Lodestar 2021 Review: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

We have a lot more reading time this year in the Hugo Awards than usual and I’ve found I’ve made some dents into categories I don’t normally get to. My biggest problem with longer fiction is that my reading time for novels is now almost exclusively when I’m exercising which means audiobooks. I’ve recently launched myself into reading Seanann McGuire’s October Daye series but that’s a post for a different day. The other foray has been into fiction for a younger audience in the other not-a-Hugo aka the Lodestar Award.

First book in that arena is Legendborn, a YA urban fantasy Arthurian romance and that’s a very nice cocktail of sub-genres. Chaste love triangles? It’s a Young Adult cliche, it’s how urban fantasy spawned paranormal romance but it is nothing new to the legend of King Arthur. The classic Matter of Britain is such a rich vein that Legendborn feels so natural a fit to its premise that I feel like it must have been done a thousand times before but I can’t think of any examples. It cleverly fills an empty niche and if it had done only that then Tracy Deonn would deserve plaudits if only for spotting an unfilled spot.

Clever sub-genre choices though aren’t what makes a book worthy of a not-quite-a-Hugo-but-yeah-really-it-is-a-Hugo-c’mon and the test is not picking a clever premise but doing clever things with the premise and I’m genuinely impressed with how Deonn works with the idea and then pulls out layers and layers while still delivering on the demands of the sub-sub-genre.

Bree Matthews is a bright student who gains acceptance to an “early college” placement at a notable college in a Southern US state. Her academic success though has been marred by tragedy — shortly after being accepted to the college, her mother died in a car accident. She now finds herself as a sixteen-year-old, in the quasi-adult world of university still grieving and with unresolved issues around her last argument with her mother.

On her face night, things get weirder when she encounters magical creatures and a clique of students who appear to have magical powers…

So if you want the magical school setting and the urban fantasy masquerade and all that stuff, Legendborn delivers from training montages to magical competitions and handsome but troubled young men. We quickly learn that (gasp) the legend of King Arthur is a cover story for a history of a secret war between magical initiates and invading demons. A historic secret society at the college is actually a front for an international society of descendants from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Each family of descendants of the knights have a chosen representative with the capability of gaining special powers matched to the lineage.

Clever stuff but…

Bree is Black and the secret society has all the baggage that you might imagine of a clique of wealthy families connected to a historic institution in America’s south. Legendborn isn’t a subversion of the standard tropes of its multiple genres but it does allow the plot and the character to dig into the history and assumptions of its own settings.

The mystery of her mother’s death drives Bree into involvement with the so-called ‘legend born but also leads her into looking into the history of her own family. There she learns not just about some of the deeper secrets of the secret society she has become embroiled in but also a different history and a different model of magic.

There are some really nice touches here and while I don’t want to give too many spoilers there are some subtle choices in the world-building. For example, in the Arthurian set-up, which is presented initially as the magical world in which Bree is initiated, magic is based on lineages and bloodlines. Inheritance and family are key aspects of having power. Later, as Bree taps into a different world of magic, family is still important but it is transmitted via oral tradition from grandmothers to granddaughters. The comparison and contrast between the idea of magic (and hence power) as a family legacy is very well done but it is subtle and woven into the more conventional narrative.

The novel is part of a series and the over-arching plot isn’t complete by the end but as a stand alone novel, it works and there is a good (and revealing) climax that shifts events and character relationships into a new state.

No big plot surprises but an excellent example of how to take what superficially looks like a by-the-numbers plot and do engaging things with it.

Looking back at some old stuff

For most of the Debarkle chapters, I’ve used stuff I’ve written before to help me navigate through the narrative but I’ve not included links to this blog as the post weren’t contemporaneous. This blog didn’t start until the end of May 2015 and I was pretty much a minor spectator. However, looking for links on topics post the award ceremony, this blog turns up more often. For example, I was looking for estimates of group sizes in the 2015 voting and found myself back here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/crunching/

I’m still going to avoid the circularity of quoting myself because it is weird reading past-me’s opinions and more weird when I agree with current me. I’d rather current me was wiser than past me, all things considered.

