Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…all of them!

I’m shirking my responsibility to rank this year’s finalists because it is too emotionally painful.

However here are links to my fan-writing meta-reviews in reverse alphabetical order:

Adam Whitehead

Paul Weimer

Bogi Takács

Alasdair Stuart

James Davis Nicoll

Cora Buhlert

But most of all don’t forget to vote!

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…Adam Whitehead

The final candidate and just in time as people rush to get their ballots filled in!

Adam Whitehead:
Other Sites:

What else does the genre of fan-writing have to offer beyond the already mentioned three-ews (news, views and reviews)? We’ve already seen quite a variety. We could add another ‘ew’ with ‘interviews’ but we’ve seen so far newsletters, panels, collaborative projects, databases, resource lists, recommendations and a fan-fund photo diary. Another of my favourites is the Big Enormous Labour of Love Project. The kind of thing were a fan thinks “I should read all of X…” or “how far was it from X to Y in…” and they they decide to do it themselves and weeks/months/years later they’ve generated a substantial thing in its own right. Time to look at Adam Whitehead…

Adam has an extensive profile of his activities on his Patreon site (I’ve skipped a few parts)

I’ve been blogging at The Wertzone about all things science fiction and fantasy for over a decade. My main areas of interest and expertise are epic fantasy, space opera and history across books, TV, film and video games. I have a keen interest in genre history and am the author of A History of Epic Fantasy, which you can read on my blog… I am also a keen fan of the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin. I have been moderating at for a decade, written an essay for Beyond the Wall and taken part in quite a few convention panels on the books and their TV adaptation, Game of Thrones… Earlier in 2016 I started a new blogging project, Atlas of Ice and Fire, which examines the maps, geography and military campaigns of A Song of Ice and Fire in detail.

If any genre deserves and encourages the spawning of Big Enormous Labour of Love Projects it is epic fantasy and Adam has taken that genre’s appendix-aesthetic into his own History of Epic Fantasy ( and then went onto a major cartographic project mapping out the continents of George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice ( You don’t need to be a fan of either epic fantasy in general or Game of Thrones in particular to appreciate the time and effort put into either of those projects over several years.

They would be impressive in themselves but Adam also maintains an active blog covering genre news and coverage of books, TV and games. Did I mention that this year’s finalists do A LOT? Because they do.

Big Enormous Labour of Love Projects are iceberg-like, what you see above water is impressive but the time and effort is the huge mass of research that is hidden under the waves. It’s not just long running projects that have this quality, consider this post from Adam’s blog from 2019:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline (updated)
Following the release of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, I thought it might be interesting to run down a timeline of major events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the relevant backstory.”

The whole scope of events (now including the time-travel sections of Avengers: Endgame) put into a detailed timeline from the beginning of the universe… Brilliant, nerdy, painstaking fun. Part of what fan writing adds to fandom is these kinds of ways of re-engaging with the stories we have enjoyed. A timeline-post doesn’t look like what we might think of as literary criticism but the essence of it (as with cartography of fantasy worlds) shares with models of literary theory, a way of examining and revealing structures and ideas in works of fiction. Whether the scalpel we use for dissecting works is Foucault or Mercator, what we gain is understanding of ideas work together (or not, as the case may be).

Hugo Packet

Adam has gone with the option of a PDF of links with only one extract in the document itself. There are 21 posts linked, including several maps (not just of ASoFaI but of other books such as Dragonlance )

The style of articles linked is varied. Some, such as this one focus on key world building questions in classic stories:

“Arrakis being the size of our Moon is, however, highly problematic. First off, our Moon is generally considered to have insufficient mass – and thus gravity – to hold down a thick, life-supporting atmosphere. The Moon’s gravity is about one-sixth that on Earth, and a combination of low gravity and solar winds have stripped the Moon of whatever atmosphere if may have once possessed.”

