Hugo 2016 wrap-up

Here are the winners of the 2016 Hugo Awards | The Verge

Thrilled that my top picks (or #2 pick, in one case) in the major categories for the Hugo were awarded top honors yesterday. Especially thrilled that good writing came out on top, from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds and cultures.

Please go check out the year’s winners if you need some new books in your life.  In some cases, I found all the nominees in one category to be good reads – I noted that in my reviews:

Novel: The Fifth Season (review)

Novel: Uprooted (review)

Novellas

Novelettes

Short Stories

Why I mentor

As an exercise to wrap up the training this week, I’m supposed to draft my personal mission statement / elevator speech explanation of why I mentor at WGU.

I’m an educator. It’s what I do. It’s what I am.

When I was a kid, I used to pretend sometimes that I was a teacher, and play-act teaching in front of a classroom. This happened alongside pretending to be a lot of other things, like a doctor or a missionary, so I never put much stock in it. In fact, once I got it in my head that I was going to be a missionary, I pretty much stopped looking at any other options.

But now, looking back at myself, it’s no surprise that eventually the teaching profession came and found me. Literally, that’s exactly what happened.  An acquaintance in our area called us up one day and asked us to come talk with him. He was working at a tiny, new little school in the area and they were looking to start a high school. They needed teachers who would commit to at least 4 years, to put a stop to faculty turnover. And they wanted teachers who had a broad liberal arts background and a knack for education. Dennis felt that we had both, so he asked us to apply for teaching jobs. And we did.

The decade I spent teaching was the single most life-altering experience I’ve had. It changed me more than my religious conversion, more than meeting my husband and getting married, more than traveling to Europe when I was 22, more than losing both my parents by the time I turned 25.

Everything about my world changed when I became a teacher.  My M.Ed. program at Covenant drove that change even harder, challenging everything I thought I understood theologically and practically and professionally in the realm of education.

My students rocked my world.  I learned to laugh, cry, suffer, rejoice, and fear with  and for them. I grew up during that decade.  I gained a ton of confidence in myself and in my students. I loved them fiercely and unashamedly. I’m still proud of that.

Leaving the classroom was hard, but it was also right. I had to grow. I had to go away to see more of the world because the classroom had become too small. So these past four years in communications and higher education were needed and valuable. I sharpened a whole set of skills that would otherwise still be dormant. I needed to rub shoulders with new people. It was uncomfortable and scary, but it was necessary or I would never believe myself when I say now, I know that my life’s work lies in education.

For me, teaching is relational. You cannot claim to have succeeded with a student if you merely dumped information into their brains. Any computer can do that with a mere Google search.  I’ve never bought into the idea that lecturing or assigning papers equals giving students a “good education.”  Education should radically alter the learner and the teacher. Both stand side-by-side in the learning space, struggling to make meaning of this broken world.

When I say teaching is relational, I mean that education happens in the context of interpersonal interactions, both with peers and with the teacher. While it’s theoretically possible for someone to be entirely self-taught, those individuals are extremely rare. Humans crave companionship and community. We work better as a team than as individuals. Lone wolves get eaten.

So why am I a student mentor at WGU when that position radically redefines the role of a faculty member (in ways that make many uncomfortable)?

Because the learners who have the deepest needs are the learners who most benefit from personal, caring education. They benefit the most from education that happens within a relationship. 

Not all students should adopt online education as their model. It doesn’t work for everybody. I’m not sold on the idea that WGU is the right choice for an 18 year old with little life experience. By definition, competency-based education requires that the learner bring some competencies to the table. And few teens have lived broadly enough to learn from The School of Hard Knocks.

But many adults have.  The ones who started college but had to drop out, the ones who never saw themselves as smart enough to make it through a degree, the ones for whom school was a prison because the lessons put before them had little connection to the lives they lived.  For these students – often underserved and haunted by the spectres of broken dreams and failure – an education grounded in a relationship may be the only way they escape the poverty and limited opportunities delegated to those who do not walk through an employer’s door with a diploma in hand.

WGU wants to make a difference in the lives of those students, and in those for whom graduate credentials would otherwise be out of reach.  This is a mission I can put my weight behind, and the fact that WGU’s model grounds students’ learning in a mentor relationship seals the deal.

