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.

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.

Twenty Years Of Teenagers With Attitude

In the summer of 1993, I was ten years old. A lot of my memories of that time have grown fuzzy over the years, but I still remember this pretty vividly: I was watching TV with my family when this commercial came on advertising a brand new show on Saturday mornings on Fox. I don’t think I was really watching Fox at the time. I was hooked on Saturday morning cartoons, of course, but I spent most of my time on the big three networks. This, though…this wasn’t a cartoon. This was a live action show about teenagers (or so they claimed; even then I thought these people looked older than the teens I knew) fighting space aliens, driving giant robots, and transforming themselves into an unprecedented fighting force known as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I knew from the moment I saw that first ad that it was going to be pure unleaded awesome.had to see this for myself.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

So, on Saturday, August 28th, 1993, I tuned in to Fox to see what this was all about. And it was pretty ridiculous, to be honest. I can’t really recall whether or not I thought so at the time. I know it wasn’t long before I realized my obsession with the show was really a little dorky, and the whole franchise was pretty damned silly. But that first episode, regardless of its flaws, was everything I’d been promised and more. It was a flight of fancy that sprawled across genres, touching on everything I was interested in. I was hooked from the moment I heard that pounding theme song. I still think it’s probably one of the best theme songs ever written. It’s just so perfectly suited to the show. Everything that followed – the spandex suits, the superheroic action, the giant goddamned robot/monster fights – was just icing on the cake.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never intended to be anything more than a stopgap, a stepping stone to bigger and better things for children’s programming on Fox. It could be made on the cheap, using footage imported from Japan’s Super Sentai franchise combined with framing scenes shot in the US, but no one expected it to last. In a matter of weeks, however, its popularity exploded. The companies involved in producing the show (and the toy line) could scarcely keep up with the demand. When the cast made an appearance at Universal Studios, 35,000 people showed up, literally stopping traffic. The ratings would continue to soar until, two years later, this cheap little adaptation was turned into a brand new feature film. The franchise would never quite reach those heights again – Power Rangers has in fact been through several periods of decline, and has nearly been canceled three times – but it’s managed to survive countless cast and format changes, and now, with the twentieth anniversary upon us, the return of a number of adult fans to bolster the ranks of the fans that never left, and Saban and Bandai pulling out at least some of the stops to celebrate the show’s legacy, it’s even enjoying something of a resurgence.

This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive history of Power Rangers, though. That’s Linkara’s job. Rather, with twenty years of giant robots, morphing sequences, and teenagers with attitude behind us, I want to spend some time reflecting on a question I get every so often: just why do I love this show so much? What, exactly, does it mean to me? I’ve never had a ready answer, really, and I’m not sure I have one now. But I can point to a few things.

I suppose it starts with the fact that the Power Rangers were my first superheroes. That’s probably not the literal truth – I grew up in a geeky family, surrounded by geeky friends, and I’m sure I was at least aware of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and so on. But the Power Rangers are the first superheroes I remember following. Like all the best superheroes, they lived by a moral code. The core of it is spelled out in the first episode, Day of the Dumpster, after the Rangers accept their powers: never use your powers for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless forced to, and never reveal your secret identity. The rest of it emerged over time, and (the secret identity thing aside), it reinforced the lessons my parents were already teaching me. Together, they taught me to treat others with kindness and decency, to keep an open mind and never stop learning (and never, ever be ashamed of my hunger for knowledge), to use whatever power I might possess to help others, and to do these things not because they might benefit me (though I believe they have benefited me, in the long run), but because it’s simply the right thing to do. I don’t really consider myself all that heroic, or all that brave, really, but I’ve had my moments. And every time I’ve stood up for someone who couldn’t, every time I’ve found the courage to speak out, every time I’ve done something to make the world better, it’s because a part of me still looks at the world in front of me and asks what the Power Rangers would do. I have lots of heroes to look to these days, including more than a few actual people, but you never forget your first Doctor, you never forget your first Starfleet crew, and you never forget your first superheroes. With apologies to the Lone Gunmen, you don’t watch twenty years of Power Rangers without learning a little something about courage.

