Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"I Thought I Was Alone": Thoughts on Sense8

You could probably run an interesting poll among genre fans to see which ones find the elevator-pitch description for Netflix's new show Sense8--a globe-spanning genre series from the minds of the Wachowski siblings and J. Michael Straczynski--an immediate selling point, and which ones see it as a reason to stay away.  I have to admit that I'm in the latter group. The involvement of the Wachowskis, whose recent work has vacillated between glorious messes (Cloud Atlas) and tedious ones (Jupiter Ascending) was cause for some concern, if also no small amount of curiosity.  But Straczynski, best-known for the formally innovative but cliché-ridden and self-satisfied Babylon 5, gave me some genuine pause.  It was some time before I could bring myself to get past my expectation of long-winded speeches and juvenile cod-philosophy and give the show a try.  I can't exactly say that Sense8 defied these lowered expectations.  It is a mess, and it is cliché-ridden.  But it's also not at all the sort of show I would have expected from Straczynski (whose input into the show's plot and central ideas is actually quite hard to discern) or even the Wachowskis (whose frequent preoccupations, for example from Cloud Atlas, appear here, but in very different ways than what I'm used to seeing from them).  Sense8 isn't exactly a good show, but it is an interesting and unusual one, and in ways that make it extremely worth watching.

Sense8 focuses on eight characters: Will, a Chicago cop (Brian J. Smith); Nomi, a transgender blogger and hacktivist in San Francisco (Jamie Clayton); Lito, a closeted matinee idol in Mexico City (Miguel Ángel Silvestre); Capheus, a bus driver from a Nairobi slum (Aml Ameen); Sun, a Korean businesswoman who moonlights in Seoul's underground boxing scene (Doona Bae); Kala, a chemist from Mumbai (Tina Desai); Wolfgang, a German criminal (Max Riemelt); and Riley, an Icelandic DJ working in London (Tuppence Middleton).  As the series opens, they begin to experience shared dreams and hallucinations, and to feel each other's emotions and physical sensations.  A mysterious stranger called Jonas (Naveen Andrews) informs them that they are a "sensate cluster"--eight individuals who are part of a single self, an alternate form of humanity that has existed, hidden, for millennia.  The discovery of their shared connection both interferes and aids in the various dramas going on in the characters' lives--Kala is conflicted about her upcoming marriage to a rich man whom she doesn't love; Capheus is desperate to get money with which to buy medicine for his HIV-positive mother; Sun is being pressured by her father and brother to take responsibility for the latter's embezzlement in order to save the family business.  At the same time, the cluster's awakening draws the attention of a sinister figure known as Whispers (Terrence Mann), who, aided by the authorities, seeks to hunt them down and subject them to personality-destroying brain surgery.

While watching Sense8, I found myself comparing it to Orphan Black, another present-set technothriller about a group of disparate strangers who are forced to band together due to a quirk of their biology.  The two shows share a slapdash approach to plotting, and a tendency to rely on broad stereotypes when drawing their main characters (of course Capheus's mother has HIV; of course Sun is a martial arts expert).  They also share the choice to build their storytelling around a central gimmick.  On Orphan Black, this is the fact that most of the show's characters are played by the same actress, who often performs opposite herself--an intimate device, whose success is measured by its failure to call attention to itself (how many times in the show's recently concluded season have I caught myself thinking "wow, Sarah really reminded me of Alison in that scene"?).  Sense8, on the other hand, goes large.  Its defining gimmick is the rapid intercutting between several vividly and beautifully shot locations (the show was filmed in Chicago, San Francisco, London, Reykjavik, Nairobi, Seoul, Mumbai, Berlin, and Mexico City, with different directors--including the Wachowskis and their Cloud Atlas collaborator Tom Tykwer--taking over directing duties in each location).

The logistics of this project were obviously enormously complex--because the connection between the characters allows them to appear to each other and even take over each other's bodies, the entire cast had to be present in each location, and many scenes had to be shot multiple times with different actors playing the lead each time.  As it is on Orphan Black, however, the result is more than just an impressive technical accomplishment.  The visual device at the heart of Sense8 helps to drive home the show's central theme of interconnectedness.  Its shifting between multiple, gorgeous locations contributes to the epic feeling of the story (even as the story itself lags in validating such pretensions).  Whatever else it is, Sense8 is never boring to watch.

