2015 Hugo Debrief

2015 Hugo Debrief

August has been pretty catastrophic for Two Dudes, as reading and writing withered away in the face of reality and visiting relatives. The latest blow came last Tuesday, when I picked up the entire family from the airport and took them straight from Japan to a funeral in Idaho. Not the plan any of us had in mind, least of all the mother-in-law who got dragged off to the wilds of the Mountain West and forced to spend time with a wacky extended family, the likes of which she has never seen. Obviously, due to funeral related stuff, the blog was far from my mind. There is a hidden connection however, one that allows me to segue smoothly from excuses to actual genre conversation.

There are two accepted ways to get from Seattle to Idaho Falls. The first runs down through Oregon and Boise, and is technically the shorter route. It suffers from boring scenery though, and has the disadvantage of Oregon: awkward gas stations, lower speed limits, and gung ho Highway Patrol. The second route runs across Washington, through the Idaho panhandle and W. Montana, before turning south on I-15 at Butte. The mountain passes make for a challenging, but much more attractive drive. Also, speed limits are more like speed suggestions for long stretches of highway. We took the first on the way down, the second on the way home, for a complete loop. Why does this matter? A major stop on the Northern route is Washington’s second largest urban area and the host of the 2015 WorldCon, Spokane.

It just so happens that we blew through Spokane more or less as the Hugos were being announced. I had hoped to be at WorldCon this year, since it will never be so close to me again, but the timing of the family trip to Japan and logistical nightmare of getting everyone out there while fighting jet lag were too much. I certainly didn’t think that I would be in the area on the return leg of an emergency trip to Idaho. There I was though, with everyone asleep in the rental SUV as I peered through the forest fire induced haze and wondered what could have been. Just as well that I didn’t fork over the membership fee, though I regretted it at the time.

Of course once I got home, with everyone settled and luggage put away, I jumped on the computer to see what the Hugo results were. I am very happy that Three-Body Problem won this year; I think it was the best choice of the books available. (And also my prediction! Woo!) It may not be the best book I read from 2014, or my favorite (not necessarily the same thing), but I think that the win is both a victory for Liu Cixin and a victory for the Hugos as a whole. I am happy for translated books, happy for Hard SF, happy for Asia, and happy that lots of people seem to agree with me. I hope this opens the doors for more translated SF.

I was less excited to see that the Sad Puppy idiocy bumped City of Stairs from the ballot. Three-Body is a triumph for the community, but City of Stairs was my favorite read of the year. It deserved at least the nomination.

Speaking of Sad Puppy idiocy, I have written quite a bit about it, but have nothing to say here. My entire reaction is encapsulated in this reply to a Puppy comment from a Black Gate article: “Still… which is a more satisfactory result for you? That the electorate was so disgusted with the slate that they rejected it out of hand, as I was, or that they accepted the Puppy slate in good faith, and then found it terrible? Either way, it seems like a stinging repudiation.”

I will be getting a membership and nominating next year. Who knows, I may even get to Kansas City. I have a cousin there who would probably let me stay for a night or two.

*************

I can’t say how I will do with the blog going forward. School starts for the kids, I am coaching soccer again, my bands are getting busier, and my wife works ever longer hours. Time will be at a premium, but I am not giving up yet. I can only hope that reading and writing levels will stabilize, though it could be some time before I match my output from 2013. Please bear with The Dudes for a bit longer.

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Peak Puppy?

Peak Puppy At Last?

I’m working on a meatier post, but in the interests of clickbait staying engaged with my readers through busy times, I have to ask if we have reached Peak Sad Puppy. I suspect the answer is no, but while I was driving a book-laden U-Haul through the wilds of Eastern Utah, crap seems to have gotten real. Or, if not “real” per se, deeply and comprehensively bizarre. More than usual, I mean.

