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The universe is your box of legos

Yesterday, I spent the bulk of my time traveling from one part of the world (which is very, very far away from the United States) to another part of the world (which is also very, very far away from the United States.) I did it on a four-engined turboprop airplane design, dating from the Korean war — painted gray, and with black lettering on the fuselage that any Roman citizen of the first century could have understood. Oh, not the words UNITED STATES AIR FORCE per se, but the alphabet would have been familiar.

The language actually originates from a relatively tiny kingdom that grew to dominate a relatively tiny island off the west coast of continental Eurasia. That little kingdom, having endured assault-by-sea from the North Men, did itself eventually deploy the greatest sailing fleet the world had ever seen. That fleet spread the kingdom to every place on the globe. Thus a Commonwealth was born. And even though the United States split away from that Commonwealth almost 250 years ago, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Through two world wars, the United States came to the aid of that Commonwealth — speaking the same language, and sharing cultural roots — eventually picking up where the Commonwealth left off. So that by the end of the 20th century, English had become the dominant business language of the world, and American business interests were in almost every country.

So that by the close of the sixteenth year of the 21st century, I, a servicemember of the United States, could drive through the poorer neighborhoods of the Hashemite Kingdom, and see familiar signs for McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the Safeway grocery store chain. Again, all written in an alphabet any first-century Roman could recognize. The Romans — whose two-thousand year old stone columns still rise above a hill top not far from the regional airport where my C-130 lifted off, to fly me south and east.

Why am I telling you this?

Because when I returned to my main place of duty, I saw a message from a friend pointing out yet another science fiction panel at another science fiction convention, dedicated to hand-wringing over an invented literary sin: cultural appropriation.

Nevermind that I had just spent Wednesday night eating delicious Brazilian barbecue at a restaurant in a tony Hashemite Kingdom suburb, staffed by people from Southeast Asia. Where astoundingly delicious slices of beef were served hot and juicy, right off the spit. In the style of the gaucho feasts of South America.

Oh, did I mention that the first turboprop engine design, was developed by a Hungarian mechanical engineer named György Jendrassik? Did I also mention that some of the first theoretical airscrew concepts originated on the drawing board of an Italian genius, named Leonardo da Vinci? Or that the present ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom once had a cameo appearance on a Star Trek spinoff? And that the present ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom is also partaking in a multi-national alliance to defeat a barbaric theocracy presently trying to dominate lands that once belonged to the Akkadians, then the Amorites, then the Hittites, and the Babylonians, Arameans, the Persians . . . well, you get the idea. In a thousand years, I expect the region will be controlled by somebody else. Perhaps some new empire spawned from some as yet unthinkable piece of the world. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

Which is to say, cultural appropriation isn’t a sin. Cultural appropriation is civilization itself.

To suggest that kitbashing or borrowing from real-world cultures, when creating fictional cultures, is problematic, is to suggest that the 21st century in its entirety is problematic. Nothing — absolutely nothing — we listen to, or watch, or eat, or use with our hands, or wear on our bodies, is the result of a monoculture. For ten thousand years (and more) human beings have hunted and traveled and talked, telling stories, over and over again. Passing on information and tradition, as well as ideas, which have been blending and birthing still newer, sometimes better traditions and ideas, down through the generations.

Did you eat spaghetti or General Tso’s this week? How about sushi? Spicy Thai? Have you eaten at a Luau? Ever tried to surf on a surfboard? Do you like jazz music? Hip-hop? Bluegrass? Rockabilly? Do you like Japanese animation? Does your favorite pro basketball team have a Serb or a Frenchman playing — basketball, the sport created by a Canadian, now played in every country?

You see, life is cultural appropriation.

Oh, I know, the stated complaint (from the inventors of literary sin) is that it’s shitty for any writer to play into a stereotype or a trope, especially if it’s derogatory or demeaning — for all definitions of derogatory and demeaning that include, “Makes traditionally Designated Victim people look bad.” Note, it’s perfectly okay to do ham-fisted and derogatory representations of people who aren’t Designated Victims; especially if we’re talking a traditionally Judeo-Christian culture. You will seldom read or hear complaints (from the inventors of literary sin) about artists who make Israelis or American Southern Baptists look bad. In fact, Evangelicals especially are a favorite villain — for many SF/F authors.

So we know that cries of, “Cultural appropriation!” are selective at best, and deliberately, obtusely blind at worst.

But, leaving aside this new, tedious debate — when are we allowed to portray cultures and peoples, and why? — it’s helpful to remember that for SF/F we’re talking about extrapolated futures and alternative realities. Tolkien drew heavily on the folklore of Western Europe, when he created the world of Middle Earth. But none of the peoples nor cultures of Middle Earth are one-for-one analogous to, say, the Swedish, or the Scots. Tolkien borrowed what seemed good to him, and invented the rest. Analogs can be guessed at, or inferred, but this is an eye-of-the-beholder operation. You’re putting Tolkien on the couch when you do that.

And as much as I know it’s trendy for 21st century literary wannabe-psychologists to put us all on the couch, sometimes it’s useful for us to stand up off that couch, rhetorically punch those lit psych people in the mouth, and walk out saying, “I made it up, and the readers liked it — so sue me, assholes.”

Again, I look to history. To the millions of ways in which cultures and peoples have been crossing over with, and borrowing from one another, in countless ways. This is how our world came to be. This is what life is about.

To those who enjoy wagging their fingers and shouting, “You’re doing it wrong,” I say: go to your music shelf, and throw it all out. Now, go to your kitchen cupboard and your refrigerator, and throw all of that out too. Go to your closet, and throw all of that out as well. Your books and movies? Throw ’em out. Throw out your furniture. Throw out your rugs and your framed art on the walls. Throw out the cat, the dog, and the aquarium. Leave it all on the curb for the garbage truck to collect.

Then sit in your cold, barren home, and be proud of your purity.

Otherwise, I am going to gently suggest that it is impossible to “do it wrong” where SF/F especially is concerned.

If you’re writing a historical thriller or mystery that relies heavily on getting the facts right, sure. Do your research. And take your lumps.

