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Public service announcement

Dara points out over here that amongst the Puppy crowd, who cry out for a return to the good old days of science fiction when they didn’t have to be uncomfortable with their reading, a principle complaint is that you literally cannot judge a book by its cover. That they are getting ambushed by SURPRISE GAY! or SURPRISE TRANSGENDER ISSUES! or SURPRISE GENDER EQUALITY! that is not clearly called out on the cover. Dara calls out, quite correctly, that this is supremely hypocritical from a crowd that also points and laughs at the concepts of trigger warnings and safe spaces.

On a related note, on his post Guided by the Beauty of their Weapons, Phillip Sandifer delivers an exquisite smackdown of why this is shockingly ignorant of the history of the genre. Challenging political and religious and social questions have been part of science fiction since its inception, and you can’t exactly ignore this, even if you happen to disagree with the questions that current prominent works are raising.

Me, I’ll just note this for the sake of anybody who might be blindsided by any of my titles. For official reference, books by me contain the following, in no particular order:

Women in positions of power. Who will often talk to each other, about things above and beyond the men in the cast.

Characters of color, often also in positions of power, and who will in fact survive to the end of the book.

Love stories. For values of ‘love story’ meaning that why yes, I’m likely to have primary characters who will in fact fall in love, and who are very likely to actually talk about their feelings with each other like grown-ups do, and who are also very likely to do heroic things for each other in the name of said love. Also, there will be smooching.

Queer people. Who are just as capable as the straight people of having loving, committed relationships, and who will also survive to the end of the story, and who will not be shoehorned into “they’re villains because they’re queer” or “they will become figures of tragedy and lose their loved ones because they’re queer.”

Characters who represent multiple religions and who nevertheless somehow manage to peacefully coexist right out of the gate, or who eventually FIND a way to peacefully coexist after their religious preconceptions have been challenged. When multiple religions are represented in a plot, characters on all sides will be explored.

Persons who find themselves troubled by one or more of these elements in a story are hitherto advised to look elsewhere for their reading.

This concludes today’s public service announcement.


The latest in the Puppy wars

I was telling friends online yesterday, re: George R.R. Martin’s lengthy posts on the Puppy Wars, that I have a lot of sympathy for his cranky-old-man, oh-for-fucks-sake-you-children weariness with the whole affair. If anybody’s entitled to any “IN MY DAY” speeches, it’s definitely Martin. He is the ancient dragon, rousing himself with angry rumbles, to respond to the hordes of gnomes raising a ruckus outside his cave–and he isn’t terribly particular about which gnomes started the fight, or which ones look tastier.

But now even the dragon is wary of the eventual outcome of this debacle, and I have to say, I have a hard time finding any flaws with his reasoning.

I have an equally hard time not being depressed about it, particularly after seeing one of his commenters raging about “romance novels in space” and “bodice-rippers” and “vomit”. Martin, in his dragonish wisdom, roared at him to go away.

But the gnome got his words out anyway. The blow was delivered. And it’s just yet another example of the kinds of blows raining down upon those of us who are getting derided as “social justice warriors”. Women–all too often the ones getting snarled at for writing “romance novels in space” (for definitions of “romance novels” meaning “anything with a woman’s name on the cover, or with a female lead character, or women who serve any function in the story above and beyond being love interest for a man”). Queers and queer allies–getting snarled at for writing “filthy sodomy”, or even just getting angry demands about “why does this particular character have to be gay?! Why is this important to the story?!”, as if having a gay character in the story at all requires special plot-based justification. Writers of color–whose works have to struggle to get filed under SF/F AT ALL. Or writers who are writing non-white protagonists–who find their characters whitewashed on the covers.

And gods help you if you actually match more than one of these categories at the same time.

We’re the ones being accused of “destroying science fiction”. If we say “look, I’m not going to read anything else by person X ever again because of his or her public behavior”, we get sneered at for not being able to separate the art from the artist. And now we’re also the ones being threatened that, should we choose to vote “NO AWARD” on any category in the Hugos this year, that the other pack of gnomes will gleefully destroy that category and make sure that no award is awarded in it ever again.

Look. I can intellectually allow for the possibility that somebody with whom I disagree, politically or religiously, is capable of writing a good book. Maybe even a great one. There are a whole hell of a lot of people who loved Ender’s Game, after all. But that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to actually read that book. You know why?

