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Broken Hugo Fisking – D Jason Fleming

Broken Hugo Fisking – D Jason Fleming

So somebody named Chris Meadows has decided to weigh in on L’affaire des chiots triste, and as with most of the mainstream “explanations” of what’s going on, his take is, to use a favored word of good Social Justice Warriors everywhere, problematic.

Why the Hugos are broken, and who’s breaking them now

Gosh, sounds promising, doesn’t it? And authoritative, too!

The Hugo Puppies affair proceeds apace. As it will for at least the rest of this year, and probably the next as well. Everyone is having their say, and some excellent things have been written about the whole matter lately. I’ll get to those in a moment.

One of the things that the whole Sad Puppies Affair has brought to the fore for me, personally, is my total lack of patience or respect for what you might call the Argument By Posture, or Argument From Attitude. There are a great many people, largely on the left, who believe that no logical argument is needed, all one need do is express contempt or, sometimes more artfully, mere dismissiveness by affecting a certain pose and using loaded words without dealing in actual content.

(I have been blocked by any number of these people after both pointing out the vacuity of what they were doing, and treating them to precisely the same thing. I am, of course, always the bad guy in such situations.)

So, let’s just say that Meadows sets off my alarm bells with “proceeds apace” and the affected world-weariness of the first two sentences in general.

Also, it’s hilarious to note that he does not actually count those on the Sad Puppies side of things as having anything “excellent” to say, because of course not. This, also, is of a piece with the Argumentum Ad Poseurum, since he again is inserting his judgement before anything else, a rhetorical placing of the thumb on the scales. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The Internet Breaks the Hugos

Whether you’re for the Puppies or against them, there can’t be any argument that the Hugo nomination and voting process is badly broken. The interesting thing is that the process hasn’t changed appreciably for years or even decades. It didn’t just break on its own. No, the same thing happened to it that happened to so many other processes and industries that had long been taken for granted. The Internet happened.

Well, actually, there has been a lot of argument that the Hugos were just fine, dammit, until those dastardly Sad Puppyvolk came along and Ruined Everything. It is in fact only in the past week or so that there has been acknowledgement that the nomination and voting process is deficient.

Which, please note, is what Larry Correia has been saying for three years.

But, of course, the Sad Puppies cannot be permitted to be correct, so the Old And Busted argument is “the Puppies ruined it allllll!” and The New Hotness is now “Everybody Already Knows About This, And The Fact That These Jerks Are Winning PROVES It And They Must Be Stopped!”

But Meadows goes further, with an argument that’s, well, interesting.

I mean, “the internet broke everything”? Really? Yes, he is apparently serious.

The music industry. Movies. Television. Books. Newspapers. All of these institutions have found the solid bedrock foundation on which they built their business crumble to shifting sand as the Internet gave people ways of either getting their stuff without paying for it, or getting the same stuff legitimately but more cheaply. The Internet has been a great democratizer, and that hasn’t worked so well for institutions that relied on a top-down distribution model.

Openness and “piracy” are ruining everything.

Ignore, for the gods’ sakes, that gigantic pachydermic-looking thing in the middle of the room.

The music industry? The one that tried suing kids for millions upon millions of dollars for daring to make mix tapes? The one that tried to get away, in the ’90s, with claiming that you did not “own” CDs you purchased, and had no right to resell them, share them, or even let anyone but the purchaser even listen to them? The industry that deliberately set things up so that no musician could become a success while retaining ownership of his music? (Don’t believe me? Then listen to Buddy Holly, in 1957, begging his former record company to allow him to record his own songs.) But forget all that, the problem is the internet letting those damned kids record and copy and share without permission. Their business was built on a solid bedrock foundation. Yep.

Movies? There are lots and lots of problems with the movie industry, and despite the shrieking hysteria you occasionally hear from Hollyweird, “piracy” really isn’t one of them. An industry whose budgets are outpacing inflation nearly as badly as universities’ has inarguable problems, and those budgets aren’t caused by “the internet”, they’re caused by magical Hollywood accounting under which no movie ever, ever shows a profit, and unions jacking up their rates to try to compensate for that.

And on and on.

The actual problem is that the internet eliminated the need for gatekeepers, and The Establishment in each industry no longer gets to dictate to everybody else what they will like and what they can and cannot do.

Does piracy exist? Sure. Is it a problem? I tend to think not, generally speaking. Unless, of course, you try to force prices higher than the market deems reasonable, in which case, yeah, you’re going to get pirated a lot and paid very little. But that’s another blogpost.

But no, ignore all that, ignore all those industries violations of decency and cronyism with Congress to keep gaming the law (remember the Disney copyright extension of 1997?), and all other evidences of their corruption and glorious comeuppance once the internet hit.


Because the internet is ruining everything. There, isn’t that much easier? Much happier? Now shut up and eat your garbage!

(Who wants to lay odds that Meadows really, really hates Fox News and yearns for the days when media bias and malfeasance was never exposed “didn’t exist”?)

But the Internet hasn’t had to affect institutions directly to cause these problems. Sometimes all it takes is connecting people together outside of those institutions. The entire point of the Cluetrain Manifesto was to warn corporations that consumers now had the power to talk to each other the world over about those corporations’ products, and if the corporations didn’t take note and engage in a two-way dialogue, they were going to be roadkill on the Information Superhighway. When Cluetrain was first published, in 1999, this was a pretty bold statement. In the years since, it’s become recognized as a fact of life, not just for corporations but for everyone.

I’m not sure which is more interesting here, Meadows’ pimping of his own past work, or his use of the 1996-fabulous term “information superhighway” with the not-clever-since-maybe-1997 roadkill metaphor.

What has this to do with the Hugos? Um, well, internet. It’s destroying everything, you know.

Anyone remember in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when the Japanese were buying up everything and that was what was wrong with life, the universe, and everything? No?

So, here we have the Hugo Awards, adapting their voting process to the Internet by making it possible for associate members to enter ballots by web instead of just mailing them in as before, without taking into account that the Internet makes it possible to organize concerted campaigns by letting people post communications to everyone else on the Internet. Something like this was inevitable. Perhaps the only thing to be surprised about is that it didn’t happen sooner. (And, given that this is the third year in a row there has been Puppy activity, and it takes two years to implement Hugo rule changes, perhaps the Worldcon folks should have started considering this problem a little earlier, before it became the full-blown crisis that it is this year.)

“Perhaps the only thing to be surprised about is that it didn’t happen sooner”?

Meadows, in a capital feat of Missing The Point, manages to ignore that the Sad Puppies maintain that it did happen sooner — that’s why Sad Puppies exists.

Oh, and Harlan Ellison was saying that it existed way back in 1995.

And the other thing Meadows completely fails at noting is that Sad Puppies played by the rules as they stand, was open and transparent about what they were doing, and were decrying the secret, behind the scenes collusion and deal-making.

You know. The whole point of the exercise.

And this could be only the beginning. When I was chatting with SF and romance novelist Mercedes Lackey the other day, she made this prediction:
I cannot WAIT until someone lets the Romance Writers know about this, and how to get a book on the Hugo ballot.

Romance readers outnumber SF readers by about 100 to one, and a very high percentage of them would be gleeful to only pay $40 to get one of their beloved writers an award.

Romance writers are extremely savvy women about energizing their fan bases. They were using social media for that long before SF writers started.

I want to see their faces when Diane Gabaldon takes the Hugo in 2016.

You know, I was chatting with Bigfamous Namedrop the other day, and she said:

So Diana Gabaldon might win a Hugo? She’s been writing a time-travel fantasy series for, what? Twenty years? More? Sure, it’s romance, but it’s also time-travel fantasy. Does the “romance” label somehow render her Too Uncool To Deserve A Hugo?

As a point of interest, when your horror-show hypothetical result is still more deserving of a genre win than an actual Hugo-winning story — and yes, I mean the dreadful dinosaur piece of wankery — then maybe, possibly, perhaps you are arguing from a position of weakness.

Food for thought, Meadows.

Are the Hugos out of Touch?

By now we’re all familiar with the Puppies’ contention that the Hugos no longer reflect the popular reading tastes of the general public. But did you know the Puppies may have at least part of a point? No less a personage than Eric Flint has spoken out to say that the Hugos are somewhat out of touch after all—but not for the reasons the Puppies think, and they’re going about trying to “fix” it the wrong way. The far-far-left Flint would seem like the last person one would expect to agree with the Puppies on anything, but he makes a pretty good case.

Again, let us look at the ever-shifting goal posts. (In all fairness, I have no idea if Meadows ever did this shift, but since he’s arguing the “Everything Is Awesome” position, with careful attenuations to admit that not quite everything is awesome, but the Puppies are still drooling morons, it’s completely fair to bring up this shift.)

Old & Busted: Baen Books Is Not A Real Publisher And Is Conservative (BOO! HISS!), Too.

(Another logical fallacy is implicit here, the Argument from Cooties — if something is “conservative”, it has cooties, and everyone even tenuously associated with it has cooties, too, and therefore doesn’t need to be dealt with, merely smeared.)

New Hotness: Baen Books Superstar Eric Flint Is Lefty And Therefore Awesome (because he lets me argue that the Puppies are right, but still wrong wrong wrong!!!)

Now, let us pause to consider the argument, made by more serious-minded folks than Meadows, that the Sad Puppies are indeed correct that something is wrong with the process (note: yes, a distortion of the SP’s actual position, but let it pass for now), but incorrect about how to fix it.

Note that, prior to the Sad Puppies victory this year, according to “everybody” (that is, the popular establishment opinion), Everything Was Awesome except for Larry Correia’s Hugo nomination which, because Larry is a nasty non-leftist, was Too Abhorrent To Discuss. But the problem was Larry, and Vox Day, and the wrong kinds of fans getting involved in the process.

But this year, the Sad Puppies dominated the nominations before the whisper campaigns got certain authors to withdraw their works because of cooties. And while, at first, we still heard that Everything Was Awesome, that excuse just wasn’t flying anymore.

So, now, thanks to Sad Puppies 3, people who have a violent allergic reaction to any nonconformist wrongthink are admitting that, well, okay, something is wrong.

In other words, the Sad Puppies ended up both Speaking Truth To Power and Starting A Conversation.

Why are these things only awesomesauce when lefties do them? (Yeah, yeah, I know, “Because SHUT! UP!”)