I’m not kidding about the U-Haul thing, by the way. It was a 26′ long truck packed to the weight limit with used books, and I’m pretty sure those brakes I smelled while barreling down Emigration Canyon weren’t mine. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Anyway, back on point. I may be the last person to hear that an earnest and enraged band of Sad Puppies has threatened Tor Books with a crippling boycott unless a list of demands is met by noon tomorrow. High noon. Among these demands are the censure and reprimand of people who are either 1) not beholden to Tor in any way, 2) completely unrelated to whatever mess is currently in process, or 3) all of the above. There’s also the usual and predictable stuff, easily caught up on for those that avidly follow the ongoing poopshow that is the 2015 Hugos, but I particularly enjoyed the bits about desiring Tor to slap John Scalzi’s wrist for being whatever it is Scalzi is. (A decent and witty guy, I thought, but not everyone appears to agree with me.)

I hope this goes down tomorrow and thousands, er… hundreds, wait… tens? of Puppies stand up to The Man and no longer buy Tor books. Especially those by John C. Wright or Kevin Anderson. Or books by Baen, which I believe is part of the same conglomerate as Tor. (Rotten to the top, right? No way MacMillan is innocent of Social Justice perpetration here.) They definitely shouldn’t get anything by that pinko reactionary Heinlein, since his back catalog is held by Tor. I fully expect this to be a fearsome and irresistible message that no powerful and wealthy company can ignore. And if Tor blows them off? It must be Big Gay.

I wonder if The Great Tor Boycott and Optional Buffet at Golden Corral of 2015 might become the Puppies’ Jade Helm moment. (For those not up on craaaaaazy American politics, this is a bunch of Concerned Texas Citizens publicly fretting that a military exercise named Jade Helm is actually a move by Pres. Obama to, er, take over Texas. I am very definitely not kidding here, because the U.S. doesn’t have any sort of dominion over the great state of Texas right now. None at all. Anyway.) To all you Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang members out there, grab yourselves some popcorn and settle in for the show. Might want to grab a poncho though, since the spittle may be flying out of some very rabid mouths. If this is Peak Puppy, we should all be grateful. And if it’s not, I really can’t imagine how it could get any stupider.

The 2015 Hugo Imbroglio

The 2015 Hugo Imbroglio

I am well aware that the world awaits the Two Dudes hot take on Hugo shenanigans, and it’s high time we used the word “imbroglio” here on the blog, so gather round while Uncle Pep tells another story of Valiant Brad and his struggle against The Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang, also known in some circles as “Social Justice Warriors,” because apparently it’s a bad thing to be all for such tyrannies as justice. God bless America. This may constitute a politics trigger warning for any readers out there who dream of being spanked by Ayn Rand (“You’ve been a bad, naughty capitalist!”), so those folks should consider themselves warned.

Anyone not currently up on The Great Hugo Imbroglio of 2015 is welcome to read my last articulate and impassioned exposition on the matter, though it may not be worth the indigestion. Unfortunately for me, soon after I posted that self-assured attack on the Sad Puppies, the Hugo nominations were announced and my predictions looked pretty bad. While statistically unsurprising, the Sad Puppy domination of the nomination process was a massive disappointment. Parenthetically, the Hugos are announced at Norwescon, in that great bastion of conservative white privilege called Seattle, so I can only imagine the rage. Probably for the best that my wife and I nixed an expensive trip to the con and spent the day with the kids at Seattle’s SF Museum instead. (Parenthetical to the parenthetical, I took a leak next to none other than George RR Martin at said museum. Or at least, I’m about 99% sure it was him. I said nothing.)

Back on topic. The fallout from the nomination debacle has been impressive. Connie Willis publicly turned down the request to present at the Hugos in a heartfelt and very sad letter. Nominees have denied themselves a chance at Hugo glory and withdrawn their nominated works. Marko Kroos pulled his novel from the slate today, winning acclaim from many and disgust from others. (One commenter compared Kroos’ withdrawal to Germans watching Jews get gassed, but I’m going to assume that this is a minority view.) Beyond this, I’ll skip the big picture for the most part, since people with much more brainpower and/or writing skill than I have thoroughly deconstructed things. (Scalzi is a good place to start of course, or the aforementioned GRRM.) I have a few loosely related thoughts on the matter that may not organize themselves into a focused takedown or anything, but here we go.