Because I see exactly zero leeway out of the other pack of gnomes that the same is true for us. All it takes is one pair of women showing affection on camera–even if it’s just holding hands while they walk off into the spirit world–to get them shrieking about destroying a show. All it takes is one important supporting character shown on camera to be gay for no other reason than because the character is gay to get an author challenged on her character decisions. You never see anybody going “but why is this character heterosexual?! Why is this important to the story?!”

In a genre perfectly happy to accept elves, dragons, and aliens, I see none of that other pack of gnomes being willing to stop and go “hey, maybe this story that stars a woman, or a person of color, or a queer person, is still actually a pretty cool story“. Write out swaths of a Star Trek novel in Klingon? Awesome? Put Spanish into it? BLASPHEMY! How is that fair?

I don’t see those other gnomes willing to say that “I like this particular type of SF, and it’s okay if other folks like other types of SF, it’s all good, we’re all fandom.”

Here’s another thing I’m willing to agree to. Even before the Puppies debacle erupted, there has been concern in fandom that the Hugos are not truly representative of all that the genre has to offer. I’ve seen concerns about whether the Hugos belong to Worldcon, or to all of fandom. I’ve seen the Hugos called a popularity contest. All of these are legitimate arguments to make, particularly given that what makes a particular act of creativity “good” is so often a very subjective experience. Sure, there are some objective standards you can use to judge whether a writer is in command of his or her craft–use of language, coherency of plot structure, etc. But you can have novel A and novel B that both show that a writer can meet those objective standards, and you will still have readers with wildly different reactions. And those wildly different reactions are going to still reflect themselves in any awards campaign that builds its list of nominations by polling the opinions of fandom. If that list is coming in from only a tiny subset of fandom, I agree, this is a problem.

I can’t speak for any other gnome in this bloody, rancorous campaign. But as for myself, I agree that there needs to be room at the table for all. Even the gnomes I don’t agree with. These issues about the Hugos are issues that need to be discussed.

But, as I saw Mr. Martin himself point out, there is a big difference between asking for a seat at the table–and overturning the table so nobody else can sit down.

Right now, all the chairs are on fire.

Me, I want a fire extinguisher.

Final note: There have been a lot of developments in the last twenty-four hours on this mess, including Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos backing out of their nominations, and Connie Willis declining to be a presenter. I will be making a point of checking out Bellet and Kloos’s works, particularly Kloos, even though he writes military SF and I don’t normally read that. I will also be bumping Willis further up my To Read queue, to support them all with what had to be extremely difficult decisions.

Meanwhile, Dara has a roundup post of links of interest over here.


Thoughts on extremism

As y’all might guess, I’ve been reading a lot on the PuppyGate controversy, including some attempts from moderate voices to call for civil discourse on both sides–and some very justified pointing out that no matter where you are in this particular brouhaha, death threats, harassment, and personal attacks are never acceptable. I would like to emphasize that. I don’t like to think that people on the liberal/progressive end of the spectrum might stoop to such tactics, but I do have to admit to the possibility that such a thing could happen. We are all human, and none of us are immune to the urge to post in anger.

However, there is one point here that I want to address, and that is this: there is no civil discourse, no “agree to disagree”, when one side of an issue is attacking the other side on extremist grounds.

Cases in point:

If you are anti-queer because your religious beliefs dictate that queer people are filthy sodomites, and you actively support or work in favor of legislation that enables discrimination against queer people, there’s no way a pro-queer person can have civil discourse with that. There’s just not. There is nothing polite or civil that a queer person or queer ally can say to someone who not only fervently believes that someone is going to hell because they’re in love with a person the same sex as they are, but who is also prone to associating queer people with pedophilia or incest or bestiality.

If you’re convinced that the only proper response to feminists is to deluge their online presences with rape and death threats, there is nothing polite or civil that a feminist can say in response to that.

If you are convinced that your religion is the One True Religion, and you are dead set on driving anyone who practices some other religion out of your neighborhood, city, or state, there is nothing polite or civil that practitioners of those religions should have to say to you.

If your only answer to people who aren’t the same color as you or who speak the same language you do is to scream at them to go back where they came from or to learn to speak English (or whatever your local language happens to be), sorry, those other people are not obligated to be polite and courteous to you.

Because here’s the thing.

People who are extremists don’t want to hear your dissent. They will dismiss you if you try to be polite about it. If you express your dissent in more forceful terms, you will be attacked. You will be accused of being the real racist/sexist/bigot, even if all you say is “Look, this is wrong and it needs to stop.”

