Debarkle Chapter 32: Justice, Dinosaurs and the Water that Falls on You from Nowhere

Larry Correia and Vox Day’s Sad Puppies 2 campaigns gained them some finalists spots but were trounced in the final voting. Correia’s writing friend and ally, Brad Torgersen blamed the results on “affirmative action”. Eight of the thirteen categories that had gone to a sole person had been won by women[1] but Torgersen had a very broad sense of what he meant by “affirmative action” (see chapter 31). The claim that deserving authors were not being sufficiently recognised by the Hugo Awards had a related claim that UNdeserving authors were being disproportionately recognised by the Hugo Awards because of “politics”.

The 2014 Hugo Award winners would provide the supporters of the Sad Puppy campaigns with some examples.

In the Best Related Work category, Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative[2] had received some push back in the comments[3] at Larry Correia’s blog (and elsewhere) for its claim that women had historically always been involved in combat. However, as much as that essay was disliked by some Sad Puppy supporters, the thrust of their argument was that science fiction stories were being negatively impacted by left-wing politics.

Three stories in particular came under increased scrutiny by Sad Puppy supporters:

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel)
  • The Water that falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu (winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story)
  • If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky (finalist for the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short and winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story)

Of the three, the greatest ire was directed at Swirsky’s story. The story was negatively critiqued by Dave Freer, Sarah Hoyt, Kate Paulk, Vox Day and John C Wright as variously not being science fiction and employing negative stereotypes of southern Americans or working-class people. This latter claim was not supported by the actual text of the story. I discussed the critiques of the story in relation to the Sad Puppy campaigns in a previous project about dinosaur fiction in the Hugo Awards[4], so I won’t repeat that analysis in full here. However, it is worth noting that some of the ire targetted at the story may have been due to Swirsky being Vice President of the SFWA from 2012 to 2014, a period that took in most of the recent controversies at the SFWA including the expulsion of Vox day as a member.

For our purposes the key objections from right wing critics of If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love were:

  • It wasn’t science-fiction — this is really the only objection in common with non-partisan critics of the story (I disagree but there is at least a reasonable critique there).
  • It was gay dinosaur porn — this is simply false. There is no sexual element (other than a romantic relationship) and the protagonist are of opposite genders. There is a homophobic slur used against one character.
  • It is an attack on working-class people — this is a huge stretch. A character is attacked in a bar and left in a coma as a consequence. The attackers use ethnic and homophobic slurs. No other details about the attackers are given other than that they were ‘gin soaked’.
  • The story absurdly portrays working-class people drinking gin — this is an absurd claim. The only detail about the attackers is that they were ‘gin soaked’. That this detail might contradict the absurd assumption that the attackers are working class was then used to claim that the story was inconsistent.
  • It is an attack on people from Southern US states — like the working class claim but with even less supporting evidence in the actual text.
  • The story is attempting to make it appear that hate crimes motivated by racism or homophobia are common.
  • The story won a Hugo award — it was a Hugo Award finalist but didn’t win although it did win a Nebula Award. Confusion on this distinction was common.

The short, sparse, lyrical story that is If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love worked its way into the psyche of the set of people supporting the Sad Puppy campaign. In January 2015, Sarah Hoyt described her feelings about the story as bothering her “like an aching tooth to which the tongue keeps returning”[6]. The power of the story to discombobulate its right-wing critics was itself proof-positive of its inherent notability.

The actual winner of the Hugo Award for Best Short Story also had a theme of marriage but (unlike some of the weird claims about If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love) did actually feature a gay couple but also wasn’t in any way pornographic, although it is clear (and why shouldn’t it be?) that the couple has a physical relationship.

John Chu’s The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere follows Matt/何德培 a Chinese-American man dealing with the question of how to come out to his family and introduce his partner Gus to them at Christmas. There is an added incentive for Gus in that it has recently become much harder for everybody in the world to lie because of the titular water that falls on people from nowhere.

“The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure. True fact. I tested it myself when the water started falling a few weeks ago. Everyone on Earth did. Everyone with any sense of lab safety anyway. Never assume any liquid is just water. When you say “I always document my experiments as I go along,” enough water falls to test, but not so much that you have to mop up the lab. Which lie doesn’t matter. The liquid tests as distilled water every time.

Uttering “this sentence is false” or some other paradox leaves you with such a sense of angst, so filled with the sense of an impending doom, that most people don’t last five seconds before blurting something unequivocal. So, of course, holding out for as long as possible has become the latest craze among drunk frat boys and hard men who insist on root canals without an anesthetic. Psychologists are finding the longer you wait, the more unequivocal you need to be to ever find solace.”

https://www.tor.com/2013/02/20/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere/

The how and the why of this magical phenomenon is never explained which gives the story a sense of a vignette about people coping with life within the events of some much bigger story. The backstory and eventual resolution (if there ever would be one) to the aquatic lie-detector test is left for the reader to imagine. It’s a clever trick, giving a further contrast between the very personal aspects of the plot and the unresolved sense of some much bigger, world-spanning event.

