I found a way to make the Dragon Awards marginally more interesting

Meanwhile in other news, the Dragon Awards website is still exactly the same.

Yes, nominations have been open since at least November 19 2019 (see http://file770.com/nominations-open-for-2020-dragon-awards/ ) but the website still says:

I see you are all looking at me sceptically thinking “what is marginally more interesting about that?” Aha! Well, here is a competition for you all! Make a prediction now as to when you think the front page of the website will change to say that nominations are actually open!*

Rules:

  1. Only a maximum of twelve hundred guesses per email address.
  2. Promise not to cheat.
  3. I’ll decide the winner any way.
  4. You can be as vague or precise as you like because see rule 3.

[*NOTE: not when nominations are actually open because that already happened but when the websites says they are open]

It has been awhile since somebody tried to rewrite Sad Puppy history

I believe it is usually January that we get an up-tick of attempts to vindicate Sad Puppy history and I imagine that we’ll get a few more attempts next year when SP3 marks its half-decade anniversary of accomplishing nothing but frustration, upset and column inches. However, I missed one earlier this month from science fiction’s top self-appointed witch-hunter and winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel That Isn’t Actual Horror, Brian Niemeier. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/12/no-american-man.html

Sadly nothing new. Some Scalzi bashing and some Tor bashing but let’s go through.

“To recap, author Larry Correia started the Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness when he smelled something rotten among the oldpub clique that hands out the Hugo Awards. He set out to prove that winning a Hugo has less to do with literary merit and almost everything to do with scratching the right backs while having the right politics.”

Nope. Larry’s initial campaign was overtly against the idea of nominating on the basis of literary merit. His imagined enemy where the ‘literati’ and ‘snob reviewers’. The campaign was an attempt to win himself a Hugo Award (which we know because he said so).

It is true that at every stage of the various Sad Puppy campaigns they have been presented as some sort of Manichean struggle of good-guys versus bad-guys but the nature of the split was repeatedly revised in a “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” way. The conflict has variously been characterised by Sad Puppy supporters as:

  • Pulp authors versus the literati and snob reviewers
  • Marginalised conservative authors versus SJW entryists
  • Newcomers to Worldcon versus SMOFs
  • Outsiders versus the SFWA
  • ‘blue’ sci-fi versus ‘pink’ sci-fi
  • Traditional science fiction versus modern science fiction
  • Tor books versus Baen books
  • Indie publishing versus trad publishing

Of course, the reality is also multi-faceted, with multiple kinds of people becoming involved in a conflict with no single cause. However, the purpose of the reductionist group A versus group B framing is to create a clear just cause for group A.

“After three years, Larry decided he’d proved his point and retired from the Sad Puppies. “

Technically after two years. Sad Puppies 2 was the last Correia led campaign.

“When you have one publisher winning more than twice as many Hugos as the next most award-winning house, and when SFWA officers constitute an oversized chunk of Best Novel winners since 1986, you’d have to be terminally naive not to see a cool kids’ clique trading participation trophies.”

The ‘twice as many Hugos’ line is a reference to the number of Hugo Awards for Best Novel won by Tor. Niemeier adopts the anti-Tor line fairly consistently from here on in his history re-write. Of course, the full-on Tor hatred did become a feature of the 2015 campaign but even I find it hard to remember that the anti-Tor aspect of Sad Puppies was a minor aspect until quite late in the history. It is true that Tor versus Baen was always an undercurrent, specifically around the Best Editor Long From award and (from a Rabid Puppies perspective) due to Vox day’s specific animosity toward Nielsen Hayden’s.

However, the idea of the conflict being defined as a war against Tor did not fully crystallise until Vox Day manipulated a boycott of Tor books in June 2015. Prior to that Sad Puppies 3 had nominated one Tor published book for Best Novel (Kevin J Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars), prominent puppy John C Wright (and multiple Sad & Rabid puppy nominee) still promoted himself as a Tor published author and the eventual winner of Best Novel in 2015, The Three Body Problem was voted for by many Puppy supporters.