To bring this back around to the whole Puppies issue–in reading a bunch of George R.R. Martin’s posts and quite a few of the comments on them, I’ve been seeing conservative claims that liberal extremists are attacking them. Notably, I’ve seen Martin responding to Correira’s claims that he has been bullied and harassed for his beliefs.

I am not in a position to judge the veracity of Mr. Correira’s claims, and I’m not going to try to do so here. But I will say this. If there are liberal extremists stooping to the same tactics I describe above, then yes, that is wrong and that needs to stop. Likewise, I would also like to express my agreement with Mr. Martin’s own assertion–that if the conservative side of this whole mess really wants to have civil discourse and work towards a resolution, then we need to see some solid action on their part. We need to see some denunciation of racist, sexist, political, ideological, and religious extremism.

For my part, I will say that I very much appreciate my Christian friends who are willing to stand up and say, “No, actually, acts of extremism in the name of Christ are still wrong and you are shaming our religion, stop it.”

Likewise, acts of extremism in the name of defending SF/F–from whatever you think it needs defending from–are also wrong. They are unworthy of the literature of ideas, and they need to stop. Whether you are liberal, conservative, or anywhere in between.

But I must also emphasize–I’m still not going to be cordial, civil, or polite to people who want to deny my right to exist. To have autonomy over who I choose to marry and how I conduct my health choices. To write stories that can be taken seriously, and not dismissed out of hand just because there’s an obviously female name on the cover.

To, in short, kick me out of the clubhouse.

Civility on all sides presupposes that all sides agree that they have the right to be there. Civility means that all sides are willing to support each other’s presences, and that they’re not going to turn around and exult over terrorizing the other side when their backs are turned. Civility means that if you’re called out on doing something bigoted, you don’t automatically lash back and scream, “I’m not the bigot, you’re the bigot.”

And right now, I ain’t holding my breath that this is going to happen.


Meanwhile, over in the Puppy pound

Dara’s been keeping a sharp eye on the Hugos brouhaha the past few days. This past Saturday, she put up this report on how certain individuals apparently took it personally that they were being criticized for the behavior of certain other persons in their little coterie. Dara rightly calls this bullshit, because it is–because the Puppies recruited Day into their ranks. And they recruited the GamerGate crowd. And now they’re complaining and claiming that they have no control over the behavior of the “wild wolf” Day.

Sorry, but no. You don’t get to recruit the likes of Day into your ranks and then complain when people call you out on it. It is not only disingenuous, it’s also cowardly.

But of course that wasn’t all, either. Dara’s got another report up this morning, following up on the previous–in which it is declared that people who would vote NO AWARD rather than the Sad Puppies slate are not only assholes, they are also Leninist Communists. (Or Nazis, according to another commenter! So the people the Puppies don’t like are Nazis AND Communists!) Phrases like “cuddly pink fluffy cudgel of political correctness” and “flaming rage nozzles of tolerance” get thrown around. (Because apparently “tolerance” is a dirty word.)

Mr. Torgersen apparently also feels that people who support Chick-Fil-A are “heroes”, and that supporting a corporation known for blatant homophobia is the act of “free people”.

I’ve seen other posts in which larger names in the genre are calling for civility. George R.R. Martin and Mary Robinette Kowal are trying to do their part to fight the fires. Noble efforts on both their parts, and I particularly applaud Kowal for not only being willing to provide people supporting memberships to Worldcon, but specifically also recusing herself from any Hugo nominations next year. Likewise, I applaud those who are matching Kowal’s efforts and trying to broaden the pool of supporting memberships being offered to fans on tight budgets.

I’m all for civility. I’m for the ideal of SFdom being welcoming to all within its ranks. We are supposed to be the literature of ideas, after all, and ideas cannot thrive in an atmosphere of stagnation. We need to have our ideas challenged, and in order to do that, we need diversity in the ranks.

But here’s the thing–when some of those ranks are on record as not wanting women, people of color, or people of alternative sexualities in the clubhouse, when they specifically go out of their way to fight against such persons being included, and when they shriek that all who would stand in their way are Nazis and Communists and “Social Justice Warriors” and “CHORFs” and whatever other derogatory terms they dream up… my civility is spent. So are my tolerance and sympathy.

Politically disagreeing with me is one thing. Going out of your way to fight against my existence is another thing entirely.

Tolerance goes only so far. It presumes that all parties are at least willing to accept each other’s presence in the clubhouse. But this? This is spiteful little boys throwing tantrums that the girls and the black kids and the queer kids are in the clubhouse now too, and they want some of the punch and pie.

