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.

It’s interesting who else has a troll problem

As Vox Day has been increasingly distancing himself from the world of science fiction and dedicating more of his time to tilting at the windmills of large tech-platforms, I’ve been taking less of an interest in his antics. However, as I was writing about trolls yesterday it is appropriate to write about a different troll problem today.

It seems Vox is beset by a troll problem. Having spent a bit of mind-numbing time looking at various Reddit threads and some incoherent You Tube videos, it is fair to use the term ‘troll’. We aren’t talking about argued responses to Vox Day’s behaviour but rather people clearly trying to wind the guy up. Politically the stuff is coming from the same cess-pit of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories as Vox’s base. However, the dank-meme subculture was a ready recruiting ground for Vox Day’s brand of extreme white nationalism for years, so attacks from this direction are interesting politically.

The substantive complaint is around Day’s “Unauthorised TV”: a subscription video service that is part of his alternative tech platform plan. The scenario is a familiar one to readers here: Day announced a big bold plan that will a numerous features (like the buttons of the Open-Office Mouse) and will end up as a rival to mainstream equivalents (just as Castalia House was supposed to surpass Tor). There is a flurry of activity and recruitment and money raising (again, think of Voxopedia). An actual, tangible minimum viable product genuinely is delivered (again, Voxopedia) but it is substantially less than the original vision. Don’t worry! All those other features are on the way, the true believers are told and maybe there is more money raised. The amazing features never eventuate and again, consider Voxopedia remains jut a clumsy, vandalised copy of Wikipedia that a tiny number of editors struggle to stop drifting further out of date — none of the amazing capabilities (such as different versions of articles based on you political position) have ever eventuated and they never will.

The same seems to be true of Unauthorised TV. I say ‘seems’ because obviously I’m not subscribing and also I didn’t track what was originally promised. Defenders of Vox Day can correctly point out that the basic promise is delivered (e.g. Castalia House genuinely did publish actual books, with covers and a modicum of copy-editing) and detractors can point out the gulf between the reality and the fever-dream ambitions. [Speaking of which, I wonder what happened to that comic book movie…]

The broader context is the deeper divisions within the alt-right. In particular the current strength around the so called “groypers”, the latest iteration of extreme nationalists with a cartoon frog obsession who are associated with the latest white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nick_Fuentes ). The other element is Vox Day’s alliance with the increasingly unstable Owen Benjamin (see here for earlier coverage https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/vox-day-sort-of-denies-he-is-a-flat-earther/ ).

Alt-right figures follow what I call a dark-wizards rule. Being territorial and ideologically anti-social (not the same as personally anti-social) and dogmatically committed to clear social hierarchies, you can’t have two of them in the same general space unless it is in a lord-vassal* (or if you prefer, master-apprentice) arrangement. Where somebody like Vox Day maintains patterns of allies it is where those allies have their own environmental niches and where they can offer each other things transactionally (e.g. Milo Yiannopolous, Mike Cernovich or Stephan Molyneaux) and where they may even ostensibly have marginally less similar politics.

So Fuentes rise in popularity was going to lead to a feud with Vox Day, which is what happened but slowly and with an intermediate feud between Owen Benjamin and Fuentes first. The details of the feuding don’t really matter as they weren’t questions of substance and Owen Benjamin is incoherent even by the standards of a whole subculture of incoherence.

Skipping forward in time. Reddit (particularly sections dedicated to Owen Benjamin) and various YouTube channels (the people concerned hop around accounts a LOT because of repeated bans and rule violations) have got it in for Vox Day big time. I’ve seen nothing new here** (these aren’t people doing original research) and there’s no deep ideological difference, it is just a mish-mash of stuff (I even saw a screen-gab of a page from here included) and stupid nicknames and homophobic insults (and random anti-Semitism). In short: trolls…but trolls aiming their trolling at a guy who tried to weaponise trolling.

On Friday matters must have come to a head for Vox Day and he announced an ultimatum:

“I’m giving Davey Crocko, RealOwenBenjamin, ultrafuzzyforeigner, and the rest of the Unauthorized-hating gamma trolls on Reddit and YouTube 24 hours to come clean, declare their real identities, admit their actions, and thereby avoid having the wrath of the VFM and the Legal Legion of Evil crash down upon their heads.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/24-hours-trolls.html [link for reference – not recommended to follow it]

Whether that is an idle threat or has some substance I don’t know but the reaction from the trolls was derisive. Day is also claiming that there have been some sort of cyber attacks on some of the tech services. I’ve no way of ascertaining whether there is any truth in those claims and there are zero people involved in this fuss who could be regarded as a reliable source.