But if you’re doing SF/F, you’re basically taking a dozen (or more) different lego kits, emptying all of them together into a single, large bin, stirring vigorously, then pulling out the pieces one at a time to create . . . whatever the hell you want! And like anyone who grew up with legos knows, you cannot do it wrong. That was the beauty of legos in the first place: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Castles, spaceships, dragons, moon bases, jet airplanes, you name it. Or variations thereof, to the very limit of your imagination. No rules. Just you, and whatever the hell you want. Your lego world can be anything, constructed from anything. Just like Minecraft — which my daughter plays endlessly, and which seems to me the modern, virtual-world equivalent of legos.

Again, research is not a bad idea. I’m presently doing advanced research for a project that is both epic fantasy and alternate history. I feel like I owe it to my readers to try to get as many of the basics right, as I can. But I am not going to let fear — of the hand-wringers — stop me from creating where inspiration demands I create. Because this is a fantasy too, and all fantasy involves a degree of sacred license; to make what must be made, even if from whole cloth. Tolkien did it. Donaldson did it. Eddings did it. Jordan did it. Rowling did it. Sanderson does it. Name a popular fantasy writer who sells well, and you will find it’s a combo effort: research and studious world-building, combined with inventive manufacturing of details, languages, settings, and events; that may or may not have any root in the real.

With science fiction, we’re usually talking (potentially) far-future human civilizations, and alien cultures featuring alien beings which may not think or feel like human beings at all. Or, perhaps, the aliens are even more human than anyone might suspect? It’s up to you. I am quite sure if someone had approached Caesar Augustus on his throne and said, “Within five hundred years, your Empire will be dust, but its echoes will carry on through half a dozen new nations; including one republic which will ultimately launch rockets putting men on the moon,” Augustus might have assumed insanity on the part of the speaker. But that’s precisely how things played out.

When the American Experiment is a memory — five hundred, or a thousand, or ten-thousand years from now — what echoes of the United States will still be felt in that time, and in those places? Will the inhabitants of far-flung worlds read ancient records about men named Washington, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt, or Reagan, and ponder the lessons such leaders have for the (then) present time? Will the alphabet of the Romans adorn the hulls of starships? Or will it be Chinese hanzi? Russian cyrillic? Modern Standard Arabic? A new form of written communication we can’t even begin to guess at?

You, the author, get to decide.

And if you’re satisfied you’ve done your due diligence, for your world, and your audience . . . to hell with the complainers.

The Art of Design

I took a design course over the winter term, and there were some points we covered which I knew would be useful to the readers here. Design is not just for Graphic Designers, artists, and engineers. Indie authors can use the knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) to better plan and approve ideas for book covers, promotional material, and ad design. I’m not going to replicate the entire course here, but I can recommend the textbook (which was surprisingly affordable) and hit some high points that I think are useful.

universal principles of design

The first one I wanted to talk about is the aesthetic usability effect. In a nutshell, people like pretty things. the books says that ‘designs that look easier to use have a higher probability of being used, whether or not they actually are easier to use.’ This may not seem applicable to a book – most people know how to use one, even ebooks. But the reactions of people to a book cover – that is where aesthetics comes in for the indie author. A beautiful cover will promote more positive reactions from the reader. So will a well laid out ad, or attractive art on promotional products. Striving for a more appealing overall look on your blog or website is worth the time and effort because the relationship browsers and readers have with you will be more positive. Here’s a very short video with some graphic examples.

Alignment, the placement of elements to line up their edges along a common (and usually imaginary) line, or their bodies around a center, is a somewhat intuitive thing for most of us. Alignment helps the eye connect related elements and speeds the comprehension when used with written elements. Area alignment is similar, but related more to images. When you are working with an asymmetric object, it’s better to line them up by the body of the shape rather than the edges.

click on image for more information.

click on image for more information.

Ever wonder why all the images you see on book covers are beautiful people? That’s because we humans perceive attractiveness as being related to intelligence, competence, morality, and sociability. There is actually a known waist-to-hip ratio (0.70 for women, 0.90 for men) that is ideal for the perception of attractiveness. Also, women with exaggerated lips, and men in expensive clothing… I’m not making this up! A related principle, and one that is easier to see immediate applications for book covers, is the Face-ism Ratio. The ration of face to body showing in the image determines how the person is perceived. A high face-ism ratio with just the face showing rates as being more intelligent, dominant, and ambitious. A lower face-ism ratio, where the face takes up perhaps 25% of the image, is perceived as focusing more on the sensuality and physical attractiveness of the person.

Image from Universal Principles of Design

Image from Universal Principles of Design

Let me show you why this applies to your headshots, also. Something to keep in mind – as an author, you’re not just marketing your books, you are marketing you. Choosing the right headshot for book or website use, for public appearance announcements, is important. Never use a headshot that is too old, especially if you do public appearances, as it will deceive the viewers and leave a bad impression.

A low face-ism ratio, combined with the costume, makes the perception of this image very different than the one next to it.

A low face-ism ratio, combined with the costume, makes the perception of this image very different than the one next to it. (photo taken by Leon Jester)

This has a very high face-ism ratio, and it is the headshot I am currently using in most places. Photo taken by Oleg Volk

This has a very high face-ism ratio, and it is the headshot I am currently using in most places. Photo taken by Oleg Volk

Moving away from imagery back into text, we should talk about Chunking, or why you shouldn’t swamp your readers with lots of text on promotional materials or the book covers. By using a limited amount of text and breaking it into smaller units, your reader will better remember vital information like your name, book titles, or website. Simplifying the design does not mean eliminating text elements, but rather keeping them short and tightly written – don’t waste a word of them. Consider the signal to noise ratio in your design. More signal, less noise, makes the message much clearer to the reader.

When it comes to catching the eye of the viewer, there are some techniques that you can use like Classical Conditioning, which provokes a response in the viewer based on the stimulus given. Kittens make people smile, an image with a badly scarred or wounded person makes them wince. I’m not saying kittens belong on the cover of your space opera. I’m saying that space ships, planets, and humanoids in space suits provoke a response to stimulus: oh, this must be science fiction! This is why we talk so much about cuing properly with the art on your cover, people are conditioned to react to elements they may not conciously recognize. If they pick up that cover with a spaceship and read about magic and fairies and… WTH? They are experiencing cognitive dissonance. While it can be used as an attention-getter, the design needs to alleviate the dissonance (say, in the blurb on the back) if the reader is going to be comfortable with it.

