Superversive Blog: Wherefore Art Thou, Culture War?

Hello, All!

Welcome back, as Superversive Blog recovers from its summer hiatus. Today, we have an interesting treat, especially for those of you who appreciate psychology and personality tests!

remodelingcover

The recent intrusion of the current culture war into the sphere of Science Fiction has drawn the attention of people beyond fandom. One such person is author Ruth Johnston. Known previously for her excellent scholarly works on Beowulf and the Middle Ages, she has more recently turned her efforts to a fascinating new book that takes a fresh look at the work of psychologist Carl Jung.

Ruth’s intriguing premise is that we have been misinterpreting how to apply Jung’s concepts for decades. In her book, Re-Modeling the Mind, she offers a remodeling of Jung’s ideas that produce self-help concepts that won’t exasperate smart and creative people.

Ruth has a theory about how personality types, as defined by her remodeling of Jung, explain the culture war, this years Hugos, and some other issues in fandom today. She has generously agreed to a three part series on the subject.

Part One will give a brief explanation of her theory as applicable.

Part Two will apply her theory to characters in John’s Night Land stories.

Part Three will tackle “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” as well as the larger Hugo/culture war picture.

Part One:

Q: In the Afterword to your new book, you suggest that ideas about personality might help us understand “culture wars” by showing how the sides just see the world differently.  What do you mean by “personality-based worldviews”? 

A: The thesis of Re-Modeling the Mind is that our brains can’t process all of the information that comes at us constantly, so each brain organizes itself around more limited options, depending on the neural strengths it already has. When we talk about “personality” we mean these limitations and abilities, which are usually clearly visible when we watch each other. We know ourselves this way, too. We know there are things we simply can’t take in, or if we can take in the facts, we can’t manage them to make decisions. There are things we pay close attention to, and other things we just can’t be bothered with. Personality is this very real neural patterning that filters the world so that it’s manageable.

But this means that our personalities also limit and even blind us to things other people can perceive and manage. We’re all in the same physical world, in the sense that we agree on where the objects are, so that we can avoid running into them. But at a more complex level, we really don’t all live in the same world. Our personalities can have such root-level different views of the world that we can barely have conversations. This is what I’d call a personality-based worldview.

I’m not a science-fiction reader, and I’d never heard of the Hugos until this year. But watching the ferocity of the battles made me feel convinced that at least some of this culture war is provoked by a clash of personality-based worldviews. In other words, probably the leaders and many supporters of each faction share some personality traits so that they all “live” in a similar world. In each faction’s “world,” its values are not only sensible but the only possible ones. Or if not the only possible ones, the only morally right or safe ones. This is why it’s so hard to have a conversation. It’s self-evident to each faction that its values are right, and the arguments offered by the other faction hold no water in their worldview. A lot of people on both sides feel that if So and So wins a prize, moral right or wrong will be rewarded.

Q: For the writers I know, the issue isn’t winning a prize. Larry Correia and others involved with the “sad puppies” initiative specifically recused themselves from being considered for prizes. How do we get from personality differences, which we deal with every day, to an emotional war over culture?

A: I think the roots are in people’s inborn, instinctive sense of danger and safety. It’s astonishing to see how each faction in the Hugo controversy is not only indifferent to but grandly dismissive of the other faction’s concern about danger. It’s almost like interviewing both a wolf and a hare, and while the hare explains he doesn’t want to be torn into ligament shreds, the wolf says passionately that he’s afraid of slow starvation and shouldn’t we be concerned for him too? They both have a point, but they’re both justifiably indifferent to the other’s plight. I think that human minds have some of these animal-like survival fears, and that our personalities are organized around them.

The 20th century showed us something like Poe’s Law: you can’t come up with a philosophical disagreement so trivial that some government or militia won’t kill over it. You can try, but it won’t work; somewhere in the 20th century, someone died for a reason even stupider. Like wearing glasses or receiving a letter. So while most of us don’t have real reasons to fear, those reasons do exist and we know it. You can hear the echoes in references to the KKK, Marx, hate-groups, and warriors, as well as in phrases like “burn it down.” Both sides vow to deny each other’s books the means to “live” by not buying anything written by the wrong person, and both sides feel like they’re on the verge of defeat unless they can muster more supporters. The 20th century left us traumatized and unwilling to trust each other for kindness; we believe in striking hard and first. Even when it’s just about buying books!

In my way of modeling personality, our deepest fears are centrally important. I believe that inborn, instinctive ideas are what Jung meant by his famous phrase “collective unconscious.” People often think it means something like the Borg or some New Agey space-mind we’re all part of, but I think Jung made it clear in a few places that he meant something like “the stuff that’s inborn in all minds, like animal instinct.” Horses know how to stand up and run, kangaroo joeys know how to crawl into the marsupial pouch, newly-hatched ducklings know how to paddle. If we look at what’s important to a human baby’s survival, it isn’t anything like these, of course apart from the instinct to nurse. Human beings are the greatest protectors and, at the same time, antagonists and predators, of other humans. The survival instincts we need are about human society and emotions. Inborn personality draws some babies to study emotions and relationships, others to study behavior and rules, others appearances of the environment around them. So as adults, our personalities are still organized around the kind of inborn templates we have: what is the world supposed to look like? When this template is violated, we feel uncertain or even afraid.

Q: Science fiction has always been about exploring and asking questions, which is more about challenging fears than hiding from them. Why is all this happening in science fiction?

A: Well, the other pole of personality is the part of our minds that are open, exploring, questioning, and more: pragmatic, optimistic, flexible, and ready to take any opportunity. We’re all a mix of mental functions that operate in this open, pragmatic way and others that operate by inborn templates and fears. Science fiction was invented by one particular mental function in the open, exploring, optimistic mode: Extroverted Intuition. Intuition is a common daily word, and my use of it isn’t far different from the ordinary meaning. It means consulting our nonverbal, super-fast brains to find connections between things in the world. In its simplest form, Intuition comes out in superstitions, prejudices and hunches, but in about one-quarter of the population, it’s a well-developed interest in abstract ideas. Personalities with very strong, highly-developed Intuition are interested in impractical questions of what-if.

