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What’s The Opposite Of Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes?

with 75 comments

As you will have noticed from my short story projects I tend to find genre short stories frustrating. For this reason I subscribe to none of the magazines and rarely read any of the freely available material on the internet. The exception is at awards time. This is, after all, part of the point of awards: to filter a huge field and identify the best of the best. By reading only shortlisted works I should avoid all frustration and experience only excellent literature.

Ho, ho, ho.

Not only does awards season mean I read short fiction, it also means I get an opportunity to talk about it. This year Karen Burnham has been running a short story club at Locus Online. It is a welcome development, although it is a shame to see no other contributors to Locus taking part. The club covers all the short stories and novelettes that received two our more award nominations this year.

One of these stories is ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ by Eric James Stone, which was shortlisted for both the Hugo and the Nebula. It subsequently won the Nebula. This means, theoretically, that the membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America – professional writers all – thought that this was the best short story published in science fiction and fantasy in 2010. That is quite an accolade. Theoretically.

Before going on to try and puzzle out what has gone catestrophically wrong with the Nebulas, I suppose I better mention the story itself. My first encounter with the story was when Nick Mamatas refered to it as the “Mormon space whale rape story”. Then I read Abigail Nussbaum’s scathing review as part of her overview of the Hugo novelette shortlist. (Nussbaum has also written about the Hugo short story and novella categories. Poor sod.) As such, although my expectations for the short story club had already been lowered by ‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow’ by Aliette de Bodard and ‘Ponies’ by Kij Johnson, I was confident that ‘Leviathan’ would be much worse. And it was.

I tweeted the story as I read it at #whalerape (now lost to the ether) and I’ve left several comments on the Locus post so I’m not going to rehearse why the story is so bad (it is also worth reading the David Moles post linked there). If you think the story has any merit at all, feel free to try and convince me in the comments. Instead, my interest now is in how it won the Nebula. The voting system might well play a part. As Sam Montgomery-Blinn pointed out, unlike the Hugos:

the final vote is a winner take all, unranked vote: pick one of these 5-6 stories. This is precisely the voting system you would expect to produce a mediocre winner with strong hot/cold reactions, while 3 or 4 more potentially outstanding stories split the remaining votes.

But that would still mean a chunk of people had to actively vote for ‘Leviathan’. How many members of the SFWA vote for the Nebulas and how many of them voted for this story? I’ve no idea because this information isn’t published. The Hugos are very good about publishing their nomination and voting statistics and I can see no good reason why the Nebulas shouldn’t do the same. I emailed the SFWA to ask for the statistics but I’ve had no response. Because of this fundamental lack of transparency around the award, I am reliant on anecedotal evidence. For example, Rick Bowes gave a partial answer but I’m not sure what his source is:

it appears that fewer than 20% of the membership recommend on the preliminary ballot or vote on the final ballot. It’s possible for a very small number (even single digets) of recs to put a work on the final ballot.

The combination of First Past The Post and low voter turnout is exactly the sort of situation where you would expect logrolling to succeed. And, chances are, that is exactly what has happened here. Mamatas has since mentioned that Stone is a member of the Codex writers group. He is not the only one. Here is the shortlist for the Nebula novelette category:

  • ‘Map of Seventeen’ by Christopher Barzak
  • ‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow’ by Aliette de Bodard (Codex)
  • ‘The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara’ by Christopher Kastensmidt (Codex)
  • ‘Plus or Minus’ by James Patrick Kelly
  • ‘Pishaach’ by Shweta Narayan
  • ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ by Eric James Stone (Codex)
  • ‘Stone Wall Truth’ by Caroline M. Yoachim (Codex)

It is the same old story, you vote for your mates, regardless of how good their work is. Of course, the Nebulas have always had this reputation but even so you would hope people who voted for this story would have the good grace to be embarrassed. ‘Leviathan’ is not the best story of 2011, it is not even a good story; in fact, it can probbaly be counted amongst the worst stories published in 2011. Couldn’t the Codex writers group just have bought Stone a cake? That way I wouldn’t have been tricked into thinking his story was worth reading, that the Nebulas retained an vestige of value and that the SFWA was an organisation interested in literature.

Written by Martin

17 June 2011 at 11:43

75 Responses

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  1. I tweeted the story as I read it at #whalerape (now lost to the ether)

    For those who weren’t following, this is probably the essential tweet.


    17 June 2011 at 12:06

  2. “Couldn’t the Codex writers group just have bought Stone a cake?”


    Radu Romaniuc

    17 June 2011 at 15:22

  3. Ah Martin, you’re funny.

    Nick Mamatas

    17 June 2011 at 16:30

  4. A boy can dream, can’t he?

    I note that ‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’ won the Nebula Best Novella award and Rachel Swirsky is also a member of Codex. If you are going to logroll at least pick a decent writer like Swirsky.


    18 June 2011 at 08:41

  5. “I tweeted the story as I read it at #whalerape (now lost to the ether)

    Behold! I made this for you. Whether you’ll thank me for it or not remains to be seen….

    Nick H.

    18 June 2011 at 19:50

  6. Huh, I did Codex for a while but gave it up in favour of a real-life group. Maybe I should have stuck with it, I could have a Nebula by now.

    Patrick H

    20 June 2011 at 09:59

  7. Correlation does not equal causation.

    Not that you should let that simple fact get in the way of your narrative. Hell, why bother with facts at all, when you have such a lovely conspiracy theory and–by your own admission–not one shred of proof?

    Ah, but don’t mind me. Apparently, I’m a just member of an all-powerful cabal. Do carry on.

    Matthew Rotundo

    25 June 2011 at 19:00

  8. So are you saying that you disliked the stories and didn’t support their nomination or vote for the winner? Tell us what you dislike about the story under discussion, Matthew. I’d be curious to hear.

    Nick Mamatas

    25 June 2011 at 19:07

  9. I haven’t yet read the story under discussion, although I will before I cast my Hugo vote. The quality of the story (or lack thereof) was not the subject of my comment.

    The comment made the simple and obvious point that there is no proof for this conspiracy theory.

    Matthew Rotundo

    25 June 2011 at 19:15

  10. “Friends vote for friends” is hardly a “conspiracy theory.” One question that came up, Matthew, was what percentage of people in SFWA vote for the Nebula awards. Did you vote for the Nebs at all this year?

    Nick Mamatas

    25 June 2011 at 19:19

  11. No.

    Matthew Rotundo

    25 June 2011 at 19:21

  12. Well then, you’re not exactly counterproof of the “conspiracy theory” either, are you? The question is who votes for these awards and why—someone who doesn’t vote at all isn’t of interest. (A Codex member voting against would be of interest.)

    Nick Mamatas

    25 June 2011 at 19:23

  13. OK. Take no interest, then. Fine with me.

    My point–for the third time–is that there is no proof of the accusations made here. And the burden of proof is on the accuser.

    Refute the point, concede it, or ignore it. I don’t care either way.

    Matthew Rotundo

    25 June 2011 at 19:28

  14. If you’re going to give folks lectures on proof and argumentation, Matthew, you should check yourself first. Well-poisoning (“all-powerful cabal”), strawman arguments (“conspiracy theory”) and the like aren’t points, they’re fallacies.

    It would be rather extraordinary if members of the same writing group who bothered voting didn’t vote for their friends in the group—we know quite a bit about human psychology these days, after all. Tell us, what makes Codex congenitally immune from “vote for your mates”?

