owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
It's E3 time, and although I haven't been paying super-close attention, a few things have broken through. One of the harder stories to miss is the controversy over The Last Night, a side-scrolling platformer in a cyberpunk setting. Among other issues, the game seems to be set in a dystopia designed to be a critique of socialism (in contrast to most cyberpunk, which tends to be anti-capitalist). I'd seen a number of takes on the issue, but the one that broke through and inspired me to write my own thoughts was this Twitter thread by [twitter.com profile] petercoffin (the thread and replies are recommended reading, both up and down):

I retweeted it a couple of days ago, with a promise to come back and say more, and here we are. My thoughts are going to be less about capitalism vs. socialism and the many issues with this specific game (Peter and the rest of the Internet have that aspect amply covered) and more about the economics of creativity, specifically the economics of fandom, which is where my creativity has lived for the past decade and more. I said in my tweet that I have "literally never" been paid in money for creative work; there are some hairs to split (I've written freelance a little bit, mostly advertising copy, and [community profile] ladybusiness launched a Patreon about six months ago), but I think it's fair to say for the creative work that's personally meaningful to me -- fiction, fannish meta, book reviews, essays like this one, etc. -- I have never received renumeration. I consider this to be choice, because I have immersed myself in fandom, writing fiction of a type that I legally cannot sell. I've chosen not to write original fiction, or file the serial numbers off my fic; I've chosen not to pitch essays or reviews to paying venues; and I've chosen not to set up a personal Patreon or any kind of tip jar. Within my corner of fandom culture, we mostly accept that we're creating for the love of it, and for the personal satisfaction of sharing our creations with others.

So I look at a sentiment like the one that Peter describes, and it's alien to me. Many years ago, at my first FogCon, I got into a brief debate with a professional author during a panel about fanfiction, and why anyone would put time into writing something you couldn't sell. (Perhaps ironically, it was a panel about cyberpunk and other "-punk" genres.) Although my comments were well-received in the moment, the pro who raised the issue admitted that he still didn't really get it; he offered to continue the discussion over email, but I was too shy to take him up on it, so it ended there. I still think about it sometimes, though. There are plenty of people who undertake creative pursuits with no expectation of making them into a career: crafters, home cooks, musicians. I've never made money off music, either -- I actually pay for the privilege of singing in my chorus. Amateurs often create for love, in all kinds of fields. Why should writing be any different?

Fandom has an economy, of course. Most often it's described as a "gift economy", meaning that you publish your work as a gift to the community, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Another, in my experience more accurate description, is the "attention economy". Instead of money, creators get "paid" in attention: likes, kudos, clicks, reviews. Both of these models are somewhat limited, and the "attention economy" frame in particular is still rooted in the paradigm of capitalism, but I think there's something worthwhile in both descriptions. One of my favorite articles on the subject is The Economics of Fandom: Value, Investment, and Invisible Price Tags by [personal profile] saathi1013, which goes into detail about the "work" it takes to be in fandom, and the different ways in which we value and/or are compensated for that work.

On the other hand, there are signs that this may be changing. In this respect, there's always been a disconnect in fandom between fanfic and fanart -- unlike fanfic, there's a long tradition of selling fanart: at comics conventions, for example, or via commissions. In professional comics circles, there's an expectation of sorts that artists will cut their teeth on fanart and perhaps even include it in their portfolio. And increasingly, fanfic authors have been questioning why they can't benefit from selling their work, too. I've known fanfic authors to take commissions, or set up Patreons. And the practice of "filing off the serial numbers" has gotten more transparent with the success of authors like E. L. James and Cassandra Clare. Everyone knows that 50 Shades of Grey was originally a Twilight AU, and that Clare was offered a book contract on the strength of her following in the Harry Potter and LoTR fandoms. As IP holders have grown less likely to bring down the hammer on fanfic authors, fanfic is coming out of the shadows. Can a growing commercial acceptance be far behind?

