April 18, 2015
A few simple desultory philippics
Posted by Patrick at 07:46 PM * 254 comments

Jeet Heer, in the New Republic, on the crisis of the Hugo Awards. Yes, I just actually typed the words “the New Republic, on the crisis of the Hugo Awards.” 2015 is a strange place.

Marko Kloos is a stand-up dude.

The supposedly “moderate” Sad Puppies, struggling to obscure their complicity with Vox Day.

The psychology of sad & rabid puppies. Occasionally strays into assertions that are unfalsifiable, but smart anyway.

Jeet Heer again: “The nomination process works on the wisdom of crowds, which the final vote winnows to a winner. Slate voting undermines.” Quite right. Teresa and I don’t even nominate or vote for exactly the same people and works, and our two hearts beat as one. Repeat after me: Slates break the Hugos.

Puppies deleting their embarrassing internet history.

“Someone sensible has looked at how the available data compares with Brad Torgerson’s claim to have drawn up his Hugo nominations slate with ‘the democratic selection system of the Hugo awards…No “quiet” logrolling. Make it transparent.’”

GRRM on the claimed “transparency” of the SP selection process. “We want democracy. We want transparency. We don’t want log-rolling. General elections need to be honest, but primary elections should be honest too. And you guys do NOT believe in any sort of political litmus tests, I know, you’ve said as much a hundred times…so I know you will welcome my own suggestions for Sad Puppies 4, right? Oh, and PNH and TNH, and N.K. Jemisin, and Connie Willis, and David Gerrold, and John Scalzi, and all my friends in the Brotherhood Without Banners…we all love science fiction, we all love puppies…”

April 14, 2015
The 2015 Hugo finalists, v. 2.0
Posted by Teresa at 01:16 PM * 765 comments

We’ve shut down comments in the previous iteration of this thread because they hit the four-digit limit. Everything there can still be read, but new comments go here.

April 13, 2015
Discussing Specific Changes to the Hugo Nomination Election: Another Guest Post By Bruce Schneier
Posted by Bruce Schneier at 07:11 AM * 446 comments

This is a continuation of an earlier thread (now closed) about the Hugo nomination process and how it might be modified. It is not a discussion of either 1) whether or not the nomination process should be changed, or 2) any potential changes in the rules about who is allowed to nominate. It is exclusively focused on voting systems and their relative merits, given what happened in the 2015 Hugo nomination process. Whatever we choose should have these properties:

  • It should be fair.
  • It should be perceived as fair.
  • It should be relatively easy to explain, both to the voters and at the WSFS business meeting.
  • It should be relatively easy to administer.
  • It should encourage people to nominate.
  • It shouldn’t result in too many nominees for the electorate to reasonably read and rank by the Worldcon.
  • It should be resilient to some degree against strategic voting: i.e., minority voting blocs.

In the earlier thread, we identified several different ways to change the voting system. I am going to number them, so we can more easily discuss and compare their properties and suitability.

Option 1: Change the number of candidates a person can nominate. Right now, that number is 5. It can be made less — or more — than 5. Call this parameter x.

Option 2: Change the number of winners of the nomination election. Right now that number is 5, with the possibility of more in the case of a tie. We can make this larger (or smaller, I suppose). We can either fix this number at a single value, or make it variable based on various characteristics of the votes (several ways of doing this is are here, here, here, and here). Call this parameter z.

Option 3: Change the mechanism by which the winners are selected. Right now it is a simple first-past-the-post system, in which the nominees that get the most votes win. There are other ways to choose a winner, some more resilient to bloc voting than others. Here, we have several possibilities:

Option 3a: A Satisfaction Approval Voting (SAV) system (see here, here, and here). In this system, the “satisfaction” of each voter with each possible set of winners is computed based on how many of their nominations win). The winners are chosen to maximize the total satisfaction of all voters. SAV computes each voter’s satisfaction as the fraction of their nominees who are elected.

Option 3b: A Proportional Approval Voting (PAV) system (see here). This system is like SAV, except each voter’s satisfaction is computed with the first nominee elected giving +1 satisfaction, the second nominee +1/2, the third nominee +1/3, and so on - so a voter who had three of their nominees chosen would have a satisfaction of 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 = 1 5/6.

