Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Short Interview with Lou Antonelli, Board Candidate for SFWA

I reached out to Lou last week to ask him a few questions about his write-in candidacy. Below are his responses. I've left them entirely unedited so that he can speak for himself.

Q. Why did you decide to put your hat in the ring as a write-in candidate for the board?

I think the SFWA would benefit from having someone like me on the board, for purely representational purposes. I’m an avocational writer – I have a regular job as a self-employed small businessman. Most members of the SFWA are like me, but the leadership is dominated by professionals, who are very disdainful of the rest of us.

I am not the only one-time Sad Puppy to retain membership in the SFWA, but I am one of a few. If the SFWA was intent in representing ALL writers, it should reach out to people like me.

Instead, we come under intense attack when we raise our heads out of the fox hole. Mind you, the attacks are not done in the auspices of the SFWA, but by leaders outside of it. That’s called “deniability”.

To stop its ongoing slide into corrupt irrelevance, the SFWA needs me. I don’t need it.

Q. If your candidacy is successful, what do you hope to accomplish?

The possibility of me winning is infinitesimal. The Pol Pot wing of the SFWA would simply invalidate my candidacy like Communists usually do in countries they control. The liberals would do like the U.S. Democratic Party and stuff the ballot box.

I’ve already accomplished a number of things. I’ve shown other oppressed s-f writers and fans there are people not afraid of the politically correct thugs. I’ve also given a way to people to express their dissatisfaction through casting a protest vote.

The one thing left to see is how many votes I get, but last year the SFWA didn’t release vote totals, and I doubt they will this year.

Q. What exactly have people been saying about you in response to your candidacy? Do you have archived screenshots?

I’ve been accused of everything from being thin-skinned to being a homicidal maniac. It’s almost all regurgitating the party line narrative about the Sad Puppies. For example, I’ve been accused of attempting to SWAT David Gerrold at the WorldCon in 2015. Actually, I was asking for police protection because he was inciting a lynch mob. But that’s not the party line.

I’ve attached screen shots of some typical tweets:

According to Lou, the accusation in the first tweet is entirely false, and he is considering legal action.

Note: Lou represents a significant segment of SF fandom that feels abused and disenfranchised. And yes, I'm also a member of this group -- as I have made clear in many posts on this and my former blog. A lot of us have decided to form our own support groups, but the toxicity of the folks now in power in the fandom is still a standing problem that needs to be rectified.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Yes, Conservatism IS Compatible with Science Fiction

Got a comment on my last post that I think warrants an extended polite response, so -- here goes:

The first is the question of whether science fiction is welcoming to conservatives, particularly religious conservatives. The answer to that is probably "no," if only because SF takes global warming seriously, and virtually all near-future stories incorporate it.

Thanks for not being openly rude, Greg, but there are two things wrong with this comment.

First of all, it doesn't accurately reflect the current conservative position on global warming/climate change. Actually, as of today, there's a diversity of opinion on this side of the aisle on that particular subject, ranging from people who, yes, still don't believe global warming is real to those who acknowledge its existence yet reject the hair-on-fire extinction rhetoric and the statist assumptions that undergird the left's proposed solutions. I happen to fall into the latter category, as I've mentioned several times in the past -- and I'm far from alone. Many mainstream conservatives have been evolving on this in response to the evidence. We may not agree with the vocal activists in re: what to do about it, but that doesn't mean we're "deniers" or that we don't take the matter seriously.

Secondly, global warming is simply not what's making recent SF unfriendly to conservatives. How do I know that? Because all of my right-leaning acquaintances are fans of mid-20th-century SF that incorporates overpopulation and ecological disaster in its future histories. Heinlein's works, for example, are often based on those assumptions -- yet in my circles, Heinlein is almost universally revered. Clearly, something else is going on. Could it be that the style of presentation has changed -- has, in fact, become far more obtrusive, doctrinaire, and pessimistic? Could it be that the culture of fandom has become increasingly totalitarian and intolerant of reasonable differences of opinion?

On the religious side, I'm not sure SF can be welcoming to fundamentalists. I was raised Southern Baptist in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I remember being told it was wrong to read science fiction because setting a story in the future meant you didn't believe Jesus was coming soon.

With all due respect, this is your personal experience of one particular religious community. It's not representative of religious people as a whole. I belong to a group of writers who are conservative and, for the most part, religious, and none of us believe it's wrong to read science fiction because "SF ignores that Jesus is coming soon." As a matter of fact, a number of us are writing science fiction with clear religious undertones (which, if you examine the actual history of science fiction, is certainly not impossible). And that's not because we belong to non-orthodox, liberal sects. Many of us are observant Catholics, in fact. The Catholic Church is certainly not known for its progressivism, as I'm sure you'll agree -- yet the Vatican has an astronomer and has entertained the possibility of extraterrestrial life. (Would we baptize an alien? If the alien asked, sure!)

In broader terms, SF caters to people who're interested in reading about how things might change. Conservatives, by definition, are people who resist change, so, again, it's hard to see how SF can appeal to very many conservatives.

