I Guess I’m Talking About John Scalzi Today

I woke up to find Twitter aflame with people discussing a column in the fanzine Beam that opens with: “So fuck John Scalzi anyway.”

There is a link in this tweet from the man himself where he replies.

There are also some interesting responses on Twitter from Kameron Hurley and Alexandra Erin.

The gist of the piece is simple. The character of the Best Fan Writer category has changed and the writer (Ulrika O’Brien) blames John Scalzi. It’s not a great piece but it is better than it sounds but not by much. The worst aspects are the histrionic claims (“The Hugos are broken, probably permanently and irretrievably.”) and placing all the blame on one person (the aforementioned Mr Scalzi) and the dismissive tone of the choices of voters and often the voters themselves.

It has some merit as a piece that attempts to look at the changing character of a set of awards. That’s interesting and it is probably interesting to a number of people who read this blog who, prior to Puppy shenanigans, were less invested in the Hugo Awards qua Hugo Awards — including myself. Actually, particularly myself on reflection. As the piece says:

“Going from not knowing what a Best Fan Writer is to having a Hugo for it in 18 months is no mean feat. Going from not being a part of fandom in any way (Scalzi marks his entry into fandom to a Detroit convention in
2005), to having a Hugo for fanac in three years, is incredible. Literally.”

I somewhat resemble that remark, having gone from NOT EXISTING as any kind of presence at the start of 2015 to being a Hugo Finalist for Fan Writer in 2018. I’m part of what the writer sees as the problem described as:

“When I do see it, I increasingly find a bunch of total strangers who’ve not visibly participated in fandom, and I see red all over again. I will inevitably be told that the failing is in me, that were I to educate myself, I would discover their merit. As often as not, whatever merit is involved, what I actually discover are more neo-pros doing nothing remotely to do with fandom as we know it, or if they do, only in pursuit of making money off us.”

As I’ve discussed in previous posts on fan writing, there’s certainly many people being nominated for work that is in various ways paid for. Having said that, there’s plenty that isn’t nor was John Scalzi’s blog itself a money making venture (except in the more general marketing sense.)

Taking two steps back and looking at the bigger picture and the actual societal changes occuring in the relevant time period, what do we see? Nothing mysterious and nothing secretly controlled by John Scalzi but rather the increasing and inevitable online nature of fandom, along with generational change. The period of 2000 to 2020, was always going to be one in which fandom would have the kind of generational change that fandom is always having because people get older and people from a younger generation become more influential. To use tired generational-terms, a shift from Baby Boomers to Gen-X with (now) more Millennials (and younger).

The accompanying shift was technological with blogs, blogging networks (particularly Live Journal at one point), social media platforms and commerical pop-culture media sites changing where fan-related discourse was happening. This was a cross-generational change (e.g. GRRM’s Live Journal or how influential Mike Glyer’s File770 fanzine-turned-blog became during the Puppy Debarkle).

The more interesting claim is that John Scalzi is to blame for the Puppy Debarkle itself:

“But perhaps most memorably for many, 2015 was the first Year of the Puppies. The combined efforts of the Sad and Rabid Puppies managed to get their slates solidly wedged onto the short list of many categories, including literary and media ones, leading to much public outrage in the months leading up to the convention, and to a rhythmic tattoo of Hugos going to “No Award,” during the awards presentation. And the audience applauded. Our highest honors were so badly broken that category after category went unawarded, and the fans applauded. Thanks Scalzi. Fuck you.

Yeah, Scalzi. Because beyond distorting the fan categories beyond all recognition, John Scalzi opened the door for anyone who was paying attention and willing to do the leg work to rewrite any Hugo to their own preference. Looking at an award category, deciding that the people currently winning it don’t deserve to, examining the rules to see if they explicitly forbid what you want to do, and then mounting a blog-based campaign to circumvent the spirit of the award by recruiting a bunch of fan-cultural outsiders who never previously nominated or voted in that category to do so – does that sound at all like a familiar pattern? And make no mistake, Scalzi’s blog had plenty of Puppy-leaning types paying attention to it. The incomprehensible, but much repeated favorable comparison of John Scalzi’s debut novel, Old Man’s War, to the work of Robert Heinlein pretty well assured that the Randroids and the pseudo-libertarian ammosexuals would be there in droves.”