Option 3c: A Reweighted Approval Voting (RAV) — also called Sequential Proportional Approval Voting — system (see here, here, here, and here). This system first nominates the candidate with the most votes. Then, all ballots featuring that candidate are “reweighted” so that votes on them are worth proportionally less. The votes are tallied again with the new weights, and then this process is repeated until all nominees are selected. Multiple values of weights has been proposed; these include (Option 3c-1) d’Hondt (1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, …), (Option 3c-2) Saint-Lague (1, 1/3, 1/5, 1/7, …), and (Option 3c-3) exponential (1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16…) as the weights for ballots with 0, 1, 2, 3, … candidates already nominated.

Option 3d: A Single Transferable Vote (STV) system (see here and here, and a simplified version here) probably without — but possibly with — ranking. (Illustration with ranking here.) Votes are “divvied up” among the candidates, according to what the ballots say. Candidates are nominated one by one, based on which one has the most votes. Each time a candidate gets nominated, it “uses up” a certain number of votes, which is taken proportionally from the votes it currently holds. If a voter has elected a pre-determined number of candidates, it is discarded. (Call this parameter y.) If no candidate has enough votes, the one with fewest votes is eliminated. Remaining votes are redistributed after each election or elimination. Variants: with or without ranking; and with or without transfers of “extra” votes.

Option 4: Banning Slates. We create a rule outlawing slates. We’d have to figure out how to define a slate, and how to enforce the rule, but it could be done.

Option 5: Making the Voting Tallies Public Throughout the Process. The voting administrator makes public the current state of the vote throughout the nominating process.

These are not mutually exclusive, of course, although we can choose only one Option 3.

Other systems people have mentioned are Cumulative Voting, Single Divisible Vote, Random Ballot, Condorcet Proportional Representation, anti-votes, and several different ways of adding a third voting/approval round. These have not garnered very much support (for good reasons, I think), and I don’t think these are worth further consideration.

Again, there are many important issues relating to Hugo voting that are not part of this discussion, but should be discussed elsewhere, including: 1) whether to do something at all, 2) whether to change the electorate, either by making voting easier, making it harder, or turning either the electorate into some sort of preselected jury, 3) changing the voting mechanism of the final election in addition to the nominating election. This discussion assumes that whoever decides these things wants something to be done about the nomination system. We’re here to figure out what should be done in that case.

(Thank you to Cheradenine and Jameson Quinn for helping with this summary post.)

April 07, 2015
On voting systems: a guest post from Bruce Schneier
Posted by Bruce Schneier at 03:18 PM *

I’ve been thinking about voting systems lately, and Teresa has graciously allowed me this space to hash out some ideas with others.

There are a lot of ways to deal with the problem: Brad Templeton has a good list. As a preliminary, this is what I currently think about the general situation.

  1. I think the best choice would be to do nothing. It’s not at all obvious that this is anything other than a temporary aberration, and that any fixes won’t be subject to a different set of abuses and need to be fixed again. I think the worst situation would be a series of rule changes in a continuous effort to stave off different abuses. I don’t think highly of a bureaucracy that tinkers with election rules until it gets the results it wants.
  2. If we choose to ignore (1), the second-best choice is to modify the electorate. The problem isn’t the rules of the vote; the problem is that a voting bloc was able to recruit voters from outside the usual community. Trying to fix that problem by changing the voting rules is very difficult, and will have all sorts of unintended consequences.
  3. If we choose to ignore (1) and (2), this is the thread to discuss how to fix the voting rules.
I’d like to limit this thread to that: discussions of various voting systems and how changing to them might help and hurt. I am less interested in the politics of the Hugo elections and the bureaucratic processes of WSFS than in these voting systems as a theoretical construct. I understand that these are inexorably linked, but think there’s value in discussing the voting systems issues separately.

