Thoughts

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.”

 

Fairytale Retellings | Six Gun Snow White and Poison

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                       Poison     16104414

When reading Six Gun Snow White (Cat Valente) and Poison (Sarah Pinborough), I was left thinking a lot about fairytale retellings, how they are approached, and my feelings about them. My past history with fairytale retellings hasn’t been all rosy cheeks and cuddles. Generally, I finish fairytale retellings with a sense of something left wanting, a general dissatisfaction.

I have come to the conclusion that fairytale retellings are best done in one of two ways: total overhaul or digging deeper into the original. Both Valente and Pinborough are good examples of these two approaches.

Six Gun Snow White is a total overhaul story. It breaks apart the pieces of Snow White and plays with them. It puts them together in a different way. While the story still revolves around the relationship between a girl and her stepmother, Six Gun Snow White varies widely from the original story. Snow White is the daughter of a white minerals prospector and a Native American woman. She’s by and large let free to roam her father’s estate while he travels to new mining opportunities. Snow White has to deal with a physically abusive stepmother who can’t get over the fact that Snow is, in fact, not white. Snow runs away with her six shooter into Crow country.  Magic is there, but the mirror doesn’t talk and the dwarves aren’t exactly dwarves.

Valente’s story is a great example of an overhaul done right. She takes the themes and elements of Snow White, but isn’t confined by them. It doesn’t feel like a Snow White story bound by its past iterations. It feels fresh and very freed from convention. It would stand on its own if you had never read or heard the original tale. Valente picks and chooses what she likes and makes the story her own instead of just dressing Snow White up in a cowboy hat.

Poison is a more traditional retelling. Snow White is still a princess whose father remarries a witch. She runs away to be tracked down by a hunter. All the bells and whistles are still there. What Poison does that I liked with the story is taking previously one dimensional characters and digging in.

Pinborough takes the story of Snow White as an opportunity to look at who the Evil Stepmother is, why her relationship with Snow would devolve, and what the characters would be doing, thinking, wanting, etc. Pinborough expands on the story, unlike the more “paying homage” approach Valente takes, and it works. She examines the motivations and repercussions of the characters and successfully builds real people out of a cartoon drawing. She also intertwines some fairytales and gives it a dark ending (Oh, my God, that ending).

I think the real point here is that both can be done well, but it’s the divergence and depth that makes a retelling enjoyable. Retellings that work too hard on keeping the plot and story “pure” while also putting it in a different context are a turnoff to me. It binds the story up and doesn’t add to the story’s life. I like the story, but to hold too true to it while still trying to make it something the original story isn’t doesn’t often pan out.

Thoughts? What do you think about retellings?

Let’s Talk | Book to Movie/TV Adaptations

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It probably comes as no surprise to you that book to movie/TV adaptations are all the rage. After the successes that Hollywood has seen with The Hunger Games Divergent, Game of Thrones, and The Martian, it seems like every book is getting optioned. Part of this isn’t surprising, but it is a little off-setting to me. In business, you want to go with proven strategies. Successful models will always be more appealing. But I suspect that there are a lot of franchises being set up to go nowhere at best and down the drain at worst.

In the past year or so, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Wes Chu’s Time Salvager, and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Have all been optioned for various movie, tv, and video game productions (sources hyperlinked).

Let’s start by talking about what this means.

According to legal-dictionary.com, an option means:

A right, which operates as a continuing offer, given in exchange for consideration—something of value—to purchase or lease property at an agreed price and terms within a specified time.

In a way, all of the buzz over this is a bit misleading. Being “optioned” means that a company has bought the rights to produce an adaptation of the story. The company can then take the story and start developing scripts, production ideas, and testing the story on potential markets. What “optioned” doesn’t mean is that those adaptations will necessarily be made or that they will be made any time soon.

An option is a way for a company to test the waters. There may be contract terms which require certain things like script development or production, but this isn’t inherent to the term. To boot, an option is like a lease, after a certain time, you’re done. The copyright holder can move on to the next offer.

