Diecast #151: The Hugos, Fallout Mods, Mailbag

By Shamus
on May 2, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

It doesn’t sound like it at first, but Mumbles is actually on the show this week. Also, thanks for the mailbag questions. As always, the email is somewhere in the header image.

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Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:
01:08 Shamus is up for a Hugo Award

Here I talk about the fact that I’ve been nominated for a Hugo, and I briefly mention the controversy the Hugos have been having for the past two years. I don’t want to talk about the controversy here. In fact, the no politics post was written specifically in anticipation of this discussion.

If you’re looking for more information: On WIRED there’s this post entitled Sci-Fi’s Hugo Awards and the Battle for Pop Culture’s Soul, which seems to be the one everyone links when trying to bring people up to speed on this. However, like a lot of Wired articles this one feels like the author was paid by the word. It’s long on anecdotes, it takes forever to get to the point, it’s broad and hyperbolic, and for all the words it spends it never feels like it gets down to details.

I found this one much more useful: A Detailed Explanation by Matthew David Surridge, explaining why he declined his Hugo nomination last year. It is also long – I’m afraid you can’t really do the topic justice in a couple of paragraphs – but instead of spending its word count on stories, he just takes up one side and argues for it. In the process he kind of maps out a good deal of both sidesCalling it “both sides” is something of a misnomer. There are a lot more than two viewpoints here, and you can’t really fame it as two clear-cut groups without making simplifications and generalizations that will very likely piss some people off..

I’m excited to be nominated for a Hugo. I’m excited that videogames are being recognized and encouraged in their pursuit of sci-fi stories. I’m dreading dealing with people who don’t respect my no politics rule and are just looking for an opportunity to unleash the anger they’re hauling around. I think accepting the nomination is the most diplomatic thing to do, and win or lose I’m grateful for everyone who thinks my work has merit.

11:18 Fallout Mods.

It’s pretty hard to discuss the Fallout modding scene without slipping into yet another enumeration of the shortcomings of Fallout 4. We tried.

29:45 Mailbag: Sc-fi is sometimes hard.

Dear Dice Wizards,

Writers often create characters, species, or races lacking some essential part of what makes us human, ie. no emotions, sense of pain, fear of death, no body in the sense that we think of it, individuality, sexual desire, etc.

Since these characters often still tend to think and act like humans do, do you think writers and actors, as regular lifelong humans, are any good at imagining and portraying beings that lack important parts of what drives our thoughts and actions?

Thanks.
Jakale

50:31 Mailbag: What would YOU do with an $80 million game budget?

A hypothetical AAA entity who likes The Diecast offers to put you (the collective crew of the Diecast) in charge of a AAA game with a budget of, let’s say, 80 million USD. Let’s pretend you have full creative control and that you accept the offer (though whether you would is also an interesting question). What do you make? To what degree do you play it safe or push the envelope? How do you allocate your resources?

Live long & prosper,

Erich T. Wade

I have to give Erich credit for a well-constructed question. This setup anticipated all the ways in which we would attempt to weasel out of answering it.

1:00:50 Mailbag: EA Convention

A while back, Shamus and Josh were talking about how EA and somebody else weren’t having E3 booths any more because it wasn’t worth the expense for them.

Rather than having a presence at a general game show like E3 or a PAX, do you think it would make sense for somebody like EA to run their own show, Blizzcon-style?

Eric

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Footnotes:

[1] Calling it “both sides” is something of a misnomer. There are a lot more than two viewpoints here, and you can’t really fame it as two clear-cut groups without making simplifications and generalizations that will very likely piss some people off.



A Hundred!2020202014I bet you won't even read all 194 comments before leaving your own.

From the Archives:

  1. Thomas says:

    You can’t emphasise enough how good the Hugo’s are. I can’t think of another award show that I rate more highly. The fact is, every time I’ve read a book that won a Hugo I was hugely satisfied with that book. And whats more, they’ve recognised so many monumental and important stories and authors.

    If something wins an Oscar, I may or may not enjoy the film. Game awards are, as we all know, a mess that can’t really deal with the sheer diversity of games and the concentration of games media and discussion.

    If something wins a Hugo, I would buy it based on that and probably be more than satisfied.

    In particular, Ancillary Justice, which sadly was probably one of the books that prevoked the Sad Puppies negative reactions, is one of my favourite SF books around. And last years winner, The Three Body Problem, felt really unique (it’s written by a Chinese author and is aliens and super-science tied up with the Chinese cultural revolution).

    So this whole business, whilst messing round with the nominations, hasn’t stopped the Hugo winners for being absolutely deserving yet. I hope the whole idea of vote manipulation – on all sides of the spectrum – isn’t going to be a pandora’s box and the Hugos will remain as they’ve always been.

    Congratulations on the nomination!

    • Joe Informatico says:

      My main issue with the more reasonable Puppies is their historical revisionism. If they honestly think the Hugos should be rewarding more popular/populist/pulpy works over works with literary and political aspirations, that’s one thing (I feel popularity and its spinoffs–high sales, film/TV options, staying in print–are their own rewards, but whatever). But I’ve seen them argue that that’s what the Hugos used to be “back in the good old days”, and that’s just bullshit. The Hugos have always aspired to literary and political relevance, and the Golden Age gurus whose altars the Puppies seem to worship at like Asimov, Bradbury, Campbell, and Heinlein, were all about “legitimizing” SF, having it rise above its pulp-magazine roots into a literature of ideas and social relevance. In their 60+ year history, you can probably count the number of Hugo Best Novel winners that didn’t have political or literary aspirations on one hand. Sorry, but crowing that the award should be “less political” on one hand and holding up Heinlein as the godfather of the genre with the other is just cognitive dissonance.

      However, just like the Devil can quote Scripture for his own purposes without profaning the original text, I can still be happy for Shamus’ nomination (which as Rutskarn said is well-deserved) while being critical of the manner in which it came about, and wish him the best of luck.

      • Gunther says:

        Honestly, I think it comes down less to “A group of people were upset the wrong kinds of books were being nominated nowadays” and more “Some people have to make goddamned EVERYTHING into a left/right culture war”.

        I feel like we never used to care as much about this kind of stuff – a couple decades ago people were better able to compartmentalize, to not let their politics determine what kind of shows they liked, what kind of books they read, what kind of friends they had.

        • I had a look over the links, and I have to say that the point I think they’re both talking past is ultimately:

          There is a huge, HUGE difference between DRAMATIZING an ideology and just slapping it onto a story that doesn’t have anything directly to DO with the ideology. The former is interesting. The latter is nearly always OBNOXIOUS to most dramatic writers. And unless you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that *you can’t tell the difference*. The former is going to have a more “exciting/pulpy” feel to it because when you dramatize something there has to be a conflict, there has to be ACTION, events proceeding from events. The latter may or may not involve any conflict or drama, hence why it’s not so exciting. That’s what most “literary” writing is. The plot–if there even IS one–just kind of happens as the background to various discussions of “issues”.

          So, what are examples so you can learn to tell the difference? Take Lois McMaster Bujold vs. Neal Stephenson, both nominated this year for things I have read.

          People around here are probably more familiar with the latter, so I’ll start with him. Most of Stephenson’s novels have at least the framework of a plot. His latest (which is on the list for this year) Seveneves does NOT HAVE A PLOT. Instead it is basically a series of essays about technological and political difficulties told in the framework of a story about the end of the world. But he *doesn’t dramatize the conflicts*. Nor are any of them ever RESOLVED. They just get delayed indefinitely by the necessities of survival. All the major decisions that happen are *methods for delaying any kind of confrontation or resolution of the conflict*.

          Everything that he writes is like this. Some things may have more of a real plot (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon), but ultimately all of his novels are not dramatizations of ideology but a framework for a bunch of essays on topics he finds interesting and wants to share.

          Now look at Lois McMaster Bujold (specifically “Penric’s Demon”) Her works contain no essays of any kind whatsoever, just plot action–people wanting to accomplish goals, and how those goals intersect. Her novels actually tend to contain A LOT LESS violence than anything Stephenson writes, but there’s A LOT MORE action, as in, people making choices, living with the consequences, making further choices from there, and so on. Do Bujold’s novels contain LESS ideology than Stephenson’s? NO. Not even remotely. It’s all there.

          But–and here’s the crucial difference–it’s not just thrown on top of a story that’s only there as an excuse. It IS the story. You can’t even TELL someone what Penric’s Demon is about without *detailing the plot*. I can tell you what Seveneves is about and you will have ZERO clue as to the nature of the plot–it’s about genetic engineering, space construction, and psychology. There. You know what it’s about. Do you have any clue what HAPPENS? No. And you can do the same thing for ALL of Stephenson’s books. Snow Crash is about linguistics and virtual reality. Cryptonomicon is about hacking, cryptography, and WWII. The Diamond Age is about nanotechnology and China. REAMDE is about computer games, hacking, and terrorism. Anathem is about technology, multiple universes, and lifestyles.

          That’s the real issue here.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            I think you’re working at a more advanced level than the rest of us.

            I think if we’re being honest, its annoying when it feels like you can hear the author’s voice in your head trying to make a point.

            I think two of the factors in that are the one you laid out (its likely to feel less like the author is talking to you if the stuff being included is intrinsic to the plot) and whether you agree. I’ll admit, there’s no getting around that. If you don’t agree, you’re gonna be more likely to notice it and be more likely to find it annoying.

            To address Gunther’s point, I think part of the reason Gunther is seeing that is that we’re more polarized. The other part is that the more people are able to use the internet, the more we’re aware of the creators of our works.

            Thus suddenly we know that Bob Smith is passionate about, say, the Alaska pipeline, and thus we’re more likely to recognize when something in one of his books relates back to that issue. Its harder to ignore the voice and just experience the work as a story.

            Its not all bad. Some works play off of that knowledge. For example, we all knew that Robert Downey Jr was likely to be a good choice to play Iron Man because we could see the parallels between Tony and Downey. Everybody was talking about that.

            • I find it interesting that you say it’s annoying when you can “hear the author’s voice in your head trying to make a point”–because this kind of thing, that is, the author speaking directly to the audience, is actually REALLY COMMON in a lot of novels. A lot of STAGGERINGLY POPULAR novels. In fact, some of the *most popular works of all time* (like Sherlock Holmes) were specifically written using this style, where the conceit is that one of the characters in the story is actually the writer/narrator (Watson, in this case). So it can’t be true that this is precisely what bothers people. Depending on the story, it can actually be quite endearing even though it is almost never wholly integrated.

              And I disagree with the second point, too, that being more connected with authors makes you like their work less. I found it kind of mind-blowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies (no, that is not a joke, you can look it up), but I don’t like Sherlock Holmes any less for that fact. There are some mildly supernatural-esque turns to some of his stories, but I don’t notice it any more because I know about the fairies business.

              I will admit, though, that I know a LOT of people who have absolutely knee-jerk reactions to any mention of their personal hot-button issues. They are incapable of having any discussion or even *seeing what the author was actually saying*. It’s like the *word* short-circuits their brain and they lose all ability to think in any depth. And I’ve seen it everywhere, in just about any field. It’s not politics or religion–it’s something fundamental about HOW people think that causes this. It’s as though they’ve abandoned subtlety in favor of a simple two-way switch. It’s not polarization–that’s when people become more extreme in their views, gravitating to the poles. But you can have a lot of coexisting extremes. This is people becoming absolutely binary in their views. Either you agree with this, or you’re the devil. Why? It’s OBVIOUS.

              If I had to say, I think it’s because the people I encounter who have this problem can no longer tie those views back to reality. They are cut off, floating in space. If you ask them “how am I supposed to know that’s true?” . . . they can’t tell you, and this exposes their lack of foundation. This kind of epistemological uncertainty simultaneously makes people furious AND means that the only response they can make is a torrent of abuse. You don’t know this? You must be a sociopath. ANYONE who isn’t a sociopath KNOWS this. How? They just do. But how? They just do.

              Not being able to tie your ideas back to anything has become the style of the modern world. Everything is “subjective”–which most of the time is simply a way of saying “I can’t be wrong and you can’t be right and I don’t have to explain why”.

              • Taellosse says:

                Not trying to put words into Wide and Nerdy’s mouth, but I think what he means by “hear the author’s voice in your head trying to make a point” is a little different than the way you interpreted it – I think he was actually trying to summarize what you were saying about Stephenson’s (and others’) writing style – that some writers use their fiction as a vehicle to just tell their audience things the author themselves think about things, without really bothering to embed in a character or sequence of events in the story. When the author is essentially just “writing an essay” inside a story. This is different from the narrative trick of pretending to write the story from the perspective of one of the characters in first person, even if that character thinks in ways similar to the author, though the two can overlap.

                • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                  You’re right about what I meant. But as to her other points she’s right too. Sort of anyway.

                  I have a couple of hot button issues. I can tell you at least one that springs to mind I’ve given plenty of thought and can in fact make my case for.

                  But I still hate it when its brought up in fiction because writers tend to hold the opposing viewpoint and they stack the deck in favor of their position. A sympathetic character espouses the viewpoint, a stupid character (or a character suddenly acting uncharacteristically stupid) responds with a stupid version of arguments my side uses and easily gets shot down. Its not always that direct but something like that. And I’m sitting here able to continue the argument and it feels like if I were to speak up or write the author its like “What? Its just a story. Its just a conversation the characters had.”

                  Its the written equivalent of “Is this bothering you? I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.”

                  • Taellosse says:

                    Yeah, I get how that can be annoying, especially when it’s done badly (as it often is by authors that fancy themselves political scientists). For my part, the one that tends to spring most readily to mind is Terry Goodkind. I quite enjoyed the first few books in The Sword of Truth series, but as it went along, he became increasingly preachy, turning the protagonists into vehicles to spew his objectivist ideas at the audience, while using his antagonists to parody the most cartoonish form of socialism in opposition. It got bad enough that by the 6th book or so, when Richard or one of the other main characters would start to expound the virtues of individual liberty (or decry the evils of collectivism), I’d start skimming ahead to get to the end of the conversation (which would go on for pages and pages sometimes).

                    • The hilarious part is that I’m an Objectivist MYSELF and I HATE Terry Goodkind’s writing. He’s a bad writer. I know of what I speak because he writes EXACTLY the way I wrote when I was 16 and stupid and I know it and it makes me twitch.

                      I know a lot of people who love his work, though, and they recommend it to me and are then shocked when I begin to vibrate and foam at the mouth. “But you like fantasy and Objectivism!” I LIKE GOOD FANTASY AND GOOD OBJECTIVISM!!!! ZOMG.

                  • There’s a difference between something that pisses you off and something that makes you completely irrational, though. Everybody gets pissed off. It’s even fine to say “this is making me really mad and I can’t quite articulate why but I think this is wrong.” That’s a self-aware, thinking person who doesn’t know everything. Kudos. Nobody knows everything. Articulating ideas is REALLY REALLY HARD. People go all the time from not being able to articulate something one minute to completely blowing you out of the water in the next minute with something you never thought of.

