Perspectives: What if you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong?

Insanity is repeating the same experiment over and over and hoping for different results
Probably not Albert Einstein

Now, that’s a bit rich, coming from a writer, and me especially. But hey, I’m a bit stunned and even more idiotic than usual: today was Australia Day, our first as Australians, and as a new Australian I might have got a bit confused about that expression ‘Throw another Chimp on the Barbie’ (I’m sure that’s what they said)?

It was not a pleasant experience, especially for Barbie (the Chimp may view this differently, proving that point of view is really, really relevant.) and Barbie has specifically requested that no one does it again, on pain of getting tenderized (which again is a question of perspective. It’s easier for the one doing chewing, but harder for the one who gets tenderized.)

Which loops around to perspectives and points of view, both of which are very relevant to writers. It’s worth thinking about, because how the writer or reader sees things based on their preconceptions, sometimes makes the same issue look vastly different. One of the things I tend to do a lot in my books is to have characters whose worldview is not typical (or even human). The rats (and the bats) in Rats, Bats & Vats, the dragons Bitar and Smitar in Pyramid Scheme, the Alien lead character in Slow Train to Arcturus Kretz (who I originally named ‘Meth’ – for the obvious reason that ‘Meth’ would mean nothing related to crystal meth, to an alien) They’re a cow to write, because you still need readers to invest in them, to care. They’re also very useful as a way of showing rather than telling ‘What if you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong?’. As a matter of intent, I don’t let them preach but simply let them be. The reader can think about them or not. The story isn’t a gimmick centered on this, they are just features of the story.

It’s been curious to see how these different world views shape both the way people write, and see the world beyond that. We’re into the final stages of needing to register as a Hugo voter for the Sad Puppies 3 campaign. Now you might say ‘this is the third attempt, why are you repeating the same experiment over and over again. It failed last year.’

You might, as this poster –‘Captain Carnage’ on Brad Torgersen’s ‘Why Sad Puppies is going to destroy Science Fiction’ argue:

If you guys want to get specific works that you believe do interest a wide audience on the ballot (which is fine, of course), I think you are making some mistakes here. The biggest of them is pissing off people you have to be in good terms with to win a Hugo. Saying that Hugo voters like stupid books is not going to help you, because you need a sizeable cut of regular Worldcon goers’ votes, even if you get new people to attend. I very much doubt that accusing people of political biases when in fact they only have different tastes than you is getting you anywhere.

Why not do a positive campaign? Why not say that Ancillary Justice was a good and fun SF novel (which I think it was) and, by the way, look at this great book by Eric Flint of Tad Williams or whoever?

The problem ‘Captain Carnage’ – (CC to save me typing) has is that he begins from a totally different world view to most the Sad Puppies. He assumes that the typical Sad Puppy supporter wants a work that he likes to win the Hugo Award, because that would give the author of their choice cachet, legitimacy as writers, and recognition, and that the WorldCon goers would be important for that. CC assumes that because it very important to him, it is to others. He assumes his (or her) worldview is neatly central and held by 99% of all people who could read sf, and that Worldcon attendees are typical and representative, and despite the stats showing the left-wing and far left wing nominees and winners to be close to infinitely improbable, there is no political bias, or at least not an important one. He assumes the system is fair and reasonable (it has given him pretty much what he wants, books he likes therefore it must be), and that it is possible to win by playing nice, unlike last year in which the Sad Puppy slate came last…