Like most of the column, the charge is histrionic and ignores so many other dynamics. Also, Scalzi didn’t open any door. The door was already open, he just walked through it. The only way that never would have occurred would have been if Worldcon and the Hugo Awards had simply dwindled into irrelevance, ignored by new generations of people and a fannish discourse that had expanded into new arenas*.

Having said all that, as a self-appointed student of the Hugo Debarkle, the role of John Scalzi and his Whatever blog can’t be ignored. Go back to the years prior to the Puppy revolt we don’t need to speculate about any nexus between future Puppies and the influence of the blog because we can watch Brad Torgersen (Sad Puppy 2ic) being Brad in the comment section, along with various other notable characters in the performance that would follow. I can’t see anything in those years for which John Scalzi deserves moral blame for though. He was (is) a succesful author who was also keen to engage with fandom when he discovered its delights. That’s hardly a new path. The fan-writer to pro-writer path anything new for the Hugos, something Robert Silverberg reminded people of last year.

There is a broader point to the column. Are the fan categories rewarding fan-works or are they acting a second-tier aspiring pro categories? Firstly, accept there’s never going to be a clear distinction. Secondly, changing the rules is NOT mysterious nor unachievable! Rather than a futile exercise in lambasting John Scalzi (and let’s face it, he’s weathered plenty of lambasting over the years) consider what kinds of things the fan categories SHOULD reward and think about how FUNCTIONALLY they can be defined in our new more inter-connected world.

The question is what fan-writing should be and how it should be celebrated. Which is an interesting one and it is one in which it is worth noting John Scalzi not as John Scalzi the author but John Scalzi the guy who is and was heavily engaged in fandom as it is now.

*[NOTE: I’m not saying existing or former arenas of fannish discourse are irrelevant or inferior, just that other arenas now exist]

Dragon Awards: Enter The Red Panda Fraction

Voting hasn’t quite closed for the Dragon Awards as deadlines were extended to accommodate withdrawals. Meanwhile, there is a last minute appearance by a new player in town: The Red Panda Fraction.

File 770 has the scoop on the musteloidean agitators:

“The anonymous “Red Panda Fraction” sent out a tweetstorm criticizing how the Dragon Awards are run.”

Their Twitter page describes themselves as:

“Leftist fans of SF/fantasy/horror lit & film, gamers, & comic book nerds who discuss & promote leftist, LGBTQ+, and feminist cultural works in SF/fantasy/horror”

(They also seem to have a Facebook page but it doesn’t have much on it: https://www.facebook.com/redpandafraction – I sent them a friend request)

It is an interesting development.

I should say upfront that I’ve no idea who they are. Their motives seem clear and their critique of the Dragon Awards is sound. However, I’m not sure of their tactic of a recommendation list.

Firstly it is a bit late in the day to have any real impact.

Secondly, while their list is neither against the rules or (current) spirit of the Dragon Awards it still has the problem of effectively co-opting authors into a culture war whether they want to or not. Challenging the alt-right and the crypto-fascists of pop-culture is a worthy quest but it isn’t for everybody and even those who do want to be engaged in such conflicts need to be able to pick and choose their own battles. While the Red Pandas aren’t saying the authors of the works on their list are endorsing the Red Pandas, that is a side effect of adding somebody to a partisan list. I’m reminded of Kary English’s essay about becoming a football in the 2015 Hugo Puppy Kerfuffle. BUT I don’t actually know that they haven’t spoken to the authors they listed – maybe they did and the authors said ‘OK’, in which case please ignore this paragraph!

I’ve not seen any reaction in Scrappy Doo land yet. It may take awhile for the existence of this new group to filter through. Jon Del Arroz is doing his own thing and Brian Niemeier is currently busy failing basic reading comprehension of a comment by Greg Hullender from weeks ago (the original comment being here https://lelaebuis.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/update-on-the-dragon-awards-drama-2017/ )

The good news is that now I may have enough locations for a new map…

The Hugo Novellas Form One Weird Novel

Gods, children, doors and keys – read the Hugo Novella finalists in the right order and you will get a weird, disjointed story about another world, close to ours, where pople become gods, those gods slowly lose their minds and their reality becomes fractured. To travel around this world or to reach ours requires magic keys and special doors.

