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April 28, 2015
Posted by Patrick at 08:00 AM * 235 comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates, last night:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
As Terry Karney observed on Twitter, the amazing thing isn’t that Baltimore has a riot right now, it’s that other American cities aren’t rioting as well.

Hugos III: The Search For Rock…ets
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:51 AM * 871 comments

The previous thread is getting pretty full, and the conversation seems to want to continue. So let’s just slide it over here. And we remember as we do so to continue to discuss the matter in the fashion that makes us proudest of Making Light, no matter how people are doing it elsewhere. Right? Right.

(NB: I’m only a little sorry for the title.)

Posted by Teresa at 07:21 AM * 151 comments

salt 3.JPG

This started when I got a splinter stuck under my thumbnail, and had to soak it in hot salt water. I used a palmful of coarse sea salt and one of my favorite mugs, a heavy stoneware dreadnaught I’d gotten on Martha’s Vineyard. When I was done, I set the mug on our sideboard and forgot about it for a week.

The result was startling. Salt water had seeped through cracks in the glaze and into the clay body of the mug. As it dried, the salt was extruded through every crack, in sheets and curls and whiskers. Where the glaze crackling was crosshatched, it formed networks of open-topped boxes.

better salt photo.JPG

That was a wake-up call. I’ve always assumed that if I can’t see crackling, the glaze must be intact, more or less. That meant it was a nice smooth inert vitreous surface, so when I cleaned it, whatever I’d had in the mug would be gone.

I was wrong about that. The salt had mapped a network of invisible cracks that covered the mug inside and out, and the underlying clay body was clearly porous. I found myself remembering every warning I’d ever read about not using your working kitchenware for chemical dyeing projects.

last salt photo.jpg

I’ve also been wondering about microbial life. I don’t know the size limits on particles that can move through porous stoneware, but viruses are awfully small. Maybe this is why a lot of serious gardeners insist on running their plant pots and jardinières through a dishwasher with the temperature set on “high” — basically, an autoclave.

After the mug was completely dry and I’d photographed it for posterity, I took it into the kitchen and gave it a good washing. It promptly grew another coating of salt — not as luxuriant as the first, but thick enough to be semi-opaque. So I washed it again, and it extruded salt again.

I’m now on my fourth round of salt extrusions. This time, instead of letting the mug dry, I’ve filled it with fresh water. The idea is that the water will push the salt before it. The results are encouraging: I’ve got a crop of long elaborate salt whiskers sprouting from the center of the mug handle, which had previously been extrusion-free.

I’ve always loved pottery. I love it still. But I trust it less.

April 21, 2015
On sale today: Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities
Posted by Teresa at 08:25 AM * 27 comments

affinities.jpg On sale today in hardcover and e-book. Excerpt here. Brief interview with the author here. Author website here.

Our flap copy:

In our rapidly-changing world of social media, people are more and more able to sort themselves into social groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies—genetic, brain-mapping, behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one’s life. It’s like family, and more than family. Your fellow members aren’t just like you, and they aren’t just people who are likely to like you. They’re also the people with whom you can best cooperate in all areas of life—creative, interpersonal, even financial.

At loose ends both professional and personal, young Adam Fisk takes the suite of tests to see if he qualifies for any of the Affinities, and finds that he’s a match for one of the largest, the one called Tau. It’s utopian—at first. Problems in all areas of his life begin to simply sort themselves out, as he becomes part of a global network of people dedicated to helping one another—to helping him.

But as the differing Affinities put their new powers to the test, they begin to rapidly chip away at the power of governments, of global corporations, of all the institutions of the old world. Then, with dreadful inevitability, the different Affinities begin to go to war—with one another.

Some reviews:

“Like social media groups on steroids, the 22 ‘Affinities’ in the world of Robert Charles Wilson’s novel provide individuals with communities stronger than family. This timely thriller will keep you turning its pages until the wee hours of the morning.”
Paste Magazine

“An intriguing and seriously innovative attempt to grapple with some of the issues raised by the 21st century’s obsession with social media.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A fascinating transformation on one of the oldest plot devices in SF: people who are widely hated for their inherent difference from the rest of humankind….Wilson’s trademark well-developed characters and understated but compelling prose are very much in evidence in this quietly believable tale of the near future.”
Publishers Weekly

April 18, 2015
A few simple desultory philippics
Posted by Patrick at 07:46 PM * 548 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 *

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 *

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:




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.

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