A non-explanation from DisCon

The backlash against DisCon’s decision to have the Hugo Award Ceremony sponsored by Raytheon has, at last, been addressed by the con. It doesn’t say very much:

“We accept feedback & criticism regarding DisCon III’s acceptance of sponsor funds. Send suggestions, complaints, & other views to sponsorship.suggestions@discon3.org. We will share those with the next Worldcon committee as part of our debriefing as we discuss funding strategies.”

https://twitter.com/worldcon2021/status/1473328225204019202

And is followed by:

“Harassment is not acceptable. Responses should be directed to DisCon III and not at the finalists or winners who were uninvolved in our decisions.”

https://twitter.com/worldcon2021/status/1473328226588057612

Neither of these are adequate responses.

I’m not going to rehash what I believe are the obvious and deep problems with Raytheon as a sponsor. You don’t have to accept my perspective on Raytheon to see that not only would many fans object but that Raytheon would have a deep negative impact on the Hugo Awards as a brand. To some extent, most sponsors carry with them at least a small degree of drag on the reputation of the thing being sponsored. Just from a purely amoral, cynical perspective, the net cost to the Hugo Awards of being sponsored by a company whose name is a metonym for high-tech civilian casualties in America’s forever war, is huge.

Yet, somehow this decision was worse.

Not only did they sponsor the Worldcon but the name was attached to the most high profile event — announced to the viewers of the live stream of the Hugo Award ceremony. Worse yet, the sponsorship also included “red carpet photos” of people attending the ceremony (even though volunteers were already doing photos).

The net effect has been that DisCon didn’t just sell use of its brand to Raytheon but effectively partly sold the reputations of the awards AND THE FINALISTS. Then said…nothing, for more than a day.

Now if you follow my social media, you’ll know that my initial negative reaction to Raytheon led to a minor (and civil) argument between myself and a finalist with familial connections to the company. As a consequence, that finalist ended up bearing a firestorm of attention and harassment as a consequence of what they had shared. A lot of that was poorly thought out and a significant amount of it was straight harassment. I’ll acknowledge that my overall pissed-offness about all of this is exacerbated by feeling guilty that I inadvertently contributed to that harassment.

Now, yes DisCon can’t control social media and they aren’t the world’s anti-harassment police but the essential social media blackout for over 24 hours on the issue by the con’s official channels and spokespeople meant that those channels avoided the brunt of the backlash and let FINALISTS receive the worst of it.

Questions about this decision remain, including how much money Raytheon paid.

  1. when was Raytheon taken on as a sponsor? The souvenir book does not list Raytheon as a sponsor. The “sponsors” page on the website does list Raytheon but when they were added (maybe December 11) is unclear. No annoucement was made. A “stealth” sponsorship is a contradiction in terms.
  2. why were authors photographed as part of the sponsorship? This appears to be particularly insidious but I wasn’t there so I don’t know if sponsor’s logos were invovled.
  3. why weren’t members informed until the ceremony? I’m told Raytheon had a stall at the con (a dodgy choice IMHO).
  4. why was DisCon silent on this until this tweet? OK, I get why — because it was a gigantic fuck up and key people were travelling, so everybody dithered for a day hoping things would quiet down.

Science fiction has had a long association with the US military-industrial complex. Heck the SIGMA group were having panels at Worldcon to at least 2015. I get how the space connection leads to extraordinarily bad decisions on the scale of “Newt Gingrich at the Nebula Awards” (in 1991 and factoring in everything, that bad idea seems less bad than this one).

So a Hugo Nomination Issue That Was Bugging Me

As always with the Hugo Awards, there were various controversies and kerfuffles this year. One that was nagging at me was the fuss around the number of named people in the Strange Horizons nomination. That got heated at times and so I didn’t bring up the thing that was bugging me, mainly because I didn’t think it really applied to Strange Horizons specifically but there was a precedent there that would be an issue in the future.

