The Big Idea: Bud Sparhawk

Bud Sparhawk is not only possibly the best treasurer that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has ever had (says a guy fortunate enough to have been on the organization’s board with him), he’s also a hell of a writer, as evidenced by his latest novel, Distant Seas, which garnered a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly. Bud’s here now to talk about the book, and what previously earth-based skill takes to other worlds in it.

BUD SPARHAWK:

The really big idea in this make-up novel is that sailing, balancing the forces of wind and water, is as much an art as a science. Running a true line with your hand on the rudder and the mainsail’s line in hand is both an expression of love between you and the boat and calculating the solutions to multiple simultaneous equations.

This story is my way of conveying the experience of sailing to readers who have never felt the responsiveness of a lively hull, heard the thrum of the wind on the lines, or felt the wind and water’s tension that integrates sailor, sail, rudder, hull, and keel into a single living creature.

I’ve always thrilled to reading about sailors racing around the world, braving mishaps, and surviving terrible weather by taking every precaution to avoid disaster.  I learned to sail on the Chesapeake Bay as a teen and was able to renew my love of sailing after we returned to the Annapolis area (aka Sailing Capitol of the World[1].)

There were several streams that brought Distant Seas into reality.  The first of these was my second professional short story, Alba Krystal[2], which described miners plunging into the dense atmosphere of Grimm, a gas giant, to collect volcanic gems thrown into the planet’s fierce winds.  That idea popped back into my head when, twenty years later, I read an article[3] on surface gravity and realized that a survivable two-gravity field would be well within Jupiter’s atmosphere.

And if, at that two-gravity level, there was as sharp a density divide as between air and water then someone could build a sailboat and, wherever there are sailboats, there will be a race.

But sailing on Jupiter is only one part of the story.  The “seas” on which Louella and Pascal race include Earth’s dangerous Southern Ocean, the wine-red seas of Jupiter, and the arid high plains of Mars.

The most difficult part of writing these stories was to imbue the protagonists and their sponsors, partners, and competitors with life, to give each of them individuality in speech patterns, personalities, and histories as well as delve into their motivations.  I worked hard to subtly show the forces that shaped each of them by continually trimming long and boring narrative passages until only the essence remained and then seeding these fragments among conversations, asides, and observations.

The second hardest part was making the sailing technology realistic. I did this by giving first general descriptions and then focusing on specific parts of the design; efficient for Earth’s around-the-world single-handed sailboats, rugged for the Jupiter dirigible/submarine craft, and light for Mars’ sand racers.

Do not for a moment believe that any of these plot lines emerged pure and unsullied from my brilliant mind. Much was composed while sailing on the Bay, sweating at the computer, and at random and unpredictable times. Paragraphs were shifted, descriptions changed, and entire swathes of passages obliterated.  I even typed the Martian race while wearing an arm cast that forced me to use a single finger of my write[4] hand.

But aside from developing interesting characters and believable technology, I wanted to get across the pure joy of balancing wind and water when carving a smooth line across the “seas” of the title.  I wanted to put reader in the cockpit with lines in hand, an eye to the sail, and a firm hand on the rudder.  I want you to be there, in the moment, as the protagonists deal with their problems in a realistic way. There are no unflinching heroes in this book, no miraculous salvations, and no mystical forces.  There are only people doing their best while fighting the winds and handling whatever fate deals them.

This is a book about being a sailor!

[1] Capitol refers to the State’s capitol, not sailing’s.

[2]  Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, January 1977

[3]  “Quantized Surface Gravity?” Analog, March 1994

[4] I apologize.

—-

Distant Seas: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

It’s Funny Because It’s True

A comment from elsewhere on the Internet:

“Certainly the most puzzling part of the Sad Puppies campaign is the claim that Scalzi’s works are too literary to represent the mainstream of SF. That’s like saying a group of food critics are too snobbish because they ranked Arby’s above McDonalds.”

Reader, I LOLed.

Back to Ohio

Traveling today (again!) so I’ll be scarce here. In the meantime, why not read this review of The Android’s Dream by James Nicoll? He’s one of the most observant reviewers of science fiction and fantasy writing now (check his other reviews), and I’m pleased to read his observations of the book. The review, I will note, goes to my oft-said (but I suspect, not-especially-believed) assertion that I would rather read an interesting critical review of my work than a bland positive one. Enjoy, and see you on the other side.

On My Way to Gainesville

Hey! I’m back at the airport! Again! Yay?