The Sad Puppies look at the same situation somewhat differently. Firstly, they didn’t set out to win the Hugo Award, having almost no interest (other than possibly some vague nostalgia for the award when it actually was a good signal to a wide audience of readers about what they would probably enjoy) in the award. It has little value to them. For them the important thing was to show it was politically biased (and, um, to have fun mocking the SJW’s who took it all very seriously). They set out to do the direct opposite of what CC assumed they wanted – to show that the ‘winners’ in the recent past had no cachet, deserved no recognition and had no legitimacy. To force into the public eye the fact that what been the sf/fantasy’s premium award was now simply a worthless left-wing cause de jour rubber-stamp. To show what a biased and minority group the Worlcon Hugo voters and nominees were. The only way for the Sad Puppies to lose, was to win (and even then, they had the happy thought of ‘splody heads to console them, as the award is important to CC and friends, who would then have to admit they were at least as good as their idols), and the only way for the Worlcon/Hugo establishment to ‘win’, to establish it was legitimate contest not biased by political affiliation, was to lose. The Sad Puppies forced the the WorldCon/Hugos old guard into a place where they showed the system is not fair or reasonable to an awful lot of people who had never considered it before. The Sad Puppies slate already knew it was not possible to win by ‘playing nice’ or doing anything else. They’ve all been the targets of the loony left while trying to play nice, for years. (the record is pretty clear. There hasn’t been a ‘nice’ winner who isn’t left to far left for years.) So: As far as the Sad Puppies are concerned they succeeded last year, beyond their wildest expectations even, it was fun watching the SJW ants scurry and squall, and therefore doing it again makes sense. If you want to support them go here.

You see I think the Hugo organizers and regular Worldcon fans have the whole damn thing all wrong. It’s a book which is great and popular with a wider audience that lends cachet, legitimacy to the award, and recognition to Worldcon, not the other way around. Redshirts and Ancillary Justice wins did little for their authors, and damage to the Hugos. Being seen to be fair and reasonable OUTSIDE their circle counts. Inside is irrelevant -they believe it anyway. It’s up to the very small minority of sf readers who go and support the WorldCon and Hugo status quo to play nice if they want credibility, and, um, support for what is a shrinking Con, and one heading for being as marginalized and irrelevant as some the literary left-wing Cons. The population of sf/fantasy readers is still growing, and proportionally, and compared to others, WorldCon isn’t. It was only due to the Sad Puppies that had the last WorldCon in the black, and that was marginal. Yet other Cons are growing and very profitable…

Think of it as an anti-boxing campaigner getting into the ring. The local boxing fans and the boxer hate his guts and would love to see him pounded to a pulp. Even the referee is willing to turn a blind eye. They assume he’s getting into the ring to win, because from their perspective that’s the only reason you would. But, from the campaigner’s point of view, he wants the boxer to pound him to a pulp without the referee stopping it, with the audience screaming ‘kill him’, ‘maim him’… because the whole thing is being filmed and broadcast, and will lead to the sport being damaged in the public eye, more severe controls and possibly the death of the sport.

Knowing the two perspectives, what would be smart thing for the boxer, the promoter, the referee, and the fans to do? What will the WorldCon fans, the Hugo winners past, and those voting and nominating, and being nominated do this year? Are they smart?

It’s like the argument that sf is dying. This means we need ‘moar diversity’, ‘moar women’, ‘moar PoC’, moar ‘non-binary’ writers sf on the logic that 1) There aren’t any. 2) They will come if we build it 3) only those people could buy it as editors, write it as authors (and write nothing else) and people of those categories would read it by no-one else, although the old readers (supposedly all white, heterosexual and male) would continue to buy it, or are irrelevant.

