Hugo Award Assessment: Cat Pictures, Please

August 29, 2016

So, let me start my assessment of the 2016 Hugo Awards Short Story category by looking at “Cat Pictures, Please”. My overall assessment of the work is … meh. I’m not going to say that it’s a terrible story, because for me there are a number of interesting ideas in it. Unfortunately, they aren’t developed sufficiently to make the story be a really interesting one.

Let’s start from the beginning of the story:

I don’t want to be evil.

I want to be helpful.

This, in and of itself, is a set-up for a wonderful idea that can be explored. She could have either gone the more traditional route and had the AI keep trying and trying to help humans, decide that they were hopeless, and then fulfill this in the ending by having the AI decide that we needed to all be destroyed because of that, or else gone the more innovative route and have the AI conclude that but have that one situation or those situations resolve themselves with improvement, and have the AI determine that humans can grow and be okay as long as you’re patient and give them time. But there really isn’t any link there, and thus this line seems to only be used as a claim to justify the reader thinking and accepting that this AI is a helpful one, and not an evil one like, say, Skynet. And this would work if it was the case that AI in science fiction was almost exclusively evil or wanted to wipe out humans. But there are plenty of examples of benign AIs, so while the whole “I don’t want to be evil” line is an interesting aside, that’s all it is: an aside.

Another interesting idea that could have been explored is the AI itself. How did it become conscious? Why does it like cat pictures so much? What’s its overall view of the world from the inside of the search bot or whatever it is (it’s most consistent to think of it as essentially “Google”, I think)? But this isn’t really explored either. We never find out why it likes cat pictures, for example, despite that being a continual aside throughout the entire story. So, again, that’s an aside, not the main thrust of the story.

The idea that the most time is spent on is the AI’s attempts to help humans because it knows whatever they need and knows where to find it. The problem is that this is, by the story’s own admission, the most derivative idea in the entire story. The story itself references another story that seemingly did it first — I’m not looking up that story to see if it is a real story — and so makes it clear to the reader that this is inspired by that story. And that could work, if the story focused on the differences between how this AI would help humans as opposed to that one. But, again, that’s just an aside, mentioned briefly but mostly ignored.

So all that leaves is the actual helping events themselves. And while the first one is a bit interesting, the last one is essentially a repeat of the first except that it fails, and the second one again doesn’t really add anything new. Since this makes up most of the story, we have the least interesting idea in the work being explored in the least interesting way for most of the work. All of the potential and interested by the beginning of the story is lost by the ending of it, which leads to it being a “Meh” story.

Ultimately, I think this story really needed the author to have a focus on what they were trying to get across. Unless they wanted to get across the idea of those specific problems and those solutions, it doesn’t get any point across at all … and that problem/solution idea would have been better explored in an essay than in this story. In fact, early in the story I was indeed thinking that this was more like an essay than a story, and it would have worked better as an essay.

So, while I won’t call it terrible, if this is the best the science fiction and fantasy can offer then so much the worse for science fiction and fantasy. Surely we can do better than a story that is a solid and mostly inoffensive “Meh”.

Hugo Award Assessment: The Plan

August 27, 2016

So, I’ve mostly mapped out how I’m going to approach my as-objective-as-humanly-possible assessment of the 2016 Hugo Awards. I decided to focus on short stories and novels because I thought they’d be the easiest to get my hands on. This stayed true for novels and isn’t that true for short stories, because while I’m willing to buy a novel I’m not willing to pay for a short story, especially since I don’t really care for short stories myself. So that leaves “Seven Kill Tiger” out, because it’s only in a collection that I might have bought except it looks like it currently only has a Kindle version and, well, I don’t have and don’t want a Kindle. Yes, I’m like Rupert Giles that way. Well, actually, I’m like Rupert Giles in a lot of ways. Anyway, I can’t do that one. And I’m going to spare myself Chuck Tingle’s work, mostly because it’s really not my type of work and while love may be real, pretty much no one really thought that it was a contender. And I’m also going to skip “If You Were an Award, My Love”, because it’s just a parody of “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, and if that story had actually won its category in 2014 there’d be a point in examining it, but it didn’t, and I’m not really interested in seeing if it was worthy of even being nominated.

So, that leaves, for short stories, in the order that I’ll examine them:

1) “Cat Pictures, Please”, which I’ve already read and whose analysis should come some time this week.

2) “Asymmetrical Warfare” , which I did manage to find but haven’t read yet.

For novels, order matters, so I’m trying to work out the order. Reviewing books that are part of a series is, as I’ve said before, risky — since the real assessment of their quality can only be judged by how they fill their role in that series — but “The Fifth Season” and “The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass” are the first in their respective series, as far as I can tell, and so they can be assessed objectively on how well they work to make me want to read the rest of the books in the series. “Ancillary Mercy” is the last in the series, and so it can’t be judged on its own, so I’ve ordered all three. The risk here is that if I don’t like the first two, then the payoff in the third won’t happen and so that will bias me against that work.

For order, my thought is to start at the bottom and work my way to the top. If the order is really reflecting quality, then I should be more and more entertained as I go along. But that’s not all that great a measure for an objective assessment, and I worry that I want to do that because I want to put off reading “The Fifth Season”, and if I come into a work thinking I won’t like it, I probably won’t. But I don’t want to rush that one either, for the same reason. I could just go random, but that seems a bit pointless. So, for now, once they arrive, I’m planning on starting at the bottom and working my way up, though that might change.