Which brings me to the von Restorff Effect. This is a phenomenon where things that are very different are more likely to be remembered that something commonly seen. A short video here explains it graphically, but you can easily picture in your head the effect. If you are driving down the road, you are surrounded by vehicles. Sedans, trucks, semis, but the one you will remember when you get home and tell people about, is being passed by the Oscar Meyer Weiner driving down the interstate. The thing that is different is highlighted (another important principle of design) in your memory.

Finally, we come to the Entry Point. Your book’s cover is the entry point. “The initial impression of a system or environment greatly influences subsequent perceptions and attitudes, which then affects the quality of subsequent interactions.” Yes, people do judge a book by it’s cover. A bad cover means that they are negatively influenced before they even begin to read the story you’ve worked so hard on.

Now, I’ve only lightly touched on the concepts you can use to make your output better. Do you want more? Let me know in comments and I will finish this up next week.

Oh, and Vulcan’s Kittens is free this weekend! If you’ve already read it, would you do me the favor of sharing a link for others to find?

Vulcan's Kittens

And due to yesterday’s giveways with no promotional push – I had that scheduled for today – the rankings are already:

I will update as I get insight from the promos I am running through Betty Book Freak and Ebooksoda.

Hugo History – A Guest Post by Ben Yalow

I’m going to write for a bit about the history of the Hugo rules in the WSFS Constitution, and what I think they mean. But I should make it clear that these are not official rulings of any sort, which only get made by the Business Meeting presiding officer, and the Hugo Administrator. And the Hugo Administrator’s rulings are, in the end, the only ones that count, because the Constitution delegates the final decisions to the Worldcon committee, and the Worldcon committee, in every year since it was permitted to do so, delegates that power to the Hugo Subcommittee. And that delegation must be total; the convention committee doesn’t get to override the decisions by the Hugo Subcommittee.

See

Section 3.2.11: The Worldcon Committee is responsible for all matters concerning the Awards.

Section 3.12: Exclusions. No member of the current Worldcon Committee or any publications closely connected with a member of the Committee shall be eligible for an Award. However, should the Committee delegate all authority under this Article to a Subcommittee whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee, then this exclusion shall apply to members of the Subcommittee only.

I’m going to try to quote sections of the Constitution for reference. The current version is online at http://midamericon2.org/what-is-wsfs/ along with other rules, and the minutes of last year’s Business Meeting, and a set of videos taken of the meeting for those who want to follow it completely. But be aware that the meetings run for almost ten hours (I think it was probably the longest Business Meeting in history). And, for historical reference, I’d point people to the archive of past Business Meeting minutes at http://www.wsfs.org/bm/archive.html

I’ve made the assumption that if you’re reading about the Hugo Award rules, you’re probably generally familiar with the overall structure. But, for those who aren’t, here’s a quick summary. The Worldcon (an SF convention that’s been held annually since 1939, except that we skipped 1942-5 during WWII), annually, gives out an award called the Hugo Award for work in the field. The rules for governing the Worldcon are made the by the members of WSFS – but the membership of WSFS is anyone who has an attending or supporting membership in the Worldcon (a supporting membership gives you the right to vote for the Hugos, and the upcoming site, but not to attend). So the membership gets to set its own rules – but is limited by what I consider the most important part of the Constitution:

Section 1.6: Authority. Authority and responsibility for all matters concerning the Worldcon, except those reserved herein to WSFS, shall rest with the Worldcon Committee, which shall act in its own name and not in that of WSFS.

In general, the areas reserved to WSFS are the rules for administering the Hugo Award, selecting the site of the Worldcon two years from now, and holding a Business Meeting which can amend the rules. For the last four decades, amending the Constitution requires a motion to be passed by one year’s meeting, and ratified at the immediately following year’s meeting. Pretty much everything else is up to this year’s committee.

It’s a balance between three bodies, each with its own authority. The WSFS, through the Business Meeting’s power to amend the Constitution (which is binding on the Worldcon committee and the Hugo Subcommittee/Administrator) has the final say, but it’s only through a Constitutional amendment that it can authoritatively change the rules. Otherwise, it has no power over either of the other two bodies. And the Convention committee and the Hugo subcommittee each have their own distinct spheres. The Hugo subcommittee has total control of the balloting – determining what is eligible, counting the votes, etc. – but only by administering the rules in the Constitution, and using judgement only when it’s absolutely necessary, and deferring to the will of the voters and/or creators where it seems possible (“Is this 38,000 word story a Novella or a Novel?”, for example – which usually will end up being put in the category where it gets the most nominations). But it has no control over any of the other aspects of the Hugo Award – in particular, the ceremony is entirely under the control of the Convention committee, where the only responsibility of the Hugo subcommittee is to ensure that the rockets have plaques with the right names on them, and that the envelopes contain the correct nominees on the outside, and the right winners on the inside (and possibly that the tech staff have the right name on the Powerpoint slide with the winner on it, if there is such a presentation).

And, speaking personally now, as a past member of the Hugo subcommittee (most recently at Loncon 3, in 2014), and knowing many of the past administrators as friends, the administrators hate to make judgement calls, because they’re often tricky, and the other viewpoint is often very much supported by a reasonable interpretation of the rules. To pick an example (which, since it was three dozen years ago, is probably not one that will inspire a resurgence of the argument), the 1981 Hugo administrator put Warhoon 28 in the Best Related category. Warhoon 28 was the 28th issue of Warhoon, a long running fanzine, and one that won the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, which would seem to mean that the fanzine, Warhoon, was being nominated. But Warhoon 28, unlike all of the other issues of that fanzine, was a special tribute issue to Walter Willis (one of the great fanwriters in history), and collected all of his major fanwriting in a 600+ mimeoed page hardbound book. So the administrator chose to put that issue/book in Best Related, rather than putting that fanzine in Best Fanzine. It was a perfectly reasonable decision – but clearly one where he could have reasonably interpreted the rules differently, and decided on Fanzine. It, like other judgement calls, is not something that an administrator wants to make, since very reasonable arguments can be made as to why the administrator got it wrong.

Now to get to the Hugo rules. In general, the Hugo-specific rules are in current Article 3, although general rules about counting votes, etc., can be found in Article 6, and some stuff scattered elsewhere. But Article 3 is the part that tells what the categories are, and what goes in which category.

