Thoughts

Voting, Popularity, and Awards

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It’s been a long week, made longer by world events.

Needless to say, I turned to my books to keep me company while I’ve been riding out the storm. Books don’t want to talk about the merits of Trump v. Clinton, at least, not in explicit terms.

Yet, a different kind of electoral strife hits the bookternet at the end of the year: awards season.

The past three or four years in particular have had a lot of upheaval in the bookish world. In particular, the Sad Puppies’ impact on science fiction fandom has been controversial. But, all of the upset, the fighting over popular opinion versus panel awards, the debates over cannon, and the push for more diversity in publishing have left us wanting more and talking more. To me this has always been the upside of these “culture wars.”

That being said, it’s easy to be disappointed.

I woke up this morning to a flurry of messages. The Goodreads Choice Award finalists have been announced. After the initial shock of “Wow. This is a lot of stuff I haven’t read” and the following “These are not the best in XYZ category,” I think it’s worth while to revisit the idea of awards and their merit.

The Goodreads Choice Awards get the same general complaint every year: the books are too populist and not representative of the really great works in their genres or categories.

I’m inclined to feel the same way. Because of the open-forum nature of the Goodreads Awards and the ways that the awards nominees are selected, they wind up being much more of a “what was the best airport read of the year?” kind of award.

There’s a time and place for this, but it falls into all of the weaknesses of the publishing industry. Underrepresentation; promoting lighter reads over those that make you think; difficulty in getting recognition for works that are truly fantastic, but don’t get the same marketing budget.

I don’t know that there’s a way around this unless Goodreads users really start using the write in.

Bright Point! Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution was a write-in and has made it to the final round!

On the Brightside, there are hundreds of other awards that strive to be inclusive and promote more obscure or substantive works. It’s why we have genre awards. So, bummer, but we can all take this for what it is: an algorithm meant to promote increased amazon purchasing.

I’ll wait for the Booktubesff Awards instead.

 

The Ladies Who Could Have Been…

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My shelves are filled with ladies. I’m a fan of Leia and Rey; I adore Xena and Gabrielle; Buffy and Charmed are my sick day go-tos. I have feminist SFF coming out of my ears. But I spend a lot of time wondering if it’s really THEM that I like. Something about the Strong Female Protagonist is always going to grab me, but sometimes it seems like the Chinese takeout of the speculative fiction world: tasty and fun, but not always satisfying.

What I really want in my female characters has never been strength for strength’s sake. I want them to be rivers that run deep even when they look shallow. When I think about my favorite ladies, they tend to fit that mold. It’s not hard to see the complexity in Buffy’s character as the seasons go along.

I think what may be odder are the female characters I like who aren’t in the typical mold. I like many characters set up to be side characters and many of the main SFPs I can’t stand. It’s an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about lately. Read the rest of this entry »

Woof.

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Image result for Bored dogs

 

 

I haven’t been overly concerned with the Sad Puppies this year. I’ve talked about this before, but the general level of vehemence and craze among the more moderate puppy group had seemed to die down a lot with the turn of a new Hugos cycle.

 

A few tweets went up regarding the Puppies list. I more or less ignored it. Lists happen, particularly with awards. It was a few days later that I noticed what was actually happening.

The Sad Puppies list was up.

Twitter basically exploded, albeit quietly compared to last time.

The Sad Puppies list this year is considerably different from their past years’ lists, including in some cases more recommendations that nominating slots on a ballot. Note that though the original intent claim was to post ten works per category this didn’t happen, with more or less believability depending on category. It includes the usual suspects (Jeffro Johnson, the expected over-representation of Baen and Castillia House), but also includes Okorafor, Leckie, and Scalzi. If the Scalzi thing doesn’t raise your eyebrows, you haven’t been paying attention.

In truth, the Sad Puppies list includes some authors really worthy of awards and beloved genre-wide.

Unsurprisingly, authors have been requesting removal and posting objections to association with the Puppy Slate, including Alastair Reynolds, Cat Valente, and Peter Newman.

Should the authors have been asked if they would like to be included?

