Quick Raytheon / Hugo Update

I am throwing this up really quick just as a situation update to my recent post on the ethics of participating in a fan convention with an arms manufacturer sponsor. The chair of the DisCon III concom, Mary Robinette Kowal, released an official statement yesterday and it’s actually… pretty good all things considered.

A picture of con chair Mary Robinette Kowal's statement and apology, along with her signature, regarding the sponsorship DisCon III received from Raytheon Intelligence and Space.

Now a few notes, mostly positive. This letter did several things that were required. First, Kowal has taken responsibility for this action personally. One of the things I was worried about previously was how the loose and rather byzantine organization of Worldcon created a risk of a diffusion of responsibility that passed the moral burden to the aggregate membership rather than a single person. I’ve said elsewhere that, based on my past professional experience in non-profit advancement teams, major sponsorship agreements don’t get approval without going up to senior leadership within the non-profit so it was always going to come back to her. I’m encouraged she recognized this and took that responsibility.

Second, while a full accounting of the process might have been interesting from a root-cause-failure approach I appreciate that Kowal elided on specifics because she didn’t want to be seen as making excuses. This is actually probably the right course of action all things considered.

Likewise the fact that Kowal declines to mention the charity she and DisCon III have selected by name is actually a good choice. It is good for two reasons: the first because it takes out any opportunity for praise over the donation. This is an act of restitution and the removal of the ego-effect of being probably a significant donor is a good choice. The second is because the ideological landscape with regard to NGOs is pretty fraught and even a slam-dunk donation (like to War Child, for instance) probably would have upset somebody so from the perspective of resolving the current social conflict an anonymous donation was a reasonable choice.

Finally it is good that specific recommendations for future con organizers were made. We all wanted transparency and this is part of that.

The main two pieces of missing information that would have been good to include here are a timeline of when the sponsorship deal was signed and when it was publicized and the amount of the donation. However the former is very minor and the latter is important but will likely come out eventually.

There is one other item I want to address here and that is the question over why Raytheon attracted such ire when the other banner sponsor – Google – is also bad. Again this ties back to my discussion of ethical ambiguity and ethical bounds. Google is not good. They’re an evil company that does bad things. But, as we discussed before, the same could be leveled of any organization able to throw around “major sponsor” money.

There is a powerful left-critique of the NGO that treats the non-profit as a form of social control whereby the wealty are able to invest in the direction of the power their wealth represents. In this frame of treating charitable giving as being a form of directed power relation we cannot remove the non-profit and the volunteer-run organization from the superstructure of capitalism as its base economic conditions are inextricably bound to that superstructure. The non-profit, under capitalism, is an organization within capitalism. This is where “no ethical consumption under capitalism” kind of actually lives. However, as I said, there are some ethical distinctions that don’t partake in the ambiguity of operating within the interior of capital as all non-profits do. And, with a product of imperial death, Raytheon is beyond all possible ethical ambiguity in a way that even pretty wholly awful companies like Google are not. Simply put, arms merchants are a special kind of evil that goes beyond even the mundane evil of Google and its ilk. As a communist I would bring the whole edifice down and Google is as much a target as Raytheon. But I am a communist living within the bounds of Capitalism and as such I need to be able to draw ethical distinctions within that territory. To put it in theoretical terms, the Socius is a field of inscription. It exists in being marked. The territory within Capitalism is delineated in a way that the outside of Capitalism simply is not by dint of its non-being. As such moral distinctions within Capitalism are inevitable. And so, yes, the donation from Google is also bad but, no, it was not hypocritical to be especially upset by the donation from Raytheon.

Last word on this subject from me: I don’t particularly like Kowal and I think her leadership of this concom was pretty disastrous between this and the increasing likelihood that Worldcon was a COVID superspreader event (17 possible exposures identified and counting). But, as I’ve said before, no ethical failure precludes the possibility of future right-decisions and I think this letter is a very positive first step. I think we should, on the left, be willing to acknowledge that this was a good first step and continue to kindly encourage accountability and restitution from the concom as a whole and Kowal in particular. I also think we should probably all lay off of the finalists who were caught flat-footed and may have responded defensively to being thrust into an uncomfortable position.

Drawing the line: Capitalism and Wrong Livelihood

(Image c/o Wikipedia)

The Worldcon that never should have happened has had a wild ride after an all-too-easy to call COVID outbreak, some shady business at the business meeting that seemed likely an attempt to influence the site selection process away from the (ultimately winning) Chengdu bid for next year and then, the piece de resistance, the revelation that a major sponsor for the convention, with a branded red-carpet photo wall at the Hugo Awards was the Raytheon corporation.

This raises an interesting question regarding the duty of participants in Worldcon to respond to the interface of their science fiction convention with a “defense contractor” that was supplying materiel to Saudi Arabia at least as recently as 2017 and that is a key supplier of the US military. Should a concom be held responsible for how sponsorships are used to launder the reputation of corporations? What about the ethics of working for such an organization? After all, it’s something of a received wisdom in progressive spaces that corporations are de-facto evil; if we cannot work but to work for an evil organization is there a gradient of evil to mark against? How far is, ultimately, too far beyond the pale?

Buddhism provides a very concrete starting point for what constitutes a boundary with the Aṅguttara Nikāya, in particular containing discourses accredited to the Buddha and his disciples on the topic of right livelihood – one of the eight subjects of the Noble Eightfold Path. According to these early Buddhist texts, a right livelihood is one that does not involve traffic in, “weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison.”

As such it’s clear that, at least from an orthodox Buddhist perspective, there is a very specific line and it is one that Raytheon is entirely beyond. Of course the same could be said of the butcher and the liquor store down the road along with any pet store proprietors and certain garden shops that sell plants that could potentially be used for the production of poison so we could, perhaps, argue that such specificity is somewhat unhelpful to a modern context.

