Science Fiction Blog

Thoughts on the science-fiction and fantasy genres, which emphasis more on books than on films or TV.

Jumping the Shark?

No longer the preserve of the hardcore geek, comics are moving away from superheroes and into a new golden age of creativity and diversity. We talk to the indie writers and artists inking the changes

The way this article has been framed epitomises everything I have come to loathe about the recent direction of The Guardian’s cultural coverage.

Canadian video game journalist Liana Kerzner has called it out for benevolent sexism, rightly stating that women are people, not benevolent pink aliens. What’s infuriating to me is the implied zero-sum game. It could have praised radical new creators taking comics in exciting new directions in their own right. But no, they had to take a swipe at the things many other people love along with their audiences. And aren’t women allowed to be geeks too?

That’s before we note that the whole thing is probably a generation out of date.

It gives all the appearance of bottom-feeding clickbait, cynically calculated to push people’s buttons. I sometimes wonder how much of the “angry male nerd” subculture that seems to see any media that’s not for them as a threat is really a backlash against nonsense like this.

The irony is there may be a chance that the article itself is a fine and insightful piece. But the way it’s been framed puts you off reading.

The same sort of thing has been spreading like pondweed across the music section of late too, much of it ludicrously ill-informed and under-researched. Last summer we had thinkpiece after thinkpiece demanding that rock and metal festivals add more dance-pop to their bills in the name of gender equality, all written by people who had clearly never heard of Nightwish or Within Temptation or Arch Enemy or Myrkur. They even tried to call out rapper MIA for appropriation of Indian culture despite the fact she’s of south Asian descent herself! It got to the point where one of their own staff writers had to point out on Twitter how embarrassingly stupid that was.

There are still some good writers like Dom Lawson and Alexis Petridis contributing to the music section who clearly demonstrate a deep knowledge and love of music. But it seems their writing in increasingly drowned out by clickbait drivel.

Much as I hate to say it, I think the proverbial shark has been jumped.

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Television and Film Crossovers We’d Like to See

Some silliness that started on Twitter. Twitter is good for things like this, especially late at night. What crossovers between different television and film properties would we like to see. Forget Dr Who meets Star Trek when The Doctor joines forces with Starfleet to defeat an alliance of Daleks and Klingons. We can surely be far more creative than that.

Eastenders and The Blob

Because who doesn’t want to see the entire cast of the world’s most annoying soap opera eaten by a giant alien blob from outer space?

Later with Jools Holland and Night of the Lepus

Mediocre indie bands attacked by giant carnivorous rabbits. With a soundtrack of boogie-woogie piano. What’s not to like about that?

BBC Question Time and The Teletubbies

Because Tinky Winky, La-La, Dipsy and Po will always make more sense than Nigel Farage.

The Clangers and H.G.Well’s War of the Worlds

With the aid of the Iron Chicken, the comet-dwelling pink rats build a fleet of tripod war machines and lay waste to Woking. Did you know each tripod has a Clanger sitting in the cockpit and aiming the heat-ray?

Crossroads (the legendary 70s soap opera) and Crossroads (the Robert Johnson blues standard)

Starring Stevie Vai as The Devil’s guitarist, scaring the life out of Benny.

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“A fight between the childish politics of the 1970s and the equally childish politics of the 1950s” – The best description of the culture wars in science fiction fandom I’ve yet seen.

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Mainstream vs Popular?

Over on Twitter, Serdar Yegulalp made the observation that “Mainstream” and “Popular” art, while they often overlap, are not the same thing. The former is that which gets widespread attention in the media, while the latter is what actually sells. This is a split that’s been apparent in rock music for years to anyone’s who’s paying attention. “Mainstream” nowadays tends to equate to “Indie”, despite that being one aesthetic of many, largely because that’s what has the greatest appeal to those who write about music in the media. So a mid-level indie act who sell modest numbers of albums and concert tickets get to play on “Later with Jools Holland” and are considered mainstream in a way the far bigger-selling Iron Maiden are not. It’s something most rock and metal fans have learned to live with, though it’s still galling to see the media gatekeepers give so much space to things like Metallica’s appallingly dreadful collaboration with Lou Reed just because Reed is fashionable with the elite tastemakers in a way no metal band can ever be. Metallica themselves never got a look in when they were in their prime.