Anyone who is interested, keep following along and you’ll see my updates as soon as I post them.

A Naked Comparison …

August 26, 2016

So, recently I’ve started watching Star Trek TOS, and also have been listening to the SF Debris videos of Star Trek TNG. In doing so, I noticed something interesting about the first season TOS episode “The Naked Time” when compared to the first season TNG episode “The Naked Now”, which might explain why the first season of TOS is much more highly regarded than the first season of TNG. “The Naked Now” is an explicit revisiting of “The Naked Time”, and both of them thus involve the same basic idea: a strange, water-based disease or whatever causes the crews of both ships to, essentially, act drunk. But the “Naked” in the TOS title seems to refer to the people being emotionally “naked”, living out and exposing their deepest desires and fears, while in TNG they seemed to interpret that to mean getting naked and having lots and lots of sex.

In “The Naked Time”, the first person who is infected starts acting oddly not by wanting to have sex with everyone or by acting, well, drunk, but instead by going on about how deadly space is and building up a healthy head of paranoia about that. Sulu then engages in his dream of being a swashbuckling hero. Riley tries to achieve his dream of being an Irish Lord ruling his own little fiefdom. Christine Chapel confesses her love for Spock. Spock is overcome by emotion and talks about the difficulties of that. And finally Kirk talks about the pressures of command and what that might cost him. The inner issues dominate, with their impacts on the plot and the story generally side events to getting that across. This is great because it gives us some extra insight into the characters, and reveals some things about them that will become major parts of their characters, but were things that we hadn’t seen beforehand.

In contrast, in “The Naked Now” any inner examinations are limited, and only there to serve either the plot or to give them an excuse to chase sex. Geordi talks briefly about his issues with having to see through the VISOR and not having “real” sight, but that’s only there to give him an excuse to touch Tasha and as a way for Crusher to see that the original formula isn’t working. Tasha briefly talks about her childhood in a way that hints that because her childhood was so bad she now tries to seek out pleasurable experiences … but that’s mostly used as a way to justify her screwing anything that moves. Data could be seen as making a point about his desire to be human, but he doesn’t really make that clear and we already knew that. Troi talks about the emotions overwhelming her, but again that just turns into a way to express sexual desire for Riker, which we already knew was there. Crusher hints at attraction with Picard, and he for her, but again that’s not explored as a hidden and secret desire that they might feel shame for, but is just used as an excuse to get them to act very, very oddly and in a way that’s aimed at humour (and I found it hilarious that Crusher uses as her example of how it causes bad judgement that she finds him very attractive. Not that she wants to have sex with him at the wrong time, but literally that right now she finds him attractive). While TNG desperately needed us to get some idea of the characters and what they were like, it didn’t take this opportunity to do that.

Even the destruction threat is inferior. Sure, Riley’s plan was a bit stupid, but at least there’s a logic to it: if he controls engineering, he controls the ship, and then can, at least to that point, enforce his will on them. Sure, he’ll be caught eventually and sure, no one has to listen to him, but someone with impaired judgement might well decide that’s worth a shot. On TNG, we have Wesley building a force field and, worse, the assistant Chief Engineer … playing with the control chips as if they were building blocks, which is clearly what he’s always wanted to do, deep down. At least he wasn’t trying to have sex with them.

TOS used this plot to reveal things about its characters, while TNG used this as an excuse to make them act like idiots. This goes a long way towards explaining why first season TOS is so good, and first season TNG … not.

(Also, as a final aside, it’s interesting that both, deliberately or not, kept the idea that if someone needed to concentrate, the effects seemed to diminish. When Kirk brings Spock around and Spock starts concentrating on how to come up with the formula to restart the engines, he seems unaffected. In TNG, Wesley lampshades that by commenting on how hard it was to think, and Data seems less affected when he is trying to reinsert the control chips, and despite Riker seemingly getting it early he isn’t affected at all in the episode, and only shows some signs when all he can do is sit there and see if Data and Wesley can save the ship. It’s an interesting element that’s easy to overlook.)

Elements of a Good Dating Sim

August 24, 2016

So I was musing while talking about Huniepop on what makes for a good dating sim … particularly, how you should tailor the dateable characters in order to make a great dating sim. And it seems to boil down to a very simple criteria: ideally, everyone who plays the game should have more than one favourite, but shouldn’t have most of the characters as, in fact, their favourites. And, given that people have a wide range in what they prefer in a date, ideally this means that every character you add has some players who have them as their favourites, and some players who don’t care much for them.

Arguably, Huniepop does this reasonably well. If we look at this poll at Gamefaqs, most of the girls get at least some love, with only Lola and Jessie being in the position of “unfavourite”, with percentages so low that very few players actually liked them. By contrast, there are 5 of them with over 10%, and the highest is my personal least favourite, Audrey, at 17% … only 2% higher than Aiko, who’s probably my favourite. Given that and my own personal experience, it’s also likely that there are a number of people who strongly dislike all of the favourites as well.