As Chris L. has already observed, this is a stereotypical, oversimplified view of conservatism. Edmund Burke, a critical intellectual forefather of the tradition we recognize in America as conservative once wrote that "a State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation." But Burke and other conservatives would further add that one shouldn't change just for change's sake. The reasons for change, we argue, should be rational and powerful, and the methods of change should be prudent -- or, as G.K. Chesterton (another favorite of religious conservatives in particular) once wrote:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
At this very moment, for instance, the world is being forcefully reminded why competing national entities have historically erected hard borders around their lands. As it turns out, there are solid evolutionary reasons why humans would want to restrict movement between groups. If you refuse to grapple with that reality -- well, the news makes the consequences plain. And we conservatives argue that this need for circumspection holds for any supposedly "irrational" tradition. If you want to change something, we say, slow down a bit, try to understand why that cultural oddity exists in the first place, and make sure you're not removing something that's truly needed without providing a suitable replacement. We "resist" change -- but only in the sense that, again, we wish changes to be carefully considered and not precipitous.

And personally? I find your comment above so strange given that every self-identified righty I know is insanely excited about the space program -- to the point that we gleefully squealed and kicked our feet when Trump mentioned a manned mission to Mars in his 2020 SOTU. We're not interested in the future? A likely story!

I'm glad we agree on cardboard apocalyptic fiction at least, but you might want to talk to more conservatives before making such broad pronouncements about what we think. Lots of us would fit in fine in SF -- and once did.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Blast from the Past: Why I Support the Human Wave

Originally written in 2012.

"All the science fiction authors I like are either dead or dying."

Sub.Spike, our father, said this to me the other day, and I don't think he's the only fan who's in danger of dropping out the moment Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven finally leave this mortal coil. As the cold, hard numbers reveal, "literary" science fiction has been hemorrhaging readers for years. Why? In large part because, to quote the folks who've bumped into Brad Torgersen at various literary cons, "Everything written since (insert year here) has been annoying political crap!"

If you are moderate, libertarian, or conservative, perusing the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore these days is like navigating a minefield. While there are writers and publishers out there who don't go out of their way to insult what is in fact the American majority - and I will discuss those in a minute - I can't tell you the number of times I've been thrown completely out of a promising story by anti-Christian, anti-military or anti-conservative agitprop.

Which is not to say that there aren't conservative authors who lay their messages on a bit thick. There are -- but in my experience, those writers tend to be pretty upfront about their intentions. They don't have the political Tourette Syndrome that drives many leftist writers to bitch about "the theocrats on the Religious Right," "the patriarchy" or "the eeeeeeevil Republicans" in entirely unexpected - and inappropriate - contexts. A conservative author knows he's in the minority in the literary world, so his conservatism is painfully self-conscious. A leftist author, on the other hand, occupies a position of privilege -- and on that perch, it's very easy to assume that everyone thinks the same way you do.

The disaffection of "legacy" fans like our father, however, goes much deeper than mere politics. As Sarah Hoyt has noted in her recent posts, much science fiction today looks upon human nature with a decidedly cynical, pessimistic eye. There are two different strains in this school of thought - the transhumanists believe that we should use science and technology (and the force of the state) to drive the imperfections out of mankind, while the more ecologically-minded assert that technology has allowed humanity to become a blight upon the Earth and should be discarded - but the underlying belief is consistent in either case: People are stupid and irredeemably corrupt.

The problem with this perspective is that it doesn't reflect ordinary American attitudes. Most American readers, I think, believe that technology has been - and can continue to be - a boon to the human race, but they would also like that technology to be restrained by traditional ethical norms. Most Americans are also unreconstructed modern humanists (whether they are secular or religious). On the whole, they believe people are good -- not perfect, mind, but still capable of achieving greatness. Heroes still exist and there is still hope for the future -- that's the average American's worldview in a nutshell, and it's what he looks for in his fiction.

To my mind, the term "Human Waver" denotes a writer - or reader - who represents the afore-described proletariat. Human Wavers seek to bring back optimism, heroism, and simple declarative sentences -- but more importantly, they want science fiction to tell the truth about who we are. As Ms. Hoyt writes in a recent post, the point of the Human Wave is not to blithely ignore everything that is awful and ugly in the human experience. The point is to say, "Yes, we are fallen creatures, but don't despair! Redemption is not impossible." Balance is the gold standard because it is balance that mirrors our lived reality as human beings.

I am a Human Waver because of my upbringing. When I was at that magical age - twelve - Dad didn't hand me the science fiction that was published at the tail-end of the eighties. He handed me The Tripods Trilogy and Heinlein's juveniles. The books I read emphasized adventure, human striving, and/or fate-of-the-world storytelling, so that's what I learned to love. Then I discovered Star Trek. Despite its silly collectivism and fanciful utopian notions, Star Trek is still very much an embodiment of the Human Wave ideal -- especially DS9, which SABR Matt and I consider to be the greatest of all the Treks partially because it honestly portrays the darkness in human nature and yet still retains the franchise's essential optimism.