I think there have always been two polarities in science fiction, though again I speak as an outsider, not a fan. In early sci-fi, a space ship goes to another planet, and what happens? Space travelers could discover amazing hidden civilizations or end up dying of a hideous disease; the story’s outlook could be optimistic or pessimistic. The roots of this optimism or pessimism are in which way our Intuition views the world. Of course, you can’t automatically match stories and authors saying “the story is this way, so the writer must be too,” since writing is art. But at the same time, stories come from our hearts and usually refract part of our worldview. Intuition, as a facet of personality, can operate in an exploring, optimistic, pragmatic way (Extroverted Intuition) or in a way that’s focused on uncovering hidden truths to save us from danger (Introverted Intuition). The two kinds of Intuition are interested in slightly different questions and outcomes.

Science fiction fans in the last 100 years have been split between personalities with Extroverted and Introverted Intuition. Nobody really noticed most of the time, because Intuitive personalities can enjoy reading the projected scenarios and questions of both kinds of Intuition. What sci-fi fans saw was the unity among them: they were all these people who felt alienated from concrete, practical culture, but they were unified in loving stories in which impossible things could happen and really outlandish questions could be explored. I think what’s going on now is that the two Intuitive worldviews—Introverted and Extroverted—are drawing farther apart, for a lot of reasons both inside and outside of sci-fi culture. When people though they were all alike, and then they discover a huge difference, it feels like betrayal.

Q: Why does the debate focus so tightly on gender and race? That’s not what science fiction used to be about. You suggested that Intuition is interested in abstract ideas and questions. Then why are people suddenly judging by message or frivolous things, such as the author’s physical appearance?

A: This is what fascinates me about the controversy, because it dovetails neatly with the personality model I’ve developed. Balancing Intuition, there’s Sensing, which is how we process the real world of objects, motion, and appearances. It, too, can come in a mode where it’s outgoing, exploring, flexible, optimistic, and pragmatic, and again this is called Extroverted Sensing. Or it can come in a mode where it’s the animal instinct telling us about danger, and then it’s constantly comparing what it sees outside with the inner template of what the world should look like. That’s called Introverted Sensing. When the outside world matches the template, all is well, just like when a rabbit sees a blue sky with only birds who fly like songbirds, it keeps nibbling grass. That’s what the sky is supposed to look like, in the rabbit’s instinctual image. When the sky includes a hawk or something (like a RC airplane) that doesn’t move like a songbird, the rabbit assumes that it’s in danger, freezes, then runs.

Introverted Sensing looks at people’s appearances as well as the appearances of other things. When it’s really strong in a personality, it causes uneasiness when people don’t look just right. There’s an image for each kind of person: a cop, a teacher, a President, a grandmother, a father, an innocent child, and so on. If you want to see these appearances in pure form, look at photos of Duchess Kate and her babies. They never have a single color or detail out of place, so I assume that Kate has a strong sense of these image/role templates. Jung talked about archetypes, inborn ideas. The social role images are the most famous kind of archetypes, though I believe we also have archetypes of ideas (like same/different, many/one), beauty, and relationships (like love and hatred). Introverted Sensing likes it when people “look right,” because things just feel safe.

Personalities organize these mental abilities and trends according to natural rules that use minimal brain energy. In by far most people, it works out where Sensing and Intuition are opposite, to balance each other. Let’s set aside for the time being the question of whether Sensing or Intuition is particularly important in a personality, because there’s a whole range of relative importance. Regardless of relative importance, they come in two polarized pairs: Extroverted, optimistic, flexible Intuition and Introverted, template-based Sensing; or Introverted, template-based Intuition and Extroverted, optimistic, flexible Sensing.

Since science fiction started out with flexible, exploring Intuition asking questions, I’ll call that combination A, and the other B. A’s sci-fi is more likely to really push boundaries of reality. It’s flexible on all ideas about place, time, space, and being. However, it’s not so flexible about social role images, because its Sensing is Introverted. It’s looking at templates to see if things appear “right.” The most obvious representative of A’s work is in comic books and space opera, where anything can happen, but over and over, the people doing it are more or less knights/heroes, villains, kings, and mothers or princesses. When Introverted Sensing is weaker than Intuition, which is generally the case with sci-fi writers, it isn’t as concerned about dressing right in today’s society, but it loves fairy-tale roles.

The B combination has flexible, Extroverted, exploring Sensing but with danger-scanning, template-based Introverted Intuition. It’s open to the world, including people, looking like anything at all. Extroverted Sensing can be unconcerned with social role archetypes, or sometimes it’s downright hostile to them. It may intentionally bust up archetypes by dressing “wrong” or associating with people who aren’t carrying out their archetypal roles in society, like grandmas who go 4-wheeling or transgendered teenagers. But its opposite number, Introverted Intuition, goes further. It sees images as potentially very dangerous, because they can be used as disguises. B’s Introverted Intuition is less interested in exploring every conceivable question, like A’s optimistic, flexible Intuition. It’s more interested in chasing down what it feels to be the truest truth. Like a detective, it dislikes masks. If a social role appears to be noble and authoritative, Introverted Intuition suspects that someone may be using this role to hide corruption or ignorance. B’s science fiction is less likely to be about kings, queens and knights, but sometimes it does feature them while showing that some other character, who doesn’t look right for the role at all, is actually the noble, true one. Kings and other roles are false fronts to be torn away.

So let’s rephrase the question: why is science fiction suddenly focused on how social role archetypes are being used? There are several layers of answers. In the first layer, we look at the writers and their works. Science fiction was founded mainly by A-type writers, the ones who created far-flung stories questioning reality, but with predictable, stable human roles. The B-type writers have always been involved, using the settings created by A’s Extroverted Intuition, but for slightly different Introverted Intuition purposes. Their characters were less predictable and often had a twist, and their story arcs were often less optimistic. They focused more on internal motivation issues, less on solving external problems. As decades passed and people tried to do new things, Introverted Intuition used the science-fiction settings and conventions to pose questions about society and human nature. They asked less “what if?” and more, “if?”

Every art form goes through stages of starting out, becoming more popular, creating sub-genres, setting up organizations and judging, growing more sophisticated, and finally deliberately parodying itself while distancing from the simpler original forms. You can see it in painting, dance, music, and poetry. Science fiction seems to be in this later sophisticated stage, where there’s a struggle for what is “good” in the art form.