The Buddhist proscription is bound, inextricably, to a Buddhist ethical universe that seeks to avoid the causation of harm. As such proscribed livelihoods are proscribed because of their specific interaction with the Buddhist perspective on what constitutes the Good. However what the Buddhist example is best for showing is that a boundary can be set. We can, in fact, say that even if all things are not intrinsically ethical some things, in particular, are unethical enough that they should be avoided as moral hazards.

No ethical consumption under Capitalism

There is something of a mimetic phrase within progressive circles that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. This phrase appears not to have a clearly fixed origin although it does seem to arise out of online spaces. Now this argument – that ethical consumption is impossible within Capitalism points in two disparate directions. First, it is deployed as a form of absolution. “Yes I know this product was made by an appartheid state in an occupied territory but there’s no ethical consumption under Capitalism,” at the extreme sure but also, “I’m aware that fast food restaurants deploy environmentally destructive agricultural practices to keep prices down but there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, I live in a food dessert and have few choices and ultimately I have to eat something,” would be closer to an ideal example of this absolutory use. The second is as a critique. A celebrity backs a T-shirt slogan – or some other commodified piece of political rhetoric – and critics point out that it was manufactured with exploited labour. Does a feminist really look like a white woman getting rich off of sloganeering at the expense of vulnerable workers in Bangladesh? There is no ethical consumption under Capitalism.

And so, effectively this statement means either, “I am aware of the contradiction in my position and cannot avoid it,” or “you should be aware of the contradiction in your position,” depending upon whose consumption is the subject of ethical assessment.

Now a fan convention is most certainly an example of consumption. In fact, fewer things are more purely consumptive than a fan convention – an event that seeks to lionize and institutionalize a category of consumption, to bring consumers into the proximity of producers so that they can consume more effectively. And with a fan convention being a form of institutionalized consumption, sponsors of a convention are certainly to be counted both as consumers of the product the convention offers (largely the attention of other consumers) and simultaneously as producers of the event. Raytheon is both a consumer of Discon III and also a product that Discon III attendees are being invited to consume. And anybody who took a photo at the Raytheon branded red carpet photo station, anybody who went to the Raytheon booth, they were consuming Raytheon. So when people respond to this consumption of Raytheon by attendees that there is no ethical consumption under Capitalism our question then becomes whether this is the consumer being asked to be aware of the contradiction in their position or if it is the consumer aware of the contradiction claiming they have no choice.

It honestly seems mostly to be the latter.

Certainly, unless that consumer was on the concom they had no choice about whether to invite Raytheon to be a sponsor so we may be able to absolve most attendees of that specific blame. Although members of the concom should certainly be called to account for their funding decisions. However, while the attending membership had no choice whether Raytheon was to be a sponsor, this doesn’t mean they had no agency in this situation at all. And this is where things become even more difficult.

Ambiguity

In her seminal work, “the Ethics of Ambiguity,” Simone de Beauvoir grappled with the fundamental problem of making ethical judgments in recognition of the inability of a person to have an objective understanding of all consequences. In this book Beauvoir remains consequentialist in her outlook, maintaining that the ethical value of an act had to do with its movement toward liberation but problematized consequentialist ethics by pointing out that it would be nearly impossible to judge, in a moment of action, whether any given well-intentioned action, in fact, moved in the direction of liberation. Antagonistic to the virtue-ethic of the Buddhists that would declare it is wrong livelihood, a consequentialist might ask to whom weapons were being sold and to what purpose. Beauvoir then points out that, no matter how great the purpose the consequentialist cannot possibly know what the ultimate consequences of selling those guns must be.

In the end, Beauvoir’s ethic proposes something of a Sisyphean life – one of constantly striving toward a greater freedom fully aware that it can never be obtained. The struggle for liberation is an endless and ever-changing task. All a person can do is their best. As Beauvoir puts it, “Ethics does not furnish recipes any more than do science and art. One can merely propose methods. Thus, in science the fundamental problem is to make the idea adequate to its content and the law adequate to the facts; the logician finds that in the case where the pressure of the given fact bursts the concept which serves to comprehend it, one is obliged to invent another concept; but he can not define a priori the moment of invention, still less foresee it.”

Beauvoir argues that meaning is constantly changing and that the movement of life with purpose, of a good life, is thus also constantly a moving target. But that doesn’t mean she provides no lodestone. Instead Beauvoir takes a nearly Epicurean approach, saying, “However, it must not be forgotten that there is a concrete bond between freedom and existence; to will man free is to will there to be being, it is to will the disclosure of being in the joy of existence; in order for the idea of liberation to have a concrete meaning, the joy of existence must be asserted in each one, at every instant; the movement toward freedom assumes its real, flesh and blood figure in the world by thickening into pleasure, into happiness. If the satisfaction of an old man drinking a glass of wine counts for nothing, then production and wealth are only hollow myths; they have meaning only if they are capable of being retrieved in individual and living joy. The saving of time and the conquest of leisure have no meaning if we are not moved by the laugh of a child at play. If we do not love life on our own account and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way.”

And, of course, this idea of a good life as being one that pursues some sort of genuine happiness both on our own account and through others is something of a shared quest between Beauvoir, the Epicureans and the Buddhists.

What then is the ethical weight of a red-carpet photo against the death of a child in Yemen? It should be such a simple formula – arms dealers bad – and yet it brings with it so much other baggage. Did the actions of the red-carpet walkers contribute to Raytheon’s ability to sell the weapons that kill? Were factors such as the ability of convention members to pursue a career in the arts (which received wisdom says necessitates participation in fan conventions) ones that moved their own actions, in that moment toward a concrete mode of liberation? Should an artist who discovers their participation might give a company like Raytheon access to an audience disengage immediately? How much burden to know what, in fact, Raytheon is and does should be ascribed to the hosts of a Science Fiction podcast or the creators of a popular semi-pro zine? I don’t think I need the certainty of the Noble Eightfold Path to say that Raytheon is ethically compromised. It sells weapons to many of the most aggressive and warlike militaries in the world. No country has as many extraterritorial military bases as the United State. Few states wage war as readily and egregiously as Saudi Arabia. That Raytheon partners with these militaries makes it obvious that there’s very little ambiguity at play with working in their employ or with deliberately selling them advertising space at your convention. A good Raytheon employee is an employee who quits.