To me, maybe it doesn't matter. Although I certainly appreciate no longer living in fear that I'll receive a cease and desist letter someday, I don't know that I would try to sell my fic even if I were given the opportunity. Essays and reviews might be a different story, further down the road, but for now I'm happier where I am, in (what feels to me) like the lower-pressure environment of fandom, where I can write for the love of it, and in the hopes of finding fellow travelers who will love what I love with me.
owlmoose: (quote - i can fix this)
Maybe the world doesn't need another post on this year's Hugo Awards, especially since Barry Deutsch already said much of what I've been thinking, but I feel compelled to share some thoughts anyway.

The 2016 Hugo Award finalists were announced today, and unfortunately -- but not unsurprisingly -- the Rabid Puppies ran away with them, to the tune of around 80% of the nominations (I can't get a direct link to the post to work, but the comparison to the slates should be at or near the top of the blog). This result, after a record-shattering 4,000 nominations came in, dispels three claims that have been part of the Hugo conversation lately:

1. The problem will be fixed if more people nominate -- a larger nomination pool makes it harder for a small voting bloc to game the system. I used to believe this myself, and I was moderately hopeful that getting people who signed up last year to vote against the Puppies to nominate would blunt the effects of a slate. Now, though, I'd say the evidence against that theory is pretty strong (although we won't know until the long lists come out in August). When you have a straight winner-take-all voting system, and the pool of potential nominees is this large, it doesn't take much of a bloc to overwhelm the legitimate nominations.

2. The Puppies are in this to see that popular authors writing quality works get nominated, as opposite to "authors who buddy up to the social justice warriors" (I feel dirty just typing that out). Considering that I have never heard of most of the authors on their list (except for a few big names, clearly nominated as cover), I don't see how anyone can make that argument with a straight face anymore.

3. Another argument that no one can make with a straight face: the Puppies are in this to keep political, "message fiction" from being nominated. A simple look at the Related Work and Short Story categories puts the lie to that assertion. (But look with caution. One of the titles in Related Work actually caused me to curse in chat, multiple times, which [personal profile] renay can tell you is something I only do at times of great duress.)

So, yeah. That happened. And it sucks, especially to have my hopes about the larger nomination pool dashed. But here we are, again, and what should we do about it? In the long term, obviously, WorldCon needs to pass E Pluribus Hugo, the change to the nomination rules that seems most likely to make a difference. I understand that the analysis of last year's voting data suggests that it would have blunted the effects of the slates but not removed them entirely, but it's better than nothing, and I think it's worth giving it a shot to see how it works. As for how we deal with this year, I have two thoughts.

First, on how to vote. Like last year, everyone is going to make their own decision on how to proceed, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. Last year, I voted almost entirely anti-slate; the only Puppy nominees I put above No Award were in the Dramatic Presentation categories and Editor-Long Form, the former because those categories rather removed from fandom politics (and some of their choices were on my own nomination ballot) and the second because good people convinced me that some of the editors were worthy of my vote. I think that was the correct choice last year, because we needed to make a strong statement that slates are wrong, and that opposition to diversity is wrong.

But this year, I think I'm going to take a softer line, and consider more of the slate-listed items. The aforementioned cover, of course -- enough people have spoken highly of Seveneves and the Sandman story, for example, and I'm a big fan of Lois McMaster Bujold -- and anything else that folks can convince me is worth my time. Why am I less inclined to sit this one out? For one, it's more obvious which of the choices are cover and which are [the loathsome troll who will go unnamed here] rewarding himself and his cronies. For another, we already tried the hard-line No Award strategy, and it didn't stop [LTWWGUH] from running a slate yet again. So now I feel like the better choice is pretending he doesn't exist. He's going to claim victory no matter what we do, so I prefer taking the path which gives me more satisfaction. And this year, that means looking at the works and judging them by my own standards. (And in some cases, the title or the person's name will provide more than sufficient data to make that judgement.)

