Author Archives: Tim Hall

The Hugo Fight Gets Ugly

(If you’re new here, read my earlier post on the subject for some context)

The Hugo Awards fight just gets uglier and uglier. It’s true that in the eyes of many Worldcon veterans, putting forward a slate is against the whole spirit of the rules even if it falls within the letter of them, but this level of ugliness is about far more than that.

Last year the stated goal of Larry Correia’s Sad Puppies slate was to shake things up, and he made the highly questionably decision to include a novella by the infamous Vox Day purely “to make heads explode”. It got on the ballot, but eventually came last, below “No Award”, partly because Vox Day is widely hated, and partly because the work was, to be put it diplomatically, decidedly sub-standard.

This year Brad Torgersen had a different stated agenda, which was to showcase quality work of the sort that Correia and Torgersen claimed gets overlooked. While the list predictably skewed towards rightwing authors, it also included left-leaning writers such as Annie Bellet, and wasn’t exclusively white or male.

Then Vox Day considerably muddied the waters by putting up his own Rabid Puppies slate. Most of it simply copied Brad Torgersen’s Sad Puppies slate despite some authors having agreed to take part on the condition that Vox Day had nothing to do with it. The only differences were some of the short fiction categories, where he added a number of works from his own small press, and the two editor categories, where he entered himself.

Now Vox Day is an outspoken far-right extremist who isn’t even subtle about his white-supremacist views, and his action has made it far easier to paint Brad Torgersen’s slate as part of a racist plot, despite the lack of evidence for Torgersen himself being a racist.

So it’s hardly surprising that the atmosphere has been getting increasingly ugly, up to the point where people wanted out.

Annie Bellet withdrew her short story “Goodnight Stars” from the nominations

I want to make it clear I am not doing this lightly. I am not doing it because I am ashamed. I am not doing it because I was pressured by anyone either way or on any “side”, though many friends have made cogent arguments for both keeping my nomination and sticking it out, as well as for retracting it and letting things proceed without me in the middle.

I am withdrawing because this has become about something very different than great science fiction. I find my story, and by extension myself, stuck in a game of political dodge ball, where I’m both a conscripted player and also a ball. (Wrap your head around that analogy, if you can, ha!) All joy that might have come from this nomination has been co-opted, ruined, or sapped away. This is not about celebrating good writing anymore, and I don’t want to be a part of what it has become.

And Marko Kloos withdrew his novel “Lines of Departure”, with this statement from Facebook quoted from Larry Correia’s blog.

My withdrawal has nothing to do with Larry Correia or Brad Torgersen. I don’t know Brad personally, but Larry is a long-time online acquaintance and friend. We’ve known each other since before our writing days. I have no issue with Larry or the Sad Puppies. I’m pulling out of the Hugo process solely because Vox Day also included me on his “Rabid Puppies” slate, and his RP crowd provided the necessary weight to the ballot to put me on the shortlist. I think Vox Day is a shitbag of the first order, and I don’t want any association with him, especially not a Hugo nomination made possible by his followers being the deciding factor. That stench don’t wash off.

I had previously stated on this blog that Requires Hate was orders of magnitude worse than Vox Day. I was wrong. In terms of the destruction and havoc he’s been able to wreak to the community, he’s every bit as bad. Just like Requires Hate ultimately ended up eating her own, he’s stabbed the relative moderates of his own side in the back by using his ideological opponents as a weapon, in the full knowledge that he’s considered radioactive and they’re heavily into guilt-by-association. Quite what his ultimate agenda might be is hard to guess, but his short-term goal appears to be destroy the Hugos entirely rather than win any awards. And people are playing into his hands.

At this point, the Hugo Awards of 2015 are as good as dead, and everyone is now fighting over a corpse. Whether The Hugos can be salvaged in future years is another matter, and it does need a consensus on what the awards actually represent, and who they belong to. At the moment it’s degenerated into a fight to the death which will only destroy the object being fought over. Science Fiction itself is the loser.

Maybe cooler heads will prevail in 2016. A few people have tried to build bridges and find some common ground, but they’re still being drowned out by the louder and angrier voices.

There do need to be changes, and there is still the chance that some long-term good can come out of this mess.

Slate voting has demonstrated how a tiny minority voting the same way can sweep entire categories. But it didn’t start with the Sad and Rabid Puppies. It was broken before, and it didn’t need an organised conspiracy to do it. With a small voting pool all it took was a critical mass of people with heavily-overlapping tastes to crowd everything else off the ballot. That fuelled the perceptions, true or not, that second-rate work was ending up on the ballot simply because the author was friends with the right people, and even that the whole thing was being fixed behind the scenes by an imaginary cabal.

The organisers of the Hugos need to do two things. First, they need to massively expand the pool of voters in the nomination round, and there are signs of this already happening. Second, they need to overhaul the voting system so that voting blocs, whether formal, informal or accidental, cannot dominate the nominations in the way they have been doing. If The Hugos are genuinely meant to represent the best of the year in SF&F, the finalists do need to be the choices of a representative cross section across all of fandom. At the moment, there is little evidence that they are.

