Getting Just Deserts? I’d Rather Just Have Desserts

It has been “interesting” these past few weeks, for varying degrees of the word, watching the attacks and counterattacks of the Hugo Award fracas* and dealing with the fallout and toxic residue. Being a person of little import or influence may have shielded me somewhat, for which I’m thankful. At least for the moment, some of the ire seems to have abated, indignation reduced from a full boil to a slow simmer.

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
(Getting just dessert is certainly tastier than getting one’s just deserts. Image: “Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake,” by Josh, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Despite the fact that my nominated story was part of the notorious slate of candidates that locked up more categories than anyone thought possible, several friends — including some who were aware of the controversy — sent me nice congratulations. And a few of them, in congratulating me, said it was “well-deserved.”

I value their support very highly — things that are rare are precious — and I appreciate the sentiment, but “deserve” carries a specific connotation to me such that I prefer not to use the word. My way of looking at it is perhaps peculiar, and one that others may consider odd, but I think no one “deserves” an award (least of all, me). To put it in a more direct way, I don’t “deserve” a Hugo Award — but maybe not for the reason that you think. The way I see it, no one does.

My first objection to saying that I or anyone else “deserves” an award goes back to my time in the Air Force, when I was writing evaluation reports and promotion recommendations and such. Even though “deserve” can mean “be qualified for” or “be worthy of” — and I hope that’s what my friends meant — I learned not to use the word because it can also carry the connotation of being “entitled to” something. No one is entitled to or has an automatic right to such a reward or place of privilege.

Thus I would not say, “Technical Sergeant So-and-so deserves promotion to Master Sergeant,” but instead would say she was ready for promotion, was qualified for and already taking on some of the roles of the higher rank, or perhaps that in my opinion she should have been promoted sooner. Likewise I would not say that Lieutenants Frick and Frack “deserve” Air Force Commendation Medals, but instead that they had each “earned” a medal by virtue of their service.

So when I think about the Hugo Awards — for “excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy,” and the “most prestigious award in science fiction” — I think that I do not “deserve” such recognition, and indeed none of us does, in the sense that none of us are entitled to it. None of us has a right to anything such as that.

The second reason I dislike using the word “deserve” is that in contrast to the phrase “just deserts” it seems to me everyone has things happen to them — good and bad, but particularly bad — that they don’t deserve. When we use the word that way, such as “Oh, that’s terrible, he didn’t deserve that,” the implication is that the person did not earn or have control over the outcome but rather that fate had conspired against them for reasons unknown and unfathomable. She did not deserve to endure that pain and suffering, he did not deserve to contract that disease.

To flip that from the negative to the positive: Even when I think of the good things that have happened in my life, I am loath to say that I deserved them. Some I could claim to have earned, but many seem arbitrary, in the sense that I did little or nothing to earn them, that fate conspired in my favor perhaps for no reason at all, when I might have deserved — really deserved — far worse. I am grateful for all such blessings, but I do not feel that I deserve them.

All of that is a long way of saying that I don’t think I “deserve” a Hugo Award nomination, much less an award itself, because things like that are (to me) not, strictly-speaking, deserved. Even so, I am grateful for the nomination and I might, just might, possibly, have earned it. Why? Because I did the work.

I wrote a story. In fact, the work I did on my story (or that any of the nominees and would-be nominees did on their stories) was complete long before the nomination period opened. I cast that bread upon the waters, so to speak. I did the work, cashed the check, and expected no further reward.

I still expect no further reward. I don’t “deserve” any further reward. I appreciate that some people think that the work — not me, personally, but the work I did — is worthy of recognition. I acknowledge that others disagree: some on the basis of the work, some perhaps for reasons unconnected to it. But I am buoyed by every report that someone appreciated spending time in my make-believe world; I claim no right or entitlement to any accolade, but I am humbled to think that anyone considered my work to be worthy of recognition.

I admit that all the controversy surrounding the nominations has made this a less pleasant experience than it might have been. A friend whom I respect even contacted me with the suggestion (encouragement? urging?) that I should withdraw my nomination, to avoid being caught, dragged under, and having my career drown in the raging turmoil. I appreciate the concern, and to some degree share it; the idea was, and in some respects still is, tempting.

But to paraphrase what I told some other friends when the furor was first cresting: whenever the uproar threatens to steal all my joy I try to concentrate on two things. First, I wrote the best story I could. Second, some people seem to have liked it. I would not go back and undo the first, and I will not cease to be thankful for the second.

And, for the record: I’m also thankful for desserts. Especially pie.

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N.B. The above was adapted from an article I sent out in my newsletter. If you want to receive my newsletter, then I may question your judgment but you can sign up for it here anyway.

___

*I hesitate to call the Hugo Awards controversy a “war,” since at heart this is all contention over works of imagination. Far more has been written about it than may be possible to read (part of the hazard of any controversy involving writers). For my own take on the matter, if you’re curious, see What I Nominated for Hugo Awards, and Three Ideas to Consider and The Hugo Awards: Considering the Controversy.