    Nick Mamatas

    25 June 2011 at 19:33

  15. That would be option 3, then. Very good. Carry on.

    Matthew Rotundo

    26 June 2011 at 00:15

  16. Be sure to report back to The Venting Thread on Codex!

    Nick Mamatas

    26 June 2011 at 00:16

  17. …I’m not sure how to respond to this since it seems a little bit like a “when did you stop beating your wife?” question.

    Is there an influence that writers know each other? Probably. Is that a particularly greater influence from Codex than it is from any other network of writers? I mean, there’s a big tangle of writers in NYC, and I think being able to be visible in some of those communities can increase the number of people who are familiar with your work. Is that deeply different from Codex?

    I voted against Codex members for short story, for a Codex member for novelette, for for novella (sue me :-P), and against for novel. Also I did not vote Codex for the Norton although I can’t remember whether anyone from Codex was on the list.

    My top picks, including works that did not get nominated–but excluding novellas–would have been Kressel (not Codex), Nina Allen (not Codex), Charles Yu (not Codex), and an “all-equally-good” between Barry Deutsch, Paolo Bacigalupi and Kate Milford for the Norton.

    I would think the largest influence that the Codex membership has on the process is whether or not it gets nominated since people have to pick and choose what they read in the field and stuff by other members in a group of yours will be more visible to you. I try to read what ends up on years best lists, and from friend’s and editor’s and critic’s recommendations, and that sort of thing, but I will also read work by writers whose work I’ve had experience with liking (either inside a group or out of it) and sometimes writers who approach me in other ways, which is more likely to happen if they have some prior association w/ me.

    I’m sure Codex isn’t irrelevant. I’m not sure it’s a voting bloc–in that case, I would have expected to see the votes spread (possibly uselessly) b/w the like four Codex stories in the novelette category. Or I would have expected to see them concentrated on the best story in the bunch. (I guess I disagree with some people on which that is.)

    Nominating bloc, though. Perhaps.

    Rachel Swirsky

    26 June 2011 at 23:57

  18. Given that nominations are part of the voting process, and that nominators are fairly unlikely to not vote for the work they nominated for, I’m unsure what your objection actually is, Rachel. Nominating bloc isn’t distinct from voting bloc.

    Certainly there are many aesthetic agendas and factions within in Codex (it’s a big group after all), and if the tangle of NY writers started showing up on awards ballots based on either obscure stories not otherwise widely read, or simply bad stories, of course people would point to it. But that tangle of NY writers isn’t really creating the effects that Codex writers are creating. (The NY tangle is also a little different than Codex too—Codex selects for people with professional sales, which leads to a specific shorter fiction orientation; the NY tangle has all sorts of things going on, including pure novelists, people who have passed their peak of creativity or just aren’t “new” writers, etc.) Codex even insists on headshots in its forum for “[t]o make it easier to recognize each other at events, cons, etc.” That’s different than mere geographical ties.

    As far as the spread of votes on the final ballot, it’s worth noting that it only takes a couple dozen votes to get on a ballot—(e.g., as few as 23 at Ausiecon’s Hugo for the Short Story categories). A faction-creating device like a private online community with 100+ members is sufficient to launch a terrible story like EJS’s onto a ballot, and an excellent story from someone else onto the ballot, and then when the final votes are ready, factions still work.

    Far from being a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question, the objections seem to be, “Well, all 200 of us didn’t vote for the Mormon space whale rape story, and even those that did didn’t do it just because we’re workshop buddies, and you can’t prove it even if we did, so you’re wrong.” But as nobody claimed that every Codexer votes for stories that otherwise nobody else would, that’s a pretty obvious strawman. It’s “vote for your mates”—the difference is that it’s easier for Codex members to have a few dozen mates.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 00:16

  19. I’m not arguing that people aren’t influenced by social ties. Sure, they are. Is that the entirety of the argument? Then fine. I agree. People are influenced by their social connections to other people in lots of conscious and subconscious ways.

    My social ties mean that, e.g., I am likely to read work by Vylar Kaftan and I am likely to read it with a more generous eye than I might a stranger’s. But I didn’t nominate her, and I didn’t vote for her. & my social tie to her is considerably stronger than “she is a random person on a message board that about 50% of the time makes me froth at the mouth.”

    Maybe people do go out and intentionally vote for their mates over other people, rather than just being subconsciously influenced. Beats me. I hear stories about people voting for their friends after not reading the material on the ballot. Sucks. Those stories come from lotsa different social networks, though, formal and informal, with barriers to entry and without. Seems to me that the difference b/w Altered Fluid or Fictionados or Clarion West alumni Wiscon attendees or people who go to KGB readings, etc., on the one hand–and Codex on the other–is degree, not kind.

    Also, I’m vaguely aware that some people have headshots on Codex, but I don’t think they “insist” on them. I’ve never uploaded one (possibly someone could have done it for me) and my browser doesn’t display them.

    Rachel Swirsky

    27 June 2011 at 03:43

  20. k, it occurs to me that maybe we’re talking about systemic effects instead of personal intentions, e.g. the loose association of these people creates a feedback loop in which the minor and subconscious influences of social ties creates a phenomenon wherein this group is more likely to show up on the ballot

    which I think is probably true

    as opposed to deliberate logrolling or an intention to vote for your mates

    which i think is probably not true, or at least not widely true

    Rachel Swirsky

    27 June 2011 at 03:54

  21. >Altered Fluid or Fictionados or Clarion West alumni Wiscon attendees or people who go to KGB readings, >etc.,

    The main difference being that AF and F have maybe a dozen members, or twenty counting the periphery, not 100+. Same with any given Clarion class. Wiscon attendees and people who go to KGB readings aren’t grouping of professional writers who workshop together. You aren’t comparing like with like here, not at all. Imagine a discussion of a glass ceiling or the influence of Ivy League eating clubs on careers, and someone countering that sure sure, maybe, but isn’t it just as suspicious that the sons of plumbers also tend to be plumbers sometimes.

    Or to be a bit more blunt, Rachel—were this about anything else, I seriously doubt you’d be making the argument you just did.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 04:28

  22. I think that this thread touches upon a wider and far more pernicious issue in genre awards and that is one of misrepresentation and self-deceit.

    Like most communities rooted in the artistic and therefore in the intellectual, genre likes to present itself as being all about the ideas and all about the quality. We have ‘Best Novel’ awards and not ‘Fans’ Choices’ and the genre community is very very fond of presenting itself as incredibly open, meritocratic and accessible.

    However, from the Hugos, to the Nebulas, to the Locus awards and the BSFA award in past years the reality is that most people vote for their mates all the time. They vote for people they have known for decades and people they workshop with, they vote for people they know from conventions and people that move in the same circles as they do.

    To a certain extent, this type of thing is unavoidable and it is really fucking hard to disentangle your aesthetic assessment of someone’s output from your assessment of them as a person. At the lowest possible level, if you know that someone has done good work in the past then you are more likely to look upon their future works in a positive light even if their new works are not as good as their old work… and that problem scales upwards all the way to the point where “This is the best work of science fiction published in 2010” becomes completely indistinguishable from “I really like Connie Willis”.

    I can sympathise with the difficulty of disentangling those two sets of issues, I really can, but an important step towards making awards actually meaningful is a recognition that the community has a real problem with this.

    Jonathan M

    27 June 2011 at 08:03

  23. But clarion west alums don’t just filter by class–there’s a communication network that goes pretty far beyond that. I’m connected to at least 100 CW people, primarily through CW. I seek out class members from years before and after mine; I am introduced to them by other people in the network; I volunteer for CW; I fundraise for CW; I recruit for CW and subsequently meet the classmates of the people I’ve recruited; on alternate years, I drive to Seattle to meet the class while they’re still attending; I go to Clarion West events at cons when Leslie or Neile organizes them.