What’s more important is (1) what company has optioned a story, (2) if they have anyone on contract for the story, (3) the popularity of the story, and (4) if the story allows the company to tap into a new or a wide audience.

For instance, saying that a small company has optioned a story, but has no one on board to adapt it, it’s only a fairly popular story, and it’s not going to tap into or expand the audience they already have, means less than a large company optioning a story with an enthusiastic and popular team on board for a story that has broken the NYT bestseller list.

Shocker?

Optioning doesn’t mean so much in and of itself, but there has been a slew of optioning, by fairly established companies. Many of these optioning deals have teams to help the potential production on board and are picking up niche, but well received books. Wes Chu’s novel Time Salvager , for instance, was optioned by Paramount with Michael Bay lined up to direct and Chu set to be the executive producer. That’s a serious deal. Considering the works that have been announcing optioning, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that in the next 5 or so years we will get a large number of movie adaptations of hit works.

Optioning: Good? Bad? Meh?

Part of me is ridiculously excited to see so many SFF adaptations (potentially) in the works. It’s been so long since we got an SFF adaptation that was truly energizing. Afterall, there’s so much potential in SFF that hasn’t been tapped into. Star Wars and Star Trek reboots will only get you so far and Scyfy hasn’t made a tv show worthy of weekly watching for quite some time. Lately more shows like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black have been on the rise. The idea of a new, gritty scifi show, or an engaging fantasy show sans-Starks is exciting. But, I’m hesitant about the swath of adaptations for a few reasons.

Choosing stories for the medium

Popular stories are the first place a company is going to look for a potential adaptation. There’s a built in market and the story has been (at least somewhat) vetted. This has the potential to be fantastic, but also means that there is a far more limited field of what’s being considered. And, frankly, plenty of popular science fiction and fantasy stories don’t lend themselves well to visual medium.

Take, for example, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Justice won a Hugo for best novel, an impressive feat made more impactful because it was a debut novel. The story truly pushes the limits of science fiction storytelling and is absolutely captivating. But, a lot of the story is not immediately appealable and the storytelling is extremely complex. It’s difficult to see immediately how a television show will convey the inability of Justice One Esk (the main character) to see gender. The descriptions of how One Esk describes the politics is extremely detailed with a long backstory that may be difficult to build on a visual platform where there is limited time and information. This is not to say it cannot be done or cannot be done well, simply that it will require alterations and reworking.

As a more stark example, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear have been optioned by Lionsgate for production as a movie.  The King Killer Chronicles has been optioned before. In 2013, Fox –the same company optioning Leckie’s novel– attempted to develop the books into a TV show. It didn’t wind up happening. Much of Rothfuss’ story may simply be hard to explain visually or be less compelling when turned into a script. Without the insight into Kvothe’s mind and the magic system, the story may lose affect. Similarly the story has a non-traditional subject matter. It’s hard to  make a high fantasy story work on screen. The struggle in the book to articulate magical words that you learn suddenly as opposed to through rote practice, the story’s slow pace, the 200 pages of fairy sex, may just not really work for the screen, big or small.

Quality of production

It’s hard to imagine that many start up stories are going to get the money to invest in special effects necessary to really pull-off some of the stories being optioned. The investment in creating a believable version of a magical or science  fiction world is large. Even larger the more detailed it gets. Game of Thrones costs HBO almost $6 million per episode to make. This may be lessened by going with a British series model (6-12 episodes per season), but doing so disrupts much of the current television model in the US. Disruption and a major budget investment may simply be less appealing than going for a more traditional story with a greater chance of conventional success.

Flooding the Market

Perhaps this is unwarranted, but I worry about the ability of the current television market to handle a mass influx of SFF stories. It may be popular to contract those stories for a while, but competition combined with the high cost of special effects will likely force many of these stories out of production. I worry that it will stigmatize optioning SFF in the future. This is probably overthinking, because SFF isn’t always seen as a good bet to begin with, but I can’t help taking it into account.

