Perhaps the most significant story from a former Sad Puppy ever

I had considered writing a piece about how the various right wing blogs and outlets I read are reacting to the current Covid-19 pandemic. However, I feel I have to point everybody to this frankly epic true story by Declan Finn http://www.declanfinn.com/2020/03/i-have-returned-from-italy-part-1-oh.html

If it was fiction and Declan was a made up character it would be the story for our times, encapsulating so much about 2020’s America and it’s relationship with Europe, the odd cognitive distance from reality of the American right and the very real human issues of coping in a world where the multitude of connections start shutting down. I’m reminded of John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire as the flow shuts down the gateways between worlds.

For those who don’t want to visit Declan’s blog, let me sum up. Last week (yes, LAST week) Declan and his wife went to ITALY for a holiday. As you can imagine (and indeed could have predicted last week when Italy was already well, well into its crisis) things did not go well.

The collision between belief and reality is laid out in unwitting detail. I genuinely hope he is fine (he and his wife are apparently safely back in the US or as safely back as anybody is).

The short version therefore of how right wing blogs are reacting plays out in a personal level in Declan’s story. Initial scepticism and eagerness to carry on as if it is all a fuss over nothing which then collides with an escalating reality and blaming the government.

Important correction from our infographic department

Felapton Towers and the Cattimothy House News Network would like to retract our recent infographic (see below) entitled “anatomy of a virus”. It has come to our attention that the labels were added by an intern who was also drunk and were not, as stated, the “latest details from the CDC”. In the interests of transparency the image is repeated below for reference.

Timothy and the Orthography of Biddlesworth

It was a cold March day and Timothy the Talking Cat was stuck indoors. An icy wind would catch on the cat-flap in the kitchen and set the thing flapping noisily in a way that drove the cat away from his comfort position by the infrared glow of the Aga.

Pacing the extensive hallways of Felapton Towers, the loquacious cat felt edgy, unnerved, not entirely as comfortable in his plush purple skin as he should feel. Was it just the unseasonal wind? Was it the photo of Boris Johnson he had unwisely stuck to the bathroom door so that eyes of the mop-haired tyrant seemed to follow you as you passed him by on the way to the lavatory? Or…was it something else…something deeper that only the finally tuned feline instincts of the world’s greatest editor could intuit? Or was it the other unseasonal wind that had come from Timothy unwisely stealing Camestros’s coconut and mushroom chilli from the fridge and eating it in one sitting as a late night feast?

Timothy dismissed his apprehensions and made his way to the extensive library. He strolled bast the shelves of Louis XIV-style Kindle and made his way to the bejewelled Android tablet section of the library. Picking a vintage 2014 Galaxy Tab off the shelf at random he flicked open the first app he saw and began browing.

In a large comfortable chair that was just barely maintaining its integrity after years of misuse as a scratching post by the resident cat, sat Camestros busy reading the latest copy of The Sydney Morning Herald in a bid to maintain an increasingly shaky cover story that he was actual a meat robot living in Australia. For extra verisimilitude he was holding the paper upside down while trying to make notes to help him distinguish between Peter Dutton and Sontaran Commander Lynx. When suddenly his antipodean research was loudly interrupted by the banshee like wail of the cat.

“Omy gosh!” cried Camestros, “you aren’t going to have coconut chilli diarrhoea again?”. The cat stared at him sarcastically, which is a trick only cats know how to do.

“No, I am not going to have coconut chilli diarrhoea — something which I note that you have no idea how to spell never mind clean up properly. I am afraid we have far, far more serious trouble that any intestinal issues caused by your poor cooking and irresponsible positioning of left overs where any innocent cat might find them inside a locked fridge at midnight. No, dear Camelstrop we are facing a far, far deeper crisis. Come hither and look upon what I have found.” replied the cat, without ever once pausing in his direct speech so that the text could be broken up with a brief ‘he said’ or maybe a ‘cat replied’.