The first part of the story introduces us to Matt and his partner Gus and Matt’s dilemma about how to introduce Gus properly to his family. The role of the fantastical water helps cement the fundamental truth of their relationship both to exemplify how the water functions and also to show us the core “what if…” question at the heart of the story and which is often integral to the classic science fiction short. The “what if…” isn’t the plot device of the water but rather, what if we could actually know without all the surrounding self-guessing and doubt, whether we truly are loved and whether we truly love. Rather than introduce creepy mind-reading powers, Chu uses the mysterious water as a kind of universal critical friend that provides a hard intervention when we go into a spiral of self-doubt.

Having set up the situation (gay man off to a family gathering to both come out and introduce his very traditional family to the man he is going to marry), Chu uses the reader’s expectations against us. We expect an inter-generational and a cross-cultural conflict when Matt tells his parents but instead, the emotional dynamic is not that at all. Matt finds that the primary obstacle he has to face is his sister.

Sibling expectations, protectiveness of parents and the unresolvable list of grievances that siblings maintain about each other are the actual obstacle that Matt must face as he navigates his sister’s disapproval. His sister’s objection is a kind of homophobia by proxy — she expects her parents to be upset (because they are old-fashioned) and hence is angry at Matt for bringing Gus to the family gathering. It is a clever complication because at the heart of his sister’s issues is her own internal model of their parent’s beliefs and emotions — the kind of self-deceiving models that the lie-punishing water can cut through but only if people engage with each other directly.

“She slaps me again. My cheek hadn’t stopped stinging from last time.
“Do you love Mom and Dad? Dump that slab of beef. Find a Chinese woman to marry. Put your penis in her vagina and make Mom and Dad a grandson. Make them happy.”
She turns to leave but not two steps stomp by before she whips around. Coming out to Mom and Dad, she hasn’t ordered me not to do it yet.
“And you’re not coming out to Mom and Dad.” With that command, she leaves.
No water. She must mean it. She’ll never leave me alone with Mom or Dad.”

ibid

I shan’t reveal the end, the story is freely available and it is well worth reading. It is heartwarming, positive while still being honest about human failings.

So not surprising then that Vox Day hated it.

In the run-up to the final voting in the 2014 Hugo Awards, Vox Day posted mini-reviews of each of the short story finalists before concluding that the only correct way to vote was to just vote for ‘no award’. On the topic of John Chu’s story, Day said:

“Homosexual angst story about a Chinese man afraid to come out about his white boyfriend to his family, written by a homosexual Chinese man. It would appear someone took the advice to “write what you know” a little too literally. The writing isn’t bad and it would be the best story of the lot (which isn’t saying anything at all) if it had anything to do with science fiction or fantasy. Which it doesn’t.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20140720053601/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/07/hugo-recommendations-best-short-story.html

Day didn’t attempt to explain how psychic lie-detecting rain fall is NOT fantastical though.

While Day’s reaction to the story was contemporaneous with its Hugo success, others cited it as an indictment of the Hugo Awards only in 2015 when the next Sad Puppy campaign was in full swing.

Brad Torgersen characterised the story as a kind of trolling, an attempt to stick it to people who want science fiction or fantasy in their science fiction and fantasy:

“One might also conclude that “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” was a very up-front “stick it” story, in the same manner. Knowing TOR.COM, they hang their social justice cred on a shingle at the door. Because somebody has to rescue the genre from all the dirty nasty straight white capitalist cisnormative men! Frankly, that story belonged in an issue of The Sun. In fact, I don’t know why the author didn’t send it to The Sun. It would have been an instant pick-up for them, and would have been in the running for bigger mainstream literary prizes as a result.”

https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/nail-house/#comment-8030

A story featuring not just a gay character but a gay character in a loving relationship dealing with an emotional issue directly related to them being gay? From Torgersen’s perspective, it was a kind of provocation.

At least John C Wright had never attempted to deny that he had strong objections to gay people.

“I was not able to make it past this paragraph. Same semi-magical realism neither realistic nor magical, same half-grim half-playful tone of voice as the other two stories, the same lack of any science fictional element, no speculation, and a gratuitous sexual abnormality tossed in apparently as an easy way to score social justice warrior checkbox-marked points, got it. Pretentious crap.

These stories and those like them are not only not science fiction, they are the direct opposite in theme, in character, in tone, and in idea as to what science fiction stories are.

These stories do not add wonder. They drain it.

