Category Archives: SFFH

Hugo Rumblings

I’m actually trying to put a lot of stuff together, books wise and such, but it’s taking me a bit. Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of screaming all around over the final ballot for this years Hugo Awards, which will be handed out at WorldCon, which this year is in London, England, as LonCon. The WorldCon was already a bit beleagured on the Hugos due to a thoughtless and brief decision to have “lad humor” British talk show host Jonathan Ross as host for the Hugo banquet. (This seems to have come about because Ross’ wife is a producer who has worked Hugo nominated sci-fi projects and worked with Neil Gaiman.)  As this came right after promises from the con to the author community that they would be particularly watchful as to treating female and non-white authors as equal professionals and work on an atmosphere of accessibility, inclusivity and workable harassment policy for authors and fans, that plan detonated nuclear style for a few hours before Ross stepped down after calling various people stupid on Twitter.

Currently, the uproar is about nominations achieved for author Larry Correia in the Best Novel category and for various authors/artists he put on a recommended slate, including controversial far right extremist author Thomas Beale under the pseudonym Vox Day. Correia has expressed disdain for Hugo voters and the kind of works they nominate (which seems strange, given that the Hugo often puts very popular bestsellers on the ballot.) And the slate was supposedly a way to up-end the Hugos, at least at the nomination stage. So a lot of folk are unhappy about what they see as a log-rolling effort for a political agenda on the ballot, while the other side claims that looking at the political agenda they said that they were doing is out of bounds. Given the form of the voting on the Hugo (you either buy a membership to attend WorldCon which includes a vote or buy a voting only supplemental membership and then you vote on the entire slate of nominees, not just for one,) political agendas aren’t likely to get you very far, nor particularly cause harm to the Hugos, but the wider discussion has some value.

Then there’s the smaller debate over the nomination of the Wheel of Time series for Best Novel Hugo as one unit, written mostly by Robert Jordan, with Brandon Sanderson finishing the series under Jordan’s outlines and partial ms. after Jordan’s saddening death. Because none of the books in the series have been nominated for the Hugo before and the series is finished, Hugo rules allow the whole series to be nominated in that category, (and indeed Wheel of Time is one giant novel spread out over a lot of books.) The Wheel of Time being a seminal work in SFF and an immensely popular bestselling series of length, there are fears that Jordan fans will overwhelm the other, individual title nominees. It’s entirely possible that Wheel of Time will take the prize on a combination of enthusiastic fans and the need to give this last chance tribute. On the other hand, WorldCon is in London this year, with more UK denizens attending than others and Wheel of Time is a bigger deal in the U.S.

I don’t have a problem with Correia and even Day being on the ballot. If they got the votes, they got the votes, and soliciting doesn’t enter into it. I certainly don’t have a problem with Wheel of Time being on the ballot, daunting as it may seem. But I also have no problem with vehement debate and disagreement over those developments. Awards are cultural, and by that nature, political. The whole point of nominating works for these awards is to draw awareness to first the existence of literary works of any kind and the interesting facets of visual media ones in SFF; and second, to provoke just these sorts of discussions about what is there and what is not but perhaps should be there. (If we could do it without death and rape threats for the female side, though, that would be nice.)

Do these discussions open up new possibilities and sensibilities for authors in disadvantaged groups, like women and non-whites? Or does it allow old obstacles to linger? I’m not sure; I think that they may do both but lean towards the former. I do know, though, that you can’t block fans from expressing their interests in the field and voting on those interests, especially when it involves paying a fee to do so. And I do know that such a situation does not mean that an award will fall apart or become utterly worthless, no matter who is on the ballot.

For whatever reasons, these works were of value to somebody in enough numbers to get them on the ballot. Now they will be judged on that value. And that value, like always in fiction, is subjective and open for discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Want the Album

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What D’Ya Know, Science Fiction Isn’t Dead

If you had a conversation in the SFFH community sometime in the 1998-2003 time period, you might well have been arguing with people who felt that contemporary fantasy fiction was rare, unimportant, limited mainly to YA, used to not exist in the past, and would never be anywhere near as popular in the field as pre-industrial secondary world fantasy. (By 2004, those conversations stopped.) If you had a conversation in 2008-2012, it would probably have been concerning wild assertions about e-books, how they were made, what they should cost, the right of illegal downloading, and how they and electronic self-publishing would kill all publishers off by 2014. As we know, these things are cyclical.

No conversation, however, in the SFFH community and at times in the media, is as cyclical as the science fiction is dying and soon to die conversation. And if you were having a conversation in the SFFH community in the 2004-2010 time period, it might very well have been about such claims: how fantasy was pushing SF out as a category market (again,) how women were the big readers and the myth that they didn’t like SF as much (again,) how technology had somehow magically invented all the inventions and big theories and so science fiction’s musings on the future couldn’t keep up (again,) how science fiction was largely dead in the movies (again,) how science fiction doing well in YA didn’t count, how vampires were the only thing going, etc.

Those conversations have died down now to occasional mumbles about how hard SF, the real SF, is still dying, but that never changes. The refrain of widespread science fiction and sci-fi death, however, has become forgotten. That’s because science fiction is all over the place and has now gotten enough hits to have people actually accept it as a media interest, rather than dismiss science fiction hits as somehow rare outliers.