Camestros, not wanting to disturb the blanket on his knees, used the heels of his feet to drag the chair across the floor without standing up from it. The cat shifted its otherwise blank expression from sarcastic to sardonic with a mere flick of a whisker.

After the screeching of the chair feet across the parquetry floor had finished and Camestros had reached a position approximate to the cat’s, he looked over Tim’s shoulder to see what the cat had found.

“It’s just Google Maps!” said Camestros, relieved, “I was worried it was going to be some dead animal you’d found behind a wainscot.”

“Firstly you have no idea what a wainscot is. Secondly I have vowed not to show you any more dead animals as you simply do not appreciate them. Thirdly look at the map! Look carefully at the description of our address!”

Camestros adjusted the pince-nez on his nose and read aloud: “Felapton Towers, Biddlesworth, Biddlesworthshire, UK…Wait…what? Biddlesworth?”

“Exactly! You maybe slow of wit but even you can see that something is afoot. Bidlesworth is spelt with only one ‘d’!” replied Timothy triumphantly.

“No, no, that’s not it at all. Our town is, or was, called ‘Bortsworth’ not ‘Biddlesworth’ with either one or two d’s. No, my dear cat, something much worse is going on than the orthography of Biddlesworth!” exclaimed Camestros, “Timothy, everything we knew or thought we knew about ourselves is wrong!”

“Oh no,” said Timothy, “you can’t mean!”

“Yes, our LORE has changed!”

“Noooooooo!!!!!!!” said Timothy quoting his most famous creation, Chiselled McEdifice or was that his most famous creation anymore? Now that the very backstory to Timothy the Talking Cat had changed from Bortsworth to Biddlesworth (with one or two d’s) could any statement about his past be made with any certainty.

“Quick to the kitchen cupboard!” cried Camestros, “We have not a moment to lose!”

“I’d rather not go into the kitchen,” said Timothy, “the cat flap keeps flapping without me making it flap and I don’t like it.”

“Ok, understood. Quick, let me go to the kitchen cupboard!” cried Camestros ammendedly, “I have not a moment to lose.” And off he went leaving the blanket and cat-damaged comfy chair behind.

After much rummaging around and at least one bang on the old noggin, Camestros returned with two aerosol cans.

“The cupboard was a mess. I suspect, Mr Atomic our cleaning robot has ceased to exist during the clumsy re-writing of our backstories!”

“Meh,” said Timothy, “I never really felt he added anything.”

“Also Straw Puppy has gone!” added Camestros.

“That is an outrage!” cried Timothy.

“Luckily I have just the thing!” said Camestros holding up two aerosol cans garishly labelled “RetConBeGon” in comical letters.

[Camestros] Quick, spray it all over yourself!
[Tim] We are back in dialogue format!
[Camestros] That shows it is working!
[Mr Atomic] I smell the sweet smell of propellants.
[Camestros] Mr Atomic! You’re back! Quick! We are having a canonical-crisis! Takes these cans and spray the whole house! The whole town! The whole count!
[Mr Atomic] Excited as I am to engage in the wholesale dispersal of cleaning products I can’t help but note that our collective backstories have never been known for their consistency.
[Timothy] Listen here you no-good anthropomorphised excuse for a Roomba, whether I am a human-sized cat or a regular-sized cat with human sized ambitions is MY choice but I will not have some unknown interloper interfere with my precious town of BIDLESWORTH!
[Camestros] (Bortsworth)
[Timothy] (sorry) [sprays a bit more RetConBeGon on their armpits] I will not have some unknown interloper interfere with my precious town of BORTSWORTH!
[Mr Atomic] Very commendable sir. I shall release the crop-dusting drones fortwith.
[Camestros] Hoorah! We are saved!
[Timothy] For now…but who know when the sinister figure behind all this will strike again…

[Cut to a shadowy meat robot in Sydney] Oh, I shall strike again little cat. Just you wait and see….

Catching Up

So I took a few days off aside from blog posts about beer, Picard and Dr Who and there’s a few things I missed that I probably would have covered if I’d been paying attention.