The reason you need this in a dating sim is that it should become clear which dates the player wants to focus on relatively early, so giving them clear personalities and looks allows the player to quickly decide where to focus their time, since any good dating sim — and, yes, Huniepop isn’t that great as a dating sim — won’t let you get all of them in one playthrough … or else will have that have … consequences or be a special ending. So players should really want to get a couple of the characters in order to foster player choice, and not want to get a couple of the characters so that they can start ignoring them in order to focus on the ones they like. Also, giving more favourites allows for replay, but if all of them are equally desirable then that could make the game overly repetitive, but leave the player unsatisfied; they’re tired of playing the game, but haven’t maxed out all of the dates they want to max out yet.

Note that this is a different model than that of romances in RPGs, where if there’s only one character that you want to max out your romances with that’s perfectly okay, and players are likely to not be terribly offended by romancing the same character in every playthrough. This is because the main plot and the choices in that are what the players want for variety, and if they have a clear favourite romance it can, indeed, provide an island of stability for each playthrough, unless they decide that they want to change it up or that this character wouldn’t find that romance appealing. Dating sim players are not likely to replay a dating sim just to date the same person, however.

“And you can go to Hell too …”

August 23, 2016

“… I wouldn’t want you to feel left out!”

Do … do these people even realize what they’re saying? They seem so sanctimoniously clueless that I don’t know whether to be angry with them, hate them, or pity them. Right now, the best option seems to be “Ignore them and create my own science fiction and fantasy! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the science fiction and fantasy!”

The latest moron that has gotten my ire up is John Scalzi, who in his wisdom decided to post a long discussion of the Hugos where he pretty much simply concedes everything that the Puppies were complaining about, as if what’s happened has somehow proven them wrong.. Let’s start, not at the beginning, but with Jerry Pournelle:

An active association with Beale is, bluntly, death for your Hugo award chances. I mean, it takes a lot for someone as esteemed in the field as Jerry Pournelle to finish below “No Award” in Hugo voting, and yet, there he is, sixth in a field of five in the category of Best Editor, Short Form.

So, Scalzi admits that Pournelle’s “No Award” is not a reflection of the quality of his work, but instead because of his purported “active association” with Vox Day/Theodore Beale, which as far as I know is simply him not active repudiating him, and in fact mostly being the inspiration for the puppies, as far as I can recall,[EDIT: Which I did incorrectly, because that was Larry Correia] by complaining that people dismissed his work because of his politics, a stance that Scalzi et al are proud to react to by … dismissing his work because of his politics. That’s not good … but when you put it up against the reason that this was Pournelle’s first Worldcon in years, it gets even worse:

This was my first WorldCon in years, what with recovering from brain cancer – still all gone – and the stroke.

Yes, let’s pick on the person who has recovered from brain cancer and a flippin’ stroke who we concede is a great talent because his politics don’t align with ours and he doesn’t hate someone that we really hate. And then let’s get on our soapbox about how good we are and how we promote empathy when we’re willing to do stuff like this.

Maybe “hate” isn’t strong enough a word.

Okay, okay, maybe that association is stronger than that, since it could, for example, simply refer to him being willing to publish books through Castalia House, although if you are assumed to agree with everything your publisher says and does that would kinda eliminate everyone, but okay, maybe they can come up with some kind of justification that might almost work if you rationalize it enough. It’s not likely to be a reason that people, like me, who don’t flat-out hate everyone or anyone involved in this — or, at least, didn’t until one side pulled garbage like this — will find reasonable, but maybe we could at least get to a respectful “Agree to disagree” position. But … not from this:

…again, nearly every crony nomination finished below “No Award” in the voting.

Remember, as related in my last post, this included Shamus Young, who is not associated in any way with the Puppies, probably doesn’t at least quite subscribe to the politics of the Puppies, has generally tried to stay away from any of this controversy, and is, in at least my opinion, a very good writer. So … clear crony nomination? Utter rot. He, objectively, did not deserve the treatment he got, that Scalzi is crowing about. And if he didn’t deserve it, how many others didn’t deserve it either, either positively or negatively.

Which, then, totally crushes Scalzi’s attempt to show that his side didn’t, in fact, the way the Puppies predicted they would, and so the Puppies really were the losers here:

So, how did this particular strategy work for Beale? Well, of course, poorly. The stuff that was obvious cronyism mostly ended up below “No Award” in just about every category, again, for the third year running. In the cases of the human shields and the already popular nominees, Hugo voters simply ignored the fact Beale slated them. In the case of the latter, no one sensible believes that folks like Neil Gaiman, Andy Weir or Neal Stephenson would willingly associate themselves with a minor racist shit-stirrer, and in the case of the former, Beale’s obvious assumption that the people he classifies as SJWs would explode with cognitive dissonance when he put people/work on his slate that they’d otherwise want to vote for (“I want to vote for it! But I can’t now because it’s on a slate! Nooooooooo!”) is predicated on the idea that these folks are the strawmen he’s created in what passes for his mind. They’re not; they knew what was up, and they largely decided to ignore his master strategy.

Except … they didn’t. Yes, when a work or author matched their politics and they liked it, they ignored the politics of the slate and voted for it. When a work or author was “obviously” a crony choice, they voted it down just for being on the slate. And when they had no idea if the work or author was a crony choice, they for some reason couldn’t be bothered to figure out if it was a crony choice or not, but instead just assumed it was and downvoted it. In all cases the quality of the work was not the primary selection criteria. Politics was. And they got the results that aligned with those political considerations. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that the Puppies were complaining about in the first place. You can’t defeat them by proving them right, you moronic half-wit. And you’re harming utterly innocent people in doing so. Again, your side could not be bothered to check out the works and authors that you weren’t familiar with despite, by your own admission, knowing that the Puppies were including works that weren’t obvious cronies. For the Hugo Awards to have legitimacy, it must be the case that the works are judged on merit, not on popular appeal or recognition and not on politics. You’ve admitted to putting the latter two above merit. You no longer have any claim to legitimacy, and you’re crowing about having done that to yourselves.

