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.

Back to Flint

A follow up to yesterday’s post. One rabbit-hole I had to stop myself running down was Eric Flint’s 2015 post THE DIVERGENCE BETWEEN POPULARITY AND AWARDS IN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Eric Flint, often cast as the token left-winger of Baen’s stable, tread a difficult line during the Debarkle with many of his colleagues or professional collaborators (e.g. Dave Freer) very much advocating the Sad Puppy line. Flint’s overall position could be described as conceding that there was some sort of issue with the Hugo Awards but disagreeing with the tactic and rhetoric of the Sad Puppies and the underlying causes of the problem.

Flint’s diagnosis of the issue is explained in the post I linked to and can be summarised by this proposition:

“the Hugos (and other major F&SF awards) have drifted away over the past thirty years from the tastes and opinions of the mass audience”

This was not a post-hoc reaction to the Debarkle but a view he had held for several years:

Here’s the history: Back in 2007, I wound up (I can’t remember how it got started) engaging in a long email exchange with Greg Benford over the subject of SF awards. Both of us had gotten a little exasperated over the situation, which is closely tied to the issue of how often different authors get reviewed in major F&SF magazines.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Flint goes on to describes the issues he had trying to substantiate the feeling. He acknowledges that the basic issue with any simple analysis to corroborate his impression is that sales data is not readily available or tractable. He goes on to attempt to address that deficit of data in other ways. However, regardless of of his method (how much space book stores dedicate to given writers) his approach only address one part of what is actually a two part claim:

  • There is a current disparity between popularity of authors and recognition of authors in the Hugo Award.
  • Thirty years ago this was not the case (or was substantially less).

Now I have even less access to sales data than Flint and publishing has changed even further since even 2015. Nor do I have any way of travelling back to 1985 (or 1977) to compare book stores then with the Hugo Awards. Flint’s claim is far to subject to impressions and confirmation bias to really get a handle on. I could counter Flint’s more anecdotal evidence of current (at the time) big genre sellers unrecognised by the Hugo Awards with examples form 1985. An obvious one would Jean M. Auel’s whose Clan of the Cave Bear series was selling bucket load in the early 80’s and beyond (The Mammoth Hunters would have been cluttering up book stores in 1985). A more high-brow megaseller from 1985 would be Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s Contact, which, again, did not make into the Hugo list of finalists. Yet, these counter-examples lack bite because the Hugo’s missing a couple of books don’t demonstrate that Flint’s impression is wrong even if they help demonstrate that his evidence for the current (as of 2015 or 2007*) is weak.

However, Flint does go on to make a different kind of argument by using the example of Orson Scott Card:

“With the last figure in the group, of course,Orson Scott Card,we find ourselves in the presence of a major award-winner. Card has been nominated for sixteen Hugo awards and won four times, and he was nominated for a Nebula on nine occasions and won twice. And he was nominated for a World Fantasy Award three times and won it once.
But…
He hasn’t been nominated for a WFC in twenty years, he hasn’t been nominated for a Nebula in eighteen years, and hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo in sixteen years. And he hasn’t won any major award (for a piece of fiction) in twenty years.
This is not because his career ended twenty years ago. To the contrary, Card continues to be one of our field’s active and popular authors. What’s really happened is that the ground shifted out from under him – not as far as the public is concerned, but as far as the in-crowds are concerned. So, what you’re really seeing with Orson Scott Card’s very impressive looking track record is mostly part of the archaeology of our field, not its current situation. As we’ll see in a moment, the situation is even more extreme with Anne McCaffrey and almost as bad with George R.R. Martin.

[some punctuation characters have been cleaned up -CF]

Well this is more tractable. We can track authors over time through the Hugo Awards and we can look at what we might call ‘windows’ in which they receive awards. So that’s what I did. I grabbed list of Hugo finalists for the story categories (novel, novella, novelette, short story), put them in a big spreadsheet, cleaned up all sorts of things as per usual and went to have a look.

I’ll save a lot of the data for another post. There are two big issues with looking at the data over time. The first is that there are built in patterns to the data that show changes overtime that arise just out of the data being collected. Back in 1953 a Hugo finalist could only possibly have been nominated that once. Likewise a first time Hugo finalist in 2020 has a hard limit on the span of years between their first and last Hugo nomination.

A different issue is exemplified by this grouping of data where span of years if the difference between the first year an author was a Hugo finalist to the last year.

Span of YearsTotal
0201
1 to 576
6 to 1035
11 to 1527
16 to 2021
21 to 2517
26 to 309
31 to 357
36 to 402
fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of a power-law distributi-um

More than half of the data set are one-hit wonders because everybody’s first go as a finalist is a one-hit wonder until they get their next one. That’s quite a healthy sign IMHO but I digress. 70% of the authors are in 0 to 5 year span but there a small number of authors who have large time spans of nominations. The top two being George RR Martin and Isaac Asimov (38 years and 36 years). This kind of data is not summarised well by arithmetic means.

