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.

World Building 101 — Story Drivers

World Building 101 -- Story Drivers

Once you’ve finished asking yourself the major questions I mentioned in last week’s post, you’re in a fairly good place to start working on writing the story in your world. That said, though, before you get into writing too far, you will want to take a few minutes — maybe even an hour — to think about what events drive your story.

Yes, yes, there’s all kinds of cool things happening in your story. Otherwise, it’d be about as interesting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Still, all of these things that are going on in your story — battles, wars, arranged marriages, kidnapping, OMGEXPLOSIONS, whatever — all have their origins in things that happened before the story begins. Your characters will probably make references to historical or mythological events that are part and parcel of their culture but may not mean anything to the reader unless you take a second to explain it. You’ll want to develop these things well and have the shorthand references down before you have your characters do things like swear that they should pull a Seostaz* and claim the hill in the name of Zara**.

Robert Jordan was awesome at doing this with Mat Cauthon. After Mat went through the doorway in Rhuidean, he started making all kinds of references that even scholars in Randland wouldn’t have gotten. However, Jordan could weave those and the explanations into his story in a way few others can do — myself included — without data dumping.


If you get this reference, you are awesome

So, what do you do? Well, instead of having your characters say something like “This is another Antietam” and then going into a long explanation about what the Battle of Antietam was, try having them say “I feel like the Spartans at Thermopylae,” “But they won, didn’t they?” “Nope.” That right there tells your readers that the character feels like the underdog in a fight who did well enough that another character (unless that character is a moron) would think they won. No need to go into the whole history of Greece and Persia. Just a quick explanation that covers the high points.

You do want to be careful, though, when coming up with cultural references, historical events, and mythological references that you don’t find yourself going down too many rabbit holes. I generally keep to a rule of five — no more than five of each. If I find myself needing more than that, I know that I need to spend a lot more time building the history because I’m writing a story that spans at least five hundred years. Now, there are times you do want to do that. One of my sci-fi series I’m working on here and there is set 10,000 years in our future. I do have to develop a full history for that filled with wars, societies, religions, scientific advances, Dark Ages, and more. That’s not because every detail I sketch out in my backstory is going to come up but it is because I need to have all of this down cold so I can explain why two different groups diverged as much as they did.

Next week we’ll talk about the very basic universals found in religion, politics, and economics and why studying human history can help you develop a workable world.

— G.K.

*Made this up. No clue what it means.
**Ditto the above.

Interesting Google Searches

Interesting Google Searches

So, I’m writing a story (not that this is news) and I was looking for a way to describe someone who has dark skin without coming right out and saying “this dude is black” because, well, that has specific cultural connotations and this culture pre-dates the Big Bang. This led me to what is probably the most convoluted Google search I have ever conducted.

Hint: if you’re looking for a way to describe skin tones, Googling is usually a bad idea. You will waste about three hours filtering through irrelevant crap before you finally find something that is close to, but not quite, what you were looking for. I learned more about foundation, face powder, how to pick the best color for any given complexion, how to hide freckles, how to highlight freckles, which color eyeshade goes well with which color iris, and where I can get contact lenses that will make my sclera (the whites of the eyes) black.

By the time I finally found a suggested list of ways to describe skin color, I was beginning to doubt my own sanity. However, I finally stumbled on this Tumblr post and got exactly what I wanted.

I will say this: it is difficult to describe skin colors when one of your Rules is “This Is Not Earth — Don’t Use Historical Earth Descriptions.” That meant that unless I wanted to say that someone’s skin was literally black — and I’m talking onyx black here — I had no quick reference to use. In my world, if a character were to say “the best wine-maker in the city is Prenia — she’s black with long hair” people would assume that her skin color was somewhere between pitch and coal. If Prenia actually has warm brown skin, no one would recognize her from the description as “black.” The trouble is that “brown” skin can describe (for us) anyone who is African, Indian, Amerindian, Arabian, or even Caucasian with dark hair. Fair skin is easy to deal with — you can’t have fair or pale skin tones without implying that the person is further down the “pink” end of the skin tone scale. But describing people who aren’t fair skinned without making any Earth-culture reference is actually a bit tricky. I can’t say “Mediterranean” or “Asiatic” or anything like that. I have to give the literal color and tone of the skin. Figuring out how to do that without just playing Crayola is not easy.