I will say first that I am irate that the American Culture War has jumped the firebreak into SF. I would much prefer to enjoy my exploding spaceships in peace, but one has to fight these battles on every front or we will never conquer. And conquer we will. Anyone feeling too down about things should read The Emerging Democratic Majority, which takes on US politics, but is really about everything. SF is growing younger, more diverse, and more inclusive at an increasing rate. We can’t be passive about things, and there will be ugly moments, but it won’t be long before our numbers are overwhelming. People of all colors, genders, persuasions, and world views are joining the conversation; this is one brand of squeezable ketchup that isn’t going back in the bottle. The Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang is the wave of the future. (It’s also healthier and more delicious. Teriyaki for everyone!) Valiant Brad fears that we are crushing Tradition under our sparkly boot heels, but I have every confidence that we can appreciate the heritage of SF while taking it to new, exciting places.

But what to do in the mean time with Valiant Brad’s allies? A thorny topic indeed. I don’t know Brad Torgerson personally, but I am far too familiar with the culture he lives in. After all, I grew up in the Mormon Corridor (I-15 from Cardston to Vegas, with a spur into Phoenix) and left many friends and family there when I finally ran screaming from Utah in 2002. Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.

Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid. Larry Correia, the other power behind the Sad Puppies, strikes me as a most unpleasant and angry man, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on more serious charges. Vox, however, is a racist and misogynist of the worst kind, and his Rabid Puppies Hugo attacks are about as subtle and useful as a catastrophically soiled diaper. Brad is on record as refusing to “shun” Vox, because I guess he’s reaching out in love to change the guy’s mind? Because Vox is actually a nice guy and just a little misunderstood?

It’s awfully hard for the rest of us to take demands to respect “good stories” seriously when they all seem beholden to someone who calls black people “savages” and periodically says positive things about rape. Is Valiant Brad really so sheltered that he misses this point? Is he just willing to forgive a little irrational hate here and there because someone believes in a similar god and economic system? This baffles me more than anything. I get the fear and anger. I understand gaming a system to either win a few prizes or take the institution down out of spite. I know too well jealousy at others’ success and the conviction that the whole thing is rigged. I am, believe it or not, guilty of some of these from time to time, though I have not yet succeeded in winning a vaguely phallic book award by convincing a load of other angry people to pony up forty bucks to vote for me.

But I just can’t fathom hitching my wagon to a destructive and hate-filled human being, just for… well, I’m not actually certain what they’re trying to accomplish. It it’s respect they want, they’d better jettison the evil dude in a hurry, or any shred of legitimacy that may be hanging on will evaporate. That fig leaf is wearing thin. In the end though, this will all blow over. There will be an asterisk or two next to the awards this year, and maybe next, and things will settle back down. After all, no less a figure of the patriarchy than Bill O’Reilly admitted that LGBT acceptance is winning the day because we have the argument for love on our side, and all the opposition can do is thump a Bible in anger. SF is no different, and I hope Valiant Brad catches on before it’s too late. I’ll even spring for the pho when he joins us.

Tilting at Rainbow Windmills

Tilting at Rainbow Windmills
or
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sad Puppy Hugo Ballot

It’s that time of year again and I am thrilled – THRILLED – to see another Sad Puppy Crusade being launched. One year ago at this time, I went through predictable cycles of outrage, despair, and trepidation until the Nebulas were announced (sweep for the ladies) and then the amazing 2014 Hugos happened. For those not current on genre politics, the so-called Sad Puppy ballot is the brainchild of certain Baen Books writers (who else?) that tries to roll back the encroachments of women, brown people, and gay people into our once pure community. In this case, it is by gang nominating politically acceptable entries for the Hugo Award. Last year there was an impressive ruckus about the whole thing that concluded in a crushing Sad Puppy defeat at WorldCon and victory for people like Kameron Hurley. One imagines the results will be similar this year, though the 2014 host city, London, is a cosmopolitan, urbane, and cutting edge city and the 2015 host, Spokane, Washington, is … erm … none of those things.