In the movies just recently, Divergent, adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction novel, scored with a $56 million opening weekend, without even yet getting their global audience. It joins The Hunger Games movies, also adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction series read by both girls and boys and with female leads (trickle, trickle.) Last year, nearly a dozen science fiction movies were the big launches, everything from Iron Man 3 to Elysium to Gravity. This up-coming year, SF movies are quite plentiful – more Hunger Games, and Transcendence, Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Jupiter Rising, etc. And that’s just Hollywood – world cinema is doing plenty too. This is not a sudden change; 2009 — a year in which the claims that science fiction was on its way out reached a fever pitch – saw the Star Trek reboot, District 9 and Avatar, the movie that took the number one box office slot. Science fiction is, in fact, and has been, more trusted in Hollywood than fantasy movies, which are seen as unpredictable.

On television, science fiction is on networks, on cable, on the Internet, and again global. Shows like Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Continuum, Almost Human, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Defiance, Under the Dome, etc., are thick on the ground.  Some are more successful than others, but science fiction shows are a staple of the medium, a medium which is becoming more and more international and melding at least partially with web television on the Net, where science fiction stories are long time favorites.

In written fiction, science fiction has been building and rebuilding its audiences. The burgeoning YA fiction market was commonly seen as either a devourer of the adult category market or unimportant to the adult category market, depending on which claim people wanted to make about trends. The success of The Hunger Games in that market was dismissed as not sufficient for science fiction, given that it was YA and the phenom status of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, while other SF YA bestseller series like Maximum Ride and The Uglies were ignored altogether. Now YA is awash in dystopian SF series that have done well, to the point where the media wonders if they are taking over the field, both for teens and adults. This is of course not happening any more than the purported vampire takeover; teen readers are simply cycling through different types of stories. Right now, they are also enjoying SF with alien contacts, zombies, genetic engineering, cyber AI and space travel adventure, such as Karl Schroeder’s recent novel Lockstep.

The presence of big, acclaimed authors doing SF novels was regarded by some as “outsiders” whose success was supposed to destroy the SF category market, rather than bring more readers to it, as they usually do. Best-selling novels like the time travel love story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, the alt history near future The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, post-apocalyptic novels Oryx & Crake, The Road, World War Z and The Passage were seen by some as death knells for more established (and often equally acclaimed,) SF writers. Instead, they brought in a flurry of movie options for themselves and for SF classics that is still going on, and helped build a general interest in science fiction, as did SF thrillers that were sold in both general fiction and the category market. Currently, Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation is adding to that steady pool.

Category market authors – those working with SFF specialty imprints – saw big deals in the last decade, such as the one given a few years back to British author Alastair Reynolds, with more titles published on most major lists. Currently, The Martian by Andy Weir is causing a big splash and is already optioned for film. Novels like Influx, Red Rising, A Darkling Sea, Air, Ancillary Justice, and new offerings from older authors like C.J. Cherryh, David Weber, William Gibson, and Dan Simmons are racking up sales and buzz. Hugh Howey’s Wool succeeded as both an example of self-publishing audience building and science fiction bestsellerdom, with an adaptation and foreign sales. John Scalzi’s satirical Red Shirts also scored big on the lists and will be a short-run t.v. series. Bestselling novels like The Wind-Up Girl and The Quantum Thief have scored big in recent years, highlighting the crops of military SF, space opera, SF horror, quantum exploration, alien contact and whatever else they can come up with.

So at this point, I am reasonably confident in saying that the predictions I made back in 2008 for SF’s continued health have been accurate. And that perhaps people need to read the story of Chicken Little every so often.

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Unreality Junction: Books Ahoy!

Some novels to explore:

 

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias – SF: Humans encounter their first alien species underwater underneath miles of ice. Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh – Historical Fantasy: An immortal muse survives on the creativity of the artists she inspires but must contend with another immortal who feeds off human pain in a story that ranges from the 1300′s to present day New York. Spider Wars: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher — SF: A grand epic in the far future in which a disconsolate spaceman believes he hears space transmissions from the rumored lost Soviet cosmonauts of the past, indicating a danger of an alien nature.

Prospero’s War: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells — Urban Fantasy: First in a new series in an alternate Earth where magic comes in the form of alchemy and drugs, and a female cop must help a federal task force with a case with connections to her troubled past.

Ancillary Justice  by Ann Leckie – SF: A female soldier who was once a massive starship linked to corpse solidiers via A.I. seeks vengeance on those who destroyed her.

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The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014 – Yearly Update, Part 2

(See Part 1 here.)

So, has the female movie star died off as we enter into the full 2014 movie season? No, and not just in the area of the big budget action movies. “Women’s” pictures – comedies and dramas led by women – also have made money these past few years and upped profiles. August: Osage County, a female star-studded Broadway play adaptation, for example, made on a small budget of salary-cut-for-the-indie-prestige with the Weinsteins, nearly $60 million in 2013.

