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Tell me a Story

Being an Editor, I imagine, is a lot like being the Battalion Logistics officer, or a worker in a Network Operations Center… The only time your name comes up is when something goes horribly wrong. When things are perfect, you are invisible. And even for those people in the know, for those who get to look behind the curtain and see the complex dance that goes into NetOps, Logistics and Editing, one hundred “attaboys” will be wiped out by one “Aw, shit”.

That is why I want to take this time to personally thank Toni Weisskopf for what she has done, both as an Editor, and as the head of Baen Books. When I do an inventory of books in my possession (sorry, former Logistics officer), both physical and e-copy, I see a lot of rocket ship logos. I see names like Weber, Drake, Correia, Williamson and Hoyt. And of course, “Oh, John Ringo, no!” Her handiwork is there, for anyone to see, if they know what to look for.

On the various pages and blogs that I visit, many revolve around writers and writing. I don’t do write myself, but just as someone who loves food likes to sometimes see what goes on in the kitchen, as a lover (if not a TruFan) of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I do like to see the stuff behind the curtain. As a result, I see many authors at various levels in the publishing world talking shop back and forth, discussing the mechanics of publishing, the challenges of getting stories out of the head and onto the paper, what it’s like to see cover art that is either perfect or not quite what they meant, and of course, working with an editor. Remember, these authors are everything from NYT Bestselling authors, to midlisters, to self-publishers, to those folks struggling to get that first story out of their head… All of them respect Toni. All of them.

From my own experience, Toni is also the one who took the time to write to a fan temporarily in Kuwait, about how to get a Baen care package. She would take the time outside of her busy work schedule, to drop an encouraging word on Facebook (to someone she has never actually met) to keep after that never-sufficiently-damned P90X fitness program.

I have written before about not wanting Gatekeepers. Before that ever occurred to me, Toni had embraced that philosophy. It can be summed up in one sentence…

Tell me a good, entertaining story.

So, thank you, Toni, for getting more good stories out there. Having read the books, seen the eARCs, and perused the slush pile, I know that there is a lot that goes into getting from that first rough manuscript to final, published copy. You have done your part in making sure that finished product is the high quality we, as readers, expect from Baen Publishing. As for me, I will do my part to make sure that you and your authors continue to win the coveted “George Washington” awards.

More Hugo Kerfluffle…

As some of you know, there has been a bit of an insurgency in the world of Science Fiction.  sumup

Basically, it comes down to this…

A few years ago, Best selling author Larry Correia noticed that the Hugo Awards, proclaimed as the premiere award in Science Fiction, were not actually going to the popular and best selling books of science fiction, but rather, were going to what he considered less fun, more literary message fiction. Even worse, it seemed that the whole process was being run by a fairly small group of people with an agenda. It seemed they wanted to make sure that the awards went to the “right” people, writing the “right” stories… When he pointed this out, he was roundly ridiculed, and told he was just jealous that he wasn’t being nominated. He replied that it seemed to him that the whole process was more about the politics or group membership of the author than the quality of the story, and that people like him, proudly and outspokenly conservative, were sabotaged from the start. They laughed at him, and he just said, “Watch…”

And thus, Sad Puppies was born.

All of this is to just prep you to go to Arts Mechanical, and see his take on the motivations of the puppies, here:

Why the Puppies Did It

You can see my take, written a couple months ago, here:

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia

And Here:

No More Gatekeepers

The World(s) that Pratchett Built

I have never spoken to Terry Pratchett, yet I feel he was among my dearest mentors, teachers and friends. Because though I never spoke to him, for over 30 years, he spoke to me.

We often debate the differences between Message Fiction, and Fiction with a Message. The importance of a great story versus the importance of advancing an idea or a value. Can you enjoy a story when the story itself is overwhelmed by the message the author is trying to promote? Is there value in a great story with no message at all? Can a story be great without a message? These are all great debates to have, an import discussion that our community should go through often. But ideally, I think we can all agree that if an author were able, on a regular basis, to embed messages and values into engaging and engrossing stories so well, that at the end, all you could do would be to tell friends, “you have to read this, it may be the best thing I’ve read this year”. And in all that, you’d never even talk about what a great message it was, well, that author would be a Master. Which brings us to Terry Pratchett.

pratchett2012

Most famous for his Discworld books, Pratchett has authored 41 books within that setting. While I would consider any of them appropriate for any reader over the age of 12 in your house, 5 of these books, The Tiffany Aiching series (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight) and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents are considered “Young Adult”. Additionally, he has collaborated with Stephan Baxter in The Long Earth series and Neil Gaiman in Good Omens. Finally, he has assorted other works, many related to the Discworld, such as The Discworld Companion, The Diskworld Mapp, and Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook. But enough about his bibliography, let’s delve into the stories of the Discworld.