This was originally going to be a scathing take down of an article linked to on The Fantasy Review Barn, especially the part where the author condemned the Nebula Award for leading readers down unsafe and apostate pathways. The more I think about it though, the more sympathetic I become. This year, Grand High Eternally Saddest Puppy Larry Correia appears to have anointed Brad Torgerson the 2015 Saddest Puppy. The torch has been passed for a season to brave Brad, who must lead the (suicidal?) charge to Take Back the Hugos. Let us all spare a thought for valiant Brad, who is faced with a most thankless task.

And this is where my snark drained a bit. See, Brad and I have a lot in common. We are both Mormons from Utah. We both love SF. We both left Zion for the first time as missionaries, as we spent two years proclaiming the joys of Utah to people who didn’t care. (That was my experience at least. I don’t know if he was a missionary, though I assume he was, and I have no idea where he might have gone.) Brad joined the Army Reserve and I taught JHS English, which is kind of the same thing. There are a few crucial differences, i.e. though born in Salt Lake, I was actually raised in Idaho, which has a much better state song. He is a famous author, and I am … not. Still, I think we would recognize facets of ourselves in each other. Thus I am confident that Brad is a genuinely nice guy, because most Utahns I know are genuinely nice people, who go out of there way to help others more than almost any other group. Most people I know from Utah also have political opinions that make me physically ill, so there is that small issue.

So I feel a touch of melancholy as Brad leads the Charge of the Old White Dude Light Brigade against the ever globalizing forces of the SFF community. After all, he is a representative of my people and my heritage, the very same that mourned Mitt Romney’s unfortunate encounter with a steamroller known as The Future during the 2014 Presidential Election. Heritage or no, is it wrong to be gleeful when I think of the final vote counts we are likely to see in Spokane? Part of me wants to cop Aragorn’s speech at the gates of Mordor: “There may come a day when the strength of humanity fails, when angry and fearful white males lurch forward and reclaim their overlordship of nerd communities and vaguely phallic awards statues, when all those creepy colored folks and women and transgendered types and other minorities, who now together might claim a majority, are relegated to the back benches and closets and kitchens and possibly once again forced to endure harassment, BUT TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY!” And then everyone cheers and rushes forward with, well maybe not swords, but maybe glitter and pan-Asian cuisine, and casts their votes for City of Stairs or The Peripheral or maybe even, heaven forbid, The Three Body Problem, and all of the sad puppies are forced back into wherever it is they usually hang out. Montana, possibly, or Georgia.

Which is not to say that Brad Torgerson is an orc. John Ringo might be, but I’m pretty sure Brad and I could hang out at a board game function, sip root beer, and swap stories of our kids. I wish we didn’t feel quite so differently about some of my favorite books and authors, but such is life. The Culture for me and Galt’s Gulch for the puppies.

Honestly though, where would you rather live?

2014 Hugo Awards

2014 Hugo Awards

I don’t always pay much attention to the Hugos. In fact, 2013 was the first time that I actively followed the entire process, in part because of my growing involvement with this blog. More importantly at the time, 2012 was the first year in a very long time, or possibly ever, that I kept up with the major new releases, read most of them, and had very strong opinions about many of them. I am on record saying that 2012 was one of the most exciting ever for science fiction. Then, the Hugos came, Redshirts beat out 2312 for Best Novel, and I was crushed. Not that there is anything wrong with Redshirts; it is a fun book that speaks to the soul of the genre community and Scalzi is the face that SF presents to the world. (A very worthy face, I might add. I am thrilled that he is our de facto spokesman.) 2312, however, is the epitome of what science fiction is to me. I think it will go down as a classic, studied decades from now by people serious about the genre. It is on my very short list of the best SF books ever. That Hugo voters didn’t agree with me singed my soul.