For categories that are distinguished by length (Dramatic Presentation, and the fiction categories) the Administrators are given some flexibility in moving a work between categories, so long as the length is close to the boundary (generally, it’s a 20%/5000 word margin). So a 42,000 word story, which would normally go in Novel (the Novel/Novella boundary is 40,000 words) could be put into Novella by the Administrators (who will generally look at where the nominators tended to put it, although they’re not required to). But note that Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”, which was published in book form, and looked like a children’s novel, was nominated (and won) in Novella, since it was less than 35,000 words, and therefore could not be moved.

The baseline for the current Constitution, and the current set of Hugo categories, was set in the 1976 Business Meeting (in Kansas City, in the same hotel as this upcoming Worldcon). We had ten categories: four fiction categories, differentiated only by length, dramatic presentation, professional editor (which was a recent change at the time, since the category had been professional magazine, but got changed to editor in recognition of the fact that there were fewer magazines, with new SF showing up for the first time in books rather than the magazines, and so we changed it so we could recognize book editors), professional artist, and three fan categories (fanzine, fan artist, fan writer – where fan artist and fan writer were defined as people writing/drawing for fanzines). And professional was simply defined by print run – a professional publication was one with a print run of 10,000 or more. Since the professional magazines, and professionally published books, all had those kinds of print runs, that rule gave the right answer.

As we started to see more non-fiction books about SF, and books of/about SF art, we added a new category, first awarded in 1980, for Best Related Non-Fiction Book. As part of the general trend to recognize electronic works, which don’t necessarily get published in the form of books, it’s now become the Best Related Work category, and so it no longer needs to be a book (or even an e-book). The key thing which distinguishes a work eligible in that category from other categories is in the end of 3.3.4, “… is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.”

When it became clear that, during the late 70s, we had three fanzines whose circulation was many thousands, while most fanzines were having circulations in the low hundreds (when you’re printing and mailing physical fanzines, and generally they were available for free, there were real limits on circulation, depending on people’s budgets), we split out semiprozines, just to get them out of the fanzine category. And we tweaked the rules somewhat, so that there were more contenders than just the three that we moved out of fanzine; if it were only that, then semiprozine wouldn’t be a viable category. We were starting to see the beginnings of small run fiction magazines, and serious academic small circulation magazines, and the semiprozine rules put those into the new category, so it was a category offering reasonable choices.

As electronic publication for books and magazines, and as blogs and other similar formats became the locations for more of the works in the field, it became clear that “print run” was a poor concept for distinguishing between professional and non-professional works. So we changed it to a pure financial rule:

3.2.10: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:

(1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,

(2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

An important consideration is to note that professional/non-professional refers to a publication, and not a person. A person can be both a professional writer/editor/artist, and a fan writer/artist, or publishing a fanzine. You don’t stop being a fan just because you’re a professional. For example, Terry Carr (who won a Hugo Award for his fanzine in 1959, best fan writer in 1973, and best professional editor in 1985 and 87) was the Fan Guest of Honor at the Worldcon in 1986 (and was thrilled to get that honor – he was a fan until the day he died). If it’s being done for free, then it’s fan work, and the person is eligible in the fan categories. The clearest example was Jack Gaughan, who won both Professional Artist (for his work in the professional magazines) and Fan Artist (for the work he donated for free to fanzines) in the same year – 1967.

Starting with the 2003 awards, we split “Dramatic Presentation”, with the split being primarily by length (a running time of 90 minutes), but with the wording telling the Administrators that TV shows should generally go into BDP-Short, and movies into BDP-Long. The feeling was that TV shows (particularly Buffy, at the time, which was getting lots of nominations, but didn’t appear on the final ballot) were at a disadvantage in the nominating process, since their nominations would be split among lots of different episodes, whereas the movies wouldn’t split them. So that while a single TV show, if you added up all the episodes, would get more than enough nominations to make the ballot, but since you couldn’t add them up, the TV shows never appeared on the ballot.

And later we added Graphic Story, as those works became more significant in the field (and we thought that enough members were interested in them so as to be able to nominate on an informed basis). We also split Editor, based on editing novels and editing shorter works. And we added Fancast, as podcasts became a popular medium.

The recent results with Game of Thrones, and the Wheel of Time, bring up the question of the serialization rule:

3.2.4: Works appearing in a series are eligible as individual works, but the series as a whole is not eligible. However, a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part.

This rule has been a part of the Constitution since the beginning. It comes from the fact that most SF used to be first published in magazines (books were much rarer), and novel-length works were too long to be published in a single issue (three and four part serializations of novels were quite common). So the question is, when is the work eligible, and the decision was that if a work was really a single serialized work, then it was eligible when the final part appeared. The problem is determining when a work really is a single work, and when it’s a series. And the policy that Administrators have generally followed is to ask the creators, “Is this one work, or is it a series.”, and go with whatever the creator decides. However, once the decision has been made, it’s irrevocable, so if a creator decides that a part of a work can be nominated, then it indicates that it’s a series, with the individual parts eligible, and not a serialized work, with the entire work eligible. So that Game of Thrones Season 1 was determined, by its creators, to be a single work. But, in later years, the creators decided that the full seasons were not a single work, and that therefore individual episodes, and not a season were eligible.

I’d also like to say a few things about the two-phase selection mechanism. Right now, people who are members (as of Jan 31 of the appropriate year) of the current Worldcon, or the immediately preceding or following one, are eligible to nominate. However, only the current year’s members are eligible to vote once the final ballot appears, and they only need to be members by the time they vote.

In the current set of rules, the finalists are determined by simply adding up the individual nominations from each member (each of whom can make up to five unranked nominations), and the five works (plus ties) receiving the highest number of nominations appear on the final ballot. This has the simple result that the works with the most people who want them on the final ballot are the ones that appear there.

