Rumors, Bargains and Lies

As was mentioned recently on someone else’s blog, it’s not nice to spread rumors.

Sadly, rumors have become a way of life, in SFF publishing as well as the real world. After all, just imagine if a professionally published author, or someone with a publishing house, went after a small, independently published author. In public. I mean, just imagine what that would do to them — or theoretically do to them. A personal attack from an established professional in your field? One can only imagine what the end goal is — personal or professional destruction.

For example, last year, when George RR Martin went after the Best Related category in the Hugos, calling all of it a toxic swamp. Many of those books were about serious, real world issues that needed to be addressed, and problems that needed to be fixed. Then there was Chuck Tingle, but that’s another story.

Then there were the numerous people who went after Brian Niemeier.

Even I had a flurry of rumors flung at me recently. I’m still trying to find out what drugs someone had to be on to accuse me of being a womanizer — hilarious to anyone who has ever seen me in person, and has seen my fashion sense.

Now, there are even rumors flying around about Lovecraft and Heinlein, even though they’re dead. Heinlein is accused of being sexist. Lovecraft is accused of racism, et al. The Heinlein accusation is stupid, if only because his heroines were smarter than the average bear. The Lovecraft accusation is totally irrelevant to writing about elder gods.

Over in the “real world,” rumors seem to have taken the place of news, and accusations du jour are headlines, with the corrections and the full story taking a back page somewhere.

Rumors are hateful, soul-destroying and corrupting things. You have to wonder about the people who spread the rumors. What goes through their minds as they do it? What motivates bigger names to go out of their way to crush smaller names? Some of these people waste thousands of words with snide jabs and subtle smears. Seriously, who does that? How do they even have the time do to that? Especially GRR Martin, doesn’t he have a book to finish?

Be Superversive — our job is to uplift, elevate. Rumors don’t accomplish that.

Here’s a solution: Catholic Vampire Romance novels….

Or Arthurian romance fighting off the end of the world.

Or a better written Harry Potter….

Because sometimes fiction makes everything better.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Bringing Home The Baycon (Or What I Learned From Being Blackballed)

Forward: I would like to thank the Superversive group for allowing me a platform for my voice to be heard. I wouldn’t be nearly as brave as I am in speaking out without people like them. Superversive fiction truly is changing the world of entertainment, and I look forward to it growing in its reach. – Jon Del Arroz 

A couple of weeks ago,  I found out that I had been blackballed from speaking at my own home convention, a place I’ve loved and cherished for almost a decade. This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.

Most shockingly, the event organizers (of whom I know very well and very personally) in question did not respond personally, but delivered a form letter to explain the ostracization. It’s disingenuous and displays a dismissal and dehumanization of which I could hardly conceive.

From a  global health of fandom perspective, it leads me to the question: if an organization such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention doesn’t stand for Bay Area authors, and doesn’t care about Science Fiction first and foremost, what is the point of the organization? If other cons across the country are operating similarly, does a change need to occur?

Continue reading

Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland

I’m going to start out by being somewhat controversial (for this community, anyway; in the worldwide publishing community they probably dislike or hate me for voluntarily associating myself with Vox Day, however loosely, but whatever): I no longer really have a dog (heh) in the Sad/Rabid Puppies fight.

If I did I’d be supportive of the Rabids, mostly because I was disgusted by the behavior of the Hugo regulars at the Cons. So, die Hugos. But truthfully I’ve basically stopped caring except to say that I genuinely hope the Dragon Awards continue getting more popular year after year and eventually supplant the Hugos entirely.

This is all a lead-in to say that when I call Miss (Mrs.?) Sutherland’s article interesting, I actually mean it. I found it interesting.

This is probably not going to make me too popular among some of the superversive folks, who seem to have decided Miss Sutherland is an enemy. And maybe she is; I haven’t been following along with the exchanges all along. All I know is that this particular article is one I thought was mostly fairly well-written and reasoned. There was a bias, of course – there always is, it’s human nature – but, I thought, not an angry one.

That’s not to say I agree with everything, of course.

Miss Sutherland says this:

Towards the end, he makes an abrupt change of subject from heroic horror films to heroic horror literature: but does he mention Robert E. Howard, whose sword-and-sorcery protagonists regularly faced Lovecraftian abominations? Does he acknowledge the writers who have shaped the occult detective genre, from H. and E. Heron through to Jim Butcher? Does he namecheck anyone from the legion of authors, from Bram Stoker onwards, who have thrilled readers with tales of cross-wielding vampire hunters?

Nope, nope, and nope. It is Brian Niemeier who has the distinction of being the only writer mentioned in Young’s survey of horror.

This is a very odd complaint to make. The article Miss Sutherland is referring to is this one, by Josh Young. In the article, Josh made one – one – extremely brief name check of a horror novel that he liked and happened to be superversive. There was no “abrupt subject change”. After that extremely brief name check of a guy who happens to be part of the superversive team and wrote a book Josh enjoyed, Josh continued making his overarching point. He even asked people to offer other recommendations for superversive horror.

Which point of hers Miss Sutherland thinks this supports completely escapes me. Superversives like his novel? Well, sure. Since he’s part of team superversive Josh made a point to mention it? Okay. It illustrated Josh’s point? Sure. But why are any of these problematic?

Miss Sutherland’s point that “Souldancer” is not popular among the sorts of horror fans who follow the Bram Stoker awards seems solid enough, though I’m not sure if this really makes her case that “real” horror fans don’t like Brian’s novel. One of the main puppy points is that we’re trying to end the sort of divide between fans and trufans, who REALLY know what’s what and look down on “Not really” horror fans.

If anything her argument seems to be that the Dragon Awards should get more exposure, so that the long time and hardcore horror fans can have more influence. Good point. They should. But so what?