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What I Nominated for Hugo Awards, and Three Ideas to Consider

Being a person of little influence, I did not publish my Hugo Award nominations or recommendations before the deadline. Very few people would have been interested.

I’m publishing them now because they seem to make a nice counterpoint to some of the controversy surrounding the awards. Plus, they give me a jumping-off point for looking at three ideas the World Science Fiction Society and World SF Convention might consider. Or not. I’m just another voice in the electronic wilderness, after all.

Idea Pirate Flag
(“Idea Pirate Flag,” by Richard Winchell, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Fair warning: This will be a long post. Much longer than my usual posts, I’m afraid. Feel free to skim, or skip, or just go back and read about my nominated story.

The Nominations. I am sorry to say that few of my picks ended up on the Hugo Awards ballot. I don’t generally nominate according to recommendations, even when the cause is to remedy “Puppy Related Sadness,” and I suspect the same is true for most people I know. And unfortunately, my time being increasingly precious these days my pleasure reading is often limited to works by friends of mine. I don’t offer that as justification or excuse, it’s just how it is. I nominate what I’m familiar and comfortable with.

If you didn’t get the “Puppy Related Sadness” reference, see this blog post by Larry Correia, which was part of the first round of what became the “Sad Puppies” campaigns to encourage his fans to purchase WorldCon memberships, nominate, and vote for the Hugo Awards. We are now in round three, abbreviated SP3, this time coordinated by Brad Torgersen; and I believe I am quite honest in my assessment when I say that without Brad and Larry calling attention to my story, in all likelihood it would not be among the Hugo finalists. I’ll reference the “Sad Puppies” controversy throughout this post, including as I discuss my nominations.

How far off were my picks? Let’s look at the professional literary categories.

My nominations for Best Professional Editor (Long Form) were:

  • Tony Daniel
  • Jim Minz
  • Toni Weisskopf

What can I say? I work with all of them in my supporting role as a Contributing Editor for Baen Books, and I know they know their stuff. If one day I am fortunate enough to have a publisher buy a novel of mine, I would happily work with any of them (hint, hint); but if I got the opportunity to work with another editor at some other publisher, I would probably nominate that person, too.

The actual 2015 lineup in this category, with 712 nominating ballots counted, includes Vox Day, Sheila Gilbert, Jim Minz, Anne Sowards, and Toni Weisskopf. My score: 2 out of 3, both of whom were on the “Sad Puppies” list.

My nominations for Best Professional Editor (Short Form) were:

  • Jennifer Brozek
  • Trevor Quachri
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • Edmund Schubert
  • Sheila Williams

Surprise, surprise — here I also nominated people with whom I’ve worked. Each of them has been my editor, in one form or another, and I respect them all. The 2015 category lineup, with 870 nominating ballots, consists of Jennifer Brozek, Vox Day, Mike Resnick, Edmund R. Schubert, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. My score: 3 out of 5, all of whom were on the “Sad Puppies” list.

My nominations for Best Related Work were:

  • Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (Merry Blacksmith Press)
  • “Lockstep: A Possible Galactic Empire,” Karl Schroeder (Analog)
  • Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy, Dan Koboldt (http://dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi/)
  • “Spanking Bad Data Won’t Make Them Behave,” Michael F. Flynn (Analog)
  • “Why Science is Never Settled,” Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)

Here, you might get the impression that I like the science fact articles in Analog — and you’d be right. What you may not get is that Dan Koboldt and Tedd Roberts are friends of mine, Lou Antonelli is an acquaintance, and I think they do fine work. The 2015 Hugo nominees in this category, with 1150 nominating ballots, include works by Ken Burnside, Lou Antonelli, John C. Wright, Tedd Roberts, and Michael Z. Williamson. My score: 2 out of 5, both of whom were on the “Sad Puppies” list.

My nominations for Best Short Story?

  • “Ashes and Starlight,” David Farland (Shattered Shields)
  • “First Blood,” Elizabeth Moon (Shattered Shields)
  • “The Keeper of Names,” Larry Correia (Shattered Shields)
  • “No Lonely Seafarer,” Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
  • “Totaled,” Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge)

Controversy must abound here, since most of my favored nominees were stories I enjoyed from a particular anthology that means something special to me — including two by authors personally known to me. The other two are also very good stories by friends of mine, who sent them to me for consideration. But controversy is where you find it. The 2015 Best Short Story nominations, tallied from 1174 nominating ballots, are by Annie Bellet, Lou Antonelli, John C. Wright, Kary English, and Steve Rzasa. My score: 1 out of 5; yes, another on the “Sad Puppies” list.

My nominations for Best Novelette were:

  • “Beneath the Ice of Enceladus,” James C. Glass (Analog)
  • “Dancing with Death in the Land of Nod,” Will McIntosh (Apocalypse Triptych, Vol 1)
  • “Life Flight,” Brad Torgersen (Analog)
  • “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld)
  • “Mind Locker,” Juliette Wade (Analog)

Can you tell yet that I like Analog stories? And, yes, I know almost all of those authors.