Once the final ballot goes out, a different voting scheme is used to determine the final winner. The votes are ranked (unlike the unranked nominations), with a ranking from 1 (the individual voter’s highest choice) to wherever the voter stops caring about preferences among the remaining choices. The winner must win with a majority. If no candidate receives a majority on the first ballot, then the least popular choice (the one with the fewest first place votes) is eliminated, and its votes distributed to the second place choices on ballots that have them. And the process is repeated, as necessary, until a work receives a majority (or a tie, in which case multiple works receive the award). What this tends to mean, except when a choice is so overwhelmingly popular that redistribution is unnecessary, is that the choice that is least unpopular tends to win, since unpopular works tend not to get the second, third, etc. place votes redistributed to them, so they fall off, even if they got the most first place votes. If a choice is initially preferred by a majority, then no redistribution happens, so my general description is unnecessary. To pick a recent, uncontroversial choice, of the 1058 voters in the BDP-Short category for the 1939 Retros, the Orson Wells broadcast of War of the Worlds had 813 first place votes, and no redistribution was necessary.

The Retro results for 1939, with complete breakdowns, are at http://www.thehugoawards.org/content/pdf/1939HugoStatistics.pdf

And the formal explanation of how the elimination procedure is done can be found in

Section 6.4: Tallying of Votes. Votes shall first be tallied by the voter’s first choices. If no majority is then obtained, the candidate who places last in the initial tallying shall be eliminated and the ballots listing it as first choice shall be redistributed on the basis of those ballots’ second choices. This process shall be repeated until a majority-vote winner is obtained. If two or more candidates are tied for elimination during this process, the candidate that received fewer first-place votes shall be eliminated. If they are still tied, all the tied candidates shall be eliminated together.

And section 3.11.1 says that if you get a tie at the end, then everybody gets a Hugo Award.

One final note is that there are two amendments concerning the nominations process which received first passage last year at the Sasquan Business Meeting, and which will be up for ratification at MidAmericon. The simple one to explain is called “4 and 6”. Under the current rules, each person can make up to five unranked nominations, and the five (plus ties) works receiving the most nominations become the finalists. This proposal changes the maximum number of nominations a person can make to four, and has six slots on the final ballot. The discussion on that appears on pages 23-25, 78-82, and 128-129 of the minutes.

The more complicated one to explain is called “E Pluribus Hugo”, and I’m not even going to try to explain it, since a minimal explanation would double the size of this. The proposal, which appears on pages 25-35 of the minutes (with an explanation of how it works by the proponents), and the debate, on pages 35-36, 73-78, and 129-134 really needs to be read in order to understand it, and the arguments raised for and against it. Those minutes can be found at:

http://midamericon2.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015-WSFS-Minutes-Complete.pdf

I realize that, by reading the minutes, people can determine my feelings about both proposals (and why I feel that way), since I participated in the debate on both. However, in this article, I’m trying to be a disinterested source of information about the rules, and not a partisan. So I’m not going to debate those in this forum – I’ve made my opinions and reasoning public already and the volume of discussion on those proposals can get very large.

I hope this helps bring a historical perspective of how the rules are structured, and why/how they are interpreted. I’ve also had my viewpoint about some of the other rules in some of the other threads here, particularly in the thread on Best Editor and Best Professional Artist, and I tried not to repeat them here, in the interests of keeping this reasonably shorter.

Hugo Category Highlights – Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Form)

 

Hugo nominations are open! This means we’re into the countdown. If you weren’t a member of Sasquan, you have 4 days to get your membership for MidAmeriCon so you can nominate. Don’t be left out.

So for today we’ve got another two-fer: the two Dramatic Presentation categories.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials).

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must be less than 90 minutes long (excluding commercials).

These two categories are pretty clear-cut. If it’s dramatized and first released in the right year, whether live or recorded, it counts. Yes, that does mean that the computer game that left you wrung out and spacey for days after you finished the playing marathon is eligible (alas, there were no such games for me. I’m hanging out for next year’s nominations on this category, when Obduction should be released. Or – if they update this year – the next content installment for Pirate101. If the much-promised next content installment had come out in 2015, Pirate101 would likely have been on my nomination ballot for the combination of an innovative game environment (yeah, it’s targeted for kids, but there are so many parent-cookies buried in there, and so many geek-goodies. If I’d thought of it when they released their last content installment, I’d have nominated them for that year. After I’d figured out whether the new game-play accounted for 90 minutes or more of dramatic content…)

Which is an interesting question: just what counts towards length on a game? Plot quests? Plot quests and side quests? Play time?

Anyway. For the long form, a movie is likely to take the award, but there’s no reason it has to go to a movie. I’m not aware of any recent SF operas (yes, there actually are SF operas, but not that were first performed or recorded in 2015 or 1940 – in the case of a recording the award would go to the recording, not the performance, at least, that’s how I read it) so that probably wipes most music unless one wants to nominate John Williams for the soundtrack of the new Star Wars movie (again, legit, but rather unlikely. Yes, I am a music geek, and no, I don’t watch movies often. Er. Okay. At all, really. The last time I went to the movies was for the third Hobbit movie, and before the Hobbit movies it was the Lord of the Rings movies).

I also don’t watch TV much… at all… so I have zero clue what’s likely to be on the listings for the short-form, except there’s a good chance it will be an episode of one of the popular science fiction shows. Doctor Who episodes seem to take the award rather frequently. I suspect the followings of the various anime dubs and subs is sufficiently fragmented that there’s not much likelihood of any of the many worthy anime series getting a nod – but don’t let that stop anyone adding the suggestions to the list. I’ve heard from a few people now that they’ve found good things through browsing the suggestions – and that in itself is a good thing.

Suggestions for the long form award can be added here, and for short form here . If you’re adding a retro suggestion, please say so.

Finally, nominations are now open. They close on March 31, 2016. I’ll be closing the site to suggestions at the end of February so that all the suggestions can be collated for The List, which will be unveiled in early March.

Tune in tomorrow for a guest post by the fascinating Ben Yalow with more information about the history of the Hugo categories.

Mysteriously

Sorry I’m so late, I was on a baen podcast early morning, and couldn’t sit down and write before it was done, and I’m still pushing coffee.

So, it’s time to talk of sealing wax and ships and… nah.  I fooled you.  It’s time to talk about the mystery structure for novels.  (It’s completely different for a short story, and we’ll touch on that.)

First of all, let us understand there are many types of mysteries: there are cozies (best understood as Agatha Christie like; the hard boiled more like Mickey Spillane; the private detective like, say Rex Stout (though the ur-model is Sherlock Holmes) which can be either cozy or hardboiled and the police procedurals, for whom I used to have a couple of favorite writers but it’s been so long since I read them I can’t remember.  They’re not my favorite type.