Overall…

I really am excited to see SFF getting optioned. I just am a worry wart. I want it done well and I want to spread the SFF love. Hopefully that goal is about to be achieved.

Let’s Talk about the Hugo Awards (Now with more libertarianism!)

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I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the state of the SFF world. It seems like it’s been one thing after another for so long. Constant low-level hostility and tension has been at best worrisome and at worse disturbing. I’ve mostly tried ignoring the chaos, especially considering that much of the disruptions have come from a very small number of people.

I still hold by much of what was said in my earlier post.

Unfortunately, the chaos has continued. Most recently, a false police report was filed by a Hugo nominee against another, leading to a full WorldCon investigation and the nominee’s work being rejected from a magazine. In the fall out, death threats and harassment ensued. We’ll be talking a little bit about this. For the full background on the story, you can see some of the posts I’ll link below.

While the “victim” of the false police report has accepted Lou Antonelli’s apologies, the actions of Antonelli haven’t ceased to have consequences. Antonelli’s actions in particular aren’t really what I want to talk about. I’m going to be addressing the actions we have seen in our community more broadly. It feels a bit ridiculous that I should even have to do this; these behaviors are far from common. Unfortunately, they’ve insinuated themselves into our world.

I’m approaching much of this from a more libertarian perspective. This is for a few reasons (1) I think that a libertarian discourse about rights and the role of the state is fitting for the behaviors we have seen in this community; and (2) I think that a discourse about positive and negative rights is a broadly applicable approach for the rhetoric that accompanies the behaviors we have seen recently.

When we talk about rights we do so in two terms: positive and negative. In short, positive rights are rights that obligate action and negative rights are rights that impede action. For example, the right to a public education obligates the State to provide schooling, thus it is a positive right. The right to free speech prohibits censorship, and thus is a negative right.

Below, I am going to use this framework to talk about specific action we’ve seen in SFF fandom lately and why it is unacceptable.

I’ll also be talking about the difference between “public” and “private.” One of the trickier aspects of this conversation is that I am going to be using two sets of public and private. In normal discussions, we talk about public and private in terms of who views an action and who is effected by it. If I am walking in the mall, I am in public. If I am in my home, I am in private. This is complicated by the role of the State (by which I mean your governing body). For the State, there is the private individual and the public one. For instance, you are still a public individual when you make a phone call to the police. You are a private individual when you are in the store, purchasing an item. I’ll try to be as clear as possible when using these different approaches to public and private.

Before we start

I want to make sure that we’re on the same page, here. If you are an adult, you have the right to make your own decisions. That includes decisions you make for your self, your dependents, and your property. I’m pretty generous about the application of this. Where your decision-making ends, by necessity, is where that decision impacts another person (person’s property or dependents included) about whom you do not get to make decisions.

This may be more recognizable as “You can swing a cat until it hits someone.” Your cat, your space, fine. If your cat hits someone in the face, not fine. Obviously, in a modern society, this isn’t something we can roll with carte blanche, but you get the point.

Why you don’t get to make threats on the internet

I’m a big believer in the right to free speech. Want to say something ridiculous? dumb? mean? racist? Go for it. You have the right to say just about whatever you want in public.

Normally.

Remember that you get to do whatever you want until it affects someone else. Threats to another inherently change the state of another person. The threat of bodily harm (or emotional, personal, or other) changes the ability of another person to make decisions. If you mean it or not, if you can carry it out or not, they must account for your reaction. Therefore, a threat is an impediment to them.

In this case, you have a negative right to censorship, but the other person’s negative right to bodily and personal safety takes priority.  This isn’t because your right to say what you want isn’t important. It’s because the violation of theirs is (1) more serious, and (2) has a wider implication for their rights overall. The violation of the right to bodily and personal safety is the cornerstone upon which all our other rights are founded. You cannot speak freely if you aren’t physically safe. You cannot practice religion if you are not physically safe. See where I’m going with this?

Hence, that person would justifiably call the police.

When we talk about the role of the State, there are very few commonly agreed upon duties that we assign it. Government is tricky and should be limited. One of the almost universally agreed upon roles we attribute to the government is the protection of property against legitimate threats to its injury. This includes one’s person. You own your body.

