It’s Brainstorming Time Again

The “brainstorming” phase has begun for the annual Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking — i.e., writing and performing music often related to science fiction and fantasy. Anyone who has an interest in filk is considered part of the “filk community” and can contribute to brainstorming possible nominees, as well as nominate and vote for winners.

Pegasus Award Logo

(Pegasus Award Logo.)

 

Pegasus Awards are given out in four permanent categories, as well as two categories which rotate from year-to-year:

  • Best Filk Song — any filk song that has not previously won a Pegasus
  • Best Classic Filk Song — any well-known filk song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer — any filk performer who has not won in the past 5 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won in the past 5 years
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — which can include adapting or parodying a mundane song or a filk song, but can also mean adapting a poem or book
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Exploration Song — which includes songs about “finding out what’s Out There

If you’re not sure whether you’re really eligible to submit brainstorming ideas, 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.” So, if you made it this far in this post, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process.

If you have some favorites you’d like to suggest (and you can suggest as many as you can think of), fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. There is space on the form for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like!

The nomination phase will start in the spring, and voting takes place in the late summer. The Pegasus Awards are awarded at (and administered by) the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So, start brainstorming! (And let me know if you need some suggestions….)

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My MystiCon Schedule

Later today, if all goes as scheduled, I’ll be heading up to Roanoke for MystiCon, a great small convention that features one of science fiction and fantasy’s biggest names in this year’s Literary Guest of Honor, George R.R. Martin.

It’s been several years since I first met Mr. Martin at a small convention here in North Carolina, but unfortunately, unless I run into him at the bar — in which case he’ll be surrounded by a horde of Game of Thrones fans — I probably won’t get within shouting distance of him. Well, maybe shouting distance: my voice carries.

Anyway, I’ll be busy throughout the weekend. If you’re coming (and if you haven’t already registered, I’m sorry to tell you that the convention is sold out so you’ll have to plan on next year’s), here’s a run-down on where you can find me. I feel safe in guaranteeing that you won’t have any trouble finding a seat at my events!

Friday:

  • 3:00 p.m. — Workshop, “Face-to-Face Slushpile” — Have you been collecting rejection slips on a science fiction or fantasy novel, but haven’t been able to figure out why? Do you have thick enough skin to take direct, honest, face-to-face critique? Bring your cover letter, the first 5 pages of your story, and your 1- or 2-page synopsis and get real-time feedback from the “Slushmaster General.” First-come, first-served, and volunteers only! If time permits, we may discuss short fiction; however, novels will have first priority. Learn what happens to manuscripts when you send them to a publisher, and how to make yours stand out … in the right way. — Ballroom C
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “I’m From Iowa, I Only Work in Outer Space” — What is it like to work in outer space? What tools and supplies are required? What kind of specialized training do you need? Our panelists discuss the challenges posed trying to make an honest day’s wage toiling in the dangerous cold and dark of outer space. — with Tedd Roberts, Jim Beall, and Daniel Wallace — Board Room 1
  • 11:30 p.m. — Eye of Argon — The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? — with Michael A. Ventrella, Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, and Michael D. Pederson — Ballroom C

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Signing
  • Noon — Reading — Room 533
  • 2:00 p.m. — Panel, “The Science & Psychology of Andy Weir’s The Martian” (Moderator) — A lone astronaut is stranded on Mars. How does he survive the harsh Martian climate? How does he maintain his sanity? Our panelists dig into the nuts and bolts of Andy Weir’s excellent science-and-survival tale The Martian. — with Anita Allen, Jim Beall, Tedd Roberts, and Daniel Wallace — Board Room 1
  • 3:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show (and Podcast) — It’s a combo slide show/podcast where Baen will showcase upcoming titles and book covers. Come to learn about Baen’s newest releases and possibly win a free book. — with Tony Daniel — Vista Room

Sunday:

