Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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More thoughts on awards, and community

I’ve been following the conversation at Black Gate, about the proposal for “The Awards to be Named Later” I’ve also been following it at File 770. I’ve also seen things said about parts of it on twitter.  I’ve been following with a mix of hope and despair.  This is, I think, a serious attempt to propose, a sort of modus vivendi, between part (what one would like to think is the larger slice) of the Puppy camp, and wider fandom. That’s a ground for hope. A mindset of perpetual war isn’t good for any of us.

The despair comes from seeing those same comments.  There is a lack of self-awareness to the position the puppies have put themselves into.  Even if we assume (arguendo) that Fandom (with a Capital F) hates them (which I don’t), the means by which they attempted to deal with that hate weren’t going to smooth the waters anywhere.  Hell, if we assume Fandom hated them, then what they did was tailor made to entrench it.

I don’t think Fandom hates them. I think Fandom is upset with them.  Setting aside the first year, which wasn’t more than moderately offensive (based on I don’t know what, some basic cluelessness about what the Hugos are, and how they work is my best guess), the second and third iterations were about as tailor made as one can imagine to mobilise a strong, and angry, pushback.  Attempts were made to subvert the process, in the interest of hijacking the awards.  The rhetoric was heated, but the Puppies was apocalyptic.  Nothing less than the future of SF Fandom was at stake.

The mythology of the Puppies doesn’t help.  If there is a super-seekrit cabal of SJWs skewing the awards for purely political purposes… well there isn’t.  The simple mechanics of the awards are such that too many people have to be involved.  Year in, year out, the Cabal has to have enough votes to edge out the rest of the field.  Each year, they have to include just a few more of those secret voters.  But they can’t put in to many, or they would show.  And each year’s worldcon has a new committee administering the Hugos. So it’s a fresh chance each year to make a mistake that outs the conspiracy.

So I’ll argue it’s not possible.

Which is, IMO, a large part of why fandom got so upset.  The Puppies were trying to gaslight every fan who took part in the Hugos of the past 15-20 years.  Telling them they were, if not deluded, then completely duped.  That’s never going to go over well. Hell, it doesn’t go over well when 1: it’s true, and 2: can be proven.  When it’s amorphous, contrary to reason, and at odds with experience…. people are going to develop strong feelings.  Strong feelings which aren’t going to fade in a month.

One of the things Maynard is unhappy about is the accusation that he is saying people who aren’t “the right sort” aren’t fans.  I feel for him.  I take him at his word he doesn’t think that.  But the Puppies made it pretty plain that, as a group, they do.  The entire rhetorical device of “wrongfans” and “wrongfun”, married to the idea of a vast wellspring of silent fans who were rising up to take their legitimate seats at the table; after years of active exclusion… that’s a narrative which says the Fans who have been reading things, nominating things, and voting for the Hugos, aren’t doing it legitimately.

That’s gonna get pushback.

I understand that the pushback stings.  But (and this is one of those points where we do have a fundamental disagreement), the Puppies have to accept the people who are unhappy with them have a legitimate grievance. I don’t think they need to ask forgiveness, but (in the face of a legitimate grievance) saying,

I fear the Hugos have already been permanently destroyed for this purpose, between the hated Vox Day and the No Puppy slate voting and raucous cheering and Vonnegut Memorial Asterisks. They cannot be salvaged without the kind of overture the anti-Puppies seem to be incapable of making.

Is not going to be taken in a neutral way, even by people who aren’t against the idea of people getting to together to praise those things they like.

Presenting the award as 1: a way to fix a different award, and 2: because the people doing that award are “doing it wrong” is also not going to go over well.  Yes, I am making an argument about tone.  I am saying that if Maynard wanted to get enthusiastic encouragement, support, and aid, which comments like this one seem to imply,

As I’ve said before, I appreciate that the folks here have, for the most part, been quite reasonable and courteous and non-inflammatory. Compare with the folks over at File 770 (to mention one site where I’ve read the comments).

But just as I thought we were moving toward a proposal that we could all agree on – which is still my fondest hope – it blows up in my face. All because I pointed out it could be something everyone could agree on and still remain true to what they believe. What I got back was “Oh, Puppies like it? Go away, this is for adults.”