For a new reader, in might seem a little daunting at first. 41 books, where to start? Do I have to read them all? Will I get bored? There are several ways to approach this challenge and for just about the only time in my life, I am not going to recommend reading them in the order they were published. While it probably wasn’t his original intent, Pratchett’s Discworld books very conveniently break into themed runs or groups. While there are several books, such as The Small Gods, Pyramids, and Moving Pictures that could all be considered stand alone, most of the books can be grouped into the following categories; Rincewind, The Witches, The City Guard, Tiffany Aiching, Moist Von Lipwig, and of course, Death. Since I really don’t like to recreate the wheel, I’ll just point you to a great table, breaking out the order of publishing as well as the groups on the Discworld Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld). For my purposes, I’m going to concentrate on the City Watch.

I think the reason I love the City Watch books so much is that in these books we see most clearly the development and evolution of characters within their universe. Or perhaps, the characters get tested and stressed, until we can see what was at the core all along. Sam Vimes we meet as a drunkard, a man stuck in a job that he knows will probably, eventually, leave him dead in an alley, unmourned. Carrot, a human adopted and raised by dwarves, but in all the ways that matter, a dwarf in his heart. He must learn about human expectations and society as an outsider And of course, Sgt. Colon, who just wants to make it home each morning, and Corporal Nobs, who carries a document attesting that he is, in fact, human.

But Sam Vimes rises. The drunkard is burned away, and what is left is the steel of the Servant of The Law… eventually. From the first book, Guards! Guards!, Vimes chafes at the restrictions forced on him by expectations and the numbing force of the city bureaucracy. He has given up, and retreated into the bottle, but finds that he cannot stay there. When a dragon is unleashed on the city, he comes out and fights to protect what is his. He pushes through on stubbornness and a sheer refusal to be stopped.

All of this is presented in a gloriously funny manner, poking fun along the way at government, bureaucracy, secret societies, dragons and dragon-slayers. As well as any other targets of opportunity that might present themselves along the way. While it is not the first Discworld book, it is a great place to start. Guards! Guards! brings us into a more developed world than Color of Magic (The first Discworld book) and The Light Fantastic (The second), one that has allowed Pratchett to work out his mythologies and rules that govern his fantastic universe. In it, he builds wonderful characters with lives and histories and motivations. Each endearing, and each relatable in their own way. Within the city of Anhk-Morpork, and within the city guard, Pratchett is able to explore, the themes of crime and punishment, racism (or on Discworld, speciesism), the challenges of women in field populated mostly by men, the role of Kings and government, the rule of Law, and military adventurism. And still, with all the messages and points that he wants to talk about, you never feel like the message is the point. Rather, you feel like you’ve read a great story, one that you will return to read again, to share with your children. One that you will tell your friends that they have to read, because it might be the best, funniest, most amazing thing you’ve read all year.

Unfortunately, Pratchett has gone on to meet his maker. He made a wonderful character of Death, so I hope that when the final messenger came to meet him, it was as two friends who have talked many times, going off for a final walk together. I believe that was the attitude that he himself held. After all, this is the man, when knighted, chose to include in his personal Coat of Arm the phrase, “Noli Timere Messorum”. Do Not Fear the Reaper.

 Pratchett-Arms

Sir Terry Pratchett

April 28, 1948 – March 12, 2015

DareDevil, a Netflix Original Series.

Well, I finally got around to watching the DareDevil series on Netflix. I’ll be honest, I thought the first episode was, at best, OK. I dealt with the origin material well, and as far as I could tell, stayed pretty true to the roots of the comics. but still, OK. I’ll admit, DD was not my favorite Marvel property growing up. I do seem to recall that there was a period were he seemed to be the crossover character of choice, kind of like Wolverine in the 90s. As a result, the show did have to overcome that bias that I brought to the table.

