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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Commentary: If You Want to Avoid Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for a Year...

... have I got a list for you!

Sarah A. Hoyt, for example, is a first generation Portuguese immigrant who grew up in an impoverished village (at least by our standards). She is also a winner of the Libertarian Futurist Society's Prometheus Award, which honors outstanding fiction with pro-liberty themes.

Larry Correia is also a "writer of color" who grew up in disadvantaged circumstances. As he relates in a recent post, "I grew up with all that fancy Portuguese Dairy Farmer Privilege, where I got to have an alcoholic mother and a functionally illiterate father... where I got to spend my formative years knee deep in cow shit at 3:00 AM, so that I could later work my way through Utah State." Despite starting life on the bottom rung, however, Larry persevered and is now a multiple-award-winning urban fantasy author.

Jason Cordova is yet another "writer of color" and a survivor of sexual abuse who was bounced from group home to group home in his formative years. After a childhood fighting the oppression of "the system," he went on to write some pretty fun kaiju novels. The one at left is especially noteworthy.

And let's not forget James Young, an up-and-coming African American writer who has dipped his toes in both military science fiction and alternate history. An Unproven Concept is an excellent place to start sampling his work.

Then there are the womyn. For example:

Cedar Sanderson, whose fantasy is much beloved by the members of my household.

Amanda S. Green, who also writes under the pen names Sam Schall and, IIRC, Ellie Ferguson. Amanda plays the field, tackling urban fantasy, space opera, and romance, but no matter the genre, she always writes a ripping good yarn.

Karina Fabian, whose humorous fantasy is a genuine delight.

Daniella Bova, whose near-future dystopic science fiction features protagonists who are striking in their relatability.

And lastly, Karen Myers, who's been writing a solid parallel-universe fantasy series set in my home state.

All of the authors listed above are authors I have personally read and recommended to others over the past few years. None of them are white, straight cis males.


Now what has prompted this ritual listing of names?  That would be the bloviations of one K. Tempest Bradford, social justice warrior extraordinaire and special snowflake of the highest order:

Waving your finger at me like I'm five years old is a good way to guarantee seeing two of MINE.

While I busted my butt to earn a hard science degree at an extremely competitive Virginia university (getting near perfect marks, I might add), Bradford studied basically whatever she damn well pleased like your typical privileged dilettante, bouncing from - get this - "performance" to writing to the history of mythology to "interstitial art" to the collective unconscious. Right around the time my rheumatoid arthritis was ramping up in severity and I was taking a series of crappy part time jobs to earn my keep, Bradford was flitting about the country living parasitically off her affluent friends. Honestly, when I read her proud admission that she got by on "confidence and charm," I immediately think "sociopath" -- but I'm not a professional therapist, so I don't really have the credentials to draw any firm conclusions.

At any rate, the miseducated Bradford has put out a clarion call for science fiction and fantasy fans to toss out books written by white, straight, cis male authors and stick to books written by gays, womyn, and "writers of color." My first response, of course, was to say a bad word -- but then I realized it would actually be fun to play by this creature's rules. After all, as I demonstrated above, I know plenty of authors who would qualify for the challenge -- but would also make Bradford's empty little head explode in a fireball of rage. Pull up a chair and pass the marshmallows. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Indy Review - Codename: Winterborn, by Declan Finn & Allan Yoskowitz

Codename: Winterborn is a novel in two acts. The first is a paean to vigilante justice; the second, a dystopic thriller. The former narrative, I must admit, didn't really work for me; once the action shifts to San Francisco, however, the story settles down and becomes something both serviceable and interesting.

Winterborn is set at the end of the 21st century after an "accidental" nuclear conflict dubbed the "April Fool's War" has irradiated a third of the planet (including the western half of the US). The main character, Kevin Anderson, is an intelligence officer who, at the opening of the book, is sent to the Islamic Republic of France to track down a leftover nuclear arsenal and avoid a repeat conflict. While in France, Anderson is betrayed by a group of traitorous American politicians and is basically left for dead; in response, Anderson returns to the US and methodically plots his revenge.