Second, one of the reasons I got involved in this whole Hugo thing to start with was the hope of discovering new works and authors for me to get excited about. There's a few things to get excited about on this list, but not nearly enough. Last year, the Hugo long list provided some of that, but why should we wait? There's nothing to say that we can't share our nomination lists and get excited about things we love now. So, as an antidote to all this angry-making business, I propose that we do just that. Someday later this week, I'll kick it off with a list, and I hope those of you who nominated will share your lists with me, as much as you feel comfortable. And then we can get back to having some fun talking about the works we love, because isn't that what fandom is about, in the end?
owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
I posted a mini-rant on this subject to Twitter last month, but apparently I decided that wasn't sufficient:

The Tyranny of "Do It Yourself!"

As discussions about representation in media continue to grow and gain traction around the Internets and through different corners of fandom, we start seeing a lot of repetition: the same unhelpful arguments being made again and again. One of the responses I see a lot, and that I find among the most tiresome, boils down to this: "Stop complaining that other people aren't making the media you want, and just do it yourself!"

I first encountered this response in media fandom, as a pushback against people who wanted to see more content for an unusual pairing, and/or more diversity in romantic pairings (more femslash, more pairings involving people of color, etc.). It was frustrating there, but it's even more pervasive in the wider SF/F fandom, and follows many of the same patterns. And although I don't want to say that this is the very worst response to calls for diversity -- there are a lot of contenders for that title -- it's certainly up there.

Check it out!
owlmoose: (avengers - natasha)
Woo, fun, fighting with Grant Ward apologists on Tumblr.

I really need to get back to that long meta piece I was working on about Agents of SHIELD, HYDRA, and race.
owlmoose: (art - gorey neville)
New [livejournal.com profile] news post, in which they address the comment pages outcry... kinda.

Rest assured, we are paying close attention to all of your feedback.... We're also aggregating all your feedback about the presentation and usability of the commenting form in the general sense, including items missing from the previous version, and the appropriate project teams are reviewing this feedback to help guide what further changes will be made. Thank you for your patience as we continue to work on the new commenting system.

As I said in my comment to that post (but in nicer words), I find this statement so disingenuous, I could scream. If they cared about paying close attention to our feedback, they wouldn't have rolled out this change in the first place. People have been complaining, requesting, begging them not to change the commenting functionality ever since we first got wind of the possibility last week. The negative reaction cannot possibly have come as a surprise to them. How can we trust them to listen to user feedback when they could have prevented the problem by paying attention to the feedback we were already giving them?

And yet, they keep doing this. Implement drastic change without any prior warning, let people scream and howl for a little while, roll the change back, then sneak a more moderate version back in once the uproar has died down. I wonder when a critical mass of users will finally get sick of it.
owlmoose: (quote - flamethrower)
Google is taking all the sharing features out of Google Reader. (Official announcement from Google is here.) No more following other users, sharing and commenting on links, group link blogs, etc. The idea, I guess, is that Reader will become a simple RSS aggregator, and you'll do all your link sharing on Google+

Because we've all moved in to Google+ like good little minons, haven't we?

This, my friends, is a potential disaster.(1) Google Reader is probably the centerpiece of my online life. I depend on other people finding the good stuff on blogs that aren't quite what I would normally follow but still have awesome content. It's my curated Internet, and I will miss that, terribly.

I also have to wonder whether this is a sign that Google is planning to shut Reader down entirely at some point, and that would take us from potential disaster to an actual one. I use Reader for everything. I follow blogs for work, blogs for politics, blogs for fun. I use it to follow high-volume celebrity Twitters like [twitter.com profile] ebertchicago and [twitter.com profile] neilhimself. I use it to follow high-volume cute animal Tumblrs like [tumblr.com profile] herekittykittykitty. I literally do not know what I would do without it.