Flint is so long-winded in his explanation that it’s hard to find bits to quote, but the fundamental causes he lays at the feet of Hugos’ disconnection are threefold: First, there’s simply too much stuff being written these days for people to read more than a small fraction of the potential output while it’s still eligible for nomination. Second, the categories the Hugo covers (novel, novella, novelette, short story) no longer reflect the ways in which fiction is actually published. Third, the tastes of the people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them have diverged over time from those of the average person.

[Eric Flint quote omitted.]

Flint also thinks that limiting the awards to one particular item per specific year leads to a lot of excellent works failing to be considered—both because there’s not room for them all to be nominated, and because many people may not even get around to reading something until years after it was published.

Flint’s proposed fix is expanding the categories to account for more types of fiction than are currently covered, or even scrapping the current system of annually-delimited awards outright in favor of more overall-in-field recognition. But he admits that institutional inertia makes it unlikely such a thing will ever happen.

It’s quite cute that Meadows is trying to enlist a Baen author’s arguments against the Sad Puppies (whose organizers are largely comprised of Baen authors and indies).

The problem is, Flint’s arguments would have been just about equally apposite in the early 1990s.

Too much stuff being written these days? Gardner Dozois’s “The Year’s Best SF” anthologies always documented raw numbers in an expansive introduction, such as how many genre novels were published in a given year. I got that anthology from 1989 through about ’94, and every single one included an implicit apology that Dozois could not possibly have read all ~500 novels published in the preceding year, and then noted books that others had mentioned thinking highly of.

If that aspect is broken now, it was broken twenty-five years ago too, and why is it only okay to discuss it now?

The answer is “never mind, we’ve found an argument that will co-opt the Sad Puppies and still let us mock them for being stoopit”.

The second point, that the categories don’t cover how fiction is published, is incredibly open to argument on both sides, pro and con, and that lies outside the scope of this fisking. If the thing needs to be hashed out, it will be, but for now, readers know what a novel is, what a short story is, and the in-between categories of novellette and novella aren’t exactly hard to figure out either. If changes need to happen, well, that’s what Emergent Order is for. It will happen if it needs to, without anybody needing to control it. (Which, come to think of it, is what so frosts the Anti-Sad-Puppies like John Scalzi. They don’t get to dictate, and that’s Wrong.)

The third point is interesting, though, in how Meadows is trying to square the circle.

“Third, the tastes of the people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them have diverged over time from those of the average person.”

This is, shall we say, a problematic argument to make when you also accuse “people who care enough about these awards to bother to take part in them” to be “ballot stuffing” because they’re voting in ways you don’t approve.

See, the Hugo is “the fan’s award”, and has (until this year) always been presented as such.

But in recent years, a certain cadre has “cared enough to bother” with the award. And Sad Puppies comes along, declares “we care enough, too, and there are more of us!”

Which has lead to rather delicious public admissions, such as Theresa Neilsen-Hayden declaring both that the Hugo is not “the fan award”, and that “the wrong kinds of fans” must be kept out of the voting process.

Which, by the by, is exactly the sort of mindset and behavior that Larry Correia and the Sad Puppies said was the problem to begin with. Not that “the process is broken”, but that the process had been taken over by a self-appointed, self-congratulatory “elite”, and that they would not take well to intrusions from the riff raff.

Well, thanks to TNH’s admissions, among others, we have crystal clear evidence that that supposed “elite” was not theoretical, but real, and they have very publicly Not Reacted Well to being exposed and shown up.

So what it comes down to is this: if “average people” suddenly “care enough to bother to take part” in the Hugos, does that mean that the tastes of the average person are now more closely aligned to the tastes of people who care enough to bother to take part, or does that mean that suddenly the rules must be changed to keep these awful people out?

The Sad Puppies are simply trying to make “the people’s award” reflective of the people again, and not a self-appointed clique that took over the process to puff its members up while pretending to represent the mass taste.

The Anti-Sad Puppies just want to shut out these knuckle-dragging uncouth savages from the process.

Understanding Vox Day

It’s also worth noting that laying all this disruption at the feet of the Sad Puppies campaign might actually be a mistake. If you dig through the statistics, you’ll find something interesting: the Rabid Puppies campaign by Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale), whose slate had significant but not total overlap with Sad Puppies, actually did better in the nominations than Sad Puppies. When the two slates conflicted, the Rabid choices won out. Ten works that were on Rabid but not Sad made it into the final ballot, while only three works that were on Sad but not Rabid did (and they generally did so only because Rabid didn’t nominate a full slate in those categories). It’s possible that if no one had submitted a Sad Puppies nominating ballot at all, the end results would have still been largely similar.

And now begins the part of the game where smear-by-association sets in, with the super-neato twist of using it also to denigrate the target further by insinuating that Evil McBadPerson is more effective/competent/lock-steppy than those silly Sad Puppies.

More argument-by-cooties, in other words, with the extra attempted insult of “cooties are better than you!

Doesn’t this mature, respectable, and, hell, I’m not afraid to say the word, honorable behavior just make you puff up with pride in all the Good People who aren’t so stupid as to actually associate with Sad Puppies? Doesn’t it? Huh?

The thing is, a lot of people don’t seem to know a lot about Beale beyond the fact that he was kicked out of the SFWA for using its official Twitter feed to disseminate a blog post in which he called author N.K. Jemisin a “half-savage.” Beale’s defenders have tried to insist that his words (and those of multiply-nominated author John C. Wright, whose work Beale publishes) are taken out of context, but lately (and to John Scalzi’s amusement) Sad Puppies leaders Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have tried to distance themselves from him. (A bit too late, given that he’s already gotten what he wanted out of them, but better late than never I suppose.)

Dear gods this is tedious.

Yes, Chris Meadows, yes: Cool Kid John Scalzi will now confer upon you Righteous Awesomeitude, okay? Could you just, you know, do the fellating somewhere the rest of us don’t have to watch? The whole toady-on-bully thing just doesn’t do it for me, you know?

Now, apart from the porntastic aspects of this, the (pardon me, but it is the word) smear continues. Just a few points of interest:

1. Vox Day is not a part of Sad Puppies. Yes, yes, some of his work was included in the recommendations of Sad Puppies 2. He has no connection to Sad Puppies 3. It is not defensive to say this, especially as people on the Anti-Sad Puppy side continually try to smear by association.

2. Rabid Puppies was, as I understand it, inspired by two things: the partial success of Sad Puppies 2, and the fact that it would piss off John Scalzi and all his toadies.

Rabid Puppies is the responsibility of one man, Vox Day. And he is responsible for himself. Neither Larry Correia nor Brad Torgerson are accountable for the words or deeds of another adult human being. That’s because, he’s, you know, an adult.

Unlike Chris “I learned to argue from the mean girls in eighth grade” Meadows.

(Now watch: if he responds, he’ll ONLY bring up argumentum ad hominem, and not the many, many, many, many, many factual deficiencies of his position, which I’ve been pointing out at length.)

3. Vox was ejected from the SFWA in violation of the rules of the SFWA.

Just kind of a minor point about how The Establishment operates. They are totally willing to break their own rules, just so long as they win.

Unlike, say, the Sad Puppies, who are openly playing by the established rules. And winning.

Here’s a great opportunity to remedy that lack of knowledge. Writer Philip Sandifer has written an epic analysis of Beale and Wright’s political and religious position and how it informs the stories they’ve written and nominated for Hugos. I think that this should be required reading for anyone who wants to take part in the the discussion, whichever side you’re on. I hope I remember this piece when next year comes around, because I feel it should earn Sandifer a place on the 2016 Hugo ballot for Best Fan Writer. It’s extremely long, but well worth reading.

[quote omitted]

Vox is a bad-wrong-odious-wrongthink-BADPERSON, we get it already.

Also? He’s not part of Sad Puppies, and thank you for reviving guilt by association as Totally Awesome. The shade of Joseph McCarthy smiles upon you, Chris Meadows.

What Would Heinlein Think of the Puppies?

As I’m about to demonstrate, if you want to know the answer to this, Chris Meadows is pretty much the last person to look to.

Finally, let’s consider one of the deities the Puppies claim to idolize: Robert Heinlein, who wrote a lot of terrific pulpy action adventure back in the day. One of the Puppies’ major goals is to get more of that kind of stuff and less preachy message fiction in the Hugos, after all.

Chris Meadows would appear to bathe in pure smug. It takes quite a lot of smug to do a double-reverse implied scare quote, after all.

Yes, there are scare quotes around “deities”, you can feel them purely through the power of his contempt.

Actually, this is so jam-packed with idiocy, I’m going to deconstruct it phrase by phrase:

Finally, let’s consider one of the deities the Puppies claim to idolize

As my added emphasis makes clear, Meadows is striving mightily to engage in impression management. The snarky “deities”, the stiletto of implying that Sad Puppy claims are inherently untrustworthy, and the not-at-all accidental implication that we’re insane religious fanatics, all in less than a dozen words.

This isn’t an argument, this is inept propaganda.

Robert Heinlein,

Hey, I managed to cull two words that weren’t a sneer! Yay me!

who wrote a lot of terrific pulpy action adventure

As to “terrific”: right.

As to “pulpy”: great Hera, I could do an essay on this one attempt to sway readers through implication instead of reason and facts, but I won’t.

But let me say this: Meadows is either a fool or a scumbag. Take your pick. [We’re going with both – ed.] Robert A. Heinlein was the very first science fiction writer in America to break out of the “low brow”, “ghetto” of the pulp magazines and into the “respectable” slick magazines. The very first. He was the guy who was So Good, the snooty editors could not deny him because of his genre. This is the author being praise-dismissed with the word “pulpy”.

“Oh,” Meadows is going to claim, “I was praising his quaint, old-fashioned, non-modern style!” Well, not in those words. But make no mistake, it’s left-handed praise, and it’s meant that way.

So is Meadows making it because he’s an ignorant twit, or because he’s a mendacious jerk?

And really, does it matter?

To continue, “action adventure”: Another loaded phrase that can be excused as “positive”, but as everybody who is ANYBODY knows, “action adventure” just isn’t literary old chap, not important. You know. It’s not nearly on par with a first novel that deliberately calls every character “she”, because Gender Is Socially Assigned, you know. What what?

back in the day.

Get that? Heinlein is OLD, people! And, as every Mentos commercial made in the ’90s informed, us, old is stupid, and young is awesomesauce, automatically!

One of the Puppies’ major goals is to get more of that kind of stuff and less preachy message fiction in the Hugos, after all.

