World Building 101: Human Universals

World Building 101: Human Universals

Yes, Virginia, there are some common universal traits that go across every culture, every religion, and every civilization in human history. These are things that are so ingrained into us that we will tend to obey them without thought whether our skin is as pale as an alba blossom or dark as pitch, whether Dr. House would call us danglers or say that our genitals are aesthetically pleasing, or even which particular deity we do or do not pray to when we’re in the foxhole with a grenade sans pin.

Some of these are taboos that we don’t even really have to think about: don’t have sex with your kids, your parents, or your siblings (and stfu about the pharaohs because that’s the sole exception I can find that was practiced with regularity). Don’t kill your immediate family. There is a mystical being watching you so nothing you do is perfectly hidden and if you make this being mad, things will go bad for you. Other universals have to do strictly with the fact that, on average, males and females are different in a biochemical sense. Social differentiation tends to follow this biochemical lines where men in tribal to late-Industrial societies tackle jobs that require use of their raw strength while women tend to go for jobs that maximize their dexterity and are within their (somewhat lesser) raw strength (and believe me, it takes some serious strength to be a farm wife. Most of those ladies could probably bench-press and dead-lift more than an Army Ranger today!) You don’t see a lot of women in African tribes running out on the savanna chucking spears at antelope and you don’t see a lot of men sewing altar cloths or weaving rugs.

So, those are the general universals. That doesn’t mean you have to use them in your story. Instead, look at them. What are they? Two of them are “don’t screw with your family” and one is “there is something beyond you.” Finally, the physical differences simply say “if there are differences, society will tend to do its best to find a way to make maximum use of it; if you want everyone to be identical and interchangeable, society will treat them as such but you had better be prepared for real equality in this case and not the cobbled-together crap we have right now.”

I’ve seen the last one turned on its head. Probably the most well-known example is the society on Angel I in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a world where women evolved to be larger and stronger and men were shorter and more dexterous. Another example is from the Wheel of Time where, since men who channel go insane, women have generally played a larger role in both channeling societies (the Wise Ones, the Windfinders, sul’dam and damane, the Ayyad, and the Aes Sedai) and in ruling in general (Randland runs heavily towards queens since there’s always a risk that any given man could turn out to be a channeler — especially if he’s from a bloodline that has practiced cousin-marriage). This works out to the entire civilization tending to trust women before men.

In economics, there are also some universals. I have yet to find a religion that says “ya know what, if your neighbor has something, it’s cool to beat the shite out of him and take it.” Since religion tends to be the first highly-developed aspect of human culture (even government tends to stem from religion early on), yes, religious views of trade and ownership are important. We can see that there are several religions that out-right forbid things like interest on loans or that regulate, quite strictly, who can be charged interest and how much can be levied. Religions also develop and under-gird most early tax systems (tithing, for instance). However, every religion that I have been able to find has established that trade has to be somewhat voluntary and that equal value has to be exchanged. Yes, yes, religions also teach that a bounty is to be spread around and that the poor should be given charity — usually that stuff comes from the institution itself using the wealth it has taxed (or tithed) from its followers. This giving is generally voluntary (meaning that there’s no punishment beyond shunning for failure to do so). So, when setting up an economy that is more advanced than bartering, you might want to consider what particular universals you’re going to have and where they’ll stem from.


Don’t you dare judge me over the kinds of things I store in my brain.

Economics is one place where gaming things out can either be an eye-opener or can drive you stark-raving mad. For me, I usually do myself a favor and just use one from history. Trust me, when you’ve had three different systems with three different underlying assumptions turn into “Geez, this makes Stalin look like a Boy Scout,” you start to appreciate how great a job history has done of bug-testing and shaking the major problems out of economics for us (not to say it’s perfect yet but the systems we have now are fairly robust).


Yes, you will have to handle these situations in any system. You cannot ignore them if you want to write characters that people might actually understand. If you want to write about perfect angels, may I suggest LSD and starting your own religion?

Next week we’ll go into a bit more detail about workable ways to come up with different social institutions (things like marriage, the family, religious institutions, and basic local government) and the kinds of questions you need to consider in order to determine if something is going to work out the way you want or if you’re going to wind up with one of the aforementioned “Good Lord, even Stalin would consider this a bad idea” kind of situations.

— G.K.

Throwback Thursday: A Cold War Vocabulary Lesson

I was scanning around for a topic to write about this Thursday and wondering if I was going to do something historical like “how to make daggers” or “the first fanfic G ever wrote” when the most Evil of Space Princesses posted this on her blog.


Really? Seriously? This level of ignorance is the product of an advanced educational system?

Suddenly, I knew what today’s entry had to be about. So, let’s all hop in our time machines — be they TARDISes, telephone booths, funky-looking steampunk chairs, or DeLoreans — and set the dial for August 27, 1980. We’ll avoid my neck of the woods since this trip puts me in my own time-line (I’ll be 24 hours old) and instead go hang out someplace cool. I’ll supply the chameleon circuits so we can waltz into the HQ of USPACOM without being noticed. Just remember — don’t muck about.

Things seem kinda tense, don’t they? Hear that chatter from EUCOM over in Stuttgart, Germany? And the calls from RDJTF — which will soon become CENTCOM — about the problems in Iran?

Oh, man, if only the poor bastards knew…

Notice how all the focus is on Europe and the Pacific, though? Now, guys, I know it’s been a while. Keep listening. Yep. There it is. I notice some of you look a little confused. West Germany? East Germany? What the hell?


Back during the 1980s, I often wondered where North and South Germany were. My excuse was that I was under the age of ten. I’m uncertain what someone who was born in 1969 would have to offer as a similar excuse for such breath-taking ignorance.