But I think the “no ethical consumption” line creates more problems than it solves. Certainly it’s true in as far as capitalism is a system that pushes back against Beauvoir’s idea of a life of love on our own account and lived through others. It’s a system that depends, instead, on a zero-sum gamification of existence where every moment of joy we squeeze out of life must, at its core, be a moment of joy denied to another. But the moment of radical freedom we call revolution depends on a level of mass action that doesn’t reside with some atomized individual. Turning around and walking out of the Hugo awards upon sighting the Raytheon banner would have been a decent action. It would be what Buddhists call “right intention” but it would be ineffectual. It would not overthrow the rule of Capital; it would not unmake the missiles and the bombs. In order for it to be a truly revolutionary moment it would require a total desertion of Discon III – for every single person there to spontaneously refuse to cross that threshold. And absent that sort of spontaneous and revolutionary moment ambiguity rules here. Hugo awards make careers and it’s just a banner.

Ultimately the concom of Discon III has earned scorn. It was the height of irresponsibility to hold a convention in Washington DC in 2021. We all knew perfectly well the pandemic would not be over and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to assume most people knew the pandemic would not be over in the United States specifically considering the disorganized way it responded to the crisis. Frankly there should have been no opportunity to pose in front of a Raytheon banner at all. And even if we set aside the irresponsibility of holding an in-person fan convention during a plague year the concom should not have sold its sponsorship opportunities to a “defense contractor.” Awarding a sponsorship to Raytheon was an egregious lapse in ethics by the standard of the Buddhists, the Epicureans, the standards of Beauvoir and frankly even those of Kant who would have fixed upon the concom the duty of acting in a manner that advanced respect and dignity of all people. Death from above at the hands of missiles manufactured half a world away is, at its core disrespectful. It is a death lacking in dignity to be snuffed out like an unwanted candle.

Capitalism operates through a diffusion of responsibility. People who have worked within the IT divisions of defense contractors talk about jobs that center around entirely abstract snippets of code – work toward abstract benchmarks where they haven’t the first clue what their code is even intended to do. This sort of diffusion permeates capitalist organization such that, ultimately, no one person is ever to be blamed for the cruelties of the system. And the concom could argue, in their defense, that then never dropped a bomb nor asked one to be dropped.

Ultimately the question becomes: where do you draw the line? As Jello Biafra said, “I’m not telling you, I’m asking you.”

For me, the line is drawn not at being an audience for Raytheon but it is certainly drawn before collaborating with Raytheon to give them an audience. But each person must construct that line for themselves. This is the ultimate paradox of collective spontaneity. We must each, alone, decide to act together in the moment. If a spontaneous moment is lost to ambiguity we should, rather than ripping at those people who, enmeshed in ambiguity, may have made a wrong choice, aim toward building better preconditions to make the right choice in the future.

As such my final word is this: No more arms manufacturers at fan conventions. And if anyone violates this clear line by inviting arms manufacturers to participate, let’s deem them outside what we see as the genre community. In that moment of collaboration they have put themselves beyond the pale. But let’s stop there and work to build solidarity around this line.

About where certain authors should fuck off to

The Hugo awards have provided us a few controversies. There is, of course, my quixotic quest to turn a consumer culture against one of the principal sellers of cultural product. However there have been a few other things brewing below the surface. And these have mostly been questions about whether certain prickly works deserve to be included. On all but one of these issues I’d rather remain silent. This is because, in all but one of these issues, I have not yet read the work in question.

I have read George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into The Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition) and it’s…

Well…

It’s art criticism.

Now I’ll precis this by saying first that it isn’t good art criticism. And I wouldn’t be voting for this blog entry to get a Hugo award. But if it did somehow win the Hugo (something that is more likely thanks to reactions such as calling for Worldcon to censor the title) it still wouldn’t even be the worst rageblog to ever be given a Hugo for best related work. Not by a long shot.

I’m calling the Fuck Off Into The Sun blog art criticism because I’m treating award ceremonies as art works. Luhrs certainly makes an honest attempt at critique when she says, “The proper role of an awards show host is to keep the audience entertained between awards and get the fuck out of the way of the people being honored. Martin did neither.” And this blog does not read like a grievance letter about Martin’s poorly organized loser’s party but rather a systematic attempt to look at the tone of the awards ceremony, its adherence to the tropes of the genre, its ethical and aesthetic characteristics, and the messages it communicated. That’s art criticism and that makes it an appropriate nominee for a best related work Hugo. That it wasn’t very good is neither here nor there.

But, of course, things have gotten silly. I read the blog on the strength of its amusing (if somewhat over-long) title when the Hugo nominees were announced. When I told some co-workers who aren’t tied to the “fandom” scene about the Hugos this essay was the one they wanted to know more about. Even normies have heard of George R.R. Martin and it isn’t surprising that they wanted to know about why someone wanted him to fuck off into the sun – or that they wanted to know why this opinion would be popular enough to be nominated for an award. And I laughed. I told them there’s a long tradition of such silly entries in the Related Work category because not that many “fans” care about it and it’s easy to slip something onto a ballot with even a small kernel of support. Let’s not forget the minimum threshold for entry onto the Related Work ballot this year was 31 votes.

I said there wasn’t a chance in hell it’d actually be the winner. I mean even that Bronycon video was a better critical work. And there was that tantalizing translation of Beowulf; there was a highly rated book of critical analysis about Octavia Butler for goodness sake – related work has an embarrassment of riches this year. But this idea of subjecting a nominee for an award to scrutiny for a supposed ethics violation of the convention that is hosting the award for which she was nominated is some next-level childishness.