It is perhaps for this reason that the weakness of Sense8's plot(s) doesn't really register.  None of the individual characters' stories are particularly engrossing in themselves, and some are barely stories at all--Kala, for example, could call off her wedding in an instant; the only reason she doesn't is an increasingly inexplicable unwillingness to hurt her fiancé's feelings and disappoint her ecstatic but ultimately supportive family.  Meanwhile, the thriller plot that surrounds Whispers's pursuit of the cluster is barely developed, even by the end of the first season's twelve hours.  (One of the few Straczynski-esque touches to the show is that he has announced that he has a five-year plan for the story, with the final episode already mapped out, perhaps explaining the first season's slowness.  This should also give prospective viewers pause, given how lukewarm the show's critical and commercial reception has been.  Netflix might give Sense8 a second season, but there's no way it'll give it another four.)  A season into the show, it's hard to say that very much has happened on it, for all its frenetic switching between storylines and repeated reaching for a sense of grandeur and portent.

And yet, Sense8 remains one of the most effortlessly watchable shows I've seen in a while, its twelve hours passing almost in a flash.  (It's interesting, for example, to contrast the show with Daredevil, whose plot problems were comparatively negligible, but whose final episodes were nevertheless a slog in comparison.)  The reason for this is clear--it's not just that if any one plotline bores you, another is sure to cut in, but that the characters from the different plotlines are constantly interfering with each other in unexpected and frequently amusing ways, involving, for example, Wolfgang's crime drama with Kala's domestic dilemma and Lito's identity crisis.  And, of course, if none of those can hold your interests, there's always a gunfight, a dance number, a car chase, a karaoke performance, or several very explicit (but decidedly non-prurient) sex scenes to look forward to.

Again like Orphan Black, Sense8 pretends to be about issues of personhood and identity, but doesn't really have much to say about them.  Just as it isn't actually believable that all of Tatiana Maslany's characters have exactly the same genetic potential, we never really buy that all of Sense8's leads are part of the same person.  (This, incidentally, makes it easier to accept that four of the cluster's members--Wolfgang and Kala, and Will and Riley--become romantic couples, which we'd otherwise have to read as not much different from masturbation.)  And just as Orphan Black uses an SFnal trope that it isn't really interested in to reflect on the issues that are at its heart--namely, female bodily autonomy and the way that it is often violated by scientific, government, and military interests--Sense8 uses the connection between its characters to reflect not on unity, but on empathy.

Being linked to one another doesn't mean that the cluster immediately knows everything about each other (in fact the season's only completed throughline involves getting to the bottom of the trauma that has left Riley so fragile and prone to self-harm).  Rather, it gives them the opportunity to get to know one another, despite their different circumstances and the distances separating them.  The best scenes in the series are the ones in which the characters simply sit and talk about their lives and histories, and through that talking, discover new things about themselves--when Nomi explains to Lito how she found the courage to be true to herself, or when Capheus helps Sun choose whether to sacrifice herself for her family.  The sensate connection becomes a metaphor for the power of empathy, kindness, and open-mindedness to overcome barriers of language, nationality, and geography, and to allow people--some of whom are disadvantaged by gender, race, sexuality, or class--to help each other, pooling their strengths, skills, and advantages and becoming a more resilient whole.  "I thought I was alone," Riley says to Sun, and this is clearly true of all the show's characters.  But together, they find companionship and solace even in their darkest, loneliest moments.