I am also a Human Waver because I'm a conservative Christian who's sick of being bopped on the nose by leftist science fiction writers who think they are smarter and more moral than I. But really, the ideological issues are secondary. The main reason I'm attracted to the Human Wave has to do with the style of storytelling the movement champions. I appreciate the promotion of genuine realism -- not the phony sort of realism that supposes all is horror, pain, iniquity, and really bad sex.

Finding literary science fiction that fits the Human Wave takes work, but I have not been completely unsuccessful. Most of the writers in the Baen stable are Human Wavers (whether they realize it or not). Even Eric Flint, Baen's token communist, pens fundamentally positive works. There's also Connie Willis; when Willis writes a story with a downer ending - like The Doomsday Book - you still walk away feeling good about the human race as a whole. And if you're looking for up-and-coming writers to support, may I suggest Brad Torgersen? Torgersen's short stories are absolutely what the Human Wave is going for, as they feature normal, flawed human beings struggling through difficult circumstances who discover that, yes, there is reason to hope for something better.

In sum: The Human Wave is relevant to my interests, and I wish to subscribe to its newsletter.

Years after the debut of this essay, Brad Torgersen published a Dragon-Award-winning novel. Find that novel here!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

MOAR Videos

Marvels Snapshot: Submariner and Flash Forward:

The Case of the Littlest Umbrella, Soulfinder, Jawbreakers: God-King, and Cyberfrog:

Friday, March 20, 2020

Data Didn't Need an Emotions Chip

I'm sure this post seems completely random, but hey: blame Our Boi Zack (who recently, out of nowhere, decided to watch and review Generations) -- and the fact that I'm stuck at home and therefore have a lot of time to reflect on random nonsense.

Thesis: Data didn't need an emotions chip. On the contrary, he already had emotions -- from almost the very beginning. Said emotions were very subtle, yes, but they were emotions all the same.

Consider, for instance, "Skin of Evil." At Tasha's funeral, Data arguably expresses grief at her passing. As he says to Picard, "I keep thinking... how empty it will be without her presence." Question: Does your toaster notice when you're gone? Does your Alexa?

We can also closely examine the seminal episode "The Measure of a Man." When Maddox first visits the Enterprise bridge, Data's reaction is quite fascinating; indeed, he's clearly displaying unease. And when he explains the reason for his apparent nervousness - that Maddox once argued he was not sapient - his demeanor there suggests he's undergoing something more than a mere retrieval of data. This, by the way, backs up what he says to Maddox later: that he transcends engineering. Reflect: what could Data mean when he claims his memories contain an essence beyond simple information? And how do we experience that essence?

Of course, we also have one of the most famous scenes in "The Measure of a Man," in which Picard unpacks Data's carry-on for the benefit of the JAG officer (and everyone else present at Data's hearing). Every item in that bag demonstrates Data's capacity to feel. That he's packed his medals, for example, shows that he's capable of pride. And that he's packed Picard's book and Tasha's farewell message reveals his sentimentality.

Data also expresses desires for marriage and family; in one episode, he even builds himself a daughter. And he's obviously cognizant of his own uniqueness -- and the loneliness that engenders. True: he doesn't instinctively understand humor and sarcasm, and he frequently has trouble predicting how people will respond to his well-meaning attempts to interact on a human level. But that makes Data spectrum-y -- not emotionless.

In my view, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Data that required a patch to fix. He was eminently "human" just the way he was.

But what do you think, gentle readers? Please comment below!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Marvel's Doubling Down on Destroying Your LCS

By now, I'm sure all of you have seen this news:

The pure, unadulterated cringe of this is just -- *chef's kiss.* Indeed, a part of me wonders if this is actually a Poe -- a comic book version of the Lindsay/Pluckrose/Boghossian critical studies hoax dreamed up by some clever mole at the Marvel Bullpen. But nah: that's probably overthinking it. In the trailer, Kibblesmith seems entirely earnest -- unfortunately.

Obviously, the only people who will read this crap are people looking for something to roast. But I don't think Marvel - or Disney, its parent company - really cares. I think all involved have resigned themselves to taking losses with the comics; I think all involved believe they can coast on movie revenues alone. And once the theaters reopen, that may prove to be a correct gamble -- even if we do see a significant drop-off in interest given the loss of half the OG Six.

But you know who can't survive stunts like this? The retailers. Said small businesses are already feeling the crunch from the other pre-quarantine bull they've been forced to swallow -- and now you're going to ask them to sell this garbage too? Eff that.

Over the past few days, comic book pros have been discussing ways to keep the industry afloat despite current events. Image, laudably, has even decided to make all of its books returnable. But you know what would really help in the long run? Not publishing bilge.

If the box office numbers are anything to go by, there are millions of people out there who are primed to be your audience. That Iron Man, for example, is selling so anemically at the moment is an absolute travesty. Everyone loves Iron Man; he should be clocking in at six figures at worst. But no: you guys would rather delight your like-minded editors than cater to the swarms of normies out there who openly sobbed over Tony's sacrifice in Endgame. After all, those moviegoers probably hold all kinds of icky, deplorable opinions -- and you certainly don't want your stuff tainted by that sort of wrongthink!


Marvel doesn't deserve to be skin-suited this way. Stan Lee's baby was once a national treasure.