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.
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.
So, it’s not a secret that I’m a Nnedi Okorafor fan. I like her blend of fantasy, social commentary and emotional honesty. Binti boasts all of these traits. In her newest novella, a 97 pager unless my kindle lies to me, Okorafor tells the story of a young girl who leaves her village and people to go study mathematics among the stars. This is Okorafor’s first “Outer Space” story and I was ridiculously excited to read it. As in, staying up until midnight when it was downloaded on kindle and proceeding to read until two a.m. excited.
Binti, is from a small cloistered village. Though her people are extremely talented mathematically they are isolated from the general population. Binti has never left her village. When she’s offered a spot off-world at one of the most prestigious universities, Binti decides to go against her family’s wishes and leave to pursue her education. But, going away from home is more dangerous than Binti had imagined and she’ll have to use her skills as a harmonizer to survive.
Binti’s abilities in mathematics are really cool. She does what’s called treeing, finding the patterns in mathematics in a trance-like state. She also is able to tap into some really cool technology.
Okorafor often talks about the way that we see other groups, especially those whose habits and appearance are clearly different than our own. One of the things I really liked about this is that Okorafor (1) doesn’t pretend that being among aliens will somehow magically turn the world post-racial, and (2) the treatment Binti receives from the dominant human group is problematic, but extremely subtle. Things like people touching Binti’s hair without asking or even knowing her create a subtle, but impactful sense of the culture.
The story has a great sense of excitement, without being overly action-packed. Binti’s ship is boarded and while it is, at first, quite dramatic and violent, a lot of time is spent talking about the consequences of a violent boarding. In that way, I think it satisfies a lot of both the action and emotional factors I like in a story.
There are some plot holes– communication between the aliens and the humans is supposed to be a fairly rare thing (only two people can communicate between the species), but there’s a treaty in place. Some of the story points could use some more development, particularly after Binti’s ship lands at University. Similarly, I could have handled more character development. Mostly those weaknesses come down to me wanting to see more of the world.
The story is well done overall. I think this length was a bonus for Okorafor. She writes a lot of her short fiction and then expands on those stories to create her novels. I think this was a happy medium for her writing style. It was enjoyable, despite me thinking that some of the story points needed more development.
*Note: After posting this review, I did receive a copy of Binti for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
If you didn’t know, I’m basically in love with Nnedi Okorafor. I want her to tuck me in and tell me stories at night and to be my best friend. You should probably know that before continuing on.
Akata Witch, while featuring Okorafor’s fantastic creativity and wit, is not an adult book. It aims well at the 12-14 range.
The story follows Sunny, a twelve year old living in Nigeria after having spent her first nine years in America. Sunny is often left alone or made fun of because she has albinism, a condition in which the skin lacks melanin, thus appearing white. This has set her apart from her classmates who call her akata, a derogatory word for people from the bush or to mark someone as an outsider unworthy or untrustable.
Sunny’s family is very normal. Highly educated, they spend much of their time teaching their children to behave and ensuring that they’re educated. They are more severe with Sunny who is the only daughter.
But, Sunny is different. Aside from her skin, her friends reveal that she is a Leopard Person, someone with magical powers and the ability to go between the regular and the magical world. Sunny then has to learn what this means, how to be a Leopard Person when the rest of her family was normal, and who she really is. All the while, a serial killer is on the loose.
There’s a lot that this book has to offer. From complex, but approachable and genuine characters to an entertaining and detailed plot, I really thought Okorafor knocked this one out of the park.
I know I like it, but the question is, will a younger reader (the intended audience) like it? I think the answer is yes. Okorafor creates a world that young readers will identify with: a kid who is fairly normal, if on the outside, who is thrust into an adventure that will change the world. Okorafor delves into west African and Nigerian folk-lore without assuming a great amount of knowledge or over explaining. She provides just the right amount of context for a reader, in particular a young reader, without leaving them feeling talked down to. I cannot speak of this highly enough. It leaves you with a sense of understanding and discovery.
What’s great about Akata Witch is that it also offers a wide cast of characters and problems. Okorafor’s story features characters whose lives are different. They have distinct problems, dyslexia, albinism, an estranged family, narcissism. They are different genders and races. They succeed, but not without their own insecurities and challenges to test them. But all of the characters feel complete and their interactions and personalities grow with the story.
Basically, this was a good read. It has it’s cheezy moments, but is a fun adventure with a lot to offer.