  1. A Taste of Honey: the gods are human like, we see the first splintering of reality
  2. Penric and the Shaman: the gods have become more distant but still relatable, magic is more common place. Demons now exist.
  3. This Census Taker: The world has ceased to make sense. A strange, muderous man makes magic keys. A band of census takers vainly attempts to keep track of people. Their numbers no longer make sense.
  4. The Ballad of Black Tom: In 1920s America a man opens a door into other realities. The gods of the other reality are no longer benevolent.
  5. Every Heart a Doorway: In our world, a school looks after children who have crossed doorways into another reality of strange powerful beings who act on whims. Most of those who have returned are girls.
  6. The Dream Quest of Vellit Boe: In a chaotic inconsistent world where even mathematics is inconsistent and powerful gods dream mad dreams, a woman sets out to find keys to reality crossing doors. He world is strangely bereft of women.

As this uber-novel is hard to make sense of and jumps aound in time, it is presumably actually by David Mitchell, but then maybe ‘David Mitchell’ has always been a sceret project by Bujold, Meiville, McGuire, LaValle, Johnson and Wilson.

[Reading order originally appeared here http://file770.com/?p=36249&cpage=2#comment-672112 ]

What Are Pixel Scrolls About?

Mike Glyer’s File 770 has a daily round-up of SFF news entitled ‘Pixel Scroll’ – this is probably not news to regular readers. In a recent comment section to a scroll, a commenter said:

airboy on March 17, 2017 at 10:27 am said:
I find many of the comments about Kloos post to be amusing.

How many 770 news items are about:
1] The demographic composition of the writer?
2] Some book/article/panel/magazine issue that has exclusively selected people of a specific sex, race, sexual orientation, etc….. for the issue for their special perspective?
3] Analyses of the nominees/award winners/people published by a magazine because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, etc……? And the conclusion is that there are “not enough” nominees/award winners/published authors by specific race, sex and sexual orientations?
4] The cover of the book does not match the color of the writer or character?People can publish what they wish and write/read what they want. But the articles and comments here are often focused on box checking.

Now here is what I like – a question that can be answered by that most fundamental of statistical skills, counting. Scholarly* paper after the fold *[for some value of ‘scholarly’]

Continue reading “What Are Pixel Scrolls About?”

Hugo Choices 5: Best Fanzine

Previously on Hugo Choices:

Current Hugo State of Play

Hugo Choices 1: Best Novel

Hugo Choices 2: Best Related Work – The Story of Moira Greyland

Hugo Choices 3: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Hugo Choices 4: Best Short Story

Best Fanzine

This is an interesting category with examples of the old and new as places that combine the two. Overall it is a competitive category. Castalia house has one and a half self-excluding entries: The Castalia House blog and Superversive SF. The Superversive blog is independent of Castalia but the bloggers also blog under that name on the Castalia House blog as well. Interestingly Superversive didn’t contribute anything to the packet. As either of them go, they are both largely inoffensive and have some worthwhile writing – although nothing remarkable.

The other three contenders are:
Lady Business edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Tangent Online edited by Dave Truesdale

Lady Business was a late replacement for Black Gate, which withdrew because they didn’t like being on the ballot because of Rabid shenanigans. File 770 I’ve covered regularly here. Tangent Online leans Sad Puppywards but is well meaning.

Of the three, Lady Business was the one I was least familiar with but it is a good example of modern fan-based blogging. Eclectic, analytical, their Hugo Packet entry includes and article with copious graphs and charts (10 bonus points for stacked column graph, 5 demerits for several 3D oblique pie-charts) as well as reviews and commentary. Very appealing in a why-wasn’t-I-reading-this-already way.