I’ve dealt with Internet hate before, and this proposal has gotten a lot of it. What’s disheartening is that it’s arisen in a context where I’m trying hard to bring people together. I’ve already said that this proposal was just that, a proposal open for discussion. I’ve said more than once that my views are changing about parts of it. I haven’t put up a rewrite because I’m not sure that posting a new version in the comments here is all that good an idea.

Then not antagonising those whom you wish to take part is important, esp. if the group you want to have help you, “doesn’t think the Hugos are broken”,* matters.  I also don’t think the comments, on the whole, elseweb are “inflammatory”, per se. Are they upset?  Yes. They’ve been having something they love attacked for a couple of years; with at least one more year of attacks promised. The Puppies don’t see it that way.  That’s irrelevant.  Fandom, as whole, does.  Telling them they are “doing it wrong”, that they don’t appreciate story; that they praised things for other than the story, and then admitting one has never read the stories being decried… not going to win people over to your side.

That tone deafness has been at the heart of this thing.  It’s hard to believe the Puppies are people of good will; honest actors, when they misrepresent their position.  It’s hard to say, “Storytelling isn’t what this book was praised for” when one hasn’t read the story.  It’s rude to tell people they are wrong about the reasons they state they liked something.  It’s foolish to do that when one hasn’t actually read the material.

It’s ridiculous to be upset they aren’t greeting such things with open arms and paeans of praise. To accuse those who misunderstood one’s intent, when the ideas are unclear, and one admits they were unclear, in an environment where some of the people taking umbrage have been vilified, attacked, threatened; in some cases for years, is to lack empathy.

The “web of trust”, is ill-thought out.  It’s incredibly dependent on start conditions; esp. as it has two tiers of power: one of the rank and file; who can only vouch for 3-10 people, and one for the inner circle, who have unlimited vouching powers (and one presumes the same unlimited power to downgrade someone).  Given the way the leadership of the Puppy factions has talked about the non-puppies I can’t fault those who think this is a con-job, a way to make a pretense of inclusion while being certain the “SJWs” are kept from taking part.

I’m with Scalzi on this.  I’m a fan because I say I’m a fan.  If all that’s meant with “the Web of Trust” is to verify I’m a real person, not a persona created to game the system, then any known person should be able to vouch for me.  No one should be able to “unvouch” me.  There is no reason for that, save to pursue an ideological purity.  The purity in question seems to be “likes message fiction”  But, as the comments make clear, there are no objective criteria for message fiction.  “If the “message doesn’t get in the way of the story”, it’s ok,”  but the lines on where that happens are… past the point of unclear, rising to the level of shibboleth.

As long at the trust/distrust metric is in the proposal, it’s doomed.  Because all it will take is a small number of people who have a strong agenda to get access to the no-limits on trust/distrust to completely unbalance the pool.  If I read the rules correctly, it would only take 10 to conduct a wholesale purge. That’s a recipe for feuds. Those are just problems with the ways voters are en/disenfranchised.  It doesn’t address the problems of the adminstrators being the arbiters of what counts as “all about story”.  Fans are passionate.  Fans are fond of hair-splitting differences.  Fans are going to contest the administrators.  I can see administrators who have unlimited power to reduce “trust” doing it if their judgement is questioned.  The very nature of the word “trust” in the process makes it more easily justified.

Fixing that will be work (that, or it will break the system completely).  WSFS has a means to do this.  In part because the purpose of WSFS isn’t to hand out the Hugos, but to host a party for fans. The business meetings are a direct outgrowth of that.  Every SF club/organisation to which I’ve belonged/attended the business meetings of, has had a lore of arcane practice to deal with the cultural love of minutiae, trivia, disputation, and so keep an even keel.  It often makes Young Turks cranky [I know, I was once a Young Turk] and can stifle change. There are times the resistance to rapid change is detrimental.  On balance (as I’ve become an older turk), I am more content with that.

Can The Awards to be Named Later be made to work?  Yes.  Do I think the present schema is functional?  No. There is a lot of paperwork to be done.  There is a greater need for money than Maynard seems to realise.

