Friday, March 6, 2015

The Wet & Irritated Kittens Slate, Part II - Short Works

A few weeks ago, I shared my personal nominations in the Novel category for the upcoming Hugo Awards. As the deadline looms, 'tis now time for me to share my picks for the short fiction categories.

You may notice as we proceed that I haven't filled the entire slate. The explanation for this is actually quite simple: It's difficult to impress me in fewer words. As I was paging through my old zines trying to decide what to add to my list, I didn't find much that I thought was truly striking. What this says about the state of the short fiction market is, to say the least, concerning.

But, without further ado, here are my picks:

  • “Flow," Arlan Andrews Sr., Analog, November 2014 - This fantasy adventure expertly captures man's desire to explore and learn more.
  • Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman, Castalia House - I knew I was going to nominate this one as soon as I'd read it, as its subversion of a popular military science fiction trope is both troubling and necessary. See my review here.
  • "Life Flight," Brad Torgersen, Analog, March 2014 - From my original review: "...the main character's emotional arc is profoundly interesting -- and, thankfully, morally grounded. When his childhood dreams are tragically ripped away, he initially loses himself in suicidal ideation and a selfish sense of entitlement. But as he grows older and wiser, he realizes he can still find meaning in his life by focusing his attentions on the other people on board -- and ultimately, while he is robbed of the chance to set foot in the promised land, he's strangely okay with that result because he knows being the guardian and shepherd of the mission still mattered."
  • “Championship B’tok," Edward M. Lerner, Analog, September 2014 - I'm a little confused on this one. The Puppies have it listed under Novelette, but my digital copy of Analog puts this in the Novella category. At any rate, this is a tantalizing introduction to a space opera universe whose mysteries definitely hit several of my squee buttons.
Short Stories:
  • "The Golden Knight," K.D. Julicher, Baen Website - From my original review: "I love, love, love platonic elder-younger pairings in which the younger's boundless loyalty and innocence in some way redeem the elder. Such stories, I feel, speak to the more profound spiritual reason why most of us become parents (and why I, in the absence of a spouse, have elected to work as a teacher). Biological imperatives to reproduce aside, there is also an instinctual recognition that caring for our children is a salvific enterprise -- and the fact that many succumb to the pop culture's distorted and idolatrous visions of parenting does not in any way negate the nobility of the animating impulse."
  • “Totaled," Kary English, Galaxy’s Edge, July 2014 - An excellent sci-fi concept conveyed with genuine human emotion. I hope to see more from this author.
  • "Abandoned River, Dry Water," Jane Lebak, Sci Phi Journal #1 - From an earlier review: "The tale it implies - of a misplaced Catholic missionary attempting to minister to an alien race he was not prepared to encounter - is both haunting and poignant -- reason enough to look for some of Jane Lebak's other work."
Now I must hurry and log these choices with WorldCon! After all, the kittens are waiting.

Get on with it already!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Commentary: What Was Star Trek?

Just before bed most nights, I like to wind down by watching Netflix. Until recently, my poison of choice was usually House -- until my brother accidentally convinced me that a third full re-watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in order.

As I implied in my FANifesto, DS9 was my entry point into the entire Star Trek universe. It also happens to be my favorite "generation" of Trek for reasons that have only multiplied with time. Indeed, after the upcoming Hugo deadline has passed, I intend to share twelve little things that happened during DS9's third - and weakest - season that nonetheless help to explain my passionate affection for Trek's "red-headed stepchild" and illustrate the nature of the show's genius.

Today, meanwhile, I want to address an argument that erupted on Facebook recently regarding the nature of the Trek franchise as a whole. 

It all started when William Lehman, a contributor at the Otherwhere Gazette, made a passing remark in an otherwise unrelated post that seemed, to some, to suggest that Trek's legacy was chiefly technological. I'm not sure this is what Lehman was really arguing, but no matter: Some folks who were involved in the production of the original Star Trek series objected strongly to this characterization, insisting that Gene Roddenberry's intent was wholly sociological and political -- and that the technology was simply an afterthought. "The Original Series wasn't about the engineering as much as it was about the 'Social Justice Warriors Glittery hoo ha' stuff," David Gerrold wrote in one typical response. "I was there. I know what Gene Roddenberry envisioned. He went on at length about it in almost every meeting. He wasn't about technology, he was about envisioning a world that works for everyone, with no one and nothing left out. Gene Roddenberry was one of the great Social Justice Warriors. You don't get to claim him or his show as a shield of virtue for a cause he would have disdained."