And I think that’s the biggest point here. Miss Sutherland seems to be saying that, though Brian won, it doesn’t really mean his work is the most popular horror novel, since most horror fans haven’t been following the Puppies controversy and the various literary movements that have sprung up in opposition to SJW convergance. Okay. If that’s the case, vote for something else. Seriously. The option is there. Nobody is stopping her. If she wants to get the word out to the horror community that there’s a new horror award, and see if people are interested in voting for it, that’s great! Go for it.

The problem here is that she’s acting like this delegitimizes Brian’s win. But why? Brian won an open vote fair and square. It’s not his fault that hardcore horror fans didn’t vote for it. He still won.

Miss Sutherland makes some decent points that Brian’s novel wasn’t actually the most popular horror novel written that year, sales wise. Fair enough; I don’t think Brian said it was, but maybe I missed something. He did say it was voted most popular by Dragon Award voters, which is quite true. She also makes the fair point that as of her writing, Jemisin’s traditionally published novel was outpublishing Neimeier. Fair enough. But none of that changes the fact that the Dragon Awards 1) Weren’t started by Puppies groups, and 2) Aren’t open only to puppies groups.

The reason Puppy writers won is that more people voted for them.

She also loses a LOT of credibility by writing this:

Nevertheless, the Puppies – or, more specifically, Niemeier and his immediate circle of friends – kept up the charade that the little-known Souldancer was the most popular horror novel published within the Dragons’ twelve-month eligibility period. Niemeier’s blog post received replies comparing me variously to a spoilt child, a high school mean girl and a wiggling worm for venturing to suggest otherwise. My personal favourite comment came from Niemeier himself; apparently channelling his inner Benjanun Sriduangkaew, he felt it appropriate to threaten me with physical violence:

It’s not the easily excitable guys whose anger you should worry about. It’s the patient, reserved guys quietly sipping their drinks and reading Heinlein novels until they decide they’ve had enough of the loudmouths making a scene, take you out in the parking lot, and bust out your teeth.

(The bold is Brian’s quote.)

As should be clear to – bluntly – anyone with half a brain, Brian wasn’t actually threatenting to bust Miss Sutherland’s teeth. He was making the point that the people who have been quietly taking it for a long time are losing their tempers and starting to fight back; that fighting back is taking the form of the many negative comments and insults she is so concerned about.

More than that – that’s not a threat anyway. Brian’s not threatening to punch anybody, merely warning people that if you keep making a scene, people will eventually get tired of it and fight back. Calling it a “threat” is just an obvious lie.

Later on, she quotes an article by the Injustice Gamer, referring to him as one of Brian’s friends. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, but she takes issue to this comment by him:

Genesson starts his three-pronged rebuttal by suggesting, bizarrely, that people who give positive reviews to Souldancer are in danger of losing their jobs. He seems to expect us to believe that the legions of Souldancer fans have gathered into some kind of Fight Club-like underground subculture that dare not speak its name.

 

Okay. I read the linked article. I am confusedas to what she is referring to. Maybe this?:

It would seem that Souldancer succeeded in beating out more popular horror nominees, such as Christina Henry’s Alice, merely because its author is pro-Puppy.

Yes, we all trust reviews, do we? Maybe some of us realize how active your type is at disemployment.

Non-bold is Miss Sutherland, bold is the injustice gamer.

Miss Sutherland seems to be extrapolating an extraordinary amount from the Injustice Gamer’s quote. He appears to be observing that SJW’s – which, true or not of Miss Sutherland (frankly, it seems to be true; maybe she wouldn’t even deny it), the Injustice Gamer seems to be referring to – actively try and end the employment of people they don’t agree with. This is observably true; this is a pretty casual article, but if I tried I could come up with quite a few examples of this. This, the Injustice Gamer seems to be contending, means that perhaps some people are worried about leaving positive reviews of Brian’s books.

What this has to do with a “Figh Club underground subculture” escapes me.

For the record, I don’t really agree with the Injustice Gamer. We’ve got enough of a base now that people actually seem to enjoy writing reviews of books a larger segment of the population would denounce as somehow bigoted or dangerous. John C. Wright and Vox Day are far more hated than Brian, but each gets hundreds of reviews of their books. Probably the reason Souldancer doesn’t have as many reviews as either of those guys means Brian doesn’t have as big of an audience. But really, who doesn’t know that?

In that sense, Miss Sutherland is correct. Brian IS held up as the leading Puppy horror author, and he is not one of the most popular horror writers in the world right now. But what Brian IS is an author who is now, by writing horror novels, making enough money to pay bills, gaining more and more popularity as time goes on, and representing a subculture of horror fans that haven’t been catered towards for awhile. He won the Dragon Awards because of those fans, that is true; but other people were perfectly free to vote. They didn’t.

In that sense, the Dragon Awards really are a populist award, because you don’t need to pay to enter, there is no real chance of secret ballot pushing since everything is out in the open, and partially, at least, as a result of that works are winning there that wouldn’t have a chance in the Hugo Awards. That’s important!

She later says this:

If you want to argue that Souldancer is a good novel, then go ahead. If you want to argue that it deserves to be popular, and may someday be popular, then go ahead. But you cannot argue, with any kind of intellectual honesty, that it is currently a popular novel amongst fans of the genre.

This is going to probably get me some hate from all sides, but here it is: I both agree and disagree with this sentiment.

I agree in the sense that of all of the horror books out there, “Souldancer” is not – yet – among the most famous or popular, though its fame and popularity is growing.