There were also characters I identified with very strongly. First and foremost was Billy Cranston, the resident nerd. I was a geeky kid. Scrawny, lanky, weak, withdrawn and bookish. I wore my heart on my sleeve, I wasn’t afraid to cry (or wasn’t strong enough to keep from crying, at least), and I preferred the company of girls. As I’ve said before, I was frequently bullied. So it meant a lot to me to see someone like Billy – someone like me – rise to the occasion and become a hero. He was loved, respected, and defended by his friends, and while he did learn to fight over time, to defend himself and others, his intelligence was still his true strength. Time after time, he applied his intellect to the Rangers’ latest problems, saving the day with a clever solution or a new invention. His love of science, of knowledge in general, was not just tolerated but admired. Of course, David Yost, who played Billy, wasn’t treated nearly so well – he’s spoken openly about the homophobic bullying he faced on set – but, as an adult, that just makes his story resonate on a personal level. Knowing that the man behind the Ranger I identified with most strongly was going through similar struggles with his identity and the reactions of those around him means more to me than I can say. I admire his strength and courage in building a life outside of Power Rangers, in finally breaking his silence and speaking out about the problems he faced, in embracing the fan community even after everything he went through, and in joining the ongoing fight for equality.

Then there was Kimberly Ann Hart. Kimberly never got the best lines or stunts; in TV Tropes parlance, she was most definitely The Chick. But she was everything I wished I could be. Outgoing, popular, graceful, friendly…and, though it took me a long time to put it into words, feminine. She was the girl I yearned to be. Maybe she needed to be rescued a little too often. Maybe she never really got to play the hero the way the other Rangers did. But she was still heroic, and at the same time, she was comfortable with herself and her feelings. Like me, she wore her heart on her sleeve. It wasn’t treated as a weakness. It was treated as a strength. Her compassion, her sensitivity, her love for her friends made her fight all the harder. Maybe she wasn’t the best fighter, but she was committed to the fight. And, like Billy, she was loved and respected by her friends for who she was. She didn’t have to pretend to be something else. In those days, though I didn’t yet realize it, I was spending all my time pretending, and I was honestly awful at it. Twenty years later – ten years since I began my transition – I’ve found my own style. I’m not Kimberly, and I never will be. I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m not that graceful or that girly, either. Even so, just as the Power Rangers were my first superheroes, Kimberly was my first heroine. My first role model.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

Above all else, though, I love the Power Rangers because they represent hope. They don’t give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Even if they lose their powers, they’ll keep fighting. And they inspire the people around them to do the same. Linkara has spoken eloquently of the character arcs of Bulk and Skull, two characters who start out as cardboard bullies and comic relief and ultimately stand up as heroes in their own right. The Power Rangers and their friends represent a shining ideal: the radical idea that, with determination, compassion, unity and hope, we really can overcome anything. I’ve struggled my whole life with depression and despair, and I live in a world that is far from what I’d like it to be. But I maintain hope that we can solve our problems, that we can learn to live in peace and mutual respect, that we can face any dangers that may loom ahead of us. That comes from being a Trekkie, in part. It comes from all the science fiction I’ve read and some things friends and family have shown me. It comes from stories of real people committing acts of extraordinary kindness, compassion and courage. But it also comes, at least a little, from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Twenty years later, my beloved franchise is still, by and large, a dorky kids’ show. The quality varies widely from season to season. But I still find myself drawn in to every new episode of Power Rangers Megaforce, even if the dialogue and acting make me cringe now and then. I’m going to Power Morphicon next summer, and I absolutely cannot wait to spend a whole weekend surrounded by my fellow Rangers. One of my most treasured possessions is my Pink Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger costume, and I plan to add the Yellow Megaforce Ranger as soon as I can. I still love the Power Rangers, and I suspect I always will, no matter how silly I look with my communicator replica and my Power Rangers ringtone when I’m old and gray.

So happy birthday, Power Rangers, and many happy returns. May the Power protect you. Always.

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.

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.

Media Mondays: The Glee Is Gone

My friend Katie recently had a few things to say about Glee. Well, I say ‘recently,’ and I say ‘a few things,’ but I mean ‘three distinct posts over the course of as many months,’ so here, I’ll just link them allGlee happens to be one of the many interests we share: we were both seriously into it at the start, and we both started to loathe it at around the same time. And good Lord in Heaven, is there a lot to loathe. But, for me, it comes down to this:

In the last season, Glee has come to embody the concept of too little, too late.