For a guy who, I don’t even have to guess, is on the side that claims to be Far More Nuancier Than Thou, Meadows sure has a rough time understanding a not-at-all difficult to understand distinction between what he claims here, and what Sad Puppies is actually about.

Mr. Meadows, I know this is hard for you to get entered into that gray matter you have, but do please at least try: What we want is fiction that tells an entertaining story first. It can have A Message, or No Message, that’s more or less beside the point.

We’re just tired unto death of fiction that has no story, eschewed in favor of Just One Approved Message, or else a story that Makes No Sense because the message trumped story logic.

We don’t mind messages. We don’t even mind messages antithetical to our own views (unlike you and your hate for Vox Day for having The Wrong Message, as noted above). We just want A Good Story, and if it has a message, fine and dandy, but the Story Must Be Good first.

Which, if you notice, is not what you say above. Because you’re wrong. Whether you’re wrong because you’re too stupid to understand a fairly minimal level of nuance, or because you’re an impression-managing manipulative lying jackass, again, I leave as an excercise for the reader.

Except the Puppies are kind of forgetting something. Heinlein was no stranger to “preachy message fiction” himself. In fact, he had some pretty harsh words for critics who wanted all adventure and no message:

Harsh words for critics who want what the Sad Puppies avowedly Do Not Want. As explained above. So, you know, GREAT ZINGER, DUDE! Just, too bad it doesn’t apply to the people you thought you were zinging.


This is the Heinlein quote (which he got from a comments section, rather than, you know, sourcing it himself):

He will permit any speculation at all” as long as it is about gadgets only and doesn’ touch people. He doesn’t care what mayhem you commit on physics, astronomy, or chemistry with your gadgets but the people must be the same plain old wonderful jerks that live in his Home Town. Give him a good ole adventure story any time, with lots of Gee-Whiz in it and space ships blasting off and maybe the Good Guys (in white space ships) chasing the Bad Guys (in black space ships) but, brother, don’t you say anything about the Methodist Church, or the Flag, or incest, or homosexuality, or teleology, or theology, or the sacredness of marriage, or anything philosophical! Because you are just an entertainer, see? That sort of Heavy Thinking is reserved for C. P. Snow or Graham Greene. You are a pulp writer, Bud, and you will always be a pulp writer even though your trivia is now bound in boards and sells for just as much as Grace Metalious stories and you are not permitted to have Heavy Thoughts. Space Ships and Heavy Thinking do not mix ” so shut up and sit down!

The rule is: Science Fiction by its nature must be trivial.

This of course rules out a large fraction of my work” and all my future work, I think.

I defy Meadows to find one individual even remotely related to Sad Puppies who thinks SF should only be about gadgets. Go for it. Try.

(Which is even funnier, because his Biggest Complaint about Vox Day and John Wright’s fiction is that He Does Not Like Their Speculations About People, because wrongthink!)

If the Sad Puppies have a rule for SF, it is this:

The rule is: Science Fiction by its nature must be entertaining.

This is a rule Heinlein never broke. (You, yes you, the one about to kvetch about The Number Of The Beast — be quiet; you would only be admitting that you missed the joke of what Heinlein was doing in that book. [Seconded! – Ed.])

It’s like he’s speaking directly to the Sad Puppies from beyond the grave, isn’t it?

It’s like Meadows is an idiot savant, except for the “savant” part, isn’t it?

Growing up Alien – A Blast From The Past from September 2007

Growing up Alien- A Blast From The Past from September 2007

Apropos the last entry — multi-culti tutti fruti — my husband said the child should do a presentation on the culture of writers.  Laura then expanded on this with several perfectly apropos observations on what the children of self-employed intellectuals learn.  This got me to thinking about — specificaly — what growing up with parents who both write science fiction, fantasy and mystery has done to our kids.  I don’t know if it qualifies as a culture, mind you.  our family is arguably a group — just not a large group.  We could, arguably, be considered a sub culture.  Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock talked about just such a splintering of subcultures, some with very little to do with the other, none really having much to do with people’s antecedents.  He didn’t of course factor in the internet, which makes such cultures geographically spread out.  My kids and Dave Freer’s kids understand each other completely — over Skype.  They’ve never met in person.  Most of Robert’s classmates think his points of reference are bizarre.

So, if Robert wanted to write about the subculture of kids growing up in a house with two writing parents who are both sf/f geeks, he would write this:

When I was very, very young, I thought “editor” was a swear word — it was just the tone mom said it in.  It took me till I used it in Kindergarten to realize that it wasn’t.

Names that my parents hold in utter reverence — Heinlein, Bradbury, Pratchett — are utterly unknown to my classmates.  On the other hand, when I found out my history teacher (10th grade) read Baen, it was like meeting a long-lost uncle.

When I was five and wrote a Winnie the Pooh story — twenty pages long and with a complex plot — mom and dad did not congratulate me on my achievement.  Instead they sat me down and explained I should never use someone else’s copyrighted characters.  Never, ever, ever.

Mom and dad would forgive dirt behind the ears.  They would never forgive bad grammar, though.

Apparently when you demand chocolate in the grocery store, other parents don’t answer TANSTAAFL.  Other parents don’t quote the sayings of Lazarus Long at their kids.  Other parents don’t tell their children their lego spaceships would never fly, nor exhort them to “do the math.”

On the other hand, most other parents don’t subscribe to science news and don’t leave books on forensic crime investigation in the bathroom.

Some of the worst arguments I’ve had with my mother are over vocabulary.  She has a this thing about words she calls “ugly” and “clunky.”  Then there’s my dad.  We argue about physics and math.  And have shouting matches over what exactly the fourth dimension is.

When I was twelve and still not published, I got a long discourse on how I was just being lazy and refusing to learn to plot.  Then mom gave me ten books to read on the subject.  Mind you, I wanted to write, but they wanted me to do it right.

There are books in every room in the house, even the bathrooms.  There are books in laundry baskets under the guest bed.  There are books in steamer trunks in the attic and in plastic boxes in the basement.

The worst social gaffe a friend of the family ever committed at our house was when she told me — aloud, during Thanksgiving dinner — my stories were not very logical and my universe should be more like Star Trek.  You could see dad biting his tongue.  And I think mom went into the kitchen and laughed.

My brother and I never played catch.  Or hide and seek.  We have however, since Eric  Marshall was very young, played a make-believe game in which our house is an interstellar spaceship and all four of us are explorers.  The cars are our away pods.  The office is the control center.

People discussing plots at the dinner table is just normal.  We learned to chime in with ideas by the time we were two.

On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to describe these plots to your kindergarten teacher.  She calls your mom and interrupts her.  And she gets “concerned.”  (Woman thought Robert was claiming to have seen an alien.  Sigh.)

It’s not a good idea to interrupt mom when she’s really writing fast.  She throws books at you.  And while I know she aims to miss you — she aims very badly.  And dictionaries HURT.

If mom is in one of her writing frenzies, you need to remember to feed pets.  You also need to remind her to eat.  Sleep.  Bathe.  And there’s really nothing alarming if she suddenly looks up and says “What’s my middle name?”  These things happen.

It’s not polite to call dad an “editor” even if he’s edited two anthologies.

Mom and dad both expect you to learn a bunch of things on your own.  If you fail to do it, you get pointed at the appropriate bookshelf.  Sometimes at the inappropriate one.

NEVER tell either parent “I’m bored.”  You’ll find yourself buried under a mountain of books.

Sometimes the plumber who just came over to fix the back up in the basement will ask for mom’s autograph.  He’ll do it while you’re sitting right there at the breakfast table eating your cheerios.  Mom says she didn’t pay him to do that, and mom is an honest woman.

Sometimes people in appliances stores will give your parents discounts because they’ve read their stuff.

But the weirdest thing is that mom and dad inhabit a world all their own.  For instance, while visiting the aquarium in Denver, we came across an aquarium where ALL the piranha were facing in one direction.  In neat rows.  Dad immediately got up on a little stand nearby and started speaking to them — in the “you’ll never go hungry again” style.  Yes, we were alone there at the moment — but then a woman came in.

The look on her face reminds me, that as the son of SF/F writers, I grew up alien.

Manly Men Doing Manly Things in Manly Ways- By Tom Knighton

Manly Men Doing Manly Things in Manly Ways

By Tom Knighton


I don’t recall exactly who, but one of the better known authors of our genre once claimed that all people like me wanted in our books was, “Manly men doing manly things in manly ways.” Obviously, this was a snide way to say that I and people like me have no interest in female characters. So, I thought I’d take advantage of Sarah’s platform to talk about some of the books that have impacted me in various ways and see if this attestation holds any water at all.


For me, the list should start with Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold. You see, that’s the first science fiction book I’d picked up in a long time (had been mostly reading fantasy, which I’ll get to in a moment). Manly men? Well, unless I’ve been completely misreading everything Mike wrote about Kendra Pacelli, not so much. She is a she, to start with. It’s through her alien eyes that the world of Grainne is explained to the reader. Mike takes a shot at those who complain about diversity, and it’s awesome.


Now, what about “manly things in manly ways”? Well, a nice chunk of the book deals with an invasion of Grainne, and Kendra does her fair share of kicking butt, so that might qualify. However, considering how the left feels about stereotypes, this should be a good thing. Kendra, a female, easily handles combat and dealing with males in a combat environment.


After that, let’s talk about Larry Correia’s work.


First, the Monster Hunter books. Yes, Owen Pitt is a man. He smashes things with his fist, he shoots things with his gun, and he makes monsters into corpses. Manly man doing manly things in manly ways.


Oh, but what about Julie Shackleford? I mean, she’s a badass too, serving as the team sniper (and anyone who thinks sniping doesn’t require a level of badass doesn’t know squat about sniping). She’s also described as a brilliant negotiator who sets up most of the team’s contracts and just generally smart as hell. Owen knows she’s smarter than he is, and is remarkably fine with that.


Yeah, yeah, you might think. She’s just a token chick with a gun, right? WRONG!


On the very same team is Holly Newcastle, one of my favorite characters in the series. Holly is a former stripper who is now one of the more vicious members of MHI. Her viciousness isn’t some symptom of “irrational woman” either, but is deeply rooted in her backstory. You see, for those who haven’t read the series, to be recruited to work for MHI, you have to survive a monster encounter. Holly’s is one of the more brutal and terrifying of the encounters.


Larry’s not done with just one series either. Take his Grimnoir series. Throughout the series, the most dangerous of the badasses is Faye. The Oakie girl raised by Portuguese dairy farmers is easily one of the most deadly of the heroes.


