The 2016 Hugos


Man, they’re just torturing puppies. The Sad/Rabid/Pathetic Puppy slate got repudiated again by giving awards to people who earned them.

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

The best novella (and for me, it literally was — this was my favorite SF story of the past year) went to Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us. And at the same time, it doesn’t erase 90% of the human species by turning starfarers into an American monoculture of endless variations on Captain Kirk.

Both of those are written by black women. That has got to sting the Puppies, who hate “SJWs”, which is actually a code phrase for “doesn’t think white men necessarily deserve all the things”. There’s also no way to call these token awards — these were stunningly good books.

Most of the rest of the nominees I hadn’t read — especially that very popular “No Award” that seemed to beat out offerings from Castalia House. Of the ones I did read or saw, I did not much care for The Martian by Andy Weir, which won best long form dramatic presentation, although I will admit that the book was a fast-paced page turner, and the movie was slick. I just objected to an engineering wish-fulfillment fantasy presented as science. That one is going to be long forgotten while people will still be watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I noticed that one episode of Jessica Jones also won best short form dramatic presentation.

The best thing, though, is that when awards are given on merit, rather than racial and gender bias, you start to seen great new voices being appreciated.

NK Jemisin’s acceptance speech is worth reading. For completely different reasons, Vox Day’s weird rationalizations are also worth reading, to see the depth to which the puppies will sink. He calls Jemisin a half-savage, claims her win was primarily a vote against the Puppies, claims credit as kingmaker for The Martian’s win (it was a very popular movie and book, you know, without Theodore Beale’s “help”), and declared that coming in second place was a great victory. He also comes right out and says that the goal was to burn the Hugos.

I would be embarrassed to be associated with these goons

The indignant defenders of Vox Day are still ranting away. John C. Wright, who is apparently a fairly popular SF writer, has written an angry denunciation of all those corrupting leftists who have tainted an awards ceremony. It’s remarkable; it’s an essay for which the descriptor “spittle-flecked” is entirely appropriate, and I am surprised that a professional writer would produce something so incoherent. The bottom line: he longs for the good old days when one could be a racist, sexist asshat and still be rewarded for your writing.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

I’m not even going to try to go over the details of this irrational mess; Foz Meadows has taken care of that. I just have a couple of general questions for Wright.

  • If you’re standing up for the principle of “intellectual liberty”, why is so much of your essay an attempt to argue that your favorite “speculative thinkers” weren’t actually saying the horrible things they are accused of? One problem here is that Wright is terribly unconvincing: he makes excuses for Orson Scott Card’s homophobia and Vox Day’s misogyny, either by abstaining from actually quoting them or by claiming that their words were taken out of context. When Card writes something like this, claiming that gay marriage will destroy ‘normal’ families

    Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

    I fail to see how context redeems it. I read the whole thing; it is most definitely a standard bizarre homophobic rant against giving gay people the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals.

    Or when Vox Day made his racist, misogynist attack on N.K. Jemisin, it’s damn hard to find any way to excuse this:

    … those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them. … Jemisin’s disregard for the truth is no different than the average Chicago gangbanger’s disregard for the traditional Western code of civilized conduct. … Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.…Being an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by “a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine, Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance.

    So one problem here is that it is blatantly dishonest to pretend that Card is not homophobic, and that Vox Day is not a racist and misogynist. They are. It’s not a matter of the “thought police” and “witch-hunters”, as Wright tries to claim, propagating untruths about these authors. It’s their own words that condemn them.

    But here’s the big point: if Wright is really trying to wrap himself in integrity and commitment to a principle, it shouldn’t matter. An author could be a baby-raping cannibal, and by Wright’s own insistence that we should judge a work solely by the quality of the writing and not the personal failings of the author, we should ignore the baby-raping and the cannibalism. So why does he spend so much effort trying to minimize the odious political and social views of Vox Day? Revel in them! Go ahead, admit that he’s a contemptible woman-hating racist (as he is!), and then insist that even this terrible excuse for a human being should have his work judged entirely on its merits.

    But Wright lacks the courage of his convictions. Apparently it is important to minimize the defects of his heroes.