    Anyway. If the concession that you’re looking for is, do I think that knowing people on Codex is helpful in creating a situation in which my work is more visible? Sure. Participating in Codex is helpful in creating a situation in which my work is more visible.

    I am uncomfortable publicly discussing my feelings about work that gets nominated for the ballot due to what appears to be “vote for your mates” stuff in groups other than Codex which I would need to do in order to explain why I think you’re underestimating the degree to which the situations are like. I’m not sure there are any bridges I’m willing to burn in the name of that disagreement. So I guess I’m conceding that, too.

    Anyway, I hope to continue to be able to read widely next year so that the people whose work I find exciting aren’t just my mates. I hope to find more Kate Milfords and Kris Millerings and Nina Allens and Charles Yus and Benjamin Francisco-Maulbecks and Will Ludwigsens and Will McIntoshs. Reading widely enough to discover new authors is the only antidote I know to defaulting to voting for my mates. And I definitely wish I read more widely and better.

    I hope others find ways to read representative cross-sections of work as well.

    Rachel Swirsky

    27 June 2011 at 10:57

  24. I’m not arguing that people aren’t influenced by social ties. Sure, they are. Is that the entirety of the argument? Then fine. I agree. People are influenced by their social connections to other people in lots of conscious and subconscious ways.

    The argument is a bit stronger than that. I would suggest this in instance where people have been so strongly influenced by social ties that they have produced a perverse situation. That situation (a very bad story being chosen by a bunch of writers as the best of the year) is not only undesirable, it is avoidable. It is, I feel, something worth complaining about in the vain hope that it might happen a bit less. I don’t think it is enough to just wave it away as part of life; sure influences work in “lots of conscious and subconscious ways” but some are more conscious than others.

    I appreciate that you read widely and don’t just nominated your friends. But, while I wish more people were like you, this isn’t really about you. When I made the connection between your story and Stone’s, it was not to suggest any negative action on your part but to highlight the contrast between the two. You are an extremely respected short story writer and I’ve seen awards buzz around your story since it was published. There is no reason to suspect that ‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’ was the beneficary of logrolling (although I’m sure those conscious and unconscious influences played their part) when the much more obvious reason for its win is that it is a good story (I nominated it for the Hugos myself). There is no such possible counter narrative for ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’.

    I can’t stand the casual dishonesty of voting for mates but what gets me about this particular example is just how blatant it is. Usually I would just chalk it up to the genre’s fundamental lack of interest in art and move on but when a story this bad wins a major award I feel I have to say something. As Jonathan says, the problem is pervasive but here not only is the result worse than usual but the connection seems clearer than usual. Perhaps Stone didn’t actively lobby members of Codex, perhaps he is just a really nice guy who people like or perhaps there really is a secret mormon cabal in the SFWA, I’ve no way of knowing. The only people who do have a way of knowing are the people inside those groups. So it is a bit disappointing for you to say that you know this sort of logrolling goes on in other groups but you won’t name names and I have to take it on trust that it doesn’t happen in Codex. The fact that people are uncomfortable publicly discussing the issue is why it persists.


    27 June 2011 at 12:29

  25. CW does have a fairly strong network, it’s true, and of the number of types of oranges you compared apples with last time, Rachel, CW is certainly the most apple-like of them. But it’s a truism that most Clarion (and Odyssey) alumni don’t last. It’s not an ongoing project, the way a rolling online workshop is. It involves many people who have not published and ultimately will not publish, also unlike Codex.

    I’m also sure that other networking groups can and do launch people’s nominations. Hell, the only reason I’m nominated for a Hugo is because James Nicoll spent a lot of time championing Haikasoru on his blog and USENET. The difference that when someone asks how I got on the ballot, I tell them. Hell, I tell them on my work blog: http://www.haikasoru.com/science-fiction/haikasoru-and-the-hugos/ I demystify, rather than insist on continued mystification.

    It’s also not as though the old groups—Analog mafias and Friends of Bwana and the like have gone away. There are also plenty of shitty stories getting on ballots from pure inertia—Willis’s pathetic joke of a novel is a clear example—as well. But when a new set of writers emerge with few publications and almost zero major publications and end up on the Campbell ballot, and when deeply shitty stories end up winning Nebulas, there is something going on. And when all these people have a very large, if factionalized, network of new writers with pro sales in common, well, the evidence is obvious if circumstantial.

    We know that networks work. We know that Codex is a uniquely large and active network—large enough to support factions* themselves of sufficient size or enthusiasm to match other networks. And then we’re told by several Codex members “Oh no, it’s not that!” Oh, and “Well, other people do it too!” That the latter contradicts the former is often left unremarked upon.

    Reading widely is the answer. I dropped out of SFWA and HWA years ago partially because the awards were fairly obvious “vote for your mate” nonsense, and little could be done about that. My “award reading” basically consists of reading as widely as I normally do, then sending notes to the Shirley Jackson Award jury when I come across something good. Sometimes what I’ve recommended even ends up on the ballot. Sometimes not. Almost every time though, I hear after the fact that what I suggested was entirely off their radar until then. I have high hopes for “Maloulou” by Marie Lily Cerat in HAITI NOIR (Akashic Books) next year! The problem with membership or popularity awards is that reading widely and reading well doesn’t have much of an impact. Feeding suggestions to a jury can. The Hugos and Nebulas are basically designed with networks in mind.

    *Speaking of “secret Mormons”, there’s certainly a faction within Codex powerful enough whether through volume or numbers to insist that dirty words on workshopped stories be obscured. Who knows what their religious beliefs are if any (I presume there’s a mix), and I’ve certainly known Mormon writers happy to use and read curse words (Willum Hopfrog Pugmire!) But yes, the EJS story does seem right up the alley of this faction.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 15:57

  26. Forgive me for intruding, I just wanted to ask for a quick clarification. Is the argument:

    EJS won because of Codex


    EJS is a member of Codex, therefore he won because of Codex

    I’m curious because you distinguish Mr. Stone from Ms. Swirsky, whom you identify as deserving of the award and so that is the more obvious reason she won, not connections.

    So is the argument is more along the lines, Codex is a large, active group and is an easier venue to curry feelings of good will among smaller groups or other members that will trump voting decisions?

    As for the original question, I’m curious why the answer is Codex and not Analog writers/readers–is it because Codex is the larger group? Or is it likely a combination? So when a member of Codex is also a part of another group, the combined force of the two..?

    Thanks for your time.


    27 June 2011 at 17:14

  27. It’s more like, “A deeply awful story won, suggesting that people voted for reasons other than the text of the story. One likely cause of EJS’s role and reputation inside Codex.” Of course, another possibility is that there are plenty of people who simply like deeply shitty stories—but that doesn’t explain why this one won—or that there are enough people sympathetic to Mormonism (or antipathetic enough to “moral relativism”) that the story appealed–but that also wouldn’t explain why other shitty stories of this type haven’t won.

    Since this was the Nebulas, the “readers” of Analog (who aren’t all writers) are less important. This also isn’t a typical Analog story—the science is Star Trek spectacle, for example, and there is a religious theme—so the Analog mafia likely wouldn’t have carried it through, not on their own.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 18:03

  28. I don’t quite follow the distinction you are making with those two arguments. My argument is EJS didn’t win on merit therefore he won because of connections. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the conduit of those connections was Codex.