“Oh, but Tom, listen to the way she talks. Correia made her an idiot!” Again, WRONG! I don’t want to include spoilers, but let’s just say it’s revealed that Faye is also one of the smartest too. She’s uneducated, but she’s not stupid. The way she spoke was actually typical for rural folks of that era. Larry has her speak like that for a very good reason.


Now, let’s give a shout out to our esteemed hostess. Darkship Thieves, which features Athena Sinistra. Again, Athena isn’t a dude, though she’s not a typical woman either (again, avoiding spoilers). However, she also doesn’t engage in your typically male daring-do either.


Plus, I have to make a confession. Patricia Briggs. Yeah, love her Mercy Thompson series. Very much a case of “not a male” as well, and they’re some pretty good stories too in my opinion.


Then you take books by people like Robert Heinlein that routinely included non-male characters as the protagonist, and not in a whiney “damsel in destress” type of way either, or Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, or any of a number of other talented authors who included strong female protagonists doing things in whatever way worked for their stories.


That’s the amusing thing about the accusations slung around. The books I’ve laid out are ones that many here have read and enjoyed to some extent.


By now, it should be abundantly clear that anyone who trots out the “manly men doing manly things in manly ways” meme is either disingenuous, ignorant of the works they’re disparaging, or perhaps a combination of the two. Just look at the examples Mad Mike gives of his own work, and that becomes incredibly clear.


What they’re insinuating is that those they attack—people like myself and many of you—are nothing more than unsophisticated in their choice of science fiction entertainment, which brings us to the root of the problem. You see, people who like many of these works are people who don’t care how beautifully you turn a phrase, but whether you tell a story that makes us turn the page.


The phrase is designed to paint us as sexist in our choices of entertainment, but I think it’s pretty easy to disprove that. So what are some of your favorite works that aren’t about manly men doing manly things in manly ways?

Give Me My Smelling Salts, Ho!

I don’t make much secret of the fact that I grew up in an actual honest to goodness sexist society. And by sexist I mean one that believed that women were sort of second best when it came to human beings.

No, this wasn’t micro-aggression, but the actual, stated opinion of most people in the society, including women. Teachers thought nothing of saying in front of a class “this might be a little more difficult for you ladies, since it requires logical reasoning.” They expected, in a co-ed class, that men would be better than the women at just about anything involving academics. In craft class, women were shunted to sewing and such, and I was told that no, I couldn’t do carpentry because that was weird and unnatural.

I don’t think it’s the same now. EEC, and a determined campaign to make women “equal” – which is probably… Never mind. We’ll get to that.

Fortunately or unfortunately I have a really hard time staying told. What I mean is, the more they told me I was inferior and had to defer to the better male brains, the more I set out to prove to the guys that I could run circles around them, mentally speaking.

It always gave me great pleasure when, by the end of the year, the teachers looked to me, and not to whichever boy they’d decided was the prodigy when they asked a difficult question.

This wasn’t always easy, particularly since by culture I was expected to take a great deal of the housekeeping off mom’s hands, while most boys went home and had no other duties than to study. But I studied harder; I read more; and by gum I worked to be better.

So – is this an extended whine about discrimination?

Shrug. No. I don’t know if I would be me – pig headed and stubborn as some species of weed – if it weren’t for those “handicaps” thrown in my way. I don’t know if I’d ever have learned to work hard, either. You see, if I had been handed things on a plate, I don’t know if I’d ever have made an effort. I’m very lazy, after all.

And if I hadn’t fought to be admitted to the confraternity of “the best” in each class, I’d never have understood the strange comradery that can flourish between men and women, when the men know a woman has bested them at their game and earned her position among them, they – at least the decent ones – tend to treat her as an equal.

Now, there are downsides to this, and we’ll talk about it in a moment.

I imagine, though I have absolutely no backing for this, that I resemble, in spirit and experiences the feminists of the 40s and 50s, when the point was to prove you could be as good as a man, and when the sort of work required and (perhaps in the fifties) effective contraception made it possible for women to have equivalent professional lives.

At least what I’ve read from those time periods, women’s attitude seemed to be “We can do it. We can be better than men, work harder than men, take knocks like men. And we ain’t no wall flowers.”

There was the inherent belief that, yes, the world was biased, but it was up to us to prove we could make it despite the bias. This was my belief when I lived in Portugal too.

I realized things were different in the US – very different – when my American literature teacher, fresh off the plane, used “he” to refer to indeterminate gender in a class full of females, in my third year in college and then started apologizing and ritually abasing himself for his “sexism.” The class of 20 some budding linguists blinked at him and said “but that is the default pronoun for indeterminate gender in English!”

I’ve never seen a man so astonished. Which prepared me for what I call “the feminist war on language” through the late eighties and nineties in this country.

Though I might say nothing prepared me for the piece of strangeness that was “Herstory.” Seriously, women, learn philology and stop embarrassing people with vaginas. It was as stupid as when preachers use English to decide that there is some arcane meaning in the Bible. It’s as though they don’t realize languages evolve. Which begs the question of whether they understand societies change, or whether they live in an eternal now, but that’s a question for another time.

And then things got ever weirder. One started getting dinged for not using his/her in any correspondence of non-fiction.

It made me a little …. Uncomfortable. Both as a linguist and as a human being. Look, language is language. Language isn’t sexist because language isn’t anything. Yes, there are fossilized meanings and fossilized attitudes in language, but they don’t “intend” or “mean” anything beyond well, the explicit meaning.

This is hard to explain, but suffice it to say half of my teaching career (teaching ESL mostly, but also French and briefly German) was spent saying “there is no why in language.” I.e. don’t ask me why “bread” is “bread” in English but “pao” in Portuguese. I don’t mean there is no explanation of how those words came to be used. Of course there is. Different invading people, different pervading cultures, etc. That’s what philology does and it’s fun for a winter’s night. (Okay, so I have a weird idea of fun.) BUT it’s not a LOGICAL reason. A lot of my students would say stuff like “but bread makes no sense. It doesn’t sound like the thing.”

I think the war on “he” as the default for indeterminate is the same kind of thought. “But it could be a he or a she. So we should mention both. Even if it just makes sentences really awkward.”

That was only part of what made me uncomfortable, though. What really bothered me was this sense that the woman (and it was always women) enforcing the he/she had this need to be noticed, even in a sentence that didn’t refer to them. It was as though they were saying “AND a WOMAN too.” (There are any number of oral story telling techniques that do just this, so you’ll say something like “Five hundred men, three elephants, and the flea in the captain’s beard.” That was sort of the feeling I got.)

Still, you know, language evolves with culture, and I figure this was part of it and just wished they’d settled for something other than he/she or a “they” that broke the number concordance. (Yes, I know Shakespeare did it. He did all manner of foolish things, as well as brilliant ones.) I thought even “it” would be better.

But the disturbing trend continued to grow. Bookstores started labeling history sections “herstory” with no irony whatsoever. College educated women honest to goodness thought there had been as many female medieval fighters as male and there was a vast conspiracy to hide this. (Where women were supposed to come up with the upper body strength for those weapons I don’t know. Yeah, some managed it. Maybe one in a thousand.) A vast conspiracy involving millions of people through the ages. A conspiracy of which we had no record. A conspiracy that never once broke ranks.

Then there was the sisterhood thing. You know, where every and any woman is supposed to understand me better than a man. That was jaw-dropping. I mean, I’m supposed to have more in common with Mary who does tatting for a living in some little village in England than with, oh, Larry, say, who writes for the same house I do in America.

And there was the “men are afraid of you” thing that was brought up as to why I didn’t get along with my boss when I was a lecturer in college. (It probably had more to do with the fact I didn’t intend to make a career of it, and wasn’t going to jump through his hoops. Oh, also, I was a smart-mouthed kid with no social sense.) This is used to explain any man not liking any woman nowadays and particularly any man criticizing a woman’s performance of her job.

But when I first realized things had gone off the rails was when a professor, in a well reported snit, ran out of a lecture hall, crying and threatening to throw up because a college president mentioned statistics and the relative, statistical position of women in intellectual fields and said it was the same as the relative IQ curve. That is, that women mostly occupy the middle ranks, while men claim more geniuses and more morons. This is a statistical fact. It doesn’t mean any woman is or isn’t a genius or a moron (you have to test the woman for that) but as a statistical fact it explains some of the distribution of women we see in intellectual and STEM work. (It also tends to mean those women at the top are good, as they fought all sorts of assumptions to get there.)

THIS – this statistical fact – caused an educated woman to feel personally insulted.

I thought this was insane, and perhaps she was off her meds. But the incidents just kept coming; too many for me to remember much less mention.

The ones that come to mind, though, are the dongle thing and the shirtstorm.

The dongle thing is where a woman heard two geeks talk about dongles and assumed a sexual meaning. Now, the descriptions of the actual event are so muddled, I don’t know which was true. It is entirely possible that the guys were just talking about dongles, and she read a dirty meaning into their words. Or it’s possible that they were making veiled dirty jokes.

Here is the thing: neither of them was about her. What I mean is, men have a different sense of humor than women. Any woman who’s fought her way to the top of a male dominated field, who finds herself considered one of the guys learns this very quickly. And the wise woman – you know, one of those that JUST wants to prove she’s good enough? – turns a deaf ear to it. (Or joins in, depending on personality. But if you want to continue pretending to yourself and others that you’re a lady, you just don’t hear those things. You learn to filter them out.) Guys do the same in a female intensive grouping. Trust me, the things we think are funny and joke about are just as shockingly bizarre and offensive to normal males. Both my gay and straight male friends have on occasion, hearing me talk to a female friend, said the equivalent of “stop. You’re tearing my illusions apart.”

However, the woman who overheard the talk knew it was all about her. (Even though I haven’t found anything saying that it was directed at or even referring to her.) She overheard this talk, and it was bad talk, and it made her feel uncomfortable. And so she set out to destroy the men’s careers. Because every place should be made safe for a gentlewoman of delicate sensibilities to wander through with impunity and without some word – even one she misunderstood – sullying her virgin-like ears.

Shirtstorm was more of the same. Rose Eveleth, Vagina Vigilante, might not know much about probes or comets, or have much interest in them. One gets a feeling in her mind aerospace is that icky thing that sweaty, nerdy boys do. So, forced to cover it (or snatching it up as a prize assignment) for her paper, she paid attention to the one important thing in the world: herself. And since she’s female, she projected her prejudices onto all other females, and decided women everywhere would be put off science by a man’s shirt decorated with “space pinups.” A shirt made by a woman. A shirt worn amid a team whose leader was a woman who saw nothing wrong with it. But Vagina Vigilante was on the job! One gets the feeling she didn’t do very well at science, and now she had a REASON. It was the sexism of the field, manifest in a shirt.

