“Incidentally, there is support for Wijeratne’s story”: a response to file770 and a record of the Nebula Award madness

I’m going to tell you a story. This is about being nominated for the Nebula Awards [1], and accusations, and fury. I’m going to tell it slow and in much detail as I can, because I want to, and because context is important. I have seen much slinging of words but no context.

When I started writing this, it was 8PM. I had intended to use the writing of this piece as a piece of string, to re-order my own thoughts and try to figure out what the hell I’m doing here [2].  But in the writing of this I’ve gone from trying to figure out this madness to just being jaded. My inboxes are inundated with legions, my notifications toss up numbers like a slot machine, and I am absolutely done with explaining myself to random asshats on Twitter who demand answers under fake names and profile pictures.

So I’m going to chronicle this.

And at the end of it you may judge whether I have acted with the best information available to me, or not.

THE BORING STUFF: HOW THE STORY CAME TO BE

First, Ronnie Virdi, otherwise known as R.R. Virdi. I can’t recall when he and I became friends on Facebook, but over a short period of time he and I grew to like each other. He is a first generation Indian American. I am Sri Lankan.

This is Sri Lanka. Many Americans do not seem to know where the hell we are, so I’m pre-empting questions putting this here.

We both have shared culture and mythos – the Ramayana and such. We both had very similar experiences – too Anglicized and too liberal to ever fit in properly in our source societies, and too, well, brown to fit in anywhere else. Our tastes in literature, gaming, movies and inspirations overlap significantly. Like attracts like. This is a fundamental principle known as homophily [3]. So in a general week we would each kick back in our respective timezones and discuss stuff – our parents, careers, ambitions. In one of these conversations, we started discussing why aliens always attack America.

This particular trope in science fiction has always puzzled us. America is currently the most powerful nation on earth – at least in terms of GDP and military spending. But an invading armada would have no way to grok trade flow volume or budget allocations. 

Our belief was that any sane hostile alien should compute the population of the Earth and attack the centers of highest mass – i.e. India and China. That is about 36% of the world’s population in one go; furthermore these regions are expected to undergo significant population growth [4]. The one place a logical alien would really want to avoid is America, a country with a declining population [5] where ordinary citizens are armed and will likely form a decentralized partisan resistance. The ROI is significantly lower.

We’re also both fans of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, though not the second movie. And to be quite frank it’s a little bit annoying to see Japan, the birthplace of giant robots, without any giant robots of its own. And, for that matter, where the hell are the Japanese pilots? Why is everyone Asian just a set piece?

So we decided to do our own thing. To start, we brainstormed the setting: the Bay of Bengal and Neo-Delhi. I came up with a plausible excuse to bung in aliens – if they were silicon-based life forms, it made perfect sense to hit the Earth: 90% of this planet’s crust is made of silicate [6]. Seriously, I don’t know why we’re carbon-based meat puppets.

Anyway. We paid homage. We took cues for Lovecraftian monsters from del Toro. We looked at Jaegers from Pacific Rim and traced the lineage upwards to the anime that we figured del Toro took inspiration from. We brainstormed our own Jaegers: metal and machine representations of the great Hindu gods we were so familiar with, piloted by digitized Indian soldiers.

From Neon Genesis Evangelion [6] we took the depression of the pilots, which strongly resonated with us because we both suffer from bouts of depression, and we felt we could depict that experience with some accuracy. From Gasaraki [7] we took the form of using mecha in a contemporary setting, support squads and environmental damage included. I put some Bolo [8]. Then we built a shared internal wiki and started putting the text together.

I must admit that it was delightful to decree that the Kali-jaeger drive all pilots utterly gibbering mad. For Kali is the goddess of creation and destruction, the ultimate form of Brahman, and she wears a garland of skulls. Kali is not a thing you control. You either appease her or die screaming.  

And lastly, because we do not believe in preachy political texts (Ayn Rand, anyone?), we buried these bits deep into the worldbuilding and wrote the actual story in a style that we thought made it fun to read – in the contemporary “action style” with a closely-held narrative camera, focus on military jargon and fast sequences. We may or may not have succeeded: that is up for readers to decide, not us.

Anyway, we wrote an initial story. It was called Messenger, as a reference to Oamuamua, the strange interstellar body that went through the Solar System recently (we bastardized it into an alien 3D printer that could land on the moon and print volumes of creatures of iterative complexity, dropping them down the gravity well).

…. and we realized that nobody would read the damn thing. The majority of English scifi readers are Americans, and they do not particularly care about metal Hindu gods. We contemplated shopping it to a traditional US/UK publisher, but this requires contacts we do not have, and agents, and meetings, and my publisher (HarperCollins India) would probably be risk-averse – science fiction and fantasy here is just barely picking up.

Which is where Craig Martelle happened.

MARTELLE’S EXPANDING UNIVERSE

Craig Martelle is a prolific American science fiction writer, editor and publisher. He runs the annual Expanding Universe series of military science fiction anthologies. At this point I’d worked with Craig before – a story for The Expanding Universe III, titled Dreadnought. In it an AI starship is sung The Charge of the Light Brigade [9] and contemplates the foolishness of human war, and its own role as a pawn in this game between foolish creatures (a pertinent theme, as we shall see later).

Craig Martelle has always been extremely professional to me and to many writers I know on Facebook. Whereas local publishers would require meetings, introductions, agents and the lot, Martelle sent me the spec, wordcount, asked to see the first page of the story, accepted it, sent it back with edits and a contract with clear rights reversion clauses, and the story was sold.

Because the Sri Lankan Central Bank does not allow inbound PayPal payment, Martelle even switched to Payoneer to accommodate me.

So when he put out the call for TEU4, I tagged Ronnie, and we sent the story we had up. To our very great surprise, the story was well-received. And the story was out. I did a very happy post on September 17, 2018, announcing it [10].

THE NEBULA NOMINATION

A short while after the story came out, Jonathan Brazee, SFWA’s Director of Education and former Nebula finalist, sent me a message saying it had been voted onto the “recommended reading” list for the Nebula Award.

To say we were over the Moon is an understatement. There are no words in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of Men for the excitement we felt. Except we had no idea what “recommended reading list” meant, so Ronnie, who is a recent SFWA member, ran around a while trying to figure that out. And then we grokked the general structure of things. We happily shared the good news with everyone we knew.


~~~~

Now I must backtrack here a bit and explain how I know Jonathan Brazee, because of some accusations of “having friends”. I met Brazee in Bali, to a 20Books conference I had been invited to attend. I did not have the funds to do so, so Martelle, after everyone who had signed up was done, had an extra room and agreed to waive the conference fee if I met the rest of the costs myself and put in back-end work, like handling microphones, for the rest. Bali is significantly cheaper that getting to the US. so I took the chance to meet authors while they were in the neighborhood. We had a drink – as I am doing now – and fell to a discussion of utopias and our own personal idealized worlds. I judged him to be one of the most widely-travelled men I had met, and had a nuanced and complex understanding of South and South East Asia, and closely in line with my own preferences: freedom of press, gender equality, and Keynsian interventionism[11].

At the end of the conversation Brazee told me SFWA was actively looking for new, more diverse voices in the field, and invited me to join SFWA and participate in the US scifi community. I declined on two fronts, because as I understand most of what happens in the US scene happens in conventions. Unfortunately, flights to the US are extremely expensive, and at most I could travel to the US once a year on work-funded research trips. At most I could relegate myself to forums. It seemed like bad ROI.

He said that was a pity, and offered to pay my membership fee for me. I declined again, because I did not want to burden him for anything – his wife was pregnant at the time – and we parted ways happily after some more drinks. I left with great respect for the man, his integrity, and his vision of a global, all-inclusive SF&F community

~~~~

Forward to the story. This is bad structure created by worse arrack.