What I disagree with – what the Puppies have been fighting with all along – is the distinction between various types of fans of the genre. What about the Josh Young fans of the genre? She mentions earlier that Josh didn’t mention Jim Butcher, which is true. What she did NOT mention is that Jim Butcher IS held in extremely high regard by virtually the entirety of the Puppy fandom. She, bizarrely, points out that Josh didn’t mention Robert E. Howard when Howard is 1) Practically a deity in the Puppy world and 2) Is long dead and not representative of the sorts of people who gets votes in awards. Brian won not because he has a bunch of friends – most of us have probably never met Brian in person and know little about him (like me) – but because he catered to a segment of the audience that had been ignored for a long time.

Is this audience small? Apparently not as small as originally thought. And as awareness for Brian’s novel grows, it is quickly becoming apparent that more and more people are happy that a novel like Brian’s exists.

And YES, it is true that the Puppies were knocking a lot of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy varieties of horror. The reason for this isn’t because the fans didn’t count, but because the novels could hardly be classified as horror. So I’ll move on.

Miss Sutherland, in her anger at how polemic some of Brian’s responses and posts directed towards her were, seems to be unable to help herself from lying or misrepresenting Brian’s comments. She says this:

Incidentally, when I first reported on the Dragon Awards at WWAC, I received a reply from one of the non-Puppy nominees where she mentioned her “obscure indie published military sci fi book”. She has the right idea. She sees that there is no shame in being a little-league writer who does what they enjoy, who picks up a few fans along the way, and who may someday go on to bigger things.

Brian Niemeier does not seem to realise this. For him, it is clearly not enough to have a small but loyal readership that has pushed him to the top of an online poll. He has to present himself as being fandom’s favourite horror writer – the “Dragon of Horror”, as he styles himself – even though he knows full well that this is simply not the truth.

Well, let’s look at that post of Brian’s she linked to. Why does he call himself the Dragon of Horror, anyway?

By popular acclamation, authors of Dragon Award-winning books shall now be styled according to the category in which they won.

So what? Now it’s a problem that Brian is proud of the fact that he won the Dragon Award for best horror novel, and can’t mention that when talking about himself? He calls EVERYONE who won a Dragon award the Dragon of [category]. It doesn’t reference anything except for the fact that he won the award – which is true.

Let me end it with this:

Miss Sutherland seems to be mad that Brian is “keeping up the charade” that his novel was the most popular novel during the period of Dragon Award nominations and voting. She goes on to prove – it seems pretty decisively, to me at least – that Brian’s novel is not more popular than Jemisin’s. Fair enough.

But I’m trying to find where Brian said his novel was actually the most popular. I can’t find it. He’s not an idiot.

He DOES say that it is popular. Well, you can quibble with that I guess, but Brian recently paid some of his bills with the royalties from his writing*, so that seems like something of a stretch at best.

You can point out that it’s not up to 50 reviews, as he claimed. That’s true, but really tangential to the main point.

He does try to argue that the Dragon Awards DO represent the fans. I think he is right for the simple reason that anyone can vote for them, and the awards were made public and spread pretty far. I think she DID successfully prove that he misrepresented – probably unintentionally – his sales numbers.

She did not prove that Brian won merely because he is “pro-puppy”. She didn’t really even make the case, except to say “It kind of makes sense”. I would respond that – as the current rise of Castalia, Superversive SF, and others are proving – he won because he filled a niche.

Sure, not as many people voted in the awards as theoretically could have. It’s the first year! That doesn’t mean he didn’t win the vote – the popular vote.

So while Miss Sutherland made some good, intelligent points, I think she missed the forest for the trees – and she would look quite a bit better if she didn’t grossly misrepresent what some of those writers she quoted were saying. So it goes.

*The J List – 

  • Authors who are still getting used to the idea people want to read their crap.
  • Authors who have sold a respectable number of books.
  • Authors who check their book’s Amazon rank every hour.
  • Authors who start to pay most of their bills with their royalties.

EDIT: Brian responds, and points out that he did not say “Souldancer” sold more copies than Jemisin’s book, but rather that it moved more copies. Brian is correct, meaning that Sutherland was actually wrong about that. As far as I can see the rest of my points still stand.

Also, now that I’m already here I shouldn’t forget to mention that I was wrong about it being Miss Sutherland, since it’s actually a man who got disfiguring surgeries. In the interest of accuracy, please disregard the uses of Miss and insert Mr.

The Bifrost Between Calico and Gingham

pyewacket

I have been asked what the Puppies—Sad and Rabid alike—are objecting to? If they are not racist or homophobes—ie, if it is not the author’s identity that they object to—why do they think that so many of the stories that have been winning the Hugo and the Nebula are receiving their awards for the wrong reasons?

I think I can explain. I will use, for my example, the short story that won the Hugo in 2016: “Cat Pictures Please.”

(Spoilers below. If you haven’t read “Cat Pictures Please” and wish to, you can find it here.)

bob

Science Fiction:
My overall take on “Cat Pictures Please”, as a science fiction story was that it was witty and clever but not that deep or original. It reminded me of a number of older short stories, including one of my all time favorites, “LOKI 7281” by Roger Zelazny, a witty story in which a personal computer is slowly trying to take control of more and more of its owner’s life (with the tagline: “He’ll never notice.”)

“Cat Pictures Please” has the distinction of portraying the waking AI as friendly. I found that refreshing.

While the premise was charming, I must admit I had trouble seeing why “Cat Pictures Please” was the best story of the year. I’d read stories last year that I thought were significantly better. It was cute, but I had trouble seeing how it measured up to “Scanners Live In Vain” or “Flowers For Algernon” or “Nine billion names of God.”

But I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. It is possible that many of these voting are young enough that they haven’t read the stories that made this one seem derivative to me. If so, this story would seem much more impressive.

And tastes differ.

