Tying up old plot lines

There is a lot of noise amid the right-SF social media sphere currently. It’s very free form and the broader cause is that in mainstream SF&F communities there has been the recent cases of some very prominent and well connected men being held accountable for the way they have been treating other people (earlier coverage). Although post-Puppies, the world of right-wing science fiction claims to have separated and living an idyllic SJW-free life, in reality ructions in mainstream SF&F are felt keenly in the breakaway bubble. The problem they have is working out a clear position. On the one hand various authors they dislike are having a bad time of things but on the other hand, powerful men are being held accountable for their actions against women. Bit of a tricky dilemma and hence we get to see various diversions attacking the ‘wokeness’ of mainstream SF&F (e.g. Dave Freer recently).

Another recent example is Cirsova magazine. Cirsova was, in many ways, a better attempt by the right-wing SF&F community to challenge their energies into something a bit more positive i.e. an on-going story magazine. Up until recently, it had largely avoided outrage marketing techniques. However, that changed on June 29 with the unintentionally funny announcement that they had declared that the SFWA was a terrorist organisation (File 770 coverage). Cirsova’s stance on terrorism had been notably absent during their long association with Vox Day’s Castalia House despite Day’s infamous support of convicted terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Breivik. (“Virtue signalling” could be the term for it if we could find any virtue signalled…)

I draw two big inferences from this:

  1. This is another example of the diversions I talk about above
  2. Sales/income must be bad for Cirsova. There is always a grift with right-wing SF&F. Always, and this is classic outrage marketing. [That observation got me instantly blocked on Twitter by Cirsova…]

On the second point, right-wing SF&F publishing has been contracting. There are still some big sellers (i.e. Larry Correia) but in the time since the Puppies stormed off with their own football from the field, Castalia House has stopped publishing new science fiction and Superversive Press has closed, various at attempts at alt-SFWA have fizzled and Sarah Hoyt is claiming she can’t get published by Baen any more. There’s still a right wing audience out there but it’s just not big enough to maintain a large number of authors and outlets and much of it is catered to by more generic military SF provided by less partisan groups like LMBPN.

On the first point…well the SFWA statement on Black Lives Matter was June 4. Cirsova’s counter-terrorism unit didn’t make its deceleration until twenty-five days later i.e. not until mainstream SF&F was having its own ructions and right-wing SF was trying to find a way to join in.

Let’s throw in a few other bad actors (n both senses of the term). So I was watching a video by Jon Del Arroz…that’s never a good start to a story nor is it something I would recommend. Anyway, JDA’s video was about another charmer Richard Fox. Remember Richard? Fox got a story nominated for a Nebula award courtesy of the 20booksto50K/LMBPN slate in 2019 (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/nebula-shorts-going-dark-by-richard-fox/) and then had a bit of a melt-down in the comments section here partly when people noticed the similarity between him and a Goodreads commenter called “John Margolis” who wrote racially abusive comments to people who gave Richard bad reviews on Goodreads.

Fox would go onto behave in even more odd ways (to put it politely) https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/authors-behaving-badly-episode-1234543-richard-fox/ accusing Mike Glyer’s File 770 of “piracy” because it had a link to the SFWA public Nebula reading list to a PDF of his story that he had uploaded. No, that made no sense but it was enough for the axis of Jon Del Arroz and Larry Correia to try to spin into a scandal.

Where was I? Oh!…a video by Jon Del Arroz. [Here for reference but seriously, it’s just trolling. You can skip it https://delarroz.com/2020/07/01/nebula-award-nominated-author-pulls-story-from-sfwa-anthology-because-of-their-racism/ ]

JDA was proudly announcing that “Nebula nominated” author Richard Fox was withdrawing his story from the Nebula Award anthology (yes, that story mentioned above) in solidarity with Cirsova. Notably, Fox’s author Facebook page and author website say exactly ZERO about this brave stand against ‘terrorism’. It’s not something Fox wants his regular readers to know but…well he’d like some of those Dragon Award votes from the people who are most likely to vote in them.