In fact, women-led films — drama, comedy or action — have in recent years consistently counteracted the current claim that the middle-budget film is dying out in favor of the big tent poles. The women are cheaper and given less investment in budgets, as previously visited, and so when their films do well, the profits are higher than bigger movies that just break even. More women-led films made over $100 million in 2013 than in 2012, when they were more highlighted in PR and media attention.

Of course, it’s not necessarily making movie stars if the women are regulated to a mid-low budget ghetto. And women directors are still being shut out of both big tentpole films and lower budget Oscar contenders. But there is upwards pressure. If Sandra Bullock can get $20 million and 15% of the gross for Gravity and Angelina Jolie can fund and direct movies, that means younger female actors can push for more green and better deals. Actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Mila Kunis and Emma Stone are already bonafide movie stars making millions. Actors like Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron are also in the A-list club with large salaries for their bigger projects.

Does that mean then that 2014 is going to be a super year for women actors in film, though, and in the big action movies? The answer is that it is and it isn’t. 2014 is shaping up to be a good year in terms of women being highly present and doing major, high profile roles in action films. There are, however, less women-led action films in the pipeline for 2014 than the previous two years. Some of those films coming out are likely to do very well at the box office, but there is the inevitable desire in Hollywood to slow down the supposed “risk” of the females, and take on the male security blanket action pics and hope that the male stars can keep milking the world foreign box office. The reality is that if your woman-led action picture does well, you don’t get nearly the status in the industry that you do if your man-led action picture does well, and so regardless of the box office, the tendency is to advance the males, with male directors. That means women have to continue with trickle, trickle erosion and still being mostly seen as the eye candy while they kick ass.

So 2014 is going to have its comic superhero movies, old world myth fests and action spectaculars led by men and special effects. The numbers of recent studies about women’s participation in film are not heartening. And yet the tipping point we seem to have witnessed in 2012 does not seem to be tipping backwards. It’s just continuing on its sneaky roll, with Hollywood now automatically putting in a female member or more for every action team, an increase in female power villains, and a lot more excitement about the actresses in big power flicks than most of the male stars. That’s…annoying, really. Who likes riding in scanty clothes on what continues to be a slow moving glacier? But what’s becoming normal – having the women there, kicking ass and frequently leading – is shaping the future of movies slowly and surely. Hollywood likes its myths, but it likes money too. And audiences have shown that they clearly don’t care if it’s a woman or a man in the lead, or in any other role.

So what is coming up for women in the action pictures, all kinds, in 2014: 

Women-led action pics for 2014 include first off the YA adaptation Divergent. A lot of folks are seeing this as Hunger Games lite, but the books have a solid fan base who don’t seem unhappy with what they’ve heard about the film so far. The film is coming out in late March (at what is now the start of the “summer” season,) probably doesn’t have a large budget, and seems to be getting a lot more studio support than previous female-centric YA adaptations last year. Then there is surprisingly the film Veronica Mars, based on the cult t.v. show. Veronica Mars got a lot of attention off of its Kickstarter partial budget campaign, which is now making the film a bigger deal, and fan enthusiasm is high, while the budget is very low. Veronica Mars brings the television sensibility to the film – that the woman can be the detective/action person who leads and everyone else circles around – so even if it isn’t a huge hit, it’s going to help and definitely ups Kristen Bell’s profile.

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The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014 – Yearly Update, Part 1

Back in early 2012, I took two posts by Australian author Joel Shepherd as a jumping off point to look at women in action film and Hollywood in general. (Shepherd had sold film rights to his military SF series, the Cassandra Kresnov series, which features a female synthetic soldier, and then got to experience Hollywood development hell. Shepherd is also the author of the A Trial of Blood and Steel fantasy series, also featuring a female protagonist.)

Specifically, I looked first in Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started Part 1 at how the view of women in action has changed, and that women have made slow advances in big budget and action film through a trickle, trickle erosion that did involve a lot of sexy costumes. In Part 2, I looked at what had gone on so far in late 2011 and early 2012 and what was coming up in 2012, which even the media then noted was being a banner year for women in action films. In July 2012, I briefly checked the temperature with How Are You Ladies Doing. And in May 2013, nearly a year later, in It’s Time for Women in Film, I went over what had happened in 2012 and early 2013 and what seemed to be shaping up for the summer season.

So I figured I’d keep going with this, if only for my own curiosity. So let’s review first how it went for the “lady” actors in 2013. That year was less packed with women-led action films than 2012, due to comics adaptations and old franchises and male action stars – a number of which flopped badly — but there were still quite a few, as well as action films in which females played pivotal, kick ass roles. It turned out that the year showed that the Female Movie Star isn’t dead at all.

Women continued to be the leads or co-leads of many horror films in 2013. These low budgeted films racked up some bucks, like Insidious 2 taking in $161 million on a tiny budget, equally small film Mama making $146 million, The Purge earning nearly $90 million and a sequel, and The Conjuring a whopping $318 million. The much anticipated reboot of Evil Dead with a female lead, Jane Levy, has made over $97 million. The rebooted Carrie, with a female director, not quite so hotly anticipated and less warmly received domestically, still made over $84 million worldwide on a small budget.  As previously noted, these aren’t, by and large, the “sexy” movies that get a lot of attention and credit when action films are discussed. But they have consistently been a money making area and one where women actors have been steadily chipping away into major positions – so much so that they helped the archetype of the kick ass woman fighting monsters to become a standard expectation. The growth in horror film’s fortunes tends to be cyclical, but with the Internet and streaming becoming big factors, as well as global box office, horror is a mainstay in which women have essentially conquered, and may start to be conquering with female directors as well.