The Hugo selection process is best thought of as two separate elections. The first is the nomination election, in which voters use an entirely write-in process to select a slate of five nominees in each category by simple plurality. The second is the actual Hugo election, where voters select a winner from the five nominees in each category using an “Australian ballot” instant-runoff system

Let’s talk about what happened this year.

The way to think about the Sad Puppies and their slate is as a political party. Essentially, what we saw was the rise of a political party (technically, two parties with highly correlated slates) in an election that has never had parties before. Parties are powerful for two reasons. One, they focus voters’ preferences onto specific candidates, increasing the power of their votes. Both Dave McCarty and Django Wexler explained how this works:

Let’s consider a hypothetical election between Green and Purple voters. There are 800 Greens in the voting pool, and 200 Purples. The Greens mostly prefer Green works, of which there are, say, 10 in serious contention — we’ll call those G1, G2, etc. The Purples similarly prefer Purple works, P1, P2, etc.

The Greens have no organization. Each Green picks the five works out of the ten that he or she personally likes best. Assuming each work has its fans, this will lead to a vote distribution that is reasonably even — say 95 for G3, 93 for G5, 89 for G8, down to 56 for G1.

If the Purples voted similarly, they would get a similar distribution: 34 for P2, 30 for P10, and so on. In this case, the ballot would be all Green, since the fifth-most popular Green work is more popular than all the Purples.

Instead, Purple Leader says, “Hey, lets all vote for P1, P2, P3, P4, and P5.” The Purples all go along with this. So those five works receive 200 votes each, and the others zero. Now the final ballot will be entirely Purple! The minority, by being more organized, runs the table. The Purples don’t cheat; neither have they suddenly become a majority. They simply have a more effective strategy, considered solely in terms of getting Purple on the ballot.

This is why political parties are so powerful, and why U.S. voters will generally vote either Democrat or Republican even if they prefer a third-party candidate.

The second reason political parties are powerful is that they provide a shorthand for marginal voters. I do this myself: “I have no idea who to vote for in this City Council election, but I normally prefer Democrats, so I’m going to vote for their candidates.” This makes it easier for me to vote, and therefore more likely for me to vote.

We saw both of these dynamics in the 2015 Hugo nomination election. People who normally didn’t pay attention were motivated to vote because they could vote the slate without any further thought, and the existence of the slate focused their votes to make them even more effective.

Normally, this is all good and why we generally like political parties. We don’t in this case because of a divergence between the purpose of the parties and the purpose of the Hugos. In a normal political election, the parties are strongly correlated with the issues of the election. So when we choose to vote for the Republican party, we are choosing a set of policies that a Labour government can be reasonably expected to follow. The Hugos are different. The election is supposed to choose works based on overall quality, but the parties are choosing works based on some moral/ethical/political philosophy. Elizabeth Bear touched on this. So what is normally a good thing — a political party — becomes a bad thing.

Of course, one way to fight a political party is with a rival political party. Many people expect rival slates to appear next year, and for the Hugos to forever be a battle of slates, which means that the Hugos will be a battle of ideologies rather than a referendum on the quality of fiction.

This is not a simple problem to fix. Strategic voting — modifying your vote based on what you know or believe about the votes of others — is a powerful strategy, and probably a dominant one. But there are voting systems that minimize the effects of slate voting.

But remember, no election system is perfect, and choosing one is an exercise in trading off among various problems. It’s may be easy to reconfigure an election system to reduce the effects of a current set of abuses, but it’s much harder to design an election system that is immune from future abuses. Any changes should be examined carefully before being implemented.

More in the comments.

The morning news
Posted by Teresa at 09:17 AM *

Bruce Schneier (facts, nonfactual amusing facts, Schneier on Security) is going to host a front-page post and discussion here of voting systems and voting theory, starting about 3:30 PM EDT. If you don’t know why you should be interested, follow the links.

===

Niall Harrison’s The Puppy Hugos, in Strange Horizons, is a substantial discussion of this year’s Hugo mess from a British viewpoint. He reports that this year’s Eastercon* put together a last-minute standing-room-only panel on Sunday night to discuss future responses to the Hugo awards. This year’s responses don’t appear to be in question: No Award.