    As for the original question, I’m curious why the answer is Codex and not Analog writers/readers–is it because Codex is the larger group? Or is it likely a combination? So when a member of Codex is also a part of another group, the combined force of the two..?

    Maybe it was Analog readers rather than Codex members who nominated and voted for this story (although I note it didn’t win the Analog readers’ poll). If it was, then they didn’t manage to have much of an effect on the rest of the Nebulas.

    I’m sure the more networks you are in the easier it is to engineer this sort of thing. But really, I’m less interested in the exact way it happened than the fact it happened.


    27 June 2011 at 18:18

  29. “I don’t quite follow the distinction you are making with those two arguments. ”

    I’m not sure I was clear either–originally I was trying to parse out your distinction between EJS and Swirsky–that is: did both win because they were Codexians and therefore if a Codexian wins, it is because of Codex and not because of the story (or even, if a Codexian is nominated, it is because they are Codexians and not because of the story).

    But after reading through the comments, it didn’t look like that was what you were driving at.

    Hmm. Looking at Nick’s comment, perhaps the logical statements are:

    If… lesser deserving stories wins –> Author must be part of influential group (OR) [other explanation, e.g. vote splitting]

    The contra positive of which would be:

    Author is not part of influential group [and] [no other explanation] –> One of the lesser deserving stories did not win

    And perhaps not, as I think I originally read it:

    If Author is a member of influential group –> Lesser deserving story will win/be nominated

    Anyway, thank you for your responses. One other thing I was curious about–what would the ideal Nebula voting system be? Would revealing the number of votes fix it, or do you (anyone reading this) believe it needs a more serious overhaul? (I confess complete ignorance of how the voting works in practice–I don’t qualify for SFWA so it’s never really been an issue for me)


    27 June 2011 at 18:53

  30. My ideal Nebula voting system would be one where all the members of the SFWA acted like Rachel Swirsky and read widely and nominated according to what they read. Then I’d like them to read all the shortlisted stories and vote according to what they read, preferably by Single Transferable Vote.

    Revealing the voting figures wouldn’t fix the problems with the award but it would give it greater legitimacy.


    27 June 2011 at 20:18

  31. That Rachel Swirsky and I are both members of Codex ought to be proof enough — even for the skeptics — that Codex is not a monolithic bloc. As for criticisms against “Leviathan” I am forever disappointed (though never surprised) when intelligent people engage in discussing their personal taste as if it’s objective fact. It’s perfectly understandable, Martin, if the story wasn’t to your liking. Taste is taste. Yours is entirely valid, for you. That a story not to your taste won a Nebula doesn’t automatically indict the entire process — especially when, as you yourself note, something that was to your liking (or at least you like the writer) did in fact win.

    As someone else already noted, we cannot doubt the validity of the process that effected Eric James Stone’s win without automatically doubting the validity of the process that also effected Rachel’s win.

    Perhaps in a perfect world, the Nebulas would be like the Writers of the Future award: author names stripped off, thus the stories have to stand all by themselves, and it’s impossible for an author’s name recognition to influence the voting. Unfortunately I can’t ever see this being practical; not unless we shrink the Nebula voting body to a closeted few, who are never allowed to know author names; on anything they read. Ever.

    I think we just have to conclude that entertainment awards of all varieties are interesting and perplexing things. They are not won for hard work, bravery or valor, the way military medals are won. Nor are they won through decisive competition, like the World Series of baseball, or the recently-concluded championships of the National Basketball Association. Entertainment awards are bestowed, perhaps haphazardly, by institutions and, occasionally, individuals. Or even venues.

    I got a readers’ choice award, the morning before the Nebulas were handed out. I like to think I earned that award the hard way: enough Analog readers liked my story to go to the trouble of voting for it in the annual magazine poll. I am sure many readers disagreed with this selection, and rightfully so: taste cannot be ‘wrong’ for any of us, as individuals. But in the aggregate, the story ‘worked’ for enough people to secure enough votes to put it ahead of the competition — stories written by authors with far bigger name recognition than moi.

    Perhaps this is the case with, “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made?” Flawed or not, to your taste or not, the story “worked” for enough people in SFWA that they felt stirred to mark their ballots accordingly. And isn’t that the best that can be asked of any story? That it “work” for those who read it? Maybe not all, but at least some? Enough people to collectively raise their proverbial hands and say, “Yes, we liked this!”

    Brad R. Torgersen

    27 June 2011 at 21:06

  32. Who on Earth ever said that Codex is a monolithic bloc? Even once. Seriously, it keeps coming up. Cite or stop lying.

    The appeal to the subjective is all rather ridiculous—the fact that stories like “Leviathan” don’t often win the Nebula. Were decisions truly made on a subjective (as opposed to an intersubjective) basis, the Nebula results would be more or less random as regards quality. But they’re not. This story is absolutely an outlier. It’s an outlier because in the framework of contemporary SF, it is widely understood that unsubtle deck-stacking is bad, that “Mary Sues” are bad, that Star Trek-quality science is hardly of interest, that stories involving a human shouting at an all-powerful ball of light/plasma/gas are old hat, etc. There are certainly plenty of stories with all these out there—they tend not to be published too often, and when they do, they only very rarely win awards. So how does one explain this rare occurrence? Brad’s suggestion that people should turn off their brains at ‘it won cuz people voted for it’ isn’t going to get very far, luckily.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 21:13

  33. Nick attacks “Leviathan” using his intellect and his (supposed) grasp of what is and is not acceptable in the genre right now. To understand why “Leviathan” worked for enough SFWA voters I think you have to be able to grasp that stories like “Leviathan” win precisely because they defy what is expected — and they go for certain key emotional themes that resonate far, far louder with readers than any set of arbitrary contemporary industry expectations about content or characterization. Granted, sometimes that emotional resonance is a negative resonance. But then again, truly powerful stories usually don’t leave many people on the fence. Readers are inspired to either like, or dislike. That “Leviathan” appears to have stirred up a vocal chorus of critics at the same time it’s won the Nebula, would seem (to me) to indicate that Eric James Stone did his job far, far better than he’s being given credit for in this thread.

    Besides which, why are “Star Trek” stories automatically bad? Scratch even the most jaded SFWA veteran and he or she is liable to have a handful of favorite movies or TV episodes from that long-lived franchise. As with Eric’s story, love it or hate it, Star Trek has found a way to speak to people. Which to my way of thinking is the greatest accomplishment any piece of fiction can ever hope to accomplish — modern literary pretension be damned.

    Brad R. Torgersen

    27 June 2011 at 22:12

  34. Oh, my “supposed” grasp, yes, that must be it. I’m utterly sure that “sexy secular girl scientist put in her place by smart guy with no particular skills or knowledge” does emotionally resonate with some readers—and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re one of them, Brad. But you know what? “Hey, I know that guy (or woman)! And he’s a nice guy (woman)! And (s)he wrote a story!” is also a form of emotional resonance. And it apparently works even when the story in question doesn’t appear in a venue as high-profile as Analog, if enough people have that “In know him/her!” impulse. And gee, it just keeps happening and for Codex members. Not only for them, of course. Harlan Ellison’s fairly minor story won him a Nebula too this year, thanks to his byline rather than the content. But the content wasn’t eye-rollingly bad or anything.