But the greatest hurdle is trust.  If (and it’s big if) this award is to have any traction in Greater Fandom, the Fans have to trust that all is aboveboard, and open, and not just someone trying to stick their thumb in our eye. I either need to be convinced the Hugos are broken (they are not yet, and I don’t think they will be: in response to need the change is as sudden as we can make it), or that this award is complementary.† Right now I don’t see that this is the case. The mechanisms are open to abuse, the criteria seem to be colored by the wider culture war, and the arguement for them (that the Hugos don’t represent “good story telling” doesn’t feel affirmative; but reactionary.

I don’t know that those things can be fixed, because I don’t think the Hugos are broken.  Do I think a conversation about what good storytelling is should be had?  Yeah.  I’m all for it. Do I think talking about what the messages in various works is is relevant?  Yeah.  Do I think Maynard (and the Puppiesº) should participate?  Hell yeah. What makes me a fan is I like SF, and I take part in the community. If they like SF, and want to participate, then I’m all for it. The more the merrier.  Will it be acrimonious?  Yeah, some of it will be.

Acrimony between fans isn’t new.  Beale’s hatred of Scalzi (and Scalzi’s active, caustic, disdain in return) isn’t the first long-running fan-feud.  Won’t be the last. But if the Puppies want to take part in Fandom, they have to take part in Fandom, not demand that Fandom take part in Puppydom.

*I, for one, don’t think the Hugos are broken.  I don’t even think the process is broken.  I think there is a small group who wishes to break them.  As a problem it requires a very different solution.

†If it’s not complementary, in some way, then I don’t need to be involved.  I also am not likely to pay much attention. I find most “Libertarian” fic to be preachy, expository and driven by message, so I don’t follow the awards.  I’m not against reading “libertarian” books, but winning a Prometheus doesn’t imply to me that I will like it.

ºTo which group Maynard does not belong.  He disavows membership, and I take him at his word.


To expand a bit

I’m a bit out of practice at regular blogging, also the subject is one I didn’t want to drift all over the map with, so I’d like to expand some on “The Awards To Be Named Later”

They have chosen works based on their political emphasis, or the race or nationality of the author, or other criteria aside from that which defines SF/F

More rubbish.  I alluded to this in my digression on Lucifer’s Hammer.  Assuming all the other problems can be worked out* the idea of Real SF™ makes this a doomed project. Name a fandom, any fandom, and you will have some serious debates about “purity”.  Me, I’m a baseball fan.  I abominated Astro-turf, dislike the designated hitter, and think interleague play is a debasement for which words fail me (these are probably the only issues on the planet, about which George Will and I have any congruence in philosophical outlook).  Baseball’s easy on that score. Even so, every year there is some moment where a clever player manages to game the rules, and cause a ruckus. Then, in the off season, the Rule Committee sits down, and argues, and debates, and figures out what to do about it.

In that regard, Fandom doesn’t have a rules committee.  New Wave came out, and we argued (some are still arguing).  Cyberpunk came out, and we argued.  Any discussion of our hobby (be it lit, costumes, filks, room-parties, single-hall; or multiple venue, media-con, lit-con, game-rooms, con-suite, Ice Cream Social, Rock Dance (or Regency), we argue about it.

Hell, even in the comments at Black Gate I saw one which was just begging for someone to dispute (Pern is obviously Fantasy, not SF).  So what happens when someone on the Committee vetoes a book which everyone thinks is Real SF™?  What happens if, in the run-up to nominations, someone on The Committee says, “oh, that doesn’t count as SF because….”.   All fiction has a message.  Zane Grey has one. Raymond Chandler has one.  C.S. Lewis has one.  What all of those also has, was writing people liked.  Not all people, and not all writing (e.g. me and C.S. Lewis.  I like most of the Narnia books, find Screwtape pleasantly provocative, and can’t stand the Silent Planet books).  Does Ancillary Justice have a “message”?  I don’t know.  Setting aside that I’ve not read it, I don’t know what Leckie was trying to say.

Did Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” have a message?  Yep. Was it a good book? I didn’t think so.  Even at that I might have been able to say, “It’s worth reading for the exposé aspect, except that he tacked on this ending which has the protagonist reverse course… why?  So Sinclair could add some polemic about the need for socialism.  It’s not that I disagree with the message that makes me want to fling the book across the room, it’s that the writing is AWFUL (it might have been less bad as a newspaper serial).  I don’t have that problem with Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  Both writers meant to tel a story with a social agenda attached.  In that regard both are “message fiction”.  They have related messages.  I like one, not the other.