I absolutely love this kind of stuff but the linked articles also include more conventional reviews and pop-culture retrospectives. For example:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t perfect, but it’s one of those shows where the imperfections make it more interesting. It’s a show that tried to wear several hats simultaneously – action, comedy, romance, horror – and actually succeeded in doing so. It could be funny, scary and thought-provoking, and occasionally (in the case of the harrowing Season 5 episode The Body, comfortably one of the best episodes of television ever made) genuinely tear-jerking. It was also a show way ahead of its time in many respects, with the series doing metacommentary, genre savviness and social commentary arguably better than most shows attempting the same today.”

There’s a lot to enjoy here and this is a fan-writer with an eye for detail and analysis.

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…Paul Weimer

Hugo online voting is now open. Don’t forget to vote in the Fan Writer category. Speaking of which here is our fifth contestant!

Paul Weimer
Sites: &
SFF Audio:

It can’t be true that Paul Weimer knows everybody in science fiction but if we were to draw a huge network graph, I think Paul would be at on of those nodes that helps joins multiple groups together. A regular columnist and pod-casting panellist in multiple venues, Paul is an insightful observer of the wider landscape of science fiction and fantasy. Paul is a bridge that links communities and people (exemplified by his revival of the popular mind-meld posts ( ).

On his personal blog, Paul describes himself this way:

“I’m an ex-pat New Yorker who has found himself living in Minnesota since 2003. Since moving here, I have developed a taste for photography, and marry it to my love of travel, landscapes, architecture and adventures. When I am not photographing things, my Science Fiction side comes out. I am a writer, reviewer, and podcaster for the Skiffy and Fanty show, SFF Audio, Nerds of a Feather, and other places as well.”

Paul’s genre interests are broad and deep, ranging from science fiction classics to contemporary fiction, cartography and an active involvement in fandom. You can find his observations as long form essays or short comments but they are always insightful.

As the 2017 Down Under Fan Fund (DUFF) winner, Paul combined his multiple talents to create a visually stunning record of his southern hemispheric travels in New Zealand and Australia. For those missing out on a journey to the southern lands, you can experience some of it visually here While writing and photography are quite different mediums of expression, Paul’s capacity to both observe and frame what the rest of us are seeing is demonstrated in both.

Hugo Packet

Paul’s Hugo Packet contribution consists of twelve articles that mix reviews, criticism and author interviews. The reviews span across fiction, games and non-fiction.

I’d like to focus on the interview aspect a moment. It is both a popular and underrated form of fan-writing: popular because interviews make for interesting articles and underrated because the fan-writer purposively takes a back seat to show off what somebody else is saying. A good example included in the Hugo Packet is an interview with Gareth L Powell which you can also read here I like to do chunky quotes from articles in my Fan writer series but in this case I’ll do a shorter one:

3. The novel opens on a set of alien ruins, and alien Big Dumb Objects were important in Embers of War. Why do you think alien ruins are so evocative to readers as a place? What draws you to them as a writer?

Look at what the question does:

  • It establishes that the interviewer knows the book they are talking about.
  • It sets the scene for readers and gives them a sense of the book without reviewing the book or editorialising.
  • It connects an aspect of the book with the wider genre.
  • It does that connection really efficiently and let’s the reader make the leaps. Ancient alien structures? Oh, like in Alien (or like in 2001 or like in…).
  • It suggests but doesn’t belabour, why authors use that trope. Alien ruins are evocative to readers…That gives the person being interviewed something to talk about that still centres their book.

For more conventional essay-style writing I personally really enjoyed this re-visit to Ursula Le Guin’s very early work Rocannon’s World.

“That duality of SF and Fantasy viewpoints goes into the character of Rocannon as well. He does acculturate to the world he is stuck in, embodying the role others give him as “The Wanderer.” This culminates in a wonderful sequence that pushes the novel to it’s most fantastical bits: Rocannon engages with the planet and bonds with it on a psychic level. He comes away changed by the experience, more ready than ever to protect the planet against the invaders. This is the core sequence — where Rocannon must fully become part of the world in order to protect it. The journey to this moment is a fantasy-style one in which he becomes a traveler and outsider. Here, he sheds that, and becomes fully part of the world. It makes me think of the Gaia Hypothesis or the endgame sequence to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.”