So, for those of you who are considering doing the same, I composed this somewhat helpful graphic to aid you in your endeavors. It’s nowhere near exhaustive — there’s a near-infinite number of ways you can mix overtones and undertones or deal with shades of the seven groups I’ve put here.

Do you have some suggestions for words that could be added to this list? Feel free to let me know either here or on Facebook. If I use your suggestions, I will give you credit for them!

— G.K.

World Building 101

World Building 101

In light of a semi-serious comment I made on Facebook earlier about my latest stories tending to build worlds where humans don’t exist, I thought that this would be a great time to start posting about world building in general. I’ve been told that my world building and alt-history worlds tends to be my strongest suit as a writer. I also read a lot of fiction that attempts various world building schemes and are not as successful as they could be if they used methods akin to what I do without much thought.

So, what is world building? Well, I’m sure that there’s some fancy-ass dictionary term defining it but I tend to ignore that crap. World building, to me, means building a world to work the way you need it to in order to tell an interesting story. In order to do this, though, you have to sit down and ask yourself a few questions before you start writing. Below are some of the first questions you should consider.

Yes, you'll do a lot of work the reader never sees. This is why writers are masochists. Deal with it.

  1. Sci-fi, hard sci-fi, fantasy, or a mix of them?
  2. Is your story about a far-future civilization? Is it about an advanced race of mortals (notice I don’t say “humanoids”) who have technology most of us haven’t even imagined in our wildest dreams? If so, then your world building will be a lot different than someone who is planning a story set in a world with only a pre-Industrial technological level.

  3. What is my opening salvo?
  4. Are you writing about a group of plucky young mortals who are going to overthrow an oppressive system? Are you writing about a planet about to be destroyed? Is your world about to undergo a major war between Good and Evil? All of these will have very different backstories to give rise to the current history in your setting. You’ll have to think about where the oppressive system came from or what is going to cause planetary destruction (and it’s harder to destroy a planet than you think). What defines “Good” and “Evil” in your world and why?

  5. Will I be relying on or avoiding deus ex machina?
  6. Some stories simply will not work without a deus ex solution. That doesn’t make them bad stories — hell, look at Doctor Who! — but it does mean that if you take away the deus ex, the story fails. Most writers tend to avoid relying on such things and get irritated when their worlds’ internal logic won’t let them get to the particular point Q they need to be at without a deus ex machina. Writers who find themselves painted into that particular corner need to go back and examine the foundations of their world. Usually, if you hit that point, you’ve done something silly such as assume that your world and your mortals must follow Earth and human logic.

    COME AT ME, BRO

    That’s crap. I’m working on a story about quasi-sixth dimensional mortals. Sure, they have humanoid bodies but they also have senses humanity couldn’t dream itself up ever because humanity can’t visualize a tesseract without getting a collective nosebleed. Their technology and the ways in which they interact and interface with it resemble ours almost not at all. They also don’t follow our human logic. Why should they? They are not bloody human! Instead, I’m making their society internally consistent with itself. Sure, they have emotions, goals, and ambitions that us poor quasi-fourth humans can sympathize and empathize with. Still, they ain’t human.

  7. What is magic like in my world?
  8. Yes, you do ask yourself this even if you’re writing the hardest of the hard science fiction. Technology is magic that works within our laws of physics. If you doubt that, consider for a moment what would happen to the poor sod who fell into a wormhole that spit him out in 1387 AD London and who happened to have a flashlight with him. Yep — he’d be considered a witch because, even though a flashlight is technology (and rather simple tech at that), it’s magic to someone from seven centuries ago.

Once you’ve asked and answered these questions, you’re ready for some of the more advanced stuff such as considering your world’s mythos, its history, societies, economics (and yes, even a world that would give Marx a hard-on has economics), climate, weather patterns, and the rest. We’ll get into those things next week, though, because otherwise I’ll be here until March writing this post.

Don't build another Earth. Earth v1.0 sucked balls.

Do you have any questions or see anything I missed? If so, hit me up here or on Facebook and I’ll see what I can do!

— G.K.

Book Review: Nick Cole’s Ctrl Alt Revolt!