Seriously, at some point there will be a month where I don’t have to do any travel and I won’t know what I will do with myself. That month this year: September. Yes, September is the only month in 2015 where I don’t have travel scheduled. I honestly didn’t know writing would involve so many planes.

Anyway, off to Gainesville, where tomorrow at 1pm I will be doing an event at the Alachua County Library main branch. Reading! Q&A! Signing! And stuff. If you’re in the area, see you there, hopefully. If you’re not in the area, I guess you will have to find something else to fill that empty hole in your lives. I suggest air hockey.

Big Idea Notice, Re: May and June (and July)

It is:

The May Big Idea slots are all filled. If you queried and I did not respond, a) sorry, I tried to respond to everyone, b) I have no more slots for this month.

There are still a few June Big Idea slots open. Go ahead and query.

You may start querying for July Big Idea slots on May 1st.

Thanks!

Hugos and Class

(Warning: Hugo neepery ahead. Ignore if you’re bored with the subject.)

As I’m musing on class today, I’d like to take a moment to address something I see being attempted by the Puppies, which is to cast the current Hugo contretemps as something akin to a class war, with the scrappy diverse underdogs (the Puppy slates) arrayed against “powerful, wealthy white men” such as myself, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and George RR Martin, the latter being a late addition to the non-existent SJW cabal; apparently we are now a cackling, finger-steepling triumvirate of conspiracy (See the link here at File770, which, again, has been invaluable as a repository of Hugo commentary this year).

So, let’s unpack this a bit.

One, I’m not entirely sure how much credit the Puppy slates should get for “diversity” when their most notable accomplishments are reducing the overall demographic diversity of the Hugo slate from the past few years, locking up five (previously six!) slots on the final ballot for the same straight, white, male author, and getting much of their “diversity” from conscripts to the slates, at least some of whom did not appear to have foreknowledge of their appearance there, and some of whom have since declined their nominations. Basically, if you’re going to argue diversity, you should probably not make the assertion so easily refutable by actual fact (it also helps not to have one of the primary movers behind the slates be an actual, contemptible racist and sexist).

Two, with regard to me, George and Patrick being “powerful, wealthy white men”: okay, sure, why not (I suspect Patrick, earning an editor’s salary in New York, might snort derisively that the idea that he is actually wealthy), but it’s interesting for any of the three of us to be criticized for these things by a partisan of slates whose dominance on the final Hugo ballot was accomplished substantially through the machinations of a fellow who is himself a scion of wealth and power, with enough dosh on hand to have his own publishing house (for which he is using the current Hugo contretemps as very cheap advertising), and, to a rather lesser extent, by a fellow who has many of the same advantages I or George do: Bestselling status, award nominations and, at least from public statements I can recall, a rather comfortable income from his work, largely from a company that shares at least one parent in common with one that publishes me, is a major house in the field, and is distributed by a major publishing conglomerate. Indeed, as it is an article of faith among the Puppies that I don’t actually sell all that many books, I suppose the argument could be made that he is more wealthy and powerful than I am! So well done him, and I wish him all the best in his career. But between these fellows and their circumstances, it’s difficult to cast this as a battle of underdogs versus wealth and privilege. There’s quite enough wealth and privilege to go around.

(There is at least one salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and the fellows I’ve mentioned, who share so many of the advantages that we three do. What that difference is I will leave as an exercise for the reader.)

Three, the Puppies drama isn’t about class, or privilege. It’s about envy and opportunism, and it’s also, somewhat pathetically, apparently about the heads of the Puppy slates being upset that once upon a time, they felt people in fandom were mean to them. As if they were the only people in the world that folks in science fiction fandom had ever been mean to. True fact: There is almost no one in science fiction and fantasy that someone else in fandom hasn’t been mean to at one time or the other. Science fiction fandom contains many people, including quite a few with questionable social skills. Not all of them are going to like you. Not all of them are going to like what you do. That’s not a conspiracy; that’s just a basic fact.

Here’s a thing: Look back in time to when I was nominated for Best Fan Writer. There was a whole lot of mean going on there; there are still fans who are righteously upset with me about it. Look at what people have said about each of the books of mine that have been nominated for Best Novel (look at what was said after I won it!). Look what people in fandom say about me on the Internet all the damn time. Hell, I remember rather vividly being at the Montreal Worldcon during my autograph session and this dude coming up, handing me Zoe’s Tale, and saying “It’s not really a good book and I don’t think it should be on the ballot and I don’t know why it is, but I guess since you’re here you might as well sign it for me.” Which I thought was really kind of amazing, in its own obnoxious way.