Teaching is relational. And that is why I mentor students at WGU.

 

Good night, sweetheart, well it’s time to go

I hate goodbyes. It’s better to say “see you next time,” because that leaves all kinds of hope shimmering in the sunlight.

It’s hard to leave something, somewhere – wherever you’ve found yourself for the last while, working and building and arguing and creating. But to everything there is a season, says the Preacher. And this is one of those times.

So I packed up my things today, looked around one more time, gave some hugs. Walked out of my (former) office, bit back some tears, already missing the tall ceiling, not missing the steamy 80 degrees on the thermostat in the summer because our AC can’t keep up, missing the witty conversation I won’t be a part of tomorrow morning, not missing the mundane tasks of office life.

It’s hard to leave people. Really, that’s what always gets me. Places can be beautiful or fun or memorable or breathtaking or functional or inspiring and all that … but People. People are what make this world tick, yannow?  And the four of us had some amazing moments.

Seriously. We were a comedy machine. Just turn the spigot a quarter turn — give us a funny word, an odd last name, an obscure movie reference, a quote from Monty Python, a raised eyebrow, a ridiculous request from some office across campus — and we were off to the Comedy Races.

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There’s that time the guys quoted like whole sections of The Holy Grail, so much that we could theme our Student Appreciation Day around the crazy Brits. (See photo, above.)

There were the snatches of ideas for improv sketches that we knew we’d never actually do, but it was fun to imagine doing them…..
– “What if email spam filters became sentient, and actually explained why you were getting that email about penis enhancement but the expense reports from downstairs were always MIA?”
– “What is the waiting room like outside Hell? Are there snacks? A coffee machine? Decent chairs?”
– And does Heaven have an Orientation session where God or some angel answers all the questions they’ve collected for the past 10,000 years, so they don’t have to answer them individually?  “For a presentation on the Noaic Flood, head to Room A at 3pm. For evil and war, a panel discussion will take place in Room B at 5pm. To locate the socks missing from your dryer, see the Steward on Aisle 10.”
– “What if we created a newsletter for campus but called it “Ill-Health Times?” (This was after the sudden rush of “good health” updates from HR on “Wellness Wednesdays.”)
– “Why isn’t there Yelp for drug dealers?”  “Maybe there is but we don’t know anything about it.”
– “What about the Rituals Help Desk, where upset pagans call to complain that they’ve sacrificed the chicken and smeared the blood in a precise 8 foot circle, but no demon ever showed up?”

We kicked around endless ideas for mind games, cackling with glee when we were able to end a sentence perfectly as soon as the boss crossed the threshold and paused, wondering if we’d stopped talking on his account. (Honestly, Cliff, almost never. I promise.)  And I had other great partners in crime: Tobe & I ran experiments to see how many “dapper” comments we could toss toward Cliff before he’d react visibly.  She and her team had whole books of codewords they’d use in text or snapchat to refer to particular coworkers.

And sometimes I’d laugh so hard the whole hallway would hear me, because I do that occasionally, and it’s stupidly loud and probably annoying to half the planet. …But to the other half of the planet, since they all heard me too, I hope you smiled. Laughter is good for your spirit. You should have laugh-cries at least once a month week. Does wonders for your outlook.

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I totally screwed up my chance to look badass in this photo. Still kinda chagrined about that. Everybody else is so…Whovian…and I’m standing here grinning like a damn puppy. *rolls eyes*

It’s hard to leave a job you’ve worked at for, say, 4 years. I finally know what I’m doing. Heaven knows it took a solid year for me to even begin to feel like I had a handle on things. Impostor Syndrome – it’s a thing.  Leaving the classroom for a new field made me very insecure.  I didn’t know business culture, didn’t know the marketing lingo, didn’t know the work I was supposed to be doing. I watched, observed, studied every word and gesture so I could claw my way out of the feeling that I didn’t belong there. ….Those were unsettling times.

That, and fighting off waves of fear that I’d made a mistake by leaving teaching, the one job I felt called to do, even if it seemed like I had good reasons. And regret – because it’s a visceral gut-punch not to be with your students who have come to campus for a tour. I know that leaving my classroom in 2012 was the right move because I was bored. But I had to come to know that in my bones, in my head, in my gut, in my hands, in my heart.