Turns out the 2015 nominations for Best Novelette (with 1031 nominating ballots) are by a guy with my name, plus Edward M. Lerner, Michael F. Flynn, Rajnar Vajra, and John C. Wright. My score: 0 out of 5. Shocking!

I only submitted three nominations for Best Novella:

  • Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion Press)
  • “Claudius Rex,” John P. Murphy (Alembical 3)
  • “From Earth I Have Arisen,” Matt Rotundo (Alembical 3)

Why only three? Because these fellows are also friends of mine, and sent me their tales to read; and, I didn’t even look at any other novellas from 2014 — not even the ones in Analog. Sue me.

The 2015 Best Novella nominees, based on 1083 nominating ballots, are by Tom Kratman, Arlan Andrews, Sr., and John C. Wright. Mr. Wright, it turns out, has three nominations in this category, which for my money is a little bit ungracious and not very sportsmanlike; had he asked my advice, I would have suggested that he set a new precedent by selecting the best of his stories and declining the other two nominations. But since we’ve never met, alas, my advice remains about as valuable as most advice. (Which is to say, not very.) My score: 0 out of 5. Perhaps I should be outraged? On second thought, I’d rather not; I tend to say things I regret when I am outraged. And sometimes even when I’m not.

And, finally, my nominations for Best Novel were:

  • Black Tide Rising (series), John Ringo (Baen)
  • The Chaplain’s War, Brad Torgersen (Baen)
  • Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia (Baen)
  • A Plunder of Souls, D.B. Jackson (Tor)
  • Trial By Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)

Why so many titles from Baen? Aren’t I more widely read than that? Not usually, no. Remember, as a contractor to Baen I’m charged with selecting novels for us to publish so I need to keep up with what our authors are producing. (Yes, I also need to keep up with the field in general. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t read as many Baen titles as I should, let alone titles from other publishers.)

As it turns out, the 2015 Best Novel nominees (1827 nominating ballots) are by Ann Leckie, Kevin J. Anderson, Katherine Addison, Marko Kloos, and Jim Butcher, though Larry Correia turned down a nomination for MHN. My score: 1 out of 5 until Larry dropped out, then 0 out of 5.

So, all in all, I didn’t do so well on the nominating front.

C’est la vie.

Why, you ask? Why didn’t I nominate everything on the SP3 list? Am I not concerned, do I not want to remediate if not eradicate Puppy Related Sadness?

The simple answer is, I’m not a drone. And I prefer to think that other people are, likewise, not drones: that they are capable of making informed decisions even in the face of strong recommendations from people they like and/or admire. In my most optimistic moments, I think that’s exactly what happened; in my most pessimistic moments, I think that many people straight-voted the SP3 list or the alternate “Rabid Puppies” list without considering other worthy contenders, even though the SP3 organizers encouraged people to read the works and make up their own minds; in my all-too-infrequent realistic moments, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

So, many of the recommendations from the “Sad Puppies” list made it onto the Hugo Awards ballot, including my own novelette. And there has been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth — some of it, my own.

An episode from my youth may illustrate why I cannot muster the enthusiasm to cheer the overwhelming “success” (scare quotes intentional) of the “Sad Puppies” and especially the “Rabid Puppies” program. If you’re tired of this discussion, feel free to skip this next part:

When I was a senior in high school, an arsonist burned down our school: Winyah High School in Georgetown, South Carolina. (Some readers may think the general reaction should have been, “And there was much rejoicing,” but for many if not most of us that was a very dark day.) In response, the school board took the opportunity to plan for a new school, in a new location, and to merge WHS with the crosstown school. I was part of a group that began studying what mascot and color scheme the new Georgetown HS would have. We met; we solicited and came up with ideas; we took the ideas back to our respective schools and let the students vote. And when we came back together, our school’s votes had split among the different options while the crosstown, smaller school’s votes were nearly unanimous in favor of one particular choice, which won the day. Had they coordinated their voting, with encouragement to vote for that single option? Almost certainly. And for those of us whose school had been burned down, and now exists only in memory, disappointing barely scratched the surface of our emotions.

I say all that to say this: When I signed on to the SP3 list — and, yes, I was invited and agreed — I had no inkling that it would see such “success.” I anticipated a few finalists would hail from the list, but that other worthies would join them in every category. I remember well that old feeling of being shut out, the deep disappointment of feeling that my vote and my effort had been wasted, and I had no intention and certainly no wish to leave anyone else in the position. I didn’t, and don’t, think “Sad Puppies” was orchestrated to achieve that effect, and I regret that its “success” came at such a cost. I imagine that is a cold comfort to some of my friends.

