Monday, March 2, 2015

Musical Monday - Closing Monologue of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by Leonard Nimoy


Nimoy is gone. He left us on February 27. The world is a better place as a result of his life. As an actor, his most famous role was that of Mr. Spock, a character he played in no fewer than five incarnations of Star Trek. As Spock, Nimoy portrayed a character that made being a science nerd cool, and provided inspiration to countless engineers, scientists, pilots, and astronauts. But Spock was more than that. He made studying music, philosophy, literature, and chess seem cool. Fundamentally, Spock made being thoughtful seem cool. Even though he was a character who was supposed to be wholly logical and devoid of emotion, Spock displayed an uncommon level of empathy, compassion, and kindness, as if the writers and the actor were telling the audience that to behave in any other manner would be illogical. Calling upon his own heritage in helping to mold the character, Nimoy also infused Spock with some Jewish traditions - if you've ever used the famous Vulcan hand sign, you are flashing a kohanic blessing. When given the opportunity to be creative, he used it to bring ideas from outside of the protestant mainstream into the culture.

But Nimoy was much more than merely being Spock, although being Spock would have been enough to make him an icon. His portrayal of Mustafa Mond in A Brave New World gave the character gravitas, making his arguments seem almost reasonable. He played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. He released five albums, with songs ranging from silly to interesting. His work as a photographer was brilliant, including his work on the Full Body Project. He held a master's degree in Spanish. He was an accomplished poet. He was a notable director, directing both Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as well as Three Men and a Baby. He received four Emmy nominations. Listing the full myriad of his accomplishments would take up an enormous amount of space.

And yet he was even greater than his accomplishments. He fought for his coworkers to receive equal pay. In an industry that feeds on gossip and character assassination, there are literally no anecdotes that portray Nimoy as being anything other than a kind and generous person. He made an offer to be the surrogate grandparent to anyone who didn't have one. From almost anyone else this would have seemed self-serving, or even obnoxious. From Nimoy, on the other hand, the offer came across as both genuine and comforting. People who love Star Trek often want to be Spock. People who learned about the real Leonard Nimoy often wished they could be as good a person as he was.

As far as I know, Nimoy only recorded the famous Star Trek intro once, for the final scene of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock was supposed to be dead. But in my head, that is how the words were always supposed to be spoken.

Previous Musical Monday: The Middle by The Doubleclicks

Leonard Nimoy     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Blogger Hop February 27th - March 5th: Aleister Crowley Created Thelema, Which Uses 93 as Shorthand for Its Law

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you like blog headers that are bookish or blog headers that are simply attractive?

I pay almost no attention at all to blog headers. I know, I'm terrible for ignoring all the hard work and creativity that people put into making their blogs look nice, but I usually go right past a blog's header without really giving it much notice.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, February 27, 2015

Follow Friday - Pope Zephyrinus Became Pontiff in 199 A.D. Why Don't Popes Have Cool Names These Days?


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Coffee and Characters and Bookworm Book Reviews.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Your house is burning down and you have time to select three books you own to take with you. What three books?

I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that the books that didn't get picked might not like me any longer if I do. And there's a lot more than three of them.


Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Biased Opinion - Inventing a Science Fiction Past to Complain About the Science Fiction Present

Author Brad Torgersen has a problem with the state of modern science fiction. If you want to, you can go and read his rant in all its fact free glory here. I'll wait. To illustrate his argument, he has made an analogy (I'm putting quotes from his post in blockquotes):
Imagine for a moment that you go to the local grocery to buy a box of cereal. You are an avid enthusiast for Nutty Nuggets. You will happily eat Nutty Nuggets until you die. Nutty Nuggets have always come in the same kind of box with the same logo and the same lettering. You could find the Nutty Nuggets even in the dark, with a blindfold over your eyes. That’s how much you love them.

Then, one day, you get home from the store, pour a big bowl of Nutty Nuggets . . . and discover that these aren’t really Nutty Nuggets. They came in the same box with the same lettering and the same logo, but they are something else. Still cereal, sure. But not Nutty Nuggets. Not wanting to waste money, you eat the different cereal anyway. You find the experience is not what you remembered it should be, when you ate actual Nutty Nuggets. You walk away from the experience somewhat disappointed. What the hell happened to Nutty Nuggets? Did the factory change the formula or the manufacturing process? Maybe you just got a bad box.
He goes on with this analogy for several more paragraphs, belaboring his point ad nauseum to the brink of tedium, but the summarized version is simply that he thinks the science fiction and fantasy of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, was comprised of what he deems to be fun adventure fiction unsullied by stories that focused on issues like feminism, race, and sexuality, whereas the science fiction that is recognized and honored by the various genre awards  is somehow not representative of the fiction that was published during those decades. Here is what he recalls:
A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.
He then bemoans that now, fans can't be sure that what they are getting is what he considers "science fiction", applying his narrow and, as we will see, historically counterfactual definition of the term. He thinks that fans are being misled by the modern science fiction author. That somehow stories that don't fit into the quite limited categories he remembers as the science fiction and fantasy of his youth are some sort of new aberration foisted on to the genre he doesn't recognize any more. And my response is to wonder exactly what Torgersen was reading from the 1960s through the 1990s, because he sure seems to have missed a lot of what was published in that time frame. He's already off in a fantasy version of the history of the genre, and then he tries to give some examples, and well, it becomes clear that he has no idea what he is talking about:
The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?
Perhaps he missed The Word for World Is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin, winner of the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Alternatively, one could point to Terrafied by Arthur Tofte, a 1973 story with such reach that I recall it appearing in elementary school textbooks on a regular basis.
There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?
Perhaps he missed Grunts the 1992 novel by Mary Gentle in which the orcs are the heroes and the elves and dwarves are villains? Or even The Mists of Avalon the 1983 novel by Mercedes Lackey, which is a feminist retelling of the Arthurian myth in which Morgaine is the protagonist. One has to wonder if he somehow missed much of Michael Moorcock's career in which the protagonists often find themselves on the wrong side of the conflict, and in some cases are clearly villainous.
A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.
It seems that Torgersen completely missed Joanna Russ' entire career, as well as most of Alice B. Sheldon's career. And Ursula K. le Guin's career. And the output of dozens of other science fiction authors who were writing in the years between 1960 and 2000.
Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.
Maybe he's never heard of books like The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin which won the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman which won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1976. That seems difficult to believe, but it is the only real explanation for not being aware that there were prominent science fiction novels that put gay and transgender issues at the heart of their stories in the 1970s.
Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.
Perhaps Torgersen managed to miss The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, winner of the 1976 Best Novel Hugo Award. And he seems to have never read books like the 1976 novel Triton by Samuel R. Delany, which is set against a backdrop of an interplanetary war. I could go on and list dozens more novels, stories, and even movies that are examples of the things he thinks are "new", but I think the point is clear. Torgersen goes on and on, using vague generalities that simply don't match the actual history of the genre. The kinds of books published now that he rails against as being essentially false advertising merely reflect what has been part of the science fiction landscape for decades now. Being unaware of that history, or ignoring that history doesn't mean it doesn't exist, or that it is somehow misbranding to call books that draw upon that history science fiction. The simple truth is that every thing that Torgersen says in his post is almost completely, and for anyone who knows much about the genre, obviously wrong.