Why?  Because one told the story in a way I enjoyed.  That is the criteria by which the Hugos are awarded.  The author told a story WSFS members enjoyed. There is no litmus test.  No need for aliens, nor tech, nor magic spells, nor asbtruse word games, or made up languages. Time travelling alternate History (Turtledove’s “Guns of the South” comes to mind), as does non-time-travelling (e.g. The Two Georges, nominated for a Sidewise Award). If the fans nominate it (and it meets the time/length criteria) it’s SF. Why?  Because World Science Fiction Society members said so.

If you don’t think it’s SF… fine.  Put it on your shelf next to the Hemmingway. It still got nominated for a rocket.

I don’t see a way to define a platonic ideal of Real SF™ which works.  Does it require Ray Guns?  Leaves out a lot of Golden Age SF.  Artificial Intelligence?  Leaves out a lot of Golden Age SF. Does it require space travel… you see where this is going.  SF is a huge, and amorphous, field.  It’s always had politics (Saberhagen’s Berserkers, as much as Dune). Some of those political messages we don’t see anymore, because the context is gone (e.g. Alice in Wonderland).

I am not against these awards (neither on principle, nor in practice).  Honestly, if they go for it, I wish them all good fortune (though I would warn them, administering the Hugos is a huge undertaking, and that’s without the complexities of nomination, and voting these awards propose: it will take more money, time, and effort than I think has been realised).

But I see some serious problems in execution as presently envisioned, which I think stem from the vision.






*e.g. the difficulties of scaling a web of trust. It’s why there are always cops and informants in all revolutionary movements. ObSF, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Cell structure isn’t to prevent infiltration. It’s damage control for the inevitable presence of it.  I don’t even want to know what happens if someone gets to “Level 10 Trust” and then “goes Rogue”, getting booted back down to “Level Zero Trust”.  Do the people they vouched for get purged too?  If ideological purity is a factor, then gaming this system isn’t that hard; and it probably wouldn’t take more than a couple of awards cycles for someone who wanted to do it.  I don’t think Fandom cares enough to do it (heck, if it means they stop dicking with the Hugos the fans I know would be overjoyed to let them give out all the awards they care to name), but short of having non-secret ballots, just a little “contamination” and the ballots are gonna look a lot more like the Hugos than not (though the EPH aspects, married to the ability of the Committee of Judges to purge works which aren’t “Real SF™” would stave off some of that)

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What Rubbish

It would appear that those who failed to game the system of the Hugos don’t read their own PR. Over at Black Gate there is a proposal for a new (name as yet to be determined) award. At first blush I say, “good on ’em.” If they don’t think the Hugos represent what they think should be praised in SF, I’m for it. We have lots of awards. The Rhysling (for poetry), the Prometheus (Libertarian), The Sidewise (alternate History) the Heinlein, the Asimov, The Locus, The Nebulas, the Nortons… regional awards, professional awards, really narrow category award (the Official Star Wars Film Awards).

One more award, is fine with me. It’s a good thing. I support fans getting together to express joy in what they like. It’s why I attend cons. It’s why I work on cons. It’s why I kick money to groups bidding for cons. It’s why I sit in bars with my friends and we end up talking about cons, and it’s why I write about cons. I’m a fan. Which is why I find this proposed award to be ridiculous.

The (insert name here) Awards

We the undersigned believe that those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: “Does it tell a good story?”

Therefore, we propose a new series of awards, to be named The (insert name here) Awards for Storytelling in Science Fiction and Fantasy, or the (insert name here) Awards for short.

The (insert name here) Awards will be granted as determined by SF/F fandom as a whole through a nomination, qualification, and election process managed initially by a committee of volunteers from across fandom. A Foundation shall be established and obtain recognition from the US Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit corporation under the provisions of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the Foundation’s Board of Directors shall assume management of the Awards once it has done so.

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

For those who don’t know the backstory, some three years ago an author complained that he wasn’t getting his due as a writer. The people nominating for the Hugo Awards weren’t putting his name in the ring. The Hugos are an open award. Anyone who has an interest can take part, by being members in good standing of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), which body oversees, and awards, the Hugos. They also throw a big party, once a year, in various places around the world.