  • 9:00 a.m. — Non-Denominational Worship Service — Ballroom E
  • 10:00 a.m. — Panel, “No More Evil Priests in Red” (Moderator) — Understanding faith in a secular world. It’s easy to depict organized religion as evil, led by greedy rapist scumbags and followed only by the drones and sheeple, but this trope hasn’t been cutting edge for the past forty years. In setting up evil priestly straw men for our postmodern heroes to blow away, authors too often overlook why brilliant people like Boethius could walk smiling to execution, St. Francis could try to protect the animals everyone else wanted to eat, or Hildegard von Bingen could write awe-inspiring music and plays. Let’s talk about books that depict the complexities of religious faith in interesting, insightful ways. — with Tony Daniel, Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, Michael A. Ventrella, and Abigail Wallace — Ballroom D

No concert slot for me at MystiCon, and no open filking, so my musical contributions will be limited. I’ll carry my guitar around, though, just to look cool. (I need all the help I can get!)

Hope to see you there — or, if not, hope you have a great weekend!

___
Shameless plug: I will have copies of Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, plus other goodies, so flag me down if you want something!

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Does This Book Make My Head Look Big?

A few days ago, I got my contributor’s copies of the new edition of Shattered Shields — my first time in mass market paperback!

I’m in good company in this book. (Click for larger image.)

As you might surmise from the terrific Todd Lockwood cover art, it’s an anthology of military fantasy stories. If you don’t already have a copy, you can order one here.

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Workshop Reminder, Two Weeks Until MystiCon

A friendly reminder that in a couple of weeks I’ll present the “Face-to-Face Slushpile” workshop at the MystiCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Roanoke, Virginia. (I’ll be doing other things at the convention, too, but I’m plugging this again because it takes a little prep in order to participate.)

The convention starts on Friday the 26th, and my workshop is one of the first events. As I explained in an earlier post, the workshop offers a brief, In-Person, Real-Time Manuscript Submission Critique on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’re coming to the convention and you’ve been receiving rejection slips from publishers, I’ll take a look at your submission and let you know, from my experience evaluating submissions for Baen Books, what impression I get from it. If not you, but you know someone planning to attend who has yet to break through in the publishing world, tell them to bring in their cover letter, the first 5 pages of their story, and their 1- or 2-page synopsis and let me take a look at them.

Writer's Block

(Image: “Writer’s Block,” by Neal Sanche, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Let me know if you have questions or suggestions, and meanwhile … keep writing!

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Upcoming Workshop: In-Person, Real-Time Manuscript Submission Critique

If you’ve submitted a novel or story and wondered why you only ever got a form rejection, this might be the workshop for you. I’ve been evaluating submissions for Baen Books for nearly nine years now, so I might be able to give you some idea why your submission didn’t attract the right attention. I’ll do my best to, anyway.

Paperback Writer
(“Dear Sir or Madam, would you read my book?” Image: “Paperback Writer,” by poppy, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I’m offering this new workshop at conventions this year, starting at MystiCon in Roanoke, Virginia. This workshop is designed primarily for folks who have written (but not sold, obviously) their first novel; however, it’s open to anyone and I think writers at different levels may derive value from it.

I call it the “Face-to-Face Slushpile.” (If you’re new to the industry jargon, the “slushpile” is the collection of unsolicited manuscripts every publisher receives.) Here’s the description we’re using at MystiCon:

Have you been collecting rejection slips on a science fiction or fantasy novel, but haven’t been able to figure out why? Do you have thick enough skin to take direct, honest, face-to-face critique? Bring your cover letter, the first 5 pages of your story, and your 1- or 2-page synopsis and get real-time feedback from the “Slushmaster General.” First-come, first-served, and volunteers only! If time permits, we may discuss short fiction; however, novels will have first priority. Learn what happens to manuscripts when you send them to a publisher, and how to make yours stand out … in the right way.