    Incidentally, the “vocal chorus of critics” were stirred up by the Nebula win because the story won, not because the story is so powerful it must somehow be spoken about and hashed out publicly. It’s a competently written Mary Sue story. It’s a delusion to say that there are many possible interpretations of the story, or that it’s powerful. You can call that “modern literary pretension”, but it ain’t. That’s just your conservative ideology talking, Brad. The “chorus” emerged because, well, the story isn’t award-caliber and the author himself isn’t so famous that it was a vote for him. Plenty of people talk about Connie Willis’s awful duology winning awards too—it’s just that the answer there is more obvious. People voted for her name on the cover, not for anything in it.

    Finally, Star Trek is hardly a touchstone for SFWA members’ own original writing, which is fairly obvious given that most SFWA members who write about space-based adventures don’t more or less take a forty-five-year-old TV show and then inject their own religion into then, and publish it. I seriously doubt people voted for “…Leviathan” because it was like Star Trek.

    Nick Mamatas

    27 June 2011 at 22:57

  35. So, nice guys who write decent stories shouldn’t win awards? Is that the takeaway? Eric is both too well known and yet not well known enough? He couldn’t possibly win unless the Codex fix was in? To quote Ben Kingsley, “Don’t kid yourself, it’s not that organized.” Even if Eric had actively campaigned — via Codex, via the Analog mafia — which he did not, I am very skeptical of the assertion that the story by itself could not possibly have attracted the voter attention necessary to snare the trophy. Because from where I sit that is precisely how it went down. Eric wrote a nice story, did no compaigning, and the story managed to do the rest on its own.

    Again, taste is taste. It cannot be “wrong” for the individual, yet the individual cannot reasonably impose his or her taste on the broader public without committing a logical fallacy. That’s essentially Person A holding Opinion B, therefore Opinion B must automatically also be true for Persons C, D, E, F and G. If some people didn’t think “Leviathan” was worth the award, okay. For them, this assertion of taste is true. But it’s both unfair and impossible to assume that everybody felt (or would feel) the same. Obviously enough people liked the story to give it their favor.

    To then assert that Opinion B cannot be wrong, therefore Person H won the award only because Person H is buddies with People W, X, Y, and Z, smacks so much of trying-too-hard, it’s almost embarrassing.

    A couple years back I had an old pro take me aside and explain it to me thus, about other people and their success, “Look kid, author K or novel J may not be to your taste, but they obviously work for somebody. Instead of getting mad about it, stop and think about how or why a given writer or a given book, or series of books, is speaking to an audience that large. There’s something deeper going on, and it’s worth considering. Maybe even respecting — though you personally may not like what author K puts out.”

    I had to really think hard on that one, because up until then I’d commonly done what’s been done in this thread: make assertions of fact based purely on my own tastes, then sit back and grumble about why a given author or a given franchise was doing well — making money, getting accolades, etc. — when clearly the material wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

    There’s still a lot of stuff out there that I personally find bad, or in which I have no interest. But if something is winning awards — or especially if something is selling a lot and making good money — obviously my singular taste on the matter has not prevented other people from making their own choices, based on their own taste.

    And I do not think the buddy network is so strong as to make people vote for a genuinely poor story, just because they happen to be cordial with the author of same. These votes are still confidential. Nobody risks losing a friendship over a Nebula ballot. Nor can friends honestly expect other friends to pledge ‘sympathy’ votes based purely on the friend connection. It may happen sometimes, but I don’t think it’s a common enough nor a powerful enough motivator.

    Brad R. Torgersen

    28 June 2011 at 00:51

  36. Well no Brad, “decent” stories shouldn’t win awards. Excellent ones should. As far as the rest, that’s just extended rhetorical gymnastics. It seems like you can’t actually describe why the story should have won an award, except to point out that it did.

    Nick Mamatas

    28 June 2011 at 00:55

  37. Well, Nick, who are you to say, “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” is not, in fact, excellent? Unlike you, I am not trying to pass off my personal taste as the universal default of the SF reading body. Which is essentially all your argument seems to boil down to: you didn’t think the story was that great, and you don’t seem to think the writer is that great either, therefore everyone else must feel the same, therefore the only explanation possible is that it was a team effort by Eric’s buddies. It’s like you’re a Miami Heat fan who still can’t figure out how or why the Dallas Mavericks won the title a couple of weeks ago. Was Dallas technically the more talented team? No. Dallas just had more heart, and that’s what made the difference. I think Eric’s story had a lot of heart too, enough to impress enough SFWA voters anyway. It’s really that simple. That you want to make it more complicated than that tells me you’re either sore — because someone you really wanted to see win, didn’t win — or you’re just personally irked (on general principle) that a guy like Eric could win with a story like, “Leviathan.”

    In either case, I find those motivations shabby. Even for you.

    Brad R. Torgersen

    28 June 2011 at 01:27

  38. Well Brad, I’m an excellent reader. And I double-checked my estimation with other excellent readers. Of course, excellent readers can disagree—that’s a sign of a powerful story—but in this case it’s basically excellent readers versus people who make appeals to subjectivity.

    Aside: how do I know I’m an excellent reader? Simple, I use your metric: “selling a lot and making good money.” I went from editing a semi-pro magazine to running my own imprint. I make a high salary for publishing (any higher and I’d leave books behind for management) and the books I edit have had rights sold to major motion picture studios, have been through multiple reprintings, have been nominated for and won awards, etc.

    And here’s the good part: your appeal to subjectivity is a self-undermining argument. Clearly you think the story is worth arguing over and clearly you think it’s reasonable that people (other than yourself) like the story. The Nebulas too can’t just be waved off as subjective. The award claims legitimacy based on the fact that the decisions are made by professional writers, after all. If SFWA really thought taste was subjective, they could just run the awards based on a random lottery system. If you really thought everything was subjective, you wouldn’t bother arguing at all. Not one bit.

    It’s a simple observed fact that people vote for their friends, for people they have heard of, for people they have some affection for. There’s actually a massive literature on voting behavior, and plenty of anecdotal evidence when it comes to awards. (I was a SFWA member before they obscured who nominated what—the network links between writers were pretty clear. It was the same with HWA.) And you give the game away on two counts: you can’t explain why the story deserves the award, even as a matter of taste, and you have decided that I’m “irked (on general principle) that a guy like Eric could win”…well, what does “a guy like Eric” even mean. If Eric wrote an excellent story, I’d be thrilled to read it, and thrilled if it won an award. I’ve read a grand total of three stories by Eric—one was fun (it was in BLOOD LITE, about a ghoul and a werehyena ), another was short and goofy (it was a podcast, actually). I had and have no particular beef with whatever Eric is supposed to be “like.” But you, of course, are well-acquainted with him and a co-religionist—and this story has a religious theme. That’s your actual objection to my comments, or Martin’s, or anyone’s. We dare apply actual critical standards to a story that valorizes your religious beliefs.

    Or, to put it another way, you’re just “voting for your mate.” As I said was common.

    Nick Mamatas

    28 June 2011 at 03:07

  39. So, you and some people you know read the “Leviathan” story and you all agree among you that it’s not award-worthy. Fine, no problem. If you’d simply said, “Eh, this wasn’t to my taste,” and left it at that, no harm, no foul. Taste is taste, and cannot be “wrong” for you as an individual. And if a group of people agree (more or less) then that’s also fine.

    What’s not fine — in my book — is to take it a step further and to begin invalidating the award (and the story) by suggesting the only possible reason the story won, was the buddy system. When I look at the list of names who were up for Best Novelette, I think any one one of them (basically all of them) had essentially the same amount of potential “buddy boost.” Nobody in the running was an unknown and every person in the running has friends in SFWA who can vote.