I do think this post still stands up well https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/the-unified-puppy-theory/ Looking back at it now and in light of re-reading a lot of went down in 2015, I think I’ve shifted in my thinking mainly in the degree to which the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates were tactical. I now lean more to thinking that:

  • Vox Day was directly consulted on the SP3 slate and helped shape it
  • That several picks were tactical and had a point to them beyond Brad picking people he knew.

I’m not going to include that post in the Debarkle but I did realise that I should have included Snowcrash’s File 770 comment that prompted that post:

Here at the End of All Things, are some answers/ things we’re still missing:
– A honest explanation as to how the SP3 slate was created,
– How the tactics of slate-nominations furthers *any* of the constantly changing rationales provided by the Puppies
– Anyone taking on the Mamatas Challenge
– Evidence of a previous slate/ bloc-voting effort. The Puppies keep saying that’s the only way Stuff They Don’t Like Could have won, but are strangely reticent at providing any evidence or proof of their allegations.
– Why Wisdom of the Internet???? Seriously why? (And yelling about Scalzi is not a good answer)

http://file770.com/to-your-scattered-kennels-go-76/comment-page-3/#comment-303817

It’s technically from July but it also fits well into the next August chapter (that already has a 2016 post from Rocket Stack Rank in it, so time is being a bit more mutable for that chapter)

For those that have forgotten, the Mamatas Challenge was from a comment by Nick Mamatas at Whatever.

If the Hugos have really been dominated by leftist material that prized message over story since the mid-1990s (Brad’s timeline), it should be very simple for members of the Puppy Party to name
a. one work of fiction
b. that won a Hugo Award
c. while foregrounding a left message to the extent that the story was ruined or misshaped
d. per set of winners since 1995.
That’s all. Just a list of twenty books or stories—a single winner per year. Even though a single winner per year wouldn’t prove domination, I’m happy to make it easy for the Puppies.

Any Puppy Partisan want to start naming some names?

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/04/20/keeping-up-with-the-hugos-42015/#comment-781272

Further down the File 770 thread, I find myself arguing with Brian Z about EPH and there’s a nice bit of dramatic irony here:

[me quoting Brian] “3) in the best case, it perhaps knocks off a few perfectly respectable fifth-placers unfairly, possibly nudges some in the direction voting more defensively, and offends my poor fragile sensibilities;”

[me] Well there will be some losers in any system – EPH is no more or less unfair on the near winners.

http://file770.com/to-your-scattered-kennels-go-76/comment-page-3/#comment-303854

The irony being, that when EPH was used for the first time in 2017, I landed sixth on raw votes in Fan writer but ranked eighth under EPH. http://www.thehugoawards.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-Hugo-report-4-systems-comparison.pdf Puppy-nominee Jeffro Johnson was a finalist instead, demonstrating empirically that EPH was more likely to ensure Puppy representation on the ballot than exclude it. However, I’m not even the best example of EPH irony – Vox Day landed a spot as a finalist in Best Editor Long Form despite getting fewer raw votes than Patrick Neilsen Hayden.

I think both examples show how smart the voting amendments were. Adding a sixth finalist spot also meant that the “EPH losers” in 2017 would mainly not have been finalists anyway under the old rules (they’d have ranked sixth – except for the Verity! podcast).

Hugo 2021: Best Series – The Poppy War by R F Kuang

Having already read three of the six Best Series finalists, 2021 was already looking like the year that I might actually have a well-informed opinion of the category. In the time since the finalist were announced, I’ve completed The Lady Astronaut series [https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/05/21/hugo-2021-the-fated-sky-relentless-moon-lady-astronaut-by-mary-robinette-kowal/ ] which left Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and R F Kuang’s Poppy War. Given the sheer amount of material for McGuire and the fact that the Covid years have shifted me to audiobooks (long story), the choice of “what’s next ” went to The Poppy War and it was a good choice.

