A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

The Trolliest Trolling Ever Trolled — August 29, 2015

The Trolliest Trolling Ever Trolled

I noted in my last post that what really matters about the Hugo Award controversy is what people decide to do moving forward. The answer came at Worldcon’s final business meeting. Constitutional changes awaiting ratification at the 2016 Worldcon to take effect for 2017 would install an Australian-type preference-weighted system for the nomination ballot (similar to what’s used for the final voting) and also reduce the nomination allowance for each member to something less than the number of nominations that will appear on the final ballot.

The stated intent of these two measures is to dilute what the Worldcon delegates called “disciplined slate voting,” which, frankly, meant “too many people we don’t like, nominating stories we don’t like.” One delegate at the business meeting voiced the specific concern that the new system would lead to unintended eliminations “if we all just happened to really like the same books.”

At the very least, the proposed changes would practically ensure one “puppy-free” finalist in every category and avoid the embarrassing No Award, at the cost of reducing the pool of potential nominees and complicating the nomination process.

The Sad Puppies, meanwhile, have declared their intention to not only continue but expand their fight to make the Hugos more inclusive of the wider SF fandom beyond what they see as Worldcon’s insular clique of social-agenda-driven insiders.

In summary, as Rudyard Kipling once observed, there’s no discharge in the war.

Or, maybe, just maybe, it’s not a war. Maybe it’s…

The Trolliest Trolling Ever Trolled*

Summer, 2012, or thereabouts


Three science fiction writers walk into The Olympia, a scruffy little bar & grill a few blocks away from Globalcon.

Don Halsey (pulls a stool from beneath a convenient table and signals for a round of brew): Can you guys believe how ancient this Globalcon crowd is? In a few more years, everyone’ll be zipping around in little electric carts!

Barry Foreal (settles into his stool with a groan): Yeah, it’s a regular Old Man’s War (fist-bumps Don). Gentlemen, I think we’re witnessing the end of fandom as we know it.

Max Ray (sanitizes cushion with a wet wipe before sliding his stool up to the table): All is proceeding as I have foreseen.

Barry: You feeling okay, Max?

Don: Dude, you sound like you swallowed a tribble.

Max: I am well. This is my inside voice.

A short brunette woman of indeterminate age, sporting Daisy Dukes, Chuck Taylors, and a Seattle Mariners jersey, arrives with a tray bearing three unfiltered wheat microbrews in frosted pint glasses. Her green eyes sparkle with a cynical amusement at odds with her bored demeanor. There is a pencil stuck through her hair, behind her right ear.

Waitress: Here you go, boys. Who’s got the tab?

Don: Barry.

Barry: Max.

Max: Don.

Waitress: You morons are lucky I think you’re cute. Just be sure somebody ponies up before you skedaddle out the back door this time. We got laws against dine ‘n dash in this town.

Max: We require a large receptacle overflowing with fried potato wedges, pinto beans, spiced ground beef, and shredded cheddar.

Waitress: Here on Earth, darlin’, we call those ‘chili cheese fries.’ My personal favorite. It’ll take a few minutes, though. Deep-fryer’s a little cranky tonight (returns to kitchen).

Don (takes a swig of beer and wipes foam from his pencil-thin mustache): I hate to see the con dying of old age like this. So many great memories. The cosplay, the filking, the drunken revelry…

Barry (squeezes a lemon slice and drops it into his glass): Yeah, I hear you. Remember Choo Choo Marvin covered in whipped cream? I nearly busted a gut.

Don: Good ‘ol Choo Choo. We shall not see his like again.

Max: A formidable talent. The body count in his novels is most impressive.

Don: So…the con. We’ve got to get the next generation involved somehow. That’s the key.

Barry: Face it, my friend, your material is dead on arrival for the youth market and almost anybody else who doesn’t qualify for Medicare. They love my stories, but they’re not joiners…not for an old-school con like this. Draco-Con or Chibi-Ket are more their scene. Besides, your fans won’t even get off their rumps to nominate for awards. Terminal lack of enthusiasm. Kids want to be where the action is.

Don: I hate to admit it…boy do I ever hate to admit it…but you’re right. I need a way to get the old guard moving, somehow. I’ve got to help them find their passion again…that fire in the belly they had when they were teenagers threading carnations into rifle barrels.