All the short stories I read last year were crap.”

http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/04/in-which-a-morlock-chides-me/

Chu’s story could be called ‘magical realism’ but then the term is very broad. The titular water that falls from nowhere is not a metaphor or an intrusion of folklore or pre-modern ways of experiencing the world. Instead, Chu introduces the water as a very real physical phenomenon that people are learning to live with. Where many (small c) conservative readers struggled was that fantastical element introduces the story but is not resolved within the story. By the end we know little more about the water than we did at the beginning, the cause of the water is not discovered, a solution to lie-induced rain is not found nor do people find a new way of living with it. Instead, the arc of the story is Matt’s relationships (with Gus, his sister, and his parents).

Chu presents us with a story in which characters live their lives within (and interacting with) a fantastical element. This, we are told, is not science fiction or fantasy and is in some way a daring challenge to the genre even though that description could just as well apply to say, Ray Bradbury’s Rocketman from the 1950s. Presenting, ordinary people engaging with their lives amid the fantastical is just one of the many modes of the genre and indeed, a venerable mode for the genre.

The criticism of both If You Were a Dinosaur… and The Water That… revealed an underlying desire by some notable people associated with the Sad Puppy campaign for strict boundaries and rules for genre work. This need for strict genre conventions would manifest at the Mad Genius Club website (see chapter 24) quite separate from politics, as stern advice for aspiring writers. The theory being that readers have deep genre expectations and that violating those expectations will upset readers.

In 2014, Mad Genius Club blogger Kate Paulk would apply that style of reasoning to the eventual winner of both the Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

“I started reading the novel winner. Went “wait, what?” This kind of cutesy games with pronouns was being done back in the sixties and they’re still calling it ground-breaking? No, it’s not. It’s confusing to readers who want to be able to tell who is whom (and in extreme cases, what). In addition to that, it’s clunky, sends confusing as hell signals (snow plus tavern then suddenly science fictiony trappings then we’re back to all the fantasy ‘medieval tavern’ signals. Screw that).”

https://madgeniusclub.com/2014/05/22/nebulous-honors/

Short stories may be at the heart of the Hugo Awards but the big headlines are with the novel and Ancillary Justice was a very talked-about book in 2013 and 2014. Part of that was the way Breq, the protagonist of the novel dealt with grammatical gender, to the extent that the novel caught the attention of the famous linguistics blog Language Log:

“This novel’s take on sex and gender is mostly traditional. There’s the familiar sexual near-binarity (female XX versus male XY), and the well-attested distinction between languages with various degrees of morpho-syntactic gender marking versus languages that don’t mark gender at all. And there’s the familiar biological and cultural variation in the nature and extent of gender signaling in appearance and behavior, amplified by the assumption of thousands of years of history on multiple distant planets.

What’s different — and confusing at first — is that the unmarked gender in the narrator’s native language is translated into English with she/her/hers, yielding phrases like “She was probably male”.”

https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=11589

Ancillary Justice is a novel that follows two tracks, a forward-facing plot that follows Breq on their course for revenge and a retrospective track that explains the series of events that set Breq on that course.

We learn that Breq is not who they appear to be. Once they had been the central AI computer of a military spaceship belonging to Radch empire. The empire is a ruthless, hegemonic culture that imposes its will on multiple planets and is ruled by a self-cloning near-immortal emperor. An added brutal twist of the empire is that it draws military levies from conquered nations in the form of people that become dead proxies controlled by ship AI’s.

The story untangles both the brutality and the richness of Radch culture in a way that borrows from classic space opera but which also has its own introspective approach to plot. However, fundamentally this is a story with space wars, evil empires, AIs and a central character on a quest for righteous revenge. Intrinsically, there should have been little for the more conservative voices in science fiction to object to.

Indeed, Elitist Book Reviews, the book blog review site that Larry Correia had nominated multiple times for a Hugo Award, gave Ancillary Justice a largely positive review.

“The prose is clean with the feel of Le Guin or other writers of that era, without being overbearing. The writing doesn’t draw attention to itself, but I still found myself stepping back to study what Leckie was doing because it seemed so effortless yet evocative.”

https://elitistbookreviews.com/2014/02/28/ancillary-justice/

However, gender and pronouns were genuinely an issue that people talked about with the book and that was seen as ‘politics’ by people like John C Wright:

“The book in question in this case, ANCILLARY JUSTICE, has been described the same way by both advocates and detractors. It is bit of insane feminist trash with a lame space opera plot tacked awkwardly to it. Space Opera is a particularly attractive genre to me, and I have read everything from GALACTIC PATROL by E.E. Doc Smith to PLAYER OF GAMES by Iain M. Banks, and, unfortunately, have tried my hand at it myself, which means my toleration for untalented attempts or highjackings in my favorite genre is limited.”