Spoilers for the whole series in terms of broad plot arcs follow…

Continue reading “Hugo 2021: Best Series – The Poppy War by R F Kuang”

Hugo Packet Time!

How exciting! I’m just perusing the contents PDFs for the moment but there is a dramatic (ha ha) uptick in the BDP-long/short contents. In short there are links to a FULL episode on Vimeo for Doctor Who and The Expanse. Long Form also has a link to the full movie of The Old Guard as well as screenplays for The Old Guard and for Palm Springs.

Written works is also very generous, Best Series and Lodestar in particular. I think only Piranesi in Best Novel is the only excerpt.

Well done Discon! I know it must be challenging work to assemble these packets. Greatly appreciated.

Retro-Blog: The Parliament of Cheese and Curds

Reposting this June 2015 fable about cheese (and the first appearance of a talking cat). With apologies to John C Wright’s Parliament of Beasts and Birds.

The dairy products gathered, one by one, outside the final city of People, furtive, curious, and slightly odd smelling.

All was dark. In the west was a blood-red sunset and in the east was a blood-red moonrise of a waning moon. Which, incidentally, confused a particularly pedantic ball of Edam which had taken the sentence “all was dark” a bit too literally. No lamps shined in the towers and minarets, and all the windows of the palaces, mansions, townhouses, semidetached project homes, terraces and those really big ranch-style bungalows that have a name but which I’ve forgotten, were empty as the eyes of skulls. Well, the eye-sockets of skulls. The skulls didn’t have eyes – although a mischievous small ball of mozzarella had taken to sitting in the eye holes of a skull and frightening passersby. That, as other cheeses noted, was no surprise given its upbringing.

All about the walls of the city (it had walls this city) were the fields and houses and the fanes which I had forgotten to mention earlier. Rather like the skull’s eye sockets, these were all empty.

Continue reading “Retro-Blog: The Parliament of Cheese and Curds”

Hugo 2021: Black Sun (Between Earth & Sky 1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

It is time for a big canvas, multi-character epic fantasy with duelling gods and political machinations. Rebecca Roanhorse follows four characters towards disaster as a holy city awaits a foretold solar eclipse.

The setting is a set of nations with a feel of pre-colonisation Americas, with influences drawn from multiple cultures. The alternating perspectives of the four protagonists make the world feel large and varied, with two people having to travel from other nations to reach the city of Tova and a third recently returned there. At the heart of the conflict is a generational crime in which the ruling Watchers murdered large numbers of the Carrion Crow clan many decades earlier. While the focus is on Tova and its religion, politics and magic, there is a strong sense of a bigger world with multiple cultures and languages.

Key to the world-building exposition is Xiala: an exiled sea captain who drinks too much and hails from the semi-aquatic Teek people — an all-female society of ocean-dwelling people of magical origin. Drawn into a contract to escape jail, she is tasked with taking a mysterious cargo across the sea to Tova, with strict instructions to get there before the capital-c Convergence. Xiala is a stranger to the politics and culture of Tova whereas the other three characters are already embroiled in events. However, each of the characters are to some degree outsiders.

Serapio (the aforementioned cargo) is a young man with mysterious powers over crows. Raised far away from Tova, he is heading home to the land of his mother. Okoa is a leading warrior of the Carrion Crow clan and like all the warriors of the Sky Made clans that mean he gets to ride a magical oversized version of his clan’s signature creature i.e. a giant crow. Pulled home to Tova by the death of his mother the matriarch of the clan, Okoa finds himself amid the lingering political and cultural tensions of Tova. Finally, Naranpa has found herself at the apex of Tova’s religious hierarchy as the Sun Priest but her lowly origin among Tova’s underclass leaves her far more powerless than her high office would suggest.