It’s 1980. The Cold War is still on, guys. There’s still a USSR in this time with missiles pointed at the US. There are tanks all over the Eastern Bloc nations. We have our own bases and our own forces in Europe to keep the Warsaw Pact from invading. NATO is a big deal instead of the joke we all know it will become. Article V of the NATO Charter is the life-line that Western Europe has clung to and the reason our boys are still there even though the Nazis were defeated well-nigh on forty years ago. It’s also the reason we have bases in Japan and the Japanese are praying we’ll keep the Chicoms from invading them and the Taiwanese (the Republic of China) is counting on us to help them keep the Chicoms from crossing the Strait and subjecting them to the good Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward that left millions dead.

Chicom? I see some of you looking confused again. Chinese Communist. It means “a person who is loyal to the People’s Republic of China — a communist government that uses repressive means including (but not limited to) censorship, state control of the media, re-education camps, imprisonment, torture, secret police, internal and interior-focused spy organizations, centralized control of the food supply, and centralized control of the economy in order to completely dominate the people it governs.” The PRC at this time does not allow people to practice religion, the press to report anything unfavorable to the government or to the Communist ideology, or the people to communicate freely with citizens of other countries. Chicoms are, by and large, ethnically Chinese but may also be Caucasian, Russian, Serbian, Arabian, Persian, Iberian, Hispanic, Chicano, Latino, African, Korean, Japanese, Amerindian, Indian, Vietnamese, or any other ethnic group or sub-group. Their primary identity is their loyalty to a political body — the PRC.


And, like these guys, they’ll kneel to whoever orders them. Unfortunately, there are no real-world Captain Americas, Thors, and Tony Starks to save them and those who wind up as collateral damage from their own raging stupidity.

They were not good guys. They were not sweet, cuddly kittens. They were brutal, murderous, power-hungry asshats who enriched themselves at the expense of their people. They gorged themselves on power and wealth while the average Chinese citizen went hungry. Their so-called noble ideology (which doesn’t scale at all beyond devoted communities such as monasteries where there are methods of population control and a larger community that isn’t bound by that ideology to support them — just look at places like Mount Atheos) led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Calling them “Chicoms” isn’t an insult. It isn’t a racial or ethnic slur. Anyone who thinks that is either 1) too young to have lived through the Cold War at all, 2) too stupid to use Google and therefore too stupid to be referenced as an expert on anything, 3) looking for a reason to be offended, or 4) some combo of the above.


Brought to you by…someone educated by hard-working teachers in the Poorest State in the Union™.

So, there go you. A new vocabulary word for you! Now, let’s go back to 2015. I need to see a man about a flying car…

— G.K.

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

I mentioned this monster post in a comment at Sarah Hoyt’s this weekend. Here it is. Grab something to drink because this one’s a doozy, mes amis.

So, the Hugo voting period ended and the winners will be announced soon. There’s been the predictable resurgence in Puppy-related topics recently with the mainstream press parroting the press releases from Tor et alia to the effect that the Puppies and those of us who think they have a point are evil, racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful people who want to build new Dachaus and gulags in order to ensure that only white heterosexual men can own property while the rest of the world is enslaved to them. Those of us who know better, of course, just roll our eyes and wonder why we’re always the ones being accused of planning to build the concentration camps and gulags while the ideologues the Puppy-kickers uphold as being morally superior seem to be the ones who manage to actually have such things turn up in their back yards.

…but I digress.

For decades, there have been award ceremonies that attempt to showcase “the best” works in a genre. The Hugos, once upon a time, (arguably) were the premiere award for science fiction works. However, back in the days when the Hugo was a worthwhile award, the voting pool for the award was much larger, making it much less susceptible to industry or pool capture. WorldCon attendance would have been much higher as well and overall membership (even non-attending) would have been higher. But, over time, the publishing industry captured WorldCon and the Hugos which turned them from a fan award into a marketing stunt.

Don’t get me wrong — the bylaws and the rules are clear. No, what happened is very subtle. It probably started back in the late 1970s to mid 1980s at the earliest, early 1990s at the latest. The houses themselves were being taken over by liberal art majors who, having grown up steeped in the mythos of “the men who took down Nixon,” came into the publishing world with the same zeal to change the world instead of to help find great stories that people wanted to buy. Factor in the rage many of them had felt throughout the 1980s over Reagan’s cowboy diplomacy, his Brandenburg Gate speech where he had the audacity to demand that the morally superior USSR tear down the Berlin Wall, the cognitive dissonance that they felt when the Eastern Bloc collapsed and the USSR voted itself out of existence…and these were hammers desperately in search of a nail. The publishing world was just that nail.

They honed in on science fiction and fantasy specifically because it was future-oriented. Also, because it didn’t require a lot of experience in scholarship or other fields already (try getting into biographies or academic publishing with just a degree in English). Ideologically, they’d already begun taking over a lot of other places — schools, colleges, the art world, film, television, music — so publishing was just the next step.

Now, this wasn’t some organized take over with a great conspiracy where a secret cabal issued diktats — I’m not a tin-foil hatter. It was a long-term underlying trend that was baked into socialism and progressive philosophy.

So, once they’d gotten into the top spots of the big houses like Tor and the fantasy/sci-fi imprints of the other big six, they started making it difficult for anyone outside of their social circles to work there which slowly ensured that agents pushing authors whose politics differed would go nowhere. The stories became homogenized as well, following a set formula with characters that were uniform, uni-dimensional, predictable, and uninteresting. Readers revolted and stopped attending the conventions. But the publishers kept going to the conventions and kept sending their star authors (which dragged out some fans) which led to…the conventions being captured.

Which is what happened to WorldCon and the Hugos. The Hugos aren’t a fan award these days. They haven’t been for the better part of nearly thirty years now. They’re a publisher award because it’s been the publishers who were controlling the voter pool because the voter pool was less than 1000 people. Of course they were in political lockstep and of course they were pissed off when Correia and the rest of us Puppies came in and proved it.

But now on to the real problem. That’s right everyone — 700 words to get to the point of the post. We’ve been accused of destroying the Hugos and we’ve accused the others of destroying them. However, the real problem is CATEGORY ERROR — we’ve never really defined what the problem is. Oh, we think we have. We’ve intuitively got a grasp of what it is. We agree that there is a problem. But have we defined it? No. Not so much.


