Surveillance State

People generally like hierarchies and taxonomies. We like to put people in categories so we don’t have to spend too much time looking at them as individuals. Sometimes this is useful, sometimes it isn’t.

Often it’s harmful.

It’s harmful to look at the targets of ongoing surveillance and decide that the surveillance is acceptable because of their (perceived) relative powerlessness in what you have deemed to be the wider community.

So when Eric Flint writes a post which adds a veneer of legitimacy to what James May does–which is ongoing surveillance of women, persons of color, and other marginalized voices in the science fiction and fantasy community–I feel sick.

For those of you who don’t know, this individual has a website.  On this website are hundreds of thousands of words where he attempts to string together a vast leftist conspiracy in science fiction. He does this by surveilling I don’t even know how many people on Twitter and other public places. I am among those he watches as are many people I know. May’s writing veers into what can be generously called crackpot territory, but there are people–mostly of the Sad Puppy variety–who listen to him and take him seriously. Like Larry Correia.

James May was specifically solicited by Larry Correia for a list of targets when Correia was gathering information for the G*merG*te/Hugo piece in Breitbart.

Since Correia didn’t actually name anyone himself, he was able to keep his hands clean in case G*merG*te did decide to go after any of the targets. Handy how that works, isn’t it? You get to have your jollies by training a hate group on a bunch of women and persons of color and you get plausible deniability.

(And am I worried that I am going to bring a world of trouble on my head with this post? Yes, I am. But James May’s behavior is a problem and that needs to be made clear.)

It doesn’t matter how much influence someone has or doesn’t have in a community for their membership, the price of them using their voice should not be ongoing and persistent surveillance by someone who is called an “archivist” by those who ally themselves with him.

It’s not archiving. It’s surveillance and it’s creepy.

So there’s really no other word but sick for the sinking feeling I had in my gut as I read Flint’s most recent post about the Hugo controversy this year.

I generally do agree with Flint that May is not presenting a coherent argument and that he is constantly contradicting himself.  Flint’s comments about May not substantiating his arguments are on point. I also really appreciate Flint’s perspective on the matter of reviews: as someone who used to curate the SFF section for RT Book Reviews, it’s a matter of including books that you think the magazine’s audience is going to want to acquire and read.

But.

It feels to me that in order to make the rhetorical point that James May’s surveillance is unimportant, Eric Flint also needs to emphasize how unimportant the majority of May’s targets are.

This is a problem.

This is part of the ongoing conversation about the importance of different voices in our community. About making space for people who have been told–explicitly and implicitly–that what they have to say isn’t worthwhile and that they need to sit down and listen and that someday, maybe, they’ll be allowed to speak.

Flint attempts to mitigate what he’s implied with this rhetoric, but it’s not enough to balance things out.  He may as well have said, “I’ve only heard of a few of these people and those are clearly the only ones saying anything worthwhile” and been done with it. It’s yet another way to silence people. I can’t imagine that was Flint’s intent.

So while I do believe that Flint’s post was well-intentioned and made many good points in the first half, I came away from it feeling like I’d been put in my place. Flint’s piece takes a paternalistic turn towards the end that simply doesn’t sit well with me. Flint is coming from a place where he expects that his opinions will be given a modicum of respect by his readers and yet he doesn’t seem to recognize that respect goes both ways.

If you want to prove that a creep like James May is chasing shadows you don’t do it by claiming that the people James May is surveilling don’t count.  Instead of dismissing James May’s targets as nobodies, how about we look at what is actually happening here: people are being watched, their words are being twisted out of context, and their names are being given to hate groups. And all because a few people are sad that they haven’t won a Hugo.

More Thoughts on the 2015 Hugo Awards

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I’ve got a few thoughts about the 2015 Hugo Award nomination process rattling around in my head, so I thought I’d share.

First, though, I want to acknowledge that putting forth a slate and nominating a slate is not against the rules as they currently stand.

But that doesn’t mean it’s right or that it’s within what I perceive to be the spirit of the Hugo Awards.

It does a disservice to all the people who proposed works for the Sad/Rabid Puppy slates whose suggestions didn’t make the slate. The Hugo Awards aren’t a lifetime achievement award or a prize for selling a lot of books. They’re supposed to be for the best work in a particular category in a given year.