DD So I watched Episode 1… Next day, Episode 2. Better, they had gotten a lot of the background material out of the way, and started to build the storyline. Still, I was not on fire for it. It was just better TV than average. The next day, I watched Episodes 3… and then 4… and then 5. If you’ll pardon my saying so, it had become a World on Fire. The hook was in and set. Sunday, episodes 6, 7, 8, and 9. I was mad because I knew dang well my job did not care how much i was enjoying the show, I still needed to be up at 5:30 to go to work. As I said somewhere else, if you are watching the sun rise, it should be because you are getting up & getting ready for work, not because you couldn’t stop watching DareDevil. I finished out the show on Wednesday night. One week, total, had passed and i am cursing/blessing Netflix for releasing the whole series in one go, and very unhappy that it will be 2016 before we get any new episodes.

A word of warning. As many of the Superhero movies have been lately, this is dark and gritty. For those curious about the Marvel Timeline, Season One takes place AFTER the Battle of New York (Avengers), but before the rise of Hydra (Captain America: Winter Soldier) There is quite a bit of violence, and violent death. Matt Murdock, aka DareDevil, has has anger issues that would make Bruce Banner say, “Hey, now, just a minute…”  After interrogating a thug, Matt has no qualms about dropping him over the side of a low building, confident that, since he’s landing in a trash container, he’ll probably survive. Murdock personally has a code against killing, but he has little problem with going right up next to that line.

The lead is played, and played well, by Charlie Cox. I am not personally familiar with anything he has done since the movie Stardust. But he does well. He needs to, because otherwise, he is in serious danger of being overshadowed by his cast mates.

Elden Henson plays a great Foggy Nelson. The kind, idealistic partner at Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law (or Avacados at Law, you’ll know what I mean when you see it). He is joined by Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, their Office Manager, and initial damsel in distress. But the real danger of show thievery is Vincent D’Onofrio, as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin.

D’Onofrio is not generally one of my favorite actors. I was never a fan of Law & Order, and while I liked Full Metal Jacket, his role there went from pathetic to deeply unsettling. As with the series itself, it took a couple of episodes to get used to the idea, and there were many times he reminded me of his role as Edgar in Men in Black, but he developed into the believable villian mastermind, and a credible physicle threat to DareDevil, as well.

Finally, I’m going to give a shout out to Toby Leonard Moore, who played James Wesley, Fisk’s Majordomo. He played his role extremely well, providing the right level of utter professionalism as the lieutenant to a major power player, with the right amount of ruthlessness that you would expect from someone in that position, coupled with respect and friendship of a man working with a boss he genuinely likes and respects. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in season two, and I’ll miss the guy.

So, in review, I’m giving DareDevil Season One Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five). I enjoyed the heck out of it, and I’m looking forward to returning to Hell’s Kitchen in Season Two.

~Old Shib

No More Gatekeepers. With quotes from Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.

“Nac Mac Feegle! The Wee Free Men! Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna’ be fooled again!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

(I’ve included Pratchett quotes from the book Wee Free Men throughout this essay, because Pratchett had a true gift for saying what needed to be said. Read enough of his work, and you’ll see a solid, dependable and honorable philosophy and wonderful way of seeing the world around us. Now, to the essay…)

Earlier, I was reading through a thread started by a Hugo nominated TOR editor. The primary purpose of his posting seemed to be explaining the differences between being a fan of Science Fiction, and being a Capital “F” Fan. He went on to define what should constitute a true “Fan”. It goes well beyond reading and enjoying material from the genre. Frankly that is not enough. You need to be an active Fan. You must know the history, and be able to pass the knowledge tests. You must be participating in the approved activities and going to the approved cons. He goes on at length about the importance of the History and Traditions of Fandom, and how if you are not willing to invest that level of effort, then you simple are not a TruFan (He uses this term). The resulting implication? If you do not meet these standards, you are still allowed to hang around, but you don’t really have any business trying to make your voice heard, you should be self-aware enough to know that you shouldn’t be voting for any awards, and that you really just need to be quiet while the adults are talking.

“No,” said Tiffany, patiently. “It’s about zoology.”

“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”

“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

To me, this seems more like he wants a professional (or perhaps semi-professional) organization, and not a community of fans. If this is truly what he wants, that’s fine, but he needs to change a lot of what Worldcon says about itself, and what the Hugo says about itself. He needs to change a lot of the definitions, and he needs quit pretending that he is anything other than a Gatekeeper, desperately trying to separate all the TruFans from the common rabble.

