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?

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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)

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.

Rocket Stack Rank on the award nominees

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pencil-and-paper-images-pencil_and_paper_coloring_page_0071-1002-2401-4136_SMUWhile I was out poking around, I stopped by to visit at the Rocket Stack Rank website. For anyone unfamiliar, the guys at RSR write and collate story/novel reviews, plus provide other services to make your Hugo voting experience easier and more enjoyable. These services have served their purpose for 2016, but you can start checking in for info on the possible contenders for next year’s award cycle.

On to the discussion: RSR has provided rankings for the most recommended novellas, novelettes and short stories eligible for nomination for 2016 awards, based on the opinions of 500+ prolific reviewers. What jumps off the page here is the apparent difference between reviewer opinions and results of the Hugo and Nebula award nomination process. For example, Okorafor’s Nebula Award winner and Hugo finalist Binti (actually it won) didn’t make the list of recommended novellas at all. Hugo finalists Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold both scored fairly close to the bottom of the list.

In the novelette recommendations, Hugo finalists “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander, (Hugo winner) “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang and Nebula winner “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker all scored only about midlist.

In the short story recommendations, Nebula winner “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong did score well, but the apparently quite popular Hugo finalist (and winner) “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer only scored about midlist.

I personally think this is an interesting result. Why should there be such a disparity between reviewer opinions and the results of the nominations? Should we expect that reviewers have looked at the writing quality? The ideas presented? The themes and/or subtext? Are they swayed by market forces? Do they just recommend what they like? Or are there other influences at work in the nominations?

This is a distinct possibility, of course, considering the recent political tides in the SF community.

Thoughts about the 2016 Hugo Nominees

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I’m late in getting my analysis up about the Hugo nominees, so I have the advantage of seeing other folks’ commentary. Somehow I’m getting the feeling that Vox Day is going to win this fight—the opposition is reconsidering their stance for a number of reasons.

First, Day has escalated his attack on the Hugo Awards. Second, his recommendations this year were put together to undermine the No Award strategy that shut out the Rabid Puppies in 2015. Here’s how it works: He has pretty clearly listed the unsuitable material as an attack on the reputation of the institution. That done, he has also included nominations of quality work in each category that will cause voters to question the No-Award-slash-and-burn strategy of last year. This will most clearly play out in the Best Short Story category, for example, where the only competition for the brilliant “Asymmetrical Warfare” is mostly attack fiction and porn. If voters choose No Award above this story, then they’re voting against a high quality contender who has no relation to the Puppies except his name on their list of recommendations.

Besides this, I’ve had a look at the math geeks’ opinions. You can read the analyses at both Rocket Stack Rank and Chaos Horizon. These analyses use different methods to estimate the size of the Rabid Puppies voting bloc. RSR’s method seems to be more precise than Chaos Horizon’s, but they come in with fairly similar numbers. What’s most interesting about this is that the guys at RSR have done an analysis of how it would have gone under the new E Pluribus Hugo nomination system that’s proposed to cut out slate voting for next year. According to RSR, the size of Vox Day’s voting bloc will still have a strong influence.

This is an important point. Commenters have a tendency to carry on like Vox Day is alone in this fight and that he’ll get tired and give it up soon. However, as I understand things, he’s actually just the main strategist for the activist group called the Rabid Puppies. According to the recent estimates, there are 200-500 dedicated Rabid Puppy voters, which would be about 20-50% of the SFWA (if we made that comparison), or about 2-5% of last year’s WorldCon membership. This is without adding the possible votes from the Sad Puppies, who have a similar activist agenda.

So what conclusions should we draw from this? First, Vox Day isn’t going to get tired of this. Second, there is a strong conservative element in the SFF community. Third, the major SF awards can be easily gamed, and fourth, we should probably take a second look at the Puppies’ claims that the awards have been subtly coopted by other groups.

P.S. The announcement today about the addition of “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer to the Best Short Story finalists will change the dynamic.

Investment in the Hugo Awards

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Dang, my little traffic counter is tired—Vox Day linked to my last blog. I normally get an uptick when File770 links, but now we see who the real powerhouse is. Thanks to all who stopped by. It’s good to have discussion, although this one got a little off-track.

I read all the comments, here and also on these two respective sites. There are interesting responses. First, I gather that some people have a quite a personal investment in the Hugo Awards. The suggestion I made in the blog that DragonCon had looked at the Hugo controversy and would be in competition turned out more than one knight-errant to defend the Hugo Awards. Steve Davidson wrote a response supporting my position that the Dragon Awards are likely to change the flow of both money and promotion in ways that will undermine the Hugos.

The big question was about what I meant by “the Hugo process where works are winnowed through a narrow review and recommendation system and onto the ballot.” Although the Sad/Rabid Puppies have been severely trashed for their viewpoints, a faction of fandom has looked at their complaints critically and moved to analyze the awards process in response. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll recall that I’ve featured statistical studies of the awards process for both the Hugos and the Nebulas during the last year. These show that prominent recommendation lists can be used to predict the nominees pretty accurately, and that the awards process is subject to bias. Other studies have shown the lists have limited sources, low diversity and a tendency for repeat appearances. The award winners for both the Hugos and the Nebulas are typically chosen by relatively small groups of individuals that lean to professional writers, editors and publishers. This is what I’m calling a “narrow” process.

I don’t know that you can ever eliminate these problems. People will always need a system to sift through what’s available. One of the main issues is how to work through the sheer number of SFF works published during the year, and another is the fierce competition to use the awards for their promotional value. I expect the Dragon Awards will have similar fairness issues. Plus, you can bet some people are already looking for ways to manipulate the results.

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