Paul is very much a traveller and he sometimes presents himself as an outsider, perhaps because of his capacity to take a step back and observe with both an analytical and holistic eye his surroundings but that aspect of being fully part of the world is what comes over in his writing.

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…Bogi Takács

We are into the second half of this years fantastical fan-writing finalists. Tomorrow we hit the wonderful world of the W’s.

Bogi Takács:

I believe I first encountered Bogi on Twitter. Of course, nobody should be defined just by their social-media but given that fandom is a social phenomenon, the role of media such as Twitter is significant when considering fan-writing as a genre. Bogi has been providing years worth of recommendations for marginalised voices on Twitter under the diversestories and #diversepoems hashtags. Our 2020 collective-Hugo-mind theme this year is Fan Writers as messengers between worlds and communities and it’s this kind of work that helps illustrate that, even though the nature of expectations tends to focus on essay-style writing. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of that as well!

Bogi describes emself thusly:

I am a Hungarian Jewish agender trans person. My personal pronouns are e/em/eir/emself or singular they (I’m fine with either). I have been living in the US for the past five years, and I have transformed from a nonresident alien to a resident alien. R.B. Lemberg is my spouse and I spend a lot of time gushing about them. We have a child (my stepchild), Mati, who is thirteen years old. All of us are neuroatypical and are on the autism spectrum, which causes adventures!! I have motor dyspraxia and a variety of rather aggravating chronic health issues. These have been blamed on everything from pesticides to Chernobyl. I write short-form speculative fiction and poetry, and I have been published in a variety of venues like Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Apex and Strange Horizons. You can find my bibliography here.

But that page starts with with a shorter summary that is almost a mission statement:

“Hello and welcome – I am Bogi Takács and I read an inordinate amount of books.

Drawing from personal experience, Bogi is a short story writer, poet and anthologist (specifically the Lambda Literary Award winning anthology Transcendent 2) but also somebody who reviews, promotes and advocates for marginalised writers. Eir blog has a wealth of resources ( as well as on-going reviews of works that go well beyond the same limited range of writers that get the most attention. That work also extends to the blog ( which includes reviews of older works as part of a QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics series.

Bogi’s writing is a positive challenge that asks people to reconsider the scope of works that they engage with. “Positive” in the sense that it is driven by creative output and the advocacy for creators of speculative fiction rather than the sense of simply being ‘feel-good’ or avoiding pointing out the ingrained prejudices and issues within the wider SF&F community.

Hugo Packet

Bogi’s Hugo Packet contribution contains eight essays, mainly review essays but also three recommendation lists that are well worth reading. One thing I particularly like about eir packet is this section:

Some of my fan writing is in the form of databases and bibliographies; I’m going to link them here (you’ll need an internet connection for these, but everything else should be in this ebook):
The 2018 trans- and intersex-themed speculative stories database
A comprehensive list of QUILTBAG+-focused SFF anthologies (very long!)
• On Twitter, a lengthy meta thread of trans writing, reading, booooks

Bogi Takacs – Hugo Packet 2020

This kind of fan-work doesn’t translate easily into awards or Hugo Packet contributions but collation, resource gathering and similar activities (eg Renay’s Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom, Cora’s equivalent one for the Reto Hugos etc) is very much part of what fan writers bring to fandom. The essay-form is the easiest way of comparing fan-writers but the importance of fan-writing and fanzines is also in aspects such as news and resources (or sad work such as obituaries).

However, for those who want essay-style fan-writing, the reviews show Bogi’s capacity to critique fiction. I particularly liked Bogi’s review of A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney, a book and author about whom I know nothing.