And hey. Pie is tasty. But we don’t have to fight over the pie. There is enough for all, people.

But if you want a slice of the pie, stop throwing tantrums. And stop trying to push the other kids back out of the clubhouse. It’s unworthy of children above the age of six, never mind grown men. It’s unworthy of the literature of ideas.

And it needs to stop.

In closing, here, instead of a Sad Puppy, I offer this Happy Kitten instead.

So Happy!

So Happy!


A rant about book formatting

And oh yeah, one other thing I wanted to post about today: my current levels of frustration with badly formatted ebooks.

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about author Aliette de Bodard, and so I snapped up her Obsidian and Blood books from Angry Robot. The entire prospect of a trilogy set in the ancient Aztec Empire, combining elements of both fantasy and a murder mystery, struck me as too damned tempting to pass up. ‘Cause I mean seriously, how often do you get to string “Aztec-mythos fantasy murder mystery” into the description of a book?

Problem is, as I discovered when I delved into book 1, the ebook is very badly laid out. By which I mean, paragraphs that are barely indented, making it almost impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins–and in some cases, paragraphs that are split partway through. When I dug into the ebook to see what the hell was going on in there, I found that all the paragraphs were laid out as <div> blocks rather than <p>, and that what indentation there was was being done via two non-breaking spaces. Which was not done consistently, either. Every so often there would be none, and every so often three.

Which was a damn shame, because the book is quite good, or at least that’s been my impression on my attempt to slog through the initial chapters and follow the action. The layout though was frustrating enough to me that I went through the whole damn thing in Calibre and fixed the formatting, just so I could read it. I’m going to start over from the beginning now, with paragraph indents I can actually see, and give the story the attention it deserves.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this, either. One of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker books (about which I have enthused quite a bit in the past) had the deeply baffling problem of every single Q throughout the book being capitalized. ALL of them. At the beginnings of words and in the middle as well. This was hugely distracting.

Likewise the ebook copy I tried to buy of The Green Glass Sea–wherein the whole damn thing was italicized, because somebody forgot to close a tag at the front of the book. And then there was the superlatively crappy OCR job somebody did on Elizabeth Peters’ The Falcon at the Portal, wherein the accented characters in the occasional German word in the dialogue were broken. And even worse, the character Selim kept being called “Scum” in the text, because whatever they used to do the OCR conversion choked on his name.

My overall point here being: c’mon, publishers, do better.

I’ve got the technical chops to be able to get into a book and clean it up, so that I can fix a broken digital reading experience. Since I’m a QA Engineer in my day job, I understand HTML and CSS, and I know what to do to fix problems with them. But I shouldn’t have to. When I buy a book, I’m putting down my money for the expectation that I will be delivered a story that’ll entertain me for the span of time it takes me to read it. I should not have to crack open that file and spend several extra hours on top of the actual reading time, cleaning it up so that I can actually get back to what I paid for in the first place: i.e., the story.

AND: not everybody has the same skills I do. A non-techie reader has no recourse in scenarios like this but to either a) slog through a poor reading experience in the hopes that the story will outweigh the broken formatting, or b) return a clearly broken ebook and go buy print instead, if they really want to read that book. Which, okay, yeah, it’s another sale and that’s all good for the author and all–but it’s potentially still very inconvenient to the reader, depending on their book budget and whether they have any issues at all reading in print, e.g., vision problems or what have you.

Moreover, speaking as a small-fry digital and indie author, it’s deeply frustrating to me to see so much brouhaha over how self-pubbed authors are so often putting up badly formatted, unprofessional material–yet to turn around and see the big publishers still sometimes doing the same damned thing.

I beg you, publishers, take the time to quality-check your digital productions. Load them up on different devices to make sure they are actually readable. Hire people who know HTML and CSS and who can fix problems that arise.

And, fellow indie authors, the same goes for you. If you’re going the indie route, and you’re going to publish digitally, review your layout. If you don’t have the technical chops to fix problems, recruit friends who do. Ask your social circle who has what ereaders and who can sanity check your book for you on them. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But it’s part and parcel of producing a book that makes you look like you know what you’re doing, and an indie author has to work even harder than a traditionally published one to hit that goal. So do that work.

Your readers, technically inclined or otherwise, will thank you.


More on PuppyGate

I was wandering around the Intarwebz this morning, looking for further updates on PuppyGate, when I happened to visit Charles Stross’ blog and saw this earlier post of his, where he put up a reaction to the whole tiff over Clean Reader. What really made me giggle, though, was this remark:

It’s enough to drive anyone to drink, and indeed, “novelist” is right up there with “farmer” and “quality assurance engineer” in the alcohol consumption career stakes.