The first half of the novel is, shall we say, a teensy bit over-the-top. Do I discount the possibility that a few schmucks in Washington would act against their own country's interest for the sake of personal gain? Hell no -- but the antagonists here are so craven - so EEEEEEEVIL with a capital E - that it unfortunately limits the plot's ability to reach audiences beyond those who are already convinced of the shadiness of our elite political class. Also: shoving pork into a Muslim assailant's mouth? That's laying the cheese on a bit thick.

As I suggested above, though, the authors dial things back substantially once Anderson is exiled to San Francisco -- which, in the wake of the April Fool's War, most of the world has written off as a loss. Here, the story becomes more human in scale as we see the discarded and abandoned try to survive and makes lives for themselves. Anderson himself becomes a more conflicted character, his violence more measured, and the people around him demonstrate the importance of maintaining a civil society that is independent of the government -- especially when the world has turned to Thunderdome around you.

Winterborn, ultimately, is a flawed but relatively entertaining work that should appeal to fans of conservative political thrillers. Depending on your tastes, you may want to take a look.

Final Verdict: Basically Liked, But... Your Mileage May Vary

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Wet & Irritated Kittens Slate, Part I - Novels

I have been allied with the Sad Puppies since their first campaign -- and with that in mind, I definitely encourage you to check out - in other words, buy and read - what they have recommended for the 2015 Hugo shortlist.

At the same time, however, I'd also like to share some of my own recommendations over the next few weeks -- and since I'm a hair's breadth away from being a crazy cat lady in spirit, I shall dub my own personal list the "Wet & Irritated Kittens" slate.

He's read one too many crappy "award winners," and the claws are out.

First up: the novels.

  • The Chaplain's War, Brad Torgersen, Baen - I know Brad has recused himself from the Sad Puppies campaign, but gosh darn it, I think he deserves a nod, as his first novel takes the tropes of military science fiction in a relatively unique direction. Not only does his protagonist have an unusual point-of-view, but the story itself is also less about the particulars of combat and more about the securing of an honorable peace. (See my original review here.)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon, Baen - I'm overlapping with the Sad Puppies on this one for a damned good reason: this novel is awesome. It rivals such classics as A Fire Upon the Deep and The Mote in God's Eye in its alien world-building, and it depicts the divided nature of mankind in a striking and unforgettable way. (See my original review here.)
  • Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia, Baen - Because who says pulp doesn't deserve respect? In all seriousness, anyone who claims that Larry only writes "dumb action novels" about "muscle-bound white guys" hasn't actually read his work. The way he messes around with common fantasy elements is absolutely delightful, and his characters are both entertaining and well-crafted. (See my original review here.)
  • A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias, Tor - Once again, I love me some aliens, and the deep-sea culture of the Ilmatarans is absolutely fascinating. Additionally, Cambias takes an old sci-fi philosophical stand-by - the Prime Directive - and intelligently challenges its assumptions vis-à-vis the likely results of intercultural contact. (See my original review here.)
  • The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson, Rabbit Room Press - I'm using the famous Wheel of Time loophole on this one, as this was a juvenile fantasy series I profoundly enjoyed. Peterson's sense of humor is a real treat, and his created world is both imaginative and superversive. If you're a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia, definitely give these books a try! (See my review of the final novel - which links to reviews of the previous three - here.) 

 Coming up soon: the short works. In the meantime --

Keep an eye on those kittens. They're pissed!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Commentary: On the Most Recent Hugo Controversy

On many occasions, I have declared a fierce opposition to elitism. Mind you, this is not because I am a relativist or a small-d democrat. There are objective standards when it comes to judging art, theater, science fiction, or anything else, and I don't hold to the common viewpoint that "it's just your personal opinion." Jackson Pollock is not on a level with, say, Rembrandt or Monet; Waiting for Godot doesn't hold a candle to Shakespeare; and "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" is an embarrassment when set beside the stories of Ray Bradbury. Like John Adams and other conservative thinkers, I acknowledge and respect the existence of a natural aristoi. What I don't respect are the pseudo-intellectual phonies who in recent decades have arrogated to themselves the power of the cultural gatekeeper; the status the members of this clerisy enjoy is utterly unearned.