Category Error — having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means. Also, not quite as cool as Loki’s Wager but still a good excuse to run a graphic with Tom Hiddleston, yo

So, what is the actual problem? The actual problem is that what the Hugos were created to recognize no longer exists. Back when the Hugos and WorldCon first started, an avid reader could go through every sci-fi book published in a year. But these days, “science fiction” is a massive genre that has spawned dozens of child/sub genres. It’s the same story in the fantasy world. And the publishers and the folks who captured the Hugos over the past few decades represent a tiny sliver of the fanbase and readership — the sliver that aspire more towards the once academic, avant-garde literary-chic style of writing. This group is also incredibly active and activist which is why they have a tendency to take over many other conventions and force out groups they dislike (which is why the Honey Badger Brigade got shut out and nearly arrested for showing up at Calgary Comic Con).

The WorldCon/Hugo by-laws make it very difficult to change and recognize the new reality and…well…doing so would cost the publishers and the lit-chic folks their powerbase. Therefore, if those of us on the Puppy-side want to really fix this and have an award that is meaningful, durable, not subject to capture by one group or another, and represents the best works without showing the divide between works that sell well and works that win awards that the Hugos have shown in recent years, then we have our work cut out for us. The first thing we have to do is actually start defining stuff. I’ll expand on this further in later entries but for now, here are some of the child-genres I’ve noticed in science fiction and fantasy that we should consider:

Science Fiction:
Space Opera
Dystopian
Cyber
Military
Zombie Apocalypse
Superhero
Hard sci-fi
-Physics
-Chemistry
-Biology
-Astronomy
-Space Exploration
Post-Apocalyptic
Medical
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Star Trek novels
-Star Wars novels
-Halo book
-StarCraft books
-Halflife books
-Dune novels
-Doctor Who novles
-The X-Files books
-Batman comics
-Marvel: The Avengers comics

Fantasy:
High Fantasy
Epic Fantasy
Swords-and-Sorcery
Nordic
Shamanistic
Native American
Medieval
Urban
Dark
Surreal
Dystopian
Superhero
Romance
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Warcraft novels
-World of Warcraft novels
-Diablo novels
-Legend of Zelda comics
-Thor: The Dark World comics
-Doctor Who novels

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that our genres are growing and this is a good thing. We need to define the child/sub genres and start expanding awards to include them. And, we may need to give up on the idea of there ever being a single “best science fiction for the year” award ever again. It’s become a bit like trying to decide which vehicle is the best for a given year these days. Yes, some are objectively better than others but when you’ve got so many doing so many different things… it’s difficult to say “this is the best OVERALL” without actually defining what in the name of Issac Asimov you’re talking about.

Category error, guys. Let’s start fixing it, shall we?

— G.K.

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

…and how it impacts the publishing industry, the economy, and the rest of the world in general.

Okay, I swear, I am so not cyberstalking Cedar even though whenever I see that she’s posted something I drop whatever I’m doing and go read it because I’m beginning to wonder if she and I get messages from the same s00per s3kr3t radio station or something. We’re both evil unicorns (which is cool) and we’re both writers (though I think she’s more experienced than I am since I’ve only been in the game a few years) and we’re both nerds so there’s going to be some overlap. But when I read her post on the topic of credentialing, I had the strangest physical reaction (think full-body shiver and skin crawling) because I was thinking about this exact topic last night.

Eerie.

So, without further ado…

We live in interesting times. Really interesting times. In the past two hundred years, the world has flipped around in a lot of ways and some groups haven’t quite had a chance to catch up. The rate of change isn’t going to slow down anytime soon (if anything, the rate of acceleration is increasing) and it’s created rather a lot of chaos that makes it difficult for everyone. This started back with the Industrial Revolution but has really kicked into high gear with the Digital Revolution. However, for now, I want to focus in on one particular trend that’s been a particular nuisance in recent years and that’s the vicious hamster wheel of the credential chase.

Long ago, a young man would purchase an apprenticeship, serve a set number of years under a master craftsman, become a journeyman, then prove his skill as a master and be free to set up his own shop and take on apprentices himself. Credentials were reserved for things like the clergy (and thus controlled by the Church) or the universities (which meant they were for the aristocrats’ second or third sons). Very few people had them or needed them and thus, they were quite valuable. Then along came the Industrial Revolution and the modern education system with its assembly-line cookie-cutter approach and, for a short time, a high school diploma was sufficient for entry into the modern work force and could get a person a job at a factory or as a teacher, secretary, bank teller, or other office worker. College was for those who were going into more advanced fields.

But when everyone could get a high school diploma easily, the value of having one was lower and the credential was less valuable. Factor in that unions with their work rules, refusal to consider the impact of their demands on the business’s bottom line, and refusal to police their members and maintain high standards in work ethic to justify wage and benefit increases helped drive manufacturing jobs overseas; that globalization came in and cut out a lot of the protectionism the Industrial Era institutions relied on; and that things like the G.I. Bill started a very perverse incentive for colleges, lenders, and the government to feed off each other (and the taxpayer) and the credentialing hamster wheel started spinning. Suddenly jobs that once barely needed a high school diploma to be done now require a Bachelor’s degree. There are hundreds of professions that people used to freelance out of their homes that now require expensive (and extensive) licenses to perform (hairstylist, barber, masseuse, babysitting, tutoring, music lessons…) I’ve worked in the tech world for over a decade now and credentialing there is getting insane. Techies like to pride themselves on valuing knowledge over shiny badges but it is very hard to break into different fields without certain credentials these days and it’s very hard to obtain those credentials without already being in those fields because the certification tests are expensive.

I’m waiting for the day when the Bachelor’s degree I worked my butt off to get (I did a four-year in three) is as worthless as a high school diploma because everyone is required to have one. I’ve looked into getting a Masters degree but can’t afford one. And, to be honest, none of the jobs I’ve ever held have required me to use any of the crap I learned in college. I’m not saying that college was useless for me; I enjoyed it and learned a lot of valuable research information. I’ve just never really used any of it professionally. No, all of the skills I’ve used professionally are things I’ve either taught myself, learned on the job, or learned in high school and built upon in college.