This kind of ignorance coming from Torgersen is simply inexcusable. I'm not suggesting that one has to like any of these stories to be a true science fiction fan. And I am not saying that one has to even be aware of these books to be a true science fiction fan. If someone wants to read nothing by Star Trek or Star Wars licensed fiction because that's what they enjoy, they'll get no argument from me when they say they love science fiction. But, if one wants to hold themselves out as an authority on the genre and talk as he does about how "[o]ur once reliable packaging has too often defrauded our readership", then you at least should be aware of what the packaging has been for the last four or five decades. If you don't like stories produced by Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, and other authors like them, that's your prerogative, but to be entirely unaware of their existence as Torgersen seems to be, that's willful blindness.

But that doesn't stop him from making confident statements concerning what he believes ails the science fiction and fantasy fields. (Although, given the fact that the market for fantasy fiction is growing quite quickly these days, one wonders exactly how Torgersen thinks it is somehow ailing). His assertions are still entirely lacking in a factual basis, but at least he admits that ideas beyond "lantern-jawed heroic explorers conquer distant planets" are a valid subject for science fiction to tackle:
Which is not to say you can’t make a good SF/F book about racism, or sexism, or gender issues, or sex, or whatever other close-to-home topic you want. But for Pete’s sake, why did we think it was a good idea to put these things so much on permanent display, that the stuff which originally made the field attractive in the first place — To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before! — is pushed to the side? Or even absent altogether?
First, one only has to peruse the recent winners and nominees for the Hugo and Nebula Awards to see that the idea that "the stuff which originally made the field attractive in the first place" has been neither pushed to the side nor is it absent. Sure, there are feminist ideas in the 2014 Best Novel Hugo winner Ancillary Justice, but it is a huge space opera as well. Sure, Charles Stross tackles banking and economics in Neptune's Brood, but it is also a space opera involving a post-human reality with colonized water planets and churches that are spaceships. Mira Grant's Parasite is a techno-thriller involving symbiotic medical implants that take over their hosts with nary a social issue in sight. Go back a year and the Hugo Award winner was Redshirts, John Scalzi's satirical take on Star Trek. That seems like putting "to boldly go where no one has gone before" front and center to me. And as one goes through the previous years, one finds that, contrary to Torgersen's assertion, there are plenty of novels and stories that have the "gee whiz" factor as their primary element: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was inspired by Kipling's Jungle Book. Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union is a brilliant alternate history. Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear is a story about time traveling back to World War II. Vinge's Rainbow's End is about the possible coming technological singularity. And so on and so forth.

The two common threads among those decrying the state of modern written science fiction, such as Togersen, are a lack of historical perspective and a willingness to ignore context. Torgersen spent his entire post constructing a version of the history of science fiction that doesn't match reality, and then talking about how modern science fiction doesn't match up to it. And the only proper response to that is to say of course modern science fiction doesn't match his made up version of science fiction from the past because he made it up. The history of science fiction is broader than spaceships and ray guns, and has been since at least the 1960s, and I would argue for much longer than that. The kind of stories that discuss feminism, racism, imperialism, and oppression have been a prominent part of the science fiction conversation for more than four decades now. If one wants to talk about filmed science fiction, and Torgersen seems to think that has somehow not been sullied by these sorts of issues, the original Star Trek was filled with stories about these issues, and Star Trek: The Next Generation focused on them even more, and intentionally so. It seems more than a little obtuse to insist that someone would be surprised to find these sorts of issues prominently highlighted in science fiction after almost fifty years of these sorts of issues being regularly highlighted in science fiction.

And while there are stories published now that put issues like feminism, race, and sexuality front and center, they are overwhelmed by the number of stories that put the spaceships, zombies, and galactic empires at the center of their narrative. Even the stories that are nominated for the various science fiction awards. For every story like Rachel Swirsky's If You Were a Dinosaur My Love, there are five or six stories like Allen Steele's The Emperor of Mars or Geoffrey Landis' The Sultan of Mars, or Mary Robinette Kowal's For Want of a Nail. Further, Swirsky's story isn't out of place in the science fiction landscape when one considers such award winning stories as The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, or Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death by Alice B. Sheldon writing as James Tiptree, Jr. One has to be almost willfully ignorant of history and context to not see how Swirsky's fits into the field.

The hard truth is that the coming generation of science fiction readers are much more likely to enjoy the material Torgersen decries than the material that he remembers from his youth. If one looks to the young adult market, which by all accounts sells an enormous volume of books, dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games and Divergent dominates. Books like these and The Giver are the science fiction books that are made into movies. Even Ender's Game, in which the protagonist finds out in the end that he has been manipulated and has probably been engaged in an unjust war (and spends the next three books trying to atone for), fits into this dystopian motif, which makes it unsurprising that it was also made into a movie recently. One might argue that the problem with adult science fiction isn't stories like Jo Walton's Among Others, but is instead the result of guys like Torgersen pushing a version of gee-whiz-military-space-opera at kids who have grown up reading Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion or James Dashner's The Maze Runner. Trying to get modern young adult readers to transition to adult science fiction by handing them Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, or Doc Smith's Gray Lensman , or even Larry Niven's Ringworld is probably not going to work very well. Those aren't the kinds of stories that the current crop of readers have been raised on, and they aren't the kinds of stories that will keep them reading.

Science fiction doesn't have a branding problem. The science fiction genre is changing, and has always changed. This isn't a problem for anyone who isn't busy romanticizing the science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s and pretending that this is what readers really need. I'd go so far as to say the problem is in fact those who romanticize the science fiction of the distant past while ignoring vast swaths of it at the same time. If all you want to do is appeal to readers who cut their teeth on works by Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card, and Poul Anderson, then Torgersen's prescription would be fine. But that's a necessarily shrinking market, and it is likely to have almost no appeal to those who have grown up reading Lois Lowry and Suzanne Collins. I'd go so far as to say that the goal of transforming those who currently read books by authors such as Erin Hunter, Rick Riordan, and Veronica Roth into adult science fiction readers is not well-served by anything that qualifies as science fiction in Torgersen's eyes, because those young adult readers won't find much of anything in their reading experience that matches what he is promoting. In fact, the science fiction he rails against is much more like what they have been reading. Teenagers aren't getting excited for warmed over pastiches of Heinlein. They are getting excited for the next book by Marissa Meyer.