In a substantial dose of even more unwitting irony, Day himself is now bemoaning the quality of online discourse these days:

“In what is a crushing refutation of libertarian theory, the Internet and the devolution of what were once civilized anonymous discussion spaces on bulletin boards and CompuServe have clearly demonstrated that Man cannot handle the freedom of a perceived lack of accountability.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-troll-wars.html

He’s also concerned about how there’s no way forward other than legalistic means:

“No matter how we react – and notice that we did ignore it for months until events yesterday rendered that impossible – there has never been anything to it. By this bizarrely twisted illogic, people only react to true accusations, against which stands the entire history of written and case law dealing with defamation, slander, and libel.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/an-interesting-perspective.html

Which takes me back to a point I have made before. The SFWA and later the WSFS membership absolutely did the right thing in the end by taking an uncompromising response to Vox Day’s antics. Following his OWN advice on how to handle those whose only aim is to act in bad-faith and disrupt an organisation and the discourse within an organisation, is to not attempt to reason or become further embroiled in a bad-faith discussion.

tl;dr obnoxious people are shouting at each other.

*[See also the distinct pecking order within the Sad Puppies]

**[Aside from one point: there is a claim that the video service Day is promoting is actually using Vimeo’s infrastructure. Which is a bit ‘so what?’ However, the argument is that this disproves that Day is spending the money on a tech platform independent of the mainstream tech platforms.]

It has been awhile since somebody tried to rewrite Sad Puppy history

I believe it is usually January that we get an up-tick of attempts to vindicate Sad Puppy history and I imagine that we’ll get a few more attempts next year when SP3 marks its half-decade anniversary of accomplishing nothing but frustration, upset and column inches. However, I missed one earlier this month from science fiction’s top self-appointed witch-hunter and winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel That Isn’t Actual Horror, Brian Niemeier. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/12/no-american-man.html

Sadly nothing new. Some Scalzi bashing and some Tor bashing but let’s go through.

“To recap, author Larry Correia started the Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness when he smelled something rotten among the oldpub clique that hands out the Hugo Awards. He set out to prove that winning a Hugo has less to do with literary merit and almost everything to do with scratching the right backs while having the right politics.”

Nope. Larry’s initial campaign was overtly against the idea of nominating on the basis of literary merit. His imagined enemy where the ‘literati’ and ‘snob reviewers’. The campaign was an attempt to win himself a Hugo Award (which we know because he said so).

It is true that at every stage of the various Sad Puppy campaigns they have been presented as some sort of Manichean struggle of good-guys versus bad-guys but the nature of the split was repeatedly revised in a “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” way. The conflict has variously been characterised by Sad Puppy supporters as:

  • Pulp authors versus the literati and snob reviewers
  • Marginalised conservative authors versus SJW entryists
  • Newcomers to Worldcon versus SMOFs
  • Outsiders versus the SFWA
  • ‘blue’ sci-fi versus ‘pink’ sci-fi
  • Traditional science fiction versus modern science fiction
  • Tor books versus Baen books
  • Indie publishing versus trad publishing

Of course, the reality is also multi-faceted, with multiple kinds of people becoming involved in a conflict with no single cause. However, the purpose of the reductionist group A versus group B framing is to create a clear just cause for group A.

“After three years, Larry decided he’d proved his point and retired from the Sad Puppies. “

Technically after two years. Sad Puppies 2 was the last Correia led campaign.

“When you have one publisher winning more than twice as many Hugos as the next most award-winning house, and when SFWA officers constitute an oversized chunk of Best Novel winners since 1986, you’d have to be terminally naive not to see a cool kids’ clique trading participation trophies.”

The ‘twice as many Hugos’ line is a reference to the number of Hugo Awards for Best Novel won by Tor. Niemeier adopts the anti-Tor line fairly consistently from here on in his history re-write. Of course, the full-on Tor hatred did become a feature of the 2015 campaign but even I find it hard to remember that the anti-Tor aspect of Sad Puppies was a minor aspect until quite late in the history. It is true that Tor versus Baen was always an undercurrent, specifically around the Best Editor Long From award and (from a Rabid Puppies perspective) due to Vox day’s specific animosity toward Nielsen Hayden’s.