Over in animation, we had The Croods, which was a big budget father-daughter tale, and it took in over $587 million globally. Then there was Epic, an international, female led fantasy tale that took in over $268 million. But the big mama of the year was Disney’s Frozen, a spin on The Snow Queen that turned it into a tale of two sisters with a hit soundtrack. Frozen has taken in nearly a billion and counting.

But that’s again animation, which folks discount (never mind how it’s shaping the minds of the young,) and don’t feel necessarily makes an impact on creating female movie stars. So how did they do in the adventure/thriller/SFF area in 2013? The young actresses – the up and coming movie stars – besides horror films, were mostly regulated in 2013 to mid-budget gambles based on successful books if they wanted to be leads. The Host and Beautiful Creatures had mid-sized budgets and so basically flopped with $48 million and $60 million in box office respectively, early in the year. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was able to make a good bit past its budget at $90 million, so there is a possibility for a sequel. Spring Breakers was a hit, due to its miniscule budget that made its over $30 million take impressive. The Bling Ring also had a tiny budget and made pocket money – not what is really wanted from director Sofia Coppola, but not disreputable on the indie scene.

Also on lower budgets, The Call, as previously noted, with a small budget and no hoopla made $68 million to be a hit in the early part of the year, with Halle Berry – a female movie star. The Book Thief, a WWII drama, made respectably over $50 million. Women teaming up with men as co-leads did well. Melissa McCarthy’s action comedy with Jason Bateman, Identity Thief, made nearly $174 million on a medium budget, cementing that McCarthy was a bankable star. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters also on a medium budget made over $225 million. Kick Ass 2 centered on the Hit Girl character, played by up and coming teen star Chloe Moretz, and made a respectable $60 million on a low budget.

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SFWA Ripples

So last year, the Bulletin, the official magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) writers organization, got into a scandal that was complicated and disenheartening and sexist. Members called for changes that would keep the Bulletin to the standards and policies of the SFWA towards all members. The editor resigned, the Bulletin was suspended, and a large overhaul got underway, starting with a task force to work out new procedures. One of those, after lots of discussion and input from members, was an advisory review committee, which would be formed with volunteers who then would advise the SFWA President, the person in oversight of the Bulletin, about material that broke the standards.

A really horrible petition that presented a false characterization of this committee — which isn’t even formed yet — recently was floated, written by a guy who seems to me to be a reactionary kook, and unfortunately a lot of prominent authors signed their names to the thing, including several prominent female authors. This led to several other incidents/conversations, such as one on SFF.net, where a contracts administrator at Macmillan went after his house’s own author, Mary Robinette Kowal, former VP of SFWA, for feminist activism. 

John Scalzi was President of SFWA when the Bulletin put out its controversial issues, which did upset a lot of people, particularly because Scalzi has been a strong supporter of diversity and civil rights values, and of making the organization more professional. He admitted he’d messed up by not doing enough oversight, ap0logized and pledged to support in-coming President Steven Gould in fixing the issue and making SFWA more professional, particularly by staying out of the way so that others could speak up. But he nonetheless couldn’t help talking about free speech issues when the petition popped up, and he’s thrown himself more into the ring after a number of really awful comments were springing up on the Net, by proposing in comic support that those fighting discrimination and under-representation, those wanting the industry and SFWA particularly to treat female authors and others more professionally, should form an Insect Army. This was in direct reaction to a particular comment on SFF.net that called those speaking up for equal treatment “insects.” This call to arms has gotten terribly silly, but the impetus behind it is sincere. Discrimination doesn’t end unless people speak up, unfortunately, and that speech is the one good thing that comes out of these conflicts. 

On this particular thread at his blog Whatever, I did a post comment, one of several, looking at the chain of history of discrimination on this issue and the recent conflicts. You can read it on that thread, but some folk asked me to also post it here, so I will. I was responding to a commenter named Bruce, who was wondering about the intent of the person who went after Kowal and who I quote at the beginning in italics. (The cricket references are because I chose to be a cricket in Scalzi and Kowal’s mock Insect Army.) Warning: as always, it is long. 

Bruce:

“I can’t say that this anger is warranted, but I think what he wrote is more about his anger at MRK and not so much about sexism and/or censorship at SFWA.”

But he didn’t talk about his anger at MRK blocking his efforts. He talked about her body, about how she supposedly flaunted her body, about how her speech about sexism was therefore false, and he derided her credibility as someone anyone should listen to because she was a nobody writer, despite her books, awards, etc. He deliberately went after her on the basis of her gender and the issue of sexism. So it is actually very related. And it is also related because the people who objected to the sexism in the Bulletin, were doing so because they also want the SFWA to be a professional organization and focus on digital rights, copyright, etc.for all members, rather than write about how sexy some women writers are and how they shouldn’t criticize men ever, the little tyrants.