You’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong. Firstly, sf isn’t dying. If anything, it is growing, just not from the big 5 trad publishers. Secondly, sf led the diversity charge. Traditional publishing has more women editors than male, and, in the younger cohorts, more women writers, and any men that happen be there are outspoken third generation feminists. More outspoken than their female counterparts. Looking at the demographics of possible readers, if you assume (incorrectly in my opinion – see point 3) that you can only write for what you are, what they need is less. Point 1) merely displays gross ignorance of the genre, with so many examples of today’s ‘modern’ being 50 years old and about as ‘new and original’ as prostitution. 2) has proved the wrong way around. ‘They’ll leave if they don’t like it’ might be more accurate. And there is no point in possibly attracting 0.2% of the population if to do so you have to lose 20%. The trick is not to lose your old audience in the possibility of gaining a new one, especially if that gain is a small one. In sf writing that IS possible, because we’re not selling one product. That is something traditional publishing has yet to learn. 3) Sf authors have proved, repeatedly, that they don’t need to be men to write men (Miles Vorkosigan), and to write men that heterosexual men can also enjoy (the writers just have to be able to accept that not all of them are villains) or that men can write women characters (Honor Harrington) that women enjoy. Hell, all that needing to be xyz to write xyz proves… is that you’re a very inadequate writer. A competent author NEEDS to be able to get into perspectives that are not his own, and to understand them, even if the writer doesn’t like them. I got into the head of Bianca Casarini and Sophia Tomaselli in This Rough Magic (Heirs of Alexandria), although the women made me want to gag. I wrote the whole of Joy Cometh With The Mourning: A Reverend Joy Mystery from an unmarried, devout female Anglican priest’s point of view. I wrote part of Slow Train to Arcturus from points of view that ranged from Amazonian tribesmen to gay female, to devout fundamentalist Christian, to bi-sexual Alien. I’m merely a competent hack. So far only the bi-sexual Aliens have told me I didn’t come close. For a great author, it should be easy.

You’ve got the whole thing all wrong.

Look at it again from a different point of view.

Making experiment work this time, depends on changing that perspective. And the actual truth probably has a little bit of more than one perspective in it.

35 thoughts on “Perspectives: What if you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong?

  1. I’ll put it simply.. I stopped buying SF books for more than a decade because I got tired of the PC BS, the humyns are bad BS, the corporations are evil BS, the technology is bad BS, and all the other BS. I would pick and choose from my father’s books which ones to read and many I would get a couple chapters in and return them to him. This lasted until, iirc, 1999 when a friend referred me to the Baen Free Library version of A Hymn Before Battle, and then i started buying books again, largely ebooks from Baen.

    1. Baen, almost single-handedly (and with relentless attacks from the rest and their camp followers) is responsible for keeping a lot of sf readers in the genre. Mostly they read Baen… but they do occasionally read other houses authors too. For this the sf establishment seem to hate them. Logic does not come into this.

      1. of course, this is likely directly related to Baen’s reputation among the ‘sci-fi serious litewracher’ crowd…

      2. I’d seen Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle several times over the years before I actually read it. The cover got my attention, but the description, combined with what I’d been exposed to in recent Sci Fi trends, led me to put it back down. I mistook it for the sort that mashes everything down to blah.

        I’ve since learned that he makes a point of having enough positive outcome that the struggle is worth it, even if some pretty awful things happen.

        1. Yes, John is not above destroying 95% of the people on earth if he needs to make the point that the last 5% are gonna turn on the destroyers and rip their lungs out.
          And I’ve just posted my review on Amazon of Dragon’s Ring. I will now check my roster of Mad Genius Club reviews and see who is due.
          It’s been a while since I wrote a tongue in cheek review; I think the last was Cedar’s pen-name writing the romance ‘Farmhand’, which I reviewed as an allegory for NASA’a mission history. I think I may write the next one as a pudding head of some sort, who totally misses the point.
          Maybe mistaking the book as a collection of blank verse sonnets.

          1. Tell you a story, Pat, which relates to my writing. Years ago when I started Ichthyology (what would these days and in another country be called ‘Masters’ but we called ‘Honours’) Which was at that time considered the toughest science Honours in my country (it is now a 3 year unit, it was the same material, in one year), at the best Ichthyology dept in the Southern Hemisphere – getting in was hard, and I’d scraped in by skin of my butt on a lot of work. Come our first assignment I was determined to show my Prof just what I could do. I put every ounce of my intellect and a huge amount of research into that, and it was no small piece of work. My Germany-origin Prof called me in… He looked me up and down. “Are you German?” he asked. “Uh. No.” I did learn to speak German before I learned English, after Zulu, but I forgot most of it. And my origins are Scots/Yorkshire x Afrikaans. “Well, you write like one,” he said to me in disgust. “Only Germans manage three sentence pages, and breakteeth words when simple ones will do. Don’t give me rubbish like this again.”
            So I have tried not to, ever since. It just slips out sometimes and I try to restrain it 🙂 It’s hard to resist word games, though.

