SJWs in space


FeatherPenClipArtThe Puppies debate has some interesting facets, and it’s also an unusual opportunity to observe a little human behavior. One of the main accusations of the Puppies’ spokesmen Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day), Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia is that SF&F has been taken over by social justice warriors (aka SJW) who are pushing a liberal and literary agenda while forcing out old fashioned, right-leaning SF&F. I’ve just been reading about social justice, as it turns out. According to Professor Michael Reisch the definition of social justice is fairly open to question. This mutability means that different groups tend to co-opt the activist strategy and organize to advance their own definition of what social justice really is. Clearly, the Puppies have taken on the mantle and have now become social justice warriors, the very thing they have been loving to hate.

That’s okay. They have the same right as anybody else to organize and push for equal rights. Although they have not been well received by the SF&F community, other SJWs do need to acknowledge that a new faction has arrived in town. Their appearance is not unprecedented, and may actually be part of a trend by men’s rights groups to oppose the sometimes steamroller tactics of other SJW groups.

Another interesting facet of the discussion is Beale’s stance against Tor, the large publisher which he mainly accuses of freezing out traditional SF&F in favor of the aforesaid liberal agenda. It’s a necessary market strategy for publishing houses to establish an image and aim for a target audience. Beale can’t fault Tor for doing this. To reach a different audience, publishers will generally set up different imprints, each with their own image and target demographic. Beale himself has a certain image and a traditional audience that he is trying to reach.

What stands out in his blog this week is a comment on John Scalzi’s recent deal with Tor for $3.4 million. After computing the standard advance for new authors at Tor, Beale notes that this contract has prevented about 500 new authors from being published at Tor. That actually sounds very socialist from someone billed as right wing.

Puppy debate maxing out


Edward LearI’ve been involved in work-for-hire for the last couple of weeks, and am just coming up for air. Checking around my virtual environment, I notice the debate about the Hugo’s seems to have gone past the point of raging insults and into slash and burn territory.

This is a process that’s encouraged by the nature of the Internet itself. If this were a space opera, for example, the plot would play out something like this: The Puppies make a raid and take over territory at the Hugo Awards. Because this is considered an aggressive action, defenders of the award would assemble a force to shake them loose. They’d all let fly with photon torpedoes and phaser cannons set to “kill.” If the forces had to resort to hand-to-hand combat, they might bring out their light sabers and go at it in Star Wars style. The result would either be that the Puppies are driven off, or else they prevail and put down roots in their new territory.

The problem with this scenario, of course, is that all the battles are actually virtual. They’re being fought on blogs, websites, Twitter and Amazon accounts and in a few news outlets. This means that there can be no really decisive victory. Defenders of the Hugos can score against the other side with a well-turned phrase, but not really take back the stronghold.

We’re hardwired to defend our territory, but when it’s the Internet, we can’t really overrun the enemy and mount their heads on pikes around the city walls to warn off other offenders. The result is that posts slide quickly from logic into flames. Some people are getting into tort territory, trying to overcome the limits of the medium and actually get at the other side in the physical world. Putting up bad reviews for people on Amazon or talking about SWATing them goes past what’s fair in this kind of battle. It’s time to let things cool off.

Requiem for Tanith Lee

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55327_girl-writing_mdIt’s been running in my head since I saw the news she had passed away. Somehow 67 doesn’t seem that old anymore, as if she’s been taken away in the flower of her maturity.

The requiem in my head is full of sadness, and also wound around with memories. It was such a delight to stumble on her fantasy books back in the day. They’ve always had a dimension and resonance for me that few other authors could provide. Because of that resonance, I always felt she and I must be kindred spirits in some way. When I first started writing, I wished I could achieve that kind of dimension.

Ah, well. All things must pass away. We were just blessed with her presence for a few short years. RIP Tanith. I’ll be thinking about you.