  • Why is this an issue of left vs. right at all? That’s what Wright pins all the blame on: a particular set of political views.

    The lunatic Left planned and struggled for years, decades, to achieve their cultural influence. Let us imitate their perseverance, and retake our lost home one mind, one institution, at a time. Start by praying.

    This is a very familiar whine. But step back and look at what people actually object to in Vox Day and others: Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Religious bigotry. The very things Wright unsuccessfully tried to minimize in his protagonists. I will charitably assume that Wright deplores racism, misogyny, homophobia, and bigotry of all kinds.

    So why, oh why, do these right-wingers so obligingly associate support for equality with the Left, and identify so readily racism and misogyny etc. with the Right? It is fine with me if they want to draw the dividing line that way, and it’s true enough that the Right has done a wonderful job of shackling themselves to inequity and discrimination and oppression, but I can still imagine (with increasing difficulty, I admit) a conservative wing of American politics that doesn’t necessitate despising every segment of society other than white men.

    And now not only is the Right carrying a lot of unpleasant obligate baggage, but we’ve got a political party afflicted by and ideologically dominated by the Tea Party — and they call us the Lunatic Left.

It seems to me that the real problem here is that wingnuts don’t want to be held accountable for their ugly views — they want to be racist and sexist, but how dare you call them racist and sexist, and worst of all, how unfair to actually penalize them in the court of public opinion for being bigoted scumbags.

But it’s actually quite fair. You’re free to accuse me of being a feminist, an egalitarian, an anti-racist, and I won’t deny it — I’ll actually take pride in it.

This is not an update

I can’t explain how things are going except to say…it’s complicated. Do try to keep up with others — I can’t. I worry that this is the end of a lot of good things, or rather, things that had to be the potential to be good, and that without many changes, we’re going to lose too many great people, and that conditions have become intolerable. Let me tell you that when I pressed “publish” on a certain post the other day, I knew that no matter how it turns out, the one thing I could be certain of is that I would be persona non grata in a large segment of the movement, and that I’d be spending many more quiet weekends at home in Morris in the future (which is OK, this is a nice place, and my day job is ramping up the responsibilities, and I’ll always have the blog).

But even if I’m squeezed out, it’s time to pick a side and build a better secular movement. You can’t do it by simply accepting what is and looking the other way. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. It’s especially important that you don’t walk past the standard set by the powerful men in the movement.

I’m a professional “biologist”!

Vox Day/Theodore Beale really is hilariously easy to trigger into paroxysms of foolishness. He now refers to me as a professional "biologist" in those lovely scare quotes, because he thinks his understanding of “genetic science” is better than mine. He explains what he meant by his remarks that he, a white man, and NK Jemisin, a black woman, are not equal.

You see, Africans are pure homo sapiens sapiens.  Non-Africans are not. NK Jemisin, being of African extraction, is almost surely more purely homo sapiens sapiens than I am.  Or, for that matter, than PZ Myers is. 

"Previous research has revealed that Neanderthal DNA can be found in the genomes of everyone who isn’t of African extraction. But, as Pääbo said, "The Denisovans had contributed DNA only to people in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, and other places in Melanesia." In other words, modern humans entering Asia interbred with Denisovans. But the Denisovan DNA didn’t wind up circulating to other areas of the world the way Neanderthal DNA did."

So, everyone who isn’t African possesses DNA from other homo species, including Homo neanderthalensis and what is either Homo denisova or Homo sapiens denisova.  This is why I often mock those who believe in both evolution by natural selection and human equality, because humanity is not only NOT all the same under our skin, we are not, according to current genetic science, even all entirely the same subspecies.  If we apply their idiot logic, then I was actually claiming that I am not fully equal to Jemisin rather than the other way around.

Pure what? What is a “pure” human? Every single person on this planet belongs to the same identical species, Homo sapiens, so his distinctions by differences in alleles is irrelevant. I must also mention that his habit of capitalizing the binomial name is a bit irritating. We teach a class in science writing here that hammers on a lot of the scientific conventions, and we literally tell our students that one of the first signs you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know basic biology is that they get the punctuation wrong.