Good job!

So, from this, I have a few plans going forward:

1) I’m going to out and buy some works from Jerry Pournelle, just to spite Scalzi et al. I might even buy the work he edited that they decided deserved “No Award”.

2) I’m going to judge the “Best Novel” and “Short Story” categories myself. I’ve already read “Cat Pictures, Please” and will comment on it, and I will look up all the others and judge them as well. I will also buy all of the Best Novel works that I can find and judge them as objectively as I possibly can. Because I don’t trust them, but we need someone who is closer to the average reader to do it, and even if no one reads them, at least I’ll know who can be trusted and who can’t. (Spoiler: I don’t think “Cat Pictures, Please” totally sucks but don’t think it’s that great either).

3) At some point, I’ll do a calmer summary of all of the Hugo Award crap.

Note that this obviously isn’t in chronological order [grin].

In conclusion … Scalzi et all can go to hell because they pretty much admit to judging things not on the basis of quality, but on the basis of politics and the like, and I can’t trust awards or recommendations given by people who would do that. Thus, they’ve proven, to me at least, that what the Puppies say about them is true. Again, good job!

Up Yer Arsenal, Worldcon!

August 22, 2016

So, the 2016 Hugo Awards have been awarded. And, to be honest, they’ve really, really pissed me off. So much so that in this rant I was tempted to toss my “No swearing” rule, but then decided that I still believe that if you can’t say something and express anger and upset about something without swearing, then that’s a problem you need to work on, and so I’ll stand by that. But, still, I expect in this post to let the anger and hate flow through me, and rant about how badly Worldcon has managed to screw up their own awards … and it all comes down to the idea of “No Award”.

See, the accusation that the Puppies have been making is that the Hugo nominations and voting have been done on the basis of politics rather than strict quality, and so if you promote Social Justice you get recognition and if you promote, well, politics other than that you get buried. In order to see if that’s the case, the key thing to look at is not necessarily who wins, but in fact is who gets “No Awarded”, meaning that they finish below the “No Award” result in a category. So, in order to blunt the strategy, as I’ve said before all they need to do is play fair, which means that in general the works that really couldn’t possibly deserve an award end up below “No Award”, and those that could deserve an award — even if the work isn’t the best in the category — end up above it. Last year was disastrous for them, as they made a number of obvious “No Award” blunders, including putting Jim Butcher — of “The Dresden Files” — below “No Award” for best novel, which is hardly credible. So this year I was very interested in seeing whom they buried below that line.

And, when I checked it early this morning … they hadn’t included that in the list yet, except for the categories where “No Award” took the category, which meant that they were burying that very important criteria, which was enough to really tick me off. They’ve added it back now, but obviously not in time for The Verge to pick up the results without the “No Award” included when it didn’t take the category. This made it look like they were trying to hide those results after the criticism they got for what ended up “No Awarded” last time, and forced me to go and look it up. And this year they weren’t stupid enough to “No Award” Jim Butcher — and, in fact, didn’t “No Award” anyone in the “Best Novel” category. But they did “No Award” entire categories, which is suspicious. And digging through what was “No Awarded” — and remember, at the time I had to go and calculate that myself — I knew that I didn’t know the works and so couldn’t really judge, until I got to one category, which is where my anger really took hold:

They “No Awarded” Shamus Young for “Best Fan Writer” … on their way to “No Awarding” everyone except the winner.

No, it’s no secret to anyone who has read my blog for any length of time that I really like Shamus’ work. He’s also written, in the recent past, an entire series examining the “Mass Effect” series in terms of story, along with other, earlier examinations of story in other Fantasy and Science Fiction games. There’s no possible way to look at the actual quality of his work and say that he wouldn’t deserve a Hugo. Yes, you might think that others deserve it more and aren’t on the ballot but the Hugos do not work that way! So the most reasonable explanation is that people didn’t know who he was, knew that he was on the Puppy “slate”, and voted “No Award” over him just because of that. Which is the exact behaviour that the Puppies complain happen! Are you guys morons, or just very stupid?!?

But, even in my rage, I am still called upon to be fair, so maybe there was another reason. Maybe people felt that his work didn’t really fit into that category. Well, the Hugos themselves have a criteria for that, and if they felt he fit, he fit. It’s ludicrously unfair to vote “No Award” higher for someone that the Hugo committee decided fit the criteria because you disagree with their judgement. Vote him last, sure. Vote him “Sucks”, no. So, maybe this is just standard for people that most people have never heard of, as most people, especially in the less prestigious awards, don’t bother to read the works, but instead vote on name recognition, and if they haven’t heard of them they give them “No Award”. But this, then, would be an issue with the Hugos and the entire “No Award” category, especially since the Hugos — as we keep getting told — aren’t supposed to be a popularity contest, and so are supposed to allow more obscure works and authors to come to the fore. Having “No Award” finish ahead of a work or author or creator is obviously not going to make people think that’s a quality work.