Frankly, in the constant chase after credentials, the only ones coming out ahead are those who grant the credentials. Employers can’t be happy with it because the greater a credential they require for a job, the more they’re going to have to pay that person (and that’s another vicious cycle all its own). Regular folks aren’t happy with it because it gets tiring having to chase credential after credential just so we can check off boxes from an HR flunky who doesn’t know what she’s doing (really — I filled out an application a week ago that had listed as a requirement for the job “10+ years experience in PHP5 and HTML5” when PHP5 just celebrated a decade this year and HTML5 isn’t even a year old. Topping that, I’ve seen requirements for “At least 10+ years development in Ruby on Rails” when the framework is only nine years old!)

So, what is to be done about it? Well, first of all, fire all the HR departments. Then fire all of the politicians. Maybe consider setting them on fire while firing them? Or fire them into an orbital trajectory or something. Regardless — fire them a lot. Then shut down the entire education system, redesign it so that it actually creates a literate society instead of turning out factory workers, re-instate vo-tech-like schools for skilled trades and quit looking down on people who do that work because they’re cool people and smart as hell. They’re just smart in a different way like we’re smart in a different way, okay? To them, I’m as dumb as a box of rocks because I can’t unstop a toilet and I’m weird because I remember a particular cardio-arrhythmia that I read about and was able to deduce someone’s wife had based on a conversation they were having with the check-out clerk when they were at the grocery store the line ahead of me.

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone is smart the way I’m smart and that’s okay. But we’ve really got to end the constant credential chase because, if we don’t, eventually Ph.D.s are going to be required to work the drive-thru at McDonalds. Unless, of course, we’ve replaced the entirety of the McDonalds staff with a robotic restaurant and the drive-thru is a voice-activated kiosk with a debit/credit card reader which is a distinct possibility.

— G.K.

Politics and Television

Politics and Television

Or “Why G.K. Didn’t Watch The Debate.”

Oh dear Lord, we’re going into another active phase of the perpetual election cycle, aren’t we? Last week we got to see the spectacle that was the GOP debate and, while I didn’t watch it live because I knew that, even with it being on Fox with supposedly “friendly” moderators, the talking-heads weren’t going to be able to resist their chance to ham it up for the cameras and that the entire thing was going to be more about ginning up the ratings for the sponsors than it was going to be about the candidates actually, you know, talking about the issues and debating different approaches following set logical rules and avoiding logical fallacies such as strawman, reductio ad absurdum, tu quoque, ad hominem, appeals to (false) authority, special pleading, No True Scotsman, post hoc, and more while presenting actual evidence and solid reasoning for their beliefs or policy.

Can you tell I’m a bit of a throwback and a cynic? Television has ruined a lot of things and debate, argumentation, and critical thinking are among those things. It’s a great medium for entertainment and it can be used for education, yes, and story-telling. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not one of those who thinks that television is completely evil and has no redeeming qualities. I enjoy it — I have an active Netflix account and I’ve got Criminal Minds playing in the background. But, when it comes to journalism, television is the worst medium that could be used. It doesn’t allow for truly in-depth coverage, cross-referencing, citation of sources, or deep thought. Newspapers are the best medium for daily coverage and bi-weekly or monthly magazines are great for bigger events or more thorough coverage of events or technical issues. Radio can be a passable medium so long as the moderators and the debate format are agreed to in advance and the topics are adhered to. Television, however, will never make a good medium for political debates or journalism.

Why? Because it’s commercial. And, that’s good for entertainment. Hell, it’s great. It means that businesses and consumers are free to reward shows and sponsors and channels that entertain them or tell stories they like or support or whatever without having to directly own the studios or airwaves or whatever. There’s no real need for government intervention, censorship, or anything like that other than “truth in advertising” laws (you can’t advertise that your wooden spoon is actually made out of marble) and possibly some kind of daytime/child-safety advertising laws (you can’t run alcohol ads or other adult ads during certain hours or on channels aimed at children — not that most marketers would sell or buy there anyway because it’d be stupid). However, it’s an undeniable fact that you don’t piss off your sponsors and you don’t piss off your core audience. Just look at GamerGate. Intel pulled their ads from Gawker when Gawker’s articles pissed off a sizable portion of the GamerGate audience and they threatened to boycott Intel. And that kind of pressure is fine for entertainment shows and even educational shows. But it is not fine for journalism. It leads to worries about offending the corporate sponsors or the consumers which leads to spin, blacking-out of stories, and a focus on feel-good stories or the promotion of news items in a way that is guaranteed to keep the money-spigot opened.

Another reason television is a terrible medium for journalism is because it’s a visual format which leads to people judging based on appearances instead of based on the actual argument. Have you ever noticed that all of the news anchors are good-looking? And that none of them are terribly intelligent or creative? If they were trapped in the middle of a desert, they’d be screwed. Hell, if they were knee-deep in a river, they’d die of thirst. They went to fancy universities, yes, but that means nothing. Unless they graduated from CalTech, Standford (with a degree in hard sciences), or MIT, it’s worthless. These people were hired for their ability to look good on camera and read from a teleprompter or from cuecards. They were not hired for their ability to think critically, reason, ask difficult questions, or for their finely-tuned bullshit detectors.

A final reason television is the worst medium for journalism is because of its shallowness. Television is a very shallow, very short-form medium. Since it’s so visual and auditory, it’s easy to get overstimulated which makes it difficult for long-term memory to be engaged (which is why visual tricks and cut-aways can be used to deceive so easily — see below). The set-time format makes it impossible for any topic to be covered in real depth and the inability for there to be hard, permanent reference points for citations or notes makes cross-referencing difficult, if not impossible. Add in the general passivity it requires of the audience and it’s just a terrible medium for something as serious as news journalism and political debates.