Now, having procrastinated too much …

The Ideas. Something I observed during my years in the Air Force and subsequent years in a university setting is that the people who benefit from (or under) a system are often less likely to find fault with it. That is, officers who were promoted, or selected for command billets or other choice assignments, under the extant evaluation and selection systems tended to view the systems pretty favorably: after all, the systems recognized them as promotable or highly qualified — a favorable result — and therefore the systems could be trusted to produce other favorable results. Likewise, professors with tenure rarely complain about the tenure system; the system worked for them, so they are naturally disposed to think of it as a good system, if perhaps a bit onerous. No matter the organizational system, those who benefit from it often do not perceive its faults or look for ways to improve it. I submit that was true for those who benefitted from the Hugo Awards system before the “Sad Puppies” program, and I submit that it is true now for many who benefitted from the “Sad Puppies” onslaught. It is, in my experience, quite natural for this attitude to develop.

N.B.: That does not (I repeat, not) (I-tell-you-three-times, not) mean there is anything nefarious going on in the system, or that the people running the system are engaged in any kind of wrongdoing. Everyone is doing their best. And in general, everyone believes they are doing the right things.

Enough intro. For anyone who’s interested, I present below three ideas to consider for the Hugo Awards. I do not claim them as original, but I also have not scoured the hundreds of Hugo-Award-related blog posts with their thousands of comments to see if they have been put forth by other people. Undoubtedly they duplicate to some degree what others have suggested. I include them here based on the idealistic notion that the Hugo Awards might truly represent more of science fiction and fantasy fandom than simply WorldCon fandom; if, as some have suggested, WorldCon members wish to keep the Hugos to themselves, then these ideas would not apply.

1. Remove the limit of 5 entries per category, and put everything that gets more than 5% on the final ballot. A friend called my attention to a version of this, involving a more complicated scheme, but I think this simple idea would work in terms of inclusivity and ease of implementation. Simply, enlarge the pool of nominated works. Ties for 5th place already allow for a 6th nominee, but why stop there?

The statistics for this year are still being held close by WorldCon until after the awards ceremony, but had this idea been in place last year, there would have been 10 finalists for Best Novel, 13 for Best Novella, 7 for Best Novelette, still only 4 for Best Short Story, 7 for Best Related Work, 10 for Best Editor (Short Form), and 12 for Best Editor (Long Form). To examine just my category, Best Novelette, in more detail, the finalists out of 728 ballots cast would have been:

  • “Lady Astronaut of Mars,” Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “The Exchange Officers,” Brad R. Torgersen
  • “The Waiting Stars,” Aliette de Bodard
  • “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling,” Ted Chiang
  • “Opera Vita Aeterna,” Vox Day
  • “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,” Ken Liu
  • “Forbid the Sea,” Seanan McGuire

The outcome would probably have been the same — “Lady Astronaut of Mars” was a fine story (if I recall, I placed it 2nd on my ballot) — but what would it have hurt to have included Ken Liu and Seanan McGuire’s stories on the ballot? Or to have included Lauren Beukes, Sofia Samatar, Sarah A. Hoyt, Helene Wecker, and Scott Lynch on the Best Novel ballot? Etc. Is it better for the ultimate award recipients to be counted as the best out of 5 because of an arbitrary cutoff, or as the best out of 7 or 10 or more that met the 5% criterion?

Yes, it would mean more in the voter packet to read. So what? Hugo Award voters like to read, from what I understand. Plus, it’s not as if reading everything in its entirety is a requirement to vote. Folks will read as much as they want of what they want, regardless of anyone enjoining them to consider all the finalists on the merits. (Some friends have even told me that because my story was on the “Sad Puppies” list, they will vote “No Award” for it regardless of any merits it might have, and I suspect some will not read it at all; that’s disappointing, but well within their rights, and I appreciate at least their honesty about it.)

One more “counterfactual,” alternate-history-type scenario to consider with respect to this notion: If there had been no artificial cap of 5 per category, in 2013 there would have been 15 finalists in the Best Novel category, including Monster Hunter Legion by Larry Correia. Again, the outcome might have been the same — my daughter enjoyed Redshirts and suggested that I would, too, though it remains on my ever-lengthening “to be read” pile — but the ballot would have been demonstrably more open, more inclusive. And there might have been a little less Puppy Related Sadness in the world.

2. Establish arrangements for members of other conventions (e.g., Dragon_Con, GenCon, any of the Comic Cons) to receive nominating privileges. I have seen in several places the idea of reducing the price of WorldCon supporting memberships to enlarge the voting pool, and this could be an adjunct to that idea. It need not be limited to large cons, though at first they may be the most able to implement it.

Again, this would only apply if WorldCon wished to invite other con-goers to participate. Other conventions might have the choice between automatically enrolling all of their members or establishing a separate “Hugo Nominations” or “WorldCon Partner” membership with a nominally higher price, perhaps as low as $10 or even less, an amount that would be passed through to WorldCon. At the partner conventions, mentions in program books and at opening and closing ceremonies, plugs during literary and other panels, and later direct e-mail contact would serve to make more fans aware of the Hugo Awards and what they represent.

If Dragon_Con, for instance, became a “WorldCon Partner” at only $5 a head, WorldCon would get a cool quarter-million dollars. And if these were “nominating only” memberships, WorldCon could still sell full supporting memberships that conferred the right to vote on the nominated finalists.