Tangent Online is a fanzine in a classic (if professional looking) mode. Focused on reviews and news of fiction magazines and tracking the history of SF and SF fandom. Many good articles plus a groan-worthy revisionist piece about Sad Puppies 4 are included in the Hugo Packet.

File 770 manages to do both – squaring the circle between a classic fanzine with deep historical roots in fandom and a modern blog living in the modern popular culture of wider fandom.  Cleverly the Hugo Packet contribution includes the collated regular Fanzine version of File 770 and a sample of the blog version. The trad-fanzine version demonstrates why File 770 is both important and has such staying power: good articles and retrospectives, news about fandom but also touching obituaries. The blog sample includes some of Mike Glyer’s key articles on last year’s Puppy Kerfuffle as well general articles by James H Burns and John King Tarpinian.

1. File 770. I’ll confess an obvious bias towards File 770 – compounded that I’ve got a brief cameo in the Hugo Packet. However the sheer range of stuff covered and its capacity to connect fan history with current events is unparalleled.
2. Lady Business. A great discovery. Fun and clever.
3. Tangent Online.
4. No Award.

Next up: Fan Writer!

The Griefer Matrix: Griefers Reloaded

The purpose of focusing on a set of issues is not intended to catalogue ‘victory conditions’ for the GSBA. Such a person/group may have also sorts of other things that they regard as victories or positive results. Rather the focus is on those things which impact negatively on everybody else or provide strong incentives for bad-actors in general to target the Hugo Awards.

Going through the solutions and judging them against the issues is the name of the game. I was going to present this as a literal matrix but it didn’t fit in a visible way. So here it is as a list. Part 1 is here. You probably need it open in a spare tab to cross reference the numbers.
2 Membership

a) Restrict nominations to attending members.
b) Restrict nominations to a jury.
c) Remove second year nominating rights.
d) Increase supporting membership fees.
e) Ban bad actors.
f) Restrict nominating to members with consecutive years of membership.

Each of these attempt to deal with the GSBA at a high level by disrupting their ability to join, nominate, vote or influence voting. Each one attempts to act on the issues listed as A,B,C, and D. Arguably each runs the risk of point E. The GSBA forces a change in the character of the awards.

2a. may achieve A, B, C, D by effectively increasing the cost of nominating. As voting in the final awards is still open to supporting members many of the specific issues may still apply. Specifically 3 & 6 (and hence 10, 12, 13) are still possible actions by a GSBA.
2b. Stops all the issues (assuming the jury functions) except issue E. Changing to a jury award is a major change in the character of the Hugo Awards. It is a single bad outcome but a significant one.

2c. limits the overall capacity of the GSBA to cause issues but does not any specific one.

2d. Raises the cost of the GSBA’s actions but at the expense of members and may result in E.

2e. Would in theory succeed on all issues but it is unclear how this would be done pre-emptively.

2f. This makes it harder for a GSBA to attempt entryist tactics with the award. Again this reduces the ease with which the GSBA can act but may not stop a particularly determined bad-actor.

3. Nomination
a) Implement slate detection algorithms
This may be technically feasible with few false positives. This would only stop issue 5 – i.e. forcing No Award by sweeping a category. Without No Award as an option it would limit the chance of 10 (but No Award is an option of course). It limits point 9 (publicity) by stopping sweeps. However it is easy for a GSBA to adapt to and doesn’t stop 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 or 8. It might encourage 3.5 depending on how it works (i.e. voters might avoid nominating a work on a Griefers slate for fear that their ballot will be ‘detected’ as a slate work – voters may act this way even if the algorithm is smart enough to spot the difference)

b) Allow the membership to confirm nominations through a long list (DN).
This limits/stops 1 but a harassing work would still appear on the long list and this might be sufficient incentive for the GSBA. Unclear of the impact on 2 but would probably stop it. Doesn’t stop 3. Does stop 4, 5, 7 and 8. Probably stops 4.5 and 5.5. Doesn’t stop 6. Possibly encourages 3.5 (hostage taking)

c) Allow membership to deny nominations through a long list (3SV)
This more clearly stops 1 but a harassing work would still appear on the long list and that might be sufficient incentive for the GSBA. May need a quorum or other measures to prevent this system making 2 easier for the GSBA by down voting enemies. Doesn’t stop 3. Does stop 4, 5, 7 and 8. Might not stop 4.5 (weak nominees via a slate) and possibly even 5.5 (sweeps due to a slate) if people are shy about using it on marginal cases. Doesn’t stop 6. Possibly encourages 3.5 (hostage taking)?