I’ll save some of the geekier aspects for another time. Is there a shift in some of these spans recently? Maybe but both the structural issues with the data and (ironically) the Debarkle itself make it hard to spot.

What we can do though is look at specific cases and Orson Scott Card is a great example. He’s great because he undeniably fell out of favour with people by being an enormous arse and we can corroborate that externally from this data set. However! EVEN GIVEN THAT the table of groupings I posted shows us something that severely undermines Flint’s point.

Card’s Hugo span (last year as finalist minus first year as a finalist) is 14 years. That puts him in the top 14% of writers by Hugo span. Card has been very far from being short changed compared to other authors. These are his 14 year-span companions:

FinalistMin of YearMax of Year
C. M. Kornbluth19591973
Dan Simmons19902004
James Blish19561970
Joan D. Vinge19781992
Orson Scott Card19781992
Robert J. Sawyer19962010

Note that the group is from multiple decades. The broader 11-15 group includes writers like Frank Herbert, China Miéville, C. M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, and John Scalzi. Now Miéville and Scalzi might still extend their span (as might Card but probably not).

Flint goes on to suggest that awards get more literary over time and maybe they do but looking at the data I think Flint is sort of seeing a phenomenon but misreading what it is.

I would suggest instead that Awards favour a sweet-spot of novelty. A work that is too out-there won’t garner enough support quickly enough to win awards. A work that is too like stuff people have seen before isn’t going to win awards either — almost by definition, if we are saying ‘this book is notable’ it has to stand out from other books. For the Sad Puppies or even the LMBPN Nebula slate, this was apparent in works that struggled to differentiate themselves from other stories in an anthology or another book in a series. Jim Butcher’s Skin Game (to pick a Debarkle example) was just another book in his long running series and not even a particularly good episode.

The same applies to some degree for authors. I am not saying John Scalzi will never win another Hugo Award but I don’t expect him to even though I think he’ll be writing good, entertaining sci-fi for many years. This is not because he’s not sufficiently left-wing for current Hugo voters but because we’ve read lots of John Scalzi now and sort of know what to expect.

A future equivalent of Eric Flint in 2036 may look back to 2006 and say “Back in the day the Hugos used to reward popular authors like John Scalzi. Look at the virtual-cyber shelf on Googlazon and you’ll see rows of Scalzi books up to his latest ‘Collapsing Old Red Shirt 23: Yogurt’s Revenge’ – why don’t the Hugo’s give him rockets any more!”**

The Hugo’s move on, it is true but they have repeatedly picked out not exactly brand new talent but authors when they are at a sweet spot of their careers. Yes some have much longer Hugo spans but they are unusual and many are the sci-fi giants of yore and others are people with long gaps between nominations.

Card actually had a good run but even without his more giant-arsehole like antics, it is very unlikely that he would have got a Hugo nomination any time soon. Note, for example, that Card has not yet been a Dragon Award finalist despite having eligible novels and despite the Dragons (championed by Flint) as supposedly addressing the popularity issue.

*[Or 2020, as I don’t think Flint has said everything is fine now.]

**[I suspect future John Scalzi will be more inventive than just rehashing his former hits but also I think he’d actually be quite brilliant at writing a parody pastiche of his own work.]

DragonCon Celebrate My Blogiversay by Updating the Dragon Award Page

…or at least that is one explanation!

Yes, ladles and gentlebens all bets are closed and the winner of the ‘guess when the Dragon Award Page Will be Updated competition’ can be announced. It was whoever guessed sometime around May 6 to May 10. Congratulations if that was you. You win this tiny cat picture:

So yes, no joke, the Dragon Award sites has updated https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/ [archive link]

They haven’t really fixed it up and the link to the nominations is still circuitous but the test has been updated:

Ha, ha, those crazy scamps!

More Stunning Developments in My Clickbait Dragon Award Post Titles! Quick Click!

Yes, I can report that the titles of my posts about the Dragon Awards have become longer and even less attached to any kind of news or development.

Once again, over to our weather bureau for the current status update.

And the current update level is: undefined

As we can see from this latest archive snapshot [https://web.archive.org/web/20200501183948/https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/] the Dragon Awards are still going for stability and familiarity in these trying times.

If you bet on April (a lot of us went for April 1 or 2) then it is time to update your bets. If you were hoping May 1, then maybe you’ve got a few hours left. Can we get to June without an update? Remember nominations close on July 19 and surely they’ll change the website then?