In short, Torgersen has invented a version of the history of science fiction that bears no relationship to reality in order to rail against a version of science fiction that doesn't currently exist so he can promote a collection of works he likes to young readers who probably wouldn't find them particularly appealing.

Biased Opinions     Home

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review - The Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch


Short review: Betty, Dee, Hannah, and Violet are the Rat Queens. They will drink all the drinks, do all the drugs, fight all the fights, and then Violet will have sex with Orc Dave.

Haiku
Unruly women
Set up by an enemy
There's a party too

Full review: Imagine a world in which a number of the inhabitants behave like the players in a typical role-playing game, with the same disdain for social mores, other people's property, and other people's lives. Imagine that the protagonists in this world were a sassy, snarky, narcissistic, and destructive quartet of women named Betty, Dee, Hannah, and Violet, who blast and hack their way through adventures so they can get to the copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, and sex that awaits them thereafter. These are The Rat Queens.

The main storyline is one of intrigue, backstabbing, and betrayal, all packaged in a container filled with almost gratuitous violence and more than a little humor. The Rat Queens, along with the other adventuring parties in the town of Palisade - the Peaches, the Brother Ponies, the Four Daves, and the Obsidian Darkness, find themselves labeled persona non grata and given the choice of agreeing to undertake assigned tasks or face prison. As each crew heads off to their designated duty, things begin to go awry fairly quickly, and then even more trouble shows up and things get messy.

Because even the most exciting adventure story would be somewhat dull if one doesn't connect with the characters, the primary story arc is interlaced with individual stories related to each of the four main characters that make them more than just ale-drinking, drug-taking, bar-brawling hellions - instead each has an almost-to-be-expected quasi-tragic personal story. Betty's love for drugs and candy hides her love for a woman who has moved past the party lifestyle and refuses to return the smidgen's affections unless she gives up her drugging and drinking ways. Violet has rebelliously shaved off her beard and is estranged from her family, represented by her twin brother Barrie. Dee is an incredible socially awkward  atheist priestess whose parents worship Lovecraftian horrors from beyond the world, while Violet has a somewhat strained relationship with her necromantically inclined parents and what seems to be an on-again off-again love affair with Sawyer, the captain of the town guard.

But the deft characterization doesn't end with just the four Rat Queens, but is carried through to the minor characters that surround them. Sawyer is the captain of the guard, but there are indications that he has a somewhat less than savory past. "Old Lady" Bernadette, a local merchant, serves as the unlikely foil for the Rat Queens for most of the volume. Braga, the hulking half-orc member of the Peaches, is a figure of terror among the orcs that show up in the story, referring to Braga as "the bastard". Dee has a long-standing and impolite rivalry with Tizzie the leader of the Peaches. And there are the Four Daves, most notably Orc Dave who keeps bluebirds in his beard. Though these bits of character development are just that - bits - they build a world around the Rat Queens that feels real.

The strong art style in the volume matches the over the top nature of the story while still being able to capture the somewhat few and far between subtle emotional moments. There is plenty of action in the panels, along with a fair amount of splashy gore in the fighting scenes, but never so much as to overwhelm the story. The art also manages to walk a very fine line in its depictions of Betty, portraying her as a fully adult woman with fully adult desires, without avoiding the possible creepy overtones that might result given that she's the size of a seven year old child.

As a loving tribute to the sometimes absurd tropes of fantasy fiction and gaming, The Rat Queens is an almost perfect book. With generous helpings of violence, drug-use, and sexual references, the volume probably isn't suited to younger readers, but anyone who grew up watching Conan, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or reading Fritz Lieber's books will find something to enjoy here. If you think you'd enjoy a story where characters skewer the eyeballs out of their enemies after a lunch of candy and drugs, then The Rat Queens is the book for you. Or if you think a story about four women who have grabbed life by the horns and refuse to accept anything less than the most decadent experience they can get, then The Rat Queens is the book for you. Or if you think you'd enjoy a book filled with fantasy adventure, gallows humor, and darkly twisted intrigue, then The Rat Queens is the book for you. And if you think you'd enjoy all of these things, then Rat Queens is really the book for you.

Kurtis J. Wiebe     Roc Upchurch     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 Nebula Award Nominees

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Comments: For the second year in a row, Charles E. Gannon secured a Nebula Award nomination on the strength of a well-written book. This, once again, blows apart the Sad Puppy claims that there is some sort of terrible cabal keeping Baen authors from being nominated for awards. If you write very good stories, and that means writing one of the six or so best stories of the year in the category, you can secure a nomination. And while the entirely all white-male slate the Sad Puppies proposed for the Best Novel, Best Novella, and Best Novelette categories has some pretty good stories, most of them are nowhere near being in that top six.

Leaving behind the fact-free whining of the Sad Puppies, this year's slate of nominees looks like a great representation of the many facets of the science fiction and fantasy field. Ann Leckie returns to the slate with Ancillary Sword, the follow up to last year's Nebula winning novel Ancillary Justice. Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach series gets recognition with the nomination of its closing volume Annihilation, and authors like Katherine Addison and Cixin Liu are recognized for their excellent books The Goblin Emperor and The Three-Body Problem. Up and down the ballot are excellent examples of well-written and thought-provoking science fiction. Which is how the ballot should be.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Coming Home by Jack McDevitt
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Calendrical Regression by Lawrence Schoen
Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert
The Regular by Ken Liu
We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Best Novelette

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson
A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado
The Magician and Laplace’s Demon by Tom Crosshill
Sleep Walking Now and Then by Richard Bowes
We Are the Cloud by Sam J. Miller

Best Short Story

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Breath of War by Aliette de Bodard
The Fisher Queen by Alyssa Wong
Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye by Matthew Kressel
A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide by Sarah Pinsker
The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family by Usman T. Malik
When It Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster

Ray Bradbury Award

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Birdman
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
The Lego Movie

Andre Norton Award

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

Go to previous year's nominees: 2014

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, February 23, 2015

Musical Monday - The Middle by The Doubleclicks


Other than being by the Doubleclicks, this week's Musical Monday isn't particularly nerdy, as it is a cover of a popular song from the early 1990s. But the video, featuring clips of Angela and Aubrey from their childhoods, crystallized a thought that had been running around mostly unformed inside my head since last week's video for Starman by David Bowie: How so very little of most of our lives is recorded in any way other than memories locked in our heads.