Some things to note:

  • It’s free.
  • Your submission will not be anonymous. (Unless you engage someone to pretend to have written it, which would be perfectly okay.)
  • Your submission will be shared with the audience, if there is one, because I will read it out loud.
  • As noted, I will give you direct and honest feedback. I won’t be mean about it, though. The goal is to help you build a better submission, which may involve helping you tell a better story.
  • We will fit in as many critiques as we can in the allotted time. If we run out of submissions before we run out of time, we’ll segue to Q&A about writing and publishing.

If the current schedule holds, I’ll debut the workshop on the first day of MystiCon (the 26th of February). I’ve pitched the idea to some of the other conventions I’m attending this year, and as those plans develop I’ll post the details.

So, if you or someone you know is a struggling novelist, maybe this workshop can help! That’s the idea, anyway.

What would you like out of a workshop like this?

Send me an e-mail or post a comment to let me know what you think and what would make a workshop like this more valuable to you — or if you want me to come to your convention to present it. And if you know someone who might like to attend, send them the link to this post or send me their contact info.

And if you want more information about this and other projects I have going on, sign up for my newsletter.

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Report from My First Filk Convention

Last weekend I failed miserably at being in two places at one time.

For several years, on the second weekend of January I’ve attended illogiCon, a fun little fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention in the Research Triangle; this year, however, I changed things up a little and attended GAFilk, the Georgia Filk Convention, in Atlanta. This was the first convention I’ve ever attended that was dedicated to filk, i.e., primarily to the music of fandom. I had a good time, but I found myself wishing I could’ve gone to both!

GAFilk is a “relaxacon,” and as such is a very low-key affair. Being a smallish convention, it was not divided into multiple programming tracks and did not offer a variety of simultaneous events. Almost everything took place in a single ballroom!


(L-R: Michael Longcor, GAFilk Guest of Honor, and yours truly, during “open filk.” Photo by Amber Hansford, used by permission.)

So, how did it go?

The Good. At most conventions, the best part is seeing friends that I only see a few times a year, and GAFilk was no different. In fact, I was quite pleased at seeing many friendly faces I recognized from other conventions. Also, it was nice to meet face-to-face some of the people I had previously interviewed on the Baen Free Radio Hour podcast.

The programming consisted primarily of concerts featuring the variety of guests, but a few other events were included. The opening ceremony on Friday night, for instance, include a champagne toast to the “Fannish New Year” and segued into an amusing “My Filk” game show that featured two competing panels and a variety of filk-related questions. My favorite game-within-the-game was “Second Line,” in which the emcee read the second line of a song and contestants got points if they could identify the song title, the performer, and/or the opening line.

The first concert featured Erin and Rand Bellavia, the “Con Committee’s Choice.” Rand is well-known as the co-founder of the band Ookla the Mok, and he and Erin put on a very good show. Actually, all of the concerts were quite good: toastmistress Judi Miller enlisted the aid of several friends during her show (as well as adding verve to almost all the proceedings with her enthusiastic American Sign Language interpretations); Interfilk guest Glen Raphael’s set included not only his original songs but also my favorite song from Carla Ulbrich’s latest album (viz., “Totally Average Woman”); and Guest of Honor Michael Longcor played a great set despite the distractions of Ms. Miller’s exuberant signing. “Super-Secret Guest” Elizabeth Moon’s concert was more of a reading and Q&A session, but was nevertheless delightful.

The “2 x 10” concert session was also enjoyable. Attendees signed up for 10-minute slots during which they presented 2 songs — hence the name. I signed up, too, and sang “A Ship With No Name” and “Another Romulan Ale”. And of course every night featured open filking into the wee hours of the morning!

The Not So Good. The worst part of GAFilk was the headache I developed on Saturday night. I blame the fact that I sat directly in front of and very close to the banquet band’s main speaker. Shortly after sitting down I wished I had brought my ear plugs with me (I always travel with them, but they were upstairs in my room), and shortly after eating I excused myself, returned to my room, took some medicine and tried to relax. My head was still hurting when I went to Elizabeth Moon’s “concert,” so I didn’t mind it being a low-key event. I went back upstairs and lay down for a bit after that, so I missed the auction, but I made myself go to the first hour or so of the open filk before I called it a night.