Attending the party isn’t mandatory. Paying the annual fee (not really dues, but sort of like dues) and casting ballots are all one need do to be a part of the process. So this author wasn’t getting recognition from the 1,500-3,000 people each year who nominate. It hurt his feelings, and he told people about it, in the hope they would nominate him. Not enough of his fans managed to do this.

The next year the ante was upped, more people got involved, a list of works was bandied about, and a couple of them got on the ballot. They lost. This year’s awards were dominated by the factions which had come to be known as, “The Puppies” They put up two slates, and pretty much rammed them through. They lost. Fandom is no stranger to feuds. We’ve been having them since well before the first worldcon (where one group of fans excluded another group of fans from attendance). We’ll be having them long after this has become, like Nycon 1, a footnote in Fannish History.

The big argument they made was, “The Hugos don’t reflect what the fans want” conspiracy theories, Secret Masters of Fandom, Industry Collusion, vote-rigging, secret slates, bribes: all these things have been used to explain why the stripe of SF they like hasn’t been winning. They also argue that it’s all about LEFT WING SOCIAL JUSTICE POLITICS, not THE STORY!!!!!

I don’t buy it. I think it’s that the people who plunk down their ~$50US for a supporting membership, so they can vote, like stories a bit different from those the Puppies favor, and they outnumber the number of puppies willing (absent A Cause) to plunnk down that money; at least to an extent which means the Puppies tastes aren’t strongly represented. Guess what… my tastes are underrepresented too. It’s what comes of having one voice among many. If I were giving out The Terrys, I could have 100 percent representation. If I picked really good books the award might even end up being prestigious.  But it wouldn’t be the Hugos.

In some ways the Hugos are counterintuitive, unlike the Nebulas they aren’t selected by professional writers. Nor are they selected (as the Campbells are) by academics, experts in the field; and experts on writing, as a craft. They are the consensus of dedicated followers. Dedicated, because they pay to take part. Dedicated because, as the award has gained cachet, they have adopted the ideal that the books must be “good”*, and try to select the books they think the best of the what they’ve read in the previous year†. That’s what the Hugos are. A fan award, for fans.

I think, actually, that’s why they work. Look at that list of SFnal Awards. How many books have, Winner of the International Fantasy Award (which started in 1951) plastered on the cover? What about Pilgrim Award winning Author? Not many. Why? At a guess, it doesn’t reflect what people buy. The Hugos are prestigious because they are a fan award, and they are a fan award which speaks to a wide slice of Fandom.

Which brings me back to the “As yet unnamed Award”. The Puppies say they are unhappy about “the politics” they believe have been introduced to the Hugos in the past 15-20 years (apparently not noticing the subtext in Startide Rising [Best Novel, 1984], which I mention because that was the first year in which I voted for the Hugos).

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

What? 1: The begged question is the implicit assertion that the Hugos aren’t being voted on in that way. 2: Who is going to vet the voters, to make sure they only look at the “quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion”. 3: What makes it SF/F (Lucifer’s Hammer was nominated for a Hugo… the only SFnal elements in it were…. a comet hits the earth. That’s it. A comet hits the earth. Oh yeah, some of the characters talk about space exploration as a moral imperative, and a shout out to Asimov’s Foundation gets made while a couple is busy not having an affair in the foothills of the Sierra’s, and looking up at the stars, but SF, qua, SF? Not so much.)?

The Rationale

The rationale for the (insert name here) Awards is simple. Over time, the Hugo voters have considered other factors than the most fundamental when evaluating a work. They have chosen works based on their political emphasis, or the race or nationality of the author, or other criteria aside from that which defines SF/F. Attempts to turn the Hugo Awards back to the foundations of SF/F have been met with derision and outright hatred. Despite their previous claims to the contrary, the Hugo Awards voters and others now say that the Hugos represent the World Science Fiction Society’s choices, not those of fandom at large.