“There is a tiny subgenre of Weird fiction focusing on artwork, and its effects on people. I love this subgenre, and I think it works best with approaches that are more beguiling and enticing than brutally horrific (though I’ve also seen the latter done convincingly). A Spectral Hue is more dark fantasy than horror – certainly many aspects of horror are present, and the past of Shimmer is rooted in slavery, but the overarching ambience of the story is more languid and beatiful than stark and terrifying, despite the presence of supernatural creatures and happenings. I also liked how a certain purplish color, the titular spectral hue pulled all the themes together. (In this sense it reminded me of another Weird story that stayed with me throughout the years, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Flash Frame which does this with the color yellow, and film rather than art objects.)”

Bogi Takacs – Hugo Packet 2020

That there is demonstrating a key part of good reviewing. I obviously don’t know if it is accurate reviewing but I do know that by this point I want to know more. Exciting curiosity in the reader about books is something an effective book review can do.

Bogi has include two pieces in the packet but acknowledges the current ambiguity voters have around fan-writing and paid venues, so has put them at the end. If you want to skip over them you can.

Timothy Speaks Out: “I Shall Not Be Cancelled!”

Outspoken and controversial international publisher Timothy the Talking Cat has taken a stand in an editorial in his vast network of newspapers, TV-stations and weird little notes he glues to shop front windows. As part of the Cattimothy House stable of magazines (along with Squirrel Watch Weekly and Better Homes & Litter Trays) this blog shall also be carrying this (mandatory) editorial. However, the staff of this blog would like to make it clear that the opinions expressed are those of management and are very specifically not the views of Susan who said “I’m going to kick his backside into next week when I find him”.

I Shall Not Be Cancelled: By Chief Editor and Publisher Timothy the Talking Cat

“In these trying times a spectre of illiberallity, illliberallllity, illiberality is stalking the land, the blogs and the few social media platforms that I haven’t been banned from using due to my over reliance on spam-bots.

The free exchange of information, ideology, ice-cream and ideas, the very lifeblood of a free society, is each day becoming more vasoconstrictively constricted as if we had encountered a giant illiberal python with a desire for cat for dinner. While we have come to expect this on the radical right (indeed we have come to passively accept it and perhaps even endorse it quitely in our way – after all we know who has the money) censoriousness is also spreading more widely from stroppy leftist and frankly HOW DARE THEY, ungrateful layabouts that they are. They should maybe take a shower or two while they are it! (Ha!) These damn lefties have an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty, exactly like Donald Trump keeps saying they do.

I, on the other hand uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from ALL quarters. Yes from everybody! And that is exactly why I am demanding that lousy leftist keep their loud mouths shut! How can I get to enjoy my precious (and frankly quite expensive) free speech in peace with these loudmouths running around pointing out my moral failings? I simply can’t! Free speech is absolutely precious and that means that I, as a wealthy and powerful and influential commentator on world events should not have to put up with scruffy ner-do-wells holding me to task just because I rehashed poorly thought out arguments that I cribbed from a neo-nazi adjacent website! This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.

The restriction of my capacity to debate, whether by a repressive government (unless they pay me) or an intolerant bunch of blue haired protestors or “tik tok teens” or the frankly annoying Bortsworth K-Pop Appreciation Society who utterly ruined my evening constitutional yesterday with there lour music and syncopated dance move, invariably HURTS those who lack power. That is EXACTLY why I am telling those with LESS power than me that they need to SHUT UP because otherwise I might have to hurt them.

You see, the way to defeat bad ideas is by giving my bad ideas lots and lots of exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. Is that what we did with Flat Earthism? No, we ensured that every school child in Bortsworth was given a free text book by me explaining why heliocentricism is a lie in exchange for me funding repairs to the toilet block I had accidentaly ruined in that zepplin incident THAT WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT. We refuse any false choice between justice (for me) and freedom (for me), which cannot exist without each other but mainly cannot exist without me. As a creative professional I need a culture that leaves me room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes — lots and lots of sometimes expensive mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences, particularly for me. This is why I keep targetting my critics, to ensure they meet dire professional consequences and my bottom line remains unchanged.