This  is an interesting question. Normally, I would say no.

But, the Sad Puppies aren’t just any old blog. Affiliated with the Rabid Puppies, Vox Day, and GamerGate, and the epicenter of last year’s fiasco, I think they should have.

The Puppies’ lists and base are rooted in controversy. They know that. Last year’s slate led to withdrawal of nominees from the Hugo Awards ballot for the first time in decades. The desire to avoid affiliation with the Puppies runs strong and not without reason. While the Sad Puppies calmed their rhetoric a bit, it’s clear that the self-positioning as interlopers to SFF being kept out by “SJW” cliques is being maintained.

Frankly, a good faith effort should have been made to contact every author listed on the SP recommendation list, regardless of past affiliation, leanings, or talk. There’s too much controversy for that not to be a minimum consideration.

What was the response to those who asked to be removed?

Generally sarcasm and overreaction.

I understand that the admins are frustrated. I understand that there was some genuine effort to back off the rhetoric and open up the Puppies to more varied selection. And, some of the anti-Puppy folks can compete with Vox Day for vitriolic anger. But, you don’t become the Puppy ringleader without knowing that people don’t like what you’re doing or who you’re affiliated with.

So, let’s not pretend that people requesting to be removed from the list are the “special snowflakes” and “delusional” types that Sarah Hoyt has called them on her blog. Hoyt is one of the Sad Puppy 4 coordinators\admins. She’s compared anti-Puppy folks to the Third Reich.

The objectors have been noted with asterisk (leading to some laughter about revenge for the asterisk awards at the previous ceremony)

Frankly, she would have been MUCH better served by putting an editors note that there’s a list of people who have been removed, posting the raw data from the forums, and then highlighting those who have been removed on the raw data file.

Let’s have a quick caveat

I do think she has made a good, significantly more insightful point that people are giving her credit for. It’s hard to get past the anger and resentment in her post-reaction blog to see it, but she makes it clear: who’s really keeping women and minorities out of SFF? Publishers.

It’s true. If everyone who spent the energy to tweet Sarah, Vox, or the other vehement sector of the Puppies on Twitter had spent the time to tweet Harper Collins, St. Martin’s Press, or Simon and Schuster about the lack of diversity in SFF, we may eventually see a more substantive change in the genre.

By and large, the puppy ship is sinking. Maybe it’s time to focus on the people who control the genre more directly.

 

Post-Script Note: I’m not discussing the Rabid Puppy slate today. Mostly because it lacks a sense of taste and appropriateness.

Additional Note: The original post pointed to Nnedi Okorafor for having tweeted about the list. I was in error. My sincerest apologies.

 

 

Let’s Talk | Digitally Native Award Categories

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Self-published stories aren’t a terribly new convention. People have been paying to have their works released for a long time. But, with the advent of the internet and the widely available platform for author promotion and creation, self-publishing has become a common way for authors to get their works into readers’ hands.

I won’t lie. I have some pretty mixed feelings about the widespread use of self-publishing, mostly that for me it often becomes overwhelming to even glance in the way of self-published authors. The mountain of works simply is so hard to sift through that I often don’t tread very close.

However, there are some fantastic self-published works available online.

The Martian, Wool, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The standouts in self-publishing show that the publishing method isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of work.

So, how do we accommodate self-publishing in our awards?

The Martian by Andy Weir is very highly regarded. It’s a well loved story with fans coming out its ears. But, to many SFF lovers’ surprise, it wasn’t eligible to be nominated for the Hugo Award in 2014 when it was picked up for publishing by Crown Publishing. The book had previously been self-published and without heavy revisions would not have been eligible. Crown decided to publish the book very much as-is, leaving the work ineligible and retaining its 2011 publication date.

The problem in awards is multifaceted. By and large, I think it comes down to a few issues: exposure, inundation, and gatekeeping.

Exposure

Self-published authors are often the sole marketers for their books. They are the ones who are responsible for sending out review requests, getting the book available, and making sure the book is in the eyes of buyers, all while having to write, edit, and design the book. This is extremely difficult without the web of connections that many publishing houses have.

