Monday, July 27, 2015

Hugos 2015 Reads - Related Work

After a three-week vacation, I'm back to trying to finish my reading before Hugo votes are due on Friday. Doh! 

Related Work is a kind of catch-all category for non-fiction related to SFF, criticism, etc. As such, it's a pretty diverse selection. I've listed the works in alphabetical order by author's last name.

Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli -- 3 of 5 This is the one I was most interested in, as it's about the actual mechanics of writing. It's a series of short stories, starting as he's trying to break into publishing short science fiction, and follows his career. Each of the stories is paired with an intro and follow-up about the changes the stories went through, including his interactions with famed editor Gardner Dozois. Unfortunately, the included sample was only just getting into the interesting part of his correspondence. It was good enough that I'll be buying it soon enough.

The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF by Ken Burnside -- 2.5 of 5 This is not my cup of tea, but it was an informative look at the restrictions that our current understanding of thermodynamics has on hard SF, specifically military SF. If you're an author trying to do worldbuilding in a SF world that is fairly realistic, this is your bag, baby. I'm not in this situation (nor plan to be), so I appreciate the usefulness, but that's about it.

Why Science is Never Settled (there are two parts, hence the gap in the link) by Tedd Roberts -- 2 of 5 This is a basic intro to what the actual practice of science is -- the scientific method, what a theory means, etc. It's informative, but he does have a pretty massive error. He lists "Climategate" as an example of "abuse of pre- publication peer-review to publish some articles and block others". Unfortunately, this had been thoroughly debunked YEARS before the article was written, and such a mistake makes me take a point off my rating.

Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson -- 1 of 5 This is mainly a collection of tweets (maybe other work?), the majority of which have nothing to do with SFF. Some of these (assumed) tweets are mildly amusing, but when read in bulk, they're tedious. Adding in the fact that it's only tangentially "related" (the majority are politics, current events, or other non-SFF material), you get the low rating (in general i'd give it a 1.5, not a 0.5).

Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright -- 0 of 5 This was just brutal. To be fair, I didn't read the whole thing, but I did read all of "Transhuman and Subhuman", "The Hobbit, or The Desolation of Tolkien", "John C. Wright's Patented One Session Lesson in the Mechanics of Fiction", and most of (the extremely long -- over a third of the kindle edition in the voter packet) "Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters" (I gave up after realizing he was never going to back up any his statements with anything more than... more of his statements). This one gets its own coverage!
Wright has several axes to grind, but it all flows from assigning female characters what he sees as "masculine" traits. He starts there and links it into a web that rails against Leftists (he never specifies if he means socialists, communists, liberals, or some other version), Political Correctness, and other bogeymen. His technique for these arguments is to make a bold, unsubstantiated claim ("Women, it must be noted, complain more than men"), then build upon it until he restarts the process.The essay is filled with his statements on what is "masculine" and "feminine", the goals and beliefs for "Leftists" and the "Cult of Political Correctness", none of which are backed by any reference to data or a source. He can't quote a source, as he's (apparently) assigning views to an undefined group. His random statements offered as fact include:
  • "The strategy of picking up an attractive stranger of loose morals, or hiring her for a fee for sexual favors, is so repugnant to prudence if not to human nature as to induce vomiting." The Bold is mine to highlight what a laughable statement this is.
  • "after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was discovered that each and every person McCarthy accused was guilty of exactly that which he accused them" Well, after an extensive google search lasting almost 10 minutes, there's 0 evidence for this. Some he named were Communists, but most of his accusations were bullshit. If not? Give a reference.
  • "the cultists will claim credit for something they opposed, such as the Civil Rights Movement, which was a Republican movement" You can argue that is was MORE a Republican movement, but giving all the credit isn't sloppy, it's intellectually dishonest -- it is easy to argue it was a regional movement. Basic statistical analysis is not Wright's strong point. 
I could go on, but this was easily the worst-argued essay I've read in a very long time. It's rambling, misleading, poorly researched (or at least completely incompetently referenced) and reads like a mediocre blog post rather than a serious look into what makes female characters "strong" and the impact on culture.
My final ballot (which coincidentally is in alphabetical order by author's name!):
Letters from Gardner
The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF
Why Science is Never Settled
Wisdom from My Internet
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth

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