You know what I did? I signed his book. Because a) apparently he bought it and b) I’m not emotionally twelve years old. I can handle people being thoughtless and stupid and even occasionally intentionally mean in my direction, without deciding the the correct response is to burn down the Hugos, screaming I’ll show you! I’ll show you all! Which is, as it happens, seems to be another salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and these fellows. Unless you’re under the impression Patrick and George haven’t got their fair share of people disliking them, or saying mean things about them. They have; they’ve just decided to deal with it like the grown up humans they are.

So, no. This Hugo contretemps isn’t about class. But it might be, a little bit, about who has class, and how that affects what they do with their wealth and power.

The Elite Poor

Here’s an interesting story in the Boston Globe about poor students attending Ivy League schools and very often struggling with their new environment, not in the least because they are often the first in their families to attend college at all, and thus have little guidance from family and friends on how to navigate the academic surroundings. I found it interesting because their story is in many ways my story: I was the first of my family to go to college (indeed, I was the only one of my immediate family to finish high school), and I went to the University of Chicago, which is not an Ivy but is certainly an elite school (currently #4 in the US News “national university” ranking, tied with Columbia and Stanford). And I was poor when I went to school there.

That said, I had an advantage that many first generation college students don’t — for high school I attended a private boarding school (scholarship kid), which gave me four years to work out my class angst — and there was some — and also learn how to navigate issues of privilige, of which not the least was accepting the fact that I was starting the journey away from poverty, and the worldview it engenders, and toward privilege, and that worldview. I’ve said before that when one has been poor one never forgets what that’s like, and that remains true. But by the time I got to college, most of my really difficult battles on that score were settled. I was decently well assimilated into the elite world view.

And as it happens I think the elite world view — essentially, the belief that one of the people behind the levers of the world will be you — is not always a bad one to have. But it needs to be tempered by awareness of a world outside privilege, so one is not oblivious to the fact that the world outside your door is filled with people who don’t benefit from the same easy connection to power that you now have, thanks to networks and name brand recognition. This is where first-generation students at elite schools can make a difference. They can be a bridge between two worlds in a way few others can.

They have to make it through the transition first, however. And sometimes that’s hard.

Reminder: I’m in Gainesville, Florida This Saturday For a Library Event

Yes! I’ll be in Gainesville this Saturday, April 25 at 1pm at the Alachua County Library main branch, for a reading, Q&A and possibly a signing (the event is supposed to run from 1 to 2, but if they let me hang around after, I’ll sign some books). Here are the actual details. I’ll be reading from the upcoming book, The End of All Things, plus a couple of other bits. So if you want a speak preview of the book before almost anyone else, now you know what you’re doing with your weekend. See you there!

My Day in a Wheelchair

As most of you probably remember, when I was in Australia I tore a calf muscle and spent several days on crutches and have since been using a cane to get about. The good news is that everything’s healing as it should — at this point I’m keeping the cane around as a precautionary measure — so as far as Adventures in Temporary Disability go, this has been likely a best-case scenario.

That said, I did have one relatively brief moment where I got the smallest of glimpses of what I suspect mobility-impared people go through on a regular basis. It happened when I was traveling back from Australia to the US, and I, in an overabundance of caution, asked for (and got) wheelchair assistance to get around the two airports I was going to be in: Melbourne and Los Angeles.

I will note that initially, I felt weird about asking for a wheelchair at all — my self-image is as an able-bodied person, so even though I was literally hobbling my way around, some part of my brain was “you can totally walk around this airport with several heavy bags and a leg injury!” But I decided not to listen to that voice, because that voice was stupid, as reasonable-sounding as it was inside my brain at the time.

And a good thing, because in the case of both Melbourne and Los Angeles, a) the airports are huge, and b) in LA there was the additional hurdle of customs to go through. If I had had to walk it, I suspect I would still be in Melbourne’s airport, subsisting on free wifi and Violet Crumbles. I needed the wheelchair, self-image be damned.

For the record, the first part of the wheelchair experience was pretty sweet and exactly what able-bodied people think when they think disabled people get some sort of awesome superpower: I zipped through security and customs lines super-fast, faster than I had ever done so under my own steam. Also, the Melbourne wheelchair was modern and electric powered and I felt vaguely like Professor X being carted around on it (the Los Angeles wheelchair was probably older than I am and the poor woman they assigned to it could barely push me up ramps. I tipped her hugely at the end). It was just like being a first-class passenger! Only cheaper and I didn’t even have to get up!

