The tyranny of the least flexible

Yes, you are about to persecuted by some idiot with his knees knotted around their neck. If only he’d take to yoga younger in life, they would not be in the position, and neither would you….

Actually, I was referring to a Nassim Taleb article I was pointed at. It was an interesting perspective – although, being me, I feel there are several things I thought he oversimplified or just plain left out, as well as parts I thus disagree with. To summarize: a society (or any system) fits in with the least accommodating that it retains. So society has to change their toilet stance because 0.01% of the population insist on being able to go to the toilet assigned to the sex they feel like they are today, because they won’t change their point of view, and at least part of society – that part which is in power is determined to accommodate them at all costs – and a large part of the population don’t care. Or, to put it another way – the lowest common denominator – education in a class who all have to pass is limited to the speed at which the dimmest can learn – because the dimmest cannot go any faster, but the brighter kids can go slower, and even if they are bored, still pass.

Taleb briefly mentions the cost factor (in terms of the Halal / Kosher) issue, where obliging these customers means de facto that manufacturers make more money making it worth it, because people who abide by Kosher or Halal rules will now buy their product, and the rest of their clientele are flexible and don’t care – and most importantly the added cost is slight, and the customer largely doesn’t know the difference.

He goes on to explain how time (and geographical spread) eventually means the most inflexible eventually wins, and cites a number of historical examples. There are two things he doesn’t mention, and they inter-relate.

The first is boiling a frog (or a lobster) slowly (his examples actually show how gradualist this process is).

And the second relates to the first. There are many examples of an intolerant minority attempting resist or force a change which get squashed like bugs. Logic says this is the case or we’d be extinct the cave in the Rift valley, in the dark, because Aunty Ugg thought this newfangled fire thing was just evil (like puppies) and was loud and vehement in her objection – and to keep the clan peace Uggly (a relation of mine) did not kick the old bag out the cave, or tell her to shut up and eat her singed meat – before she was next singed.

Of course, to be different and unusual and totally unexpected – as this is writing blog, I thought I’d relate this to… writing, both to the industry in general, and to writing as in what we individuals do. It’s fairly obvious that traditional publishing is very subject to the tyranny of the most inflexible and intolerant. Certainly, over the last 50 years, most readers didn’t care what the race, or sex, or sexual orientation or politics of a writer was. They would read the blurb, look at the cover… buy the book. If they enjoyed it they might seek out that author again. But as Larry Correia fisked so elegantly here: there is a small, intolerant, inflexible minority who will make a great deal of noise about it – and will be (or rather have been) appeased. Appeasement of course never works. Give everything they asked for, and they’ll be back next week making more demands, winning by accretion (the only way to break this cycle is quid pro quo where any concession is matched by the other side – but that’s a longer, more complex post with little to do with writing).

The point here is that the noisy, aggressive and inflexible minority are operating according to a system they know works – as Taleb points out, it has often succeeded. In fact has a roughly 50 year track record of success for them. I think many of them believe the lobster is virtually dead and they can turn the heat up to max. Hmm. I think they may be being a trifle impatient myself. I think a scalded and thus really angry lobster is due on the scene real soon now…

As I’ve explained before taking politics: Once, you had a situation where 74% of the customers would mostly buy any books but 26% would only buy from their own, which reflected their views. If you were in publishing it made sense (regardless of your own position) – sell books from the 26%, which pleased the 26% – that way you had a better chance at 100%. As the gatekeepers were part of the 26% everyone was happy, or at least everyone who mattered.

However, as Taleb points out: “if the manufacturing of Kosher lemonade cost substantially more, then the rule will be weakened in some nonlinear proportion to the difference in costs.”

Given the huge overhead in keeping the 26% and their NYC enablers happy being high – the difference between a trad e-book and an Indy e-book… I can see the product only mostly selling to the 26%, even if the content was palpably the same. It isn’t of course, I – for instance — don’t care deeply about appeasing the 26%, but do care about the rest. The 26% are not my customers anyway, and probably would not be. This is starting to result in obvious differences, and indeed the exclusion being applied, but in reverse.