However, the idea of the conflict being defined as a war against Tor did not fully crystallise until Vox Day manipulated a boycott of Tor books in June 2015. Prior to that Sad Puppies 3 had nominated one Tor published book for Best Novel (Kevin J Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars), prominent puppy John C Wright (and multiple Sad & Rabid puppy nominee) still promoted himself as a Tor published author and the eventual winner of Best Novel in 2015, The Three Body Problem was voted for by many Puppy supporters.

“Imagine if one movie studio won more than twice as many Best Picture Oscars than its closest competitor in a similar span of time. What if a preponderance of Best Picture winners had also been directed by current and former high-ranking officers of the Directors Guild? Anyone who’s not a total NPC would at least entertain suspicions of some shady backroom  deals.”

Honestly I’m surprised Best Picture is evenly distributed and I find an even distribution more implausible than what we see in the Hugo’s. For added “this framing doesn’t add up” Tor winning a minority of Best Novel Hugo’s in that time period is also due to five wins (half of Tor’s total wins up to 2019) from Orson Scott Card and Vernor Vinge. Card, in particular, was used as the paradigm by many Sad Puppies of the kind of author who used to win Hugo Awards but no longer did. Vinge is an author less championed by Sad Puppies but was overtly cited as an example of a ‘good’ Hugo winner from the past by Sad Puppies 3 leader Brad Torgersen: “We’ve fallen a long way since Vernor Vinge won for A Fire Upon The Deep.

Nor does the Tor-narrative fit the other narratives. If the Hugos had recently become more leftwing and Tor was somehow to blame, then Tor would be winning more Best Novel awards in recent years. Of course, the other name that connects Tor, the SFWA and Puppy angst is John Scalzi and the particular and very personal animosity both Puppy campaigns have for him. That man himself is a very agreeable person who repeatedly tried to find compromise and understanding only seems to have added fuel to the fire.

“For its first three yeas, Sad Puppies performed the vital public service of wising normies up to the convergence of legacy sci fi publishing. In a way, it prefigured what #GamerGate did in the video game scene. But like pretty much every dissident online movement since, SP quickly devolved into petty territorial bickering. When its original founder was replaced by people who still want a pat on the head from oldpub, SP became just another bogeyman in the Left’s morality play.”

GamerGate is a kind of Schrödinger’s cat in Puppy rhetoric. The essential rule is this: Puppy supporter can imply that the two campaigns are connected but if critics of the Puppy campaigns do so then it is a terrible slander. Brian Niemeier is very much in favour of the misogynist Gamergate campaign, which given his overt support for male-only cultural spaces is not a surprise.

The digs in the paragraph above look like they are aimed at both Brad Torgersen and Sarah Hoyt but I assume the thrust of it is aimed at Hoyt. Quite how we can sort Correia, Torgersen and Hoyt into more or less connected to “oldpub” is unclear. Hoyt has been published traditionally and independently. Of the three she is closer to the post-traditional publishing model.

The indie versus ‘oldpup’ narrative is hard to maintain for the Sad Puppy conflict as a whole. Attempting to apply to the internal shifts of Puppy leadership is absurd to the point of incoherence. Nor did Sad Puppies descend into territorial bickering except in the sense that the bickering was always there. The argument Niemeier references was not until the non-appearance of Sad Puppies 5, when Declan Finn attempt to make some book recommendations using the ‘Sad Puppy’ name, generating an angry reaction from Sarah Hoyt (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/sad-popcorn/ ). This was in 2017 by which point Sad Puppies had long since become irrelevant to the Hugo Awards.

“As mentioned above, Dragon Con now hosts the Dragon Awards. The Dragons boast far larger and much more open participation than the Hugos, and after rebuffing an SJW takeover attempt, they’ve largely settled into an antipodal role as readers’ choice awards for fans of a certain SFF publisher.”

The Dragon’s create a bit of a conundrum for Brian. Their headline categories are more dominated by Baen than the Hugo Best Novel is by Tor — which if Brian was remotely consistent would according to his prior arguments demonstrate that the Dragon’s are rigged. However, Brian won a Dragon Award in its first year and so more or less has to be pro-Dragon award.

The “SJW takeover attempt” is an even more egregious re-writing of history. He is referring to his own imagined culture war against John Scalzi in 2017 (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ). The “takeover” was authors trying to withdraw from the Dragons precisely because of the nominees like Niemeier. At the time, Brian was very much in favour of the Dragons not letting authors withdraw. When the admins saw sense and allowed authors not to participate, Brian was outraged and saw it as a potentially fatal defeat for the Dragon Awards. There was only one remedy that would save the Dragons!

