Are Pronouns Really that Important?

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Recently I’ve gotten, not just one, but two surveys from organizations asking about my gender identity/sexuality and what pronouns I’d prefer to use. Presumably this is so groups I’m affiliated with can 1) make a count of non-binary and/or genderqueer authors and 2) keep track of how everybody wants to be addressed. This makes it seem like an opportune time to discuss pronouns.

For anyone who is totally out of the loop on this, I’ll make an effort to explain—not that I’m an expert, of course, or even keeping up. Correct usage seems to shift significantly over time. “Genderqueer” is a term for people whose gender identity lies outside of what is considered normal male and female genders—gender being a role, as opposed to a sex, which is based on equipment. Someone who is genderqueer might express femininity, masculinity, neither or both as part of their gender identity. Related to this, gender neutrality is a movement to reduce gender-based discrimination through establishment of gender-neutral language, including pronouns.

This explains the recent innovation of “Latinx” instead of “Latino” or “Latina,” for example. There is also a considerable list of pronouns which have been advanced as gender-neutral. Because of the extensive variety of individual preferences, progressive organizations are apparently finding they need to set up databases to keep track of who prefers what. For anyone interested in the associated discussion, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson recently made an entrance onto the international stage by refusing to go along with this at the University of Toronto where he works. The review site Rocket Stack Rank was also called out recently for complaining about the non-standard usage.

There has been a flow of books and stories recently that use these non-traditional pronouns. Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series is one example, as is Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota, both recognized with major awards. On the short story side, examples include “The Worldless” by Indrapramit Das, “Deep Waters Call Out to What is Deeper Still” by Sarah Frost and “The Pigeon Summer” by Brit Mandelo.

So, how do these non-traditional pronouns actually work out in practice? Do they accomplish what they’re designed to do? Do they improve the readability of the story or novel where they’re used?

Use of “they” and “their” has become so prevalent that I see Liz Bourke recently imposed this form on the genderless Murderbot, who is not a human being and correctly designated as an “it” by its creator Martha Wells.

Comments on the issue are welcome.

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Rocket Stack Rank Site Predicts the 2018 Hugo Winners

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For anyone who’s somehow not noticed, Rocket Stack Rank is a fairly new short fiction review site established by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong. The site posts short reviews and rankings of long and short fiction from major pro magazines and anthologies (no novels) during the year, and also compilations of how other reviewers rated the stories. The wrap-up at the end of the year shows three clear leaders for the Hugo Award, based on this system:

Best Novella – Nexus by Michael Flynn from Analog
Best Novelette – “A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad from Clarkesworld
Best Short Story – “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata from Tor.com

In comparison, here’s what the Nebula Reading List predicts, based on the number of recommendations from SFWA members:

Best Novella – And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker from Uncanny Magazine
Best Novelette – “Small Changes over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara from Uncanny Magazine
Best Short Story (tie) – “Carnival Nine” by Caroline Yoachim from Beneath Ceaseless Skies and “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” by Rebecca Roanhorse from Apex Magazine

Interestingly, Nexus rated right at the bottom of the Nebula Reading List, and “A Series of Steaks” rated fourth in its category. I don’t see “The Martian Obelisk” on the Nebula list at all. Does this suggest a bias toward hard SF among reviewers? A bias toward fantasy among SFWA members?

The Locus poll results will be available soon, so I’ll have a look at those when they come out. A quick skim of the ballot right now shows no sign of Nexus or “Small Changes over Long periods of Time.” I wouldn’t expect they’d rate as write-ins.

Virtue Signaling: Weaponizing the System

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Recently I’ve been blogging about virtue signaling, which is publicly stating your opinions on moral issues in order to show your support. Social pressure to conform leads to “MeToo” reactions, and something worse called “groupthink.” In groupthink, no one really thinks critically about issues, but instead responds to the social pressures with knee-jerk, mindless reactions.

This makes virtue signaling a powerful tool in the political arena. In fact, the dependability of the reaction it provokes makes it easily weaponized. All you have to do right now to take someone down is to call them a racist or a sexual harasser. This trend has gotten so obvious in broader US politics that I can almost see powerful and manipulative Puppetmasters pulling the strings—a war back and forth—with attacks taking down Hollywood political donors, artists, senators, members of the press, anybody who influential and on the wrong side of issues. I’m sure these Puppetmasters are laughing all the while, as mindless groupthink lemmings attack one another, doing their work for them. Anybody who questions the process gets a dose of the same.

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were early casualties, and conspiracy theorists immediately speculated that Weinstein was payback. It’s pretty easy to dig up questionable actions over a man’s lifetime, but women are harder. Taylor Swift was attacked as a racist by someone claiming her songs contain white supremacist lyrics. Meryl Streep is currently under attack by anonymous posters that have appeared in Los Angeles, accusing her of knowing and keeping quiet about Weinstein—complicity, in other words. Morning-after remorse has produced calls for Al Franken to unresign, and led Tavis Smiley and Joe Scarborough to wonder publicly what’s behind the attacks. Meanwhile, the Trump administration deftly avoided accusations by taking down attorney Lisa Bloom.