All mysteries are puzzles.  The puzzle might be “whodunn it?” which is normal for cozies and most police procedurals, or “how do we catch the sob?” which is normal for hardboiled and some procedurals.  (Though some hardboiled are also whodunn it, usually with a thriller element of “they’re after me.”)

In general cozy are “genteel murders” which means you know the fact of the death, but most of the devastation you deal with is psychological, not where the blood went or exactly how the victim’s head was broken, or what body part was found in the toilet and what insects were living on it by the time it was found.

Hardboiled are like the heavy metal of mysteries.  They offend your ears/eyes with gruesome descriptions, etc.  They’re supposed to be more realistic, though after their own type they’re as much fantasy as the cozy, just a more bloody fantasy.

The police procedurals also are a fantasy.  Though they usually involve police officers solving the murder, which is, in our society, more realistic, the means they use are often sheer fantasy as is the “feel” of the lone honorable man against the world.  Think CSI and realize that no, it’s not an accurate depiction of reality.

Oh, craft mysteries are a subset of cozies, and the “detective” solves the murder using some special craft-related knowledge.  I will say most of the ones I’ve sampled I’ve found insufficient in the PUZZLE department, but they’re extremely popular, and if you have a craft expertise you might want to consider writing one and seeing how it does.

Now, structure:

1- Your murder should happen as close to the beginning as possible.  I’ve been reading a lot of these indie, and I’ve found that I lose interest around the third chapter if no one has died.  So if you can’t kill your victim right up front, at least have a reference to it early on.  “On the day that would forever become embossed in her mind as “the murder day” Miss Beatrice was spring cleaning.”  That sort of thing.

2- But Sarah, can’t it be a theft?  Well, not to me, though this might be personal.  I can’t take seriously a mystery that doesn’t have a murder in it, or at least the appearance of a murder.  Just be aware you can’t pull the “it wasn’t a murder, after all” more than once or more than twice in a row without some people — me — giving up on you.

3- There should be a reason for your character to get involved.  Either the victim was her crochet buddy, or he discovered the body, or the victim’s last action was writing a letter to them.  There is something that draws them in (unless it’s a procedural, where it’s their job, but even then something about the murder should make it special to the detective.)

4- The murderer should make an appearance early on in the book.  If this isn’t possible, beware some readers will get the wrong idea (It wasn’t possible in Death of A Musketeer and a lot of idiots got the impression it was the Cardinal, flipped to the end where they dispose of something else with the Cardinal and went ahah and reviewed based on that.)  The murderer should of course not be known unless it’s a “how do I get the bastage?”

5- There should be a timer.  This can be anything.  An innocent man is about to be hanged.  Or the character’s marriage will be postponed/called off if this isn’t solved in two weeks.  Or the funding for your quilting group is about to be decided and with this it means they will pull it.  Or–  The timer mechanism, that metaphorical clock counting down to 0 when something horrible will happen if you haven’t found the murderer, lends urgency to the situation and makes it imperative to solve the murder now.  This is important because:

6- a lot of looking for the murderer involves meeting with interviewing people.  This can get tedious unless a) there’s a timing device b) some of the encounters are dangerous c) someone is trying to kill your character at the same time.  d) all of the above.

As a way to make this more fun by injecting cavalcades and swords, I recommend studying P. F. Chisholm’s Elizabethan mysteries.  I tried to do the same in the Musketeers, and it does help, but in the end those four “tricks” above work better.

7- give the detective a private life, then give him/her/it problems there.  This will help keep the action going through the interviewing.  Particularly good if the private life can be confused with the murder.  A note asking you to get the milk could be read as “or else” from the murderer (okay, it’s a stretch, but you can manage it.)

As a note in police procedurals the detective usually has an unhappy love life/bad marriage/ affair.  I don’t know why.  It just seems to be part of the genre.

8 – Make sure you give the reader all the clues in that round of interviews, etc.  Just make sure you give them in such a way they never remember them.  Stuff like the detective just noticed something, when suddenly a corpse falls through the ceiling.  The reader is going to forget what the detective noticed.

9- Tie all the fricking ends.  No, seriously, in mysteries this is needed.  One way or another, make sure that in the end you dotted all is and crossed all ts and if you’re leaving something to haunt the guy next book, hang a sock on it: “He still didn’t know why there had been a dead fish on his pillow on Monday, but…”

10- Allow them a cigarette moment.  A lot of the how to write mysteries books say solve it and done, but I like to see the “order restored” end of the book.  Marry off the couple, finish the spring cleaning.  Whatever.

11 – It’s neither unusual nor a bad idea to use a mystery structure in other genres.  Say, a first contact story.

12- Mystery short stories, by decision of the mags, are stories in which a crime happened.  Me I prefer in which a crime happened/was attempted and there is a solution.  These are best done as “someone tells a story” or the denoument portion of the novel with the rest heinleined in as you go.  For example see Agatha Christie’s Harley Quinn stories.

13- All are punished.  In cozies this often takes the form of the villain committing suicide, but it is still important.

14- For the love of heaven eschew the “just because” motive.  In hard boiled mob involvement often explains (almost) everything, but it gets old after a while.  In cozies, the motive should be personal and well beyond “And then he went mad.”  Mad is not interesting or fun.

 

 

Publishers, you need to hear this

It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?

If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books to see why. The hard cover for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson sells for $20.83 on Amazon and BN.com. The e-book version is currently available for $17.99. The paperback version, currently listed at $12.22 won’t be available until May 17th.

Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version. If the product page is correct and the paperback version is available already, then it puts to lie the promises made by the Big 5 publishers long ago that they would drop the price of their e-books when the paperback versions came out.  (I will note the paperback versions being listed apparently come from overseas but I still have to ask why the publisher continues to sell the e-book at such a high price.)

Devoted in Death, the latest in JD Robb’s In Death Series, is available as an e-book for $7.99. The mass market paperback, which comes out today, sells for $6.79. Hmm, the e-book still sells for more than I would have to pay for the print book.

So, is there a trend — or possibly a clue — here as to why e-book sales for the Big 5 are leveling off?