“Imagine if one movie studio won more than twice as many Best Picture Oscars than its closest competitor in a similar span of time. What if a preponderance of Best Picture winners had also been directed by current and former high-ranking officers of the Directors Guild? Anyone who’s not a total NPC would at least entertain suspicions of some shady backroom  deals.”

Honestly I’m surprised Best Picture is evenly distributed and I find an even distribution more implausible than what we see in the Hugo’s. For added “this framing doesn’t add up” Tor winning a minority of Best Novel Hugo’s in that time period is also due to five wins (half of Tor’s total wins up to 2019) from Orson Scott Card and Vernor Vinge. Card, in particular, was used as the paradigm by many Sad Puppies of the kind of author who used to win Hugo Awards but no longer did. Vinge is an author less championed by Sad Puppies but was overtly cited as an example of a ‘good’ Hugo winner from the past by Sad Puppies 3 leader Brad Torgersen: “We’ve fallen a long way since Vernor Vinge won for A Fire Upon The Deep.

Nor does the Tor-narrative fit the other narratives. If the Hugos had recently become more leftwing and Tor was somehow to blame, then Tor would be winning more Best Novel awards in recent years. Of course, the other name that connects Tor, the SFWA and Puppy angst is John Scalzi and the particular and very personal animosity both Puppy campaigns have for him. That man himself is a very agreeable person who repeatedly tried to find compromise and understanding only seems to have added fuel to the fire.

“For its first three yeas, Sad Puppies performed the vital public service of wising normies up to the convergence of legacy sci fi publishing. In a way, it prefigured what #GamerGate did in the video game scene. But like pretty much every dissident online movement since, SP quickly devolved into petty territorial bickering. When its original founder was replaced by people who still want a pat on the head from oldpub, SP became just another bogeyman in the Left’s morality play.”

GamerGate is a kind of Schrödinger’s cat in Puppy rhetoric. The essential rule is this: Puppy supporter can imply that the two campaigns are connected but if critics of the Puppy campaigns do so then it is a terrible slander. Brian Niemeier is very much in favour of the misogynist Gamergate campaign, which given his overt support for male-only cultural spaces is not a surprise.

The digs in the paragraph above look like they are aimed at both Brad Torgersen and Sarah Hoyt but I assume the thrust of it is aimed at Hoyt. Quite how we can sort Correia, Torgersen and Hoyt into more or less connected to “oldpub” is unclear. Hoyt has been published traditionally and independently. Of the three she is closer to the post-traditional publishing model.

The indie versus ‘oldpup’ narrative is hard to maintain for the Sad Puppy conflict as a whole. Attempting to apply to the internal shifts of Puppy leadership is absurd to the point of incoherence. Nor did Sad Puppies descend into territorial bickering except in the sense that the bickering was always there. The argument Niemeier references was not until the non-appearance of Sad Puppies 5, when Declan Finn attempt to make some book recommendations using the ‘Sad Puppy’ name, generating an angry reaction from Sarah Hoyt (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/sad-popcorn/ ). This was in 2017 by which point Sad Puppies had long since become irrelevant to the Hugo Awards.

“As mentioned above, Dragon Con now hosts the Dragon Awards. The Dragons boast far larger and much more open participation than the Hugos, and after rebuffing an SJW takeover attempt, they’ve largely settled into an antipodal role as readers’ choice awards for fans of a certain SFF publisher.”

The Dragon’s create a bit of a conundrum for Brian. Their headline categories are more dominated by Baen than the Hugo Best Novel is by Tor — which if Brian was remotely consistent would according to his prior arguments demonstrate that the Dragon’s are rigged. However, Brian won a Dragon Award in its first year and so more or less has to be pro-Dragon award.

The “SJW takeover attempt” is an even more egregious re-writing of history. He is referring to his own imagined culture war against John Scalzi in 2017 (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ). The “takeover” was authors trying to withdraw from the Dragons precisely because of the nominees like Niemeier. At the time, Brian was very much in favour of the Dragons not letting authors withdraw. When the admins saw sense and allowed authors not to participate, Brian was outraged and saw it as a potentially fatal defeat for the Dragon Awards. There was only one remedy that would save the Dragons!