Magic, violence and cruelty run through the book but there are tender moments and the four characters are each out of their depth in quite different ways as long-laid plans draw them towards the same point in time. In particular, Serapio’s back story as a child is distressing, as he has been shaped into a magical weapon of vengeance. He is though, an excellent example of how Roanhorse makes use of the familiar tropes of epic fantasy and subverts them. Both he and to a lesser extent Naranpa have elements of the classic chosen-one trope of fantasy but neither of them in a wholly conventional sense and Serapio with a substantial sense of a dark force reborn.

The audiobook manages the frequent shifts in character perspective by using multiple narrators. That helps with the initial chapters where the reader is plunged into the rich world Roanhorse has created.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and despite the scale of the world-building, I found myself immersed into the setting very quickly. It is a book with a sense of bigness to it with quite different magical elements to it distinct to the individual characters. The growing tension as chapter by chapter we get closer to what will clearly be a very bad day for all concerned, is well executed and if I hadn’t been using the audiobook version I would probably have rushed through the final chapters.

I’ve enjoyed other works by Roanhorse but this is definitely a more skilful and mature work from a writer who started with a lot of promise. It sits in that sweet spot of delivering the vibe of the big magical saga but with enough innovation in setting and magic to feel fresh and original.

Good stuff…but we’ve also got to look at this as a candidate for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That is a tricky question. Definitely deserves to be a finalist. I found it to be expertly crafted and original. It is an excellent example of what current science fiction and fantasy can offer a reader. However, it is also very much book 1 of a longer narrative and faces all the issues that epic fantasy has when competing in the Hugo Awards. Book 1 of a series can win Hugo Awards, in recent years Ancillary Justice, The Fifth Season, The Three-Body Problem are each the first book in a series and also stand-out winners in what is already a highly elite set of books. Yet, Black Sun really feels like we’ve stopped in mid-flight in a way those novels don’t. It’s more than just that there is more to come but that the immediate arc of the story is left hanging.

The book stops at a sensible point but it really is hard to evaluate the story as a complete thing in itself. Of the four characters, Serapio has the fullest story arc but Xiala is the most complete character. We learn a lot about Naranpa but I felt like I was only beginning to get a sense of her as a character. Okoa feels like his story has barely begun. The underlying questions of revenge for historic wrongs versus reconciliation have only partly been touched on by the end of the book. None of that is a criticism of Roanhorse’s craft, quite the opposite. The pacing of the character’s arcs here is a smart choice for building a complex multi-volume narrative. But…I feel like I’m back to the Tad Williams problem we discussed recently. It’s hard for epic fantasy because book 1 is only a beginning.

Is that unfair? Part of the negative aspect of the Hugo Awards is where we find fault in excellent books by judging them against unreasonable criteria. Gosh, Black Sun didn’t quite manage to pull off the trick that The Fifth Season managed to create a story that has the natural momentum of a beginning while the satisfaction of a complete novel! Fancy that – didn’t quite make all the elements of one of the most highly praised books of this century! Shocking! Yeah, it’s unfair and it is part of the unfairness of picking out the best-of-the-best-of-the-best. I’ll have no complaints if Black Sun wins, probably won’t be my number one pick but the Hugo Awards should reward writers showing consummate skill in the genre and Black Sun would be a worthy winner.

Hugo 2021: The Fated Sky/Relentless Moon/Lady Astronaut by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series continues to offer an almost Campbellian approach to science fiction with her alternative history series. Set in an alternate 1960s where a cataclysmic meteorite crash has plunged the Earth into a climate crisis and spurned on space exploration, the first two novels followed the back story of Elma York, the heroine of her much earlier short story The Lady Astronaut of Mars.

I say Campbellian, because this is an epic series about bold people with top piloting skills, sharp mathematical brains and a dedication to treating the perils of space as engineering problems to be solved. They are also books that would probably make John W Campbell apoplectic, as Kowal puts second-wave feminism front and centre with York having to fight institutional and personal prejudices to become an astronaut and also brings in the racial politics of 1950s/60s America. And while her major characters have all the supposed ‘right stuff’ to venture into space, their apparent hyper-competence masks complex emotional and mental health issues.