That’s okay.

bacon

Politics:

There is something very comforting about reading a work that compliments our world view, especially if we feel (as everyone does, nowadays) that our world view is under attack.

There is a sense of: YES!

And: That’s exactly how it is!

Or even: Finally things are how they should be!

Reading something that does not agree with our world view, however, is not so satisfying. Our reactions tend to fall into two patterns. The first—the reaction for which all good speculative fiction strives—is: Oh! That’s why they see it that way. That’s an angle that I had not considered. Hmm.

The second, alas, is: Oh, Gee, not this again! Really? What, do they expect me to just stand here while they poke me in the eye?

These are not Left/Right reactions. They are universal. I will demonstrate:

Abortion is a woman’s choice.

The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.*

If one of those two statements made you nod your head and smile, and the other made you wince, as if you’d been poked in the eye, you know exactly what I mean.

*–Kudos to whomever can identify what golden age SF book this second phrase comes from.

So, if a story agrees with our world view, we like it more. If it disagrees—but not in a way that expands our world view—we feel as if we’ve been poked in the eye.

There is one point I feel I must pause to make here. I have heard friends express the idea that it is good for people to read things they disagree with. It expands their mind.

If you happen to be a person who believes this, ask yourself when the last time was that you read an article expounding the opposing point-of-view, and it explanded your mind, rather than just annoying you?

What is effective is when we present our ideas to each other in a new way, from a different perspective. This is, in fact, what, historically, SF has been known for. But these have to be new ideas, ways of looking at the matter that the reader has not seen before. Presenting the same ideas that a reader has already examined and dismissed–be they Left or Right–does not have any effect upon the reader who disagrees with them except–yes, you guessed it! Ouch, my eye!

starshine-2

Cat Pictures Please and Politics.

“Cat Pictures Please” is a very Left-leaning story. For those who are unfamiliar with it, here are a few examples.

     The story acts as if porn (henti) addictions are common and accepted by all as normal.

    The AI dismisses the Ten Commandments and most religious morality in a paragraph.*

    It believes that psychological counseling is the best reaction to depression. This comes up quite a bit in the story.

   It tempts a pastor who looks at pictures of other men into an adulterous relationship with someone who knows him for the purpose of outing him with his wife, getting him a divorce, and moving him to a Liberal church, so that he can end the story happy, living with his male-lover.

If you yourself are Left-Leaning, this probably seems normal. If you are Right-Leaning, you’ve probably been just poked in the eye.

* — The AI dismisses the Ten Commandants with the line “I don’t envy anyone their cat; I just want pictures of their cat, which is entirely different. I am not sure whether it is in any way possible for me to commit adultery. I could probably murder someone, but it would require complex logistics and quite a bit of luck.

This, even though the AI goes on to help a human commit adultery. I would have enjoyed “Cat Pictures Please” more, if the story had given me the impression that the author did this on purpose—to show the limitations of an Internet-derived morality—or if I even had felt that the author was aware of the irony. Alas, I did not get this impression from the story, and this reduced my enjoyment of it.

mistletoe-2

So, to Left-Leaning readers, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, but perhaps new-to-them, SF premise, which also reinforces their idea of truth about the world and comes to a delightfully-satisfying conclusion.

The mixture of the simple SF premise, the wit, and the satisfying political leaning make it a very delightful story indeed.

To anyone who is Right-Leaning, “Cat Pictures Please” is a witty story with a common, and perhaps not-so-new-to-them, SF premise, which is full of concepts and moral choices that grate on them the wrong way, and the end is, while a bit amusing, rather unpleasant.

The first group says, “This is a great story!

The second group says, “Look, I’ll be fair and overlook all the pokes in the eye, but as I am regarding the story through my blurry, now-painful eyes, I want to see some really fantastic science fiction. Something that wows me so much that I am going to think it is worth putting next to “Nightfall” or “Harrison Bergeron.” And I just don’t see it.

 “Your stuff is not new. If you take today’s problems and put them in space, that’s not science fiction. You need the new, the controversial, to be SF. 

“Where is the stuff that’s going to shake my world and make me think, the way the Hugo winners of years gone by, such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, did?

To the first group, they want to give the award to the stories that really stayed with them, and they are judging this criteria on the whole effect of the story: SF premise and social statement combined.

To the second group, they want the story to stand on its SF premise alone, not on its social commentary. They are willing to read something they disagree with, but only if the science fiction is so awesome that it makes getting poked in the eye worth it.

*

I hope this explanation will help bridge the abyss currently gaping between Puppies and Non-Puppies, and contribute, if only in the slightest way, to the approach that glorious future day when we might once again return to what is really important, our mutual love of our awesome genre.

Dog and cat

Comments

Pokemon, Go!

poka - pokemon_go_logo

At Boy Scout camp, we had no reception. To use the Internet, we had to go to a narrow span of space inside the staff lounge and stand on one foot while leaning to the north, which was the only place the WIFI worked. I did this once a day to check my email, and, occasionally, I looked at a newsfeed to see if the outer world was still there. It was here, while balanced precariously in a northerly direction, that I saw the headline:

Pokemon Go More Popular Than Porn.

This was my introduction to Pokemon Go.

At first, I confused this with Pokemon Sun and Moon, the new DS game my kids have been waiting for. It took a little while before I realized that this was, actually, something new. Very new.

This was like nothing that had ever been done before.

poka-ash

Ash Ketchum gets off to a rocky start

but almost two decades later, he’s still going strong!

A bit of history:

My first encounter with Pokemon was, well, probably before you heard of  it.

Back in the late 90s, I wrote for a briefly-existent magazine called Animefantastique. It was put out by the folks that publish Cimemafantastique magazine. They wanted to cover anime for the American audience, but maybe they started too soon, as it was not yet as big as it would be a few years later. So the magazine did not last long. My last article for them did not even get published.