April 06, 2015
Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances
Posted by Patrick at 10:09 AM *

(1) Black Gate reviewer Matthew David Surridge made the difficult decision to decline a Hugo nomination for Best Fan Writer, when he discovered that he’d been the beneficiary of promotion by both of the puppy slates, and realized how out of sympathy he was with their goals. He wrote a very thoughtful post about it which everybody should read—long but rewarding. Props to a guy who’s done a very hard thing.

(2) Longtime WSFS toiler Kevin Standlee has a post sorting out all our misconceptions about how No Award works, and how to use it effectively when you vote. I was wrong! (Along with a lot of the rest of you.) Read Kevin’s post and get set straight.

April 04, 2015
The 2015 Hugo finalists
Posted by Patrick at 12:14 PM *

The ballot is here. It’s not pretty. Other folks will have detailed comments and analysis, including lists of which finalists come from the “Sad Puppy” slate.

Here and elsewhere, we’ve seen a bunch of people try to make the “Sad Puppy” campaign seem reasonable and unexceptionable. That’s one face of their initiative.

Here’s the other face:

2-humble-socjus.jpg

1-hurt-socjus.jpg

3-infection.jpg

Two observations here:

(1) Clearly, the Sad Puppy campaign is all about healthy fannish enthusiasm for particular people and books, not at all about vengeance, score-settling, or a desire to “hurt” “social justice warriors” and “hunt down” the “disease”. They’re all just nice folks who make jokes about puppies.

(2) Reaching out to #GamerGate, inviting them to join Worldcon: special.

To repeat something I said in the lengthy Making Light comment-section discussion of all this, here’s my own take what’s not a big deal, and what really is a big deal.

(1) To the best of my knowledge, the campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot hasn’t done anything that violates the rules.

(2) As anyone over the age of ten knows, it’s generally possible to do things that are dubious, or scummy, or even downright evil, without violating any laws or rules.

(3) Merely running a campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot doesn’t really rise to the level of “evil”, but it’s definitely “dubious” at the very least. Which is to say, it violates a lot of people’s sense of how one ought to behave, and if you do it you’ll incur widespread disapproval. Prepare to deal.

(4) However, running a campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot and reaching out to #Gamergate for support in this…in effect, inviting a bunch of people who traffic in violent threats, intimidation, and “SWATting” to join our community…well, that rises all the way to “downright evil”.

For complicity with this, the Sad Puppy campaign deserves our comprehensive rejection.

April 01, 2015
Both more and less than political
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:05 PM *

Throughout this long recent discussion, I’ve had a passage from The Left Hand of Darkness rattling around in my head. It popped up because it strikes me that one of the fundamental cultural clashes that we’re dealing with is between the belief that the ends—getting the “right works” or the “right authors” their rockets*—justify the Sad Puppies’ means, and the weirder and more subtle belief that the “right result” of a Hugo vote is unknowable, and can only be achieved by using the right means to go about it.

The conversation in question occurs between Estraven and Ai up on the Ice. Estraven asks Ai why the Ekumen sent him to Gethen alone. Ai’s answer is even more interesting and relevant than I remembered.

It’s the Ekumen’s custom, and there are reasons for it. Though in fact I begin to wonder if I’ve ever understood the reasons. I thought it was for your sake that I came alone, so obviously alone, so vulnerable, that I could in myself pose no threat, change no balance: not an invasion, but a mere messenger-boy. But there’s more to it than that. Alone, I cannot change your world. But I can be changed by it. Alone, I must listen, as well as speak. Alone, the relationship I finally make, if I make one, is not impersonal and not only political: it is individual, it is personal, it is both more and less than political. Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou. Not political, not pragmatic, but mystical. In a certain sense the Ekumen is not a body politic, but a body mystic. It considers beginnings to be extremely important. Beginnings, and means. Its doctrine is just the reverse of the doctrine that the end justifies the means. It proceeds, therefore, by subtle ways, and slow ones, and queer, risky ones; rather as evolution does, which is in certain senses its model… So I was sent alone, for your sake? Or for my own? I don’t know.