Which totally justified making a rocket scientist cry on the day of his greatest triumph. After all, people like him had ruined her life, right?

But it gets worse than that – there was an entire campus filled with supposedly educated (ah!) women terrorized by the statue of a sleep walking man.

And then there’s the ever-elastic definition of “sexual assault” which – I’m not making this up – can now be ratcheted down to “Looked at me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable” or, for that matter “failed to sexually assault me.” Oh, sorry, that last was the definition of racism. Some Palestinian woman looked at rape statistics and found that Israeli women are raped by Palestinian men in much higher numbers than Palestinian women are raped by Israeli men, and immediately concluded this is because Israelis are racist. It beggars the mind.

Another thing that beggars the mind is the progressive image of women as great warriors. You know, in all the movies and half the books (often without supernatural explanation) a 90 lb chick can beat 300 lb men. And women were always great fighters throughout the ages. And, and, and…

And yet, women are peaceful – peaceful, d*mn it. This is why “peaceful planet of women” is a trope on tv tropes. Not just a trope, but a dead horse one.

Attempts to square that circle have included the explanation that women are only violent because patriarchy. There needs be nothing else said because in this context, and with apologies to the ponies, Patriarchy Is Magic. Honorable mention on trying to square the circle must go to Law and Order’s attempted episode on Gamer Gate where the game the woman designer had written was about Peaceful Amazon Warriors.

An episode in which my younger son accidentally touched a girl on the behind – in 3rd grade, when Mr. Hormone hadn’t visited yet and he had no clue behinds had anything to do with sex or being sexy – and the school tried to charge him with sexual harassment (Which stopped cold when I threatened to write about it for various mags and make them a laughing stock) gave me some insight into why women are reacting this way.

It’s not all their fault, no.

That little girl had it far worse than my son. Because you see, for having been touched by a rather innocent little boy, who was reaching into a group and trying to get her attention (to play “the space game” which was sort of a LARP in which they were in a spaceship in an alien planet. Hey, he’s mine.) this girl was put in COUNSELING sessions and was told that her life would never be the same, because she’d been – gasp – sexually assaulted.

I lost touch with the kids from that class, and don’t know if she still thinks she was victimized, but let’s say she was a little strange for months after the incident.

Of course, she was actually bureaucratically assaulted.

You see, the directive to make the sexes equal is being applied top down by a thousand little bureaucracies, none of them very sure how to accomplish this. They’re also in general trying to force the sexes to be equal, which is impossible, instead of equal before the law, which is desirable. This further muddles their attempts, particularly when you throw in the lovely academic theory most of them imbibe that “gender is a construct.” And gender might be, but whether your genes are xx or xy still affects your upper body strength (men have more), your endurance of pain (women have more) and several other things you can’t make equal by declaring it so.

The problem is bureaucracies are stupid. They can’t see finer shades such as “allow exceptional individuals to be wherever they belong” or “just let people be people.” No, they hear “make women and men equal and by gum, they’re going to do it if it requires being at war with reality. It’s kind of like performing brain surgery on your sofa, using a rusty saw and a soup spoon. Even with the best of intentions, you’re going to do more harm than good.

Now, do I think it was okay for the culture to be as it was in Portugal, where I was assumed to be an idiot because I lacked 250grams between my legs? Oh, heck no. But I also don’t want a culture where little girls are mollycoddled and little boys berated both in compensation/punishment for things that happened before their grandparents were born.

For one, it makes girls into sissies. For another it makes a lot of men give up on society.

And the girls into sissies thing is dangerous. Women who’ve been mollycoddled all their lives will think that anything is an attack or an aggression. Like, you know, being called Ladies. Or pinup shirts.

This means, more and more, as the younger generations come in, professional and academic environments with women become mine fields for men and histrionic opportunities for women.

And sooner or later, looking at our throwing up, swooning, crying, trigger-warned, peaceful amazon warriors, someone is going to say “you know, women are too fragile for the workaday world. Let’s put them in burkas and lock them up in purdah.” And then it will all be needed to do over again, the fight to let those women who can and will compete do so.

On behalf of my future great great great granddaughter whom I don’t want to have to endure that kind of things, stop this feminist charging forward to the fainting couch and the smelling salts, like some Victorian maiden that never actually existed.

Stop trusting what the bureaucracy tells you. Men are not the enemy. Most men welcome women who can work with them as equals. Yeah, they’ll still try to protect you and avenge you, because they, the same as you, have instincts. An unfortunate side effect of having physical bodies.

Accept them as they are so they can accept you as you are. Demand their best behavior, but don’t demand they stop being men. And don’t make them walk on eggshells around you. The power might feel good but in the end it betrays you, because it means you’ll never belong as a co-worker.

Oh, and fight the war for equality on the cultural level.

If we took over a Middle Eastern country tomorrow we could (and should) fix the laws, so women are the same as men before the law. But we couldn’t fix the culture the same way. If we made laws giving women job preferences, or telling men what they could or couldn’t do around women, what we’d do in the end is what’s happening here: women who are used to being protected/infantilized/subjugated by men transfer that relationship of power by putting all their trust to government.

And since government is force, it’s more abusive than any husband. And the end result will be subjugation.

Fight the culture war now. So your descendants don’t have to fight worse ones. Humans are not widgets and bureaucracy is stupid.

Make your own judgements, and tell bureaucrats and their fainting maidens coterie to go smell some salts.



Help, help. I’m being microaggressed- Bill Reader

*In a weird coincidence, I was writing about how we were devolving to Victorian maidens as they never existed, when Bill sent me this.  It’s not the post I will write — tomorrow — but it’s a good beginning.  And now I go paint walls.  – SAH*

Help, help. I’m being microaggressed- Bill Reader


Since Hillary Clinton announced, the feminists of the United States have undoubtedly been getting set to be outraged at things. We’ll see dozens of new wars on women, but we’ll have to check the news routinely to find out what they are because women are so oppressed in the United States that it takes whole academic departments and quite a lot of grant money to find examples of it. I figure this may be a good time, then, to talk about one of my personal pet-peeve memes, the microaggression.
It may surprise many people who use the term “microaggression” to know that the literal meaning of the word is, “one one-millionth of an aggressive action”. Or, then again, considering the things they complain about, perhaps it would not. From that perspective, you’d have to consider the word a masterpiece of liberal newspeak. It’s a word that, by right of its pithiness and the prominence of the root word “aggression”, sounds very threatening. But I’m going to guess that people would be taking the whole issue a lot less seriously if you went through every women’s studies paper written with the word and actually replaced it with the— I hasten to remind you— absolutely equivalent expression. Put another way, it’s a word that only makes sense if you don’t actually think about the definition. Ignorance, after all, is strength.

Now, some will quibble with me. One of my bedrock and most infamous stances is that words are best used as they are commonly understood, because definitions proceed from usage and, much as it may pain those of us who are semantically precise by nature, not the other way around. This is a fair point. So allow me to provide you, in its entirety, my article on what would happen if we replaced “microaggression” with its definition according to its popular usage, that is, “any action at all that annoys oversensitive fainting violets unprepared to deal with the real world,”:
I mean, I could write you several pages of my laughing maniacally, but I think you can see my general thesis, here. Besides, that would be unfair. Many branches of academia are entirely built on people not dealing honestly with the subjects they discuss, and women’s studies is probably the most vulnerable on that front. No, I’d prefer to dismantle this meme from within. The problems with the concepts of modern feminism are so blindingly obvious from outside the fervor of the movement that the people inside by definition cannot be connected to the real world.

Now, I find the literal definition interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I could extrapolate from it and infer that feminists get very upset and turn the campus upside-down if, in the midst of 999,999 actions, you do any one thing they consider to constitute “aggression”. Now, I’ve had some training in science, and happen to be familiar with the standard thresholds for significance, as I’m sure many of the followers on this blog are also. The most standard test of significance is the 0.95 significance. Mathematically rephrased, that means that there is only a 1 in 20 chance of the finding being a mistake.

You’d be surprised by how thin a margin a lot of modern scientific papers pass this threshold. This can be because of limitations in the instruments or experimental setup or so on. Also, frankly, grants are usually written with an eye towards demonstrating effects efficiently. Beating that threshold by a really solid margin takes careful planning, rigorous control, and often larger sample sizes. The subtler the effect, the more important these things become. And it’s hard to get funding for that, unless, for some reason, the subtle effect is very important (there are examples of such important but subtle problems in, for example, relativistic effects on GPS tracking systems). So let us suppose that we turned a scientific eye towards human behavior and delineated non-aggressions as a positive result and aggressions as a negative one. You test, and find that there is only a 1 in 1 million chance of finding an aggression if you run the test a million times. Non-aggression is found at a significance of p < 0.000001.
I’d throw a party, personally. I can’t think of the last time I saw an effect this strong demonstrated in a paper. If I’ve seen it at all I would guess that it was in a physics paper discussing a fundamental law of nature. As for all the standard thresholds for p, we’ve pretty effectively blown the “extra-rigorous” test of p<0.01 right out of the water.
I’m saying all this for a reason. Scientifically, I could also restate the meaning of “microaggression” as “aggressive actions that occur so rarely as to be not just insignificant, but laughably insignificant.” Try that one in your papers, feminists. Let me know how that goes for you.
The saddest thing in all of this, though, is that it’s absolutely true. And I want you to think about something. We are allied with a lot of countries in the world that, especially with the way Obama is behaving towards them lately, might most accurately be described as “frienemies”. There are long-standing ones like Saudi Arabia. There are countries we’ve recently taken to getting on the nerves of, like Britain. There are countries we’ve gotten suddenly and alarmingly hostile to, like Israel (because, as surely as fire will burn, American liberalism follows the path that every totalitarian movement with the option to has, and goes after Jews). Let me ask you frankly: out of a million diplomatic exchanges with any given one of those countries, how many of them would you say are admonishing or critical? While I don’t pretend to know the full extent of ambivalent-to-positive diplomatic correspondence between nations, I can say that it would have to constitute many hundreds of millions of papers for the few negative memos and speeches that end up in the news to be only a millionth of it. And these, mind you, are our allies. They are, in many cases, people we are theoretically prepared to go to war to defend, to lay down the lives of our own citizens to protect.