There are other reasons television is a terrible medium for serious topics — it’s untrustworthy because it can be deceptively edited without the viewer being aware of it at all and, unless there are other recordings made, there’s no way to prove it (and there are never other recordings because of technical and legal reasons — no sound studio is going to let an interview subject bring in his own film crew and sound crew because not only will that cause phase cancellation issues, energy, and temperature issues but it sets them up for liability and insurance nightmares. The studio and journalists also won’t go for it because then they won’t have the sole copyright, there will be a plethora of distribution issues, and it would force them to be too damned honest).

Television — great for entertainment but a terrible way to receive information and select our leaders. Just FYI.

— G.K.

We Didn’t Start The Flamewar — Part Five

We Didn't Start The Flamewar -- Part Five

*twirls drumsticks and adjusts shades before singing*

George R. R. Martin, Guardian, Stats ‘n’ lies, Twittermobbing, Puppycide
Torgersen, NoTruFenThenDom, Noah Warding Bloc

*chorus repeats*

I told you, the lyrics are the most difficult part of the post! If you don’t like ’em, find me a songwriter who can come up with better ones and I will be happy to turn that part of this series over to them because I fail at songing almost as hard as I fail at adulting.

So, on to part the fifth of this series wherein we will delve into the first part of Sad Puppies 3 (which is going to be a multi-part year since it is A Very Big Deal). As mentioned in my earlier entries, Sad Puppies 1 and 2 were “organized” (and I use that term loosely) by Larry Correia. Once again, to recap, the goal of Sad Puppies was to prove the following points:

1. The Hugo awards were politically biased, and dominated by a few insider cliques.
2. Authors who didn’t belong to these groups or failed to appease them politically were shunned. If authors with “unapproved” politics were to get nominations, the quality of the work would be irrelevant, and the insider cliques would do everything in their power to sabotage that person.

It would seem that, in light of this year’s events, Correia’s hypotheses have been proven, would it not?

At any rate, Sad Puppies 3 saw the mantle of organizing being passed from Correia to Brad Torgersen. Larry Correia considered the controversy that SP2 had raised sufficient to prove his point and was ready to call it quits. However, Torgersen believed that the Hugos could be salvaged and that by increasing awareness and continuing the work Correia had started, only this time by expanding the list to include more authors and to move away from ideology as the selection criteria and instead to go solely on the basis of “is it good or not?” with the discard qualification being message-fic/preach-fic (meaning that SP3 didn’t care a whit what an author’s politics were or what the story was about so long as it was good and wasn’t an anti-human sermon-fic in the SJW tradition). SP3 saw a huge increase in participation both among authors and among the public. However, as it turns out, much of the success was due to Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies campaign which will be covered in depth in a future entry.

The success of the puppy slate took everyone by surprise. However, when the Nielsen-Haydens knew days ahead of the official announcements that “their” people hadn’t made the ballots and the butthurt from Scalzi and the insider crowds started, complete with a libel-laden article that made its rounds through the mainstream media (with its layers and layers of fact-checkers, yo). The SJWs weren’t content to chalk it up to simple mathematics, no. After all, the WorldCon memberbase had been dwindling for years with the Hugo voting pool growing smaller and smaller, making it much easier for smaller numbers of people to skew the results. There’s probably some mathematical name for this phenomenon but I don’t know it so I’m going to call this the “Kiddie Pool Phenomenon.”

Now, most of us, when we were growing up, learned that, in popularity contests, victory often goes to those who show up. SP2 and the resultant fall-out established a strong case for the Hugos being little more than a popularity contest among the WorldCon membership and not “the” definitive award of great science fiction and fantasy literature as they purported themselves to be. Nathaniel Givens’s data analysis shows that there is a reason to believe that there has been a divergence between what the reading public considers “good literature” and what Hugo voters consider “good.” What happened with SP3 is that the two puppy groups managed to have a lot more people “turn up” than they (or anyone else) was expecting.

One would think that the WorldCon crowd, though a bit surprised and maybe a little upset that their favorites didn’t make it that year, would be thrilled to see their convention growing and perhaps on the cusp of flourishing again, right? After all, the SP3 slate consisted of a lot of truly diverse authors including several Latino and Latina writers, many women, people of high melanin content, people of LBGTedness, and probably a few demi-elven-dwarven-dragon-half-vampire-werewolf-Sith-Jedi-wizards of non-indeterminate gender born under a new full moon in comparison to the lily-white slate offered by the SJWs themselves in previous years.

The success of SP3 kicked everything into high gear but isn’t due solely to SP and Torgersen’s efforts. So, we’ll talk about Vox Day and Rabid Puppies and their role in this in the next entry in this series so stay tune!

— G.K.

Matters of Honor, Power, and Illusions

Matters of Honor, Power, and Illusions

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about honor and rules when it comes to combat, debate, arguing, and society. I’ve half-written about a dozen entries on this so I decided to come back and do an intro since it’s going to be a pretty lengthy subject. Others have written about it before and a lot of what they’ve said is worth reading. However, recent events — the fight over the Hugos, the issue with white-washing the entire Civil War out of American history, the Balkanization of society, and so on, has made me do a lot of thinking which starts out around honor.

Basically, one side believes in honor and the other side believes in “the end justifies the means.” We’re not even really fighting over the same thing here and it’s taken me quite a while to realize it. It didn’t strike me until I was re-reading We and got to thinking about dystopian literature (which, of course, always leads back to Orwell’s 1984). This isn’t about freedom vs slavery, capitalism vs socialism, statism vs dynamism, red vs blue, Democrats vs Republicans — that’s all just a front. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

It’s about power. Who has it? Who’s going to keep it? What is power, really? And does it even truly exist or is it just another illusion? Is it just another shadow on Plato’s cavern wall? I honestly don’t know but it’s got all my little INT lights just a-flickering so I’m hoping some of you will stick around with me while I knock these ideas around. They’re not going to be perfect and I welcome honest discussion on the matter because I get the sense that this is something the Founding Fathers “got” intuitively. That power (outside of actual physical power — as in “laws of physics” kind of power) is just an illusion. It’s a kind of mass mutually-shared hallucination we participate in by agreement and if enough of us decide to stop playing the game — like in the Matrix — we might be able to bring the entire system into a state of crash or some kind of kernel panic.