I was just going to bring this up in an ends-verses-means way, which is in fact important to what the Hugos are. But the passage also echoes what, precisely, is the difference between the rather chaotic means of choosing the Hugo that has evolved over time and the Sad Puppies’ slate-based, goal-oriented one.

When I sit alone with my Hugo nomination page and try to wrestle through the eligibility lists, thinking about the things I’ve enjoyed over the past year, I’m faced with the fact that my relationship with literature and media is both more and less than political. As a single person reacting to what the field has produced I must listen, as well as speak in the way that someone voting en bloc need not. And doing this thing alone, I can’t dictate what “should” win. I cannot change the Hugos. But I can be changed by them. The relationship is not political, not pragmatic, but mystical.

And that’s really the point of SF&F, at least as I love it: exploring worlds that weren’t in my head before I started reading. Encountering ideas I didn’t imagine, or expect, before opening the covers or watching the opening scene. Allowing myself to be changed by what I experienced. Discovering what I wanted by finding it. These are experiences and ways of learning that, in other contexts, are described as mystical. The term fits.

My Hugo nominations and votes are reactions to that broadening-out of my mental universe. As such, they’re intimately, intensely personal. And that’s part of the visceral reaction that some fans are having to the Sad Puppies’ slate: it looks like the institutionalization of a private, particular process in the service of an external goal. It comes across as a coarsening and a standardizing of something that should be fine-grained, unpredictable, and unique to each person participating. It seems like denial of variety and spontaneity, like choreographed sex.

And it ruins the nature of the Hugos as the strange, unpredictable product of all of these solitary musings. It removes the mystery, the quirkiness, the weirdness and the wonderfulness. Then it’s just an election, with partisans and campaigning and slogans and crap. Surely we have enough of those already.

Does this analogy cast fandom as the Ekumen, as a kind of body mystic? Maybe, but it’s an extremely easy mysticism to join in with. Pick up a wide variety of books and be open to what they say. Create your own personal and unique relationships with them. Reflect those relationships in your own distinctive ways on the Hugo ballot.


* Yes, I know that there is also the stated objective of widening the pool of Hugo voters. But that doesn’t require a slate to achieve.

March 24, 2015
Distant thunder, and the smell of ozone
Posted by Teresa at 07:08 PM *

I’ve been keeping an ear on the SF community’s gossip, and I think the subject of this year’s Hugo nominations is about to explode.

Let me make this clear: my apprehensions are not based on insider information. I’m just correlating bits of gossip. It may help that I’ve been a member of the SF community for decades.

If the subject does blow up, I may write about it in this space. In any event, watch that space.

Hello, pain
Posted by Patrick at 07:48 AM *

I’ve had tendonitis in both shoulders for years, from two separate mishaps long ago. And like every practitioner of our brave modern lifestyle of staring at screens while idly mousing for hours at a time, I’ve had small bouts of RSI pain.

But for the last couple of weeks I’ve suddenly been experiencing the worst RSI pain of my life. Basically, I’ve got constant and often unmanageable pain in my entire right arm, from the shoulder down to the back of my hand. For a great deal of this time I’ve found it nearly impossible to type more than a few words. Needless to say, my sleep patterns are a wreck.

I’ve seen my GP; I’ve got a referral to a good physical therapist, and I’ve got painkillers and muscle relaxants which help somewhat (although not without side effects). But obviously this is putting a crimp in my ability to do anything that involves using a computer, like for instance answering email. Not that I’m a world champion at keeping up with email at the best of times, but right now the situation is extreme.

Comments are closed, not because I’m ungrateful for suggestions, but because I’ve already got as much advice as I can deal with. I just want to make it known that I’m temporarily dragging one wing, and that I’m going to be slower than usual on various fronts as a result.

March 18, 2015
Open thread 204
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:27 PM * 588 comments

One of my favorite news stories this week is a local one: IKEA Nederland has denied permission to play hide and seek in its stores.

I totally get this. What amuses the heck out of me is the sheer numbers: thirty-two thousand people signed up on Facebook for a game of it in the southern city of Eindhoven. My local IKEA in Amsterdam was the target for nineteen thousand, and Utrecht came in third with twelve grand.