This was good. Change was good. I needed to grow. I needed to realize that I should have been actually planning for a career this whole time, but who knew? Nearly every married woman in my address book has dropped out of work or left their original ambitions to be a mother. Few have gone back after their kids grew up. How was I to know in my 20s that I would not also trade work for parenting?  (And in the world where I grew up, there is no higher sacrifice than that a woman lay down her life’s work for her children.) (Leaves the rest of us in a pickle, doesn’t it?)

So I’ve learned some things.

One, I’m a good designer and creative director, but I still talk too much in every meeting. (Working on it!)  I leap too quickly to solutions and skip some of the discovery steps to good design thinking and problem solving… but I’m working on that too. It was great to have such creative thinkers working alongside me. Creativity cannot exist in a vacuum. It thrives within collaboration.

It’s at Erskine that I learned how much I love creative directing, even more than designing. It’s like getting to hold the wheel of a powerful machine, one that can produce amazing wonders like museum exhibits:

Two, teamwork is hard to achieve but still vitally important. Working in a silo is bad. Also, team “culture” is everything. As the dude said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He’s right.

Three, if I can ever spend my days as the literary bartender/barista in the 21st century version of a Parisian intellectual salon, I will know that I’ve hit the career lottery.  I want to talk to people about what they want to do, and then help them make their ideas better. That’s it, really.

Fourth, you need to go do the work that will bring you joy and deep satisfaction. But sometimes employment doesn’t fill that deep hole. Yet you can still find joy in the moment, in the people around you, in a sense of accomplishment. And when you cannot do that any longer, when you’ve explored to the very edges of the day’s work and there are no worlds left to conquer, it’s probably time to find a new challenge.

Fifth, seize every opportunity to get to know people, to find those kindred souls tucked in other parts of the organization, the people who understand that laughter is medicine and kindness is golden and friends are really hard to find once you’re an adult, and hold on to those people. Because they’re priceless. Go “do life” with them.

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We “did some life” at the beach with these people a few weeks ago. No, the ocean isn’t running downhill. It’s a cool hipster angle. Hand-crafted, even. Artisanal.

I’m going to miss many things about my work at this little college in Due West. It’s a special place that’s impossible to understand until you’ve walked a mile in its shoes. Wouldn’t trade the last four years for anything….

And that’s why I cried most of my drive home. S’Ok, though. Something new is coming.

 

When the levee breaks

Sometimes all the crappy stuff kind of hits at once. I’ve noticed this. Life has a rhythm; sometimes the drummer setting the beat is Sorrow or Calamity or Hardship.

My train of thinking today has been all over the place. It started actually with feeling all the things rather than thinking them. Sometimes I have to feel my way through from beginning to end, let my emotions catch up to my head. That’s always a weird out-of-body experience, as if my brain and my gut are about a quarter turn out of step. Like trying to watch a 3D movie but without the little glasses to bring everything into focus.

Two things happened yesterday that left me feeling the drumbeat of loss pretty hard.

The first was the passing of a friend, the mother of one of our former students. Her laughter was pure light; her smile could set planets afire. She was merry, tough, beautiful, hilarious, unashamed, unafraid, badass, witty, and loving. Their family hosted gatherings at their roomy log cabin house for groups of our students since we taught their son.

And cancer removed her light from this world yesterday. Fuck cancer. I knew it was coming, had heard that hospice was involved, know how this story always ends, but it still stings. And what I feel is nothing compared to the loss felt by her children, her husband, her siblings, her close friends.

Second, I’m struggling here not to accuse the Universe of just plain aggravation and cussedness. As a friend commented, “Sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to cash in your ‘Calvinist chips'” – i.e., whether all that talk about trusting God to order the pathway of life is just talk when the pathway doesn’t seem very orderly.

I know in my head that sometimes the path is complicated. Or sometimes you have to fight for your calling, to take hold of opportunities, especially at work. But what I’m feeling today is the sense of disappointment that comes from proposing an idea (at work) and then losing the opportunity to implement it. I know it could work out anyway; what looks like The World’s Worst Timing may be a providential boon. But my mood is out of sorts. I wanted things done “my way” and instead I feel like a living, breathing example of Irony.