We became aware of being on the reading list somewhere around the 9th or 10th. I’m not exactly sure. By the 15th, going by the reader vote data available to SFWA members, we were in a solid third place by votecount. People seemed to love the damn thing. It was reviewed on podcasts, praised, and recommended.

On the 16th, Jonathan Brazee put up a post in 20Booksto50k, which I am part of.

20Books seems to be a large part of the reason I am being tarred and feathered, so I am going to explain what I see of it: it is large group of some 22,000 authors, and while not all I see there is useful to me, it has been a fantastic resource in learning the rudiments of getting my work out to an audience beyond Sri Lanka.

It is public in practice – joining took me a click – and I also regularly watch for anthology announcements there (like the Expanding Universe) and cheer other authors on.  

There are people there who are full-time authors and make enough from their work to continue doing more work without needing a second job etc. This amazes me. I have received advice that I can and should write faster, but I write slow and good research takes me time. My contracts with HarperCollins also have reasonable durations (roughly one book a year, for five books), so I am happy with my pace.

~~~~

Ronnie, too, writes 600-page doorstoppers filled with clever plots and deep worldbuilding. While not a member of 20Books, he knows very fast writers. We have discussed speed and agreed that we’ll plod along at our own pace and build up a solid backlist. We’re here for the long run anyway.

~~~~

Nevertheless, 20Books has been a great place to make friends online – from it I have set up the Legion of Science, a tiny 70-person group where we have writers, engineers, scientists of all stripes, as we get to debate everything from economics to graphene tech. The only other Sri Lankan scifi writer I am aware of is Navin Weeraratne, who co-founded Lanka Comic Con with comics writer and lawyer Thilani Samarasinghe.

So this has been a fantastic avenue for us to discuss things we don’t have anyone here to discuss with. The only other Sri Lankan scifi writer I have actually spoke to is Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who passed away.

~~~~

There are not many of us [12]. We hope to have a community some day, but right now it is just Thilani, Navin and myself having dinner on every other Tuesday.

~~~~
Sec. Chasers.

Anyway. Brazee put up a list of all stories on the reading list coming from “indies” – small electronic presses, self-publishers, and some anthologies like TEU that, while published by an incorporated entity with editors and staff, are for some reason also bagged under this label.

We both thanked him, and switched to discussing the Messenger sequel. The BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) countries are expected to surpass the G7 countries soon [13] and significantly shift the existing world political order. So we had to design Jaegers for all these countries, and that is still an ongoing process. And Ronnie wanted to do a much larger book.

On the 19th of February Ronnie and I received emails from Jim Hosek, Nebula Awards Commissioner. The email said simply, “Yudhanjaya, I would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience,” and gave me a phone number and asked how he could contact me.

Throughout the day I had been getting weird signals from Ronnie – he was excited, and would only say “you’ll get the same call I did!”. So I waited up and called at night, and was told that Messenger was officially a Nebula finalist.

WHOA.

I was so excited I actually laughed, because I thought it was a joke. And then reality hit and I realized I couldn’t afford to make it there, so I explained this to Jim and he referred me to the financial assistance program. Then I went back inside. Someone pointed out that the last person to be on a Nebula list from Sri Lanka was Clarke himself [14]. We celebrated.

It was a good night. I had other reasons to celebrate. Aethon, a small American publisher specializing in scifi, had offered me a three-book deal for a story I’d always wanted to write – a somewhat hard-science first contact scenario based around survival and language. My debut novel, Numbercaste, had been optioned for film by a huge global conglomerate; my agents were happy, I was happy, and this was the perfect hat-trick.

~~~~

Ronnie and I a brief discussion as to whether we were the youngest ever Nebula finalists (I’m 26, and he’s 28) and I pointed out that no, that was Ted Chiang. Which is great thing to aspire to – Chiang’s Tower of Babylon [15] is right up there with Borges’ Library of Babel [16].

Over the next few days I was added to a Slack channel for Nebula finalists (very cool), made the digital acquaintance of Lawrence Schoen [17], who not only was a very prestigious writer, but had somehow translated the Dao De Ching (道德經) from the original Chinese into Klingon. I mean, this is incredible stuff. How the hell do you translate a deliberately contextually vague text from a morphologically rich, highly-evolved language into an artificial grammar made for Star Trek? I asked if I could meet him to talk language and he happily agreed.

~~~~

But I digress. It was good. The Nebula award is voted on by registered SFWA writers who have to prove that they are professionals with work out there, so it is a jury-of-peers thing. The next day the news had spread out and journalists were calling me to ask how it felt to be the first natural-born Sri Lankan to make the Nebulas, and what plans I had in mind for the future of Sri Lankan scifi. I mumbled my way through a few responses and it resulted in stuff like this.

Even if I couldn’t physically be there, it was good.

NOT-A-SURPRISE

The weirdness started when a random Twitter account (with the usual egg) popped up, tweeted at me, congratulating us for being “the token brown pick”, and disappeared. An hour later a similar one popped up, tweeted something about “the secret to being noticed is nobody being able to spell your name”, and again vanished.

I thought little of it. Look, I study bot networks and hate speech at scale. One of the recent digs was a report where I analyzed 200,000 tweets, and unearthed thousands of bots popping up after Sri Lankan political campaigns [18]. Competent bots use names from census lists and life profile pictures from Instagram.

Whoever this was, this was a moron. I have a simple script that blocks stuff like this. I moved on to Reddit, where there was some surprise at the number of finalists this year from nontraditional sources [19]. There I explained why I put out short stories in nontraditional anthologies. My handle is Icaruswept.

To wit:
~~~~
<Introduction>

Why do I do this?

  • Friends. I like working with authors I know and care about. A lot of the folks I work with are people who I communicate with daily on Facebook, chat with on podcasts, even play Overwatch with.
  • Responsiveness. I gravitate towards smaller indie presses by default, because they are inevitably far faster to respond and give me more leeway to experiment. I don’t enjoy waiting months for an email – I have other things to do.
  • Profit. I’m not going to lie: the percentages on most trad pub projects are terrible. I have my day job as a data scientist, so I’m not starving. Nevertheless, picking a higher number is a logical decision, especially if the first two criteria are satisfied. I like being able to do the work I want, with the people I want, the way I want, and get paid slightly more for it.

I have seen no indicator that being published by a traditional process is a guarantee of quality. There is genuinely terrible stuff out there with both major and minor imprint labels out there. Even my most recent book, the Inhuman Race, is riddled with typos in the print version – and that’s a book that went through the trad pub process of a Big Five entity.

~~~~

The poster (thenixondive) was very happy with this response.
~~~
Thank you for taking the time to make these illuminating points.

In retrospect, I really regret allowing myself to get sidetracked into the qualitative comparisons between “major” presses and “minor” presses. My initial observation was that several nominees came from non-traditional sources. I initially meant to make clear that I wasn’t in a position to judge the quality of the nominated works. I mainly wanted to point out that some of the short fiction nominees broke with established patterns of Nebula nominees. The changes in publishing that you and other point out provide a reasonable explanation to this new trend, and I can see that my initial comment might have come off as more conspiratorial than I intended.

~~~

Cool! So it looks like people are seeing a difference from the usual pattern. Not sure if good or bad, so I moved on.

On the 22nd people started sending me links, and posting links to groups I’m in, of blogposts by one Cora Buhlert [20].