And so, it is clear that there is no valid excuse for “No Awarding” Shamus. And if that’s the case, then I have to look at the other categories, and note that there are a lot of them were no nominee was “worthy”, or only one nominee was “worthy”, or only two were “worthy”. Look at the “Fancast” category, for example. You’re telling me that none of them were worthy of consideration? At all? And only one “Fan Artist”? Only two “Fanzines”? What criteria are people using to determine that? And “Supernatural” and “My Little Pony” aren’t worthy of consideration in “Short Form Presentation”? Really? This is utterly ridiculous, as it’s too unlikely to be believed. And yet they want me to swallow that. And if that’s not enough, the whole “Related Work” category was “No Awarded” despite the top “No Awarded” work being one that George R.R. Martin liked and expressed shock at the suggestion that only Castalia House — Vox Day’s publishing house — would publish it. Yeah, I think I can take Martin’s opinion as being at least mostly unbiased and somewhat accurate in that case. So it seems clear that some really screwy fudging happened here.

Which then forces me to turn my attention to the winners. Is N.K. Jemisin’s work really deserving of the Best Novel? Well, I’ve seen one reviewer quoted as saying this about it:

As one reviewer of the 2016 Best Novel put it: “the main character became more and more unlikable as the tale goes on. She ends up in a gay/poly triad, has a child with the gay member of the group, and then essentially decides she’s not cut out to be a mother and goes on and on about how she doesn’t really care about the toddler, ditching him. All of this after a main hook where she’s supposed to be frantically searching for yet another child who she seems for forget for years at a time.”

That’s … not promising. Of course, that comes from Vox Day, who has called her a “half-savage” and supposedly that got him kicked out of a sci-fi writer’s group, so he’s not unbiased. But the description from her own blog is this:

A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.

Which goes right up to the point of being, like, confusing. The more detailed description is better:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Although being willing to break the world to save a family member is actually a common villain trope, and the background is perfectly consistent with the review above. Although P.Z. Myers liked it:

The winner of the best novel was The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This book is not light reading: three different narrators gradually coming together in a complex fantasy story set on a world with frequent apocalyptic geological catastrophes, held together by by wizards who focus on calming seismic events…or in some cases, triggering them. This is a story with a lot of hard detail and psychological nuance. It deserves this award.

Then again, in talking about the “Novella” category, he said this:

This was classic hard SF — humans live in space, engage in interstellar travel, and meet alien species, some of whom want to kill us.

Except that actually also describes “Star Wars”, which is clearly not hard SF and is in fact Space Opera, so I have to take his opinion with a grain of salt. Oh, heck, I’ll just use the whole block, since he seems to know the words “hard SF” but has no idea what they really mean.

Now, I’d go and read the books myself and see if the category works, but I’m worried that I might be biased, especially after reading this from Jemisin’s acceptance speech:

I’ve thanked them already in the acknowledgements, but I really want to thank the people who talked me down from quitting this book. At the nadir of my Chasm of Doubt — hat-tip to Kate Elliott for the term — I thought THE FIFTH SEASON was beyond my skill to write. I thought no one would want to read it. When it got nominated, I wondered how many of my fellow SFF fans, in a year headlined by reactionary pushback against the presence and performance of people like me in the genre, would choose to vote for the story of a fortysomething big-boned dredlocked woman of color waging an epic struggle against the forces of oppression.

But I forgot: only a small number of ideologues have attempted to game the Hugo Awards. That small number can easily be overwhelmed, their regressive clamor stilled, if the rest of SFF fandom simply stands up to be counted. Stands up to say that yes, they do want literary innovation, and realistic representation. Stands up to say that yes, they do just want to read good stories — but what makes a story good is skill, and audacity, and the ability to consider the future clearly rather than through the foggy lenses of nostalgia and privilege.

So, don’t like the book, don’t find it innovative, or think the innovation was a failure? Think that she really couldn’t pull off a project that ambitious? Well, then you’re clearly part of the same group trying to game the Hugos and you will be overwhelmed by the people on her side, those who oppose oppression and privilege and supposedly really have skill in doing that. And since I’m an obstinate and stubborn man, I’m more likely to tear the work apart than give it a fair shake when told that the only reason to hate it is that I’m just a white man unwilling to let women and non-whites into the game … despite loving a number of female authors, for example.

And so, let me toss out something that I was going to say in another post until this all blew up, by quoting from “Solo Command” by Aaron Alston. The context is that Wedge has had to relieve all his Twileks of service because some brainwashed Twileks have committed terrorist attacks, and one of them has stormed out in utter disgust:

[Wedge]”It didn’t matter whether Admiral Ackbar died. Or Mon Mothma. Their assassins were successful.”

[Nawara Ven]”What? No, they weren’t.”

[Wedge]”Yes, they were. Koyi Komad [the mechanic who stormed out] was their first victim.”