                    No, what’s bad is when people get mad, can’t articulate why, and *declare that they don’t have to because they’re mad and that’s all that needs to be considered*. They’re right because they’re right and anyone who disagrees is a monster.

                • This is true, but it’s not the whole truth because some authors that fill their books with essays of this kind are not particularly offensive and, in fact, very interesting. (Neal Stephenson and Victor Hugo come to mind, but I could list others.) I disagree with both on many points but their ideas are still worth contemplating.

                  I think I know what he means too, but I didn’t want to try putting words in his mouth by articulating it the way I would, either.

                  I think more that it reaches the peak of annoyingness when the author in essence constructs a ridiculous strawman for his protagonists to “defeat” and then becomes smugly self-congratulatory about it. It’s not so much that the author is “speaking to you” (or preaching) but that they’ve defaulted on one of the basic responsibilities of the author.

                  See, the way I think of it is, if you’re a writer and you want to write stories for a living it basically falls upon you to become a student of the world. The only reason to write is because you’ve made some observation about the world, or about people, or about history, or about hacking or SOMETHING that’s WORTH SHARING. But the thing is that if you just go around blurting out random observations, yeah, it might be interesting, but the impact isn’t that big.

                  The real impact comes when you can construct a story that puts the reader into a place where they can really *understand* that observation. It’s one thing to say “scientific detective is the best detective”. It’s another to follow along as Sherlock Holmes investigates a case, to see his method of operating, to watch it come to a conclusion. That’s magical.

                  But when an author constructs a lazy strawman–particularly if they’re smug about it–all of that is gone. They’re not unfolding the universe to you any more, leading you to the pinnacle where you can see what they have seen. They are trying to jam you into a locker and shove you overboard.

                  • Taellosse says:

                    Good points all. I’d agree that Stephenson is at least sometimes interesting (he’s hit or miss for me, personally), despite his being motivated more by “writing essays” than telling stories. I also agree that it isn’t so much positing political arguments, even fairly nakedly, that bothers me when I’m reading fiction, it’s when the author does so badly (as we both agree Goodkind, for example, does).

              • Zak McKracken says:

                I haven’t much to add to the literary analysis part but about the “people shutting their brains’ input routines down:

                I’ve been listening a lot to the “You are not so smart” podcast and reading a bunch about cognitive psychology: If there’s an issue that you believe is very important and has an obvious conclusion, it becomes physically challenging to listen to somebody argue against your own viewpoint. You literally shut down the input channel and switch to attack mode. It’s a bit like some monster from your nightmares approaching you: It may actually be super-nice IRL but if it looks like that monster, you’ll fight it with all you have and not listen to what it says.

                The art of getting past this in a conversation is to not directly confront the issue but try and slowly bring up little facts and at the same time listen to reactions because more likely than not, you yourself have some misconception about both the person and the issue. The real art, of course is doing this while suppressing your own fight-or-flight reflexes…

                In book terms, of course the listening part is impossible, but the ones who bring up contentious topics in the right way do not introduce the author’s opinion as a given and then follow from that but show a situation, get the reader invested and show the principle at work in that specific situation, implicitly. That leaves the reader to conclude what they think about the issue as applied to the specific constellation in the book rather than forcing them to accept the author’s position as their own in order to make sense of the story at all.

                There are of course also books which just don’t touch on any “real” issues whatsoever. Those may be entertaining or not, and actually not trying is sometimes better than failing completely at something neither the author nor the target audience is interested in — but I think it’s completely okay if that type of story doesn’t get as much spotlight. As I understand it, the entire thing about SF is taking a human issue and moving it into an entirely different setting to investigate it in the light of that fictional situation. It’s like isolating a cell to study it in a lab. If you go all the way and get the thing into your petri dish and then just have a bunch of liver cells duke it out with some skin cells to see who grows fastest to take over the petri dish … that’d actually be kinda cool … damn, my argument just collapsed :)

          • Gunther says:

            I realize that’s what the SPs claim is the motivating issue, but I don’t think they’re being honest; Ancillary Justice, which as Thomas points out above is the book that got all this rolling, has left-wing politics in it but they’re secondary to the action. It’s a pulpy, fast-paced Space Opera.

            The whole thing really does seem far simpler to me – some people view everything through a political lens. They see a left-wing book winning awards and they think that means a right-wing book “deserves” to win the next year or it isn’t fair.

            • Zak McKracken says:

              I’m kinda thinking that it’s also an “art that goes over my head is probably bullshit” thing. I know so many people who think abstract paintings are just a way for clever but untalented people to extract money from the rich (and to some extent, all art is*), and I actually counted myself among that number but like with me and both wrestling and Opera: I can’t look down on Wrestling because I couldn’t respect Mumbles otherwise and I can’t call opera incoherent pathetic non-sense because for half my in-law family it’s not only what they earn their bread with but also the type of music that makes most sense of all.

              I’m happy that others put up with the stuff I call music, or art, and that means I need to put up with others’ tastes, too. I think that’s what the puppies need to learn: Nobody can or should claim what SF needs to be or should be, and prices awarded by authors and critics will always go to the more cerebral works which try to expand the genre rather than retread well-worn paths. You wouldn’t expect “Avengers” to win at Sundance, either.

              * to some extent, “normal” radio pop music is also a way for untalented artists to extract money from the masses. But we need to put up with it because that music clearly must be scratching some sort of itch for a lot of people otherwise they’d be sick of it already and no-one would listen.

              • Mike S. says:

                To be fair, while the complaints about the novels are overblown, the shorter works on the Hugo ballot have had more of tendency to be political without (arguably) being particularly deep or great expositions of what the genre is capable of.

                Obviously this is a massive judgment call. And I don’t think it was the result of significant coordination. But I found the tendency annoying even when I agreed with the basic point of some of the stories in question. E.g., Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History” is a searing reminder of largely forgotten WWII atrocities that should be better known… jury-rigged into science fiction with an utterly tacked-on time viewing element. Andy Duncan’s “Wakulla Springs” is pure historical fiction touching on racism and Tarzan movies and reasonably well done for that– plus two (very) brief bits that go outside the normal, neither of which actually matters much to the central story.

                The Hugos are at their base a popular award, and people willing to spring for a Worldcon membership are free to nominate what they like. If enough fans think something is SF, that’s their call whatever I think of it.

                But I was certainly sympathetic to the idea of seeing more science fiction (or fantasy) in which the fantastic element is actually integral to the story nominated. So I was open to the possibility that the Sad Puppies might do better. (Though in the event I was largely disappointed.)

        • Mike S. says:

          Political controversies in SF fandom have come and gone. The (Communist and other far left-leaning) Futurians pamphleteered against and were ejected by the administration of the first Worldcon. (To simplify. Both sides included big names, and there are a lot of stories about what happened.) There was a big to-do over the nuclear test ban treaty in the late 50s, and of course over Vietnam in the late 60s. The New Wave vs old guard split in the early 70s was partly literary, but certainly had a political component as well.

          But the public spillover tended to be less when arguments had to be conducted via mimeographed fanzines or in person. Social media has changed the game for this as for a lot of things.

    • ThaneofFife says:

      Congratulations, Shamus!

      I’m NOT a sad/rabid puppy, but I will definitely be voting for you.

      I was also curious, did any of the rabid puppies ask you before they added your name to their official nomination slate? A number of the writers who withdrew their nominations last year (and possibly this year too) had said the puppies didn’t ask them if they wanted to be part of the slate before adding them.

      • Shamus says:

        I didn’t hear about it until a non-puppy emailed me about it.

        Do people usually ask before nominating you? Is that a common practice? I honestly don’t know.

        • KremlinLaptop says:

          No, I don’t think so. Personally I think it would be common courtesy to ask (or at least inform) a person when you’re about to drag them into your own political/culture war fight — given your long-standing “No politics” stance and the number of times I’ve spotted you saying, “I don’t want to be part of your culture war,” on Twitter I assume you would have declined.

          So it might not be common practice but I think for this sort of thing it definitely should be because of the sort of attention and (undue) scrutiny of every single thing you’ve ever done this suddenly invites.

        • ThaneofFife says:

          Some people draw a distinction between being nominated, and being nominated as part of a proposed slate. A number of SFF authors are against the use of slates in all cases. Here’s what John Scalzi said about them last year: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/04/20/keeping-up-with-the-hugos-42015/ There’s also the concern that authors who have no connection to the Hugo wars could appear tainted solely because they were nominated by the puppies.

          Personally, I think the Rabid Puppies probably should have asked you if you wanted to be part of their slate before telling their followers to nominate you, since, as KremlinLaptop observed, your inclusion on their slate could drag you into a culture war that you don’t want to be a part of. So, I’m (very) happy that you were nominated, but somewhat upset that the puppies were involved in your nomination. I don’t think the puppies’ involvement reflects negatively on you, though, since you had nothing to do with it.

    • Nate Winchester says:

      In particular, Ancillary Justice, which sadly was probably one of the books that prevoked the Sad Puppies negative reactions, is one of my favourite SF books around.

      How did it provoke? It won the 2014 hugo which would be during Sad Puppies 2, the first campaign was the prior year (when Redshirts won). The following year’s puppies didn’t mention the book at all.

      • ThaneofFife says:

        A lot of Sad Puppy hangouts and fellow travelers, like /r/KotakuInAction on Reddit, singled out Ancillary Justice as a book that shouldn’t have received an award. One of the common criticisms was that its sole “gimmick” was the way it changed readers’ perception of the characters’ gender by using “she,” as the default, gender-neutral pronoun. I disagree that this was a “gimmick,” and think the book was also a really insightful dissection of what’s wrong with colonialism, but I’m not a puppy.

        The other title that I saw getting singled out for puppy criticism a LOT last year was the short story, If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love. It starts off as a really sweet fantasy, but really turns out to be about a hate crime committed against the narrator’s partner. The complaints that I saw leveled against it most often were that (1) it supposedly wasn’t really sci-fi/fantasy because it was happening in the narrator’s head while she gazed at her injured partner in the hospital, and (2) its story was perceived to be mainly about advancing the “SJW agenda” (aka social justice, which some people think is a bad thing)). Again, I thought that these criticisms were both wrongheaded, and just plain wrong, but I’m not a puppy.

  2. boz says:

    I dislike politics in my entertainment. For me whole point of entertainment is getting away from politics and real life hurdles connected to it.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      When people say they “dislike politics in their entertainment” what they mean is they dislike other people’s politics in their entertainment, because when they agree with the politics they don’t regard the entertainment as containing politics.

      • Thomas says:

        That’s not unreasonable though. It is unpleasant to read books with beliefs that we strongly oppose and when you want to relax, that’s not relaxing.

        However I strongly believe it’s better for everyone if we do read those books because its easy to follow the path of least resistance right into an echo chamber. Still there’s a time for people to relax and a time for people to be challenged and its up to them when they do either.

        The thing is though, a ton of the best SF in history was the best because it was political. That’s true in a lot of things, even something like The Dark Knight or Captain America would be so much less interesting without touching on their beliefs about how governance should work. It’s fine if you don’t want to read something political and it’s fine if you find something enjoyable that’s really good and you nominate it for an award (Game of Thrones and Doctor Who are regular Hugo winners).

        I just don’t see why you should object to all the good stuff which is political being out there and getting recognised for its greatness and involving and thought-provoking it can be. (Thought-provoking is so hand in hand with science and the history of science too)

        In a better version of this world, one we might actually be able to reach, the Puppies nominate a couple of really great stories that aren’t getting the attention they deserve and the Hugo organisers realise there are some holes in their awards categories (like video games) and correct that.

        This isn’t fantasy dreamland either. The sad puppies did that this year and as a result had a great list in some parts. Unfortunately the rabid puppies had a slate still :(

        • Daimbert says:

          The issue I’m seeing across the board — and, truthfully, it isn’t really new — in these things and in video games and in all sorts of things is that often the argument comes out that things that are political or artistic or whatever are good BECAUSE they do that as opposed to being good in and of themselves. This only gets worse when people take their subjective response to a work expressing ideas and values that resonate with them and elevate that to “This work is good because it really expresses this idea that I like! That work is bad because it doesn’t express ideas that I like! That work isn’t as good because it doesn’t express any ideas at all!” The whole “Games as art!” push, to me, exemplifies this, as it highlights the idea that a game that is more artistic is a BETTER GAME than one that isn’t, which isn’t always true. Works that make you think CAN be good, but just because a work tries to do that doesn’t make it GOOD, let alone better than a work that doesn’t try to make you think that much.

          That’s where some of the “elitist” comments come in, and also where some of the “You have to have the right politics” comes into play as well. Personally, right now I’m bitterly disappointed at and sick of pretty well all of them, but the Puppies, right now, are at least a little more honest about what they’re trying to do.

          • Ranneko says:

            This becomes very subjective, because to some people the inclusion of certain elements either is “political” in itself, or is political unless a lot of time and effort is spent justifying it.

            For example the creator of SMBC Comics (http://www.smbc-comics.com/) deliberately randomizes the genders of couples in his comics unless the gender is critical to the joke. Is that more or less political than a creator that always uses a white heterosexual couple?

            There was a big furor recently over Siege of Dragonspear including a minor character, who if you went 3 levels deep into her dialog tree, would mention that the reason for her unusual name is that she made it up when she realised she was a woman. Based on a number of reviews I read for that expansion the presence of that character was injecting politics into the game and setting. Heck there is even a mod that removes that line (and one other http://www.moddb.com/games/baldurs-gate-enhanced-edition/downloads/siege-of-dragonspear-corrections) from the game to fix the supposed problem.

            Those elements definitely impact how people view the overall product, one persons representation can often be another’s shoe-horned pandering.

            This kind of discussion always makes me pretty wary, because “X only got an award because of socially conscious elements” can also be “I didn’t like X in part because of those elements, and thus it is not very good”. It can be hard to determine which is which, especially without also having experienced the work for yourself.

            EDIT: This took a long time to write, and I am still not sure I have really expressed what I am trying to say well. Please let me know if this is straying too far into No Politics, or if you want further clarification.

            • Mephane says:

              This becomes very subjective, because to some people the inclusion of certain elements either is “political” in itself, or is political unless a lot of time and effort is spent justifying it.

              For example the creator of SMBC Comics (http://www.smbc-comics.com/) deliberately randomizes the genders of couples in his comics unless the gender is critical to the joke. Is that more or less political than a creator that always uses a white heterosexual couple?

              I completely agree. I can tell from my own experience that there are certain elements that by their very presence (or, sometimes, by their absence) are political in the context of contemporary, real-world politics.

              And in SMBC I consider this a deliberate political decision indeed, and in a particularly clever way because it is not in your face, isn’t preaching, it just happens and no one within the comics even reacts to it.