Is A’s art too unsophisticated? It poses external problems like running out of air, fighting monsters, and overcoming laws of nature, while using characters who are either good and noble or bad and treacherous. It uses basic archetypes without shame: male and female, family, innocent children, brave knight, noble princess, wise king, old wizard, and so on. Its monsters are usually ugly, unless they are beautiful with a sinister aura. There’s a time-honored archetype for evil beauty, after all.

B’s art eschews these straightforward forms. It uses the settings and conventions of travel in time and space, or civilizations on other planets, but it’s really querying how far we can strip away archetypal images to find truer truth. All kinds of appearances are possibly masks, therefore bad. Both the writers and their art are on guard against ways in which a character’s race or gender might shape their meaning. For this reason, B’s science fiction may feature a villain as the hero, or it may blur distinctions of male and female. Science fiction’s purpose, to Introverted Intuition, is to use its conventions to question archetypes of roles. A’s art may use fine language, but it’s not asking questions that Introverted Intuition considers important. It’s taking role archetypes for granted instead of questioning them.

Q: So what you’re calling B sees itself as actually better, that is, more sophisticated.  Therefore more worthy to win awards.

A: Yes, I think so. As an outsider, I’d say there isn’t a quality difference between them, but I don’t think that’s how people feel on the inside. Looking at the Hugo-related blog arguments, I see very clear claims about quality. The faction that made “No Award” happen believes strongly that the nominated outsider/overlooked works (promoted by the “Sad Puppies”) are almost entirely without merit. The outsider, challenger faction, for its part, claims that the faction that has been controlling the awards cares more about a social-justice message than about classic science fiction elements. If you ask either side whether the other side’s works have literary merit, you’ll get a loud “No,” though perhaps with some polite qualifications. I see them as art forms produced by opposite worldviews. The merit of each is invisible to the other.

This ends Part One. Next up (Two Weeks hence), Ruth applies her astute and impartial observations to particular SF works. First a Puppy work (though not from the ballot.) Then, in her third installment, a well-known work lauded by the Anti-Puppies.

Ruth’s book, Re-Modeling the Mind is available for purchase here.

Her excellent, excellent, posts on life in the Middle Ages are available at All Things Medieval.

Hugo Committee, release the data

After agreeing to release the nomination and voting data for the Hugos this year, at the request of the EPH crowd, it seems the Hugo committee has changed its mind and is claiming it cant release the data without risking the privacy of Hugo voters. This change of heart causes me some concern because the Hugo committee has in its power the ability to settle a large number of arguments about the voting this year and also the ability to completely destroy any credibility that the voting committee has.

Before I explain why, lets get something out of the way. My day job consists of working in the medical research field and if there are concerns about peoples confidentiality and privacy with regard to the voting data, I am happy to offer advice, after talking to my number crunching colleagues, on how to remove necessary identifying information from the data to address this concern. In the medical research field patient privacy is everything so there is likely to be a way to redact the data so that it will still be useful for analysis while insuring that nobodies privacy is breached.

Onto the problem. It would seem that there are 4 possible outcomes from an analysis of the data. They are:

  1. Everybody voted honestly, there was no bloc voting, log rolling during the nominations or anything untoward by either side and the whole thing is a giant misunderstanding.
  2. The Puppies have been involved in bloc voting and seeking to rig the awards while the Anti-Puppies are entirely innocent of all charges.
  3. The Anti-Puppies have been involved in rigging the selection process and have been guilty of massive bloc voting while the Puppies are entirely innocent of all charges.
  4. Both sides are guilty of bloc voting and seeking to rig the selection and award process.

I think we can probably rule #1 out. Of the remaining options, a release of the data will settle the argument, one or both sides will be publicly embarrassed and can apologize for their behavior and there can be a movement towards reconciliation. I am open to suggestions for other possibilities but I believe my list properly enumerates all of the possible broad outcomes.

I suspect all this talk of “concern for privacy” is probably another way of saying, “People with something to hide are threatening us and don’t want their perfidy revealed”. I don’t think this should stop the committee from releasing the data These people have already acted badly and covering up for them wont do anything other than destroy the credibility of the Hugo voting process.

Through all of this debacle both sides have always maintained that the Hugo committee acted honestly and openly. Abiding by the voting rules and seeking to be impartial. If the Hugo committee decide not to release the data, after saying they would, it forces people to ask questions about the truth of this original belief.

If the data is released will it suddenly be demonstrated that the Hugo committee actually lied about the results and that they didn’t operate honestly after all? This will always be the suspicion regardless of the truth. Only by releasing the data, and doing so in a timely fashion, will they clear themselves of this suspicion.

Sorry Hugo committee you’ve backed yourself into a corner here. The data can be properly sanitized to maintain every bodies privacy and reneging on the release will not only make sure that arguments can’t be settled with data and foster the suspicion you are not nearly as honest and beyond reproach as everybody thought.

For the sake of the future of the awards, release the data. Nothing in there could be worse than what people will imagine you are trying to hide.

Why Are Some File770 Readers so Miserable?

Seriously. What is wrong with some of them? They presumably like science fiction. I thought the point of fandom was to share what you like. But some File770 readers like SF so much that they enjoy reading about the writing of science fiction, organizing events, giving lectures to other people, trolling websites, calling people rude names if they disagree with them…

Hopefully you see my point already. Liking something is positive. But I am not sure that all the readers of File770 like science fiction. When you talk about how their favorite event could do more to increase the appeal of science fiction around the world, they get angry. Why are they so defensive? Why does the thought of changing things to increase the popularity of science fiction make them so upset that they turn to innuendo, lies and abuse? These are the things they write, in public.

You may not have been aware of Superversive SF’s commitment to diversity, a word Blank uses 10 times in his post.

What is that supposed to mean? It means something like: “this guy is a closet racist/sexist/homophobe but I cannot justify that opinion, so I’ll use innuendo instead.”

When I started writing at SuperversiveSF, nobody told me there was a party line I had to stick to. If you really must, then attack me as an individual for the thoughts that I have. But it is cheap and divisive to try to turn every intellectual disagreement into a grudge match between gangs. That is a tactic used by bullies, especially when they know they have the biggest gang. So if you want to pick a fight with me, leave the rest of the SuperversiveSF crew out of it. I have my opinions, they have theirs, we are all individuals.

Also, I am not a closet racist, sexist or homophobe. And it makes me angry that I feel forced to write that after two posts which focus on the fact that the “world” science fiction convention, which hands out the “premier” science fiction award, is mostly run for and by Americans. Which is a fact.

