Schoolyard Logic: Sad Puppies and Hugos

Hugo AwardFor those of you that follow such things, this year’s Hugo award nominations have erupted into a kerfuffle of galactic proportions. You can get some of the details here, here, and here. Also some opinion (from both sides) here, here, here, and here.

Obviously, a lot has already been said on this subject. But it weighs on my mind a bit, so I thought I’d take my swipe at it.

According to the Sad Puppies campaign, they want to take back the Hugos from literary and message fiction put forward by mostly politically liberal writers. They want a return to old fashioned adventure fiction. So they put out a very public slate of recommendations for nominees and encouraged others to follow suit. Brad Torgersen, who lead the campaign this year, describes the problem thusly:

A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

The Puppies and their followers claim that this “message” fiction, fiction with themes that speak to social ills on our own world and in our own time, is inherently inferior to that of the plot-driven tales of derring-do that we all know and love. Which is why such books do so well on the bestseller lists and such movies and television shows do so well at the box office and in the ratings.

The Puppies also claim that the SJWs (“Social Justice Warriors”, whom they dub those of a decidedly politically liberal slant) have put forward whom they wanted to win for years. By putting out an actual public slate, they’ve merely done out in the open what their socio-political counterparts have done behind the scenes. To be honest, this smacks a bit of conspiracy thinking to me. If it’s true, then there is a secret cabal of liberals that actually run all of the independently-operated Worldcon conventions and influence the votes of the memberships. Or, even more unlikely these liberal SJW authors that write unsuccessful, inferior fiction send out their hordes of followers (which they have despite their lack of success?) to vote their personal slates of fellow liberal SJW authors to keep the rolls pure. It doesn’t make much sense. If there is a secret cabal, then it must be very mobile in order to influence a series of independent conventions and memberships. The logistics must be staggering. It’s more likely that the SJW authors are actually successful authors because the Worldcom fandom wants to read their stuff. Occam’s razor and all that.

I have to say, as a librarian and a blogger who tries to follow trends, the winds are changing. Its not a secret cabal, but a shift in the demographics that we are seeing. The world is changing and I think that many that follow the Sad Puppies way of thinking simply don’t like they way the wind is blowing.

But the reaction strikes me as a form of schoolyard logic. “They’ve done it for years, so we’re going to do it, but better!” Like I said, I don’t think it’s being done in the first place. But even if it were, is it really taking a high road to take this tack (to mix my transportation metaphors)? If its wrong for one side to do it, then its wrong for either side to do it. If your grievance is that the Hugos are supposedly broken because of some supposed bias on the part of the process, then fix the process, don’t game the system.

But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t that there’s a problem with the process. It’s a problem with the results. The world is changing. People’s tastes are changing. People still want to explore strange new worlds, but they also want to be made to think about the world they live in. There’s nothing wrong with that. Believe it or not, SciFi and fantasy have always done that. Heinlein himself did it a time or two. So did Roddenberry. But I suspect that the problem isn’t as much with the works themselves but between the writers that produced them–and that is what is truly sad about this kerfuffle.

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Review: Hawk by Steven Brust

Hawk by Steven BrHawkust (9780765324443): Tor (2014)

It’s been years since Vlad Taltos has been back to the Imperial city of Adrilankha. He’s been on the run from the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House of the criminal underworld, who he made extremely unhappy. He’s not been able to see his friends, his son, or his ex-wife, Cawti, in all this time. He’s also had to wear a Phoenix Stone to shield himself from sorcerous scrying, cutting himself off from magic. But Vlad’s tired of running. And now he’s a got a plan to get back in the Jhereg’s good graces (hopefully). It all hinges on the collection of certain objects, the study of obscure trade laws, a bit of witchcraft and sorcery, the help of his old friends, and learning to think like a hawk. And staying alive long enough to make it all happen.

Hawk marks the triumphant return of Vlad Taltos to Adrilankha and, in some ways, a return of the series to some of its old form. Back is the iconic (and ironic) assassin, wisecracking his way through the city with his familiar, Loiosh, on his shoulder, dodging danger at every turn and staying two steps ahead of his enemies (most of the time). It was good to see Vlad back on his home turf and getting some of his own back from the Jhereg. It’s been far too long. It was also good to see his friends again, especially Kragar. And smoggy Adrilankha, a character unto itself. The novel is a homecoming and doesn’t disappoint.