But then — well. So, in Los Angeles I’m at the baggage carousel and my wheelchair is parked so I can point out my bags to the woman helping me. And of course bags are coming round and people are grabbing them, anxious to get them and get the hell out of the airport, which I can totally understand, since LAX is a terrible airport all the way around.

The thing is, when they’re grabbing them, the conveyor belt is still moving, and the people tugging at them are starting to cross into my personal space, shoving into my wheelchair and pushing it around to get at their bags, rather than, say, letting go of the goddamned piece of luggage for just a second to go around me and grab it on the other side. And when they did haul the luggage off the carousel, they managed to smack it across my wheelchair, knocking me about.

The first time it happened, I was, like, whatever. The second time I got annoyed. The third time, the guy hauling the piece of luggage off the carousel actually clocked me in the head with it, at which point I stopped being patient and said “Are you actually fucking kidding me?” to him.

At which point the man was entirely mortified and abjectly apologized, because in fact he was probably not a horrible person. He just didn’t seem to notice that as a guy in a wheelchair, I was mobility-impaired and couldn’t move out of his way like an able-bodied person could. He just didn’t factor me into his worldview, which at the time was laser-focused on getting his luggage and getting the hell out of Dodge. As a result, he literally battered me. Quite unintentionally, to be clear. But that didn’t make my head feel any better in the moment.

I should note that my half hour being shoved about at the baggage carousel (my bags were pretty much the last ones off the plane) does not give me any authority to speak to disabled issues at all. What I am saying, again, is that for a very brief and limited slice of time, I got to experience what it’s like to be someone who is disabled and how people — normal, presumably not terrible people — deal with them in their world. It wasn’t, shall we say, an entirely positive experience.

It is something, however, I’ll remember when I am fully able-bodied again.

A Thing to Remember When Dealing With Sad Puppies

[On second thought, this was not well-argued and I’m withdrawing it until I can more fairly and accurately make the point I want to make. Will update when I do. In the meantime, note to self: Don’t write screeds when operating under lack of sleep — JS]

Perth, Melbourne and Los Angeles: A Photo Set

I’ve spent most of April away, in Australia and Los Angeles, for conventions and for book festivals. Along the way I took a fair amount of pictures, including some lovely shots of the King’s Park Botanical Gardens in Perth and of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. If you’d like to see them — and you would! You would! — they’re here. Enjoy!

Keeping Up With the Hugos, 4/20/15

Hey, look, I’m home! Finally I’ll have a Hugo post whose comment thread I’ll be around to moderate. So let me present some not-terribly-organized thoughts on the current state of things (if you missed my previous Hugo-related posts on Whatever, they are here, here and here; also, File770 is doing a fine job keeping up with all the latest on the Hugos):

* I probably shouldn’t admit that I’m having a schadenfreudilicious time watching Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen now desperately try to put sunlight between themselves and that toxic bigot Vox Day, but I’m not going to lie: I am, and also, it’s not working for them at all, as there is a fairly obvious evidence trail to suggest there was hardly any sunlight between them until Day suddenly became inconvenient. Correia and Torgersen are two guys who brought an arsonist to a party, and when the arsonist started setting fires — as arsonists are known to do! — they tried to argue, while the flames rose around them, that they were not actually complicit in burning down the house. The time to disassociate themselves from Day would have been two years ago, before Correia, in a fit of unfathomable stupidity, decided that bruiting both Day and his interminably mediocre story as Hugo-worthy, and palling about with the fellow online, wouldn’t come back to bite him square on the ass.

My own supposition as to why neither Torgersen nor Correia realized what a bad idea it was to beclown themselves with Day’s company is that the two of them were, simply, too naive to think that the enemy of their enemy (i.e., the non-existent social justice warrior conspiracy designed to keep fun stories and/or conservative writers from the Hugo ballot) could be anything other than their friend. Certainly Mr. Day would validate their conspiritorial world view — hadn’t he just been kicked out of SFWA merely for expressing an opinion unpopular with the SJWs, and not at all because of his own actions? — and when he’s not performing for the crowd (that is, the Internet) or talking about something that specifically touches on his own expansive set of bigotries, Day is a perfectly lucid person.

He’s a fine con man, in other words, and Correia and Torgersen fell for his con. Day was looking for a way back into relevance in science fiction and fantasy and they very happily gave it to him, and didn’t realize until after the Hugo awards were actually announced, and the backlash against the slates in full force, just how thoroughly they had been played. Torgersen delirously announced after the Hugos came out that the Puppies had “stolen the Enterprise”; he wasn’t aware that he and Correia were the redshirts in that scenario, or just how much and how closely the two of them would then be associated with Day’s feculent character and actions.

