Science Fiction Blog

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

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?

Posted in Music Opinion, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment


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?

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged | Comments Off

E Pluribus Hugo

Out of Many, A Hugo, the proposal from Making Light for changing the Hugo Awards voting system in an attempt to fix the problems that came to a head this year.

It uses a Single Divisible Vote, which is a form of proportional system rather than the first-past-the-post system used up to now, and is designed to prevent any well-organised minority from dominating the nominations out of all proportion to their numbers.

I like the system a lot, although the complexity of the counting system means the count must be computerised. It has many of the same advantages as the widely-used Single Transferrable Vote system, though a notable difference is that you don’t need to rank your nominations in any kind of order.

It would be an interesting system to use in other contexts too; the complexity of the count probably rules it out for “real” elections, but I’ve love to see Guardian Music use it for their end-of-year lists, which might see the result containing minority-interest music (like rock and metal) that usually gets crowded out by the indie/alternative mainstream.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged | 1 Comment

RIP Christopher Lee

The Wicker Man

Sad news today that Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93.

He was the definitive Count Dracula (accept no imitations), a classy Bond villain, Tolkien’s wizard Saruman, and of course his best role of all, Lord Summerisle in the 1973 classic “The Wicker Man”.

Perhaps because so many of the films he starred in were considered too lowbrow, it took a long time for the cultural establishment to give he the recognition he deserved. But he was eventually rewarded with a well-deserved knighthood as one of Britain’s finest actors.

He didn’t just do horror. Remember his starring role, as the villain of course, in the Australian-made comedy musical “The Return of Captain Invincible”?

His work in the world of Metal mustn’t be forgotten either. Here he is with Rhapsody of Fire; he contributed spoken-word narration on several of their albums, on this track he runs rings around Fabio Lione as a singer.

Farewell, Sir Christopher Lee. As was said on Twitter, 93 is a good innings, and cricket stumps make very good stakes.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment

To Boldly Go Where No Locomotive Has Gone Before

Announced today by Rapido Trains.

Rapido is excited to announce that a limited run of just 40 HO scale “LRC Shuttlecraft” DC/DCC-ready locomotives are being offered for bid in our on line silent auction in support of the Canadian Lung Association’s efforts to eliminate COPD.

Now you can bid on one of 40 exclusive, never-to-be-offered-again LRC shuttlecraft. Only one shuttlecraft allowed per person.

Starting bids are $199.95 for these once-in-a-lifetime units. Bid as high as you can because only the top 40 bidders will get their HO scale LRC shuttlecraft!

Bidding ends midnight June 1st – all winning bids will be contacted by email and will have seven (7) days to arrange payment. We accept bids worldwide. Shipping costs will be charged separately.

100% of all successful bids received will be donated to the Canadian Lung Association in memory of Leonard Nimoy.*

Full details on the Rapido Shuttlecraft oage.

Posted in Modelling News, Science Fiction | Tagged , | Comments Off