Also on the “not so good” side, though I suppose I should have expected it, was the emergence of the “Sad Puppies” controversy during Friday night’s open filking.* I’m not sure if the fellow at the other end of the filk circle knew, when he sang the line “they’re all bad writers,” that one of the SP3 authors was listening to him croon. (I was tempted to ask him how many of my published stories he’d read, and what specific flaws in them led him to the conclusion that I was a bad writer, but I demurred; I suspect I know the answer and it’s something less than one.) In the filk circle tradition of following a song with another in the same vein, two other people sang “Sad Puppy” songs after the first one, which I suppose I also should have expected. Again I didn’t make any sort of deal about it: I said nothing, just as I say nothing when, occasionally, I find other particular songs distasteful or objectionable. The artists are well within their rights to express themselves as they see fit.

There and Back Again. All told, GAFilk was a good experience and is a pleasant little convention. I’m more used to general conventions at which I have definite responsibilities (go to this room, at this time, to talk about this subject), so to a certain extent I failed at the kind of laid-back, low-stress attendance expected at a “relaxacon.” Despite my inability to relax into the event, for the most part I had a good time.

I wish I had the skill to be in multiple places at the same time, because then I wouldn’t be faced with the illogiCon-or-GAFilk question. The first is a general convention, a little over 6 miles from my house; the second is a specialized convention, a little over 6 hours away. Simply from a logistics standpoint, I suspect next year will find me staying closer to home; but, stranger things have happened!

Anyway, kudos to the Con Committee and all the volunteers for putting on a fine convention. If you’re looking for a low-key, music-oriented fan experience in early January, I encourage you to consider GAFilk!

___
*No, I’m not going to take time in this post to explain what the controversy was (or is). Look up “2015 Hugo Awards,” or if you want my take on it read this post. I consider the horse dead, though beating it can be an enjoyable pastime.

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Political Lessons, and … the Hugo Awards?

I ran for elective office this year, and lost. (For the record, I spent about 0.41% of the total that all four candidates in my district spent up until the election, and I got 3.5% of the vote. Not close to winning, but a good return on my meager investment.)

I was also nominated for a Hugo Award this year, and lost. The story behind that has been chronicled on this blog and elsewhere, and I won’t go into it in this post. (For the record, and as nearly as I can tell from trying to figure out the preferential voting numbers, about 9% of the 5100 novelette voters selected my story as their first choice. I ended up in fourth place . . . two spots below “No Award.”)

I introduce the fact of my being on political and literary ballots this year because I observed two things in the recent Town Council election process that seem pertinent to this year’s Hugo Awards. Specifically, that the political parties inserted themselves deeply into what was supposed to be a nonpartisan race, and other players also wielded considerable influence; and that a lot of voter information was readily available for the candidates to use.

Now, with the caveat that this post is very long, I’ll try to make those connections.

Parties, Power Brokers, and Influence. I ran for Town Council in a single district here in Cary, North Carolina, and though the race was ostensibly nonpartisan the parties definitely made their presence known. The Republican Party endorsed one of the three of us who identified as Republicans — though not this particular candidate — and the Democratic Party endorsed the fourth candidate. The party endorsements brought with them not only some cachet, which those two candidates used to their advantage, but also party money for advertising as well as organized volunteer efforts for canvassing neighborhoods and working the polls.

In addition to the parties, several civic and professional groups were quite interested in the campaign. Some invited the candidates to meet with them in interviews or to fill out interview questionnaires; some sponsored “meet the candidate” social events; some even sponsored debates between the candidates. A few of those groups also endorsed candidates — again, not this candidate — and encouraged their members to support that person who they felt most confident would represent their interests if elected.