For people like David Bowie, who became famous in the late 1960s, there is a record of their life available not only for them, but for pretty much the entire world. So long as you have a computer and an internet connection, you can see Bowie performances from 1969 through to the present day. There is a set of videos showing Bowie as a young man, as Ziggy Stardust, as the Man Who Fell to Earth, as the Thin White Duke, and whatever one calls the role he adopted in the 1980s, and so on. The point is that while we now have distinguished-elder-statesman-of-pop-music Bowie, we can also look back and see Bowie as a young, radical influence, upsetting the music world, and then remaking himself again and again.

Until relatively recently this sort of life record was mostly the province of the famous and the well to do. Sure, there were people who made home movies, but for large numbers of people owning private recording equipment was simply beyond their means. As far as I know, there are no video recordings of my youth. Or my brother's. There might be some of my sister, because she's a fair amount younger than I am, but I don't know one way or the other. The redhead has no videos of her childhood either.

But both of the Doubleclicks are substantially younger than either me or the redhead. And that age difference spans a substantial change in technology. So they have videos of their childhood. Even though they are now adults, they can look back and see their younger selves playing. There are sequences in the video in which it appears that their parents and grandparents appear. They have the benefit of being able to reach into the past and pull images of their loved ones when they were themselves young. In contrast, I can try to think of, for example, my father from when I was in elementary school, but since I know my father now, what I remember is a kind of amalgamation of what I think he was like then combined with what he is like now.

Memories are faulty. This has been shown time and again. Both of my grandfathers have been dead for many years - one of them for decades. I can remember what they looked like, because we have photographs of them. And I can remember what I think they sounded like, what they moved like, their mannerisms, and so on. But I can't be sure that the memory in my head of what they sounded like is actually what they sounded like. In fact, I am reasonably certain that my memory is wrong. The years that have passed since I last heard their voices have made those memories fuzzy. I have heard thousands of people since them, and probably conflated my memory of their voices with other voices. Time mangles, and eventually erases our recollections.

To a certain extent, this may be for the best. My memories of my grandparents are essentially all good ones, anything that was problematic or even mundane has long since been edited out of my recollection. But now video recording technology is almost ubiquitous. Most people have the ability to record the every day events of their lives using nothing more than their telephones. The only reason to lose memories now is neglect. The Doubleclicks are one of the first generations in which the lives of ordinary people will be routinely recorded. For better or for worse, all of the human foibles of our lives will be preserved, unchanged, and undiminished. This is good, but it is also sad, in that the sharp edges of our memories won't be mellowed by time. I sometimes wonder if we are ready for a world in which all of the images of our past are fixed in this way.

But I still wish I had a recording of my grandfathers' voices.

Previous Musical Monday: Starman by David Bowie

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Blogger Hop February 20th - February 26th: The "Glorious 92" Were Massachusetts Legislators Who Refused to Rescind the Massachusetts Circular Letter

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Is there anything that makes you not return to a blog or not want to look at it even for the first time?

First, bad writing makes me not want to return to a blog. If a blogger's writing is so poor that it is difficult to figure out what they are saying, or even if their writing isn't enjoyable to read, I probably won't spend much time there before deciding to abandon the blog permanently.

Second, if a blog espouses racist, sexist, or homophobic positions, I'm not going to stay as a reader. One would think these sorts of blogs would be rare, but the science fiction and fantasy genres seem to have a dedicated wing of authors and bloggers who revel in being terrible people, and an even larger circle around them who feel the need to be apologists for their friends and heroes who are racists, sexists, and homophobes. A blogger who jumps on that bandwagon isn't one I'm going to keep following either.

Finally, a blogger who is wildly inaccurate concerning things I am reasonably knowledgeable about is someone who is going to lose me as a reader. I have degrees in history, law, and economics, all three of which are much more complicated and nuanced than most people understand. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen a blogger confidently pontificate on one of these topics while being completely and utterly wrong. For example, I saw a reviewer once rake a historical fantasy book over the coals because one of the characters was reading, and, they went on, "everyone knows" that during the Medieval period, nobles didn't read, an assertion that is simply incorrect. Even more galling, the character in question was an actual historical figure, so it was possible to look them up and actually find out if there was any evidence concerning their literacy - and the record shows that the individual in question was not only almost certainly literate, but was well-educated in a number of subjects.

In another instance, I was reading a blog in which the author was giving a heated defense of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Things were going about as well as one might expect for them (that is, they weren't getting anything wrong over and above the usual fallacies contained in pro-Second Amendment arguments) until they decided to veer off and try to talk about the impact of the Fifth Amendment and how it would prevent confiscation of firearms even if the Second Amendment were repealed. Needless to say, pretty much everything this writer said about the Fifth Amendment and how it would apply to such a situation was incorrect. It was painfully apparent that the sum total of their legal knowledge was what had been fed to them by the pro-firearm lobby - their knowledge was extremely specific, extremely shallow, and even in the areas they "knew", their pronouncements were riddled with inaccuracies.

As a side note, although I have not done any kind of survey to establish this, there seems to me to be a fair amount of overlap between bloggers who hold racist, sexist, and homophobic views, and bloggers who confidently opine upon history, economics, and law while being simply wrong. This leads me to suspect that having a simplistic understanding of these topics may contribute to having an abhorrent world view.


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Friday, February 20, 2015

Follow Friday - X-Men: The 198 Was a Limited Series Set in the Marvel Universe


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Fang the Cat and Snowbird the Dog.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Do you like fantasy or realistic books?

I have more than 4,500 science fiction books and more than 3,200 fantasy books. I think that should be sufficient to answer the question.

Previous Follow Friday: 197 Is a Prime Number

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review - Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie


Short review: Breq is now a citizen of the Radch, and a fleet captain given command of a starship. She goes seeking to atone for her actions as the Justice of Toren, but even with official power, the world is filled with vipers and things are never easy.

Haiku
Now a fleet captain
In command of a mercy
Seeking redemption

Full review: Ancillary Sword is the sequel to the Nebula-, Hugo-, Locus-, and Clarke- Award winning novel Ancillary Justice, and picks up right where the first left off with the Radch empire in chaos following the revelation of the internecine rivalries between the warring faction that have divided its multiple bodied ruler Anaander Mianaai. Unlike the first novel, which was a tale of revenge with an unexpected twist, Ancillary Sword is a more character driven story about justice, identity, and forgiveness.

I approached this novel with some slight trepidation. Many novels that follow after a very heavily decorated novel turn out to be something of a disappointment. Further, Ancillary Sword is Anne Leckie's second novel, and many second books from an author suffer from the "Sophomore slump". Finally, many second installments in a trilogy are somewhat less than interesting, as they often have neither a particularly well-defined beginning to a story, nor a satisfying resolution - serving merely as a placeholder between other, better novels. Fortunately, Leckie managed to avoid all of these potential pitfalls, and turned out a novel that is just as good, although markedly different from, Ancillary Justice.