Interesting times. A ghetto in which people are prepared to pay that premium might be the best Trad publishing can hope for. It will, de facto, be able to carry far, far fewer writers and publishers – at best 1/3 of the present load. As a writer, there start to be serious advantages in not being in it, although there will be a market to their own inside it.

Looking at this from the writer’s point of view, being intransigent with a customer who doesn’t have to buy your work can be… terminal for your career. Yes, I know a la Ghostbusters Remake you can try to scold your audience into paying to see you or they’re vile sexists etc. But well, it didn’t work for the prohibition, and didn’t work for them. It didn’t work very well for Chuck Wendig and his Starwars franchise story either. Chuck was being a smart cookie (I think anyway), backed by at least some of the traditional publishing establishment – not with the gay angle, but with the second person present tense… If he’d got enough readers used to that… well, it shuts down the readers to third or first person past tense. One grows used a form (it’s a one-way filter, if the newer books are written like this. In time it will win). In that way, well he’d have successfully eliminated the ease of reading for a lot of readers for a huge body of historical and rival works. As a writer… there goes my pension. As readers, there goes a huge volume of used and cheap books. I don’t wish him the best in this.

My own take –as a writer, on the lowest common denominator issue is that it is possible for a skilled writer to write at a number of levels. I’ve been accused of writing ‘Airplane’ reads. That’s good. That means the dumb bunnies saying this could at least grasp that level and follow the story and, it seems enjoy it enough to follow it. As to the rest, so long as I don’t bore them, and they can find other take-aways to please… well, that is some success. And as an airplane read I’ve helped some people recover from the TSA. I should be a happy camper.

Talking of some success, the short list for the Dragon Awards are out. Now: an award’s prestige and relevance are derived not created de novo from the award itself – if someone decided to have an Oguh Award, and hand out plastic craters to the works that they felt deserved it… well, it would depend heavily on 1)How many people were involved and cared who won an Oguh. 2) Who won the Oguh? If it’s Jolene Neverherdofit, with 15 votes in Nomination and a judge (her lover and publisher) selecting and Jolene has no following, near no sales, and she doesn’t care enough to tell anyone… it’s dead in the water, a worthless award. On the other hand if Freda Bestseller wins, with a 1000 noms, 10 000 votes, and raves to her huge audience on social media, and book – with the label ‘Oguh Award winner!’ sells really well to people outside those involved, then an Oguh is worth winning. Next year it might even do Jolene some good… but not if all the winners thereafter were Jolenes. Your credit does not last indefinitely. In fact the Oguh is only as good as the last book a customer bought, with that label.

The Dragon Awards started well with a lot of popular authors with large following right across the spectrum as well as a few lesser known names. My congratulations to all of the the nominees and it’s great some fantastic talent and some friends there! So far there seems to be real excitement and pleasure from most of the worthwhile nominees, who are promoting it. Here is my bit to doing the same!

Here are all the nominees.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel

The Life Engineered by J-F Dubeau
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Agent of the Imperium by Marc Miller
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwitheriing Realm by John C. Wright
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

Blood Hound by James Osiris Baldwin
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia
Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
Grave Measures by R.R. Virdi
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel

Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Trix and the Faerie Queen by Alethea Kontis
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
Updraft by Fran Wilde

4. Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

Chains of Command by Marko Kloos
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
The Price of Valor by Django Wexler
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber
Wrath of an Angry God: A Military Space Opera by Gibson Michaels
Allies and Enemies: Fallen by Amy J. Murphy
Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson

5. Best Alternate History Novel

Germanica by Robert Conroy
Bombs Away: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
1635: A Parcel of Rogues by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
1636: The Cardinal Virtues by Eric Flint & Walter H. Hunt
Deadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry

6. Best Apocalyptic Novel

Dark Age by Felix O. Hartmann
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling
Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
A Time to Die by Mark Wandrey

7. Best Horror Novel

Honor at Stake by Declan Finn
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel
Alice by Christina Henry