Well, now they know. At this point Correia and Torgersen have to decide whether they want to be known either as Day’s fellow travelers, or his useful idiots. Or both! It could be both. Neither of these options makes them look good; nor, obviously, fits with their own self-image of being Brave Men Fighting the Good Fight™. But in fact, they aren’t fighting a good fight, and in fact, they got played. So: Fellow travelers or useful idiots. These are the choices.

* Also, can we please now stop pretending that this whole Puppy nonsense began for any other reason than that once upon a time, Larry Correia thought he was going to win an award and was super pissed he didn’t, and decided that the reason he didn’t had to be a terrible, awful conspiracy against people just like him (a conservative! Writing “fun” fiction!), as opposed to, oh, the voters deciding they just plain liked something and someone else better? Can we stop pretending that a fellow who practically begs people to nominate his work three years running, hiding the begging behind an oh-so-thin veil of “let’s stick it to the SJWs!” doesn’t desperately crave the external validation that he thinks the award will bring? Can we stop pretending that this is anything other than a grown up child stomping his feet, screaming look at me, look at me, loooook at meeeeee? Because, come on, folks. We’re well past the point of genteel here. Let’s call it for what it is.

(And yes, I know, Correia declined his nomination for the Hugo this year. Let’s talk about that for a minute, shall we. It takes a very special sort of fellow to allow himself to be on a slate to get nominated, marshal people to nominate him for the award as part of a slate, and then decline — and write a big ol’ puffed-up piece about why he was declining, social justice warriors, blows against the empire, blah blah blah, yadda yadda. Yes, nice he declined the nomination and let someone else on the ballot. But it’s a little like wanting credit for rescuing a baby squirrel when you knocked the baby squirrel out of the tree to begin with.)

To be clear, the Puppy nonsense now isn’t just about Correia really really really wanting validation in the form of a rocketship; Day’s stealing the Puppy movement right out from under Correia and Torgerson has changed things up quite a bit, and it’s certainly true at this point that this little campaign is about a bunch of people trying to shit in the punchbowl so no one else can have any punch. But at the beginning, it was Correia hurt and angry that someone else got an award he thought was his, and deciding that it was stolen from him, rather than being something that was never his to begin with. And I’m sorry for him that it didn’t go his way. But actual grown human beings deal with disappointment in ways other than Correia has.

Correia can bluster about this all he likes; he’s a lovely online bully, and certainly he wishes to project that he’s a Tough Guy Saying Tough Things, Toughly™. But, eh. If he was actually who he wishes he could project himself as, the Sad Puppy thing would have never happened. And, ironically, he would be better positioned to win the awards he craved, because he wouldn’t be seen as a petulant whiner about such things. As it is, all we can do for him now is let him show us on the cartoon face pain chart how much Worldcon hurt him, and offer him soothing hugs until all his pain goes away.

* I notice that Vox Day has been enjoying his moment, and has taken to making pronouncements along the line of “award this slate of things I managed to push onto the ballot or GOD HELP ME I WILL DESTROY THE HUGOS FOREVER BWA HA HA HAH HA HA.” Because that’s the sort of asshole shitbug of human he is.

So, a couple of things to know about Vox Day. One, he’s the sort of person for whom any scenario will be seen as a victory condition; if he were to be set on fire and pushed in front of a speeding train, he would cackle about how this was exactly what he had planned right up until the moment of impact turned him into flaming bits of kibble. So obviously he’s going to babble on about how he plans to destroy the Hugos forever if he doesn’t get his way. Why wouldn’t he. That’s a victory condition! Plus, he’s getting attention. In the grand pantheon of People Acting Like Children About the Hugos, he’s the Grand Baby, and attention is what he wants.

Two: Fuck that dude. If everything is a victory condition for him — and it is — then worrying about what he’s going to do is sort of pointless. What is he going to do? Why, declare victory! Regardless! So you might as well do what you want. And if that means voting “No Award” in the categories where there are only Puppy nominees, then by all means follow your joy. Yes, he’ll say that’s what he planned all along. You could open a can of peas and he would maintain that you’re doing exactly what he wanted. He wants you to see him as a mastermind, rather than as a general failure whose only successes lie in being terrible to other people, and encouraging others to be the same.

So, yeah. Ignore his shtick; focus on your thing, as it involves the Hugos.