And I could add a third event – the recent pileup of people in our life who need help, real help, in ways we cannot provide. Homelessness. Lack of income. Underemployment. Poor or nonexistent health care. Little access to good jobs. No path out of poverty. They come to us because the other support networks are non-existent or have broken down. And there’s little support to be had. Either you’re born into a family that takes care of you when you’re down, or you end up living in your car and trying to subsist on french fries. And I’m supposed to do something about this?

This is why I’m writing – not so you can join me in feeling bad that the world sucks, but joining me in recognizing that it’s a lot easier to sit here and feel bad about the world feeling bad than to do anything meaningful about it.

Truth is, I like my life to be comfortable and neat. I want decisions to be clear, categories orderly, people neatly classified, questions answered.  I don’t want someone calling me because they need to crash on my couch right when I’m going through a job transition.

I don’t want to face the fact that the choices I make with my salary, whether I buy myself a Starbucks or give that money to someone I actually know who needs it more than I do, are moral choices. They reveal what I value more than the words I use to describe what I think I value.

What –and who– I love is revealed by what I do, and I didn’t want that lesson hammered into my skull today along with everything else I’m struggling to feel my way through.

But there it is.

Hugo Awards 2016 – Novellas

Yay! I am happy to report that I genuinely enjoyed every selection in this category. These long works of short fiction (oxymoron, no?) have the space to develop good characters and deliver a good plot punch within their 50-100 pages. If you can find any of these, and some are online, they’re each worth your time.

In case you’re curious, I’ll rank them in the order that I used on my ballot, but I can recommend each to any general reader of fantasy or sci-fi.

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, imagines a girl from the reclusive Himba tribe of Namibia, or whatever Namibia ends up being a few thousand years from now, who chooses to leave everything she knows to accept the invitation to study at a huge intergalactic university. On the journey, she finds herself at the center of a life-and-death situation, one that highlights her unique perspective on communication, culture, and negotiation.  The story blends in magic realism, some science fiction elements, and a warm cultural feel that made me nestle into the tale and make myself at home. I genuinely loved this novella, and I’m so glad to see Okorafor get attention for tackling cross-cultural communication within science fiction from the perspective of a non-Western culture.  This was even cooler since I’d just happened to run into an article about the Himba, so the cultural references made sense.

Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds, explores a relatively familiar dilemma in science fiction tales – that of the prisoner ship – but spins the question into a new direction by adding the “slow bullets” technology. These projectiles are used by armies to permanently “tag” their soldiers with a record of everything the soldier has ever done, along with information about their families, some familiar photos, and other snippets of memory. But terrorists can also use these “bullets” to burrow slowly, excruciatingly through a prisoner’s body. With that background in place, Reynolds soon takes the action to the aforementioned “prison ship,” allowing familiar themes like amnesia and extinction to complicate matters. But the ending left me genuinely surprised and pleased. It’s a good read.

After these two, it gets hard for me to rank the remaining stories – I think they’re all good and worth your time. So don’t take it too harshly that I ranked one above another.

The Builders, by Daniel Polansky, uses animals in ways that remind you of the best of Watership Down (but not as heavy) or Redwall. If Jacques had written his Redwall books for adult lovers of action and adventures, we would have gotten The Builders much sooner. Maybe with some Quentin Tarantino thrown in…. I smiled a lot as I read it, racing from page to page to get to the finish. If you’ve never imagined a salamander as a character in Firefly … well, now I know your imagination is actually missing out. The characterization just sparkles in this tale, and I hope you find a copy and read it.

Penric’s Demon was authored by one of established fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold, and her experience crafts each sentence in this story to fit the mold perfectly. It’s not stunningly original, but it’s well written and fun to read. I liked the characters, I liked the story, and her world needs little exhaustive introduction. If you’ve ever read a fantasy story, played a tabletop RPG or delved into a fantasy video game, you’ve been there. And that’s ok. It gives us room to enjoy the story, which features a man coming to terms with his literal inner demons.