I’ve talked before about the defensiveness of the consumptive fan – the idea that even the weakest criticism (and this is weak criticism) is met with extreme hostility because the associated identity as a fan is so fragile that it cannot suffer anything that might harm the reputation of the product the fan has invested meaning in. It’s been pointed out already that the calls to censor the title of this nominee have come from fans of George R. R. Martin including one who runs a fan website that is not affiliated with the author. Of course this will almost certainly end up as an example of the Streisand Effect and frankly, if by some unlikely circumstance the Fuck Off Into The Sun blog wins the Hugo it should be presented to Luhrs by the administration of the Westeros site – after all, they will be the ones who have given it to her. This is, as I said before, all very silly. Thin-skinned fans can’t bear the thought of their favourite TV Producer / occasional novelist being criticized for being an old, white, wealthy American who acts like an old, white, wealthy American. They have constructed so much of their own identity with their affiliation with the Game of Thrones brand that her criticism, which was pretty obviously a surface level criticism wherein Martin was being used as a stand-in for a series of systemic grievances that are hard to get at in a blog post and thus not exactly a thorough evisceration of his oeuvre, was too much for them to take. It was as if Luhrs’ act of criticism was an assault upon the fans. This sort of fan behaviour is, as I’ve harped on about many times, to the detriment of the arts.

Then there is the bit of legalistic wrangling that has become the lynchpin of the complaint of these disgruntled fans: “Comments directly intended to belittle, offend, or cause discomfort including telling others they are not welcome and should leave…” This is honestly kind of laughable coming from the same concom that took several days to debate whether to retain a GoH who was the administrator of a forum that included Trumpist Insurrectionist discussion. We need to seriously consider whether a person who administered a safe-space for hate speech is an appropriate guest of honour but we wouldn’t want anybody to feel unwelcome. And this cuts to the heart of the problem I raised during the Baen’s Bar imbroglio. There is no way to make everybody welcome. A welcoming space for a bigot will be, by definition, not a welcoming space for the subject of bigotry. Now I am not calling Martin or his fans bigots, nor am I suggesting that Discon III should be unwelcoming to Martin – who is something of an establishment at the Hugo awards notwithstanding how he may have succeeded or failed as a presenter. Rather I’m saying that the idea of censoring the name of a Hugo nominee in order to avoid the risk that Martin or, more importantly, Martin’s fans might get their feelings bruised is childishness. So no. George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into The Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition) should not win a Hugo. But it has earned its place on the ballot and the fans who are lobbying to censor it should take a deep breath and learn to cope with a world where some people may have bad things to say about popular old rich men.


I’ve noticed that due to certain viral trends of December 2021 this article is getting a significant up-tick in views. I want to note that the subject of this article was not a member of the concom for Discon III and, just as she should not have been held to task by them for an “ethics violation” so too should she not bear the blame for the ethical failures of the Discon III concom. In light of their misuse of the term “ethics violation” in this instance though it should be noted that the Discon III made some serious ethical errors and I have some pointed things to say on that topic. Check them out in this article.

Hugos: Have we forgotten Disney Must Pay?

Yesterday the 2021 Hugo Award nominees were announced. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on it. Harrow the Ninth and The City We Became are both high up my to-read list. Aliette de Bodard is one of my favourite authors in general – I’ve previously written about her books and I’m very tempted to dig up “The Inaccessibility of Heaven” soonest for all of the Hugo nominated print fiction on offer this year.

I am also very excited to read Beowulf: A New Translation, by Maria Dahvana Headley Moving out of print work, dramatic presentation, Long Form, includes the best comic book adaptation to come out in the last few years with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and another very strong contender within the category with The Old Guard – a movie I enjoyed perhaps not as much as Birds of Prey, but would still consider one of the best genre entries of 2020.

Short-form dramatic presentation has strong contenders with the series finale of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which is a possible contender for a future Kid’s Stuff essay and with the series finale of The Good Place, for which I have a lot of affection. All in all this slate of finalists looks far better than the painful slates we suffered through during the tumultuous Sad Puppy years. And yet I’m not happy.

Because it seems like the entirety of SFF has forgotten that, as of the time of writing, Disney still has not paid Alan Dean Foster. Disney’s insufferable expression of unadulterated brand-as-entertainment, The Mandalorian, is nominated in short-form dramatic presentation not once but twice, and the Pixar movie Soul is nominated in long-form dramatic presentation. I have never felt even the slightest whit of interest in The Mandalorian as I consider the entire enterprise almost entirely lacking in artistic merit. On the other hand, Soul may very well be a very good cartoon. I don’t care. It’s shocking that the genre “fan community” would show so little concern for the material conditions under which artists labour as to heap fan-accolades upon the Mouse that Eats.

Recently Disney bought and shuttered a minor competitor of Pixar in Blue Sky Studios. This is on top of their widely-covered acquisitions of Fox, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar that have marked its monopolistic quest to control all of entertainment over the last fifteen years. In my opinion there is no greater threat to artistic expression, in the world, than Disney. Not even Amazon is as harmful. Disney has now begun using its streaming service to directly supplant cinema as a result of the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic, charging exorbitant mark-ups to access feature movies like the Mulan reboot in which Disney attempts to cement its ownership of a poem older than even Beowulf and Raya and the Last Dragon. There is no reasonable frame in which Disney’s corporate maneuvers, their acquisitiveness and their monopolism can be divided from their art.

Disney’s rapid acquisition of genre properties should be of grave concern to genre fans. It has a long history of homophobia, colonialism and racism. It is a four-quadrant obsessed producer of massive tentpole films in which people don’t fuck or swear, queers exist in subtext alone, and where violence is safely PG-13. It is deeply in bed with the US military. Disney’s vast acquisitions have the effect of flattening and circumscribing the imaginations of audiences who have very few options that aren’t the Mouse. And this also plays into the construction of consumer communities that reduce the act of engaging with art to merely being an unpaid amateur brand ambassador. And so I’m pleading with fan communities to remember that Disney doesn’t care about artists. It just cares about hoarding art and treating it as a revenue stream. If we’re fans of art and not of brands we must show Disney as much distain in 2021 as we did to the Sad Puppies in 2015. The risk to art from Disney is far greater than the risk to art ever posed by the Puppies.