The extrapolated Ray Blank: …and to stay even more relevant the Hugo Awards should primarily be about the best cat video…

I wrote about how the “world” science fiction convention, which decides the “premier” science fiction award, totally failed to notice a masterpiece of science fiction cinema, because it was made in the Soviet Union.

I do not have time to watch every science fiction film from every country, so it would be pretty cool if fans of science fiction from all around the world shared their advice on the best science fiction films. Then I would find out about more films like The Host. But the Hugos cannot help me, because they are not voted on by fans from all around the world. This observation has nothing to do with cat videos, or reducing standards. On the contrary, expanding the scope of awards from Hollywood to the whole world should increase range and quality.

I got the impression from Ray Blank’s previous ideas about Worldcon that he’s never actually been to one.

Now he has these ideas about the Hugos without seemingly being aware of what the Hugos are or that there are a plethora of other awards already on offer in the field of SFF.

All of these ‘facts’ are wrong.

I mentioned how the internet is an echo chamber for some people. They hear their own opinions reinforced, and that is what they want. To do this, they do not engage with an argument. Instead, they rephrase it, for the amusement of people who already think like them. They also invent new facts, to demonstrate how valid their reasoning is. I struggle to see the purpose of this activity, except as a weird way to achieve social bonding. Presumably tribes of cavemen used to smash the skulls of any strangers who wandered into their perceived territory, using the common ‘threat’ as a way to encourage closer ties within the tribe. The internet provides a less violent, but equally crude alternative.

Ray Blank has a Brian-like ability to be immensely concerned about things he won’t do anything active about.

That will teach me to contact the WSFS about the requirements for submitting a bid to host Worldcon in Qatar 2022, and to reach out to Arab SF fans to see if they have the appetite for such an event.

I can hear the File770 counter-arguments already. “But you cannot do it on your own!” No. I know that. Presumably one person had the idea for the first SF convention ever, and then talked about it with somebody else, etc etc. That is how stuff gets done. “But we would hate going to Qatar!” Yeah, I know that. That was my point, somewhat. You talk about running a ‘world’ event but then you mock the idea of taking that event to different places in the world. “Finland is different!” If I said Muslims suffer more prejudice than Catholics, then you would know perfectly well what I mean. So do not hold up Finland as a (potential) example of the Worldcon’s diversity.

What he really wants is for other people to spend more than half a century of accumulated goodwill to do things the way he says, without him having to do very much more than pound on his keyboard. Fat chance.

That is not what I am trying to do. I have heard a lot about my motives, which is odd, because nobody has yet invented a fantastic SF mind-reading device. Apparently, my horrible horrible motives mean I am totally totally wrong to point out very simple and obvious facts, like how 80 percent of this year’s Worldcon members will be from the USA, and how that shows the Worldcon is not very diverse for an event that has “world” in the title. That is what I wanted to do. Nobody needs to change because of what I wrote. I have no magic powers, no delusions of grandeur. But this kind of defensiveness suggests I hit a raw nerve. Might all these attacks, directed at my motives and behavior, be a convenient way of shifting the focus from inconvenient facts? For all the bile directed at me, not a single person has questioned the basic demographic data which underpins everything I wrote.

And then I heard how, if I care so much about diversity, I should: attend conventions in the USA which are about hosting conventions in the USA, then throw parties in the USA to persuade Americans to hold their event somewhere really different. Even though I am bound to fail. Because of the heat. And the alcohol. And the terrorism. And because I am a joke. Presumably this was all some kind of motivational technique to make me work harder, because they really really are doing everything they can to increase diversity, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Just like me. Wrong-o-wrong-o-wrong. Who can argue with that logic?

I should not generalize, but clearly something is askew with the File770 thought police. If I observed that the police force in North Charleston is 80 percent white, they would immediately jump to a single conclusion: institutional racism. So what conclusion do they resist so fiercely when I make a similar observation about Worldcon? Oh yeah. How dare I make that analogy! I must be pig ignorant!

The thing about institutional racism is that it is different, in quality, from saying any individual is racist. It occurs because of a mentality which says “this is the way things are done around here” and because “these are our traditions and nobody from outside is going to mess with them” and because “we have been doing things like this for 50 years so why should we change now?” Does that sound familiar? Those are all the things stated by File770 readers, when you suggest Worldcon and the Hugos could be a little less… racist. Go on. I will call it like I see it. They are racists. And they are too blind to see their own racism. Which is how racism works, most of the time.

I was being nice by focusing on nationality, because the available demographic data concerns nationality, not race. But they are racists. Go back and read what they actually wrote. Not a single File770 follower condemned the racism that was publicly displayed by other File770 followers. The Arabs are not a nation, they are an ethnic group, and File770 readers repeatedly made ignorant, intolerant comments towards Arabs in general. They confused different Arab nations with each other. They made unjustified generalizations about Arabs. They criticized all Arabs for laws that apply only in some Arab nations. They worried that the Arabs would blow them up, even though the statistics show the risk of violence is far greater in the USA than in many Arab nations. All of these comments were directed at the Arab people, not any specific nation or group of individuals. They were written by File770 readers who are too ignorant to distinguish between races and nations. So they are racist.

And by the way, I personally have no accumulated goodwill toward the Worldcon. Why should I? Why should anyone, unless they already feel part of the club, and benefit from membership?

I can understand why, in the late 1930’s, it may have seemed fine to start a ‘world’ society which ran a ‘world’ event which rarely aspired to leave North America, and only went to friendly nations when it did. Others might call that an example of cultural imperialism. I could start a bogus global SF organization tomorrow, and run a bogus global SF internet poll too, but it would not genuinely reflect the opinions of fans from around the globe. The “if you don’t like ours, then start your own” argument is nonsensical. I actually want more global outreach, not competitive division. But getting global outreach is made harder when one established group pretends they represent the world but does not really do that.

We can forgive and forget. Worldcon and the Hugos originated in different times, with different expectations. What I struggle with now is the idea of a 21st Century Worldcon, insistent on tradition, as if nothing can be improved. I rail against the low expectations of those who rush to defend the terrible lack of national diversity exhibited in the Worldcon data. I find something deeply contradictory in the idea of a world event where the number of African participants will equal the number of participants from the International Space Station, or whose map of the world looks like this:

worldcon2015mapofworld

And there was all the other abuse which was too mundane to analyze, such as:

He really is stupid, isn’t he?