Bringing the focus back to the SFF community, I think these same hazards have been working in the heavy polarization of relations. Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely important to call out people who are actually sexually abusive and racist, but because of the weaponizing, it’s gotten to be important to look critically at the accuracy of the claims and question what might be behind them.

The most obvious example is Vox Day, of course. Articles and comments consistently claim he’s anti-diversity, while a look at his publications and award nominations show clearly that he likes Chinese SF and promotes minorities. Another recent attack, of course, has been on Rocket Stack Rank as racist and sexist because of their dislike of non-standard pronouns. Wasn’t it at one time questionable to attack reviewers? Another example is last year’s attack on horror writer David Riley for holding conservative political views. Still another is the attack on editor Sunil Patel (see also here) for apparently being a jerk, while accusers couldn’t come up with anything more than vague claims about sexual harassment.

There may be questionable issues at work in all these cases, of course. Anyone has the right to feel affronted and to complain, but shouldn’t we be looking at things a little more rationally?

What If? Attacks on Rocket Stack Rank

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A furor erupted this week in SFF cyberspace about pronouns and how reviewer Greg Hullender of Rocket Stack Rank has made light of them. For anyone just tuning in, Rocket Stack Rank (RSR) is a review site run by Hullender and Eric Wong that provides brief reviews of stories eligible for the major SFF awards, including the Nebula, the Hugo, and presumably the Bram Stoker and other awards.

The site has received a lot of positive notice, and recently Hullender was tapped to serve on the Locus panel that feeds the major awards. In response, a group of SFF authors posted an open letter complaining about the pronoun issue and Hullender’s take on trans and non-binary characters in the reviews, also calling him a racist for good measure. Since I’m not trans or non-binary, I’m going to refrain from commenting on this. Everybody is entitled to their own feelings. However, I just wrote the last blog on virtue signaling, so I’m looking at this dust up through that lens.

Hullender promptly posted an apology to “all readers and authors we’ve harmed and offended.” This was judged unacceptable because he also wrote a response to the charges with evidence to demonstrate how they were questionable. Of course, it’s unsupportable to discriminate against people because of their race, gender or trans status, but what if this is actually about something else?

David Gerrold recently made some interesting comments at Amazing Stories. He basically says that members of the SFF community have to stand up and take sides in the progressive/conservative fight in order to save their reputations. This is troubling because it suggests you can’t just remain neutral. Instead, you have to take sides, and then to signal your virtue through word and action in order to be accepted in the community. So why are Hullender and Wong being attacked? Have they not done this properly?

The authors of the open letter think they’re insensitive racists. Hullender seems to think they‘re thoughtful progressives. So, are they posting discriminatory reviews, or are they just posting equal opportunity bad reviews for stories they don’t like?

Trans is the current cause célèbre. Is critiquing the stories not proper virtue signaling? What are members of the community expecting instead?

So how did the Rabid Puppies do in the Hugo nominations?

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Am back but disorganized. While I was busy vacationing, the Hugo finalists for this year were announced, containing many of the expected works. Aside from that, I’m sure everyone is dying to know how Vox Day did against the new E Pluribus Hugo system that was installed last year to block slate voting. Day apparently analyzed the system and, in response, modified his recommendations from a full slate to (mostly) a single work in each category. This seems to have been a successful strategy, as his recommendations made the finalist list in ten categories, including the Campbell Award. If not for the declines/ineligible, he’d have made three more. Below are the 2017 finalists. I’ve marked the Rabid Puppies choices in bold.

This list of works received enough votes to be finalists, but were either ineligible or declined:

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: “The Winds of Winter”

Best Professional Artist: Tomek Radziewicz

Best Professional Artist: JiHun Lee

Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine

Best Fanzine: File 770

On to the 2017 Hugo finalists:

Best Novel

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)

Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

Best Novella

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (Tor.com publishing)

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com publishing)

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)

Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com publishing)

This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

Best Novelette

“Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex”, by Stix Hiscock (self-published)

“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com , July 2016)

“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com publishing, May 2016)

“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

Best Short Story

“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)

“An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)

Best Related Work

The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley (Tor Books)

The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher (Blue Rider Press)

Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Fairwood)

The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow / Harper Collins)

The Women of Harry Potter posts, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)

Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer)

Best Graphic Story

Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel)

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)

Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)

Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image)

Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image)

The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

Rabid Puppies – no recommendation in this category

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)

Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kinberg Genre/The Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment)

Ghostbusters, screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig (Columbia Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/Pascal Pictures/Feigco Entertainment/Ghostcorps/The Montecito Picture Company)

Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi (Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/Levantine Films/TSG Entertainment)