What relation does this have to the Hugo Awards? Simply, fandom has developed its own “parties” and thus the Hugo Awards have their own sets of power brokers (or would-be power brokers).

This year some people were very open about exercising their power. The “Sad Puppies” campaign was a party of sorts and encouraged people to consider specific works (mine included), while the follow-on (and aptly named) “Rabid Puppies” campaign flatly admitted that they intended to wield whatever power they could. When they succeeded at placing their preferred stories and people on the ballot — beyond my wildest imagining, if not others’ — a less organized but much more vocal cohort coalesced to wrest the voting power back into the hands of long-time WorldCon members (i.e., the traditional Hugo nominating-and-voting fans).

That is not to say that Hugo Award power brokers have only been active in recent years. Key figures in the science fiction and fantasy industry have long enjoyed considerable influence within the relatively small community of WorldCon fandom. Whether by their positions in publishing houses or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their notoriety, or the force of their personality; whether by their knowledge of the field, their literary achievements, or the number of people who read their blogs; or whether by other factors entirely, clearly some people became movers and shakers in fandom, and perhaps even kingmakers in terms of placing their favored selections on the Hugo ballot.

There was, for instance, considerable electronic weeping and wailing this year over whether, in the past, some “cabal” of industry insiders exercised deliberate and coordinated control over the nominating process. Accusations were levied with no proof beyond some statistical correlations, and despite the relatively weak charges they were at times denied with enough stridence that the old phrase “the hit dog howls” came to mind.* But from a group dynamics standpoint, a cabal was never necessary in order for insiders to have influence over the process. In the same way that a CEO or other leader can forget how much power they have over their employees and followers, people with informal power can forget that even a casual suggestion or question — “Have you read the new novel by [beloved author]? It’s marvelous” — can have an outsized effect on those who hear it.

Pillars of Influence
People can exert influence accidentally as well as intentionally. (Image: “Pillars of Influence,” by David Armano, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Taking that a step further, people can in some ways grow comfortable with or even addicted to the power they wield, even if that power is informal. They can come to enjoy it, to depend on it, and therefore to resent when it seems to have been taken away from them. In response, they could resort to making veiled (or not so veiled) threats, or to levying personal accusations that are demonstrably untrue. Again, the hit dog howls.

I will say at this point that I doubt there ever was a super-secret cabal directing Hugo-related fandom. But I know for a fact that insider politicking is as real in SF&F as it is in electoral politics, because I was faced with it in mid-April. Shortly after the nominations were announced, a friend of mine who has won Hugo and other awards and is generally well-known in SFWA and the SF&F community approached me, unsolicited and unexpectedly, to encourage me to withdraw my story from consideration.**

My friend wrote,

I think that you are a talented writer and that this is not going to be your only good story. . . . I think that if you made a statement withdrawing your story from the ballot, that you would get a bump next year and land on the ballot again. Not guaranteed, but I think that you would get a lot of good will.

My friend rightly pointed out that in some ways my nomination made me a pawn, a human shield, in the great Hugo fracas. My friend somewhat glossed over the point that I was destined to end up in someone’s bad graces no matter whether I let my nomination stand or withdrew it, but my friend was unceasingly gracious and pledged to support me no matter which decision I made. I very much appreciate that friend’s concern and their willingness to share their point of view while respecting mine; I count myself fortunate to have such a friend.

Now, a concerned friend reaching out like that would not by itself constitute insider politicking, even when the friend is nearly as deep inside the SF&F community as is possible to go. But when that same friend sends pretty much the same message to other nominees (a fact I verified from other people contacted), then . . . well, it certainly seemed to fit the description of a relatively powerful insider trying to exert influence over the process.

When one of the other nominees asked my friend about the fact that they had approached several of us, my friend wrote,

I was talking with a bunch of you individually . . . and started cutting and pasting from one email to the other. . . . I should have thought of how that would look. Please convey my apologies to whoever you spoke with.