If this were true… well they’d have facts. There would be evidence. There has not been any presented to date, and (barring a mass confession on the part of the voting public) there is no way to say those criteria have become the way the Hugos are chosen, much less the way they are nominated. Nope, that requires a long, and careful; and amazingly secret/effective conspiracy. I’ve been in Fandom one way or another, since 1976. I worked Worldcons, WesterCons, LosCons, Arisia, filkcons. I’ve attended, hell, I can’t remember, how many local, regional, etc. conventions. I’ve got friends who are Smofs, and authors, and editors, and artists and neofans, and First Fans, and APAfans, and MediaFans and FilkFans, &c., &c., &c.. Somehow, with my tendrils in lots of pies I’ve never sniffed the least hint of this conspiracy. Not in 40 years of being in fandom, coast to coast, at from the bottom to the top.

What is actually happening is a difference of opinion. This group thinks the books that won are bad books.  They don’t understand how a majority of fans could like them well enough to give them Hugos (really, go read the comments, it’s what the specific complaints boil down to)

As to the Hatred… the jury is still out. A lot (an awful lot) of fans hated the system gaming††. They joined together to repudiate that. If saying, “we think this undermines the integrity of the award” is the same as hatred… well that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How then will the “As yet unnmamed awards” prevent this sort of drift (away from “pure story”)

The Mechanics

The nominees are then considered by the Judging Committee. The judges shall evaluate each work solely by its storytelling. The judges may disqualify any work they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story. They may disqualify no more than three nominees in any category. The disqualified nominees will be replaced by reprocessing the nominating ballots from the beginning as though those nominees had never been submitted; the judges may not disqualify the replacement nominees. This power is expected to be used very sparingly, as the awards are intended to reflect the choices of fandom at large.

So, Fandom At Large, as graded by The Judging Committee, will choose “the best SF story telling”, which will be categorised in much the same way as the present Hugos. The elephant in the room is… Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The Eligible Voters

To become an eligible voter for the (insert name here) Awards, a person must be vouched for by one or more existing eligible voters. This is defined as having a trust level of 1 or greater. When first registering to vote, a person’s trust level is 0. An existing eligible voter whose trust level is 3 or greater may raise or lower the trust level of up to three other people by 1 each, and this number rises by 1 with each additional trust level until a maximum of a trust level of 10 is reached. The undersigned, as well as prior recipients of a (insert name here) Award and current and past members of the Foundation Board of Directors and Judging Committee, may raise or lower the trust level of any person by 1. A voter may not raise the trust level of anyone who raised his own, nor of anyone in the chain of trust leading back to those holding unlimited trusting privileges.

All registration and trust level processing shall be done automatically by the (insert name here) Award website. All records of trust levels being raised or lowered shall be retained for a period to be determined by the Foundation Board of Directors; this period is intended to be limited only by practical methods of data storage.

Nope, no politics there. One of “The RightFans” has to vouch for you. The more “RightFans” vouch for you, the more people you can then vouch in. This is a Tree House Fort, writ large. It’s High School Cliques as Honor Society. It’s the Antithesis of “fandom at large”, which is what they claim to represent. They have blackballing too. If someone things you are a “WrongFan” they can “distrust” you. Who will vouch for the people they hate? That’s the test of any system which purport to inclusion. How does it deal with those who are disliked? WSFS says, “pay the money, cast the vote”.

If you want to change how WSFS does things, come to the con, attend the business meeting (and one need not do that to put a piece of business before the meeting).

“The Puppies” don’t want to do this.  They have said Real Science Fiction™ has ENEMIES IN HIGH PLACES. They can’t work inside the system, because The System is hopelesssly corrupt. If this is a Puppy Dominant group are they going to let them in? Why should they? How could they? Unless the Board of Directors appoints them, and puts them in a place where they can’t become “untrusted”, there is no way to prevent the mob from running them out of town.

It’s not about “Quality of Storytelling”, as the comments discussing the award make plain (complete with discussions of how to maintain the ideological purity of the voting pool). It’s about not liking who has been winning, because they think the stories are political. Which is why I don’t think, even if they can decide on a name, and get them off the ground, they will go much of anywhere. It’s not about the stories. It’s about what they see as a culture war. While it may make for exciting times, it rarely makes for good fiction.


*A term of dubious merit
†Any examination of people discussing what books to nominate (and such discussions have gone on for decades) has a least a few people who aver they don’t nominate because they don’t read widely enough; who are told, almost universally, to vote their heart. If enough other people are of a like mind, then the book is worthy of nomination.
†† (and there is a lot of active dislike, repugnance; and yes, no small amount of hatred, for at least one of the Puppies, but his hatred of Fandom in general, and some specific fans in particular, is well known, and of long standing. That some reciprocate his feelings is unsurprising.


