Blogging the New CD: T is for Ten Thousand

This is the penultimate post in a series about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

When I write filk songs, I sometimes mash together in one song different science fiction or fantasy stories, movies, or ideas. In “Ten Thousand Years Ago”, which is actually the first song on my new CD, I included references to Highlander, the first movie of that franchise; some key elements of Doctor Who; vampire stories in general, with allusions to one recent series in particular; and the first Harry Potter book, all in an attempt to create a funny song.

If I had been born 10 thousand years ago
At the dawn of civilization, one thing that I know
Is that if I had been born 10 thousand years ago …
I’d be dead by now

Unless, that is, I was immortal
Like that fellow in that movie where there could “be only one”
But I’m not a very good swordsman, so if I met the Spaniard or the Kurgan
I’m pretty sure I would be done

“Ten Thousand Years Ago”

Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Highlander
“If I met the Spaniard … I’m pretty sure I would be done.” (Image: “Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Highlander,” by Ingrid Richter, on Flickr under Creative Commons even though she probably didn’t have permission to reproduce the image either.)

When I first wrote this song, it consisted of just the chorus (and the time period was only 1000 years) — in other words, it started out as a simple joke, kind of a sung one-liner. Then I added the verse about Highlander, and decided to try to expand the song with other immortality or longevity references. The second verse I came up with, though, was about zombies; it seemed to work well enough when I sang the song at conventions, but when the time came to record the final vocals I decided I didn’t like that verse anymore. So the morning before I was going to record, I wrote a new second verse about Doctor Who. I like that verse, so I think the final recorded track turned out much better than that intermediate version.

But only you can decide if it’s truly funny. I hope “Ten Thousand Years Ago” gives you a chuckle!

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Blogging the New CD: P is for Parties

Ninth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

The last event at many (most? all?) science fiction and fantasy conventions, after the dealers have packed up, the closing ceremonies have been adjourned, and most of the fans and guests have departed, is the “dead dog party.” That also happens to be the title of the last song on my new album:

The convention is almost over, it’ll soon be time to go home
Back to the mundane workaday world, where I sometimes feel so alone
When I make some remark about STAR TREK, or steampunk or robots or clones

“Dead Dog Party”

You may not be a convention-goer; I wasn’t, until fairly recently. I’ve been a science fiction and fantasy fan for most of my life, but I grew up “far from the madding crowd” and far from any conventions, and indeed did not start attending conventions regularly until I’d settled down after retiring from the Air Force. And because I came to fandom late, many times I’ve walked around a convention — especially a big convention like DragonCon — in wide-eyed wonder and with a degree of nervous trepidation, not unlike Gollum as seen here:

Gollum hanging out amongst party goers
(“Gollum Hanging Out Amongst Party Goers,” by Ariane M, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

That said, for the most part I’ve been very pleased with how accepting and accommodating people in the SF&F community have been. Sure, at WorldCon in London in 2014 I felt a little out of place — even in the filk room, where the regulars pride themselves on being open and friendly — and this year’s awards controversy brought out the worst in a great many people and led to a lot of people being uncomfortable at a lot of conventions, but in general my fellow fans have welcomed me, made me feel at home, and become my friends.

Which is why I hope many (most? all?) fans can relate to the chorus:

All my friends in fandom understand the things that I like
No matter what I am into, they don’t think I’m out of my mind
So when I’m driving away, you might hear me say
That I can hardly wait ’til next time

“Dead Dog Party”

In many respects, then, this song is a tribute to fandom itself: fandom as it is, and maybe fandom as it should be. So regardless of whether you think of yourself as “fan” or “fen” or just “casual consumer,” and whether you’ve ever attended a convention or not, if you like science fiction and fantasy at all I hope “Dead Dog Party” resonates with you in some small way.

And if it does, I hope you’ll let me know.

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Next Weekend: Dragon Con! Here’s My Concert & Event Schedule

It’s almost Labor Day weekend, and that means I’ll be heading to Atlanta for another Dragon Con! I look forward to a nice, quiet, relaxing time … with about 60 or 70 thousand of my closest friends!

Actually, since Dragon Con is (so far as I know) the largest general science fiction and fantasy convention in the Southeast, I’m sure it will be its typical exciting, exhausting but ultimately rewarding time. I’m particularly grateful to my friend Alethea Kontis and the folks on the Dragon Con Filk Track who have invited me to perform at various times through the weekend.