My last article was on this new-fangled thing called Pokemon.

Poka - pika

A scene from the very episode my sister-in-law translated for me

So early in the Pokemon phenomena was this that, in order to review the TV show, I had to get my Japanese sister-in-law to translate an episode. It had not yet been released in English. This was before the release of the first movie, which came out in 1999, I believe.

Poka - Pokemon_the_First_Movie

This movie introduced Mewtwo.

Mew is cuter.

As part of my article, I interviewed the head of 4Kids Entertainment, the company that was bringing Pokemon to American. In the conversation, I asked him if he thought that Pokemon might make a big splash and be popular for a year or two. He told me that a year or two was nothing. Shows like Power Rangers and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles had maintained their popularity for four or five years. 4Kids had high hopes.

Turns out, they were right! More right than any of us could have foreseen!

(Including them. Apparently, in 2005, 4Kids did not renew their contract to be the American distributor of Pokemon. Maybe they thought the fad was over. Poor guys.)

Then, when my eldest son was three, his godfather lent him 72 episodes of Pokemon. Almost the first two seasons, I think.

It was love at first view!

poka friends

Love at first sight–unlike Ash and Pikachu,

who did not get along at first.

I remember the day I heard pitiful wailing coming from downstairs. I ran down. My three-year-old was in tears. Rushing to his side, I could find no injury. Eventually, the mainly-pre-lingual boy (he learned to talk quite late) was able to communicate to me:

Butterfree had gone away.

Poka caterpie

Caterpie!  

Ash’s first catch.

In the TV show Pokemon, ten-year-old Ash Ketchum’s first Pokemon catch, after he and Pikachu set out on their Poka-journey, was a Caterpie. Caterpie evolved into Metapod, who has the ultimate technique of harden, as in hardening its cocoon-like outer shell.

poka-metapod

“Harden, Metapod! Harden!”

Metapod then evolved into Butterfree, a cool butterfly pokamon who could do actually effective attacks, like put people to sleep. Eventually, however, the day came when Butterfree was mature enough that it was its time to go off with a flock of other Butterfrees, to do whatever Butterfrees do that lead to little Caterpies.

So Ash had to let his very first catch go.

poka - butterfree

And my three-year-old son cried.

It was the first time he had ever been upset by something that was not a concrete problem. I was impressed that he was able to comprehend the sadness of the scene enough to be upset by it. It showed he was growing up.

What followed was a childhood steeped in Pokemon.

poka riolu

According to some…this is the best Pokemon of all

My sons watched the show. They hummed the song. They played the card game.   (I won’t even tell you how much I spent on cards one summer. Or about the time that the neighbor’s kid tricked my four year old out of the most expensive card we owned. I stormed right over there and got it back.) They played with toys (many of which they inherited from their cousins, so they were straight from Japan.)

Poka toys

Not our house…but it could be.

Eventually, they even played the video game.

orvillesbirthday 313

Iced poka ice cream cake.

We even had Pokemon birthday parties. In the Pokemon TV world, kids leave on their poka-journeys at ten. So both of the talking boys got a Pokemon party for their tenth birthday. I planned Orville’s for a whole year, buying cute plushy pokamon dolls, so that every kid got to unwrap one from pokaball colored paper and take it home. I even made a pokaball ice cream cake.

orvillesbirthday 135

Holding a pokaball — maybe not my best picture.

By Juss’s tenth birthday, I had even found plastic clear and red spheres, that looked like pokaballs to put the plushies into. We went out hiking through the local forests, pretending to spot pokemon, and running off to catch them.

You could say that we played Pokemon Go before it was cool

orvillesbirthday 209

Catching Pokemon before it was cool.

Note the riolu in hand.

They lived and breathed Pokemon.

It changed our life.

Orville even invented his own world (Eddaria) with his own version of Pokemon (W-Beasts, short for War Beasts), which he still works on, even today.

Orville 9th birthday

Young magician and his assistant, Turtwig

So, when I read that they had come up with a way to make it so that kids could go outside and catch Pokemon on their own, by combining a video game with GPS geocaching, I thought:

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Then, the stories started pouring in.

First the horror stories: Two people walked off a cliff and were badly injured trying to catch a Pokemon. Someone got pulled over by the cops for speeding—trying to catch the Pokemon you could only catch at 88 miles per hour. People walking into traffic without paying attention.

But then came the good stories.

People getting out of the house. People going to seminaries and churches. One seminary had a Pokemon Go event and reported six conversions.

Bestselling author John Ringo wrote a very touching piece about the way that getting out and hunting Pokemon changed his health and his life.

There are even dog shelters that that will let your walk their dogs while you play (so you don’t look too stupid out there on your own. Helps the dogs, too.)

But the people who are the happiest are young men, a bit like my sons, who grew up with Pokemon, watching it, playing the card game or the video game—watching someone else journeying around to capture pokamon.

And now, they can do it themselves.

The joy on the faces of young men in their twenties who I have spoken to about this game…I’ve almost never seen anything like it.

And to hear modern young geeks talking about the hours spent hiking or the distant they have biked.

poka exercise

Exercising geeks. Almost a miracle, in and of itself.

The first thing my kids discussed when they heard about the game was how long you could keep it interesting. Pokemon Go has about 150 pokamon, but currently there are something like 721 pokemon in the game/TV background.

That promises a lot of later releases.

“And then they could introduce breeding,” said my younger son, who has spent serious amounts of time trying to breed Pokemon on his DS to get just the one he wanted.

Being able to both walk out and catch pokamon…and get new varieties by breeding the ones you catch with people you meet on the street…that has potential.