In last night's guest post, Declan Finn declared that good science fiction depends on world building and characterization. I agree; nothing annoys me more than a supposed science fiction story that tacks on its fantastic element without bothering to integrate it into the whole -- or a science fiction story whose principal players are mere obeisances to fashion.  I also agree with publisher Toni Weisskopf's recent declaration that one of science fiction's primary purposes is to encourage scientific and technological progress and expand the reader's imagination; without the "sensawunda," a science fiction story is a cold and lifeless thing. But I would add one other critical element: science fiction - like any other genre of literature - must tell the truth about the world and about human nature. We are fallen creatures who mistreat and make war upon each other -- but we also possess an enhanced consciousness that has led to remarkable cultural, technological, and humanitarian achievements. And what's true of our species as a whole is also undeniably true of Western civilization, the context in which science fiction originally took root.

In my opinion, this is what the science fiction lionized by the Worldcon in-crowd often gets so disastrously wrong. The aforementioned "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" presents a world in which men who frequent pool halls are prone to beat an educated paleontologist into a coma because they hate anything that is different. It's a world, quite frankly, that does not line up with the experiences of those of us who've actually lived in blue-collar neighborhoods and gone to sports bars. It's a world that strikes us as fundamentally false. My fellow Sad Puppies, quite understandably, emphasize entertainment and adventure, but at base, our complaint is anthropological, and if we're enthusiastic about spaceships and ray-guns, it's only because we sincerely believe such stories contain more that is real than stories like the above could possibly boast. If we demand, as Heinlein so eloquently expressed in Glory Road, the "hurtling moons of Barsoom" or "Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake," it is only because we are reacting instinctively to trends that have dishonestly pushed the negative, disdained the transcendental, and ignored man's eternal yen to explore.

And there are other things fandom's self-appointed elite fail to grasp. I'm thinking in particular of a certain Hugo Award-winning fan writer who recently implied - with a haughty sniff, no doubt - that the tens of thousands who attend Comic Con or Dragon Con don't read literary science fiction and therefore don't count. Let's see: Last year - a peak year for Worldcon - Loncon received roughly 3,500 Hugo ballots. Meanwhile, I know indy writers - who don't have access to a professional marketing apparatus - who've sold almost twice as many novels annually -- and I know Baen authors who've hit the best seller lists and have been able to quit their day jobs as a consequence. Additionally, the most recent numbers I could track down indicate that Analog's circulation hovers around 27,000. Even if some of those copies are languishing on book store shelves, there is no way anyone can seriously claim that there are only 3,500 genuine literary science fiction fans in the entire world. If that were true, Asimov's and Analog would've collapsed long ago, and no publisher would risk touching science fiction with a thirty-foot pole.

So yes -- there is a significant pool of literary science fiction fans who aren't currently being heard at Worldcon. Now, I'm willing to grant that some of these fans don't particularly care about said lack of representation. Others, however, have watched Worldcon gradually descend into narrow-mindedness and have gafiated in disgust. Their choice? Sure, but the Hugo Awards - the people's choice awards - have been damaged - I hope not irreparably - by their absence. In recent years, I can recall several winning works that were genuinely deserving -- but I can recall many others that, to my mind, secured the rocketship merely by appealing to the parochial and bigoted tastes of the academic leftists who've seized the heights of fandom in the same way they've seized other major organs of our culture. And just so we're clear, I didn't hate such stories because they were leftist. For heaven's sake, I've been a lifelong fan of Star Trek, and Trek is certainly not a conservative "text."  I hated such stories because they were leftist and failed to qualify as authentically human science fiction. For me, an entertaining story can cover a multitude of ideological sins -- but the social justice left in the fandom is so brazen now that it doesn't even concern itself with such essentials.

Nor does it bother to hide its illiberalism -- which is why I find it rich to see our opponents donning halos and insisting that fandom is one big happy family and everyone is welcome to participate. If you folks actually mean that, you may want to tell your compatriots to cool it with the harassment and quit lying about us. Larry Correia is not a violent, racist, homophobic monster; Brad Torgersen is not an aspiring fascist. They're just various flavors of conservative -- and if you can't engage with them in good faith, then don't stand around and act innocent when we complain about how politically homogeneous and intolerant fandom has become.