The Hugo Awards: Follow the money


55327_girl-writing_mdHave been to Theodore Beale’s (aka Vox Day’s) blog site today to poke around. Interestingly he seems to be casting the current kerfluffle about the Hugo Awards as an “in crowd” issue. According to Beale, a problem with the Hugos in previous years is that large publishers have manipulated the slate of nominations to feature their own publications. Now we have an accusation that might stick. This is business, so it’s all driven by economics, after all. Awards increase sales. If you really want to understand what’s going on, just follow the money flow.

This means that Beale has only copied what he sees, and manipulated the awards to get publications from his own publishing house on the ballot. Fair’s fair, according to Beale. Discussion in the comments section involves possible strategies that different factions might mount next year in an effort to take over control of the nominations process for themselves. It really is all about power and marketing.

In other news from Mike Glyer’s File 770 site, Jameson Quinn, a doctoral student from Harvard, is requesting funds through a GoFundMe campaign to attend WorldCon’s business meeting and present a system to prevent packing the slate in the future through buying memberships. While the Rabid Puppies think the nominations problem will even out over time, other factions seem to be thinking that the system needs to be changed. The question is what other plan the WorldCon management might come up with.

So, is all this talk about traditional SF versus the new diversity just smoke and mirrors? Is the real issue here about a small publisher versus the large publishing houses? It’s hard to separate the right wing content from the publisher, which puts Beale at a disadvantage in today’s market. Because of the current social climate, I don’t personally think he would prevail in getting any stories on the ballot even in a perfectly free market. Still, I have to admire his mouse with a sword attitude.

I’m planning to write something soon on the probability of a short story getting nominated for the Hugo’s. As a lowly, reclusive short story writer, I don’t have a dog in this fight. It certainly is interesting to watch, though.

Apologizing for Heinlein


FeatherPenClipArtLast year I went to Atlanta for Dragon Con. This is not normally my thing, as I’m mostly an introverted recluse. However, I had a good time. There were–I dunno–maybe 50,000 – 60,000 SF&F fans there, all dressed up in fun costumes. As THE big fan-run conference of the year, I figure this has to be a cross section of current SF&F fandom.

It looked like a lot of cons these days. There was about equal representation of genders. I wasn’t really counting heads, but there seemed to be a fair representation from racial minorities and people with disabilities. There was a lot of nudity, and a certain amount of cross-dressing, which may or may not have been significant.

I poked around in the art exhibit and some other offerings, but mostly I stuck with the writer’s track. I attended several interesting panels, which included publishers, authors and critics. There were a few minorities represented, and some featured mostly men or mostly women, depending on the subject. I have to say that there was some clear discrimination against LGBTQ topics. These panels were rescheduled to increasingly later times, eventually ending up about midnight. Hm.

So, on to the topic. One of the papers actually sounded like an apology for Robert Heinlein. It was presented by Jennifer Hudgens, currently a philosophy academic who teaches courses on science fiction at the University of Kentucky. Ms. Hudgens appears to be about thirtyish, which makes her a Millennial. The subject of her paper was misogyny and racism in Heinlein’s work, and why he’s an important writer anyway. This is an interesting take on science fiction that won several Hugo Awards in the 1950s.

I have to admit I’ve not read anything by Robert Heinlein in a long time. I consider it period science fiction, something to be read with the period in mind, like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. Because of the attitudes identified by Ms. Hudgens, I suspect it would most likely be un-publishable by a new writer submitting it today.

Ms. Hudgens’ opinion is a bad sign for writers or publishers of traditional, right leaning science fiction like Sad or Rabid Puppies Vox Day, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen. The Census Bureau predicts that in 2015 Millennials will surpass the Baby Boom generation in size, making them the largest available fan group for SF&F. These kids have grown up in a time when they expect to be respected for who they are, regardless of gender, race, disability, LGBTQ status, religion or national origin. Unless you’re writing period SF&F, then you need to be aware of that.