And while you’re thinking about that, think about this, too. Right now we’re making overtures towards peace with Iran. Iran declared war on us several decades ago. In all that span, I doubt that that 1 in a million of the things they’ve said about us has been positive. No, in fact, I’ll do you one better. I doubt that 1 in a million of the things they’ve said about us has not actually included the phrase “death to America”. And this is a country that forces women to dress in hijab and have clitoridectomies. But that country, most American feminists, being liberal, fully support doing anything to make peace with. As for, say, Britain and Israel, where women do not face that kind of brutal, medieval persecution, and are free to hold any position and pursue any career and hold any religion and marry, or not marry, any person they wish, what do feminists say about those countries?
They say “Help, help. I’m being microaggressed,”.

I’m NOT Dead

I figure I should let you know I’m okay. It’s been an interesting day because yesterday was spent painting/cleaning and I did not sleep well. This morning, I had an interview to answer, and since I was writing in a hurry it’s immensely long.
So I haven’t been able to write here. I have guest posts but hate to “short” them on hours on the blog.

I’ll just give a quick update on where I am (I almost typed who I am, which tells you all you need to know.)

I am now off the pain meds except for super-motrim, and that for the anti-inflammatory properties. There are some hangover effects, though those are diminishing every day.  Just odd holes in my memory, but again, fewer every day.

The stitches are ALMOST healed, so I don’t feel like I should have a warning saying “cut at the dotted line.”

The infection is much better and I’m assured the antibiotic will act for another week.

Mind-wise, it’s coming back too.  I’m starting to get flashes of story, weirdly almost all short stories.  I think this is part of my mind KNOWING I don’t have the time to sit down and slam out a novel, or even the ending of one, while I’m fixing the other house.

That’s finally starting to show progress, after weeks of its seeming like I was working in vain.

Depending on when we can get a handyman in and if we can afford one, we should be done in another week or two.  A bit late, but since my surgery was FAR more invasive than expected, not too bad.

I have a bunch of donations to answer to — I am NOT forgetting you — it’s just the other house is eating all my waking time and Through Fire is getting the rest.

Once Through Fire is done there will be new stuff in the subscriber’s page.  meanwhile I’m contemplating starting to edit/add to drawer books, once the Darkships and Dragons are done, and that to will probably first appear in subscriber space.  Eh.  Maybe I should give you some shorts over there, in the mean time, as a way to scratch both our itches.

Okay, and now I have to (again) go paint walls.  Tomorrow there will be post, mine or guest.

Take Your Nose Off My Fist

Some time ago I wrote a blog post called Of Fists And Noses. It referred to a phrase often repeated in Portugal (at least in my school) after the revolution. It was “your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose.”
Like every other of those pseudo-profound pronouncements of the seventies, like “we’re all naked under our clothes” and “People weren’t born with scissors to cut their hair” it sounds like the result of long and deep thought, but it really isn’t. In fact, it’s the sort of sentence that would only convince someone who has been toking all day and it should automatically be ended in “man.” As in “We’re all naked under our clothes, man.”
Looked at one way that sort of pronouncement is obvious. Yep, we’re naked under our clothes, duh. And yep, for whatever reason our primitive ancestors must have had really long hair, duh. And yep, your right to swing your fist is not the right to run around punching people, duh.
But looked at from the practical point, all of those declarations are completely beside the point and the only appropriate answer to it is “And what?”
Because we’re naked under our clothes doesn’t mean it’s a jolly good idea to expose yourself to children, make restaurant chairs unsanitary and scare the horses by removing those clothes obscuring your nudity. And if our distant ancestors went about with hair to their waist, and tangled and matted and full of lice (they also weren’t born with soap and/or combs) it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a public health hazard for you to go around that way now.
Now, if you wish to keep your hair long and clean, (or dirty, provided I’m not forced to socialize with you) or go around naked, it’s none of my business, but the sentence used to justify it doesn’t, has nothing to do with it and taken to its extreme would set all sorts of crazy precedents. Like, you know, “Humans weren’t born in houses, man.” (No construction is needed) And “We’re all hungry before we eat” (So, why mitigate hunger.)
However, the fist and nose thing is possibly the worst ever. If your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, what if I move my nose and rest it on your fist, so you can’t move.
Oh, come on, Sarah, now you’re just being silly!
Well, if you had told me that objection when I was eleven or twelve, and though that a perfectly reasonable pronouncement, I’d have told you that the objection was silly.
It’s just that over the last thirty years I’ve seen that objection playing up.
In effect what it means is that no right is absolute.
Just yesterday I was talking to mom, whose house got broken into, thank heavens while no one was home (home invasion is rife in Portugal) and talking about the right to your property, which involves the right of defense.
She was appalled at my statement that if anyone breaks into your house in Colorado you can shoot them and not be tried for murder. Apparently a neighbor, tired of having his business broken into, constructed an elaborate trap to catch the burglar. Part of the trap was a noose. It somehow mis-fired and got the burglar around the neck, killing him.
Keep in mind this was the same burglar that had cleaned out this small craftsman TWICE before. The business owner was arrested, tried and convicted of murder.
His right to protect his livelihood ended at the end of the burglar’s nose. And the burglar brought his nose right into the craftsman’s property.
What right do you have to your property when anyone can break in and you can do nothing, lest you hurt them?
In the same way, take the right of owning guns for said self defense. Even in the US, arguably one of the most free gun-owning country in the world, we keep getting hemmed in with regulations demanded by loud people who imagine their nose is being touched by our fist (I.e. they imagine we want guns for offense, not defense, and it never occurs to them that those who do want guns for offense are not law abiding and get them anyway) so that depending on the area of the country you can’t own guns at all; you must lock them up so securely you can’t access them in an emergency; you can only own the guns the say you can own, etc.
Or let’s go with the most basic of all rights, the right of free speech. This is the one where touching someone’s “nose” is all the easiest. As two luminaries of science fiction found out when they used the word “ladies” to refer to women they admired, it’s always easy for the perpetually inflamed noses of those seeking to take offense at something, anything, to claim to have been punched.
As we found out in Sad Puppies, when we tried to break the stranglehold of a small clique on what was until two weeks ago claimed to be the most prestigious award in the field, the perpetually offended can claim you are racist, sexist and homophobic, because they “feel” you punched those noses, not even theirs. They can claim this even if it’s completely countered by the reality of the slate proposed. They can claim this because who is to judge whether their nose felt a punch except themselves? How can you counter it?
We’ve seen way too much of this, including that famous case in which a statue of a sleep walking male terrorized a whole college full of supposedly rational women; and the sad fact that literature professors now have to give trigger warnings before advocating the reading of anything even vaguely controversial.
And just recently, the Honey Badgers, the same nice people who interviewed Brad and Mike and I last week, got kicked out of a con in Calgary for “engaging in harassment of panelists.” Their recording of the panel is here and here. Judge for yourselves.
It reminded me of that quote of Moshe Feder over the Sad Puppies thing, you know: “starve them out: stop inviting them and theirs to conventions. That means authors, editors, cover artists, even whole publishers. ”
This because the perpetually offended can’t help but feel they’ve been punched when someone disagrees with them. Note that Larry Correia called for NOT punishing all of Tor for the actions of some of their editors. The other side, though? Yeah. Their feelings have been hurt. And they have no morals. Mostly because their right to hurt others has never been questioned, and when it is they try to shut down the questioners. (And, oh, Moshe, darling, you guys have been trying to do that to us for … my entire career. The only difference now is that we’re not afraid anymore. I don’t think it will be easier for you at this point than when we cowered in fear of losing our livelihood. There’s Amazon, there’s indie, and I’d like you to contemplate my middle fingers.)
In fact, when it comes to the right of free speech, it should be the most patently obvious that the whole noses and fists thing is insane. Because speech is not a physical action.
Sure it can have a physical consequence. Entertainment Weekly, the Grauniad, and lately the New Republic knew very well what they were doing when they painted Sad Puppies as racist, homophobic and sexist. They were trying to get the aggrieved-nose brigades to take action on their behalf. The fact that the articles were easily proven lies doesn’t matter unless people who read those outlets check the facts, something that so far they’ve proven notoriously averse to doing.
Now those three might have/probably have crossed the line into libel. I don’t know where the consideration is on legal action at the moment. It’s more difficult than it seems. Those are big publications, with legal teams, and we’re a rag tag of normal people with … normal to small resources.
The power to stop libelous or lying or hurtful speech is always a theoretical one. The power to stop your speech-fist by claiming it hurts my “nose” whether it really does or not is a power vested in those that already have societal power.
It requires amplification in the media, an ability to play the victim, and the approval of the ruling “elite.” Stopping speech, no matter who does it, supposed private parties or the government, is always a tool of power, an act of punching down. It requires the approval of the powers that be.
The entire libel against Sad Puppies is an act of the clique, allied to a larger cultural self-proclaimed “elite” to keep power. They deny the right of free speech of those who paid $40 for the right to vote on the best novel/short story/movie/associated post, etc. of the year, by claiming that speech is somehow “wrong speech.”
In the same way the bureaucracy in charge of the largest association of writers of sf/f punched down by declaring that “ladies” was somehow hateful and hurt people.
We won’t even go into the other craziness from that association.
And now of course, it’s wrong and evil for our side of things to defend itself and to set the record straight on attempts to suppress us. Having been self-defined from above as haters, our speech touches everyone’s metaphorical noses, even when it doesn’t.
The right of free speech is meaningless when you only have the right to say that which society approves of.
No one has ever tried to ban speech that lauds mother and apple pie (well, maybe now, but that’s a long story.) No one has ever had a fit over your complimenting their lawn.
The right of free speech is by necessity a protection for unpleasant, unpalatable speech. It is the right to call someone in power a right son of a b*tch. It is the right to say things that are hurtful, whether they’re true or not. It is the right to proclaim that the king goes naked, even if it hurts the self esteem of everyone who has been lying to herself and telling herself he wears clothes of the finest silk.
Sometimes the metaphorical nose of the listener needs to be pounded with the metaphorical fist of mean words. Because it’s the only thing that can stop tyrannical actions or misguided but widely accepted ones.
Absent the right to say what hurts others, a society can careen head first into an abyss. Because it’s always easy to claim you’re offended at something you don’t want to hear, and that therefore the speaker shouldn’t be allowed to say it.
And that speech-stopping power is never evenly distributed. It’s always higher on the part of those who have connections in the press, friends in the bureaucracy, and who can amplify their teary cries and stop what they want stopped.
The right to stop speech you don’t like is ALWAYS an act of punching down, an act of speaking power to truth. (Or lies, but it’s amazing how often it is the truth that those self-selected, connected elites want stopped.)
Which is why the idea that my right to speak is stopped by your right to take offense is an open door to totalitarianism and censorship. If claiming that speech “offends” someone is enough to stop it, you’re giving those who already have the power to defame, destroy and character-assassinate more power and preventing those who would talk against them from speaking.
Yes, words can hurt you, despite the old ditty. But the only way to equalize your ability to hurt with words is to remove all penalty for “wrong words” and “wrong thought.”
If I can’t tell you when your nose is pushing into my fist, how will you know you’ve become overbearing.
If you take away a civil society’s way to correct wrongs, you leave only an uncivil way. That way lies war, real violence, and far more things getting hurt than feelings.
Take your nose out of my fist, pull your pants up. Learn to interact in civil society. Before you lose it.