I have no idea how many members of other conventions would nominate under such a program. I get the impression that some of the serious fen at WorldCon might dislike the idea of allowing more casual fans to submit nominations, especially if they might prove susceptible to outside influence. But it could make an interesting pilot program for a few years, to see if it gained any traction and had any impact.

3. Restrict professional publishing employees from in-house nominating. With respect to my nominations above, I pointed out that several were for Baen Books personnel or publications, and that I have a professional relationship with Baen as a consulting editor. I see no reason to be coy about that, to wink or pretend otherwise; indeed, I consider it quite natural that I would be more aware of and even more appreciative of Baen’s people and products than I am of other publishers’. I suspect the same is true of those who are employed by or work closely with other publishing houses, specific magazines, etc.

That is not to say that we do not read what other publishers produce; we do, though maybe not as much as we would wish. (You can take that as the “royal we” if you don’t like me speaking for other people.) But it is natural for us to consider the things we work on and those we are affiliated with to be superior. If that makes me sound biased, then guilty as charged; in my experience, everyone is biased one way or another, to greater or lesser degrees. The most problems creep in when we let our biases blind us, when we let them become prejudices.

The question, though, is whether these biases have ever skewed nominations one way or another. I cannot say. It may be that any effect they have had is negligible. But one way to minimize the possibility of any such biases would be to restrict convention members who are employed by specific magazines or publishing houses from nominating works from their own companies. (In some respects, this would be similar to the restriction from self-nomination in the Nebula Awards.) Writers and artists, often contracted to multiple companies rather than employed by one, would not fall under such a restriction. And the restriction would only apply to nominations; once a work was on the final ballot, anyone would be able to vote for it.

So What? In the main, I’ve typed this and hung it out here to get it out of my head. I don’t expect anyone to take it too seriously, for two reasons. First, there may be a thousand reasons why these ideas are bad, but I’m too biased to see them. Second, I’m still a newcomer to all this.

Yes, I consider myself a newcomer. I probably always will. While established writers my age were working on their writing craft, paying their literary dues, going to conventions and whatnot, I was making a career out of the Air Force, paying different dues, going TDY and whatnot. Some people are able to carry on both a writing career and another career; for a long time, I was not. I even gave up writing fiction for many years, and came back to it in more fits than starts. I have been on the fringes of fandom, aware of it, much longer than I have been involved in it.

As such, I confess my own naivete: for a long time, I believed that the Hugo Awards represented all of fandom, not just WorldCon fandom, not just “serious” fen. I believed that even though they were administered by the WSFS and WorldCon, decided upon and conferred by them, that the Hugos stood for the entire field. I believed that the WSFS and WorldCon were carrying out a duty equivalent to a sacred trust, on behalf of the entire universe of fans.

And even though I have recently been disabused of that notion, in my idealistic cors cordium I still believe it. As such, I would like to see the Hugo Awards remain a glorious ideal, a pinnacle of achievement, prestigious for all the right reasons, even if it means that I never receive one.

A Final Word. I apologize again for the length of this screed. I could probably use a good editor.

Thank you for some of your precious time.

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About My Hugo-Award-Nominated Story

I’m not going to talk about the Great Hugo Award Controversy in this post. If that disappoints anyone, then in the words of my former teacher, Dave Haasl, “For this I apologize, but this apology is in no way sincere.”

Hugo Award Logo

One additional note: This post is adapted from what I sent out today in my newsletter. Usually I give my newsletter friends a longer period of exclusivity, so to them I offer a sincere apology.

For family and friends who don’t follow science fiction and fantasy news, last Saturday the nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced, and my story, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium,” which appeared in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show online magazine last May, is a finalist for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

If you already know what the Hugo Awards are, you can skip this paragraph, but for family and friends who are not immersed in SF&F culture: the Hugo Awards are given for “excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy,” and have been called the “most prestigious award in science fiction” — so this is a pretty big deal. You can think of the Hugos as something of a cross between the Academy Awards and the People’s Choice Awards, in that they’re voted on by a fairly small group (members of the World Science Fiction Convention) but anyone is welcome to join that group.

My first reaction to the nomination was a profound sense of gratitude, which I hope will become clear as I tell you a bit about the story and how it came to be.

My “novelette” — which simply refers to a story between 7500 and 17,500 words long — revolves around human settlers on a distant planet trying to end years of subjugation by an alien species. Here’s the opening:

The door leading to the Tephrist’s studio reminded Cerna of a clam’s shell turned on its side, except it was grossly oversized, indigo-painted, and steel.

“Let’s go back, Phil,” Cerna said. “Why do you want to go in there? They’re the ones making you sick.”

Keller would hear none of it. His hand shook a little as he pushed against the damaged identi-plate. The plate and the imperfectly patched wall around it bore the imprint of the only human revolt to have reached this far into town.