The most surprising (at least to me) finalist in this category is “Messenger” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi, a military science fiction story which was published in an anthology called Expanding Universe Vol. 4, which was edited by popular indie science fiction author Craig Martelle. R.R. Virdi also was a two times finalist for the Dragon Award, an award which I hadn’t expected to have much overlap with the Nebulas.

I personally see absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is laughable to expect American writers to know the Asian. General inference: a few people are surprised by our existence.

This is not that odd. My friends are quite used to people being surprised by what we do. Generally, when I find myself among a group of Americans or Britishers, a common thread that pop up is surprise that “you speak good English! Where did you learn it?

So this kind of thing is nothing out of the ordinary.

I told Ronnie of this post and toddled on by.

THE FAN HITS THE SHIT

And then one Annie Bellet happened. I started seeing links to her rant on Twitter.

She was referencing the Felapton post and seemed apoplectic. And the tweet was exploding everywhere, on both groups and my timeline.

My understanding at the time was that “slate” is either a fine-grained, metamorphic rock or a major US media corp. A search for “Slate award” turned up a magazine from Phuket. Because of the vote-call nature, I tried “Slate politics”, which turned up a podcast.

So I clicked through to the post, which is by one Camestros Felapton. Felapton, from the “about” page is either a small organization or a person with several ingenious alter egos [21]. The post seemed ruminative about 20Books, and noted gently that

So was there a 20bboksto50 slate? Well, they have a closed Facebook group but it’s not a particularly mysterious group or highly exclusive and I don’t thing it is a secret (but perhaps not well known) that they’ve had a recommended reading list for the Nebulas for a few years…

So clearly it’s a political-vote-list-thing. And people are riled up because a SFWA official put up a list in the 20Books group – a list which included myself and Ronnie.

Annie Bellet was raging at it being unethical and wondering how we can live with ourselves for our names being on this list. Implied accusation is that indies are gaming the award system somehow.

This was a bit confusing. The Nebulas are voted on only by SFWA members, who are made members are proof of professional work. So whoever the hell is voting in there are professional scifi and fantasy writers. So somehow there is a cabal of indie professional writers within a circle of professional writers voting in a different way?

Now, I do not know Annie Bellet from Adam, and I wanted to find out why she was screaming about this list. Sequence of actions:

Her Twitter bio says “USA Today bestselling author”, so I googled for
Annie Bellet USA Today

Which showed Twitter, Website, Twitter. Okay. Didn’t see the USAT page, but she’s clearly quite a prolific author. 

So I tweeted and asked her five questions [22]:
~~~~

Hi, Annie. My name’s on that list. May I introduce myself?
0) I’m a hybrid – I’m a traditionally published author who does short story work in indie anthologies. Being a newcomer, I have one point and some questions.

1) I understand that we South Asian writers may not exactly be well known to you and your community, but I urge you to use our good friend @Google. Creds: 5-book deal with @HarperCollinsIN. I do have some understanding of how difficult it is to compete with trad pub. Firsthand.

2) How is this recommendation list, which uses what I understand to be publicly available (to SWFA members) recommended list data data, different to these lovely “nomination recommendation lists” which I’ve read for years?

3) Are there enough indie authors in SFWA to swing a vote without trad pubbed authors also voting on these works?  

4) Lastly, have you actually read any of the work herein, to judge them by their merit as you so rightfully advocate?

~~~~

I read the post again and it seemed like some serious foaming-at-the-mouth insinuation that the indies are rigging votes somehow.

So, two more adds:

~~~~

5) If there are works you deem worthy or unworthy, unless indie outnumbers trad pub, why has the SFWA community vote not reflected your opinion?

6) Or is it taboo only when your friends don’t win?

~~~~

Right. I’m going to have another drink and rant.

I asked most of these questions because this whole business seemed odd, and these seemed reasonable questions to ask: if I could get at the ratio of indie: trad, then I have a better understanding of how the system can be gamed, because the list was a) not something we signed up for, ever and b) posted by a reputable source.

And I will be perfectly honest. The last question I asked because I’m a snarky ass on occasion and have no intention of being derided by some rando. 

Accusations were made, but no useful information was obtained.

And I am “super obtuse on purpose out of guilt of whatever” about a list made by a SWFA director on a group and she cannot tell me what about being on this list makes it ethically evil. Lists are either allowed or not allowed. A professional organization has rules or it does not. At some point she tweeted “JFC YOU KNOW THE NORTON CAN BE SWUNG WITH 10 VOTES FFS”.

No, I did not know. I assumed the Norton was a separate award altogether. And hearing that ten votes can swing anything seemed, quite frankly, ridiculous. The SFWA website and the Wikipedia article say that this is voted on by a substantial membership of professionals.

The conversation with Bellet went from bad to worse. She followed up:

Okay.

“Like, I’m sorry you felt to cheat to need to get noticed, but like…that doesn’t make it okay.”

Like, you just took an argument about rules and dragged race into it and straight-up told me I cheated. While, like, being beyond condescending, like, this.

Wow. Really, lady.

We did not “cheat” to “even the score” because people of color find it hard to get published. I am far more aware of the difficulty of getting published than you are, because I fucking live on the other side of the world from all the publishers and the readers. But never once have I dragged my skin color into my writing. Ronnie and I wrote a fucking story. We got it published.

We did not ask to get it published because we were brown. We submitted it to an anthology as per protocol and contract, 12-point fucking formatting and all, and we never asked for consideration of skin color.

People voted it in there. Professionals, as judged by SFWA, because, like, nobody else can use or see your systems.

We did not ask them to with our skin color or that crap. We are not some brown Oliver Twist, sitting at your little writers’ table, palms upraised, asking “please sir, may I have some more?”

That is an ugly fucking accusation. And the bottle is three-fourths gone.

I grew irritated. I told her Asia is a large place. It is, and quite frankly there’s enough here without me trying to even cultural bias in America. And quite frankly, I do not and will not bend over to people accusing me of cheating to even racial scores, especially when they can condescend from a damn high horse and accuse me of some reverse Affirmative Action but won’t answer a simple bloody question.

It is so fucking obvious she can’t even. At this point Bellet’s little gaslighting brigade has already stepped in, and my notifications are filling up with people calling me a sealion and blocking me instantly.

At roughly the same time, this article went up on a site called file770 [27]. File770, I gather, is a long-running community fanzine. I would have liked to read it on a good day. Unfortunately, I landed on what seemed like an extraordinary comment shitfest. I’ll leave it to the reader to pursue.

Well done, Bellet.

Well co-ordinated.

Meanwhile, Craig Martelle informed us that this was probably a grudge Annie had with him – something involving a story last year. The thick plottens.

At this point, I received news that Pakistan had just shot down two Indian jets in their airspace [23]. War between those two countries could go anywhere and destroy damn near everything, so I switched to watching that instead. Pretty soon the videos began to leak to us of a crashed Indian Wing Commander being mobbed by villagers at the crash site, and then of him being taken in, blindfolded, by the Pakistani Army.

Local geopolitics is more concerning than some American dox brigade on Twitter. So I focused on the important.

HISTORY LESSONS

By the time I came back, some people who had actually read my questions stepped in: Mary Anne Mohanraj, longtime SFWA member and editor of Strange Horizons, Matt MIkalatos, who has been in both SWFA and the 20Books group, and JA Sutherland. There were others who stepped in – Rogers Cadenhead, for example, whose books I had once read. Between them they began filling me in on the reason for Bellet’s rage – the Puppies.