Long story short: various right wing science fiction people are generally agitated by the fact that some specific male SF authors (who happen to people they don’t like but are also powerful men…so a bit of a dilemma) are being held to account because of misogynistic behaviour and so are finding various random ways of acting out.

Blogiversary: Greatest Hits

Five years of all this nonsense but what nonsense were people reading and when? I’m down here in the archive stacks of Felapton Towers and blowing the dust off the weird old filing cabinets to find out. These posts are just the numbers-game hits rather than special favourites and often other factors drove the traffic to them.

2015

The first year out for the blog and Puppy-kerfuffling was already in full on kerfluff.

2016

2016 was the year that the unreality field started spilling out everywhere.

2017

2017 was dominated by Rabid Puppy shenanigans. In particular Vox Day’s spoiler campaign for John Scalzi’s new sci-fi trilogy.

2018

I was downloading a report from an online database the other day and I was entering a date range. I wanted to cover the whole set of records which started in 2011. So I picked 2011/1/1 as the start date and that day’s date which I typed as 2018/5/8. What? I think my brain stopped updating the year and I’ve been stuck in 2018 ever since.

The reality dysfunction was going full-on as world politics got even stranger. Meanwhile this blog was forced into self-referentiality as I got caught up in my own Sad Puppy kerbungle and then later became a Hugo Finalist.

2019

At the very start of January 2019 I considered winding down the blog. Later I decided to post something every day. I’m fickle. Surprisingly, it was the Nebula Awards that drove traffic to the blog.

2020

The year isn’t finished yet but it started on fire and followed up with a global pandemic. This is a first-quarter list but I think some of the themes for the year are clear…

April Brings the First Slate of the Year

Buds are budding and spring is springing, at least in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. The Dragon Award website may still be in its wintery slumber but we have our first proper slate for it.*

Russell Newquist’s Silver Empire publishing has been filling the gap left in right-wing SFF publishing left by Castalia House retreating and Superversive Press closing. They’ve made an appearance on the Dragon Awards before but given the general quiescence of the awards currently, then maybe they have a chance…or not depending on how the people who run the award feel I guess.

Oddly, I couldn’t find the slate at their website but instead it appears on the Superversive website. http://www.superversivesf.com/?p=1191

  • Best Sci Fi: Overlook by Jon Mollison
  • Best Fantasy (incl. Paranormal): Victory’s Kiss by Bokerah Brumley
  • Best YA: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering by L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright
  • Best Mi-SF: Justified by Jon Del Arroz
  • Best Alt History: This Deadly Engine by (Philip) Matt Ligon
  • Best Horror: Deus Vult by Declan Finn

Only one name I’m not familiar with.

*[That I’m aware of. There’s probably more on Facebook.]

Yet another alt-SFWA

We’ve covered attempts at creating alternatives to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America before but the face behind the latest attempt has a better track record of getting things done. Craig Martelle (who you may recall from the LMBPN/20Books kerfufle) has announced a new organisation called The Independent Alliance of Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors https://iasfa.org/join-iasfa/

“The Independent Alliance of Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors (IASFA or Indie Alliance for short) aims to be a professional organization for working authors with a singular focus on helping its members sell more books through a philanthropic approach to reader engagement.”

The group aims to recruit writers publishing independently:

“Membership in the IASFA is reserved for science fiction or fantasy authors of all genres who are actively self-publishing or who are working towards that goal. Members have access to our private forums, professional support services, and reference archive.”

Currently the organisation is being operated financially by Craig Martelle’s company (e.g. the donation page states “Funds will be collected by Craig Martelle, LLC who will immediately transfer all donations to the IASFA.” [archive link]) but it “may eventually become a 501(c)(3) charity (where donations are tax deductible)”

As with any of these things, it’s a matter of wait and see. Martelle has demonstrated the capacity to actually get organisations off the ground (unlike previous attempts). Membership seems to be broadly open to anybody published at Amazon (the membership overtly asks for an Amazon author profile, presumably if you eschew Amazon you can’t get in?)

{Thanks to Cora Buhlert for pointing me to the website]

Looking back at a kerfuffle

Back in July the Galaxy’s Edge* magazine, Robert J Sawyer’s regular column discussed some issues around the SFWA. The column was also covered in this Pixel Scroll at File 770. I didn’t engage a great deal with Sawyer’s comments because I’m not a part of the SFWA and I’m unlikely to ever be and I’ve also really zero idea of what the make up of the organisation should be or what practical impact a writer’s organisation can have. Suffice to say, Sawyer has had a long career writing science-fiction and is a former SFWA president so ostensibly knows a lot more than I do on the topic. Having said that…well I didn’t get a clear sense of what he thought the issues were (other than that the SFWA should be more like the Writer’s Guild of America).

There was one point that bugged me though but I decided not to focus on it at the time because it was secondary to Sawyer’s broader points. The point was a throw away comment part way through the column:

“The crisis that led Lawrence to resign was precipitated by an unprecedented loosening of SFWA’s membership credentials, undertaken by fiat by the board, allowing huge numbers of self-published authors to join. Hustlers by nature, some of them immediately organized a successful block-nominating slate to get self-published authors onto the Nebula ballot, hijacking the Academy Award of the science-fiction and fantasy fields.”

Sawyer is referencing the controversy earlier in the year regarding Nebula finalists connected with the publishing self-help group 20booksto50K and the independent publisher LMBPN. I wrote about it extensively at the time but the best overall account is by Cora Buhlert here: http://corabuhlert.com/2019/03/01/the-latest-developments-regarding-the-2018-nebula-award-finalists/

So what is my issue with Sawyer’s brief description? Several things but primarily it promotes the misleading framing of the kerfuffle as self-published versus traditionally-published authors. That framing was pushed by various people at the time and while there is some superficial truth to it, the framing is deeply misleading:

  • Many of the authors nominated who were on the 20booksto50K list had been traditionally published previously.
  • At least one was a long term member of the SFWA.
  • Some of the most vocal SFWA members objecting to the list were from an indie-published background.
  • The framing obscures the role of a publisher (LMBPN) in the list.

That misleading framing was part of the issue with the original not-a-slate i.e. byt setting up not just a list but a narrative as to why random voters should feel some loyalty towards the list is part of how the whole issue became problematic.

However, those aren’t the only issues with Sawyer’s statement. He also overstates the impact of the list, the nature of self-published writers and ignores the subsequent behaviour.

  • “huge numbers of self-published authors to join” – I don’t know how many people voted for the 20booksto50K list but it didn’t need to be huge numbers to impact the Nebula short-list and it probably wasn’t. That only some works from the list were finalists implies it was a significant but not large number.
  • “Hustlers by nature” – is just pointlessly insulting. Sure, there is a Wild-West aspect to the world of Amazon self-publishing but we have a very obvious comparison group to compare with (which I’ll get to). There are certainly notorious examples of self-published authors behaving badly but they aren’t the norm.
  • “hijacking the Academy Award of the science-fiction and fantasy fields” – I’m not making excuses for the not-a-slate but the overall impact on the awards I believe was small. Multiple, excellent works that would have been finalists regardless were still finalists and the final outcome was probably indistinguishable with what would have happened regardless.

The comparison group I mentioned above is, of course, the Sad Puppies. It is true that post-hoc leaders and supporters of the Sad Puppies have used the same framing of indie/self-published versus trad-publishing as a kind of factional distinction. However, Correia, Torgersen, Hoyt and Wright were all from a traditionally published background and at the time (at least initially) there focus was on authors and works that were traditionally published. As hustles go, the Sad Puppy Hustle was bigger, more damaging and more significant to literary awards and had its roots in traditional publishing.

It is also notable how much better key figures around the 20booksto50K/LMBPN groups behaved. Again, I’m not making excuses for anybody’s actions, just making a comparison with the obvious other kerfuffle. Of the various interactions I had with authors connected with the Nebula fuss at the time, only one was reminiscent of the way Sad Puppy leader’s behaved and that one example had their own connections with the Sad Puppies.

No deep conclusions to draw other than messy things are messy.

*[Maybe too many things are called Galaxy’s Edge. It gets confusing.]

Authors behaving badly: Episode# 1,234,543 Richard Fox

I won’t add much commentary but if you haven’t already read Mike Glyer’s piece on Richard Fox’s poor behaviour: http://file770.com/perjury-not-piracy-is-the-problem/

For earlier context see:

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/27/next-few-days-are-nebula-shorts-days/

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/nebula-shorts-going-dark-by-richard-fox/

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/its-worth-talking-about-lmbpn-publishing-when-talking-about-the-nebula-nominees/

I know that Mike Glyer takes book piracy seriously and I know that I do. Fake DMCA notices, as well as being an increase in hostile tactics deployed by supporters of Larry Correia, undermine author’s capacity to tackle piracy with genuine complaints.

Dragon Award Update

A general round-up of who is saying what and where.

The Red Panda Fraction have started an award suggestion spreadsheet http://bit.ly/DragonAwards2019Eligible using the same model as the Lady Business Hugo one. Very useful even if you aren’t participating in the Dragon Awards.

Previous years I tried to systematically collect Dragon Award requests for nominations. I haven’t done that this year, partly because interest in them seems to be waning substantially. Vox Day’s 2019 post soliciting nominations was non-committal [archive link]. Larry Correia has been promoting the award on Facebook but not much otherwise (e.g. not on his blog).

I haven’t seen any distinct promotion of the awards from 20booksto50K, which is odd given the Dragons are overtly an it’s-OK-to-campaign award. However, Craig Martelle has asked for nominations and based on previous years I would imagine he’d be a strong contender (specifically Scorpion’s Fury by CH Gideon which is a pen-name of his).

Of course, Declan Finn has been on the case of who to vote for http://www.declanfinn.com/2019/05/dragon-awards-may-2019.html but interestingly his publisher Russell Newquist hasn’t posted about the awards this year. Jon Del Arroz has been busy talking about other things. So overall, not much on my radar.

Nominations don’t close to July 19, so there are several weeks to go but based on past years, it has been quieter. Of course, also based on past years, there’s a community of readers-writers somewhere who have just become aware collectively about the Dragon Awards and who will be this years surprising finalists :).

Wrapping up the LMBPN Kerfuffle and the Nebulas

The Nebula Awards were announced yesterday [see http://file770.com/2018-nebula-awards/ for full coverage]. That brings to a close the minor kerfuffle around the 20booksto50K kerfuffle that I covered here.

As I said in that linked post, four works that were both Nebula finalists and on the 20booksto50K not-a-slate were from the publisher LMBPN which is associated with 200booksto50K (specifically it owns the trademark). Naturally I was curious to see what the reaction was to the results where from the key figures at 20booksto50K and there is a post on the Facebook group today from Craig Martelle. I won’t quote the whole thing, it’s mainly a post about how great 20booksto50K is (and it genuinely does appear to be a strong community of writers helping each other). However, there is a section on the Nebulas that I want to talk about:

“We are setting a new and nearly unreachable standard in author support – all authors, not just indies. The publishing processes that Michael Anderle has set up condense the publication timeline in such a way that books don’t sit around on someone’s desk for six months, waiting to earn money. This is the ebook market and one might as well earn for six months, re-roll and earn more. There is a great saying that we have in the Marine Corps: Amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics. In here, we talk about the uncool logistics. You want input on your tactics (the quality of your story), then talk to those who are vested – your readers. Six indies nominated for Nebula awards last night and zero indie winners. What matters most is which stories resonate best with the readers and which ones will lead to new stories bringing more readers on board. Who is going to be the most professional of the authors? Out of our six finalists? Only one is not a full-time author and that is by choice.
I am not talking down about any winners or any other authors – being a full-time writer comes with great risk. It is not something to be encouraged lightly. Or discouraged. Working hard at the right things, with intentionality of purpose, and personal drive toward achievable goals. If you can’t motivate yourself to write when you’re supposed to be writing, then maybe a full-time author gig isn’t for you. It’s really freaking hard. Indies represented strong and proud last night. Professionals in every way.”

https://www.facebook.com/groups/20Booksto50k/permalink/1905480926225029/

Sorry but that is a b*llocks bit of narrative. The idea that ONLY the authors on the 20booksto50K list are the only finalists that were “indies” is false. The claim that there were “zero indie winners” is best described as a lie. The winner of Short Story (“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, Phenderson Djèlí Clark from Fireside 2/18) has just as much, if not more, claim to be indie as any of the works published by LMBNP. All of the main story category winners have published independently at one time or another.

There were several attempts at the time to spin the 20booksto50K fuss as a struggle between indies and trad-pubbed authors. It was a tempting narrative for lazy thinkers but one that did not stand up to examination. There were finalists from the 20booksto50K who have had worked published by more traditional routes (Lawrence Shoen, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne) and finalists who weren’t from 20booksto50K who had published more independently. Overall it is a really bad way of categorising authors taxonomically and a deeply misleading way of characterising the conflict.

It’s really sad to see Craig Martelle still trying to spin what happend as an indie v trad-pub conflict. I was impressed by how other people involved learnt from what others were saying and moved forward positively (e.g. Jonathon Brazee) in a way that found common ground rather than trying to amplify conflict. It’s a shame Craig Martelle is sticking to a tired narrative.

Nebula Novelettes: Summing Up

Six longer short stories or shorter novellas with a cornucopia of ideas. I thought one was a stand out piece and another was pretty good but the others much harder to rank in quality.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander was a tour-de-force (my review). Packed full of ideas and emotional gut punches, the story looks at how we exploit both people and animals. It’s also an excellent example of how to write an alien intelligence, even if in this case the non-human minds are those of terrestrial elephants. On re-reading the ending feels muddled but overall this is a bit of a masterpiece.

Tor.com’s approach to short fiction gets another strong entry with Tina Connolly’s The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections (my review). Mixing food and memories with more conventional fantasy/Ruritanian tropes, this is a movingly crafted story.

Much, much harder to pick between the others. They all had things I liked and certainly they form an interesting set of stories.

  • “An Agent of Utopia” by Andy Duncan (my review): Fascinating premise but the story just didn’t give me enough. I wanted something longer that gave more insight into the protagonist.
  • “The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by José Pablo Iriarte (my review): This is a great set-up for a supernatural thriller with past lives and a man framed for murder. However, restricted to a novelette, the story is over before there’s any real sense of mystery. Rather like Agent of Utopia, I’m an ungrateful reader who wants this served to me as a novel 🙂
  • “The Rule of Three” by Lawrence M. Schoen (my review) The ideas really stick with you long after you’ve read it. I found the initial set-up a bit rushed and the actual core concept disturbing. Yet a good rejection of the idea of aliens being like us except with better gadgets.
  • “Messenger” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (my review). Some great visual ideas – I’d love to see this as an animated short film. The beginning suggests it is going to be one kind of story but it quickly takes on its own character.

What I would say about these other four is that there are qualities to each of the stories that would make me want to read more by each of the writers.

I talked in the short story round up about the extent to which we should at least be able to see with award contending stories, what makes them exceptional — i.e. how the stories stand-out from others. That’s not the same as saying a story is perfect or even of the highest quality but it does me it needs some elements that explain why that story in particular would get singled out by voters or a jury. I think each of these stories had aspects of that.

Nebula Novelettes: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi – Messenger

A soldier returns home from war, hoping to reunite with his family only for disaster to strike.

“WE LOOKED TO OUR NEIGHBORS in times of war to be our enemies. It was the wrong place to look. We should have turned our gaze upward, to the sky—to space. In our preoccupation with ourselves, we missed them—the others. Picture this, if you will. One moment, I was checking out of three years of reserve duty in the Indian Army, putting down my rifle and walking up the old beaten path to the house. My little one shrieked and bounded towards me. The wife, eight months pregnant, looked on fondly. ”

R.R. Virdi; Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Messenger (Kindle Locations 11-15).