  1. So I did already catch-up on Dave Freer’s odd post on BookBub numbers (see here) but if I must check out Dave’s column’s again, it would be remiss of me not to point out his piece on the Covid-19 virus and how he spins that: “All those Cons the mean girls of SF and SJW spent so much politicking effort to control… may go on hiatus, if not die.” Hmmm. (https://madgeniusclub.com/2020/02/24/some-thoughts-on-pandemics-and-their-impact-on-writers/ )
  2. Nebula finalists have been announced and Cora has an excellent summary here: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/02/20/some-comments-on-the-2019-nebula-award-finalists/ I’ll do reviews of the short fiction starting soon.
  3. Larry Correia is apparently blogging again by hurling invective at his keyboard. Not going to link to it as it is the usual libertarian-hates-free-speech nonsense but a side effect is assorted trolls come out of the woodwork and get all agitated. There’s a sort of side backstory here though that I’ll get to in the next point.
  4. Mad Sad Pups. The Sad Pups (see above) are mad at Mary Robinette Kowal mainly because they need to be mad at somebody because Larry is worked up. This is a tad convoluted….see below

Brad Torgersen was Guest of Honour at the Life, the Universe & Everything writer’s workshop (LTUE) in Utah. LTUE last year had a pro-Sad Puppy presentation (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/back-to-the-revised-history-of-a-debarkle/ ) but in the past has had presenters such as Mary Robinette Kowal (via Writing Excuses). The current spin by the Sad Pups is that she was totes unprofessional and had a loud boycott and a rival event because Brad T was GoH. Unpacking that proved interesting. Back in January MRK posted this Tweet in a conversation about Courtney Milan etc:

So…backtracking. MRK was original invited by LTUE to be GoH, turned them down and suggested alternatives (three black women). LTUE chose Brad Torgersen instead. No wonder Brad (and hence Larry) was feeling a bit sensitive about things and needed to very loudly assure everybody how great Brad was.

The stuff about MRK running a rival workshop was because the FutureScapes workshops at Utah Valley University (which she’s been involved in since 2016) where on that weekend. This is all being drummed up into a thing in Puppy circles about how unprofessional etc etc. Because they never link to anything and avoid details, the claim just becomes free-floating and hence in the comments sections of Puppy outlets it’s become a legend about how MRK tried to boycott Brad Torgersen out of spite, even though the actual facts are quite different.

[ETA the LTUE website appears to be down, hence why I couldn’t find links to it. Looks like it’s had a malware attack.]

Some Book Bub numbers and petunias

My attention was drawn to a set of numbers from BookBub available here: https://www.bookbub.com/partners/pricing?fbclid=IwAR1mMlf6nO5oAS5QN0pD-9V-NRAxkdNz6AQMNOJurGT1NnD_DQEjiPzOEL0

Some major caveats before we go into them. Firstly these are for marketing purposes and as they say “averages are based on historical data, but are only meant as a reference and are not guaranteed”. The book figures also only apply to free downloads and discounted book sales. Lastly, these are BookBubs numbers and other retailers of books may show different patterns.

A broader caveat to add when considering any kind of average sales within books (or other media) is the dreaded power-law distribution. A small number of books account for a large number of sales and conversely a large number of books account have small sales individually but account for a lot of sales together. The arithmetic mean has many flaws but it is particularly flawed in such circumstances. One huge hit (e.g. The Da Vinci Code) will have an outsized impact on the average book sales even if other books are selling poorly.

Tables and things after the fold…

Continue reading “Some Book Bub numbers and petunias”

Timothy on Free Speech

[From the desk of Timothy the Talking Cat, editor in chief of Cattimothy House Publishing]

As the foremost voice in modern publishing, no issue concerns me more than the forthright defence of free speech. Free speech is the principle on which our industry, our nation and our civilisation has been built. Without it, what are we but vassals to the hoi-polloi?

How committed am I to free speech? More than anybody. More than [insert famous example here that I’ll look up later] who said once that while I may disagree with what you say I’ll will defend to the death your right to be called a stupid head by me. Fine words and a fine sentiment for these dark times.