John C Wright in a 2014 comment at http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/11/what-went-wrong-with-sff/

Later in 2014, Wright would call the book “a story about pronouns and modern feminist piety, utterly unimaginative and bland”[8]. Wright had certainly formed strong views about the novel, so it is a little surprising that Wright would mention in 2015 that he had not ever read the book[9]. That people had mentioned feminism and pronouns in reviews was sufficient for Wright to evaluate the book as preachy feminism. It is true that the character Breq uses pronouns unconventionally but the way they are used in the book is far from a ‘politically correct’ usage. Instead, the character repeatedly appears to misgender people. While it is true that this raises questions about how language and gender interact (as discussed in the Language Log article) the story does not draw any overt conclusions.

No work is perfect nor universally acclaimed. There was certainly scope for considering how much fantastical or speculative elements should be in a story for it to count as science fiction or fantasy. Some of those lines might well exclude If You Were a Dinosaur… or The Water That Falls… but neither story was unprecedented in their low-key use of fantastical elements. Ancillary Justice also is not beyond criticism, although it was unimpeachable science fiction in terms of common conventions. The notable thing about many of the objections to these works from the coalition of right-wing voices that had gathered in support of Sad Puppies 2 was their thinness and that they were often objectively false.

However, a narrative had been established and a coalition had formed. All the movement needed now was a name and that was at hand.

Next Time: Brad, John and the Evil League of Evil


Footnotes

64 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 32: Justice, Dinosaurs and the Water that Falls on You from Nowhere

  1. Small correction wrt “Ancillary Justice” – you say:

    “An added brutal twist of the empire is that it draws military levies from conquered nations in the form of corpses that become proxies controlled by ship AI’s.”

    Actually, the victims of the ancillary conversion process have to be alive (and, book 2 is at pains to point out, conscious) at the start – it’s fatal in that it destroys the individual identity, but it has to be done to a living person. The sheer awfulness of the whole thing is kind of a plot point, so I think it matters, kind of.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, their consciousness/sense of self/soul/whatever is completely destroyed and over-written to turn them into a living, breathing extension of the ship.

      Which, in some ways, is the proverbial fate worse than death.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m afraid this sentence

    “ it is notable how thing and often objectively incorrect many of the objections to these works were from the coalition of right-wing voices that had gathered in support of Sad Puppies 2”

    Needs revision, as it’s both important and unclear in its present form. How about:

    “The notable thing about many of the objections to these works from the coalition of right-wing voices that had gathered in support of Sad Puppies 2 was their thinness and, often, objective inaccuracy/incorrectness”?

    Or you could fix “thing” and move “were” to follow “works”. Your text, not mine, of course.

    The determinedly obtuse criticism of Ancillary Justice in particular is amazing. I’m still looking for the socks that book blew off me. Other than a couple of favorite authors, I had drifted away from SFF before a friend lent me that book and I came roaring back.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I wasn’t that fond of the short stories, but then I’m not much into slow paced human drama. But I will definitely read Soon Lee’s gay space raptor who has always fought in taverns story.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Look for Chuck Tingle’s “The Dinosaur that Fell on My Love from nowhere and Banged Him in the Butt.”

        I’m also interested in a Middle-Eastern-Themed story where the crowd was djinn soaked.

        Liked by 8 people

      2. Well we aren’t in puppyland, so you don’t have to pretend to like every story,
        The difference between critics that exist outside the puppys and the critics by puppys are imho two.

        1. The discusion from people who disliked “If you were a dinosauer my love” from outside the puppycamp is mostly civil. It is okay to not like a story without fantasizing to murder the writer, you know? Actually not counting the puppys and some other extreme cases this is probably the norm for critics.

        2. From the puppies we have a lot of evidence that really questions if they have read the story or even informed themselve what it is about. And the fact that a lot of them saw the story as an attack on them, makes me very unconfortable.

        I remember (I am not quite sure, who said it) a comment, that Rachel Swirsky’s story is a good test and what you see in it tells you a lot about the person. The puppies did a self own here.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. The Weather Wardens series by the late Rachel Caine also featured djinn (and is really, really good as well), but sadly Rachel Caine won’t be writing any more for obviously reasons.

        Like

  3. The sentence beginning “While it is true…” in the yhird para from the end (just after the last JCW quote) appears to be lacking an end.

    Like

    1. Do we get a prize for making a typo in a copyediting comment? In my defence, for some reason my browser has decided I am only allowed to see half a line of the comment box at once.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Skitt’s, McKean’s, or Muphry’s Law? I prefer Skitt’s as Muphry’s implies criticism. Zeno’s Iron Law of Nitpicking suggests small or trivial errors.

        Like

  4. The incredible thing about “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” was that it was an authentic gay story. From five years of reading SFF short fiction, I learned that editors love stories about lesbians and pre-op trans men, but they don’t like stories about gay men, and they really don’t like stories about trans women. Transition is almost never talked about unless it’s accomplished by magic or technology as good as magic.