So I decided to wait until after the voting to keep the issue separate from Strange Horizons specifically. I don’t want this to be seen as a dig at them as they do credible work and are a worthy finalist. However, there is an issue.

Strange Horizons had 85+ named finalists for commendable reasons and I understand their reasoning for all the names. The lowest number of votes to be a finalist in 2021 for the Semipro category was 39 (PodCastle). I think those two numbers are an issue i.e. more named finalists than votes it takes to be a finalist.

That’s not a dig at Strange Horizon’s legitimacy as a finalist as the zine got 124 votes in total, so even with 85 fewer votes (assuming all the SH names voted for themselves) they would have been a plausible finalist. Also, the EPH stats show SH had broad support and I don’t doubt that even if SH had only had a generic “Strange Horizons Team” instead of a list of names, it would have brought the same number of votes to the table.

In this category in particular, the longlist has several very credible outlets including some with finalists in other categories. They clearly have more general support than their numbers suggest in terms of nominations. Clarkesworld got 13 votes and yet in other categories had two novelettes and best editor finalists! So marshalling votes is clearly a problem. [Bad example as Clarkesworld has stated it is no longer a semiprozine]

On the positive side, maybe having multiple names for big group efforts is exactly the right thing to do. If semipro magazines (and maybe fanzines) habitually list all its contributors and they all get to name themselves as finalists then that may really boost the number of people voting in the category. That would be a net gain for the category (ceremony issues aside).

However, everybody would end up having to do it even if they didn’t much care for the idea. If only some zines do it then it creates a voting exploit. A zine with 40 names that bullet vote would have beaten Escape Pod and Pod Castle. 45 names bullet voting would have beaten Beneath Ceaseless Skies [I haven’t checked my maths].

In other words, there’s a precedent there with implications for future voting. I’ll reiterate, not a dig at Strange Horizons nor am I suggesting that this was their motive or that they gained any kind of unfair advantage as they clearly didn’t.

I think there’s three choices here:

  1. Everybody in the semipro category follow SH’s lead. I think that will encourage people to vote in the category not just for the egoboo but an extra motive helps and these down ballot categories need some love.
  2. Rule changes on named finalists e.g. the max number of names per finalist is linked to the smallest number of votes a finalist got at the nomination stage (eg say a quarter of the 6th place finalist, so this year a quarter of 39, so about 10 names). Alternatively, a fixed limit of say 8 names and then it has to be “XXXX Team”.
  3. Do nothing until one day it becomes a more obvious problem.

I don’t think 1, is a bad idea but people need to be clear on the what & why of it.

First look at Hugo Stats

Stats were a little late being released and currently, the usual nomination data isn’t there.

There are some interesting twists in the distribution preferences. Sometimes, the 1st pref voting order is a close match with the final voting order but lots of exceptions this year.

  • Novel: Network Effect was an easy winner for Best Novel but Piranesi started at 2nd place but came in third after The City We Became.
  • Novella: Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children) came top of 1st round but came in third after The Empress of Salt and Fortune and Ring Shout.
  • Novelette: The pattern was even more pronounced here. Isabel Fall’s Helicopter Story came top of 1st preferences but after several rounds only came in fifth. Basically a lot of focused support but not a broadly popular story. The original controversy aside, I think that fits with what was a very marmite sort of story.
  • Series: So for once I’d read all of them and voted but in the end Murderbot won anyway which is what I would have voted for if I hadn’t made the effort. Easy win for SecUnit.
  • BRW: I was surprised Beowulf one because it was not an obvious inclusion in the category and the trend had been towards easier, more populist wins. Given FIYAH’s win earlier I thought FIYAHCON would win. No Award didn’t beat anybody but had a strong showing in the voting.
  • skip a few categories
  • BDP Short: Sorry, while I really enjoyed The Good Place, I simply don’t get the Hugo voter enthusiasm for it. Maybe it’s just the thing that most voters have in common? There maybe a Netflix effect (which goes for The Old Guard as well) in that the streaming service that most people have has an advantage.
  • Semiprozine: Strange Horizons neither suffered nor gained from the minor fuss about their cast list.
  • Fanzine, Fancast: I have nothing interesting to say
  • Fanwriter: Cora was second! It was a really close second as well. She led on 1st preferences and it was a close choice on each pass. [Seriously though, fuck those arseholes who keep No Awarding in this category.] Tough field with Jason Sandford, Alistair Stuart, Paul and Charles Payseur.
  • Best Video Game: Hades seemed a likely choice. I voted Spiritfarer 1 and it came 3rd.
  • Lodestar: Kingfisher absolutely romped home. It’s a very loveable book but I thought the others would be stiffer competition. Worth it for the Slime Mold speech and I’ll confess that my first thought when she was annouced as winner was “Oh, this will be a great speech”.