Although very different in style and genre to the many re-workings/re-appropriations of H.P.Lovecraft-style fiction we have seen in recent years, there is a similar transform being applied. Take an older style and re-examine it under a critical lens for the underlying prejudices and societal expectation — tease those out and then turn them and apply what we know about society. It is by no means a trivial task and Kowal has accomplished it with skill.

The books enter the Hugo lists again this year in two forms. Firstly book 3 (The Relentless Moon) is a finalist for Best Novel and secondly the whole series is up for Best Series.

I listened to the audio books of two books in the series, having read the first in 2019. An advantage and disadvantage of the audio is that is performed by Mary Robinette Kowal who is a thoroughly entertaining voice actor but…who really, really needs some help with some of the foreign accents she is attempting.

The Fated Sky, follows Elma York through humanity’s first attempt to fly to Mars. It is a well driven story that pulls in political tensions on Earth and then tracks the events of an interplanetary voyage using early 1960s technology. If you want claustrophobic space adventure it certainly delivers. However, it also is very much a season 2 of drama that felt very fresh in season 1 but which offers the same thing in the next set of episodes but with different events. Characters do develop (in particular Elma’s long-term rival/opponent Stetson Parker) and the collision between the alternate-history’s politics and the actual changes in 60s America around civil rights add a deeper dimension to the story. I genuinely enjoyed it but finished it unsure if I wanted to read a third story just like it but just moved on a few more years. Also, the focus on the long Mars mission meant that the complexities on Earth had to take a back seat once the key characters were trapped in the long void between planets.

Well, there is a reason why Kowal is a professional writer. Book 3 cleverly defied my expectations. With Elma York stuck in a tin-can, The Relentless Moon changes the protagonist and tweaks the genre expectations. Set in roughly the same time period as The Fated Sky, we follow Nicole Wargin a side character from the first book.

Wargin, like York, is an experienced pilot whose World War 2 experience helped her become one of the first set of women to go into space during the events of book 1 The Calculating Stars. Unlike York, Wargin is a wealthy, socially connected woman who is also the wife of the Governor of Kansas — the state that post meteor, now also houses the US capitol and is the centre of the space program. However, in other ways Wargin is a hero very much in the same mould as York: she is a very capable woman with socially progressive (for the 1960s) views but with a privileged background. While York has to deal with chronic anxiety, Wargin’s cool, calm, collected demeanour covers up her long-standing eating disorder. She is also a woman with a secret, which I shan’t reveal here but which I found to be nicely revealed and which was cleverly introduced in fragments and retrospectively explains a great deal about the character.

The broad template of The Relentless Moon follows a similar model as the earlier books. The initial chapters are set on Earth and we learn a lot about the politics and social dimensions of the desperate space program and post-meteor society. Wargin must overcome sexism to get herself back into space and also in the process has to come to understand the other prejudices that riddle the world she lives in. Those chapters lead Wargin back into space and follow her onto a role on Earth’s growing moon colony.

However, where the earlier books narrative arc were determined by the episodes and events of the central mission, The Relentless Moon has a different story dynamic. The space mission faces opposition by a reactionary/populist movement and Wargin finds herself investigating possible sabotage and infiltration of the Moonbase. The focus on solving the practical difficulties of living in space with only 1960s technology remains, it is just that many of those practical problems (including a polio outbreak) are complicated by more active human malice.

The detective story element doesn’t feel tacked on. It integrates nicely with the existing style of the books and if you enjoyed either of the earlier books, The Relentless Moon delivers the same strong elements but with an added perspective that I welcomed.

It isn’t quite a stand-alone book and the eventual resolution of events not only ties it back to the events in book 2 but also marks another shift in the radical social change going on in Kowal’s post-meteor society. However, you can quite reasonably read The Relentless Moon and The Fated Sky in either order and I can see an argument for reading them in reverse order (some events will be spoiled but not drastically).

