It’s been a long week, made longer by world events.
Needless to say, I turned to my books to keep me company while I’ve been riding out the storm. Books don’t want to talk about the merits of Trump v. Clinton, at least, not in explicit terms.
Yet, a different kind of electoral strife hits the bookternet at the end of the year: awards season.
The past three or four years in particular have had a lot of upheaval in the bookish world. In particular, the Sad Puppies’ impact on science fiction fandom has been controversial. But, all of the upset, the fighting over popular opinion versus panel awards, the debates over cannon, and the push for more diversity in publishing have left us wanting more and talking more. To me this has always been the upside of these “culture wars.”
That being said, it’s easy to be disappointed.
I woke up this morning to a flurry of messages. The Goodreads Choice Award finalists have been announced. After the initial shock of “Wow. This is a lot of stuff I haven’t read” and the following “These are not the best in XYZ category,” I think it’s worth while to revisit the idea of awards and their merit.
The Goodreads Choice Awards get the same general complaint every year: the books are too populist and not representative of the really great works in their genres or categories.
I’m inclined to feel the same way. Because of the open-forum nature of the Goodreads Awards and the ways that the awards nominees are selected, they wind up being much more of a “what was the best airport read of the year?” kind of award.
There’s a time and place for this, but it falls into all of the weaknesses of the publishing industry. Underrepresentation; promoting lighter reads over those that make you think; difficulty in getting recognition for works that are truly fantastic, but don’t get the same marketing budget.
I don’t know that there’s a way around this unless Goodreads users really start using the write in.
Bright Point! Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution was a write-in and has made it to the final round!
On the Brightside, there are hundreds of other awards that strive to be inclusive and promote more obscure or substantive works. It’s why we have genre awards. So, bummer, but we can all take this for what it is: an algorithm meant to promote increased amazon purchasing.
I’ll wait for the Booktubesff Awards instead.
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.
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?
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/
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).
Parasite by Mira Grant (read: Seanan McGuire) is up this year for the Hugo Awards (Get it here). It’s McGuire’s sixth Hugo nomination, and, I’m just going to say that if she doesn’t get it, I’ll be pretty disappointed (though Wheel of Time is a brute force in this game and Ancillary Justice has been winning all of the awards).
There’s a lot going on in Parasite. So, let’s set the stage.
About forty years from now, the world’s medicinal care is largely taken care of by “Intestinal Bodyguards,” tapeworms that secrete medicine ranging from high blood pressure medication to birth control. They’ve been credited with eradicating most illnesses and allergies. SymboGen, the Intestinal Bodyguard creators, are a huge force, ruling over the market and the health care field.
Their golden girl is Sal. After spending years in a coma, her family was going to pull the plug; everyone told them she would never wake up. But, when they take her off life support, Sal wakes up. Her Intestinal Bodyguard had saved her. Granted, she has no memory of her former life, but she’s alive, and by all accounts much nicer. She’s got a job working with animals and a nice doctor boyfriend. The only problem in her life now is that SymboGen is constantly monitoring her.
Then everything goes crazy. People, seemingly at random, start sleepwalking. They’ll be going about their daily business and then all of a sudden, no one’s home. The sleepwalking sickness doesn’t seem to have any pattern, source, or cure. What’s worse, it’s victims are starting to become violent. And, they want Sal.
The characters in this novel are well written. Though the dialogue sometimes gets a little too aware and pushes the wittiness, the characters have clear and relate-able motives and they felt very real. Though some aspects were, at times, a bit over-emphasized, you knew it was intentional and McGuire made sure to balance the characters overall.
The plot was believable and extremely well researched. It wasn’t ever overly suspenseful, but it maintained a steadily increasing sense of wrong-ness about the sleeping sickness and SymboGen. It left off on a cliff hanger after multiple plot twists. (The big one I saw coming.) I’m glad it’s only a few months to wait for the follow-up novel, Symbiont.
4.5 out of 5, easily.