But wait? Consider this…have you noticed the strange nature of time recently? Wasn’t it only yesterday that it was March 1 and yet also February was like, seven years ago? Didn’t that whole dislocation of the normal passage of time start in November last year? Woahhhh. Is the Dragon Award website controlling the subjective experience of time?? Did the organisers unlock the time-chamber and interfere with the chronoton crystal at the heart of the lost city of Atlanta??? Is that why the Dragon Award processes are so, so mysterious????? Look, I’m not saying that IS what happened, I’m just laying out possibilities here based on meticulous research and making up wild nonsense because literally nothing is happening and have you ever tried to write a post about nothing happening? It’s hard, let me tell you. It’s like the news-story equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber: after awhile your brain, lacking external stimulus, creates its own patterns and conclusions. So, like, that whole chronoton crystal theory looks quite plausible right now.

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.]

Time for our irregular Dragon Award update

Over to our weather bureau for the current status update.

And the current update level is: undefined

As we can see from this archive snapshot [https://web.archive.org/web/20200414202153/https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/ ] the Dragon Awards are going for stability and familiarity in these trying times.

Those who bet on “May” or “Never” for when the web page will be updated are still in the Game!

Evil and influence

[Content warning: post covers news stories about sexual abuse]

We’ve covered the right wing trad-catholic obsession with demons as an explanation for un-hellish activity before. This time the news of demons up to no good comes from the musician/game designer/columinst/author/publisher/film producer and hypothetical litigant Vox Day (link for reference http://voxday.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-ferocity-and-intensity.html ) Day is not a trad-Catholic but he flirts with a lot of the ideas that come out of that milieu, particularly the fetishising of Thomas Aquinas and by extension (of course) Aristotle.

Day’s source “Life Site” I won’t link to but is a kind of Catholic version of the evangelical protestant far right “news” websites that people may be more familiar with. The article is basically an over wrought man ringing up his friends all of whom confirm that they also think demons are everywhere and are behind the pandemic:

‘I phoned an exorcist in Washington D.C. I asked if demonic activity had increased since the Eucharist had been held back and many church doors had been locked. “Exorcists and those gifted individuals with insights into the spiritual realm have seen more intense demonic activity now. There has been a definite uptick,” he said, “Satan’s taken advantage of this crisis to meet his own ends, It seems demons have been given a free hand now.”’

Priests reveal how coronavirus crisis has unleashed ‘intense demonic activity’
Kevin Wells, LifeSite Fri Apr 3, 2020 – 3:49 pm EST

I always felt that it was a kind of patronising cliche to claim that pre-modern people invented demons as a way of grappling with notions of mental illness and emotional trauma. I also don’t want to belittle people’s coping mechanisms in a time of genuine fear but the examples I’ve (e.g. the ones quoted above) don’t present as people finding a way of coping. Quite the opposite, it is a sustained pressure to begin Church services again. I can see that there is a genuine trauma there — a crisis like this would, in other circumstances, bring people together for collective worship but most mainstream church leaders get why that would be disastrous both in the short term (it will imperil everybody) and the long term (church attendance skews older and would lead to the virus disproportionately hitting people who go to church).

Meanwhile, SF authors more overtly trad-catholic than Day are delighted that previously convicted paedophile Cardinal George Pell has been acquitted after a second appeal to the Australian High Court (news story here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-07/george-pell-wins-high-court-appeal-what-happens-next/12126266 ) The case, like many sexual assault cases, rested on the testimony of one victim who was testifying many years after the event. A jury and and the first panel of judges to hear Pell’s appeal found him guilty on the strength of the testimony but this final appeal (after substantial lobbying from the Australian right) ruled that the case against Pell was not strong enough to find him guilty.

What is undisputed though is that as a powerful figure within the Australian Catholic Church, Pell protected abusive priest and demonised victims. Nor are Pell’s legal troubles over. Some civil cases against him had been on hold until his criminal cases had been resolved.

Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel that Isn’t a Horror Novel, Brian Niemmeier is delighted that Pell has been released: https://www.brianniemeier.com/2020/04/pell-acquitted.html

‘Now, this blog has never shied away from calling out members of the Church’s hierarchy when they betray Jesus’ command to tend His sheep. That said, digging deeper into Pell’s case turned up pretty strong evidence that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice prompted by the Enemy’s attack on a sincere servant of Christ.’

Whatever the court’s finding maybe there is no doubt that this ‘sincere servant of Christ’ throughout his meteoric rise through the echelons of power within the church, repeatedly failed to protect children and repeatedly went out of his way to protect abusers. We don’t need to invent demons to discover malign influences in the world.

Exciting* Dragon Award News**

In a stunning development, the Dragon Award website is exactly the same as it was on January 30. Nominations will be open soon (they opened in November 2019). Stay tuned for more exciting* developments**.

*[no guarantee users will experience any level of excitement.]

**[no actual news or development are implied by the use of these words.]

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]