Until this point I had vaguely been aware of Puppies and some sort of phenomenon in the Hugo Awards. As much as we heard of it, it went like this: there was a conservative group within the Hugo community who called themselves the Puppies. For some reason they maneouvered an author called Chuck Tingle into the Hugo, and some company called Vox Day plagiarised a book by John Scalzi. I had once looked up Chuck Tingle and seen something like this:

 

At the time I looked at this, thought “that’s too much Internet for the day” and went back to life.

Between Mohanraj, Mikalatos and and Sutherland I was filled in on the story of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies – what Wired called “the Hidden, Wildly NSFW scandal of the Hugo nominations” [24]. It is an ugly, political affair – American right-wing vs left, racist insults level at authors, a huge split in the fanbase, and it happened four years ago.

Bellet was an author who was nominated for a Hugo, and as she said, was forced to withdraw because of an intentional, internal effort to break the voting structure and patterns of the Hugo.

I read everything they sent with great dismay. I had assumed that science fiction and fantasy authors, of all people, could get along together and be professional. But no, clearly not here. There are even editors from major publishing houses involved. There tweets, he-said-she-said, vitriol on both sides, hate brigades on both sides . . . American politics in a nutshell.

As for Bellet, she did not go gentle into that good night:

But eventually she did. It is truly sad to see what happened. You can see her breaking over hundreds of posts. I would not wish this on my worst enemy.

Matt MIkalatos’ point was that Annie Bellet is still extremely raw and angry when it comes to matters of this sort. There is still trauma. And I can now understand: this is an ugly thing to happen to someone.

We understand trauma. I come from a country where 30 years of civil war [ending in 2009] and insurrection has created psychological wounds for generations (and I’ve lost family to bombs, but let’s not harp on that). An editor I was once writing for, told me a series of stories about the JVP insurrections that claimed his friends. From his blog, lest you disbelieve [25]:

“Who has heard of Senadheera from Kurunegala, a teacher and who of Dassanayake from Matale, born with a congenital defect in an eye that made it impossible for him to hide behind a disguise? Dassanayake knew his time was coming and he refused to escape: ‘I have brought too many people into this to leave now,’ he said. He was drawn and quartered, literally, and his body parts hung from a tree in Katugastota. His question/exclamation marks don’t have identity tags. Neither did those of Lalith from Kuliyapitiya, the medical student Atapattu, and countless others, including Thrimavitharana of the Colombo Medical Faculty who had nails driven into his skull, who was tied to the back of a jeep and dragged along a gravel road.”

And yet even when this editor met a person who had played a role in the opposing party at the time, he was civil. Curt and a little short, perhaps, but there was coherent discourse.

So if you want to tell me about people who are raw from their grief, rest assured there is enough grief here to flood you. We understand it all too well. But even here, after bloodshed and pain, civility and basic coherence exists. This may be the realm of fantasy to you, but this is how it works in this part of the world. Pakistan just shot down a combatant from a country they’ve been at war with for 70 years and they gave him tea, for God’s sake.  We leave the screaming to politicians, who are understood to be boors. I understand that communities, by nature, privilege certain individuals over others, but I expected better.

And I had expected there to be some sort of coherent process, and then we meet and greet people, talk starships and wizards and clap for the best works among the finalists. Instead there is layers and layers of politics.

I’ve tried understanding American politics before, and it’s a bizarre mutation. Their conservatives are, like ours, highly religious, but they also champion freedom of speech, like our liberals, and they want a minarchist state, preferring to let market economies work. Their liberals are, like ours, pro-equality, but unlike ours they seem to disfavor freedom of speech and prefer heavier government structures. This is interesting, because this markets bit at least comes from the economist Hayek, who championed free markets at all cost. Hayek’s views were considered liberal in his day and would be considered a liberal pretty much anywhere else; it was Keynes who was the conservative.

This is like driving on the left side. They take something normal and do it the other way around.

So I started asking people if I could email the, and what the protocol is in these sort of accusations. We both started reaching out to writers who seemed affiliated or awarded by SFWA. We were given four types of feedback, which I’ll merge and paraphrase:

  1. This is a community norm and should have been communicated clearly from the start. Now that you know, you should withdraw.
  2. This is on SFWA. They either have rules or they do not. You should not withdraw.
  3. This is not SFWA. Twitter and file770 is not a representative portion of the actual community.
  4. Give up. You are not them. You aren’t really part of this community and never will be, and Twitter is the tip of the iceberg.

We understand point 2, which was communicated to us by a surprising political spectrum. But both Ronnie and I come from collectivist cultures where the rights of the community are generally privileged over the rights of the individual. So we looked for evidence of vote swings. Neither of us have access to voting lists, but the public recommended reading data from the earlier list revealed a lot of authors we respect (with eight hidden names that Ronnie can’t see – apparently one needs higher access for this), among them several bestsellers and a Locus Award winner.

Meanwhile, there was a rather persistent battalion of these anonbots. By this time I was both tired and irritated. Whatever joy the award nomination had once held had been completely obliterated. Pournelle’s Rods from God could not have done a better job of smashing my respect for this to pieces. I had imagined this to be some hallowed community where the very best celebrated each other’s work. Instead all I saw was lies, ugliness and incoherence, and the remarkable hubris of people who expect everyone in the world to be updated on their conference gossip. I had told Ronnie I didn’t want the damn thing anymore. I have no intention of being bounced around like a game piece for other people’s entertainment. 

This thing is supposed to be merit-based. By all means, vote on Messenger, don’t vote on Messenger, it is *entirely* up  to the reader. At the end of the day, we never expected Messenger to go anywhere in the first place. It was a pleasant surprise, but beauty, like contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. But instead it seems to participate in this mess we need not just to write, but magically intuit the unwritten drama and soap opera crap of a handful of people several thousand miles away. We had reached out to SFWA officials for a response, but we got none. Ronnie, who at the best of times has to deal with extreme depression, was oscillating. Amy Duboff, who was feeling singled out and extremely hurt, was turning into the eye of the storm in a circle of angry authors.

I understand that the SFWA board was investigating – the board members had responded to us and passed on their apologies and agreed to meet. But there was still nothing in public, which might explain the ire you will see below: 

Yeah. It’s a fucking mess. And I have the dirty impression that Amy got a hell of a lot more flak than Ronnie and I did.

There was at least some progress. Mikalatos, after we had some discussion about the history, offered to reach out to Bellet and open communications. I said the obvious thing: yes, please go ahead. I communicated my intentions to write a response to the file770 piece, and we had a conversation about how much this whole thing sucked.

And I went back to this endless rabbit hole of vitriol and venom and to chat with Ronnie about what the actual fuck to do about this mess.

It is 3 AM here, so I’m going to stop here and publish it when I wake up. Our thoughts and analysis will follow soon, and hopefully serve as a permanent record for any others from my region who may someday end up here. There is still thread to unravel, but I’ve later, after work, once I have some time to write without killing sleep. 

REFERENCES

[1] https://nebulas.sfwa.org/

[2] I believe I think better when I write.

[3] McPherson, M.; Smith-Lovin, L.; Cook, J. M. “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks”. (2001)

[4] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. ESA/P/WP/248.

[5] Passel, Jeffrey S., and D. V. U. S. Cohn. “US population projections: 2005-2050.” (2008).

[6] https://chem.libretexts.org/Ancillary_Materials/Exemplars_and_Case_Studies/Exemplars/Geology/Silicon_Dioxide_in_Earth’s_Crust

[7] Evangelion is a dark science fiction story from the mecha sub-variant of Japanese science fiction manga. Evangelion’s key feature are its bio-tech tanks, its brutally depressed, mentally damaged pilots, and its overture of religious themes. The name in Japanese is 新世紀エヴァンゲリオン – Shinseiki Evangerion, or “The Gospel of the New Century”. It was directed by Hideaki Anno.