And then, there is Team Rocket. Who would not want virtual spies stealign their hard-won Pokemon. Not to mention that Giovanni could easily use Pokemon Go to carry out his plan of world domination!

poka - israeli

Pokamon are everywhere. The president of Isreal had to call for security when this member of Team Rocket showed up in his office.

Giovanni even cries out “Go! Go!” in his theme song. Clearly he forsaw Pokemon Go over a decade ago!

Giovanni

Giovanni of Team Rocket.  

His theme song is one of my favorite songs. Cool lyrics:

“I was born to rule the world.

“There’ll be world domination, complete obliteration

“of all who now defy me!

“It will all be mine, power so divine

I will tell the sun to shine

On only me!”

Oddly, my kids are not interested in Pokemon Go. Probably because they don’t have smart phones. But I suspect it is just a matter of time. Sooner or later, someone in the house will get a hold of the game, and a new chapter of Pokmeon adventures will enter our lives.

f0b259392d0a6c2bcdec64afdfb036bd.jppokag

Gotta Catch Them All!

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“A Little Touch of Harry In The Night”

Spoiler free musings on the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Juss wizard 16b

The Elf King contemplates his life of wizardly crime.

Saturday night, standing between the trolley witch’s cart and the wand maker, surrounded on all sides by charm and wonder that was the world of Harry Potter, I couldn’t help recall how I had come to be there.

Harry potter

The first time I ever heard of Harry Potter was nearly two decades ago. John had been reading an article that mentioned complaints about some “overly-masculine” book from England, where children characters still punched each other.

Some months later, I walked into Barnes and Nobles, and they had a display showing a rather charming book cover. The title of the book had the boy’s name in it. It reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, Tom Swift, and other books John had loved as a boy. I called him over and showed it to him. His face lit up. “That’s the book I told you about!”

The title was: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry potter 2

Doesn’t the cover even look like one of those old boys adventure books?

The title made me smile, because it reminded me of the Philosopher’s Stone (Little did I guess that it actually was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, only they’d dumbed it down for Americans.)

“Let’s get it.”

We read it to each other on our Christmas trip to John’s mom’s. We LOVED it.

It was entirely enthralling. It had the cheer and the wonder of a fairy tale, but the concreteness of the modern—or at least semi-modern day. There was a lonely orphan boy and a talking snake. A friendly giant who told the lonely boy that he was a wizard. (Even today, that scene brings tears to my eyes, every time I reread it.) There was a magical boarding school with moving staircases, cruel professors–though no more cruel that the real professors at the boarding school C. S. Lewis attended, and a Forbidden Forest.

What more could the child-like heart of a fantasy fan desire?

harry potter 3

Even today, the first Harry Potter book remains one of my favorites of all time (though I think the third book is my favorite of all Harry Potters.)

John and I were so enchanted, that, upon finishing it, we immediately went out and bought the newest one…in hardback.

A huge investment for us, young parents that we were.

We decided to keep to our tradition of reading the book together. The second was just as good as the first one—with ghosts and taking diaries and a basilisk.

After Christmas, we discovered that a good friend had also discovered the wonder that was Harry Potter, after receiving the books for Christmas from his sister. And so our experience of sharing Harry Potter fandom began.

Then came more books…and movies.

And the video games.

Soon, not only were most of our friends fans of Harry Potter, the whole world knew who Harry was!

This charming story we had fallen in love with that Christmas had conquered the world.

So, when it was announced, in 2008, that the last Harry Potter book was coming out, Book Seven, I decided to do something daring. I would take my eight year old to the midnight release party.

Midnight was very late for him. But, I thought it was a once in a lifetime event. The kind of thing he might remember years later.

He didn’t make it until mid-night, if I recall. But he enjoyed the wonder and bustle. But I waited and I bought the book.

And then I took it home and John and I sat and read it aloud to each other until 5:00 the next day (whether we read until 5pm or the following 5am, I cannot recall.)

Why did we read non-stop, going nowhere, and pausing only to feed the children.

Let us jump back to the release of Book Six.

In some ways, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the book I recall the best. There are two reasons for this:

1) Normally, we read the books together rather quickly. When this book came out, however, John was very busy at work, so we read something like a single chapter a day.

So I had a looooonnnnggg time to ponder every clue and every turn of the story.

I still remember being on my hands and knees in the hallway, scrubbing the tile of the floor (housecleaning project), thinking over each turn and twist of the story, wondering about it and trying to put the clues together.

Snape

Who can explain why the oily Snape became so popular with moms? 

2) Book Six. It was the one with all the secrets. All the real twists and turns. The day after it had come out, when we had hardly read any of it. John was getting his hair cut.

You know what barbers are like. You sit in a chair. They cover you with a cloth to keep the hair off your clothes. With the cloth in place you can’t raise your hands quickly to do things like…you know…

Stick your fingers in your ears.

John was sitting there, waiting for the trimming of his beard, (Yes, he does occasionally trim back the great, old-forest growth!) when the chipper DJs on MTV decided to announce the three great secrets of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Who the Half-Blood Prince was, What beloved character died, and who killed him.

John desperately tried to cover his ears, but—trapped by the barber as he was—he never had a chance.

MTV…how could you?

Kindly, John did not share the secrets he had learned with me, but it cast a gloom over our reading experience. It is not nearly as much fun to spend hours wondering about the identity of the Half-Blood Prince when the person you are supposed to be in cahoots with already knows the answer.

So, when Book Seven came out, we decided that we would not leave the house or listen to the TV until we had read it. We ploughed through at such a dramatic pace that, to this day, I sometimes wonder if I might have missed part of it. (Actually, not to this day. The two part movie reminded me of the parts I might have forgotten…but there was a while there…)

Orville-and-Elise-harry-potter 2

My eldest attending a friends Harry Potter birthday party. 

He is wearing my grandmother’s graduation robe from Cambridge,

which she attended in the 1920s. 

New Harry Potter play coming out. New movie in the background. Rowling has write several other books, two of which I loved and one of which I found very painful to read, but very moving when I finally reached the end and understood it.

And, oh, of course…I suppose I should mention the three years of living hell playing a roleplaying game set some 20 years after the Battle of Hogwarts, which—despite the tremendous pain suffered by all four of the people involved with this game—I fell so in love with, as a story, that I threw aside everything else I had been doing and devoted the next five years of my life to transforming this painful, painful game into the best (non-Harry Potter) YA fantasy series I could make it.

! Rachel Griffin Cover\

Note that Rachel is wearing the same robe as the picture above.

So, when it was announced that the new play would open 19 years after the official end of the previous series, I guess I could not help being mildly curious as to how it might turn out.

But it was a play. In London.

And they were only releasing a script.

I wasn’t really interested.

cursed child

Outside the theater in London where Cursed Child is playing.

J. K. Rowling asked those who saw the play before it formally opened to “keep the secret.” One online site told, though. They wrote out a description of the entire play. (Having now read the actual play, I must say that this sight offered the most spoilerific version of a spoiler ever known to man. They recorded EVERYTHING.)

I wasn’t that interested. Didn’t plan to read the new script, but…I clicked on the link.

The story was kind of dull and simplistic. Just little bits about Harry’s youngest son at school…

…until it wasn’t.

scorp and alb

My favorite of the currently available shots from the London play.

Mainly, because the others look posed.

What started as a slow beginning suddenly was rolling down hill at Hogwart Express rates. There were twists and turns and unexpected reversals. Using portraits and dreams and other canon-established methods, the author had found astonishingly clever ways of bring onstage not only charming new characters, such as the Potter and Granger-Weasley children, but the dearly-departed ones as well.

At the end of the write-up, I sat blinking with wonder at the complexity and cleverness of the thing, how charming it was, and how well it rewarded Harry Potter fans, showing them things they wanted to see or had wondered about.

But…I still wasn’t really interested.

I mean…read a script?

Especially since everyone who had seen it agreed that the most amazing part was how fantastically high tech the production was in their special effects and scene changes. (There’s a montage scene. I have never seen a montage scene in a stage play before.)

So, what benefit would come from reading it?

Flash forward to Saturday night. It was around 8pm. I had gone to bed early for reasons after a difficult week, and I suddenly woke up and realized that:

Tonight was the night.

The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was coming out.

Barnes and Nobles was having a midnight party.

We could go.

I mean, we didn’t have to buy the book to enjoy the festivities, right?

It took until about 10:30pm for me to lever myself out of bed, find the appropriate Hogwarts robes for those who wanted them, and drive over to Barnes and Nobles.

On the way, I wondered if this gamble of a mid-night release party nine years later would pay off for B&B, Would anyone be there?

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was that the parking lot was packed.

Inside, costumed figures were everywhere. The line for the café went all the way to the front door…and it stayed nearly that long for the whole hour we were there. And inside, delights galore.

Nine years before, there had been a few kind of dull activities at the midnight release party. Now, nearly a decade and the rest of the movies later, all was wonder.

There was a sorting hat. a trolley witch selling treats, a wandmaking station, a ‘add-to-the-story” activity, potions games, as well as other stations we never investigated. Nearby stood a life-sized dementor with a sign that said FREE KISSES. There were Harry Potter books, and Harry Potter toys, and a 3-D puzzle of Hogwarts on display. And at the café, after the long, long wait, there was a poster on the wall—as official as all the others—for a Passion Potion drink, made just for this evening.

And everywhere, everywhere, were Harry Potter fans. Little boys with the round glasses and a scar on their forehead. Older boys in their Slytherin Quidditch robes. Girls dressed like Hermione or Cho Chang. Adults in witch hats or clever tee-shirts.

In line, in front of us, as we waited for our Passion Potion, was a young man in his twenties, clearly of the Wizarding world, who had carefully attempted to dress as a Muggle in order to join the festivities. Only he had sadly failed…his plaid pants not quite matching the patterns of his shirt, suit, and tie. Beside him was another young man (they both turned out to be software engineers) wearing a Pokemon TV. He enjoyed our conversation, but his face really lit up when he described his last month…living his childhood dream of actually catching Pokemon himself.

And somehow, the magic was all the more wonderful because Scholastic had finally, at long last, gotten it right—and released a new Rowlings book on July 31 – Harry Potter’s birthday!

Harry and Hedwig

The first movie is still one of my all time favorite films.

As I stood amidst the enchantment and wonder, sipping my grande Passion Potion, I slowly realized:

A) My little eight year old was 17. My youngest was 13. He was taller, significantly in some cases, than many of the other children here.

That meant: many of the children who had come had been born after that fateful midnight in 2008 when Orville and I had last waited for a Harry Potter release.

Rune, Odysseus

The Elf King, back before his wanted picture days.

This is the same Hogwarts robe he’s wearing in the wanted picture.

B) While this was, by chance, the bookstore where I had first discovered Harry Potter, it was not the bookstore where Orville and I had waited 9 years before.

That store had been a Borders. It was gone now.

C) What an extraordinary impact J. K. Rowling’s orphan wizard boy had had upon the lives of, not only millions of readers all across the worlds – she has sold over 450 million books. That is one and a half books for every single man, woman, and child in America—but upon my own life, as an author, spending my days writing a series that—even if it was quite different from Harry Potter in mood and direction, had started life as a Hogwarts roleplaying game.

And I felt so happy.

…and so grateful.