So please do not vote for any Disney owned artworks at this year’s Hugo awards. And spread the word.

Fandom is not a family

happy-family-1316701-639x797Ok, I know this one will probably get me some flack but it needs saying, because it’s an idea which has impacted the frames of reference for our current conversations: Famdom is not a family. What this means is that it’s a cop-out to say, “I put up with homophobe uncle John and besides he doesn’t know any better,” as a justification for why we should just accept that our sub-culture will always include bigots.

But what is Fandom if not a family?

Fandom is a loose-knit collection of communities

Seriously, even calling Fandom one community, let alone one family, is a misnomer. There is a professional organization called SFWA, another called the HWA, there are various convention boards and membership lists, and each of these things could be called a community. And some people cross between these groups, some people might be in dozens of these groups, but that doesn’t mean the groups are all one polyglot community.

And this is important, because people can choose who they want in their communities. Part of the core of all this year’s kerfuffle was when, a while back, a certain individual was invited to leave one community (SFWA) after a public meltdown.

Fandom is a sub-culture

With specialized language (mention a SMOF to one of your non-fannish colleagues and see the look of complete unrecognition), dress (not just cosplay either, the ribbons, the pins, they’re dress markers), and interests (obviously) fandom is almost the textbook definition of a sub-culture. And, looked at in this sense we don’t have much choice about who adopts those cultural markers. Anybody can like genre fiction if they want. Anybody can learn the Turkey City Lexicon and the acronyms that get tossed around at cons. Anybody can learn what the in-jokes are and what those damn ribbons mean.

But here’s another example of a sub-culture: punk rock. Now both Jello Biafra and Michale Graves are very much part of the punk rock sub-culture but they probably have almost entirely different takes on politics, philosophy and well… everything. There’s probably nobody who would suggest that the former lead singers of the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits are not real punks; and yet Biafra is a left-anarchist, while Graves is a staunch conservative.

And yet, I doubt anybody would try to talk those two into touring together either.

Fandom is a workplace

Not for everybody, but for lots of people: writers and actors, makers and booksellers. For these people Fandom is where they work. It’s simultaneously built of their suppliers, colleagues and customers, sometimes all in one body.

Now here’s where we can make some progress between the wide-open, anybody can sign on nature of a sub-culture and the much more exclusive nature of specific communities. Because we have a pretty strong understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable reasons to invite somebody to leave a workplace. And it’s not because you don’t like their politics. But when it crosses a line from, “I disagree with this person,” to, “this person is harassing their co-workers,” then we’ve got a pretty good reason to exclude them.

And this is a pretty good litmus for how to decide what people we want in the Fandom tent. We want the people who don’t:

  • Touch inappropriately, stalk and sexually harass people
  • Threaten people with violence or incite other people to violence
  • Advocating for the extermination of a sub-set of people or for discrimination against people on the basis of inherent traits
  • etc.

And I’m going to say right now that there’s plenty of conservatives who don’t do any of these things. And there are leftists and centerists who do some or all of these things. And how we treat them should not be dependent on their position on a political spectrum but on their actions.

And besides, why do you tolerate bigotry from your relatives?

My relatives are pretty cool so I don’t have much experience with this, though I have to remind certain relatives on occasion that Conservative does not equal stupid or evil; and the thing is I do that even though I disagree entirely with everything Conservativism stands for, because I understand that it’s possible for decent people to disagree wildly.

But if a relative told a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say, “that’s racist. Why would you say that?” Progress depends on us, personally, having the courage of conviction to confront outmoded and harmful discourse.

If you say, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Jane, she’s from another time / some specific place / this or that faith; she doesn’t know any better, bless her heart,” you’re letting that particular thread continue unchallenged. And bigotry should be confronted by all decent people wherever it’s found.

Fandom is my workplace. I come there to network, to sell and to buy. I come there to learn and to teach. Many of my friends are members of the communities that compose fandom, and I’m happy to use the elements of material culture that signify membership in the sub-culture. But it’s not my family. So while I’m happy for the big tent to include communists, anarchists, socialists, liberals, centerists, conservatives and libertarians, I won’t tolerate harassers and unrepentant bigots. A big tent is great, but we can choose what is acceptable behaviour in our group. And if somebody violates that behaviour we can invite them to leave.

Post Hugo Roundup

Another roundup of links related to the fallout of the Hugos. Again, sharing link doesn’t imply either endorsement or chastisement of the contents.

Let’s start with the absolute craziest as John C. Wright produces an absolutely unhinged screed claiming that us not awarding him, the greatest gift to writing since clay tablets, lets Patrick Nielsen Hayden (also the gays?) win.

Brad Torgersen says he’s afraid he’ll never be allowed to forget his leadership of the Sad Puppy campaign and also that the Hugos really aren’t that big a deal anyway.

Larry Correia claims that Fandom is both monolithic enough to require Sad Puppy slate voting and so fractuous that the slate voting isn’t really needed to push names onto the ballot.

Vox Day probably said something too but I don’t care what he thinks.

John Scalzi suggests that acting like a jerk doesn’t pay.

This tumblr thread discusses why the Alfies were not the secret SJW Hugos.

Black Gate suggests that the failure of the Puppy slate might have to do more with the quality of the work than any political consideration.

Nick Mamatas also invites Sad Puppy partisans to defend the quality of the nominated works.

The Guardian reports on GRRM’s reaction to the Hugo results.

Tobias Buckell mocked up an alternate world ballot for the Hugos in which the Puppy campaigns hadn’t overrun the nominations.