What also doesn’t disappoint is Brust’s writing. The dialog is witty (as per usual) and the prose is clever and quick. There is never a dull moment in the book–and this is a novel in which much of the book is spent with Vlad walking up one side of the city and down the other. Quite the accomplishment.

All in all, an enjoyable return to a remarkable series.

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Published! “Thirty Nine” Appearing in Stupefying Stories!

Stupefying Stories March 2015My second published short story (entitled “Thirty Nine”) now appears in the March edition of Stupefying Stories. You can pick up your copy for Kindle at Amazon here.

“Thirty Nine” is the story of a failed inventor who finds that perhaps he’s discovered a bit more than he’s bargained for in his latest failure.

Don’t forget, there are also some other stupefying stories in this issue you’ll want to check out as well. So pick up your copy of Stupefying Stories!

ADDENDUM: You can get the print version of the book from Amazon here and from CreateSpace here.

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Review: Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes (9781616142421): 2010 (Pyr)

Adventurer.

For me, the term has always had a romantic connotation. Swashbuckler. Explorer. Hero. But in Sam Sykes’ exciting and rambunctious series, the word is synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, and associated only with those who would take on the vilest of jobs. They are a step below even mercenaries and sell-swords. Adventurers are scum of the earth–and the protagonists of Sykes’ book are hard-pressed to prove their reputations as otherwise.

There’s Lenk, their leader, a talented swordsman who hears a deadly voice in his head spurring him on to kill. Then there’s Kataria, a barbaric schict who farts in her sleep (and doesn’t smell very good otherwise) who adventures in order to kill as many humans as she can. The rogue, Denaos, is everything the reputation of the adventurer encompasses–cowardly, murderous, and drunkenly carousing. Gariath, the haughty dragonman, is enigmatic and violent, as prone to injure himself as the humans in his path. Asper, the cursed priestess, tries to do good but finds her faith in humanity waning as she follows her companions into danger time and time again. Finally, there’s Dreadaeleon the wizard, who follows knowledge for its own sake and whose magic can prove dangerous to both his target and to innocent bystanders.

This ragtag group are all on a quest to find the Aeons’ Gate for their patron, a priest by the name of Miron Evenhands. But while onboard a ship bound for their next destination, they are attacked by pirates who target Evenhands–or, more precisely, a tome in his possession. When the tome is ultimately taken by a demon allied with the pirates, the adventurers agree to chase it–and the demon–down. Of course, the fate of the world hangs in the balance–as well as a thousand pieces of gold.

Imagine if Joe Abercrombie wrote RPG fiction and you’ll get a feel for this novel. Deeply gritty with a sense of the absurd and a through-line of humor, the prose is highly enjoyable. The characters are somehow likeable, despite their many flaws. These are definitely not characters you want to be or to be around, yet you continue to want to read about them. It’s clear that the author is having a great deal of fun with his story and that comes through in the reading. It’s contagious.

The plot is a pretty straightforward adventure story. The events of the novel are set up by a long sea battle that takes up a good third of the book. Still, there are monsters, sirens, a strange warrior race, demons, all manner of good stuff in here. It is definitely not light on the action.

All in all, Tome was an excellent opening for a series that I want to read. I’ll be looking for the next book in the series, Black Halo. Highly recommended.

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Top Distractions of 2014

Well, it’s a new year here at the Serial Distractions Beard Straightening and Yak-Poking Emporium ™ and that means we look back at what we did with an eye to what we can do in the future.

Top Posts

Of the 5 most viewed posts for 2014, only the fifth was actually written in 2014. The rest were written in previous years. WordPress assures me this means my writing has staying power. I think this means I need to be writing more relevant posts. The most viewed post was Moon Over Wisconsin: Science Fiction and Big Ideas a piece I wrote back in 2010.

Views and Visitors

My blog was viewed 2197 times in 2014. Not too shabby for my little darkened corner of the internet. This is up from 1540 in 2013. We had 1033 visitors in 2013 as opposed to a whopping 1595 in 2014. This still isn’t as good as in previous years, but we seem to be picking up from the slump that was 2013.

Top Distraction

Content-wise, I didn’t write very many reviews this year. That is definitely something I need to fix in 2015. That being said, my stand-out, Top Distraction of 2015 is easy to pick this year:

Cold in July by Joe R. Lansdale

This book has everything I love by one of my favorite authors.

I hope your 2015 is going well so far and look forward to spending it with you with some great books this year.

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