On top of all this, many readers continue to go to traditional publishers for their books and for those who may be open to smaller press or self-published works, the lack of in-store browsing ability and the difficulty in making your story available in online suggestion algorithms proves a big barrier.

Inundation

In the event that a reader does manage to find their way into the self-pubbed section of Amazon, or Kobo, or whatever platform they may be using, there are so many self-published works that standing out may prove difficult. Not impossible, surely, but hard to do, especially without an existing strong following.

So, what do we do with self-published works that are deserving of awards?

This is the part where gatekeeping comes in.

Currently, the big awards in SFF (not to mention the broader literary community) are difficult to break into and not structured well for self-published authors.

Often, awards are either chosen by panel, or through a fan or membership nominating system. This leaves self-published works out of the loop. Nominating systems for panel awards often require submission by a publisher, and membership and fan nominating systems tend to still require the same-year publication date requirement, which often isn’t enough time for a popular self-published work to “break out,” and clumps those books together with traditionally-published novels, which have significantly more budget and reach.

Again, here I feel conflicted.

Something about this seems so unfair, as though the cards are stacked against self-published works. However, extending deadlines makes eligibility for self-published works opens up the door to complaints that the work isn’t being judges with its peers or that the system is unfair in the opposite way.

The Hugos did recently propose extending eligibility for books not originally published in the US. This wasn’t overly controversial, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing. I can’t imagine people denying the difficulties in publishing and promoting a book on your own.

But, maybe the Kitschies have it right, but by thee token, a digitally native category implies that self-pubbed can’t compete with traditionally published works in content quality.

There’s a “Digitally Native” category there that seems to have served well. The Kitchies is a panel award, though, so I wonder how that would play in to a fan or membership system.

Regardless, something has to change in order for the community to recognize the self-published works that can blow us out of the water.

What do you think? What rules changes or category additions would best serve this purpose?

Yet again.

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It seems like every week (or more) another person lists the “history” or “best of” science fiction and fantasy while failing to mention women, people of color, or LGBTQIA+ contributors to the genre. Surprise.

I’m not going to mention the particular posts prompting this. Suffice it to say that the past two weeks have been surprisingly full of them ranging from well-established bloggers to bookstore lists.

While I find it difficult to imagine a full picture of science fiction and fantasy that doesn’t (at the least) include the works of Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin, the argument continues to be made that the “highlights” of SFF are largely male.

Rather than raging against the machine, though that certainly has its place and I’m prone to do it, I’m going to highlight some authors you should try out to broaden your SFF horizons. Huzzah!

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American woman with a sense of the spectacular. Her most recent novella, Binti, is a fantastic examination of humanity at its most complicated. It takes the examination of race, gender, and their intersections to space and succeeds in every possible way. Plus, once Binti makes you fall in love with Nnedi, her backlist will make your soul scream (in a good way).

Genevieve Valentine is an American author and comics writer. She has a wide range of stories, including The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the twelve dancing girls set in the 1920s and Persona, a futuristic political thriller. She’s a highly acclaimed author well worth the check out.

Rachel Pollack is a transsexual woman who has had a large influence on feminist science fiction and fantasy, the women’s spirituality movement, and a wide variety of authors like Neil Gaiman. On top of her novels, she also wrote for DC comics. Her work is pretty surreal, mixing spiritualism with futuristic and fantasy elements. Her Temporary Agency is definitely the place to start for a temperate taste of Pollack’s works.

Angela Slatter is an Australian author. While most of her works are short fiction, included in a number of short story collections and anthologies, you can also snag her stand-alone novella Of Sorrow and Such. She’s fantastic at creating heart-wrenching stories with complicated characters all in a short period of time. She’s got all the awards to prove it, and a contract for a full novel release this year.

 N.K. Jemisin is just fantastic. I’m just going to gush about her for a minute. N.K. Jemisin is an African American author with some amazing talent. Her newest book, The Fifth Season, is easily one of my favorite books of 2015. She blends non-western settings and characters with fantastic magic and world building. Her characters are ridiculously well developed. I can’t get over her. Go read The Fifth Season. You’ll see.