Far be it for me to dispute Gerrold's authority on the subject. Roddenberry was indeed a mid-century progressive and a secular humanist, and that worldview did influence the entire Star Trek franchise. That's why I happily conceded recently that Trek is not a conservative "text"; any show that presupposes a utopian Earth that has united under a one-world, socialist government is certainly not animated by the thought of, say, Edmund Burke.

But the reality of Star Trek is more complicated than the vision of one man. Even if we concede Gene Roddenberry's likely affinity for the causes of today's social justice warriors (something I do not actually acknowledge, as I'll make clear in my next post), that does not mean the left owns Trek. Sorry, but I categorically refuse to accept such a proposition. Trek was the product of many minds working in concert -- and some of these minds inserted things that didn't exactly cleave to Roddenberry's idea of "how things should be."

Consider, for example, Bread and Circuses, whose script arose out of the joint efforts of Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon. For those who are bad at titles, this is the episode in which the Enterprise comes upon a planet on which a society modeled on Ancient Rome has survived long enough to develop the media tools of 20th-century Earth. Said episode mocks both the Roman Empire and the television studio culture of the 1960's -- but it also has this odd moment at the very end in which the slaves in the featured society are revealed to be following a faith analogous to Christianity. If Trek is all about Roddenberry's fiercely secular, progressive politics, how did that get in there?

Actually, while we're on the subject of Bread and Circuses, let me bring up something else -- something that, I believe, no one has yet mentioned. The aforementioned episode is not generally considered to be one of the original Trek's best, but it happens to be one that I personally enjoy for a reason that is neither technological nor political: Spock and McCoy.

Is there room in Star Trek's legacy for scenes like this -- scenes devoted to the characters and their relationships with one another? In my opinion, this is the most under-appreciated reason why the original Star Trek series endures: Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, et. al. never forgot the importance of writing people the viewer could care about. We didn't lament the passing of Leonard Nimoy days ago because of Trek's "social commentary" or its gadgets. We lamented his passing because Nimoy portrayed a fictional alien whose rich history, deep relationships, and fascinating internal conflicts resonated with the audience -- and that makes Trek a wholly legitimate example to deploy when we anti-SJW writers make our arguments about the importance of putting the craft of storytelling before the message.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BOOK BOMBING the Puppies' Picks for the Campbell & Related Works

Reminder: Your Hugo nominations are due next Tuesday evening (March 10) before 23:59 Pacific!

I will be posting the Wet & Irritated Kittens' picks for the short fiction categories just before the deadline. In the meantime, check out the Sad Puppies' suggestions for the Campbell Award and the "Related Works" category. Larry Correia is book bombing them TODAY:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Open Thread: Now Taking Requests

Apologies for missing my post yesterday; I was battling a killer headache.

Never fear, however: the missed review (of Kal Spriggs' The Fallen Race) will appear back to back with my review of Kenton Kilgore's Lost Dogs next Monday, March 9.

In the meantime, I'd like to give you, my readers, an opportunity to influence the content of this blog. What would you like to see? Which topics should I explore? What books should I read and review? If there is something in particular you're dying to see, please leave a comment below!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Commentary: Another FANifesto

At the request of Brad Torgersen, I hereby present my FANifesto:

I was born to be a fan. Indeed, I was born on the tenth anniversary of the moon landing. If that wasn't a significant omen, I don't know what is.

I entered this world the daughter of a table-top gamer and science fiction fan who used the money he earned at the Naval Academy to amass a trunk full of books. Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle -- he bought and read them all. And when I was old enough, he started giving those books to me.

I was carefully trained: trained to imagine what it'd be like to live on Mars or to farm on Ganymede; trained to be curious about the wild universe "out there" beyond our modest planet; trained to value human achievement and technological progress. And the training began early; when I was a mere toddler, Dad's choice for bedtime reading was Scientific American. He used to set me on his knee and coo that quarks were even smaller than the end of my nose.

And Mom? Mom's tastes ran more toward horror and the paranormal, but that certainly didn't mean she was mundane.

When we were young children, my brother and I created and acted out elaborate tales about a futuristic family who lived in a climate-controlled dome in Antarctica. Back then, we didn't know this was called science fiction, but we still knew it was fun.

Years passed; the grooming continued. Consequently, when I discovered Star Trek in 1993 after the premiere of DS9, I was ready to welcome it with open arms. And when Babylon 5 aired for the first time shortly thereafter, I embraced that series as well.