That’s all I’ve got.

In case you were wondering…

It behoves me to look through Worldcon related news through the medium of “what are the Puppies saying”, so to that end and for future reference here is Brad R. Torgersen on the Chengdu bid victory https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/7370567719636064

An educational moment here as well. There are multiple big, legitimate and deep concerns about a Worldcon in China. There’s also a metric tonne of racism, paranoia and fandom in existential crisis mode. Getting the two mixed up is the worst possible outcome, so if you want to see some of the more racist ways of looking at events (eg assuming that Chinese people are indistinguishable from the Chinese government) the comment section to Brad’s post has some excellent example.

No word from Vox Day yet. Curious about that, as he is quite pro the Chinese government currently.

Fact-checking really old comments on other people’s blogs long after the fact

…And then posting it here because this blog is just where things fall out of my head like one of those sci-fi junkyard planets.

So from 2016, I saw was a puppy supporter saying Larry Correia was outselling N.K.Jemisin by a huge margin. Given the state of information about book sales that is a tough claim to substantiate, particularly across all the books both authors have written. However, it occurred to me that there was a relevant like-for-like (ish) comparison that could be made. Both Correia and Jemisin published book 1 of a fantasy series in 2015: Correia’s Son of the Black Sword (listed as October 15, 2015 on Amazon) and N.K.Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (listed as August 4, 2015 on Amazon). One won a Dragon Award and the other won a Hugo Award.

How are they doing now after all the hurly-burly has been done?

FormatSon of the Black Sword The Fifth Season
Kindle #93,992 in Kindle Store#61,922 in Kindle Store
Audio#4,937 in Audible Books & Originals#21,721 in Audible Books & Originals 
Hardcover #229,997 in Booksn/a
Paperback #422,057 in Books#4,698 in Books
Ratings7837,538

Correia is no slouch when it comes to sales and it looks like his book is doing better in audio than Jemisin’s. Otherwise, it’s no contest.

Ah yes but MAYBE that’s just because of evil SJW publishing media hype and people bought The Fifth Season because of virtue signalling etc blah blah something??!? So, do people keep reading? Both books had sequels but here the comparison isn’t quite as like-for-like due to different publishing dates.

FormatHouse of AssassinsThe Obelisk Gate
Kindle#173,022 in Kindle Store#55,910 in Kindle Store
Audio#48,055 in Audible Books & Originals#21,992 in Audible Books & Originals
Hardcover#363,766 in Booksn/a
Paperback#310,581 in Books#11,716 in Books 
Rating5324,011

It’s not really a contest is it?

For completeness:

FormatDestroyer of WorldsThe Stone Sky
Kindle144,452 in Kindle Store  #64,908 in Kindle Store
Audio9,041 in Audible Books & Originals#69,932 in Audible Books & Originals
Hardcover327,341 in Booksn/a
Paperback183,721 in Books #20,940 in Books
Rating9843,892

A bit of an audiobook advantage for Correia again but no, much to everybody’s surprise a hugely successful, critically acclaimed, groundbreaking (lol) modern classic of the genre is somehow outselling a relatively obscure cookie-cutter epic fantasy from a publisher with a narrow audience and limited reach.