8. Best Comic Book

Civil War II
Ms. Marvel
Providence
Saga
Astro City
Daredevil
DC Universe: Rebirth

9. Best Graphic Novel

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman
Virgil by Steve Orlando
Chicago by Glenn Head
Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia
Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
March: Book Two by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin

10. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series

The Expanse – Syfy
Jessica Jones – Netflix
Daredevil – Netflix
Outlander – Starz
Doctor Who – BBC
Game of Thrones – HBO
The Flash – CW

11. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Deadpool
Captain America: Civil War
Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Crimson Peak
Ant-Man
The Martian

12. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game

Undertale by Toby Fox
Overwatch by Blizzard Entertainment
Fallout 4 by Bethesda Softworks
Metal Gear Solid V by Konami Digital Entertainment
Darkest Dungeon by Red Hook Studios
XCOM 2 by 2k Games

13. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game

Fallout Shelter by Bethesda Softworks
Hyper Burner by Patrick Cook
Quaser One by Emre Taskin
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes by Electronic Arts
PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist by Outerminds Inc.

14. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil
Star Wars: Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games
Monopoly: CTHULHU by USAopoly
Talon by GMT Games
Blood Rage by Cool Mini or Not
Pandemic: Legacy by ZMan Games

15. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game

Magic the Gathering: Shadows over Innistrad by Wizards of the Coast
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls by Flying Buffalo
Mousguard 2nd Edition by David Petersen & Luke Crane
Star Wars: Armada by Fantasy Flight Games
Magic the Gathering: Battle of Zendikar by Wizards of the Coast
Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (7th Edition) by Chaosium Inc.

 

CHANGELING’S ISLAND has the rare distinction of being the only book to get into two categories: Best Fantasy Novel, and Best Young Adult Novel.

It was the last thing I expected and I could not be more delighted. A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who nominated it. Because there are two great choices in Fantasy – Jim Butcher’s AERONAUT’S WINDLASS and Larry Correia’s SON OF THE BLACK SWORD…

I have decided in that category, although I am delighted to be nominated, to vote for Larry, and not further split the vote. I urge you to consider SON OF THE BLACK SWORD with your vote. I know… I’m up against Sir Terry Pratchett in YA – but he’s both dead and already has a few awards worth caring about, and voting for me would cause huge amounts of pearl-clutching and fainting, in the ranks of the puppy-kickers, and delight from me. So: if you enjoy my writing, enjoyed this book, please register and vote.

35 Comments

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35 responses to “The tyranny of the least flexible

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    “if someone decided to have an Oguh Award, and hand out plastic craters to the works that they felt deserved it”

    Pretty sure they’re already doing that. 😉

    • I’m sure if it fulfills the same ‘rules’ I set out above, and will be a success or failure depending on that. (said with an absolutely straight face).

  2. Voted for you because I honestly felt it was deserving.

    The screaming of outrage is a bonus side effect.

  3. Excellent post, with one quibble:

    Given the huge overhead in keeping the 26% and their NYC enablers happy being high

    It isn’t high overhead, it is literally impossible. Keeping them happy, that is. There are even near variations on this theme I’ve read where this 26% brag about being this way.

  4. Luke

    I apologize, but I just wasn’t able to give you the edge over Pratchett.

    I felt a lot more angst over that decision than I can justify.

  5. The one great weakness of indie publishing is that it is overwhelmingly dependent on Amazon, and one of these days Jeff Bezos is going to die orvretire and hop onto his rocketship to Mars. When then happens, the people who take over are going to be the same proglodytes who cater to the 26% already.

    • Ah, but if we have the fan-base built, and a mutual support network (Azounding.com is a start, the PJMedia book posts were good, ditto InstaPundit, but we need a lot more besides them, Baen, and Castalia House and other small press sites), we can hop off the bus and take our fans with us before the next splattification of sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and just plain-old great story-telling.

    • I’ve talked about this a few times. Mailing lists are your friend. And… we know it can be done, now.