Max (eyes fixed on the tiny bubbles crawling up the inside of his beer glass): You require an existential threat. Fear is a most powerful motivator.

Barry: I’ve got an idea about that. No…forget it. Too crazy.

Don: I eat crazy for breakfast. Spill.

Barry: Okay, here’s the thing. My fans think your community’s stuff is boring, Don. Too much social engineering, not enough bang-zoom. Blah, blah, blah.

Don: Tell me something I don’t know already. My fans think you guys’ work is the Kung Pao Chicken of science fiction. Five hundred pages of flash and dash, intellectual starvation five minutes later. No depth. No big ideas.

Barry: Hey, Creature Killer Association offered a very detailed analysis of the complex trajectory computations necessary for hypersonic mass drivers to achieve precise kinetic kills versus over-the-horizon targets…but I digress. Listen, what if I convinced my people that your people hatched a conspiracy to push action-adventure stories out of the marketplace…and you’d fixed the Yugo Awards as part of the scheme. They’d be mad as he-burrrp-ell. And then…

Don: They’d put the nomination system under a microscope and find ways to game the system to get more of your sorts of books into competition. They’d start paying for supporting memberships so they could vote. And my readers…

Barry: Would think we’re making a power grab for control of Globalcon, and they’d freak out. They’d burn up Twitter. They’d pull in all the fans who’ve stopped coming over the years, because this unwashed riff raff, these…we need a name…a handle, a label people can wear like a badge of honor and the other side can just as easily use as an insult. That’d stir everybody up. Something like Frogs, or Hogs, or…something.

Max: Dogs. Bad Dogs. Some could even be Mad Dogs.

Barry: That’s genius! I love it! What about your side, Don? What do we call you?

Don: I don’t know…Social Butterflies? Warriors of Righteous Indignation? The Heterodox Hegemony? Redshirts?

Barry: Nah, too frilly. It’s gotta smack people upside the head. It’s gotta galvanize ‘em.

Max: I see it…a mighty League…but only for those pure of heart and mind. (switches to a deeper vocal register with lots of reverb) The Just Us League.

Barry and Don: Yes! Brilliant! Bad Dogs versus the Just Us League! Fight on!

Barry (scribbling frantically on a damp napkin): It almost writes itself.

Don: How long do you think we could play this out?

Barry: Forever. Our fans don’t like each other much to begin with, and if we keep upping the ante, like, we flood the nominations, then you No Award us at the Yugos, and we’re all ‘we meant that to happen,’ and you’re all ‘nanny-nanny-boo-boo,’ and then we hack the scoring computers, and you change the nominating rules…we keep on escalating. People get hotter, they bring in more friends and relations, we turn every Yugo Awards ceremony into the freakin’ Battle of Britain, and the membership money pours in. People will be fired up about Globalcon again. They’ll start looking forward to it.

Don: Mapping out their strategies months in advance! Conspiracy theories! Whisper campaigns!

Barry: Filking!

Don: Cosplay!

Barry: Drunken revelry!

Max: Endless queues for tedious seminars!

Barry: I’m getting all sweaty just thinking about it.

Don: But it’s not enough. We have to make the stakes really high. Dial up the volume. This needs to be a war against Evil Incarnate.

Barry: Right. We’ll need some kind of focal point for the rage, though. An Emperor of Iniquity. A Thoroughbred of Sin. Satan his-self, or close to it.

Don: But who would ever agree to become the most hated figure in the science fiction cosmos?

Max: I’m your huckleberry.

Barry and Don: Whooah. Dude!

Max (striking an heroic pose with a butter knife): It will be epic. I will be epic.

Barry: I’ll drink to that. Gentlemen, raise your glasses. To the trolling!

Don: The trolliest trolling!

Max: It shall be the trolliest trolling ever trolled. So say we all?

All (after downing their beers in a single titanic chug): SO SAY WE ALL!

The trio staggers out of the bar and into the foggy cityscape beyond, arms linked across shoulders.

The waitress returns from the kitchen with a steaming basket of chili cheese fries. She ponders the table and the three empty glasses for a moment. She sighs. “Dipsticks.”