Personally, I have no use for Gatekeepers. I do not need them for my day to day life, and I do not need them between myself and the world of Science Fiction. I don’t need them telling me what I should be reading, what movies I should be seeing, what games I should be playing. I don’t mind people recommending things, saying, “Hey, I loved this, I think you might like it as well”, but telling me, “these are the qualitatively better authors and these are the qualitatively better books, and there is no reasonable argument against them”… well, no, thank you.

“I can see we’re going to get along like a house on fire,” said Miss Tick. “There may be no survivors.”

I have said many times and in many places, I don’t mind fiction that has a message in it. I don’t even mind if they are pushing things to which I might not totally agree. But story first, thank you. Entertain me first and foremost. When the message is more important than the story, or it seems to be tacked on to the characters for no discernable reason, or it becomes the only definition of the character, you have taken me out of the story. You have taken me out of the fun. You have basically built a homework assignment for me, and are now trying to convince me that I should consume this because it is good for me.

Personally, I do not care for the Twilight franchise, nor the Hunger Games. But these books, along with Harry Potter, have brought in thousands of new fans. Anything that can entice the average 7th to 9th grader to read books outside of school is amazing and the fact that they are bringing those readers into our community, a community that has been having challenges staying young and commercially viable, is outstanding! Bring more! Let us argue the relative merits, let us debate about what are the good parts and what are the bad parts, let us fight about whether we like this or that particular author, or book, or even series of books, but first, let us acknowledge that this is our community, we are kindred spirits, we have more in common than not.

I am a fan. Small “f” and proud of it. I love Heinlein and Asimov and McCaffery and many more of the “Old Masters”. I love that today’s Science Fiction and Fantasy, thanks in large part to G.R.R. Martin, and J. K. Rowling, and yes, Stephanie Meyer is becoming a growing, convoluted and active community. I love that when you go to a Con, you stand an excellent chance of coming across Deadpool, standing next to Tony Stark talking to Ned Stark (head attached), as Gandalf and Frodo walk by. I love that Trekkies can argue the merits of ship-to-ship combat with members of the Manticore Navy. I love that movies can be made into comics can be made into books can be made into games, and that this can happen in any order. I love that, thanks to the internet, I can see what happens at Cons, I can read about what happens at Cons, all without actually having to go to the Con. Am I missing out? Heck yes! I don’t get to hear the jokes, go to the room parties, gawk at the costumes, and meet the creators. But at the same time, I get to see that I am not (as I suspected and feared growing up) alone in my love for the genre.

“There’s no one to stop them.” There was silence for a moment. “There’s me,” said Tiffany.

I know now that there are thousands of us, and that there is just no way a self-appointed Gatekeeper has a chance. These weasels have exactly the amount of power over us that we give them and I, for one, will no longer be silent about it. I will take great pleasure in the self-professed “Pulp” of Larry Correia, in the Space Opera of David Weber, the amazing urban fantasy of Jim Butcher, and the excellent world building of Raymond Feist. I will read the covers off of everything that the late, great, Terry Pratchett ever put out, including the Bromeliad Trilogy. I will read authors who are out and out socialists (Eric Flint) and outspoken libertarians (Sarah A. Hoyt). Heck, I might even break down and read Ancillary Justice. But whatever I do, I will not let others define my fun, I will not let them define the terms and standards, and I will not let them keep me silent. I did that in high school when the “cool kids” made it clear that reading Clarke and Howard and Heinlein was not cool and I was desperately trying to fit in. It did no good then, and it will do no good now.

I willna’ be fooled again!

Crossposted at https://otherwheregazette.wordpress.com/

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia…

What to say about the current Hugo issue.

In a way, it’s disheartening. Like some I’ve read, I always imagined the SciFi community as THE place, where finally, we could all get along. That we had self-selected far enough down, that we had all reached a common point where we could finally be ourselves, accepted, and home… This, sadly, is not the case.