Hugo wise? The Relentless Moon is a reasonable finalist and deserves its place but simply isn’t as groundbreaking as The Calculating Stars. It isn’t likely to be my number 1 pick but not because of any particular flaws. It is a strong entry in the series though, which takes us to the other question of Best Series. I’ve struggled with this category but this year I’ve actually read a hefty chunk of the finalists and Kowal’s books are a very strong entry. Consistency isn’t a relevant virtue for Best Novel but is an important aspect of Best Series and this series has three very strong books (and one piece of shorter fiction that kicked the whole thing off). Too early to say if the series will be my number 1 pick but it is a strong contender.

A Worldcon fuss I wasn’t aware of

I am still supposed to be writing the next Debarkle chapter but in the process I have got lost down a rabbit hole of reading 1970’s fanzines. So today’s post sort of feels like a standard post I’ve written here before (I read something at File 770 and then add my own 2-cents) but this time we are all wearing flared trousers and garish shirts. The thing is, if I had known about this one I’d have worked it into Part 1 of Debarkle somewhere because it feels like it touches on lots of points.

The starting point was File 770 issue number 5 (June 1978) and a column by Dan Goodman about Harlan Ellison and his issues with being Guest of Honour at Iguancon.

“Could he have known?
A Statement of Ethical Position by the Worldcon Guest of Honor has been widely published. In it, Harlan Ellison says (among other things) that when he accepted as Iguanacon’s Guest of ‘Honor.” he had no foreknowledge that Arizona’s non-ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment would become an issue. Perhaps He didn’t foresee. it. But he could have……All he needed to do was to read and think.”

https://www.fanac.org/fanzines/File770/File77005.pdf

The column goes on to explain itself but assumes people are familiar with the background — which decades later and half a world away, I wasn’t. In fact, the background exposed a massive hole in my general knowledge of US politics because I was wholly unfamiliar with the Equal Rights Amendment, never mind how the politics of ratifying it had its own Worldcon mini-drama. I’m sure American readers here know the story but for the rest of us here is Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Rights_Amendment I feel like I should know all Harlan Ellison related stories but also that there may be far too many of them.

The Worldcon part was that Ellison was scheduled as the Guest of Honour at the con which was to be held in Arizona but then Arizona refused to ratify the amendment.

I can’t find the text of Ellison’s statement online anywhere, although I believe it was published in multiple places including Locus #207. The fanzine Karass #36 had a longish piece with quotes from Ellison:

‘Iguanacon: The 1978 Worldcon to be held in Phoenix now seems to be in for its share of problems. Professional GoH Harlan Ellison has announced that he will use his position as the GoH to support the ERA (Equal Rights_Amendment). Since “Arizona has not ratified the ERA”; he will use his position to make the convention “a platform for heightening the awareness of fans and Arizona as a whole…I will do this because I feel I must, but in a way that will minimize any crippling of the convention.” However, he also says “I suggest fans coming to the convention, figure out ways to withhold money from the state as much as possible. The Convention Committee should assemble a list of acceptable campsites for those fans who prefer to stay elsewhere than in the convention hotel. I will be one of those people; You are invited to stop by my tent, wherever it might be. But more: bring your own food. Set up feeding arrangements with local fans. Don’t shop in the stores. Spend your money with the out-of-state dealers in the huckster rooms but stay away from the tourist facilities.”

https://fanac.org/fanzines/Karass/Karass36-001.html (text retrieved using OCR with some clean-up)

Anyway, I don’t know if Ellison did stay in a tent and I also apologise to any blogs that I read who have probably discussed this incident in-depth at times when I probably should have read about it earlier!

This has been an episode of Camestros learns things he should already know by reading stuff.