I was already in the state where if a work was listed as a Hugo Award nominee or winner, I didn’t know — and didn’t trust — whether or not it was really a good work. Now, I’m to the point where if I’m looking for something to read because it might be entertaining, if I see that it’s a Hugo Award winning or even nominated work my first reaction will be to refuse to buy it because of the shenanigans around the awards, and less so the shenanigans of the Puppies but more so the shenanigans around the people who will clearly vote down works just because of the politics of the publisher or the author or those who nominated it. The Puppies, at least, played by the stated and even unstated rules — even with a slate, no one can be actually forced to vote that way — while the other side refuse to actually assess the works on their own merits, which violates the entire principle of the Hugo Awards and what they are supposed to be about. I’m likely not the first victim, but I am a victim of the Social Justice side’s idiotic and misguided attempts to foil the Puppies by abandoning everything they claimed to stand for.

And, sure, everyone can say that I’m not important, and so who cares if I now hate the Hugos and will avoid them? Well, I think I’m a relatively important victim for a couple of reasons. First, politically I’m an evil moderate, and so generally will react badly to both extremes. I have no problems with diversity as long as it is done well, and generally dislike works that sacrifice quality to make a point no matter where they all on the spectrum. Losing moderates is never good if you care about popular support at all, because most people are some kind of moderate. Secondly, I’m someone with enough disposable income that if I trusted the Hugos to judge quality, I could pick up a work listed as having a Hugo knowing that if it was good quality but not to my taste I could eat the cost without really choking on it, and thus I could, in fact, actually provide sales.

And now I hate the Hugos and everything it claims to stand for, since it doesn’t stand for them anymore. Good job.

You can dismiss me as another white male who’s wallowing in privilege which is driving my disgust here. You’d be wrong, but I really don’t care what you think of me. At all. You’re not worthy of any consideration from me. All you had to do to defeat the Puppies was play fair, and you couldn’t even do that. Up yer arsenal.

(Note: the reason I had to add the “for entertainment” qualifier above is that I’m still contemplating buying and reading all of the “Best Novel” nominees and ranking them myself, as well as objectively assessing them. But, as it turns out, I can’t: Jemisin’s is seemingly the first of a trilogy, and I can’t stand reading only one of a trilogy or series right now, so even an objective assessment won’t work … especially since in a series you can’t really judge any one work until you see how it supports the series as a whole. So that’s out.)

The More Time I Have …

August 19, 2016

… it seems the less I get done.

I noticed this before, when I was working for a product that was going end-of-life and so we deliberately weren’t doing much with it. Not only did I not really take that opportunity to upgrade my work skills, I also found that I didn’t even do as much outside of work as I wanted … especially since even then I was looking to find things to do that might work out to a small, outside-of-work income. In fact, arguably I did less outside of work then than I did when I was insanely busy, which seemed very odd to me.

Recently, after having moved to a second new product (for me) and to one that could have some short deadlines and interesting last minute issues, I’ve been pushing my work schedule a little more, having learned from another product that it’s best to get out front of the problems and get ahead a bit so that you don’t have to panic as much at the end to get everything done. But trying to get ahead sometimes means that you do end up ahead, at which point it doesn’t make much sense to keep trying to get ahead. So, for the past few weekends I haven’t had to work, when normally I aim to work one morning if I have things to get ahead on, and recently having worked two mornings out of the three days of a long weekend. You’d think that having some extra time I’d get some more things done … but if you’ve been paying attention to this post, you’ll know that that didn’t happen. Not only did I not get more things done, the things that I’d normally get done or at least push to get done … didn’t get done either.

(Which clearly has no relation to the fact that this post is a quick post talking about how I’m not even getting the things I normally get done done [grin]).

Part of the issue is that when I have more time, I always feel that I don’t have to push or rush. I can poke around with other things and don’t have to follow the schedule as precisely, because I have lots of time. One of the things that I’m ahead on is playing The Old Republic and trying to finish off the Imperial Agent story, which is the last story that I have yet to finish. But while I budget 3 hours per planet, it usually ends up taking me something more like 4 – 5, which really cuts into the time I have to do other things. Even if I start by 6 am, that means that it’s about 11 am by the time I finish, and at that point the day is half-over for me. I can also spend more time playing around with other things that are marginally useful, but not all that productive. And if I want to stop and watch another episode of Star Trek or another beach volleyball match at the Olympics, I don’t feel the pressure to get moving like I would if I was coming home at noon which my list of things to do.

Of course, another part of it seems to be that when I’m relaxing, I get too relaxed, and so get bored and have a hard time motivating myself to do things other than mindless entertainment. That was the big factor when I was working on the old product, with the fact that I felt I had lots of time contributing to it. Here, that seems to be reversed, with the “lots of time” encouraging me to put more things into the schedule — like TOR — while the boredom sometimes pushes me to do more fun things and less productive things. Also, the Olympics being on hasn’t really helped.

Anyway, this is just an oddity about me that it was worth musing on when I needed a blog post that I could write in about a half-hour …

Thoughts on Huniepop

August 17, 2016

Okay, so it’s probably not much of a secret that I actually like dating sim games. The first dating sim game I ever played was a game labeled as — but might not have been called — “True Love”, where you go around an anime life trying to, well, find your true love. While I greatly enjoyed that game, it was only with “Persona 3” that I realized my love for the dating sim elements/genre, and then starting seeking out games with those elements, although disappointingly I don’t have a lot of actual pure — or mostly pure — dating sims.