There is, for me, a massive difference between putting forth a list of recommendations or letting people know what you’re eligible for: that is providing information for voters in a genre which has become extremely large and diverse. It’s not telling people how to vote. It is not telling people to nominate in a specific way in order to upset people that you perceive as your adversaries and not as fellow readers and fans.

I don’t keep a running list of everything I’ve read over the course of a year, so I find recommendation lists and comment threads, as well as eligibility posts, extremely useful for me in terms of jogging my memory or providing lunchtime reading material as I consider my ballot–I discovered quite a number of wonderful stories this way, including Eugie Foster’s “When It Ends, He Catches Her”.

That brings me to another point: there’s nothing in the rules that says voters must read everything that’s on the ballot. Choosing not to read works because they were on a slate and to rank No Award above them is within the rules of the Hugo Awards. Which is what I will be doing–if the work appears on either the Sad or Rabid Puppy slate, it will be ranked below No Award or left off the ballot entirely.

I will try to read those works where the nominee was unaware that they were put on the slate until after the fact (which, despite multiple statements to the contrary by organizers and supporters of the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates, is a thing that happened), but the default position for those works will be below No Award.  Nominees who were aware of and participated in this process will not appear on my ballot at all. I know this hurts worthy works, but it’s the only way I can participate in the process and be right with myself and my convictions.

I am glad to hear that there are a number of folks intending to make proposals at the WSFS business meeting this year to propose changes which will mitigate this kind of manipulation of the nominating process. I am not savvy in the ways of the WSFS constitution and business meeting to do this sort of work myself, so I salute and appreciate those who are.

Finally, for all those who are exhorting folks to set politics aside and take the works on their merits: You are aware that logrolling the nominations in this way was political, right? You just have the luxury of pretending that it wasn’t.

2015 Hugo Award Nominees Announced

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So this happened.

Congratulations to everyone who chose not to game the system. Special congratulations to Noah Ward, who I expect will have a very strong showing this year.

You fucking assholes. I hope you’re happy.

World Science Fiction Society? The Hugos are broken. You might want to look into fixing them. Somehow.

(I can’t take credit for the logo: it arrived in my inbox, unattributed.)

ETA: I have some more thoughts here.

Podcast Goodness!

If you’re podcast inclined, you can find me on two different podcasts this week:

  • Rocket Talk Episode 40: Amal El-Mohtar and Natalie Luhrs Where me and Amal, along with Justin Landon, talk a whole lot about ETHICS IN LITERARY JOURNALISM. This was a huge amount of fun to record–I think we talked for around two hours with many, many digressions that Justin heroically edited out. But we do say penis a lot, if that’s an incentive for you.
  • Introductions: Our Theme and Our Most Anticipated Things in 2015 w/ Renay and Natalie Luhrs In which me and Renay were invited to come hang out with the Skiffy and Fanty crew and talk about what books by women and non-binary people we were looking forward to reading this year.  There may have been an argument over who got to have Fran Wilde’s Updraft on their list.

Just for reference, here’s my long list for Skiffy and Fanty with a few things I thought of later stuck on the end–not all of these are 2015 releases because I am so incredibly behind on my reading:

  • Sunny Moraine, Labyrinthian 
  • Fran Wilde, Updraft
  • Rose Lemberg, editor, An Alphabet of Embers
  • Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix and Lagoon
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
  • A.C. Wise, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again (possibly the best collection title EVER)
  • Jaime Lee Moyer, Delia’s Shadow
  • Beth Bernobich, The Time Roads
  • Tina Connolly, Copperhead and Silverblind 
  • Jo Walton, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings
  • Genevieve Valentine, Persona 
  • Elizabeth Bear, Karen Memory
  • Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy
  • Maria Dahvana Headley, Magonia

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Kickstart This: Asking for Money

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There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week around authors using Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms to fund specific projects. I have thoughts. But first, a few links:

Then there’s this post from Jenny Trout: Don’t Do This…Ever?: (an advice column for writers): “Crowd Funding” edition

Okay, normally I agree with a lot of what Jenny Trout says. Not this time, though. And you know why? Because whenever I buy anything, anything at all, part of the cost of getting that thing into my hands goes to buy groceries for someone–multiple someones. It’s not itemized, but it’s part of the cost of the item. And Trout’s ketchup factory analogy is terrible. The hypothetical factory owner? They’re not working with the goal of maybe getting paid someday in the future and, I bet, when they were siting their new ketchup factory they went and looked for places that would give them things like tax breaks and other incentives (like building infrastructure to the site) so they could spend as little of their own capital as possible. Or if it’s a brand new ketchup venture, there are always angel investors to help with money. Or venture capital–of course, going to investors that aren’t the government means you need to eventually show a return on that investment; if you can get the government to subsidize you, it’s a free ride: ask the cities that paid for new stadiums how that worked out for them.