Then the 2014 awards season came around. I was less involved in 2013 new releases and saw little that matched the grandeur of 2012’s slate. I read a few things, liked a couple a great deal, but wasn’t terribly dialed in for whatever reason. I didn’t feel worthy to turn in a nomination, since I read so little of the novels and basically none of the non-novel offerings. Once the official nominations were released, I assumed the worst. The Wheel of Time in its entirety? Good heavens. If Redshirts can knock off Kim Stanley Robinson’s very best, what hope does anyone hold against the Robert Jordan juggernaut?

All of this was before a bit of the culture wars raging in the US jumped the firebreak and invaded the community via the spastic thrashings of a shrinking demographic. I was never worried that Vox Day & Co. would actually win a Hugo, but that didn’t make things any more pleasant. While I realize that greater geekdom is a festering cesspit of the debased and mouth-breathing, the core science fiction community always seemed to be a more refined place. Yes, there are jerks and yes, bad things happen, but for the most unrelenting misogyny and racism, one needs to hit the gamer and otaku communities. We book types are, I thought, much more civilized; fearing otherwise was more than I wanted to process. All together, the situation was dire enough that I beat a hasty retreat for the sanctuary of the Nebula Awards.

Now I am looking at the lists of award winners and feeling more excited about the state of science fiction than I have in quite some time. First, and perhaps least important, the right book won. Ancillary Justice isn’t perfect, but it breaks new ground and pushes the genre forward. It addresses issues like gender equality, colonialization, and defining identities during periods of wrenching change, all hot button topics in the world at large. I suppose it’s fine that the gender stuff Leckie plays with gets most of the attention, even if it makes me want to yell, “HELLO PEOPLE! THE MAIN CHARACTER USED TO BE AN INTERSTELLAR WARSHIP OVERMIND! THIS IS NEW AND EXCITING!” There’s crazy stuff going on in Ancillary Justice and nothing else touches it for cutting edge innovation. (Especially not a hoary fantasy epic that’s been dragging on since I was in junior high school.)

Bigger than this is the message that the Hugo voters sent about the state of the community. The ballot has already been hailed as one of the most balanced and inclusive ever by any metric; the winners are shaking the foundations of the patriarchy. Women followed their dramatic Nebula sweep with a strong showing at the Hugos. John Chu talked about his victory in terms of racism and homophobia. Kameron Hurley won two Hugos. Let’s say that again – we live in a world where incendiary bomb-lobber Kameron Hurley can win two Hugos. This is amazing. SF is dragging itself, kicking and screaming, into the future, and I am happy to be a part of it.

The only downer of the evening? The Coode Street Podcast once again came up short. It is my favorite by a long margin, but, as with so many other things, I appear to be an elitist minority.

Coode Street aside, thank you Hugo Voters for restoring my faith in our genre. I promise to never doubt you, at least not until you once again vote down my favorite book.

Science Fiction Authors of Wrath

Science Fiction Authors of Wrath

We here at Two Dudes don’t consider ourselves a big part of SFF fandom. We don’t go to conventions, vote for Hugos, or take an active part in the blogosphere. Neither of us has the bandwidth to keep up with this sort of thing, or the spare money/time to read all the newest books and join the hottest discussions. With the recent Christopher Priest vs. The Clarke Award blowup, our initial inclination was to laugh, then go back to writing snarky posts about whatever currently intrigues us. Jose checked out a few of the articles, snorted with wry amusement, and returned to the book mines where he diligently labors. Pep liked the Internet Puppy meme so much that he caved in and decided to share some morsels of opinion.