In the opening pages of the book Breq, freshly made into both a citizen of the Radch and a member of Anaander Mianaai's own family, is also handed the title of fleet captain and given command of the Mercy of Kalr. After some fairly brief preparations Breq is sent, at her own request, to check on Athoek ostensibly because that system, like the rest of the Radch, had been cut off from outside traffic since the jump gates had been closed at Anaander Mianaai's order in the closing pages of Ancillary Justice. But Breq has other motives for wanting to go to Athoek, as it is where Basnaaid Elming, the younger sister of  Lieutenant Awn, is living, and Breq wants to make amends for her unwilling role in Awn's death.

It is during these preparations and subsequent voyage that the underlying themes of the novel begin to take shape. Breq is a former ancillary - actually, a former ship now reduced to a single ancillary - commanding a ship crewed entirely by humans. But apart from the handful of officers under her command all of Breq's crew not only expects to be treated as ancillaries, we are told that they would be offended if they were not. At the same time, Breq spends much of the novel careful to occlude her status as a former ancillary, as she, correctly, fears that such a revelation would destroy her credibility and reduce her status to that of a pariah, no matter what military rank or family name she held. In short, the entire novel is study in contradictions, as, among other events, humans behave like ancillaries, and ancillaries behave like humans.

The story of Tisarwat, the "baby lieutenant" placed in Breq's crew at Mianaai's insistence, highlights the most glaring contradictions in the Radch. Fairly early in the story Breq suspects, and then confirms that Tisarwat is more than she seems, and then Breq sets about neutralizing the potential interference that the lieutenant could engage in. But it drives home the fact that the Radch is a society that considers ancillaries to be inferior creatures that is, ironically, ruled over by an individual collective that is comprised, essentially, of ancillaries. Tisarwat's experience also seems to make her the one individual in the book who could empathize to some degree with Breq, as she also becomes an individual who was formerly just a tiny part of a collective. The question that sits in the middle of the metaphorical room is, exactly who is Tisarwat after she is made into a single individual again. We are told that the process of changing her into a cog in Mianaai's consciousness irrevocably destroyed the person that Tisarwat was, so when the implants that made her part of it are removed, who is left? Is she still Anaander Mianaai, just a version that isn't connected to the collective consciousness? If she is, that poses some rather interesting questions that won't be resolved until she comes into contact with the rest of herself again. Or is Tisarwat some new personality that grew in the blank slate that was left when Mianaai was removed? That would pose another, very different set of interesting questions. But the questions raised by the issue of Tisarwat's identity reflect back on Breq: As a fragmentary remnant that was once part of the Justice of Toren, who is Breq now? She is a citizen of the Radch as a result of Miaanai's fiat, but she is clearly not what she was when she was a ship, and even more clearly isn't what she was before she was a ship. As with so many questions posed by the book, this one is left unresolved, but left unresolved in the best possible way.

When the Mercy of Kalr reaches Athoek, Breq is immediately confronted by the Sword of Atagaris commanded by Captain Hentys, who, in a fit of paranoia, threatens to destroy Breq's ship before backing down and acknowledging Breq's superior authority. The Sword of Atagaris is not only a larger, more heavily armed ship, it is crewed by ancillaries, who we are repeatedly told are simply better in combat than a human could ever hope to be. And this highlights the fact that when Breq walks into the viper's nest of local politics, she cannot simply force her will upon others, but instead has to engage in a delicate political dance in which she must assert her authority, but must do so from a position of relative weakness. Unlike in Ancillary Justice, where Breq could single-mindedly focus on her objective regardless of the consequences to herself, others, or the system she inhabited, in Ancillary Sword she has been co-opted into the system and must work within its structure, with the benefits of title and imperial backing, but with the constraint of being bound into the Radch system of justice, propriety, and benefit.

By making Breq an ancillary to start with, Leckie positioned the character as someone who is both an expert on, and outsider to, Radch culture. This means that even though the Radchai themselves don't see the inherent contradictions in their forthright belief that "nothing which is beneficial can be unjust, and nothing that is just can be improper", Breq does, and in many cases is able to see the root causes of problems that the various citizens of the Rach simply do not. So when Breq arrives at Athoek's space station, she takes up residence not in the governor's palace, but in the "Undergarden", a technically off-limits region directly below the space station's garden and fish pond where members of the less fortunate local populace of Valskaayans and Samirends, both exploited by the Radchai as cheap labor, make their homes. Once there, she begins to untangle to spider web of interconnected hatreds, obligations, and intrigues that have made the system a hotbed of unrest and paranoia with a dash of criminality thrown in.

The story, framed as interconnected mysteries serves mostly as a framing device to explore and expand upon Radchai culture - highlighting the inherent inequalities in a society that claims to be both just and proper. Station Administrator Celar is blind to the nature of the relationship between her daughter Piat and Raughd, the daughter of the influential and wealth Fosyf, because noticing the issues presented would mean admitting to impropriety. Conversely, it is almost routine to blame Sirix Odela, a Samirend, for a crime without even checking to see if there is any evidence against her - because it would be improper to inquire as to whether any of the influential citizens of the Radch had done what Sirix is accused of. And no one raises questions about the behavior of Raughd towards the Valskaayan laborers on her mother's farm, because that would create an uncomfortable situation, as would confronting the question of why the Valskaayans are kept in their disadvantaged state by the wealthy citizenry of Athoek. And on and on. All of Athoek is engaged in a careful dance in which no one raises uncomfortable questions, because that would mean admitting that their society is not proper, or just, or even beneficial to any but a select few.

Ancillary Sword is a coming of age tale, a quest for redemption, and an exploration of the nature of power and privilege, all wrapped together in a fairly straightforward mystery story that keeps things moving sufficiently quickly to prevent the narrative from getting bogged down. In her second novel Leckie has done an admirable job of expanding upon the story and universe presented in Ancillary Justice while managing to neatly avoid simply repeating the first book, while at the same time building something recognizable upon the foundations laid by the previous volume. The book is packed with so many layers of interaction - as humans, ships and ancillaries relate to one another, and at times try to emulate one another. As citizens of the Radch and their conquered, but technically legally equal servants deal with their clashing cultures. As humans try to comprehend the inscrutable aliens that they fear, even though those aliens are represented by a human face. As Breq tries to find forgiveness from an individual she has never met and isn't feeling particularly forgiving. In each case characters are presented with others who challenge everything they hold to be true, and the results are often not particularly pretty, but they are always telling. In the end, while the story presented is resolved, the larger issues of the Radch itself are still unsettled, leaving the reader both satisfied at the end of the book and looking forward to the next installment.