Wired provided a moderately measured piece on the entire affair. Which was justifiably criticized for striking a tone as if women and people of colour were new to SFF (which they certainly aren’t).

Flavorwire attempted a brief summary of the whole mess.

Asia Times (and the China Daily) mostly just concentrated on the Best Novel win for Liu Cixin, entirely ignoring the puppy kerfuffle in their coverage.

NPR warns that this may not be a loss for the puppies, depending on how their goals are defined.

The Nielsen Haydens hosted a discussion thread on their blog which is mostly interesting for some otherwise quiet big names who popped in to leave their five cents.

Aliette De Bodard saw the Hugos as a win for a global vision of SF/F between the Liu Cixin / Ken Liu and Thomas Olde Heuvelt wins.

This is from before the awards but it is still relevant so I’ll include it: Kelly Robson suggested mediation between Puppy and other interest groups would be more productive than fighting.

Mike Selinker proposed a suggested fix for the Hugos based on video game testing methodology.

Abigail Nussbaum argues against the Hugos being seen as elitist or progressive to begin with, suggesting they tend to be populist and middle of the road.

Adam Shaftoe seconds Kelly Robson’s proposal for mediation and discourse.

Frank Wu suggests puppies abandon block voting in exchange for some big-name authors providing exposure to some Puppy-favourite work.

File 770 published a thorough collection of quotes from all sides.

An exceptional analysis from Eric Flint.

Arthur Chu suggests that the Sad Puppies really only exist online, thanks to the ability of the internet to favour those willing to burn the most time on an issue, and are effectively absent from physical spaces.

I may add to this as I see new things of interest. I moderate comments with a light hand but I too have a copy of Scalzi’s mallet of loving correction which I will use as I see fit. Please feel free to share links to either side of this discussion, except for Vox Day. No link to his blog will get out of moderation.

There Was Never A Conspiracy

Sad dogThe Hugo awards are over and it was, as many anticipated, a banner year for that amazing content creator: No Award.

So, of course, this has led to the usual round of recriminations and accusations, with many of the central puppy figures proclaiming that their failure to receive awards in the categories they so thoroughly gamed is proof of a conspiracy. Some accuse specific individuals in the publishing industry of being the insidious masterminds of this terrible anti-christian (apparently) plot. Others claim that they were actually the masterminds of a cunning plot wherein they couldn’t possibly lose, because all they really wanted was to smash as much as possible.

Brad Torgersen, who sadly represents the most reasonable reaches of official puppydom simply cherry-picked his examples to make the big take-away that “organized” fandom “threw women under the bus.” But, of course, this implies by its formulation that there was an organized response to the puppy slate.

This is simply and fundamentally untrue. There was no conspiracy to overthrow the puppies, hell the vast swath of people who were blogging regarding the whole puppy mess couldn’t even agree on the best way to respond.

What really happened, at its most simple, is that fandom, as a whole came together and pushed the sad puppies collective noses in the wet spot they’d left on our kitchen floor. We saw a broad, thorough and entirely grassroots repudiation of the slate stacking that the puppies got up to.

And yes, that meant a few deserving people didn’t get awards. I voted “no award” for most of the puppy categories, but I voted for Sheila Gilbert in #1 for editor, the only editor I put above “no award.” I also ranked Abyss and Apex highly on my ballot – it was a very tight category and while I ultimately ranked Lightspeed first I kind of questioned them being listed as semi-pro rather than professional.

Had they not withdrawn I would have voted for Black Gate highly and the same of Marko Kloos, Kevin Anderson (edit: I know he didn’t withdraw, I put him above No Award) and Annie Bellet (I haven’t read Kloos’ book yet though I intend to but from what I understand of it I’d likely have placed it just below Ancillary Sword on my ballot which, prior to the Three Body Problem entering the ballot with Kloos’ departure was my first pick).

As you can see, despite voting “no award” for almost all the short fiction categories, I was not one of the, “if they’re on a puppy slate vote ’em below no award unread” types. I’m not saying nobody was, obviously many people took that position. But I think they did so for a variety of reasons, and not out of some sort of unified political objective.

Frankly there were probably quite a few people who voted “no award” because the quality of the selected work was poor. I mean, I have been a long-time Jim Butcher fan, but Skin Game was possibly his worst novel, and was definitely his worst offering in the Dresden Files series. As much as I have enjoyed his past work, that was the book that almost made me stop buying his books, and that’s not something that’s really Hugo worthy. (I still ranked it above no award.)

And frankly, the novel category is where the Puppy slate was at their most reasonable. The cranks and would-be Ayn Rands who comprised the majority of the short fiction articles deserved to be ranked below No Award. I can’t even get through one of John C. Wright’s unhinged blog posts without fighting the urge to wretch, let alone his fiction.

I’m an openly marxist, politically active, bisexual author who frequently calls himself an anarcho-communist. I am effectively a living, breathing avatar for the SJWs that the puppies seem to believe rule fandom in secret. And yet I seem to have missed a memo. Because my influence extends, at most, to a small group of small press affiliated genre writers in Toronto. That’s if I’m being generous. I met the Nielsen-Haydens once. They seemed like nice people. I met John Scalzi a few times. He gave me some writing advice which later benefited me. If these people are masters of some fell conspiracy you’d think they’d give me a shout-out to act as a foot soldier for them. But… nothing. Not even a dog whistle.

There is no conspiracy. There is just a diverse collection of fans who rejected the Puppy’s vision of the genre. So let’s lay this tired beast to bed and get back to building the future.

Hugo roundup

There’s been a pretty big book worth of ink spilled over the Hugo ballots. Here’s what some people are saying:

This is what I’ve read so far, and could remember how to find. A note, I don’t agree with all of what’s been said on this list, and unless my comments include a specific endorsement (such as calling something “on of the most detailed and thoughtful analyses of the Sad Puppies) inclusion on the roundup should not be construed as overt endorsement of the comments therein. Furthermore, unless I include specifically incendiary language (ex: “rants about SMOFs and SJWs”) inclusion should not be considered criticism of the comments. My criteria is literally, “I read it and thought it mentioned something unique regarding the debate.” Please share links of interest in the comments and I’ll update the roundup periodically with additional links.