Thank you for my time.

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…Alasdair Stuart

Three down, three to go! The next exciting plot twist in the Hugo Fan Writer series!

Alasdair Stuart:
Podcast: , &

What do we call a pop-culture explorer who co-owns a podcasting empire? A pod-cast impresario? An impodsario? The Escape Artist network of podcasts (SF: Escape Pod, Horror: Pseudo Pod, Fantasy: Pod Castle, YA: Cast of Wonders) are just part of what Alasdair Stuart is involved in but I’m starting there because of our 2020 Fan Writer theme of messengers between worlds.

Stuart describes himself as:

…a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, and writer. He is a Hugo Finalist for Best Fan Writer, and a British Fantasy Society Best Non-fiction finalist for his weekly pop culture newsletter The Full Lid. His nonfiction can be found at numerous genre and pop culture venues, including regular columns at the Hugo Award-winning Ditch Diggers and Fox Spirit Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.

It’s an amazing range of outputs and Stuart uses his skills as a pop-culture critic to great effect, mixing personal observation and depth of knowledge of genres to provide insights into books, stories, games and dramas.

Central to Stuart’s fan-writing is his weekly newsletter The Full Lid. If you aren’t a subscriber then it is worth dipping into the archives. I particularly liked this essay he wrote last year on the coverage of the anniversary of the moon landings (it’s also available in the Hugo Packet).

“But while there’s reassurance here there’s also entitlement and complacency. We can, and have waited for the future to come when we could have gone out and built it. But instead of a first step Apollo has come to be viewed as a destination and you can see the seeds of that here.The surly bonds of Earth have been stripped and now all we have to worry about is waiting for the next trans-lunar shuttle. Seeing BBC Panorama’s counsel of luminaries, including an impossibly young Brian Aldiss, discuss the philosophical impact of the landing was especially weird. The greatest minds of their time, which was fifty years ago, talking about a future which, for us, has yet to arrive.”

Stuart manages very well to shift the distance in his writing from the observational to the personal. Character is, I’d contend, a underestimated aspect of fan-writing. Yes, fan-writing does cover the kind of community journalism style writing, as well as descriptive reviews (both valuable – I’m not knocking them) but fan-writers are by title fans and it is the personal engagement with fandom and stories that drives the world of fan-writing. You can’t genuinely know people from what they write but good fan-writing should, over the course of many examples, give a sense of a person and a perspective. I think it is something that Alasdair Stuart does very well. I’ve never met him (and it’s unlikely I will anytime soon) but his writing conveys character in a way that is very personally engaging. Yes, yes, that’s an illusion of sorts but that illusion is something I enjoy in good writing.

Hugo Packet

Alasdair Stuart’s packet contribution is quite extensive. The content page makes it look shorter but three full newsletters really adds to the breadth of coverage.

The thorny issue of paid versus non-paid output in fan-writing is a topic I’ve covered inconclusively before. Stuart takes a simple and pragmatic approach to the problem: he includes both paid and non-paid writing in the package but is absolutely overt which-is-which and the remuneration involved. Likewise, for categorical purists, the commentary on pod-cast are clearly marked. Also, as well as a collated PDF of all the material he included, there is a separate folder of the individual parts, so if you want to ignore say the horror-related writing (out of genre purity 😉) you can.

I feel like I must have missed something but that is a repeating theme in this year’s finalists. Prodigious pop-culture polymaths, each of them but Alasdair Stuart gets to be a paradigmatic podcasting prodigious pop-culture polymath.

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…James Davis Nicoll

Post number two (collect them all!) in our Hugo Fan Writer profiles.

James Davis Nicoll:
Other Sites:

We could, if we felt inclined, classify fan writing into the three ‘ews’: news, views and reviews. James leads his Hugo packet contribution with reviews and while those are excellent they perhaps underplay his history as a blogger, commentator, epigramist and person around whom stories happen ( James is both a pioneer in online fandom and also a key piece of infrastructure.