* Many people are convinced this is The End of the Hugos. Guys, no. It’s really not, and if I may say so, running around as if one’s hair is on fire about it, as satisfying as it is in the short term, isn’t going to be useful — and besides gives the Puppies their glee, which is a thing I don’t think they should have. I am not saying that you shouldn’t feel angry, or upset, or exasperated, or whatever you feel. Feel that! Own that! Be that! And also, decide to do something about it.

First, by voting for the Hugos this year. There are some very good reasons to “no award” everything that’s on a Puppy slate, including entire categories — I understand Brad Torgersen is suggesting anyone who does so is a gigantic asshole, but at this particular moment in time, and given how he’s just been played by Vox Day, he should probably not be declaring anyone else an asshole, lest that mirror be put up to him — but there are also reasons not to, and you’ll have to decide for yourself the best course of action. But that starts with voting, which one can do with a supporting membership to Sasquan.

Second, by deciding to be part of the conversation about what to do with the Hugos from here on out, which may or may not include tweaking the award rules to better handle slates (which are a bad idea) and obvious block voting (which is not good either). I should note that I’m not personally entirely convinced a wholesale change in voting rules is needed, because to some extent I see this as self-correcting — honestly, after this year, would anyone want to be on a slate, much less a Puppy slate? Who wants that sort of asterisk on their Hugo? — but it’s a conversation to have. Specifically, it’s a conversation to have at the WSFS business meeting, which will take place at this year’s Worldcon, Sasquan.

Third, by understanding that this is a process, and it will take time. If a rule change is proposed at Sasquan and then passed, it has to be affirmed at the next Worldcon (in Kansas City) and then it will take effect the year after. Which means we may have at least another year of potential mischief along this line. Accept that this is a fact, be ready to deal with it (preferably with an eyeroll and the appropriate voting action), and recognize that the Hugos survive — or don’t — based on what the community around them decides to do. You can be part of that community. It takes effort and a bit of commitment. The good news is, there’s more to that community you’ll be part of than just the Hugos. And it’s a good community to be part of.

* Finally, on the subject of slates, for the avoidance of doubt, here’s my own personal position: I won’t ask to be put on a slate of nominees for a Hugo; If asked to be on a slate of nominees for a Hugo, I will refuse; If you see my name on a slate of nominees for the Hugo, you may assume I neither asked nor consented to be on that slate. I am fine with people recommending my work to others for consideration; I am not fine with people saying “vote this slate to get our nominees on the ballot for reasons.”

To be blunt about it, I don’t need to be on a slate — In my experience people have voted for me, or not, because they liked my work (or didn’t). Silly mutterings of conspiracy aside, everything of mine that’s been on the Hugo ballot got there under its own steam, by someone genuinely liking it and deciding to give it a slot on their nomination list. I’m proud of that; I wouldn’t want a work of mine on the final Hugo ballot (or any other ballot, for that matter) for any other reason.

I’m also opposed to slates in general — or in the case of the Sad Puppy slate, a weasely list of “recommendations” that had in their categories the number of slots as there are on the Hugo nomination list, nod, wink, nod — because, here’s a wacky idea, I think the point of popular awards is for people to vote for the things they actually like, not a slate designed to achieve some sort of political or social point (or, in the case of the Rabid Puppy slate, exist as advertisement for the slate-builder’s hobby-horse of a publishing house). Also, to be blunt, I don’t trust anyone else’s taste. I may or may not have terrible taste in science fiction and fantasy, but it’s my taste, and I’ll vote it.

In short: I don’t do slates — won’t voluntarily be on them, and won’t vote for them. And I’m not going to lie, from here on out, as regards the Hugos, I’ll think less of you if you participate on or vote for a slate. Because what you’re doing is showing that you don’t actually care about what the Hugos are (an award that acts as a snapshot, however imperfect, of the current state of science fiction and fantasy), but rather what the Hugos can do (draw attention to your own work, politics, social thoughts or whatever). The thing is, the latter happens because of the former. And that only happens when people vote their own nominees, not anyone else’s.

What Was Waiting for Me When I Came Home

I mean, aside from child and pets and house and my own bed: Three weeks worth of books sent, which I will catch up with and post during the week. As Athena said: “It’s like Christmas, but for work.” Yes, well.

In other news, I am home. And I get to be home for, like, four whole days. And then I leave again. I am determined to enjoy these next four days fully.

Off Again

I’m doing things and stuff in the real world over the weekend, including my appearance this Saturday at the LA Times Festival of Books with Wil Wheaton, and then flying home. So this is very likely the last you’ll see of me in this space until Monday (or possibly late Sunday). If you’re in Los Angeles, come see us at the Festival — and if you’re not, have a fabulous weekend anyway. See you on the other side.