The only problem with this message is that you don't really need to watch twelve hours of Sense8 to grasp it.  That this is what the show is driving at is obvious already from its trailer, or a random gifset on tumblr.  What the show amounts to, then, is a lot of embroidering around this theme, not all of which serves it well.  It's one thing, for example, for Jonas to tell Will that ordinary humans' lack of connection makes them better killers, but when Capheus calls on Sun's help when one gangster is about to force him to kill another gangster, and she coolly slices her way through a dozen of the first gangster's henchmen, the show's messages can start to seem a little mixed.  And though the show clearly has a commitment to issues of social justice, and particularly the positive representation of queer characters and relationships, it also has some odd blind spots--as when Will, a white man, saves the life of a black teenage criminal, only to have his partner, a nurse, and a retired cop, all of whom are people of color, express the belief that doing so was wrong because the boy might grow up to kill cops.  Or the subplot in which Lito and his boyfriend Hernando's (Alfonso Herrera) life is invaded by Lito's unwitting beard Daniela (Eréndira Ibarra), who first sexually harasses Lito, and then, when she finds out about Hernando, immediately assumes that he and Lito are her new gay BFFs, exclaiming "I love gay porn!" and taking illicit pictures of them having sex, all of which is treated as cute rather than offensive and invasive.

Despite its forays into clichés and offensive tropes, one of the things that helps sell Sense8 as an exploration of interconnectedness and empathy is the breadth of its world.  The show is set in eight different countries and cultures, and though obviously I can't say how true any of its depictions of those cultures are (and in fact I suspect, given how frequently it plumps for stereotypes, that these depictions are flawed at best), what does ring true is the sense of their difference from each other, and from what we're used to seeing on American TV.  To watch Sense8 is to gain a greater appreciation for how narrow the cultural landscape that appears in most anglophone entertainment actually is--especially when those entertainments depict non-anglophone cultures.  How many other shows, for example, would set a scene in the Diego Rivera museum, the better for their characters to explain to each other Rivera's Marxist sympathies, and how these were betrayed by subsequent generations looking to monetize his heritage?  How many acknowledge the existence of streams of Christianity such as Russian Orthodoxy, Wolfgang's religion, or are capable of imagining an intersection of faith, secularism, and religious fanaticism that is completely different from how those forces interact in American culture, as Sense8 does in Kala's storyline?

There's certainly room to criticize Sense8--as others have already done--for fictionalizing its settings, and for often remaining trapped in a stereotypical, American perspective on them.  But to me that criticism is incomplete.  It ignores the fact that, alongside some obvious stereotypes, many scenes in Sense8 feature cultural touchstones that are obvious to the characters and to other people from their culture, but opaque to us.  When we flash back to Lito's birth, we see his family crowded around the TV watching a soap opera.  Nomi and her girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman) attend a dance/spoken word performance about the ravages of the AIDS crisis.  Wolfgang meets a buyer for his stolen diamonds in a maze of concrete columns.  It's left to the observant or obsessive viewer to work out that these are, respectively, the finale of Cuna de Lobos, the most successful soap opera on Mexican TV, a real performance piece by Sean Dorsey, and the Berlin Holocaust memorial.  Even a viewer who doesn't pick up on these details, however, will take away from Sense8 the message that not everyone's cultural landscape looks the way it does on American TV.  That other historical events, religious observances, and cultural milestones might loom largest for people from other parts of the globe.

If you take a look at the current state of genre TV--almost all of which is dominated by superheroes or stories that don't veer very far from that template--a dispiriting picture begins to emerge.  Thoughtless power fantasies abound.  Stories that are supposedly about justice and protecting the weak only lightly conceal a might-is-right message.  Agents of SHIELD took a premise that could have been used to reflect on the seductiveness of ungoverned, unaccountable power and the ease with which it is abused, and turned it into a ratification of the fascist worldview.  The main character of the supposedly sunny and grimdark-free The Flash illegally imprisons the people he defeats without trial, legal recourse, or any hope of release, and his only comeuppance is to be praised for not killing them outright.  In this climate, Sense8, for all its flaws, feels utterly essential.  For a genre story to center empathy, compassion, and understanding, even in ways that are imperfect, is almost revolutionary.  So while Sense8, as I've said, isn't exactly good TV, it's so different--and in ways that so sharply reveal the shortcomings of our current genre landscape--that I have no hesitation in recommending it.  It's not surprising that the show hasn't enjoyed the critical and commercial success that Daredevil has, but, precisely because it acts as a counterpoint to so many of the Marvel show's thoughtless assumptions, I hope that it's granted a second season.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ten

Today, July 14th 2015, marks the tenth anniversary of this blog's creation.