What are we up to, now -- three major Internet service redesign fails in the last month? Facebook, Delicious, now this. Not to mention all the other shenanigans Google has pulled on us lately. To quote Sarah Perez at TechCrunch:

You can’t force me into using Google+ by stealing pieces of Google Reader. That’s not how that’s going to work.

So, how is it going to work? Interesting question, at least for me. My online presence has gotten quite fractured over the last few years. It wasn't all that long ago that all of my publicly visible online social activity -- writing, conversation, link-sharing, on every topic I cared about -- was centered in a single place: my LiveJournal. But as my community has spread, changed, migrated, grown in some areas and shrunk in others, I've been adding more and more services to my plate: Facebook, Twitter, Dreamwidth, Google Reader's sharing features, Tumblr. Maybe it's time for me to rethink that, consolidate back down again, or at least come up with some coherent plan for what content I'm going to share where. One thing to consider: if I have to decouple sharing content from RSS feeds anyway, there's certainly nothing tying me to Google Reader. My options could open up considerably.

Maybe that's just as well. Over the last few years, I've been getting nervous about just how deeply my online life depends on Google, its products, and its services. Perhaps this is another sign that I shouldn't be storing so much content in the Google basket. I recently saw (via, what else, a link on Google Reader) a really thoughtful article about Google by Daniel Soar in the London Review of Books, entitled, somewhat ominously, "It Knows". His thesis is that everything Google does, no matter how far afield from search it might seem, comes back to their core value of improving search, either by giving them more data, more content, or by strengthening the tools used to retrieve that content. I tried to find a pull quote, but there was too much; I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Soar is not particularly alarmist in his conclusions, at least not in terms of the misuse of personal information, and to be fair that's not what concern me. What does cause me concern is the suggestion that Google sees its user base not as individual customers, but as its beta testers. Its content aggregators. And suddenly, some of their stranger decisions over the years start making a bit more sense.

I'm not about to give up on Google entirely, of course -- it's made itself far too useful. And that's the rub, isn't it? Even when we're angry, they've made it extremely difficult for us to walk away. And that's what worries me, as much as anything.

1. Although not the disaster it would have been a few days ago, before Google announced that they're working on a policy that will allow pseudonyms. Finally.
owlmoose: (cats - tori glare)
I mean, seriously. What the hell? Was there any kind of warning on this? Any secret "preview our new service!" opportunity? Because if not.... wow.

Guess it's time to leave. You all know I am generally for riding out the changes with free Internet services, but not when they totally break them overnight. Any recommendations for other bookmarking tools? For my purposes, the only real problem is not being able to see all my tags, but what a problem to have. How is a bookmarking service useful if I can only get to a handful of randomly-selected tags?

owlmoose: (B5 - Ivanova)
I had thoughts on the article about the agent who asked two authors to de-gay their YA novel (a story which has now come under dispute by the agent in question; my thoughts on the resulting pushback are best summed up in this tweet by Scott Westerfeld, but I digress). It turns out that [personal profile] renay also had thoughts, and we bounced those thoughts around and off each other, and we posted the results over on [community profile] ladybusiness:


Your thoughts on our thoughts welcome!

Book meme

Aug. 13th, 2011 07:43 pm
owlmoose: (Default)
I'm not sure how to feel about the fact that the NPR SF/F Top 100 list that I posted about the other day has morphed into yet another book meme, for the most part without any critical commentary. (I was, however, happy to see an entry on NPR's Monkey See blog that calls out the list for its maleness and mentions the YA ban as a partial reason.) There is [personal profile] eruthros's call for nominations to create a Top 100 list of speculative fiction works, at least one goal of which is to promote more diversity, but the call requests nominations across all forms media. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. I wish someone would do a book-focused list targeted at fandom.

But, well, I never met a book meme I could resist, so here you go. I make no claims to this list's legitimacy as a canon or source for reading recommendations. Bold if you've read, italicize ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a book/series you've read part but not all of.