ETA: Thanks to Mike Glyer who provided a link to Ellison’s statement https://fanac.org/conpubs/Worldcon/IguanaCon%20II/Iggy%20PR%203.pdf#view=Fit

The statement itself is a bit of a mixed bag, Harlan’s plan is not well thought through. However, I do quite like the grandiose ending even it is a bit mean to sitcoms:

“Can we continue to deal with sf as merely escapist fiction, pointless, mindless entertainment, no nobler than trash novels or tv sitcoms, when we howl in outrage at reviewers and critics who accuse the genre of being no more than that? Can we permit the gap between what we say we are, and what we really are, to exist? Or is this, perhaps, a moment when we can make a brave statement with our fiction, our literary love, our bodies, and our annual World gathering? Arizona, the WorldCon and I offer you this opportunity”

Harlan Ellison

On the GRRM post

A short recap: the 2020 Hugo Award ceremony went badly in multiple ways and central to the ways it went badly was George R.R. Martin. Natalie Luhrs wrote an impassioned post about everything that went wrong (which is here “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)” https://www.pretty-terrible.com/george-r-r-martin-2020-hugo-awards/ ). As is the way with things fannish, her post was nominated for a 2021 Hugo Award. However, some people have looked at the title and some aspects of the rhetoric and stated that it is a violation of the convention’s code of conduct and from there, an argument has ensued.

Currently, there’s a long argument going on at File 770 on the issue http://file770.com/discon-iii-declines-to-comment-on-code-of-conduct-issue-about-hugo-finalist/ but it really isn’t a GOOD argument. By that I mean, the discussion is getting so mired in questions of bad faith that it really isn’t helping whether:

  • a. is there really an issue
  • b. if there is an issue what is the way forward

I’ve ditched several replies to comments there because my comment really wouldn’t help. However, if I see a knotted pile of string, I can’t help trying to untie it.

Take a few steps backward. Motive is important when considering ethics and ethics is important for considering how people should conduct themselves. However, we don’t have windows into people’s souls and motive is easily disputed. It would certainly be easier if we could simply sort actions into good-faith actions, bad-faith actions, jokes etc but we can’t do it consistently. When it comes to semi-formal questions of behaviour (such as a company policy or a convention code of conduct) the question of motive and intent needs to be more limited compared with outward behaviour and observable impact.

So a few things:

  • I don’t think the question of why voters voted for Luhrs’s essay is relevant. On the face of it, the essay is a cogent piece of fannish writing of obvious relevance and well within the space of things that get nominated for a Hugo. It’s a dead-end aspect of the discussion.
  • Is George RR Martin harmed by either the essay or the title? Not in a material way, although credibly it may well make him feel unwelcome at Worldcon (a community he has been actively involved in for decades). However, he’s is also wealthy and well supported and this essay is unlikely to make any change to that. Neither is he living in fear of Natalie Luhrs. She is not literally going to shoot Martin or Silverberg into the sun and doesn’t have the means to do so. However, I think this is another dead-end. It really doesn’t help with the issue.
  • Should Natalie Luhrs have used that title or indeed made said comment about shooting people into sun? It was fine, not my style but people can let off steam on their own blog. It was well within the limits of acceptable online behaviour (particularly in the circumstances). People are free to differ on this point but it is also another dead-end discussion.

So what does matter? Rules need to be clear and enforceable. They need to admit some degree of nuance and context but they simply can’t be as flexible as the kind of more dynamic moral judgements we make personally. They also need to fail-safe and err on the side of caution. It is an issue that I discussed earlier in the year in this post: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/todays-infographic-moderating-comments/

And here we need to get into fine distinctions:

  • Natalie Luhrs should not (in my opinion) feel under any compulsion to edit the title or content of her post.
  • Discon have a real issue with using that title in anything put out by Discon or under their banner.

There is a fine distinction here between what Luhrs is saying with that title and Discon repeating it. Why? Because

  1. Discon is bound by its own rules of conduct whereas Luhrs’s blog isn’t.
  2. Titles of Hugo finalist works absolutely can contribute to a hostile environment.
  3. While, sure, GRRM is a massive big-name author, there’s not a sensible way of demarcating between people with sufficient social power to not be bothered and people who aren’t. I’ll come back to that.
  4. If it is assumed that GRRM won’t actually be harmed by Discon repeating the title because of his various kinds of social and cultural power THEN that indicates a PROBLEM rather than it indicating that there isn’t a problem. If it is only fine because of GRRM’s privilege then it is not fine *in general*.