Previous book in the series: Ancillary Justice

Ann Leckie     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, February 16, 2015

Musical Monday - Starman by David Bowie


In 1972, David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, releasing the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Or maybe Bowie had been Ziggy Stardust all along, and he just pretends to be Bowie in order to hide the fact that he is in fact an emissary from an alien race meant to spread a message of love and hope to a dying world. I could see a case to be made for that being actually true.

But assuming we live in a boring and mundane world in which David Bowie is not actually an alien, the song Starman was the centerpiece of the concept album about the last rock star living in the waning days of a dying Earth who is part of a society that doesn't care about rock music, or really much of anything else any more. Ziggy is struggling until he is chosen by aliens to revive the flagging hopes of humanity as it faces its very last days. Well, sort of. The aliens in question don't really seem to offer much hope when they arrive, and things turn out badly for Ziggy, but that's in the later part of the story. When the song Starman arrives in the tale, it is a beacon of hope amidst the sad dystopian landscape of Earth.

Previous Musical Monday: Space Oddity by David Bowie
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Middle by the Doubleclicks

David Bowie     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Blogger Hop February 13th - February 19th: The McCarthy 91 Function Is a Recursive Function

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Is there anything that makes you keep returning to certain blogs?

Good writing and good content. Content is what keeps me coming back to blogs. The first thing that catches my interest in a blog is when the blogger has something to say on a topic. I find a blog to be much more interesting when the author has a point of view and expresses it. When I read book reviews, I want them to tell me what the author thought about the material. When the author writes about the book publishing world, or book awards, or any other topic and expresses their views on it, that makes me take interest.

But the author has to actually be able to express their ideas intelligently and clearly. All too often I see blogs in which the author holds a particularly strong position on some issue or another, but when one reads their posts on the topic it becomes painfully clear that their logical abilities or their writing skills (or both) just aren't up to the task of expressing their idea, resulting in a confused, incoherent, and sometimes incomprehensible blog post. Those blogs don't hold my interest for very long.

Good writing. Intelligent commentary. A strong viewpoint. A blog that has those three things is a blog I'll read as often as I can.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Gaius Valerius Flaccus Died in 90 A.D.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Follow Friday - 197 Is a Prime Number


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Macabre Masquerade.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Do you use the #FF on twitter on Fridays? If you do, are you afraid you’ll forget someone and they’ll be sad?

I don't use the FF hashtag very often, partially because I don't really think it is all that valuable and partially because the set of followers that I have almost certainly know of pretty much everyone I follow of any note. I usually find new people to follow when someone else retweets something they said that was interesting, or engages them in an intriguing conversation that I see part of. I have pretty much never started following someone because someone used the FF hashtag to recommend them. Since I don't really follow people as a result of the use of the FF hashtag, I more or less assume that most other people don't, and don't bother to use it as a result.

One notable exception: I use the FollowFriday hashtag when I tweet the link to my posts participating in this specific meme.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Biased Opinion - Gender and the Hugo Awards

The Hugo Awards are, in practice, biased against female writers.

There isn't really much to debate on this point. Historically the awards were heavily biased against female writers, and although they have gotten somewhat better in recent years, they still are, and quite obviously so. With few exceptions I doubt any of the voters for the Hugos would think of themselves as actually being sexist, and would probably consider themselves to be in favor of recognizing women writing science fiction as much as anyone. But in the voting, year after year, the voters have established a pattern in which having a female name attached to a work seriously damages its chance of receiving an award.

Some people point to the women who have been nominated or won as evidence that there is no bias - oftentimes citing early nominations given to works by Zenna Henderson, Pauline Ashwell, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Such individuals will maintain that women have always written science fiction, and always been nominated. But if women have always written science fiction, the track record of the Hugos is terrible. In the first twenty years of the Hugo awards, female nominees were dramatically underrepresented in the fiction categories (Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story). From 1953 through 1973, 124 nominations went to male authors who wrote or cowrote a piece of fiction. Of those 124, 30 of them won. In contrast, during that same time period, 46 nominations went to women who wrote or cowrote works of fiction, and 3 of those resulted in Hugo victories. If women have always been writing science fiction, the early years of the Hugo Award certainly didn't do a very good job of honoring their contributions.

The Ground Rules
To a certain extent, evaluating the Hugo Awards is as much an art as it is a science. In the early years, categories came into being, and were tossed out the window as well, in some cases to be resurrected at a later date. In one year, the Best Novel and Best Novella categories were combined, resulting in a win for Fritz Lieber's story The Big Time, and leaving us with the decision of whether to include this win in the numbers for Best Novel winners, Best Novella winners, or both. There are several such corner cases that have to be resolved when determining how many nominations and how many wins are attributable to every category. For the record, I included The Big Time in the Best Novel category for the purposes of this evaluation.

I limited my analysis to the major fiction categories of Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story. I excluded categories that were either short-lived or very recently added, such as Best Graphic Story or Best Fancast on the grounds that there just wasn't enough data there to make a reasonable assessment. I excluded the Best Editor categories because the nominations for them are not particularly illuminating. Historically the editors of prominent genre magazines such as Fantasy & Science Fiction and Analog along with a couple of well-known editors from one or more of the notable publishing houses would be nominated every year, and one of them would win. There has been, in practice, a regularity to the Best Editor awards that makes evaluating them not particularly interesting. I'd note, however, that including the Best Editor nominations wouldn't really make the numbers look any less biased than they do, as the category has been dominated by male nominees for pretty much all of its existence. I didn't include categories such as Best Related Work or Best Fanzine because those categories are most prone to being collective works attributable to a large number of people, and as a result just aren't particularly good for this kind of assessment.

I also left out all of the Retro Hugo Awards, because, as I have noted elsewhere, I consider the entire concept of the Retro Hugo awards to be somewhat problematic.

I chose the four "big" categories of Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story because they are, for better or for worse, the meat of the Hugo Awards. They are also the most stable categories with the most data to draw upon. Best Novel and Best Short Story have been awarded in all but one of the years in which Hugo Awards were bestowed. Best Novella and Best Novelette have a slightly spottier history in the early years, both of them showing up in some years, and not in others, until they became permanent fixtures on the ballot in the late 1960s. They are also the most prestigious of the Hugo Award categories. Very few people would turn down a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer or Best Fancast, but those awards simply don't have the cachet that the four main fiction writing categories have.

For the purposes of this evaluation, I counted each nominated work separately. If a single author had two nominations in one category, that counted as two nominations for their gender. For works with multiple authors, I counted one nomination or win for each author - in the case of a book nominated coauthored by a man and a woman, this would count as one nomination for each gender. If a coauthored work won an award, this would count as two wins, one for each author. And so on.