Capital. It can be hard to raise if you don’t have the resources to begin with–and money’s not the only resource here. Time, energy, connections are all resources needed, not only in creative work, but in life in general. Some people have more resources in one area than another, so need to ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for help.

Kickstarter–and other crowd-funding platforms–are a way for people to raise capital for specific projects, but it requires them to spend energy and use their connections. They can be a way to fund niche projects that wouldn’t necessarily be commercially viable. There is a risk involved in both running and supporting such projects–but Kickstarter makes that fairly clear.

I’ve supported a lot of Kickstarters for books that did not exist when the campaign began: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13–in some of these cases, the texts (or images) existed, but they were not yet a tangible object. Heck, I’ve even funded a couple of ongoing publishing enterprises, specifically Uncanny and the Clarkesworld Chinese science fiction translation project.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure that for a lot of these projects I’ve backed some of that money went to pay for something for the person putting together the project. Or if it didn’t pay for something for them, it paid for someone else to provide them with goods and services–and the money they received then went to other goods and services. And I am 100% okay with that.

I mean seriously: this is how our economy works. In the Kickstarter that sparked this whole conversation, the author gave a list of things she was going to use the money for–and that’s where I think she made a mistake: she was too honest.  She mentioned living expenses, specifically groceries and a mortgage–which then prompted a lot of people to essentially tell her to go get a “real” job (way to devalue her work). Personally, I was doing some head-tilting at the backer rewards and I think the timing could have been a lot better–but me looking askance at the campaign doesn’t invalidate her right to have it.

I do understand that a lot of people in romance and YA don’t want this sort of campaign to become the norm in their reading communities–I don’t think there’s a risk of this becoming the dominant funding model, I really don’t. Even in SFF, while crowd-funding is relatively common, it’s not the norm for even a significant minority of books published.

But these aren’t reasons to declare that it’s unacceptable for authors to use these platforms to try to raise money for specific projects.  I think that if the author had said, “It will take $10,000 for this book to become a reality and that includes professional editing and a gorgeous cover and backers will also get an exclusive short story set in this world” no one would have blinked.  Claim that she’s just begging for money instead of getting a real job or that readers shouldn’t have to assume a financial risk or that she’s taking advantage of children because she’s a YA author, what this comes down to is this: you didn’t like her tone. She asked for too much. She didn’t ask in exactly the right way.

So: is a one-off crowd-funding campaign a good way to build a sustainable business? Probably not. It is a good way to get a specific project off the ground, though, especially if you think that project has enough people interested in it to fund, as this author apparently did.

Tobias Buckell has a really, really great post about the first Kickstarter campaign he ran that I really recommend everyone reading.

And now, I want to talk a little bit about success when it comes to books. Does the book make money? If yes, it’s a success. If no, it’s not a success and you probably won’t get another contract from that publisher (unless you’re self-publishing). That’s it. Does that kind of sort of really suck? Yeah, it does–there are lots of wonderful books that don’t make money, lots of great series that get cancelled part way through, books that no publisher will buy because they don’t think it’s commercially viable. And there’s a lot of books that are badly written or troubling or whatever that sell by the truckload. Readers are hard to predict.

Ultimately, it’s the readers that make a book successful: they buy it or get it from their library and if they love it (or hate it!), they might tell their friends about it–and those friends may then also pick up a copy or investigate the author’s backlist. Every copy sold puts money to buy groceries in someone’s pocket–probably not the author’s until they earn out their advance–but each copy gets them closer to earning out. That’s what I mean by readers making books successful or not–there is no implication that a reader must help an author or publisher promote a book, the mere act of purchasing the book (or asking the library to purchase a book) is, in my mind, sufficient.

(Note: I am not using the name of the author whose Kickstarter prompted this discussion; there’s bad stuff going on and while I do want to discuss the larger issues here, I don’t want to send more shit her way.)