Another titbit of local news is that the rogue owl of Purmerend has been captured. Runners at an athletic center in the pleasant Noord-Hollands town were targeted for weeks by a large and aggressive eagle owl. The papers dubbed the creature the TERROR OEHOE (pronounced “oohoo”), and reported how locals were being encouraged to protect themselves with umbrellas.

What do these stories have in common, apart from the Dutch?

They’re both about intrusions: the playful crowd intruding on corporate space, the wildness of the owl intruding on human territory. Small intrusions are fine: five hundred people playing hide and seek in a Belgian IKEA last year, flash mobs, the silly waddling oppossums I saw while delivering newspapers as a teenager, urban beekeepers. But then suddenly it’s tens of thousands of people, too many for the targeted shop to safely hold; suddenly it’s “a brick laced with nails” coming after you silently through the air. It’s the urban mountain lions that take out a jogger or two every year few years in Western states; it’s protestors staging #blacklivesmatter die-ins in suburban malls.

On the other hand, these intrusions are only outsized until you see them against the things they’re intruding on. IKEA is a huge global company, one of many huge global companies who have encroached on our physical, legal and cultural commons, hijacking everything from the idea that the market square is a public space to the conversations we have about race. And the outsprawling of our urban spaces has given much of the natural world very little choice but to engage with us. Where else can they go? What corner of the world is free from our presence?

March 15, 2015
You must understand that it is the Borgonzian’s proud tribal culture that requires him to strenuously object when you punch him in the nose and steal his stuff
Posted by Patrick at 12:12 PM * 42 comments

From a piece in the Washington Post, yesterday, “This is why it’s impossible for the Kremlin to lie about Putin’s weird disappearance”:

As for the rest of Russia, if the buzz about Putin’s mysterious absence doesn’t make it on the television screen, it didn’t happen: for 90 percent of the Russian population, TV is the main source of news. And, even if they knew, for a majority of Russians this event would be like most other political events—that is, above their pay grade. When it comes to the intricacies of politics, the prevailing attitude outside Moscow’s liberal circles is a semi-religious one, and it comes from Byzantine culture. Just as the Eucharist is prepared behind the wall of icons that separates the altar from the eyes of the laity, so it is with political maneuvers: We are but mere mortals, unable to understand such mysteries. Let the professionals handle it.
The author, Julia Ioffe, is billed as “a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine” who was, before that, “the Moscow correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker.” And yet despite this evidence of real expertise, one has to wonder. Let’s assume that it’s correct to say that the typical Russian response to evidence of secret high-level political manuevering is to shrug it off as something one can’t affect. Is this, in fact, so specifically a Russian response that it needs to be explained as a result of “Byzantine culture,” with specific reference to the Orthodox form of the Mass? Or is it, in fact, an attitude taken by people all over the world toward high-level political events over which they feel they have no control?

I’m betting that it’s the second, and that this digression in what looks like an otherwise unexceptionable piece is a good example of a brain virus that chronically affects American writing about the rest of the world: the portrayal of perfectly normal behavior by foreigners as evidence of their irreducible exoticism. (Probably not coincidentally, an irreducible exoticism that requires complex explanations by credentialed experts.)

(For that matter, as Teresa remarked when I showed her the passage in question, if the Orthodox Mass really had such power to make people politically passive, recent events in Greece would have gone rather differently.)

This kind of thing has been well-parodied over the last couple of years in Slate’s “If It Happened There” series, in which current US events are described with the tone and tropes frequently used by US media to describe scary foreigners. (“EAST RUTHERFORD, United States—This Sunday, the eyes of millions of Americans will turn to a fetid marsh in the industrial hinterlands of New York City for the country’s most important sporting event—and, some would say, the key to understanding its proud but violent culture.”) But as usual, it was the Onion that truly nailed it, all the way back in 2007, with “Study: Iraqis May Experience Sadness When Friends, Relatives Die.

March 12, 2015
“IT’S TIME, TERRY.” “I know.”
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:21 PM * 90 comments

I started reading Pratchett back when his books were merely funny. No, I tell a lie. They were funny and smart, right from the start.