It’d be interesting, at least. That is if I’m even anywhere near correct on this (which isn’t a given).

So, anyone up for it?

— G.K.

Oh Good Grief…

Oh Good Grief...

I found this particular piece of stupidity over at Peter Grant’s site.

I don’t know if Moshe Feder lives in an echo chamber, has difficulty reading English, or what, so, here goes.

Here is why I am no longer going to buy any books published by Tor:

  1. Contrary to Irene Gallo’s statements, I am not a neo-nazi. My paternal grandfather fought the Nazis in WWII and was at the D-Day landings in Normandy, on Omaha Beach. He came over with the third wave in the afternoon, I believe. His force was part of the Big Red One. They were part of the Saint-Lô breakout, the liberation of France, the Battle of the Bulge, the push to Aachen, the liberation of the concentration camps Zwodau and Falkenau an der Eger. He was probably in Germany or Czechoslovakia when the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

    He would have been twenty-one years old on VE Day.
  2. Calling someone a neo-nazi and saying that the works they like are “bad-to-reprehensible” when your own employer publishes those works and then expecting them to keep buying said works is a bit stupid.
  3. Calling someone a neo-nazi and then saying “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology. For example, were I to say that Tor’s senior staff consists of a high number of pederast- and/or pedophile-sympathizers in light of their lack of condemnation for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s admitted sexual abuse of her son and daughter and then turn around and say “I’m sorry if that offends you,” would that be considered a sincere apology or an insincere one? Please explain and defend your choice of answer logically and show. your. work.

    For the record, I honestly, hand-to-Albert-Einstein believe that Tor’s senior staff feels nothing other than complete disgust at MZB’s actions and that their lack of statement has to do with the length of time since the events took place and possibly could have something to do with contracts they signed or non-disclosure agreements along with the general tendency people have not to speak ill of the deceased — even when the deceased did despicable things.
  4. I’m also not sexist (I’m an equal-opportunity mistrust-er), racist (my black and Latino friends can attest to it), or homophobic (my gay and lesbian friends would get a real kick out of that one). I’m not transphobic (one of my business partners can vouch for me there) and I’m certainly not parochial (scads of witnesses on that one). I’m probably better-traveled, better-educated, more well-read, speak more languages, and just all-around more knowledgeable in general than most of the senior staff at Tor.

So, about the only thing they can hang on me is that I’m from Mississippi and Mississippi has the something-that-kind-of-looks-like-the-Stars-and-Bars in its state flag. Sort of. If you squint. And look at it through special goggles. Of course, this ignores the whole history of the State Flag* and the history of the “Rebel Flag” as it’s called (btw, the actual Confederate Flag is the Bonnie Blue Flag — a single white star on a field of blue).

If being from Mississippi automatically makes someone a horrible, terrible, no-good person, then, well, the world is in a whole lotta trouble. See, William Faulkner is from here. Eudora Welty is, too. Same with Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Jim Henson, Medger Evers, Brandy, Jimmie Rodgers, Tennessee Williams, Tammy Wynette, James Meredith, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddly, Richard Wright, Carl Westcott, Sela Ward…

Just to name a few.

You’re welcome, by the way, for the music and the stories. What can we say? It’s in our blood, black or white, it “don’t make no difference” because we’re all the same under the skin where it matters.

At any rate, I’m sick and tired of being called a horrible person. I’ve made the rational choice not to award my money to someone who calls me a horrible person. I’m quite proud of my grandfather — who fought the Nazis in World War II and would probably take umbrage at my being called a neo-nazi — and I’m also proud of all the women I’m related to who bucked the trends in their lives and lived on their own terms. Some of them got divorces back when a divorce made you a virtual pariah — but better that than living with an abusive drunk. Some of them worked outside of the home and owned businesses when that was Simply. Not. Done. My mom and her older sister are two of the smartest women I know and their older brother is probably the smartest person in that part of our family (I might have a high IQ but I can be a complete idiot in a lot of ways). They’ve all worked hard to fight for equality for all people and to make a world where you’re judged solely on how hard you’re willing to work and on your merits alone and I’m proud of that. To continue to give money to a company that calls me a racist, a neo-nazi, a sexist, or a homophobe would be to spit on my own gay, trans, black, and Latino friends as well as three generations of my family who have fought oppression.

Not to mention to turn my back on all of the people from my state who have worked so hard to make an equal playing field and share our rich heritage with the world.

So no. I’m not going to buy any more books from a company based out of New fucking York that calls me a neo-nazi based on zero evidence and refuses to issue an actual apology. New York has more money than Midas. Tell you what, though. I will up the ante. If all of these so-called “social justice warriors” really want to prove their credibility, how about they quit giving their money to people who can afford to live in New York and start donating it to groups working to provide computers, Internet access, and better educational facilities and economic opportunities to students and recent graduates in Mississippi?**

Time to fish or cut bait, y’all.

— G.K.

*Mississippi adopted the current flag in 1894 — way before the Rebel Flag became racist. Also, the canton has thirteen stars in the MS flag, not eleven (the nitwits never seem to notice this) because they stand for the original 13 states of the Union, not the 11 states that seceded. Back in 2000, the NAACP sued the state to try to force us to change the flag. Their first argument was that the canton was the Rebel Flag and that since it’s against the law to fly the Rebel flag as an official flag, it violated their right to freedom of speech and due process. However, the MS Supreme Court threw that out because 13 != 11 in base10. Still, back in 1906, the MS legislature did a general repeal of all laws and kind of forgot to re-add the flag back when they re-did the new legal code. So, on that technicality, it was found that the flag in use since 1894 was not the “official” flag and we had to have an election to decide if we were going to make it official or change it.

So, in 2001, we voted to keep it the way it was. Not because we’re all a bunch of racists but because we’re the poorest goddamned state in the Union and we’ve got better things to spend the thirty million dollars it would cost to change the state flag on. Hell, it cost over two million dollars just to have the election on the issue and it was a nearly 70% support to keep the current flag.