Just writing that down amazes me.  This is where I'm supposed to say that when I started this blog I had no idea that I'd still be keeping it up a decade later, but the truth is that Asking the Wrong Questions's longevity, in itself, doesn't surprise me.  I started this blog because I had things to say and nowhere to say them, because I felt unseen and unheard.  It answered, and still answers, a need that I don't ever anticipate being rid of.  What does surprised me is how much this blog has changed my life: the people I've met, on and offline, because of it; the projects that I was given the opportunity to participate in; the greater involvement in genre fandom, culminating in a Hugo nomination; and simply the realization that people from all over the world appreciate and have time for what I have to say.

Having said that, ten years is a huge stretch of time, and it's only natural to look back at them, and at the work that I've put into this blog during them, and ask whether they were worth it.  Just last week, Jonathan McCalmont posted one of his typically excellent musings on the state of online blogging and criticism, whose observations resonated very deeply with me as I prepared for this anniversary.  Blogging, as he pointed out and as many others have observed before him, is a dying medium.  With RSS being phased out, and with outward-facing platforms like LiveJournal giving way to inward-facing ones like tumblr, writers tend to congregate not in their own spaces but on commercially-owned websites.  Blogs that do survive do so by becoming, essentially, their own semi-commercial enterprises, providing endless new content, and responding immediately to the churn of the publishing and entertainment industries.  I've chosen not to take that path--and, to be clear, I'm not trying to claim that that choice makes me superior in any way, as it was made for entirely self-serving reasons; I have a job that pays a lot more than I'd earn as a freelance writer and which requires a lot of my time, and I'm not interested in constantly keeping up with the latest books and TV just so I can write about them.  But that choice has told in Asking the Wrong Questions's stats, especially over the last year, and it's hard not to look at those numbers and wonder whether I'm not slowly becoming a dinosaur.

When I started planning this post, I took a look through the blog's archives to see what its most-read posts were.  The top ten left me genuinely surprised:
I'm pleased with pretty much every entry on this list, but at the same time I think you'd have to work hard to come up with a selection that was less representative of the body of work I've amassed over the last ten years.  Half of these posts are film reviews, which I tend to jot down without much planning or forethought whenever I see a film that interests me (which isn't that often--I don't consider myself an avid film-watcher).  Of the four book reviews, two are of mainstream novels (albeit both with a genre slant), which is not what I think of as the focus of this blog at all.  There isn't a single TV review, probably the type of writing that I put the most thought and effort into (the top-ranked TV-related posts on this blog are Women and Horses, on the problems with nudity and sexual violence on Game of Thrones, and the review of the first season of The Legend of Korra, in thirteenth and fourteenth place respectively).

To be sure, this surprise isn't really a surprise.  That a review of a much-buzzed movie published in its opening week gets more eyeballs than a review of a not-very-famous novel published a year after its publication shouldn't surprise anyone.  The fact is that my guiding principle regarding what to write about has always been "do I have something to say about this?", where "this" could be Jane Austen, historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses, or a show about a small-town ballet school.  Again, that's a choice that is both entirely self-serving--I write to please myself, not an editor or my bank account--and which has impacted this blog's potential and reach.  The fact that the things I want to write about are not necessarily the things people most want to read about is a truism that, for the most part, doesn't bother me, but which I can't help but mull over as I sit down to sum up a decade's worth of work.

Something else that happened last week is that the film review site The Dissolve announced that it was shutting its doors.  Established by a coterie of former staffers of the wildly popular AV Club, The Dissolve's focus was on film, with an emphasis on less commercial work and more in-depth criticism.  As such, its failure doesn't come as much of a surprise--TV writing is a much easier sell in this online landscape than film writing, and if you're going to write about movies, choosing not to devote yourself exclusively to blockbuster genre fare (which The Dissolve also covered, but not as obsessively as other sites) is a dangerous proposition.  The Dissolve's writers made a choice, to write about the things that interested them rather than the things that a sufficiently large audience wanted to read about, and as a commercial site, there was a very simple metric for evaluating the viability of this approach, which the site ultimately failed to meet (this should not, of course, be taken as a criticism of The Dissolve, which featured some excellent writing, and whose contributors will surely go on to do great things).  In a way, I envy the finality of that judgment.  Asking the Wrong Questions is mine and mine alone.  Which means that no one can shut it down but myself, and that the amount of time and effort that I put into it are entirely up to me.  But it also means that it's up to me to decide whether this endeavor has been a success or a failure, and that's a tough determination to make.  I've done well, but not nearly as well as others, and perhaps not nearly as well as I could have.  What I have to show for ten years, hundreds of posts, and hundreds of thousands of words is valuable, but also utterly intangible.