Here’s how the convention is shaping up for me:

Friday:

  • 2:30 p.m. — Meet, Greet, Filk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 5:30 p.m. — Filk & Cookies — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 7:00 p.m. — Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow with Alethea Kontis, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lisa Mantchev, Delilah S. Dawson, Zac Brewer, and David B. Coe (D.B. Jackson) — A707, Marriott
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

On Saturday, I should get to be a “fan” for part of the time — go to concerts or panels or the Art Show — and maybe even watch some football when I’m not in the Dealer’s Room (where our Baen Books authors will be signing at the Missing Volume bookstore); and if possible I’ll make an appearance at:

  • 2:30 p.m. — InstaFilk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

Sunday is my busiest day:

  • 1:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol! — art, previews, and free books! — Regency Ballroom V, Hyatt
  • 4:00 p.m. — Solo Concert! — Baker Room, Hyatt
  • 5:30 p.m. — Match Game, a fannish version of the TV game show, with Van Allen Plexico, Melinda M. Snodgrass, and Teresa Patterson — Embassy Ballroom A-B, Hyatt
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

That’s right: as soon as the Baen Road Show is over, I’ll be giving a concert featuring music from my new CD, Distorted Vision, as well as favorites from Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — and more! I plan to have CDs with me wherever I go, as well as “Anti-Candidate,” “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers, so flag me down if you want one!

If you’re going, I hope we’ll get a chance to chat. If you’re not going, or if we simply don’t find each other, you can always sign up for my newsletter to get the latest info on my different projects.

Have fun storming the convention!

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Next Weekend: ConGregate 2, ‘Scoundrels and Rogues’

If you’re in the vicinity of High Point, North Carolina, next weekend, come out and see me and many of my science fiction and fantasy friends!


(The ConGregate mascot, Greg-8.)

ConGregate will run July 10-2, and features Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole as Writer Guests of Honor. I’m very pleased that the convention is allowing me to return as a guest, and I’m going to be plenty busy!

On Friday, I’ll barely have time to breathe:

  • 4:00 p.m. — Signing — come by and snag a CD or a copy of my story!
  • 5:30 p.m. — Reading — audience choice of what I’ll read, plus I always sing at least one song
  • 6:30 p.m. — Workshop, “Beyond the First Draft” — 2 hours of intensive editorial discussion
  • 8:30 p.m. — “HollyWeird Squares” — fun and games, and hopefully a few laughs!

On Saturday, I’ve got several more events:

  • 10:00 a.m. — Signing — come by again, even if just to say hello!
  • 11:00 a.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show — art, previews, and free books!
  • 2:00 p.m. — “Filk and Cookies” — featuring songs for children (believe it or not)
  • 9:00 p.m. — Panel, “Ask an Editor” — and maybe an editor will answer
  • 10:00 p.m. — Open Filk — all welcome to play, sing, or just listen!

And Sunday I get to rest:

  • 12:00 p.m. — Panel, “Engineering by Government Bureaucracy” — your tax dollars at work (so to speak)

If you’re going, I hope you’ll stop by and chat. If I’ve already told you about my new CD, Distorted Vision, coming out later this summer, I’ll be happy to tell you more! You can snag a copy of my InterGalactic Medicine Show story, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium,” or my first album, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, or even “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers — and, of course, you can also sign up for my newsletter to get the latest info on my different projects.

And whatever you do, have fun doing it!

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Halfway to the Hugos

For the most part, I’ve stayed out of the near-constant sniping that has characterized the run-up to this year’s Hugo Awards. (I’ve even tried to ignore it, but to no avail.) I’m caught up in it by virtue of my nominated story first being included on the “Sad Puppies” recommendation list, and if you don’t know what that is then I hope you consider yourself lucky.

After posting a few items in the early days of the controversy, I retreated to the fringe of the issue rather than stomping around in the middle of it — except when convention planners (cough, cough … ConCarolinas) put me on panels designed to dredge up the matter. Thankfully, those have come off with courtesy and even respect, two qualities I have missed in much of the debate.

But since we’re at the halfway point between the Hugo nominations announcement and the Hugo Awards ceremony itself, it seems like a decent time to add a few new observations and thoughts.

Note that I do not intend to try to change anyone’s mind. I get the impression that this feud is so rancorous because both sides genuinely love and appreciate genre fiction — science fiction and fantasy in all their various forms — and I consider it a shame that different viewpoints on it have devolved into such deep divisions. I only want to make, for the record, a few hopefully coherent remarks.