*****

I wrote this the first time with a school marmish tone about not saying anything at all if one can’t say something nice, punctuated with a touching episode from my youth. Then I realized that, a) nobody cares, and b) if I’m going to suplex books for overwrought prose, I’d better not write any of my own. Article overhaul ensued. For now, a brief summary of the mayhem is best found here. Established and successful author Christopher Priest is not happy with the Clarke Award shortlist and, for whatever reason, decides to tell the world exactly how he feels. Bagging on award selections is a favorite pastime no matter what the prize, but few do so with such literate, scathing personal attacks on the recipients. Fewer still resort to angry accusations of incompetence on the part of the jury. Rigged? Sure. Conspiracy? Of course. Blindly following the herd? All the time. Self-serving? Without question. Incompetent and deserving of ignominious dismissal? Um, maybe you’ve had enough to drink there, old timer. Let’s get you home.

Because he can, John Scalzi writes a reasonable, calm response (complete with intelligent conversation in the comments!) that manages to make everyone look good and still be funny. I don’t know how he manages to be so beatific all the time. Then there is this post, oddly vulnerable and poetic, by Cathernne Valente. It is full of beautiful passages, especially the description of the Clarke Award as “for the type of person who goes on the Internet to weep about the death of hard science fiction,” but sometimes reads like the pleas of an abuse victim huddled in a corner while Mr. Priest rages about young punks with their low hanging pants and backwards ball caps.

I haven’t read much more than this, but have been amazed at the firestorm Priest kicked up. We should all be thankful, I think, because there is no such thing as bad publicity and boy are people talking about science fiction now. The Clarke Award owes him a nice fruit basket. My own response was triggered by Valente, who suggests in her post that possible reactions to Priest’s rant are “curling up in the fetal position and being depressed for weeks” and “getting motivated by anger and making the next book so amazing that it will impress the grumpy old dude.” I have this completely opposite vision of Greg Bear grunting in non-committal fashion at the screen, then turning over to watch the Mariners lose again, perhaps complaining later to his wife about all the rain.

At any rate, in honor of all the crap flying around science fiction-dom right now, let’s take a quick look at the short-listed books that so enraged Herr Priest and his replacements for them. I’m obviously not qualified to say anything about the ones I haven’t read, but there are four authors that I can address.

1. Hull Zero Three (Greg Bear) – Bear has been around enough and won enough acclaim that I would be surprised if he noticed or cared about this poop storm. Of course, if he’s still in Seattle, nothing would surprise me. The man could be sitting in a dark room, listening to Pearl Jam and sadly watching old Sonics highlights; he could be in a geodesic dome halfway up Mt. Ranier eating nothing but smoked salmon and Pirate’s Booty. As for the book, I am a bit surprised to see it on the list. I liked it well enough, but to me it felt like something he tossed off to pass the time between bigger projects.

2. Embassytown (China Mieville) – I think the consensus is that Priest’s attack on Mieville was the most surprising. Does Mieville deserve a fourth Clarke Award? I don’t know. Was anything better written in 2011? Quite possibly not. To call this book lazy strikes me as a massive misunderstanding of what an accomplishment Embassytown is, even moreso when Priest is decrying the current batch of SF for failing to rise above hard SF cliché and best-seller list porridge. Embassytown is a rare book that deserves, and has received, the attention of stuffy lit types for its examination of language, depiction of societal collapse and transformation, and uncanny ability to push far into contemporary literature’s territory without compromising its science fiction foundation. If this were Mieville’s first nomination, I suspect Priest would have had nothing bad to say about it. I admit to not reading enough of last year’s publications, but if I were to pick one book from 2011 to represent SF to the rest of the world, it would probably be Embassytown.

3. Rule 34 (Charles Stross) – I haven’t read this one, but since Priest’s attack is entirely personal (and hilarious), it seems appropriate to respond in a personal way. I’ve read three Stross books: Glasshouse, Halting State, and Singularity Sky, so I feel qualified to make this judgment. Stross is, I think, exactly the kind of author that the old guard will love to hate, much like William Gibson and his cyberpunky ilk pissed off the establishment back in the 1980s. He is part of the new cultural background of science fiction, long since expanded beyond physics and astronomy. Cyberspace, nanotech, the environment, gamer and otaku culture, globalization, and mobile devices are the new language of SF; style has been usurped by LOLcats and smart aleck bloggers. Priest obviously doesn’t like Stross, but I suspect that the latter is merely a proxy for the former’s disgust with contemporary SF. Oddly enough, Stross and his carpet peeing Internet puppy are the big winners of this craziness.