Even more true in the book publishing world, of course, where “Literary Fiction”, that etiolated genre that pretends it’s not a genre punches way above it’s weight when it comes to critical attention. It’s also why I suspect the fight over the Hugo Awards within science fiction isn’t just a turf war between political tribes. Is there something of a Mainstream/Popular split going on too, with a disconnect between the books and stories that get media attention (and win all the awards), and the books that sell in large numbers? Do the major SF awards disproportionately reward the literary equivalent of “indie music” at the expense of other aesthetics?

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What has the Kepler Space Telescope found around the mysterious star between Cygnus and Lyra? Are the objects orbiting the star some previously unknown natural phenomenon, or are they really, as some have suggested, massive structures built by an alien civilisation?

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Backpfeifengesicht

backpfeifengesichtI liked The Guardian far more before it started racing the Daily Mail to the bottom when it came to button-pushing clickbait trolling. Jonathan Jones’ appalling piece of the late Terry Pratchett (which I refuse to link to, Google for it if you must) writing him off as a mediocre writer of potboilers is probably the nastiest individual piece I’ve read online since Arthur Chu celebrated the Charlie Hebdo murders in The Daily Beast. It’s not often I read something that makes me want to take the German word “Backpfeifengesicht” literally, that that was one.

I guess in the wider scheme of things it’s not as serious as their misreporting of the Tim Hnnt affair, where the paper became part of a co-ordinated campaign to smear an innocent man. But still, you have to wonder quite what the editor of that section was thinking on deciding to publish that piece.

But look on the bright side. Perhaps it’s one thing that might unite the fractured tribes of SFF fandom, seeing the Rabid Puppies join forces with the acolytes of Requires Hate to rip Jonathan Jones a well-deserved new asshole?

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Hugo Aftermath

Wth a bit of luck this should be my last blog post on this subject.

We’ll start with this extract from a post by George R. R. Martin

I had picked Mike Resnick in Short Form and Toni Weisskopf in Long Form, and indeed, each of them finished above all the other nominees in the first round of voting… but well behind No Award. This was a crushing defeat for the slates, and a big victory for the Puppy-Free ballot of Deirdre Moen. Honestly? I hated this. In my judgment the voters threw the babies out with bathwater in these two categories. Long Form had three nominees who are more than worthy of a Hugo (and one, Jim Minz, who will be in a few more years), and Short Form had some good candidates too. They were on the slates, yes, but some of them were put on there without their knowledge and consent. A victory by Resnick, Sowards, Gilbert, or Weisskopf would have done credit to the rocket, regardless of how they got on the ballot. (All four of these editors would almost certainly have been nominated anyway, even if there had been no slates).

((Some are saying that voting No Award over these editors was an insult to them. Maybe so, I can’t argue with that. But it should be added that there was a far far worse insult in putting them on the ballot with Vox Day, who was the fifth nominee in both categories. Even putting aside his bigotry and racism, Beale’s credential as an editor are laughable. Yet hundreds of Puppies chose to nominate him rather than, oh, Liz Gorinsky or Anne Lesley Groell or Beth Meacham (in Long Form) or Gardner Dozois or Ellen Datlow or John Joseph Adams (in Short Form). To pass over actual working editors of considerable accomplishment in order to nominate someone purely to ‘stick it to the SJWs’ strikes me as proof positive that the Rabid Puppies at least were more interested in saying ‘fuck you’ to fandom than in rewarding good work)).

I also misliked the roar of approval that went up at the announcement of the first No Award. I understand it, yes… fandom as a whole is heartily sick of the Puppies and delighted to see them brought low… but No Award is an occasion for sadness, not celebration, especially in THESE two categories.

I can’t find myself disagreeing with any of that. Sending the Puppies packing is being spun as a great victory, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. At best, it’s a stalemate. Nobody has won, and the rhetoric from both camps suggests the chance of avoiding a repeat performance in 2016 is very slim.

Swamping the nominations ballot by block voting a slate was a dick move that was always going to provoke a backlash. It was a major escalation in a turf war that pre-dates the Puppies’ campaigns, and goes back several years. In recent years there has been an active campaign from some quarters to marginalise conservatives and libertarians out of fandom, with concerns being dismissed as “Old men yelling at clouds”. Rhetoric like “The dinosaurs are going extinct and we’re the comet” give that game away.