To aid the casual reader, here’s what I plan to cover in this overly-long post:
– My disappointment, but also my ambivalence, at the way things have been characterized
– The metaphor I’ve most recently developed to describe the situation I’m in
– Some Scripture verses I am trying to hold on to as this process unfolds
– My regret at being unable to attend the upcoming ceremony
Forewarned is forearmed. Now, knowing what’s coming, if you don’t want to read the rest that’s perfectly fine.

Hugo Award Logo

(This is what the fuss is all about.)

Unfortunate Characterizations. Some of the criticism that has arisen in the aftermath of the Hugo Award nominations has reflected disappointment at the way the nominations unfolded; that’s not too surprising, as reviewers and other commentators are only human. But some of the criticism has extended beyond the work, to include ad hominem attacks that only stoke the fires of righteous indignation.

People familiar with the controversy likely don’t need to be reminded of the kinds of things that have been said on both sides of this divide. In the same way that civil wars and other internecine strife are often the harshest of conflicts, the acrimony has been thick and the poison pens have yet to run out of ink.

Suffice it to say that various people, in various places, have characterized the “Sad Puppies” ringleaders and their “Rabid Puppies” counterparts — as well as those of us whose works were nominated — in … uncharitable terms. Words like racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and even neo-Nazi have been bandied about. Likewise, strong and often unduly harsh language has been used against those on the “anti-puppy” side, i.e., toward those on the side of the Hugo Award traditions and WorldCon fandom. Both of these are unfortunate, and I hope I have not contributed to the incivility. (That may be the primary virtue of being relatively unknown, and deliberately quiet.)

I find the practices of name-calling, threatening (even if only implied), and heaping scorn and vulgarity on one another to be extremely disappointing. I will leave it to those who feel hurt in the exchanges to address any accusations that have been made against them, as I do not intend to engage in any comparative analysis of who said what, when, to whom, about whom, and whether one slur or accusation was worse than another.

I will, however, say this: I find myself somewhat ambivalent about the possibility that people I do not know might characterize me in unfriendly terms, whether directly or through guilt-by-association. The fact is that most of the commentators do not know me, personally or even by reputation, and their reports can hardly be taken as reliable. I admit that I am somewhat concerned that other people, potential fans or potential friends who read such things, could come away with a false impression; however, I am confident that those who know me, who have interacted with me on a personal basis, will not be fooled into believing falsehoods about me.

I believe in the right of every person — particularly every U.S. citizen, since the right is enshrined in our Constitution, but really every living soul on the planet — to free speech. I believe that right, like all rights, carries with it certain responsibilities, and that when those responsibilities are abandoned the right can be curtailed. I believe we should exercise that right with care and compassion, and that where we fail to do so we may expect consequences and even repercussions.

And in that belief, I say: If I have been uncharitable in how I have characterized anyone on either side of this issue, or if in some other way I have failed to exercise my First Amendment rights responsibly, I apologize to anyone I may have hurt.

My Hugo Experience, in Metaphor. I’ve shared this a few times in one-on-one conversations, and once in a convention panel, but I may as well put it out here as long as I’m up on my virtual soapbox. Like members of Congress, I’ve revised and expanded my original remarks.

My new metaphor is …

Back in January, I was offered a “Sad Puppies” seat — economy class and “bring your own lunch” all the way — on a Hugo Awards flight. During a layover, some folks with “Rabid Puppies” seats embarked, and some of our SP tickets were stamped with RP as well.

When the plane landed in Nomination City, some of us were surprised, because we expected to land in Passed-Over-Ville. (Every other time people have told me they nominated one of my stories, I haven’t even made the post-award long list, so I didn’t expect this time to be any different.)

It seemed that the plane had been hijacked. When the flight subsequently took off from Nomination City, en route to Hugotown, the reaction to the hijacking was loud and angry. Some passengers snuck off the plane during the Nomination City stop, and a couple bailed out later; I’m not sure yet if their parachutes worked, if they made safe landings, or if anyone has picked them up out of the wilderness. I hope they’re okay.

The more it looked like a hijacking, the more some people on the ground talked as if they wanted to shoot down the plane; some of them seem determined to do so, even if only with their own personal weapons. Just as worrisome, some of the hijackers have talked as if they want to crash the plane in the middle of Hugotown. My fellow passengers and I are left to wonder if there’s anything we can do to improve our chances of survival.

I’ve been in touch with my friends, both inside and outside the community of fans, throughout the ordeal. Those who contributed to my ticket or who like my work or who support me personally almost all told me that they want me to stay aboard, and ride it out. One person advised me to bail out, parachute or no. Outside my relatively small circle of family and friends, from what I can tell quite a few spectators are glued to their computer screens, watching every agonizing minute of the event; I don’t know if they care a whole lot what happens to me or the other passengers.