If I wanted to engage with people like this, then I suppose I would be stupid. What would be really stupid is spending a lot of money to attend an event like Worldcon, in order to suffer abuse for daring to deviate from Worldcon groupthink. In that sense, some readers of File770 do a strange job of promoting an event they seemingly care for.

I was writing for the far more polite readers of SuperversiveSF, when someone else decided to copy and paste my words, to rile up his readers. So who are the real keyboard warriors? And if their opinions are so settled that no data could ever influence them, why do they seek alternative views, and then respond with venom?

Interview with Hugo Nominated Author: Lou Antonelli

on a spiritual plain_small

1) All the Sad Puppies selections came from a list of stories that fans felt were their favorites from 2014. What about your story do you think brought it to the attention of whomever suggested it?

I suggested it myself to Brad Torgersen. I know him because we are both members of SASS – the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling. I noticed last year’s Sad Puppies list didn’t have much short fiction, so I made a mental note to suggest something to Brad for this year. I picked “On a Spiritual Plain” because I also wanted to give Sci-Phi Journal a boost.

 

2) What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?

Normally I write alternate history. “On a Spiritual Plain” isn’t like that, it has an outer space setting, so it is a departure for me.

 

 3) When did you start writing?

Seriously for publication in 2002.

 

 4) What do you do in life other than write?

I write every day, I’m a journalist.

 

5) Who do you feel influenced your work? What other authors do you look up to? Who work brought delight to your reading life?

I grew up reading the good old stuff of Heinlein, Asimov and Del Rey. I also always admired Alfred Bester.

 

6) Can you fill in the blank?  “You might enjoy my work if you are a fan of ______.”

Warehouse 13

 

7) How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?

I really have no idea, I suppose it springs from some theological speculation and a desire to understand that there might be scientific explanations for metaphysical phenomena.

 

8) Care to share with us any glimpses what you are working on for the futures?

I just finished a retro-futurist alternate history largely set on Mars in 1985 called “Another Girl, Another Planet”.

 

For more about Lou’s Hugo nominated story, see here.

Interview with Hugo Nominated Author: Mike Flynn!

Interview with the excellent Mike Flynn!

1) All the Sad Puppies selections came from a list of stories that fans felt were their favorites from 2014. What about your story do you think brought it to the attention of whomever suggested it?

Not a clue. I’ve been nominated before and always figured there were enough ANALOG readers to mention them; but one nominee appeared in ASIMOVs, so go figure.

 

2) What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?

Somewhat hard or high-viscosity SF; but I have been all over the map: alt. hist,. hard near future, far future space opera, time travel, biologicals. I’ve even written a fantasy or two. One reader complained about an earlier novel that I spent too much time on character development when all he wanted was “content.” This is an odd complaint for a hard SF writer to receive. The nominated story is a “lost colony” story, part of a series. Don’t know if it’s a departure or not. When you’re all over the map, it’s hard to know when you’ve departed..

 

3) When did you start writing?

When I was 10. In pencil. In Spiral notebooks. Also placed a couple stories in the high school literary magazine; but I was the editor, so that doesn’t really count. Thankfully did not sell until 1984 or thereabouts. First novel was 1990. But basically there was no time when I was not writing.

 

4) What do you do in life other than write?

I was a statistician/quality engineer, then a consultant in management of quality. Clients in many industries and overseas locales — all of which provided grist for the stories. Am now nominally retired, but available for training material development.

 

5) Who do you feel influenced your work? What other authors do you look up to? Whose work brought delight to your reading life?

Read Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Norton growing up. People have complained that my work is like too many others, claiming to find the influence of different authors in different stories, including sometimes authors I have never read! I admire the works of Poul Anderson, deCamp, Brunner, and others; of contemporaries: McDevitt, Steele, Kress, Turtledove, the late Dr. Sheffield. If I think longer, I’ll come up with more. Harry Turtledove once said that while both he and I were influenced by deCamp and Anderson, he saw more Anderson in me and more deCamp in himself.

 

6) Can you fill in the blank?  “You might enjoy my work if you are a fan of ______.”

Heinlein? Maybe Poul Anderson?

 

7) How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?

A supporting character in Up Jim River had a backstory in which he had journeyed across the face of his home world before making contact with an interstellar trade ship. That gave me the notion of telling his story. The idea is that as he travels east he encounters progressively more technologically advanced cultures. “In the Stone House” was the second of these stories and was originally was the first half of a longer story the second half of which (“Against the Green”) appeared in the succeeding issue of ANALOG.

 

8) Care to share with us any glimpses what you are working on for the future?

  • Trying to cut the fourth Journeyman story (“In the Great North Woods”) down to publishable size.
  • Short stories titled “Nexus” (kinda serious) and “Laminated Moose Zombies” (not). Both about half done.
  • A short story collaboration with another writer about which I am saying nothing more at present.
  • I promised to write a short story set on a colonized, near future Moon. Hmm. Better get crack-a-lacking on that.
  • A novel The Shipwrecks of Time hung up at about a third done (depending on the definition of “done.” Part 1 (“Old Books”) will probably become a complete novel despite my best intentions). Part I is set in the mid-1960s in Milwaukee and involves odd hints found by historians in the chanson of Ogier the Dane and in a lost 14th century manuscript known as “The Peruzzi Manuscript.”
  • A novel The Chieftain set in 13th cent. Connaught is a fantasy in which the magic is Christian prayers and saintly interventions. It’s only a couple chapters now but an earlier and more amateur version exists “complete” from college days.

 Thank you, Mr. Flynn.

 

On Worldcons and World Cups

Normally it is considered foolish to insult customers. But others do it, so why not me too? Like others, I do foolish things from time to time, not least when honestly stating my point of view. However, I try to back those views, no matter how outrageous, with objective data. Today I want to discuss who belongs to the supposed mainstream of science fiction ‘fandom’, and who sits on the periphery. I will do this whilst presenting data about the World Science Fiction Convention, the group that hands out the Hugo Awards.