The internet can be tricky. It sure feels like a private interaction when you send a comment or a message to someone over the computer. After all, you may only intend for them to read it. Here’s the kicker: the internet isn’t actually private and it wouldn’t matter if it were.

The internet is actually a public forum. Legally, we treat comment and message boards as though you were shouting in the park. This makes sense because by and large our internet usage is widely visible. When it isn’t, your data and message is constantly accessible by a large group of people and companies: your internet provider, the website you use, the website’s hosts, your recipients’ internet provider, the website they’re using, the website’s host, etc.  Luckily, the same rules apply to the internet as if you were in a park. You can basically say whatever you want, with the understanding that, like in a park, you may be overheard even when it seems private.

Regardless, it wouldn’t matter even if a threat via the internet were privately sent. A threat to one’s person is still a threat. Even if you say you didn’t mean it. Even if it was just to scare them. Even if it was just out of rage. Any threat to one’s body, property, or dependents can legitimately be brought to the police. No matter who makes it or where it was said. The State’s involvement here is 100% legitimate.

Why you don’t get to call the police and make a false report

The police force is, at least in theory, a public good (note: I use public good here to mean public resource). Often, we think of the police as a way to keep people from breaking the law. Their role, however, is more fundamental.

The police force is a problematic presence at best. They must balance between protecting our fundamental rights (most notably property right) and enforcing the will of the State. If you’re suspicious of the police, you have good reason to be. The expansion of police duties necessarily comes at the expense of liberty.

So, how do you, oh suspicious one, keep the police force limited? You don’t invite them where they aren’t needed.

We tell our three-year-olds only to call 9-1-1 when there is an emergency. This is vital when we consider the police as a public good. The police has limited personnel. They cannot be everywhere at once and by calling them when you don’t need them, you limit the ability of the police to deal with real threats.

Moreover, when you call the police when they are not needed, you invite the expansion of the police force, further legislation, more government. If you are interested in limiting the size and scope of government — the amount of interference that the government can run in the individual’s life– you should not call in false threats. It’s the surest way to expand that which you want less of.

Why you don’t get to give out someone’s personal information to people

Private information. Private information. Private information.

We talked earlier about the difference between private and public. Remember?

There is a right to privacy. It protects your ability to make your own choices. You cannot be autonomous if you don’t have the right to keep other people from sticking their noses in your business.

So, when you go dig through the deep dark depths of the world to get someone’s personal information, like their real name, where they live, their cell phone number, you are violating their right to privacy (again a negative right).

When you do this, knowing that people are asking for that information, knowing that people will be using it for harmful and malicious purposes, you are culpable for the harm that results. You have violated a right, thus enabling harm. Don’t do it.

This is far from an exhaustive list of things that are happening. Regardless, I think if we respect one another’s rights, we cut a lot of the bad off at the head. Basically, just think WWHD? What would Heinlein do?

Links

WorldCon Statement on Lou Antonelli and David Gerrold: https://www.facebook.com/sasquan/posts/880154438687988
Pattern Matching: Lou Antonelli and the Sad Puppy Slate: http://www.pretty-terrible.com/2015/08/10/pattern-matching-lou-antonelli-and-the-sad-puppies/
File 770 on Antonelli’s apology: http://file770.com/?p=24262
Another File 770: http://file770.com/?p=24256
Editor Carrie Cuinn on the reaction to her pulling Antonelli’s work: http://carriecuinn.com/2015/08/10/a-statement-about-lou-antonelli-lakeside-circus-harassment-and-safety/

Let’s Talk: When I shop at Amazon

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So, this is an interesting topic. The world is all abuzz about Amazon, indie shops, and the death of the library. Of course, I have two cents.

I want to start out by being very clear: I love the library. I love my local indie books and comics shops. I also love Amazon.