As for me, it’s been a pretty turbulent ride and the storms are still raging. I just want the plane to land, so I can get off and go about my business.

Like any metaphor, this one has its weaknesses; but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with, so I’m sticking with it for now.

Some Scripture I Consider Relevant. I don’t know if you adhere to any religious beliefs, but I do. Specifically, I’m a Christian. I won’t preach at you, though; if you’re ever interested in what I believe and why, just ask.

That said, I have been trying very hard to apply some specific Scriptures to my Hugo Award situation, and particularly to how I relate to people on all sides of the debate. Among others, I am trying to live up to these, all of which are paraphrased:

  • Let your speech be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so you know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
  • Speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
  • Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)
  • “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them your left cheek as well.” (Matthew 5:39, the words of the Lord)
  • “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.” (Matthew 5:44, the words of the Lord)
  • Do not pay back anyone evil for evil. (Romans 17:21, 1 Peter 3:9)
  • Insofar as it depends on you, live at peace with all people. (Romans 12:18)

And, perhaps more difficult than any of those, these cautions from the brother of the Lord (James, chapter 3, also paraphrased):

… we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, [but] the tongue — a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things — is a fire, the very world of iniquity…. No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God…. Brothers, this should not be….

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth…. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and evil. But the wisdom from above is pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

I encourage anyone who holds to the same creed I do to consider whether they might apply these and other verses to help them maintain an even keel in the storm of rhetoric, and possibly to better represent the One to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance.

Wherever I have failed to live up to these admonitions, it is my fault alone. It always is. And at least my failures will continue to be mostly private, since

Unfortunately, WorldCon and the Hugo Awards Ceremony Are Out of My Reach. I’d like to visit Spokane in August for WorldCon, but at this point the likelihood is miniscule.

You might think I’d rather avoid WorldCon, and thereby avoid all the drama. I admit that sounds pleasant, but the drama would find me whether I’m present or not. And I would like to see my friends, on both sides of the debate — and possibly make new friends. I’d like to meet new people, become better acquainted with people I’ve only met once or twice, and hopefully convince some of them that I am a flesh-and-blood human being, neither a wild-eyed zealot nor a bug-eyed monster.

I’d probably spend a good deal of time in the filk room, anyway. Hopefully I wouldn’t be as intimidated as I was at WorldCon last year.

But, alas, between a higher-than-expected tax bill earlier this year, the production costs of my new CD, and the need to plan for some very special upcoming expenses, I don’t envision having the resources to attend WorldCon unless a whole bunch of people suddenly start buying copies of my album. (Don’t get me wrong, that would be fine by me and you can do so right here; but I don’t see it happening.)

Some Closing Thoughts. Whenever we value something highly, when we have invested time or treasure in it and derived some reward (however intangible) from it, and that thing is threatened in some way, we rightly resent and are justified in trying to defend against the threat. That is true whether we are talking about our families and friendships, our homes and personal property, our reputations, or institutions with which we identify. I think sometimes we forget that others have the same right, to defend those things which they value.

Based on that, I understand the impulse on the part of longtime WorldCon participants and serious fen to protect the institution and its flagship award. I understand that barbarians storming the gates, brazenly and with unexpected success, is frightening and naturally foments resentment and anger.

I choose the barbarian example deliberately. Outsiders are labeled barbarians not because that is what they call themselves, but because their language is incomprehensible to the insiders — to the refined ears of the citizens it sounds like “bar-bar-bar” (which among science fiction convention-goers is not, in itself, damning). But the outsiders do have language and culture, however strange it may seem to the citizens: from their own point of view they are not barbarians but Goths, Visigoths, or Ostrogoths; Celts, Huns, or Vandals.

This year’s Hugo-nominating barbarians, unlike historical tribes characterized as such, brought alms with which they gained entry into the city and bought their citizenship: the $40 Supporting Membership. And they brought their own opinions — perhaps studiously formed, perhaps informed or even influenced by others — which they expressed in the nomination process. They joined the community, but some of the original citizens still see them as barbarians, as outsiders, and seethe. I understand that, and I have seen the results in some of the reviews and comments about my own nominated story.

So I offer this: Reading should be a pleasure and a joy, and if any Hugo Award voter is upset at the way my novelette wound up on the ballot and has not read it yet, I encourage them and give them my full permission to ignore my entry completely.