The Latest Hugo Conspiracy Nonsense Involving Me

In the wake of one of John C. Wright’s Hugo-nominated stories being disqualified for the ballot because it was previously published on his Web site, howls of bitter indignancy have arisen from the Puppy quarters, on the basis that Old Man’s War, a book I serialized here on Whatever in 2002, qualified for the Hugo ballot in 2006 (it did not win). The gist of the whining is that if my work can be thought of as previously unpublished, why not Mr. Wright’s? Also, this is further evidence that the Hugos are one big conspiracy apparently designed to promote the socially acceptable, i.e., me specifically, whilst putting down the true and pure sons of science fiction (i.e., the Puppies).

So: thoughts.

1. The first irony is that Old Man’s War actually wasn’t originally on the 2006 Best Novel Hugo ballot at all; it finished sixth in the nomination tally. It ascended to the ballot when Neil Gaiman, who I did not know at the time (and who was almost certainly entirely unaware of my existence, or that I had placed sixth in the nomination tally), declined a Best Novel nomination for Anansi Boys. Neil (who I do know now), explained later that he’d felt he’d won his share of Hugos at the time and imagined the nomination would be better served helping someone else. He was correct about that. The point is that if you buy into the conspiracy theory of Old Man’s War being on the ballot, you have to believe that the conspiracy somehow convinced/forced Neil Gaiman to decline his nomination strictly for my benefit. Which is some conspiracy!

2. The second irony is that at the time, based purely on the content of Old Man’s War, to the extent that fandom presumed to guess my personal politics at all, much of it assumed that I was a US conservative. Hey, not everyone reads my blog. So the idea that I was on the ballot because of some ideological nod is, well, suspect at best.

3. It was no big secret in 2006 that Old Man’s War had been serialized on my blog prior to publication, so it seems doubtful to me the Hugo people were entirely unaware of its provenance. To the extent that it was discussed at all between me and other folks, to the best of my recollection at the time, there was the feeling that serializing on the blog did not, in itself, constitute publication (interestingly, I thought that it was Agent to the Stars, also published in 2005, that might be more of a tricky sell for the ballot, as you can see here).

4. Aside from my notification of the nomination, I had no contact with the Hugo Award committee of that year prior to the actual Worldcon, nor could I tell you off the top of my head who was on the committee. It doesn’t appear that anyone at the time was concerned about whether OMW being serialized here constituted publication. Simply put, it didn’t seem to be an issue, or at the very least, no one told me if it were. Again, if this was a conspiracy to get me on the ballot, it lacked one very important conspirator: Me.

5. So why would OMW’s appearance on a Web site in 2002 not constitute publication, but Mr. Wright’s story’s appearance on a Web site in 2013 constitute publication? There could be many reasons, including conspiracy, but I think the more likely and rather pedestrian reason is that more than a decade separates 2002 and 2013. In that decade the publishing landscape has changed significantly. In 2002 there was no Kindle, no Nook, no tablet or smart phone; there was no significant and simple commerce channel for independent publication; and there was not, apparently, a widespread understanding that self-publishing, in whatever form, constituted formal publication for the purposes of the Hugo Awards. 2013 is not 2002; 2015, when Mr. Wright’s story was nominated, is not 2006, when OMW was nominated.

I don’t think it’s all that difficult to conceptualize that major changes in culture can significantly alter the perception of what is legitimate and what is not; after all, in 2002, no state in the US allowed for same-sex marriage, whereas in 2015 the majority do, and it’s very likely by the end of the year that all will. The recognition of web publication as formal publication for the purposes of science fiction awards is not exactly a greater cultural shift than that, I would propose. No conspiracy required.

6. But it’s not faaaaaaiiirrrr, waaaaaaaaaaaah. Well, one: Life is not fair, so gut up, children. Two, it’s the Hugo adminstrators’ call to make, and they made it, so again, put on your big kid pants and just deal with it. If this year’s Hugos have a theme, it is of people just having to deal with shit they don’t like. I’m not sure why the Puppies feel they should be special snowflakes in this regard. The good news for Mr. Wright is that Hugo voters are not left bereft of chances to enjoy his Hugo-nominated prose, as he is still on the ballot a prodigious five times.

7. What would I have done in 2006 if I had been disqualified from the Hugo ballot because OMW had been serialized on my Web site? I imagine I would have been very gravely disappointed and would have probably groused privately and possibly even publicly. Then I imagine I would have put on my own big kid pants and dealt with it. Because here’s a home truth: No one is owed a Hugo award, or a Hugo nomination. If you start thinking you are, you’re the problem, not the Hugos, their administrators, or anyone else who might have ever been nominated, or even been awarded, one of the rockets.