Huh, I've read exactly half, not counting partial reads. )
owlmoose: (kh - xemnas)
The National Endowment for the Arts has now declared video games to be eligible for art grants funding:

Projects may include high profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives); media created for theatrical release; performance programs; artistic segments for use within an existing series; multi-part webisodes; installations; and interactive games. Short films, five minutes and under, will be considered in packages of three or more. (Emphasis mine.)

Also this week, the Smithsonian posted an announcement about its upcoming exhibit on the art of games, planned for next year. (Time for a trip to DC?)

Both very cool things. But mostly, I'm posting about it because I am very amused by the headline on an article about the two announcements:

US Goverment Declares Roger Ebert Wrong: Video Games Officially Art
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
So, how about this kerfuffle over the Bitch Magazine recommended reading list of YA literature? It's been all over the Internet for a couple of days now, and it probably deserves a more thoughtful post than I have time to write tonight. But this story hits me in so many places that I live: as a reader, as a writer, as a feminist, as a free speech advocate, as a librarian, as a long-time reader of and some-time subscriber to Bitch. In the end, I couldn't just let it go by.

The background: over on its blog, the magazine's librarian posts a list of "100 young adult novels that every feminist should add to the stack of books on their bedside table." As such lists always do -- as, in fact, I would argue they are meant to do -- it raised questions of what's on the list and what's off and why, and there was lively debate in the comments. So lively that the magazine actually decided to take three books off the list.

Cue the author outrage. For a number of reasons, but I think the big one was this, as articulated by Maureen Johnson in comments:

But I have been incredibly disheartened to see your process for removing books. It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries--namely, one person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked.

The parallel isn't exact, because the editors stated that they did read, or re-read, the books before deciding to remove them. But the comparison is still a fair one, particularly in the appearance of a single critic having the power to get a book off the shelf, or in this case a recommended reading list.

As I put my librarian hat on, I have to wonder if they really thought through the purpose of the list, or about what the selection criteria ought to be. Any librarian will tell you that, before you start collecting materials, you have to have a selection policy: a set of guidelines that you use to decide which books belong in your library. These policies exist for two reasons. First, they help you choose the books to buy. Equally important, they give you a baseline to help you respond to challenges when they arise. Then, when someone comes to you with a concern ("This book is too violent! This book is triggering! This book is not feminist enough!"), you're prepared with a defense, even if you ultimately decide that picking the book was a mistake. The quick capitulation (especially since the stated reason for removing the books was concern about triggers, which could easily have been rectified by adding warnings to the list) is what leads me to to believe that there probably was no formal selection criteria.

Some folks have criticized the original author of the list for posting it without having read all the listed books. I'm less sympathetic to this argument. No librarian has read every single book in their library, or even on the "recommended titles" display; it's simply not possible. To a certain extent, we have to rely on the judgement of others: reviews, back-of-the-book synopses, word of mouth. Yes, I have even been known to judge a book by its cover. But all this just strengthens the argument for selection criteria. When you can't answer a challenge with "I read the book, and therefore I can say it is appropriate for these reasons", you need to have something more specific, more detailed than "my friend read it and said it was good." Which is how the initial defenses for having added the books to the list in the first place read to me.

Librarians take risks in content choices every day. Sometimes, avoiding controversy is the best route to go for yourself, for your institution, or for the community you serve. But when the controversial path is chosen, I really think that we owe it to ourselves, to readers and to writers to stand by those choices, not to cave in to the first or the loudest complaint. We are the defenders of knowledge, and we are at our best when we act like it.
owlmoose: (Default)
Dear Roger Ebert,

You are not going to prove your point by setting up false dichotomies. Which is more valuable: the Mona Lisa or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? Which is a greater accomplishment: Apocalypse Now or the Taj Mahal?