Book Review: Nick Cole's Ctrl Alt Revolt!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve heard of this book. If you haven’t, then all I can say is

This book is awesome. It’s so good that I have a hard time really believing that the publisher dropped it because some snot-nosed editorial intern felt squicky about how AIs might consider elective abortion. I mean, that part is such a tiny part of the story and it’s more like the “straw that broke the camel’s back” when added with all of the other things AIs find to be evidence that humans don’t play well with others that I just shake my head over it.

I’ll confess, I spent most of the book rooting for the AIs. They were so logical, rational, and dispassionate. The people in the story, on the other hand, made me wonder how some of them managed to tie their shoes without strangling themselves. Oh, they were well-written and I liked them, yes, but with me, logic wins out over humanity. Still, Nick Cole does a great job of making everyone (and everything) accessible.

At any rate, the story moves well and is very believable. The characters (yes, even the humans) are interesting and multi-dimensional. The society is a bit dystopian and the ending felt a bit too pat for my tastes but, overall, it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the story. Factor in that the book has a high re-readability score and you’ve got something that is worth every penny.

I give this book four-and-a-half rainbow farting zebricorns out of five. It’s that good. You can see more of his books (The End of the World As We Knew It is on my review list) over at Nick Cole’s Books.

— G.K.

Sad Puppies and the Hugos: Category Error

Sad Puppies and the Hugos: Category Error

I keep thinking about this and, honestly, the more I think about it, the more I honestly believe that the real problem is that the problem with modern science fiction awards is that of Category Error. I spoke with a long-time WorldCon attendee Sunday (not sure if he wants to be named here — he can message me on Facebook if he is cool with it) and after talking with him and then reading Eric Flint’s entry today (read it — it’s long but worth it), I think that it may be time to really sit down and ask a few hard questions.

1) Is WorldCon really the best avenue for trying to create the kind of award we’re trying to create? — After reading the by-laws for the convention and for SFWA, I don’t think it is. Both organizations are too unwieldy, too clunky, and have too ossified a structure to respond well to the kind of change that is needed. That’s not a slight against them — it’s just reality. Plenty of conventions and industries (hell — plenty of countries and cultures) are having a hard time keeping pace with the rapid changes that have happened over the past fifty years. Expecting a group of volunteers to master it when they’re used to playing for an audience of less than 10k is asking a bit much.

2) Just what kind of award do we want to create? — Are we really after a fan award? Another jury award? An industry award? I think the germ of the whole compliant has been that the current Hugos have ignored giants in the field in favor of fad-fiction while also shunning certain authors and their works based on the author’s politics — not on merit (which this year has proven is the case with a sizable portion of Hugo voters). The general gist has been that if the Hugos want to call themselves “THE” award of science fiction and fantasy, then they need to pay more attention to the market behavior, to the influential players in the field, and they need to increase the size of the voting pool so that it can’t be swayed by a few dozen people. Otherwise, they need to stop advertising themselves as being “THE” award and instead relabel themselves more accurately as “an award given out by a few thousand people.”

3) How can the convention structure be made less privileged? — Look, I know most of you don’t get it. I’ve never been to a single convention that my former employer didn’t pay me to go to because I can’t afford the plane ticket and hotel room to go to one. The mere fact that you can a) take the time off work to go, b) have the money to get a hotel room, c) can afford to eat out while there, d) can afford the plane ticket or gas to fly/drive there and back e) can afford the cost of admission + panels + whatever else puts you so far out of my league it’s not even funny. Even when I’ve been able to get over my mild agoraphobia and really wanted to go to a con, the cost of taking off work and going put beyond me. And it does for most everyone in my area. I doubt seriously that WorldCon (or any other current literary con) could do livestream attendance the way that BlizzCon or does. Part of it is the money/tech/knowledge issue and part of it is that I doubt very seriously there’s much love lost either way between the fans in places like Delta and Appalachia and the officers/board members of the conventions.

4) How can the voting pool be increased beyond the ability for any one group to game it? — We’re talking big numbers here. At least 20k. Better would be a voting pool of at least 50 – 100k. Again, just given the behavior shown at the Hugo awards ceremony and the kind of negative connotation WorldCon has given itself with the general population. There’s a reason why WorldCon attendance has been trending down even as science fiction and fantasy became more accepted and it’s because enough of the “TrueFans” gave it a bad reputation so that people avoided it instead of attending it or considering it. Would WorldCon ever consider even trying to get someone like writer Robert Kirkman to run a panel? Or be a GoH? Could they even get someone like Chuck Lorre to return a phone call these days? I mean, sure, GRRM comes but could they get Peter Jackson? Or forget Peter Jackson, could they get Jeri Taylor or even Kip Thorne?