Angelica Gorodischer is an Argentinean author whose works have been translated into English through Small Beer Press. She came into the scene in 2003 by way of Ursula K Le Guin, so you know it’s got to be good. Her stories focus on more than just the typical character and plot driven stories. They are fairytale like, with settings that act on the story as well as on people and a sort of wide-view of fantasy that’s hard to describe. Her Kalpa Imperial and Trafalgar collections are fantastic. I’ve yet to read her newest, but it’s on my list.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “But, Bree, this list is only seven authors and all are women.”

So true. This is far from a comprehensive list. This is only really the authors who came to mind in the 30 seconds following me reading one of the aforementioned articles about SFF being a male domain. More comprehensive lists are definitely out there. In fact, here are links to some fantastic lists of authors:

 

From Fran Wilde: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/08/not-so-invisible-ninjas.html

From women in science fiction (blog): http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/?page_id=54

SF Mistressworks: https://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/womens-press-sf/

Lightspeed Magazines POC Science Fiction project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/people-of-colour-destroy-science-fiction

Kevin Hearne: https://t.co/mQZCjoNYr6

Kev McViegh: https://performativeutterance.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/225-rising/

Or, hey, maybe you know those guys. Here is a list of people on twitter (mostly bloggers and authors who promote, read, write, etc. diverse books. The list is short, but I plan on adding to and maintaining it.

https://twitter.com/reev2550/lists/authors-and-bloggers

Please comment below with your suggestions for people to read, blogs to follow, and the like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what goes around comes around, or something along those lines

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Some days it seems that this mess isn’t going to end. For those of you who were tuned in to the Hugo Awards for the last few years, you probably know all about, or at least have heard about the Sad and Rabid Puppy groups. I know. It’s that time again.

A bit of background: the Sad and Rabid Puppies are two groups of SFF readers with a similar proclaimed agenda: to get rid of “Leftist message fiction” and lessen its prominence in the SFF awards system. To do so, last year they encouraged their followers to vote for slates of works put together by their leadership.

This in and of itself isn’t too new or surprising, though it flies in the face of the Hugos intention and the spirit of the award.. The problem comes in with some of the supplementary behavior that have happened: doxxing, harassment, review bombing, and general displays of homophobia and misogyny.

The Sad and Rabid Puppy slates were successful in placing a large number of their slate picks on the Hugos ballot, resulting in a big uproar among Hugo voters who aren’t part of the groups and a large smattering of “No Awards” being selected.

So, here’s what’s going on.

After the Sad and Rabid Puppy events of last year and the subsequent plethora of No Awards in the Hugos, I think everyone was kind of hoping that the problems had died down. It seemed like the entirety of SFF fandom was exhausted, and who could blame any of us?

But, of course, life isn’t too easy and there’s always a round 2.

With the Hugo nominations about to be opened up, the movements are back. It should be noted that the Sad Puppies, the more moderate of the two groups, seems to have backed off of some of the rhetoric and are leaving behind some of the more manipulative tactics of the past year. They have no official slate and their website for the year’s campaign is a list of threads for readers to list suggestions. The suggestions themselves seem to actually take up the majority of the space and are varied (and include Ann Leckie’s works?).

It is the Rabid Puppy group that seems to be the point of contention. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Rabid Puppy group is closely tied to GamerGate and has been known for adoption of some GamerGate tactics.

So, since the 2015 Hugos, two “big” things have happened. First, Vox Day was banned from Goodreads, and, second, some independent bookstores have removed Pupppy-affiliated works from their shelves.

*commence uproar*

So, what exactly happened?

Vox Day and the Puppies claim that they had set up a Goodreads group with the intention of talking about Hugo-eligible works, which was taken down 36 hours later because of the nature of the ideology in their movement (more or less. A link to Vox’s post about it here.).

Other accounts claim that Vox Day and the Puppies were advocating for review bombing. Review bombing is the practice of giving false or spurious negative reviews to a work with the intention of displacing its placement in suggestion algorithms and of discouraging people to purchase or use the work. This would be explicitly against Goodreads’ terms of service. 