  6. Congratulations – one minor correction: The Fifth Season is nominated in two categories also.

  7. Congratulations on the nomination.

    Thank you for listing the Dragon Awards finalists. This is the first place I have seen them, and, yes, I do read File 770.

    The other answer on Those Who Cannot Be Satisfied, which was originally a demon in Empire of the Petal Throne–Book of Ebon Bindings is that there may arise a second Those Who Cannot Be Satisfied with contrary leanings. That is not the Sad Puppies but Vox Dei and his friends.

    With respect to Amazon, I take the precaution of also sending everything to Smashwords and the Third Millennium (3mpub). Thus, even if Mistress of the Waves vanishes from Amazon, for example because they demand monopoly sales rights, it will be available elsewhere.

    • George, I have no problem with anyone reading Vile 770 – just as I think anyone with sense should look at Breitbart AND the Guardian. My only objection is portraying 770 as an ‘honest non-partisan’ source. It is an untrustworthy and very biased source, but useful for telling you what one extreme thinks. I suspect you mean ‘Vox Day’ rather than the voice of God 🙂 but it worth pointing out that he is a LOT less bigoted than 770 in sf/fantasy choices. He listed his own choices for the Dragon — and those included two which are distinctly SJW. He also actively discouraged any bloc voting in the Dragon Awards. He has a reading sidebar and reads from the 26% – unlike the 770’s who condemn unread anything that doesn’t come from their heartland.

      Monopoly will monopoly. I will only lose Amazon if they do what quite a few publishers are trying (and I will not sign) which is perpetuity or long-binding contracts.

  8. There is an application of this concept which has always been of professional interest to me and has recently become of personal interest to me. I am (among other things) the locksmith at a small university and the responsibility of ensuring ADA compliance falls largely to me.

    In an older building the cost of installing ramps and elevators and power door operators to accommodate people in wheelchairs can be considerable. And this expense is undertaken for the benefit of a very small segment of the population (sources I’ve found estimate between 2 and 3 million Americans are in wheelchairs.)

    However, over the past six months my roommate has transitioned into a wheelchair, and I have seen first hand how architectural barriers affect her quality of life. There are places that she is simply unable to go. There are others that are technically in compliance, but the process required to navigate a person in chair into them is arduous and often humiliating.

    So I find myself torn. As a Libertarian I want to believe that the free market is the best tool for regulating how businesses do business. On the other hand, as someone who cares deeply about a photographer and travel writer with mobility issues, I want businesses to invest in the remodelling necessary to make them wheelchair accessible, and I don’t know if the purchasing power of handicapped people is great enough to drive that change. (Obviously the type of renovations required to any particular structure will determine that.)

    Granted, any group of able bodied people that also includes a person in a wheelchair will avoid any venues that are not wheelchair accessible, but even so I don’t know if market pressure alone would have the same impact as the ADA.

    And I realize that this is only tangentially related to your original post, but it’s a subject that has been on my mind a great deal lately.

    • Well, not only the disabled, but their friends and family as well. That’s one of the things often forgotten in these debates.

    • Luke

      Reasonable accommodation is a good thing.
      But the ADA is frequently unreasonable.
      I know a business that nearly went bankrupt because an activist filled a lawsuit that their good faith effort was 1/2″ off from the government approved specifications.
      I also know that the University of Idaho has to spend millions to make the School of Mines ADA compliant (despite the obvious fact that all classes there required fieldwork that would be impossible to do in a wheelchair.)

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I think I heard someone at ATH say that the ADA has dropped disability employment from 50% to 30%.

        I think that the ADA is one of several regulations that increase the cost and risk a business faces in hiring someone. The higher these are, the more incentive there is to hire someone who will be of minimal risk.

        Disability is not minimal risk, because the laws give leverage in grievances. Whereas, lots of people don’t get hired for a position.

        I strongly suspect that deregulation of the economy would make more jobs available to the disabled.

    • I am a physical therapist, I used to spec chairs for people with all manner of neuro/brain/spinal cord issues. The ADA is a problem from two directions, in that often it falls short of what is needed for a lot of wheelchair users. The other direction is it forces businesses and municipalities to spend millions on facilities that are not needed.