Let me reiterate, and emphasize, that if the manner in which my story was nominated gives you any ill feelings, from the slightest nausea all the way to migraine-inducing rage, please do not read my story. Skip over it in the Voter’s Packet, pretend it doesn’t exist, and with my full blessing vote “No Award” in its place.

Our brief lives have limited joys, and I do not want to steal anyone’s joy for any reason. If reading my story will be more burden than blessing, set it aside and read something that is likely to please you. Pick a story that will engage you without setting your teeth on edge. Maybe in a month, or a year, or ten, you can return to my story and read it dispassionately and extract from it some small something of value. But even if not, if you never feel free from the 2015 Hugo Awards controversy and so choose never to read my story, that’s okay; at least it will not have added to your distress. I will content myself with knowing that a few people, at least, who read it have liked it.

For my part, I will continue to hope for the ire and indignation to wane, and for the firestorm to burn itself out without consuming the village. Or, if you will, for the plane to land so we can disembark.

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Heading to ConCarolinas

Are you going to the convention this weekend? I am. Not too long after posting this, in fact.


(Love this badge logo from the 2010 ConCarolinas, by Bob Snare.)

ConCarolinas is always a great convention — “science fiction, Carolina style” — and this year it’s moved into a new facility in Concord (just north of Charlotte). My schedule on Friday is wide open, so after I set up my merchandise table I plan to drop in on a panel or two and eventually join the filk circle!

On Saturday, I’ve got several panels and events:

  • 10:00 a.m. Panel — Editors and Agents
  • 11:00 a.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 5:30 p.m. Panel — What’s An Award Worth?
  • 7:30 p.m. Panel — The Short of It
  • 11:30 p.m. Panel — The Problem of the Controversial

Sunday:

  • Early a.m. (usually 9:00) — Fans for Christ worship service — I’ll be leading the singing
  • 4:00 p.m. Panel — Do I Need A Writing Group?

If you’re going to the con, stop by and see me! I’ll tell you whatever you want to know about my new album, Distorted Vision, coming out this summer; you can sign up for my newsletter to get the latest info; you can snag a copy of my InterGalactic Medicine Show story, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”; and of course you can also pick up a copy of Truths and Lies and Make-Believe as well as “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers.

And if you’re not going to the convention, then I hope you have fun this weekend with whatever you get to do!

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Last Day for Pegasus Award ‘Brainstorming’ — Poll Closes Tonight

If you haven’t already submitted your ideas for what songs, composers, and performers should be considered for the Pegasus Awards for excellence in filking, you have until early Friday morning to do so!

Pegasus Award Logo

Unlike other awards, the Pegasus Award cycle begins with a wide-open “brainstorming” phase. (In this respect, the Hugo Awards may have something to learn from the Pegasus Awards; but, I digress.)

The Pegasus awards honor science fiction and fantasy-related music in these categories:

  • Best Filk Song
  • Best Classic Filk Song — a song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer
  • Best Writer/Composer
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — “parodies, pre-existing lyrics set to new music (for example, setting a Kipling poem), or other material adapted to filk”
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Time-Related Song — “31st wedding anniversary gifts are timepieces. For OVFF’s 31st Anniversary we focus on anything related to time”

Anyone who has an interest in filk music — which most people think of as science fiction and/or fantasy-related music — is considered part of the “filk community” and can participate in brainstorming possible nominees, nominating, and voting. The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.”

Speaking of “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers,” last week on the Baen Free Radio Hour we released part 1 of a 2-part roundtable discussion about filk. Here’s the link to an MP3 of the podcast. We’ll release part 2 sometime in May.

All that being said, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest in filk just by reading this far in this post (for which, thank you!), and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. So if you have favorites you’d like to suggest, fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. Note that there’s only space for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like. (I filled out two.) But you have to submit your suggestions soon — as in, today! The deadline is one minute after midnight tonight, Pacific Time, or around 3 a.m. tomorrow morning, Eastern Time.

The actual nomination phase to decide what goes on the ballot will start next month, when the brainstorming results are released, and then voting will take place later in the summer. Then the Pegasus Awards will be awarded at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So … start your brainstorming! And finish it, quick!

___
Related Posts:
The Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll is Open!
In Case You’re Nominating for Any Awards This Year
What Do YOU Think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?
What Do YOU Think is the Best Time-Related Filk Song?

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Con of the Ravens … This Weekend in Richmond

This weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention up in Virginia.