In high school, I started going to conventions -- and even spoke on a few panels. At a discussion covering "strong female characters" in Star Trek, I - an upstart kid who'd dressed as a Bajoran - broke with the prevailing opinion and declared that Captain Janeway didn't hold a candle to Major Kira. This is a memory that still amuses my father to this day.

In college, at my father's urging, I convinced one professor to let me write a term paper on the evolution of science fiction as seen through an analysis of Starship Troopers, The Forever War, and Ender's Game -- and got an A.

In my early adulthood, I picked up a few other fandoms, including Farscape, Stargate, and the new Battlestar Galactica. I also got involved with Dragon Con; Dragon Con 2015 will be my 12th -- and my 9th as a volunteer with the Science Fiction Literature programming track, for which I've spoken on topics ranging from the writings of C.S. Lewis to the worlds of Larry Niven. Through Dragon Con, I became acquainted with Baen, Tor, Ace, Pyr and a whole slew of micro-publishers and independents. I also learned to describe what I really wanted in a work of fantastic literature - inspiration - and came to dislike those within fandom who seek to turn fantasy and science fiction into instruments of social engineering -- and to exclude fen who commit Badthink and have Wrongfun.

Let me hereby declare that if you consume science fiction and/or fantasy on a regular basis, you are a fan and are welcome in my tent -- even if what you enjoy does not come stamped with an elite seal of approval. You don't have to attend conventions or pass any other tests to "prove" your fannish bona fides. I know some of you are shy or are in financial straits and would never assume you share the privileges - for example, an understanding boss - that I enjoy.

And let me also declare my firm belief that fandom is not a zero sum game -- that this little universe is big enough for all of us and that there is no need to pull anyone down so that others may be lifted up. We don't all have to agree. Lockstep agreement, in fact, is poisonous for any field of endeavor and is especially poisonous for fiction, which hinges on the ability to render characters who are complete and sensible human beings. In order to build a functioning and open-minded fandom, we must instead allow genuine conversations with predictable rules that apply to everyone equally. "Punching up" is merely a rationalization for hatred and vengeance; there should be no punching period. "Othering" is not arguing in good faith -- even if your target is the "white, straight cis male."

By all means, let us have Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations so long as diversity of thought is also respected and revered. There is literally nothing stopping us now; the guards have left the gates unlocked. What a shame it would be if we did not take advantage of the opportunity. What a shame it would be if we stayed in the prison yard, too occupied with purging the impure to realize we can all run free, the wind blowing through our hair. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest Post: Shattering Narratives... And Kneecaps, by Declan Finn

I just realized today that I forgot to post this particular contribution from Declan Finn. Oops! Hope he doesn't hold that - or the mixed review I wrote on Monday - against me.

A while back, I was on a radio show where the topic was "shattering the narrative." It was political in nature, but it basically took stories that "everyone" knows to be true and then ripped them to shreds.  I would rather shatter kneecaps than narratives, but I'm told that's illegal.

I hate narratives.  Odd, I know, for an author of fiction, but I hate narrative in everyday life.  There's a difference between "tell me a story" -- be it fiction or not -- and "this MUST BE TRUE because it sounds right."

Heck. I'll give you a for-instance: What do the UVA rape case, GamerGate, and Dan Brown have in common? They succeed because of liberal narratives

In the case of UVA, Rolling Stone never once checked the story of "gang rape at a frat house." They never talked with the university or the accuser's friends or even looked at fraternity membership rosters to see if any of the names given by the V/C (victim / complainant) matched the names on the fraternity rolls.  After all, her story sounded right. It checked alllllll the little boxes that every good liberal wants to hear: male patriarchy / evil male culture / a victim all neat and tidy with a bow on top...

And then the story fell apart at the barest perusal of the facts. The Washington Post debunked most of the story with a simple fact-check. That was it.

Then there's Anita Sarkeesian and the creatures who inspired GamerGate. For them, the story is "video gamers are evil misogynistic psychopaths and their games are misogyny in purist form, and THIS! MUST! CHANGE!"  This is a charge that might work a little better if the examples cited weren't cherry picked slices of video games shown as representing the whole of the game. 

You know, if honesty had anything to do with it.

But it fits the narrative.  The GamerGate losers have painted themselves as the victims, bravely standing up to patriarchy, threatened with death, etc, etc, blah blah blah. I'd take them seriously if it weren't so obviously put on.

And then there's Dan Brown.  His works are filled with such historical inaccuracies and patent lies that the historian inside me has a banner moment ... a Bruce Banner moment.