Libraries

I worked at a library for four years as a tutor and instructor. I understand that libraries are vital to the system. They provide services to so many who truly need them. The truth is that computers and internet access are not universal. Calm environments aren’t universal. Educational aid isn’t universal. With the library those things can be. I don’t go to the library because I’m scared that it will cease to exist. Frankly, I’m less concerned about a book-filled building being shut down than I am about the community services that libraries play a vital role in providing no longer being available. I use my library for a bunch of different reasons. Not the least of those is that I don’t have the funds to constantly be buying every book I want to read, especially for series that have huge backlogs and that I may simply not enjoy.

As a side note, for those of you who are concerned about the library disappearing, go there. Library funding isn’t necessarily based on the number of books checked out. A big factor is in service use and foot traffic. You’re helping just by going in and sitting down in the library’s quiet environment. Stats track the number of people coming into the building. That in and of itself is vital.

My local indies

I try and make a point of going to my indies, both the books and comics stores. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly I just can’t imagine not having them. I can’t imagine a world where I have to resort to simple computer algorithms (however good they may be) for my book and comics recs. I love the feeling of walking into a bookstore and smelling the books, especially when the building is slightly cramped and crowded, filled to the brim with books. I love the people who frequent them. I can’t imagine not having those available.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to always shop there. I try and go on payday, but I can’t go constantly.

So, my rule of thumb: use Amazon or the library for testing out series, go to the indie to read the rest of it. By and large, my expenses on a single series are going to be high. If I love it, I’ll stick with it for a long time, even if the story drags or starts to sour. But, I try out a lot of series. This lets me (1) test out books at a lower cost, and (2) concentrate a lot of my consistent purchases on places I love to visit.

Books and comics I love and never would have read if it weren’t for my indies:

Amazon

This leads us to the beast. Amazon has a big role to play in the books industry. It has the capacity and presence to lap my indies like no one else. While I always will want my brick and mortar store, I shop at Amazon a lot.

Amazon is able to provide some super cheap prices. This is often seen as a big threat to bookstores. This is only sometimes true. Does the current ease of access make me occasionally less likely to buy in store? yes.

However,Amazon’s presence also allows a lot of my local indies, especially ones with a specialty market (for instance in classics or antiques) to supplement their own income. Amazon owns The Book Depository, AbeBooks, and a variety of  other marketplaces where they can list products that aren’t selling in store. My local shop has a lot of signed books. I’m not going to buy a signed Heinlein, but there’s a guy in Massachusetts who will. If the presence and utilization of Amazon and its subsidiaries allows them to sell specialty products and stay in business, I’m all for it.

On top of that, with the option to buy from vendors other than Amazon, I know that I can spread the love around. Is Amazon a great company? Maybe, maybe not.Yes there are some ethically questionable stuff, but they also (1) fulfill some of my needs as a consumer, and (2) feed into my book purchasing overall. In combination with my Rule of Thumb, I think it tends to actually lead me to purchase more in store.

Amazon also provides a service for people whose libraries or bookstores maybe far away. It takes over 5 hours to get to a bookstore that sells anything other than the top best sellers where my parents live and their library is very limited, with long waits and shipping times. Amazon there fills a very important role.

Anyways, just some thoughts. They’re not terribly elegant, but there you have it.

 

2015 Hugo Awards and the Sad Puppies Slate

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It’s hard to explain how I’m feeling about the Hugos this year. The Sad Puppies slate (read more here)  has undercut a lot of the discussion about the nominees in favor of talking about the nomination process itself. I do think a lot of that discussion is productive, but it’s disheartening that we can’t really talk about the works.

For those of you who are not familiar, the Hugo award nominees are chosen by fans (who have paid membership fees) is a large balloting process. Fans can nominate the works they think best exemplify SFF and the total nominations are tallied up, with the top six or so works being put on the ballot again, this time for the title of “Best [insert category here].”

The Sad Puppy slate has been present in the last three Hugo cycles. In an ideal world, the candidates in each category are chosen by each fan based on who they think did the best job. The Sad Puppy slate is a more politicized version of the process whereby a small group of people (largely associated with MRA groups and gamergate) advocated a pre-chosen list of works based, in part, on what they believe is most politically friendly to their viewpoints. The Sad Puppy Slate’s preferred works received a large portion of the nominations in this year’s Hugo cycle.