As Jonathan writes, there is a plain and simple choice before anyone who sets themselves up as a writer and critic in this online economy.  You can run your own space on your own terms, or you can have a meaningful chance at real reach and influence.  Doing both is almost certainly not an option.  There are upsides and downsides to both choices, and at the end of the day the one I've made is the only one I could possibly have made.  But I think that there is a danger in writing to please only yourself that Jonathan doesn't touch on, which is that you can end up talking to yourself, spewing words onto the screen for no purpose but to get them out of your heard, expending your time and energy on something that doesn't mean anything to anyone but yourself.

I don't think I've done that with Asking the Wrong Questions.  I'm proud of the work I've done here.  I think that it has had value for people other than myself.  I'm deeply grateful to everyone who has read and commented and linked and said kind words about my writing.  But I also don't want to find myself, in ten years time, in the same place.  I'd like to find ways to make Asking the Wrong Questions more than what it is right now, and to explore projects beyond the reach of this blog.

Having said all that, this is still a birthday, and birthdays are an occasion for gifts.  As you may have already noticed, there is a new tab at the top of this page.  It contains e-books collecting my posts on a particular subject.  Right now there's only one, comprising my reviews of Iain M. Banks's science fiction novels (I'm indebted to Adam Roberts for the idea to do this).  I'm planning to add more in the future, and if you have ideas about which topics you'd like to see gathered up in this format, please let me know.  Once again, thank for reading along these last ten years (and if your just checking in now, there's a huge archive to explore, starting with my list of favorite posts on the right).  Despite the perhaps melancholy tone of this post, there's no real danger that I'll stop writing, or writing about precisely those things that interest me and which I have something to say about.  But I could not have done that if I didn't feel that there was someone on the other end reading along, and for being that someone, I am deeply grateful to you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The 2015 Hugo Awards: One Month Out

I had originally planned to write this post some time last month, and make it an analogue to the one I made when the Hugo voting period open--more information than commentary.  But then the seemingly impossible happened, and this year's Hugo clusterfuck managed to throw up yet more sound and fury.  I was so angry about this latest iteration that I couldn't really bear to talk about it until I'd cooled down just a little, which brings us to today.  If all you'd like is the facts--including instructions on how to vote for site selection for the 2017 Worldcon--click here to skip my thoughts.  If you'd like nothing better than yet more Hugo bloviating, read on.

  • To put it briefly, what got me so angry last month was that one of the US's largest SF publishers decided to carry water for bigots.  In early May, Tor creative director Irene Gallo posted a comment on her Facebook page calling the Sad and Rabid Puppies "racists and neo-Nazis."  This is, of course, as plain and simple a truth as saying that the sky is blue or that the Earth revolves around the sun (in case that were not already clear, here is Michael Z. Williamson, whose Wisdom From My Internet was secured a Best Related Work nomination by the Puppies, expounding some of his "wisdom" about the massacre at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston; as I've said in the past, if you feel that a goal is so worthy that it justifies standing next to bigots and hate groups to achieve it, you do not get to complain when you get tarred with the same brush as your compatriots).  Nevertheless, bigot-in-chief and generally horrible human being Vox Day saved a screenshot of Gallo's comment and, nearly a month later, on the SFWA's Nebula Award weekend, sent it to Tor complaining of prejudice against their readers and authors.  Tor, being a business, decided that discretion was the better part of valor, but instead of posting a statement saying that the opinions of employees do not reflect the company's, or even a simple apology, Tor publisher Tom Doherty published an open letter in which he repeats, word for word, the Puppy talking points.  (For some more discussions of this mess, there is some good commentary from Kameron Hurley, Martin Wisse, and Harry Connolly.)