4. Osama (Lavie Tidhar) – This is one of Priest’s recommendations for a replacement on the shortlist. I haven’t read Osama, but I enjoyed The Bookman and think that anyone who writes something called Jesus and the Eight-fold Path deserves broader recognition. He also does great work on the WorldSF blog.

And there we have it. Things are calmer at the time of this publication, because this is the Internet and nobody has an attention span longer than 36 hours. (72 if breasts are involved.) Fortunately, the Hugo shortlist will be announced soon and we can all enjoy the subsequent paroxysm of disgust.

Jose and Pep Talk Fantasy

Jose and Pep sat down the other day to mull over various mundane topics like work and family. Talk, however, soon turned to books, in a spontaneous State of the Genre conversation about fantasy. None of this was rehearsed, prepared, or planned (though it has been edited a bit), merely a glimpse inside the heads of the Two Dudes brain trust.

Jose: I’m going to take something up for reading on my trip this weekend.

Pep: Have you picked it yet?

Jose: Was thinking about some Glen Cook.

Pep: Good times. Though I’ve only read the first Black Company books. He’s someone I need to read more of.

Jose: Agreed. Also, Steven Erickson has finished up his entire series now. I probably should just buckle down and read the whole damn thing from start to finish.

Pep: I need to read book four, but it’s kind of a long investment of time.

Jose: KARSA ORLONG. I’ve read up to book eight, though he’s never hit quite as good as book three. You’ve read Memories of Ice, right?

Pep: Yes.

Jose: So cool, from start to finish. The crazy artists and their frog? Amazing. “Go eat another clod of paint.” Books 6 – 8 are generally awesome.

Pep: Slowly I will get there. Right now I am about to finish my first Guy Gavriel Kay.

Jose: I like him.

Pep: I wish he would declaim in stentorian tones a little less.

Jose: (laughs)

Pep: His story is good enough without the soap opera narrative asides. Seriously, I smiled once at p. 181 and haven’t since.

Jose: Kay has a problem where he wants to make things dramatic, and it’s a big problem. Fantasy authors need to get away from the concept of serious human interaction. Seriously, they’re not good at it. What we do appreciate is descriptions of some dude hacking millions of crazed cannibals into a house and then setting it on fire and turning into a war god. THAT is what fantasy is for.

Pep: (laughs) It’s true though. I’m not reading these books for insights into human nature. I’ll read Hemingway or something for that. I want something awesome on my way to work, nothing more.

Jose: I enjoy Stephenson’s answer, actually. He shies away from serious human interaction and places all of it within the boundaries of some crazy issue; either crazy complex calculus or ontology [ala Anatheum] or the completely ridiculous. That way he can say whatever he wants and it seems to be relatively legit.

Pep: Agreed. You can say things about people without dripping in sincerity.

Jose: Right. That’s a serious problem. The things in real life where we learn most about people aren’t in some heart felt break down. It’s in the little asides, how they phrase their day to day life. Not some stunning reveal of their emotions.

Pep: Some of these genre writers remind me of Mormons. We so desperately want to be taken seriously by other Christians, and the writers so desperately want to be taken seriously by lit snobs.

Jose: It’s a good analogy I think. And I think you’ll find that, generally speaking, good fantasy only comes in a singular variety. It doesn’t bother so much with character and instead focuses on a world that’s so completely alien that it becomes a fantastic reality. It’s why I hate George R.R. Martin, by the way – his concept of people is totally awful.

Pep: I’ve never tried to get into him, except for about 50 pages of Game of Thrones, which didn’t impress me. I just got the feeling that 1) nothing good is going to happen here and I will just get depressed, and 2) I’ve read all the plot/world details before.