Free speech are the broad and strong walls that protect us from the outer chaos. Upon those walls there must be proud warriors ever vigilant to defend the stones beneath their paws. I count myself as one such warrior.

As such it behoves me to seek out the many ways my speech is threatened. For example, people being meany-heads to hard working publishers like myself. When those people pick on me and say “this book makes no sense” or “this book is full of horrific cliches” or “this book is just the wikipedia page of Winston Churchill with a find/replace to make it a book about a talking cat”, what are they hoping to accomplish? TO SILENCE ME that’s what and as such they are the enemies of free speech!

The only way to maintain my our freedom is to prevent such meany heads criticising me. Really in any sane world they wouldn’t even be allowed social media accounts. But that’s not the only threat.

I recently read some snooty author being mean about Lord of the Rings. Let me be absolutely clear about this:

  • Being rudely dismissive of classic literature is MY prerogative. How dare somebody else do that and hence rob me of an opportunity. Stealing my chance to speak is an attack on my free speech.
  • When people say bad things about authors and books that I regard as my personal territory THAT HURTS MY FEELINGS. Why are people trying to hurt my feelings? Because they hate FREEDOM that’s why.

I have written to the United Nations (not that I expect much from them) as well as the heads of Amazon and Twitter and Facebook demanding that we all unite to defend free speech to its utmost with the following universal laws:

  1. NO BEING MEANY HEADS TO PUBLISHERS. We get to do what we want without criticism or ‘reviews’ and certainly with nobody forensically auditing our accounts on behalf of the authors we didn’t pay.
  2. No talking about the systemic racism or sexism in my hiring practices, editing process, choice of inspirational posters or making a big deal of whatever I posted on social media when I was high on catnip. That’s just RIGHT OUT OF ORDER.
  3. No pointing out the very human flaws, foibles, crimes, horrible behaviour, appalling decisions, public failings etc of any author from the past that I happen to like. There are plenty of authors I don’t like that you can be as horrible as you like about, so clearly any discussion of the ones I DO LIKE is a direct attack on me personally and I will treat it as such.
  4. No making clever hot takes on issues, books and genres that I haven’t made yet thus robbing me of a chance to be thought of as clever and insightful. That’s just plain theft.

Only with stalwart measures like the ones above will my our freedom of speech be secured for future generations of people who happen to think and talk just like me.

CATS! An audio-free podcast review!

[Camestros Felapton] Welcome everybody to another edition of our very occasional audio-free podcast. Felapton Towers, pioneers of podcasts that skip the whole audio phase entirely and jumps straight to transcript!
Tonight we are going to do a deep, deep dive into the 2019 movie version of long-running stage musical extravaganza CATS!
Now, musical theatre really isn’t my thing so I’ve brought along two special guests to provide some expert insights. Firstly Susan the Triceratops. Susan is a leading expert in non-human narrative structures and having once lived upstairs from Carole King is also the nearest thing we have to an expert in music. Hi Susan!
[Susan] Hello, twenty-first century! Do you need another bandage on your head Cam?
[Camestros] I think I have most of the lacerations covered now thanks. My second guest brings a unique and vital perspective with them. It is the one, the only, Timothy the Talking Cat himself! Who better to discuss a film dedicated to anthropomorphised dancing cats!
[Timothy] Hi and once again, apologies for the claws marks.

[Camestros] So let’s start. [in recitative] Did you find this film weird?
[Timothy] Did it give us the frights?
[Susan] Did it run far too long?
[Camestros] Did the cast all wear tights?
[Timothy] Was it bad C-G-I?
[Susan] Was it moving and sad?
[Camestros] Was it ineffably awful and indescribably bad?
[Susan] (take it away Timothy!)
[Timothy -sings] Because the movie of Cats is and the movie is not,
It’s like the movie of Cats can and the movie can not,
It’s not the movie of Cats is but also its not,
While this movie of Cats should and really should not,
And its because the movie of Cats is bad and bad it is not.