James Tiptree, Jr.
It is relatively common knowledge now that James Tiptre, Jr. was actually a pseudonym for science fiction author Alice B. Sheldon. Over the course of her career writing as James Tipree, Jr., Sheldon received nine Hugo Award nominations, resulting in two Hugo wins (both for Best Novella). Sheldon also occasionally wrote under the name Racoona Sheldon, under which she received a single Hugo Award nomination. However, the Racoona Sheldon nomination doesn't pose the issues that the James Tipterr, Jr. ones do.

As I said, it is now common knowledge that James Tiptree, Jr. was Alice B. Sheldon, but during much of the 1970s, this was a closely guarded secret. The true identity of the author behind works such as Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death and The Girl Who Was Plugged In was the subject of some speculation, but any insinuation that it might be the pseudonym for a woman was pretty roundly rejected - Robert Silverberg famously opined that Tiptree's writing was unmistakably masculine in nature. In any event, the fact that Tiptree was a woman was not commonly known when she was being nominated for and winning a number of her awards.

This leaves the question of where to categorize Sheldon's awards. The awards for Racoona Sheldon are relatively easy to deal with, as they go over on the "women receiving nominations" side, mostly because there was never any question as to the gender of their author. But given that for a sizeable chunk of her career her contemporaries almost universally thought that Tiptree was a male author, should her nominations and wins under that name be placed on the "male" side of the equation, or, given that they were actually written by a woman mean that they should be placed on the "female" side of the ledger? There probably is no truly satisfactory answer, so I essentially cut the baby in half: I included Tiptree's nominations and wins as nominations and wins for women, but have made a note of how many there were in each category and pointed them out.

Overall Fiction Nominations and Wins
From the time the Hugo Awards were first created in 1953 through 2014, a total of 935 Hugo Award nominations have been handed out in the categories of Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story. Over that 61 year span, there have been a total of 218 winners in those categories. Breaking the awards down by gender reveals that 699 nominations have been garnered by male authors resulting in 167 wins for men. Women, in contrast, have be nominated 236 time and taken home the prize 51 times. Of these award nominations and wins attributable to women, 9 nominations and 2 wins were bestowed upon James Tiptree, Jr.

Even when one includes Sheldon's wins as Tiptree on the "women's" side of the ledger, the picture is one of blatant bias. If women have been writing science fiction since the early days of the genre, one wonders why they have only received 25.2% of the fiction nominations for the Hugo Award. Given that women only receive about a quarter of the nominations, it really isn't that surprising that they have also only received about a quarter of the wins: 23.4% to be more precise.

Best Novel
There have been 297 total nominations for Best Novel, and 62 wins. Of those 297 nominations, 239 went to men, while only 58 were received by women. Men have won the Best Novel Hugo a total of 45 times, while women have won the honor 17 times. One of the nominations for women was garnered by James Tiptree, Jr., for the novel Up the Walls of the World. Women have received 19.5% of the nominations for Best Novel, making this the worst category for recognizing women, slightly edging out Best Short Story for this dubious distinction. I suppose it could be seen as good news that once a woman is nominated, she has a slightly better chance of actually winning - fully 27.4% of Best Novel trophies went to works authored by women. On the other hand, this is still a pretty stark level of gender disparity.

As a side note, I will point out that a coauthored novel has only won a single Hugo Award in this category - the entirely unmemorable They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley. This novel is so unmemorable that I initially forgot about it, even though I have reviewed it (read review). There have been three instances in which a pair of novels have tied for the victory - 1966 when Frank Herbert's Dune and Roger Zelazny's . . . And Call Me Conrad shared the award, 1993 when Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and Connie Willis' Doomsday Book tied for the honor, and 2010 when Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and China Miéville's The City & the City both won.

Best Novella
The good news is that the Best Novella category turns out to be the best one insofar as recognizing female authors is concerned. The bad news is that in this race, even being the "best" is being damned with faint praise. Through the history of the Hugo Awards, 251 nominations have been handed out for Best Novella, and 50 rocket ship statues have been bestowed. Of those, 186 nominations went to male authors, who racked up a total of 36 wins in the category. During the same time frame, women have had 65 nominations and 14 wins. This is the category in which James Tiptree, Jr. has the most impact, with 3 nominations and 2 wins to Sheldon's credit under this name. This means that the high water mark for women in the fiction categories is receiving 25.9% of the nominations resulting in them securing 28% of the wins. It is kind of sad that this is as good as it gets for women, but that's the way the Hugos are.

Best Novelette
In the history of the Best Novelette category, there have been 280 nominations resulting in 47 wins. Men have garnered 224 of these nominations and accumulated 36 wins. On the flip side, women have gotten 56 nominations resulting in 11 wins. Two of the nominations for women in this category were earned by James Tiptree, Jr. Breaking this down to percentages, women account for 20.0% of the nominations and 23.4% of the wins in this category. This isn't the worst category for women, and neither is it the best. This category is just your basic run-of-the-mill example of the practical sexist bias in the Hugo Awards.

Best Short Story
The Best Short Story category is the nadir of gender equity as far as the Hugo Award fiction categories are concerned. Of the total of 289 nominations and 59 wins handed out in this category. men have amassed 232 nominations and 50 wins while women have received 57 nominations and a paltry 9 wins. Although the 19.7% of nominations for women isn't the lowest mark, it barely edges out the 19.5% figure from the Best Novel category. At the same time, women have only won the Best Short Story Hugo award 15.3% of the time, which is by far the lowest percentage in any of the categories. Overall, across all four fiction categories, the story is fairly dismal, with women consistently receiving one nomination for every four to five nominations given to men, and coming away with victories at roughly the same rate.

Recent History: 2000-2014
But those figures cover the entire history of the Hugos. Surely, one would think, in recent years the award has been much better. After all, prior to Ursula K. Le Guin's breaking of the Best Novel logjam in 1970 by winning the award with The Left Hand of Darkness, the award was horribly biased against women. Before her win, out of 99 total nominations and 18 wins in the four fiction categories, a mere 37 nominations had been given to female authors, resulting in a single win - Anne McCaffrey's victory for Weyr Search in 1968.

After looking at the numbers, the belief that the Hugo Awards have gotten past their gender biased days would seem to be a forlorn hope. At the outset, one might notice that even though the span of years from 1953 and 1970 is nearly a third of the entire time the Hugo Awards have existed, they only account for just over a tenth of the total nominations, and a mere eight percent of the winners. This is partially due to the fact that for the first several years that the Hugo Awards existed there are no records of who was nominated for the awards. All we have now is a list of the winners. This is also due to the fact that during the first couple of decades of the award the Best Novella and Best Novelette were only handed out sporadically. As awful as the bias was in the early years of the Hugo Awards, their impact on the overall numbers is somewhat tempered by these factors.