d) Empower the admins to remove ballots of bad actors.
Unclear how this could be done and may just result in a shift in tactics. Probably stops 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 depending on what tactics the GSBA is using and how public they are initially. May encourage hostage taking for the same reason as given in (a).

e) Empower the admins to add a limited number of nominees in years with bad actors (A+2)
Stops 5. Limits 2 but only partly. Doesn’t stop 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 (and hence 9, 11, 12)

f) Empower a jury to add a limited number of overlooked nominees to the short list (Juried+2)
Stops 5. Limits 2 perhaps better than (e) as a jury may feel moe able to add nominees. Doesn’t stop 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 (and hence 9, 11, 12)

g) Algorithmically filter the nominations
Hard to say without knowing more. Probably stops 5 and possibly 2. Limits 7 and 8.

h) Restrict the nominations relative to the field (4/6)
Stops 5. Limits 2 a little. Limits 7 and 8. Encourages 3.5 possibly?

j) Empower the admins or a jury to remove works which tend to bring discredit on WorldCon
Assuming other works take the place of the removed ones, stops 1, 4, 5, limits 2. Combing both jury powers in (f) and (j) stops 1, 2, 4, 5, limits 7 and 8. May be perceived as a change in character of the awards.

k) Allow the membership to vote on expanding just the number of nominees on a given year’s shortlist.
A more complex way of doing (e) and (f) with a similar effect.

No solution deals with all issues. #3 and #6 are the hardest issues to deal with via a voting reform. 3b DN and 3c 3SV deal with several high impact issues. A combination jury (3f, 3j) would probably deal with the same range of issues but with less administration and with more capacity to adapt to different circumstance.

Other possibilities beyond voting reform:
A code of conduct around voting/nominating? This would help empower solution 2e (Ban bad actors) but also would act as a deterrent for various kinds of campaigning – particularly negative campaigning. However, may encourage hostage taking (i.e. the GSBA campaigning FOR a declared enemy aka ‘black knighting’)

An anti-shenagigans jury/panel with various discretionary powers might be the only sufficiently flexible solution but it may be perceived as changing the character of the awards – with a remit to ensure the validity and integrity of the voting?

3SV looks like the best bet as a voting change but it needs a quorum limitation to prevent 2 (down voting a GSBA enemy) which in turn may limit its capacity to deal with 4.5 (weak nominees) and even 5.5 (sweeps). Those issues may be solved by EPH or a combination of measures (e.g. +2).

The Griefer Matrix [Update]

[Update: started writing part 2 and discovered I’d left off three important things; hostage taking, nominating poor quality (but not actually discreditable) works, and general sweeping categories. In other words VDs 2016 tactic plus Sad Puppy issues. I’ve added those as x.5 issues in places because I’d already used the other numbers in a whole section I’d written.]

This post will get a bit involved, so be warned.

At File 770 there has been a number of discussions about further reforms to deal with briefing from VD or some future obnoxious person. Regular Filer Stoic Cynic collated a list of possible solutions: http://file770.com/?p=29029

1. Do Nothing
2. Membership
a) Restrict nominations to attending members.
b) Restrict nominations to a jury.
c) Remove second year nominating rights.
d) Increase supporting membership fees.
e) Ban bad actors.
f) Restrict nominating to members with consecutive years of membership.
3. Nomination
a) Implement slate detection algorithms (These were mentioned last year. What would they look like?).
b) Allow the membership to confirm nominations through a long list (DN).
c) Allow membership to deny nominations through a long list (3SV)
d) Empower the admins to remove ballots of bad actors.
e) Empower the admins to add a limited number of nominees in years with bad actors (A+2)
f) Empower a jury to add a limited number of overlooked nominees to the short list (Juried+2)
g) Algorithmically filter the nominations (EPH, EPH+, Diluted Nomination, Frozen Nomination, NOTE: Jameson Quinn is working on another algorithm variant, as yet unnamed, to incorporate a ‘satisfaction index’ and achieve A+2 type results in conjunction with EPH programmatically).
h) Restrict the nominations relative to the field (4/6)
j) Empower the admins or a jury to remove works which tend to bring discredit on WorldCon
k) Allow the membership to vote on expanding just the number of nominees on a given year’s shortlist.
4. Voting
a) Filter the votes by preference ranking (IRV)
b) Veto bad actors (No Award)