No one outside of Tor (and most of the people inside probably don’t either) gives a rat’s ass about either of the Neilsen-Haydens but they’re the GoH’s for next year and they hate people like me so yeah, I’m feelin’ the love and welcome. But if a convention could get, say…Norman Reedus, Jeri Ryan, Orlando Bloom, Stephanie Meyer, Peter Dinklage, and J.K. Rowling together while hosting a Red Pill/Blue Pill contest and playing Spot the Fed during the Zombie Apocalypse, well…

That would be a con that would have Fort Knox asking to loan it some money.

4a) How can that be done without homogenizing everything? — And now we’re into the Category Error part of the problem. Science fiction isn’t a simple little niche anymore. It’s become its own genre, much like romance or horror. Could you imagine a single convention or award that tried to compare the works of R.L. Stine to that of Mary Shelley? Science fiction and fantasy are huge. You can’t compare some aspects of them to others because it’s like comparing apples to zebras — and that’s exactly what the Hugos wind up doing. You can’t just add one more category (series) and fix the problem, either. No, the issue runs much deeper than that in that the foundation upon which WorldCon and the Hugos were built is no longer large enough to support the modern sci-fi/fantasy reality.

So, what to do? Raze it (Vox Day’s option?) Slink off and exile ourselves, never writing again and let people who support pedophiles and child rape (Tor — hey, sauce for the goose. I’ll see your Vox Day and raise you Marion Zimmer Bradely) give themselves accolades while everyone else praises them?

Instead of razing it, leave it be and build something better. Build a modern convention that starts out with a massive tent. Have elements from Comic Con, Walker Stalker, BlizzCon, DefCon (that’s a techie con for you non-hackers out there. It’s awesomesauce), and all the other fun cons out there. Mix and match. Don’t make it a pure literary con. Have it be a real celebration of all that is great about being a geek or a nerd. Let the Twilighters in with their Team Edwards and Team Jacobs. Hell, we had Team Sturm and Team Tanis back in the day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go get every book that has “Dragonlance(TM)” on it and start reading). Some of us even had Team Hugh and Team Haplo (if you want really obscure).

Twilight might be drek but at least it has people reading. We all started somewhere. I started with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dragonlance, the Death Gate Cycle, and writing the Legend of Zelda fanfic set around the game and the cartoon series when I was in elementary school.

And the awards? Well, how about this? (Just to get the convo rolling — don’t consider it a finalized thing. More a “outline I’ve worked out that probably needs some tweaking”)

I know the constellations are probably taken (and the Constellations themselves are an actual award) but imagine something like this:

The Aries — best military work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Aquarius — best literary work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Capricorn — best hard science fiction (red) or epic fantasy (blue)
The Gemini — best young adult work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Leo — best space opera (red) or swords-and-sorcery (blue) work
The Libra — best dystopian (red) urban fantasy (blue) work
The Sagittarius — best speculative work (red for sci-fi, blue for fantasy)
The Scorpio — best pure-superhero work (for superhero works that cannot be classed anywhere else)
The Taurus — best post-apocalyptic (red) or dark fantasy (blue) work
The Virgo — life-time achievement award
The Ophiuchus — historic recognition award

Each award has seven categories: written series, novel, novella, short story, editor-in-field, artist, and licensed work, with there being three possible additional categories: television show, film, video game. So, there would be an Aries for the best military sci-fi series, stand-alone novel, novella, short-story, editor-in-field, artist, and then licensed work in that field (such as something from Star Wars or Star Trek).

Nominations would run from, say, October 1 to January 30. Then the top fifteen for each award and category (the nominations receiving the most votes) would be put on the ballot. A jury would be selected for each award/category consisting of at least 10k people from the membership chosen randomly. They would be sent the entire packet to read and would be given a test to prove that they had read and understood the books or films or shows. Then they would be sent the ballot and allowed to vote. The top five (the five receiving the highest number of votes in each 10k voting pool) go on the final ballot for selection at the convention itself. At the convention, it’s straight up the most votes wins with “no award” requiring unanimity or the voting pool to dip below 5k.

Not a perfect system, I know. According to my man Ken Arrow, a perfect ranking system is impossible. However, with two steps of popular votes and a randomly selected jury pool with an enforced reading test (or no ballot issued and another juror chosen instead), it’s much harder to game this kind of system. There’s also less incentive for SJWs to want to do so since they’ll have the Aquarius all to themselves. And, if they do try to overrun the rest of the categories, we send them back to their little sandbox where everything is rubberfoamed and inoffensive and they can have their skin-deep diversity without any diversity of ideas and the little dears can’t hurt themselves or encounter a difficult thought/word/feeling or be triggered while the grown-ups can talk about grown-up things in all of the other categories.

Except for the Gemini, of course. Because “young adults” aren’t SJWs but aren’t grown-up, yo.

— G.K.

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

This one came up on my Kindle Unlimited list so I decided to give it a try. Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm is an interesting look at how a few friends struggle to cope with the miscommunication, the misdirection, and the problems that come when the fragile nature of our current system are exploited, causing the entire thing to crash. It also deals with the individual perspective of living through the CyberStorm and what it means for people and how it would impact day-to-day life in New York City.

Overall, it’s a good book. The pacing is okay. However, the characters are a bit flat. Chuck is the uni-dimensional envisioning of a doomsday prepper from the point of view of an urbanite who has never really sat down and actually spoken with one for more than a few hours. The philosophies and the way Mather tries to resolve them are believable conversations (shouting matches between the characters, really) but do little to advance the characters’ development and frequently seem to be just another way of putting down Chuck (and non-North Easterners in general). I did like the interplay with the main character (Mike) and Richard via Mike’s wife (who is the least likable character in the book). However, the vegan couple and the scenes involving them were just…pointless. Vegans would die very quickly if they clung to their veganism during a cyberstorm and the “side step” used the final time they’re encountered is pure sophistry.

I liked how the second half of the book ran with the establishing of a mesh-net, the real-life individual consequences of the “fog of war” phenomenon and the whole “misleading vividness” played out regarding what Mike thinks he sees during his first trip for help. I also like how the person who wound up being the Big Hero wasn’t one of the central characters of the story or a big player in the universe to begin with.

   

Three and a half rainbow farting zebricorns. CyberStorm is a good cyberthriller but it’s not A Canticle for Leibowitz

— G.K.

Fanfic Friday — Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Fanfic Friday — Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Okay, so, I may have been just the teensiest bit busy last week and kind of forgot to hit the “publish” button on the last chapter of this story. Not to worry — that just means you all get a double dose this week. So, be not sad and don’t waste any replicator rations — there’s plenty of booze and beverages to go around while you settle in to read the latest two chapters of Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation!

Yeah, I revisited the transwarp flight thing. I didn’t redo the whole episode — just some bits of it (and it’s a multi-chapter work) that are interesting. So, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of rehashed dialogue. I learned a lot from Adrift and Alayne’s Story. But, things are progressing and it’s going to be interesting so go get your read on.

I’m going to be moving my Friday Review entry to Saturday from here on out so check back tomorrow for that.

— 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.

Friday Review: After The Blast

Friday Review: After The Blast

This week’s review is a short work from my friend and fellow author T.L. Knighton. I grabbed it with my Kindle Unlimited and am planning to get the second book in the series already to add to my “to read” pile. After the Blast is a nice, quick bit of light reading that sets up a series quite well. I’m looking forward to learning more in the second book.

The premise of the novelette is this: there’s a nuclear attack on the US. How extensive it is, who launched it, and what the international response is are never covered in the story. Instead, the action focuses on the main character, Jason, as he makes his way to join his family in north Georgia. He encounters some good folks and bad folks on his journey and transitions from being a menial office worker to being something of a badass by the end of the story.

The pacing is a bit rough at the start but once Knighton finds his stride, it’s all good. And, with it only being 0.99 (or free with Kindle Unlimited), it’s well worth it. A nice impulse buy that will get you hooked on what looks to be a great series.

    

Four and a half rainbow farting zebricorns — no major complaints but there were some editing problems (nothing major — nothing that renders it unreadable like what happened with the eBook version of The Road).

— G.K.