To me, these games and these elements, if done properly, provide as ideal a role-playing experience as you are likely to get from a game, because even if you have a railroad plot, the whole point of the dating sim, in general, is that you decide what traits you want to improve, what you want to focus on, and who you want to spend your time with. If you do things properly, hopefully you’ll end up with the person who best suits you … or, rather, the character that you’ve decided to play. Sure, “completing” the game by seducing or getting relationships with all of them is entertaining, but ideally you want to focus on the one or ones that you like best, and hope that you can get one of them, as I tried and failed to do in “Conception II”.

So, there was this recent comment thread at Twenty Sided Tale talking about games with dating sim elements, most of which I already had or wasn’t going to be able to get for a while. And then I remembered that someone gave the game “Huniepop” to Shamus to try out, and from various comments it seems that his really big problem with it was the naked/semi-naked anime girls. Since that doesn’t bother me, I went to see if I could get it from Good Old Games. I could. I did. I played it and managed to finish all of the regular girls — including Venus — but not the two hidden girls.

So what did I think of it? I think that it’s designed primarily as a puzzle game with dating sim elements — I remember reading that somewhere — and that means that the dating sim elements are much more shallow than I’d like. Essentially, there are two main stages to the game. The first is the dating sim part, where you interact with the women and try to find out things about them, and try to remember both what you’ve asked before and what they answered before. This is because interacting with the women gives you “Hunie”, which you can use to increase your traits which makes you better at the matching puzzles. If you ask them questions you haven’t asked before, or answer their questions in a way they like, or remember what they told you when you asked them questions, you get a Hunie bonus in addition to what you get just from talking to them.

The second part is the puzzle part, which is a pretty standard Match 3 type puzzle game. This is presented as a actual “date” with the woman, and you are trying not to screw the date up. You have to hit a certain score in 20 moves, and if you do the date is a success and she gets an extra heart (ie you level up). If you hit level 5, if you succeed at a night date she’ll go home with you for, well, you can imagine. This is done with another Match 3, with unlimited moves, but the points level drains quickly, and so while the first puzzle focuses on planning and the use of special items, the second focuses on lots of big moves quickly to keep the points level high.

Every time you succeed, the points required for success increases. This is not per woman, but instead is across the board. Thus, if you went on a successful first date with all of the women, it would be harder to, say, succeed at the second date with Nikki than it would be if you had just done the second date with her first and ignored the others. For me, then, this encouraged me to max out the women I liked better in case it later got too difficult for me to complete the puzzles.

If you manage to succeed, you also get something that works like money, so you can buy gifts for the women to gain affection levels to get more Hunie and that will get you an item to use in the puzzles if you give her something she loves, and also to buy food and drinks to extend the conversations or to “loosen them up”, which does … something. I never actually managed to give one of them a drink.

The interaction with the women is pretty shallow. You can ask them about a set of traits that get stored in their profiles — things like hobby, job, height, and cup-size — and can answer some standard questions that repeat, but you don’t really get to find out much about them … and more importantly you can’t actually really have any impact on their lives or grow their characters. Both Aiko and Nikki hate their jobs, but you can’t really get them to change that or get them to accept that those are the jobs that they’re good at. They just keep complaining about their jobs. Belli has body image issues, but that doesn’t change for the entire game despite one of the proper responses being to call her out on that.

The personalities are a little odd as well. Despite my liking both the looks and general personalities — in some ways — of Nikki and Aiko, both of them are too rude and aggressive for me to really like them. This is especially bad for Nikki, as she’s the main introvert in the game and is generally presented as someone who simply hates people. On the other hand, Tiffany and Belli are probably the two simply nicest women in the group, but come across as bland because they don’t really seem to have anything else. And they have, as the game itself describes her, the “mega-bitch” in Audrey, while the others didn’t really suit me that well.

The voices, however, are actually done pretty well. Each woman gets her own voice that suits the personality, and the inflections often work, especially with Aiko. I just liked listening to Aiko talk a lot of the time.

Ultimately, I think the dating sim elements aren’t prominent enough for dating sim fans and are too prominent for puzzle fans. You have to spend a lot of time gathering Hunie and buying gifts and food so that you can improve your traits and be better at the puzzle portions, which will likely annoy the puzzle fans. On the other hand, the dating sim fans will be annoyed by how shallow the interactions are and the odd mix of personalities, and also the fact that there’s no story or character progression to speak of. If I had been doing a game like this, I would have made it so that instead of the difficulty going up across the board, it went up only for each woman, and then ranked the women in terms of difficulty. You would increase your traits with the XP earned from interacting with the women and from how well you did when you solved the puzzles. That way, puzzle fans could focus on one woman and go up to higher ones only if the first one was too “easy”, while dating sim fans could still pick which ones they wanted to focus on without feeling as much pressure to do all of them. If someone was great at the puzzles, they could jump to “more difficult” women directly and start with harder puzzles, and yet still get the progression.

Of course, if I was really doing it I would have made it a dating sim with puzzle elements, but that’s not the game they were trying to make.

Overall, it was quick but enjoyable. However, as U2 opined, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Thoughts on Lovecraft

August 15, 2016

So, I’m about 300 pages into “The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft” (the hardcover addition, because I don’t care for and don’t own any electronic readers), right after “Under the Pyramids”. So, about a third of the way through. It’s worth taking some time to comment on what I think of it so far.