There is much active discussion on these – particularly 3c “3SV” which has a 2nd round of voting in which members get to throw out some works from a longlist. In my earlier post about EPH I said that I thought it works better than people were saying because it prevents a briefer forcing No Award on a category. Others (particularly Jim Henley) have pointed out that it doesn’t stop a whole range of other bad-effects. The bad-effects are what motivates a griefer to grief. While they can still gain one of these negative achievements they still have an incentive to make other people miserable.

So based on what other people have said here is a list. Again Jim Henley originated some of these but this is how I understood them – so credit to him for good things and blame to me for bad things about the list 🙂

List of possible things to be solved.

In the list GSBA stands for griefer or slater or bad actor of some kind.

Three meta-level issues

A. The GSBA undermining the reputation of the awards
B. The GSBA demoralising the participating members (and hence also achieve A)
C. The GSBA makes the awards administratively to complex
D. The GSBA uses the awards process to harass/defame either specific individuals or groups
E. The GSBA forces a change in the character of the awards

Specific issues

  1. Harassment/libel of members of the community by the GSBA via nominated works. e.g. stories in which a member of the community is defamed or violence is acted out towards them
  2. Blocking the nomination of a declared enemy of the GSBA  e.g. stopping Tropes vs Women getting a nomination for best related work by using a slate to sweep the category
  3. Blocking by ‘king making’ of a declared enemy of the GSBA e.g. throwing the weight of a block of voters against one finalist to stop somebody else winning and then boasting about it.
    3.5 Hostage taking. Nominating or otherwise associating the GSBA with a legitimate work to cause consternation and baffle voters.
  4.  Ridiculous nominations e.g. nominating obviously not good works to make the award look ridiculous.
    4.5 Nominating weak or poor quality works (e.g. some of the SP3 slate)
  5.   Forcing No Award on a category i.e. using a slate and a tactic like #4 so that members have no option other than to vote No Award. The GSBA doesn’t win but then neither does anybody else.
    5.5 Sweeping a category with works for reasons other than those covered elsewhere (again SP3 issues)
  6. General king making – I’m distinguishing this from 3 in so far as a minority faction may do this in good-faith or even without really thinking about it. The difference is the GSBA will tend to boast about it.
  7. Finalist label-bogarting i.e. getting to be a finalist with no hope of winning just so they can say ‘Hugo finalist’. In particular when this is done by a publisher.
  8. Hugo-packet ride-hitching i.e. becoming a finalist means that you get to have Worldcon distribute your work/samples to a wider audience.
  9. Publicity stunting i.e. the act itself gets you coverage and hence sales, blog hits, notoriety etc
  10.  Winning an award i.e. actually winning a Hugo award
  11.  Radicalization of sympathizers: the Rabids use a kind of Trotskyist model with the Sad – get them involved in a conflict which they will lose but gain more radical sympathizers as a result.
  12. In-group bonding. The Rabids use these kinds of actions as a way of making the group feel involved in something and actively fighting their perceived enemy

Of those #10 is a solved problem. No Award and the final voting system pretty much make it hard for the GSBA to win an award without massive effort. 11 and 12 are not directly solvable but by dealing with many of the others the process by which these work is disrupted – an attack on the Hugos that goes nowhere. The same is true of 10. Undermine success in the others and you undermine in general the publicity enjoyed by the GSBA. To get publicity they have to do something noteworthy.

That leaves 9 specific issues. How do each of the solutions do against the 9 issues? I’ll try and make a matrix of issues versus solutions and see what we see. But that is for next time…