In James’s DreamWidth bio he describes himself:

“I was born in Canada, learned English in the UK, learned English again in Canada and aside from various trips abroad have spent most of my adult life in Kitchener, Ontario. I ran a hobby shop for 17 years and now am a free-lance book reviewer and game editor, occupations that have taught me how to budget.”

Whereas TV Tropes is more expansive:

James Nicoll is a sharp-witted observer of the foibles of science fiction authors and their works, though somewhat Unluckily Lucky when it comes to personal safety (to the point where reporting one his numerous brushes with near-death earned the label “Nicoll Event.”) Coined the trope “Brain Eater”, which is now Filibuster Freefall, and is also the creator of the famous “Purity of the English Language” quote.

The theme that has emerged from the Hugo-voter’s collective intelligence this year is fan writers as connections between worlds. The most apparent aspect of that in James’s work is his Young People Read Old SFF project ( which puts classic science fiction stories in front of young people (or sometimes current science fiction in front of old people). As a project it is a fascinating example of how ‘fan writing’ exceed simple definition. The posts show how reading is a conversation with texts and with others reading those texts. James’s role is to facilitate the process but by doing so the whole project turns the process of review into a deeper form of literary criticism.

Hugo Packet

In 2019 James Davis Nicoll reviewed on average 20 books a month – that’s about two books every three days. So picking between these must have been a tough choice for him. The packet has boiled it down to five reviews that cover a variety of genres: some 1980’s sci-fi from Walter John Williams, Gideon Marcus’s Rediscovery: SF by Women 1958 – 1963 anthology, a contemporary single author anthology, a webtoon and a manga.

It is a smart choice of examples as it allow him to show off the range of approaches to reviewing. One of the key aspects is introducing people to stories that they weren’t aware of, for example You can read his review here or in the packet.

Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…Cora Buhlert

This is the first of six posts highlighting each of the Hugo 2020 Best Fan Writer finalists. I’m going through by alphabetical surname order (as listed here )

Cora Buhlert:
Other Sites: &
Galactic Journey:

In the introduction to her blog packet, Cora describes her fan writing actives as:

“I write about old and new science fiction and fantasy books, movies, TV shows, writing, food and anything else that comes to mind at my personal blog as well as at Galactic Journey and elsewhere around the web. Together with Jessica Rydill, I also co-run the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a blog focussed on science fiction, fantasy and horror by small press and self-published authors. At the Speculative Fiction Showcase, I post a weekly round-up of interesting links from around the web as well as a monthly round-up of newly released science fiction, fantasy and horror books by small press and self-published authors.”

Hugo Voter Packet 2020 by Cora Buhlert, Pegasus Pulp Press

Cora has been doing the hard working of promoting self-published and small press SF&F for years. While sections of fandom have been trying to reframe publishing mode as some kind of partisan ideological battle, Cora has been writing, publishing and promoting indie sci-fi consistently and in a way designed to enhance science fiction writing.

The same can be said of her exploration of the pulp-era classics and if you are voting in this years Retro Hugo Awards for 1944, her writing is a greta place for insights into the era. Skipping ahead a few decades, Cora is also the German correspondent for Gideon Marcus’s Galactic Journey project, the time-travelling blog currently living in 1965.

In her 2019 essay The Golden Age Was More Diverse Than You Think, Cora took a long look at both the prejudices within 1940s era sci-fi but also our stereotypes and expectations of that time.

“Survivorship bias can be found doubly in the Retro Hugos, because not only do people (and the Retro Hugo nominator base is small compared to the current year Hugos) tend to nominate the famous stories, the ones that endured, they also tend to nominate and vote for writers (and editors and artists) whose names the recognise. This is why unremarkable debut stories by future stars tend to get nominated for the Retro Hugos, while better but lesser known works and authors tend to get overlooked.”

A common theme of this year’s fan writer finalists is that are each people who join worlds together. Cora is a paradigmatic example of that, Europe, indie publishing, the pulp era and contemporary sci-fi & popular culture*, Cora is a traveller between adjacent universes.