Put another way. There’s a whole heap of circumstances here (Martin’s own behaviour, the relative power dynamic between Martin and Luhrs etc) that mean, practically Discon really aren’t doing anything that terrible to George R.R. Martin but that is still a poor reason for Discon to do it. It’s an excellent argument for why I’ve got zero issues with Luhrs’s original essay but Discon isn’t Luhrs and Discon is speaking not just to Martin but to people in general.

In general, I would not want future Worldcons to republish titles (or include in the Hugo packet) works that contain elements that can reasonably be taken as personal attacks on people within the broader community AND by “reasonably be taken as personal attacks” should err on the side of caution (e.g. telling somebody to fuck off, is probably harmless but falls on the bad side of the line – it is the kind of false-positive we should accept as beyond the arbitrary point). The question then becomes whether there is a reasonable way to carve out an exception for really rich and famous people? I don’t see how in a way that ensures people who are less rich or famous (or are rich and famous but marginalised in other ways) aren’t impacted.

So should Discon censor the title? Sure, why not? It’s not the end of the world if they did and (again) there’s a distinction between Luhrs saying something and Discon officially repeating it (even within inverted commas). Should they put it in the Hugo packet? Probably not, for similar reasons. Neither of those steps will impact how people will evaluate it.

But this would be Discon conceding to the feelings of a powerful rich guy! Maybe, but what it definitely would be is a Worldcon saying that codes of conduct apply FOR EVERYBODY to the titles of Hugo finalists and the contents of the Hugo packet. That is a net positive. It really is and will benefit less powerful people than George R.R.Martin.

And apologies, comments are off because I’m too busy today to moderate them and I don’t want to untangle disputes 🙂

[ETA: I made some amendments. I was too flippant about GRRM not being harmed by essay. I can well imagine he does find it hurtful and I don’t want that to be a distraction from the broader point, which was that EVEN IF he’s fine, there’s still a kind of problem.]

Average Hugo Age

I can’t recall if I’ve posted this before but I needed the table, so here it is.

This is the average age (based on available data) of Hugo finalists and winners in the main story categories (novel, novella, novelette, short)

YearfinalistwinnerGrand Total
195340.040.0
195542.842.8
195638.249.339.7
195843.743.7
195940.645.041.2
196042.943.042.9
196137.636.537.3
196244.846.045.0
196345.941.044.9
196450.949.050.4
196547.048.547.4
196648.635.744.7
196740.746.741.5
196833.843.036.5
196941.036.840.1
197037.543.038.6
197145.349.046.0
197243.944.744.1
197343.151.245.3
197438.950.341.3
197544.537.843.3
197639.444.040.2
197743.446.244.2
197840.938.640.4
197939.738.339.4
198039.141.339.5
198138.756.542.0
198243.844.043.8
198343.845.544.1
198445.134.342.9
198542.937.041.9
198641.950.843.5
198744.543.544.3
198840.742.041.0
198942.045.042.6
199045.247.345.6
199139.947.041.4
199243.449.044.4
199343.648.444.8
199447.048.847.3
199551.150.551.0
199645.239.344.1
199750.647.350.0
199844.548.545.3
199943.746.544.2
200048.652.549.4
200146.454.548.0
200247.146.847.0
200350.846.849.9
200448.953.349.8
200544.346.544.8
200645.256.547.5
200749.348.049.1
200852.746.551.4
200948.847.548.6
201047.844.447.0
201146.854.348.0
201244.945.345.0
201342.644.843.1
201442.447.743.2
201558.242.056.0
201650.440.347.3
201748.539.346.4
201846.349.046.8
201944.442.043.8
202039.839.739.8
Grand Total44.345.544.5

I thought winners might on average be older, but the difference is tiny. The standard deviation is about 10, so don’t despair if you aren’t in your 40s.

Also, yes, I think Sad Puppies 3 pushed the age of finalists a bit higher than usual.