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Unlock the Toolbox

I don’t like to complain (pause for extended derisive laughter), but I’ve been noticing something recently that ticks me off a little bit, probably more than it should. (No, I don’t mean the Hugos. That mess ticks me off a lot, but I’m trying to get better.) It’s writers who don’t know how to write. And when I say “write,” I mean they can’t use the basic tools of their trade.

One of the books on my shelf is “The Elements of Style.” I regret that I was not introduced to this book until college, but it was required for all freshman comp classes. It’s really basic stuff, like “Don’t use the passive voice.” A little book, chock-full of basic but highly useful advice. As I said, given to all the freshmen.

It’s too advanced for what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about writers who can’t spell. I talk with a lot of writers on line, most of whom are published, many of them more accomplished than I, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them can’t spell. Or reconcile their tenses. Or use proper pronouns. (And I’m not talking about gender roles, I’m talking about lousy grammar.) These are the tools in your toolbox, just as if you were a carpenter or plumber or a doctor. If you can’t write properly in correspondence or a blog post, how am I supposed to be induced to read your fiction?

(Speaking of blog posts, there are those who would benefit tremendously from reading “The Elements of Style.” I’m talking about writers who can’t organize their thoughts to form a coherent 500-word essay. They’re full of irrelevant information, they don’t outline a thesis, and their arguments range all over the page. By the time I’m half-way through, I feel I’ve entered a rhetorical maze from which I will never escape, even if I finish the post. I know I’m never going to read these people’s fiction. If 500 words confuses me, five thousand words could cause brain damage.)

Never let it be said, of course, that I claim perfection, or even superiority. I’m human, I make mistakes, my stories have been known to not be publishable even after extensive editing. (One criticism was that my characters all talked too well.) But I am an excellent speller and I fancy I know the rules of grammar well enough that if I break them, it’s on purpose.

If you want me to buy your books, you should be able to say that, too.

With all the storm und drang that has rained down since the Hugos, I could have ranted about the outcome and the various parties reactions for at least 400 words. But I don’t want to. I want to talk about something completely different and totally insignificant. Thus, my humble offerings of things you can say about fans (or anyone else, if you’re talking to fans) who just don’t have enough rocket fuel to quite reach the Moon.

He’s so dumb, he couldn’t find a robot on an episode of Futurama.

He’s so dumb, he likes to go jogging alone on the Nostromo.

He’s so dumb, he keeps volunteering for away missions.

He’s so dumb, he told Cyclops, “Take off those glasses so I can hit you.”

He’s so dumb, he challenged the Flash to a duel.

He’s so dumb, he thinks those really weren’t the droids he was looking for.

He’s so dumb, he bought a house in Haven.

He’s so dumb, he thinks The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Fifty Shades of Gray with werewolves.

He’s so dumb, he sold a life insurance policy to a Stark.

He’s so dumb, he went to Mount Doom for the skiing.

And (mercifully) last but not least…

He’s so dumb, he went to Doctor Who for a physical and now he doesn’t know when he got it done.

Well, that went pretty much as expected. Maybe the Sad/Rabid Puppies were right, and the Hugos are not representative of the popular taste for the past two decades, but now that the dust has settled, 6000 Hugo voters have affirmed that they will not tolerate slate nominees. The Puppy slates were slapped with a newspaper the size of the Sunday New York Times (including the classifieds). I doubt we will see any more slates, certainly not the counter-slates that would have followed a Puppy victory.

it’s just as well. Regardless of any correctness of their beliefs in matters of taste, and notwithstanding the technical legality of their methods, the Puppies would have done their winners (and did  their nominees) no favors. It is unlikely that the record voting numbers we saw this year will continue; almost certainly 2015 will stand out as a marked anomaly. This means that everyone (who cares) would have known, in a year and in 50 years, that 2015 was that year, the year that everyone mentally marks with an asterisk. The Year That the Hugos Were Gamed.

Because the Puppies complained that the same Big Name Authors campaigned and glad-handed and somehow got the votes year after year, they decided to do the BNAs did, only bigger. They gathered all of their fans and got them to buy voting memberships, created a complete slate (apparently out of whole cloth), and “suggested” how people should vote. It’s a variation on the Big Lie, but don’t tell the Puppies that. They hate the implied comparison.

They said it was okay, that it was only what everyone had been doing for years, but now it was out in the open. Yeah, well, I can think of lots of things people have been doing for years, but decency forbids them from doing them in the open (unless you want to get caught, but that’s a whole different ball of wax). And if it’s only now out in the open, how do you know it ever really went on before? Oh, it must have, because otherwise all the Puppies would have been winning all along. If only enough people were voting.

Next year they claim there will be so many voters even their slates won’t matter. So I guess not enough people voted this time? Voting was up something like 90%. Will the Puppies howl that, “Next year, it’ll be our 90%”? Will they bay about how “No Award” is Marxist/Leninist censorship?

Probably. If not that, something like it. But really, that’s how they want it. After all, if you want to be able to complain, you have to be in the doghouse.

Breaking the Hugos

This will probably be my last blog before the Hugos, or at least likely my last blog about the Hugos before the Hugos, if that counts for anything. It’s also the saddest.

I have heard more than one person say that he/she is worried about attending the Hugo ceremony. Some people have admitted to being afraid to attend the ceremony. And some have written off the ceremony and plan to spend the time in a pub down the street.

What the hell?

It’s an award ceremony, not a war zone. You’re going to be watching Hugo rockets being given out, not RPGs being launched. What is going on?

The Sad Puppies, that’s what–or more likely, the Rabid Puppies. There is a tangible fear that someone will take the Hugos way too seriously (or rather, that they’re already taking the awards way too seriously), and will express himself in a hostile or even dangerous way. Now I doubt that anything is going to happen, but I can see the point. Partisans on both sides have used, on occasion, violent rhetoric to express themselves. Lou Antonelli called the Spokane police to report David Gerrold as a possible threat to public safety. (He did later apologize and retract his letter.) Is it any wonder people worry?

There has been some speculation that the Hugos have been broken, that this feud has caused an irreconcilable rift in fandom. But there have been feuds before, and they’ve faded away. Were there to be violence, or even a disruption of the ceremony, that would break the Hugos, and create a wound that would never fade away. I hope that these fears are unfounded.

I still have faith that fandom remembers that this is all a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be scary.

My mind was recently wandering (as it is wont to do) along paths not traceable by normal means, with odd ideas burbling up from places that probably require spring cleaning themselves (and have since 1995). I don’t think this phenomenon is abnormal, though; I challenge any writer to clear a shower drain and not think about Lovecraft.

Given such a start, however, I naturally (!) began to wonder what various fictional characters of a speculative bent might find themselves doing after they have vanquished all the evildoers in town, or completed their quests, or whatever the show runner has designed them to do. Some ideas follow. And if Hollywood attempts to use any of this, then we will know that they have truly run out of original concepts.

In a Flash Delivery Service. “You’ll have it before you know you want it.” Caution: In case of pizza delivery, be ready to grab it; deliveryman is always hungry.

Stargate Tours. “You’re on time or you’re out of luck.” The routes are rough and you have to carry your own bags, but they do take you places off the beaten track.

Star Trekkers. “Boldly go where no tourist has gone before.” For the more sophisticated traveler. Trips are really long (5 – 75 years), but all incidentals are covered, including a spiffy red company shirt.

Haven B&B. “Pack up your Troubles in your old kit bag.” Quaint atmosphere, but we recommend being very polite to the locals.

Sleepy Hollow Plumbers and Rooters. Motto: “Trust us, we’ve witnessed worse.” Tunneling work a specialty.

Insurance Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “We’ve protected much better stuff than yours.” Offices are hard to locate, but they do tend to show up when you most need coverage.

Arrow Exterminators. “Your pests will think they have targets on their backs.” Their equipment’s a little unconventional, and they have a high turnover rate, but one way or another they get the job done.

Why, it’s the Sad Puppies, of course.

This post may cause the same furor amongst fans of high-brow soap operas as the Puppies have amongst fans of high-brow SF, but I’m willing to be the martyr for this cause (of which as far as I know I am the only member). I believe that the Puppies have performed a service, the same service as Downton Abbey has for PBS, and I (unlike some involved in that other controversy) mean to prove my theory.

First, PBS has achieved unheard-of viewership the past few years. This is provably because of Downton Abbey. Membership for Sasquan has set a new record, and Hugo voting is roughly 40% higher than the average of previous years. This is undoubtedly due to the Puppies (and reaction thereto).

Second, although PBS is best known for science programs and televised opera, Downton Abbey is, as pointed out above, really a dressed-up soap opera. It’s not high-falutin’ literary entertainment, despite the setting and the clothes and the acting. It’s all that, but mostly it’s fun. And if the message slips in that the upper and lower classes are not that different, well, at least it doesn’t get in the way of the story. The Puppy slate isn’t high-falutin’ literary entertainment, either; that’s not a criticism, that’s their selling point. And if a message slips in that overwhelms the story (Hugo nominations, *cough, cough*), well, we can just ignore that, because fun is the real message.

Finally, both Downton Abbey and the Sad Puppies represent what happens when conservative values run head-on into a changing world. Like Lord Robert, the Puppies rail against progressivism, and like him, they believe they have won their share of victories. Both have managed to seem small-minded in doing so.

Unfortunately, we know Downton Abbey is soon to end. Whether the Puppies follow suit remains to be seen. But their work (in both cases) has already been done: Their respective platforms have enjoyed unprecedented public exposure and interest. Given conservatives’ disdain for PBS, the Puppies may well not like the comparison, but then again, they’ve been compared to worse.

You might have heard that they made a movie out of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” novels. It only took them 100 years. Actually, they made the movie three years ago, but due to circumstances (including its horrendous reviews), I only watch it recently, on cable.

As so often happens, the movie is not so bad as the reviews. It has some good points, mostly in the visual effects. I am told by people who understand these things better than I that the direction is wooden and good actors are wasted. My problem with it, though, is with the script. Specifically, they took a 100-year-old classic and tried to update it for modern audiences. I understand why they did it–Dejah Thoris is not exactly an paragon of agency in the original novel–but I don’t understand why they couldn’t leave it at that.

When I say they adapted the “‘John Carter’ novels,” I mean just that–because instead of adapting “A Princess of Mars,” they combined elements of the first two books, and then added in a bunch of stuff on their own. Fellas, if the story has been around for a century, and it’s still popular enough that you want to make a movie about it, don’t you think the author knew what he was doing? Give the princess more to do (and make the cavalry shoot first if you must), but leave the main story alone.

The movie, like the book, deals largely with Carter’s advent on Barsoom and his adventures with the Tharks. There’s a hell of a lot of material there, and they just tossed it aside for their own mish-mash of shapeshifting priests (huh?) and energy weapons (energy weapons and they still fight with swords? You know, the book explained all that…) There were no shapeshifters or energy weapons in the original, and the first three books are still one of the most entertaining trilogies ever written. What made you geniuses think you knew better than one of the best-selling authors in the history of the human race?

Of course, the whole endeavor failed miserably, a movie I had anticipated since I was 13 years old tanked, and the possibility of opening Burroughs to a new generation (not to mention adapting some of his other dozens of books) collapsed. All because somebody forgot why he was adapting that book into a movie in the first place.

It’s not the first time this has happened, and won’t be the last. But hey, please remember, just because you can make something newer doesn’t mean you make it better. I mean, in 1912, Mars was still largely unknown. Now we can see firsthand the canals aren’t canals and there are no hordes of green men. But if a story 1912 is still worth telling despite all that, then maybe you should stick with the story from 1912. When your story is 100 years old, then it will be your turn.

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