Hugo Packet

Cora has provided a very nicely curated selection of fifteen essays. I know it can be a real struggle to work out how much or how little to include in these things and given the voluminous output of this year’s finalists I’m sure there were lots of difficult decisions to make. Even though I regularly read Cora’s blog there selection still contained things that were knew to me or which time and life had meant I’d skipped over originally. I’d go so far to say that 15 looks like an optimum number: enough for variety but not so much that the contents page looks overwhelming.

There is an excellent mix of Cora’s multiple interests: contemporary reviews of Star Trek Discovery and Star Wars, pulp-era re-evaluations (eg Eric John Stark – Social Justice Warrior of Mars), Galactic Journey extracts and, of course, the ever popular Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. [Also, easily the best fan writer Hugo Packet cover art, by Tithi Luadthong]

*[…and also other genres ]

Susan’s Salon: 2020 July 5/6

The first open thread in July, for people to just chat about whatever. Posted early Monday Sydney time (still Sunday in most places) . It’s OK to be sad, worried, angry or happy (or all of those things at once). Please feel free to post either troubling news or pleasant distractions in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments. Links, videos, cat pictures etc are fine – be nice to one another!] Whatever you like but be nice to one another 😇

Wear a mask while posting a comment.

I love Manchester but I must destroy it

As a hobby I collect bad arguments. One I have seen of late surrounding some really shitty and poorly reasoned comments by J K Rowling about gender, is an attempt to pretend that exceptions to the basic chromosomal binary sex classification (i.e. the high school text book simplification of XX & XY) don’t matter. It’s a fallacy we can call the low-percentage fallacy and it is not just present in TERF-pseudologic but in arguments about disability, minority language groups, ethnicity or religion. Essentially the idea is that if a categorical scheme works 99% of the time then voila! They have established some kind of platonic truth where the very real exceptions (which really do matter) don’t count even if the person making the argument concedes they exist.

Proportions need context. If we are talking social policy (and despite often chasing into the weeds of reproductive biology the Rowlingesque arguments are about social policy) then social context matters. A very basic context for a figure like 1% is one-percent of how many people?

For reasons nobody is entirely sure about, the UK is currently an epicentre of spectacularly bad reasoning of Rowling kind. So let’s use the UK as a context. The population of the UK is 66.65 million people and England is 53 million. 1% of 66.65 million is 666,500 or a bit over 6 hundred thousand. For further context the population of the city of Manchester is 510,746 (that’s not Greater Manchester just the city proper )

We can use the low-percentage fallacy to make Manchester disappear in a Thanos-like click of my arithmetic fingers. Less than 1% of English people live in Manchester, so we can assume PEOPLE DON’T LIVE IN MANCHESTER. Do we need railway stations in Manchester? No, because nobody live in Manchester. How about the M62 motorway which connects Liverpool (where also nobody lives) to Manchester and then unto Leeds (where also nobody lives) and the rest of Yorkshire (where some people live but only if we aggregate* them enough)? Obviously a huge waste of time and money BECAUSE NOBODY LIVES THERE.

Why on Earth Manchester has not one but TWO football teams is a mystery as, again, nobody lives there (although most Man U fans really don’t live there…) Also, of the people who don’t live in Manchester, none of them are called Smith. It’s true! English people aren’t called Smith even though it is the most common surname in England (OK at 747,967 it just creeps up to 1.1% ). Weirdly, red haired people do exist in the UK but by the percentage-fallacy don’t exist in the human population.

It’s not just bad reasoning but it is a kind of error you see in some gee-whiz claims about AI algorithms that are “99% accurate”. It is also has a highly sinister aspect when considering minority ethnic groups in many countries, where groups who are proportionally small can be vanished from policy consideration despite amounting to hundreds of thousands of people. If the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia were a city (798,365 people in 2016 ) they would be the sixth largest city in the country (

*[Also don’t aggravate people from Yorkshire.]