    To the surprise of absolutely no one, this statement did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.  It enraged the portion of fandom who see the Puppies for the whiny, entitled brats that they are and their shitting over this year's Hugos for the terrorism that it is (a group that includes many Tor authors).  And it was, of course, insufficient for the Puppies, who immediately began calling for Gallo's dismissal and, later, for Tor to be boycotted.  It should be clear that I don't for a moment believe in the Puppies' indignation--this was clearly an attempt to hurt Tor, a company they identify with the left wing despite the fact that it publishes people like Orson Scott Card and John C. Wright (in the end, this will all turn out to be about Vox Day's hard-on for Scalzi, as so much of this clusterfuck probably is).  But this does not, in any way, excuse Tor's actions.  For Doherty to buy the Puppy party line--which has been thoroughly debunked so many times--indicates either that the publisher of a major genre imprint is unaware of the year's biggest news event within the genre, or that he's a political fellow traveler.  And the fact that Tor, which was so quick to respond to the outrage of a single bigot, has said nothing in response to the outrage of a huge swathe of fandom including many of their own authors (not even to the extent of closing the comments on Doherty's letter, which quickly became a toxic swamp of vileness and bigotry), speaks volumes about their priorities and how they see their audience.

    To be honest, this experience has left me more disgusted and enraged than even the original Puppy ballots.  I expect vile behavior from vile people.  I do not expect it from one of the genre's biggest publishers.  The fact that my opinion--and the opinion of so many other fans and readers--clearly does not matter as much to Tor as the opinion of Vox Day is not something that I feel inclined to forget or gloss over, and it has been dispiriting to see so many otherwise sensible people rally to Tor's defense, for example in response to Day's proposed boycott.  I'm not saying that I want to boycott Tor myself, but I don't feel that they should be rewarded either.  If Doherty's behavior teaches us anything, it's that Tor is, first and foremost, a business, and businesses only respond to one thing.  Treating them like family--as too much of fandom has been doing--is a mistake, because they will take advantage of your loyalty and then stab you in the back, as we've just seen.

  • Moving on to less infuriating topics, the other major Hugo-related development from the last month is the publication of the agenda for the Sasquan business meeting.  This is the occasion on which amendments to the Worldcon constitution are suggested and voted on.  Only people who actually attend the meeting are eligible to vote (it is, perhaps, worth talking about whether this should change), but several of the proposed amendments relating to the Hugos are worth considering.  The first is a proposal to add a new category, Best Saga (now amended to Best Series, but for the purposes of this discussion I find the old name more dramatic), for multi-volume works of over 300,000 words in total.  The original proposal suggested to "make room" for this new category by eliminating the Best Novelette category, but after some outraged reactions (including those pointing out that in making this swap, the Hugos would be introducing a category whose prospective nominees are more likely to be older white men in exchange for a category where younger, female, and non-white authors are more likely to be nominated) this segment of the suggestion was withdrawn.

    I find myself surprisingly conflicted about this suggestion.  I don't actually see any value in a Best Saga category--there surely aren't enough prospective nominees to justify handing it out every year, and if the Hugos can't make up their mind to add the long-mooted Best YA category, whose scope is much wider, then adding the Saga category feels almost like an insult to one of the genre's fastest-growing fields.  (I should say, I'm fairly lukewarm about the idea of a Best YA Hugo category in itself, but of the two proposals it seems clear to me which has more justification.)  On the other hand, if adding a Best Saga category keeps multi-volume works from being nominated as a single novel, I'm all for it.  Either way, I don't expect the Best Saga proposal to pass--the problems with how it defines a saga, and with the narrowness of its scope, are too obvious--but perhaps this would be a good opportunity to consider closing the loophole that allows fourteen novels by two authors published over thirty years to be nominated as a single work?