As the door-halves swung apart on smooth tracks, Cerna resisted the urge to pull his friend away. The interlocking flutes were sharp edged and equipped with heavy-duty pins as long as his forearm that secured it in the off-hours.

The front room was square, and stark in its simplicity. It smelled pleasanter than Cerna expected, faintly of cinnamon. Not like death at all.

The ceiling was mostly open to the afternoon sky, typical of Peshari construction, but buttresses rose from the corners that were interconnected with steel bars. Shadows from the bars made patterns on the rough, pale, orange tiled floor and the sand colored brick walls. A few bricks were adorned with dead Peshari in miniature bas-relief.

A heavy-beamed archway roughly opposite the entrance led back into the work area. In between, a holo-pillar took up about a square meter in the center of the room, but it was turned off. Otherwise, the room was bare, with not even a plant to break up the uniform color. Cerna guessed that a place devoted to death might not be the best environment for living things.

If you’re curious and want to read more, I’ll put the link at the bottom of this post.

So, then, why was gratitude my first reaction when the committee told me I’d been nominated? Because I give credit to a number of other people for the story’s success — and even for its very existence!

First off, I wrote the story as part of the annual Halloween contest in the Codex Writers Group, and the two “seeds” I started with came from fellow writers Aliza Greenblatt and Eric James Stone. The story took second place in the contest, and James Maxey liked it so much that he called it to the attention of Edmund Schubert, the editor of InterGalactic Medicine Show. Ed asked me to send it to him, which of course I did. Just a few months later the story went online.

So I am deeply grateful to each and all of them for their contributions to and faith in the tale.

The story of the story (if you will) might have ended there. IGMS’s readership is smaller than the traditional powerhouse magazines like Analog and Asimov’s, and while it’s nice to think that some of the readers liked my story, I don’t remember it being reviewed or getting any other attention. But as “award season” started warming up my friends Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia decided to recommend the story, and others followed suit. For my part, I was quite happy that a few more people might read the story than would have ever heard of it otherwise; even with the widespread attention Brad and Larry and their “Evil League of Evil” could give it, I doubted it would make the cut.

Turns out I was wrong.

So here I am, with a story nominated for one of the most significant science fiction awards. From the moment I opened the e-mail with the news, I’ve been and remain most grateful, to the people named above and to everyone who read my story and liked it enough to nominate it.

Voting will take place this summer. I’ll find out in August if my story passed muster with the voters.

Until then, as I noted above there is more than a little controversy over my nomination, because it was part of the recommendation list that was passed around. But I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving that discussion to another day.

Because all I really want to say today is: Thank you, one and all.

___

Here’s the promised link, if you’d like to read “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”.

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My Friend Brad Torgersen Suggests One of My Works for Hugo Award Consideration

Award-winning author Brad Torgersen included my novelette, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium,” which appeared in the May 2014 issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, as part of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign to encourage people to read and consider works that might otherwise be ignored.

I like the crew-patch-style logo:


(Sad Puppies 3 logo.)

Some Background, if You Need It. If you haven’t been following the recent controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards — and if you’re not a convention-going science fiction and fantasy fan, why would you? — bestselling author Larry Correia started the “Sad Puppies” campaign two years ago as a reaction to the tendency for the major genre awards to ignore (if not actually shun) popular works by conservative authors, with the result that nominees often represented highly “literary” works that were experimental or edgy or otherwise inaccessible to wide audiences, or “message” fiction that seemed more concerned with waving the flag for progressive issues than with being entertaining. In addition, there had there been reports of authors being blackballed and suspicions of vote-tampering by World Science Fiction Convention staff members.

Larry, who plied his trade as an accountant and auditor before he started writing full-time, saw that the threshold for making the Hugo ballot was relatively small — as low as a few dozen nominations in some categories — and encouraged people to nominate specific works. By comparing the numbers of people who reported their nominations to him with the figures reported by WorldCon, Larry showed that accusations of fraud were unfounded. The nomination and voting processes appeared to be operating above-board, which speaks well for the volunteers who organize and staff the conventions.

Tongue-in-cheek, Larry called his program the Sad Puppies campaign because some people love to be part of causes on behalf of the downtrodden. He wrote that

The ugly truth is that the most prestigious award in sci-fi/fantasy is basically just a popularity contest, where the people who are popular with a tiny little group of WorldCon voters get nominated and thousands of other works are ignored. Books that tickle them are declared good and anybody who publically deviates from groupthink is bad. Over time this lame ass award process has become increasingly snooty and pretentious, and you can usually guess who all of the finalists are going to be that year before any of the books have actually come out or been read by anyone, entirely by how popular the author is with this tiny group.

This is a leading cause of puppy related sadness.

Of course anything that is voted on is de-facto a popularity contest, and the fact is what I like may not be popular with very many people. The only way to make your vote count is to actually vote, and in the case of the Hugo Awards, not all of the people who buy books are interested in buying convention memberships or voting for awards. So it is that, just as with film awards in which movies that do well at the box office are often overlooked during award season, authors who are popular enough to sell thousands if not millions of books are often shut out of what has long been considered the premiere science fiction award.