RavenCon is always a lot of fun, and I appreciate them inviting me back this year. Lots of my friends will be there, and I will be busy, as usual:

Friday:

  • 4 pm, Open Filking
  • 6 pm, Panel: Critiquing, The Right Way — I’m moderating this panel
  • 7 pm, Opening Ceremony
  • 8 pm, Workshop w/ Paula Jordan: After the First Draft

Saturday:

  • 10 am, Panel: How To (Not) Ruin Your Writing Career — I’m moderating this one, too
  • Noon, Reading — and singing, there will be singing
  • 4 pm, Baen Books Traveling Road Show

Sunday:

  • 10 am, Panel: Riding the National Security Coattails — Moderating again
  • Noon, Panel: Ten Books Representing 20th Century SF
  • 2 pm, Signing

As always, I will have copies of Truths and Lies and Make-Believe as well as “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers. Stop by and say howdy!

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Next Convention Stop: MystiCon in Roanoke, Virginia

Who’s going to be in Roanoke next weekend? I am!

MystiCon is always a fun science fiction & fantasy convention, and this year features media Guest of Honor Sean Maher — Dr. Simon Tam from FIREFLY — and Literary GOH Peter David, author of many standalone and media tie-in novels as well as comics, video games, and television shows.

Here’s what I’m scheduled to do …

Friday:  Whatever I want!

Saturday:

  • 10am: Writing Workshop, Part 1
  • 2pm: Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 5pm: Reading … which, for me, will also include Singing

Sunday:

  • 9am: Signing … I’ll have copies of Truths and Lies and Make-Believe as well as “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers
  • 10am: Writing Workshop, Part 2
  • Noon: Panel, “Making Politics Work in Fiction”
  • 1pm: Panel, “Honor in the Verse” … I’m moderating this panel
  • 2pm: Panel, “Bughunt” … I’m moderating this one, too

Travel safe, and hope to see you there!

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The Hugo Awards: Considering the Controversy

Of the dozen or so people who look at my blog with any regularity, there may be one or two who are interested in the current state of upheaval regarding the Hugo Awards, which, “presented annually since 1955, are science fiction’s most prestigious award.” The rest of you can feel free to ignore this post. Most people will.

The Hugos are conferred during the World Science Fiction Convention, and are determined by nominations submitted by and final votes taken of WorldCon members. They honor science fiction and fantasy works in categories such as Best Novel, Best Dramatic Presentation, and so forth. The categories themselves have changed over the years, and it could be an interesting exercise to examine the history of why the World Science Fiction Society decided to delete some categories and add others. But that would shed little light on the current controversy within the SF&F community over the awards.

That controversy — or feud, if you prefer — centers around what it means for a work to be considered the “best.” From one perspective, it’s a question of how well the method of selection reflects the community’s preferences; from another, it’s a question of the relative merits of any single work compared to all others.

To the first question, my friend Brad Torgersen (who recently included a story of mine on the “Sad Puppies 3” slate of Hugo recommendations) used a Venn diagram (seen in this blog post) to illustrate the representational aspect of the Hugo Awards. Having thought about this for a while, I’d like to extend his diagram as follows:


(SF&F Fandom Breakdown. Inadequate, I’m afraid, but a start.)

In my diagram, the ellipses correspond to:

  • A: Everyone who likes any kind of science fiction or fantasy story, whether presented as a movie, a TV show, a book, or in any other form
  • B: Those who consider themselves science fiction or fantasy fans
  • C: Those who attend SF&F conventions, whether general interest or fandom-specific
  • D: Those who attend the World Science Fiction Convention
  • E: Those who nominate or vote for the Hugo Awards — this ellipse extends beyond WorldCon because it includes “supporting members” who do not actually attend the convention
  • F: People who have heard of, but don’t care about, the Hugo Awards
  • G: People who, despite their consumption of science fiction or fantasy stories, would vehemently deny being science fiction or fantasy fans

I might have included people who have never heard of the Hugo Awards, if I could have figured out how to represent them. Also, I could have made the diagram more complete by trying to fit in SF&F professionals of one stripe or another, and even by trying to illustrate membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the nomination and voting for the Nebula Awards — but the picture seemed complicated enough so I stopped before it got too muddled.

At any rate, it should be clear that those who vote for the Hugo Awards are a small fraction of the “science fiction and fantasy community,” whether we consider that to consist of those who attend conventions or the larger group who consider themselves fans; indeed, Hugo Award voters are a miniscule portion of the very large group of occasional or even frequent SF&F consumers. Under the premise that the Hugo voting population has over time become less representative of the larger groups, one of the goals of the Sad Puppies campaigns has been to make ellipse E bigger by encouraging more people to become WorldCon members and to nominate and vote for their favorites.