Let’s be honest: this show was always a guilty pleasure. I had plenty of friends who rather justifiably proclaimed it terrible from the start. I thought it was cute and quirky and interesting, and I’ve always been a sucker for musicals. I knew it wasn’t without its problems, but I was willing to overlook those problems for a while. And the first season had a lot going for it. The show was basically a live-action cartoon, with outrageous plotlines and no real consequences for anyone’s actions, but at the same time, it tackled real teen problems in an emotionally authentic way. Sexuality. Teen pregnancy. Bullying. It wasn’t always perfect, particularly when it came to racial diversity and actual inclusion. There were plenty of genuinely idiotic moments. But at least they were trying. And the show was suffused with a sense of good cheer, good humor, and sheer joy that made up for a lot.

I don’t really know when that sense of joy started to fade away. I don’t know when I officially became sick of Glee’s bullshit. But I do know that this past season has been a long, joyless slog, and unless the writers pull a damned miracle out of their asses and truly, deeply impress me, I’m done. When this season is over, I’m saying goodbye to Glee.

Frankly, I’m not holding out much hope. The writers have had at least two golden opportunities to impress me this season, and they haven’t done it yet. I sincerely doubt they ever will.

This should have been an emotionally resonant moment. It was totally botched. And that's what you missed on Glee!

Case in point: the recent episode on bullying and suicide among gay teens. This has been a huge issue in the last year, and rightly so. Too many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and college students are taking their own lives, unable to bear the grief they face day after day. I have struggled with depression my whole life. I have been in that place more times than I care to admit. I could have been one of those kids.

So it made me incredibly furious to see Glee tackle the issue in their all-too-typical hamfisted manner.

I can’t point to any one specific part of the episode and say ‘There. That. That’s where they fucked up!’ To be honest, it all felt wrong. The teen who actually attempted suicide – Dave Karofsky – was a fairly unsympathetic character who had been rather awkwardly reinserted into the show an episode or two before. We didn’t see enough of his story to know exactly what he was going through. The actual suicide attempt, and his father’s discovery of his unconscious body, were certainly difficult scenes to watch. But they weren’t as powerful as they could have been. And they were diminished further simply by being on this damn show. I spent the whole five minutes or so wondering how they were going to fuck things up this time. And boy howdy, they did not disappoint.

In the moments that followed, we had a tired old story from Mr. Schue about how he was once caught cheating on a test and thought about jumping off a roof, as well as a half-assed redemption on the part of a recurring character who had actually committed assault against one of the regulars not too long before and should have been in jail. (He didn’t go to jail because Glee is stupid and everyone on the show is carrying the idiot ball at this point. Also there was something about Michael Jackson in there. It’s all kind of blurred together into an enormous pile of awful.) We had a heavy-handed scene in the hospital with Kurt and Karofsky, I guess. To be honest, I’ve blocked that out too. And then we forgot all about it and moved on to the most boring Regionals competition ever shown on the program and the culmination of one of the most idiotic plotlines of the season (which is saying a lot): Finn and Rachel‘s wedding.

I don’t even know where to start. I really don’t. This episode could have been good. It should have been good. Most of the cast is incredibly talented, and they brought real, raw emotion to their reactions to Karofsky’s suicide attempt. But you know what? For one thing, you don’t take a subject like this and turn it into the B-plot in a three-ring circus clusterfuck of an episode. For another, no, Mr. Schue, your stupid teenage overreaction to getting caught cheating does not compare to what GLBT teens face every goddamned day in any way, shape or form. We couldn’t have heard from Kurt on this? Or Santana? Or one of Rachel’s dads, maybe? Someone who might actually have a story relevant to this plotline? Maybe an anecdote that wouldn’t break the emotional tension of these events like a safety pin stuck in a damned balloon?

But when it comes to ‘too little, too late,’ this last week’s episode takes the damn cake.

Sue Sylvester racing gleefully over the biggest damn line you ever did see.