Is there too much diversity in SF&F?


55327_girl-writing_mdI want to digress from the branding and marketing discussion for a bit to actually consider Theodore Beale’s (aka Vox Day’s) complaints. For those not in the know, Beale heads an activist group called the “Rabid Puppies” inspired by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen’s “Sad Puppies.” The platform for these groups is that the SF&F awards system has recently been co-opted by social justice warriors (aka SJW) who are engaged in a conspiracy to force diversity upon the SF&F readership. Correia, Torgersen and Beale insist that nobody really wants this diversity and that they, as right-leaning hard-liners, need to call attention to the conspiracy and counter with a traditional, white male ballot for the Hugo Awards.

So, is there really too much diversity on the ballot? This might not be a popular observation, but I can personally see a clear political agenda, at least in the US and Northern Europe, to increase acceptance of diversity. Everyone must have noticed this. Diversity is billed as a good thing, something we should respect that can bring in new ideas and new ways of doing things. It also implies acceptance of differences like gender, LGBTQ status, religion, disability, race, national origin, etc., etc., etc. But, the truth is that diversity makes us all nervous. Political scientist Robert Putnam, researching community trends in 2000, made the inconvenient discovery that greater diversity in a community leads to less trust, less volunteering, less cooperation, less voting and less civic engagement in general for average members of the community. As a liberal, Putnam was so disturbed by this finding that he waited until 2007 to publish the results, i.e. that diversity damages communities.

So, what can we gather from this? First, that there will be a backlash. Giving all the awards to the new kids on the block, especially those diverse kids, means that traditional, old-fashioned SF&F will get fewer awards. Second, some people will be offended that SF&F that got awards in 1953 is not getting awards now. Third, these people may complain.

Should we take them seriously? Answer: We should listen. They have a heart-felt complaint. There is still a place for vintage 1953 SF&F. However, the complainants need to accept that a significantly lower percentage of the SF&F readership will enjoy this type fiction. Diversity has invaded the fan base, and these more diverse individuals will look for stories that suit their taste. That means it’s impossible to put the diversity genie back in the bottle. It’s out, it’s loose and it’s creating change in the SF&F market. This will be reflected in the award nominations, as these tastes start to have their effect.

Get used to it, guys.

More on branding

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FeatherPenClipArtThe issue with using controversy to establish a brand is that people get a fairly strong image of you. It means you’re staking out a certain plot of turf to claim for your own. In the case of Mr. Beale, for example, he has staked out a right-wing, white supremacist plot of turf. He has advertised this by making racist comments on Twitter and by getting into squabbles with women he thinks are promoting a feminist agenda. He’s not real friendly to LGBTQ people, either.

Subversion of the Hugo’s is a masterful stroke, whereby Beale not only features prominently in the award nominations, but also creates a huge controversy about the direction of modern SF&F and men’s rights. Various people are now bandying his name about on their blogs, and anyone who wants to vote for the Hugo Awards is valiantly slogging through his books in order to make a decision on how to vote. Mr. Beale now has a national brand and a recognizable name.

This bad-boy strategy is similar to the train wreck campaigns you see music and film stars carry on. The plan is expressed as “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” The thing is, you have to be able to support the weight of this kind of branding. If you create a controversy to attract publicity, then you need to have something to offer the fan base you attract. In this case, Mr. Beale does have books to offer, both his own and those from his publishing house. However, I’m suspecting these books don’t especially appeal to the mainstream of today’s fans. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to resort to a strategy to get his name on the Hugo ballot. Because of the extreme nature of his brand, the recognition may not translate to greater sales for his intellectual property. He will probably attract only a trickle above the fan base that already knows about his books and their particular political agenda.

