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Month: August 2015

Why Yesterday Sucked, by ME, aged 40½

I was a grumpy bugger yesterday.

I have reasons.

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The Hugo Awards

So, the hugo awards are done for another year.

This year, there were two somewhat unpleasant voting slates, one of which I feel a little (but not very) sorry for, and the other I feel a sort of delightful glee at its whiny little head having been stomped on. There are certainly authors and creators I feel sorry for, as they found themselves caught up in it when they could have been on the hugo nominations without the slate, and have suffered as a result of being there.

I didn’t vote, partly because a) I’ve not read enough of the nominees and b) my arse was firmly in neutral, and I couldn’t find the clutch to get it into gear.

But mostly, I’m pretty happy with how things have come out.

The Two Slates

The Sad Puppy slate’s stated goals include a promotion of more blue collar, action oriented SF.  I can see where they’re coming from with that.  I don’t agree with it, but I can see their point from where I’m standing. There has been a lot more “worthy” than “wonder” in some of the recent lineups. I personally don’t see that as a problem, but it is a trend that’ll alienate some folks.

The Rabid Puppy slate’s stated goals were to take down the hugos because RAR! I AM SHOUTY ANGRY PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS RACIST MISOGYNISTIC DICKBAG! EVERYTHING NOT WHITE, MALE AND SIMPLE IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR! THIS CHAIR IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR AS IT SUPPORTS BROWN PEOPLE AS MUCH AS WHITE PEOPLE! PURIFY IT WITH FIRE!

The Awards

BEST NOVEL – The Three Body Problem

Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

I’ve not read this one.  I tried, but my brain chemistry decided to be obstructive and awkward.  I’ll give it another go when my brain is cooperating again. However,  Katrina has read it – it wasn’t to her taste, having too much of the feel of classic-era American SF.  It wasn’t to her taste, but was declared to be totally hugo-worthy all the same.

What I managed to get through before my brain chemistry decided to throw its toys out of the pram again backed that up.

The Sad Puppies who want a return to SF like Asimov or Clark would probably have loved it.  The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

The only thing I think was unfair in this category was Jim Butcher’s SKIN GAME coming in below no award as a reaction to the slate. It’s a good book. I don’t think it should have won, but I think it firmly deserved the nomination and was beaten by no-award as a result of having ended up on the sad puppy slate rather than on its merits.

BEST NOVELLA – No Award

The Sad and Rabid puppies had taken over this category. I tried reading some of them.  They were bloody awful.  Not even in terms of content – in terms of writing standard.  They read like early 1990s schoolboys writing Warhammer 40,000 or Aliens fanfic… badly.

BEST NOVELETTE –  The Day the World Turned Upside Down

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt (Lightspeed, 04-2014)

Haven’t read.  I have it somewhere in my Lightspeed back issues, but I’m pretty  sure I didn’t read it. If I did, I don’t remember it.  Not going to comment beyond that.

BEST SHORT STORY – No Award

I’ve not read them, so won’t comment further.  Generally I’ve found the authors nominated to be firmly not to my taste.

BEST RELATED WORK – No Award

See “Best Short Story”.

BEST GRAPHIC STORY – Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)

This is totally and utterly deserving.  So were the other nominations, and I think this one may have pipped it on the grounds of having a non-traditional protagonist in Kamala Khan – a teenage pakistani-american.

It’s also action oriented and a hell of a lot of fun.  It ticks the sad puppies boxes quite nicely – I think, if their stated goals are taken at face value, they’d love it.

The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

In terms of what it beat:

  • Saga Volume 3 – Saga is excellent, and has a raft of believable characters, all of whom are relateable in some way.  It also has action, adventure, sex, love, violence, people of all shapes, configurations, colours…  It’s what I’d have picked to win, but am not disappointed that it was beaten.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics) – Rat Queens is great, but I wouldn’t peg it for hugo-ish-ness – mostly because the flow didn’t quite work for me and a lot of it felt a bit superficial.  Not badly so, and it’s ahead of a lot of other comics, but enough to put it behind Saga and Ms Marvel in my mind.
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics) – Sex Criminals is weird and fun.  I’m glad it got a nomination.
  • No Award
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation) – not read it. I’m not going to discount it based on slates, but I’ve had my fill of zombie stuff for a fair while.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM – Guardians of the Galaxy

Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)

This was actually a sad puppy slate item which won anyway.  Because it was good enough to deserve it, and was clearly going to get nominated anyway.