A Message In A Book

I wanted to call that a message in a bottle, but that’s only because if I weren’t on pain pills I’d be drinking heavily.
I’m not going to go on a Hugo-thing, because frankly saying Sad Puppies doesn’t want message is not anything we did, but the same craziness that has the other side dubbing me a white (I’m spun gold, thank you very much. Take it up with Lowes and their paintchips) Mormon Dude. It’s not what we said and answering the craziness just encourages the mad people. Or to quote Grandma “I wouldn’t engage with a mad person even to go to heaven, because he might throw me down from there.”
Yes, there was some grumbling (Brad? Me? Who knows. Us Mormon dudes all look alike) about Message Fiction but that’s not the same as endorsing books without message.
How not, Sarah? You ask.
Well, because I don’t think it’s possible to have a book without any messages. At least not a book worth reading. A message will sneak in even in the under-plots, sub-plots or character development.
Take the Shakespeare books (please? I could use some more sales. Back titles have been sluggish. I don’t want to run a sale until I’m ready to write the final two which at this point looks like next year) – they were self-consciously devoid of political message, since I was so deep in the political closet I could have benefited from the installation of louvers on the door for ventilation.
What I couldn’t empty them of was of Sarah. I mean, I was the one writing it, and my assumptions and ideas leaked into the world building. What we see of Tudor England we see through my eyes. Some other writer might have made Nan a termagant, while I just made her strong and a little exasperated by her husband’s… poetic nature. Some other writer might have had a lot more explicit sex in, given the gender changing elf, while I limited myself to an oblique reference to sex on the kitchen table. More importantly, I think (it’s hard to tell, because it’s my own) that a certain doubt about the rightness of institutions, a certain poking fun at the nature of creativity, and a certain slipperiness of what is reality crept in. Because I’m in. Could those be assembled into a message? I’m sure they did for many people.
Or take my shifter books, also written as apolitical (more on that later): in reading them to get situated for the next book, I can’t avoid the feeling that they have a message about young people settling down to the business of growing up and looking after themselves and others. Not on purpose. It’s just that the people who thrive in the book are people who forge friendship connections and work hard. There is also a message of “police your own, or your enemies will.” I.e. if someone you identify with, someone on your tribe, commits a heinous crime, it’s up to you to stop the criminal, or the police and the normal law will tear your group apart. (Note for the other side who will try to take this out of context: prove “my tribe” and then prove “crime.” I don’t believe in thought-crimes.)
On the something more on that – in Noah’s Boy I’ve seen reviews slamming the book as political. This puzzled me at first, then I remembered I have a character in the beginning talking about illegal immigration as a side effect of the minimum wage and also as pulling it down. Now, for the observant people, the character who says that is Jason Cordova (one of the fun parts of the Shifter books is tuckerizing all my friends, including Professor Squeak and some of my fans from the diner.) and while I agree with his opinion, that opinion was also almost verbatim a conversation we’d had. It was certainly not the ‘message’ of the book, since the rest of it has bloody all to do with immigration (illegal or not – though because of the nature of Shifters a lot of the characters have immigrant parents) or with economics. Unless, of course, we mean immigration from the stars and economics of soul-preservation. Or something.
Now the lines the character says are maybe 30? Interspersed in other stuff, and it’s there mostly to distract the reader from certain clues about the nature of the character.
Is there a message in those lines? Well, I’d like more people to start thinking of economics as a science, like meteorology and understanding that while you can make it rain, do it enough and you cause a distortion in weather patterns, metaphorically speaking. I.e. yeah, sure you can raise the minimum wage (or have a minimum wage at all) but there will be consequences. Are those consequences you’re willing to live with? This is a valid point, and I’d like a lot more people to think about it.
Is that the message of the book? No, I’m fairly sure if that book has a message it’s “don’t marry someone just because some dragon wants you to.”
On the serious side, no, it’s not the message of the book. It’s some lines in a book.
Someone brought up Starship Troopers in yesterday’s comments saying it absolutely was message because of Johnny’s Civics lessons and blah….
Yeah. Okay. Let’s establish it has a message. What is the message? The characters in that world believe in the civics lessons, but they also have some sort of math that applies to politics. So, that’s the characters. What about the author? Was the message that this would be the better way to live?
The discerning reader (eh) might want to consider the other hints given in the books, the signs of resentment between businessmen/productive class and the military and wonder at other things, such as would that restricted a society innovate enough.
I mean, yeah, sure, no crimes against people in parks, but is this the best society evah?
I have read the book a million times, give or take a thousand, and I can’t tell you. I can tell you that the book gave me a lot to think about on the intersection of security and freedom and how you can fall into excess at both ends.
However, the book itself isn’t set up to validate that this future world is ideal. There are, as I said, hints and cracks of resentment and nowhere do we hear utopia has arrived. In fact the very clash with the bugs betrays less than utopia. People are immigrating. People want off Earth. This is never ONLY for economic reasons, as anyone who has read history knows. And Johnny Rico’s arc has more to do with being a very lonely/spoiled little rich kid, who finds a place to belong. His character arc is one of acceptance and blossoming as part of something larger than itself. It could have been done with another family, or a cult. It’s done with the military because that supports the whole security versus freedom arc of questioning. Why Johnny makes that journey is perhaps best understood in his father’s attempt to buy him off enlisting (with a trip/money, not with attention/love) and in his father’s later description of his state of mind before he himself enlists. (I.e. suffering from stress induced by being a business man in challenging times.)
So, is there a message there? I don’t know. “Be careful how much security you wish for” or “Do you want a more regimented society where people are free to walk around unarmed after dark? This is how to do it. Now, is this what you want?” could be it. But MOSTLY (and we have Heinlein’s word for it) after all the important stuff like feeding his family, he wrote to make people think. Tons to think about that, and a good chance you’ll write entire books “refuting” Johnny’s Civic lessons.
With good writers it’s never a good idea to take the beliefs of the characters as the message of the book.
So what is this message fiction we complain about. Well, it’s Piers Plowman. It’s a story written entirely to deliver a message. Not only will the characters harp on it, but every detail of the book (including names) will be distorted to support it. In its worst instances it’s like Novel Ninja’s post on Piers Plowman. It will all draggingly support the message, and the characters will explain how the message was right, and the writer will obvious avoid saner plots in order to demonstrate the message.
Say in the “failed colonization” novel I vaguely remember reading in the seventies, the message was “humans shouldn’t colonize the stars, because there are things out there so strange that it will drive our smart/competent people nuts, and the insane people aren’t strong enough to colonize.” Now, is that the message I took at the time? No. The message I took at the time was “See how I thwart your dreams of space colonization, you stupid little reader and show how much smarter than you I am.”
I don’t remember much of the book. I appalled me. The two things I remember vividly is that the captain died in a stupid and contrived gun (blaster, whatever) accident and that the last surviving member was a rocking hysteric (by which I mean rocking back and forth) who chooses to end it all, because he wasn’t worthy of being in this world. Or something.
But I do remember that along the way characters often took actions that made no sense, just so they could die.
In other words, message fiction is where you see the author’s fingers firmly in control of the wires making the characters dance and ALL of it leads to a pre-ordained conclusion from which there is no escape, usually a conclusion that is announced at the beginning.
It is possible to read any book as message fiction, if you stretch. But as close as I’ve come to it, I lack the single mindedness to drive everything to that end. There will be other threads. There will be questioning of whether the idea is right, and there will be bad consequences to the idea, because there always are.
However, there has been a tendency in trad publishing to “reward the right message” with promotion and push (though the message is often only obvious because they know the writer is the “right sort.”)
I disapprove of that simply because I find message fiction boring, even when I agree with it. It’s like you’re using your characters to prove a syllogism. It might be good math-proof, but it sucks as entertainment, as conveyance of emotion, as the importing of others’ experiences to the space behind your eyes that is what fiction at its best does.
RES in comments yesterday made an analogy between message being either the pill wrapped in a tasty-pocket of fiction with characters and plot, or the pill being naked and shoved down people’s throats. He is roughly right. I can take the message in the tasty pocket, and while I might or might not swallow it, it will be more fun than the naked pill, which often gets – metaphorically speaking – spit out on the rug. However, as someone pointed out, the best message is the ingredient you can’t see with the naked eye, but which still hits the mind. In other words, what I used to do because my kids didn’t eat veggies was puree them and mix them in meatloaf. Which meant they ate veggies without noticing.
But while that is the “best” there is still another level of message. I’d say that’s what I tend to do, simply because I often don’t “see” what I was trying to convey until revision. That is the message that comes from the way you mix the ingredients. For instance my all meat meatloaf is half ground beef and half ground turkey (usually bought on sale and as cheap as bread) two glugs of whatever wine is left from the last time we had a glass with dinner, some Italian herbs, two eggs, and a few crushed cloves of garlic.
The exact proportions are so ingrained (I’ve been doing this for over twenty years) that I ajust for the meat I have, and sometimes add some olive oil if the mix looks too dry. I could give you the exact same ingredients and your meatloaf would come out completely different.
That level of message is the message you can’t avoid. Nor would you want to. After all assembling the meatloaf is what we do. Meatloaf is what you sell. And we can’t make meatloaf without combining ingredients in the proportion that feels right to us.
Now if I even realize what the message (or the theme) of the story is, during revision, I might go back and draw it a little more clearly.
But I have never, not consciously, let message overwhelm the story. And I have never spent time doing things like naming characters Lee Tletuerp or the equivalent.
So message in fiction? Good heavens, yes. Pretty much always. How can you avoid it when you’re projecting the past into the future and building an entire world? Your beliefs will leak in.
Message so obvious your reader feels like you pounded him or her with the message-mallet ™ ? Try to avoid it. It makes for boring fiction, even if we agree with the message.
The best way to distinguish between the two? First readers. Be aware that there is a range of reactions. Some people will think your subtly drawn characters are like message-mallets and weirdly sometimes those will be the ones who agree. Others wouldn’t see message if it bit them in the nose.
But Message Fiction? Consciously sitting down and writing an entire novel to support a message, even if the message is as innocuous as “be kind to our webfooted friends, that duck might be somebody’s mother”?
Why bother? You’re more likely to carry your point with honest non fiction. And the reader will feel less insulted.