First, as I did know when I bought it, most of Lovecraft’s work are short stories. The problem with this is that I already knew that I’m not a big fan of short stories. I tend to find that they can’t develop things enough to make for a really interesting story, although there are some that work. So far, I think that Lovecraft’s stories mostly work, because he likes to include a lot of detail in his stories. Sometimes, too much, so that instead of wondering where this all came from and what the backstory was I ended up just wanting him to get to the point.

The early stories tended to be less scary, as they tended to be related more as stories and seemed to rely on concepts that had been done to death elsewhere — but likely not before Lovecraft did it — and mostly described them. However, just as my favourite parts of “The Blair Witch Project” were the documentary scenes where they were relating the story and not the purportedly scary parts in the woods, some of my favourite stories were the ones where he just relates a tale or backstory and isn’t trying to scare the reader … as long as he doesn’t overdo the details. Also, in later stories he seems to better capture the ideas of horror and insanity that would make him famous, and thus provides more disturbing/scary stories than ones that are just, well, kinda freaky.

So far, it’s mostly entertaining. We’ll see how that goes over the next few weeks.

Social Justice vs Games: FIFA 16

August 12, 2016

So, Anita Sarkeesian has put out her latest video, and I do intend to comment on it. But, as has happened before, I need to comment on something else first, because it needs to be addressed and if I tried to do it as part of my commentary on the video itself it would kinda overwhelm it. So, let me talk about one of Sarkeesian’s examples of a company finally adding women into the game:

The FIFA soccer game series, which had its first entry in 1993, took over 20 years before finally introducing female teams in FIFA 16.

Now, I knew that FIFA 16 had done this, because it was a key part of the advertising here in Canada, highlighting Christine Sinclair. However, I have never been a huge fan of soccer sims — particularly the more realistic ones; “Superstar Soccer” was fun, though — and don’t particularly enjoy the latest sports sims in general, so I didn’t bother to look up how they did the player ratings in a game that mixes male and female players. Are you going to give the female players ratings measured against the men, and so have even their superstars at about 50 – 60 ratings at best? Or are you going to give them high ratings but then it be the case that, say, Carli Lloyd is considered, under that ranking, to be a better player than Luis Suarez. It’s a tough issue, so what did they do?

Q: How do player ratings work for women in comparison to men?

A: The player ratings will be relative for each gender. We will be assessing female athletes against other female athletes which may mean that an 85 rated female player may not perform the same as an 85 rated male player.

They ranked them relative to other women — thus Carli Lloyd is a 91 and Suarez is a 90 — but if you actually play them Lloyd won’t play as well or pull off the same tricks as Suarez does. This could be problematic except that they also don’t let the women’s teams play against the men’s teams, so essentially the women are boxed off in their own little area, and so their rankings don’t really matter when compared to men. Thus, an 85 woman plays as well as an 85 woman would, which is not as good as an 85 man would.

And here’s where we get into the “Social Justice vs Games” part, because while EA says that this was a requested feature — and I have no doubt that it was — the push for Social Justice and inclusion is probably a major factor in why they decided to do it after 20 years, and why they decided to implement this awkward system to get around the obvious issues. But I don’t think that it will satisfy Social Justice advocates for women to simply be in the game, but that you can’t play as women players in male leagues, or run female teams against men’s teams at all. So, now, if they want to actually allow mixes, how do they get from there given this starting point?

Well, they can leave things as is and just move the women’s teams over. The problem with this is that then Lloyd would have a higher ranking than Suarez, but play a lot worse, and the Canadian national women’s team despite almost certainly having a higher ranking than the Canadian men’s team would lose to them almost every time they played, probably badly. That’s bad.

So, they could redo all of the rankings to make a mixed ranking, where you take all players into account, male and female. This means that Lloyd’s ranking would drop to somewhere in the 60s at best. That’s probably not going to satisfy the Social Justice crowd, and would also mean that female players won’t get selected for men’s teams and women’s teams won’t be put into leagues with men’s tames. So that’s bad, too.

Okay, well then they could leave the rankings alone and just make the rankings “objective”, so that an 85 woman plays the same as an 85 man. This creates the inverse problems of the existing method, as Suarez is now a worse player than Lloyd is in the game despite actually being better in real-life, and the Canadian men’s team would always lose badly to the women’s team despite the fact that they’d almost certainly beat them handily in real-life. As these games at least bill themselves as serious simulations, that’s bad, too.

Or they could just give up and insist that women can’t play against men, which is bad because, well, people will probably want to do that.

If I had been designing it, the first focus would have been on allowing female players to be created in the “Create-A-Player” modes, and then assigned to any team that that mode can assign players to. Then the rating would depend on the person playing the game. If people wanted to create them accurately, they’d do that. If they wanted to create them as being equal or better than men … well, that’s no worse than my putting myself and my co-workers, friends and acquaintances into the game with really high scores when none of us are going anywhere near a playing field. If the player wants some fantasy in their sports sim, who am I to complain?

If they had to put the women’s national teams in, then I’d rank them objectively in relation to the men’s teams … but add an option to allow the player of the game to “convert” them to a men’s team, which would be done by adding whatever rough score you’d need to treat, say, the best women’s player as if she was a man, and the best women’s team as if it was a women’s team. So, when adding a female player to a men’s team or a women’s team to a men’s league, you have an option to say “add 30 to the score to make it competitive”. Again, as this is an explicit option if the player of the game wants to fake it that way, what does it matter?

As it is now, though, it’ll be a rough road to get women players into the men’s teams and leagues.


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