I’m still glad my chosen fandom is music. I don’t remember even the Punk Wars ever getting this bad.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ritchie Blackmore, 70 today

Guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore turns 70 today. To celebrate, here’s one of his finest hours, Stargazer, featuring the vocals of the late, great Ronnie Dio and the drums of the late and equally late Cozy Powell.

The album Rainbow Rising, released in 1976 is an acknowledged classic. It would be one of my desert island disks without question.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | 1 Comment

First Past The Post – Is this the villain?

Yes, I know full well that there’s far more about the current Hugos fight than just voting systems. There are all sorts of issues about who the awards belong to and what they’re supposed to represent.

But this blog post is not about those issues. I’ve covered that elsewhere.

There’s a fascinating discussion on Making Light below a guest post by Bruce Schneier how to change the voting system to defeat the emergence of organised slate voting that’s so disrupted the Hugo Awards nominations this year. As a lifelong election anorak it’s an interesting subject. An emerging consensus seems to be some version of Single Transferable Vote is a good way to go.

As I see it, the problem isn’t slate voting, even though that’s widely considered to be against the spirit of the thing. The problem is the First Past The Post system that’s used for the nominations ballot. That’s what’s enabled a group comprising a small percentage of the voters to completely dominate the results. The Sad Puppies haven’t broken the system, all they’ve done is proved that it’s broken.

But FPTP has been causing problems long before that.

All it takes is a critical mass of voters with heavily-overlapping tastes to have the effects of completely shutting out those whose tastes don’t overlap. I believe it’s this, rather than behind-the-scenes slates organised through back channels, that’s led to the appearance of award nominations being dominated by a clique. It doesn’t need the conspiracy alleged by the Sad Puppies to produce the Hugo nominations ballots of the past few years. It’s just an unintended consequences of a voting system designed for a different age when SF wasn’t so fragmented into sub-tribes.

While I don’t doubt that some puppies have motivations that aren’t concerned with the health of the SF scene, they do gain energy from the ranks of those who feel disenfranchised from the present system.

STV will fix both the problems of slate voting and the problems that gave rise to slate voting. In that respect, it’s a win-win.

Next month the United Kingdom goes to the polls in a real election. We’re still using the archaic FPTP system in an election where the two-party system it was supposed to serve has completely broken down. We will almost certainly end up with a Parliament that bears little or no resemblance to the way the electorate voted, and may well result in a government which has no popular mandate. We’re in for some very bumpy times, for stakes far higher than deciding who’s supposed to have written the best book or fanzine of the year.

We need to be using STV for real elections too.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Science Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett – Love Song to a Vampire

Official video for the song from the album “Wolflight”.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Marillion’s big hit single “Kayleigh” was released 30 years ago today. Where has all the time gone?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Farewell to Childhood?

So, Fish has announced that he will follow his festival appearances celebrating 30 years of “Misplaced Childhood” with a UK tour in December, in which the album will be played in full.

Much as I’m a big fan of Marillion and of Fish, I think I’m going to give this one a miss, unless the support act is a must-see.

Fish has been a great live act in the past couple of years promoting his excellent and moving “Feast of Consequences” album. It’s no secret that nowadays his voice today is not the voice he had a generation ago. His upper register is gone, and older numbers need to be played in a much lower key and be rearranged to avoid the high notes. He’s fine on the more recent material, which is written for his current vocal range, and he can get away with a few reworked older numbers thrown in for old times’ sake.

When he last toured Misplaced Childhood in the 20th anniversary in the mid-noughies, the first half of the show consisting of more recent solo material was the better half. The re-tuned Misplaced became dirge-like in places and actually dragged towards the end.

Hearing both the Steve Rothery Band and Marillion themselves tackle pre-1988 material towards the end of last year was an eye-opener, or rather an ear-opener; Steve Rothery’s emotive and lyrical guitar playing is as central to the music as Fish’s vocals, and more significantly Steve Hogarth, as a technically better singer proved capable to taking the songs and making them his own.

If I was to hear the whole of Misplaced Childhood live, I’d rather hear the current incarnation of Marillion play it. But maybe Fish will prove me completely wrong and the whole thing will be a triumph.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 2 Comments

More thoughts on The Hugos

A couple of analogies:

Every year, around February time, the Classic Rock Society holds an awards ceremony in Wath-upon-Dearne in Yorkshire. Despite the name, the emphasis is on progressive rock, and the winners are almost entirely drawn from a relatively small and incestuous scene of grassroots bands either signed to small labels or who release independently. Bands such IQ, Magenta, Mostly Autumn and a handful of others at the same level dominate the awards. Indeed the award for Best Bass Player used to be known as the “Best John Jowitt Award” because he used to win it year after year, until finally he ruled himself out of contention so that someone else could win for a change. Nobody from major-league prog bands like Dream Theater or Rush ever win, nor prog-influenced mainstream acts like Elbow or Muse.