[Camestros] Can we agree that is our last musical number of the night?
[Susan] Maybe
[Timothy] I sang!
[Camestros] I don’t know where to start. I should say that I have never had the slightest urge to see Cats as a theatre production. Film media aside, is this very different from the stage show because if not, that is one very strange show. Susan, you’ve seen the original?
[Susan] I’ve seen the original show and helped produce a revival by the Fungus Town amateur dramatic society in the far future. Cats is one of the few surviving cultural artefacts of human civilisation.
[Camestros] That itself is distrubing. So are there many differences?
[Susan] Not really, once you put aside the shift in media. The biggest change is making Victoria the central character, giving a clearer storyline and narrative arc. To further establish a story, Macavity is also given a bigger role as a primary antagonist and also magical powers.
[Camestros] It was a lot more SFF than I expected a talking cat movie to be, I have to say but I’ll get back to genre in a moment. Overall, better or worse than the stage show?
[Susan] The narrative improvements are probably good for human audiences. The big advantage of the stage show is that is a piece of DANCE theatre. There is a lot of dancing in the film but it does not come across as well.
[Camestros] I was going to say that I thought it fails as a dance movie.
[Timothy] No you weren’t. Have you ever even watched a dance movie?
[Camestros] I watched West Side Story once.
[Timothy] While drunk…
[Camestros] I’ll concede that I approached this film as if from the bottom of a vast well of ignorance on the subject of dance related cinema. But how about you Timothy? Overall impressions.
[Timothy] Well, my main emotional reaction was deep existential dread.
[Camestros] Hence clinging to my head with all paws while howling “I don’t want to die!” over and over.
[Timothy] Unlike some people, I am comfortable expressing my emotions in public.
[Susan] Not so public, given that we were the only people in the movie theatre.
[Camestros] I think your expression of emotions was psychologically healthy but digging your claws into my scalp was less good.
[Timothy] And for that I have apologised and the bleeding has largely stopped.
[Camestros] Well putting CGI aside, what I was not expecting was a film that dwelt so much on sex and death. The words ‘sex’ and ‘death’ never appear but the whole thing is riddled with an odd eroticism and the plot strongly suggests that we are watching a post-apocalyptic death cult of cat-people picking a ritual sacrifice.
[Timothy] Hey, what can I say? Cats are just naturally sexy. Also we are walking avatars of death. What could a show about cats be other than sexy death murder?
[Susan] I missed that aspect but mammal sex rituals all seem odd to me.
[Camestros] Let me double back to the plot. Victoria, a white cat, is abandoned by her owner in a London back street. There she is recruited by a gang of cats called the Jellicle Cats. Coincidentally, this is the night of the Jellicle Ball where the cult leader, Old Deuteronomy (named after the book of the Bible which is a set of speeches by Moses), makes the Jellicle Choice i.e. she picks one of several candidates to die and be reborn. Most of the film is cats introducing themselves either to Victoria or to ensemble. Meanwhile, the Moriarty-like Macavity kidnaps…
[Timothy] …catnaps…
[Camestros] …kidnaps, assorted contenders for the Jellicle Choice and traps them on a barge with Ray Winstone, so that he (Macacvity) will be the only contender for the Jellicle Choice. The plan goes awry and so Macavity kidnaps…
[Timothy] …catnaps…
[Camestros] (sigh) kidnaps Old Deuteronomy to force her to ritually-murder him but she is rescued by the magical powers of Mister Mephistopheles the Magical Cat. Eventually the outcast cat Grizabella is chosen thanks to the intervention of Victoria and also because she gets to sing the only song everybody knows from the show. Grizabella ascends to a new life in a balloon.
[Susan] When you put it that way…it is kind of odd.
[Camestros] I mean Mephistopheles is literally named after a demon and he’s the nicest one of the Jellicle Cats. The whole thing works if none of the characters are actually cats but actually demonic cat beings.
[Susan] I don’t think demons aspire to go to heaven?
[Camestros] Oh don’t get me started on that…
[Timothy] Agreed, we probably should not get him started on that.
[Camestros] They don’t go to heaven, they go to the Heaviside Layer i.e. a section of the ionosphere named after Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925). This is the layer that allows radio waves to essentially ‘bounce’ off the atmosphere and hence be transmitted over the horizon. The basic function of which depends on the difference between the phase velocity of light and the group velocity of light. Are we supposed to consider that cats are actually composed of short wave radio signals or is it merely cat souls? Timothy, are you in fact the manifestation on Earth of radio signals?
[Timothy] Like all cats, I am an avatar of wave-particle duality.
[Susan] That would explain the repeated use of teleportation in the film.
[Camestros] Indeed! Although ostensibly both Macavity and Mister Mephistopheles are magic, the only feat of magic we see is teleportation.
[Timothy] Oh, you are going to get all genre-boundary now are you?
[Camestros] I think the whole thing is unambiguously Urban Fantasy with a quasi weird-physics background to the magic system. I would also point to a massive hint at the end, where a huge sign for Bovril (the popular beef essence spread) is displayed. Bovril of course, was named after Vril: the mysterious energy sourced featured in the 1871 Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel The Coming Race.
[Susan] OK, calm down primate. I’ll concede this whole film is freaky as but that’s it. It’s just weird and mainly by accident not design. I don’t think there’s any hidden message in a Bovril sign.
[Timothy] Was there a hidden message in the fact that the Rebel Wilson cat is a cat who is wearing a cat costume over the top of a dance costume underneath which is her regular cat body and also she has enslaved a group of mice that have the faces of human children and she forces them to play music and also she has a dancing troupe of cockroaches that also have human faces and she makes them dance and eats them?
[Camestros] I missed that bit because you were still clinging to my head. I mean, you are making all that bit up right?
[Susan] No…that did happen.
[Camestros] Sometimes I wonder if I dreamt the whole thing…
[Susan] I liked the railway cat.
[Camestros] Well you are famous for your tap-dancing.
[Susan] Shall I demonstrate for our viewers?
[Camestros, Timothy in unison] No!
[Camestros] No offence but tap dancing dinosaurs need a bit more space than we have in our podcasting booth.