On JCW and heresy:

Teresa Neilsen Hayden asked me to elaborate on a comment I made that John C Wright has heretical views on the nature of the Eucharist, Free Will, and the nature of the divine.
This is what he said.

“I was unaware that he [Nielsen Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised. It could happen in a moment, in a miracle. All of the last twenty years of crap that has been given awards, and all of the careers stifled or ruined by this man, all the promising books that never saw the light of day because they were shouldered aside by poorly-written uber-Leftist propaganda penned by freaks who hate our genre and despise our founding members — all that could be forgiven by heaven and not held against Mr. Hayden’s account on Judgement Day.”

There is a lot to unpack in this: and a lot of it has to do with (I think) Wright’s late conversion to Catholicism. It’s got nothing to do with his having been an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity (at the age of 42). I think it has more to do with 1: the general nature of Christianity we see in the press. 2: that he converted to a non RC form of Christianity some five years before he joined The Church*.

Roman Catholics do not believe in pro-forma, magical, salvation. There is no certainty for any of us. In fact the baseline assumption is none of us, not laity, nor clergy, no, not even the pope, is guaranteed a place in heaven; most of us, even the most devout and observant, will still be short of the purity of spirit to get into heaven directly, and today’s sanctity is no guarantee of tomorrow.

This is at odds with much protestant (esp. Born Again) doctrine. As a general rule protestants believe those who have been “saved” go straight to heaven. Everyone else goes straight to Hell. Grace, and grace alone, is all you need. Among many of the Born Again sects, once you have that grace, it’s yours forever. Get “saved” at eight, commit mass murder at 30, go to heaven when you die.

Which brings me to the magical thinking of Wright.

“I was unaware that he {Nielson Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised.”

What rubbish. Earlier Wright averred that Patrick was a “Christ hater”. Why? Because Patrick is not a reactionary zealot on social issues which Wright sees as horrible (things like the equality of women, and homosexuals; the use of contraceptives, choice, etc.). So Wright seems to think that if one comes to the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a clear mind. and an open heart, the mere act of taking the wafer will cause one to suddenly become a reactionary Catholic.

I can’t tell you how offensive that is to me, as a Catholic. It strips us of the thing which most shows how we are made in God’s image. We have reason. We have free will. At the risk of grave oversimplification the entirety of Doctrinal Argument, over some 2,000 years is how to reconcile those two things with the idea of a just and loving God.

At the risk of excessive digression, every time someone who is anti-religion whips out some “gotcha” question I have to laugh. I’ve yet to hear one that hasn’t been asked before. There is nothing new under the sun. If Augustine didn’t grapple with it, Aquinas did. What they glossed, Francis, and Ignatius, and Benedict, and any number of parish priests have grappled with, from the least of problems (my husband snores, my wife always undersalts the soup) to the great and terrible (why do good things happen to bad people, why to bad things happen to the good).

Some of the answers are facile. Some are subtle. Some bring cold comfort; and some uplift the soul. All of them, are the fruit of reason (filtered by belief, dogma, and doctrine). Over time those have all changed. The world is not static, and no one gets to put God on retainer†. Not only that, but Wright is arguing that if one takes the Eucharist with a properly pure heart one will suddenly be changed in a John C Wright sort of Roman Catholic.

Which is interesting, because many of John C Wright’s beliefs are in direct contravention of Church Doctrine. He has argued:

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

This is not what the Church teaches. 1: Birth Control is not forbidden. Contraceptive devices (in which I include hormonal BC) is a venial sin. But using rhythm isn’t prohibited (and using tools to make one’s use of rhythm more effective doesn’t count as a “device”). 2: The Church thinks sex, just for the sake of sex, is just fine. Yes, it needs to be in the context of marriage to not be a venial sin, but that’s it. Venial sin. Married people are enjoined to have sex, just for the sake of sex, because it’s good for them.