But what they weren’t at first, what they gradually grew into being, was funny, smart, and passionate. He saw the monstrosities of our world: economic inequality, racism, sexism, religious bigotry, the abuses of narrative and myth. And he made them irresistibly ludicrous, laying them relentlessly out until their inner absurdity smothered them, until the least bizzare and most reasonable thing in the story was that it took place on a disc resting on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant space turtle.

He was both wise and kind. It showed in his books, and it shows in the stories people are swapping about him on Twitter. He left a lot of that wisdom behind. May we all benefit from it.

March 09, 2015
Your “polarizing” opinions are part of what you write with
Posted by Patrick at 12:56 PM * 149 comments

I imagine that lots of Making Light’s regular readers also read John Scalzi’s Whatever, so I don’t link to posts by John every time I find myself in strong agreement with him. (Which is frequently.)

But I want to especially note this fine rant from today, particularly if you’re someone who aspires to write and sell genre fiction, or if you’re someone in the early stages of an actual career doing that. John is responding to an article in a publication of the Romance Writers of America* that advises upcoming writers to avoid discussing controversial—their term is “polarizing”—topics on social media, lest they turn off potential readers. John points out, correctly, that this is terrible advice, and goes on to list the several ways in which this is the case. They’re good points and you should read them all. But the one that interests me most is this:

Speaking as an explicitly commercial writer—I write books that I plan to sell! To a lot of people!—I’m of the opinion that one of the worst ways to be a writer is to shear off or trim down all parts of your life that are not obviously designed to further the goal of selling tons of books. Why? Because then you’re cutting off the parts of your life that inform your writing, and which allow you to create the work that speaks to people, which is to say, to write the stories that people want to read and buy, and make you an author they wish to support.
I couldn’t agree more. Good fiction doesn’t come from struggling to offend no one.** Good fiction comes from being in touch with certain deep parts of yourself, parts necessary to pulling off the trick that is making stories people want to read. Those deep parts will not come out to play if you’re bending your efforts toward being the Most Acceptable Kid At The Prom. To actually do the job you’ve got to be your troublesome and awkward self, because that’s all you really have.

There’s an enormous amount of well-intentioned terrible advice to writers about the crashing importance of “social media” and the absolute necessity of having a “platform” and all the desperate supposed do’s and don’t’s of what writers must and mustn’t do in our brave new age of ubiquitous interwebness. Some of this advice is slung forth in the time-honored diction of Grizzled Old Wise-Guy Pros, and some of it is tremblingly proffered as dire warnings of monsters hiding under the bed. Almost all of it is complete bullshit. In writing, just like in motion pictures, William Goldman is still right.


* Just one article. Not the official position of the Romance Writers of America. Obvs.

** You also don’t have to take a public position on any “polarizing” topic if you don’t feel like it. Also obvs.

March 01, 2015
It is not logical, but it is often true
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:54 AM * 134 comments

I’m still quietly reeling from Leonard Nimoy’s death on Friday.

This isn’t some excessive fangirl reaction, some indulgence in popular over-emotion in the wake of an Officially Sanctioned Sad Event. It’s simply that one of the trellises on which I grew my character is gone, really gone. I felt the same way twelve years ago (to the day) when Fred Rogers died. It’s an inward-looking moment, an understanding that I have to be a grownup and make my own choices, because so many of my leaders and teachers are washing away before my eyes.

It’s simple, but that’s not the same as easy. Reinventing, or rediscovering, yourself never is.

But inventing myself the first time wasn’t easy either. I was always looking for models for interacting with the world and dealing with unacceptable emotions, trying to understand how to care about people who were different than me, looking for reassurance that they would care back. I was four years old when I started watching Leonard Nimoy use the character of Spock to teach those lessons.

There are lots of articles out there about how he, and Star Trek, affected people: how they grew onto, over, and beyond the trellis of those stories and characters. I don’t have anything that I want to add to them. But it sounds like there’s discussion to be had in the community, and I’d be interested in reading it.

Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.