[Camestros] Can we sum up our experience?
[Timothy] Cats is a disturbing examination of the nature of cat mortality. It contrasts youth with age and implies life itself may be a burden for which death is the only escape. Even Macavity, with all his power and influence and sexy dancing with catnip dispensing Taylor Swift-cat, craves an end to his existence and a new beginning. It scared the hell out of me.
[Susan] The film fundamentally misunderstands the nature of theatre. Cats as a musical works because within the bounds of a theatre performance, the audience expect to use their imagination to bridge the gap between what they see and what they are told they are seeing. The film attempts a realism that breaches this compact, presenting the audience with an unresolvable dilemma. What we are shown can be taken neither figuratively nor literally and so it falls into a void of the imagination.
[Camestros] I was at no point bored by this film. True, that was in part because of the hysterical reaction of my own cat. However, injuries aside this film passes a basic requirement for a good movie: it is diverting for the whole length of the film. Yes, it is really not obvious how to engage with it. Personally, I decided that either the cats were demons, post-apocalyptic cat-people living in an abandoned 1920s London or we were being shown how domesticated cats imagined themselves to be i.e. the film was attempting to show the interior lives of cat personalities.
[Susan] The set design was nice.
[Timothy] Yes, I liked the giant food.
[Camestros] Agreed. OK, take it away Timothy.
[Timothy – sings]
Cats-film, not a sound from the pavement,
All alone in the theatre,
No body else came,
The movie has had such appalling reviews,
That the Cats-film was a bomb

Cats-film! Please forgive us oh Cats-film!
You were really not awful,
And in many ways good,
It’s just that Cats-film, the CGI fur was terribly bad,
So poor Cats-film your fate was sad.
[Camestros] Thank you and goodnight.