For three years now, Sad Puppies have impacted the field. The brain child of Larry Correia, grown to the point where it is not just making an impact, but it is, in fact, running amuck. Factions have formed, sides have been chosen, and that hope that we can all get along lies crumbling in the ashes. And the really sad part, is that might just be the best outcome that could be hoped for right now.

sad_puppies_3_patch

For too long, the Hugo, called the most prestigious award in all of Science Fiction and fantasy, has been developing problems. The first is the sheer paucity of the voting field. When “the very best book in the SciFi community” is getting there on less than 50 votes, there are serious problems, both with the field and the community. The second is the drift. Like many navigational errors, just a little drift, left long enough, will eventually result in your arrival at a place well off from your intended destination

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Is it the fault of the Puppies group? In a way, yes, it is. We should have done this years, decades, ago. Not arguing for a return to the “Golden Age of Science Fiction”, but to push to include worthy, adventurous works. To recognize and include the message fiction that we might not generally like, but recognizing such works that might be well crafted. To bring to the front those works that might be otherwise be trashed as “Pulp” or Space Opera, again, recognizing that not all Pulp or Space Opera would be worthy, but still, David Weber deserves a Hugo nomination or three. We need to be there so that the works nominated represent a greater variety, not forceing the drift all the way right, but countering the natural drift that always will occur, especially when we don’t bother to show up!

But we’ve let the boat drift for decades, the course correction required is, inevitably, severe. And those people who are comfortable with the way things have been going in those decades? Not happy, not happy at all. Again, in a way, this is our fault. Any of us with children know that a child will push boundaries just as far as you let them, and then a little more. If you never say “no”, if you never correct, the child will eventually become a terror. And when you finally decide to impose the boundaries that should have always been there, you are treated to a spectacular meltdown, and deservedly so. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Are either side acting like adults? Not totally, of course, this is the arena, and everyone with an internet connection is invited. But still, there are bright spots, here and there. Brad Torgersen played nice for a long, long time. I think he may have lost his temper a few times, but after the attacks by Arthur Chu, and the article published by Entertainment Weekly, I find it difficult to the point of impossible to blame him. Before being forced into a correction, the EW article read, “Hugo Award nominations fall victim to misogynistic, racist voting campaign,”…Still, he, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt and some of the other “leadership”, I think, have behaved better than could have been reasonably expected (We organize, mostly, like a bag of cats. Leadership is therefor a bit of a challenge). Larry has been called a “rape apologist”, Sarah has been accused of being a white male (not that there is anything wrong with that), and of course, all of them have been called racists.

On the other side of the field, George R. R. Martin has made a reasonable statement. He thinks the Puppies are wrong, and have broken things, but his argument is at least rational, debatable, and seems to lack gratuitous insults. Mary Robinette Kowal has kindly asked that the folks arguing against Sad Puppies to try to refrain from Death Threats, so, there’s that…

nice

I’m not here to throw red meat, not yet. I’ve made my share of pithy comments, and I’ve thrown out the occasional insult. Clearly, I am not without sin. And I have chosen my side. I am on the side of no one telling me what is right fun and wrong fun. I am on the side that will say, “I honestly don’t know what politics that author has…” I’m on the side that can poke fun at anyone, and everyone who might step into the target zone. {Please note, there is a huge difference between “poke fun” and attempts to cleverly shame, degrade and drive out.). I’m on the side of the publisher who can successfully house, push and publish Trotskyites, Libertarians, Democrats and Conservatives, as well as gay, straight, and bi, all without making sure that is THE FIRST THING you see in the author bio.  I’m against the side that attempts to ostracize, the side that keeps blacklists, the side that makes ANYONE feel like they have to hide what they think or feel about certain issues. The side that whispers, the side that will accuse without proof in attempts to shut down the discussion. The side that says, “We’re open minded, but we won’t interview you, review your books, or ask about your side of the issue.” I have no use for the tolerant who are only tolerant of those who think like they do…

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Hopefully, we can remain the Happy Warriors. This is a fight worth having, but after, we are very much family. Sure, some of us are the embarrassing crazy uncle, many are the unreachable liberal that just makes you grind your teeth, one or two might be cousin that maybe has too many guns (Williamson, Correia, maybe me, someday…) (But really, can you have too many?). But almost all of us came to this place because we were pursuing a sense of the magnificent, of wonder, of magic, or science so advance it is indistinguishable from magic. After this all settles out, we need to argue about things we disagree on, sure (I will no longer be silent, thank you), but we also need to find the things we have in common. Maybe a little of, “I disagree on this book, here, brother, but have you read Pratchett?”, and a little bit of “Let’s argue about the parts of The Lord of the Rings that were not so good, and which parts were transcendent!” Books or movies, you ask? Why both, of course!

~Shib