Still another issue with this kind of extremist brand is that it may be hard to adjust in the future. The standard for controversial branding seems to have been pioneered by Madonna, who isn’t that huge a talent as an entertainer, but is a mastermind at promotion. Music and film stars, like Miley Cyrus for example, typically do something offensive to attract attention, then soften it in the next step to adjust the brand. However, it’s a little difficult to adjust a brand that’s based on racism, misogyny and homophobia. The lesson is to be intelligent in how you apply the strategy.

Establishing a brand with controversy


Before this month, how many people had heard of Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day)? Come on, let’s have a show of hands. Nobody? Same here. I had never heard of the man. Somehow his accomplishments had escaped my notice. However, he is on the national radar now, as he has managed to subvert the Hugo Awards. Not only has he received two nominations for his own work, but his publishing house has won nine nominations. He accomplished this through a political and financial campaign that took advantage of how the awards are run.

Edward LearHe’s been working up to this. He was dumped out of the SFWA a while back for racist comments on Twitter and is currently engaged in a culture war that has reached at least as far as the Wall Street Journal. Beale argues that the awards are biased toward liberal views, while conservative viewpoints are shut out. In order to push this agenda, Beale has borrowed the cloak of “traditional” SF&F, which he says should be about space battles and high fantasy quests.

He’s got some pretty bitter and abusive conversations going on, especially picking prominent women as targets, and is making a big noise ahead of the Hugo vote. Of course, the man might just be acting on his principles, but I’d like to suggest this is a publicity campaign–a chancy one, but still a publicity campaign. Whatever the result of the Hugo vote (they could vote for no award), the man’s name is still up there on the marque in lights.

Illustration by Edward Lear, 1894.

More on the “in crowd” idea

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FeatherPenClipArtPicking stories by well-known authors is a standard way for magazines and anthologies to get the author’s fan base in and thus increase readership. Most submission guidelines ask for a short bio and publication history, which is a clue they’re looking for writers who are well-established. However, this strategy reduces competition and caters to people who are comfortable in what they write. The result is generally a loss over time of creativity and edge in the quality of stories that appear.

Interestingly, some magazines try to maintain their integrity by carefully avoiding this kind of strategy. The clue that a magazine or anthology is avoiding favoritism is a request for blind submissions, that is, submissions where the author’s name and identifying information do not appear anywhere on the manuscript. When there’s no name, the slush pile readers have to make a decision based only on the quality of the story without being biased by the name attached to it. These magazines or anthologies generally have a policy of discovery–meaning they love to find new and emerging writers that have a singular and different voice.

Because the competition is so fierce out there in today’s market, it’s important to not only have a creative idea, but also a creative delivery. It’s true that editors are feeling that staleness creep into the SF genre, so they’re looking for freshness in the approach. I notice that many editors will take the creative idea and presentation over killer writing skills. This means it’s another important opportunity for new writers who aren’t yet steeped the the traditional tropes of science fiction. Move over for the new kids on the block!

Still more on the new paradigm

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55327_girl-writing_mdI’ve been busy with marketing, so it’s been a while since I started this thread. You’ll have to look back through the blog posts to find the last one on it. That was about the opportunity that self-publishing, print-on-demand (POD) and electronic publishing has brought about. This is exciting for the average writer, editor or publisher trying to get started in the the business. The problem is the usual downside.

In this case, it’s the big C. That is, competition. When publishing was expensive, getting together enough capital to start in publishing was a barrier. Having to write by hand or peck out a story on a clunky Royal typewriter was a barrier. Getting enough subscriptions to fund your print magazine was a barrier. Now all these walls have fallen. All it takes to get started in publishing is a good relationship with Amazon. If you don’t want to go that route, you can set up a website and publish your own e-zine.

The standard result of this in a free market is a flood of content. The flood hugely increases the size of slush piles that editors have to wade through. It drives down the wages for average writers and publishers. You can see the stresses on the old print magazines and on the high-end publishers that go to cheaper methods of editing and printing.

For writers, the key to dealing with this is to establish a brand or a name that people recognize in order to market your novels or stories.

More about brands later on.

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