Ann Leckie

Woof.

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I haven’t been overly concerned with the Sad Puppies this year. I’ve talked about this before, but the general level of vehemence and craze among the more moderate puppy group had seemed to die down a lot with the turn of a new Hugos cycle.

 

A few tweets went up regarding the Puppies list. I more or less ignored it. Lists happen, particularly with awards. It was a few days later that I noticed what was actually happening.

The Sad Puppies list was up.

Twitter basically exploded, albeit quietly compared to last time.

The Sad Puppies list this year is considerably different from their past years’ lists, including in some cases more recommendations that nominating slots on a ballot. Note that though the original intent claim was to post ten works per category this didn’t happen, with more or less believability depending on category. It includes the usual suspects (Jeffro Johnson, the expected over-representation of Baen and Castillia House), but also includes Okorafor, Leckie, and Scalzi. If the Scalzi thing doesn’t raise your eyebrows, you haven’t been paying attention.

In truth, the Sad Puppies list includes some authors really worthy of awards and beloved genre-wide.

Unsurprisingly, authors have been requesting removal and posting objections to association with the Puppy Slate, including Alastair Reynolds, Cat Valente, and Peter Newman.

Should the authors have been asked if they would like to be included?

This  is an interesting question. Normally, I would say no.

But, the Sad Puppies aren’t just any old blog. Affiliated with the Rabid Puppies, Vox Day, and GamerGate, and the epicenter of last year’s fiasco, I think they should have.

The Puppies’ lists and base are rooted in controversy. They know that. Last year’s slate led to withdrawal of nominees from the Hugo Awards ballot for the first time in decades. The desire to avoid affiliation with the Puppies runs strong and not without reason. While the Sad Puppies calmed their rhetoric a bit, it’s clear that the self-positioning as interlopers to SFF being kept out by “SJW” cliques is being maintained.

Frankly, a good faith effort should have been made to contact every author listed on the SP recommendation list, regardless of past affiliation, leanings, or talk. There’s too much controversy for that not to be a minimum consideration.

What was the response to those who asked to be removed?

Generally sarcasm and overreaction.

I understand that the admins are frustrated. I understand that there was some genuine effort to back off the rhetoric and open up the Puppies to more varied selection. And, some of the anti-Puppy folks can compete with Vox Day for vitriolic anger. But, you don’t become the Puppy ringleader without knowing that people don’t like what you’re doing or who you’re affiliated with.

So, let’s not pretend that people requesting to be removed from the list are the “special snowflakes” and “delusional” types that Sarah Hoyt has called them on her blog. Hoyt is one of the Sad Puppy 4 coordinators\admins. She’s compared anti-Puppy folks to the Third Reich.

The objectors have been noted with asterisk (leading to some laughter about revenge for the asterisk awards at the previous ceremony)

Frankly, she would have been MUCH better served by putting an editors note that there’s a list of people who have been removed, posting the raw data from the forums, and then highlighting those who have been removed on the raw data file.

Let’s have a quick caveat

I do think she has made a good, significantly more insightful point that people are giving her credit for. It’s hard to get past the anger and resentment in her post-reaction blog to see it, but she makes it clear: who’s really keeping women and minorities out of SFF? Publishers.

It’s true. If everyone who spent the energy to tweet Sarah, Vox, or the other vehement sector of the Puppies on Twitter had spent the time to tweet Harper Collins, St. Martin’s Press, or Simon and Schuster about the lack of diversity in SFF, we may eventually see a more substantive change in the genre.

By and large, the puppy ship is sinking. Maybe it’s time to focus on the people who control the genre more directly.

 

Post-Script Note: I’m not discussing the Rabid Puppy slate today. Mostly because it lacks a sense of taste and appropriateness.

Additional Note: The original post pointed to Nnedi Okorafor for having tweeted about the list. I was in error. My sincerest apologies.

 

 

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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).

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the sys Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the system governor is housed, Lieutenant Sievarden and a new “baby Lieutenant” Tiarwat in tow. There, she is dismayed to find that the system in inherently corrupt, an entire population of people live in squalor, and the politics of the system have prevented any change, infact they have encouraged active resistance to it despite Breq’s new rank of Fleet Commander.

Maybe its my own adjustment to the gender pronouns (gender and sex are not so much the confusing aspect of Leckie’s gender dynamic, rather the singular feminine pronoun is standard Radchaii and the switch, often frequent and unnoted, in pronoun use in other AJ languages) or the less prominent gender dynamics and sexuality of the supporting characters, but the use of “she” as a universal pronoun was much less confusing and much less preoccupying in the second novel.

The plot in this book is linear rather than multi-temporal. In that regard, the plot is streamlined. Leckie isn’t building two detailed plot lines while worldbuilding, so things were less busy and there was more attention to plot development and character maintenance and development. I thought that Sievarden was a more likeable character, Breq grew into her new one-ancillary state more, and Tiarwat was a pleasant addition to the cast. Not to mention that Dlique, a side character who shows up for about 20 pages, provided just enough humor to balance out some of the more maudlin aspects.

Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

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Wow. For such a short book, there is a lot going on in this. I’ve been wanting to read Ancillary Justice for a while now, and, when I saw it a few weeks ago, I couldn’t really resist. I know I’m weak. But I’m not disappointed.

Ancillary Justice follows an AI system called the Justice of Toren. The Justice of Toren has been assigned to an annexation, and, while on planet, Justice of Toren and its human lieutenant, Lt. Awn, uncover a conspiracy that could only have occurred with the sanction of a high official–the Lord of Radch, ruler of the Empire. They do their best to divert the oncoming disaster, but are sent back to their ship. Shortly after they arrive, the ship explodes. Everyone is dead except a single ancillary unit of the Justice of Toren who goes into hiding under the name Breq. Breq then seeks the destruction of the AI that destroyed her units and the humans who lived aboard the ship.

The highlight of this book is not the writing style. Though Leckie’s writing is good, there’s nothing terribly outstanding about it. The real high points in the book are the ways that Leckie portrays heavy issues like identity and moral ambiguity.

The first thing that struck me was Leckie’s use of gender. The Radch, the conquering ethnic group, don’t use gender in their language. The Radch are a more androgynous culture. Leckie shows this by using she as the pronoun for all characters during narration. This was very confusing. The only time that we find out characters’ genders was when Breq spoke to people whose languages use gender. In the same paragraph, a character may be referred to as both he and she.

Leckie uses AI as an opportunity to talk about both identity and morality. Both discussions are interesting.

Ancillaries are humans who have been hooked up to an AI unit, often forcibly and for reasons that are often self-serving on behalf of the Rachaai. They become part of the AI and lose their independent identity. Leckie is constantly questioning what this means for the identity of the AI and for the identity of the ancillary. Can an AI be more than the sum of its parts, and, if isolated from the composite AI unit, what is the identity of an ancillary.

She also sticks her world in a very interesting predicament. The Radch use ancillaries as a way to avoid the corruption and cruelties that often accompany humans in war. However, the very existence of ancillaries–humans forced into acting as human tools of AI units–is atrocious. The efficiency likely doesn’t outweigh the cruelty of their creation, but does the avoidance of corruption and abuse justify the end?

Overall, there was a lot to think about. I suspect I’ll be thinking about Ancillary Justice for quite some time.

Rating: 4