It's not the first time he's tried this tactic -- setting games as a genre against a single masterwork in a completely unrelated medium to provide "proof" that games aren't art. It still doesn't work.

And on that note, I'm about to disappear into the wilds of the East Coast for an excellent long weekend with [livejournal.com profile] amybang and [livejournal.com profile] anzubird and many many Mawrters. Reunion, yay! I'll have my phone with me, but not my computer, so I'll be a bit scarce around these parts for a few days. See you when I get back.
owlmoose: (Default)
It appears that Gabaldon has, after posting a fauxpology (the classic "I'm sorry if anyone's feelings were hurt" response), deleted all her posts on the subject. Couldn't stand the heat? Some attempt to save face? Since the posts are gone, and she hasn't replaced them with a statement on their removal, we'll probably never know why. But I hope she knows that, on the Internet, wank is forever.

I also wanted to share two follow up notes to the GRRM posts. First, check out this totally fascinating post from [livejournal.com profile] nihilistic_kid which basically demolishes GRRM's claim that H.P. Lovecraft died in poverty because he allowed unlicensed derivative fanworks of his books. I really recommend this post, not only for the information about Lovecraft, but especially for links and discussion in the comments that cast the infamous Marion Zimmer Bradley fanfic case in a somewhat different light.

The other is from GRRM himself. He's posted on this issue twice more since his original comment on the situation. The first was a standard attempt to simultaneously entrench and backpedal (he did acknowledge the copyright misconpetion, sorta), but the other is actually fairly thoughtful and interesting, and it's worth reading, if you can get past his annoying habit of referring to fan writers as "fan fictioneers". It's an emotional look at what his characters mean to him, and why reaction to fanworks can be just as much about love for the original creators as for the fan writers. Fan writers create out of love for the characters and the world; original creators feel protective of their creations for the same reason. While I still take issue with some of the particulars of his argument, I find it a lot more sympathetic than the usual "copyright/stealing/talentless hacks/write your own stuff/ZOMGporn!" tactics that pro authors often use against fic. Good debate in the comments, too. For starters, I recommend this comment, a semi-rebuttal from [livejournal.com profile] dagas_isa taking issue with the implication that pro authors who allow and/or encourage fic love their characters less than GRRM. And I agree: not more or less, although possibly different.
owlmoose: (Default)
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that GRRM has now gotten involved in this lastest fanfic discussion, since he's voiced loud opposition to fanfiction in the past, and Diana Gabaldon was published in the last collection he edited. (Which, possibly ironically, is the book I'm reading right now. Just for the cherry on the "authors who are connected with fic, pro and con" sundae, Naomi Novik is in it, too.) On the whole, his arguments are more reasoned than hers -- at least he doesn't compare us to a bunch of violent criminals -- but there is one point that I absolutely must take issue with.

Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That's something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana's blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use [...] but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law -- a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it.

I allow that this would be a really strong argument against allowing fanfic if it were true. But guess what? It isn't.

This particular misconception comes up a lot in debates about fanfic. While it is generally true of trademarks -- if you don't defend them and keep people from using them as generic terms, you can lose them; that's what happened to xerox and kleenex and aspirin, for example, and that's why Google fights against the use of "to google" as a lower-cased verb -- it is not at all true of copyright. As of 1978, in the United States, any creative work placed into a fixed form is, at that point, copyrighted to the original creator. This is true regardless of whether the creator asserts copyright on the work, registers the copyright with the Library of Congress, or defends against unauthorized use. That copyright is yours, and nothing save the passage of time (as of now, 70 years after your death) or your decision to sell the copyright to someone else or release it into the public domain can change that.

I can understand why published authors might be queasy about fanfic, and I don't really judge anyone for disallowing it (practical issues with attempting to do so aside). But I don't think it's too much to ask them to base their positions on actual facts.

Edited to add a link to this beautiful defense of fic, a list of what fanfic is and is not that rings perfectly true to me. Strongly recommended.

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