[8] Gasaraki, on the other hand, uses this trope to depict contemporary warfare. Key features are the present of support squads, news reports, environmental damage, and heavy cultural elements, for example, Shinto and samurai armor. It was co-created by Ryousuke Takahashi and Hajime Yatate and written by Toru Nozaki.

[8] A series of military science fiction books from the 1960’s and 1970’s by Keith Laumer, featuring “Bolos” – AI tanks that get steadily more complex and intelligent over the series. One particular story featured Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and I liked it a lot.

[9] Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Not though the soldier knew // Someone had blundered. //  Theirs not to make reply // Theirs not to reason why // Theirs but to do and die.

[10] https://www.facebook.com/yudhanjaya/posts/10215703411714770

[11] https://www.npr.org/2011/11/16/142348310/keynes-consuming-ideas-on-economic-intervention

[12] https://thamara.blog/the-science-of-sri-lankan-sci-fi-8c93ddb5ee34

[13] https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/IJOEM-07-2012-0063?journalCode=ijoem

[14]http://pulse.lk/kindleleaf/sci-fi-writer-yudhanjaya-wijeratne-2019-nebula-award-nominees/

[15]https://www.amazon.com/Tower-Babylon-Vintage-Short-Chiang-ebook/dp/B01DRXF6OQ

[16] https://libraryofbabel.info/Borges/libraryofbabel.pdf

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_M._Schoen

[18] https://groundviews.org/2018/04/23/weaponising-280-characters-what-200000-tweets-and-4000-bots-tell-us-about-state-of-twitter-in-sri-lanka/

[19] http://corabuhlert.com/2019/02/21/some-thoughts-on-the-2018-nebula-award-finalists/

[20] https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-nebulas-20booksto50-not-a-nudge-nudge-slate/

[21] https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/about/

[22] https://twitter.com/yudhanjaya/status/1100440376333107201

[23] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/india-pakistan-tensions-latest-updates-190227063414443.html

[24] https://www.wired.com/2017/04/hugo-nominations-who-is-stix-hiscock/

[25] https://anniebellet.com/hugo-nomination-and-thoughts/#comment-941

[26] http://malindawords.blogspot.com/2014/07/remembering-richard-and-forgetting.html

[27] http://file770.com/annie-bellet-criticizes-20booksto50k-slate-and-members-of-the-group-respond/

[28] https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Hayek.html

Comments

29 thoughts on ““Incidentally, there is support for Wijeratne’s story”: a response to file770 and a record of the Nebula Award madness

  1. Hi
    I am sad that you found yourself embroiled in a conflict when I’m sure you just set out to write engaging and imaginative fiction. Just some additional background.
    Cora Buhlert Who you mention above is not American – she’s German and an indie writer with a very broad knowledge of the indie publishing inSF and other genres.
    I’m not American either. These days I live in Australia but I’ve lived in SE Asia and I have also worked in South Asia. I’m just a blogger and I’m not really connected with publishing. In 2015 I started tracking far right (from conservative to extreme neo-nazi like groups) involved in book publishing. That in turn led me into the conflict around the Hugo Awards known as the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. The more extreme of those groups being associated with various racist and misogynistic campaigns in popular culture in the US, Europe and English speaking countries (such as ‘Gamergate’ and Comicsgate). Attempts to use skates to rig awards, or to use mass voting to distort review sites have been a key tool for such groups. So it’s something I look out for when used by anybody for whatever reason.
    I’m also just interested in data and SF 🙂

    20booksto50k came to my attention last year because of a different Award: the Dragon Award. The Dragons (connected to DragonCon in the US) has zero issue with slates. I’ve been following how various groups campaign (legitimately) for those awards. Last year authors related to 20Books or LMBPN enjoyed some success.

    So a natural question when I saw similar results in the Nebulas was ‘did they hav e a slate’. So I looked and the answer was ‘sort of’ and that’s what I wrote about (following Cora’s post). The sh!t, as they say, then hit the fan.

    Now there’s a big difference between saying a slate is a form of cheating (debatable IMHO and depends on the context) and that the people ON the slate cheated. Most of the people Ikniw looking at the situation saw it as the list being a problem rather than the people in it.

    The problem, as Annie Bellet herself found in 2015, is that once voting comes under doubt, people nominated really get caught up as footballs in the argument. Of course that’s yet another reason why people have become cautious about how to present recommendations.

    I really hope this experience has not put you off writing. In truth people are more forgiving than the past few days might suggest.

    1. I understand. I read your posts on the movements – they were extremely helpful establishing context. Thank you for that.
      I’ll do the follow-up soon, but right now I really need sleep. I assumed SF&F of all kingdoms could stand without too much infighting. Clearly I assumed wrong.

  2. Hi there, I’m very sorry for the somewhat rude message I sent you on twitter. I can understand your anger at the time. It is no fun to be unwittingly thrown into a hornet nest right after being praised.

    I do hope this will not leave a permanent bad taste for the fan world, even if it has been a bad wake up to its fraught politics (as a lot of us others had in 2015). I did visit Sri Lanka a few years ago and found your country both beautiful and welcoming.

    All the best to you. I did buy your book Numbercaste because it seemed righ up my alley.

    Regards,
    Hampus Eckerman (from Sweden)

  3. I believe in a system of human justice that has (by and large) prevailed in people’s minds for some time, and the human race generally agrees upon: It is upon the accuser to provide evidence.

    Thus far, I have seen no evidence that the existence of a list has influenced voting in any way.

    Science Fiction readers & writers who are making these accusations: You of all people should know that correlation does not equal causation. Please stop applying faulty logic in your thinking.

  4. I just read the piece in entirety. Given the amount of drama involved, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a breeze of reason throughout the entire narration. And I’m heavily impressed by the composure with which you hold yourself.

    Unfortunately, I’m unable to offer any other opinion than to say I’ve seen your work from the very early days, and I was happy that you were always producing good quality, highly readable stuff; even in your budding days as a blogger. You have good stuff inside you. Wat’s more, you have a remarkable ability to counter emotional excrement with pure reason. Thus, my only recommendation would be that the only answer to these rants is just that: let your work speak the loudest, and the rest will follow.

    What you’ve done so far is okay. What you’re doing is okay. You are okay. Remember that.

  5. It feels worth noting that Tor, Azimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, Locus, and many, MANY other publishing groups or ‘zines all had their own recommended reading lists which were in most senses identical to the one posted in 20Books.

    With all this precedent, it looks like a recommended reading list was something that was fairly *typical*, rather than an exception.

    I’m curious why there is no furor over a magazine creating a slate of their best works and publishing it during the Nebula nomination “hot zone”, but when a person posts such a list in an indie writer’s group, it’s a massive problem?

    Consider this: suppose I write a blog post next year in early January. I do a quick review and listing of the few dozen indie works I feel are especially good. I cross-post this across various sites trafficked by indie writers.

    Have I created a slate? I am asking; because if so, then almost every major SF&F magazine ALSO created a slate this year.

    Honestly, the only way to fix this sort of mess is to do a form of blind judging; I’ve advocated such to SFWA for future Nebulas, and we’ll have to see if they decide to roll with it. Anything but blind judges results in a popularity contest, which means we’re always going to see this sort of issue.

    Regardless, the vitriol sent in the direction of folks who a) didn’t ask to be put on the reading list in the first place and b) didn’t have even the vaguest idea that the reading list was breaking some sort of unwritten rule (since SO MANY other groups were doing the same thing) is unacceptable. I’ve gotten some of this flak myself just for having my name on the list – and I didn’t even SUBMIT any work to the Nebula this year, since I understand the system better and know that no indie work can possibly win an award (the final ballots are invariably slanted toward specific publishers, due to the reality of the internal SFWA ‘slate’). I had a co-authored book up there submitted by the publisher (the quality of which I stand by 100%, BTW).