            1. Yeah, I used some of yer words in my tongue in cheek review of Peter Grant’s book “Take the Star Road.” I also threw in a passing reference to that fish semen thing someone mentioned the other day.

  2. As a teenager and college student, it always thrilled me to discover a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Leigh Bracket which I hadn’t read. There’s something about planetary romances (or sword and planet stories, if you prefer) that I find extremely immersive. I have many fond college memories of cutting class to join John Carter or Eric John Stark on adventures as they explored alien planets and cultures.

    One could make quite a compelling argument that planetary romances are the foundation of science fiction and are still the perfect stories for drawing curious and adventurous young minds to the genre. Despite that, when was the last time a trad publishing house released a new planetary romance? And I’m not counting the novelization of “Avatar,” since it toed the line of evil corporations versus the one-with-nature noble savages. I know what the major houses will tell us; there’s no market for planetary romances any more. I even believed them.

    But I didn’t let that stop me from writing my own planetary romances. And, when a good friend and author started Rampant Loon Press and asked to publish my first book, I agreed. With no publicity beyond what I posted on my personal Facebook page, my short novel slowly climbed Amazon’s sales charts and, to my extreme pleasure, spent six or seven weeks on Amazon’s space opera best sellers list (Amazon doesn’t have a planetary romance category, alas). Nine months after the book’s release, we’ve sold just shy of 2000 copies — from a first time novelist, a brand new publisher, and in a sub genre for which we’re told there’s no market.

    Maybe the novel is a fluke. We’ll see when the second book in the series comes out next week (yes, I’m stoked). And we’ll see again when the third book follows a few months later. If it’s not a fluke and both books sell well, each one will be further proof that the trad publishers are publishing what they want rather than what readers want.

    It dawns on me that this could read like a publicity push for my book(s), which wasn’t my intention. No, I won’t complain if you all rush off to buy the books, but I was really just offering a bit of my own personal experience.

    1. And the name of your novel is?
      I ask because nothing shows on Amazon as a book by H L Vogel that matches your description.
      And inquiring minds want to know!

      1. Well, since you asked! The novel is _Scout’s Honor_ and under the name Henry Vogel (which, it happens, is my actual name — search on it and you’ll find some of the comic books I wrote back in the day). The second novel, when released (aiming for upload on Feb. 1), is titled _Scout’s Oath_. Sticking with the theme, the third novel (written, cover drawn, currently in editing) is _Scout’s Duty_.

        Thanks for the interest!

  3. ? I thought the point of Sad Puppies was to get “excellent books by writers who would never otherwise be considered for a Hugo” on the Hugo ballot? Maybe the sad puppies need to sit down with each other and decide whether they’re trying to expose the Hugo voters to excellent conservative SF or whether they’re trying to piss everyone off by calling us prejudiced (and saying we vote for books we don’t even like, and saying we don’t want people to read and taunting some of us for being disabled) and then take their resulting loss in the popularity contest as proving we’re biased.

    It’s no skin off my nose, but the people on the “excellent conservative science fiction” side might like a word with you before you muddy the water for them.

    1. I believe what you are advocating here is that Sad Puppies engage in groupthink.
      That’s rather the antithesis of Sad Puppies, I believe.

    2. You’ve not been paying attention.

      Primary purpose of Sad Puppies was a test to see if there was a strong political bias to the award. That was rather conclusively shown. This lead to little surprise on the part of the Sad Puppies crew.

      A secondary purpose was to see if there was any overt rigging in the process. The Author Who Was an Auditor (Larry Correia) looked at the numbers he had access to and decreed that there was no evidence of rigging. The results were as the votes were cast. This led to much rejoicing.

      Another secondary purpose was to see if they could get actual solid authors who weren’t in line with the political bias awards. This tied in with the primary purpose as, if you’re not going to try and get authors that go against the bias you are testing awarded awards then you can’t test the bias. A raw statistical analysis of the recent years implied the bias and it was on the basis of that analysis that the experiment was suggested. (This was how they were testing the hyphothesis of ‘The Hugoes are biased towards X and away from Y’ so ‘get Y nominated and see how it fairs as well as gauging other reactions from the usual decision making group.)

      You’d do well to actually read all the material on it, including the comments sections. Monster Hunter Nation site has a good chunk of it. I know less about this round. I have had other things on my plate, though it seems, having proven their point last time, they are now out to change the results and bring the awards back to something that resembles a merit award rather than a politically motivated one.

    3. Nice try Cat. The no skin off my nose part was really good spin – considering you pop up and make pro-establishment comments when the the Hugos are mentioned and not much between. I’m not ‘calling us prejudiced’: I have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a political bias in the awards (go back in the MGC archive and look at ‘A very surprised looking sperm whale and a bowl of petunias.). So: Cat, you tell us then: what do YOU call people who nominate and vote, year after year after year, for one side of the political spectrum to win in category after category, despite the fact that two sides are more or less equally balanced in the population, and that there is no historical evidence that the left are better writers of sf? Are you saying you’d like us to pretend that there is no bias? I might have felt some small vestige of sympathy for the WorldCon Hugo voter in prior years who looked at the Noms and assumed that really that was a fair selection of sf. But it’s been brought up – for at least 4 years now that it isn’t. So what do you call a voter who knows there is a strong historical bias (whether it is to left, right, or for women, or against) and STILL chooses to re-enforce that? Come Cat, we’d all like to know?

      As Pat puts it below: we’re terrible at doctrinaire ‘thinking’ and consensus, but as I recall Larry Correia did comment that I’d got it

      Wyrdbard provides a better summary below.

    4. Well, notice that even your version doesn’t include the phase “and win”. And unless good books and then even better books are nominated it can’t possibly work to illustrate that “roaring good story” doesn’t count unless it promotes right thinking.

  4. There’s a very simple point to be made which, while all the others are perfectly valid, I believe renders them superfluous. I illustrate it with this tiny fable.

    In my story, The High T Shebang, I have the main character — female, probably what you might call a third generation feminist (in that she hews to the word, if not the spirit of the original women’s liberation idea) refer to doctrinaire leftists on the college campus where she lives and works (much world-building background to be inserted here) as metrosexuals and feminazis. My alpha reader — a darling lady who is, nevertheless, a SJW of the first water — objected on the basis of: “You really don’t want to alienate half of your readership.”

    To which I responded that my MC’s perspective, far from alienating half my readership, is embraced and supported by the overwhelming majority — perhaps as high as 80% — of the potential market. It is, in short, THE majority opinion, and — to boot and not to put too fine a point on it — objectively correct. Far from alienating the readership, I am convinced, eventually, it will draw more interest from them.

    Long-short: we’re right; they’re wrong.


    1. I’ve made a conscious decision to write stories about people who are well adjusted, productive, functional members of the norm. This might sound odd coming from an Odd, but I’m an Odd that’s spent too much time on public transportation observing the marginally functional to have any romantic notions about living on the fringes. If a character walks onto the page with other ideas that is fine, but I utterly refuse to check boxes just because a small minority of potential readers can’t imagine diversity unless it dances across the front of the stage naked.