    And because neither you nor I can read hearts, nor minds, we will never really know on a case-by-case basis why “Leviathan” won. I think the story had a lot of heart and trod some familiar, deep themes. I am prepared to believe that the story had buddy boost, but because of emotional resonance on matters of faith and religion, I am prepared to believe it also got a lot of genuine appreciation among some SFWA readership. Not everyone in SFWA is a cynic about, nor a critic of, religion. Even conservative religion.

    You seem prepared to believe that it was ALL buddy boost; that reader appreciation cannot factor into it — because you yourself (and some people you know) did not appreciate it as readers, and you seem to think your opinion(s) on such matters trump disagreement.

    Thus, you’re engaging in Argument From Authority as well as Biased Sample argument.

    Which takes me right back to pointing out that while you are authorized to speak for you, you are not authorized to speak for SF readers as a whole. Certainly you don’t have a handle on the whole of SFWA, otherwise the “Leviathan” win wouldn’t be so vexing for you. It defied your assumptions, so now you’re grasping for “alternative” explanations that don’t challenge those assumptions.

    You have your own opinion, and regardless of how highly you value it, it is still just yours. Just. Yours. And if events have transpired that a story has won a Nebula against your judgment — ballyhooed as it apparently is — the win could partially be due to buddy boost, but it could also very easily be due to reader appreciation too.

    And it would be silly of me to try to “argue” you into understanding or accepting the merits of a story which clearly underwhelmed you from the get-go. That’s like trying to talk someone who hates pizza, into liking pizza. Or someone who doesn’t like hip-hop into liking hip-hop. These are subjective evaluations that cannot be objectively argued or demonstrated to be incorrect, false, or otherwise invalid.

    Brad R. Torgersen

    28 June 2011 at 05:16

  40. If everything is subjective, Brad, then you have no standing to object to any argument that diminishes invalidates an award based on either the results or the methodology of the award. So, tacitly you agree that not everything is subjective. (And as a matter of fact, critics and readers do occasionally change their mind about what they’ve read based on conversations with people who liked/disliked some piece of work. That’s because not everything is subjective. If you’ve never had conversations that improve your aesthetic sense…well, we’ve already determined that you’re not an excellent reader)

    You might also want to refresh yourself on those logical fallacies. Neither are in case here. Some opinions really are more credible than others. It doesn’t take much to join SFWA, and there’s nothing particular to selling three whole stories that makes one an excellent reader. As far as buddy boost and reader appreciation…you’re the one who introduced the notion that EJS is a certain sort of person that I may not like (and that you do). Seems to me that buddy boost and reader appreciation are heavily entwined in cases of very bad pieces of work, which is of course a well-founded phenomenon when it comes to award voting. Some people have faces only a mother could love. Doesn’t mean that the mother is lying or wrong, but it does mean that her opinion doesn’t count all that much…

    But hey, if someone, you know, anywhere, would actually like to defend the story as one of award-quality (not “decent”, not “space whales are kinda cool, I guess”) instead of appealing to either subjectivism or thinly veiled insinuations of anti-LDS sentiment, I’d sure love to read it!

    Nick Mamatas

    28 June 2011 at 05:27

  41. This is the assumption I made at the awards ceremony:

    I haven’t seen the voting numbers for the noveletes, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were relatively flat. With a field of seven candidates and relatively few voters, a vote or two could have made a big difference. And with people who have more post-modern/literary taste split b/w Shweta and Caroline–and perhaps Barzak and deBodard–it wouldn’t surprise me if that made room for people who strongly dislike everything but hard SF to vote for the Analog story.

    Kelly’s was technically hard sf too, I guess, but it had a more emotional and girly feel (woo for emotional and girly stories).

    That’s just my guess. My guess doesn’t exclude Codex having an effect–in, for instance, raising the visibility of the story to the point where it got on the ballot–or, alternately, in motivating people to choose EJS over someone else when they didn’t feel strongly about which was better–or possibly in some people voting without reading the category (oh, please don’t do that, everyone who does that)-but that was my guess.

    It also wouldn’t surprise me if, in my category, the hard SF people split b/w Chiang and Landis letting me sneak through. Or if, in novel, the post-mod/lit people split between Nnedi and Nora, giving Connie the win. Or, you know, whatever the hell happened to give Pratchett (great writer, mediocre book) the win over Paolo and Barry.

    I don’t find EJS’s story A) as bad as others do, but also B) even granting that it’s as bad as others think it is, I *still* wouldn’t find that to be out of step with previous nominees and winners. I guess this is where the “mates” stuff comes in, though, because I’m hesitant about pointing these things out specifically. In a context where stories with the quality of “I Remember the Future” (which I disliked significantly more than EJS’s) are regularly on the ballot, I don’t find it dramatically surprising that (again, granting the point) decently-written but essentially low quality work can win.

    Martin–I’m sorry if my post came across as indicating that I thought there was logrolling going on in other communities. I don’t think there is, at least not much; but I do think that writers get a parallel boost to the one from Codex in other groups. You are right to observe the boost is not awesome in any circumstance.

    Generally–I would love to see the Nebulas go to a jury system. I think jury systems are inherently superior, and can be even better when supplemented w/ popular vote. I think my ideal award system would be juried nominees, w/ maybe a slot or two for popular vote (like WFA), and then a popular vote (done w/ numbered rankings, not straight-up) for the winner. Everyone just bear that in mind for when I’m appointed Award Goddess. :P

    Rachel Swirsky

    28 June 2011 at 07:22

  42. Brad: I’m afraid you are massively out of your depth intellectually. Presumably you don’t mind this since you think your heart is in the right place.

    Anyway, here is the problem in a nutshell:

    The story’s tone and dynamic between Malan and Dr. Merced irritates me in ways I can’t fully articulate. I’ve read one other story by Eric that did the same thing–it almost makes think of… old fashioned sexism? Focus on physical description of women + sexuality; a morality that reminds me of old Star Trek episodes… Anyway, I’ve read other stories by Eric that I’ve loved a great deal so my dislike of this story doesn’t make me any less thrilled that he won the Nebula. He’s a good writer and a wonderful person. Yay for him.

    “I dislike the story and think it’s sexist but I’m thrilled it won a major award.”

    Rachel: I too think jury awards are inherently superior (and if anyone wanted to appoint you SFWA Awards Goddess I would be more than happy). There are quite a few juried awards though and I would also quite like to see a genuinely popular popular award. On paper, the idea of every professional science fiction and fantasy writer in America voting for their favourite works strikes me as a worthwhile one. The problem seems to be low turnout and a depressing lack of interest.

    As I mentioned in the blog post, low turnout, many candidate FPTP is exactly the situation where you would expect logrolling and vote-splitting to produce perverse results. It really is a shame the SWFA refuses to release the voting statistics and I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t, unless they are embarassed by the turnout.

    I don’t know enough about the membership of SWFA to say what sort of vote splitting might occur so I will go with your analysis. ‘Leviathan’ doesn’t strike me as the sort of story the hard SF bloc could whole-heartedly get behind and I’d have thought there was a difference between the sort of people who would vote for Chiang and those who would vote for Stone. But I don’t know, just as I don’t what influence any other networks had. (Apologies for misunderstanding what you were saying about logrolling.)

    With Willis and Pratchet I think it is less likely to be vote splitting than just the unthinking name recognition Nick mentions above. The same goes for terrible writers like Michael A Burnstein and Michael Resnick who are thankfully abscent this time round. I would have said Stone hasn’t reached that level of name recognition and doesn’t have a similar body of work behind him. So that is the surprise for me and why I’d suggest there is a more direct and active form of influence at work.