An Odd Way to Read October Daye

With the Hugo Award closing date not until November and due to circumstances giving me an unusually good head start, I’m making a serious stab at voting in the Best Series category this year.

  • The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager) <- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
  • The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)<- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
  • The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)<- I’d already read SOME of this and enjoyed it and then I read the rest of it!
  • The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tor.com) <- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
  • October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)<- I hadn’t read any of this, so I went and read it and enjoyed it!

So that leaves October Daye. I’d read none of these. I’ve read a lot of Seanan McGuire (in absolute terms…in relative terms to how much she has written…not so much) but mainly as part of Hugo reading. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read but I’m not a close match to an ideal reader for her work. I don’t then seek out her other books. There are books I read and appreciate the craft that has gone into them but don’t really grab me (e.g. Becky Chambers) and books I read & enjoy but have had enough by the end and then there are books that I want to consume more of. McGuire’s books so far have been more in that middle category for me. Undeniable talent but not quite what I’m after.

Of course, that’s what is so good about reading for the Hugo Awards. You get to read writers that push your own boundaries and involve you in other styles and narratives. Authors aren’t writing to appease individual readers, although inevitably they have a fanbase to whom they tailor their writing to some degree.

So the question was how to read October Daye. Not counting shorter works, there are 14 books and a 15th due in September. That is the essence of the Hugo Reader Paradox: there are too many books for a set of people who don’t believe there can be too many books. The rest of the nominees are either completed trilogies or ongoing series which are still at a manageable level of books for a new starter. Yet, back in the middle of the last decade when “Best Saga” was being discussed, October Daye was this kind of long-running series that was cited as the need for a new category.

Here is another dimension to my problem: trains or rather the lack of them. A global pandemic shifted my reading habits. Whereas, I used to mainly read books on a Kindle sitting on a train since 2020 I now mainly listen to audiobooks when going for a walk.

If I’m not going to read all of the series, then which parts should I read? The early bits? The later bits? The best bits? Reading the “best” ones (i.e. the ones fans like the most) upsets the pedantic side of my nature — I can’t judge a series just on the best bits! That’s cheating! Well, it isn’t but you know…or maybe you don’t and it’s just me…anyway, just assume that I wanted to get a sense of what reading the WHOLE thing is like without reading the whole thing.

My solution is to only read the odd-numbered October Daye books, at least up to book 7. I’d be “halfway” through that way and have a good sense of the series but only have read a quarter of the books!

How is the plan going? I’m on my third book i.e. book 5 One Salt Sea. So far I’ve read Book 1 and Book 3. I’m not won over yet but I’m also not tired of reading them or virtual throwing the audiobooks across the room.

Book 1 Rosemary and Rue is very much a debut novel and makes for fascinating reading just for the compare-and-contrast for McGuire’s writing compared with something as complex as Middlegame. You can see both the rough edges and the obvious talent but it also feels like a book of its time or rather a book of the time when McGuire would have first been working on it. Also, the noir-ish private-eye aspect of the story doesn’t quite work but the characters are engaging enough and there’s this real sense of promise in the story. You can also see all these budding themes and ideas that are going to sprout into later works.

Book 3 An Artificial Night is a massive levelling up in quality in all dimensions. Everything is more tightly written. It is also much more of an overt fantasy novel with just nods to the “real” modern world base setting for the central character. Most of the plot is driven by events in a faerie sub-world and you can also see McGuire’s interest in portal fantasies and the implications of these worlds on the children characters who visit them. There’s still a bit of a pacing issue with events feeling like they’ve reached a natural end twice before getting to the actual end.

Book 5 One Salt Sea I’m still reading. Now I’ve clearly missed a whole bunch of stuff in Book 4 but McGuire does a great job of getting a reader up to speed who may have missed a given volume. I don’t feel like this plan is going to leave me hopelessly confused.

I’ll keep going for the time being. I’m confident I’ll get to at least Book 9 now.

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.