Jose: He’s revered because he doesn’t have a good guy.

Pep: And kills people. Er, characters.

Jose: Right. But the problem is he’s still awful. It’s why I appreciate people like Glen Cook, Erickson, or Gene Wolfe. No attempts at “AWESOME AND DEEP CHARACTERIZATION.” It’s about making a world that’s internally consistent and blows your mind.

Pep: The thing is, Cook nails it with the first Black Company trilogy. I loved some of those people. I even got behind the romance angle, which is unheard of.

Jose: And you never actually get any serious monologues.

Pep: Wolfe is just on another planet. That guy has no peer.

Jose: The problem is, of course, sometimes Wolfe is just on another planet.

Pep: Also true!

Jose: Whether or not that is a good thing is to be determined. But as a general function, Gene Wolfe does things in the Book of the New Sun [not really read much of his other stuff] that I think most fantasy authors should take serious notes from.

Pep: I haven’t read anything either, but need to. Most current fantasy doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t get Martin, never got into Rothfuss, won’t touch Sanderson because he’s a BYU product.

Jose: Fantasy wants to be mainstream. It’s yearning for the accolades of the Protestant pulpit as it were. I think basically Erickson is the sole author carrying the torch right now.

Pep: He might be.

Jose: Pinto was awesome, but his book [s?] descended quickly into “I want to write about gay relationships.” But the first 250-ish pages had a.) people getting killed, b.) weird blood rights, c.) strange fantasy aliens, d.) best of all, opium trips. Then it descended into happy happy homosexual relationship land, which, while not a problem, became sort of preachy.

Pep: I haven’t read those, but Hal Duncan was the same. I’m ok with gay characters, but am not happy with manipulation via gays. I wish I had more fantasy names to throw out there, but I just haven’t read a lot. I get a craving once in awhile, then I end up reading something weird like Hal Duncan and have to get back to space opera for awhile

Jose: I think the perfect mix is always a combination of hard sci-fi and fantasy. You want the ability to manipulate the rules via unobtanium; things like magic do that.

Pep: Midnight at the Well of Souls.

Jose: But it has to be about the environment and the world; NOT some goofy David Eddings rip off. Because let’s be frank, the Belgariad did protagonist-based fantasy better than anyone else.

Pep: Har. THERE’S someone I don’t dare return to. Can’t ruin my childhood memories.

Jose: Actually, it holds up pretty well. You can sort of see the artifice when you return, but it works well and he knows it works well. To this day the 1500-esh page romp of the Belgariad is probably the best protagonist based fantasy I’ve read. The Mallorean is good too, but mainly because it doesn’t suck and it’s fun to watch Belgarion yell at people and throw lightning bolts. Other than that, Eddings is awful,

though the Redemption of Athalus is pretty much the greatest book for the first 500 pages, and then the worst book for the last 300 pages.

Pep: Hmm. You tempt me to retry those sometime. I loved those books like you wouldn’t believe, so I’m scared to touch anything he’s done now. See, Belgarion and the Dragonlance crew pretty much defined my childhood, up until the time (partway through Tad Williams) I gave up fantasy and moved to Hard SF. I knew Dragonlance was silly, so it didn’t hurt to reread it and know that it was bad, but I don’t want to lose those happy memories of Garion, Polgara, et al.

Jose: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is amazing. If you haven’t read it, you have to. It’s really that good.

Pep: It’s on my list. That’s the one I gave up partway through. Of course, he wasn’t finished writing it at the time and I just ran out of fantasy steam.

Jose: Its 4,000-esh pages of awesome, though it takes time to get into.

Pep: I do need to sit down with a butt kicking fantasy soon.

Jose: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is a good choice. Simon has some very good moments, like attacking a dragon.

Pep: It’s been on my list for awhile, though of course I don’t move methodically down that list.

At this point, talk turned elsewhere, then wound down for the night.