Let me see if I can cricket this for you:

Long way back, a handful of decades ago, women writers of SFF were told that it would be better if they wrote under a male pseudonym because fans (all of whom were erroneously assumed to be men,) didn’t want to read women’s writings.The threat was that they could have free speech (use their real names and show that they are women,) or they could have a successful career, hiding as men among men. You could do that back then, write anonymously under a pen name and not promote and still make a living, because of the wholesale market. And that was what was politically correct. So it was U.K. Le Guin, C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, James Tiptree Jr., etc., and they stayed silent under the threat.

But you can make a better living if you do promote your work, go to conventions, stand up for awards, etc., so women started to partially or fully decloak and risk their careers for a better, more equal one with the men by promoting as themselves. They used their free speech. And the new women authors who came in, having that as role models, then sold their work as themselves. They came out of the shadows and refused to be scared by the light of the threat. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

But women writers were still frequently told that they shouldn’t write about certain subjects in certain ways. They shouldn’t write about sexism in society or issues related to their lives, nobody wanted to hear it from women and it wasn’t reasonable or fair. The threat was, you could have free speech (write about sexism or whatever you wanted,) or you could have a career. That was what was politically correct. But some women wrote about it anyway, fiction and non-fiction, and formed a movement called feminist SF that sold both in the field and in academia where they were sort of starting to realize it might actually be worth studying more female writers. And other women writers coming into the field also felt free to write about those subjects or to write about different subjects that had previously been declared men’s territory. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

But women writers and publishing folk and fans were still frequently told that they weren’t very important in the field or society, and that they should not object to men patting their bottoms or groping them at conventions or propositioning them or talking about their bodies and sneering that they were nonentities. It was unreasonable and exaggerated as a problem. The threat was, you could have free speech to object to the treatment, (and the assault,) or you could have a career. And that was what was politically correct. But some women spoke out anyway and objected, and allies objected. And new women writers coming in, seeing that their fellows had made things safer for their free speech, also spoke up and objected. And standards of professionalism towards women in the field slowly developed. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

I mean, it doesn’t entirely go away, even with women at the helm. So a woman editor okayed and designed, and a male president, who was JS, signed off on and didn’t catch/think about, threats in four issues of the Bulletin, the professional trade journal, threats that violated SFWA’s standards and policies. The threats were best expressed by Mr. Henderson, the Barbie guy, who told women members that the key to career success was to be like Barbie and never blame Ken for discrimination effecting her career. In other words, you can have free speech or you can stay silent and have a career. But women writers and their allies did speak up and object that this wasn’t professional, or equal, or what they needed from SFWA — nor what SFWA was allowed by its policies to do.

I doubt Mr. Henderson would feel that he made a threat, any more than Resnick and Malzberg did — he would probably characterize it as advice, but that particular type of “advice” — a threat against free speech, happens all the time. It’s happened to me here on Whatever, for instance, when a person I’m talking to brings up the advice that unless you are really, really nice and mostly quiet in talking to men about sexism, they won’t listen or help improve equality.

JS could have threatened defensively. Instead he apologized for having okayed threats to free speech. He helped set up a task force to work towards more equality and professionalism in the Bulletin and no threats to women and other vulnerable members. Some people still can’t forgive him for letting the threats go through and have gone away and aren’t coming back, as is their right. Others decided that he had understood the objections and worked to get back on track. And most are waiting to see how Mr. Gould does.

Then came the petition, which was a fairly blatant threat — give up free speech and stop being offended by sexist speech and unprofessional treatment, or everybody’s careers will be tanked and the field ruined. Tell us who is on the advisory committee so we can stop them. Tell us the standards even though we already know the standards because SFWA already has the standards, etc. Women should behave. Feminism ruins everything. Vigorous debate should happen as long as women know their place in the comments section.

Mr. Fedora didn’t threaten MRK with sexist speech. Mr. Fedora threatened incoming women writers who might see MRK as a role model. Since she was an influence as a former VP of SFWA, he declared her an unreasonable and hypercritical radical who had no real influence and sexualized her body — she’s not worth professionalism because she’s female. Because her career is successful despite her free speech, he argued that her career wasn’t successful. If you asked Fedora if that’s what he intended to do, I’m sure he’d say no, and he would honestly believe it to be so. After all, it was a casual conversation; he wasn’t pushing the petition. But that’s because these sorts of threats — free speech or your career, your family, your life, are so ingrained and ubiquitous towards women and disadvantaged groups, they’re habit.

So even though it was completely unprofessional to trash one of his house’s authors, he did it. Because women need to know their place, just like when J.K. Rowling was told, still, in the 1990′s, to pretend to be a man so that boys’ parents would buy her books, (nobody caring about the girl readers because they are girls.) Should she not have decloaked and used her free speech, do you think? She’s had a horrible, unprofessional career, having done so, and really should be given no respect. Because even if you are the most successful author on the planet, possibly ever, the threat gets made — your free speech or we talk about you in a bikini.

If the people on SFF.net in that thread really do care about having a trade organization tackle professionally digital rights, copyright issues, royalties, marketing, etc. — and representation and encouraging diversity which benefits the field and its profits — then they should have totally supported the outcry over the Bulletin about those very things, and the formation of a task force and an advisory committee, and upholding the standards SFWA already has. Instead, they are making threats to discourage free speech.