  5. Cat: You seem to be missing the point. “excellent books by writers who would never otherwise be considered for a Hugo” is what you put up to prove that the game is rigged. The two go hand in hand. If Larry had put up drek, then the negative vote would be justified because, it wasn’t good in the first place. ” because the whole thing is being filmed and broadcast, and will lead to the sport being damaged in the public eye, more severe controls and possibly the death of the sport.” That is what the SFWA did in public and that is what will destroy the SFWA, not Science or Speculative Fiction. And that is what Dave is pointing out, it is your world view of the Hugo that is in question, not the fiction.

    1. After this comment and others in reply to ‘Cat’ lying in limbo for hours as Cat is wont to do; I resolve that I shall no longer reply to the great abyss of understanding. Said troll never does more than leave a self righteous facade of misinterpretation before vanishing for another two or three weeks. At least the Captain Carnage did stay to fight even though he/she had no ammunition.

      1. It failed to accommodate my disability of being allergic to that bullshit, so I figured it was just taunting me, and didn’t need to be addressed.

  6. What gets me about the Hugos last year was the fact that I read way too many blog posts/comments from the other side about how they weren’t even going to read the works of the Sad Puppies slate because they’re ideas were offensive. Way to be fair guys. The fact that they didn’t believe in the politics of the author doesn’t mean that the stories were bad. But whatever, it’s the left. Since when was it a good idea to expect intellectual honesty from them?

    1. Masgramondou, I think it is often a contrived, willful ignorance – or in another word, denial. They’ve made up their minds and won’t let glaring obvious facts confuse them.

      1. This feline hairball apparently didn’t notice that acting on the need to work in something about the disabled weakened the rest of the argument.

        Assuming the stuff on Larry’s is representative, and I think it is, to find something like that, one would need search enough to find out about Larry’s history. Okay, understanding enough about what practicing accounting and auditing well require of a person’s wiring is a measure of intellectual capacity. It should be possible for even a fairly stupid and ignorant person to understand that a numerate person who does strange things with numbers might be driven by unknowable forces to get more numbers.

        There are two possibilities for complaints about speech regarding the disabled.

        The first are those colorfully tactfully explaining that including a disabled whiner who plays social manipulation games is not going to mean a fig to those who mostly overcome their disabilities by ignoring that bullshit. There are a number of reasons to blow raspberries at the idea that including a disabled character is magic for helping the disabled. One is that those who do it for that reason tend to pick mindsets for those characters that do not represent anywhere near all disabled. Anyone who has faced the challenge of real hardship is not going to that hurt by someone saying this on the internet.

        The other possibility is a type of statement that Fail Burton sometimes makes. It is not particularly taunting to note that people associated with a certain type of noise have admitted to having a certain diagnosis. Especially if that diagnosis is one where, in extreme cases, or with poor life choices, there is a tendency to make that sort of noise for no rational reason at all.

        I have some irreconcilable differences with him. I think his analysis is flawed. I think he may not be capturing all the important information.

    2. I seem to recall a study that showed that Conservatives were MUCH more capable of understanding the motivations of Liberals than the other way around.

      1. Yes, I read that study too. Well, it makes sense ATM. Their position tends to rest on ‘my enemy is a stupid redneck, and therefore must wrong’ and insulating themselves from finding this is not true.

  7. I just posted my review of Peter Grant’s ‘Take The Star Road’ (he was next in the rotation). Five stars, but the review is titled “Brilliant poetry, pushing the boundaries of the African expatriate experience, a modern seppuku of sound.”

  8. I enjoyed reading about the Reverend Joy – and the small town. Sweet story.

    PS I don’t read cozies, so I left a review that will sound like someone who doesn’t know the conventions, but I had no trouble with a man writing a woman Anglican priest. I liked her a lot, and her gentle hand with her faith.

    1. Thank you for that,It seemed fair to me. I am always very wary about reading Amazon reviews – but those for Joy have been remarkably positive – which, as I say for a book I made the mistake of writing from one POV (I started that way, and by the time I realized it was a mistake, and making things very hard for myself, it was too late) I am quite pleased with the character 🙂 even though it was very hard to BE her (which, um, I had to try to be).

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