The Secret Kings, my highly praised space opera novel, is the only viable competitor against Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2017/08/conservative-play.html

Suffice to say, Brian didn’t win another Dragon and instead Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey won instead. By his own weird standards then I guess that means the SJWs won or something? Who knows. With narratives that shift as easily as goal posts made of clouds, who can say.

The Dragon Award Websites is My Favourite Train Wreck

December is here and it is time to visit the Dragon Award page. Back in November File 770 confirmed that nominations were open (http://file770.com/nominations-open-for-2020-dragon-awards/ ) but the links were a bit odd then. Part of the issue is that the site is running two similar looking but different domains dragoncon.org and dragoncon.net with different pages on different domains. When the site is updated as a whole not every link is to the right domain.

So: https://application.dragoncon.net/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php works but https://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php does not [at the time of this post]

Worse, on Firefox I get this welcoming message trying to access some of the links:

If I set Firefox to ignore the warning, I get this [gif maybe slow to load]

So here is a guide to which links get you there and which don’t:

A wise policy update for the Dragon Awards

Only just noticed this. It’s not a change in the rules as far as I can see because it is a policy regarding possible finalists whereas the ‘rules’ are terms and conditions for voters. However, it is a change in the FAQ for candidates.

The second to last clause in the old FAQ stated:

Is it okay to push my fans to vote for me?
Yes, the Dragon Awards are a fan choice, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to encourage your fans to vote for you.

https://web.archive.org/web/20181017150210/https://awards.dragoncon.org/faq/candidate-faq/

That has been amended and now states:

Is it okay to push my fans to vote for me?
Yes, the Dragon Awards are a fan choice, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to encourage your fans to vote for you. However, please do not offer anything of value as “encouragement.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20191019015925/https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/faq/candidate-faq/

I’m not aware of any body trying to induce people to vote for them by offering something. I assume it is just a precautionary piece of advice. Not sure what happens if some one did offer inducements.

Dragon Awards 2020

The mercurial Dragon Award website has been updated (at some point) and now announces that “Nominations will soon open for the 2020 Dragon Awards!” [archive link] This should be unremarkable because the nomination phase is supposed to open in November each year but for the 2018/19 period the nomination process was a bit broken [see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/dragon-award-nominations-are-open-sort-of/ ] This year the ‘rules’ appear to have already been updated [archive link]

Speaking of nominations, I had forgotten this quite direct statement about the nomination process when the whole thing began:

File 770 April 15 2016
“Dave Cody, Senior Director and Co-Chairman of Dragon Con answered —
We’re going to employ various tools to combat ballot box stuffing when the actual voting starts.
Also, for nominations, it won’t be possible to slate or overload the nominations for each category. We’re going to use experts in the various disciplines to create the final nomination lists after examining all the nominations.”

http://file770.com/dragon-awards-updates/

I hadn’t remembered that Dave Cody had been this direct and open about how the nomination process works — mainly because since then explanations have been at best vague.

PR material has used the phrase “The best and most popular of the nominated properties were elevated to the ballot.” However, the rules have always said (and still say) “The most popular Entries, as determined by number of nomination submissions during the Nomination Period, will be featured on the Website…” [my emphasis] I guess this can be true so long as the nominee with the most votes always gets shortlisted. The rule doesn’t say how many of the ‘most popular’ are listed nor does it say only the most popular are listed.

A bit more on Dragons and probabilities etc

I had some weird conversations yesterday about Dragon Award stats. One was a brilliant take down of my figure that 10 men out of 10 had won Dragon Awards from 2016 in the two headline categories. Aha! Four years and two categories is only EIGHT! Yeah but it really is ten men. James S A Corey is actually two people and, even harder to believe, apparently John Ringo and Larry Correia are different. Mind you…if I only count Larry Correia once (because he is the same person whichever year he’s in) then it is back to 8 again…You’ll note that however we count it the answer comes out the same: 100% have gone to men in the two headline categories.