Additionally, there are claims that the group had been organizing a way to get its members “librarian” status on the site to take down works they disliked. There are also claims that the group had been harassing persons with this status.

Any of these claims would be reason for Goodreads to take down the group, and depending on the validity of the claims, may be cause to get rid of Vox’s Goodreads account. Both were taken down shortly after the group’s creation.

Vox Day has posted this link with a name of who he thinks is the moderator who got him banned from the site.

The actions have been used as fuel to the fire of “SJWs are against us” claims the group profligates. Puppies have been saying that the policy is inequitably applied and that persons with more left agenda are left alone when behaving the same way.

Let’s be clear: Goodreads was within its rights to take down the group and ban Vox Day. As a privately held company, the behavior was a violation of the terms of service and Goodreads’ enforcement of its TOS is fine. Frankly, I think companies should stick to their TOS.

If there is similar behavior that also violates the TOS on the anti-Puppy side, they should also have their groups taken down.

Is this a vast conspiracy? I doubt it.

The second matter is the issue of bookstores removing Puppy-affiliated works from their stock.

The story popping up has been extremely hard to verify. The rundown looks like this: someone claims that a Jim Hines summary of the Puppies was sent around to Toronto bookstores. The bookstores then took affiliated books of their ordering lists.

It has not been proven.

But, let’s assume it’s true for a minute, which accounts of bookstore stock from people seem to indicate it isn’t.

What constitutes censorship? Should we be concerned?

Censorship is always a complicated topic. We get touchy about the issue and conflate a lot of different things with censorship.

Censorship is when a book or books is systematically made unavailable to the general public, usually with the consent of the government.

A few bookstores refusing to stock a book shouldn’t worry us, especially if those bookstores are independent, which would be the suspected case. Accounts still have Correia and others on the shelf in Indigo stores (the Barnes and Noble equivalent in Toronto), there have been no accounts of libraries removing the books (this is generally against library policies everywhere), and the internet has not ceased to make the books widely available in print and electronic form. So, censorship seems like a particularly unlikely thing to be happening.

No need to fear, Puppy-beloved books are still obtainable.

So, what should we expect over the next Hugos season?

My suggestion would be that, provided we as a community engage with moderates who disagree with us, remain civil, and try hard to rebond with people on the opposite side of the “schism” that is the Puppies, then nothing. We should have a fairly peaceable and engaging Hugos, hopefully with a continued increase in the amount of people voting and becoming active in the community. At least, that’s my best-case scenario. We can make it happen.

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Let’s Talk | Why I read (kind of)

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My mom was a study skills aid when I was a kid. That seems like one of the natural places to start. She helped kids with learning disabilities to improve their time at school, to stay organized, to retain information. But, she was never content to stop there.

My mom was fantastic and she was determined to prepare her children for the best.  When I was about three or four, she brought home basic phonics books (Some sadly beaten up knock-offs of Hooked on Phonics).

This was all great, but didn’t make me love reading.  It was a favorite activity, but actual love would take a while.

It was only a little while later that I’d moved on to the big bad world of chapter books and very quickly I had outpaced my peers in reading level. My mother was constantly bringing home older classics (sometimes inappropriate in content, if not reading level). Some of these I would love, but for the most part they were not my favorite books.

At about six or seven I found that reading could be really fun, to the point where when I could, I would sneak flashlights into my room to read later.

But at about nine, things got pretty bad for a while at home. A family history of mental illness, my brother’s developmental disability, and just general economic difficulties had made living at home difficult, even for those who were able to leave and get alone time. That’s when I dove deep into reading.

It took quite a few years for things to level out and then we hit another rough spot when I entered high school. My brother was hospitalized for a long time and our recent move to a rural area meant that the only doctors with expertise in his illness were literally hours away by car.

It’s during those two times I realized that I was going to reading as a get-away. Books had always been fun, but they were quickly becoming my safe place in the world. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Books were like my fairy godmother. They were there when I needed my life to be a bit different; they still are.

All I can say to that, really, is “Thank God.”