Back to the Main Topic. I very much appreciate Brad including my story among his recommendations. You can see all of his suggestions at the Sad Puppies link at the top, where he wrote that he is carrying on the campaign to recognize

entirely deserving works, writers, and editors — all of whom would not otherwise find themselves on the Hugo ballot without some extra oomph received from beyond the rarefied, insular halls of 21st century Worldcon “fandom.”

Which is where YOU guys come in. Everyone who’s signed up as a full or supporting member of either Loncon 3 (last year’s Worldcon) or Sasquan (this year’s Worldcon) or MidAmeriCon II (next year’s Worldcon). If you agree with our slate below — and we suspect you might — this is YOUR chance to make sure YOUR voice is heard. This is YOUR award (as SF/F’s self-proclaimed “most prestigious award”) and YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.

I’m pleased that he considers my little story to be deserving! And even if folks find other novelettes to nominate, I’m pleased that some more people might read it now who otherwise may not even have heard of it.

If you’d like to read “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium,” here’s a link to it on the IGMS site.* Hope you like it!

___
*If you can’t afford to buy the online magazine and still want to read the story, drop me a line and I’ll see about getting you a copy.

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I’ll Have a Story in an Upcoming Baen Books Anthology

The press embargo lifted yesterday! I’m excited to announce that my short story, “Lightweaver in Shadow,” will appear in the Shattered Shields military fantasy anthology coming out from Baen Books.


(Gray is going to be a Baen author!)

Editors Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt put together the anthology, and I was thrilled to learn that they selected my little story — first, because I still get excited when any of my stories are accepted for publication, and second, because this means that I will soon enough be a Baen author! After being connected to Baen as the “Slushmaster General” for the past few years, to have one of my stories picked for a Baen anthology feels terrific.

The anthology will be released as a trade paperback in November 2014, and the full Table of Contents features some wonderful authors:

  • Introduction by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • “Ashes and Starlight,” a Runelords story by David Farland
  • “The Fixed Stars,” an October Daye story by Seanan McGuire
  • “The Keeper of Names,” by Larry Corriea
  • “The Smaller We Are,” by John Helfers
  • “Invictus,” by Annie Bellett
  • “Rising Above,” by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • “A Cup of Wisdom,” by Joseph Zieja
  • “Words of Power,” by Wendy N. Wagner
  • “Lightweaver in Shadow,” by Gray Rinehart
  • “Hoofsore and Weary,” by Cat Rambo
  • “Vengeance,” a Frost story by Robin Wayne Bailey
  • “Deadfall,” by Nancy Fulda
  • “Yael of the Strings,” by John R. Fultz
  • “The Gleaners,” by Dave Gross
  • “Bonded Men,” by James L. Sutter
  • “Bone Candy,” a Black Company story by Glen Cook
  • “First Blood,” a Paksenarrion story by Elizabeth Moon

 

Since my story holds down the middle slot, I expect it’s the weakest of the bunch — but it made the cut! That’s good enough for me.

I’ll post more information as we get closer to the release date.

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New ASIMOV’S, with My Story, ‘What is a Warrior Without His Wounds?’

Here’s a look at the cover of the July issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, which should be available on newsstands and/or in bookstores later this week:


(Asimov’s, July 2013.)

As noted in the title, I have a novelette (i.e., a story of a certain length) in this issue. The story opens as follows:

Miroslav did not expect to find a Colonel waiting for him when he returned from physical therapy. The officer was looking out the window; Miroslav came to sluggish attention, unused to his ill-fitted prosthetic leg.

The stranger turned away from the window and regarded Miroslav’s awkward pose. “Please, Captain,” he said, his voice heavy though he smiled and nodded, “stand at ease, or sit if you prefer.”

Miroslav shifted his single crutch a little, careful not to throw his balance off. He would not sit unless the Colonel did so, even though his muscles quivered as if he had just completed a twenty-kilometer forced march.

Would they send a high-ranking officer to discharge him? Any nurse could have delivered the paperwork; it would be less humiliating.

“How is your recovery?” the Colonel asked. “Are you receiving adequate treatment? Are you progressing well?”

Miroslav acquiesced to the small talk. “I am stronger,” he said. He stood on his own for a second and tapped his false leg with the crutch. As he put the crutch back down, he lifted his prosthetic left arm. “I am not … as capable as I once was.”

If you get a chance to read it, I hope you find the story worth your while.

___

Related Posts:

New Issue of LORE, with My Story, ‘A Star That Moves’

My Story, The Second Engineer, in Asimov’s Science Fiction

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Some Perspective on Fan Mail

Or on fan e-mail, as it were.

Having only published a few stories, I don’t get much in the way of reader feedback, whether by e-mail, or here on the blog, or in person. When it does come — as when a young fellow asked for my autograph at a recent convention, or yesterday when a young lady wrote in about one of the stories I had in Asimov’s last year — it can be both refreshing and humbling.