But Dan Brown's work ticks off all the right boxes -- devout Catholics are evil. Religion hates science. Religion is backwards and stupid and The Truth Will Defeat Religion. And somehow, the truth looks like such a twisted version of Wicca that even my ex the Wiccan wanted to kill Dan Brown.

Let's ignore that Da Vinci worked for the church an awful lot. Let's ignore that most scientific advancements were backed by churches. Let's ignore that nuns were the first CEOs of large corporations. Let's ignore that the Catholic church couldn't have excommunicated Newton for his theory of gravity, because Newton was British and Anglican, not Catholic.  In fact, let's ignore every last minute of recorded history, because hey, Dan Brown fits the narrative.


Here's a funny fact for you: Tom Clancy murdered Dan Brown before Brown was popular.  Don't believe me? In Tom Clancy's book Rainbow 6, his heroes went up against a band of eco-terrorists who wanted to wipe out all human life on Earth in order to save the planet, the adorable widdle animals, etc.  By the end of the book, well, things end badly for them.

In Dan Brown's latest schlock fest, Inferno, (SPOILERS!) the "good ending" is to wipe out one third of the planet. Because that's what's best for everyone. Because of overpopulation and the environment, don't you know? Say what you like, he fits the narrative.

If one looks at my pet issue, Pope Pius XII, you see much the same thing. Pius XII has been known as "Hitler's Pope" ever since the book of the same name came out in the late 90s. The story was simple: Pope Pius XII, the Pope of World War II, either did nothing to save Jews from the Holocaust / inspired the Holocaust / was responsible for the Holocaust.  The version depends on how deeply psychotic you wish to go. The depressing part about it is that there is so much of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, I made three books out of it.

But this ... all of this ... is what ideology does, and what makes it different from a philosophy. 

A good philosophy takes data, and will mold around the data, incorporating it into the philosophical system.  It's like Thomas Aquinas; philosophers like Peter Kreeft and the late Ralph McInerny have used current science and effortlessly plugged it into Aquinas' natural law.

Ideology will take the facts, then warp, twist, and shape them so that they fit the ideology. It's like the New York Times: All the News that fits the tint.  Truth doesn't matter, just the narrative.  It's like the line from the film Basic: you gotta tell the story right.

And it doesn't matter who the story hurts. I know almost a dozen rape victims, so I can only begin to imagine how much harm the lies of the UVA rape case will bring to actual rape victims and the prosecution of their rapists.  The Sarkeesians of the world have already provoked raged- filled reactions from nearly every gamer, and will probably take down several video game sites by the time they're done.  And Brown? I can only imagine how many nutcases Brown has prompted to go out and hurt somebody.

But these narratives have been allowed to exist because the people who spout them are accepted by a certain class of people, who have largely existed within their own echo chambers. 

It's a sad day when I can find more truth in a John Ringo science fiction novel about cannibalistic alien mongol hordes than I can in my local newspaper.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

BOOK BOMB for the Sad Puppies Slate!

From Larry Correia:
"It is time to spread more awareness about Puppy Related Sadness. The following are our suggested nominees for the short fiction categories, novelette and short story. 
"The way a Book Bomb normally works is that we pick one good book worthy of more attention, which is available on Amazon, and then we get as many people as possible to buy it in the same day in order to boost it up through the ratings. As the the rating climbs, it gets in front of more people, until it ends up on an Amazon bestseller list, where lots of people who aren’t involved in the Book Bomb see it. Success breeds success, the author gets lots of new readers, but more importantly, the author GETS PAID. 
"This Book Bomb is a little different. Because the ones I’m doing right now are to get more people exposed to the works we nominated for the infamous Sad Puppies slate, we’re bombing a bunch of works at the same time. I don’t like putting this many links, but time is of the essence, and next week I’ll post about the Campbell nominees and Best Related Works. 
"We did three novellas last week and it was a huge success. They’re still selling well a week later. Overall we sold a couple thousand novellas, which in novellas is freaking huge. 
"But shorter fiction is tough, because it isn’t always available for sale by itself, but is usually bundled as part of an anthology, or in a magazine which often isn’t available on Amazon. 
"As you can see from the list below, luckily many of these are available on Amazon, and some are available for FREE, and for the ones that you can only get in magazines the Evil Legion of Evil Blue Care Bear of Flamethrowering (i.e. Brad) contacted them and asked for a work of theirs which was available for us to plug. So those won’t be the nominated work from the current year, but if they sound cool, check them out, that way the author GETS PAID."

And since the Wet & Irritated Kittens are just as enthusiastic in their evangelical capitalism as their canine allies, this is a cause we can certainly get behind!

Click here to join in.