    I understand that SF&F ‘fandom’ is still in a state of PTSD following the depredations of the puppy bullshit, but launching into full-on rabid attack against someone for screwing up *by accident* seems over the top and uncalled for.

  6. I’ve been observing the in-fighting in the SFF community for years. I’m active in online groups that contain a lot of SFWA members, as well as groups that contain well-known indie authors. I’ve attended a few WorldCons and World Fantasy Cons, as well as indie author get-togethers. In some significant ways, the schism between indie and trad SFF authors is mimicking the widening schism between conservatives and liberals in the United States. Each career path–indie or Big Five–attracts a fundamentally different mindset, so each form of publishing tends to attract people who lean a certain way, politically. There is some collectivism vs. individualism going on there. The two groups have surprisingly little interaction. They hardly speak to each other, with the exception of hybrid subgroups–Big Five authors who lean indie or who are going indie, or indies who have gone Big Five. Even those tend to stick with one group or the other. If you (or anyone reading this) would like to chat about macro-view observations about the SFF industry, I’m always up for it.

    A Nebula nomination should be something to be proud of, and to celebrate. I’m very sorry that this was your experience. If nothing else good comes of it, I hope it brings you new readers.

  7. A very tragic turn of events for what should have been a happy moment.

    I too was delighted by my Nebula nomination in 2012, for a cover story I did in Analog magazine, in December 2010. As the man who wanted to see Annie Bellet recognized with a Hugo in 2015 — being her friend going back to 2010, when I first met her at an Oregon writing workshop we both attended, and having attended several other Oregon events as her friend up through 2013 — I am deeply saddened to learn that she feels to this day she was somehow the object of something sinister from the Puppy side. All I wanted, or any of the rest of us wanted, was for her to be recognized as a quality, up-and-coming storyteller.

    Now, I am used to people misconstruing what Sad Puppies was about. We’ve been getting words put in our mouths since 2014. And I don’t blame people who don’t have any interest in the political warfare of American literary science fiction for not understanding who Sad Puppies are, who we were, and more importantly, who and what we are not. I will state emphatically that we’re not the many and sundry evil things we’ve been called, nor are we the many and sundry evil things ascribed to us. But we are a loose collection of science fiction and fantasy authors from across the Anglosphere (and beyond!) who got tired of seeing the Hugos (and to a much lesser extent, the Nebulas) dictated by what might be best described as “quiet combinations.” The behind-closed-doors groups (most of them American) who have for decades made it their business to influence who and what ends up on both the Hugo and the Nebula ballots.

    You see, American science fiction has been at rhetorical war with itself since the 1920s, when the genre began to take a coherent form and Hugo Gernsback’s so-called “scientifiction” gelled through the pulps, into a more recognizable genre that began to hit its stride roughly around World War 2. Which is also when one of the first major “battles” in American literary SF/F fandom occurred, with the so-called Exclusion Act. Ergo, Sam Moskowitz tried to block the Marxists (aka: Futurians) from the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon.

    Now, there generally hasn’t been much “world” about Worldcon, even when it goes overseas. So the political rancor which came up through the 1940s, 1950s, and then especially with the 1960s, followed the event — thus it followed the awards. The literary break between so-called Campbellian storytelling and so-called New Wave storytelling, was just fuel for the fire. And it’s this chasm which persists into a new era of division: establishment Traditional authors, vs. Indie authors, or against hybrids who work both ways.

    For the New Wave Americans who style themselves as taste-makers, the major awards — Hugo, Nebula, among others — are seen as tools in this taste-making. Thus a way to make sure Indie authors and small presses are treated with no small degree of prejudice, before they can be anointed with either a Hugo or a Nebula.

    Therefore, Sad Puppies was deemed heretical three years running. 2013, 2014, and especially 2015. We had a number of indie authors on our recommended reading list. Which is not unusual. Locus and other publications/people have always tried to “guide” Hugo and Nebula voters in this way. For our effort we had all the sins in the calendar ascribed to us, because we dared to make a public call to action which required active voter participation in the extant democracy of the Hugo voting. And this was deemed horrible because the way you are supposed to get a Hugo award, is bide your time and become chummy with all the correct political players at Worldcon — which, again, is not very ‘world’ — and maybe some day if they like you enough, you might get a nomination. Maybe even win?

    The reason I chose to get involved — and was thus declared a minor demon from the nine hells — was because I was that rare triple nominee: Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, for 2012. This does not happen very often, and at the time I was quite thrilled. But of course, being nominated means you start to really dig down on how and why and what I discovered through two years of conversations and examinations, did not thrill me. The awards were not, as I had always hoped, awards for merit. They were a “cool kids club” if I can use that particular piece of American vernacular. Friends giving friends awards. You just had to make sure you were in the right friends group, and this included displaying the correct “progressive” politics — for whatever flavor of “progress” Americans are in love with this decade.

    Anyway, 2015 was a maelstrom of verbal attacks — and a major media misinformation campaign not too different from the kind launched against American teenager Nick Sandmann. I had to write several media outlets and ask them if they felt like having me bring them up on a slander lawsuit for what amounted to horrible, baseless accusations. It was lies from one side of American SF/F to the other, and back again. Annie was a casualty, though I will say she’s now making the mistake of beating other people up with her crutches — and that’s the wrong way to go about anything, no matter how wrong you believe yourself to have been.

    Since 2015, the ordinary keepers of propriety at Worldcon — remember how I keep saying there isn’t much ‘world’ in it? — have made it their business to police both the Hugo, and the Nebula, and they are trying to police the Dragon too. Though they haven’t gotten enough of a foothold in that realm, yet, to successfully drive out the infidels of indie publishing, all us dirty Puppies from Puppydom, law conservative fans, Trump voters — all 63,000,000 of them secret Nazis, doncha know? — and anyone else they deem unfit.

    I am afraid the Hugos and Nebulas are probably going to perish in this state, too. Because Worldcon is dying. Its old guard is not being replaced with sufficient numbers, and those new people who do come, come almost exclusively from the American university system and its many and sundry “woke” social departments. Again, their objective is to use the Hugo and Nebula as tools of politics and political activism. Literary merit — fun storytelling! — is not the point for them, and it never will be. And they have sufficient numbers at both Worldcon and within SFWA to ensure both bodies are permanently “woke” for the duration.

    Ironic, then, that you got caught in the “woke” dragnet. I have said in other places that the “woke” project in America, and in certain pockets of Europe, is attacking the roots of its own tree! In their zeal to discover and drive out all of us unclean conservatives, libertarians, “fun” fans, authors who like storytelling over politics, etc., they poison the very waters in which they swim.

    Anyway, that’s my two nickels on the matter. A friend had point me to this latest imbroglio.

    I am sad for you. And I am sad for Ronnie, of whom I’ve become aware through acquaintances at the Superstars Writing Seminar, which my friend and mentor Kevin J. Anderson founded. And I am sad for Annie Bellet, both that she harbors so much ill will toward me and mine, and also that this ill will could result in her going on the offensive against you, Ronnie, or anyone else who is trying to make a go of it in these confusing, crazy, exciting, and altogether tumultuous publishing times.

    Good luck with your future work. Sounds like you’ve got all the “pieces” and plenty of enthusiasm — albeit tempered, now, with the realization that the American side is quite possibly fatally toxic when it comes to Worldcon and SFWA. Don’t worry about that. Worldcon and SFWA are not the audience, and never were. The audience remains blissfully unaware of the vast majority of all of this, and merely wants to be told an engaging, enjoyable story. In the ways you (and Ronnie, and Annie, and all of us) are uniquely equipped to tell it.