We’ll return to this issue in a few moments.

For the second question — that of the merits of any single work compared to others — we should acknowledge that just as tastes differ from one person to another, tastes change over time. While I confess that my knowledge of the field’s history is lacking, I am given to understand that science fiction in particular used to be a literature of action as well as ideas, and that stories of characters’ accomplishments in the face of great peril or difficult moral choices were appreciated and honored. Thankfully, I can still find stories that depict moving encounters and risky endeavors; however, today those kinds of stories seem to garner less attention and fewer honors than (shall we say) more “refined” tales.

I, for one, do not seem to possess the sensibility to appreciate highly “literary” stories such as grew out of what was once considered the “New Wave” of science fiction, at least not to the degree that some of my friends seem to. Likewise, magical realism, avant garde, and “experimental” fiction leave me cold. I suppose my tastes are more pedestrian. For instance, I am unmoved by prose that is not narrative; no matter how brilliant or evocative the language is, if nothing happens in the text it will disappoint me and I will feel that the time I spent reading it was wasted. I more appreciate a story that involves interesting characters taking part in events that have consequences for themselves and others, that gives me the vicarious experience of escapades I will never attempt, in places I will never visit, with beings I will never encounter.

To select one example of how my tastes disagree with many of those who nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards, consider last year’s Nebula winner and one of the Hugo nominees for Best Short Story: “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” Other than its lyrical quality, I found little to appreciate in it — and I confess to some confusion as to how it fit the definition of a story, since nothing much happens. It is barely a vignette, and since the science it discusses is all part of a “what if” postulation it seemed barely science fictional as well. If it were re-cast as “If You Were a Polar Bear, My Love,” it would carry the same emotional content and perhaps be more science fictional, since the bit about “reviving extinct species” would at least imply that it takes place in a future in which polar bears are extinct instead of the present when dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years. In neither case would any clones have been created from extinct DNA, though, and the text would still be a stream-of-consciousness exercise in fevered imaginings rather than an actual story with characters who take actions and overcome obstacles in pursuit of particular goals. However, since that sort of thing apparently appeals to a significant cohort of SF&F fans, it might still be an award-winning “story” — though I wonder if an editor would have given either the real or this imagined version a second look if the author had been an unknown.*

While I am confessing my own literary shortcomings, I’ll add that such “stories” wear me out. When I finish reading one, I don’t feel the breathless exhilaration of stepping off a roller coaster, or even of dismounting a carousel; instead, I feel the out-of-breath exhaustion of setting down a snow shovel, or saying goodbye to unwanted houseguests. I wonder how many readers, upon completing some inaccessible text, think well of themselves for putting forth the effort, like feeling good for eating one’s peas, and transfer that feeling of accomplishment to the text when it comes time to nominate or vote for awards. I also wonder how many — some fewer, I’d wager — enthusiastically repeat the reading experience for the sheer joy of it, or go looking for seconds. And if a story does not induce a reader to read it again, or to seek out others like it or other works by the same author, can it truly be the “best” the field had to offer?

I acknowledge that stories that leave me empty may leave other people exhilarated, or inspired, or with some other positive feeling, and who am I to gainsay their opinions? So I am left to congratulate the winners — the “bests” — while I shake my head in wonder. I suppose that if a story that fit my preferences were to win, other readers would be able to find fault with it and shake their heads in wonder that anyone would select it. Such is the nature of all electoral contests.

Unfortunately for me, science fiction (and, to some degree, fantasy) literature has of late elevated the status of “literary” works while ignoring more action-oriented fiction; at the same time, sales of SF literature have either stagnated or declined. Correlation is not causation, however, so we cannot automatically conclude that the rise of “literary” SF has adversely affected overall sales. Other factors may be at play, such as the mainstream acceptance of technologies that were once the purview of science fiction, and thus the loss of appeal of technology-based stories; the declining confidence in the ability of science and engineering to solve pressing problems, likewise; or the migration of segments of the population who used to read for entertainment to other forms such as movies, television, and video games.

And that leads us back to the first question, whether the Hugo Awards adequately represent the preferences of the SF&F-consuming public.

