After the Hugos (or: Did I Hear You Say That This Is Victory?)

Last week, fans in Spokane, Washington and around the world gathered to watch the presentation 73rd Annual Hugo Awards, one of the greatest and most notable honors bestowed for achievement in the genre of science fiction. It’s been a tense year. Two separate but linked reactionary movements, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, made substantial gains in the nominations, successfully crowding out the sort of nominees that would generally be selected by the community at large. The Rabid Puppies enjoyed particular success due to a cult of personality centered on Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, who encouraged his followers to vote in lockstep. This practice was meant to counter the machinations of an imaginary cabal of liberal elitists who had been corrupting the soul of science fiction. In fact, it succeeded so dramatically because most fans not involved in the slates were already voting their conscience and nominating works they simply liked. Against this scattershot approach, lockstep voters were bound to succeed.

But the practices that allowed the Puppies of both houses to overwhelm the nominations could not allow them to carry the voting on the awards proper, particularly not after a record number of people bought supporting memberships in Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, and voted according to their consciences. For some, this meant ranking No Award – always an option, in ANY year – above nominees placed by the Puppy slates, whether because they disagreed with the reactionary politics or because they disliked slate voting on principle. For others, this meant reading all the works and judging them on merit. For myself, it meant rejecting some works that stank of particularly odious politics and personalities, or of obvious self-promotion (I rejected nearly anything published by Castalia House as Vox Day leveraging his political rhetoric to feather his own cap, for example), while attempting to review the rest fairly. I covered the nominees I considered worthy of consideration in The Dogcatcher Post, though due to limits on my free time and revised opinions on some of the nominees, I did not live up to my own standards as set out there.

In the end, No Award was given in five categories, doubling the number of No Awards given out in the entire history of the Hugos. The tension between the Puppies and the community at large did not abate. Victory was declared by some, defeat by others, and bad feelings continue to simmer all around. I have a few thoughts on how things shook out. The short version is that I’m not pleased, and worried about the short term, but optimistic for the long term. I’ll get into more detail, but before I do, I’d like to share my own final Hugo ballot, as registered on July 31st, noting the nominees in the order of my ranking (top to bottom) and the winners in bold.

Best Novel

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu; Ken Liu, translator
  2. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  3. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  5. The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

Best Novella

  1. No Award

Best Novelette

  1. “Championship B’Tok” by Edward M. Lerner
  2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra
  3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart
  4. “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; Lia Belt, translator
  5. No Award

Best Short Story

  1. “Totaled” by Kary English
  2. “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
  3. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond
  4. No Award

Best Related Work

  1. No Award

Best Graphic Story

  1. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  2. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  3. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  4. Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  5. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  4. Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  5. Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  1. The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  2. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  3. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  4. Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  5. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  1. Jennifer Brozek
  2. Mike Resnick
  3. Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  4. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. Sheila Gilbert
  2. Anne Sowards
  3. Jim Minz
  4. Toni Weisskopf
  5. No Award

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Kirk DouPonce
  3. Nick Greenwood
  4. Alan Pollack
  5. No Award

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  2. Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief
  3. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
  4. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  5. Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher

Best Fanzine

  1. Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  2. No Award

Best Fancast

  • Did not vote in this category, as I did not have time to properly listen to the nominees.

Best Fan Writer

  1. Laura J. Mixon
  2. No Award

Best Fan Artist

  1. Spring Schoenhuth
  2. Elizabeth Leggett
  3. Steve Stiles
  4. Brad Foster
  5. Ninni Aalto

The John W. Campbell Award*

  1. Kary English
  2. Wesley Chu
  3. No Award

*The John W. Campbell Award is, as has been repeatedly mentioned, not a Hugo, but it is awarded with them and selected by Hugo voters. The nominees must be writers who have enjoyed their first professional publication within the last two years.

So. What have I learned? Well.

Lesson One: The Puppies Nominated A Lot Of Garbage

All right: it would, perhaps, be fairer to say they nominated a lot of material I simply didn’t care for. Not for political reasons, mind. What I read was simply…not enjoyable. I ranked plenty of their nominees in many categories regardless, because I wasn’t really thinking in terms of anything beyond the pool of nominees I was given, to be quite honest. But the best I can say about the majority of the slates’ nominees is that they were competently written. I had an awful time even attempting to read through most of them, and while the reactionary politics do them no favors, at this point, I’m mostly angry with the Puppies for making me read that dreck.

The bright spots were the Best Dramatic Presentation categories. Even the Puppy nominees in those areas were generally pretty good, and I actually think both The Lego Movie and the pilot of The Flash were excellent and deserving of awards. I am not terribly broken up about Guardians of the Galaxy and Orphan Black winning, though I don’t feel the episode nominated was the most Hugo-worthy of the lot.

The low point was Best Novella. By a long shot.

Lesson Two: I Should Not Have Given Lou Antonelli The Benefit Of The Doubt

Between harassing a critic of his actions at his workplace, writing the Spokane police about David Gerrold, setting his fans on Carrie Cunin, and generally whining and complaining in the aftermath of Sasquan (surprisingly, if you go into a convention where everyone thinks you’re an utter prat, you should not expect sweetness and light from those around you), he’s shown himself to be an absolute ass who cannot be trusted to conduct himself in polite society. This post goes into more detail on his rather disturbing pattern of behavior. I actually thought his short story mildly interesting, if not the best I’ve ever read, but now that I see him revealed for the bully he is, I shan’t be ranking him again. If he’s nominated in the future, in any category, I will rank him below no reward. Someone who goes around trying to call hell on other members of the SF community does not deserve one of its highest honors.

Lesson Three: I’m Mostly Happy With The Results…

I’m glad that Best Novel went to a worthy author, and that it was a historic award to boot. I’m absolutely stoked that Lightspeed Magazine took Best Semiprozine (and “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” was one of the best lines of the night). I can’t tell you how happy I am that Ms. Marvel‘s first volume took Best Graphic Story, in part because it’s a genuinely good book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and in part because I hope John C. Wright’s face looked like he’d just eaten a whole raw lemon. If anyone happened to snap a photo of him in that moment, I’d pay good money for it.

I love Orphan Black, I love its writers, I love its cast, I especially love Tatiana Maslany, and the show deserves a Hugo, even if that specific episode wasn’t my favorite. Guardians of the Galaxy was, while not my first choice, a great, fun film, and the fact that it won despite being a slate nominee shows that the voters were willing to set their feelings aside to reward quality work. At least in one case. More on that in a second.

The No Award to Best Novella was well deserved. I think the No Award to Best Related Work was, too. The No Award to Best Short Story was, perhaps, slightly less so, though I can see how many voters thought the quality of the nominees sub-par compared to the stories pushed off the ballot by the slates.

Lesson Four: …Except When I Wasn’t Happy At All

In retrospect, I think Best Novelette should have been No Awarded. I hate to say it, because Thomas Heuvelt is clearly so happy about his victory, but I didn’t think The Day The World Turned Upside Down was very good at all. As I look back on the nominees, none of them felt like the best work of the year. There were differences in their relative quality, but I wasn’t thrilled with the choices I was given. That’s my personal opinion, of course, and hindsight is 20/20, but in future years I think I’ll put a lot more thought into whether or not nominees deserved to be on the ballot in the first place.

But the hardest blows of the evening were, to me, the Best Editor awards. I don’t think either of them deserved to be No Awarded, and here, I think, the Puppies have a point about voters voting for political reasons. That said, there were a lot of new voters this year, and Best Editor is a tough category for the layperson at the best of times. It is somewhat easier with short form editors, because they are not only responsible for helping an author improve a story, but (perhaps more importantly) they are curators, assembling material into anthologies and magazines. A short form editor can be judged by their good taste.

In the long form, an editor’s work is invisible to the reader (at least if they’ve done a good job), and they may or may not have been responsible for selecting material for their publisher. The nature, level and impact of their input can vary widely. I make a point of reading authors’ acknowledgements, so I knew that Sheila Gilbert (my first choice) had edited Seanan McGuire’s work, and Seanan had expressed her deep gratitude…but not everyone bothers to read such things. I’ve seen a couple proposals to remedy this, and a couple calls to remove the Best Editor (Long Form) category altogether, but I haven’t made up my mind on the issue yet.

Regardless, though both categories were filled with Puppy nominees, they were worthy nominees who do excellent work. It is not just that no award was given in either category. It reflects poorly on the community. I do not celebrate these results.

Lesson Five: No One Likes Sore Winners Or Sore Losers

I think the cheering and applause for No Award was out of line.

I was shocked the first time I heard it, and mortified as it happened again, and again. I can understand the instinct to applaud each announcement on general principle. I can understand getting caught up in the moment, the feeling of victory as the voters rejected the Puppies’ agendas again and again, and breaking out into cheers and applause. I can’t honestly say that I would have resisted those impulses entirely. But it was obnoxious. It was rude. There were nominees sitting in the audience who, rightly or wrongly, believed in their work, hoped for a win. They did not need anyone to rub their losses in their face.

And, more to the point, I do not see a No Award as a victory. I see it as the least objectionable outcome under the circumstances (with the exception of Best Editor, as noted above). The appropriate response feels like a somber silence.

Fortunately, the Puppies have conducted themselves abominably in the wake of the Hugos. Mike Glyer at File770 has been rounding up a lot of it. Let me address a few arguments.

  • The Asterisks were a slap in the face! So, riffing off remarks that this year’s Hugo winners would have asterisks next to their names due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the nominations and voting, ‘official’ Worldcon asterisks were made out of wood and sold at the con for charity. In addition, each Hugo nominee got their own wooden asterisk. Was this in poor taste? Perhaps. But David Gerrold made some beautiful remarks at the ceremony that turned them into more of a tongue-in-cheek symbol of pride at being part of SF history, and fandom has a long and distinguished history of taking the piss out of things, lightening the mood when tension is hanging in the air. This was just another part of that tradition.
  • How dare Robert Silverberg joke about Hare Krishnas when ‘offensive’ jokes made by the ‘wrong’ people are roundly scorned! Robert Silverberg spoke near the beginning of the ceremony about a similarly tense Worldcon back in Berkeley, and fondly recalled stepping outside now and then to seek peace by listening to the soothing Hare Krishna chant. He then produced a tambourine and led the audience in said chant, urging serenity and patience for the night ahead. It was an amusing and oddly reassuring experience. Was he insulting the Hare Krishnas? Maybe. I’m not a Hare Krishna, so I suppose I wouldn’t know. But then, I don’t think any of the people crying foul (particularly the Puppies) are among that distinguished number, either.
  • George R.R. Martin rented a mansion for an exclusive party and left out Hugo nominees and gave out the ‘real’ awards and conspiracy robble robble robble. George R.R. Martin is entirely within his rights to throw any kind of party he likes. He frequently threw parties for those who were nominated but failed to win Hugos back in the old days; these parties, as he himself has explained, eventually turned into a formal reception that he found rather stuffy. In the wake of the Puppies’ giant stinking mess, particularly in light of the people pushed off the ballots by slate shenanigans, he decided to resurrect the losers’ party, and to give out tongue-in-cheek awards named for Alfred Bester (the Alfies) and made quite literally out of hood ornaments of various rocket-like shapes and sizes. It was a way of honoring friends and colleagues he felt had been shafted. It’s true that some Hugo nominees were not invited to the party, that he had a list of ‘assholes’ he left out, but then, at least one of said assholes has demonstrated repeatedly that he is highly deserving of the label, and again, private party. So I can’t fault George there. It wasn’t a conspiracy. They weren’t the ‘real’ Hugos as awarded by the Secret Liberal Cabal of Social Justice. It was George R.R. Martin demonstrating the sort of kindness and good humor that lures you into a false sense of security before he brutally kills off characters you truly, desperately liked, George R.R. Martin, you unforgivable wretch.
  • No Award invalidated my vote! I’m launching a class action suit! I don’t…but…elections don’t work that way…
  • THIS WAS A SECRET VICTORY FOR THE PUPPIES! WE GOT THEM TO BURN IT ALL DOWN! Wiser people than I have already compared the Hugos to the climactic scene of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, where Christmas comes without presents, et cetera and so forth. Yeah. It’s a lot more like that. A couple significant bumps in the road, but quite a lot like that.

Lesson Six: It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn

The Puppies, both Sad and Rabid, have already promised to pull their crap again next year. They will probably succeed, to be honest. There may be more categories going to No Award. More unworthy contenders. More garbage I’ll feel honor-bound to read. The only effective way to counter them would be an anti-Puppy slate nominated in lockstep. I refuse to do that. I won’t take part. I will nominate stories I enjoyed and editors my favorite authors have praised. I will not vote in lockstep with anybody. Because lockstep slate voting is a repugnant concept to me. It ignores everything that makes the fan community great. It replaces word of mouth and the cultural zeitgeist with an organized political movement.

I will not abuse the spirit of the Hugos on a misguided quest to ‘save’ them. Even if it means I have to vote No Award in every single category next year.

But I’m not going away. I’m grabbing a supporting membership for next year’s Worldcon. I’ll be participating in nominations and in final voting (and in site selection, as I’d quite like a New Orleans Worldcon in 2018). I’m just one person with one vote, but I can be part of the effort to resist the Puppies.

Here’s the thing: I agree with many of the Puppies’ most superficial stated goals. I want science fiction to be fun again. I am tired of dystopias, tired of endings, tired of the apocalypse. I want hope for the future. I want inspiration. I want fun. I want the fandom of today to look to science fiction and see ideas they can incorporate into the solutions of tomorrow. I want us to dream of turning our world into a paradise and sailing outward among the stars. We have never needed the hope and promise of science fiction more than we do now. It is as Isaac Asimov said:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

The problem, of course, is that few if any of the Puppies’ nominees offered that promise – and that my idea of the utopia we can and should build here on Earth is a place where everyone is allowed room to grow and change as they must, and pursue what happiness they can find in this life, provided they do no harm to others. I don’t think the masterminds behind the Puppies of either camp want a world where I would belong. And so they fight to drag SF back into their idea of a golden age, while the rest of us fight to expand its boundaries into a new one of limitless promise, endless challenges and infinite opportunities. The culture war goes on, and this is just a minor skirmish.

Still. There is hope everywhere, and the Hugos are no exception. Two proposals to change the nomination system were ratified at this year’s Worldcon. If they are ratified again next year, they will be implemented. One, E Pluribus Hugo, creates a multi-round system which should diminish the impact of lockstep nominations. The other, 4 and 6 (sorry I don’t have a link), creates a system where each voter selects four nominees, but six finalists are selected; this could still be exploited by some mildly clever maneuvering, but combined with EPH, it might be quite effective. Though Vox Day in particular insists he has enough support to overcome any effort to block his slates, preliminary data crunching on EPH alone indicates that it would limit the damage lockstep slate voters could do. Data on EPH combined with 4 and 6 is not yet available.

So, in the short term, none of us are going anywhere. We’ll all be watching the entire Hugo process, not to mention next year’s Business Meeting, with great interest. We’re in for another tense and difficult year full of rhetoric. Many suggestions have been made to the Puppies of both camps as to how they might make more reasonable arguments and avoid alienating Hugo voters; I expect them to take none of those suggestions. The new leaders of the Sad Puppy crew seem even more reactionary than their predecessors. This will be unpleasant.

But science fiction is all about the future just beyond our grasp. The best of it is about finding hope there. And I think there’s reason to hope here. The reactionary elements of our community may gain some traction. But, to quote Angels In America, the world only spins forward.

And to paraphrase Firefly, no power in the verse can stop us.

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The Dogcatcher Post

It’s been nearly two years since my last post here. Sorry about that. Every time I had an idea and thought about getting back into the swing of things, something came up to distract me. I have lots of updates and lots of ideas for posts, and all of that will follow, but this particular post needs to come first.

In the wake of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns, I’ve gone ahead and purchased a membership to Sasquan, the 2016 Worldcon, so I can vote in the Hugo Awards. I’ll be doing this with every Worldcon I can support from now on, because if I have the ability to raise my voice and be heard, I should probably do it. With a bit over a month left before the voting deadline, it’s time for me to decide who I’m going to vote for…and that’s a problem which has required a certain amount of research and soul-searching.

It would be easy for me to vote NO AWARD in every Puppy-influenced category, in protest. Some have called for this. It would be just as easy for me to eliminate all the Puppies’ nominees and vote only for those who were not on the slates; some have called for this also. But I don’t in good conscience feel that I can do this. Not everyone on the slates knew they were on them, or knew what they were getting into. There are works that were on the slates which I personally find worthy of consideration despite the ugly politics behind their nomination. (Skin Game comes to mind; while the Dresden Files books can be problematic, I am a fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed Skin Game and thought it was a real return to form for the series.) So I have settled on threading the needle, and I’ve found a distinct lack of resources geared toward voters interested in that strategy.

I’m a documentation nerd, which has been a useful trait in my professional endeavors. If a document doesn’t exist, I’ll dig in and create it. So here it is: my attempt at a guide to threading the needle. The Dogcatcher Post. An attempt to point out Hugo nominees who actively participated in Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, or (in the case of works from Castalia House, Theodore “Vox Day” Beale’s publishing house, especially) whose publishers did, as well as nominees who are thoroughly morally repugnant due to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Anyone highlighted in bold is someone I urge you to eliminate from your consideration, and I’ll explain why at the end of each category. Of course, if you want to use this list to vote only for the nominees I’m calling out for elimination, I can’t really stop you.

This list is constructed based on two principal rules:

The Card-Wright Rule

This is a long-standing personal rule of mine. Simply put, I don’t give money or support to living authors who hate me or mine. I will absolutely not consider people who have engaged in virulent bigotry, called for violence against me or people like me or people I care about, called for us to be openly oppressed and rounded up, and so on and so forth. Am I eliminating all problematic creators under this rule? No. I won’t even pretend to try. This is intended for the worst of the worst, those whose bigotry cannot be ignored or dismissed.

The Beale-Torgenson Rule

This rule is a new one, and in direct response to Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. I don’t think people who actively campaigned for these slates and used political ideology to get themselves or creators they publish or profit from nominated should be rewarded. Period. It’s one thing to offer up a list of works you were involved with that are eligible for Hugos – many authors have done this, many publishers have done this – but it’s quite another to incorporate your own work into a moral panic and deliberate crusade. Torgenson gets a little credit for treating the Sad Puppies slate as a set of suggestions…but not enough to escape this rule. Beale told his followers to vote in lockstep. No Hugo for him.

Obviously, there may be information I don’t have. If I come across any new information regarding the character (or lack thereof) of certain nominees, or their participation in Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies, I’ll update this post accordingly.

Now let’s look at the nominees by category.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor, and The Three Body Problem were not on either the Sad Puppies slate or the Rabid Puppies slate. This leaves Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson.

I cannot find any evidence that Kevin Anderson directly endorsed the Sad Puppy slate. He is acquainted with Brad Torgenson and has published some of his work, but I’m not going to base my decision solely on guilt by association. I don’t think I agree with Anderson on everything, but that’s not a prerequisite either. I can see no compelling reason to exclude him from consideration.

Jim Butcher does not seem to have been an active participant in S/RP either. He did call Irene Gallo unprofessional for her personal comments on the S/RP crowd (and, well, she was, a bit, but I don’t feel she deserved the goddamned Sword of Damocles crashing on her head), and he’s not without his problems. But I enjoy both the Dresden Files series and the Codex Alera, and I quite liked Skin Game, so I’m going to keep him on my list.

Best Novella

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

All of the nominees in this category were on the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slate. Most of them were published by Castalia House, which seems like a blatant grab if I’ve ever seen one, and John C. Wright is just absolutely awful. However, I can find no evidence that Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr. was involved in campaigning for either slate, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. Through SIGMA, he’s associated with many people I admire. “Flow” should be read and considered.

Best Novelette

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
“Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)

Gray Rinehart did accept a place on the Sad Puppies slate and appears to be connected to members of the S/RP community; that said, he does not seem to have campaigned on the slate’s behalf, he did not nominate according to the slate himself, and he does not seem particularly repugnant. I do not believe his work should be rejected out of hand, and I will be considering “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” in this category.

Edward M. Lerner appears to be casually acquainted with Brad Torgenson and gave his assent to a recommendation. However, he does not seem to have known what he was getting into, he had nothing to do with Rabid Puppies, and, once again, he does not seem actively repugnant. “Championship B’tok” should, in my view, also be considered.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” was not on either slate.

I haven’t quite worked out where Michael F. Flynn stands, except that he seems to view the whole brouhaha as a conflict between a ‘settled’ SF community and outside underdogs who have just realized they can buy memberships and vote, and his sympathies are somewhat with the underdogs rather than those who want to condemn Puppy-nominated works sight unseen. Again, however, he hasn’t set off any alarm bells for me. From reading his blog, I doubt I’ll enjoy his work much, frankly, but I’ll read “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” nonetheless.

I’m not sure where Rajnar Vajra stands on any of this. I will note that he’s one of the diverse writers the S/RP crowd are using to counter claims that they were interested in nominating only white, straight, heterosexual men. Nevertheless, I will be considering “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”. I quite like golden age SF, actually.

Best Short Story

“On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
“Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

All nominees in this category were on one or both slates. “Turncoat” and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” were both published by Castalia House. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” was written by John C. Wright, who is a proud and outspoken bigot and has attacked (among others) Marvel for introducing Kamala Khan, the new, Muslim Ms. Marvel, and the creators of The Legend of Korra for making a same-sex relationship canon within the series.

Lou Antonelli has defended the slate, describing himself as proud to be on it, and stating that he doesn’t see any problem with it. He has also characterized critics of S/RP as hateful, scolds, Nazis, and claimed that the S/RP crowd has only been vicious in its own defense. He has described the slates and their supporters as a peasant revolt against an SF elite. Prior to the official release of the nominees, he appears to have plugged only his own work (as is fair), but did mention that he was part of the Sad Puppies slate in at least one context. Frankly he’s raising a lot of red flags for me. That said, he has also criticized those elements of the Puppy crowd who want to destroy the Hugos, and his story “On a Spiritual Plain” has been praised by people outside the Puppy community. So I’m still deeply ambivalent on the man himself, and disagree with him on many of the arguments he’s made, but I personally am going to read his story and give it due consideration.

I cannot find any indication that Steve Diamond campaigned for either slate. He seems like an okay guy. I’ll be reading “A Single Samurai” with pleasure.

Kary English agreed to be part of the Sad Puppies slate. Prior to the official release of the Hugo nominees, she did connect Sad Puppies to her discussion of her own nominated work. I disagree strongly with her characterization of the genesis and intent of the slate and with her continued defense of it. However: she seems like the sort of person I would like very much (even if we might disagree on certain points). She does not appear to be a virulent bigot. Her work seems interesting. So I will be reading “Totaled” and giving it my full consideration.

Best Related Work

“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

All nominees on this category were on one or both slates. “The Hot Equations” and Transhuman and Subhuman were both published by Castalia House, and there’s our friend John C. Wright again. Hi there, John.

I’ve discussed Lou Antonelli above. He’s an S/RP defender but doesn’t seem as virulently awful as some others (though I disagree with much of what he’s said, and strongly disagree with his characterization of a woman who kicked him off her blog as a Nazi).

Tedd Roberts has defended the slate and attacked its critics (to be fair, he seems angriest at the most outspoken and strident people, the ones calling for categorical rejection for all nominees on the slate). Once again, though, he doesn’t seem awful. He seems angry, and justifiably in my view, that people would reject him for his association with controversy, that they would immediately judge and dismiss him out of hand without even reading his work. Fair enough. “Why Science is Never Settled” is on my reading list.

Michael Z. Williamson seems entirely irreverent and snarky toward just about everyone. I suspect I’d find prolonged contact with him infuriating. I don’t think I’ll like his book very much. But he’s not awful enough for me to strike him from consideration, and he doesn’t seem to have actively campaigned for Sad Puppies – as he tells it, Brad Torgenson asked if he wanted publicity, Williamson said yes, and then he promptly forgot about the whole thing. So I will give Wisdom from My Internet a chance.

Best Graphic Story

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)

In this category, only The Zombie Nation Book #2 was on either slate. As far as I can tell, Carter Reid was not involved in campaigning and is not an awful person. I’m not going to endorse him over the other nominees, but don’t feel he should automatically be eliminated from consideration.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Captain America, but maybe it’s more subversive than I realized.

The rest…look. Films involve a lot of people. Actors, directors, producers, writers…Brad Torgenson, at least, claims he contacted everyone on his slate and included those who gave him an affirmative response. I don’t know whether or not that’s true (there has been at least one nominee who refutes the story, but Torgenson claims that was an oversight), but I find it difficult to believe that he managed to reach out to everyone involved. And a lot of these movies were very, very good. The Lego Movie was better than it had any right to be. Interstellar wasn’t my favorite film, but it was very well made. Guardians of the Galaxy was tremendous fun. I haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, but I will. And I’ve heard surprisingly good things.

So I’m not striking any of them. They’re worthy nominees. All of them.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

“Listen” and “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Doctor Who, but I guess it’s gotten a bit too socially degenerate for the Puppies. Lesbian lizard women and all.

Again, I find it difficult to believe that everyone involved in these productions gave their permission to appear on the slate. At most, maybe the director or a publicist was contacted. And again, a lot of these episodes were quite good. (I don’t watch Grimm. I suppose I’ll be watching one episode, anyway.) So I’m not striking any of them out without giving them a shot.

Best Editor, Short Form

Jennifer Brozek
Vox Day
Mike Resnick
Edmund R. Schubert (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider him)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Jennifer Brozek did not campaign for either slate. She seems like a cool lady who does a lot of great work. I will happily consider her.

Mike Resnick, as far as I can tell, only plugged his own work, as you can expect authors and editors to do. I have my issues with him, but do not feel strongly enough to strike him from my consideration.

Edmund R. Schubert withdrew after the ballot closed. He has asked that people refrain from voting for him. I will honor that request.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt seems…all right. He has stated that he was unaware of his presence on the Rabid Puppies slate and would have demanded his removal if he had known. He was aware of his presence on the Sad Puppies slate, but does not seem to be wrapped up in the politics of it. Bit of an asshole and perhaps unprofessional, at least according to Jim C. Hines (who, to be fair, has butted heads with him), but if I refused to have a thing to do with common assholes I’d never get anything done. So, again, I’m going to consider him in this category.

Best Editor, Long Form

Vox Day
Sheila Gilbert
Jim Minz
Anne Sowards
Toni Weisskopf

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Sheila Gilbert has been highly praised by authors I like rather a lot. She has worked hard at DAW and doesn’t seem like a bad person in the slightest. I can’t find her own take on the S/RP brouhaha but I feel she is worthy of consideration.

Jim Minz has edited a wide range of authors and also done fine work.

Anne Sowards edits Jim Butcher and Kat Richardson, among other people. That makes her pretty okay in my book.

Toni Weisskopf has been a consistent Sad Puppy nominee but, again, a fine editor and Jim Baen’s heir over at Baen Books. I’m not going to dismiss her either.

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Kirk DouPonce
Nick Greenwood
Alan Pollack
Carter Reid

Julie Dillon was not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the other artists’ views on S/RP or, really, anything else. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Best Semiprozine

Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief

Beneath Ceaseless SkiesLightspeed Magazine, and Strange Horizons were not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the views of the Abyss & Apex staff in general or Wendy Delmater in particular on the S/RP kerfluffle, so once again, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The people behind Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine have stated that they were unaware of their presence on the slate until the last moment, and would have asked to be removed if they had known. Therefore, I am happily including them in my consideration this year.

Best Fanzine

Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider the magazine)
Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
The Revenge of Hump Day, edited by Tim Bolgeo
Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale

John O’Neill withdrew Black Gate after the Hugo ballot closed. He has asked voters not to consider him. I will honor his request.

I’ve already addressed Steve Diamond above. In short, I don’t think I’ll end up caring for him, but I’m going to give Elitist Book Reviews my consideration.

Journey Planet was not on either slate.

Tim Bolgeo has been at the center of at least one convention controversy when he was invited and then disinvited as Fan Guest of Honor at Archon. The Revenge of Hump Day is reportedly full of racist, sexist and generally offensive humor. I’ll take a look at it but I don’t expect I’ll like it one bit. I haven’t been able to find anything from the man himself on this or other matters.

Dave Truesdale seems quite clueless, frankly. He circulated a petition against ‘censorship based on political correctness’ in the SFWA Bulletin last year, following its suspension in the wake of a controversy over some problematic language and a problematic cover. He claims that he’s never seen an incident of sexism or racism in the SF community. But he doesn’t seem to be terribly malicious, and he’s well respected. Tangent seems decent. Truesdale described himself as flattered that Tangent was on the slate, but doesn’t seem to have campaigned for the slate at large. So I’m giving it a shot.

Best Fancast

Adventures in SciFi Publishing, Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
Dungeon Crawlers Radio, Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
The Sci Phi Show, Jason Rennie
Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman

Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Tea and Jeopardy were not on either slate.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing was knowingly included in the slate and had Brad Torgenson and Larry Correia on the podcast to discuss Sad Puppies prior to the release of the Hugo nominees. That said, they seem to have done their best to prevent all sides of this and many other issues in the SF community. I’m going to give this podcast all due consideration.

Dungeon Crawlers Radio was included on both the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slate, but I haven’t found anything regarding their views on the matter. Plus their podcast seems pretty cool. I’ll be listening to a sample.

Can’t find a thing on Jason Rennie’s views regarding The Sci Phi Show‘s inclusion, either. I will note that he put the podcast on hiatus earlier this year. He has promised to return, but hasn’t yet. Frankly, this makes me less likely to vote for it. but I’ll try an episode or two.

Best Fan Writer

Dave Freer
Amanda S. Green
Jeffro Johnson
Laura J. Mixon
Cedar Sanderson

Dave Freer called for people to put pressure on Tor and its parent company to discipline or otherwise ‘address’ Irene Gallo for her (admittedly inflammatory) personal comments against the S/RP slate. He also called for a boycott of any Tor author who was not either a Sad Puppy or speaking out against Tor’s inaction if they did not respond. This is the tip of the sword. I’ve been reading through his posts on the subject and find his strident defense of S/RP and his refusal to see the slates’ problems absolutely repugnant. So I’m refusing to consider him. I do not believe he has conducted himself well and I have little interest in handing him any accolades.

Incidentally, Freer is also part of the Mad Genius Club blog collective, which also includes Brad Torgenson, and the next nominee on the list, Amanda S. Green. Who wrote her own open letter to Tor, criticized them for keeping John Scalzi (a ‘straw man’) in their stable apparently based not on the artistic merit of his work but on his personal views, said much the same about N.K. Jemisin, and also called for a boycott. I also find her conduct repugnant and her association with Sad Puppy Central suspect. I will not be considering her for an award.

Jeffro Johnson writes for Castalia House and has been pretty goddamned outspoken against critics of the S/RP slates. He does not appear to have called for boycotts, however, which is a point in his favor. His obsession with File770 and his critics there puts me off, but I’m going to read his material in the voting packet and try to judge it on its merits. I will, however, note that he is just barely on the ‘will consider’ side of the line for me, as Freer and Green are just barely on the other side.

Laura J. Mixon was not on either slate.

Cedar Sanderson is associated with the Mad Genius Club, endorsed the Sad Puppies slate (even as she qualified her statement by urging voters to vote for the BEST works and use the slate as a guideline), and chose to highlight some posts by other writers seemingly calculated to piss off the left wing elements of fandom while endorsing the slate at large. I don’t really care for any of this.

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto
Brad W. Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

This category was not included in either slate.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo but administered alongside the Hugos)

Wesley Chu
Jason Cordova
Kary English
Rolf Nelson
Eric S. Raymond

Wesley Chu was not on either slate.

Jason Cordova is affiliated with the Mad Genius Club, helped campaign for the Sad Puppy slate, and has been laying on some serious denial about what the slate actually entails. Some of his anger is justifiable. But I just can’t get past his involvement with core elements of the Sad Puppy effort. So I’m not going to consider him.

I already addressed Kary English above, but in short, I do not find her ties to S/RP deep enough or her personal views repugnant enough to strike her from consideration.

Rolf Nelson is a Castalia House author who participated in the call to boycott Tor. Frankly, I consider his nomination to be a direct result of Vox Day’s self-interest and tendency toward self-promotion. I am not going to consider his work.

I have not been able to find anything on Eric S. Raymond’s views regarding Sad/Rabid Puppies. While I do not find his libertarian politics repugnant (though I would certainly disagree), he, too, is a Castalia House author. I’m just not giving Vox Day the satisfaction.

*****

So that’s this year. What comes next?

Well, like I said: I’m going to buy a membership to every Worldcon moving forward, as long as I’m able, as early as I can, so I can participate in the nomination process. I’m going to recommend works and creators that I consider worthy of an award, for whatever good that will do. I’m going to share the recommendations of others. I’m not interested in slate voting. I’m not interested in agenda voting. I’m just interested in good SF. And I’m interested in not rewarding people who grab at political zeitgeists for their own gain, or who want me or mine to suffer.

Look, I agree with some elements of the Sad Puppy crowd on one thing: SF needs to be about optimism again. It needs to be about a brighter future, a better future. Our world sucks. We are murdering it. It may be too late to save it. But science fiction has inspired so much already. Isaac Asimov put it best:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.

I love dystopian fiction as much as anyone. But I’m tired of washed-out grays and browns. I’m tired of oppression and depression. I’m tired of antiheroes and moral ambiguity and shellshock. I want to dream. I want to blast off. I want to soar into an infinite universe full of possibility. And I want the next generation, and every generation after, to dream just as freely.

It’s just that I reject any future that clings to racist, patriarchal standards, and I reject anyone who wants such a future. The world only spins forward. And it should only spin forward.

Wicked Weekends: Power Rangers Megaforce

Power Rangers Megaforce
New era, new team

New era, new team.

EDIT: The premiere episode is available on Hulu if you’d like to see it for yourself!

Somewhere around twenty years ago, I was watching something or other on Fox when a commercial for a new show came on — and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Five teenagers morphing into heroes imbued with incredible power, wielding ray guns and magical weapons and giant goddamned robots against an army of evil aliens. I knew, from that first moment, that I had to see that show, and though my mother always kind of hated it, I was soon one of the biggest Power Rangers fans around. I drifted away from the franchise somewhere around Zeo, found my way back for Dino Thunder, S.P.D. and Mystic Force, dabbled in RPM, and finally came back for good only recently, sinking more money than I care to admit into toys and prop replicas and a kickass old-school Pink Ranger costume that should be here this week (and that I’ll definitely be wearing to PAX East). With the franchise back in the hands of Saban, the very people who originally adapted Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger into Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Saban and Bandai both going all out to celebrate the unbelievable success of the franchise (seriously, how many kids’ shows have lasted two decades and come back from the dead no less than three times?), it’s never been a better time to be a fan.

I have been waiting for this moment MY ENTIRE LIFE

I have been waiting for this moment MY ENTIRE LIFE.

If Power Rangers Samurai was a love letter to the fans, featuring the return of original supporting character Farkas “Bulk” Bulkmeier and a theme song adapted from the original Go Go Power Rangers, then Power Rangers Megaforce is a big handmade Valentine with glitter and frothy pink trim glued to a box of chocolates and delivered along with the biggest bouquet of roses you ever did see. The Power Rangers fan community was already stoked when it was revealed that Megaforce would be adapting two Super Sentai series at once: Tensou Sentai Goseiger and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the latter being Super Sentai producer Toei‘s own love letter to its fans. Gokaiger is built around the premise that all the past Super Sentai teams — all of them — fought together against a massive alien empire, ultimately losing their powers in the process. These powers are rediscovered some time later by a crew of space pirates who become heroes in their own right, tapping into the abilities of past teams to supplement their own. Every past Super Sentai team makes an appearance in some fashion, and themes from each past series are woven into the appropriate episodes of Gokaiger. No one was really expecting Saban to do anything so elaborate…but they totally are. In fact, they had Toei reshoot the Legend War scenes from Gokaiger using American Power Ranger teams just so they could weave that footage into Megaforce at some point. Lots of people, myself included, expected that the Legend War stuff wouldn’t come in until the second season, which will reportedly make full use of Gokaiger…but we were wrong. Oh so deliciously wrong.

In the first episode alone, we’re treated to images of past Ranger teams fighting together against a vast army, thanks to the new Red Ranger’s mysterious visions; the Ranger Keys (used by the Gokaigers to tap into their predecessors’ powers) on prominent display in the new command center; the new mentor, Gosei, telling the Megaforce Rangers that he was appointed Earth’s guardian by his mentor, Zordon; and a brand new hangout named Ernie’s Brain Freeze in an obvious homage to the owner of the old Angel Grove Youth Center. Plus there are callbacks to the infamous “teenagers with attitude” line from the original series and Kimberly‘s joke about refusing to become a Power Ranger because the helmet seriously messes up her hair. Like I said — big frothy Valentine with chocolates, flowers, and probably some stuff I shouldn’t spell out on a family blog.

But enough about the past. Let’s talk about the episode itself. There are SPOILERS ahead, so if you’re going to watch Megaforce at all, go find the premiere episode and then come back. For the rest of you, let me sum up.

We’re introduced right away to the aforementioned Red Ranger-to-be, Troy, who wakes from a weird dream about the past Rangers to find that he’s the only one left on his school bus and he’s going to be late for class. In short order, we’re introduced to Emma, a BMX biker with a passion for environmentalism and photography; Jake, the plucky comic relief; Noah, an obvious geek and total technophile; and Gia, a drop-dead gorgeous blonde with a brilliant mind and a whole ton of self-confidence. We get a brief glimpse into their characters thanks to the science teacher posing a thought experiment: of all the life forms on Earth, which is destined to survive the longest? Emma immediately says it’s the insects, hardy and adaptable, who will survive long after mankind has destroyed the planet. Noah immediately objects in a way that leaves me wondering if his character has Asperger’s (not that this would be a bad thing — in fact, a Ranger on the autism spectrum would be very interesting, if handled with sensitivity — but his behavioral tics beg the question), claiming that robots will become the dominant life form. Gia argues that robots aren’t alive, and Noah keeps muttering that they’re wrong, while his best friend Jake is too busy drooling over Gia to offer any further comment. Troy arrives late, and the teacher immediately pulls him into the discussion; in a revealing moment, Troy optimistically proposes that humans will outlast all other life, because if we work together, we can overcome all our problems.

But all is not well on the planet Earth, and Emma’s theory about insects is about to receive a huge shot in the arm, because the evil Admiral Malkor, leader of an army of insectoid aliens called the Warstar, is about to launch his invasion. In an underground chamber, the guardian Gosei senses this threat, and reactivates his command center, instructing his robot assistant Tensou to recruit five teenagers with the attitude necessary to fight the forces of evil. The five teenagers we’ve already met are duly teleported to the command center, where Gosei explains that they’ve been chosen to carry on the legacy of the Power Rangers and defend the planet from Malkor and his goons. Troy immediately recognizes the Ranger Keys displayed on the wall, and we get another brief glimpse of his visions of war, but he doesn’t really explain and Gosei merely says that the figures represent past teams. Gosei wastes no time in passing out colors and animals: Emma is the Pink Phoenix Ranger, Gia is the Yellow Tiger Ranger, Noah is the Blue Shark Ranger, Jake is the Black Snake Ranger, and Troy is the Red Dragon Ranger and the team’s leader. Troy immediately objects that he’s new in town and he’s only just met the others, but Gosei insists that Troy has the character necessary to lead, that he has already triumphed over adversity (which, of note, is never explained either) and he will lead his team to victory in the face of evil. The new Megaforce Rangers get their morphers and the cards necessary to operate them — more on that later — and head out into the field to bust some aliens. They acquit themselves well while still unmorphed, but ultimately have to use their Gosei Morphers (someone has an ego) when the aliens start pulling blasters and Malkor sends a tougher minion down to fight them. But once they’re morphed, the Rangers adapt to their new powers with no problems at all, and very soon the day is saved. They don’t even have to bust out the giant robots. They meet briefly with Gosei back at the command center, affirm their commitment to the Megaforce, and bump fists before uttering the catchphrase of the series: “Earth Defenders — Never Surrender!” Groan.

Okay, let’s break this down.

Gia and Emma: BFFs

Things I Liked

  • Gia is REALLY hot. Not just physically (though that too), but she has a smirking self-confidence, she’s tall and physically capable, and she’s clearly damn smart. I think she may be beating out Kimberly, Vida and Summer as my favorite female Ranger. Okay, no one can ever beat Kimberly, but Gia is definitely up there. It’s not hard to see why Jake is so interested in her, or why Noah points out that Gia is generally considered the hottest girl in school.
  • Emma is also really hot, but more to the point, she’s extremely charismatic. She’s also obviously intelligent, and while she doesn’t have Gia’s spirit, she still has a lot of confidence all her own. She keeps a cool head and she’s creative in a fight — in the initial battle she uses the flash on her camera to help her take on multiple opponents at once, distracting some with the flash while she takes down their buddies, then cleaning up the rest. This is honestly the first time I’ve liked both of the female Rangers in any given series just as much. I almost always have a favorite, but not this time. Emma’s definitely up there with Gia kicking Vida and Summer’s asses.
  • Emma and Gia together are an unstoppable combination. Their affection for one another is obvious. They’re officially acknowledged as best friends in dialogue and in the press packets Saban and Nickelodeon sent out, but I really didn’t need anyone to tell me that. It was obvious from the first moment I saw them together. Yes, I’m already shipping them. But more to the point, it’s easily one of the most compelling friendships I’ve ever seen in this franchise. You feel warm and fuzzy just watching them. It’s adorable, endearing and easily the best part of the show.
  • Most of the callbacks to the previous series in the Power Rangers franchise are very well done, clever little winks that make it clear that Saban respects and loves the adult fans who are watching the show. Richard Genelle, of course, is no longer with us, and could not have reprised his role as the original Ernie, but it’s genuinely touching to see him memorialized through Ernie’s Brain Freeze. The initial exchange between Gosei and Tensou about the new team recalls the similar exchange between Zordon and Alpha 5 in a cute, playful way. And, of course, Troy’s visions are endlessly fascinating and tantalizing, and my heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest when I saw those tiny figures of all the past Ranger teams lined up along the command center’s walls.
  • The special effects, especially the teleportation effect, are really nicely done.
  • Last, but far from least, the writing and acting are much better than they were on Power Rangers Samurai. There are still some clumsy moments, but I can actually watch and enjoy this show as opposed to cringing my way through it just to see the pretty costumes and weapons and robots. It’s not the best show I’ve ever seen, but it’s on roughly the same level as other teen dramas, like Degrassi and South of Nowhere. It’s nice to see that Saban can produce a show of this quality. After Samurai (which was a disappointing follow-up to RPM, to say the least), I was really worried about the future of the franchise. Now my fears have been laid to rest.
By the way, Tensou is about two feet tall. Yeah.

By the way, Tensou is about two feet tall. Yeah.

Things I Disliked

  • Tensou sounds like Alpha 5 and looks like Johnny Five. There is no excuse for the latter in 2013. When the highly advanced robot assistant looks less advanced than the robot assistant from the show made in 1993, you have a problem. I would have preferred to see a guy in a metal suit. At least then Tensou could have been passed off as an android.
  • The basic minions — who are, I am told, called Loogies, and I would really like to know who came up with that name — are obviously guys in spandex. I don’t think I’ve seen costuming this bad since the original Putty Patrollers. Minion costumes on Power Rangers are usually cheap and of obviously poor quality for obvious reasons: you need a lot of them and the budget isn’t big enough for a hundred or so high-quality costumes on top of the special effects and stuff you’re already paying for. But this is still a new low. Honestly, the first appearance of the Loogies brought my enjoyment of this episode to a screeching halt. I got back into it again, but I’m not looking forward to that unpleasant jolt when they appear in future episodes.
  • Jake and Troy are both pretty poorly defined. Jake is a comic relief jock with a crush on Gia; that’s pretty much all we get. Troy is the new kid in town with some unspecified adversity in his past. While I appreciate the attention paid to Emma and Gia’s relationship, I’d really like to know more about the other Rangers. Hopefully they’ll see some more characterization soon.
  • There is no reason for the Red Ranger to be the new kid in town. It happens in a whole lot of Power Rangers series — Wild Force, SPD and Mystic Force, to name a few off the top of my head — and it just doesn’t work for me. At least in this case, Troy isn’t being promoted over experienced Rangers (as Cole was on Wild Force, and Jack was on SPD), and he even questions why he’s being appointed leader, but it’s still a little grating. Troy could easily have been friends with all the others from the outset. Jason was already part of the gang on the original show. Why couldn’t Saban do the same here?
  • Early in the episode, Emma heads out into the woods to photograph the migration of the monarch butterflies, which she describes as a once in a lifetime event. No, actually, it’s a pretty regular event. I realize valid science is a lot to ask from Power Rangers, but could we please have some valid elementary school science, at the very least?
  • While I’m on the subject of Emma, Gosei mentions her BMX biking as one of the skills that will make her an excellent Power Ranger. I couldn’t help but think of the BMX Bandit, and there was much snickering involved.
  • The morphers. They’re big, unwieldy and used for everything. Even in the middle of battle. See, to morph, the Rangers have to feed these power cards into the things. To summon their blasters, more power cards. To summon their heavier weapons, still more power cards. To combine their weapons, power cards that turn into giant power cards. In Japan, the power cards were sold commercially, used as part of a trading card game. There are power cards on sale with the Megaforce toys here in the US, and a trading card game involving multiple Power Ranger teams to come. Obvious commercialization is obvious. The franchise has always lived and died by toy sales, so I don’t mind a certain amount of commercialization. I do mind that it takes so bloody long for the Rangers to pull out the morphers, pull the power cards from their belt pouches, insert the cards into the morphers, and activate the morphers. It eats into valuable action sequence time, and leaves me wondering why the bad guys don’t simply attack while the Rangers are fiddling with those awful things.

Things I Have Mixed Feelings About

  • The color coding is back in force, even before the Rangers receive their powers. This gets a lampshade (Emma notes that pink is her favorite color), but after previous series in which the color coding was not strictly enforced, I find it jarring. That said, it definitely does feed into the nostalgia, and all the characters wear their colors well. Especially Emma with those little pink shorts and Gia with that yellow tank top. Mm.
  • Similarly, the color coded personalities are back in force as well: Emma is the caring, sensitive ‘heart’ of the team. Gia is the tall, athletic borderline tomboy. Noah is the geek. Jake is the entertaining jock. Still, the personalities do work, for the most part, and Troy isn’t so readily pegged. He’s appointed leader, but doesn’t necessarily seem like someone naturally inclined to take control. His background is still a mystery — and once again, I hope we get some more clues to that mystery soon.
  • The theme song. I love Go Go Power Rangers as much as anyone, and it was nice to see it reprised in Samurai, but I don’t know if I need to hear it again — even if it is pretty appropriate, given Megaforce’s naked nostalgia. After Power Rangers Zeo, the franchise started to mix the themes up a little, writing an original theme for each series. Sometimes there were callbacks — a familiar musical phrase here and there — but generally the songs were brand new. I kind of miss those days now.

Still, despite my qualms, I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere episode, and since pilot episodes are nearly always unsteady, I’m sincerely hoping that the series will only improve from here. I’m excited to see the Legend War (or whatever Megaforce ends up calling it) making an early appearance, and I can’t wait for the legacy of the past Ranger teams to make itself fully manifest. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new series since RPM. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Power Rangers Rating: 4 out of 5 Power Coins. Morphinomenal.

General TV Rating: 6 out of 10. Good, even great in parts, but not spectacular.

Wicked Weekends: October Horror Movie Challenge, Part 1

It’s been a few months since I last posted, for which I can only apologize. I’ve been slammed with work and various other real life distractions, and I haven’t really had any time to post. But I’ve finally gotten a bit of breathing room, and I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things now.

Let’s kick things off with one of my latest endeavors: the October Horror Movie Challenge, as recently highlighted on one of my favorite community blogs, Gaming As Women. For those of you who prefer not to click on outbound links, the basics of the challenge are this: each participant is meant to watch 31 horror movies in 31 days, including at least 16 films they’ve never seen before. I’ve been squeezing in my 31 wherever I can, so I’m afraid I’m a bit behind, though I’m hoping to catch up soon. As of today, October 14th, I’ve seen eight movies, all of them new to me, and I’m happy to report that I’m putting a real dent in the horror section of my Netflix queue. As part of this process, I’ve decided to share some of my impressions in capsule reviews and tie them into the relaunch of my media-centered weekend posts, which I’m dubbing “Wicked Weekends”. So, for the next few weeks, expect a grand tour of the good, the bad, the ludicrously comical and the goddamned scary.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

2010 – 80 min. – Directed by Jalmari Helander – Available on Netflix Instant

Far in the north of Finland, a drilling operation uncovers an ancient evil – the one and only Santa Claus. As children in the area begin to disappear, a young boy named Rauno must convince his father and his fellow reindeer hunters of the danger Santa poses and find a way to end the creature’s threat forever.

This is more of a horror-comedy than a straight up horror film. Perhaps I should have expected as much the moment I heard the words “evil Santa Claus,” because as creepy as the Santa legend can get in some parts of the world (and it can get very, very creepy), I don’t think anyone’s tried to make an evil Santa film that’s legitimately scary. Rare Exports is no exception. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means. I had a lot of fun watching it. It’s just not all that scary. Creepy in parts, certainly, and there are plenty of deaths, but in the end, it’s more of a horror-tinged farce than anything. It’s worth a watch, but don’t go in expecting a lot of scares. Honestly, it might be best saved for the Christmas season. When you’re tired of Rankin-Bass specials and Charlie Brown cartoons, spin up Rare Exports, spike the eggnog, and let the laughter commence.

 

John Carpenter’s The Ward

2011 – 86 min. – Directed by John Carpenter – Available on Netflix Instant

In the 1960s, a mysterious young woman is captured by the police and admitted to an isolated mental institution, where she and her fellow patients are hunted by a terrifying spectre tied to a dark secret in their shared pasts.

I enjoyed this movie far more than I thought I would. It’s not the greatest horror film I’ve ever seen, but it kept me guessing and it had a lot of great jump-scare moments. In retrospect, the climax of the film was actually quite predictable, but I honestly didn’t see it coming and I felt it was very well executed indeed. The main characters sometimes come off as one-dimensional, but given the fundamental nature of the film, I can’t really say that’s a bad thing. I would definitely recommend giving this one a watch.

 

The Thing

1982 – 109 min. – Directed by John Carpenter – Available on Netflix Instant

The staff of an American research outpost in the Antarctic take in a Siberian Husky rescued from Norwegian scientists hell-bent on putting the dog down, and soon discover that the scientists had very good reasons to hunt the creature. Faced with a monster that can mutate into anything it kills, the Americans must battle their own fear and paranoia as their ranks are swiftly and steadily depleted.

Here’s where I come off as a Philistine: I didn’t enjoy this film at all. I recognize that it’s a seminal horror film, an essential part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy and a profound influence on countless subsequent movies. But I just didn’t enjoy watching it. Perhaps it had just been overhyped. Maybe I’ve been exposed to too many of the revolutionary ideas that sprung from this movie to enjoy it on its own terms. Maybe the 80s-style gore turned me off, as it did with Hellraiser. Whatever the reason, I could not get into The Thing. I suppose I’m glad I saw it – certainly everyone should see the classics of the genre, and The Thing is pretty universally acknowledged as such – but it was more of a chore than anything. Perhaps I’ll try watching it again sometime and see if my opinion improves on subsequent viewings.

 

Grave Encounters

2011 – 92 min. – Directed by the Vicious Brothers & Colin Minihan – Available on Netflix Instant

The cast and crew of a ghost-hunting “reality” show spend a night in an abandoned mental institution, where they soon discover that the stories they’ve been spinning for their audience are all too real.

Another movie I liked far more than I ever expected. I honestly thought this would be schlockfest, and to a certain degree, it was. The sequence of events was fairly predictable, none of the characters were terribly well-defined, and haunted asylums and found footage are among the stalest tropes in modern horror. But I find that when I walk into a movie with no expectations, I end up enjoying it for what it is. Grave Encounters is not a great movie. It’s probably not even a good movie. But it’s a fun movie, packed with genuine scares and creepy ambiance. I’m actually pretty excited for the forthcoming sequel. If you have Netflix, it’s worth adding this one to your queue. Maybe you’ll never care to watch it again – but it’s a fun way to spend a couple hours. Also, I kind of loved seeing a crew of so-called ghost hunters get taken down a peg. Couldn’t have happened to nicer people.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

2010 – 76 min. – Directed by Troy Nixey – Available on Netflix Instant

A young girl named Sally comes to live in the Gothic mansion her father Alex and his new girlfriend Kim are restoring, and whispers in the walls soon lead her to a walled-up basement, where she inadvertently unleashes a long-dormant evil. As the creatures that haunt the home torment Sally in increasingly vicious ways, Kim embarks on a desperate search for answers, racing against time to save Sally from the beings lurking in the darkness.

I wanted to like this one. I really, really did. I generally adore Guillermo del Toro (who wrote the screenplay for this film, a remake of an old TV movie). I’m very interested in fairy lore, and this film draws upon it in very interesting ways. As an intellectual exercise, I find the film fascinating. As a horror movie, I honestly hated it. It was slow and quiet in all the wrong places. The set and creature design were superbly creepy, but the pacing, the writing and the acting were all seriously lacking. The movie wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t really frightening. In the end, I don’t think it was worth my time. The Thing was worth watching for its place in movie history. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will be lucky to be a footnote.

 

Dracula 2000

2000 – 98 min. – Directed by Patrick Lussier – Available on Netflix Instant

A gang of thieves raids a vault owned by none other than Professor Van Helsing, unleashing Dracula, the first and most terrible of all vampires. Chasing Dracula to New Orleans, Van Helsing and his assistant soon discover that Dracula has a very particular target in mind: the Professor’s estranged daughter Mary.

I went into this movie knowing that it would be bad. That it had been near-universally panned. And its reputation is deserved. For all of that, though, I had fun watching it. Christopher Plummer was a wonderful Van Helsing, and Gerard Butler made a decently creepy Dracula. The mythology behind the film was actually quite intriguing, if not entirely original. And after visiting New Orleans last year and falling in love with it, I’m a sucker for anything involving my second-favorite city on Earth. (The first, of course, will always be Boston.) There were some inexplicable and rather jarring elements – the inclusion of Lucy Westenra as Mary Van Helsing’s best friend, for example, even though Bram Stoker’s novel explicitly exists in the world of the film, presumably with Lucy’s role intact, and no explanation for this coincidence is ever provided – but it was an enjoyable romp all the same.

 

Event Horizon

1997 – 95 min. – Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A search and rescue team is dispatched to the outskirts of the solar system to recover the Event Horizon, the first starship equipped with an FTL drive, which has mysteriously reappeared after a seven year absence. Though the ship initially appears to be abandoned, a malevolent presence soon makes itself known, and the crew of the Lewis and Clark discover that some doors should never be opened.

Okay, confession time: I’ve had this movie sitting on my shelf for ages, after buying a used copy off a friend, but I was too much of a wuss to watch it until recently. Having finally seen it, I honestly enjoyed the hell out of it. It was creepy as hell and scary in all the right places, and while the damned, haunted ship may be a trope almost as tired as the haunted asylum, the outer space setting made everything old seem new again. I’ve seen a few people comment that this film seems almost like a prequel to the Warhammer 40k setting, and even with my cursory knowledge of that setting, I have to agree – and after seeing the film, I’m slightly more interested in exploring WH40K than I was. My one complaint is this: there’s a toneless comic relief character who feels spectacularly out of place every time he appears, particularly as the film grows steadily more grim. I appreciate good comic relief, but this film really didn’t provide a bit of it; the movie would have been better served by having none at all. Still, even that flaw couldn’t really spoil the film as a whole. Event Horizon wasn’t quite as terrifying as I thought it would be – I think I’d built it up a bit too much in my mind – but it was very, very good and I’ll definitely be watching it again to catch any details I might have missed.

 

Sinister

2012 – 109 min. – Directed by Scott Derrickson

Hungry for another smash hit, true crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves his family to the site of a vicious multiple murder, where he soon discovers a series of home movies chronicling a chain of homicides spread across many years and thousands of miles. As he slowly puts the pieces together, Ellison finds himself literally haunted by the grisly events, and slowly comes to believe that he may have placed his own family in harm’s way.

Just barely certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, this film, released on Friday, has been dividing the critics like nothing else. The main complaint so far seems to be that it’s predictable. Let me get that out of the way right now: it is. You’ll probably be able to see every major plot point coming around ten minutes before it hits. But the devil, as it were, is in the details. What this movie lacks in original plot structure, it more than makes up for in execution. It’s well-acted, beautifully atmospheric, wonderfully creepy, and studded with some awesome jump-scares. This film takes ideas that have been percolating in the depths of the horror genre for years and weaves them together into something that’s much, much more than the sum of its parts. To go into details would spoil the film, and it deserves to be experienced fresh. Suffice to say I highly recommend it. Ignore the critics. If you have doubts, wait for the DVD, but turn the lights down low, curl up with your loved ones and give this one a watch. Just don’t do it right before bed.

The Ranting Fangirl: Survival Through Subtext

Lately I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to lesbian subtext.

Now, my friend Katie is, as we speak, rushing to the bottom of this post to insist that I’m always thinking about lesbian subtext, as well as lesbian text, lesbian picture books, lesbian cartoons, and lesbian interpretive dance. Before you go read her shameful libel, let me state categorically that this is not at all true. I spend ten percent of my time thinking about sci-fi and fantasy in general. Five percent of my time goes to thinking about my holy crap adorable niece, another five percent goes to thinking about ponies (including unicorns and pegasi), and another five goes to thinking about my cats. Three percent of my time goes to thinking about how it would be so much easier to find clothes and shoes that fit properly if my feet were three or four sizes smaller and I was six inches shorter and a few pounds lighter. And, last but far from least, two percent of my time goes to thinking about corgis and Shelties, and what I’m going to name any corgis and/or Shelties I’m able to adopt someday (Tinkerbell or Stellabella for girls; Puck, Robin or Casey for boys). So, at most, I spend 70% of my time thinking about lesbian subtext. Math.

But I’ve spent the last day or so thinking about lesbian subtext in somewhat more abstract terms, inspired by a couple articles I’ve read recently. The first, an Entertainment Weekly piece tweeted by Roger Ebert (and then retweeted by a Twitter buddy of mine), asks if Merida – the newest Disney princess, and star of the new Pixar film, Bravemight be gay. Their reasoning isn’t great; Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress takes it on here. But a lot of the people who responded to both Ebert’s tweet and the original article objected to the very idea – not only from the generally anti-gay perspectives you might expect, but from feminist perspectives as well. I can’t say I entirely disagree with the fundamental point that heterosexual women can reject traditional gender roles, too; nor do I disagree with the related point that we are not defined solely by who we’re attracted to, and saying “Well, Merida just isn’t into men at all, is she?” kind of undermines her determination to choose her own fate, no matter what that fate may be or who else it might involve. (Please note that I haven’t seen the film yet. I plan to. Soon. But I’m working from only the sketchiest details.)

And yet…

Subtext is important. At times, subtext is vital. Especially when decent text is so hard to find. It’s getting better, to be sure, but there’s still a dearth of compelling, well-rounded gay characters, particularly in children’s entertainment. Sure, Dumbledore was gay…but that was never truly relevant to the saga of Harry Potter, and it didn’t even come out until the last book was printed. And too often, even those meager scraps can be ripped away.

This brings me to the second article. Now, I should preface this by saying that I don’t watch Adventure Time. But I do follow another WordPress blog called Misprinted Pages, and today Stephanie posted a review of the Adventure Time comic book, touching on a “controversy” connected with the show in the process. Said controversy is recapped here, but in brief: about a year ago, there was an episode showcasing some “light lesbian subtext” between two female characters, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, and the show’s creators posted an online video commenting on the episode, essentially upgrading the subtext to some kind of text, and soliciting fan art and fan responses. That video was later pulled – after an outpouring of support from the online lesbian community in particular –  for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense. The episode is still in circulation, but heaven forbid the creators openly acknowledge  that two characters in a family cartoon might be gay for each other. (Since the same episode apparently also implies or outright states that another character has been jerking off to a lock of Princess Bubblegum’s hair, I’m not sure how gay characters would cross any lines that haven’t already been left in the dust anyway.)

I know, I know – I’m spending a lot of time talking about stuff I haven’t seen. Insert pithy comment about feeling like I’m hardly ever seen here. I’m pretty sure everyone in the GLBT community is used to this game: go through the hundred or shows on television on any given moment, cringing at the stereotypes and crass humor, bracing yourself for heartbreak whenever a decent gay, bi or trans character happens to emerge, and grasping at subtext wherever you can find it. Hoping against hope that Disney will just admit that the Mystic Force Pink Ranger is gay (short-haired tomboy whose one and only date on the show was with a girl and who openly and enthusiastically agreed with the guys that another female character was hot…come on, people), or that TNT will stop teasing us with Rizzoli & Isles, or that you weren’t just imagining that chemistry between Veronica Mars and Meg Manning. Writing fan fic about Kirk and Spock or Xena and Gabrielle (even if the latter are all but canonical).

I’m not going to say it’s okay, because it’s not. I can count on one hand the number of current TV shows with meaningful gay characters that I actually enjoy. And when it comes to stuff I’d want my future kids to watch? Stuff that would show them that, no matter who they are, there are people like them out there, and they’re beautiful and amazing just the way they are? It falls to just about zero.

I get that it’s annoying at times. I get that sometimes the reasoning isn’t great – sometimes the reasoning is actually insulting. And I guess I’m not really saying that flawed reasoning shouldn’t be challenged. But, at the same time, sometimes subtext is all we have. Sometimes subtext helps us cope. Sometimes it helps us survive. And it’s not enough. Especially not for the gay and bi and trans kids growing up now, struggling to come to terms with who they are, still developing those vital survival skills. But don’t begrudge us our icons. Don’t go telling us our subtext is wrong. Because God knows we need all the heroes we can get – textual or otherwise.

Writing Wednesdays: Orphans

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about orphans lately.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Though, come to think of it, there’s probably a lot to be said about orphans, and I’m writing my share – Maddie from Fall is an orphan, after all; so, too, is Willow, the protagonist of my back-burnered children’s book, Ten Witch Grave. There are a lot of orphans in literature, from Oliver Twist to Harry Potter. We seem to be drawn to them as characters. There’s probably a whole other blog post there. File it under Posts I’m Not Writing for now.

But that gives me a great segue into what I’m actually writing about: J.K. Rowling (as revealed on Pottermore) calls them orphans. My writing group calls them Stories You’re Not Writing (or Poems You’re Not Writing, or Plays You’re Not Writing, or…you get the idea). They are, simply put, the Very Good Ideas (and occasionally the horrifically bad ideas) that, sadly, have no place in whatever you’re actually creating. Because let’s face it: we all have good ideas. Even great ideas. Except, of course, when we don’t – but, for the most part, ideas are everywhere. They can be found in abundance. And the surfeit of ideas can be more of a problem than the absence of ideas.

In previous posts, I’ve used the machine analogy: your novel (or story, or even poem, in some cases) isn’t a simple thing. It’s a machine filled with many moving parts. You have to choose those parts well, and assemble them with the utmost care. As a rule, you can’t afford to waste your time and effort on useless frippery – or, worse, design and build mechanisms that actually interfere with the functioning of the whole device. You may also have heard of the concept of bandwidth. It’s mostly a computing term, referring to the amount of data you can transmit over a given connection at a given time. But human beings have bandwidth, too. Projects have bandwidth. You can only process so much information; you can only fit so much into a given work.

So this is something that anyone working on a creative project has to deal with. You have ideas. Many of them are Very Good Ideas. But even the best ideas may have to be ignored, or cut, or shouted down until they slink away, tail between their legs. You only have so much bandwidth. You only have so much time. And so, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes painfully, you force those Very Good Ideas out of your story. You create orphans. And those elements of your story will never see the light of day, except perhaps in author’s notes, or interviews, or blog posts like this one.

When I think of Fall‘s orphans, I think first of the two bits of Irish folklore that first inspired me. One of them is an old story (with a few different variations) that I’m not going to talk about just yet, as it may lead people to guess the outcome of the novel, and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone before I’ve finished writing it. The other, as I mentioned before, was a charm against the Good Folk that I have been unable to find again – but it went vaguely like this:

Today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. You folk who live in that hill over there, stay over there and don’t bother me.

I’m sure it was much more poetic in its original form (for that matter, it’s probably much more poetic in Irish Gaelic), but as I said, I can’t recall the exact wording and haven’t been able to find the charm again since I first heard it in a folklore class many years ago. But I was struck by the idea of wielding the natural order of things as a weapon against the Good Folk, of using logic and reason and nature against the illogical, the insane, the supernatural. It is not, perhaps, an entirely original concept – see the animated film version of The Flight of Dragons, or certain interpretations of Changeling: The Dreaming – but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

As I think on it now, there is, perhaps, still something of that dichotomy in Fall as it currently stands. Certainly the Fair don’t play by our rules, and their magic is not readily explained or explored through the scientific method. (Sidebar: Isaac Asimov wrote a terrific essay on magic, science, and Clarke’s Third Law in which he argued that, in fact, magic by definition is not bound by rules, where science is – appropriately enough, it’s in his fantasy collection Magic. I did not agree with the essay when I first read it. I’ve come around on the subject.) But they’re not creatures of madness and irrationality anymore. They would generally agree that today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. They would, in fact, point out that today is Wednesday and you’ve actually got it all wrong. The light of reason would not drive them out. It’s a wonderful idea. But there’s no place for it in the story I’m writing.

Actually, a lot of folklore has fallen by the wayside as I’ve streamlined the society of the Fair. As I was researching the book, I drove myself a bit crazy trying to catalog and codify all the fairies in European folklore, chasing down stories of shapeshifting witches and wise druids and talking cats and river monsters. This, too, I’ve discussed before. For a while there, it was enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Finally, for the sake of my sanity, I decided on two rules:

  1. I would only draw fairies from the folklore of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, and the surrounding islands, with a particular focus on Ireland.
  2. I would only allow a particular species to join the ranks of the Fair if it filled a specific niche that no other species quite occupied.

With those rules in mind, I sketched out the following list in my notebook. This is taken verbatim.

  • The bòcans became true shapeshifters.
  • The coblynau retreated beneath the earth.
  • The daoine sidhe came to resemble humans.
  • The dullahans became night terrors.
  • The leannáin sidhe adapted to feed on human blood.
  • The murúcha retreated beneath the waves.
  • The spriggans became more like humans, but kept their strength and power to grow.
  • The fir liath became creatures of air.
  • The ferrishyn became diminutive sprites and formed bonds with dogs.
  • The leanaí na gcrann became creatures of the forests.
  • The sluagh na marbh survived by recruiting/preserving the dead. (also consuming?)

Obviously I’ve expanded on that since, and some of it has changed since I sketched out that basic list. But there’s the skeleton: twelve species, each with their own niches, their own parts to play. And it fits the basic ideas of my story well. The Fair are not their ancestors, the legendary Tuatha de Dannan. They can’t change their form on a whim (with the possible exception of the bòcans, but even they have their limits), they can’t move mountains with a whispered word. They are changed. Codified. Diminished.

I had to bid goodbye to so much in the process: trolls and kelpies and knockers, nixies and nucklavees. There are a lot of orphaned fairies out there, and I wouldn’t want to run into any of them on a dark and lonely night. But Fall is stronger for it. The world is more coherent, more defined. The machine is not yet running perfectly, but it’s running well.

Don’t be afraid to make orphans. If something isn’t working, cut it out. Be ruthless. Cut and rearrange and cut some more until it fits – even if you’re losing Very Good Ideas in the process. There will be other stories. Or there will be notes, or interviews, or anecdotes to be told with a small, rueful smile. You don’t have to cram everything and the kitchen sink into this story.

Writing Wednesdays: The Evolution of Fall, Chapter One

Earlier this week, I posted the first chapter of Fall. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to go and do so before you continue – this week’s Writing Wednesdays post is all about the evolution of that chapter, so it’s not likely to make much sense to you otherwise.

At this point, Chapter One has been through approximately four and a half drafts. The half-draft is my original handwritten version, which I never managed to finish. At the time, I actually wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going, so I didn’t really know how the chapter should end. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), that draft was written before I moved last year, and the notebook containing it is still buried in the bottom of a box which is buried beneath a pile of boxes deep in the wilds of the junk room. So I don’t remember a lot of specific details. I do recall that I was still using the characters’ original names at that point, so Kira was Aisling, and Bree was Siobhan, among other things. I also recall that the story did not start with Bree’s dream. In fact, I hadn’t yet hit on the idea of giving her strange, prophetic dreams at all. That only emerged as Bree’s story expanded beyond her romance with Maddie, and I decided…

Well. That would be telling. In the words of River Song, spoilers.

Anyway, that early draft actually begins with Bree/Siobhan already on campus, heading to class with her sister. Kira/Aisling doesn’t have much of a part in that draft at all – Siobhan complains a bit about how perfect (and evil) her sister is, but Aisling runs off pretty quickly, and then Siobhan literally bumps into Maddie, who reacts to her meeting with one of the daoine sidhe with rather more fear and distaste. I had the basic idea of who Maddie was in my head, but I hadn’t yet thought through what that meant.

Really, the point of that very first draft was to get myself to start writing this story. In that, it succeeded. But I hadn’t done a lot of the groundwork, and it shows. In fact, as I recall, I hadn’t yet explored the world of the Fair in full, so at that point in time, I was just writing about the daoine sidhe. I’m not even sure I’d brought Professor Gahan and his family into it yet.

You may be wondering why that initial draft was handwritten. That’s a habit of mine that I haven’t yet fully broken. I got my first laptop at eighteen. Before that, I was primarily using the family computer. Since I was, as you might guess, sharing that computer with my family, I only had a couple hours on it each day, and I didn’t want to waste that time pondering. So I’d write out my initial drafts on hand, then type them up when I got my turn on the computer and start making corrections and revisions from there. If I ended up throwing out the whole draft, I’d write the second one longhand as well, to save precious computer time. I still tend to do this on some projects – particularly when I’m running a tabletop RPG – even though I’ve had one laptop or another available to me for most of the past decade. Further, at the time I had an extremely long commute which involved a very lengthy bus ride, and I was nervous about bringing my laptop along. It seems silly to confess that now, as I am literally writing this during my 30-40 minute commute on the Red Line, but there you are.

I do have access to my first complete draft of Chapter One, though I had to go digging through my writing group’s archives to find it. Strangely, it seems I didn’t save a local copy. Actually, looking at it now, it doesn’t seem so strange – I’ve found myself wincing at several points. But I tend to hoard old files, sometimes to my detriment, so it’s still a little surprising that I didn’t keep this one.

With the first draft, the general shape of the chapter begins to emerge. All the characters have their proper names: Bree is Bree, Kira is Kira. Looking back, I see that I’d even settled on Deirdre as their mother’s name. There was a time when I was going with Gwynn, which ultimately became the name of Deirdre’s late mother. (You haven’t heard the story of Deirdre and Gwynn yet. You will.) That said, a lot of the details differ. Most notably, I hadn’t yet figured out Kira’s characterization. In the first complete draft, she was even more bratty and obnoxious than she is now. In fact, she initially woke Bree by dumping a bucket of ice water over her head. When I put this draft before my writing group, many of them pointed out that Kira seemed awfully immature for someone who was over a century old, and her relationship with Bree was not what they would expect from someone who was already grown when her little sister was born. In the course of that discussion, someone mentioned the idea of Kira seeing herself as a sort of surrogate mother to Bree, and I latched on to that. Kira still has moments of immaturity, but it’s all artifice. We see a little of her deeper nature in Chapter One, and we’ll see more as the story continues. Kira has motivations that go far beyond simple malice.

I was also describing Kira very differently – in fact, I was describing all the daoine sidhe of the Winter Court differently. In the first draft, they tended to be short and slight, and Bree, who stood at least a head above most of them, stuck out like a sore thumb. I ultimately decided to make them all a bit more like supermodels, and that meant upping their height significantly. They’re still slender and pale and coldly beautiful, and Bree, with her healthy farm girl glow, still sticks out like a sore thumb, but the differences are there nonetheless.

Speaking of the Winter Court, Bree’s first day of college was originally much colder – cold enough to make her put a nice thick sweater over her shirt and under her jacket. Here’s the thing about early September in New England: as a rule, summer hasn’t left yet. It’s hot and muggy and actually really unpleasant. So my writing group didn’t really buy that even the Winter Queen’s ambient magic would make the first day of college that cold. In the end, I decided that there was no real point in keeping that detail if it broke the reader out of the story, so I toned down the temperature difference a bit. Crowshead still has an unusually cool climate for Massachusetts, but it’s no longer freezing while the rest of the state is still sweltering.

Crowshead wasn’t Crowshead, of course. I’ve talked about that before – it was originally Tara, which was taken as an allusion to Gone With The Wind rather than the reference to Irish history and mythology it was meant to be. In fact, the town wasn’t even in the same place in that first draft: I originally placed it in central Massachusetts, and Greymont College was actually Greyvale instead. When I was pondering new names for the town, I hit on Cape Clear, came up with some really fantastic visuals for the Winter Queen’s palace (which you’ll see for the first time in Chapter Two), and moved the whole thing to the coast. My writing group didn’t like Cape Clear, either, so I did some research into the history of my home state, looked at the names of some other coastal towns, and finally came up with Crowshead. The name Greyvale wasn’t really working for me at that point, so I changed it to Greymount, which ultimately became Greymont.

Last but far from least, the dream was much shorter, and there wasn’t a single detail in it to indicate Maddie’s possible presence. Someone still grabbed Bree at the end of her dance with the handsome boy from the dream, but I didn’t really describe that someone at all, and my writing group actually wasn’t sure it was meant to be a separate person at all! So I tried to make that clearer in later drafts. Hopefully I’ve succeeded.

So the second complete draft introduced Kira’s new personality, Maddie’s hand, the coastal town of Cape Clear, and Greymount College. One thing it didn’t introduce: Bree’s magic. The fourth draft is the first version of Chapter One in which she actually uses any magic at all. Bree doesn’t rely too heavily on her magic – certainly she doesn’t use it as freely as Kira does – but yes, she has power, she is willing and able to use it, and she uses more of it in Chapter Two. Originally, however, she didn’t use it at all until that chapter. And yet she still noticed fine details like Maddie’s hand and the bracelet around her wrist from a good twenty or thirty or forty feet away. This was something else my group called me on. I had originally thought that the daoine sidhe simply had better-than-human sight, but my fellow writers pointed out that it was very difficult to consistently and convincingly write a character with superhuman powers of perception, particularly if those powers were constantly active, and I ultimately decided that Bree would have to make a conscious effort to see so clearly across such a great distance.

The third complete draft really didn’t differ much from the second at all. At the time, I was actually submitting the first chapter of Fall (along with some other pieces) as a writing sample for a job that didn’t end up panning out, so the third draft was mostly cleanup. I changed Cape Clear to Crowshead, and I believe I made one or two other adjustments, but most of the major changes, such as they are, came with the fourth draft.

And that brings us to the present. Major changes in this draft: Greymount officially became Greymont, I added some more details to the dream, and I tweaked Bree’s conversation with Maddie as well as the scene between Bree, Maddie and Kira. I also, notably, changed Dougal’s name. It had been Doyle, but my friend Katie pointed out that Doyle was the name of a prominent character from the Merry Gentry series, and while I’ve read the first book and my Doyle isn’t really at all like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Doyle, I still didn’t want to invite comparison. Both Doyle and Dougal are derived from the old-form version of his name, which is Dubhghall, and in fact Dougal has turned up more often as the modern form in my (admittedly sketchy) research so far, so after a bit of hemming and hawing, I finally made the switch.

As I said previously, this may not be the final form of the chapter. I may still make some tweaks, cut down on some of Bree’s ramblings, and generally clean things up a bit. But I’m confident in the general shape of it, and more than ready to move on. Truth be told, if I hadn’t decided to post the first chapter on the blog, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with another draft at all – at least not until I had the whole novel sitting in front of me, ready to be knitted into a coherent whole. I have much bigger dragons to slay: namely the second chapter (where I’m introducing a character who walked into the story three chapters late and demanded a place in the narrative) and the third (which has seen two completely different drafts so far and still isn’t quite right) and, well, every chapter afterward. Still, it did help a bit to look back at where I’ve been and come up with a new working copy. If nothing else, it got my head back in the game.

Onward.

If you like what you’ve just read, or if you’d like to see more of Fall, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. For every $250 I receive before April 30, 2012, I will post either another chapter of Fall or a short piece set in the same universe. I’ve already received a little over one hundred dollars, meaning we’re less than $150 away from the first benchmark. The same deal applies for every $500 I receive after the end of the month: a chapter from the book, or a short story exploring Bree’s world in more depth. If you can’t personally donate, you can still help by spreading the word about the blog and the novel. The more readers and potential donors I reach, the better. Either way, though, thanks for reading.