    28 June 2011 at 09:40

  43. Martin, you had my interest — despite the baldly snobbish assumption of superiority — until you called Mike Resnick a terrible writer. This is an assertion so laughably absurd I find it difficult to believe it’s been made, even if you happen to find Resnick very much not to your taste. We are clearly not going to agree on much of anything, if you’re going to have this kind of regard for Resnick or his work. I will therefore conclude my participation.

    Brad R. Torgersen

    28 June 2011 at 13:24

  44. Just for general reference, Brad, Martin is by no means alone in considering Resnick a terrible writer. In fact, until “Leviathan”‘s Nebula win (and Hugo nomination), Resnick, and his perennial Hugo nominations and victories, was the go-to argument for the inherent brokenness of popular vote SF awards.


    28 June 2011 at 13:44

  45. “Martin, you had my interest — despite the baldly snobbish assumption of superiority — until you called Mike Resnick a terrible writer. This is an assertion so laughably absurd I find it difficult to believe it’s been made, even if you happen to find Resnick very much not to your taste. We are clearly not going to agree on much of anything, if you’re going to have this kind of regard for Resnick or his work. I will therefore conclude my participation.”

    ‘What? You only have domestic beer? Why… I’ve never been so insulted in all of my life! Good night to you sir!’

    Jonathan McCalmont

    28 June 2011 at 14:46

  46. I’m kind of surprised that anyone who writes for professional publication would advance the argument that “it’s all totally subjective, anyway.”

    Luke Jackson

    29 June 2011 at 15:21

  47. While I do think there is something to be said for the argument that EJS won because of “voting for your mates” and affiliations, I think his status as co-editor of OSC’s IGMS had a lot more to do with it. People love their editors. Editors tend to create their own followings.

    Codex is a small number of people—even if only 200 SFWA members voted, I think the Codex membership is unlikely to sway the vote. ESPECIALLY because, as you pointed out, there are 4 Codex stories to choose from. That’s going to split the vote.

    And First Past the Post actually makes splitting of the Codex vote MORE likely under those circumstances. Because you can’t vote for all four of your mates—you have to pick one. So FPP plus connections may ultimately have contributed to “Leviathan”‘s win, sure. Absolutely. But I think Codex is the wrong tree to bark up.

    Jackie M.

    2 July 2011 at 18:56

  48. The IGMS connection is a good one (though there is a lot of Codex mixed in with that broad school; there are a lot of OSC bootcamp alum etc, in that griup). Again, when I or someone points to Codex, we are not simply saying that any member of Codex will vote for any other member of Codex–we are saying that “vote for your mate” works pretty well when you have a fairly pure environment of a couple hundred professional writers from whom to make mates, you’ll have a bunch and that will show up in relatively weak categories like Nebula novelette or the Campbell award, etc.

    I’m unsure why people keep defaulting to refuting an argument nobody ever made…except that such arguments are easier to refute than the ones actually being promulgated.

    Nick Mamatas

    2 July 2011 at 19:15

  49. Which argument wasn’t made, Nick?

    Jackie M.

    2 July 2011 at 22:33

  50. And is the novelette a weak category? Novelettes are most of the words published nowadays, after novels. I don’t have SFWA stats, obviously, but Aussiecon says 69% of Hugo ballots voted in that category, vs. 79% for novels, 70% for novellas, and 71% for short stories. Best editor and the Campbell are down at 48% and 47% respectively.


    Jackie M.

    2 July 2011 at 22:40

  51. Novelette is a weak category because there are many more short stories published each year than novelettes, thus making getting attention for any short story more difficult. “[m]ost of the words published nowadays” even if so (I doubt it, given that there are many markets that don’t publish novelettes or do so only occasionally) isn’t a remotely useful metric since people don’t vote for words, they vote for stories. Also, novelette has the lowest of the percentages you listed for stories. That makes novelette a weak category. (Neither editorial awards or the Campbell are awards for works, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison. But of course editorial and Campbell awards are weak.)

    The argument nobody made is the one implicit here: “I think the Codex membership is unlikely to sway the vote. ESPECIALLY because, as you pointed out, there are 4 Codex stories to choose from.” The assumption is that people are claiming that any Codexer will vote for any other Codexer, which is not what anyone said.

    Nick Mamatas

    2 July 2011 at 23:40

  52. Yeah, okay, I was totally faking it on ‘most words published.’ I like reading novelettes the best myself; so there’s some projection.

    BUT 69% vs. 71% or 70%? vs. 79% or 48% ? (you did list the novelette and Campbell categories as weak!). +/-1% is statistically equivalent close. I would have guessed novella was the weak category, since they take much longer to read and DRAMATICALLY fewer of them are published.

    So it’s not a weak category. Novelette is pretty much exactly as “weak” as short story or novella.

    The argument is that Leviathan won because people vote for their mates, and then ESJ’s membership in Codex was introduced as evidence of mate-ness. I agree with the first; I disagree with Codex as the likely cause of the alignment in votes. Because there are other, more likely affiliations which would have generated a larger number of votes.

    I can see Codex mate-correlation having a measurable impact on nomination, but not on voting. And yeah, at some level, I have more faith in the non-IGMS names I see on the Codex membership list—I have some faith that those people, seeing 4 stories by people they know, would NOT choose the most terrible, shallow, and banal of the lot. Their vote would split in the same way the rest of the SFWA’s split, allowing the IGMS/Analog preference to establish a lead.

    … I could be depressingly wrong, I could have misplaced my faith in the non-IGMS members. Even so, I think that IGMS (and the general tone-deaf taste of Analog readers and writers) is the true “vote for your mates” correlation here.

    Jackie M.

    3 July 2011 at 08:44

  53. Jackie, you’re looking at a single year–is Aussiecon somehow especially representative of the Hugos? (Novella is also fairly weak category, though there are a number of markets that publish novellas as stand-alone books which raises their profile since they are promoted in the manner of novels.) Short story is a stronger category only because the competition is much more keen (more published each year), not because there are a ton of voters. There are few novelettes published, and they are not often published as stand-alone books or as the centerpiece of a collection or anthology, so it gets the worst of both worlds.

    I tend to agree that IGMS is a significant vector–but this isn’t the first odd result coming from Codex members, and there is a significant overlap between IGMS partisans and Codex members. Day-by-day interactions are helpful for maintaining networks after all. Given that Codex even occasionally obscures curses in its workshops so sensitive people need not read them tells me that the population you’re concerned about is cementing their social relationships on Codex.

    And again, for the third time now, “Codex is an especially large network–large anough that its factions are as significant as other networks–and networks encourage mate-voting” is not the same as “Every Codexer blindly votes for every Codexer,” so I have no idea why you keep returning to the idea of vote-splitting.

    Nick Mamatas

    3 July 2011 at 13:45

  54. This is irrelevant to the discussion, but if I may clarify a quick point: the cuss word obscuring is for general discussion on the threads, not the work shopped stories (or I suppose not just the work shopped stories? Which may strengthen your general point). People can use the formatting code for their critiques on the threads but I can’t really recall a lot of critiques that have called for swearing… and if people are quoting something someone else has said (such as the story) people tend to forget to use the formatting code altogether. It’s not an automatic thing.


    3 July 2011 at 17:07

  55. Right, that’s why I said occasionally and workshops. The point is that the behavior hints at the existence of the population Jackie was talking about within Codex…and within Codex with sufficient influence to have that behavior become a part of the culture.