The problem with Hugo – Assessing the work on their merits, a moderate approach

So this was a thing that happened. Short form, after three years of concerted, non-stop campaigning, the sad puppies managed to game the system of the Hugo Awards sufficiently to stack the ballot to the point where there are some categories where, quite literally, there is no choice but Sad Puppy options.

Furthermore, in some of these cases (though not all) the options presented by the Sad Puppies are so obviously included just to stick one to the “pink shirts” that, even disregarding the inside baseball of the various cliques involved, “no award” is the best available option.

I don’t say that lightly. Now I’m going to break down the categories one-by-one and discuss what I know of the entries on them. And in the process, I’m going to act like I don’t know the Sad Puppies exist as a thing because I want it to become apparent how blatant ridiculous this ballot is. But before I do that, I want to talk about options.

The Way Forward

We have a few options going forward:

  1. Fully politicize the Hugo awards by forming an organized slate of candidates to counter the Sad Puppy clique.
  2. Abandon the Hugo awards to the Sad Puppies.
  3. Push for a complete redesign of the Hugo Awards

Now, of these options, I think 2 is by far the worst. I’m tired of ceding ground in public space to conservative interests, of seeing Overton windows constantly sliding right.

So let’s examine the other two options.

A fully politized ballot

Despite my previous (very public) comments regarding the inseparability of art and politics, I actually think this is not a good option. I’m no more interested in turning the Hugo Awards into a permanent battleground of the Culture Wars than I am in abandoning them to become the paleoconservative awards for genre fiction.

Unfortunately, I think that this is what probably will happen short term. Certainly, for the 2015 Hugos it’s going to happen, because, as I’ll show later, it’s effectively impossible to vote in the majority of categories in the Hugo awards without it being politicized.

Since I refuse to throw my hands up and abandon the awards to the Sad Puppies, any voting that happens kind of will end up being political.

And any changes to the structure of the Hugo Awards will require successful votes at two successive Worldcons, so we’re probably looking at the same sad fight next year. However, notwithstanding this stop-gap measure to prevent the Hugo Awards from honoring grossly inappropriate throwbacks, I think that the real fight should be to change the Hugo Awards structure so that it’s harder to game the system.

Changing the Hugo Awards

Ideally, the Hugo Awards should be honoring the best SFF has to offer, rather than the thing any one camp was able to push forward as the best avatar of their political vision. But with the current structure that’s hard to do. So what are some options?

Raise the price to nominate and vote

No. Unlikely to work, kind of jerky to boot. I only mention it because it’ll invariably come up as a suggestion.

Eliminate multiple nominations

When a single author has been spammed across every nomination in a category it’s clear that some rigging is going on. So I’d suggest this as a first measure: a single individual or organization will not be allowed to be nominated more than once for any given award, and not more than three times for all award categories. In the event that a nominee receives more than one qualifying nomination in a category, whichever work receives the most nominations is the one that goes on the ballot. The others are discarded. The same applies if a person is nominated into more than three categories. The strongest nominations stay. The weaker nominations are tossed.

I think this might be one of the easiest fixes for the problem we’re facing right now. It’d, at the very least, mean that a greater diversity of nominees would be on every ballot, and would slightly weaken the power of voting blocs aligning behind specific high-profile incendiary candidates.

Of course, nothing stops voting blocs from just finding five different names for each slate and pushing that slate forward just as strongly. But at least they’d have to work harder, and as my later analysis will show, when the voting bloc can’t lean on a single author to push their agenda, the situation becomes more difficult.

Make the Hugo Awards a juried award

Of course this’ll make the selection of the jury a matter of political contention. But if we switched the selection of the nominations list from an open pay-for-vote situation to a juried one, it would at least introduce some accountability. That’s something we don’t really have right now.

Something else?

Honestly, I’m looking for suggestions here, comments welcome.

A breakdown of the award categories

Of course, everything I’ve been saying is predicated on the brokenness of the current list. So let’s look at that in greater detail.

Best novel

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marco Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)

This is one of the two best categories on this year’s ballot. Frankly Ancillary Sword has been my pick for the 2015 Hugo award ever since I read it. Leckie is a genius and her book is a tour-de-force. And I say that as somebody who’s often bored by space opera.

I’ve heard good things about The Goblin Emperor though I haven’t read it. It’s on my TBR list, but, being honest, it’d have to be AMAZING to dislodge Leckie’s book from my top pick.

Jim Butcher has long been one of my guilty pleasure reads. I enjoyed Skin Game, with a big caveat that I thought Butcher leaned FAR too hard on the femme fatale tropes of noir in this outing, and there were small parts of the book that veered into straight-up sexism which I found jarring and which I SERIOUSLY hope he dials back in his next outing. Still I’ll be buying his next Dresden book because it’s an enjoyable read. Would I call Skin Game the best SFF book of 2014? No. Nope. Nooooooope. I would not. But, I wouldn’t really blame somebody who did – Butcher is a very competent and entertaining author.

I haven’t read, or heard anything about The Dark Between the Stars so this one’s a bit of a shoulder-shrug on my part. I have no problem with Kevin J. Anderson, and some of his Dune novels were entertaining reads. But I’m still going to stump for Leckie over him. Because Leckie is a freaking genius.

Lines of Departure puts the military in military SF. I don’t read much straight up military SF (Scalzi notwithstanding) so I can’t really comment. Scalsi seems to like Kloos. But it’s kind of the same situation as with Anderson, I’m more saying “not enough information to comment” than “don’t vote for this guy”

Conclusion: If I knew absolutely nothing about Sad Puppies I’d probably have absolutely no problem with the ballot for best novel. Vote for who you like. I’ll be voting for Leckie first because I REALLY like Leckie and I think she really did write the best science fiction novel of the year.