              However, I must admit that I cannot claim I would like it if the same were done for a political notion which I highly disagree with. I may actually end up annoyed and think to myself “he just had to include that stupid thing there, did he”, even when the artistic execution is just a well-performed.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                And in SMBC I consider this a deliberate political decision indeed, and in a particularly clever way because it is not in your face, isn’t preaching, it just happens and no one within the comics even reacts to it.

                I am not a fan of SMBC’s random same-sex couples, and this is the point at which I feel obliged to play my “not a homophobe” card: I’m not straight.

                The fact that no one in the comics even reacts to it is kind of the problem, it violates conservation of detail. There’s a whole argument about how supporting the status quo is political too and blah blah blah, let’s bypass that for a moment. In modern, Western comedy, it’s rarely brought up that a character is gay unless that fact is going to be relevant. As a consumer of Western comedy, I have been trained to expect a gay joke when I see a gay couple. I start looking for the joke to go in a different direction than SMBC is going to take it, and at some point I’m briefly confused, until I remind myself “Oh right, this is SMBC and the author does that sort of thing”.

                TL;DR: Same-sex couples are a comedic Chekov’s gun, SMBC messes with audience expectations.

                • Ranneko says:

                  That is pretty interesting. For me I didn’t really notice it until someone thanked Zach during an AMA and he explained why and how he does it.

                  I guess I don’t have the same expectation regarding gay couples and humour. I wonder which generalisation is more common. I too have grown up in a western society, watching a lot of western comedy, generally US shows and the occasional home grown aussie comedy. Maybe it comes down the to mix?

                  How generally will those couples be read as an inaccurate Chekov’s Gun?

                • Mephane says:

                  Now I have no idea whether you actually like or dislike that Zach basically breaks out of this very status quo you mention. I mean, I totally know what you refer to. “Oh, they are gay”, “so she’s bi?” etc. those are the typical rhetoric questions we expect someone to say at one point in these stories.
                  And while usually not ill-meant, it’s a bit like little Bob has made a new friend at school and his mother’s first remark is “oh he’s black, I guess that’s okay”. That may not be racist just as these other remarks are not homophobe, but as long as it is treated as something noteworthy, out-of-the-ordinary, un-normal, as long as this is the case I am glad people like Zach perform their silent protest by better example.

                  P.S.: In the comics, that no one reacts to it is basically the point. I mean, how often has Zach created entire alternative universes and histories in the comics? Probably a thousand times by now. It’s just that all of his alternate universes have one thing in common, and that is that all the struggle for equality and acceptance (not just tolerance, which has often been mere grudging tolerance) never happened in these worlds, because it was never necessary.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    Now I have no idea whether you actually like or dislike that Zach basically breaks out of this very status quo you mention.

                    I realize now that I didn’t clearly establish my intent, but I was trying to restrict my commentary to only its comedic impact, rather than its merit as an attempt at social progress, because the latter is a really good way to start flamewars. In that spirit, I am going to continue not discussing its social merit.

                    Evaluating SMBC as pure comedy, I don’t like the breaking of the status quo because it creates the confusion of an unfired Chekov’s gun, while never making the joke funnier than it would have been with a straight couple.

                • Felblood says:

                  “TL;DR: Same-sex couples are a comedic Chekov’s gun, SMBC messes with audience expectations.”

                  I get that this is distracting for some people, but I’ve always seen it as just a setting detail of the SMBC universe, which is very much different from our own world in a lot of subtle and unsubtle ways. To me, it’s always been sorted into the same data band as the Peanuts-esque, hyper articulate children. That’s just the lens through which the author views the world, and sharing that perspective is very much the core of SMBC.

                  While this is a more deliberate decision, I don’t see this as fundamentally distinct from a guy raised in rural Idaho writing a comic starring a bunch of white, clean-shaven, Anglo-Saxon, straight, blue collar, protestant men. To the writer, these are empty masks, as generic as stick figures, but to a significant portion of their audience, this feature will be really distracting. I’m … getting better at that.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    I think you’ve missed my point.

                    I grew up in a town so white that “Of African descent” doesn’t even show up on the town’s demographic census. Despite that, I never found it distracting that SMBC randomizes the race of its characters. My problem with SMBC’s same sex couples is not that straight white middle-class etcetera is a blank cipher, it’s that a lot of the comedic tradition I’m familiar with has a history of drawing attention to gay people in order to make gay jokes.

                    When Lotso was introduced in Toy Story 3, I instantly expected him to be the villain based on a bunch of observations about minor genre tropes (the pace and moment of the story we’re at, general false utopia tropes, and even the lighting of his intro shot cued me). In a similar way, when I see a gay couple in comedy, I start expecting some kind of gay joke, and expecting it to go in a different direction like that can undermine a piece of comedy.

                    • Felblood says:

                      I think you’ve missed my point.

                      The example was a bit of self-recrimination over the shortcomings of some of my own early works, and also intended to be a very extreme example for evocative reasons, without any sort of shaming attached. (I’d be as guilty as anyone, if I thought this was something to feel guilty about, which I do not.) If it is distracting you from my thesis, please disregard it.

                      Every person comes into every joke with their own unique library of past jokes, which they use to contextualize it. It is fundamentally unreasonable to expect every comedian to tell jokes in the way that makes them optimally accessible to you personally. It is an egocentric fallacy.

                      If you go into a joke that features a gay couple, expecting to hear a gay joke, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’s a natural consequence of your life experience, which is just as valid as anyone else’s.

                      If a cartoonist is drawing a joke about a couple, and it feels natural him to depict the couple as same-sex, even though it isn’t tied to the point of the joke, there’s nothing wrong with that either. This is a natural consequence of his life experiences, and these are his characters to characterize, as much or as little as he pleases.

                      However, when you roll up and declare that the cartoonist is TELLING JOKES WRONG, becasue their unique frame of reference is different from yours… well … Something is wrong with that.

                      Also, we all know that Lotso Hugs is a bad guy becasue if they were foreshadowing it any harder, it would’ve been more heavy handed than Mike Tyson. While this is an important tradition in western cinema, and western literature in general, a person writer who opted to play this twist longer and with more subtlety wouldn’t have been doing it wrong.

                      Personally, I’ve gotten bored with all the retreaded plots here and developed a taste for foreign film. Different people have a different tolerance for formula and predictability in their entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with either way of enjoying oneself.

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Every person comes into every joke with their own unique library of past jokes, which they use to contextualize it.

                      Of course everyone’s going to take things slightly differently, but I believe that my reaction to SMBC is not based entirely on my unique collection of personal quirks, but rather it’s something that I’ve learned as a consumer of a particular sort of western comedy.

                      My implicit “this is bad and harms the comedy” point was based on the (extremely difficult to verify) assumption that some meaningfully large chunk of the population has this reaction, because surely some meaningfully large chunk of the population has absorbed vaguely the same comedy scene as I have.

                      I hope I didn’t come across as saying mine was the One True Way of Comedy and SMBC should obviously follow it, I was trying to highlight the way it puts me off, and how I think that affects more than just me (which is not to say it affects everyone).

                      There’s an entirely different discussion about whether it’s worth sacrificing a bit of comedic merit in pursuit of a social goal, but that discussion is super complicated which is why I tried to avoid it by talking about SMBC purely as comedy.

                      And to clarify the unnecessary tangent about Lotso, I meant that I knew he was the villain within seconds of him appearing on-screen, rather than after a bunch of the telegraphing resolved. I swear my biggest cues were aesthetic, something about the character design and the first shot we see him in.

                    • Shamus says:

                      I’ve run into this same confusion, and had to read a joke twice before I understood that the unusual character had nothing to do with the joke.

                      At the time, I just assumed that it would have made more sense if I read SMBC regularly, instead of, “When some asshat rips it off and reposts it to imgur”, which is how I currently get my SMBC.

                      I don’t know.

                    • Xapi says:

                      Why must comedy conform to your expectations? Why can’t we use culture to change those expectations?

                      You are homosexual, right? And you, yourself, expect gay people mean gay jokes, and the fact that it doesn’t diminishes your enjoyment of the work. That is a sad state of things.

                      Most people would mold themselves to fit in that state of things. It’s easier. SMBC breaks the mold, because you can use culture to change the way we see things.

                      It is revolutionary, in it’s own little way. And beautiful.

                      It happened to me too, the first couple of times. Now, I’ve adjusted my expectations. A gay couple in a SMBC joke is just a couple, in my mind. Isn’t that great?

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Xapi:

                      There’s an entirely different discussion about whether it’s worth sacrificing a bit of comedic merit in pursuit of a social goal, but that discussion is super complicated which is why I tried to avoid it by talking about SMBC purely as comedy.

                      I’m aware of the consideration, I was trying to avoid it because it’s a massive and potentially flamewarry tangent on an already complicated topic.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Why must comedy conform to your expectations?

                      Comedy is very weird.First,it stems from subverting our expectations.You expect A to happen,so when B happens instead,you laugh when you realize it.But then,you start expecting B to happen,and you laugh anyway when B does happen simply because you expected it.So comedy goes a step further,and so when you expect B to happen,A happens instead.And then you dont laugh,because “well everyone expects A”,even though everyone is familiar with the joke and expects B instead.

                      Or,as xkcd has summed it up before:
                      https://xkcd.com/16/

                • Majikkani_Hand says:

                  I also find this interesting. I personally haven’t found that to interfere with my appreciation of the jokes at all–as another non-straight person, I mostly just find that it makes the comics somewhat more enjoyable to me, since I get to see more jokes in a setting that feels more normal to me.

                  Actually, you know what else it is? I only just now realized, but I feel a constant, low-level tension when I see heterosexual couples depicted, because I expect that to be the setup for jokes (or even just assumptions) about the “differences” between men and women. It’s not quite the same issue, since my problem is less the Chekhov’s gun problem and more that I hate those jokes with the burning of a thousand suns and the expectation makes me anxious, but it’s still interesting to see somebody having another reaction. Either way you’ve uncovered something for me to think about.

            • Daimbert says:

              This becomes very subjective, because to some people the inclusion of certain elements either is “political” in itself, or is political unless a lot of time and effort is spent justifying it.

              For me, when we’re talking about things like this and you say “It’s subjective”, it has to mean that all opinions on whether or not something or some work is “political” are equally valid and there’s no “right answer” or even BETTER answer to the question of whether or not a work is political. I think the issues here and in the following comments are relying on using the meaning where it might be vague, or simply that if people disagree on it it becomes “subjective”. I’ve argued against that sort of view for game reviews (even in a post on my blog using a starting point from a post Shamus made) because we can indeed be objective — ie have better answers — for things that can, in some way, be personal. As long as there is an objectively right or better answer, the field is objective.

              So, let me take your two examples. For the first, I’m not very familiar with the webcomic, but I presume that it’s just the case that when he has to insert a couple, he randomizes the genders, presumably with a goal of being more inclusive. Is this more political than just using a heterosexual couple? Yes, based at least on his intent. Would I say that it’s problematically political? No, because it doesn’t make any judgement or intend to make any judgement on what people think about the issues. If he’s doing that to promote it, then it would be more political.

              For the second example, I think your comment there minimizes what actually happened. I have a post on the whole topic on my blog (link: https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/controversy-in-a-new-baldurs-gate-expansion/) but what we have for evidence that this is political is a) the statements of the writer and b) the context, where your responses are limited to the “correct” ones in a world where there are a number of characters that you could be playing that might not react that way. Ultimately, not only is it explicitly political, it’s “checkbox” political, as it doesn’t examine what that MEANS in the world at all, but simply puts it in to look progressive. This is precisely the sort of politicking that I don’t want to see in games.

              Now, there’s a difference between “This work expresses values that I don’t like and so I won’t enjoy watching it” and “This work is pushing a political message and I hate works that do that”. I was going to use this analogy elsewhere, but for me political messaging is like make-up: if I notice it, you’ve gone too far. And we can judge whether its there or not by presentation and intent. Again, most people in SMBC comics won’t really notice that, and won’t notice that it’s random, so it’s likely okay. EVERYONE will notice that in the BG expansion, and will also notice how badly it was done.

              I’m not sure if this is really addressing what you’re saying, but hopefully this explains where I’m coming from here.

              • Ranneko says:

                I was trying to be very careful with how I discussed Mizhena. I was specifically commenting on those who reviewed the game badly not because of how she was written, but because she was present at all.

                That said I will try to address this offsite, as this is pretty like to venture into bad territory. As is pretty clear I feel that your post makes makes the issue out to be worse than it really is, much like you feel I was minimising it in my comment.

                Hopefully we can avoid accidentally talking past each other.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            I just don’t like it when it’s current politics injected into my fantasy setting. If I can see parallels between something in the book and something from real life, fine. It can even be interesting when it enables exploration from a different angle.

            But when I can tell exactly what they’re referring to, down to specifics, then I get annoyed. I would offer examples but we’re already dangerously close to the line here.

            Suffice to say that I do get annoyed when I see it from people I agree with too because no matter who’s doing it, it’s usually inept if I can recognize specifics so it’s either annoying if it’s their side or embarrassing if it’s my side.

            • AzaghalsMask says:

              To me this seems very much like Tolkien’s foreword to LotR, where he draws a line between “allegory” as an imposition of the author’s thought on the reader, and “applicability”, where the story is constructed in such a way as to allow the reader to draw parallels with his or her primary world, without making it about one specific thing.
              (I’m not saying he followed that directive throughout his work.)

              • Allegory in writing refers to an analogy where there is a 1:1 correspondence. So, say, if you were writing a Christian allegory, there’d be a character representing God, one representing The Devil, one representing Civilized Man, etc. This was common in Christian literature for a long time so most people are familiar with it in the context of a sort of “morality play”. Moby Dick is one famous example. (The Whale is God, Starbuck is Civilized Man, Captain Ahab is The Devil, etc.)

                But there are other types of allegory–Forrest Gump is an allegory.

                Most allegories lack subtlety.

                What Tolkein calls “applicability” most people nowadays (if they could come up with a term at all) would call “universality”. What this means is that a character or characters are a condensation of certain broad categories–so, say, Samwise Gamgee is a condensation of a certain type of good-hearted, rural, generally ignorant but sturdy and determined sort of person. Everyone knows or at least knows OF someone LIKE Sam Gamgee in some or all of those ways. When you meet individual people your mind abstracts the essentials (good heart, fortitude, loyalty) away from the more irrelevant particulars (lives in Nebraska or Middle Earth). When you write this way, you take those abstract essentials and MAKE THEM PARTICULAR by adding details of characterization, description, etc. The reader then reverses the process, observing the particulars and abstracting the essentials.

                • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                  Next question. Why don’t you charge for this service you’re providing us?

                  Do you write articles about this?

                • stratigo says:

                  Except that you can easily read Tolkein’s philosophies in his books. Super easy. It’s near impossible to not write yourself into a book. Tolkein preferred the simple quiet rural lifestyle to the loud vibrant industrial urban lifestyle. And that is obvious in his books.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            I think if a story doesn’t even try to address any issue and just goes for “Pewpew”, well fine but it’s not going to win an award. The high art is to address an issue in a non-hamfisted way. To give the reader something substantial to chew on without just explicitly stating your opinion, or even demand that the reader assume your opinion. It’s more about asking questions in an interesting way than delivering answers.

            And in that regard: If you don’t dare, you don’t win. SF has been addressing political and societal issues since day one. Ignoring that and demanding that it stop doing so seems pretty silly to me.

            Now, noticing that some of the stuff that gets awards goes over your head is completely fine. “Getting” Dune for me was a long and intense process, and I’m fine if not everybody else is willing to put themselves through that. That’s completely alright. I mean, I haven’t even read lots of the more cerebral authors because I don’t think I’ll be able to put the time in to make sense of their work. And I know some people go to much higher conceptual levels than I’ll ever be able to.

            But demanding that everybody should adjust to my level would be just bonkers. If the puppies were a movement asking for inclusion of a popular vote based on mass appeal of works, that’d be okay, too. Other awards also have that sort of thing to offset the more brain-heavy critics’ choices. But outright saying that those were all crap? That’s just failure to realize the relativity of your own comprehension of art.

        • This isn’t true. I very much enjoy Steven Brust novels even though his ideology (explicit Marxisim) is pretty much DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to mine. Of course, due to the way Brust writes his Marxism is just garnish–he is literally incapable of integrating it with the plot. His closest approach to integration was in To Reign in Hell and even there the two were almost completely separate.

          I also read and thoroughly enjoy many explicitly religious novels even though I’m a hardcore atheist. I’m very fond of Robinson Crusoe even though the basic theme of the novel is about learning to appreciate one’s blessings, which is presented in an entirely Christian way.

          Heck, there are major ideological themes in HARRY POTTER to which I am strongly opposed, but I still thoroughly enjoyed those novels. If I couldn’t enjoy reading anything that didn’t mirror my ideology exactly, I’m pretty sure I’d find it impossible to read most ANYTHING.

          Any halfway-decent novel is an enormous complexity.

          • Mike S. says:

            It wasn’t garnish in Teckla. (Though granted, it’s not so much integrated there as wedged in.) But it was pretty clear that he saw that as a misstep, given that you can practically hear the gears grind in Phoenix as he backs away and chooses a different direction for the series.

            Brokedown Palace seems pretty clearly intended to be a Marxist allegory, with the various characters representing different parts of society. (And the tree is the revolution that the various members of the old regime try to ignore or stop, but which ultimately and inexorably overturns everything.) But it’s done in such a fairy tale mode that it doesn’t feel as if it’s beating you over the head with it.

          • Taellosse says:

            I always found that to be an interesting aspect of Brust. I actually had no idea he even WAS a Marxist until I started reading his personal blog, because his protagonist characters are not only not socialist, they tend to be the opposite. Hell, the only socialist voices that make an appearance in the Taltos novels are characterized as naive at best and hopelessly incapable of achieving their aims – it’s not exactly flattering towards that worldview. I mean, I get that Vlad is not intended to be a positive role model, but even allowing for the fact that he’s meant to be an anti-hero, the Teckla/human uprising just isn’t that effective, and mostly sabotages itself. It’s even less present in the other books set in Dragaera, where virtually everyone is not only part of the weird cyclic oligarchic/monarchy thing he created for that world, but a firm believer in it.

            I guess there’s a touch of it in To Reign in Hell, but that’s mostly a deconstruction of Christian mythology, I feel, not a political story. The New Testament itself is more socialist than most of that book.

            There’s even less of it, really, in The Incrementalists, given the titular group are explicitly not socialist in any way save, arguably, amongst themselves (and they’re closer to borderline anarchy there). Admittedly, he co-wrote this novel, so one would expect his worldview to be diluted by the presence of a second author, but still.

            I haven’t read any of his other stand-alone novels yet, so I don’t know if things are different in any of those. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’ve long found that odd about Brust. I quite like his writing and I respect that he’s thought his politics through pretty well, but I, too, don’t agree with him much in that area.

            • Mike S. says:

              His take on business (as represented by the Jhereg and especially by the Orca in their eponymous book) is at least consistent with his politics. (But Vlad’s explicitly not that interested in the larger economic whys and wherefores there– he’s mostly just interested in stopping an old woman from losing her home.) But even leaving aside the dominance of the Cycle, in Marxian terms Dragaera is an economic stage or two away from communism being an issue– something Verra implicitly acknowledges (in Phoenix, IIRC) as one of the mechanisms Brust uses to tamp things down from Teckla.

              It is a stronger tone in, e.g., Freedom and Necessity, his collaboration with Emma Bull. But then that’s to be expected for a book set in this world in the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848.

              • Taellosse says:

                Except the Jhereg and Orca are not the only people in that setting to engage in commerce – merely the most corrupt. I’ll certainly grant that they’re (at least partially) intended to represent the more unsavory elements of capitalism, but they’re not intended to represent capitalism as a whole, I don’t think.

                Sure, like I suggested, Teckla introduces the philosophy of socialism to the setting, but again, none of its adherents display an indication that Brust actually favors the ideology – they talk about it like militant fanatics or starry-eyed idealists (neither of which Brust is about Marxism, even if he is an enthusiastic supporter of it), and they enact plans that not only don’t work to advance their goals, they fail spectacularly. I’m discounting the way Vlad himself talks and thinks about them – like I said, he’s obviously not intended to be an admirable figure to the reader, merely sympathetic by virtue of being the protagonist (and having some measure of moral framework, even if it’s not the best one).

                My point, insofar as I had one, is he never portrays his real politics in a particularly favorable light (at least not in this series or anything else I’ve read by him) inside his fiction, even when he inserts it there. Which is unusual – most writers that have an interest in politics are either careful to keep it out of their stories as completely as possible, or they create stories that tend to show the “rightness” of their preferred ideology, to a greater or lesser extent (either by showing how rival systems are flawed, or by showing their own in action as working well)

                • Mike S. says:

                  Orca’s the only book I recall that concentrates on big business. Does anyone else in the Dragaera series really engage in large scale capitalism? (Vs. petit bourgeoisie like Vlad’s dad the restaurant owner, assorted Chreotha merchants, etc.) It’s not really much of a focus in most of the books, especially since the economy is still mostly what a Marxist would call feudal (though effectively “industrializing” through the commodification of sorcery) rather than capitalist.

                  I agree any case that the Dragaera series isn’t an instrument for promoting his politics. I do suspect that Brust is more sympathetic to, e.g., Cawti’s point of view, or that of the various revolutionaries she works with than Vlad is, and I’m not sure they were intended to fail in the longer term as of Teckla itself.

                  (That was a worrisome period for the then fairly new series– reading Phoenix was a huge relief.)

                  Regardless, Brust certainly seems overall more interested in telling stories than he is in promoting any particular views in the Dragaera books.

                  • Taellosse says:

                    As you say, it’s hard to get a complete picture of how commerce really operates in the Dragaeran Empire – we’re offered only the views of a handful of unreliable narrators: Vlad, who mostly knows about the Jhereg, and has a lot of resentment towards the entire culture in which he was raised (and Orca in particular), and then the “romances” featuring Khaavren, Morrolan, and Sethra, none of whom are really all that interested in commerce at any scale.

                    But the Chreotha often have a mercantile bent, as can Yendi (though they’re probably up to something else as well), a Jhegaala might be into it for a while, and, as you say, a member of almost any House might own a shop of one sort or another (though it’s more likely among the non-noble houses). That said, the Orca and Jhereg do seem to be the only ones described as having a house-wide, organized structure for the accumulation of wealth through commerce. Even so, the Orca are still pretty feudal about it, with House titles tied to military ranks, and promotions and demotions handed out to ensure a rigid hierarchy is maintained. And, of course, the Jhereg have more in common with a large organized crime group than a corporation. “Capitalism” as we understand it, doesn’t really exist in the Empire.

                    Which may be part of why Brust backed off from pushing the Marxist angle after Teckla – Marxism – and really socialism generally – developed as a response to the flaws in early capitalism. It can’t really develop and flourish without a “working class” that congregates in large groups on a regular basis (and one that suffers under bad conditions). Socialism requires an industrial revolution. And while Dragaeran sorcery in the Empire is serving a similar function to technology in Industrial Europe, it has none of the same economic structure at all – it does not require a huge volume of human labor to harness sorcery (quite the opposite. It requires primarily an investment of time in the form of education on the part of a small number of elites), so there’s little pressure to concentrate the underclass into a lot of cities (there’s really only 1 very large city in the Empire, that being Adrilankha) and put them to work in quantity. There are no factories to speak of in the Empire, and without factories there’s little pressure to develop workers’ unions, which are where socialism functionally starts.

        • Mike S. says:

          In a better version of this world, one we might actually be able to reach, the Puppies nominate a couple of really great stories that aren’t getting the attention they deserve and the Hugo organisers realise there are some holes in their awards categories (like video games) and correct that.

          I’m not sure that either the demographics of the Worldcon or the game release cycle really support a game Hugo. I’m not sure that there’s a large enough universe of games (even in the current indie-heavy environment) for there to be five solid choices of games that are good as science fiction/fantasy, year in and year out. (Not just using the backdrop, but doing interesting things within the genre.)

          The Worldcon voting base also tends to be skewed older and more text-oriented. (And sometimes surprisingly Luddite– there’s still an insistence on a paper ballot option despite a declining number of users, and getting online material considered for fanzine awards was a fight.) Dramatic presentation and graphic story were both late additions, and I’d argue that neither has really made a huge splash.

          (The Eisners and Harveys are much more important comics awards. The only time I recall anyone from the dramatic presentation side caring that they won a Hugo was when Galaxy Quest won– which was awesome to see, but for the most part the studios don’t even bother to send a lackey.)

          Granted, it doesn’t matter if the award recipients care as long as the electorate does. But at this point my read is that it mostly doesn’t. Certainly of the (of course nonrepresentative) sample of Worldcon attendees I know, my wife and I are about the only ones who’d be likely to vote on games, and neither of us play five different, new SF games in a year. (Nor could we likely get through all five nominations between the announcement and the vote, as we can for novels or short stories or whatever.)

          I could be persuaded otherwise. But right now a Hugo for games would strike me as a “me too” attempt to be current and cool, rather than an effort to honor the best works in a crowded field.

      • kunedog says:

        Avoiding this trap (i.e. mostly even-handed execution) is one reason the “no politics” rule works (relatively) well here. So many sites have “no something” (politics, racism, sexism, harassment, whatever) rules and diligently enforce them . . . right up until they agree with whoever’s violating a rule, and then turn a blind eye.

      • Daimbert says:

        This has always been an easy statement to make, but I don’t think it’s generally true. To use myself as an example, for me the issue is not whether the story talks about politics that don’t match mine, but whether the primary purpose of the work is to make a point or to tell a good story. While there are obviously — and obviously famous — counter-examples, in my opinion most of the time when authors try to make a point they end up having to choose, at some point, whether to structure a scene to most effectively make their point or to most effectively create an interesting story, and those who are trying to make a point usually chose the former … making the story less entertaining.

        I’m also a bit bitter about politics mixing here — at both sides — because I want to know when I read a review or see something get an award that it was because it was good, not because it happens to talk about or be structured in a way that supports some kind of political agenda. From what I’ve read of both sides, they’re both at least at times letting “Expresses the right values” trump “Is really good”, and that just annoys me. Especially since I’m trying to get back into reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy again, and had to go with a bunch of Turtledove’s stuff because at least I knew I LIKED what he did; for anyone new, I don’t have any point of reference to determine if they’re good or even if I’ll like their stuff since so much of it all now is wrapped up in an agenda.

        • This, more or less.

          To me it comes down to is there “X” (politics, religion, sex, ideology, etc.) in my entertainment because the creator uses it to create good entertainment or is there X in my entertainment because the creator is trying to convince me that their view of X is the superior view?

          If the former then great, if the later then i probably wont stick with it, i don’t need my entertainment trying to shove a message, political or otherwise down my throat at the expense of it’s entertainment value.

      • boz says:

        You may be right about that but still I like to believe that I am an equal opportunity disliker when it comes to politics in my entertainment. I want to be able to let the universe we live in behind when reading/watching stuff and thinly veiled political allegories yank me back into this world.

        • Thomas says:

          Where it gets tricky though, is where something feels like it has ‘no politics’ to someone and doesn’t to someone else.

          Ancillary Justice – as mentioned above, one the books Rabid Puppies really hated (sad puppies put Ancillary Mercy on their recommended reading least) – is a SF book about AI and how all the thoughts in your head make up who you are. The bad guy is a space emperor who has cloned his body thousands of times and then linked the minds in those bodies through a hyperspace network. It means the emperor is immortal and can utterly micromanage the empire to stop it ever getting out of control. The way Tyrant’s fall because they can’t trust their political underlings or their empire is too big to manage – its not a problem here because you can deal with _everything_ personally. That’s how they the emperor set up such a large, dominant and permanent empire*. Similarly, the protagonist is one robot part of a ship AI where the rest of the ship was destroyed.

          So a lot of the book is about identity and how these multi-organism AI and people think and how they can actually still have differences of opinion because the body shapes your thoughts and different parts of your head do different things to other parts. It’s the one weakness of the galactic emperor and their plan.

          The empire race doesn’t distinguish gender, it’s one part of the book it fits in with their cultural, the themes and it makes them a bit different and alien. Also it makes sense when your bad guy has male and female bodies of all ages and your protagonist is a robot.

          So rather than refer to everyone as a ‘they’ all the time, the author decided to choose a pronoun to call them. The (female) author chose ‘she’.

          That’s ultimately why the book got hated as ‘political’. But to lots of people, its not a political book at all. Gender isn’t a major theme, it’s a subtheme at best (and even then the subtheme is that no-one cares about it), the books about all these crazy AI and empires etc… In Shamus’ link the guy doesn’t find much there to bother with politics wise. But to some people that is political.

          *Incidentally, there’s a bunch of similarities between the empire and Goonswarm in EVE online :P The leaders name is even ‘Mianaai’ and the empire stems of an isolated close knit community who colonised outwards but now the true ‘Radch’ who stayed in that community don’t even really know or care about the thousands of people who calls themselves Radch in the empire.

          • Daimbert says:

            See, this is EXACTLY why I hate both sides. Yes, she’s deliberately using “she” here which is clearly going for a bit of a point, to avoid the default “he”. But who cares? That might ruin some people’s enjoyment of the work, but it doesn’t take sides or advocate that we should do that all the time (I presume; I haven’t read the book). This is why I can’t trust ANYONE on this topic, because they elevate “These things I personally dislike” to some kind of big political/philosophical statement. Sometimes a banana is just a banana, you know.

            • djw says:

              I haven’t read Ancillary Justice (although the description here does make it sound interesting) but the controversy you have outlined here reminds me of The Left Hand of Darkness, which featured a society of hermaphrodites.

              Ursula LeGuin referred to them as “he” throughout the book, and apparently received some criticism from some feminists for using male pronouns (note that not all feminists criticized this). So, there is really no winning play on this topic.

              • Mike S. says:

                I’d be very surprised if Leckie’s choice of pronoun wasn’t in part informed by TLoD and Le Guin’s subsequent concerns about it.

                (And I suspect that Le Guin in turn chose to go with male-default at least in part because once you’ve come up with a line like “the king was pregnant”, you don’t want to waste it.)

                If the folks who went around calling everyone “she” were a utopian dream like Banks’ Culture, or if the people who do make gender distinctions were all villains or obviously misguided, I might start hearing an axe grind. But given the nature of the Radch, it struck me as primarily an interesting speculative element in the best SFnal tradition.

                • NotSteve says:

                  Yeah, I didn’t even notice that “she” was used for everyone. Then later I saw people talking about it, checked, and just thought it was an interesting bit of scifi worldbuilding. One of the cool things about the series is that the way the main language works is important and worldbuilding-y, but the gender bit is probably the least important part of that. Instead you get problems like (IIRC) the word for “citizen” is the same as the word for “member of the main empire”, which makes for difficulty when trying to talk about an independent polity. Or the word “just” means the same as “something done by the leader of the empire”, which makes things confusing when the leader is doing contradictory things.

                  It makes it hard for the main character to explain things, and it’s an interesting exploration of kind of the inbuilt assumptions of society and language.

                  • Thomas says:

                    I love how translation difficulties are part of the world-building in the books. I’d love to see more of it generally – although not the trite ‘in the traditions of my people’ Chikote in voyager thing. (I’ve probably horribly misspelled his name :()

                  • Ranneko says:

                    That reminds me of John Scalzi’s book Lock In, which never actually specifies the gender of the main character (it isn’t plot relevant since it features no romance, and the title character is remotely operating a robot body for the entire book).

                    There is exactly one reason why I realised this, there are two different audiobook versions, one read by Wil Wheaton and one ready by Amber Benson. I found it pretty interesting that the narrator affected how I saw Chris’s gender. I suspect that were I reading the book I would have just assumed Chris was male, but listening to a woman reading it changed that assumption.

      • Darren says:

        I don’t know that I agree 100% with that. I think you’re right for most instances, but I’ve encountered works where things I agreed with were presented in a heavy-handed fashion and/or didn’t work well in context. I always think of the heavy-handed environmental messaging of Dan Simmons’ The Terror, which fails at pretty much every level and contributes to the terrible ending of a novel I otherwise loved.

      • Nate Winchester says:

        Speak for yourself, plenty of stuff I agree with can be absolute drek (if anything it ends up being worse).

        Furious D named it the offend/bore matrix: “That’s where a film dealing with a controversial subject, like politics and/or religion is so aggressively partisan that it can only offend the opposite side of the issue and bore those who agree with the filmmaker.”

    • Falterfire says:

      There’s really no such thing as a truly a-political work. The closest you can get is a work which does not actively attempt to push a nontraditional political view.

      To use a few video game examples: The Division and Call of Duty are both games by creators who would claim they are apolitical, but both feature material that it is easy to point out the political assumptions of. Some people have complained when these assumptions are pointed out by saying that the games ‘aren’t political’ but that’s not really how it works.

      In The Division, you play as a government agent who is authorized to kill any number of United States citizens in the pursuit of the government’s goals. Whether the game chooses to push ideas about that or not, the subject matter is inherently political.

      It’s a bit easier in sci-fi, because you can try to abstract out enough things that the obvious real-world connections are gone, but if you have humans the ways those humans interact will say something about your politics: Is there one government or several? How efficiently do the governments rule? What systems do they use? In a video game, frequently there’s a lot of shooting. Who are you shooting? Why are you shooting them? What brought them into a situation where they are shooting back?

      The author and most players may ignore these questions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. It just means that the author and the player carried in the same set of underlying assumptions about how the world works and thus didn’t see anything dissonant about the portrayal of the world.

      And this can and will differ from player to player. You may play The Division and see the use of American military forces against American citizens as just a fun backdrop for the shooting, and you may not even really think about what you’re doing, but to somebody else it may stand out so strongly that you cannot play the game without being forced to grapple with these ideas. They are personal enough that the player can’t just ‘turn your brain off’ and ignore what the character is doing.

      Anyways, the point is: Except for extreme abstractions like Tetris, the writers/designers (especially in games, where you explicitly write rules of interaction) will have to make assumptions about the state of their world, assumptions which are inherently political, even if the politics are just a reflection of the status quo with no statement about it.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        There’s really no such thing as a truly a-political work…

        Except for extreme abstractions like Tetris, the writers/designers (especially in games, where you explicitly write rules of interaction) will have to make assumptions about the state of their world, assumptions which are inherently political

        What about Doom? What political message is that conveying, intentionally or otherwise?

        • Falterfire says:

          Haven’t played Doom, but from what I’ve seen it’s very close to being an extreme abstraction – No dialogue, no characters, every enemy is just a sketchbook doodle. There’s no real tie between things which happen in Doom and real life. But you could still make an argument that Doom’s version of the world is one in which the only possible interaction is through violence, where the only solution to every problem is finding guns and then shooting every single thing that gets in your way until the problem goes away.

          And it’s worth noting that I don’t consider politics to just be ‘things which are likely to appear as a plank of a United States political party’s platform.” I consider anything which might cause an argument over underlying assumptions to be political, which may not be a consensus view of what political means (Which nobody seems to quite agree on anyways – What defines something as political VS non-political?).

          For example, I would consider SOMA’s statements about the nature of self and consciousness to be a political statement. In SOMA’s world, there is no soul and the human brain is an entirely mechanical organ with processes that can be replicated by a sufficiently advanced machine.

          This is, I think, where I’m likely to have the biggest argument – There are things I might consider to be ‘political’ arguments that other people wouldn’t. To somebody else, the question of whether or not a soul exists is not political. They may also think that “Yeah, you solve your problems in Doom through violence and only violence” is non-political. And there’s not much I can say to that – Political is too fuzzy a word for me to want to really waste time arguing the definition.

          As proof for the assertion that political is a fuzzy word – There’s an argument above this one in the comments about whether including a homosexual character in a work is political. There’s an argument about whether including a transgender character in a work is political. But being heterosexual and cisgender isn’t political, somehow, because the word political applies to sexuality except when it suddenly doesn’t.

        • Captainbooshi says:

          Well, just off the top of my head, it makes pretty strong assumptions about Hell being evil that Satanists might disagree with, and the efficacy of violence that pacifists might disagree with. According to the plot summary on Wikipedia (because I certainly don’t remember anything about the actual story of the game), the hero is being punished with being stationed on Mars because he assaulted his commander after he ordered him to fire on civilians. There have been plenty of cultures where following orders was considered ethically more important than whether those orders were morally correct. Just because it’s something you agree with, or think is obviously right, doesn’t mean that it’s not a political view.

          It’s not even that Doom was trying to convey a political message. It’s that, if you have any kind of story, you cannot help but include politics in some way. It’s literally built into the world you create and the actions your characters take.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            It’s that, if you have any kind of story, you cannot help but include politics in some way. It’s literally built into the world you create and the actions your characters take.

            I feel like the “everything is political” argument confuses depiction and endorsement. You can tell a detective story about a person who kills their cheating spouse without taking a stance on marriage-politics. The book will contain a marriage which had a particular outcome, but it doesn’t need to represent an argument about what marriage is or should be. If you contend that every story involving a marriage is taking a stance on marriage, then we need a new word for when there’s an actual message about marriage rather than merely a depiction of it.

            • Kylroy says:

              Yeah, but there isn’t some bright line separating depiction and endorsement. See what happened to the Beastie Boys after “Fight For Your Right to Party” took off.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              Even the most basic assumptions of how a setting runs are a product of the person writing them’s world view. Tacit acceptance of the status quo is a political stance to people who are rabidly against the status quo. When I read books written a hundred years ago I can see tons of things in them that the audience when it was written would have taken for granted that stand out as values dissonance today.

              And this isn’t even getting into people who believe that things like representation are fundamental moral goals of fiction, and that any depiction of an insert-demographic-here character is a statement about that entire demographic, rather than just a character.

              The problem with calling something ‘apolitical’ is that one person cannot decide that something is not political. Something becomes political when it disagrees with someone’s ideology. Have your detective eating meat in the story? Well, you’re portraying the warped idea that meat-eaters aren’t all raving devils! Something can only be apolitical by consensus, and that consensus has been wearing thinner and thinner as of late.

              People who are openly political are actually much less obnoxious than people who refuse to consider that their own opinions are political, and who always think that it’s the other person who is making things political by disagreeing with them.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                Something becomes political when it disagrees with someone’s ideology.

                I dislike the “anything is political if someone disagrees with it” definition. It’s absurd by your own examples (meat-eating devils). That definition makes the term so broad that it applies to literally everything (“Tetris fails in its moral duty to represent my favorite colour!”), and at that point we need to invent a new word to describe the “political” things that are present in say, Atlas Shrugged and absent from Tetris.

                Is “The Earth is round” political because some people disagree? Is the Monty Hall Problem, a probability question with a mathematically proven correct answer political because some people disagree?

                • Bloodsquirrel says:

                  Something being absurd has no meaning when it comes to whether something is political or not. People believe absurd things, en mass, and are uniformly blind to how absurd those things are (which is why they believe in them in the first place). Hell, just look at the absurdly arbitrary difference between “colored people” and “people of color”. Those kind of tiny language choices are hotly political, for no reason other than that they server as tribal markings.

                  • Syal says:

                    A teacher I know once relabeled a colored paper recycle bin to be a “paper of color” recycle bin to mock the concept.

                    More on topic, in order to be political there also has to be a call for widespread action in some direction or another. If people were pushing to rewrite mathbooks to give the Monty Hall problem a different answer or remove all references to the Earth’s radius, it would absolutely be political. All it takes to be political is a reader saying “This is why [thing] should occur”*.

                    To jump back up to the detective story about murdering a cheating spouse, depending on how the murderer and the victim is portrayed it could easily be political. If the murderer is a controlling jerk there’s the message that anyone who wants monogamy is a control freak. If the victim always lied about being married, then polyamory is something skeezy people do.

                    *and someone else thinking it shouldn’t, I suppose.

            • Thomas says:

              I have become more convinced by the status quo argument lately, that things which don’t seem political to people are the things which seem normal and that can actually be quite strongly political when a lot of people are outside that status quo and seem hard done by.

              But I also don’t like the ‘everything is political’ argument, because even though it probably is true in a strict definition, it’s ignoring people’s real point when complaining about politics in X media.

              We do know the difference between something which is labouring to get across a message and something that isn’t – and we know the difference between a work that does it well and makes it good part of the story and one that doesn’t.

              • Captainbooshi says:

                “But I also don’t like the ‘everything is political’ argument, because even though it probably is true in a strict definition, it’s ignoring people’s real point when complaining about politics in X media.

                We do know the difference between something which is labouring to get across a message and something that isn’t – and we know the difference between a work that does it well and makes it good part of the story and one that doesn’t.”

                That’s the point, though. The complaint that a work is not integrating it’s politics well into the story is a completely different complaint than saying that you don’t want politics in your media. If they want to argue that it isn’t done well, that’s what they should argue. They’re complaining about something that isn’t the actual problem they have, and they’re specifically doing it in a way that makes them seem to have the high ground (since they’re not the ones bringing politics into it). It’s a rhetorical trick to give them an advantage before the discussion even begins, and if you’re going to argue against them, you have to try and level the playing ground first.

            • Captainbooshi says:

              “If you contend that every story involving a marriage is taking a stance on marriage, then we need a new word for when there’s an actual message about marriage rather than merely a depiction of it.”

              There are words for this, though, that are better than ‘political.’ I see people describing things with an obvious message as ‘preachy’ quite often, for example. You could call some work ‘activistic’, or even ‘strident’ depending on the impression you want to give of it. There are lots of words better used to indicate something is trying to push some message that are better than ‘political.’

            • NotSteve says:

              Every work that features a marriage may not have a message on it, but there are definitely grey areas between “preachy” and “apolitical”. For example, your theoretical detective story could show the murderer as justified in killing their cheating spouse, which is a definite message even if the author is subtle about it. And if every work out there about cheating spouses shows that physical violence is a justified response, that’s a strong message that people can disagree with.

              Stories are often how people learn to deal with the world. So stories that say “in situation A, people do B” have a message that can be agreed or disagreed with.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          There are people who find the mere existence of the Satanic imagery in stuff like Doom offensive. You’ve said elsewhere that depiction does not equal endorsement, but not everybody thinks that way. Some people think that depiction itself is bad because people shouldn’t be exposed to certain ideas.

          • Syal says:

            The chainsaw and the rocket launcher create different corpses than the ordinary guns, so not only is violence The Answer, but it is also something to be experimented with and fully explored.

      • Mike S. says:

        Sure, but you could as easily say that there’s no work that’s independent of, say, gravitational physics, since there are few if any stories that would be unchanged if that were changed.

        (“Citizen Kane” becomes rather different if all the characters drift off into space in scene one.)

        There’s still a big difference between stories like “Neutron Star” or “Mission of Gravity” where gravitational physics is central to the story and subject to interrogation, and “Romeo and Juliet” or “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” where it’s an assumed background detail.

        If a preponderance of Hugo winners had been focused on gravitation for long enough, it’s fair to guess that some people might get tired of the conceit. They might even call for “non-gravity” stories, without that meaning “stories in which gravitation doesn’t operate in the universe at all.”

        In the event, the Sad Puppies had their innings and didn’t impress me with their alternative choices. (And the Rabids’ goals are different and not something I’m in sympathy with.) But the short fiction nominees in the years preceding them certainly had more of a tendency to sell their souls for a pot of message than I personally was interested in reading.

        It’s been less of a problem in the novels, which tend to get a broader cross section of votes. Most of the winners in recent years have been reasonable. Ancillary Justice in particular was a solid space opera with well-done speculative elements. It was obviously informed by its author’s politics, but was hardly a screed. (Or the culture with the unusual take on gender wouldn’t also be a brutal hegemonizing empire.)

        (Redshirts was pretty slight for a Hugo-winning novel, but it was a relatively weak year. I enjoyed the Bujold more personally, but it was a very minor Bujold work.)

      • Daimbert says:

        RAISING questions isn’t really an issue. Good Sci-Fi can raise questions without being political. You start getting to political when you start ANSWERING them, and especially when there’s only one right answer and the entire framework of the story bends around having that answer be clearly seen as The One True Answer.

        Here’s an example of something that did this explicitly and, I think, in a good way: Babylon 5’s “Believers”. The issue is over whether Doctor Franklin should perform a life-saving operation on a child over the religious objections of the parents. All of the parties are portrayed sympathetically. Most secular people will likely be able to see things from Franklin’s perspective better than those of the other characters, but Sinclair is not only, at that point, a sympathetic and good character, but also expresses why he has to advocate for the parents in this. Even though it ends tragically, you should come away from that wondering whom, out of all of them, was right in this … and if any of them really are. Even if JMS had an opinion on the matter — and he likely does — it’s not really clear from the episode which view he has. And you can’t tell from the outcome, even though in the end Franklin does not get the outcome he wants.

        This is a good example of raising questions without pushing or promoting an answer, and good science fiction can indeed do that. That’s not making it political … at least, not in the way that annoys me.

        • Witness says:

          B5 in general was very good about this. I feel like I have a pretty solid idea of where the author fits in the political spectrum, but the show goes to great lengths to point out the dangers of taking even his own politics too far.

        • Retsam says:

          This.

          Good entertainment should provoke thought, not tell its audience how to think, and an author does that by raising questions, not force-feeding the readers the author’s answers to those questions.

          But we don’t get that often; instead we usually get heavy-handed moralizing; sympathetic characters like the hero will espouse the author’s message, and any characters who hold an alternative view will be portrayed as jerks. And that just makes people more polarized.

  3. Limeaide says:

    I wonder what you COULD do with an 80 million dollar budget. Like, what if you said to hell with it to breaking even and go with something really avant-garde or unorthodox? Or if you made something that had the graphical fidelity of something from the 90’s and put all your budget into systems, content and writing? Or if you made the whole thing a huge ridiculous experiment in interactive storytelling? There’s a lot of unexplored territory in the area of too big for indie and too weird for AAA, and while I understand why it stays that way, its still a little sad to think that we’ll never see all of what the medium is capable of because of that.

    • Echo Tango says:

      With 80 million, I could afford to hire a hundred people for approximately…carry the one…8 years. That’s assuming they all get $100k salary, and we have no expenses because everyone works out of their house. So let’s say not everyone makes that much, and we have a small office. Would probably still work out to about 5-8 years. I think that’s a decent budget to make a pretty good game. Not sure if it’s AAA budget, but I think I could give TellTale or DoubleFine a run for their money.

      I’d make a Fallout spinoff, with graphics that are some kind of abstracted toon-shading thing. Or maybe like Obra Dinn but green-screen style, instead of the dark green printed-press looking style that game is using. I’d pretty much use all the existing assets from Fallout 4, to save on costs, but run them through whatever process I need, so they work with my abstract green-screen toon-shader. I could fig-leaf justify this, by having your PipBoy be a HUD on your mask / helmet. A few missions / safe areas would be colored, because you’ve taken off your mask / helmet.

      Mission structure would be a straight line for the mandatory missions, with side-branches for side-missions where you could get different equipment. That equipment would be roughly scaled / useful for every 5-10-ish main missions, so that if you skipped earlier side-missions you weren’t punished too badly later on, and later on you could still do different side-missions to get equipment appropriate for that set of main missions. Hidden from the player, (or maybe shown to them?) main missions where you made an A/B/C… choice, would be a parallel set of 1-3 missions where it branches off of the mission with the choice, then re-joins the main mission line, so I don’t need to keep track of multiple choices forever. (So, I guess similar in principle to how Telltale handles it’s choices – bubbles out and then comes back in.) I’d keep the same basic combat, and talking mechanics, but ditch the trading and make each mission a self-contained map. I guess a “trading” of sorts could happen in a main mission (or even side-mission) where you could “buy” new gear based on the total value of all the gear you have unlocked at that point in the tree/line. (You could go back to any point in the tree if you wanted to try again to make later middions easier, or change how you handled earlier choices.)

      Story would cover your travels from your house basement (where you Duck And Cover-ed!), to try and reach the nearest vault. All you have to go on is an old brochure, and a favor from a friend who might be at that vault or might be dead. Pick up your gear from your house (based on SPECIAL, skills, and traits), and hit the road!

      • Syal says:

        I’d make a cross between Disgaea and Mount and Blade, where defeating a side would replace it with a significantly stronger side, so you start fighting bandit leaders and unlock stronger and more prestigious foes until you’re eventually fighting pillars of reality and their physics-altering war parties.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      From what I remember, $10 million is about what Bayonetta 1 was reported to have cost. Or was it Wonderful 101? In either case, assuming there’s some stipulation about the money having to be spent and potentially recouped within a couple of years, as opposed to investing it all in real estate and banging out an A grade video game every couple years on the proceeds, you make one or two pretty good games, with plenty of margin for iteration, and blow the rest on advertising, keeping a decent chunk back for post-release patching to safeguard the long tail.

      If advertising is being taken care of elsewhere, then it’s fairly easy to slip something odd in within a larger line-up, though you’re probably better off targeting the indie and handheld markets with low budget experiments and elevating successful ideas rather than asking for $60 for your cool, new idea.

  4. Ninety-Three says:

    Aw, you kept the new intro music? I’m not a fan, I was hoping you’d go back to the old stuff. It feels somehow overdone, just a worse version of the previous tune.

  5. BeardexDork says:

    Isaac? What happened to Rachel?

  6. shiroax says:

    Oh, hey, the autoplay bug is gone. Did firefox fix it or did Shamus relent and show us mercy?

  7. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    Regarding the early part of the mods discussion, I like mods like that because if it lets you do the same activity with everybody, there’s inevitably going to be some point in any Bethesda game where doing said thing is going to be funny. We even see this with vanilla mechanics like dragon shouting.

    Its also neat like you said when you forget a mod is installed. There’s a mod like that for Skyrim and Fallout 4 which makes the Mudcrabs and Mirelurks respectively say “NOW YOU F****D UP!! OOOHHHH!!! NOW YOU F**** UP!!” and you encounter both creatures infrequently enough that its easy to forget that you have that.

    See also Autotuned Bears, any of the Dragon replacers, and The World Series Logo mod for Fallout 4 (lets you hit homeruns with people).

    Another aspect of the discussion is the impact mods have on future development. Obsidian is on record saying that The Sink in Old World Blues was inspired by the fact that modders loved adding bases and houses to the game. Bethesda’s decision to add settlement building was inspired by very similar mods added to FO3 FNV, and Skyrim. The separate grenade button I know was a mod in FNV, possibly also F03. Other added elements are more speculative but the above ones are confirmed IIRC.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    I don’t like the idea of Hugo awards for videogames, but that comes down to my opinion on the purpose of award shows. If there were a 2015 Hugo For Videogames, it would definitely go to SOMA, because SOMA is miles ahead of the rest of the field. However, as mentioned on the Diecast, SOMA is also miles behind the field of written scifi.

    The books that only got 5% of the vote and weren’t even nominated are substantially smarter than SOMA, and SOMA is frankly a high-water mark for videogame scifi. An award to SOMA wouldn’t say “You did very well”, it would say “You did very well considering the normally terrible field of videogames”. There’s an unavoidable asterisk on the award.

    If you see awards as a way to push things in a certain direction, then giving SOMA an award makes sense. I tend to see awards as recognization and reward for merit, and SOMA only has award-winning merit if you seat it at the kiddie table. I find that incredibly patronizing, both to the authors and the medium as a whole. It’d be like giving the Jamaican bobsled team an Olympic medal for “Best performance from a country without snow”.

    • Kylroy says:

      I’d also point out that SOMA’s gameplay, is, frankly, awful. When the most popular mod for a game removes the only thing that keeps it from being simply a self-directed narrative (dodging unkillable enemies), it shows that the community has decided they want nothing to with your gameplay.

      That they bothered to make the mod *also* shows that they found something else they liked about SOMA.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        While I agree with your general point, the pedant in me feels obliged to point out the minigame/puzzle things. They’re rare and relatively minor, but they gate progress so they do technically prevent it from being a self-directed narrative.

        Speaking of the monsters, as terrible as they are, I do think they add something to the game. Not the monster sequences themselves, those range from “meh” to “miserable”. But the fact that you are playing a game with monsters in it adds to the atmosphere of every sequence. Gone Home spent a lot of its time on the “Maybe this a horror game” fakeout, but thirty seconds in I knew nothing would ever threaten to kill me, because there was no sprint button. Similarly, SOMA would have a much harder time creating its atmosphere, making you afraid of the station full of exploded heads if there were no monsters. Three hours in, you’d realize that this is not the kind of game where you have to worry about your player avatar, nothing’s going to “get you”, and suddenly the mood changes.

        All in all, maybe SOMA’s monsters were so miserable that they weren’t worth the atmospheric benefits they provided when not on screen, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that they had this merit.

        • Kylroy says:

          Admitted, but 95% (or more) of my “they removed the gameplay” point still stands.

          I’m going to say that SOMA was looking to pull off what Silent Hill 2 did – namely, an amazing experience around a pretty boring and dull game. The tactical gameplay of SH2 was awful, but it managed to enhance the dread of the (extremely well-done) setting. I think they succeeded where SOMA failed because “you’re in your own personal hell” is much easier to convey via gameplay than “the apocalypse has come and gone and you need to decide if anything still matters.”

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          I can tell you what monsters and puzzles add:

          Pacing. Games need stuff like that because even a brief 8-hour game needs a change of pace. You don’t want to hammer on one activity- whether it be combat or dialog trees- for that amount of time unbroken. There needs to be time to digest the narrative portions. There needs to be stuff to do to get you to look around the environment and take it in.

        • Felblood says:

          “All in all, maybe SOMA’s monsters were so miserable that they weren’t worth the atmospheric benefits they provided when not on screen, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that they had this merit.”

          Yeah, IMO the optimal SOMA would have still had monsters, but it would have had better monsters.

          If someone were to tackle the much harder challenge of replacing the monster mechanics with better ones, and release it as a mod, I would expect it to eclipse the existing monster-removal mod quite quickly.

    • Thomas says:

      There is a ‘No Award’ voting category though. So if you feel a category in general isn’t up to snuff, is voting no award better than maybe missing a good game if it did come along?

      Also, whilst the book category is prestigious, the quality of sci-fi dips anyway as you get into the less known categories. It’s hard to tell with all the vote manipulation that’s happened, but rabid puppies got ‘Age of Ultron’ on the film slate this year and there’s no way Age of Ultron deserves a science fiction prize. SOMA has AoU beat. Even the best entries in film are Deus Ex Machina and The Martian – SOMA can compete with that.

      Likewise, before vote manipulation, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who routinely won the TV prizes.

      • Supah Ewok says:

        A Game of Thrones novel was nominated for a Hugo. The Hugo’s are meant for sci fi and fantasy, and I would place AoU under the latter, especially as the specific award in question is “Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.” I don’t think it deserves the win for reasons of narrative quality, as the only thing it really has going for it there is sheer chutzpah for trying to hold an entire cinematic universe on its shoulders, but it isn’t unqualified based on genre merits.

        • Thomas says:

          Age of Ultron wasn’t really doing anything more than what every serialised game universe and book series does. Sure it was neat for films, but if we’re allowing in-genre context to be a factor, then SOMA is right back up there. Also Mass Effect would be there for the audacity to try and maintain choice based continuity across games, which really is a big deal for what it is.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      Weird idea here but what about Kerbal Space Program? Doesn’t have a story apart from developing a space program but if you forgive the almost non existent story, the sci fi is really hard. Spore if it had been done better could have qualified here.

      Missile Command would be an interesting choice. The game is designed to put you in the head of someone making a tough choice about whether to scramble to try to save everybody or focus on saving a few to try to last longer. There’s not text but it tells a compelling story mechanically.

      And what better way to embrace story telling that usually focuses on the future than embracing the ways new technology is enabling new kinds of storytelling?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I think there’s something to the idea of nominating the KSPs and Missile Commands of the world, if only because videogames are still far behind other genres when it comes to traditional storytelling. There are far from enough of those to fill out a yearly category, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

        Also, KSP may lack a premade story, but it still has excellent moments of emergent storytelling. I think every player has at some point launched a rescue mission for the crew they stranded on the Mun, and my exploratory mission to the Moho pit felt like a cousin to the H.G. Wells “scifi as exploration” story style.

        Missile Command would be an interesting choice. The game is designed to put you in the head of someone making a tough choice about whether to scramble to try to save everybody or focus on saving a few to try to last longer. There’s not text but it tells a compelling story mechanically.

        Obligatory tangent in which I give a shoutout to DEFCON. With no narrative presentation, it manages to create some great moments of dawning realization about nuclear war. I’d gush about the details, but describing a moment of realization is like spoiling a twist ending.

        • Felblood says:

          I wouldn’t say that we need to embrace mechanical storytelling, because we haven’t caught up with traditional storytelling.

          Rather, I would say that we need to embrace it becasue it is the only way we can sufficiently surpass traditional storytelling, to escape these antiquated notions that we need to follow in their footsteps.

      • Abnaxis says:

        While we’re at it–does “alternate history” fiction count as fantasy? How about getting Crusader Kings in there?

        I’ve never seen a more reprehensible dark protagonist than some of the rulers I’ve made in that game…

  9. Husr says:

    Might want to fix the title Shamus, as amusing as Diecat is.

  10. Joe Informatico says:

    In the Appendix N of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax listed his personal inspirations for D&D, but noted “the most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt.” Or for you oldschool anime fans out there, I’ll paraphrase an anime magazine article I read once that said “You wish your D&D game was Record of Lodoss War, but it’s actually more like The Slayers.”

    The main Tolkien influence on the original D&D is mostly found in the major humanoid races (elves, dwarves, orcs, halflings, etc.), the ranger class, and likely the inspiration for a few of the spells, monsters, and magic items. The influence probably gets bolstered in the mid-80s, as Tolkien-inspired epic fantasy started dominating the fantasy section in bookstores (Terry Brooks, David Eddings, etc.) and D&D made its own extremely well-received contribution, the Dragonlance setting.

    • djw says:

      The stories that Jack Vance wrote that inspired Vancian magic were really very, very good. The magic works very well in the context of those stories, but it makes a terrible background for a game.

      • Mike S. says:

        Robin Laws’ Dying Earth RPG is actually very good. But it’s a niche game that works better in short bursts in my experience, and certainly couldn’t have been the mainstream phenomenon D&D was. (I at least found the flowery language and hubristic amorality hard to keep up for very long when I played it.)

        • djw says:

          Most Jack Vance stories had rather cut and dried frontier justice morality to them, but two of the four Dying Earth novels followed the adventures of “Cugel the Clever”, a completely amoral knucklehead. If you think “Basil Fawlty meets DnD” you have the right idea.

          • Naota says:

            Which is, I’m almost certain, the character Ruts was referring to… but damned if I’ve never heard of a Thief class that pushes you to Cugel-esque feats of picaresque debauchery.

            I mean, you’d need class features for running, lying, cheating, and getting squarely and soundly caught only to bold-facedly continue your crimes. That sounds like one hell of a ride!

            • djw says:

              You are absolutely right, that is the character he was referring too (I hadn’t listed to the podcast that far previously). Also, thanks for the new vocabulary word.

              Cugel really is a despicable character, but the writing (not the character) is very clever, and it turns out to be one of my favorite stories.

              Jack Vance did write about weird aliens in several places, but almost always through the eyes of a human protagonist. Planet of Adventure is a very good example of this (note: the protagonist of this story is actually a classic style “good guy”). The quadrilogy is set on a planet not far from earth (212 of light years) and is occupied by 4 mutually antagonistic alien species.

              They each set up camp on the planet to watch their competitors, and they each harvested humans from Earth to serves as their local slave work force. The aliens are truly alien, so the story is mostly told through the interactions between the protagonist and the humans enslaved by each of the four alien groups. Most of the “alien” features are implied by the cultural changes that the humans who work with them undergo.

          • Drlemaster says:

            At one point I got a book of all four Dying Earth novels. The first (a collection of sometimes-connected short stories) was odd but interesting. The second was about Cugel the Clever, and I found the character so horrific I quit less than half-way through. And later I was told by a friend who had read it that the character gets much worse after the point I stopped. I should add I am especially squeamish about sociopathic protagonists, and don’t mean to cast ant aspersions on folks who enjoyed the books.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Gotta get your limits from somewhere. And Niven’s solution (a la “The Magic Goes Away”) is the logical extension of limits elsewise. Without one or the other, INT scores are the inevitable ticket to wealth and fame, so long as you can keep hiring muscle to keep the riffraff away from your spindly carcass.

        • djw says:

          IMO mana based or fatigue based limits seem a lot more natural. Although it might be interesting if wizards were limited to 4 or 5 spell slots a day (which was the limit for wizards in Dying Earth).

    • Having watched both (word of advice, Lodoss Wars should probably be first as it’s hard to take seriously after Slayers), I’d rather be in a Slayers game. Sure, Lodoss has great moments, but the moments I remember from D&D with friends tend to be the ridiculous fun things (and w/ the gang I play with a fighter ridiculously happy in a jellyfish suit would fit right in).

    • modus0 says:

      At least by AD&D 1E there were additional Tolkien influences in the “Treants” (Ents) and the “Balor” demons.

      The latter, from what I’ve heard, was originally just named “Balrog” demons, but the Tolkien estate lawyers got on TSR’s case, and they were forced to “file off the serial numbers”, renaming them to “Type VI demons”.

      And then you have the case of Artifacts. They’ve got this effect that makes everyone who sees them have to resist or desire the artifact enough to kill it’s current owner (or steal it), they don’t properly work for anyone save for their maker/original owner, and each one has a very specific, very difficult, singular method of destruction.

      I remember reading the AD&D 2E DMG section on artifacts and thinking; “This reminds me of The One Ring.”

      • Syal says:

        I always figured lich phylacteries were based off the One Ring as well.

        • Mike S. says:

          There’s a pretty long pre-Tolkien tradition of witches and sorcerers keeping their heart inside a jar hidden in a tower in a castle in a mountain beyond the forest… etc. to make killing them impossible. (Though of course the hero generally manages it.)

    • Classic says:

      Isn’t Record of Lodoss war literally someone adapting their college D&D sessions into a comic and cartoon show? That’s the genesis story I’ve always heard for it anyhow.

      • So’s Slayers, though I believe it’s based on a Japanese adaptation of D&D rather than D&D itself. Actually, thinking about it, they relate decently well to Tolkein. Lodoss Wars is the LotR trilogy, and Slayers is the Hobbit (book version). Both have good stories with climaxes and memorable characters, but one is a bit simpler with more comic bits. And I may have just explained my preference for Slayers over Lodoss to myself, as I like comic bits in my stories.

      • Cybron says:

        Yes, but there’s a lot of stretch in that adaption process. In the actual campaign, one of the male characters, who serves as the elf girl’s love interest, died early. In true adventurer fashion the elf girl looted his body and sold his gear.

  11. Content Consumer says:

    As a user of, and in fact maker of, Skyrim sex mods, I can say that the contention that they’re all just dialogue->sex is… well, fairly accurate actually.
    There are exceptions, of course – numerous ones, I’d say more than half – but there are a lot of just “cast spell to start sex” or “say one line of dialogue to start sex” and that kind of thing. Many of them do integrate well into the core gameplay, but some of them are pretty… crude? Simplistic? I dunno…
    It depends on your point of view. I can say that RWRD (a Skyrim sex mod) is a relatively deep mod (in comparison to many others) that utilizes basic personality traits for all Skyrim followers and ascribes sexual preferences including positions, gender roles, etc. to them, taking into account their vanilla relationship status to the player character and that the dialogue is better than most, but what it all boils down to in the end is just dialogue->sex.

    Anyway, I’m with Josh – I installed that dialogue interface for Fallout 4 the instant it came out. The vanilla dialogue interface for Fallout 4 is absolutely horrible.

  12. psivamp says:

    Title of post is Diecat.

    Stop threatening felines.

    Real post: Congrats on the Hugo nomination.

    Look forward to listening the AAA pitch you guys give and any Mirror’s Edge Catalyst talk. I was part of the closed beta and it was good. Well, the game feel was good. The graphics were pretty. The Runner’s vision pathing stuff is terrible and makes all race things kinda bad. There was one race that the highlights took 40 seconds to follow and that got you 0 stars. The leaderboards said that people got there in 16 seconds. No idea how. A big part of the problem is that you couldn’t mark the point on your map and then run around and try to find a good route.

    They were pretty thin on talk about their dystopian world where employment is mandatory by law and not just economic force. Do the companies treat employees relatively poorly because the employees need the company more than the company needs them? Just treat them like grist for the mill? It’s stated that Faith will get deported to a Greyland facility — apparently a forced labor camp where instead of having to work an office job and live in the city you’re forced to work on a farm? How does a forced labor camp work if employment is mandatory already? How is that different except what job you’re doing? Does that mean that if your skills don’t line up with the needs of Glass, you automatically just get deported. What about non-corporate art? WHAT DO THEY EAT?!

    And it seemed like the social elements that they wanted to test during the beta were really poorly thought out — I hope there’s a way to opt out or filter to only things made by your friends on Origin ( i.e. opt out ). By the end of the three-day beta, there were glowing waypoints just littering the map. Some were cool because they pointed the way to secret bags or neat shortcuts. Others were easily understandable; people would place their start point on a really high and difficult ledge or antenna. Then you got the ones where you were supposed to follow some guys crazy, borderline glitch-driven set of hops across some set of beams — I didn’t try to make any of my own but I hope they at least did the zeroth-order thing and made the creator repeat the challenge to weed out the BS.

    I’ll definitely buy Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but I’m not pre-ordering.

  13. MichaelGC says:

    something iterative that expands gradually in scope

    Sounds like the new Hitman setup! :p

  14. Willroar says:

    RSS FEED IS BROKEN!

    The RSS feed is linking to last week’s episode. I’ve got the feed hooked into the Apple Podcast app, it updated with the new episode title and description, but the actual file is last week’s.

    And since downloading an external MP3 would require adding it to my desktop iTunes library and syncing my iPhone to said iTunes library, it’s quite the pain. I’ll be doing it but us Podcast App lovers (whether you’re Apple, Downcast, PocketCast, whatever; different strokes for different folks) REALLY rely on the RSS feed since you don’t have a formal iTunes podcast listing!

  15. I have to give Erich credit for a well-constructed question.

    Thank you!

    So on the topic of the Hugos, and more specifically Shamus’s nomination, it’s worth noting that the Puppies (both Sad and Rabid) are trying a different tack than last year; a lot of the slate entries (though not all of them) are works and people with a wider appeal. Although I’m rather not in line with their ideologies, I was delighted to see that Shamus got a nomination, and will be voting for him. Shamus, you deserve a Hugo, and it’s a shame your nomination came as part of this [peanut] cluster[ ]fu[dge square]. Good luck.

    P.S. It’s actually pronounced “Eric” – it’s a Germanic spelling. Don’t worry about mispronouncing it, you’re in very good company.

    P.P.S. I nominate Slendermario as a name for Rutskarn’s “normal Mario.”

    • Thomas says:

      George RR Martin is a fan of the talented people who got put on a slate despite not endorsing the ideology to stay in instead of withdrawing. It’s not a statement if some unaffiliated writer wins an award for their unaffiliated work, just because someone said it was. And it’d be a shame to lose a chance for great creators to win an award because of it.

    • Cinebeast says:

      I just thought of the same thing and was going to comment about it, but then I wondered if anyone else had something to say about it, so I hit Ctrl F. By the way, I am shocked that this is the first time I’ve heard about that eerily-normal Mario.

      ALL HAIL SLENDERMARIO

    • Classic says:

      Also congratulations on the nom. Sorry about that rumor though. It’d sting to be told I only got the nom because of that particular voting bloc.

      This is also why describing oneself as “apolitical” is worthless, because Shamus is making a political statement now whether he wants to or not. I agree with Shamus’s decision and the reasons he gave for it, but it’s still a statement.

      I also really appreciated that Shamus directly pointed out the overlap in constituency and apparent political goals of the sad puppy and gator blocs.

  16. ehlijen says:

    Congratulations on the nomination and fingers crossed for getting the award!
    May the deserved recognition outlive any and all controversy potentially involved!

    • Riley says:

      That’s just the thing though, he might not win precisely because of the controversy
      Just like what happened at last year’s awards, it’s very possible they’ll just choose to give out no awards at all rather than begrudgingly let a “toxic” author win

      • ehlijen says:

        None of this will reflect poorly on Shamus. He didn’t ask to be nominated, he didn’t ask to be made part of a controversy. He wrote a dedicated fan thesis on the story and setting quality of Mass Effect and was nominated for that.
        If someone else is found more deserving or the Hugo crew can’t see that Shamus’ work is not part of the controversy regardless of the possible nature of his nomination, then so be it.
        That’s on them, not on Shamus. He is not toxic.
        The Hugo has something to lose, the puppies have something to lose, but Shamus does not.
        Whatever the outcome, a dedicated fan will have been honoured with a nomination for a prestigious award. I chose not to care about any other aspect of this.

  17. Falterfire says:

    Re:Mostly Human Races in Fantasy: You made good points about making inhuman races feel truly inhuman, but I think you missed one of the big advantages of having inhuman races that are mostly human: It lets you have warring cultures with different values and distinct, different appearances without needing to worry overmuch about accidental racism.

    If you have guys with a slightly different forehead who are hyper-logical and ignore emotion as the core of their culture and you call them something weird, then you’re totally fine. If instead of a different forehead they all appear to be Chinese, you are suddenly making a rather racist statement, even if that wasn’t your intent.

    As for why they have to look different at all: Having a unified consistent appearance for people in different societies is an incredibly useful tool for helping audiences immediately understand what culture people are from (while also avoiding having your cast appear too homogenous). It lets you build a sort of visual shorthand and offload some of the memory requirements for understanding your world. It’s easier to remember “the pointy ear guys are the logical ones” and “The wrinkly forehead guys are the warlike ones” than it is to remember “The Zyndiks are normal humans, the Inkdors are logical, and the Blikzans are warlike”

    • djw says:

      If you want alien feeling races in your fantasy, try Gloratha. Technically, it has elves, dwarves, and trolls in it, but they are each unique and completely alien once you scratch the surface. Greg Stafford has been writing the lore for Glorantha for 40-50 years now, so there is a lot of it.

      • Echo Tango says:

        That stuff actually sounds pretty cool. :)

        • djw says:

          Well, since this is a (loosely) video game oriented website, I should point out that there is a video game set in Glorantha. Its rather old, but since there are no moving parts it ages very well. The style of the game is pretty unique, which goes well with the fairly unique setting.

          • Mike S. says:

            It’s also available for mobile these days. And was written by Robin Laws, mentioned elsethread for the Jack Vance Dying Earth game. (He’s quite prolific, and tends to do interestingly high-concept games, going back to the fascinating– if I suspect rarely-played– GURPS Fantasy 2.)

            He and Ken Hite have a well-regarded podcast, Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, which is worth checking out for those looking for another gaming-related cast.

    • Ysen says:

      I was going to say the same thing!

      I think the easy visual distinction is particularly important in games, particularly in Olden Times when graphics were less detailed. In games with a 3rd-person or top-down perspective, it might be difficult to see someone’s features well enough to tell what fantastic kingdom a human is from… but you can easily see if they have pointy ears or green skin or whatever, even from a distance.

  18. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    A game that funds itself entirely on ads attacking other companies (or possibly self deprecating ads, maybe both). Great idea, this needs to happen.

  19. MadTinkerer says:

    I would take the 80 million and make an engine and a bunch of assets and in terms of gameplay, a plethora of small teams who each use that engine and those assets however they want. The result would be published as an anthology of games, like the Orange Box but with a half dozen games like Portal (that is to say: not necessarily just puzzle-platformers, but rather whatever crazy ideas the teams come up with). If any teams lag behind, their projects can be part of the expansion. If any projects need to be cancelled, the engine and assets don’t go to waste, and there might even be time to have the team start over on something smaller and easier before the ship date (or, again, the expansion).

    And if anyone seriously suggests adding microtransactions, they’re fired.

  20. Smejki says:

    Rutskarn!
    Colin even had to apologize for The Complete Book of Elves. As a new Torment stretch goal.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwDWx1cAqP4

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @1:04:12
    Now I cant stop imagining Chris as Cheech Marin:
    Games!Games!Games!Come on in games lowers!Here at ea con we are slashing games in half!Come on in for the biggest games blowout!

    We have facebook games!Console games!Mobile games!Pc games!We have good games!Bad games!Cash grab games!We have generic games!Indie games!Blockbuster games!If you can find cheaper games anywhere
    PLAY THEEEEM!

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Chris:

    What about richards?Arent all of them 100% dicks?

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus does bring up an interesting thing:With open world games,we are seeing npcs wander around everywhere,doing various stuff.So how long before we see them do complete day routines?So a guard would wake up,eat,dress in the uniform,patrol,go on a lunch break,go home,dress in civilian clothes,interact with the family,have dinner,go back to bed.

    And more importantly,how long before that gimmick would get old and boring?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I think the Elder Scrolls games have been exploring that space and provided the answer: It’ll never happen because that’s a lot of work to put into a system whose primary effect on the player is that half the time the player can’t find NPC Bob because he’s off following his daily schedule.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Witcher does have something like that however.And it is pretty frustrating when the merchant is sleeping somewhere.So such a level of frustrating realism is still possible.

    • Yeah, wasn’t Oblivion doing that? I mostly remember spending a lot of time with the console open so I could spawn the NPC I needed after looking for half an hour and getting bored.

      The only way I’d be okay with it in an game where I can’t use the console is if I can call/magically contact the NPC remotely to turn in the quest/get the next one/get the info I need/whatever.

    • Kai von Eggenburg says:

      Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which is currently in Beta, will have this to some extent. Not as detailed as you described, though, I suppose.

    • Syal says:

      Deadly Premonition has you covered.

    • silver Harloe says:

      Didn’t Ultima do this already in the 90s? Around U6 or U7?

  24. Christopher says:

    You folks would make the worst Mario game and the best EA open world convention.

  25. Ninety-Three says:

    Hey Shamus, apropos of nothing discussed in this podcast, when you play Factorio, do you suggest playing it on peaceful mode? I’m not a fan of Minecraft peaceful mode, but the more RTSy nature of Factorio makes it incredibly stressful for me. I’m forced to optimize in-game time due to the constant fear that enemy forces are building up and if I don’t tech right/fast enough they’ll destroy my base, or I’ll run out of iron making bullets to fend off the constant waves.

    I don’t know how important the monsters are to the experience, so I’m hesitant to just turn them off for fear that it would make the game unfun (sort of like how playing Starcraft on “Peaceful mode” would be a poor experience not intended by the devs). And that brings me to this question. What do you think?

    • Shamus says:

      I don’t know what to think of the monsters in that game. They’re incredibly unreliable. Some games you’ll have several nests nearby and they’ll hound you constantly. Other times they will never attack. It sucks being harassed when you’re just trying to get a base going, and it also really sucks to build glorious fortifications for foes that never come. So I just turn them off and focus on base building.

      Factorio has enough complexity that it keeps me engaged without the fighting.

  26. Grimwear says:

    As someone who has only ever seen the movies and never read the books, people constantly go on about Tolkien elves but rarely do I hear about dwarves. Not knowing how faithful the movies are, it seems to me that Tolkien had some disdain for the dwarves. Aside from Gimli we never see the dwarves accomplish much. In Moria they’re all dead and they never fight to help save the world. In the Hobbit when they show the battle against the white orc we see the dwarf army getting massacred and then even after the tide has turned and the dwarves emerge victorious we see no celebration but rather the dwarves still having lost since there are barely any left alive. Couple that with them being mowed down by Smaug when losing their home, their insatiable greed and insanity, and their isolationism and apparent disdain for other races and it makes me wonder if Tolkien was simply dismissive of them? The elves may come across as haughty but as Shamus states there are valid reasons for that. Is it the same with dwarves or is it simply a matter of making them more gruff and rough lends to them distrusting other races?

    • Mike S. says:

      Jackson’s treatment of the Dwarves is pretty unlike Tolkien’s. But the Elves were central to Tolkien’s myth. He spent decades writing about the great struggle between the Elves and the first Dark Lord before he ever thought the word “Hobbit”.

      The Dwarves were by comparison a side matter, with only a couple of major appearances (as antagonists) in the First Age epic before they become foils for Bilbo in “The Hobbit”. And in that book, the only one who’s fully a character is Thorin, while the others are largely there to be rescued by Bilbo or complain that he’s not being a good enough burglar for them.

      Gimli is a serious and heroic character in The Lord of the Rings (vs being comic relief in the Jackson movie). There we start to get a sense of the Dwarves as a people who love beauty and not just wealth, who built Moria when it was a glorious city and not an orc and Balrog-haunted ruin, who form a bulwark in the North against Sauron’s ambitions there. And because Tolkien was compulsive about that sort of thing, he proceeded to fill in their whole history from their creation (itself outside the main divine plan) on.

      But it’s still a history that was (internal to the story) recorded by Elves, Men, and Hobbits, and the Dwarves (who are modeled a fair amount on their Norse antecedents) are secretive and apart, reluctant even to share their language with others. It’s not really disdain– Tolkien clearly loved the Northern stories from which he drew them. But the stories are almost never really about them.

      • Didn’t the elves sorta accidentally wipe out an entire tribe/subspecies of dwarves because they didn’t realize they were sentient? I vaguely remember that but I’m not sure where I’m remembering it from.

        • Mike S. says:

          Near enough. The petty-Dwarves were at origin exiles from the Dwarf cities to the east, and by the time they encountered the Elves they were smaller in stature and had lost a lot of their smithcraft. The Elves thought they were animals, and hunted the petty-Dwarves till they later made contact with those cities, and realized their mistake.

          The petty-Dwarves weren’t extinct at that point, but their numbers continued to shrink, until the last three were killed by walking tragedy Turin Turambar and his men. (Who at least weren’t Elves, for whatever that might have been worth.)

          (The same pattern shows up later, with the tribal Pukel-Men led by Ghan-buri-ghan complaining that the Rohirrim hunt them like beasts; he demands that they stop in exchange for aid. Tolkien, as an anti-Imperialist Little Englander born in South Africa, clearly had Views about mistreatment of aboriginals, and it’s at least interesting that it’s an evil his overall good guys fall into more than once.)

    • Felblood says:

      One thing the movies gloss over is that Thorin and his family aren’t plagued by greed and insanity just becasue “dwarves are greedy lunatics,” rather this is Sauron’s doing.

      See, Thorin’s grandfather was a ring wielder. Dwarves are too tough and earthy to be turned into wraiths (unlike the children of Iluvatar), so the Shadow had to find another way to corrupt them. As the children of the crafting god Dwarves love crafting building, so the rings twist this into a greed for raw materials and a desire for empire. The ruling families of each of the Seven Houses are all cursed with this taint.

      The Dwarves were actually one of Tolkien’s favorite races. He loved them for their outsider/underdog status, coupled with their fierce pride and loyalty. In many ways he modeled them after his conception of the Jews, a people who he greatly admired. Everything from their tri-consonant language, to their fixation with family trees*, to their status as exiles living among other people who mistrust them, while pining for their lost homelands, is modeled on his perception of Jewish culture. The friendship between Gimli and Legolas is a mark of his belief that a Jewish presence enriches the surrounding culture, even, or perhaps becasue, they choose to remain apart from it.

      *Durin I, who built the mines of Moria and the halls of Kazad-Dum, was forged from ores and gems by the crafting god, so the religious significance of tracing their lineage back to their creation myth is another good example, which was a bit too clunky to fit in-line.

  27. Nidokoenig says:

    The idea of push button, receive sex mods reminds me of a prostitution mod for Morrowind. You’d talk to an NPC, and get a dialogue option to use on other NPCs that made the screen fade to black and drained their fatigue so they’d fall down, and you’d get a paragraph of flavour text. You got money based on your charisma and mercantile stats, and possibly an STD that was trivial to heal. After playing it for a bit, I made a mod that detected if the player was playing a child race because that seemed like a really good idea for a resource.

  28. Deadpool says:

    Okay, so I’ve read a lot about his discussion and I feel like I’m missing something here…

    So the big talk has been about this Puppies movement and why they did things but I have no idea HOW. Maybe I’m just an idiot who doesn’t understand how rewards work but…

    How did a handful of people take over the awards ceremony like this? What’s a “slate”? What was the loophole used here?

    Maybe it’s a weird thing to focus on, but I do hate not understanding things…

    • Daimbert says:

      The general idea behind the nominations was that each person would nominate independently based on what they like, and then the sum total of what was nominated — and therefore, what most of the members liked best — would be on the ballot, and then people would vote based on which of those they liked the best. The idea of a “slate” is a recommendation to get people to all nominate the same way to get certain books on the ballot. As long as you’ve paid your membership dues, you are allowed to nominate, even if you, say, haven’t even read the work you’re nominating. The overall idea here is that the Puppies aren’t nominating on the basis of quality, but on the basis of political motivation, and because they are all following the same set of nominations they can overwhelm the process, as most of those who don’t like those works or don’t like the politics angle are going to vote for a broader and more diverse set of works. Thus, the works that get nominated are the ones that this significant minority all agree to vote for on the slate, and without a similar slate approach that can’t be opposed.

      The counter to this is that many of the same people complaining about this posted recommendation lists, and that the slates are no more than that. Essentially, the reply from the Puppies is that this is what their side was already doing informally — both in nominations and in votes — and so their only objection is that they’re losing. There’s some reason to think that that might be the case, as for example in the voting last year there was a concerted “No Award” movement, and lo and behold a number of categories had “No Award” winning over some works that were probably better than that but were on the Puppy slate. For example, the latest Dresden Files novel.

      It’s stuff like this that makes me wish I had the time to write myself.Then I could read and re-read my own works and ignore all of this crap. I picked a bad time to start trying to read new works instead of digging through my old boxes again …

      • Thomas says:

        The impact of a recommended list is a lot lower though because it doesn’t have the same call to action. You buy into the idea of voting for everything on a slate whereas recommended is more explicitly suggesting you take your own preferences into account.

        You can see this because the Sad Puppies switched from a slate to a recommended reading list this year and few of their choices ended up getting nominated, whereas the Rabid Puppies went with a slate and got 79% of all Hugo nominations.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rabid Puppies had more motivated support because they’re a bit more radical, but I don’t think that accounts for all the difference.

    • Xapi says:

      The nominations come from an open vote.

      The Puppies considered that certain types of works where being left aside while other types of works where being disproportionally favoured by the “concensus”.

      So the basically organized to “turn out the vote” for a number of works that fit what they believed was being left out. By organizing, campaigning, making the election “about” something and making the “Slates” (IE: Lists of works that the Puppies’ organizer approved of and wanted people to vote for) they were able to get most if not all of their intended nominees a nomination. In some cases I think they were even able to take all the nominee spots for a given award.

    • Mark says:

      Just to add some mechanics and numbers to the other answers, that the nomination stage allows everyone to nominate 5 items in each category with absolutely no restrictions, no longlist, so for example in “Short Story” people are choosing from every short published in the year, adding up to several hundred to choose from in just from the major magazines and anthologies.
      The result of this is that nominations are incredibly spread out, with successful nominees still getting quite low percentages of the vote – in Short Story, that might be only 5-10% of the vote, although it gets better in categories like Novel. The result of this is if you can concentrate 15%-20% of the vote to name the same 5 (aka a slate), you can overwhelm the other 80% in many categories.

      This vulnerability gets fixed in the final voting stage, when it’s a set of 5 finalists that you rank. At that point the 80% are back in the driving seat, and the choices of the 20% do badly.

      There’s an option in the final to vote for “No Award” as if it was a finalist. If enough people choose it then there is literally no award. It gets ranked like the other finalists in the results so you can see how many people put No Award above you. It’s possible that the Fan Writer results this year will look something like 1) Mike Glyer 2) No Award 3) Shamus Young 4) ….

      • Mike S. says:

        The result of this is that nominations are incredibly spread out, with successful nominees still getting quite low percentages of the vote – in Short Story, that might be only 5-10% of the vote, although it gets better in categories like Novel.

        And to expand, it has to be at least 5% to be nominated at all. A couple of years ago, there were only four (IIRC) short stories on the ballot because only that many managed to garner that many nominations. Which reflects the small numbers nominating in those categories and the relative lack of clear candidates. (Which explains why any coordinated effort is potentially effective.)

        If I were King, I’d consolidate the shorter works into a single category. Short fiction is divided up into multiple categories in large part because it was the beating heart of the genre in the magazine era, at a time when novels were nearly epiphenomenal. (If they were published as books at all, it was after serialization in the same pulps.) Now novels are central, and while there are more short story fora than there were a couple of decades ago thanks to the net, they’re not all that widely read even among the Worldcon membership demographic.

        But the Hugo rules are (I think rightly) difficult to change, requiring approval by whichever attending members are willing to get up in the morning to participate in the business meeting at two separate Worldcons. So there are fifteen slots available for short fiction that most of the electorate aren’t reading much of (at least till they get their Hugo packet), or really talking about enough to develop consensus about what’s great.

        (I was on a Google+ group with a fairly large membership specifically set up to come up with possible suggestions for reading, and I’m not sure enough individual stories were named by the members to fill the slots once. )

        I was only able to come up with one novella, two novelettes, and four short stories I liked well enough to nominate. (None but the first made it onto the ballot, so clearly not consensus favorites for the most part.) By comparison, the Retro-Hugos, for works from 1940, were much easier for shorts. (But I could think of only two novels to nominate.)

  29. SyrusRayne says:

    My 80 million dollar Spoiler Warning Game:

    Sci-fi space-wrestle game. Main character is a retired superstar interstellar wrestler (probably a woman wrestler) who winds up way out of her league when the galaxy is faced with an extra-galactic race of musclemen and musclewomen who are completely immune to all known weaponry (due to sciencemagic technoshields) save for sick wrestling moves (because cultural reasons that could be explored? Maybe they modeled their society on ancient Earth wrestling broadcasts) and is therefore the galaxy’s only hope. Polished, fluid, fun wrestling (maybe sort of Arkham style but more wrestle-y obviously). Sweeping alien vistas that you can visit and explore and wrestle up. Deep character customization via costumes and styles and attitude. Face and Heel rather than Renegon bullshit (work this into the combat system? Heel characters could fight dirty!) Many potential relationships across the spectrum, including gay and poly. Conceit would allow for boss-fights, too. Tougher enemies and gimmick matches, that sort of thing.

    Shamus can have his internally consistent sci-fi, Mumbles gets wrestling and romance (and probably Garrus’s VA), Rutskarn can do the humorous writing. Everybody wins! Except for Josh and Chris. They can have things too if they want.

  30. Cuthalion says:

    I just listened today and wanted to chime in to say that I really enjoyed the discussion on Elves, worldbuilding, and xenopsychology.

  31. Nate Winchester says:

    Congrats Shamus. I’d vote for you for your mass effect series of posts alone.

  32. I note that the links you recommend link only to sites unfriendly to one side of the controversy.

    In the interest in fairness and balance, allow me to suggest, if I may do so without violating your wise no-politics rule, a primer on Sad Puppies from the Puppy point of view, and let the reader decide.

    http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/05/suggested-reading-for-sad-puppy-backstory/

    click here

  33. stratigo says:

    I want to note, for fighting monsters, you want a spear/pike/halberd/any other sort of polearm over a sword. Just like pretty much every fight ever.

  34. Zak McKracken says:

    It just occurred to me that the length of this comment section (and the rapid growth of the one below the “no politics” post is an extremely good practical example of why allowing politics in the comments (or getting into them in posts) would just lead to mayhem.

    Even though the topic just barely touches the issues, and even though most commenters here know better than to jump into a flame war, just being close to the topic excites people enough to generate so much content I’m feeling a bit sorry for Shamus who’s actually reading all of these impromptu essays. Including mine. Sorry.

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