I’m going to talk about this in two portions because I think there are two different issues at hand: (1) the use of slates in the Hugo awards process, and (2) the actions and beliefs of the Sad Puppy group towards other fans and creators.

The use of slates in the Hugo Awards

It’s not against the Hugo voting rules to use slates.

It would be nearly impossible for the institution to identify slates, and the penalties for their use, considering that authors may or may not know they’ve been placed on a slate, would be hard to determine. Instead, the failsafe that the Hugos has in place for a large fan upset is a “No Award” option on every ballot.

What the problem with slates is, is the way that their use undercuts the ideals of the award.

The Hugos aim at a deliberative selection process, whereby voting acts as a simulated discussion (Granted real discussion happens, too). Each person tosses the best they can think of into the ring and voters then decide from among those which truly is the most deserving of an award intended to designate the work most meritorious and exemplary of the genre. The nearly four months between voting rounds allows the fans the opportunity to read the nominees they are unfamiliar with so that the truly best work can win.

Politicking has always gone on at the awards, to some degree or another. We’re not so naïve as to be unaware of that. Authors and publishing houses have always campaigned for works to be chosen. After all, the Hugos does provide a sales boost.

However, the dominance of a slate that advocates the blind nomination of works based on political ideology is fairly unprecedented.

Because the voting population for the Hugos is fairly small, approximately 2,000 voters for the most popular category and much fewer in less popular categories, it’s easy to skew the results of the nomination process. And, of course, when it’s derailed and by a large, but distinct minority of voters, the rest of the community is going to be upset.

Slates themselves are problematic. They reduce the number of potentially nominated works, undercut the deliberations that go into the nomination process, and potentially flood the awards with non-vetted works (read: works that have not actually been read). This means that the stories we are awarding may be extremely obscure, non-representative of the genre and its advances, or non-representative of the stories readers want to consume.

It should also be noted that slates are distinct from suggested nomination lists. Plenty of people put up lists of works they think work well in categories and suggest their readers, friends, fellow SFF lovers read the list when considering who to nominate. To me, this is a distinctly deliberative act. It allows for people to read and decide on their own without suggesting or advocating blind voting (to me the biggest problem with slates).  They are often include far more lists of works than the voter can nominate and act as a substitute longlist for readers. This is especially important for readers who want to sample and become more involved in categories like short fiction which have a much smaller readership.

The creation of a slate for political reasons is objectionable. What I will say here, is that the use of politics in this case is a limiting factor and detracts from the inclusive and representative goals we have for the Hugo. Again, they are within their rights to limit based on this factor, but I think that it suffers from a lack of consideration for new types of stories, and increasingly popular stories in the genre.

We all have limitations in our reading. Time, length, interest are all factors we have to balance. I think it is inkeeping with the spirit of the award, however, to push ourselves to read what we may otherwise ignore or not prioritize. As readers, we should always be pushing ourselves to empathize and expose ourselves to stories that are not familiar to us or that show a part of humanity we may not often see.

Sad Puppies as a group

There’s a lot to be said about the Sad Puppy group’s attitudes towards women, people of color, and the LGBT community. The Sad Puppy leaders have been willingly, and proud to be, associated with gamergate, a fiasco hallmarked by the sending of threats of rape, murder, and physical harm to those who disagree with them.

I’m really dismayed and saddened to see that type of hostility being introduced to our community.

So what do we do now?

I’m going to be reading all of the novel and short fiction nominees. I don’t want to penalize authors who may not have chosen the Sad Puppy slate as their champion. And, for all I know, some of the work they nominated may be genuinely good.

For those who are turned off by the Sad Puppy slate, particularly those who have the option to vote, I’d suggest using the “No Award” option.

On a more positive note, I think we can use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate what we look for in the Hugos, how we want to interact as a community, and where we’re going in the future (other than the stars).