  • The second noteworthy and Hugo-related proposal on the business meeting agenda is "E Pluribus Hugo," a new system of vote-weighting painstakingly developed by the commenters at Making Light, and designed, they claim, to eliminate or at least minimize the effects of slate voting.  The whole thing is extremely technical, in the very best tradition of this fandom, and I don't really feel qualified to analyze the new system's faults and strengths.  The one advantage it has that seems obvious to me is that it does not require any change of behavior from voters, as other proposed anti-slate changes to the voting systems have done.  Despite the Puppies' claims, most Hugo nominators do not vote tactically, and E Pluribus Hugo still allows you to simply list your favorite works in every category.  For a more rigorous examination of the system, see Nicholas Whyte, who applies it to several of the previous years' ballots to see what, if any, effect it had.

  • It should be noted that E Pluribus Hugo is not the only anti-slate proposal on the business meeting agenda, and that no one, as far as I know, has discussed the potential effects if more than one of these proposals is adopted.  One thing that the last few months' furious discussion about how to fix the Hugos has clarified to me is that I do not like this piecemeal way of amending and updating them--especially given that only a small number of Worldcon members are able and willing to attend the business meeting and thus to vote on these proposals.  It would seem to make more sense for the WSFS to appoint a committee to redesign the Hugos, taking suggestions and proposing a revised slate of categories and voting system, which will be commented on and finally voted on by the membership.  There does not, however, appear to be much willingness to take this approach.

  • One last comment before we get to the dry stuff: an interesting Facebook comment that floated around last month, discussing Brad Torgersen's motives for taking on the Sad Puppy ballot this year.  If, like me, you've been wondering how Torgersen could spew such ridiculous inanities--about how SF never used to be political, and these days you can't trust the cover of a book to tell you what it's about--this comment implies that he never actually believed in any of them, and that the entire Puppy campaign was little more than a cynical publicity stunt.  I hope he's happy with the results.

  • And now, to the technicalities.  The deadline for voting for the winners of the 2015 Hugo awards is July 31st 2015, 11:59 PM PDT.  You are eligible to vote if you are an attending or supporting member of Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon.  If you are a member, you should have been sent an email with your membership number and PIN, which are necessary to fill out your electronic ballot.  If you haven't received this information, you can request it here.  If you are not a member of Sasquan, you can become one here.  Members of the Worldcon are able to download the Hugo Voter Packet, which includes many of the nominated works, and samples of work by many of the nominated individuals.

  • Supporting and attending members of Sasquan are also eligible to vote in the site selection ballot, which determines where the 2017 Worldcon will be held.  One of the competing bids this year is for Helsinki, and I personally will be very happy to see the Worldcon come to Finland.  I have supported Helsinki in my ballot, but you should also take a look at the competing bids from DC, Montreal, and Japan.

    Voting for site selection is a bit technical, so I've included a step by step guide.  If there are any more necessary clarifications (or if I've gotten something wrong) please let me know in the comments.

    • What you'll need: an attending or supporting membership in Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon; an email account; a credit card; a printer; a scanner; a pen.

    1. Locate your membership number.  It should appear in the Sasquan email in which you received your PIN.  If not, this page has a handy lookup tool.

    2. On the same page, use your credit card to pay the site selection fee of $40.  This fee will be converted into a supporting membership of the 2017 Worldcon, no matter which bid ends up winning.

    3. Upon completing your payment, you should receive a confirmation email containing a voting token, a string of numbers unique to your payment.  You'll need this token to vote.

    4. Print out the voting ballot and fill it in by hand.  In the segment regarding payment, check the line "I have paid my Worldcon 2017 voting fee on the Sasquan website" and write in your voting token number.  You will also need to write in your membership number.  Rank the competing bids in order of preference, as you would do on the Hugo ballot.  You do not have to rank all bids.

    5. Scan the filled-in voting ballot and save it as a PDF file.  Email this file to ballot2017siteselection@sasquan.org.  So far it does not seem that the site selection email sends confirmations, which is a shame.  Your ballot will be printed out and added to physical ballots received at Sasquan.  If you prefer and are able to, you can send your ballot to someone who will be attending Sasquan to print out and hand-deliver.  I believe that Helsinki 2017 was planning to offer this service (there will be a bid table at Sasquan so the people manning it could deliver ballots) but I haven't seen any information about this.  Ballots must be received by August 10th 2015, or delivered by hand at the convention.