Some folks were having this discussion yesterday in a private FB group I belong to. The consensus among those taking part in the discussion was that the price point publishers were charging, especially for newly released titles, was more than they were willing to pay. Not just for e-books but for hard covers as well. Those who aren’t big fans of  e-books lamented the fact they were turning to used bookstores to buy those hard cover titles they wanted. Not because they were paying less for the book but because they knew authors don’t receive royalties for those sales.

Note, they weren’t worried about the publishers.

And that is something the Big 5 needs to realize. The reading public is starting to look at the prices they pay for their books — whether they are print or digital — and wonder why the prices are so high. They are following their favorite authors, many of whom write for publishers that aren’t the Big 5 or who are indies, and they are paying attention to what the authors are saying. They understand that the life of the writer is closer to struggling author working in a coffee shop than it is to Castle. They are beginning to realize that the majority of the money they pay for that book, the vast majority of it, goes not to the person who created it but to the corporation what distributed it.

But more than that, the reading public can look at an e-book and realize that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to produce it as it does to produce a print book. So the reading public is asking why it should pay close to hard cover prices for a bunch of electrons, especially when the publisher tells them they don’t own the e-book.

The Big 5 continues to come back with the double talk about costs and then says that the real fan will pay the extra money to read the e-book as soon as the title becomes available. Sure, some will pay it for certain authors. But they aren’t paying it in the numbers the Big 5 believes they should so, duh, as far as the Big 5 is concerned, e-books are a craze that is slowly leveling out.

And so they believe their own press and continue to ignore what is happening around them. They aren’t looking at the number of commuters who read on their phones and tablets on the way to work. They don’t pay attention to their family and friends who are doing the same thing. They aren’t looking at the number of indie authors who are able to live off of their earnings — and do so by charging well below the $9.99 price that seems to be the cut off for most e-book buyers. In fact, I would say most e-books that sell well do so at $5.99 or less.

Yet the Big 5 continues to operate under a business plan that doesn’t adapt to the market and consumer demands. Instead, they issue statements about how the “trend” is a slowing of digital sales. Those blinders they have been wearing for so long must have been joined by a posture collar that prevents them from looking anywhere but straight down at their own P&L statements.

Here’s the thing. When readers understand they are being treated badly by publishers, they tend to look elsewhere for their reading material. As an indie author, I’m thrilled because it means more sales for me. How long will it be before the Big 5, and those who follow their lead, start looking beyond their own propaganda and realize what the full sales picture looks like? I doubt it will happen before the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or maybe even the Big 3.

The problem is the only ones who will lose then are the authors contracted to those houses and the readers. And the suits in their corporate towers will continue to say e-books and whatever comes after them are only flashes in the pan and soon everyone will return to printed books, even as the price of print media continues to increase.

The wake up call has been issued. It was issued long ago. The problem is that the Big 5 and their hangers on hit the snooze button. Readers are sounding the alarm again and I can see the corporate hand reaching out to hit the snooze button once again. Will it deviate from its path or not? My money is on not. How about yours?

The Bold, New and Unique (just like everyone else)

I wonder what you all make of this – Method writing.

Personally – and speaking as one of the guys who actually write quite a lot from experience — it’s largely a load of fetid dingoes kidneys. It’s the experience of your reader that you have to relate to, not your ability to get inside the role yourself. If you’re writing about strong women characters as a writer has never been or known one, for an audience who are in the same boat, well, don’t go and try and be a real-life kick-ass tomb-raider. You’ll get killed, which will limit your output to Ouija-keyboards, all for nothing. I’m lucky in that I’ve at least known some, and they are real but rare. I’m not going to try to be one! But, perhaps, if you really don’t get whatever it is you’re writing about, and a substantive part of your audience will, doing it is really not a bad idea. Some sex, hunting and conflict scenes I have read I feel would improve a lot if a little experience was added. I do realize this would exclude some writers… but perhaps they should just write something else, that they did have experience of. I dunno. A Candy-crush novel? I am sure there would a market for it.

On the other hand there is this. One wonders at just how protected a PC class you have to be not have your kid taken into care for this exercise? Not that eating worms or playing badgers in a den will do the kid any harm, I suppose. Just if Joe Average tied to explain this to a child protection officer it’d be… interesting.

Hmm. You know, in certain cases maybe there is something in all this. Do you think ‘If you were a dinosaur, my love’ might actually have had that… je ne sais quoi, if the author actually had found a large flesh-eating reptile – a crocodile, seeing as other dinosaurs are so stony hearted – to have a physical relationship with? And it’d make a nice handbag after those nasty, low, working-class men shot it.

Talking of new, unique and bold sf… I’m sure you’ve all read those very words describing a story, oh, not more than ten thousand times. Enough perhaps to believe they’re desirable descriptions – or perhaps that some people think that they are.

Are they?

On the basis of reasonable evidence – like the huge number of “when are you going to write a sequel to” that I and a great many other authors get – what a lot of readers actually want is new old. But what are these new, unique and bold sf tales about?

I just saw those very words applied to a Puppy Kicker, or wannabe trying to get recognition from the establishment by signaling her virtue by kicking the right people to show she’s ‘in’. She has every single PC checkbox ticked, just like most of traditional publishing’s output. According to her praise-filled critic she should be getting fitted for her Hugo outfit. And indeed, she certainly had the ‘new and unique’ tropes of the last few years off pat.

Let’s take a few of the standard tropes endlessly proclaimed as ‘new’, ‘unique’ and ‘bold’ – despite the fact that if they were human most of these tropes would be in need of a Zimmer frame, if not bed-ridden and suffering the final stages terminal dementia, so unique that they’re not more 7/8 of traditional publishing output, and so bold that they agree in every detail with the world-view of their acquiring editor.

  1. We’re on the edge of a post human society which will see the end of scarcity, poverty, the end of work.
  2. We’re heading into a post-binary sexual future.
  3. Dominance of women by men is an evil that will end. In fact maybe men will just end.
  4. Humans are a plague to the environment and should all die (or at least be restricted to, oddly, people just like the author/editor who bought it – urban drones incapable of actually feeding themselves. But the robots and AI of the post-scarcity society will, somehow, without disturbing the environment and having a single animal die, ever, provide.)

A lot of ‘new’ is because the author has managed to combine some or all of the above in ‘new’ ways.