The insect commentator, who may be a woman, is quite open about that. Women writers are cockroaches, insects to be crushed if they make noise, who should be silent and hiding in the shadows and scared. But instead, they and their allies come out of hiding and speak up. And this isn’t new, despite what the commentator claims — it’s always happening. Because the threats don’t make things better, more equal, more professional, more full of choices and increasing reading audiences, etc. for women or male authors. They are just threats that cause a lot of damage and stagnation, that keep women authors from, say, getting as good royalty rates, marketing and digital rights deals as men. It’s the next frontier, and they’re swarming in. Chirp.

As you can see from that comment post, I’m pedantic and overly detailed when it comes to paper trails in negotiations and conflicts. It comes from my days as an agent doing book contracts, where the difference between “legal expenses” and “reasonable legal expenses” is all important, and from working as an editor where the job is to catch every problem, inconsistency and hole and go over them with authors. I truly believe the ripples from this thing are going in a positive direction. I just wish that all the turmoil didn’t have to come with them. 

 

 

 

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Reflections #1: The Nature of Predictions and Art

We have ample sociological study and statistical proof that the forecasts of futarians, marketing forecasters, psychics, etc., are no more accurate in their predictions than you get tossing a coin. Polls and surveys can yield useful and accurate data, depending on the poll and the type of data, but while sociologists may have good collection methods, the market researchers, journalists and Internet commentators who like to make predictions and arts predictions particularly tend to simply regurgitate the same bromides from decades past and call it new news. They are assisted by the following:

1) People may remember predictions that win the coin toss and turn out to be right, but they will forget the vast body of predictions that turn out to be wrong. So you can repeat predictions that were wrong before and which can be wrong again, and still no one will  remember later that they weren’t relevant. (But in the meantime – page views!)

2) People will view the past as happier, simpler, more naïve and more black and white in beliefs and interests than the current day, which is not remotely accurate for either time period, but allows for the idea of binary shifts in social systems. (I.e. if some zombie novels and films are currently popular, this means society is now more depressed and alienated; the youngest generation is always lazy, etc.)

3) People believe that others buy based purely on being told to do so by marketing and advertising (while they may see themselves as more discerning.) If something is very popular, it’s due to it being a marketing gimmick, rather than its actual content, and that marketing gimmick will supposedly work for all comers. Who taught us this idea? The advertising industry, whose best campaign has been the ads and media for the “how important advertising is” campaign. When this doesn’t turn out to be statistically true, advertisers and media rely on #1 – the forgetting of predictions that were wrong – to work in their favor.

4) Along with the belief that advertising is king, is the belief that what is popular, through that marketing, must therefore kill off every other kind of art in its category. The fact that other types of projects are out on the market, and do well, is ignored in favor of a dog eat dog narrative, that, when it doesn’t come true, is simply forgotten and then later recycled, to fit the binary shift idea of issue #2. It is this rationale that causes the constant predictions that SF is dead, fiction is dead, reading is dead, film is dead, etc.

An excellent example of this in motion is the U.S. t.v. industry. In the 1998-2002 period, U.S. t.v. networks had several large hits with game shows/reality competition shows, chiefly Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother, The Bachelor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, most of which were franchises from European shows that had been successful. Cable channels also delved deep into every sort of reality show and competition show – they were cheap to make, didn’t need to bother with pesky actors and you could pay the writers peanuts for easy drama. ABC went so far as to put Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on five times a week. The forecasters had a field day, predicting that it was the end of “scripted” fictional shows. That shows like CSI, Law & Order and Everybody Loves Raymond were doing very well too was ignored. One group of shows were doing well, and therefore other types must malinger and die.

In 2004, ABC aired the drama show Lost, shortly followed by the dramedy show Desperate Housewives. Both shows were huge ratings hits. Meanwhile, Millionaire got yanked off prime time as ratings fell and put into daytime syndication, while numerous reality shows tanked, despite their inexpensiveness. This success of the two drama shows, combined with the other scripted hits that were already on-going and some other new shows doing well, caused predictors to now claim that one hour dramas had been resuscitated but sitcoms were definitely dead. Only a few years later, with successes like Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, The Office, etc., we were informed that actually, we were in a new golden age of the sitcom. When various cable hits came into play, we were full out in a “new” golden age of television.

And yet network television still is supposedly dead, killed sometimes by cable, then by the Internet and streaming services like Netflix. The fact that the major broadcast networks own most of the cable channels, provide most of the Internet streaming content and are teamed up to supply original content on the Net, not to mention have numerous multi-media hits on broadcast – that all goes unremarked. That advertisers cut their ads on the Internet also goes interestingly unremarked. Right now, the big money is on combining Net and t.v., which doesn’t really take out any form of network.

This also happens in written fiction on a regular basis, and in written SFFH. In the late 1980’s to the very early 1990’s, tie-in fiction had produced a lot of well-selling series, mostly for the fantasy gaming area, such as the TSR D&D books. Media predicted that because these books were easy sells, getting shelf space in bookstores and comic book stores, and theoretically cheaper since the writers were writers for hire, that the tie-ins would start wiping out original fiction, starting with SFFH and working outward.