      My personal favorite so far is the fire department forced to build a wheelchair compliant women’s bathroom on the second floor of an old fire hall. Yes, zero female firefighters on staff. Best part? No elevator.

      That’s the kind of BS that steals money from building a decent ramp and automatic door at the public library.

    • mrsizer

      I’m pretty sure the biggest gains from ADA are for parents with strollers.

      My favorite is the braille on drive-up ATMs. Yes, I know: It’s cheaper to make all ATMs the same, but still…

  9. John R. Ellis

    I know it only came out last month, but I’m shocked “Stranger Things” didn’t make the TV series nominees.

    Surprised the comic book/graphic novel recommendations are mostly super-hero. Not that I have any objections to super-hero stuff (love Astro City), it’s just there are so MANY great fantasy and SF comics that lack the spandex crowd but are still so much fun. (I’m particularly fond of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” at the moment.)

    • ravenshrike

      Stranger Things isn’t eligible till next year.
      http://awards.dragoncon.org/2016/04/14/eligibility-period/
      ” Works released between 7/1/2015 and 6/30/2016 are eligible for this year’s awards. “

      • John R. Ellis

        So, since Civil War II is barely begun (and has mutated and grown longer and might not even be done until next year, just like the last Marvel Event Series), does that cause any problems? Or as long as at least one installment is out during the alloted time, it’s eligible?

        (Asking an honest question here…a couple of issues of an incomplete story seem like a very different thing from the finished arc of a normal comic.)

  10. Dave,

    Many Thanks for your very thoughtful response. I do agree that File 770 has a few ax warehouses to grind. However, they are often reasonably good at aggregating all sorts of miscellaneous information, such as awards I have never heard about before. I did not see them mention the Dragon awards, though perhaps they did. File 770 — or at least its owner — was offended by the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F.org) awards for last year, namely we gave a Neffy to Toni Weisskopf as Best Editor, and a Heroic Achievement to all fandom, for reviving the ancient and honorable custom of the all-hobby fan feud. As it happens, we were founded in 1941, and we had at the time among our members two living founders, and two members who were also Futurians and could discuss the Great Exclusion at WorldCon 1.

    George Phillies

    • Mike Resnick told me that N3F had a long history of trying to welcome new fans into the halls of Fandom (caps f) which seems (to me) to be just about the most noble and benign mission imaginable. I am afraid this mission does not square with that of Trufandom — that sector of fandom (small f) which concerns itself with questions of purity: ideological purity, taste purity, cultural purity, etc. No wonder the denizens of Pravda 770 were unhappy with a Neffy being given to Toni. The denizens of Pravda 770 wanted Toni punished; for being on the “wrong” side.

      • Brad,
        Please encourage your friends to join the N3F. N3F.org. Public Memberships (non-voting) are free). Just fill out the membership form at http://n3f.org/join/membership-form/ No, you do not need to fill out all the questions.

        2016 Neffy Award Nominations

        Best Novel:
        Somewhither—John C. Wright
        Shadows of Self—Brandon Sanderson

        Best Paper Series Novel:
        163X—Eric Flint,
        Schooled in Magic—Chris Nuttall,
        Safehold—David Weber

        Best Editor:
        Peter Buch (Elsewhen),
        Sheila Gilbert (DAW),
        Toni Weisskopf (Baen)

        Best TV Show:
        Supergirl,
        Sense8 Season 1 Jonathan Strange miniseries,
        The Expanse,
        Jessica Jones,
        Humans

        Best Comic:
        Astro City,
        Girl Genius,
        Naruto

        Best Film:
        What We Do in Shadows,
        The Martian,
        The Lobster,
        Ex Machina

        Readers here will not be astonished to learn that while nominations were open for short fiction (under 100,000 words), nominations were not received in that category.

  11. Quick comment: you should not be surprised by your nomination Mr. Freer. Best YA I’ve read this year. Bought two copies just to give away to local teens.

    AWESOME read.