The Secret Kings, my highly praised space opera novel, is the only viable competitor against Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2017/08/conservative-play.html

Suffice to say, Brian didn’t win another Dragon and instead Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey won instead. By his own weird standards then I guess that means the SJWs won or something? Who knows. With narratives that shift as easily as goal posts made of clouds, who can say.

A Chronicle of Outrage Marketing Part 3

Well it has been awhile since I went through a Dave Freer post at Mad Genius club but here we are. Monday is Dave’s day at the rostrum and so inevitably we have a post about how mean Nick Mamatas was to him. https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/10/21/mayflies/

“You know, he does have one thing going for him: IMAX level projection. I’ve heard LOTS of attacks on Anthos for NOT having women, or whatever. The opposite, excluding men, or white males, or heterosexual males… abounds. There are hundreds of them CELEBRATING excluding a large part of the human race, often as their theme. I’m amused that Matamas assumes the gender of Daves. I thought that was a deadly sin, punishable by a thousand hysterical twitter shrieks? And as for ‘POC’, that’s another assumption… as ‘David’ is a very common name in much of Africa.”

Except, of course, no assumption needed to be made as 1. the actual list of authors was listed in his post and 2. the point still stands even if some of the authors had been women called Dave (they aren’t).

“I honestly don’t care. If you want to have a ‘POC’ Anthology, or a one-legged lesbians who identify as pork pies on alternate Thursdays Anthology – go right ahead. Of course that means that – if you were going to be fair, stopping endless whining about having women or POC or alphabet soup on every anthology’s ToC, unless they’re exclusive to the same people who now demand inclusion. But it’s different when they do it. Shrug. The sales will sort it out.”

Except Dave manifestly DOES care and we have now years of moaning against inclusivity and diversity from Dave e.g. https://madgeniusclub.com/2018/05/21/a-fair-go/ or https://madgeniusclub.com/2013/11/11/passing-through-the-fire-to-molech/ ,that second one is interesting given Dave’s arguments about demographics at other times, such as https://madgeniusclub.com/2018/08/06/pie/ .

“But I DO want good stories. Partly because I like to read them, and partly because good stories build an audience – which benefits everyone in the field. I’m mildly bemused by the sort of logic that concludes that having a very common first name (meaning the possible pool of authors (and readers) is way larger than most of the other ‘exclusive’ collections) and headlined by three legendary authors… cannot select ‘good stories’? “

That wasn’t an assumption made in Nick M’s Tweet either. It is an assumption Dave has made and one that other Sad Puppies have asserted i.e. that increased representation of women in awards or in publishing represents a decline in the quality of stories. The quality of the stories in the anthology did arise in a later Tweet but not based on assumption but on a less than glowing review: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4814-8426-8

The stream of consciousness stuff carries on from there and concludes with:

“The zeitgeist has moved, and they haven’t. That’s fairly obvious in everything from Gamergate to Sad Puppies, from Brexit, to President Trump to the Hong Kong protests. They don’t all win – but they were unthinkable at all 10 years back. More is coming. Zeitgeist doesn’t, most of the time, move fast, but it’s like a heavy freight train on a downgrade. The only thing that will stop it is a long up-slope (economic in this case IMO, with lots more money.)”

So one failed toxic harassment campaign, a failed award hijack, an unholy political mess that three years in still hasn’t happened, and a notoriously corrupt & incompetent president. Lumping the Hong Kong protestors in there looks more like an insult to the brave people of Hong Kong.

Now note what is missing in the post.

The stories.

Specificaly what’s good about them or why we should read them (other than that some of the authors make a living writing). If the stories rather than the politics is what is paramount, you have to wonder why so often Dave falls back on the politics.

To be fair to Dave, he did have an earlier post promoting the anthology back in August: https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/08/12/25740/ I’m not going to pick holes in that particularly, and I ignored it at the time. The tone then makes sense, it’s just a novelty anthology with a silly premise but…you really then can’t start claiming that it is the intrinsic quality of the story that makes a “Dave” anthology a wonderful idea after literally years of moaning about “affirmative action” in publishing. Or rather you can do that but not with any consistency or integrity. As he pointed out at the time: “Honestly the only way I get into that kind of company is by having my maternal grandfather and my great uncle’s names.” Which reminds me of a different Dave Freer quote:

“I’d like believe in his future, where individuals matter, and people are judged on their merits, and not on superficial characteristics.

https://madgeniusclub.com/2015/02/16/i-love-my-job/