Me, I am both a novelist and a Quality Assurance Engineer! (I kid you not, this is my actual day job title.) It’s probably a good thing that I am not also a farmer, otherwise I would have to drink all the vodka.

And I gotta say, the whole PuppyGate thing–involving nomenclature which, from where I sit, is an insult to good puppies everywhere–has me wistfully eying the distinct lack of vodka in the house. In no small part because, as reported by James Nicoll and followed up upon by Dara’s post today, the Puppy Brigade is making no bones about being prepared to take down the Hugos if the current movement to vote No Award on everything wins out this year.

Lots of people with way more stature than me in the genre are speaking up on this–names like Scalzi, Martin, Wendig, Stross, Kowal, Hurley, and others. It’s also come up in discussions amongst the members of NIWA, since I realized, well, shit, we’re going to be trying to sell books at this coming Worldcon. Wherein tempers are likely to be running high. I warned NIWA last night that we might want to be on the lookout for this when we’re running our table in the dealers’ room, just in case any challenges arise to our ability to cordially and civilly sell our titles.

That I have to think about this at all makes me both angry and sad.

I don’t want the toxic politics of the broader U.S. culture to be infecting the genre I grew up on. I see a lot of cane-shakery from the Puppies about a loss of a sense of wonder in recent Hugo lineups–but y’know what stomps all over my sense of wonder? Knowing that there are people out there who are going to not only sneer at anything I write just because I’m female (and prone to writing heroines of color, women in positions of power, and queer people), but who will actively work to shout down anything I and authors like me try to do.

It’s enough to make me disenchanted with the publishing industry at large, and the US SF/F branch of it in particular. I’m a super-tiny fish that’s barely entered the pond–but I’m seeing pollution in the waters up ahead, and I seriously have to ask myself, do I want to swim there?

‘Cause right now, I’m thinking not.

I’m really hoping this particular oil spill can be cleaned up. I’m hoping that Wendig’s take on the matter is right and that SF/F (as well as society in general) will continue to move in a progressive direction. But right now the dinosaurs are still thrashing, and it’s very easy for tiny critters like me to get squashed.

And since that’s all bleak and everything, here. I think I need to close on a reminder of the joy of actual puppies, so here, have a pic of a happy corgi!



(Spotted on: PixGood)


On how I will be voting on the Hugo ballot this year

For the first time since 2007, Dara and I will be going to Worldcon. We’ve come out of the mire of the financial hits leveled at us by several consecutive years of medical crap, and moreover, the convention’s taking place in our home state. We can drive to it. Even better, I and several other authors in NIWA are banding together to run a table there. We’ve got books. We’re gonna sell ’em.

The thing that makes me sad and tired and wary, though, is what’s happened with the Hugo ballot this year.

As y’all may remember, since Dara and I semi-regularly post about this, there’s a broad ultra-right-wing conservative clique within SFdom. They’ve been up in arms lately because the wrong things have been winning Hugos. And by “wrong things”, I mean “things created by women, people of color, and queers”. They’ve pushed back against this with an organized rush to get things they consider acceptable onto the voting ballot.

And the particularly vile part of this: they’ve reached out to GamerGate to pull them in on these shenanigans. All in the name of getting additional recruits for their declared war on “social justice warriors”.

(About that phrase, by the way: I’m now ranking “social justice warrior” right alongside “political correctness” on the list of phrases that set my teeth on edge. I’ve said before that if the first words out of your mouth on any issue are “political correctness”, then you are part of the problem. Likewise, I here and now state for the record that if you are the sort of person to dismiss progressives and liberals as “social justice warriors”, you are going to have to work very, very hard to get me to respect and take seriously anything you have to say. Do not bank on your success in that regard.

Besides, me? Totally a social justice healer. But I digress.)

Dara has written up a comprehensive post on the matter, and what attendees of Worldcon can do about this to cut this and future Hugo shenanigans off at the pass, in the name of trying to keep the award from becoming entirely meaningless. Her recommendation: vote “No Award” on any category overloaded with the nominees from the voting bloc in question.

I will be following Dara’s recommendations, because it is deeply disheartening to me to see SFdom becoming, more and more, a microcosm of the same “us-vs-them”, toxic tribalism that has infected US culture in general. If you’re going to Worldcon too and therefore have the ability to vote on the Hugos, I encourage you to consider doing the same.