Were a large influx of people join the CRS specifically to vote for something like Noel Gallagher’s album about points failures at Stockport as album of the year, a lot of people would be highly unimpressed. But the CRS Awards has never held itself up as representing the best of all music, progressive or otherwise. It doesn’t have a generations-long history in which “In The Court of the Crimson King” and “Close to the Edge” were illustrious past winners.

Every year The Guardian does a readers’ poll for best album. Many years it’s dominated by the same corporate-indie mainstream as the end-of-year list complied by their own writers. But in 2012 the winner was “Invicta” by progressive rock stalwarts The Enid. A few people cried foul, claiming it was out of order that a band playing the sort of music that to them was the epitome of uncool could be allowed to gatecrash indie-rock’s party. But the consensus was “good on them”. The Enid’s fanbase broke no rules, and any other cult band with a devoted following could have done the same thing, but didn’t. Two years later the veteran punk satirists Half Man Half Biscuit repeated that success for their album “The Urge for Offal”.

If a dozen different bands with dedicated but non-overlapping fanbases were to do the same in 2015, it would make the readers’ end-of-year list an awful lot more interesting.

Not that either of these are exactly the same, but there are parallels with the hugely controversial results of the Hugo Awards nominations that are currently melting the internet.

My “fandom” is music. Being a reader of science fiction rather than a convention-goer I’m nowhere near as emotionally invested in the Hugos as many others clearly are, either as treasure to be protected or a prize to be fought over. Even so, the levels of triumphalism and of sour grapes I’m seeing from the two ‘sides’ are both predictably depressing. At the end of the day, it’s just an fan award, and the stakes are hardly a matter of life and death. But the Hugo Awards still ought to be bigger than any two warring cliques, neither of which is prepared to acknowledge that the other might have at least some valid points, however badly expressed.

The broader SF world needs to find a constructive way forward which doesn’t involve excluding significant sections of SF’s readership.

I’m leaving this post open for comments, but I’m going to be fairly strict on what I allow through. Keep it civil and be constructive if you want your words of wisdom to avoid the digital slushpile.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 5 Comments

The Easter Egg represents the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the weapon used to defeat the deadly Bunny. We make forms of both of these in chocolate, which we then ritually destroy.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

HRH Prog 3

Jessie May Smart of Steeleye Span at HRH Prog 3HRH Prog is now in its third year, and it’s second at Hafan-Y-Mor, the former Butlins holiday camp just outside Pwllheli in north Wales.

Pwllheli is a long way from anywhere, at the far end of a winding single-track railway line, and the train stops many, many times at little request stops where the train might only stop if you know how to pronounce the station. So by the time I finally got there after a whole day’s travelling I missed the opening band. But I did catch most of The Dream Circuit’s set, with a space-jam sound that owed a lot of Ozric Tentacles.

Knifeworld were the most eagerly anticipated band of the Thursday night. They opened with a brand new song which Kavus Torabi dedicated to his great friend, the late Daevid Allen of Gong. With his white and gold Gresch guitar, Torabi looks most un-prog, buy with it’s Zappa-style horn orchestrations, psychedelic soundscapes and layered vocal harmonies the music is as progressive as it gets. There were one or two who didn’t ‘get’ what they do, implying they’re not “proper prog”, but it’s their loss. Knifeworld are the real thing.

Thursday headliners The Skys, hailing from Lithuania had a far more traditional prog sound, but were very good at what they did. They displayed some strong Floydian atmospherics at times, with a harder-rocking edge at others. They had a great keyboard sound with big washes of Hammond, and one guitar solo in particular was brain-melting.
Continue reading

Posted in Live Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bont-Y-Bermo

Arriva Trains Wales class 158 bound for Pwllheli crossing Barmouth BridgeOnce under threat of closure because it was being eaten by worms, Barmouth Bridge is still here 35 years later.

Here’s a Birmingham to Pwllheli train crossing the bridge back in March. Travelling up and down the Cambrian lines in the days following HRH Prog bought back a flood of memories. First from family holidays the mid-70s when the trains were in the hands of a motley assortment of class 101, 103 and 108 DMUs, with the Chester-based 103 Park Royal sets signature trains of the line. There was still a daily freight working up the coast in those days too; a diminutive Sulzer engined class 24 with an assortment of 16-ton coal wagons, vanfits, and the distinctive gunpowder vans carrying explosives from the Nobel factory at Penrhyndeudraeth.

Then there was another visit in 1990, when there were still locomotive-hauled trains on Summer Saturdays, and I travelled from Porthmadog to Shrewsbury on one of the last loco-hauled trains of the season. The sound of the class 37 struggling up Tareddig bank on a dirty night with nine coaches in tow and reduced to walking pace by the summit won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Even that was a quarter of a century ago now. Where has the time gone?

Posted in Railway Photography | Tagged | 2 Comments