SF and Gaming Blog

Thoughts, reviews and opinion on the overlapping worlds of science fiction and gaming.

Gerry Anderson tech moves from Russia to China

There ought to be a prize for rediculously “out there” engineering ideas. This one’s described as as a ‘straddling bus’ design to beat traffic jams though since it runs on rails it’s technically a tram rather than a bus.

All it needs is for International Rescue to save the day when something goes horribly wrong.

Click in the link to watch the video on the Guardian site.

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Why do Fandoms go Toxic?

The fandoms of the internet keep throwing its toys out of the pram. I have no idea if it’s getting worse, or whether it’s always been this bad but we just hadn’t noticed.

Maybe it’s the constant background noise of arch sneering between supporters of different eras of bands that have gone through many changes of lineup and musical direction; Facebook groups like “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”, I’m looking at you. Or maybe it’s the ugly wars over the trailer for a much-hyped reboot of a thirty-two year old film; why on earth have so many of the worst culture warriors on both sides chosen that particular hill to die on? Or the ongoing Sad Puppies Hugo Awards mess, where I’m sure I’m not the only person who has lost all patience with both sides; the world of science fiction ought to be bigger than one clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1950s fighting another clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1970s.

A lot the appeal of being part of a fandom rather than merely enjoying the music, films or books is the feeling of belonging to a tribe. And some tribes love to define themselves by those who aren’t part of that tribe. Do fandoms become toxic when in-group signalling becomes more important than the actual art? And is this just an inevitable part of human nature, or are there practical things we can do to stop fandoms going bad?

It’s nonsense. Liking or not liking a piece of mass-market entertainment should not be a litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. And “Those people over there I don’t like will love or hate it” is the worst possible form of criticism.

So don’t do that. Better to celebrate the things you love.

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Lovecraft and the Fear of Ick

Thought-provoking post by Zak Smith on Lovecraft, Nerds And The Uses of Ick. H. P. Lovecraft is one of the most controversial figures in SF and gaming cultures. His massive misogyny and racism cannot be denied, yet the visceral power of his horrors mean he’s still one of the most influential writers of the genre. But both his bigotry and the power of his writing stem from the same fear of the Other.

Lovecraftian disgust is visceral, the kind that goes ick. The feeling of having a gun to your head isn’t ick. Ick is a fear of life–someone else’s icky life. Fear of mollusks, for instance–which are totally harmless–is Lovecraftian.

He then turns to the RPG world’s rather messy culture wars,  drawing parallels between Lovecraft’s fears and hangups with those of the faction who wish to sanitise and bowdlerise the RPG hobby.

When there is ick, there is fear, where there’s fear there is ignorance, where there’s ignorance there’s disgust, and where there’s disgust, prejudice.

I’m not enirely convinced that calling out some game designers by name is productive, but the points he makes are still valid.

Posted in Games, Science Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Booky McBookface, by Noah Ward

So Vox Day has managed to crap all over the Hugo Awards for the second year running, flooding some categories completely and getting stories with titles “If You Were An Award, My Love” and “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on the ballot.

What muddies the waters is that Day has also taken some reputable authors who deserved to get nominated anyway and covered them with his stink, I feel for Alastair Reynolds, who’s novella “Slow Bullets” has made the nominations and now risks becoming a political football.

This year it’s important to note that The Sad Puppies, run this year by Kate Paulk and Amanda Green, did not run slates as such, with recommendation lists that ranged from two or three entries in some categories to as many as ten in each of the fiction categories. At no point did they recommend five and only five nominations for any category.

The heavy overlap between Vox Day’s and Brad Torgersen’s Rabid and Sad Puppies slates last year obscured the fact that it was Vox Day who really did the damage. Wherever the two slates differed, it was Vox Day’s choices that made the ballot. This year there is no room for any doubt who the villain is, and I’m going to assume anyone who continues to blur the difference between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones is either ignorant or has an agenda.

I’m not a Worldcon member, but that’s not going to stop me giving unsolicited advice. So here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head recommendations.

First, ratify E Pluribus Hugo. This is ought to be such a no-brainer than anyone that attempts to argue otherwise is not to be trusted. It won’t fix everything, but it will make it harder for any well-organised minority to swamp the ballot.