I don’t think it was the best of the nominees (I’d put that as Edge of Tomorrow, followed by a tie between this and The Lego Movie), but it’s far from undeserving.

It also supports the Sad Puppies stated goals whilst remaining good, so I can see why they backed it. I’m glad it didn’t get the same treatment Jim Butcher got in best novel, but also sad that he got blocked when this got a pass.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM – Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

Totally and utterly deserving.

Everything else on the ballot also made me say “meh” – although I don’t know if I’ve seen the specific Grimm episode nominated.  It’d need to be a step up from Grimm’s business-as-usual episodes to match Orphan Black, though.

BEST SEMIPROZINE – Lightspeed Magazine

edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant

I have a subscription. I am rubbish at actually reading what comes in from that subscription.  When I do, I see a lot of good, but not much that’s my taste right now.

Deserving, in my book, as evidenced by the fact I have a subscription.

I have no idea about the others in the field.

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST, EDITOR (short form), EDITOR (long form), FANZINE, FANCAST, FAN WRITER

I am clueless in these fields. I lack enough knowledge to judge.  No further comment.

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER – Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao and the Deaths of Tao are great fun. Action. Adventure. Aliens. Conspiracies. Car chases. Fights (both kung-fu and gun). Helicopters (I think I remember helicopters). Pizza. Spies. Sex.

If the Sad Puppies stand up for their stated goals, they should love this book. If they’re Rabid puppies in disguise, not so much.

I’m glad Wesley Chu got it. The only other name I knew on the list of was Eric S. Raymond, who I largely know of as a software / linux person rather than a writer.

The upshot

The upshot of all of this is a wholesale rejection of the Sad & Rabid Puppies. Which is good, for the most part.  I think there may have been a baby or two in the bathwater (Jim Butcher, most notably), but a positive result from a sucky situation.

So, what’s my take on the whole mess

Do I think the process needs changing to prevent this being repeated next time? Sure.  Do I think both of the nasty slates are 100% wrong in their stated purposes?  Actually, no.

I think that the organisers of this year’s Sad Puppy slate were dangerously close to a valid point, even if that point clearly wasn’t the goal of the majority of their supporters.  I don’t think they’ve done a good job of articulating it, or a good job of advocating it.  Pretty terrible on both fronts, actually.

I’m also not convinced that their stated goal and their actual goal matched up – I think that for a lot of the supporters, the stated goal was the acceptable face of something much nastier. But the fact that the acceptable face was a smokescreen doesn’t make it irrelevant.

In the written fiction categories, there has been a trend towards the highbrow and the worthy. Towards the deadly serious and the “dealing with serious concerns”.  There’s not been much escapism or fun. There’s also been a tendency towards much more overt social commentary.

Except, this year, that’s not the case… and I think some of the sad puppies might be missing that because people keep telling them that the fun stuff isn’t good, or because they see that a lot of the good stuff isn’t fun.

So, I think that if they can get past the rhetoric, this year’s Hugos are great for anybody who seriously wanted what Sad Puppies purported to be about.

You’ve got fun, action and rip-roaring action in spades.

 

The “So you’re a dejected sad puppy” advice list

If you really wanted what you said wasn’t there, take another look at the winners and the other nominees:

You’ve got big-ideas meets aliens invade, humans fight back with SCIENCE and ACTION with “The Three Body Problem” getting best novel.

You’ve got a pile of fistfights and gunfights, mind controlling aliens, spies and high-tech in Wesley Chu’s Tao books. They remind me a lot of shows like Chuck or Alias, but with aliens in!

You’ve got entertaining action, blue-collar characters, teen-friendly themes, accessible coming-of-age, sense-of-wonder and entertaining fist-fights in Ms. Marvel – No Normal. Hell, you’d probably get a kick from Saga, too – that’s even got a strong “boy meets girl, they have kids and fight to protect their family” vibe going on. As well as some pretty kick-ass action.

You loved most of the films & TV anyway – go you.

Try some of those out.  I think you might be surprised…

 

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – My Sunday Writeup (no sketchnotes)

This is the final writeup of my time at Nine Worlds 2015, and unlike the previous two, it’ll be quite brief and completely without sketchnotes.  This isn’t a deliberate absence of sketchnotes – I just didn’t really go to anything that made sense to take notes at!

In fact, most of my time was spent socialising – I think the only programme item I went to was the “Night of the Trailers – Morning of the Trailers” slot in the film festival.

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Nine World Geekfest 2015 – My Saturday Writeup

This post is a follow-on to the previous one, in which I covered the Friday of Nine Worlds 2015.  Saturday continued along similar lines, with sketchnotes along the way.

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Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – Friday

I’ve recently returned from the thoroughly enjoyable “Nine Worlds Geekfest” – a friendly, highly inclusive, mixed media / mixed genre geek/fan convention.

Whilst I was there, I spent many of the panels I attended scribbling some sketchnotes.  For me, sketchnotes are a way to force what I hear in panels to go through different bits of my brain, and to stay in my head better than they would if I just listened.

This post is going to be a con report, but unlike any other con reports I’ve written, I’m going to include scans of my sketchbook pages. So you have some context…  my sketchbook pages are roughly 12.5cm wide by about 17.5cm tall.  If things look a bit fuzzy on bigger screens, it’s because they’ve been blown up a bit in scanning.

So – on to the programme items for Friday – Saturday & Sunday will follow.

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Antagonism Required

Two Bad Words

Nothing turns a design to crap faster than a certain two words.  They are the bane of my professional life. They are a signifier that work I’ve done is either the wrong work, the right work done at the wrong time or the right work done for the wrong people.  They are, without fail, the worst words to hear in response to a request for your work to be reviewed.

The words in question?

“Seems Fine.”

Give a shit

There are other words that can be similarly bad, but “Seems fine” basically boils down to “this was not important enough for me to give any time to”.

If it’s a design review, and you’re seriously and honestly not able to see any problems then shout it from the rooftops.  You have found the perfect, shining unicorn. Hand that designer all the money in the world and tell everyone else to retire because they are done.

If you are involved in a design process, be involved. Merely being present is not good enough. In the event that it’s not so perfect that a life of perpetual ecstasy would disappoint, say something.

If you don’t give a shit, you’re in the wrong place.  I don’t care what job you actually do, but if you don’t care enough to do more than phone it in then be up-front about it.  Remove yourself from the process.

Push Back

If you do give a shit, then push back.  It’s not even about disagreeing.   It’s about making sure that the design stands up.  A rough design that you agree with still needs to be challenged, otherwise that rough design is what you’ll ship.

All design thrives on creative tension – you can usually produce “good enough” without it, but is “good enough” all you want? Do you really want to ship your designer’s first draft?  They sure as hell don’t you to.

Constraint

A request for a design to be reviewed is a request for one of the following:

  • Information to inform or further constrain the next iteration of the design
  • Information to inform the complete restart of the design within different contraints
  • Confirmation that the design is the best it can be, given the established constraints

A first draft is more interview technique than design

I always consider my first-draft to be an interview technique rather than a design. It’s a means to gather more information about what’s needed and refine the direction, rather than an actual attempt to deliver a solution.

The sacrificial first-cut is a long established way to tease out other people’s ideas. People are a lot more able to articulate what they’d rather see than they are to articulate what they want in the first place.

If you don’t push back, then you’re committing to a shot-in-the-dark.

Constraint

Design is all about constraints. Without constraints, all problems are trivial and solutions are obvious. Design, as a process, works best when the current result of that process is challenged and pushed to improve.

One of the best ways for that push to come is from tightening and refining the constraints – from speaking up when something is not good enough.

If everything is good enough from the outset, you’ll never get to actually good.

Summing Up

If you take one thing away from this post, take this:  If you’re meant to be involved in a design process, be involved or acknowledge that you’re not, acknowledge what that means and step away.

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