    My best to you, from the sands of Kuwait.

  8. I’m so sorry, Yudhanjaya. While I follow SFF writing news closely, I almost never de-lurk to comment due to my own difficult experiences within the community. But you didn’t deserve any of this, and I wouldn’t feel right staying silent.

    Your story idea sounds thought provoking and entertaining. Your post here is passionate, well-written, and cogent. Although I don’t qualify to vote on the Nebula entries this year, I will be seeking out your work.

    I hope you can recapture the excitement of your recognition after the dust settles. Please don’t withdraw. I believe that if anything can overcome the artificial divisions we as humans invent to separate us, it will be stories.

  9. First thing you have to realize is that a large fraction of the US seems to think that nothing important happens outside the US unless it reflects on something/someone in the US and/or was caused by them, can be blamed on them etc. (depending on whether that person is on their ‘side’ or not) or can be used to score points on a domestic US political adversary.

    This means that US coverage of all world events is uniformly terrible. So far as I can tell (and I live in Japan so E&OE) in the last week the US news has been dominated by the senate testimony of an admitted liar who was also President Trump’s man to pay off bimbos. They just about squeezed in Trump’s meeting with the DPRK dictator Kim and that was more or less it for foreign events. India vs Pakistan was so far down the list that probably the widest coverage came as feedback to particularly tasteless joke by a comedian called Trevor Noah (don’t bother to look this up).

    To people like this, squabbling about ‘slates’ for an award where a couple of thousand people vote is far more important than geopolitics. Moreover, for those invested in the status quo, any threat to that must be vanquished with extreme prejudice because if the status quo is overturned their position as ‘mover and shaker’/influencer is threatened and they might find that actually nobody cares what they think anymore.

    The publishing world and the SFWA are gradually being dragged (kicking and screaming) into the 2000s and forced to recognize that many small press/Indie writers make significantly more income from writing than many traditionally published ones – these Indie writers often have an order of magnitude more sales by volume and they make significantly more on each unit sold. This fact clearly threatens all those who, for various reasons, thrive in a trad pub world because it suggests that trad pub is not in fact producing books that people want to read. Their only hope to continue to prove their relevance is to receive non-monetary awards such as the Nebula and Hugo and they purely hate that people might take the awards and the money from them.

    Hence all this whining about ‘slates’. If you look at discussion of these awards in recent years you see very clearly that slates appear to be a thing but they didn’t call them such they called them something like “list of recommendations” and that is of course (sarcasm) COMPLETELY DIFFERENT (/sarcasm).

    I can’t speak for other Sad Puppy types (I see Brad responded anyway) but for me the Puppy movement was inspired by the fact that when I was a child the phrase “Hugo Award Winner” or “Nebula Award Winner” meant a story that I wanted to read. About a decade ago (maybe a couple more years ago now) I noticed that in recent years – even years where I nominated and voted – the stories that won were universally not my cup of tea. At the time various SMOFs and other sorts said that the fix for this was, obviously, to recruit like minded people and nominate/vote the stories we liked. My attempts at organizing this were pathetic, but then I’m a nobody in SF, and I gave up and in the years that followed grew even more dissatisfied with the state of the Hugos. The problem was that it wasn’t just the winners that were terrible, in my opinion it had got to the stage where I hated every single nominated story. When I publicly stated this on various SF fora I was told more or less that my tastes didn’t count and (paraphrasing slightly) the Hugos weren’t for the most enjoyable story but the one with the most appropriate message.

    When Larry Correia (who is not a nobody) said more or less the same thing as I did and volunteered to try and fix it, I was ecstatic. Although his failures to get anywhere with Sad Puppies 1 & 2 were depressing. When Brad took over and did some organization so we could actually see what we could nominate/vote for and the result of that was that we got stories on the Hugo ballot that I liked I was over the moon because finally, I felt, we were bringing the Hugo back to where it had been in my youth. But the response to SP3 by the SF establishment was disgusting and the vitriol displayed sickening. There was no attempt to actually argue logically, it was all personal attacks – some very personal – and complete and utter unwillingness to pay any attention to what we were saying. It became clear then that there was a small but vocal number of SF-related people – fans, writers, editors – who felt personally threatened by our nominations and who would (and did) do anything to make sure that such a thing never happened again. Thus we now have the “Dragon Award” which has books I buy and mostly enjoy reading and the Hugo which has books you need to pay me a significant sum of money to read.

    I’m not even slightly surprised that the same unpleasantness has boiled over again. I’m sorry you’ve become embroiled in it and I hope you don’t feel in anyway discouraged by it. To my mind being the victim here is rather like what “Jailed by the British” often signified in the middle of the 20th century – someone who is worth paying attention to because they’ve got the establishment upset and unable to respond in a civil manner. I look forward to reading everything you have written.

    1. There is nothing ‘tasteless’ about Trevor Noah or his predecessor Jon Stewart other than neocons can’t stand how both of them were able to make political hay of the Bush administration and the Republican party on The Daily Show.

      And yes, American news media coverage of the world is shit, but that’s really due to (neocon inspired) deregulation of media which allowed larger media companies to buy each and every newspaper/television network and degrade the news departments (Disney owning ABC would have people of the past looking and feeling as incredelous and shocked as Dr. Brown hearing Marty McFly says that Ronald Reagan was president in the future in the first Back To The Future movie.)

      I do agree what what you said about the Rabid/Sad Puppies, though.

      As for Mr. Wijeratne, I hpe that you can get through this and not let it affect the rest of your science fiction writing career.

  10. Yudhanjaya, I’m pained on behalf of you and your friend Ronnie over the severe unpleasantness you recently went through, but relieved to see you approaching the subject with a firm sense of humour and very winning sense of perspective. (For whatever it’s worth, I’m another File770 regular, and FWIW my reaction on observing the fracas was that it was a matter internal to SFWA, that SWFA could deal with and has no use for involvement from me.) If it helps, the impression I get from this (above) blog post is that you’re a crackerjack storyteller, and I’ll therefore now be actively interested in seeing whatever else you and your friend Ronnie create.

    Hey, you said talk to you about Asia, so: If you ever can, do visit my beloved home town, Victoria, Hong Kong, the place that never stands still and is always reinventing itself. I personally think the illustrious Dr Johnson was sadly mistaken in his geography: It’s actually Hong Kong concerning which, if you’re tired of that place, you’re tired of life.

    But anyway, please do keep writing. It’s plainly your métier.

    Best Regards from waterlogged California,
    Rick M.

  11. Thanks for taking a stand on this. I’m really tired of watching people roll over and withdraw good stories because of public attacks–it seems to be happening more and more. I appreciate your defense of your work and your right to be on the ballot.