I give my friend the benefit of the doubt, but I saw much the same thing even in the little Town Council race: insiders and special interests approaching candidates to see if we agreed with them or could be swayed to their positions. Some were more open and obvious about it than others, and their motives were clearer. As for my friend, I believe they were genuinely concerned for me and the other friends they contacted, and concerned for what the schism appeared to be doing to the community of fandom.

Looking back at what my friend proposed, it seems somewhat ironic to think that by withdrawing after being nominated I might improve my chances of being nominated in the future, not because anything else I might publish would be better than my 2015 nominated story, but because I would have engendered “good will” with the traditional fan contingent. As I wrote in reply,

. . . from a pragmatic standpoint I’m not sure whether withdrawing would really earn me the good will you speak of. I hope it might. But if good will garnered in that fashion is more important than any qualities inherent in my work . . . then the award really is more than just literary.

Consider this: If some of those who did withdraw — such as my friends Annie Bellet and Edmund Schubert — are nominated in the future, will they wonder if factors besides literary merit influenced the outcome? Since the primary complaint against my story and others was that they were nominated for reasons having little to do with their relative merits, it’s hard to see much of a difference with regards to receiving a friendly “bump” to “land on the ballot again.”

But in addition to the influence (deliberate or incidental) of insiders and power brokers, the other thing I observed in electoral politics that has some bearing on the recent Hugo unpleasantness is

A Plethora of Voter Information. Very early in my run for Town Council, I learned that the Wake County Board of Elections had available a comprehensive database of registered voters. I downloaded it as a huge Excel spreadsheet and narrowed it down first to Cary and then to just my district. In the end, I still had a lengthy list of around 24,000 registered voters that included names, addresses, party affiliations and other information, up to and including whether (and by what method) they voted in recent elections. The only thing missing was exactly for whom they voted.

How does that relate to the Hugo Awards?

During the WorldCon business meeting, when changes to the nomination-and-voting procedures were being proposed and debated, the membership passed a resolution calling for the convention organizers to release anonymized nomination data. The convention committee agreed to do so, but shortly thereafter appeared to back away from fulfilling that agreement because, as I understand it, they were finding it too difficult to produce the data without giving away the identifying information.

Why would the nomination data be interesting?

Consider that, within hours of the Hugo Awards ceremony closing, the io9 blog published an article with the title “This Is What The 2015 Hugo Ballot Should Have Been” in which the author put forth a vision of what the award results might have been had the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” entries not been nominated. The author began with this:

Based on the newly released statistics, Brandon Kempner of Chaos Horizon has a good analysis of the Hugo vote, (as does Nicholas Whyte in From the Heart Of Europe)—they estimate that the Rabid Puppies bloc was composed of 550-525 voters, while the Sad Puppies bloc made up 500-400 voters: around 20% of the 5,950 total voters. Of those numbers, around 3500 likely voted “No Award” out of principle, objecting to the lockstep nomination process of the Puppies.

and then made the leap from the number of voters to the idea that the SP/RP entries might not have been nominated at all. To me (the former engineer and nonstatistician), that seems to be trying to produce orange juice from a bag of apples. The question of what would have been nominated requires delving into the nomination statistics; the voting statistics are irrelevant to that question, because it turns on how many SP/RP nominations there were, not how many votes there were after months of competing rhetoric. With only the raw nomination figures, i.e., without the data that would provide insight into nomination patterns, it seems unsupportable to conclude that none of the stories and people on the SP/RP lists would have been nominated.***

Returning to the example of voter rolls that do not reveal voting results, it seems reasonable to imagine that if the Board of Elections can record votes and yet produce a database of registered voters that contains everything but those voting results, then it should be a simple enough — or certainly no more complicated — database management task for the WorldCon committee to produce records of the Hugo nominations without including identifying information, whether name or membership number or IP address.