Anybody who objectively looks at the Worldcon data can easily distinguish Worldcon’s notion of a mainstream SF fan from the rest of humanity. The distinction does not lie in the fan’s gender, race, sexual orientation or political beliefs. The difference is their nationality. If the claims are correct, and Worldcon represents the mainstream of science fiction ‘fandom’, then it is dominated by citizens of the United States of America. Every other nationality is on the margins, if it is represented at all.

Please forgive that I put the word ‘fandom’ into inverted commas. I do so to draw attention to an important fact. The people who decide who belongs to fandom – and hence who is excluded – are the people who are already members. Unlike most language, the correct use of a word like ‘fandom’ cannot be influenced by the great mass of humanity. On the contrary, the word is defined by a clique. In turn, the word defines who belongs to that clique, creating a circularity which cannot be penetrated by outsiders. To have an opportunity to influence the meaning of the word, you must join the clique. Everyone else is excluded from the conversation.

These may seem like extravagant claims. But I want you to think of the following words, and what they mean: Alinsky; Fox News; Gamergate; and Limbaugh. These are some words that I have seen repeatedly used by people who feel ire towards the Sad Puppies. They are often used whilst trying to depict the Puppies as a faction which opposes diversity. But none of those words are commonly used outside of the USA. Many intelligent, educated English-speakers will have little or no idea what these words refer to. And yet, without any sense of irony, people who say they want science fiction to be more inclusive keep using uniquely American cultural references to describe their point of view.

To further illustrate, I googled very recent posts that support Irene Gallo. Here are snippets from those posts, written by people who honestly believe they want to make the science fiction community more inclusive.

…it’s no more unfair to characterize the Puppies by their leaders’ statements than it is unfair to characterize Republicans by the positions of George Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

That’s a move straight out of the Breitbart playbook.

There was an episode of “All In The Family” — where an argument got out of control.

Just how much cultural awareness is needed to appreciate that an argument about the Worldcon awards will not be improved by endless references to American politicians, American news websites, and American TV shows? Are people who express themselves this way serious about wanting a genuinely inclusive community, or do they only want to include people who already share their opinions, experiences and culture?

Here come the stats about Worldcons. People who are sensitive about diversity may want to look away.

The number of Worldcons to date = 72
The number of countries in the world = 196
The number of countries which have hosted a Worldcon = 7
The number of Worldcons held outside the USA = 19
The number of Worldcons held in the USA = 53
The proportion of Worldcons in the USA (so far) = 73.6%

I went to Loncon3, reportedly the Worldcon with the most members and the second-highest attendance. Even holding an event in the UK does not stop an extraordinary American domination of ‘fandom’. 38.6% of Loncon3 members were from the US, only a sliver behind the number of Brits who took part. But as an outsider, what really shocked me was the selection of speakers. I had assumed British SF is relatively healthy compared to that found in most nations. There are many British authors whose work I have enjoyed. And I imagined I might be introduced to a wider range of authors, from around Europe and nearby regions like North Africa and the Middle East. But few Loncon3 panels could muster more than one token non-American. Some panels were staffed solely by Americans.

Perhaps the organizers of Loncon3 deserve no blame for this state of affairs. Perhaps they attracted the best people available. But what does that say about the science fiction community, and how inclusive it is?

Look also at who is nominated for Hugo awards. I do not believe I should vote for awards, because I would never read enough to feel justified to have an opinion. In addition, all art is a matter of taste, so the primary purpose of awards is to generate a marketing buzz, and to signal who belongs to an elite that sets tastes for others. If you and I are both free-thinking mature individuals, then my idea of the best will rarely match your idea of the best, so it is daft to argue about what is best. Nevertheless I read all the short stories that were nominated last year. This is what they were like:

  • Chinese people written about in a way that panders to American tastes;
  • Thai people written about in a way that panders to American tastes;
  • Scots folklore and Arab descendants written about in a way that panders to American tastes; and
  • Dinosaur sings on Broadway after being called a fag and a towel-head.

I did not like these stories, but as I already stated, there is no point arguing about taste. And I understand why writers have every right to prosper by pandering to American tastes; these stories were primarily sold to American customers. But do the fans who liked these stories see nothing lamentable about this selection? Call me old-fashioned, but surely an audience keen on science fiction will notice that none of these stories are set in space. Seemingly they all occur during the present day. There is not even a hint of science in any of them. And they all affirm the values of the American readers they were written for. In other words, whilst these stories refer to places and cultures outside of the USA, the characters exhibited little diversity of thought or opinion, even though none of these stories conform to traditional expectations about SF culture.

Diversity entails a degree of friction. Customs clash, and compromise is hard. Nobody can win every battle, if they really accept the full range of human diversity. I read science fiction stories in the hopes of being challenged by them. But the truth is that ‘fandom’ is easily embraced by people who say they want diversity, but who loathe to be challenged. They want to be amongst people who think like them. The point of ‘fandom’ is to share a mutual love, which puts it into potential conflict with any outsiders who represent real diversity. So the Chinese gay guy ends up with his true all-American love. And the selkies escape to Colorado to live and love each other in peace. And the shemale dinosaur is the subject of the supreme cliché of love, elicited via a deathbed. And literally everything in Thailand turned out the way it was lovingly destined to be.

Brad Torgersen wrote something relevant about Worldcon, and I suspect many people who read it missed one of the points he made. So let me help, by adding some additional emphasis.

…Or maybe just be wholly transparent and call it White American Liberals Con — An inclusive, diverse place where everyone talks about the same things, has the same tastes, votes the same way, and looks at the world through the same pair of eyes…

…Because the ultimate question in a polyglot society — or a polyglot field of the arts — is whether or not you (and your tribe) can make room in your hearts and minds for the people from the other tribes. Are the other tribes really dangerous? Or are you simply worried that by letting the outside tribes mingle with the inside tribe, you will lose the authenticity and flavor that you believe makes your tribe special? How much are you willing to sacrifice to preserve your culture, versus allowing your culture to mix with others, and blend? We know these fears. They perk up every time a new wave of immigrants comes. Doesn’t matter if its Irish, German, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, or Mexican. People become very upset with the idea that the new tribe is going to wash away everything about the old tribe. Can the new tribe be assimilated? What if they won’t assimilate, what then?

Perhaps some failed to notice this nuance within Torgersen’s argument because Torgersen is also American. But who else should make an argument about the insular national character of SF ‘fandom’? Kenyans? Saudis? Me? Doing so is counterintuitive and bad for business. Who wants to struggle to join an insular group in order to upset the prospective customers they meet there, by telling them their tastes are narrow? (Apart from me, that is.)