Brandon Sanderson’s Perfect State hardly deserves to be listed last, but I felt the others were a little more original and maybe a shade better written, if one can split hairs like that at this point? Imagine The Matrix, but spin the central question more toward the boredom that would set in for the intelligent minds occupying known cyber-reality. What happens when some just can’t stomach the fact that programmed antagonists and crises aren’t as interesting as human to human conflict?  The cyber-reality subgenre is a little tired for me, but the story does ask a good question, and I absolutely agree that Sanderson’s work deserves the nomination.

Thumbs-up all around to the long-form story writers. Good stuff here, and I’m sure several more great ones that never hit my radar since they weren’t nominated.

*****
I did read several of the ancillary works, fan writing, semipro-zines, etc etc. But I won’t take time to blog about those.

I’m glad that sci-fi/fantasy has such an active fan culture, especially in the blogging age, but I’ll be thrilled to put the Rabid Puppies nonsense far behind us.  Bottom line:  I want to read good stuff in each of the nominated categories. And by “good,” I mean a) well-written; b) centered on interesting questions or content; c) not trying to beat me into a particular point of view. Of course, we’re all going to haggle over the details, but perhaps we could move back toward haggling with some grace and kindness.

*****
Not sure what’s up next on my fiction reading list. I subscribe to Lightspeed magazine but rarely have time to read it each month. Might return to more short stories, since I love those, and try to plow through my massive backlog of Wired magazines and Comment.

Review: Hugo Awards 2016 – Novelettes

What is a novelette? you ask.

It’s what, as an English teacher, I would’ve called a short story just a little bit too long to assign for one night’s homework. (That makes novellas, to me, about a week’s worth of high school homework.)

I found more to like among the Novelette nominees for the 2016 Hugo Awards, though the Sad and Rabid Puppies certainly left their muddy paw prints all over this category. All 5 nominated works were on one of the Puppy slates, but usually not both.

The nominees continue to suffer, in these shorter works, from poor selection but perhaps that’s as much a result of fan voting as it is the Puppies’ attempt at chaos and domination.

In order of my appraisal:

  1. “Obits” by Stephen King is going to be my top pick in Novelette, though my #2 selection is within a hair’s breadth of taking my top vote.  But it’s hard to deny the feel of sentences coming off the pen of a man as experienced and talented as King. It’s like holding a real $20 bill after checking out some counterfeits. Sure, his writing has weakened in the past decade (that auto accident did something to him, I think) but he’s still a master of the craft, and I’ve always liked his shorter fiction the most.
    This tale is nearly perfect – the “voice” of the main character just fits, the way it’s supposed to. Every word slots into its the sentence, painting exactly the picture King wants you to see and feel.

    This story, like a good sci-fi/fantasy tale, pushes people to the forefront to carry the plot, allowing the non-realist elements to create a rich background tapestry that absolutely supports the plot without shouting it down. I enjoyed pretty much every line.  The conceit of the tale isn’t a new one, but King handles it well, and I think that’s worth a lot.

  2. “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingling, trans. Ken Liu surprised me in several ways. The story would be at home in the dystopian future of Paolo Bacigalupi, a world in which man’s inability to care for himself and his planet yields ugly consequences.In this story, Beijing in the future has been engineered so that the richest 10% of the population lives in spacious homes and parks for 24 hours, then the city “folds” itself, origami-style, and rotates, giving a second group of people 12 hours of daylight. That second group represent a minority class of educated professionals who rush to get everything done. Finally, the bulk of Beijing’s 50 million inhabitants are crammed into the teeming, squalid third realm, which emerges in the last quarter of the 2-day folding cycle to see 12 hours of night.

    Against this rich background Hao tells us a story of love and loss that’s poignant and touching.  The writing is a little bumpy – I know Liu is a good translator – perhaps there’s something about the cultural shifts and language usage that isn’t quite coming over clearly. But this is a story well worth your time to read.I’m not sure if this next story deserves a Hugo, but I sure enjoyed it:

  3. “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander mashes up two of my favorite genres into one lively and darkly funny story that still manages to be very human and very perceptive.  She takes the cyberpunk world of Blade Runner or Android Netrunner and inserts the kind of hard-bitten characters you want to find in 1950s pulp detective fiction. But her protagonist, Rhye, blows through any gender stereotypes, presenting as a tough-as-nails street tomboy with a mouth like a sailor. (I noted that several folks on Goodreads gave up on this story quickly due to the flying F-bombs in just the first paragraph.)