Second, think very hard about the wisdom of repeating last year’s block no-awarding everything tainted, throwing good people under the bus in an attempt to preserve the purity of the awards. That stank when they did it to people like Toni Weisskopf last year. The garbage from VD’s cronies you can no award to oblivion if it’s as awful as it sounds from the titles. But remember that burning down The Hugos is VD’s goal, and no-awarding deserving nominees like Toni Weisskopf or Alastair Reynolds gives him what he wants.

Third, recognise that the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones are very different things, and try to build bridges with the some of the first of those groups, or at least avoid rhetoric or behaviour that further deepens the divide with anyone who’s not an actual acolyte of Vox Day. The mass no-awarding of last year did not help in that regard.

One problem with the Hugo Awards in recent years seems to be the lack of any consensus about what they’re supposed to represent. Do they represent the very best of science fiction and fantasy as a whole, or do they represent the favourites of a far narrower subset of fandom? Are they really publicly-voted awards, or closer to juried awards with an unusually large jury? And above all how much are they American rather than international?

At the moment they’ve neither quite one thing or the other, and that’s one root of the problem.

You could argue that the world of SF/F is now too broad and too diverse for a single set of awards to serve as a Gold Standard, there need to be alternative awards created for different crowds, and new awards like The Dragons are a step in that direction. So complaining that “Heroic Engineer” stories never get Hugo nominations is like complaining about the lack of rock and metal in the Mercury Music Prize when the Kerrang awards exist.

Only once Worldcon decide exactly what the Hugos are and who they are supposed to be for can they treat Vox Day as damage and route around him. At the moment he is still outmanoeuvring them, rendering last years Hugo Ceremony a pyrrhic victory.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Dragon Awards

The Dragon Awards

The long-established SF convention DragonCon has announced a new set of science fiction & fantasy awards, The Dragons.

Welcome to the first annual Dragon Awards! As a part of our 30th Anniversary as the nation’s largest fan-run convention, we are introducing a new way to recognize excellence in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy. These awards will be by the fans, for the fans, and are your chance to reward those who have made real contributions to SF, books, games, comics, and shows. Not only can you nominate and vote, the Dragon Awards lets you share your support with others!

As well as awards for comics, games, TV and Films, there are seven different “Best Novel” categories covering different sub-genres; Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Military, Alternate World, Post-Apocalyptic and Horror. There are notably no awards for less than novel length fiction.

Votes both for the nominations and the final ballot are open to anyone without the need to register for the convention itself or pay to be a supporting member, and you get one and only one nomination vote in each category.

It’s early days yet, and I’m sure there are plenty of bugs that will need to be worked out over the first couple of years. Certainly the focus on sub-genres could end up rewarding work that’s faithful to genre tropes at the expense of perhaps more imaginative works that defy easy pigeon-holing. There’s nothing I’ve seen that implies you can’t nominate something the crosses genre boundaries more than once in different categories, but genre-straddling works still risk getting their votes split.

Given the increasingly bitter wars over the Hugo Awards a rival high-profile award organised in a radically-different way does seem like the best way do go. In recent years the Hugos have come to represent one subset of science fiction & fantasy at the expense of others, which has left some readers feeling disenfranchised, one cause of the bitter fighting over the nominations last year. Far better to give the Hugos some serious competition in the shape of a rival high-profile award, and for those disenfranchised fans to put their energies into that.

Seen in the light it’s even possible that some of The Dragons’ apparent flaws are deliberate design features, in that the awards are intended to showcase the sorts of novels that have been passed over by The Hugos in recent years.

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The Hugo Wars start up again

The Hugo Awards saga is getting ugly again. One of my favourite authors, with whom I’ve had quite a few entertaining conversations on Twitter, has a novella included in the infamous Sad Puppies list, and has demanded its removal.

It was probably a vain hope that there would be any kind of reconciliation and bridge-building this year; the mass use of No Award last year probably killed any chances of that, and since then both sides have doubled down. Now they just trading insults and engaging in competitive name-calling. Innocent authors like that favourite of mine get caught up in a bitter war that’s not of their making and forced into a position where whatever they do it will be wrong.

I had considered signing up for supporting membership this year and voting in the nominations process, but now I’m very glad I didn’t. I want no part of this.

At the heart of the war over the Hugos is the question of what these awards are supposed to represent and who they belong to.