If Worldcon members want diversity, they could do a lot more to appeal to the inhabitants of other countries. Forget arguments about changing how to vote for the Hugo. The method of choosing where to host Worldcon is much more broken than the awards are. The choice of Worldcon location is the most obvious and negative influence on who belongs to ‘fandom’, and it contributes to the insular nature of the Hugo Awards.

People are selfish. They choose what is easiest and best for themselves. But if Worldcon members want the real diversity that comes from extending the SF market to the hundreds of millions of English speakers in countries like India, Nigeria and the Philippines, they need to take Worldcon to those countries. They should not sit on their haunches, waiting for foreigners to become so enamored with an inward-looking American subculture that they literally beg for Americans to come and lecture them about storytelling.

The Worldcon could learn a lot from the World Cup. (If you do not know what I am referring to when I discuss the World Cup, you are already too culturally isolated to be helped.) Science fiction should be a global culture. Football is a global culture. Anyone with legs can kick a ball around, whether a boy or girl, black or white. Anyone with imagination can dream of fantastic scenarios in faraway places. So why is the ownership of SF so narrow, when the whole world rejoices in the World Cup?

(And note, in the culture of my birth, like most cultures, the sport is called football. For once, I am not going to indulge American cultural quirks any more than I have to.)

The World Cup has been going longer than Worldcon, but because it is held every four years, there have only been 20 tournaments so far. But unlike Worldcon, the World Cup has been hosted by 16 different countries! Moving beyond its traditional bases in Europe and South America, the World Cup has been held in Asia, Africa and North America. This magnificent accomplishment has occurred even though the top football administrator, a Swiss man by the name of Sepp Blatter, is a corrupt old white guy who said women footballers should wear tight shorts and gay fans should just refrain from having sex in countries that ban homosexuality!

And yet, that corrupt old white man has succeeded in promoting much more celebration of international diversity than Worldcon has. In fact, part of the reason Blatter has held on to power so long is because he has pushed for the World Cup to be taken to new places, like Africa, East Asia and the Middle East.

What stops Worldcon from being taken to new countries? It is not language. Lots of Africans are fluent in English; there are 83 million English speakers in Nigeria alone. Many educated Asians speak English as well as you or I. In Pakistan, 65 percent of salaried professionals speak English because it is crucial to career advancement. In total, 92 million Pakistanis have learned English, and 24 million are fluent. In the Middle East, English is the lingua franca for educated people because of the difficulties caused by having multiple dialects of Arabic and large numbers of Asian expatriate workers. 300 million Chinese are learning English. And yet, when 758 members of Loncon3 voted on where to hold Worldcon74, 651 preferred Kansas City. Only 70 voted for Beijing. The population of China is 1.36 billion, of which 11.5 million live in Beijing. The population of the USA is 317 million, and Kansas City is home to just 467,000. Which location is most likely to increase the diversity of SF ‘fandom’? Which host would do most to expand the SF market?

I do not believe that language, or inertia, explains the failure of SF ‘fandom’ to broaden their international horizons. It would certainly make good business to promote the grass roots of SF around the world. And any cosmopolitan would be happy to see the art form they love being appreciated in other nations. I think the real inhibition is that few in the existing mainstream want to tackle the uncomfortable challenge of broadening the SF market to accommodate contrasting cultures, and alternative tastes. It is easy to talk about wanting diversity amongst the audience, but that is unlikely to be realized unless there is also a willingness for producers and gatekeepers to compromise on matters of opinion and taste.

If Worldcon was hosted in South Africa, it might have to deal with a culture where one in four men confess to being rapists. If Worldcon went to Malaysia, it would find itself in a culture where the majority of Muslims believe leaving the faith should be punishable with death. Qatar is scheduled to host the 2022 World Cup, and they are nearing completion of one of the largest convention centres in the world, with a view to becoming a hub for global and regional events. But if Worldcon went to Qatar, its members would have to engage with a society where homosexuality is against the law, many women choose to cover their faces, and expatriate workers have inadequate legal protection, leading to their mistreatment.

If you have strongly-held progressive beliefs, you should want to go to places like South Africa, Malaysia and Qatar; nobody changes opinions by avoiding those who disagree with them. And dealing with weighty real-world issues might discourage some of the sound and fury that taints arguments about how to vote for a book award. The people who say they stand with Gallo believe themselves to be principled, even though comparing the Sad Puppies to Nazis is idiotic, insulting and counterproductive. Let them show how principled they are, not by using the internet to express solidarity for a New Yorker employed by a publishing company, but by meeting the remorseless diversity of humanity in person. If they did, they might discover extremes that put the actions of people who voted for a book award into some useful context.

Torgersen is right about Worldcon and the awards it hands out. It is an event for Americans, by Americans. Everybody else assimilates, or is excluded. Worldcon might promote an American industry to customers overseas, but reveals little appetite for international diversity within that industry. That would imply more competition for American writers and American businessmen, and it would also mean more competition amongst ideas.

I like my science fiction to be challenging, and I find the world to be a challenging place. Not everyone is like me, and not everyone shares my tastes or opinions. It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise. So I must expect that some will prefer to observe the world whilst wearing blinkers or rose-tinted spectacles. They have a right to free speech, even if they only use it to talk amongst themselves. If it makes them happy, they should continue as they are. But nobody should pretend that the members of Worldcon aspire to realize the greatest, most diverse potential of the SF market. They may refer to their event as Worldcon, but this ‘fandom’ retreats from the world at large.

Ray Blank is not a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Interview with Hugo Fan Writer Nominee: Dave Freer!

1)      All the Sad Puppies selections came from a list of stories that fans felt were their favorites from 2014. What about your story do you think brought it to the attention of whomever suggested it?

Sperm Whales. No really, they’re large enough to get most people’s attention if they’re right in your face, as it were. http://madgeniusclub.com/2014/08/25/a-very-surprised-looking-sperm-whale-and-a-bowl-of-petunias/  or the fact I am mostly constructive, despite appearances. http://madgeniusclub.com/2014/11/10/we-build/

2)      What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?