I must be getting old...
(“I must be getting old…” by idogcow, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

It just so happens that last night, barely an hour after reading yesterday’s very complimentary e-mail, I read something else that helps put such things in perspective. My leisure reading of late has been The Best of Gene Wolfe, a collection of his short fiction, and in the afterword to “The Detective of Dreams” Mr. Wolfe writes,

I will not lecture you on Jesus of Nazareth, but I advise you to find [G.K.] Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. In [“The Detective of Dreams”] I asked you to consider that everlasting man’s short fiction. Fans have written me to say that this or that story stayed with them for days. Each letter makes me proud and happy. In my happiness and pride, I am prone to forget that there was once a storyteller from Galilee whose stories have stayed with us for millennia.

I like that very much.

So as much as I appreciate knowing that someone has read and appreciated something I wrote, I must recognize that, as Audio Adrenaline sang, I’m “never gonna be as big as Jesus.”

And that’s okay.

___

P.S. I also recommend The Everlasting Man, which is interesting and at times fascinating. I listened to the audiobook, but I admit that to me the text came across as almost too complex for audio. I would like to find a good print copy, in order to consider Chesterton’s arguments in their proper depth. GWR

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New Issue of LORE, with My Story, ‘A Star That Moves’

Now available at an Internet near you: the latest edition of LORE with one of my short stories in it!


(Lore, Volume 2, Number 3.)

Here’s the opening:

A little paranoia is healthy in a soldier, and Gaius Antonius Marcellus was a good soldier.

Marcellus did not question the prickly feeling of being targeted. He reacted to it. That reflex had left him with scratches instead of gaping wounds as he rose through the Legion ranks; it saved him from many Gallic spears in his campaigns as a Centurion; and it even warned him of political dangers through this first year as Legatus Legionis, the garrison commander. It had never failed him.

For half a month he had felt it — the hairs alert on the back of his neck — but he could not find the source. And facing the unknown was worse than facing an enemy’s sword.

And, just so you know that this is science fiction rather than fantasy, a tiny spoiler: the alien spacecraft shows up in the next paragraph.

If you want to see the other issues of LORE, check out their online store; otherwise, you can go straight to this CreateSpace page to order your copy of the magazine.

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LORE to Publish ‘A Star That Moves’

I signed the contract and submitted the final edits to my science fiction short story, “A Star That Moves,” which is set to come out in the next issue of LORE (volume 2, issue 3, available in late March).

LORE Tomb by Wayne Miller
(LORE Tomb by Wayne Miller, from the LORE “About Us” Page.)

Here’s the story opening:

A little paranoia is healthy in a soldier, and Gaius Antonius Marcellus was a good soldier.

Marcellus did not question the prickly feeling of being targeted. He reacted to it. That reflex had left him with scratches instead of gaping wounds as he rose through the Legion ranks; it saved him from many Gallic spears in his campaigns as a Centurion; and it even warned him of political dangers through this first year as Legatus Legionis, the garrison commander. It had never failed him.

For half a month he had felt it–the hairs alert on the back of his neck–but he could not find the source. And facing the unknown was worse than facing an enemy’s sword.

And, yes, it really IS a science fiction story.

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Galleys for Asimov’s, Nebula Nominations, and MystiCon Schedule

Nothing like news of a meteor strike to put the day in perspective, eh? No matter how busy you are today, or what you happen to be going through, I hope you can take some time to enjoy yourself … but keep watching the skies!

As for me, today I need to review the galleys for my novelette, “What is a Warrior Without His Wounds?” and send any changes back to the good folks at Asimov’s Science Fiction. The story is scheduled to appear in their July issue. (As an aside, I’m thinking of donating my payment for the story to the Wounded Warrior Project. Do you think that would be appropriate?)

Asimov's Science Fiction

 

Today is also the LAST DAY to nominate for the Nebula Awards, so I need to do that, too. Over the past few weeks I’ve read a LOT of terrific short fiction, which makes it hard to decide what to nominate. Guess I’d better get to it.

Nebula Award Logo

 

Finally, in the “upcoming events” category, next week I’ll be at MystiCon in Roanoke, Virginia, where I will play a concert (yes, really), moderate some panels, and generally make a nuisance of myself. My schedule looks like this:

Friday, 22 February

  • 5 p.m., A Musical Hour with Gray Rinehart
  • 6 p.m., Writing Space Battles (I’m moderating this panel)
  • 10 p.m., Koffee Klatch … Reading with Peter Prellwitz

Saturday, 23 February

  • 1 p.m., Grasping for the Stars (moderator)
  • 2 p.m., How Military Technology is Catching Up with Military SF Tech (again, moderator)
  • 4 p.m., The Baen Traveling Road Show
  • 8 p.m., Remembering Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp

Sunday, 24 February

  • 9 a.m., Worship Service
  • 12 p.m., No Shirt, No Shoes, No Entry — Business Etiquette

So, as long as we don’t get smashed by rocks falling from space, it should be a good time!

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