Along those lines, if the WorldCon committee’s IT experts — and it’s a committee of geeks, surely they have ready access to a number of technology, computing, and database experts — cannot find a way to produce the promised data, then perhaps they could turn to the local Board of Elections for assistance. I doubt my local Board of Elections is that much different from any other in the country; it seems that their local board in Spokane should be able to provide some guidance.

Conclusion: Heinlein May Be Right.

Robert A. Heinlein maintained in Double Star that “Politics is the only sport for grownups — all other games are for kids.” As someone who enjoys other games and sports, as a spectator and participant, I’m not so sure about that; maybe I haven’t “put away childish things” in that respect, but I’m generally in favor of practicing youthful exuberance in order to stay young at heart. So I suggest a corollary to RAH’s observation: Politics is the sport people play even when they don’t intend to.

All human organizations, from churches to businesses to science fiction and fantasy conventions, are suffused with politics, some of it practiced openly and some of it practiced surreptitiously. It would be disingenuous to claim that the Hugo Awards were ever without politics and politicking; indeed, during the run-up to this year’s awards many thoughtful commentators acknowledged the awards’ political past, though the degree to which politics overshadowed this year’s award was unprecedented.

Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with Heinlein’s assertion because I obviously have not played the political game well, but I’d like to suggest that another of his observations may be more apt, more relevant as we move forward. From Friday: “It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

We continue to see this play out in electoral politics, as small groups band together in solidarity over their specific interests. And we’ve seen it in genre politics as well, whether the rallying cry is “Diversity Now!” or “Golden Age Forever!” or something equally narrow in scope. The implication is that the way we think about the subject is right and all other ways must be wrong, which is a peculiarly limiting viewpoint in a community that enjoys speculating about all manner of fantastic encounters and possible futures.

From my perspective it seems that part of the issue from the beginning of this year’s Hugo Awards melee was a difference in outlook among people who love genre fiction in all its forms, but who placed themselves in one of two groups: one that loves genre and also loves fandom itself, and considers fandom the ultimate expression of its love for the genre; and another that loves genre but for which fandom and the fan community is an adjunct, an addendum, rather than a critical component of their genre experience. That is, one group was devoted to fandom as well as genre; the other was devoted to genre but not (or less) to fandom.

And as long as we divide ourselves, or in the case of fandom subdivide ourselves; as long as we separate ourselves into (virtual or actual) walled-off enclaves and echo chambers, and associate only with those who look like us, act like us, and believe the things we do; we will find it harder to understand, relate to, and get along with one another — in civil life as well as in the SF&F community.

I think we would be well-served as a fannish community if we talked more about what we love and why we love it, without implying that those who do not love it as we do are ignorant or contemptible. And I think we would be better off if we recalled another RAH observation, also from Friday (emphasis in original): “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms . . . but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” I believe the pithy advice that bears ST:TNG alumnus Wil Wheaton’s name sums that up rather well.****

I had several e-mail exchanges with the friend who encouraged me to withdraw my nomination, and my friend helped me refine this statement of what I would like to see in our discourse: I’d like to have less shouting and more talking; less gloating, more humility; less blaming, more acknowledgement of different points of view; less name-calling, more self-deprecation; less rage (but no less passion), more acceptance.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable; if it were not, I would have far fewer friends in this field. It may not be easy, but it is possible — and if Heinlein is right, it is actually necessary if the community (whether the SF&F community or the larger polis) is to survive.

I hope, for my part, I have succeeded in doing so. But that is for others to judge.

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*If you prefer something more eloquent, perhaps “doth protest too much” would fit the bill.

**I do not intend to identify the person, because I do not want them to face any recriminations; I realize that makes some of the usage here awkward. If my friend wants to self-identify, that’s up to them.