  12. First, my heart goes out to you getting dragged into somebody else’s fight.
    Second, do no not under any condition withdraw: Nebulas are voted by working professionals and are generally considered to be awarded on the quality of the writing. Hold your head high and blow a raspberry to anybody offended. Then ignore them.
    Third, what few will tell you (if anybody hasn’t already) is that in the US publishing world terms like indie and hybrid have slightly different meaning than in the UK and elsewhere, where an indie publisher would be a small to mid-sized traditional publisher not owned by a multinational conglomerate, typically european. In the US that would be referred to as a small press publisher. Indie is reserved for self-publishers, author coops, or authors reaching the market via other non-traditional publishers. Hybrids being authors with traditional contract but also independent releases. (Lois Bujold, Diane Duane, and many others.)
    Fourth, the Hugo “Puppy Wars” of recent vintage were fought almost exclusively by traditionally published camps. Indie authors just shrugged and mostly quoted Shakespeare’s “pox ‘pon both houses”.
    Fifth, the root cause of the recurring fights is not really political but economical. Ever since the mainstream of online book sales (both new and used) in the 1990s and the mainstreaming of ebooks circa 2010, sales of traditionally published books have been in decline (masked by format shifts and price hikes) and even the biggest of big names are seeing their finances squeezed. The legacy authors see it as a zero sum game with their finances paying the price. Cureent tradpub contracts have refoected the decline and have been described as “toxic”. Jerry Pournelle, upon seeing the terms offered to his daughter for her authorized followup to THE MOTE IN GODS EYE, urged her to go indie and then crowed about how her first month sales out earned the contracts offered.
    Sixth, you may or not be aware that in the US and UK SF market over half thirds of unit sales are going to Indie and hybrid authors. A mayor portion of the rest is going to deep backlist classics (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and others who established themselves last century.) It is not a good time to be a traditionally published SF author without a big established fanbase.

    So, stand tall and proud, ignore the carping, and get back to what you enjoy. Writing.

    If you’re still interested in the deeper context, try these two links:

    http://authorearnings.com/sfwa2018/

    (There is actual video on youtube of the presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mqNUWHr0lM&feature=youtu.be&t=8m59s)

    https://www.thepassivevoice.com/sad-puppies-roundup/

    BTW, TPV is a nice, civilized site focused on Indie publishing. Might be worth an occasional glance.

  13. One of the things I’ve tried to do is document the ins-and-outs of conflicts like this recent one. It’s why a post like this is so valuable as it provides an honest insight into one person’s experience. After the fact, things get swamped by competing narratives. I see a couple of those in the comments above: things that make sense at a broad brushstrokes level but which don’t always agree with the details.
    One is about other reading lists. It’s an old and long argument and I won’t rehash it here. The best account of the ways the 20books list went awry has already been written by Jonathan Brazee in his post to the SWFA about the list. Like many kinds of promotion, the line between smart marketing and annoying potential readers isn’t always clear. The simplest rule to follow when it comes to awards and promotion is ‘don’t do things that will annoy potential voters’ 🙂

    The second narrative in the comments is that somehow this whole fuss was indie writers versus trad-pub writers. I can see how that helps people make sense of an argument that seemed to spring out of nowhere. Unfortantely it really doesn’t fit the facts very well.
    1. The most notable voice in objecting to the 20books list was Annie Bellet. Bellet is not only an indie writer with friends in 20books (including one of the nominees) but also somebody who has gone to great efforts to get self-published authors involved in the SWFA. Casting her objections as somehow anti-indie is absurd on the face of it. Cora Buhlert who has done the most work documenting the issue is also an indie writer and also somebody who puts great effort into promoting indie writers.
    2. The indie-v-trad pub division makes some sense in the world of novels. It’s not wholly irrelevant in Novellas (particularly with Tor.com). For shorter fiction? That’s not the division in play. Take the short fiction category which has two finalists associated with 20books. the other finalists are from independent magazines like Firside Fiction, Uncanny and Apex. The finalist are no more (and no less) trad-pub or indie than each other.
    3. The indie/trad-pub distinction makes sense when looking at publishers (although the boundaries are vague) but increasingly makes less sense for authors. As Yudhanjaya points out in his post, he has works in both modes. The 20books list included people like Lawernce Schoen (whose work I admire) who has both trad-pub and indie works.

    There’s always going to be differences of opinion but keeping those differences grounded in reality is important.

    1. Indeed. That was a great part of my initial confusion – the framing of this as some fight between trad and indie authors. Good to see that there are people keeping record with impartiality.

  14. Your blog caught me up on a lost of recent history that had passed me by. I asked Colonel Brazee for some recommendations on stories to read that might be worthy of my Nebula vote, but made it clear that I wouldn’t vote for them unless I thought them worthy. But I whole-heartedly supported his purpose then, and still do so now. I couldn’t understand what the hell this was about until I read your blog post. Now I get it.

  15. Torgersens version is a bit weird since most of the authors on his slate were traditionally published – or hybrids – for large and well-known imprints such as Tor (John C Wright) and Baen (Michael Z Williamson, Lou Antonelli, Larry Correia and more). Neither publisher have been lacking in the awards and none of them can by any stretch be called “small”.

  16. Hey, just so you know, I found “Messenger” because of this controversy and I’m super excited to read it. Mecha are my jam!

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to be exposed to the insanity that is the US groupthink. Unfortunately, the US is very polarized and controlled by the fringe elements of both the Left and the Right. I mostly stay off of the internet because its so poisonous. I figure we have another 10 years or less of this nonsense until the next generation (the Post-Millenials/iGen) gets old enough to be the new influencers (polling suggests they are not into extremism- in the same way the 1970s rebelled against the activism of the 1960s.).

  17. I am a proud former member of the Sad Puppies. I say former, because there hasn’t been a Sad Puppies for four years now. “Member” is a bit of a misnomer too, there was never anything to belong to. I am also a -Canadian- as distinct from an American, and so I have a slightly different perspective.

    You, through no fault of your own, have been dragged into a political fight between factions. One faction is the American Left, which like the Left everywhere (Indira Ghandi for example) treats everything as political. If a book gets an award, that is a political thing.

    The other faction, Sad Puppies being a tiny part, is people like myself who are mostly tired of being scolded by the Left.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, so I’ll speak only for myself. I’m a crusty old man, 62 years old. I’ve been reading science fiction voraciously since the 1960s. I have read pretty much everything. I also know Japanese anime a little bit, I’ve seen Evangelion, for example.

    Waaay up at the begining of this post you said something INTERESTING. It was this:

    “In one of these conversations, we started discussing why aliens always attack America. … Our belief was that any sane hostile alien should compute the population of the Earth and attack the centers of highest mass – i.e. India and China.”

    That is [sadly] one of the most original things I’ve seen a science fiction author say in quite some time. Really, it is. You made me think. My first thought was “wouldn’t aliens attack where there were the most lights at night?” but another thought was that these days, China probably has the most lights.

    But that’s the thing, here. I’m in this because I want to read your story with the interesting idea in it. I don’t care about much of anything else, really. I want to see something nobody else thought of.

    Which is why I’ve been using the Hugo Awards and the Nebula Awards as a Do Not Read list for 30 years. The same tired political scolding gets the prize year after year after decade. It’s been like that since the 1990s.

    The people -doing- the scolding are terrified that the Wrong People will be given an award. They don’t care what’s in the book, so long as a political opponent doesn’t get an advantage or the Wrong Message might get spread.

    That’s why I bought a WorldCon membership and voted in the Hugos for 2014/2015. To serve notice that I can see what they’re doing, and I’m tired of it. For my efforts I’m regularly branded a racist, a bigot, a homophobe, a Nazi, and a few other similar things by the same people accusing you of cheating.

    So this year they haven’t had any Sad Puppies to scream at for four years, and they needed a new target. Congratulations, that’s -you-. New target.

    It doesn’t matter -at all- what you do from here on out. Accept the nomination, don’t accept it, apologize, tell them to shove it, none of these things matter. You have been chosen as The Target, and they will continue to throw their dung like the monkeys they are.

    But on the bright side, this is some really great free advertising for you. I bet your sales will go way up. Silver lining made of real silver there for you. ~:D

    PS, I’m an indy writer too. Drop me a line, and I’ll explain to you why aliens will obviously attack Canada first.

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