Let’s Talk: Hugo Awards

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The Hugo Awards, as most of you know, are one of the biggest awards in science fiction literature. They incorporate the whole group of science fiction lovers. Awards range from the biggies like best novel to the more fan-oriented like best fanzine. Last night, the Hugos were announced for 2014.

I’m mostly just reacting here to the announcement that Anne Leckie won the best novel award for Ancillary Justice, her debut novel. You can check out my review by clicking here. 

Charles Stross, also a nominee for best novel, did win best novella. 

I don’t know how  surprised I’m supposed to be about this one. Leckie has won the Arthur C. Clarke, a BFSA, a Nebula, and a variety of other awards. It’s a good book. It talks about complex issues and approaches gender in a way that’s pretty new to scifi. 

The books’ sequel, Ancillary Sword is set to come out in October of this year and people are itching for that Amazon preorder button. It’s not up yet (I checked).

I’m a bit conflicted, though. Leckie’s book was outstanding and the novel was phenomenally written. You  would never know it was a debut. However, Wheel of Time (the series) by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson was up for the Hugo this year. It’s a classic series with thirteen installments and some of the most devoted fans you’ll ever see. I don’t know how fair it was that it wasn’t ever nominated before its completion, but it’s a work that certainly is deserving of a Hugo award, if not several that ought to have been distributed throughout its completion. 

On top of that, Mira Grant (i.e. Seanan McGuire) was nominated for the sixth time for a Hugo. She has yet to win, but her work is very deserving. 

The competition was stiff, but by the first round of voting, Ancillary Justice had twice the number of votes than its closest competitor. Leckie’s novel was great. I really enjoyed it. But with such competition, I also wonder if there wasn’t so much awards momentum behind it that it took the award with greater ease than it may have otherwise. Any thoughts? 

You can check out the full award winners list here: http://www.thehugoawards.org/2014/08/2014-hugo-award-winners/ 

The Thinking Chair: Different Storytelling Mediums

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I love storytelling. I think it’s one of the most fundamental human urges: to share experiences. It’s one of the ways we grow and learn. Though I will often be heard saying that books are my preferred storytelling form, I don’t often get the opportunity to say why or what I enjoy about the different storytelling mediums we have available to us.

One of the things I like best about books is that they are so similar in form and storytelling capability to verbal storytelling (This is also a big reason why I like audiobooks). Books offer the same verbal craftsmanship and omnipotence that oral storytelling does. The advantage of the written word comes in the ability to refine the story before the reader receives it.

In my opinion, books maintain much of the artfulness of oral storytelling while allowing the creator the ability to go more in-depth with their tale and the ability to revise and refine their work.

This is not to say that books are superior to other forms of storytelling.

I know it’s often popular or considered a sign of sophistication to advocate reading over modern visual storytelling forms like movies and television. Doing that, however, would undermine the growth and perpetuation of storytelling as a form and underestimate the value of visual mediums.

First off, we know that I love graphic novels and comics. They offer a compromise between the visual and the verbal that I find enjoyable and intriguing.

Movies and television offer, however, a sense of real-time experience that shouldn’t be sold short. They also allow the viewer an opportunity to create bonds and decide how they feel about a character without the potential for an all-seeing narrator to interrupt and tell them otherwise. Of course, stories and characters are still guided; their plots are fixed and the consumer only sees chosen actions. However, I think there is some value to not seeing inside a person’s head, even if it is one of the things I like most about books. Television in particular offers a fantastic sense of time, especially when shown in weekly episodes.

What do you like about storytelling? What forms are your favorite?

I won’t go into all of them. Of course, plays, music, art all offer their own advantages. Let me know what you prefer.

The Thinking Chair: Young Adult Fiction, RE: Slate

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Slate recently released an OpEd article about the young adult genre ( http://slate.me/1nmpVgH ). 

I’m not going to pretend to be a champion of young adult fiction. On a personal level, I find that young adult doesn’t do it for me, but I’ll talk about that later. 

The slate article claims: 

(1) Young adult is all about wish fulfillment. 