In the last episode of Glee, we were introduced to Wade, a.k.a. Unique, a young trans woman on the verge of coming out, just about to come into her own. She also happened to be a member of Vocal Adrenaline – the chief rivals of Glee’s New Directions. When she came onto the campus to speak with Kurt and Mercedes, it looked like there was yet another confrontation between the rival glee clubs in the offing. Instead, she confessed her true identity and told them that she wanted to perform as a woman at Vocal Adrenaline’s next show. Kurt and Mercedes, sympathetic but fearing that she might be ridiculed, advised against it. Not the way I would have gone, but fine.

Then Sue Sylvester – Glee’s on-again, off-again antagonist – somehow caught wind of this. And that was when I started seeing red.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to trans issues. I get twitchy when otherwise good shows suddenly introduce transgender characters. When it happens on a show like Glee, I get downright pissy. So many shows get the whole thing so horribly wrong, even when they have the best intentions. And I no longer trust the intentions – or the competence – of Glee’s writers or producers.

I’ll put up with a lot of crap. But when you start fucking around with my sisters and my brothers, with our stories and our experiences, when you start exploiting us for tawdry drama or cheap laughs, my fuse gets very, very, very short.

And Sue Sylvester strolled right on in with a lit match. Because her reaction to this latest product of McKinley High’s rumor mill was not to commend Kurt and Mercedes on their kindness and discretion, or to tell them they should have encouraged Unique instead of shutting them down. Well…actually, it was sort of the latter. But for all the wrong reasons. Sue heard the story and thought this was the perfect opportunity to take down Vocal Adrenaline. The audience would see a teenage boy on stage in a dress and heels and the whole club would be humiliated. She even bought some ridiculously high-heeled shoes for them to give to Unique. And Kurt and Mercedes, though obviously reluctant, agreed to pass along the shoes and the message.

Let me tell you all a story. When I was 19 years old, during my freshman year of college, I came out to my friends and family. I finally admitted to everyone I loved that I felt like a woman inside, and I always had. I was supremely lucky: most of them accepted me for who I was. When I went home for the holidays, my parents helped me shop for everything I would need to assume my true identity, to become the person I had always been inside. We set up appointments with therapists and worked to get me on hormones. And then, the following February, I went with my school’s GSA to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference…and I went out in public as a woman for the very first time. I spent the whole weekend simply being myself. And when I came back, I realized that I couldn’t go back to living a lie. Within a week, I was living as a woman full-time.

I don’t think that would have happened if there’d been a Sue Sylvester waiting in the wings to turn my first experience in public as the person I truly was into some kind of Carrie moment. I’m not sure I’d be alive today if something like that had happened. That first experience at MBLGTACC gave me the strength I needed for everything that came afterward. That strength sometimes faltered, but it did not fail, because it was built on a strong foundation. If that foundation had been undermined from the very beginning…I really don’t know what would have happened.

Unique puts on her boogie shoes.

So when Sue proposed that bullshit, and Kurt and Mercedes went along with them, it truly damned them all in my eyes. No one deserves that kind of treatment. And Sue knows that, damn it! The whole plotline was inconsistent characterization at its worst. Sue’s a bully, but she has shown in the past that there are lines even she won’t cross. The victimization of GLBT youth was supposedly one of them, as evidenced by her decision to resign rather than reverse her decision to expel Karofsky for bullying Kurt and threatening him with assault and murder. Of course, that’s gone out the window before. But she’s never gone this far. It was clumsy writing, clumsy plotting, and unacceptable behavior on the part of several major characters.

If it had ended badly for Unique, I probably would have stopped watching here and there. I would never have forgiven the characters, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have forgiven the actors involved for letting their characters go that far. In the end, Kurt and Mercedes did have second thoughts. They ultimately went backstage at the Vocal Adrenaline concert to try and warn Unique about Sue’s plans. And that was when Unique showed us all the kind of person she was – because she refused to abandon her plans. She refused to lie about who she was any longer. She put on her boogie shoes and she went out there in all her glory. And it was glorious. For a moment – just a moment – I saw everything I used to love about Glee come rushing back.

But one good moment doesn’t make up for a season or more of absolute shit. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. I have been waiting for this moment since this show came on the air. And now that they finally have a trans character on the show – a strong, confident, talented trans woman of color, at that – I find that this victory, if you can call it that, tastes like ashes. I adore Unique, but she doesn’t redeem Glee. I’m not happy that the show is doing this. I’m furious that they’re doing it now. That one of the best trans characters on television is on a show that has long since become a complete train wreck.

Plenty of organizations like GLAAD are celebrating tonight, overjoyed at seeing a character like Unique on television. But I just can’t join the chorus. I’m just not feeling it. The joy is gone, and it won’t come back. I really do wish the show’s entire cast nothing but the best. Many of them are amazingly talented, and they deserve nothing but the best. But as for the show itself, and all its latest attempts to recapture its former glory?

Too little, too late, Glee. Too little, too late.

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Media Mondays: You Actually CAN Say That On Television

If the English language were on Facebook, my relationship with the word “bitch” would best be described as “It’s complicated”. I’m okay with it when it’s thrown at me in a playful kind of way by people I know and trust. I’m definitely okay with it when it’s used in a reclaiming sense. I was a regular reader of Bitch Magazine in the past, and once I have the disposable cash to spend on magazine subscriptions, I definitely will be again. At the same time, it is a slur, and when it’s used in that sense, I’m not really a fan.

On the other hand, I also believe this: if you want to use a certain word, just fucking use it. Oh, yes, that use of the f-bomb was quite deliberate. I really think that everyone is entirely too anxious about the use of profanity on television, the FCC most of all, and while I certainly don’t think Bert and Ernie should be cussing like sailors, I also think we should really just relax and take a cue from British TV. If you want to say ass, or bitch, or fuck, then you should just say it. Maybe set up a system where those words are only used after the watershed, to borrow another concept from our friends across the pond, but for fuck’s sake, just say the words you want to say. Don’t get cute about it.

So when I hear titles like GCB (originally Good Christian Bitches, then Good Christian Belles, now an abbreviation that everyone’s just going to look up on the Internet anyway) or Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, I can’t help rolling my eyes. Oh, to some degree, the words as used in the titles of these shows are definitely meant as slurs, and I can appreciate ABC‘s decision not to expose America’s sensitive eyes to such mind-scouring filth. (Okay, maybe I can’t appreciate that decision without a little bit of snark.) But we’re talking about a word that’s used frequently, including, yes, on network TV, and I think it’s frankly ridiculous that they can’t and won’t just say what they mean.

It doesn’t help that the shows themselves – especially GCB – are just as ridiculous.

All the devils are here. I say devils because I am apparently not allowed to say bitches on television.

And on that note, let’s take a closer look at these shows, starting with GCB. You know what that means: a barrage of catty puns. It’s no secret that ABC is desperate to replace Housewives, its Sunday night juggernaut of the last few years. Since Pan Am didn’t really pan out, they’ve turned to a show that’s much closer to the series they’re trying to emulate, a program all about sex, lies, family and women being completely horrible to each other in the middle of a small, tightly-knit community.

When I first heard of this series, I actually had high hopes. There were rumors of central gay content (and that storyline actually is one of the best parts – read: only good parts – of the show), and of course I’ve adored Kristin Chenoweth for ages and ages. The basic premise of the show – a woman who was the Queen Bee and chief bully in high school returning to her hometown to find the women she’d tormented ready and waiting to make her life a living hell – really intrigued me. I absolutely adored Mean Girls (to the point of quoting it at the drop of a hat, and using it as a major inspiration for a project I’m working on and not quite ready to discuss yet) and this sounded like it could very well be Mean Girls: The Series. Except, you know, in that fresh hell we call adulthood, and right smack dab in the middle of that hell we call Texas.

That hope has carried me through a lot of GCB, but it’s been a few weeks now, and it’s time to admit the hard, sad truth: I’m watching this series for the show I want it to be, not the show it is. The show as it stands is, frankly, not all that great. It’s not even amusing in a trainwreck sense. And that’s a real shame, because each and every actor on it is giving it their all, and there are a hell of a lot of individual things to like. Kristin Chenoweth can play a smiling, backstabbing HBIC (look it up on the Internet, kids) with the best of them, and she is just full of energy and seemingly effortless grace as always. Leslie Bibb does a great job as Amanda Vaughn, formerly the Queen Bee of her high school and now a widow and a single mother forced to return to her hometown in disgrace. The relationship between Cricket Caruth-Reilly (played by Miriam Shor) with her openly closeted husband Blake (played by Mark Deklin) is actually incredibly sweet and interesting – she knows he’s gay, and romantically involved with the man managing his ranch, and she’s okay with it. They’ve chosen to stay together because they do love each other, just not romantically, and because they make such amazing partners in business and in life. Of all the relationships on the show, theirs is perhaps the strongest, the most powerful, and the most free from judgment.

But you have to take the bad with the good, and there’s a lot of bad. It doesn’t really feel like any of the characters are evolving. Any time it looks like the status quo might change, like Amanda might actually find some forgiveness from the ladies she tormented in high school and might actually be accepted into the community once more, those hopes are dashed. And maybe I shouldn’t expect these characters to evolve. You know what, I went through a lot of shit in school (although I was homeschooled during my adolescence), including some physical and emotional abuse that actually does cause me a hell of a lot of pain when I think about it, even now. But I also recognize that that time of my life is over, and thank God for it. I don’t want to go back to that place. Not even for the purpose of gaining some petty vengeance against my tormentors. Honestly, I’d like to think that my tormentors grew up, got over themselves, and became better people as well. And if they didn’t – that’s not my problem. I don’t know if I can forgive. I tend to think forgiveness has to be asked for, and no one’s ever asked for mine. But I can move on with my life. The ladies of GCB clearly can’t.

I may keep watching through the end of the season, but it’s dropped off my must-see list, especially now that Mad Men is back and occupying the same time slot. Like I said: I wasn’t watching it for the show it is. I was watching it for the show I wanted it to be. And I don’t think it’s going to become that show.

The Dream Team?

Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, on the other hand, shows every sign of becoming the show I want it to be, though it’s certainly not there yet. Unlike GCB, I didn’t really have high folks for this show. It sounded like it was going to be patently, gleefully ridiculous and probably misogynistic and horrible, and I was totally expecting it to be the next Work It. My interest was piqued when I realized that Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker were the leads – they’ve both spent their careers playing a lot of solid supporting characters, and it was about time someone let them take point – but I honestly figured this show would be awful, and it would almost immediately flop, and they’d move on to better things.

To borrow from someone on Twitter whose name escapes me, though: even if the show isn’t surprisingly good (it really isn’t), it is at least surprisingly not horrible. Chloe, the Krysten Ritter character and titular bitch, is an awful person, yes – but she’s not irredeemably awful. There are hints of something deeper, something better, in her character. She seems to genuinely care about the people she calls friends, even if she has a decidedly funny way of showing it. She doesn’t seem to like it when other people mess with said friends. There are tantalizing hints of complexity to her character that might – if they’re followed up on – actually contribute to a decent series.

And Dreama Walker’s June isn’t the wide-eyed farm girl I was expecting, either. That should have been obvious from the moment she was introduced, fresh out of grad school and ready to take her place at a powerful financial company. She was, from the outset, clearly intelligent, and if perhaps she was a little innocent, that could easily be forgiven. Still, it was easy to underestimate her, as Chloe obviously did – but then, victimized by her roommate, June turned around and got even in a truly spectacular fashion. By the end of the episode, she’d clearly earned Chloe’s respect. And mine.

The most eye-rolling aspect of the show, even now, is James Van Der Beek pulling a Neil Patrick Harris and playing James Van Der Beek. It’s pretty gimmicky. But he’s actually kind of funny, and the Dawson’s Creek jokes do not get old. The show is pretty uneven, but it shows a lot of promise. The relationship between June and Chloe is already changing, and they’re already smart, strong, complicated characters. I’m willing to give the show a season to work the kinks out and find its voice. If it’s done well, it could turn into a genuinely amazing series about a complicated but genuine friendship between two very different women. If it’s done poorly, well…hopefully its death will be swift and painless.

But seriously, people: as complicated as my feelings toward the word bitch can be, can we all just agree to say what we mean? It doesn’t matter how good or bad your show is – when I have to use stupid abbreviations just to talk about it, I just feel silly. Get over yourselves, America. The world will not come to an end just because you said the word bitch. In fact, on show after show, you’re already using that word. It turns out you actually can say that on television. So just say it.

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