I’m a hack. I write stories people are willing to pay me to read. I know. It lowers the entire tone of the contest. They shouldn’t let lowly simians like me loose for fear people lose their sense of decorum (for the record, back in the dark ages when people were choosing lofty screen names for themselves, I adopted the nom-de-screen of “monkey”.  Occasionally, when I am being more villainous than usual, that rises to Doktor Von Monkenstein. Yes. I have a monster. And a Zombie Washing Machine.)  Seriously, I like to write. It’s a poor writer who cannot turn the need to do so, in any form, into something he quite enjoys. I have written a vast and varied range of things from Romance to Hard SF – but that wasn’t what they nominated me for. I am, I believe, nominated a fan writer – also known as a punkha wallah in that I allow fresh air into the stultifying halls of literature – or, in other words, poke fun at my betters. For this they nominated me, just as fools were made kings for a day to teach them and populace a lesson.  It’s a terrible mistake really, but it has successfully upset all sorts of people who consider themselves frightfully important, and are sufficiently horrified by my monkey-like capering and mockery. They have demanded I withdraw and suitably abase myself, or else!, which makes me laugh a lot, and poke fun at them even more. It’s no departure for me, although there are many shrieks of ‘off with his head’. That too is perfectly normal.

3) When did you start writing?

Oh so very long ago and all, when the world was young and both dinosaurs and Fax-machines roamed the earth. And yes, as rumored, it is true.  I did start in an outdoor toilet. Many people think it would have been a good thing if I remained there, and predict that I will return to my literary roots. They could well be right. It actually has some basis in fact. I came back from sea – my then job as Chief Scientist for the Commercial Shark Fishery in the Western Cape involved time on some very ‘interesting’ vessels, with dysentery. That is something which leaves you wishing you were dead, and can quite easily kill small children. We had, at that time, a young and precious and fragile baby in the house. We also had a second bathroom in a separate little building, attached by roofed verandah. I took myself, a mattress and a sleeping bag and a computer in there, in quarantine, as it were. I tried to write up a fisheries report, but as I was somewhat delirious, it turned into a story. It was less like fantasy and more plausible than fisheries statistics usually are, so I rather enjoyed it. I thought it might be pleasant to do that one day… and one day I did. Only it took me much more than one day.

3)      What do you do in life other than write?

Anything stupid, dangerous, illogical – there is such wide choice, but I am good at bad decisions, so I try to stick to that. In theory, writing is my job. I have no other. In practice I end up doing everything that a remote rural life throws at me (I live on an island off the South coast of Australia, with very few other people. I promise there were very few other people here even before I got here.) As a result I do everything from dipping sheep to helping cows to get their calves delivered (they need very big storks), and a great many agricultural things in between, most which seem to involve mud and the delicate scents of the finest manure. I am, as is traditional and accepted among sf writers, mildly batty (except of course _I_ take it to extremes, just because I can, although I delude myself I am sensible, sane and you’re all a little odd). We try to be self-sufficient, which means I shoot or rear or catch all our own protein, and grow or gather almost all our own veggies. That means a fair amount of time underwater, or in small boats, or stalking, and a lot more time digging, cleaning, butchering and preserving. Of course I am not over-the-top about this self-sufficiency lark. We do buy the two essential food groups we can’t raise or gather. Coffee and Chocolate have to be bought.

5) Who do you feel influenced your work? What other authors do you look up to? Whose work brought delight to your reading life?

Influence? The fees officers at my kids’ school and later, college, had a remarkable (and may I say, commendable) effect on my writing, and one I feel would improve the entire Hugo Award’s value: They wanted me to pay them, which in turn meant I had to write things for which people were pleased to give me that finest and most sincere form of flattery for: money. I learned to write to please an audience, and as a result I owe these gentlemen gratitude, but nothing else.

Look up to? I look up to most other authors. I am a short little monkey. On the other hand if there are trees or cliffs around I tend to look down on most of them. Look, given my genetics and culture, I give respect to God and very few men. I expect them to prove themselves, and to keep it up if they want that. I fail at it myself, so I can hardly hold it against others. I have found my friends Eric Flint and Sarah Hoyt provide me with much valuable guidance. I need a lot of that.  I role model myself on many authors, mostly conveniently dead, so they can’t object.  I wanted to write with the humor and warmth of Sir Terry Pratchett, the fast-paced style of Dick Francis, the gravitas of Dostoyevsky, the repartee of Georgette Heyer, and the multilayered brilliance of Zelazny… I believe I have succeeded with some of this, except I seem to have the order muddled. I  have the humor and warmth of Dostoyevsky, the fast-paced style of Heyer, the gravitas of Francis. Alas, Sir Terry and Zelazny are above me.

Delight? Oh the hard questions again.  I love to read. I read very fast to make up for the slowness of my writing. I revel in all sorts of things from Banjo Patterson poems to Louis L’Amour, from Heyer to Pratchett, From Douglas Adams to Frank Herbert.  Ah! You mean ‘Literature’.  Well, I’m a particular fan of Footrot Flats by Murray Ball.

6) Can you fill in the blank?  “You might enjoy my work if you are a fan of ______.”

Hulk Hogan? Bugs Bunny? Gimli? (I give up. Why such hard questions? The tears of me are wet.)

7) How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?

Eating cheese late at night. It was that or my concern for the state of a genre I love. I happen think all nice boys and girls should love sf and fantasy (and find sf and fantasy to love). I think all nasty boys and girls should too. I am delighted if the rare, nasty, odd, and possibly puke purple creatures crawling out of the East River do too. I just find it worrying when the latter group seems to have become so dominant that the rest lose interest and go and pursue other forms of entertainment and escapism.

8) Care to share with us any glimpses what you are working on for the future?

Besides continuing with the weekly ‘fan’ blog, aimed at other who would like to write (really it’s pay forward thing)? In the short term that would be the next Karres book. In medium term a book about an idealistic do-gooder trapped in a venal and rascally society, on a bizarre planet – a gas giant – which has no solid ground (or at least not where humans could get to it).  Oh and I want to squeeze in a late Renaissance romance (partly to prove I can) set in a decadent Venice with an unfortunate immortal who has to find his soul. Then a tale of an earnest humanity finally making it into interstellar space and a complex Alien society, to find that the Atlantis-dwellers beat them there by millenia, and that humans are both well-known and as welcome as the clap. And then I need to write another cozy murder mystery with my lady-priest-detective.  Yes, I am all over the place. That is the way I am.

Joy cometh in the morning