The existence of individual variants, even regional patterns, is an expected aspect of the genetic complement of a population. A species is not ever assumed to be genetically homogeneous, so it’s ridiculous to point to one member with a particular admixture of genes within a group and say they’re more a member of the group than someone else with a slightly different genetic complement.

It’s pure typological thinking. Theodore Beale has a crude version of 19th century biology (to be generous) rattling around in his head, and he thinks it makes sense.

Oh, look, Sinfest has a comic just for Theodore.


Theodore Beale, racist asshat (and not embarrassed by it)

I recently highlighted NK Jemisin’s speech in Australia, which pointed out the disgusting degree of racism still common in the US. One small part of the speech noted a remarkable recent occurence.

…the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten percent of the vote.

It was clear who she was talking about: flaming hatemonger and regressive thug Theodore Beale, who also goes by the name Vox Day. Not a good person, a really nasty, unstable, vicious wackaloon. And of course, Vox Day noticed and flew into a furious snit, demanding apologies and threatening lawsuits, because he’s so annoyed at being called a racist.

So he wrote a post denying the accusations and making his demands. He also insists that he can’t be kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America because he’s a paid-up lifetime member.

If you go to his page now, here’s a sample of what you’ll find.

Reality isn’t racist, Mr. Sanford. Neither is history. They simply are. And you can’t escape the fact that Ms Jemisin lied about me and about the state laws of Texas and Florida. As some of my Australian readers have already pointed out, Ms Jemisin has no idea what she’s talking about concerning Australian race relations either.

Oh, that doesn’t sound so angry or racist, you may be thinking. But what you’re seeing there is the stripped-down, cleaned-up version of his original racist rant, probably revised when he realized that threatening lawsuits for being called a racist while flinging racist insults was probably not a wise idea.

Fortunately, screen shots of the original tirade were captured. It’s rather different. Another short excerpt from the ugly:

So, perhaps their assertions should be taken with at least a small grain of salt. And it should be obvious that, being a libertarian, I am not actively attempting to take away anyone’s “most basic rights”. Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious reason that she is not.

She is lying about the laws in Texas and Florida too. The laws are not there to let whites “just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence,” those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend themselves by shooting people, like her, who are savages engaged in attacking white people.

Keep in mind that Jemisin is black. Here’s Theodore Beale coming right out and saying that while she’s human, she’s not fully equal to a white man, himself (and please, his invocation of “genetic science” is reeking bullshit). And then he says that the racist “stand your ground” laws some states have in place are there to protect white people like him from savages like her.

Or how about this?

Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support.

Racist as hell.

Hmm. Why do you think he felt it necessary to cut that kind of racist noise out of his post?

There is now a rising swell of people calling for Beale’s expulsion from the SFWA (and apparently there are provisions within the organizations by-laws that allow for that). It sounds like a good idea to me. Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and Beale certainly is setting a low standard. I’m surprised they’ve let him poison the organization for so long.

Then comes the tricky question. What about the 10% who actually voted for that turd?

Oh, wait, I didn’t dig deep enough into the sewer. Beale did not edit his complaint; he posted a cleaned-up version for circulation. The racist rant is still online in all of its feculent glory! The man has no shame at all.

Non-eurocentric science fiction & fantasy?

It exists! The LA Times gives a brief introduction to genre fiction that breaks out of the mold of pale elves and macho engineers. It gives a few well-regarded names (including NK Jemisin, who was mentioned here the other day) to get everyone started.

Now…I can afford to buy these books, and I have my iPad that lets me get them instantly, but does anyone have some spare time they can give me so I can read them?

Related news! This kickstarter was funded in 30 seconds: they propose creating a line of 28mm SF&F miniatures for gaming…featuring all women characters. They’re not perfect — a few of their examples succumb to the bared midriff trope, or accentuate the cleavage, and why do they keep referring to the figures as “girls” in the video? — but it’s a step in the right direction.

I don’t want to hear about it, though. I used to paint miniatures as a hobby…35 years ago. I did a little bit of it again when the kids were growing up, showing them how to drybrush the little guys they used in their games. It was fun, but I don’t have time to read all the books I want to devour, so I can’t afford to get hooked on another hobby now!