But all of this is just rehashing ancient history and why it might or might not matter now. The salient question is simply how do the numbers look in recent years, for example, from 2000 to the most recent set of Hugo Awards in 2014. Why that time span? Mostly because 2000 is a nice round and completely arbitrary number at which to start the analysis.

Overall, since 2000, there have been a total of 309 nominations in the fiction writing categories. Of those nominations, 224 have gone to male authors, while 85 have gone to women. There have been 60 total Hugo Awards handed out in these categories. 42 wins have gone to men. 18 to women. The overall percentage of nominations awarded to women during the entire history of the Hugo Awards is 25.2%. Since 2000, this percentage has risen by a grand total of 2.5% to 27.5%. Historically, women have won 23.4% of the Hugo Awards. Since 2000, they have won 30% of them. This is progress, but it is so modest as to be almost insulting.

The numbers don't look any better when one breaks them down by category. Since 2000, there have been 78 nominations for Best Novel, and fifteen books have won in that time span. Of those 78 nominations, 57 have gone to men, and 21 to women. Men have won the Best Novel Hugo Award 10 times, while women have won 5. Of the 82 Best Novella nominations, 29 have gone to women. Of the 15 best Novella Hugos awarded, only 5 have gone to women. Best Novelette - 78 total nominations and 15 total awards, but only 18 nominations and six wins for women. And, as seems to be traditional in the Short Story category, the numbers are absurdly skewed: 71 total nominations and 15 wins, but only 17 nominations for female authors and only 2 wins for women. These figures, in historical context, should be considered even more embarrassing.

Percentage of Nominations for Women
Category
1953-20141953-19992000-2014
Overall
25.2%18.7%27.5%
Best Novel
19.5%16.8%26.9%
Best Novella
25.9%25.3%35.4%
Best Novelette
20.0%18.8%23.1%
Best Short Story
19.7%18.4%23.9%

Percentage of Wins for Women
Category
1953-20141953-19992000-2014
Overall
23.4%20.9%30.0%
Best Novel
27.4%25.5%33.3%
Best Novella
28.0%25.7%33.3%
Best Novelette
23.4%15.6%40.0%
Best Short Story
15.3%15.9%13.3%

Looking at these figures, it is clear that things have gotten slightly better when it comes to recognizing fiction by women, but they remain dramatically underrepresented in both nominations and wins. And yet, if one listens to some loud voices from certain quarters, the Hugo Awards have, in recent years, become dominated by female voices. In many cases, these same voices grumble whenever the long history of sexism in the Hugo Awards is pointed out, arguing that women have always been routinely nominated for, and have regularly won the award. Given the fact that the numbers show this to decidedly not be the case, one has to wonder what could the basis for these arguments.

The plain answer is that I am not in the heads of those making those arguments, so there is no way to truly know. From the public personas some people present, one can surmise that in some cases these arguments are based in the belief that any number of nominations bestowed upon women are unmerited, and any number of wins earned by women as a result are too many. Those who hold these views are, I believe, a very tiny minority who are headed towards increasing irrelevance.

One might also consider that some of these voices simply have never put into context the fact that they can list women like Andre Norton and and Anne McCaffrey as Hugo nominees and winners. Because they can call forth the names of women that have won the award, in their minds they would consider the matter to be settled - women are nominated for and win Hugo Awards. As a result, they continue, no one could possibly consider the awards to have a gender bias issue. At first glance this sort of reasoning might seem to be quite odd, but it is a form of reasoning that I have encountered more than once. I think this line of thinking is relatively rare, but this would seem to account for at least some of the claims that the Hugo awards have been an egalitarian affair since their inception.

I think that there is a deeper reason, and one that will be far more difficult to deal with than the open sexist and mildly ignorant. There have been several studies done on perception of gender balance, most prominently those sponsored by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, and those studies have discovered that when one presents a group of people that is made up of 17% women, male observers perceived the composition of the group as being equal. Further, when presented with a group of people that was 33% women, male observers perceived the men as being outnumbered. And when one looks at the percentages of nominations have been given to women, one finds that between 1953 and 2000, those percentages are all very near to that 17% figure. And when one looks at the percentages of nominations that have gone to female authors since 2000, one finds that those numbers have moved up very slightly - for the most part not quite to the 33% figure, but edging closer and closer to it. This, I believe, is the root cause of the perception in some quarters that the Hugo Awards have become dominated by women in recent years.

But the cold unvarnished truth is that perception is simply wrong. The numbers simply don't support the notion that women have ever been fairly recognized by the Hugo Award voters. The Hugos had a gender bias problem when they were created. They have had a gender bias problem for their entire history. They have a gender bias problem now. One can argue about literary quality, claiming that there haven't been acceptable quality book available to be nominated for much of the course of the history of the award, but assuming that men produce quality books at four to five times the rate women do seems like a dubious proposition at best. And if the complaint is that women simply weren't being published in comparable numbers to men for the last sixty years, then that speaks to a larger problems within the genre fiction publishing industry - a problem that seems to me to be even uglier than the problem of the Hugo voters systemically voting in a manner that has severely disadvantaged works because they were authored by women.

This is simply not an acceptable situation. We are science fiction fans. We dream about the future. Why in the world are we voting like it is still 1968?

Note: Edited to correct some errors concerning Alice B. Sheldon's pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Musical Monday - Space Oddity by David Bowie


One really odd thing about the song Space Oddity is that it was not released during David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period, but was instead recorded a couple of years before Bowie released the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album. To be fair, although it sounds like something from it, the song wouldn't have really fit on Ziggy Stardust because the subject matter of Space Oddity doesn't mesh with the storyline presented in the album.

Space Oddity was released in 1969, the year after Apollo 8 made its famous circumnavigation of the moon, and just nine days before the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The song was rejected by one music producer on the grounds that it was a cheap shot taken at the U.S. space program, making fun of the impending moon missions. This seems to be off base to me, as I think the song reflects both the isolated loneliness and danger posed by undertaking space missions, but also the determination to do it anyway. Major Tom, the central character of the song's narrative, never expresses doubts about why he is in space, and never resents the fact that he has gone on the mission, even though it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong and he is doomed to die alone in the cold reaches of space. There is a forlorn quality about the song, but there's also a kind of gritty hopefulness locked inside it as well.

Of course, this song was written in a time when humans were testing the limits of what we could do to explore off of our own planet. We don't do that any more. We aren't Major Tom any more, stepping out the door into the unknown even though it might kill us. We've become timid and fearful. But that's a rant for another time.

Previous Musical Monday: Pop Song 89 by R.E.M.
Subsequent Musical Monday: Starman by David Bowie

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