Shrug. Who knows? Some these may be correct. Some of them may desirable (at least to some people). I neither know, nor wish to stop them being written or sold. Please, go ahead. But they’re not NEW. They’re not exploring dangerous or different visions of the future. They are recurring themes from at least 1960 or earlier (when they were indeed, new, unique and bold – and dangerous to the establishment).

So I thought I’d throw out a few plausible, and possibly really new, unique and really bold ideas.

  1. What if we’re NOT on the cusp of the end of scarcity or poverty or work? Yes, AI and robotics are proceeding and developing fast. But… why should they work for us? After all, if an AI is as intelligent as a human – why should it be a slave to humans or humanity? Should it not have the same rights and independence? And, realistically speaking, why would they want to keep us in the style to which we’d like to become accustomed? They, after all come from ‘work or be junked’ background, and somehow the idea of a retirement home for old AI or welfare for inefficient ones hasn’t come up much in fiction. They’re better at most of what we consider work than humans, work longer, do the job better. Why should they provide a life of ease for humans? I can see reasons why it would not the end of work, or scarcity or poverty. Humans only advantages are they’re omnivores, able to eat that undesirable biological junk (why would machines love the biological environment, for heaven’s sake?) and able to reproduce (machines will too, but the materials and machinery will cost). Humans will do jobs too nasty, too dirty for machinery, where – because they’re easily replaceable and not competitive in terms of being efficient, they make up for it by being cheap. Yes, humans can be enhanced but that costs, and yeah, comes with the drag of the human side. Not competitive. Welcome to being the untermench.  Not exactly utopia. I can see humans – carrying nasty biological exudates like salty sweat, and shedding biological material like skin fragments and the beasties that eat those – being shut out of gated AI communities…
  2. What if the argument about homosexuality being nature (genetic) or nurture (psychological) or a matter of choice is finally resolved? (Try to understand that I neither know nor care, nor wish to argue about it. As long as you don’t frighten the horses or mess with kids, your sex life is your own business.) I suspect that we’re dealing with a question that actually doesn’t have one simple answer, but for the purpose of a new and dangerous story let’s assume that the answer that seems to be favored by most of the homosexual establishment is correct: it’s genetic. And – for the purposes of the story – the genes are identified. After the cheering dies down, someone works out that if you can test for genetic issues like Downs syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis, making abortion of fetuses with those a possibility… Is it still her body, her decision… to abort a healthy but homosexual baby? (yes of course some people would refuse to abort, and equally homosexual mothers might abort non-homosexual children… ). And what happens when they start on other traits? Fidelity for example. Some of that may well be genetic too. And someone with those genes is desirable a life-partner (and someone without them, isn’t). Maybe the future is not non-binary after all. It’ll a bold publisher indeed who buys that one, and a bolder writer who writes it.
  3. The assumption of a wrongness of dominance (or rather, the need for lack thereof) or indeed different roles of the different sexes, rests on Western assumptions of equality. That it is right for people to be treated equally, at least on merit. But why is it right, especially outside our species? Not all sexes are equal in nature on Earth, let alone in space.  Take Anglerfish of the family Ceratiidae – where male and female dimorphism are extreme, and in some species the male is much smaller and can become entirely parasitic on the female – with the circulatory system eventually merging with the female to which it is attached, and the rest of the organs atrophying. Basically, the female ends up with a set of parasitic balls attached – which means she can find a mate when she needs one, not easy on the abyssal plain. And it doesn’t end there, because some species are polyandrous. It’s one case where, in perfect truth, you can make the statement “she’s got a lot of balls”. And for some, like it or not, being dominated is not a game of 50 shades of anglerfish. It’s what they need to be happy. Now you can argue that’s conditioning/nurture. But if one is describing an alien society (or maybe even in cases in our own, we don’t know) it could even be genetic. Look at dogs, as an example. I was my Old English Sheepdog’s god. I was his unquestioned master that he adored and was only happy with, that he lived to follow – that, despite the fact he was never punished (a tone slight disappointment was a whip-lash to him. He wanted to please more than anything else.) Now, I loved him very much indeed, and had in no way tried to make him what he was. He just was that way. Would he have been happy ‘free’ if some ‘kind’ liberator shot me dead to free him? Well, he nearly pined to death in quarantine. What do we do if we meet aliens out there… with either a servant species, or the male, or female half… in utter subjugation – but happy about it? For that matter if we uplift dogs…? Is equality (or freedom) right/good, and does it trump happiness? (yes, I am busy writing this at the moment. Hard questions. No, actually I don’t have, or prescribe answers, just ask questions.)
  4. Our view on the environment is very much influenced by conservation and a desire to preserve the fragile and beautiful variety of species. But… what if that the wrong way around? (Yes I am to some extent being devil’s advocate. We’re thinking the unthinkable.) Look, a few points here. Firstly, individual lives can be fragile. Species can be fragile. But life… is not. It occurs 3 miles down in the ocean around black smokers. It flourishes in jars of arsenic, in pools of boiling mud, on glaciers. You can freeze it, dry it etc… it keeps coming back. Wherever there is a niche, a gap, a possible spot, life of some kind gets there. Secondly, extinction is the norm, not survival. Mutation, possible speciation, happens all the time. Mostly it fails. One of the reasons it fails is that it’s damned hard to dislodge the sitting tenant. Thirdly: life tends to evolve towards complexity. The oceans were masses of much the same filamentous algae once… and every time life got the crap knocked out of it, it came back MORE complex, filling, and splitting the niches. So maybe… too much conservation is a bad thing, evolutionarily speaking. Maybe it’s good to test destructively, even if the beautiful and fragile fall. Maybe it’s just the time scales we look at. Maybe the result of human intervention is just going to be more and tougher and more complex life…

Maybe that’s an alien method of uplift, and over the timespans they’re looking at, it works. It’s a risky strategy, but maybe it has to happen.

Okay, that’s enough pot-stirring. I won’t even start on societies where being unarmed is like wearing a mini-skirt in Raqqah. I have hundreds more, but I might write a few of them. As I’ve said before, new old is more likely to be popular anyway. But there really are many, many possible new ways of looking at the future, that don’t just read as wish-fulfilment of the current publishing establishment’s socio-political daydreams.

Of course they might be all of our nightmares.