The best music awards are those that are honest and unambiguous about what they represent. The Brits represent mass-market commercial pop without pretending to be anything else. At the opposite pole the CRS Awards represent the favourites of a small and self-selecting circle of enthusiastic supporters of the grassroots progressive rock scene and doesn’t claim to be anything more than that. Even the Prog Awards with its entirely arbitrary nominations process exists solely to gain positive media coverage for progressive rock as a whole, and doesn’t really pretend otherwise. Nobody really cares who wins.

The worse kind of music awards are those that give out mixed messages over what they’re supposed to represent. The juried Mercury Music Prize is the poster child for this, with its opaque nomination process and the way it’s always highly genre-specific, or at least genre-excluding, while pretending it isn’t. And we can’t not mention the fiasco of last years Guardian’s reader’s album of the year, when they held an open public vote, then eliminated the finalists they didn’t like for reasons that have never had a satisfactory explanation.

Worldcon does need to make up it’s mind exactly what they want The Hugos to be. Do they want to preserve its purity even at the expense of its continuing relevance? Or do the Hugos need to be held in a bigger tent covering a wider range of science-fiction and fantasy in order to maintain its cultural prominence? Or will the change in the voting system next year sufficiently defang the puppies to take the heat out of the thing?

And similarly the Sad Puppies need to ask themselves; why do The Hugos matter to them? Should they stop trying to gatecrash a party for which they’ve repeatedly been told they’re not welcome at, and instead start their own?

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Batman vs. Superman is being panned by the critics, who make it sound like it’s the tipping point where big-budget superhero films fall out of critical and public favour. What’s its rock equivalent? Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (Self-indulgent creative overreach), ELP’s “Love Beach” (Dying gasp of a spent creative force) or Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Lulu” (Ill-conceived collaboration done for largely cynical reasons)?  Over to you…

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

Genre vs Gender

On his provocatively but accurately-named website, Zak Smith interviews Stacy Dellorfano on the subject of “Women in gaming”. This paragraph is the one that stands out.

When people push genres or sub-genres as the fix-it solution for gender inequality (or any other type of inequality), they might as well be pointing out there’s a ‘pink’ part of the toy store and a ‘blue’ part of the toy store, and if you want to attract women you need to make sure to have a lot of the ‘pink’ stuff. Girls play with Barbies, boys play with Matchbox cars. Girls get romances, boys get action films. Girls are ‘crafters’, boys are ‘makers’, and so on and so on. It’s insulting and inappropriate.

One thing Stacy Dellorfano stresses again and again is that only way for gaming to become diverse is to have more diverse creators making the sorts of games they want to play, rather than white male creators trying to second-guess or form focus groups. Or worse still, trying to police the content of other people’s games.

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Trump vs Hilary vs. Bernie in the US election makes the teapot storms and Drama in Geek Culture looks as ridiculous and petty is it is. What does it matter if some game or novel is “problematic” when the stakes in the American election are so high?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Comments Off

Politics by AD&D Alignment

This is a rewrite of an old post from a couple of years ago that got accidentally deleted from the archives. The Internet Wayback Machine does not seem to have saved a copy, so this is a reconstruction of sorts.

Does the AD&D alignment system help explain present-day politics rather better than “Left” and “Right”?

For those of you not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, the Alignment chart is a three-by-three grid giving nine possible values, which serve as a shorthand for a character’s moral and philosophical values. One axis is Law vs. Chaos, more or less as defined by Michael Moorcock in his Eternal Champion series. The other is Good vs. Evil, which ought to be self-explanatory.

Both old-fashioned social conservatism and old-fashioned socialism are probably Lawful Neutral. Both like to think of themselves as Lawful Good, so the two are opponents when the truth is that both have a lot in common. Both believe that social order and the solidarity of the community trumps the freedom of the individual, and take a paternalistic attitude towards those considered weaker than themselves.

Liberals are more Neutral Good in theory tending towards True Neutral in practice, believing that the greatest benefit for the greatest number comes from finding the right balance between individual freedom and collective welfare.

Libertarians are Chaotic Neutral. They believe individual freedom is everything, and the consequence of that are somebody else’s problem. The fundamental split in the Tory party is between the Chaotic Neutral libertarians and the Lawful Neutral social conservives.

When it comes to Evil, I would have hesitated to use that word for any mainstream political ideology, at least in the west. Lawful Evil or any other flavour of Evil ought to belong to things like the Nazis or Islamic State. But then I look at the rise and rise of Donald Trump and wonder…

Posted in Games, Religion and Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment