Thoughts on Steven Universe

One of the things I love about the internet and social media is finding new things to geek out about. In the cartoon realm, last time it was Avatar: The Last Airbender. This time, in no small part because of Amal El-Mohtar and Sunil Patel, it was Steven Universe. I’m going to try to keep this post relatively spoiler-free, but no promises about the comments.

Steven Universe Characters

How to summarize this show… It’s fantasy that morphs into science fiction. It’s a team of superpowered women (the Crystal Gems) and the titular character Steven, who’s half-Gem, half-human. It’s got action and humor and music and surprisingly complex worldbuilding and relationships and character development. It’s a show that embraces diversity in multiple dimensions. It’s at times over-the-top goofy, and then turns around and delivers stories as emotionally powerful as just about anything else on television.

There’s plenty of action, an evil space empire, monsters of the week, and lots of pulpy SF/F-style goodness, including a full-on dystopic society, clone-type servants, spaceships, robots, swords, teleportation platforms, an altered Earth, etc.

It’s also subversive and refreshing, challenging assumptions about family and romance and friendship and trust and gender and sexuality and beauty and love and so much more.

So after ConFusion, I came home and binge-watched the available episodes, catching up to the mid-point of the second season. Here are some of the things about this show that make me happy…

Body Acceptance/Positivity:

Rose QuartzLet’s start with Rose Quartz, Steven’s mother. Rose was the leader of the Crystal Gems, who eventually fell in love with a human and gave up her physical form so Steven could be born/created. Not only is this woman portrayed as a warrior and the leader of the rebel Gems, she’s consistently treated as beautiful and beloved. Greg (Steven’s father) falls hard for her. The other Crystal Gems love her dearly. She’s beautiful, powerful, strong, and competent, and none of this is ever questions.

Then there are the rest of the Gems. Pearl is very slender. Amethyst is shorter and heavier. Steven himself is unapologetically plump. The whole show gives us a more realistic range of people’s shapes and sizes than anything else out there, and that’s never used as a source of cheap laughs. Every character is treated with respect for who they are, and every character is shown to be both strong and important to the team.

Crystal Gems

Race and Gender:

Sometimes people who argue that they’re “colorblind” about race will say something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, or purple.” It’s an obnoxious refrain, but it makes me wonder if the creators of the show deliberately decided to make the three Gems black, white, and purple. Steven and his father are white. Steven’s love interest Connie is Indian. (And also a pretty badass swordfighter and a great character in her own right.) Here are some of the secondary and background characters from the show:

Steven Universe Characters

As for gender, the show deliberately flips the usual script. Instead of a bunch of male Avengers and Black Widow, or a bunch of male Ninja Turtles and April, or a bunch of male Smurfs and Smurfette, we have a team of women and Steven. But the show goes deeper, challenging gender norms and roles on an ongoing basis. Steven is unashamedly emotional, celebrating and crying and running around with his feelings on his sleeve belly button gem. When Steven and Connie fuse (it’s a Gem thing), they form Stevonnie, who goes by gender-neutral they/them pronouns. Stevonnie is accepted for who they are. Garnet at one point describes them as “perfect.”

Love:

Garnet: I love youI love that these characters have so much love and respect and affection for one another. They still argue and butt heads and get angry at one another at times, but underneath it all is so much love and caring. Whether it’s everyone’s love and protectiveness for Steven, Steven’s love for…well, pretty much everyone and everything, Steven and Connie’s developing relationship, the wonderful dynamic between Steven and his father, the pain of Pearl’s love and memories about Rose, the perfection that is Ruby and Sapphire… I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but it just makes me happy to watch.

Also, did I mention the canonical same-sex relationship?

Ruby Sapphire

Other Thoughts:

  • Lots of good, fun music. My favorite is Garnet’s song, “Stronger Than You,” from the Season One finale. (Possible spoilers at that link.) But I like that music is just a part of their lives, particularly Steven with his ukulele, and Greg (Steven’s father), the former sort-of-pro musician.
  • The only episode I ended up stopping was the crossover with Uncle Grandpa. Though I loved the “our ship!” joke. Love a show that’s aware of fandom.
  • The writers do a great job thinking about the implications of different kinds of Gem technology and their society. The exploration of fusion for good and evil is particularly wonderful. And powerful. Garnet’s reaction to discovering homeworld had experimented with forcing Gem fragments to fuse without their consent…whoa.
  • Redemption arc! :-)
  • Watching Amethyst’s development and growth through flashbacks, particularly seeing her more feral aspects through Greg’s memories.
  • All of Pearl’s backstory and struggles and stumbles and growth and development. The more you learn about her character’s history and place in Gem society, the more amazing a character she becomes.
  • Plenty of silliness. I approve!

In Conclusion:

It’s an impressive feat of storytelling. Highly recommended.

For those who’ve seen it, what do you think? What do you love (or not love) about the show? What all have I missed here?

No, We’re Not All Disabled

ETA: SF Signal has removed the post and posted an apology.

ETA2: Casil has also posted an apology on her website.

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I’ve really appreciated the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column at SF Signal, but the most recent entry bugged me a lot.

We Are All Disabled,” by Amy Sterling Casil, strikes the wrong note for me right from the title. Because in neither the commonly-used nor the legal sense of the word are we all disabled.

I struggled a lot five years ago when we were meeting with the school about my son’s IEP, which included a goal of having him participate in activities with “non-disabled peers.” It felt like a punch to the gut. Through the gut, even. On the other hand, there are day-to-day tasks my son struggles with as a result of his autism. There are things his peers can do that he’s not yet able to. Some of those challenges are because our world and culture are set up for neurotypical people. But formally recognizing his struggles and challenges was the first step to helping him learn to overcome them. My son would not be getting the support he needs if the school system simply took the approach that we’re all disabled.

Everyone has limits and flaws, yes. That doesn’t mean everyone is disabled. Claiming otherwise dilutes both the terminology and our efforts to make the world more accessible to those with disabilities. Who needs accessibility policies if we’re all disabled?

Casil describes herself as empathetic, saying this is “a severe, lifelong disability that could have cost my life on several occasions.” I’m not familiar with the idea of being empathetic as a disability, so I’m hesitant to say too much until I’ve learned more. She says she sees more, and that being empathetic is like having “opposite of autism.” She goes on to talk about an encounter at a convention, where a member of the audience came up to ask her a question after a panel:

“Do you think they’ll come up with a cure for autism?” he asked.

“It’s possible,” I said. “A lot more likely than for something like Down Syndrome even though there is no single cause for autism.”

My son Anthony was born with Down Syndrome. This young chap would never know that, nor would he care if he knew.

I hope my son never feels this way. I think he’ll be able to be a wonderful father, if that’s what he wants. But it’s that last sentence that really made me stumble.

“Nor would he care if he knew.”

Why not? Because autistic people lack empathy?

Bullshit.

Autism is not the lack of empathy. I’ve watched my son cry over other people’s pain, both in real life and in fiction. I’ve read and spoken to other people with autism who clearly demonstrate empathy and caring. Why would you assume someone with autism wouldn’t care about your son’s condition?

Empathetic is not the opposite of autism. The myth that autistic people lack empathy or emotion is not only untrue, it’s actively harmful.

Casil continues:

The young man wouldn’t meet my eye. He said, “My wife and I both have autism. We want to have children but we don’t want them to have it.” Uncharacteristically for someone with autism, he touched my arm. He was so very frightened!

“There’s a reason God made autism,” I said. I had already come to believe this was true.

First of all, not all people with autism are averse to physical contact.

And while I don’t want to argue with anyone’s personal belief, as someone with diabetes and depression, please don’t ever try to tell me there’s a reason God gave me these conditions. It’s not helpful to me.

Obviously, autism is something that’s both personal and important to me. The way it’s referenced and described in this piece feels ignorant. Not deliberately so — I believe Casil has the best and noblest of intentions. But I wish it had been written with a better understanding and awareness of autism.

Later, Casil returns to the premise of the title, saying:

How can I possibly say we are all cripples? Compared to the reality of – not the universe – just our own planet and the interconnectedness that is life on Earth, the perceptions of even the fittest human are as limited as a blind albino cave salamander … When a physically able person sees someone in a wheelchair and feels “sorry” for them, they should consider the different perceptions that wheelchair enables them to have. They see and hear things those who stand and walk do not. They get to live a different life. Different, not less.

My wife has had so many knee surgeries I’ve lost count. She also has a degenerative spinal condition. Some of the different perceptions and experiences she gets to have are staying inside because she can’t take our dog for a walk in the winter anymore. Taking a ridiculous number of pills each day to help her function. Never getting a decent night’s sleep, due to chronic pain. Knowing that even something as simple as moving a coffee table to vacuum could put her in the emergency room.

Her disabilities are not a thing to be pitied, but they’re damn well not a blessing. Nor are the challenges she faces in any way equivalent to what a non-disabled person goes through in an average day.

I think I get some of what Casil was trying to say. I know and like her, and I’m not trying to attack her. I agree that pity isn’t a terribly helpful or productive response to someone in a wheelchair, and that we shouldn’t see people with disabilities as “lesser.” Likewise, empathy and understanding are important. Acknowledging and respecting other people’s feelings and experiences is important, and we desperately need to do better.

Unfortunately, by misrepresenting autism and trying to generalize everyone as “disabled,” I think this essay fails to recognize or respect people’s different experiences. Instead, it feels more like the essay erases many people with disabilities, as well as their challenges and needs.

And by arguing that we’re all disabled, I think it undermines the spirit and purpose of Special Needs in Strange Worlds.

Roundup of Revisionary Links

Some stuff that’s come out this week…

Right now, territorial restrictions make it difficult to get the book if you’re outside of North America. The publisher is working on expanding availability, but in the meantime, here are a few other options:

  • Book Depository: Offers free worldwide delivery of print books.
  • Wordery: Ditto.
  • ShopMate: This site was recommended on Facebook for Australian residents.

Finally, huge thanks to everyone who’s not only read the book, but been posting reviews at Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

Normal blogging should resume next week, once I recover from New Book Week.

From Russia with Love (and More than a Little Magic): Guest Post from Deborah Blake

Deborah Blake and I have been internet author friends for a while now, though we haven’t yet met in person. (Note to self: Meet Deborah Blake in person one of these days.) A year and a half ago, I read, enjoyed, and reviewed her first Baba Yaga book, Wickedly Dangerous. From the look of things, the paranormal romance series has been doing quite well, and yesterday marked the release of book three: Wickedly Powerful.

Jim, reading Wickedly PowerfulTo celebrate, we’re doing a blog swap today. I’m over at her place talking about…okay, I forget what I wrote my guest post about. And Deborah’s here discussing fairy tale retellings and how she developed the Baba Yaga books.

She’s also giving away an autographed copy of the new book. Just leave a comment, and we’ll pick a winner at random. It will look just like the book I’m reading here, but this one is mine. You’ll have to just win your own.

Or if that fails, you can pick up a copy at Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and the usual suspects. You can find Deborah on Twitter, Facebook, and at her website.

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Jim and I are book twins this week. His book REVISIONARY (the fourth and final installment in his fabulous Magic Ex Libris series) came out on the same day as my WICKEDLY POWERFUL, the third book in my Baba Yaga series. Since we are huge fans of each other’s work, we decided to swap blogs and talk about how wonderful the other one is. Er, and chat a bit about our own books, too.

Wickedly Powerful coverJim was, in fact, part of the inspiration for the Baba Yaga series, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned that particular fact to him (you know, in case he wanted a cut of the royalties). I’ve always loved updated fairy tales, and Jim is one of the authors I read who did a terrific job taking an old classic tale and making it into something completely original and not a little kick-ass.

When I decided to do something along those lines, though, some people had already used up most of the better known fairy tale characters, like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the rest. I decided to find a story that was a bit more obscure. And featured witches, because that’s kinda my thang. So my books are based on the Russian fairy tale witch, Baba Yaga.

Yeah, I know. A bunch of you just said, “WHO?” Hey—if everyone knew about her, I wouldn’t have been the first one to write new stories featuring her as the protagonist, now, would I?

The traditional Baba Yaga might seem to be an unlikely heroine (unless you asked her, I suspect). Although she had roots as an elemental goddess, by the time she became a tale to scare children into finishing their borscht, she had iron teeth and a long nose, lived in a wooden hut that ran around on giant chicken legs, flew through the forest in a mortar steered by a pestle, and kept such dubious company as a dragon named Chudo-Yudo, and three mysterious men called the White Rider, the Red Rider, and the Black Rider.

Seriously—what writer could resist playing with that kind of material? The stories even talked about the Baba Yaga’s sisters (also called Baba Yaga), which gave me the perfect opportunity to write a trilogy about three different characters, all with the same basic job—guard the door between our world and the magical Otherworld, keep the balance of nature, and occasionally (if it was absolutely unavoidable) come to the aid of a worthy seeker.

Of course, things like movable huts, flying kitchen implements, and dragons would probably stand out these days, so I had to update my Baba Yagas a bit. So instead of huts on chicken legs they have cool traveling houses. Barbara, the first Baba you meet (in WICKEDLY DANGEROUS) lives in an Airstream trailer. Beka (from WICKEDLY WONDERFUL) is more of a California hippy type, so she has a funky refurbished school bus. Whereas Bella, who is the protagonist of WICKEDLY POWERFUL, has a cool modern traveling caravan.

The dragons are disguised too, of course. Barbara’s Chudo-Yudo is a gigantic white pit bull, Beka’s is an oversized black Newfoundland, and this time around (at the insistence of my five cats), Bella’s companion is a huge Norwegian Forest Cat. Mind you, no matter what form they take, you’re going to want to have some good fire insurance…

One of the things that drew me to Baba Yaga as a character was that even in the traditional stories, she wasn’t a “bad” witch or a “good” witch, as scary as she might have appeared. It all depended on how you approached her. If you are pure of heart and strong of will, she will almost certainly help you with your task. If you’re not, well, can you say ribbit?

Mind you, it’s not easy being a Baba Yaga. Poor Bella has this tiny problem with setting things on fire when she gets upset. Probably not the best issue to have when you are dealing with a mysterious arsonist and a flame-shy former Hotshots firefighter in the midst of a Wyoming national forest. Still, it’s all in a day’s work if you are a mystical, magical witch out of Russian fairy tales.

I loved reading fairy tales as a kid, and I’ve really enjoyed reading updated tales by authors such as Robin McKinley, Pamela Dean, Patricia McKillip, and oh, some guy named Jim Something or other. (Editor’s Note: That’s Jim C. Something or other, thank you very much!) I wanted to write my own books that would add something different to the genre, and maybe bring a little bit of magic to those who read them. You’ll have to let me know if I succeeded.

Thanks to Jim for letting me share release day with him. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new book called REVISIONARY to go read. If you’re curious to learn more about me or the Baba Yaga series, you can check me out at www.deborahblakeauthor.com or find me on Facebook or Twitter, usually talking about books, cats, or (on a good day) dragons.

Happy Revisionary Day!!!

Revisionary - Cover Art by Gene MollicaThe final Magic ex Libris book is out today. Revisionary brings to a close the four-book series that began back in 2012 with Libriomancer, and it’s weird and exciting and bittersweet and overwhelming and all those other adjectives.

Summary:

When Isaac Vainio helped to reveal magic to the world, he dreamed of a utopian future, a new millennium of magical prosperity. One year later, things aren’t going quite as he’d hoped.

An organization known as Vanguard, made up of magical creatures and ex-Porters, wants open war with the mundane world. Isaac’s own government is incarcerating “potential supernatural enemies” in prisons and internment camps. And Isaac finds himself targeted by all sides.

It’s a war that will soon envelop the world, and the key to victory may lie with Isaac himself, as he struggles to incorporate everything he’s learned into a new, more powerful form of libriomancy. Surrounded by betrayal and political intrigue, Isaac and a ragtag group of allies must evade pursuit both magical and mundane, expose a conspiracy by some of the most powerful people in the world, and find a path to a better future.

But what will that future cost Isaac and the ones he loves?

People Saying Nice Things:

“[E]xplores cultural and political concerns in a thoughtful manner, leaving the reader with more food for thought than perhaps one might expect. Hines avoids the pitfalls many writers would struggle to miss in the crafting of this excellent tale.” –RT Book Reviews

“I don’t think I can recommend this series enough, it’s some of the best urban fantasy available on the market today.” –The Arched Doorway

“Deeper thematic arguments and questions of political morality aside, Revisionary is an awful lot of fun. I personally really enjoyed the fact that Isaac spends most of the novel simply surrounded by competent women—what’s remarkable is just how much this novel treats this state of affairs as unremarkable. It’s not a big thing. It’s just a thing.” –Tor.com

“If you haven’t tried this series yet, I highly highly recommend that you do. It’s fun, it’s nerdy, and it sneaks up on you with the deeper topics when you’re not looking. I can’t wait to see what Jim C. Hines does next!” –Cannonball Read 8

Purchase Links:

Appearances:

Only one for this book. I’ll be at Schuler Books in Okemos on February 18 at 7 p.m.

Other Stuff:

Counting Down the Hours

One day left until Revisionary comes out, and I’m trying to get all my goblins in a row. The newsletter just went out a few minutes ago. (It looks like I may have messed up the HTML a little at the very end — sorry about that.) Then there’s blog post preparations and making updates to various websites and profiles and making sure my mouse-clicking finger is in shape for refreshing Amazon rankings…

Before I forget, I wanted to highlight a few of the other titles coming out this week.

Wickedly Powerful, by Deborah Blake Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold The Alchemy of Chaos, by Marshall Ryan Maresca I, Robot: To Preserve, by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Anything else coming out this month that you’re particularly excited to see?

Puppies, Redux

Last year, I did a roundup on the history of the Sad Puppies Hugo campaigns, focusing on what the leadership of the different puppy campaigns had actually said and done, as opposed to what was being said about them. What began with Larry Correia campaigning for a Hugo in year one turned into a full blown slate, with more explicitly political goals. Sad Puppies III last year also got tangled up with Theodore Beale’s Rabid Puppy campaign to promote himself and his publishing house, which resulted in the two puppy campaigns sweeping much of the ballot, and then losing to No Award as Hugo voters expressed their distaste for a) slates and b) the puppy-nominated material.

Sad Puppies 4:

Sad Puppies IV launched under the leadership of Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green, all of whom have officially recused themselves from the awards this year. Having read some of their commentary in the past, I was worried this meant we were in for another year of all-out war and nastiness. I’m happy to say that so far, I seem to have been wrong.

From the About page:

SP4 is all about MOAR! More voters. More votes. More people. We want to make the Hugos bigger and more representative of fandom as a whole, to bring people in rather than give them an asterisk that looks kind of wrong (especially beside the rocket) to try to drive the “interlopers” out.

So far, I’m more or less on board. I like the idea of getting more people involved in fandom and Worldcon and the awards. I worry that they’re starting out by dragging last year’s grudges into this year, and the belief that the asterisks were about trying to drive people out.

That paragraph continues:

SF is a big tent: we don’t want to kick out anyone, even writers of bad message fiction that makes puppies sad.

I guess it wouldn’t be a puppies campaign without a jab at “message fiction.” But overall, when you compare it to Brad Torgersen’s announcement post and comments from last year, the SP4 announcement is positively friendly and welcoming.

The Process:

SP4 has open threads to collect nomination recommendations, which will be tallied up and posted with the top ten or so works recommended in each category. They explicitly say “The List will not be a slate.” Which is good.

What’s less good is the follow-up.

If you want to see your favorite author receive a nomination and an award, your best bet will be to cast your nomination ballot for one of popular works on The List – provided you’ve read it and agree that it’s worth an award.

If they’d stopped at putting together recommendation lists, I’d be on board. Instead, they’re giving advice on how people should strategically cast their votes, and that advice is not to simply vote for your favorite works.

On the other hand, Paulk, Hoyt, and Green are keeping the threads and the process open. Whereas Torgersen last year dismissed Ann Leckie’s awards as “affirmative action,” Leckie’s name shows up with several nominations in the SP4 threads. I expect the SP4 recommendation list to still reflect the same sort of political and ideological leanings as in previous years, but that feels more like an effect of who’s still following and invested in the puppies, as opposed to deliberately mocking and attacking those with different political leanings like we’ve seen in previous years.

Other Players:

Theodore Beale’s Rabid Puppies campaign piggybacked on the work of the Sad Puppies last year. He’ll be releasing his Rabid Puppies slate soon.

“The Rabid Puppy List of Recommendations That Is Most Certainly Not a Slate, Much Less a Direct Order From the Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil will be posted in February.” (Source)

This means the rabid slate will be out before the Sad Puppy recommendation list (which will be out in early March). This could mean less overlap between the groups. I’ll be interested to see if this dilutes Beale’s influence this year.

SP4 leader Sarah Hoyt has an fascinating perspective on the relationship between the Sad and Rabid campaigns:

“They also don’t realize that Sad Puppies was the only thing PROTECTING them from Vox. I don’t know if we still are enough to protect them…” (Source)

Um … okay, sure. Thus far, Beale has taken his Rabid Puppies campaign to Goodreads to try to attack his Enemies with one-star reviews, a strategy carried out so cleverly that he immediately got himself and his group booted from Goodreads. He also ran a five-part series about SF/F and child molestation, in part as an excuse to bad-mouth his hate-crush John Scalzi again. I imagine he’ll be pushing this for Best Related Work.

Wile E. Coyote, Genius

Meanwhile, Beale’s darling Hugo nominee John C. Wright continues his reasonable and level-headed discussion of the conflicts.

“[T]he Thought Police of SocJus. Morlocks laugh their barbaric, harsh, ungainly laughter at facts. Appeals to justice and fairness they greet with dull, slow stares of open-mouthed incomprehension … They will never cease to abuse, demean, and insult us, and desecrate everything we love, and to slander and libel us with mouth-frothingly stupid and freakishly counterproductive lies … So, you had your chance with the Sad Puppies, Oh hypocrites, sons of vipers, Social-justice propagandists, socialists, christophobes, Morlocks and morons.” (Source)

Brad Torgersen has doubled down on his insults against “the other side” and his unsupported claims of vote manipulation, but I’m not sure how many people are paying attention now that he’s stepped out of the leadership spotlight.

“All is fair in love and war, and for the block-bombers and CHORFholers, this was absolutely a war. Before, it was a cold war — when they could treat the not-quite-good-enough-fans like shit, and nobody said or did much about it. Sad Puppies became an exercise in second-class citizenry demanding full participation and recognition, which caused the block-bombers — and the CHORFs, with their crybully accomplices — to launch not just a wide media slander campaign, but a deliberate destruction of the Hugos proper; in direct violation of their own stated principles.” (Source)

What feels encouraging to me is that Sad Puppies 4 seems to be less about this kind of frothing and ranting, and is focusing on collecting nominations instead of amplifying rants like Wright’s and Torgersen’s. I questioned whether it was even worth including them here, but decided to do so mostly for the contrast between them and Sad Puppies 4.

Predictions:

I don’t know for certain what’s going to happen this year. My personal opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that there’s been so much hatred and nastiness surrounding Sad Puppies that it’s all but impossible to run a “clean” recommendations list under that brand. That said, SP4 seems to be genuinely trying for openness and to escape last year’s nastiness. Props to the organizers for that, and I hope it continues.

Given everything that went down in 2015, I don’t expect the Sad and Rapid Puppy groups to have as much influence on the final ballot. I imagine they’ll get some nominees from their lists onto the ballot, but it won’t be the same kind of shutout we saw in 2015.

As for Beale specifically, I suspect he’ll continue to do whatever he believes will best promote himself and his work, and help him wallow in his grudges against Tor, SFWA, John Scalzi, etc. I also fully expect him to direct his minions to vote No Award for any and all of the final nominees he doesn’t like. I don’t expect this to work, but I expect him to try.

My Suggestions:

If you can, and if you want to, pick up a supporting or full membership to Worldcon, and then nominate stuff you think is awesome. (You must have that membership by today in order to nominate, by the way.)

Don’t be that guy who uncritically accepts the lies and fear-mongering to the point where you feel you have to carry a gun at Worldcon to protect yourself from SJWs.

If you want to recommend works for the SP4 lists, go for it. If you want to avoid them, that’s fine too. I would recommend avoiding the comments on the blog posts. Those can get pretty nasty and political, but it’s not being facilitated and encouraged by the SP4 leadership the way we saw last year, which is nice.

Basically, nominate what you love, and try not to let this year’s process cause as many ulcers as it did last year.

ETA:

Several people have asked whether it’s possible to escape the negativity and political baggage of previous Sad Puppy campaigns, and I think that’s a fair question. If the goal is truly just to broaden participation in the Hugo process in an inclusive and politically neutral way, why attach yourself to the Sad Puppy name at all?

I don’t have an answer. I suspect partly the desire to “broaden” Hugo participation comes from the perception of it being dominated by “the other side’s” stories and politics. Doing this as Sad Puppies 4 instead of an independent effort means a lot of the core SP supporters from previous years will be on board, which isn’t exactly a politically moderate crowd.

Alternately, it could be an effort at reclamation, to take Sad Puppies 4 and use it as a way to prove “not all puppies” are as over-the-top with their nastiness and hatred as Torgersen was last year.

I don’t know. Like I said, I’m happy to see the changes in how SP4 is going about everything this year. That’s not the same as saying I trust them. At this point, I mostly have a wait and see attitude. And I hope whatever happens, it won’t be as unpleasant as last year.

ConFusion Report

ConFusion has become one of my favorite conventions. I remember years ago talking to one of the volunteers about how they were working to make this one of the premiere literary SF/F conventions, deliberately seeking out and inviting more writers and professionals, and generally just doing a lot of long-term work to create something special.

As usual, I was lugging the camera around. This time, I forced myself to do everything in Manual mode — setting shutter speed, ISO, f-stop, white balance, etc. This was purely to help me learn more about what the camera can do. The resulting pictures — the ones that turned out — are on Flickr.

The convention is now at the point where a large group signing isn’t enough; they had to schedule two full-room autographing blocks, one after the other, in order to get to all of the writers.

Now, if you’re not there for the writers and the literary side of things, it might not be the convention for you, but I love it. It’s the one time each year I get to catch up with a lot of old friends, as well as meeting new people and people people I’ve only known online:

Amal el-Mohtar and Marko Kloos

Amal el-Mohtar and Marko Kloos

Natalie Luhrs

Natalie Luhrs

Navah Wolfe

Navah Wolfe

If you’re wondering about the crown and tiara, we all had them as part of our Princess panel, courtesy of Merrie Haskell.

I will say that as someone who’s on the more introverted side of the spectrum, I tended more toward the small groups than the huge mob of folks at the bar. That’s just a bit too much noise, and burns out my batteries faster than smaller groups and one-on-one chats. But I got to see and spend at least a little time with almost everyone I’d hoped to see, which is pretty darn good.

I also love that ConFusion is trying to make the convention more inclusive and welcoming to all. A couple of visible examples include designating service animal areas in the consuite, setting up unisex bathrooms, and setting up handicap-accessible seating and areas for wheelchairs and scooters.

Handicap seating

This isn’t to say that the convention is perfect. No con is. But from what I can see, ConFusion is listening and taking steps to do better each year. It makes me proud of Michigan fandom, and grateful to everyone working to put on the convention year after year.

Let’s see, what else…pretty much everyone I ran into commented on the beard. (Generally quite positively.) Professional instigator John Scalzi suggested I do a moustache-related fundraiser of some sort. I’m considering the possibilities there. Also, I played my very first game of Cards Against Humanity, thanks to Alex Kourvo (who I learned had pulled the racist cards from the decks beforehand, thank you).

And then it was time to come home and collapse, because no matter how wonderful a convention might be, it still wipes me out afterward.

A few related links: