedia page has not been deleted

For those keeping score, the Michael Z Williamson article on Wikipedia has not been deleted after a long and fractious discussion:

The outcome of the deletion discussion was ‘no consensus’ i.e. notability wasn’t decided one way or another. This was mainly because of the brigade of trolls who descended on the discussion at Williamson’s request.

The finding states:

“The result was no consensus. Wikipedia deletion discussions are not votes, but attempts at establishing whether there is a consensus among editors to delete an article in the light of our applicable inclusion rules, notably WP:GNG and in this case WP:ANYBIO and WP:AUTHOR. As such, while the numbers of people advocating for keeping or deleting the article do matter, the strength of their arguments in light of established Wikipedia policies and guidelines matters more. Our rules require a rough consensus for deletion; absent such consensus, the article is kept. I conclude that this is the case here.”

Ironically the strongest reason for deleting the article was Michael Z Williamson’s tantrum/reverse psychology demand that the page be deleted:

“Given that Williamson himself has requested deletion, I need to determine whether WP:BIODEL applies. According to that policy, “biographical articles of relatively unknown, non-public figures, where the subject has requested deletion and there is no rough consensus, may be closed as delete”. I find that the first criterium of this policy does not apply here. Williamson is a published author who has publicly promoted himself as such; accordingly, he is a public figure. His view on the existence on the article about him is therefore not determinative. “

So the anarcho-encylopedic consensus is that Williamson is notable enough to be a public figure but maybe not notable enough to have a Wikipedia page.

John Scalzi’s surprise cameo also gets a mention:

“I do give weight to the professional opinion of the author and Wikipedian John Scalzi, who, while clearly no friend of Williamson’s, makes a persuasive case that we have routinely accepted articles about authors of comparable apparent notability. While this opinion, as well as other thoughtful “keep” and “delete” opinions, can’t establish a consensus that clearly does not exist, they weigh against attempting to find a consensus for deletion here. “

The possibility of a sequel has not been ruled out:

“Consequently, the article is kept for now. It can be renominated for deletion after an appropriate time. Any new deletion discussion should probably be semi-protected from the beginning, as this one has now been, to prevent the recurrence of canvassing and sockpuppetry.”

Thus ends yet another chapter in the annals of “supposed libertarian throwing a tantrum because others are using their free speech in ways he doesn’t like”.

Sunday Beer: Chocolate Fish Milk Stout

If you know any New Zealanders you know they have a thing for particular junk foods: pineapple lumps for example. Another treat likely to temp a Kiwi is chocolate fish — a fish shaped marshmallow covered in chocolate.

This stout attempts to replicate that by adding raspberry to the beer. I’ve had bad experiences with raspberry beer but this was quite nice.

Hugosauriad 3: Jurassic 1972 – 1999

Welcome to part 3 of a our journey through the Hugo Awards via the medium of dinosaurs: a genre of inquiry known as a dinography*.

In the deep past the Jurassic is an age of dinosaur supremacy. An extinction event at the end of the Triassic reduced severely the range of species of large land animals. Meanwhile the super-continent of Pangea was dividing into the two land masses of Laurasia and Gondwana. The Jurassic was warm and wet, fitting closer to how the time of the dinosaurs is often portrayed in fiction: hot, damp jungles filled with giant herbivores.

For the Hugo Awards it was also a period of both change and continuity. In 1983, for example, the finalists for Best Novel include Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein but alongside them are newer voices such C J Cherryh and Gene Wolfe.

Throughout this period the science fiction magazine remains an influential source of stories. However, it is a period of slow declining influence in Best Novel. The very last winner of Best Novel (to date) to have been published by a magazine was Robert J Sawyer’s Hominid in 2003 (published by Analog Science Fiction)**.

It was a period also when more women are both nominated for awards and win them. Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Vonda McIntyre, C J Cherryh, Joan D Vinge, Julian May, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sheri S. Tepper, Emma Bull, Connie Willis, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Moon, Mary Doria Russell, all winning or finalists for Best Novel during this period.

It was also a period with its own controversies. The Church of Scientology made two concerted attempts to win a Hugo Award for their founder L. Ron Hubbard. The second, more successful, attempt was defeated when Worldcon members voted Hubbard’s novel Black Genesis below No Award. A full discussion of Hubbard, Scientology and their relationship with American science fiction is beyond the scope of this project.

Science fiction as a genre continued to broaden. New sub-genres such as cyberpunk became popular. In wider popular culture the success of Star Wars popularized science fiction and modernised the pulp-aesthetic. Book series also became more popular such as Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld or Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. More sequels began to win Hugo Awards such as Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead (Best Novel 1987) or David Brin’s The Uplift War (Best Novel 1988).

As with the Triassic, I’ll also be looking at stories that not only did not win a Hugo but which didn’t even get nominated. Of course every story has dinosaurs and a connection to the Hugo Awards! So next time we are off on a journey to the mysterious planet of Ireta and Anne McCaffrey’s Dinosaur Planet!

*[known by me, that is]

**[I’ve even considered setting 2003 as my Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary but for balance of works I decided to go with the round number. Geologically the Jurassic/Cretaceous is a more blurry boundary than Triassic/Jurassic so it sort of works to be a bit blurry here also.]

Just to reiterate…

“They” aren’t “going after” Timothy Zahn. I’ve been wading through alarmist comments on Facebook re: Baen authors and Wikipedia. The brief notability tag on Sharon Lee’s page is still causing ripples of concern, even though it was removed. The other example that keeps coming up is Timothy Zahn.

As I documented here, Zahn’s page does have a warning at the start FROM 2012.

That warning has been sitting there literally for years. It’s also not a notability tag but rather a tag to ensure that pages about actual living people contain verified claims. If there’s a wikispiracy against Zahn, they are playing a very, very long game…

Why secondary reliable sources matter

I think most readers know the answer but in my current wanderings I keep see the question being asked: why does Wikipedia not like primary sources? After all, aren’t primary sources what historians value the most when collecting evidence?

An encyclopedia entry is not meant to be a research project or an essay. It is meant to sum up what other people have already found out. Wikipedia aims for (and often misses) a standard of verifiability for its articles: i.e. claims made in the article can be traced to a reliable secondary source. Somebody else has researched the topic and reported on the answer.

Everipedia is an online encyclopedia that has more relaxed rules than Wikipedia. Rather like other attempts to improve on Wikipedia, it started out as a fork of Wikipedia’s content (not unlike the ill-fated Citizendium or the execrable Voxopedia). Everipedia’s gimmick is something-something-cryptocurrency-something-blockchain-etc. I’ve read over the idea a few times and I still don’t get it: basically it costs you money to edit but the money is free?

So, I thought, here’s a challenge: write a Wikipedia like article that is genuinely sourced and referenced to several sources that I don’t control but with additional links to this blog. But who could I write about? Hmmmm. It would need to be somebody with enough web-presence but also somebody who might not have a clear relationship with reality…

There’s only one possible candidate:

Apologies to everybody who ends up being referenced.