The discussion does raise a relevant point about why statistics is hard. Even a basic stat like a count of how many out of how many requires engaging your brain and thinking carefully about what you are counting. It was suggested that I should have said 10 men out of 8 awards…which I guess makes it clearer what was being counted but is horrible arithmetically. It looks like “10 out of 8” i.e. 125% which is nonsense because we are diving two different things and creating a derived unit of men per awards.

I’ll point people back to this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/08/10/dragon-award-by-gender/ and this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/more-dragon-stats/ where I talked in more detail about what I counted and how.

To round off that previous gender post here is an equivalent graph of winners by gender in the book category:

Like the graph in the previous post of finalists, I’m using counts by gender which reduces the gender disparity by only counting two joint authors of the same gender as 1 but two joint authors of different genders as 1 each per gender. Same caveats about gender as a binary classification apply as with the earlier post.

Worst year was 2017 which was also peak Rabid Puppy influence.

A couple of conceptual questions have come up that are related. I was asked elsewhere what the chance was of so many authors on Brad’s list winning. A different question with the same kind of issue was asked by James Pyles – basically what was the chance of N.K.Jemisin winning a Hugo three times in a row.

Both questions aren’t something that can easily be answered and they sort of miss the point of the kind of comparisons against chance you might do with gender. With the Brad list these were people who were plausible winners, the outcome wasn’t surprising. There’s no expectation that the result of an award is a random event when looking at individuals – the same is true with Jemisin. We could say, well there’s 7 billion people on earth and one winner so the chance is 1/7 billion and the chance of winning three times is (1/7 billion)^3 and then concluding that everything is impossible but the comparison is silly.

Comparing with chance is there to test a kind of hypothesis: specifically whether the result is plausibly the result of chance. If the probability is tiny then we can reject that it happened by chance. We already know that somebody winning a Dragon or a Hugo isn’t by chance because names aren’t picked out of a hat.

So why compare gender of winners to chance events if we know winning isn’t a chance event? Good question. Because, we are testing another level of hypothesis. With gender, the hypothesis could be stated as ‘gender is an irrelevant variable with regard to winning award X’.

Consider this. Imagine if all Dragon (or Hugo) winners were born on a Tuesday. That would be remarkable. Day of the week surely isn’t connected to whether you win an award or not! We might reasonably expect only one-seventh of winners to be born on a Tuesday. We might do extra research to see if across all people if day-of-the-week is evenly distributed. We might fine tune that further and consider only English speakers or only Americans etc. The point being that if day-of-the-week departed from chance then we would reject that day-of-the-week is irrelevant.

If we did find that, it wouldn’t tell us why or how day-of-the-week was relevant. One response I’ve seen to producing gender stats is people saying that they don’t pay attention to author’s gender when voting. Even if we ignore subconscious influences and take that at face value, all that does is remove one possible cause of a gender disparity, it doesn’t make the gender disparity go away.

Another response is that looking at gender stats is ‘politics’. Well, yes, it is but it is relevant even if we otherwise lived in a gender neutral utopia. Again, imagine if Tuesday-born people won far more sci-fi awards than other people — that would be fascinating even though we don’t live in a world of Tuesday-privilege.

Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

One way of looking at the ‘giants’ of science fiction is to see them as people who helped map out the conceptual space of the genre. The impact of past writers is often so much greater because we can associate easily types of stories with the prototypes that they created. That is not to suggest that modern writers are unoriginal, just that the broad spaces already have names attached to them. Nor is it that those ‘giants’ where even necessarily the first writers to map out the space, often they loom large in our minds because they were authors we encountered when we were younger or authors that our favourite writers cite as influences.

For me as a youthful reader it was Le Guin and Philip K Dick. Le Guin’s apparently uncanny ability to have written books that appealed to me at different ages still amazes me. P.K.Dick was more a case of a weird happenstance but I’ll tell that story another time. Learning later in life that they both attended the same school at the same time but didn’t know each other, still feels like one of those cosmic coincidences that must be loaded with some deeper significance.

Robert Heinlein I read mainly because I started reading science fiction more broadly and was intentionally looking for ‘classics’ of the genre. Stranger in a Strange Land was OK and I tried some others but I didn’t warm to them. Later, delving into the online world I was surprised to see that for many people Heinlein was THE ONE, the singular biggest shaper of how they engaged with science fiction. Partly that was encountering online American libertarians for the first time many of whom had a deep love for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was surprised they didn’t have more love for P.K.Dick though, whose work is permeated at every level with a deep distrust of authority.

Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is just one point in the complex politics of his overall work. You can’t assess his politics on one novel, particularly given the length of his career and the complex dialogue of ideas between his books. You can see his works as being politically contradictory but at the same time those multiple strands and tensions reflect many of the same strands and contradictions within broader centre-right and libertarian politics within America. Stranger, Moon, Trooper work almost as a kind of astrological sign for strands of ideas about post-War liberty in the USA. P.K.Dick’s stories are more mercurial in plot but the question of liberty within them is much more singular: they are out to get you and they probably already have got you.

Starship Troopers maps out a template for war stories. War stories were not new obviously but Troopers helps codify a kind of war story but in a science fiction context. The arc goes from recruitment , to basic training, to career and it is one that has played out in non-science fiction stories before and many science fiction stories since. As a structure it provides ways for writers to innovate in other ways. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War in particular follows many of the same story beats but for a quite different impact.

What if though, Philip K Dick had written Starship Troopers? Or rather what if Heinlein had started writing it and after making a start Dick had taken over?

Kameron Hurley’s Light Brigade certainly starts as if it is an answer to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. There are multiple points including the nature of citizenship in the future Earth she sets out. Of course, the obvious inequities of the corporate society she describes suggest that the book will be more like Haldeman’s own war epic — it’s own story but also an answer to and a critique of Heinlein’s.

Dietz is a young woman* who enlists in the aftermath of a massive atrocity against Earth by ‘aliens’. The ‘aliens’ are breakaway Martian colonists who have become so seperated from Earth that their appearance and culture is utterly different. Dietz will also gain citizenship by enrolling which will help move on from the lower class ‘resident’ status of her family. The story follows her on basic training where we meet other members of her squad with whom she bonds in the face of the brutal reality of learning to be soldiers.

The massive tactical advantage the Earth corporations have over the Martians is access to a form of teleport technology. Soldiers are changed at a quantum level so that they de-corporealise into light and then re-corporealise onto a battlefield. This process is not without danger though, sometimes soldiers have a ‘bad jump’, other times they corporealise into ground or parts of buildings killing them horribly. War is hell but it is for a just cause…which as astute readers we naturally doubt. Even so, the arc of this story is set as it leads up to Dietz’s first jump.

But this is not a story in a dialogue with Heinlein and the arc is far from set. This is a conversation with Dick and Vonnegut and Le Guin. None of what Hurley establishes at the start can be trusted as Dietz discovers as soon as she makes (or doesn’t make) her first drop.

Dietz’s life becomes its own battlefield: disorientating, punctuated by violence and sudden moments of stillness. Dietz is the archetypal lost soldier looking for their platoon amidst a world blasted out of recognition. In Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim’s solution to his predicament caused by (and reflected by) war is an extreme fatalism in the face of his extraordinary situation. Hurley’s story takes a different direction. Dietz may be lost but the story shows us how she can eventually take control and set her own destiny.

It is a far more optimistic book than the broader dystopian setting suggests. Yes, it is set on an Earth ravaged by disaster and controlled by dysfunctional corporations fighting a brutal and often pointless war but amid that Dietz finds good people and in the end a clear purpose.

Time, will and identity fight each other throughout as Dietz searches for answers about herself, her friends and the war she is trapped in. This is a story that puts it central character through appalling situations but gives the same character a powerful voice.

Easily the best book I’ve read this year.

*[I think – late in the book we found out her first name is Geena. I listened to the audiobook version and so just assumed she was a woman but I’m not sure the story actually identifies her gender]