Dealing with the ten percent

NK Jemisin is an American writer who was in Australia to give a speech. The context: she’s a black American woman in Australia with some trepidation — Australia has a bit of a reputation for racism, I’m sorry to say. Even when I visited the place, there were a couple of instances of casual racism as we were touring the cities (not within the atheist convention I was attending, I am quick to add) that left me a bit gobsmacked, and I’m your standard oblivious white man. But before you think this is an Australia-bashing occasion, read the speech.

Now. Before you tar and feather me, let me tell you something else I’ve come to understand in the past three days. Australia may not be the safest place for someone who looks like me… but it’s trying to become safer. And Australia may have classified the peoples of the Koorie and other nations as “fauna” until very recently, but Australia has also made tremendous strides lately in rectifying this error. I’ve listened in fascination to the Acknowledgements of Country made at nearly every public event I’ve attended since I’ve been here. I’ve marveled that indigenous languages are offered as courses for study at some local universities. I am awed that you don’t shove all of your indigenous history into a single museum, where it’s easy for people not of that culture to avoid or ignore, because that’s what happens in the US. So as horrified as I am by the nastier details of Australian history… I am also heartened, astonished, inspired, by the Australian present. You’ve still got a long way to go before Reconciliation is complete, but then again, you’ve started down that path. You’re trying.

I want you to understand: what you’ve done? It will never happen in my country. Not in my lifetime, at least. Right now American politicians are doing their best to roll back voting rights won during our own Civil Rights movement. They are putting in place educational “reforms” which disproportionately have a negative impact on black and brown and poor white kids, and will essentially help to solidify a permanent underclass. Right now there are laws in places like Florida and Texas which are intended to make it essentially legal for white people to just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence. So: admitting that the land we live on was stolen from hundreds of other nations and peoples? Acknowledging that the prosperity the United States enjoys was bought with blood? That’s a pipe dream.

Ouch. It’s true: Americans can be masters of denial. Didn’t we fix all the racism with the Civil War? Or was it the Reconstruction? Or maybe the Civil Rights Movement. Anyway, it’s not a problem anymore. The Republican Party isn’t profoundly racist at all, nor is the rest of the country. I can’t see any problems with my eyes closed, anyway.

She’s not done. She then proceeds to chastise science fiction fans.

For the past few days I’ve also been observing a “kerfuffle”, as some call it, in reaction to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ of America’s latest professional journal, the Bulletin. Some of you may also have been following the discussion; hopefully not all of you. To summarize: two of the genre’s most venerable white male writers made some comments in a series of recent articles which have been decried as sexist and racist by most of the organization’s membership. Now, to put this in context: the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten percent of the vote. SFWA is small; only about 500 people voted in total, so we’re talking less than 50 people. But scale up again. Imagine if ten percent of this country’s population was busy making active efforts to take away not mere privileges, not even dignity, but your most basic rights. Imagine if ten percent of the people you interacted with, on a daily basis, did not regard you as human.

Just ten percent. But such a ten percent.

And beyond that ten percent are the silent majority — the great unmeasured mass of enablers. These are the folks who don’t object to the treatment of women as human beings, and who may even have the odd black or gay friend that they genuinely like. However, when the ten percent starts up in their frothing rage, these are the people who say nothing in response. When women and other marginalized groups respond with anger to the hatred of the ten percent, these are the people who do not support them, and in fact suggest that maybe they’re overreacting. When they read a novel set in a human society which contains only one or two female characters, these are the people who don’t decry this as implausible. Or worse, they simply don’t notice. These are the people who successfully campaigned for Star Trek to return to television after 25 years, but have no intention of campaigning for Roddenberry’s vision to be complete, with gay characters joining the rainbow brigade on the bridge. These are the people who gleefully nitpick the scientific plausibility of stopping a volcano with “cold fusion”, yet who fail to notice that an author has written a future earth in which somehow seventeen percent of the human race dominates ninety percent of the characterization.

That ten percent seems to be a problem everywhere: politics, religion, science fiction, atheism.