2015 Hugo Awards Best Fan Writer: Reviewing D Freer

David Freer

The first thing I encountered opening the PDF for Freer’s fan writing work is his brief history of how he was nominated describing the use of slates as “short listing” and claiming that the Petaybee (Powers That Be – go read Anne McCaffrey spouse!) objected to the people chosen. This is strange because I see the fans objecting to the method of overrunning the vote and hoping, like me, to give the nominees a fair reading in desire to find that all ideological differences aside we might discover a few sci-fi/fantasy gems.

Following his suit I feel the need to state that I object to people organizing their nominee suggestions into slates. I also dislike that the way the slates were perpetuated gives the impression that people were voting for nominees they had not read. New to the Hugo Awards as I am, the rule with which I approach voting is “if you don’t read it then don’t vote on it.” That means that if I am voting on best short story then I must attempt read ALL the short stories on the ballot.

Now that our respective stances on the state of this year’s Hugo Awards are mapped out it’s time to read the posts Freer self selected to be judged on. I went to his site but don’t see an archive based on date so I’m just sticking with his self selection unless it comes down to a close call in which case I’ll hunt.

(Side note: added archives to my site, it’s very easy to do with WordPress. Simply choose Appearance >> Widgets and then drag and drop the Archives widget into the side bar.)

The first post appears to be about how the site is for writers not ideologies and people who don’t like the site’s ideologies can go someplace else. Lots of gossip about people I don’t know and sounds like I could care less about on all sides.

Second post reminds me how much I love and hate the programming language lisp. For every opening parenthesis there must be a closing parenthesis. This is a personal problem. Speaking of personal problems the first half of this is about the complexity of nostalgia and how the concept of a golden age seems to make people grumpy.

Then he goes on to describe some books he likes and why. Unfortunately no compliment about an author from the past Freer loved can be given without a dig pointed at “modern authors” which gives me the horrible feeling I’m reliving one of those family dinners: “You’re too skinny, you must eat more! How can you eat so much and be so skinny!”

To quote one of these instances in Freer’s writing: “The prose is simple, easy to read. The ideas are not. That is something so frequently missing in modern sf.”

I’m not even sure which “that” is missing. The easy prose or the complex ideas? A counter example would be nice, for example one could say that the prose in Ancillary Justice is challenging or the idea behind the Lego movie is simplistic.

Another example of his complement to dig method is: “They still make entertaining reading -another thing that modern writers could learn from.”

I wish he would outline what makes them entertaining reading. As a blog/site for writers more detail would be appreciated. The play of how chapters are set up? The way all the names when spoken aloud sound like toddlers attempting to speak English but not doing so well? Maybe a secret message spelled out with the first letter of every paragraph?

For me entertaining is when a geeky character rises up out of a submarine in the middle of a storm and says to the military folk around him, “that’s some some real non-euclidean geometry!” Hehehehehe Cryptonomicon.

Ooooo! Or naming powerful beings silly things like Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which. Or when Castiel… well just about anything.

The next post he submitted seems to be about feminism and not sci-fi/fantasy or about writing. Some gossip about publishers… Oh here’s something!

What we actually need is people writing books (and landing spacecraft on comets, but we are writers) that inspire ANYONE to take up a career in STEM. It’s a hard path, and not that rewarding, either in respect, fame, or money. Heinlein did that well. He made it accessible, promising and, yes, ‘cool’. Off-hand I can think of no rival since.

Actually the money in STEM is pretty good depending on which branch and skill level. Personally, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Pat Cadigan did more for my desire to go into STEM than Heinlein but then I am a software engineer. I suppose if I was focusing my efforts on space engineering and interstellar travel I might give Heinlein more of a nod for my choice.

The fact that Freer cannot think of anyone offhand who made STEM ‘cool’ since Heinlein is kinda startling. I mean, William Gibson, yeah? Gibson, seriously. Cyberpunk, dude. Seriously, dude, cyberpunk. Or what about Niven and Ringworld? Really? No one since Heinlein? No wonder Freer is a writer and not in STEM.

Next post.

Or why, if the people ‘really the only reason ‘Ancillary Justice’ won a Hugo Award’ was that it was much better than ‘Warbound’, that there is no ideological bias at all in the entire Hugo Award process, and that, indeed, they personally didn’t know what so-and-so politics were, are right, then Ann Leckie and her fellow winners should buy a lottery ticket and become a multi-millionaires overnight.

I’m having a hard time parsing that sentence.  I would totally restructure that sentence. I feel like I’m channeling my middle school English teacher. Going to try. This is my attempt at rewriting the above paragraph to make more sense. It is NOT Freer’s paragraph:

If people actually believe that Ancillary Justice won a Hugo Award because it was much better than Warbound, that the Hugo Awards process has no ideological bias, and deny knowing the politics involved then Ann Leckie and the rest of the winners are just plain lucky. [Implied it wasn’t skill that won them the Hugo Awards.] They should all go out and buy lottery tickets because with luck like that they could be multi-millionaires overnight.

I tried to “fix it for you” but there’s an inherent problem with this sentence. If people actually believe “Ancillary Justice won… because it was much better” then the winners aren’t lucky they are just good. So either they won because they are good OR because the system is rigged. To be lucky is to imply both that they aren’t good and the system isn’t rigged but the first assumption is that the book won the Hugo because it was better so that means good. I still don’t get it.

Now he’s trying to use math to prove there’s no ideological bias behind the Hugo Awards. This is interesting. I’d like to counter with the idea that there is an ideological bias: the bias of the current dominant culture of the fans of Worldcon. Some years that bias may lean towards Star Trek, other years towards Doctor Who, maybe Marvel will overtake the whole thing and smash! Biases exist. (Delete Godwin’s Law.) The way to change biases is to convince people that there are other, better biases, or maybe to give something outside their bias spectrum a try, maybe they’ll like it.

Look — political viewpoints in any society are described by a Gaussian (aka bell-shaped ) distribution curve. To save explaining it I’ve drawn it with a brilliant 10 second masterpiece.

But he is not explaining anything! So far it’s all sleight of hand with lots of complex imagery to distract from the potential purity of the math. There aren’t even any references to where he’s getting the distribution curve. Has he used poll data? Is it world wide or specific to a country?

Now he’s saying this:

But if the award is going to recapture credibility, those who nominate and vote need to accept there need to be as many black as red, and more white balls in play, and that black balls will have to win too, at least as often as the red.

When earlier he said this:

You might say for our society — fellow writers, we seek as fair a go as possible, equality of opportunity (not of course outcome. Equal outcomes are neither fair nor just).

Mic drop

In summary, based on what Freer submitted, I don’t understand what he’s a fan of in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy. To me being a fan involves learning Klingon or getting a pentagram inside a sun tattoo. It means being positively enthusiastic about something specific to speculative fiction and encouraging others in that love. He generically claims to want to inspire other writers but he gives very little specific advice on how to improve as a writer nor more specifically as a writer in sci-fi/fantasy.

This category is “Best Fan Writer” but I don’t see what aspect of speculative fiction Freer is a fan of and I don’t think he’s a very good writer let alone the best writer or best fan. Definitely not best fan writer.

Private Mars Rocket Review of Dave Freer

Camestros Felapton’s beautiful pedantic take down of Freer’s magical mystery math

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