Rogue One, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards (Lucasfilm/Allison Shearmur Productions/Black Hangar Studios/Stereo D/Walt Disney Pictures)

Stranger Things, Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment/Monkey Massacre)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Black Mirror: “San Junipero”, written by Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris (House of Tomorrow)

Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Ed Bazalgette (BBC Cymru Wales)

The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough (SyFy)

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Miguel Sapochnik (HBO)

Game of Thrones: “The Door”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Jack Bender (HBO)

Splendor & Misery [album], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)

Best Editor, Short Form

John Joseph Adams

Neil Clarke

Ellen Datlow

Jonathan Strahan

Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Vox Day

Sheila E. Gilbert

Liz Gorinsky

Devi Pillai

Miriam Weinberg

Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Galen Dara

Julie Dillon

Chris McGrath

Victo Ngai

John Picacio

Sana Takeda

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews

Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, edited by P. Alexander

GigaNotoSaurus, edited by Rashida J. Smith

Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Catherine Krahe, Vajra Chandrasekera, Vanessa Rose Phin, Li Chua, Aishwarya Subramanian, Tim Moore, Anaea Lay, and the Strange Horizons staff

Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky

The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James

Rabid Puppies – no recommendation in this category

Best Fanzine

Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Helena Nash, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, and Erin Underwood

Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan

nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry

Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong

SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney

Best Fancast

The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan

Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace

Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams

Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch

The Rageaholic, presented by RazörFist

Tea and Jeopardy, presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

 Best Fan Writer

Mike Glyer

Jeffro Johnson

Natalie Luhrs

Foz Meadows

Abigail Nussbaum

Chuck Tingle

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto

Alex Garner

Vesa Lehtimäki

Likhain (M. Sereno)

Spring Schoenhuth

Mansik Yang

 Best Series

The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone (Tor Books)

The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (Orbit US / Orbit UK)

The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire (DAW / Corsair)

The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz / Del Rey / DAW / Subterranean)

The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Harper Voyager UK)

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Sarah Gailey (1st year of eligibility)

Mulrooney (1st year of eligibility)

Malka Older (2nd year of eligibility)

Ada Palmer (1st year of eligibility)

Laurie Penny (2nd year of eligibility)

Kelly Robson (2nd year of eligibility)

Review of “Runtime” by S.B. Divya

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This is a novella published by Tor. It currently has 21 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Marmeg is unlicensed, has cobbled together a set of exos and some illegal embed chips so she can work as a club security guard. The Minerva Sierra Challenge is coming up, and Marmeg dreams of winning the race so she can get real gear and trans surgery to become a beautiful asexual moot. Her Filipino mother works as a health aide and dreams of Marmeg going to school to become a nurse. Instead, Marmeg has spent the tuition money on the entry fee for the race. She spends the last of her wages to get to the site, lies about a support team and starts the race. She quickly runs into bad weather, dangerous competitors and survivalist nats who offer her an opportunity to cheat. What will she do?

As Greg Hullender has promised in recent comments, I’ve gotten a solid story right at the top of the novella recommendations. Pros: This is science fiction, as there wouldn’t be a story without the technology and the moots. It’s got pretty well defined characters, strong imagery, good human elements and a strong plot. The main theme is about honesty and values, but sub-themes about body alteration, survivalism, illegal status and the American caste system ask questions and add complexity. Cons: The prose is a little clunky. Plus, I’m suspicious of the HEA (happily ever after) ending and that Marmeg is rewarded so generously for her value choices. Given the setting, I’d expect the adults and the wealthy class would be as far into the caste system as anybody else. I’m also a little concerned that she gives up her own dreams so quickly.

Solid competitor. Four stars and a half.

Views on the Hugo fallout

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I’ve had a look around the Web and it almost looks like the Hugo scuffle this year was eclipsed by SF writer Dave Truesdale. He apparently hijacked a panel discussion and got thrown out of the Hugo convention, regardless that he was a finalist for an award. Hm. More on the controversy later, maybe.

Checking in on the Puppy camp, I see Vox Day suspects people still voted this year without reading most of the works. That might be correct, as my reviews have gotten a rush of traffic today—maybe because people want to see what they voted for or against. Day also expresses amazement that people voted No Award for the scholarly and well done Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe and gave the Hugo to a novel as grim and hopeless as The Fifth Season. He sort of has a point. However, the other side is complaining about the deserving works kept off the ballot by the Puppy nominations. They’ve got a point, too. Everyone seems put off, and I was surprised at how many of the winners didn’t bother to show up in case they got an award.

Both sides of the political spectrum declared victory, of course. This is one of those “victimhood” arguments that has no solution. Whatever, I think the Puppies have clearly demonstrated how political the awards are. It’s a black eye for the Hugo that won’t go away.

By the way, many congrats to the review site Rocket Stack Rank! Stats for the awards show it narrowly missed qualifying as a finalist for an award in the Best Fanzine category.

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