    As a woman who happily inhabits gamer culture, I found this story like stepping into online multiplayer – a bit crazy, a bit vulgar, and very fun. It wasn’t exactly new thinking, but the writing was great. Plus, even as a Puppy nomination (Sad, not Rabid …. since I can’t envision any Rabid Puppy being supportive of a Strong Female Lead), this story shows that “classic” sci-fi themes aren’t destroyed when authors bend the genders and honor the culture of gamers/cyberpunk with good character writing.These two stories will fall below the “No Award” bar on my ballot, for sure

  4. “What Price Humanity” by David VanDyke was interesting enough, but the Big Idea has been done before (many times) and the story itself was a little ham-handed in its construction and plot pacing.  I guessed the twist at the end easily; the frame tale that attempts to give the story some context feels disjointed and preachy. Even the Big Question that VanDyke is trying to wrestle with falls flat.  It could have been provocative, but … it wasn’t.

    SPOILER ALERT…. I don’t want anyone who’s planning to read the story to see this accidentally so again — Spoiler!! — but VanDyke didn’t even raise a deep ethical quandary IMO. Is there anything unethical about copying a human’s consciousness and having it control a weapon? well, doesn’t that depend on whether the human whose consciousness is being copied gave his/her consent or no? and it’s so materialist (in the philosophical sense) to ground a story in the idea that copying someone’s brain pattern exactly (an engram) would somehow recreate a whole *person.*  Nah.  This is a bad knock-off of cloning ethics, at least in the way he handles the story here, and I’m confused why VanDyke didn’t learn anything from the other, similar stories in this vein that surely he’s read.

  5. “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai is the personification of what I expect the Rabid Puppies want in their foreign policy. I found the story to be a bit naive, slightly racist, overly reliant on stereotypes, and dull due to its reliance on technical details.  It had good moments, and I didn’t mind reading it through to the end. I even liked the main character and his crew, and I learned things about space warfare that I hadn’t considered (like the incredible cost to delta vee and propulsion systems that a simple redirection of course would take).

    That said, this story – like “Seven Kill Tiger” on the Short Story ballot, from this same collection There Will Be War – feels like a bunch of 50-something Republicans who like to shoot guns but never actually went to war decided to chew the fat about how much they hate Muslim terrorists and the Chinese, and turned that into a short story instead.

    Cheah’s story is at best tone deaf when it comes to racial stereotyping, totally unaware of how playing into 40s and 50s era pulp caricatures of other countries should strike 21st century readers as offensive. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the Rabid Puppies who nominated this work consider that kind of insensitivity a badge of honor.

One final thought —

Military sci-fi can be brilliant (I thought The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu presented amazing military/space dilemmas) and very thought provoking (Joe Haldeman’s Forever War) even when it’s “fun” (eg: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake).  But Drake and Haldeman write like men who experienced combat — because they did —  and their stories focus on the human side of war, not the details of the warfare itself.

To me, that’s a key difference between military sci-fi worth my time, and military sci-fi that reads like it was sponsored by the Koch Brothers.

*****

Next up (and already in progress): Novellas! I’ve read 2.5 and enjoyed them so far. Looking forward to writing that review.

Review: Hugo Awards 2016-Short Story nominees

Well, that was a waste of my time.

If you are following the Hugo Award ballot, the annual fan-nominated and fan-elected winners for excellence in sci-fi and fantasy writing, you are aware of the Sad / Rabid Puppy controversy.

If you aren’t familiar, or if you just want to read an outstanding article on the issue, Wired Magazine wrote a great piece last year, in the wake of Puppy Scandal 2015. It’s hard to boil down, but the Puppies claim the Hugos have been taken over by pretentious liberals who are pushing their “agenda” into the stories, while the rest of us, whether we think the Puppies have a point or not, are tired of crap being shoved into the Hugo Award balloting as a protest move. And these Puppies do seem hell-bent on shoving women and people of color out of science-fiction, in the name of “making sci-fi fun again.” (Did these guys read The Forever War? “Sandkings”? 2001?  Those aren’t “fun” novels…..)