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.

Graham wants to argue that distinct endings are inherently bad. They don’t reflect reality, and, thus, ought to be rejected out of hand.

I’ll be honest. I’m a fan of messy endings. I do think they reflect reality, and I often want to see reality reflected in the literature I read. I do think that YA does this because, in large part, its proclaimed audience is younger (13-17 years old) and does not always seek out stories that don’t resolve themselves. The reasons behind this are vast and change with the reader. 

I’ll be honest. This is one of the reasons that I don’t find YA particularly satisfying. I like things unresolved (Granted I also enjoy the occasional lighter read that does resolve itself). 

However, should you be ashamed of reading YA because it has resolved endings?

Of course not. The truth is that people like resolved endings. Most books that we read are stand-alone. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a resolved ending. Resolution is one of those things that we want as humans. It’s why we pick at those unresolved problems in our lives even weeks or months after we claim to let them go. To ask for a resolved ending in a story that will, in fact, end in page numbers, if not always in plot, is not unreasonable. Nor does having a resolved ending make a story any less valuable in its plot, character development, or overarching cohesion. 

(2) The author writes that:

I want teenagers and ambitious pre-teens to have as many wonderful books to read as possible, including books about their own lives. But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. There’s a special reward in that feeling of stretching yourself beyond the YA mark, akin to the excitement of graduating out of the kiddie pool and the rest of the padded trappings of childhood: It’s the thrill of growing up. 

I’m not going to address this point in detail, but a person’s individual feelings (the desire to present one’s self as more adult than they are) doesn’t mean anything regarding what someone else’s feelings ought to be. 

So, should the teenage desire to be seen as an adult mean that you, an adult reader, should be ashamed of reading YA?

Of course not. Let’s ignore the total pretension of this claim (The author may as well be saying that they’ve always been sophisticated and why aren’t you) and instead talk about the more basic claims.

You shouldn’t ever feel like your voluntary entertainment needs to meet anyone else’s standards. Whether or not a kid wants to read literature above their typical age level is a good thing or not, as an adult, you should feel free to read whatever you want and you should feel confident that you know your entertainment desires more than anyone else. At the end of the day, you’re an adult. Whether you want to pick up a copy of a middle grade, YA, or adult fiction novel is not anyone else’s business and someone else’s opinion should change your desire to pick out what you think will keep you interested and entertained. 

(3) The author is concerned whether YA novels are “literary enough”

Literary fiction is not the only thing in the world. NOR SHOULD IT BE. To pretend that the young adult genre doesn’t offer anything in the way of complex topics or narrative sophistication is a total denial of the multitude of worthwhile reads that are in the genre. 

I’m not going to pretend that I find the YA genre to offer much in the way of literature in the classical sense. I often find it to be lacking in character development and topical considerations. I often find that the way topics are tackled lacks complexity that appeals to me more now that I am an adult. 

Does this mean you should feel ashamed to read YA?

Of course not. I don’t read all of my books in order to be a sophisticate. I read because reading is my preferred form of storytelling. Reading offers an insight into human nature that cannot be conveyed in visual media. Regardless of whether a novel meets up to an arbitrary standard of literature, this storytelling advantage is there. It should not be put down simply because the storytelling isn’t poetic enough or the topic not complex enough. 

True. I don’t always find fulfillment in young adult fiction. But, my opinions or anyone else’s shouldn’t change anyone else’s opinion. It’s hard to ignore people’s criticism, but as an adult, you should be working towards, if not already have achieved, a sense of confidence in your ability to determine what you like. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

 

BookCon 2014 and Critical Fans #WeNeedDiverseBooks

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I hope you all have a good time. Below are some videos and links that are really great on this topic.

RinceyReads on BookCon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ZGWUQeyJQ
BookRiot on BEA: http://bookriot.com/2014/04/23/readers-bookcon-diversity-book-expo-america/
Albinwonderland on being a critical fan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcHRR8z1MLM&list=UU3Ic1DIdHPuC_uY-Ky5rnIw