    About 90% of the gay men in SFF are either pure tokens (I joked that the character was a Methodist up until the final edit and only became gay thanks to search/replace) or they’re “gay men as imagined by straight women.” There’s nothing wrong with the latter–I saw a poll somewhere that showed that almost no gay men are offended by those stories–but it’s surprising just how little space there is for authentic stories about gay men.

    That’s why it’s really ironic (or just dishonest) for Vox Day to describe it as a token. It’s a rare example of an SFF story with a gay protagonist who’s not a token!

    Since I’ve been reading novels in Spanish (over 20 now!), I’ve gained a bit more appreciation for magical realism, and I think that’s actually the best way to categorize “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere,” although I didn’t think of that until I just now read your article.

    I suppose the biggest argument to the contrary is that, in the stories I’ve read so far, the people who experience it don’t treat the magic as magic; it’s just a part of their environment. They might complain about it, but they never think of it as supernatural. Magical Realism is a bit like tall tales in that respect, except the events aren’t as extreme.

    But in “The Water that Falls on You from nowhere,” they do talk about how scientists have studied it and how it has changed the world. I’m not sure that’s a sufficient argument, though, and I haven’t read enough (yet) to be sure that’s a consistent rule anyway. Certainly by the time of the action of the story, everyone simply accepts it.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. I think for most people having token gaycharakters is probably a first stepp. There is (exspecially if you lived in a area that is conservative) a certain fear to write about gay characters that doesn’t seem to exist with lesbian characters. Another reason in writing the other only as minor characters is probably the do not harm maxim. Writing a small scene where you confirm character X is gay is easy exspecially when character X plays a small role. When you writte the character neutral to positiv than you can look at yourself and feel not bad.

      And well there is a fear of screwing this up and the “gay character imagined by a straight woman” is probably done by writers who think the did a good job. And just for curiosity, are there many not-gay writers who manage to get gay characters right?

      Re Magical Realism: I most discusion I have seen that was used for a work that the writer of the argument doesn’t want to see as genere. I know nearly nothing about Magical Realism beside that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve also seen the argument, I forget who by but I think it was the comic creator Shaenon Garrity, that straight male writers are happier writing about lesbians than gay men, not for prurient reasons but because they are uncomfortable with depicting men as the objects of sexual desire.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m not sure that’s the “tokenism” that Beale is complaining about. I think he is complaining that people are voting for a “gay” story to check the “I voted for a gay-themed story” box. In short, I think Beale would complain that almost any story involving a gay character which was given kudos was only given those kudos as a “token”.

      The reason for this is that I think that Beale’s (and Wright’s, and several other Pups’) homophobia is so deeply rooted that they cannot conceive of anyone actually liking a story that prominently features a gay character. Consequently, anyone who votes for such a story is simply box-checking for “virtue points”, because, obviously, they didn’t actually like the story (since, in their view, no one likes stories with gay characters).

      You see this kind of attitude a lot with conservatives in the United States – it fuels a lot of their incredulity that Biden could have won the most recent Presidential election. They don’t prefer Biden to Trump (and no one they know likes Biden), so it is inconceivable that anyone could like Biden more than Trump, hence Biden only could have won via cheating.

      The same holds true for the Pups. None of them likes the stories that recently won Hugos or Nebulas (never mind that most of the Pups appear to have never read any of the stories in question), so no one could have actually liked the stories that won the Hugos and the Nebulas. Hence, the only way they could have won is by a combination of cheating and “virtue signaling”.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. I had to think about it for a minute, but I wouldn’t say Breq repeatedly misgenders people. She tries quite hard to use the right genders in her speech and her narrative voice is presumably in a language without gender markers.

    (I’d love to see the puppies try to read Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand… but, alas, that’s unlikely to happen.)

    Liked by 4 people

      1. As I recall, Breq generally gets gender right for Radch people, but for non-Radch who use clothing to signal gender in a different way than Breq is familiar with, and/or are on a cold planet and thus are bundled up considerably, Breq sometimes gets it wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Breq is:
        * effectively asexual
        * from an imperial culture that has no significant gender gap
        * and that culture has a language with a default female gender in, I think, a slightly stronger way than 1960s English had a default male gender.

        A 1960s American might assume that an engineer is male unless otherwise corrected and speak of businessmen as including any women who happen to be among them; a Raadch would speak of businesswomen as including the 50% males who would likely be in that group and also speak of an engineer as “she/her” as long as he was not actually present. I may be inferring too much here.

        I assumed that Breq’s misgendering was a combination of automatic and not-being-interested unless their attention was drawn to it — after which they would try to be polite, but sometimes slip.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. As you point out – and honestly it’s been a long time since i read the Ancillary trilogy, although I really enjoyed it – Ancillary Justice isn’t a book featuring gendering someone properly, it just features an empire and a main character constantly MISgendering people – the twist is that however the gender chosen as the default is she/her, rather than he/him. That’s what stuck in the right wing backlash’s craw – although I suspect if they actually read the novels, they might also have issues with the book’s treatment of Empires and conquerors (although the right wing scifi sphere often has issues realizing Empires may reflect the modern world, so they might’ve missed that entirely).

    Liked by 4 people

  7. The thing I hated about the SP crowd’s abuse of Rachel Swirsky’s story is how cruelly wounding that was to the author. Which is just my perception, nothing that could be proved, but is based on my impression that Swirsky pulled back from the amount of social media interaction she once did.

    The SP abuse hurts everybody, but some are better able to shrug off the effect and move on.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. It always astonishes me how bad an author John Wright is, and how little he seems to know it. Who else would write a sentence like “Unfortunately, have tried my hand at it [space opera] myself” without stopping and saying, “Wait a minute, that’s not what I mean”?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That entire para from Wright proves to me that without a shadow of a doubt that he’s a shit writer and a shit critic. From the mischaracterization of Leckie’s novel as ‘insane feminist trash’ (what?), to the citing of one of Banks’ lesser Culture novels (OK, still better than many other writers’ work, but compared to his later Culture stuff?) to his bizarre misspelling of hijacking. With writing like that, I’m not surprised that Wikipedia describes his legal career as ‘failed”.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. The thing about Wright that explains a lot of his weird opinions is the fact that he attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland for his undergraduate education (and, I believe, so did his spouse – and pretty much everything I say here also applies to her). St. John’s has what can only be described as a kind of quirky curriculum. Instead of offering an array of courses like most institutions of higher learning, St. John’s students all study the same set of “Great Books” which it described as the “foundational texts of Western civilization”. This curriculum was originally adopted in the 1930s (when the college briefly lost its accreditation), and as one might expect it is long on pre-twentieth century works by white male authors and short on pretty much everything else. (The reading list can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John%27s_College_(Annapolis/Santa_Fe),

      It is quite likely that Wright’s myopic view of the world was shaped by being told that this relatively limited set of books constituted the “foundational texts of Western civilization”. It is probably also the source of his frequent claims about how he really understands science fiction because he read some fairly old book by someone like E.E. Smith or Keith Laumer – after all, the entire basis of St. John’s curriculum is that education comes from reading sufficiently old books. It is probably also the source of his weirdly archaic writing style and clumsy use of archaic language (and his belief that he is one of the finest writers of science fiction”, since the works he was told were “Great Books” were probably largely written in that style).

      Most importantly, Wright appears to have come away from his education with a Cargo Cultish approach to analyzing texts – he knows what sort of words to use, but doesn’t really seem to understand how they connect with a text that he is writing about. I sort of suspect that he managed to muddle through his education by figuring out what sort of language to parrot so that he looked like he was understanding the work, and decided that was what the goal was.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Embarrassed to admit I had not read the Chu story before. Another advantage of the Debarkle: it gave me the chance.
    How well written that story is. And how lovely.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The part when Gus reveals what the parents have asked him to call them, thus revealing that he has been truly accepted as their son-in-law is so touching. It’s a very moving story and the fantastical element is absolutely part of it. The point about truth simply doesn’t work without it.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Leave it to RWNJ to pick on the loveliest stories that show real human emotion other than hatred.

    Those works were all a) completely not what the Puppies said they were b) extremely well-written c) probably left enough socks in orbit that Space Force! can track them.

    Puppies are just jealous that anyone but them — or anyone non-SWM — can write so beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think the Pups and the RW in general have “agoraphobic souls”.

    By which I mean, they get really nervous when anything steps out of the tiny, rigid kennels they’ve forced themselves into. Either socially or literarily.

    Snowy taverns must mean fantasy, SF must have rocket ship covers, lovers who get beat up must be gay, pronouns are what the RW says they are, women are inferior, people with melanin aren’t proper Americans and neither are people who aren’t in monogamous Christian hetero breeding relationships.

    Et cetera, ad nauseam.

    They want everyone to live in the tiny, frightened world they do. Stay in their closed boxes where new ideas can’t come in, instead of walking out into the big wide world of wonders.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. When I was reading Ancillary Justice I found the pronoun thing a bit clunky at first. Like I was constantly translating in my head ‘yes, Breq said ‘she’ but Lieutenant Amn is actually…’ Then after a while I stopped doing that. Everyone was just ‘she’ but I wasn’t thinking of them as female. My brain had stopped trying to work out which, if any, gender box they fit in at all. It was really fascinating. I can imagine that would be quite uncomfortable if you are not accustomed to picking your own thought processes apart, but I am not convinced that any of the Puppy critics got that far in.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I had the exact same reaction when I first read Ancillary Justice. For about the first 10 pages it seemed really awkward and discordant, and then suddenly my brain sort of clicked into place, I stopped thinking about gender, and I was fine after that. Possibly the fact that I’ve spent most of my life refusing to perform most of the things stereotypically assigned to my gender made it easier for me.

      Like

      1. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m pretty sure it took me a lot further into the story before my brain finally stopped worrying about it.

        Like

      2. I’ve read this series four times now so what my original experience was is rather blurred. The first time through I may have decided it didn’t seem to matter what sex anybody might actually be. The prounouns didn’t keep me from identifying with the POV character so there was even less reason to think about it. Upon rereading, I’ve found Leckie does make it possible to tell what sex some characters are, so readers probably aren’t supposed to disregard it completely, even though I always manage to promptly forget what I have deduced.

        Liked by 3 people

  13. Poor fragile straight people. My heart bleeds for them. Once more I chuckle darkly at the prospect of self-labelled ‘tough guys’ backing away from a gay situation holding up their figurative crosses to keep the cooties away. Even when it’s just words on a page. Or perhaps especially when it’s just words on a page because their usual default homophobic blustering and posturing won’t make the ‘nasty’ words go away.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. An amusing tidbit about the If You Were a Dinosaur backlash…
    Back in 2015, the owner of TorInAction (a Puppy subreddit) argued that the story can’t be well-liked, because it lacks Amazon and Goodreads ratings:

    Of course, that was back when the Puppies were primarily championing genuinely popular authors like Jim Butcher. Once the promotion of minor small-press authors became the order if the day, the metric had to be changed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m trying to figure out how they thought a short story was going to get a bunch of Amazon or Goodreads ratings. I suppose one might look to anthologies it was published in, but that’s not a rating for If You Were a Dinosaur.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. In discussions of Ancillary Justice, it’s worth mentioning the Puppy assertion that Tor.com heavily promoted it because AJ was published by Tor – when of course, AJ was published by Orbit (Tor.com talked about it because it was interesting to discuss). This is analogous to the mistaken belief that “If You Were a Dinosaur” won a Hugo.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. What it’s been interesting if sad to learn as this Debarkle exploration goes on, is how the Sad Puppies were way more openly bigoted way earlier than I had originally twigged. They put a lot of effort initially into trying to win SFF allies by just saying that adventure stories and conservative authors were being ignored in the Hugos (more a dog whistling style,) which turned out not to work that well for them because their evidence for this was nonsensical. So they turned towards Beale and Gamergate type folk to get a bigger voting block and that meant being more openly bigoted as culture warriors, stuff that would appeal to that crowd.

    That got Larry and various other Sad Puppies nominations in 2014, showing the success of having a voting block for the Hugos. But as we know, WorldCon members who bother to vote for the Hugos in general take it very seriously and the Puppies were pronounced poor sports in getting No Award counts for their nominations from many voters. Because they were taking the bigoted alt right culture warrior route, they therefore had to attack those who did win the awards who were from marginalized groups and/or writing about them. They here employed mainly Stage Two Bigotry: You Don’t Deserve to Be Here (tokenism, affirmative action, etc.) and Stage Three Bigotry: You Are Ruining Here (these people not only don’t deserve what they are getting in the field but are a threat to the Sad Puppies, pushing them out of the field, and in Wright’s case, having queer folk ruin civilization itself.)

    Kameron Hurley’s essay they didn’t have much to work with. She’s white and although it’s a feminist essay, it’s filled with historical facts that counter bigoted myths and had been much talked about in the field. At best, the clueless followers among them could complain that she was misrepresenting history or that her examples were outliers that should be ignored. It also wasn’t fiction, which was the thrust of their efforts.

    Chu’s story was obviously ripe for this sort of bigoted whining — it’s a surreal fantasy story (a cousin to magic realism) that is centered on gay people’s experiences, very much in East Asian cultural traditions of fiction. So the Puppies didn’t simply dismiss it as a gay story by a POC and thus being handed the award as a token (Stage 2) by the liberal cabal; they openly declared it a threat to their careers (Stage 3.) By declaring Chu to be threatening their rights in the SFF field, they felt justified to indulge in open queer bashing on a regular basis when it came to SFF fiction.

    Leckie’s Ancillary Justice made a splash in part because it’s a classic Count of Monte Cristo mystery revenge thriller and in part because it plays with identity and the nature of consciousness in a way that’s most often referenced as being in the Ursula LeGuin and Sheri Tepper SF area stylistically and thematically. Breq, the main character, is not a she and not a non-binary human they. Breq is an it and thinks of itself as an it and that does not change throughout the story, a new type of entity that is not bound by fleshier conventions. As an AI, Breq is part of an Empire that uses “she” in the same way a society might just have one gender and use “they.” Sex and gender aren’t non-existent in the people; their language is simply coded around having only one set of pronouns rather than it being used to designate gender and define people through that. Breq does not care about or notice gender or sex because Breq has never had to do so. When Breq travels to a society within the Empire that has been allowed, as full satellite members, to keep its multiple gender pronouns and coding, we learn that the ancillary body Breq inhabits (along with the remnants of the consciousness of the original body’s owner unexpectedly) is female (which means little to Breq except as something to maneuver around,) and that the wounded person who becomes her No. 1 lieutenant is in a male body, though we don’t know how that lieutenant sees herself. But otherwise, since Leckie deliberately seldom gives you a lot of detail in character description, you can basically pick however you want most of the other characters to be in gender and appearance.

    That approach is certainly a descendent of feminist SF, but it isn’t concerned with the gender cultural issues of feminist SF. Leckie deliberately cuts those out and makes gender irrelevant in the story, and physical bodies almost also irrelevant, which fits with the main character’s pov, an AI for whom physical bodies are basically irrelevant but have now been forced on it as relevant, the AI going from divided consciousness among multitudes to being limited to one body. For most SF fans, this is a cool stylistic and thematic experiment coupled with a suspenseful adventure story. For the Puppies, having gender be irrelevant is a threat. Having only one pronoun and that pronoun being “she” instead of “he” is a threat. It elevates, to them, the importance of women authors and their right to play with stuff as they like and women as people in language and societies. And so Leckie’s book, which they didn’t read because it asks them to get rid of a social hierarchy dear to their hearts for the purposes of the story, is first off a token (Stage 2) and second, ruining science fiction and threatening to push their macho gendered SF out of the market (Stage 3.)

    The ire against Swirsky was obviously in part due to Beale’s hatred of the SFWA ousting him and that the particular story is on the very edge of speculative SF (and thus they used Stage 2 arguments: You Don’t Deserve to Be Here.) But it also happens to be the story they could most frame as a direct attack on themselves (Stage 3 Bigotry: You are Ruining Here.) It’s an emotionally powerful story that brings up uncomfortable truths about violent hate crimes. Attackers, who are intoxicated and use racial slurs so some of them may have been white, beat someone to death while making racial and homophobic slurs of the victim whom they don’t know. There is no reason in the story for the Puppies to associate the attackers with themselves, to see the attackers as (white) Southerners/country folk who are working class and conservative, as noted — no reason except that they use racial and homophobic slurs while physically assaulting someone in a bar, something that happens in real life.

    So the Puppies misrepresent the story to declare that the attackers are meant to be them, the good righteous people (Southern country whites, salt of the earth working people who drink in bars,) and declare that such good, righteous working class white people (who must therefore be conservatives like the Puppies,) are being portrayed as violent, bigoted meanies — and thus the story is a threat to them and trying to push them out of the field and malign white conservatives. (In reality, as we know, white working class folk often ally with BIPOC, while it’s mainly the white middle and upper middle class folk who pursue bigoted discrimination against marginalized people and use their institutional power to enact policies and laws that hurt both BIPOC and working class white folk.) Systematic racism requires as maintenance that any mention of violent hate crimes against BIPOC be dismissed or buried because it ruins the racial myth and claim to justified power. By having a violent racial hate crime as the center of her story, Swirsky committed for the Puppies a crime of confrontation (Stage 3) and it was therefore justified to declare her a threat and punish her. So they went after her the most.

    Using these three stories and a bit of Hurley’s essay as Stage 3 Bigotry threats created a big appeal to alt right Gamergaters who also used these same sorts of grounds as justification to attack their targets. The Sad Puppies didn’t lose the 2014 Hugos, according to them. It had nothing to do with their behavior or the quality of their voting slate choices, according to them. Instead, they were cheated by authors who are Stage 3 threats to them and the entire field of SFF, according to them. And they used that claim to rally the troops to form a bigger voting block for next time. The strategy of escalation is always the same and it was much more blatant earlier than I had thought.

    It also shows that, while Beale did take over in 2014 and later on, the Puppies didn’t need his guidance to launch their own openly bigoted, misrepresenting and vindictive attacks on authors they didn’t even really know. For them, the winners and possible nominees for the Hugos were tools and they had no problems sicking online swarms at them, swarms who screamed that they were threats to all for writing what they wrote and getting acclaim for the work. The worst thing that the Puppies did (besides the swatting incident,) was go to mainstream bigots and tell them that SFF authors should be included in their war against equal civil rights, to make people targets of much larger hate groups than they were themselves. They did so because they were greedy and entitled, sure, in an agoraphobic sort of way as Lurkertype noted. But they also did it so that they could be part of those much larger hate groups, something that some of them would regret later on.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Larry. He and others started backpeddling away from the Gamergate and Beale associations when they got negative media coverage after awhile. Along with the rule changes to the Hugos that blocked voting blocks, I think it was a contributing factor to the collapse of the organized Sad Puppy efforts.

        The one whom I thought was going to work harder to continue into the right wing media hate spheres was Brad, from what various people said about his goals, but I don’t know if that has actually occurred.

        Like

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