Obviously, this did not occur. Sales of tie-in books leveled out, even as tie-in lists expanded to take in more television shows and movies. Star Wars books did well by recruiting big name SFF authors to do them, but TSR did poorly on several fronts, and was sold when nearly bankrupt. In SFFH, the flood of tie-in readers then dug into epic fantasy fiction and helped that sector survive better than most the shrinkage of the U.S. wholesale/mass market paperback market in the 1990’s, and the success of Star Wars, Doctor Who and Halo tie-ins has given readership boosts periodically to science fiction.

This is good because of course in the oughts, science fiction was clearly to media and many on its last legs (again.) The basic arguments were first, that because technology was wondrous and beyond prediction, nobody was interested in reading science fiction anymore, never mind that in the heyday of multi-media interest in SF, the 1950’s-1980’s, technology was also wondrous – leading to an interest in science fiction. The second argument was that in the category market, the same publishers did both science fiction and fantasy and fantasy was clearly “winning”, meaning the publishers would kill off science fiction – never mind that the pool of fantasy readers and science fiction readers has enormous overlap and publishers need more readers, not fewer.

I had many long arguments with folks making the latter prediction particularly. It didn’t matter what got pointed out – the growing success of science fiction in YA as that market expanded, with such series as The Hunger Games, Maximum Ride and the Uglies; that Hollywood was optioning up both classic and new SF titles for adaptation; the success of science fiction television shows like the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. These things were considered insufficient, not big enough and the category market could not be sustained. The arguments were remarkable similar to the claim in the late 1990’s that contemporary fantasy was totally unimportant in the field, compared to pre-industrial secondary world fantasy, despite bestselling authors like Neil Gaiman and Laurell K. Hamilton.

Contemporary fantasy hit a perfect storm of attention along with paranormal romance expanding and horror (often contemporary set,) as well. By 2004, it was the fast field in fantasy that was going to wipe everything else out and leave us with nothing but vampires. (Hint: it didn’t.) Science fiction is currently taking over television and the summer blockbusters, is a major force in YA, does brilliantly in horror and with zombies, and is gaining more and more media attention. The category SF market isn’t dying off – it’s expanding.

Does this mean that we should stop making predictions about the arts, etc.? Humans always make predictions. But the all or nothing predictions that continually see the arts as some kind of war, we could see less of those. Art doesn’t like to throw things out and kill them off; it prefers to keep them and expand them when it’s possible. The odds of a story form dying off just because another type of story form is doing very well are, well, pretty much nil. So this year, consider tempering your predictions accordingly.

 

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Unreality Junction: Goodies for the Holidays!

I’m still dealing with the fallout of this last part of the year, but here are the book goodies I got (not that I necessarily need an excuse to get them, but you know, it looks better when you have a handy gift giving seasonal cover.)

1. White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana Rowland

The third novel in Rowland’s contemporary fantasy series about Louisiana morgue attendant and zombie Angel. I read the first one of this series, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and liked it, though I thought the ending seemed a little rushed and overly heightened. But then I got the second book, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, where Angel starts to find out a lot of info about being a zombie and the ending of the first novel made more sense from that. This third installment ups the action even more than the first two as Angel has to deal with a zombie film shoot, mysterious deaths, the local zombie syndicate, the return of various antagonists, rain and flood, taking the GED, etc. Rowland is great at combining her small town frame with Angel getting her life together, with essentially a spy thriller. This novel has a bit less humor than the first two, but also an increasingly confident Angel. My only complaint is that the heavier spy thriller aspects meant less cop and morgue time this go round. Rowland is a former cop and morgue worker, so she does that stuff very well, as well as a really interesting take on zombism and the strange mix of pathos and advantage therein.

2. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Moving on to the new titles I haven’t read yet, is the second novel in Hines’ new contemporary fantasy Magic Ex Libris series about a libromancer, Isaac, who can pull things from books and helps guard the world from magical threats. The second book focuses more on Lena, the dryad dragged from the pages of an old pulp fantasy novel, who is Isaac’s bodyguard and sometime lover. New enemies are after Lena’s powers, and that can mean some very bad things for everyone. The first novel, Libromancer, made quite a big splash, has a lot of humor and interesting stuff, and also let Hines bring in his fire spider from his Jig the Goblin novels, so I’m looking forward to this one.

3. Nysta: Duel at Grimwood Creek by Lucas Thorn

Continuing with the sequels is book two of Australian author Lucas Thorn’s Nysta series, a secondary world western, D&D epic, satirical dark fantasy revenge quest mash-up of awesome cussing proportions. I featured the cover art for the first volume, Nysta: Revenge of the Elf, on my blog, by artist Amir Zand, then got the first book and featured the next two covers. The Nysta books read exactly like westerns, except they are about elves, wizards, gods and magical forces in really interesting landscapes. The first book was violent, rough, slyly funny and quite moving all at the same time. Nysta, the central character, is an elven destroyer out to get the gang of elves who killed her husband. In the second book, she is closing in on the Bloody Nine but dealing with strong magical forces and monsters in the Deadlands. (I’m hoping that Thorn and Zand can get some sort of comic book spin-off going on this world sometime — great fun.)

4. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Not a sequel, but a continuing world novel, and a western to boot, in this novel Abercrombie expands his First Law world by traveling to a new frontier land in which presumed dead Northern barbarian king, the legendary Logan Ninefingers, has been hiding out on a farm under the name Lamb. The central character is Shy, his stepdaughter, who sets off after her kidnapped brother and sister with Lamb/Logan in tow. Other characters from Abercrombie’s previous novels make appearances and probably there are clues to the mysterious past of wizard battles that seems to subtly affect everything in Abercrombie’s secondary world. You probably don’t have to read the First Law trilogy and standalones Best Served Cold and The Heroes first, but it would help to get the full effect. Abercrombie’s mix of brutal war, black humor, and fascinating mythology is a hoot but it’s his characters who sing — each has a distinct voice that lets him try out one type of story after another. Interesting to see what he will do with the western one.

5. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch broke on the scene with the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, to much acclaim. The satirical dark crime thriller fantasy about con artists in a remarkable city had a few minor plot issues for me, but the writing was lovely with its dual chronologies and the scenery sublime. The sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, had some plot issues too, but expanded the world of the story in interesting ways, plus pirates! Lynch ran into some personal issues that delayed this third book in the series, and it may be the last, but I think it may also be the most interesting. A poisoned Locke has to become a pawn in a battle of mages that pits him against the long gone con-woman he loves — Sabetha, whom we finally get to see. So fun and I had to get.

6. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Wendig’s first book in this Miriam Black series, Blackbirds, was another book whose cover art first drew my attention to it. It’s a contemporary fantasy series about a sarcastic and desperate young woman who, when she touches someone, knows when and how they will die. In this sequel, Miriam is trying to do the settling down thing with her truck driver boyfriend and has achieved more control over her powers, but then she sees a death that may change everything. Wendig has a deft hand, a sensibility with looney and weird characters, and a central character with a great voice. It also has some genuine mystery to the suspense and interesting supernatural elements.

7. Feed by Mira Grant

I read Grant’s contemporary fantasy novel, Rosemary and Rue, written under her main name Seanan McGuire, and liked the writing (she’s a Campbell award winner,) but wasn’t quite as blown away by the world and focus of that story. So I decided to try her horror science fiction with this first book in her Newsflesh trilogy. Feed got a ton of attention and a Hugo nomination. It’s a near future zombie thriller that takes the mutated virus approach to zombies, with a dark satire of political campaigns and conspiracies, news media and blogging, horror films, medical research, etc. Grant has a very sharp eye, so I suspect I will like it.

8. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I am a huge Atkinson fan. She has occasionally dipped into fantasy, magic realism style, and her standalone bestselling novel Life After Life is a full out fantasy novel that has been nominated for the Orange Prize and probably will pick up quite a few of the major nominations for the year. The novel is about Ursula, who continually dies but in alternate overlapping universes lives as the world marches towards World War II and a fate that Ursula’s unique repeating life may affect. That’s going to be rich toffee, the way Atkinson writes, so I shall probably save it for a bit later when chaos declines a little, but I am looking forward to it, even though WWII is not my favorite era.

9. Shadow’s Sun by Jon Sprunk 

Technically this wasn’t a new goodie for the holidays, but it was a book temporarily misplaced in our move last year, so now I’ve got it recovered finally and can tackle it. It’s Sprunk’s debut secondary world fantasy novel, with divine cover art, about an assassin named Caim, who finds himself, as assassins frequently do, a pawn in a complicated and high stakes plot. But this particular assassin has some unusual aspects to his life — ever since he was a child damaged by tragedy, Caim can call shadows to cloak him, a magic that haunts him and he distrusts, and he has been visited by a ghostly, mercurial and mysterious spirit named Kit who sometimes helps him out. The writing style has a traditional, grand feel to it, but with bickering, a combination I think I’m going to like. It reminds me a bit of some of Glen Cook. Sprunk has started a new series, The Book of the Black Earth, which sounds interesting, so I will have to catch up over time. But I think I will enjoy Caim’s tale first.

My mother was astonished that my husband and daughter were watching the end of How to Train Your Dragon, a favorite animated film of ours. I was astonished that she hadn’t seen the movie, as it’s tailor-made to be the sort of movie my mom would like. So we sat down and watched the film and she did indeed love it. There is also a cartoon spin off; if you’ve got young kids you might as well try it out. And the sequel film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, comes out next year; we’re looking forward to it. Here’s the trailer:

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A Little Cool Art

Comics and graphics artist Nate Hallinan has come up with an interesting series of artworks of the Marvel X-Men characters in an alternate, secondary world medievalish fantasy universe. It’s called, appropriately enough, Medieval X-Men: The Order of X.

Here is the one for Xavier. It looks very much like Patrick Stewart, who played Professor X in some of the X-Men films. The others, however, look rather different from their modern comics selves, with interesting results. He’s written up bios for these alternate characters. Definitely art worth checking out (he’s still working on the series.)

Nate Hallinan, Medieval X-Men

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