Best Novella

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Ok so here’s where I do this:  (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

I’m going to start with John C. Wright. The man who, according to the Hugo ballot wrote three of the five best novellas of 2014. Wright called the creators of Legend of Korra termites for confirming that Korra was bisexual. He said they should be, and this is a quote, exterminated.

I’m sorry, but this falls back to my, “you can’t ever entirely separate the artist from the art,” statement and I could no more vote for anything this man wrote than I could one of Orson Scott Card’s paeans to the wonders of child soldiers. By using his author platform to spread hate, he has excluded himself from consideration.

Tom Kratman is also on the list of people who have excluded themselves from serious contention on the basis of the things they’ve said online. Look here and here to see what I mean.

And then there’s Arlan Andrews Sr. He’s on the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation. And they’re a rather… frightening… group of people.

So in the novella category we have three nominees: one who wants to exterminate the creators of a YA cartoon for daring to admit bisexuals exist, one who seems to believe affirmative action is more racist than the promotion of Rushton-style memes regarding “race” and genetic inheritance, and one who is involved with a trojan horse NGO whose advisory board also includes one of the most infamous anti-islamic radicals in the USA.

This grouping doesn’t include the best SFF has to offer. It doesn’t include the best any random grouping of people have to offer. There’s no way I could endorse any of these people.

So “No Award” carries in novella.

And the rest

This is going to take all day so I’m going to hustle things along. Novelette includes more John C Wright, somebody published in an Orson Scott Card branded publication, and a bunch of things I haven’t read. I’ll probably try to get around to those and report back on a future post.

Short story has more John C. Wright, more Castalia House (on why that’s a no-go zone read Stross here) and more I-haven’t-read-report-back-laters. (Of note, Lou Antonelli, on his blog, claims that “typical literary s-f is dystopian slipsteam pornography,” and not in the tee-hee, I love dystopian slipstream pornography sort of way, so I don’t have high hopes for him. But at least he isn’t as publicly awful as the novella contenders.

Related work: Oh hey, look, Castalia House again. What’s that? Patriarchy Press? That’s just straight up trolling now. In fact, considering Patriarchy Press seems to have no visible web presence, at all, I’m inclined to think it is a troll. Perhaps a self-pubber’s imprint name which he thought was droll or something. Regardless, not filing me with confidence here related work.

Graphic novel: An unremittingly awesome field. Possibly even better  than novel. Ms. Marvel? I love Ms. Marvel – anything related to the Inhumans really, but it’s a wonderful book regardless. Rat Queens, yes, yes, yes. Saga is the comic I haven’t read that is most frequently recommended to me by comic fans and non-comic fans alike. It probably deserves to be on this list. The other two? No clue. But with a minimum of three STRONG contenders out of five this is fine.

Dramatic Presentation – Long and Short: An uncontroversial list in both cases. When I first read the Sad Puppy slate when Torgersen released it, I shrugged and said, “they’re not doing any damage there.”  Haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, I don’t watch Grimm and I haven’t seen Orphan Black… YET… but everything on those two lists looks highly appropriate and all will be above “no award” on my ballots.

Best Editor: Hey look – Vox Day is on both lists. Well he’s going BELOW “no award.” Beyond that, I don’t know, need to do some research into what the others edited.

The only weirdness in Semiprozine is the presence of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceasless Skies on it. I’d have counted them as prozines. Loved Women Destroy Horror though. And I know someone over at Apex & Abyss who I wish nice things for. So, yeah, lots of reasonable choices here once you get past the oddness of how they seem to be defining semipro.

Fanzine: I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t go to Revenge of the Hump Day. As far as I’m concerned this “equal opportunity offender” repository for racist, sexist, anti-islamic, anti-atheist and anti-liberal jokes and editorials has no place being lauded by the Hugo Awards.

Other fan categories. I don’t know any of them. Research will be needed before voting. Or I might just leave those sections blank since time is at a premium and I already have a fair bit of research to do in the pro categories.

John W. Campbell Award: Oh, I LOVE Wesley Chu (which reminds me, I have to get around to getting to reading The Rebirths of Tao – it’s been sitting in TBR basically since I finished The Deaths of Tao, despite not being out yet at that time.) So I know who my #1 will probably be. I don’t know the rest of the authors on this list, so if anybody wants to shout out a favourite book of any of them in the comments I’ll happily give it a peek.

Wrapping up this mess

Between Novel and Graphic Novel on one end – which look like proper and appropriate spreads for the Hugo awards, and the unrelenting shit-show that is the Novella category, most of the professional categories of the Hugo awards show tampering from the Sad Puppies, and Vox Day’s more militant Rabid Puppies. (I’m not making that name up.) And this tampering is to the detriment of SFF.

Specifically, the frequent insertion of one small press with an overtly Christian Dominionist mission over and over and over again is a problem. It’s not just “problematic” in the culture wars sense of the term, no, it’s a fucking major problem, one that needs to be solved.

Ultimately, literary awards should be about good literature. But what we have here isn’t a list of good literature. It’s a manifesto of a world where SFF answers to Christianity, fears other religions, hates gays, sidelines women. (Oh yeah, out of 80 nominees, only 21 were created, in whole or in part, by women.)

So we can’t treat this year’s Hugos like a normal year. Because they’re not. And so some collective action might be necessary. I think, ultimately, some people who were stuck on Sad Puppy lists don’t deserve to be excluded just because the Sad Puppies liked them (looking at you Lego Movie) but what I’d say is this: make sure anybody you put above the “no award” line is somebody you know to be worthy of winning an award. Best case: read them first. At least make sure they’re not a bigot before you give them your vote. And don’t put anything from Castalia House above that line.

Because seriously, Vox Day needs to go away.