The Culture Wars are raging at the highest levels (and all corners) of American society. Substitute weaponry for verbiage, and this could easily be the stuff of a sci-fi novel…..

Now, in the same year that the so-called mens’ rights movement was driven into a froth by Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Charlize Theron seeks to rescue a bunch of women from sex slavery (and Max is little more than a sidekick), another flashpoint emerged: Puppygate.

In our telephone call a few weeks back, Beale explained that his plan was a “Xanatos gambit.” “That’s where you set it up so that no matter what your enemy does, he loses and you win.”

Source: Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters | WIRED

Last year, many of the Puppy-nominated works were, to be frank, total shit. They were badly written, frothy, of little value literarily or conceptually. But the problem remains: Anyone who wants to shove crap into the Hugo ballot can do it if they’re organized enough. And the Puppies followers jump when they’re told.

*****

So that explains why I spent my early afternoon groaning at the short stories nominated for the Hugo this year. I will be voting “No Award” for this category, and here’s why:

  • “Asymmetrical Warfare,” by SR Algernon:  Cute. If this story had been written in 1931, it would be fresh and interesting. In 2016, it’s basically a copy of an idea that’s been written to death. I think I had middle-school writers who hit on similar ideas. This isn’t worthy of a major award.
  • “Cat Pictures Please” took the place of “The Commuter” on the ballot; I’m not sure why; some authors withdraw from the contest when they realize they’re being used as pawns in a political/cultural war. Aside from that, this was my favorite story of the set. But it, like the one above, is a familiar idea. No novel thinking here.
  • “If you were an award, my love” published on the Vox Day blog is a hate-parody of a winning story from a few years ago that the Puppy people despise. This entry is simply a puerile pot-shot at John Scalzi, a sci-fi author who’s happy to tangle with Puppy stupidity in public and reveal its foolishness. Nominating this for an award is like celebrating some junior-high kid’s dick drawing that he taped in Stevie’s locker just because he wanted to be an asshole to Stevie.
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao: With a tone-deafness toward its racial stereotyping, this story also suffers from a decided lack of interest or even plot. He imagines a scenario in which China releases a super-virus to kill all the black people in Africa so they can take the land. Ummmmm….. I feel like this guy will probably vote for Donald Trump.
    …and that brings me to … I can’t even believe I’m writing this….
  • “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle:  If gay dino porn is your genre, Chuck Tingle is your man. The fact that this was nominated is nothing but a slap in the face — or a dick in the face, if you will — to the people who actually want the Hugo Awards to be something that matters.

So there you go.  In past years, I might have read gems from the likes of Ursula LeGuin, George RR Martin, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick, Ted Chiang, and countless other great authors who put honest work and craftsmanship into their writing.

Instead, because some controlling asshat who just wants to watch the nerd-world burn is angry that there are too many non-male, non-white, non-straight people all up in his grill and competing against him for readers and sales, I had to spend waste an hour of my time skimming stories about dinosaurs banging a lonely astronaut or tired, worn-down ideas that have been floating around for decades.

The Puppies claim they’re just trying to prove that Hugo voters don’t care about quality, that we will simply vote for people we agree with.

No.  I want to vote for people who can actually write. And if these WASPy men can’t get their shit together and promote stories that might be worth my time to read, they sure as hell don’t deserve any place among the Hugo nominees.

Unfortunately, the Hugo ballot — like the American ballot in 2016 — is deeply broken.  I don’t know if we’ll ever recover.  And that’s pretty hella sad.

*****
Next up: Novellas and Novelettes. The slates of nominees are entirely dominated by works recommended by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, but many nominated authors had little to do with that. I’m hoping there’s some valuable reads here.

*****
If you’re looking for some good, recent sci-fi short stories, try subscribing to one of the fan magazines. Or grab the “Best of…2015” short story collection next time you’re at B&N or BAM.

I enjoyed several of the short stories that Microsoft released as part of a collection last year, Future Visions, especially the story by Annie Leckie that closes the book.

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