And, suddenly, I did want to buy the book.

D) This was not 2008. I didn’t have to wait until midnight.

We left after about an hour, went home, got a good night’s sleep…and I bought the book on Kindle, for half the hardcover price…the next morning.

cursed child 2

I have read the play now. It was an experience both bittersweet and joyous.

The strangest part was when there would be some hint of Christianity, such as the mention of a church, and I would remember suddenly that this was not Mark Whipple’s game version of future Hogwarts, where all monotheistic religions had been removed by magic from everyone’s memory.

The most amusing moment was chortling with joy when a character used flipendo. A favorite spell from the video game that never appeared in the books (and therefore Mark had not allowed us to use it in the game.)

flipendo

Flipen-do! Flip-endo! 

Either way, it’s so much fun to say!

Was the experience of reading a script worthwhile?

It was. Partially because it was Harry Potter.

Most fantasy worlds need lengthy description to make them come to life. But this was Hogwarts! We all know what everything looks like. We’ve read the books. We’ve seen the movies.

One funny thing was that without thinking about it, when reading, I pictured an older version of the movie Hermione in my mind, but for her daughter, Rose, I pictured the smart young woman playing Rose in the play. I didn’t notice this mental discrepency until I came to a passage in the script that dealt with how much Hermione looked like her daughter.

Hermione and Rose

Hermione and Rose

My mental Hermione had longer, frizzier hair.

Of course, my two mental images didn’t look anything like each other. But it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the play.

Did Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have any flaws?

A few. The writing was a bit simplified, too emotionally obvious—which might be signs of where Rowling’s original short story ended, and the scriptwriter’s dialogue began. But I bet that might be the script’s fault as well, Many of the slightly awkward lines, if said with humor or with deep emotion, would be hilarious or moving in the way that no short stage directions could make them.

Obviously, seeing the play—or even a filming of it—would be a much better option.

But, in the end, it was very enjoyable to read—even though I already knew the entire story.

And so, that was my weekend.

Didn’t end world hunger.

Didn’t save the universe.

But it did lift the spirits and bring joy.

Harry Potter 4

Ron and Hermione: Lifting spirits–and feathers–for nearly two decades.

God bless J. K. Rowling.

Long live The Boy Who Lived!

 

 

Fandom Is Dead. Long Live Fandom!

the medium is the message

If you change the medium, you change the message.

Philosopher of communication Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that advances in media, regardless of content, can incite dramatic, culture-wide effects.

A best selling print book can reach millions of people, but turn that book into a hit movie, and you increase its sphere of influence by orders of magnitude. Consider The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Or, for a meta-example, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now throw in digital technologies–the power to instantly connect with anyone or everyone, everywhere. The effect is compounded exponentially.
A media paradigm shift is playing out in SF fandom.


Dragon Con

Getting back to McLuhan, saying that he was ahead of his time would be an understatement. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to call his work prophetic. Let’s put it this way: the dude predicted the internet in 1962.

McLuhan noted that print technology caused a massive societal shift away from the more tribal, logic-focused outlook of the Middle Ages to a more individualistic, rhetorical worldview. He expected the web to swing the pendulum back toward tribalism.

Let’s take a look at SF fandom through the lens of McLuhan’s “medium as message” theory.

In the early days, science fiction enthusiasts:

A. Got their fix almost exclusively through the printed word in the form of novels and short stories circulated in magazines.

B. Were a pretty nonconformist, iconoclastic bunch. As Andy Duncan recently said on the passing of the great David Hartwell:

Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere— though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.

C. Subsisted as a relatively small subculture within larger Western society.

It’s often been remarked how sci-fi fandom burst out of the basements, niche bookstores, and cramped con suites of its birth to win new legions of adherents with the 1977 release of Star Wars.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

–Brad R. Torgersen

Most commenters usually emphasize this event’s unprecedented effect on C, take A largely for granted, and so gloss over–or misattribute–the causal relationship between the change in the primary medium of SF consumption and B.

Brad is an outlier in his astute recognition that newer media (movies, TV, video games, etc.) contributed to the disruption of old fandom. But he focuses more on what kinds of SF contemporary fans prefer than how they prefer to experience it.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom.

My explanation for the conflicts that have shaken fandom of late differs slightly from Brad’s. I agree that relative innovations like movies and TV, and recent developments like video games (which are all reasons why there is no universal canon of SF touchstones), lie at the root of the turmoil.

But I don’t think that fandom is tearing itself apart. Instead, what we’re seeing is various sub-tribes of SF fans vying against each other to establish the identity of an emerging, consolidated fandom.

Brad gives a good description of this phenomenon: “It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.”

That, my friends, is the shape of the future. But what will be the content of its character? What sort of men will these post-fans be? Or will the Amazon servers and mega-convention halls of tomorrow be populated entirely by omnisexual, non-binary otherkin?
Fandom will become more communal, but what sort of community will it be?

Star Trek: The Apple

Watching a movie requires less personal effort than reading print. Even eBooks engage readers’ senses and though processes differently than print books do.

Audiences watching the same movie share a much more uniform experience than readers of the same book. Everyone who’s seen Star Wars knows what Luke Skywalker looks like, but no two Neuromancer readers have exactly the same mental image of Case.

The film industry dwarfs print publishing. As more people come to SF through movies, their shared experience will restore fandom’s sense of community. What the values and customs of this community will be remains undetermined.

The outcome is being decided right now, by self-appointed makers and high priests of culture. If we would have a say in the destiny of fandom, we must wield the new technological tools at our disposal. And we must establish a presence in film.

Currently, I am at best a lowly squire in the battle royale for fandom’s soul. Who are the warring tribes, and who are the chieftains that champion their visions?

We’ll meet them next time.