Venial sins are minor.∞ The Church divides sins into two categories. Venial, and Mortal. Mortal sins will lead one to Hell. To avoid that we have to confess our sins. We don’t need a priest (though it makes things easier). Even a Mortal sin, confessed to God, with a sincere heart, can be absolved without anyone else being involved (though the conditions in which that happens are the sort where screwing up, and not getting the confessing done are more likely, it’s a deathbed realisation one has really screwed up. Most of us have time between something like bearing false witness and our dying day, to admit we did it, and pursue making formal amends).

Moreover, what Wright is railing about are not personal actions; they are the attitudes of lots of Catholics to matters of public (as opposed to private) life. My religion prohibits all sorts of things (e.g. praying to other gods). It doesn’t prohibit other things (e.g. mixing linen and wool§). What it also doesn’t do is demand that I make my faith the law of the land. Really, it doesn’t. It abjures me to look for the divine in everyone. It enjoins me to be compassionate and merciful. It enjoins me to obey the laws of the nation in which I live. It might be taken that it commands me to be publicly opposed to some things. Even in that, the things Wright rails against, e.g. “sodomy”, aren’t things I am enjoined to persecute; even if I am expected to abjure them for myself.

The Church has some fucked up ideas on homosexuality. Not gonna argue. I think them more subtle than most outside it do; and while I understand (and sympathise with) those who, having suffered as a result are furious with Her for what She has done; and for what She has failed to do, I also know that Pope Francis has said things which should make Wright feel shame for his failure to be a dutiful son of The Church.

So, looking at Actual Doctrine, and at what Patrick has said publicly (I cannot speak to his private thoughts. I have no window to his soul**) I don’t see one damned thing to assume he is not taking communion with a pure and open heart. I have no way to know what conversations he has with his confessor. I do know that I have not seen the level of vitriolic hatred toward others of God’s creation as I have seen Wright spewing.

And the idea that God would, to make any one person happy, force the conversion of belief to some other template, that is heresy. It denies the action of free will. It tosses all of the bible out the window. It makes a mockery of thousands of years of thinking, arguing, reasoning, by tens of thousands, yea millions of people of good will.

All because Mr. Wright got his feelings hurt when he tried to rig an election. He might want to think about that, the next time he attempts an Examination of Conscience.

*I am a Roman Catholic, Forgive me my use of “The Church”, but I think it adds some context. As to my religious belief… I am a Catholic of heterodox practice. I am Quaker adjacent, an adherent of Liberation Theology, went to parish schools for portions of my primary education, considered taking orders with the Society of Jesus. Ultimately the things about my personal faith which make it useful to me, also led to my realising I have some significant differences about Doctrine, which meant I couldn’t have taken vows in good conscience. I wish John Paul I had not died so soon, that John Paul II had not been pope for so long, that Benedict has been the worst pope in modern memory (and that his effect on the Church in his role as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done more harm to the body of the church than will be undone without great effort, perhaps taking lifetimes). I have great hope for Francis.

†That is the crux of my doctrinal difference with The Church. Ex cathedra (i.e. the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility on matter of doctrine). I don’t buy it. At a fundamental level I can’t. If it were true then the pope gets to tell God what to do or the pope loses at least some of his free will. Neither is consonant with my faith.

∞There is an argument to be made that the continued practice of a venial sin may rise to the level of Mortal Sin, but that’s a much longer issue; the fundamental question seems to boil down to, “does this harm another person”.

§NB, those are the only fibers one may not mix, per the OT. Wool/poly, not a problem. Linen/cotton, not a problem. every time that list about, “what do I tell my friend when they say” goes around to make fun of the “Fundamentalists” I cringe. I cringe for more than just that, but the thing about that line is it makes it clear it was written by someone who was mining the OT for talking points, and ignoring both the context of the Leviticus/Deuteronomy, and that some 2,000+ years of evolving doctrine have taken place on the Christian side. More than that on the Jewish side (where that restriction still applies).

**Though Mr. Wright pretends to have one into the souls of all who disagree with him: “Support for contraception tempts the weakminded to support the sexual revolution hence to support abortion; support for the sexual revolution require the normalization of divorce, then fornication, then perversion; support for abortion tempts the weakminded to support euthanasia, because human life is no longer sacrosanct, but instead merely an adjunct to human bodily pleasure. Once an otherwise intelligent and decent man is convinced all these abominations and horrors are moral, he has a visceral hatred of morality, of decency, and of honest, and he soon learns to hate decent and honest people.”