If the Hugos are to remain relevant, they have to get back to being a celebration of the best in Science Fiction & Fantasy rather than a battleground in a bitter turf war between two warring tribes, neither of whom exactly have clean hands. Those who care about the award also need to make up their mind exactly what The Hugos are supposed to represent. Are they Science Fiction’s equivalent of The Oscars, showcasing the best of the genre to the wider world? Or are they more like the CRS Awards, celebrating the favourites of a small community within a much larger fandom? And the moment it’s not quite either of those things, and it can’t be both.

My position at the moment is still “A pox on both camps”. When one camp places the odious John C. Wright on a pedestal, and the other still considers a great many known acolytes of Requires Hate to be respected members of the community, both sides play games with motes and beams when it comes to guilt-by-association. I am not buying either sides’ partisan narrative, echoed in their respective agenda-driven and nuance-free media channels.

As long as this nonsense goes on, while I continue to read SF, I refuse to identify myself as part of SF fandom. My fandom is, and will remain, music.

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Noah Ward sweeps The Hugos

Mushroom Cloud

So the Hugo Award voters have decided to block-vote “No Award” for everything nominated by the Puppies campaigns, which means no Hugo was awarded in those categories where Puppy nominees swept the nomination ballot.

Many figures in the SF establishment are celebrating sending the Puppies packing. But I do think this may well prove to be a hollow victory, and risks diminishing the standing of the Hugo Awards amongst the wider SF community.

The full results (including the nomination numbers) can be found here:

Back in April, I wrote this

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.

Have the Hugo voters decided they want to be the SF equivalent of the CRS awards? Because that’s the signal they’re sending out.  The most telling is the rejection of Toni Weisskopf as Best Editor (Long Form) in favour of No Award; it’s very difficult to spin this as anything other than pure partisan politics that pays no regard to Ms Weisskopf’s record as an editor.

Brad Torgersen ignited a firestorm with a comment about the SJWs wanting to load his kind into boxcars and ship them off to the icy wastes to die. It was a clumsy, insensitive metaphor, but the “icy wastes” reference ought to have been a clue that he was referring to the Soviet gulags rather than the Holocaust. But the way WorldCon made a strong statement that a subset of writers and fans are not welcome in their space because at least in part they belong to the wrong political tribe does suggest he had a point. The attitude of some people in SF’s progressive wing does have more than a whiff of Stalin about it.

If the business committee now rejects E Pluribus Hugo because block-voting No Award is seen as an acceptable method of dealing with slates, then the Hugo Awards are finished.

Don’t get me wrong, slate voting, even if it wasn’t in technical breach of the rules, was against the spirit, and I have no problem with people voting No Award for sub-standard work that didn’t deserve a place on the ballot. But what we’ve seen happen goes well beyond that.

Science fiction fandom ought to be about celebrating the best in imaginative speculative fiction. If that takes second place to turf wars between warring tribes, we all lose.

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For those who can’t get their hear around the maths behind E Pluribus Hugo, think of it like this. You have one vote, and it goes to whichever of your nominations turns out to be the most popular with other voters.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

Vote for E Pluribus Hugo

I’m not going to try and predict what’s going to happen in the Hugo Awards voting this weekend. I’d like to hope voters judge the nomnations on the quality of the work rather than treating the whole thing as a trial of strength between ideological factions. The only thing we can be sure of is vast numbers of electrons will be spent in discussing the eventual outcome.

But one thing I do hope to see is the E Pluribus Hugo voting system adopted for the nominations at the business meeting. Even then it will in turn need to be ratified at the next WorldCon, which means it won’t come into force until 2017.

Yes, I’ve seen lots of people arguing that the voting system shouldn’t be changed. But most of those arguments boil down to “It’s too complicated and I’m too lazy to try and understand how it works” or “It was proposed on That Site where all those awful people hang out, and therefore must be bad”. Neither of those arguments really hold water.

Whatever its real or imagined flaws, E Pluribus Hugo is better than the alternative. Leaving the voting system unchanged will mean it will devolve into battles between competing slates, meaning a handful of high profile figures with significantly sized internet bully pulpits will act as gatekeepers. Any work that doesn’t have the backing of a Scalzi or a Correia will have a hard time getting nominated.

Using some kind of social sanction to defeat slates would be even worse, and would devolve into bullying nominees into withdrawing their nomination if they had the misfortune to be publicly backed by a bad person. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine how that would go wrong.

So Worldcon needs to adopt E Pluribus Hugo if the Hugo Awards are to remain relavant.

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