Biggest reason? Because it’s a piece of cloth. It’s not even the stupid Rebel Flag in the canton. Because no one freaking cares. Because changing it isn’t going to change anyone’s attitudes. Because we’ve got better things to spend that money on — schools, teachers, hospitals, roads — than what a bunch of rich lawyers in California who may or may not ever set foot in our state get a bug up their butts about.

…but I digress.

**I’mma love to hear the excuses on this one. We already have taxes in-state about as high as we can set them without causing businesses and individuals to flee and we’re already redistributing as best we can but since school funding primarily comes from local property taxes, it’s hard to make that stretch very far without causing taxpayer revolt and our state sales tax is already among the highest and the most widespread in the nation (it even is levied on food) so, yeah, we are already taxing the shit out of ourselves and the rich and still coming up short. However, “rich” in Mississippi would be “can afford to eat cat food every other day and live in a fleabag extended stay roach motel” in NYC so we are talking different orders of magnitude here, folks.

We Didn’t Start the Flamewar — Part Four

We Didn't Start the Flamewar -- Part Four

*drumming on a table that looks like it belongs in a kitchen from the 1950s*

New McCarthy, Loads of bitchin’, Monster Huntin’, Internetin’
Trad Publishing, Indie Pubbing, and Jeff Bezos

Blacklisting, Barflies, Evil League and Rabbit Guys
eBooks, ePub, mobi rise — nook flames out in Kindle’s fires

*chorus repeats*

I am so not a songwriter so the lyrics are actually the part of the post that takes me the longest to come up with, guys. 🙂 I hope you’re enjoying them.

So, this post is going to look at the Sad Puppies 2 era. SP2 was a lot more organized and successful than SP1 and it caught much more attention. It was headed up by Larry Correia and announced in this post over at his site. As with SP1, SP2 did not initially advocate for any specific works and, from that post, the central theme was this:

The ugly truth is that the most prestigious award in sci-fi/fantasy is basically just a popularity contest, where the people who are popular with a tiny little group of WorldCon voters get nominated and thousands of other works are ignored. Books that tickle them are declared good and anybody who publically deviates from groupthink is bad. Over time this lame ass award process has become increasingly snooty and pretentious, and you can usually guess who all of the finalists are going to be that year before any of the books have actually come out or been read by anyone, entirely by how popular the author is with this tiny group.

This is a leading cause of puppy related sadness.


The only thing missing is “Think of the children…”

However, while nomination and discussion about who should be nominated was going on, a very fun thing happened in the sci-fi/fantasy world. Tor.com started a rather big dust-up over ending binary gender usage in sci-fi and fantasy works. From that post:

Conversations about gender in SF have been taking place for a long time. I want to join in. I want more readers to be aware of texts old and new, and seek them out, and talk about them. I want more writers to stop defaulting to binary gender in their SF—I want to never again read entire anthologies of SF stories or large-cast novels where every character is binary-gendered. I want this conversation to be louder.

Note that she’s not saying “I want people to come up with races where gender/sex traits are different” or “I’d like an exploration of what it means to be a man or a woman in a given culture” or that she wants an end to gendered roles or anything like that. What she wants is to continue the current clusterfuck of chaotic confusion that is crossing between the kink and LGBT community with the genderqueer. However, she’s actually being a few billion magnitudes of order less understanding and tolerant than they are — the genderqueer and those who don’t identify with their apparent physical sex know that they’re going against biological norms (the word norm is being used in a statistical sense just like my being blonde is abnormal) and they do *not* expect everyone to know how to address them on sight. They also know that most people do identify with their birth sex. Further, they’re not demanding that the whole of society change itself and its language to accommodate them without them making any concessions.

I’m pretty damned tolerant and “whatever, so long as I don’t have to pay for it ’cause I’m skint.” I’ve got gay friends, trans friends, genderqueer friends… I even have one friend who is a gay, trans black man. However, none of them have an issue with gendered characters. All of them *write* characters that are binary gendered. If they have a character that is genderqueer or goes against the binary system, that character is the exception (if the cast is human. In cases where we’re dealing with an alien race, all bets are off). Still, when Tor.com posted this little thing, it set the entire sci-fi/fantasy world alight and kicked SP2 into high gear. Larry Correia had a lot to say about this particular bit of social justice insanity.

There’s a reason I mention it here and you’ll see in a bit. At any rate, SP2 continued until the nominations were chosen and then submitted with reminders of how to nominate and reminders about when nominations were getting close to ending as well as when the nominees were announced and the resulting aftermath that followed the awards ceremony. Sad Puppies 2 was the beginning of the deeper reflection on how the Hugos, SJWs, and the trends in sci-fi and fantasy publishing were not just an anomaly but were part of a greater culture war.

Remember the “end of binary gendering” thing I mentioned earlier? Well, 2014 was the year that Larry Correia really started riling up the SJWs (at least that I can see) and the Sad Puppies effort in many ways became a bit of a rallying cry for many sci-fi and fantasy authors across the Internet to discuss the SJW incursion into their realm.

Keep in mind that this happened eight months before GamerGate.

People were getting sick and tired of being preached at. They were sick of token diverity-ism that was being held up as more important than the story and the way that identity politics and the author’s personal life and beliefs were used in place of actually judging whether or not their work was well-written, entertaining, and told a good story where the message played a role.

If you read the discussions, you’ll see that much of it is well-thought-out arguments about the problems of writing non-binary characters as well as the truth about historical depictions of women in sci-fi that flew in the face of the alternate reality the SJWs were advancing.

Not that that stopped them. They went after Larry Correia very hard in 2014 with File 770 and the Guardian attacking him and misrepresenting what he was hoping to achieve with Sad Puppies. The Guardian journalist, Damien Walter continued his attack on Larry’s Facebook page.