She notices the scribbled-on napkin Barry has forgotten and sits at the table, reading his notes as she nibbles on the chili cheese fries. She snickers and shakes her head, then slips the pencil from behind her ear and adds a few sentences here and there. “That’s better. I guess I should get this back to them. It’d be a crying shame to lose a perfectly good clown show because they lost their master plan.”

She passes her hands over the napkin, muttering in a low voice. The napkin vanishes.

Eris, Goddess of Discord, eats a final forkful of chili cheese fries and wipes the table, humming a little tune to herself. “She’s just a devil woman, with evil on her mind…”

*No, this never really happened. Maybe things would have been better if it had. All names and characters are fictional. Any resemblance to real people, places, Worldcons, and Goddesses of Discord is intentional because that’s how satire works.

Whither Hugo? — August 22, 2015

Whither Hugo?

The Hugo AwardThe Hugo Award winners for 2015 will be announced tonight at the World Science Fiction Convention, “Sasquan,” in Spokane, Washington. It’s been a particularly fractious year for the Hugos, with fans dividing up into two armed camps across an ideological chasm. You can find my earlier thoughts on the situation here.

I think you can find legitimate concerns and honest brokers on both sides, but the voices of reason have been mostly drowned out by a multitude of shrill demagogues who have dominated the conversation online and in the press. One thing both sides do agree on is that the genre, and the fanbase that supports it, is in trouble, though they violently disagree about the nature of that trouble.

I spent some time this week watching YouTube videos of the early arrivals at the convention site and the business meetings on Thursday and Friday. Some things stood out:

Science fiction has a diversity problem, but I don’t think it’s so much a lack of talent or availability of great stories from women and international authors, or failure to promote and publish them. Watch the videos. The Worldcon business meeting is dominated by men and women of a particular racial and generational demographic. One delegate bemoaned the fact that there were only 200 in attendance from a membership population around 10000. “We’re the ones who really care.” Another made the remarkable statement that the business meeting attendees constituted the elected representatives of all those who didn’t attend, just because they showed up. A proposal to expand the use of electronic signatures to facilitate voting and ratification of Worldcon business (where the Hugo administration and election machinery is constructed) beyond the convention was on the agenda, and a bright young person came to the podium urging members to pass it, citing the fact that people who didn’t have the means to travel or were living in countries far away from the convention site were effectively being disenfranchised. “If we want to keep the World in Worldcon, we need to do this.” The measure was defeated, and several of those opposed cited fear of a Sad-Puppies-style takeover of processes beyond Hugo voting.

The Hugo Award process is broken. Again, almost everybody agrees about this but are in violent disagreement about how it’s broken. The Sad Puppies supporters see an insular process too easily swayed by a small fraction of the fanbase and informed primarily by political affinity. They got organized and used that fact to dominate this year’s nominations, which only required 250-or-so concerted votes to change the outcome. The folks on the other side cried foul, but all the Puppies really did was get out the vote and demonstrate how easy it was to influence the results, in a particular advocacy group’s favor, within the rules. While many wanted to blame the Hugo administrators or individuals in the Sad Puppies camp, one delegate at the business meeting acknowledged the root issue: “We’re having a lot of these problems because we didn’t step up and nominate.” Past Sad Puppies efforts were thwarted in the final voting, but this year’s ballot threatens to yield one or more Sad-Puppies-favored winners unless the convention voters unite to deny any winner in some categories, adding weight to the Puppies’ claim that the voting process favors insiders. This year’s business meeting is heavy on proposals designed to change the future nomination structure, another outcome that appears designed to protect the status quo.

There’s panic in the air. Much of the sentiment expressed by members at the business meetings reflects a great fear of what might come to pass if the Hugo vote goes the wrong way this weekend. Or even if it doesn’t. People fear damage to the credibility of the Hugo Award as a measure of excellence in speculative fiction. They’re afraid the barbarians are at the gate, ready to burn and pillage their community. They’re afraid an event they cherish is about to be destroyed. They’re afraid their aspirations will be crushed by an influx of disinterested, lowbrow outsiders who don’t understand or care about their fandom. Whether or not these fears are justified, I think it’s certain that clear, rational analysis and decision-making cannot happen in an atmosphere dominated by anxiety over what might happen. Fear of the future is a particularly crippling ailment for people who write and promote science fiction.