Ceci N’Est Pas Un Promo Post

*The French is the Free Range Mollusc’s fault and though I still read the thing effortlessly, my grammar is all gone.  So if you don’t like it, yell at him.  Post on message and fiction (encore) later. I slept late today – SAH*

Good morning to one and all, ladies, gentlemen, cats, dragons, plants, and nameless horrors from beyond the stars alike! I’ve a raft of books for you this weekend. A couple of new releases, several rereleases, and a few older books for those who may have missed them the first time round, with one by our beloved Shadowdancer leading the list. Whether one of the books here or an old favorite, go read a good book this weekend! Life is too short to spend on boring books.

As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Codemonkey, Word Polisher, Minion to the Stars

R.K. Modena

Sparrowind: The Dragon Who Lived As A Knight

Tiny Sparrowind can’t hunt from the sky, cannot hope to best his siblings in contests of strength, and scrapes by to survive. But in the books stashed in his parents’ hoard of gold and gems he finds a greater treasure: ideals.

Deciding to make his own way in life gives him more hope than he could have if he tried living only by the way of Dragonkind, but can this dreamer of a Dragon find his place in the world?

A delightful tale for all ages, that may be shared by reading out loud – either to a young audience, or those who are young at heart.

John Van Stry

The Sea of Grass

Portals of Infinity: Book Four

With no otherworld tasks to run for Fel, Will has spent the last year mainly helping Rachel consolidate her hold on her expanded kingdom. Barassa has been set back, for now, but Will knows it’s only a matter of time until they’re at odds once more and Barassa still has the bigger army. So taking the time to learn more about their enemy seems like a good place to start, and of course, Rachel has more things she expects him to do, even if he has no idea just how he’s going to do them.

Fel has things for Will to do as well, even if they are the more mundane jobs that a Champion of the faith must perform. Escorting missionaries isn’t the most exciting or glamorous job, but its one Will must do. At least the people are different, interesting, and friendly, and some perhaps a little too friendly. But that’s never gotten him in trouble before, right?

Peter Grant

War To The Knife

Laredo War Trilogy Book 1

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.

Mary Catelli

Newly released in print editions

Madeleine and the Mists

Enchanted pools, shadowy dragons, wolves that spring from the mists and vanish into them again, paths that are longer, or shorter, than they should be, given where they went… the Misty Hills were filled with marvels.

Madeleine still left the hills, years ago, to marry against her father’s will. If her husband’s family is less than welcoming, she still is glad she married him, and they have a son, two years old.

But her husband’s overlord has fallen afoul of the king. And all his men fall with him, including her husband.

She sets out, to seek the queen and try to bypass the king – and the Misty Hills.

Some things are not so easily evaded.

Also available from Barnes & Noble

A Diabolical Bargain

Growing up between the Wizards’ Wood and its marvels, and the finest university of wizardry in the world, Nick Briarwood always thought that he wanted to learn wizardry.

When his father attempts to offer him to a demon in a deal, the deal rebounded on him, and Nick survives – but all the evidence points to his having made the deal.

Now he really wants to learn wizardry. Even though the university, the best place to master it, is also the place where he is most likely to be discovered.

Also available from Barnes & Noble

Curses And Wonders

A collection of tales of wonder and magic.

A prince sets out to win his way to the dragon’s lair.

A woman fights a curse on her lands.

A man returns to his castle, bringing a magical sword, and worse things.

And more tales.

Includes “Dragon Slayer”, “The Book of Bone”, “Mermaids’ Song”, “Witch-Prince Ways”, “Sword and Shadow”, “Eyes of the Sorceress”, “Fever and Snow” – and “The Emperor’s Clothes”, which is not sold separately.

Also available from Barnes & Noble

Enchantments And Dragons

A wizard must produce justice enough to satisfy a dragon.

A young man tries to rob a tiger’s lair.

An enchantress tries to keep a court safe while they ignore the perils of misusing her magic.

A lady finds that court intrigues can spread even to the countryside.

And more tales.

Includes “Over the Sea To Me,” “Dragonfire and Time”, “The Maze, the Manor, and the Unicorn”, “The White Menagerie”, “The Dragon’s Cottage,” “Jewel of the Tiger,” and “The Sword Breaks.”

Also available from Barnes & Noble

Mackey Chandler


April Book 1

April is an exceptional young lady and something of a snoop. After a chance encounter with a spy, she finds herself involved with political intrigues that stretch her abilities. There is a terrible danger she, and her friends and family, will lose the only home she has ever known, and be forced to live on the slum ball Earth below. It’s more than an almost fourteen year old should have to deal with. Fortunately she has a lot of smart friends and allies. It’s a good things because things get very rough and dicey. They challenge the political status quo, and with a small population the only advantage they have in war is a thin technological edge.

And What Goes Around

April Book 6

The nation of Home and their ally Central seem to have bought some safety by moving Mitsubishi 3 from Low Earth Orbit to a halo orbit around L2 beyond the moon. It has added some expense to stay supplied, but it has unexpected advantages too. A little extra distance works just fine when Earth has its own problems. Like April and her close friends Heather and Jeff, Home is growing, developing its own character, and becoming more independent. They really have no choice.


Part regency Romance (ah!), part adventure science fiction, this novel set in the magical land of Avalon will take you to various worlds (including ours) as Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater navigates a web of intrigue and treachery upon which hangs the fate of the world and his own family.  Buy from Amazon here.  (And I swear I’m going to resume Rogue Magic if not this coming weekend, then the weekend after — depending on getting other house up — and race it to the finish. – SAH)

The difference between message fiction and fiction with a message By Tom Knighton

*I have a slightly different take, or at least a better way of explaining the difference — I think — but I’ll use Tom’s as a jumping off point and explain tomorrow.- SAH*

The difference between message fiction and fiction with a message

By Tom Knighton

With this whole Hugo situation, once again we find ourselves embroiled in a discussion of “message fiction”. For better or worse, this discussion will never die, despite the numerous times we have said that having a message is fine, just don’t let it overpower the story. You see, this isn’t clear enough for some people. Either their mental processing abilities are deficient, or they’re simply incapable of understanding that we’re not trying to stamp out their books.


So, let’s start with two different terms to differentiate between the two types. Generally, I use “message fiction” and “fiction with a message”. Yes, there is a difference between the two, and it’s worth serious discussion and, I hope, even people who abhor my own political leanings will see the wisdom of what I will discuss.


First, message fiction. You see, message fiction is where the message is all important. The fiction is nothing but a vehicle to turn the idea into a novel rather than a non-fiction book that even fewer people will read. Some may enjoy it, but doing message fiction and making it enjoyable requires great skill that few people have ever mastered.


On the other hand, fiction with a message is work where the message is there as part of the story, but is not the overpowering factor it is in message fiction. For example, let’s say you wish to convey an anti-sexist message, but don’t want message fiction. You could create a strong, independent woman who faces sexism in her interactions with some folks while maintaining a realistic setting where some of the sexists are fellow women and some of your protagonists are strong, capable men who take no issue with her sex.


Maybe some real world examples could help illustrate this concept.


Atlas Shrugged may well be the most successful piece of message fiction ever written. I’m a fan, and I’ll admit it’s message fiction. The whole story of Dagny Taggert, Hank Reardon, and John Galt is nothing more than a way for Ayn Rand to convey her Objectivist philosophy in a more digestible format than a long non-fiction work would. While the story is good, the message is the driving force throughout.


By contrast, some have recently held up Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as message fiction, with which I disagree. While Heinlein may have felt it had a strong message, there is an important difference. You see, the story isn’t about the message. The story is about Juan Rico and everything he goes through during the war with the Arachnids, including losing his home and family (he thinks, at the time).


The litmus test that will tell you whether you’re dealing with message fiction or fiction with a message is simple. Would maintaining a position completely opposite from the perceived message eliminate the ability to enjoy the book?

Now, there’s a very important word there, and that’s “perceived”. It’s always amused me the number of left leaning individuals who report that they absolutely adore Atlas Shrugged, and that’s because so many of them completely miss the message as Rand intended it. She opposed almost everything some of these people advocate for, but that’s not what they got. They perceived the message to be something else, so they enjoy the book.


However, if these people recognized the message as something the opposite of what they stood for, would they enjoy it? Of course not. They’d argue about the silliness of the message and maybe argue that while Rand was a skilled writer, she was completely bonkers for whatever reason. They wouldn’t like the book though.


Let’s contrast that with Starship Troopers. Is it possible to love the book while absolutely abhorring the message? Yes. In fact, when I read it, I opposed the message about as vehemently as you could, and I absolutely loved the book. That was because acceptance of the message wasn’t necessary to become invested in the characters and what they were going through.


It’s important to note a few things for the sake of completeness. First, it’s entirely possible to agree with a book’s message and still think the book blows. Trust me, I’ve found more than a few in my day. Bad writing is bad writing, for one thing. For another, message fiction is, generally, boring. It’s hard to do well enough to be entertaining, even for people who agree with you.


Also, just because you hate a book with a message you disagree with doesn’t mean its message fiction. Again, bad writing is bad writing, so that could be the issue. For another, if the story just doesn’t appeal to you, then it’s not going to appeal to you. The question is then, could someone else enjoy it?


I’m not saying this litmus test is easy to apply, but I think it’s important to try and be as objective as possible when trying to determine which is which. I do think it’s an important distinction that needs to be made. We will never purge the desire to impart messages in fiction from people, and to some extent, that’s not a bad thing. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, was pivotal is ending slavery. The works of Charles Dickens did wonders in reforming how society dealt with the poor. Messages in fiction have their place from time to time.


Even preachy message fiction has its place from time to time. However, it would be nice if we knew which was which going in.


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