In August 2014, GamerGate happened and in November came ShirtStorm which had some overlap with the SP community due to shared interest (just like there is overlap between people who like French cooking and people who like French wine). However, SP2 really just served to underscore Correia’s initial points about the Hugos and caused the movement to gain more attention than SP1 had.

It was the next year’s effort, Sad Puppies 3, that really blew the lid off the entire mess. That will be the subject of the next entry.

— G.K.

On dinosaurs, colossi, golems, governments, and adaptation

On dinosaurs, colossi, golems, governments, and adaptation

…and why they all tend to die out in the end.

It’s an interesting fact in the history of biological life that the oldest form of life on Earth is the bacteria (and arguably the virus). Not just because they’re simple entities — amoeba are also fairly simple as are many members of the protist branch. It’s also interesting to note that bacteria, protists, and viruses from the Proterozoic Eon (roughly 2500 million years ago) of the are still around. They’re still happily doing their thing, sometimes killing vast swathes of plants and animals, without a care in the world. They’ll be here long after humanity has either turned to dust or departed for worlds unknown.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. These tiny, simple, mindless, invisible things have outlasted the dinosaurs. The KT impact was barely a blip on their radar. The Ice Age? Again, barely registered to them. They kept on keeping on. The dinosaurs had them beat on size, strength, teeth, defensive features (immune systems and thick hides and spikes!), could move around more, reproduce sexually, were more genetically diverse… and then along came a single hunk of rock and it was bye-bye dinosaurs while the little microscopic dudes kept on truckin’. The dinosaurs were the masters of their environment, true, but bacteria and viruses are the masters of adaptation. And, when it comes to long-term, long-scale, universal and planetary survival, adaptation is the key trait if you’re going to be more than just a bit player in the grand game of life.

Humanity has been fighting an on-going war with some members of these groups forever. We have an immune system that fights them and we also use plants to try to counteract them and have done since we figured out we could do that way back during the prehistoric era. It’s been a long-running fight and in all that time, we’ve managed to eradicate one of them. Small pox. The rest are still merrily going about their way. Some of them we need. Some of them kill us. Some of them we are trying to eradicate and can’t even with all our technology, all our grand colossi and skyscrapers, all our golems and governments. And, compared to the dinosaurs, we’re easy prey. I mean, we don’t have big sharp teeth, scaly hides, powerful muscles, we’re not the size of the brontosaurus or the T-Rex. We don’t have the armor plating of the Triceratops or the stegosaurus. We couldn’t outrun a velociraptor if we wanted to.

However, like the viruses and bacteria, we’re great at adaptation and we’re capable of breaking off into small groups. We can mix traits on multiple levels — not just genetic but memetic — and see what works. It’s when we try to be like the dinosaurs that things get bad for us. Yes, we can gather into large groups and become like a tsunami sometimes and sometimes that’s good — think things like food drives, building houses for the homeless, SETI@home, KickStarter — but notice that all of those things are voluntary. They’re also all temporary efforts. No one joins in every KickStarter campaign or builds every house. And, tribes banding together in a common effort isn’t always a bad thing — look at the success the United States and the entire Anglosphere has enjoyed over the past few centuries. But, if we’re not left with room to adapt inside those structures, it’ll all go wonky.

The problem in recent history has been that some parts of human society want us to be more colossal and monolithic because they believe that’s the only way to progress. I’m specifically thinking of the left-wing “progressives” who want to grant the government the power to regulate just about every aspect of life — economic, social, education, cultural, philosophical — to mandate certain outcomes they deem “fair.” However, doing that has always bred the ability to adapt to sudden change right out of the people and the society. Just look at what happened to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe. Look at what’s happening in all of the South American and Latin American countries that embraced socialism and communism and their five-year plans. Just look at Cuba and North Korea. Look at the Middle East and most of the African nations. Look at most of Europe that’s embraced socialism. When changes happen, they can’t cope. Birth rates fall — they cannot adapt to the new reality. In Europe, they imported new generations to replenish their falling population rates but could not adapt to the changes that brought and still can’t handle it — look at the riots, the carbeques that are just a fact of life there, the zones sensibles around Paris, the re-emergence of a new underclass and caste system that may be socially and culturally permanent since there’s no way for the French, the Germans, the Britons, or the Swedes to change how “French,” “German,” “British,” or “Swedish,” is defined or how someone can become a member of those tribes other than by birth. The Industrial Revolution ended and was replaced by the paradigm-shifting Digital revolution and these nations cannot adapt.

Industries are having problems as well. The publishing world got hit by the KT impact of Amazon and the Internet just like the movie and music industries and since they’re all populated by rather monolithic corporations who have a lot vested in the status quo ante, they not only don’t want to adapt, but they may not be able to. The Big Five may die entirely just like the dinosaurs did because, while Amazon is a large beast, it’s more like a large colony of bacteria and less like a brontosaurus. If one part of Amazon fails, it won’t bring down the whole thing. Amazon is acing the adaptation thing while the Big Five not only are failing at it but, given some of Tor’s senior management’s recent behavior, they’re doing everything they can to destroy their own food supplies and water sources.

Hell, the United States is having trouble dealing with the chaos that the Digital Revolution has wrought and we’re probably the most flexible and adaptable nation and society on the planet. The genius of the Founders guaranteed that. Which is why I have a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we should be like the rest of the world and become more rigid and inflexible. Do we have our problems? Yes. Do we have our imperfections — of course! Are there inequalities? Without a doubt. Is it better to have those problems than to be unable to deal with changes in reality? Is it better to be a bacteria or a dinosaur?

I say it’s better to be a bacteria. I say it’s better to be something that can adapt quickly and rapidly even if that means that there’s going to be a lot of inequality and imperfection and problems because it means at least you’re alive to deal with them instead of being extinct the first time a big rock comes your way. After all, if you’re alive, you can work to try to minimize those inequalities — for instance, make it illegal to discriminate against people based on things like race, religion, orientation, gender, political philosophy; make it so that society and economics is more of a meritocracy. If you’re dead… well, there’s really not much you can do (other than vote Democrat, of course).

— G.K.