The Big Idea: Bishop O’Connell

For The Forgotten, author Bishop O’Connell thinks very seriously about a famous Arthur C. Clarke quote and how it can apply to the world of fantasy. Would Clarke be proud? Perhaps!

BISHOP O’CONNELL:

Let me preface by saying that I’m not a scientist. I’m just a layperson who took some classes in college and enjoys researching and learning on my own. That being said, I love science! More specifically, I love physics and quantum mechanics. That might sound strange coming from a fantasy author, but I love how physics can put complex ideas into relatively simple terms: force equals mass times acceleration, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, etc.

But, I really geek out about quantum mechanics and how it seems to turn everything we understand about the universe on its head. Concepts like wave-particle duality, superposition, entanglement, and the uncertainty principle are endlessly fascinating to me. As our understanding expands, it seems that the lines between not just science fiction and science fact blur, but also science and fantasy. With that in mind: can a system of magic be explained using quantum mechanics? That is my Big Idea, or perhaps I should call it my Big Theory.

My novel, The Forgotten, has two points of inspiration. The first is Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It seems straight forward. Without understanding the scientific principles behind something, it might as well be magic. An LCD screen would be like a magic window to someone from the Dark Ages.

The second point of inspiration is the double-slit experiment. To grossly oversimplify, the premise is this: if you shoot particles at a screen through two slits, you would expect to see two stripes on the screen, mimicking the slits. But you don’t, not even if you send the particles through one at a time. Instead, you see an interference pattern of many alternating bars. That means that individual particles are actually behaving like waves and interfering with themselves.

However, when you place detectors at the slits to see what’s happening, the interference waves go away and you get two straight lines, matching the two slits. The particles cease to exist as waves of probability—existing in all possible locations at the same time—and coalesce into a single location just by observing them! Even more remarkably, setting detectors anywhere after the two slits produces the same results. If they’re on, you get two lines. If they’re not, you get an interference pattern. So not only does observing the experiment change the results from that moment on, it changes the results before being observed.

These two concepts birthed a single question in my mind. What if the observer is what changes the outcome, rather than just the act of observing? That would mean we’re actually, unconsciously, altering reality. The next logical question is: could someone do so consciously and to what extent? If so, how would this be at all distinguishable from magic? After all, every magical effect you can think of can be explained scientifically. Teleportation? There’s quantum teleportation and worm holes. Throwing fireballs? Fire is just particles moving at an energy level that generates sufficient heat to combust a fuel. It’s theoretically possible, or rather not theoretically impossible, for particles to be acted on by an outside force to generate enough heat to combust the oxygen in the air.

Now, I hear you saying, “But Bishop, some of those effects require vast amounts of energy!” You’re right, and there are unimaginable amounts of energy all around us—dark matter and dark energy to name just two. We just don’t know how to utilize them…yet. What if our will, our belief, was the key to harnessing them?

Enter my main character, a homeless girl named Wraith. She sees the waves of probability all around us in the form of equations and symbols——quantum information. With conscious effort, she can alter those equations, thus changing the probability of specific outcomes and, in turn, the very nature of reality itself. Things that are so astronomically improbable that they can be called impossible become certainties. But what impact would this ability have on a person? And what if the person in question already had little more than a tenuous grasp on reality to begin with?

What I found was that I couldn’t imagine any situation where a person could do all this and stay sane or even maintain a sense of self. Who we are is defined by how we act and what we think. But if the structure of existence is less like a bedrock foundation and more like a giant sand dune, shifting and ever changing, how do we define ourselves? How do we know who we are? That’s exactly the question Wraith has to face. Naturally there are complications to answering that question. She isn’t sure how she attained this ability or how to control it. All the while, street kids—her friends and peers—are vanishing, some turning up dead.

Perhaps all these questions are just a sign that my own grasp on reality is less than firm. Luckily, I’m a writer, so that would actually work in my favor. But, to quote Dr. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.

(For a video demonstration of the double-slit experiment, see this video clip from Through the Wormhole)

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The Forgotten: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The (Likely) Cone of Silence

I’m working normal human hours at the convention over the next couple of days and then flying back to the United States the day after that, so updates here will be sparse, if present at all. If you can’t survive without me over the next few days I’m likely to be on Twitter a bit, especially if the convention floor has Internet.

So: See you (probably) Tuesday!