The asteroid Oumuamua (aka ‘Messenger’) was simply a first scout that heralded the arrival of an invasion. A second, similar but smaller asteroid arrives a year after the mysterious messenger and crashes into the moon. Then something drops from the moon and crashes violently into Bangalore. The impact destroys houses and kills many, including the soldier’s wife and family.

“THE ORDERS CAME THE next day as I lay empty-eyed at my friend Bhanu’s place, thinking of her. Thinking of my Divya and my Anisha. And the unborn child. In the background, the TV blared. An overly made-up news anchor blabbed on and on and on about lights in the sky. Bhanu came shaking his phone at me. “Arjun-ji! Arjun-ji! There’s more coming! They’re calling us up! They’re fighting!” My fists clenched. My knuckles cracked. “Let’s go,” I growled. “Let’s show them what all seven hells look like.”

R.R. Virdi; Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Messenger (Kindle Locations 44-49).

And so we launch into a story of giant mechanoid soldiers fighting giant alien monsters. Arjun volunteers for the Shikari programme and becomes a hundred metre tall cyborg/mecha called “Vishnu’s Vengeance” designed to hunt the creatures landing from space. Armed with a huge gun and capable of crushing buildings with his mechanical hands, Arjun is bent on revenge against the alien monsters.

“It was not easy, becoming what I am. They only took those of us with nothing to lose. Not all of us who went in made it out. Those who didn’t die went crazy. But I held on. My anger grew with time. I screamed their names in the darkness—Divya and Anisha, Divya, Anisha—until the words turned into a mantra and became my will. And by the time the neuro-doctors strapped me in for processing and gave me the final contest forms, my hands shook so badly with anger that I snapped the pen and stabbed the paper. Maybe I was already insane. “

R.R. Virdi; Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Messenger (Kindle Locations 59-63).

After the set-up for a Pacific Rim style giant robot versus alien kaiju conflict, the story takes a different course. The Shikari are regarded with reverence by their support staff and the human minds inhabiting the massive mechanoid soldiers also begin to take on divine delusions.

“Babaji , the Enemy is a Spider-class,” says Bhanu in my ear. I can vaguely hear the roar of helicopter blades underneath the crackling audio. “Five legs, low center of gravity. I think we see a tail.” Babaji. My crew call me Father. I am their Head, their Commander…their god.


R.R. Virdi; Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Messenger (Kindle Locations 66-68).

This feeling of god-like status is not helped by their names. Arjun may be technically called ‘Vishnu’s Vengeance’ but he is either addressed as ‘Babaji’ (i.e. father) or simply as Vishnu. To add to the issue with his mental state he is beginning to suffer from doubts as to who and what he is.

Matters come to a head when Arjun has to intervene with another Shikari. Named after the goddess Kali, the four-armed giant has “de-synced” and is convinced that they are the god they are named after. Brutally killing her support staff/devotees, Arjun is forced to intervene and stop her. Yet he himself is beginning to feel drawn down the same path as her.

What starts with a well worn premise follows its own course and becomes a distinctive take on giant battling robots/mecha. Rather than the human/alien struggle, the story shifts to the internal struggle for the central character’s own humanity and sense of purpose. This is coupled with a arresting images (giant mechanoids fashioned after Hindu gods in conflict).

In my round-up of the Nebula Short Story finalists I talked about exceptional stories. Whenever we consider awards we are necessarily singling out particular stories from others. Tastes vary, and even award worthy stories can have flaws but it stands to reason that to single out a story for particular mention is to say that this particular story is exceptional compared with others. In that regard Messenger is exceptional — it does stand out from other stories in the anthology it is in. There is more to it than an angst filled soldier killing alien monsters in a big robot.

It is weakest at the start, where the death of Arjun’s family and the arrival of the aliens is explained but the story gathers in confidence as it progresses and rapidly finds its own voice.