So, what’s going to happen tonight? I don’t know. I don’t think extending the Puppy War is in anybody’s best interest, and I don’t think the Hugos or Worldcon are best served by trying to build a bigger, better wall to keep the barbarians out. We all know how well that worked for the Romans. I think the young woman at the business meeting had the truth of it. If the delegates really care about diversity and global involvement in science fiction fandom and Worldcon, they need to tend to their own house first and lower the entry barriers for those who want to participate substantially in fandom and the convention but can’t afford to jet off to London, or Helsinki, or even Spokane every year, people who might not be on a first-name basis with the convention organizers and their circle of close friends. People who might prefer a different style of science fiction or whose politics might rub influential folks the wrong way. Maybe even young people.

By all means, let’s get serious about keeping the World in Worldcon.

Brisbane – Last Words —

Brisbane – Last Words

A local on his way to work.

I need to wrap up some final observations from my trip to Brisbane this summer. When I travel to a new place, and I think most people do this, I notice the big things first. Landmarks, architecture, climate, natural beauty, ease of movement, and the “feel” of the culture. Next come little details, small things that stick out without being that important in and of themselves. Only later, if I’ve had the good fortune to hang around for a while (or visit repeatedly), do I start to process all the stuff in-between that truly defines a place.

I talked about the big things earlier. Here are some of the small ones:

Roof coverings were either corrugated steel or clay tile. I didn’t see any composite shingles in the neighborhoods we drove through in and around Brisbane. Perhaps shingles don’t hold up in the local climate. Not sure.

Like Kansas City, the little shops specializing in local sports team swag overflowed with customers on game days.

St. John’s

Lots of churches, even in the downtown precincts. Mostly Catholic and Anglican, quite a few Baptist and a smattering of non-denoms. Everything from massive cathedrals to little storefront churches. St. John’s, the breathtaking red sandstone Anglican cathedral in the center of town, was founded in the mid-1800’s and isn’t quite finished yet. The stained-glass windows and architectural trim have evolved along with the city.

There was a little red and white “Emirates” banner atop the high-rise-under-construction across from my hotel.

School uniforms in Australia often include hats for both guys and gals. I thought they looked pretty cool, a more refined take on the classic broad-brimmed Aussie bush hat, but the students might disagree.

Coffee. Yum.

Coffee in Brisbane is very good indeed. Smooth and full-flavored. My latte was served up in a tall glass tumbler with a head of foam that your average beer would envy.

Brisbane has one of those giant ferris wheels, similar to the London Eye, that are de rigeur for world cities these days. My hotel room offered a higher vantage point, so I didn’t take a spin. Besides, it’s not the sort of ride you take solo.

The old Treasury, now a casino.

Old historical buildings, the massive ones built from stone which probably would have been permanently enshrined as museums in the States, were re purposed in Brisbane, often into retail space.

Crosswalk signs feature a pair of disembodied feet that look like they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. A bit more whimsical than our angular stick-figure guy.

The riverwalk is a popular biking destination, for obvious reasons.

There’s a network of bicycle rental kiosks across the Central Business District, but I saw maybe two or three rental bikes in use over the couple of weeks I was there. Our shuttle driver said they were a failed “bright idea” from one of the city’s controversial politicians, and their upkeep cost eclipsed any revenue they generated. There were, however, plenty of folks out riding their own bikes.

statue_garden_brisbaneAny regrets about this trip? Very few. I wish I’d had the chance to venture over to the coast, or further inland. I’d also hoped to see more of Australia’s iconic wildlife. I didn’t catch a glimpse of any marsupials, though some of my colleagues saw some wallabies bouncing along near our worksite. I heard a rumor of a dingo prowling about the barracks late at night. A few folks who arrived earlier traveled to a nearby nature park and cuddled some koalas. One even extended his stay and did some scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Kookaburras I did see, and lorikeets in profusion. I even came upon a treeful of roosting cockatoos on one midnight stroll.

So for now, I’ll say farewell to Brisbane, the girl who squints and has freckles in the best of all possible ways. With any luck, I’ll come back again, sooner than later.


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