If I had more free time, I might attempt a comprehensive statistical history of the Hugos. Maybe I can go back to school someday, pursue an advanced degree in the history of ideas, and write a thesis on the subject. For instance, I’d be interested in digging up the records starting with the first Hugos — when the best novel award, for example, went to The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester — and examining, year over year,

  • The complete voting results, both for nominations and awards, including numbers of nominations received and numbers of votes cast
  • The numbers of eligible works, e.g., how many science fiction and fantasy novels, etc., were published in the appropriate year
  • Reported sales figures for the nominated novels, both prior to and after their nomination and prior to and after the award announcement
  • Sales figures for other SF&F entertainments, e.g., box office receipts, for the same time period
  • Etc.

It might be interesting to examine other tidbits as well, like the numbers of ballots (nomination or voting) disqualified for any reason. Unfortunately, those kinds of figures may not even have been recorded.

Though I do not have actual figures to present, can we conjecture what they might be likely to show?

Over time, the percentage of novels receiving nominations would fluctuate, but we might expect it to be generally lower now as independent publishing has flourished in the Internet era. We might therefore expect the votes cast for, say, Best Novel to have declined as a percentage of total novel sales for any given year. If we could devise some estimate of genre consumption in the total SF&F community (ellipse A, above), we would certainly expect the vote ratios for Best Novel to have declined because of the permeation of science fiction and fantasy into the larger culture since the 1970s. If these expectations hold true, then it should be clear that the Hugo Awards today reflect only a tiny fraction of the SF&F community.

Is that, however, a status quo we should accept?

If we believe in science fiction and fantasy as worthy art forms, capable of helping us examine the human condition and cope with change in ways that other entertainments do not, then it seems that enlarging our community would be a good thing both from a pragmatic viewpoint — more customers can support more content producers — and from the standpoint of wanting to impact the world around us. To that end, encouraging people to support the World Science Fiction Convention and participate in nominating and voting for the field’s most prestigious award should be a good thing. I cannot think of a good reason for anyone to prefer for the field and its flagship award to be small and insular, because if that continues (and especially if the SF&F field shrinks too much) many more puppies of all breeds will be saddened.

It may be that what is needed is a new, more comprehensive award. I used to tell people that I thought of the Nebula Awards as equivalent to the Oscars and the Hugo Awards as equivalent to the People’s Choice Awards, but I think I was wrong in that assessment. It seems to me now that the Nebula Awards are more akin to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Hugo Awards are more akin to the Oscars (except that anyone can pay to participate in the Hugos), and that science fiction and fantasy do not have an award equivalent to the People’s Choice Awards. That discussion, however, will have to wait for another day.

Or maybe not. Even if awards multiplied like tribbles, they would still be only partly representative of the community as a whole. Those of us who nominate and vote will remain a self-selected cohort, and in the end the opinions we represent are only our own.

In closing, a personal note. I am neither the scholar nor the student of the SF&F field that I should be, but I respect it enough to have chosen it for my second career and I respect the Hugo Awards for their attempt to honor the best of the genre. And, yes, I would be quite pleased to count myself as a Hugo Award nominee or recipient. I imagine every author who has considered their work to be publishable and risked sending it to editors for possible rejection must at some time have thought of winning such an accolade, though some may not want the recognition (or the notoriety, as the case may be). For my part, I was quite happy when Brad Torgersen told me he was considering my novelette** for his slate of recommendations, if for no other reason than it meant that a few more people might read it than otherwise would. And if anyone liked my story enough to bestow on it a nomination, that would do my heart good.***

A final, really personal note. My blog posts are usually much shorter than this, and if you made it this far, and actually read this whole thing, I appreciate it. Thank you, sincerely, for your time.

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*It may not be fair, but we (and by that royal “we” of course I mean “I”) do pay a smidgen more attention to works by authors whose names we recognize. We are, most of us, pretty human in that respect.
**Specifically, from the May 2014 issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium.”
***I don’t have any illusions about actually winning. The one time an editor told me one of my stories was award-worthy it didn’t come close to making the list, and I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number of people who told me they nominated it.

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RELATED POSTS ABOUT THE CONTROVERSY:
– From 2014, Larry Correia offers An explanation about the Hugo awards controversy
– Brad Torgersen, in January, Announcing SAD PUPPIES 3!
– Brad Torgersen presents his recommendations in SAD PUPPIES 3: the 2015 Hugo slate
– Brad Torgersen offers SAD PUPPIES: some responses to the fallout
– Larry Correia with a Sad Puppies 3 Update
– Sarah Hoyt discusses the matter at When Duck Noises Fail Me
– Brad Torgersen expounds on SAD PUPPIES: the march of the straw men

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Edited to note that “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo. I had mixed up its accolades. GWR

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