***For example, I perused the 2015 Hugo Award Statistics and it appeared to me that both Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars” and Kary English’s “Totaled” might well have been nominated even if they had not appeared on an anathema list. If that’s true, I’m not sure whether that would make their Annie’s subsequent withdrawal of the stories her story more ironic or tragic. (Whether other listed works would have fared so well is more difficult to tell.)

As a final note on the statistics, it would be interesting if the Hugo Award record-keepers would report the number of works that received ANY votes in a given year; in other words, to show that, out of the entire universe of eligible short stories or whatever, X received at least one nomination. The total number of nominating ballots is given in the statistics, but knowing how many unique works were on those ballots might give a glimpse into how homogeneous the reading tastes of the nominating cohort were.

****Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

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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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Blogging the New CD: E is for Ender

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

E is for Ender — Andrew “Ender” Wiggin — the boy genius turned military commander in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. Faced with the disorientation of zero gravity during Battle School, Ender devised a simple way to orient himself and his troops during the battle “game” — he began thinking of the objective (the gate by which the opposing force would enter the Battle Room) as “down.” Thus, in the Battle Room, “the enemy’s gate is down.”

The enemy lurks in the endless sky
And gave us no choice but to win or die
But justice will not be denied
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

“The Enemy’s Gate is Down”


Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.

The novel Ender’s Game got me back into reading science fiction after a long hiatus.

When I was a mid-grade captain in the USAF, stationed at Vandenberg AFB, one of the lieutenants in our unit suggested I read Ender’s Game. For several years almost all of my off-duty reading had been either school- or military-related, and I did little pleasure reading despite having been an avid science fiction reader before college.

Reading Ender’s Game, I realized what I had been missing.

I still had other reading to do, but gradually I added more science fiction and fantasy to my off-duty reading. My wife and I began reading some SF&F classics to one another on long trips — Starship Troopers on one trip, for instance, and then when our children were old enough that they would listen we read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter novels.

Gradually I also added more Orson Scott Card novels to my shelves. I don’t remember how long it was before I realized that I had first encountered his fiction in Omni magazine, back when I had been one of that magazine’s earliest subscribers.

When I was stationed in Greenland, for a brief period of time I was part of an online writing group that OSC sponsored on his website. I learned a good bit from the experience, and during that assignment I wrote my first novel. (After many rejections I got an offer on it from a small publisher, but did not proceed with the deal — a story for another day.)

In 2003 I attended OSC’s writing workshop at UNC-Greensboro, where I found out a lot of what I had done wrong in that first novel. Then in 2004 he selected me as one of the students for his Literary Boot Camp, held that year at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia. I learned so much during that week that I still haven’t put into practice, but I have seen some small success with my short fiction since selling my first story in 2007 and making my first “professional” sale in 2010.

So not only because the novel got me back into reading SF&F, but because it rejuvenated my long-comatose dream of writing and publishing my own stories, being able to do a song based on Ender’s Game meant a lot to me. (Where that dream morphed into writing and publishing songs, I’m not sure; I guess I needed another hobby.)

Anyway, in the song I wanted a martial beat to capture the battle feel and I tried to compose words that would reflect the difficulties of fighting an implacable enemy in order to protect those we hold dear.

There are times when you fight, win however you can
The price you pay is your soul … piece by piece by piece
It’s a pittance to offer, for your fellow man
To guard those we love and treasure while they peacefully sleep

And in the final chorus, I change the focus from the determination we must have to face the enemy to the price we pay in doing so.

The price of freedom is always high
We pay it when we kill, and we’ll pay it if we die
But we pay it for the futures of those we left behind
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

If I’d been more forward-thinking, I would have written and released the song to coincide with the release of the movie. But my sense of timing has never been that good.

Anyway, whether you’ve read Ender’s Game (or seen the movie) or not, and even if you can’t relate to the feelings expressed in the song, I hope you like “The Enemy’s Gate is Down”!


___

One final note: Both the first chorus and the second chorus include subtle, if not downright obscure, homages to renowned science fiction authors. Can you pick them out?

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