    Nick Mamatas

    3 July 2011 at 17:26

  56. 2009 (1074 ballots total): http://www.thehugoawards.org/content/pdf/2009%20Final%20Ballot.pdf

    Novel: 85%, Novella: 62%, Novelette: 69%, Short Story: 75%, Campbell: 36%

    2008: Currently unavailable

    2007 (total?): http://www.thehugoawards.org/content/pdf/2007%20Final%20Ballot.pdf

    Novel: 471 ballots, Novella: 349, Novelette: 409, Short Story: 438, Campbell: 348

    2006 (total?): http://cluebytwelve.net/Hugos2006/hugos.html

    Novel: 567 ballots, Novella: 535, Novelette: 515: Short Story: 516, Campbell: 386

    I mean, if you want to argue that novelettes are a “weak” category in CONTENT, well, I’ll still disagree, but that’s extremely subjective (yes, intersubjectivity, but we both lack the proof of sample to talk about that meaningfully), and we’ll just argue all day. But “weak” in voting numbers? No. Again, we don’t have SFWA numbers for the Nebula, but based on recent Hugos: none of the four fiction categories suffer from particularly weak voting relative to any other. Novella is the aggregate weakest, but not by much.

    Look, I don’t think this is an interesting question, and we’ve ground it up pretty thoroughly. So I’m moving back to the meat of the argument.

    Jackie M.

    3 July 2011 at 20:10

  57. “And again, for the third time now, “Codex is an especially large network–large anough that its factions are as significant as other networks–and networks encourage mate-voting” is not the same as “Every Codexer blindly votes for every Codexer,” so I have no idea why you keep returning to the idea of vote-splitting.”

    I didn’t say every Codexer votes for every codexer, I said ASSUMING they do tend to vote for their mates, just as any other group of colleagues would be expected to, AND AS MARTIN SUGGESTED WITH “NETWORKS ENCOURAGE MATE-VOTING”, then they had quite a choice of mates, and no clear reason to prefer their one mate over their other three mates. And if there is a tendency, I’m arguing it’s Analog or IGMS derived. I begin to suspect you are intentionally not reading me for comprehension!

    Martin, am I dreadfully misreading you, and do you mind explaining how? Martin, are you still even there? Martin? …Martin?

    Jackie M.

    3 July 2011 at 20:19

  58. Novelettes are a weak category because there are relatively few to choose from each year. This was already stated. Showing the number of ballots doesn’t mean anything one way or another.

    Also, if there is a functional difference between “every Codexer votes for every codexer” and “no clear reason to prefer their one mate over their other three mates” it escapes me entirely. It’s already been stated that Codex is large enough that even internal factions are the size of other networks.

    Nick Mamatas

    4 July 2011 at 05:26

  59. Martin, are you still even there? Martin? …Martin?

    Yeah, I’m still here. But like I said, I’m more interested in recognising and addressing the problem than the exact cause of the problem (where everyone only seems to differ on degree). Perhaps the problem is inevitable but hopefully naming and shaming is some help. There also seem to be steps the SFWA could take to lessen it such as re-introducing a sensible voting system. But there doesn’t seem much appetite for this.


    4 July 2011 at 10:53

  60. I am just dropping in to say that I just reread “Leviathan” and also read “Travels With My Cats” all the way through for the first time, and as many ways in which the latter disappoints (or would, if one weren’t pre-disappointed), I have to say that Stone’s prose makes Resnick’s look pretty good.

    David Moles

    4 July 2011 at 16:32

  61. Also, though, I take Jackie’s point. In the absence of other evidence (e.g., knowledge of the internal structure of Codex and the relative sizes of various factions), the simplest voter behavior model is that a Codex member is equally likely to vote for any nominated Codex story, in which case Codex might be sufficient explanation for Stone beating Barzak, Kelly, and Narayan, but not de Bodard, Kastenschmidt or Yoachim. It *might* be that Codex voters disproportionately went for Stone, but equally they might have all voted for de Bodard. Without more numbers we can’t know. So it’s not a complete explanation for the win; to explain why Stone beat the other Codex stories we have to look at other factors—Analog mafia etc.

    But, Nick, it seems like you’re arguing that from what you know of Codex, it’s disproportionately Mormon, or at least lilywhite American reactionary. If that’s the case, then disproportionately more Codex voters might have gone for the Stone. I’m not sure what that would mean, though. Is it “vote for your mates” again? Or is it that Codex is a good platform for reactionary writers to make a reputation among their fellow reactionaries?

    David Moles

    4 July 2011 at 21:26

  62. Martin, FWIW, SFWA VP Mary Robinette Kowal says that she looked into the statistics and IRV “doesn’t do what it was designed to” for a pool of less than ~10,000 voters. Then again I’m not sure how much I care what it was designed to do, or even what it actually accomplishes, if it at least provides the appearance of a broader base for the winner, some satisfaction for runners-up, etc. But I imagine this was talked to death over in the UK during the run-up to The Referendum On Nick Clegg, or at least before it became The Referendum On Nick Clegg, so maybe you have some references?

    Mind, I think SFWA is completely capable of giving a Nebula to a story this bad under pretty much any voting system whatsoever.

    David Moles

    4 July 2011 at 21:31

  63. Appealing to the simplest model is rather different than appealing to the most accurate-seeming model. Declaring that what one doesn’t know of probably doesn’t exist—while also claiming to have made no such declaration—isn’t a good way to think things through. What actually existing social networks of a couple hundred people contain individual members of exactly equal social status? The answer is zero. It strikes me as rather odd to assume for the sake of discussion or inquiry that in this case the answer is one: Codex.

    There is a conservative (reactionary? who knows!) faction of significant influence within Codex, and also the nature of Codex makes any sort of faction a bit more rigorously reinforced than the mere fellow-feelings of co-religionists or Analog writers, etc. Also, EJS in particular, as one of the founders of Codex, is likely a leading figure in the workshop regardless of his politics, religion, or aesthetic agenda. He’s also a very nice fellow by all accounts. All these things count.

    Further, Codex effects also seem clear to me with various other awards, including Campbell nominations, Hugo nominations etc. None of them are quite so awful as “Leviathan”, but were otherwise obscure enough that a vote network or bloc seemed more likely than mere popularity in the blogosphere. That this story, despite its great handicap of being awful, wins without the assistance of a major social network of influence though its author is a founder of the network, seems to me to be the extraordinary claim here.

    Nick Mamatas

    4 July 2011 at 21:41

  64. SFWA VP Mary Robinette Kowal says that she looked into the statistics and IRV “doesn’t do what it was designed to” for a pool of less than ~10,000 voters.

    Um, what does this even mean? (And has anyone told the Hugos?)


    4 July 2011 at 23:14

  65. Martin, I think my point was just that you’re likely “naming and shaming” the wrong group by pointing out Codex.

    … but I’m also currently having an e-mail discussion about this with Jed Hartman. He has a couple of SF friends who really did like it— the quote he shared was from the friend who really enjoyed the “classic sense of wonder” she got off it.

    I think it’s quite possible it’s not just mate-voting that we’re going up against here—we may be talking about a completely different mode of reading SF. I’ve had this problem a lot talking with some of my own SF friends: they find tired cliches fresh, stilted dialogue witty. And just possibly, in this case, shallow moralizing thoughtful.

    What’s more, when I try to get them to read the stuff I find “good”, they hand it back saying they just couldn’t get into it. Sometimes they hand it back saying they HATED it.

    Nick likes to talk about intersubjectivity, but I think it’s possible we are dealing not just with a spectrum of taste, but an actual bimodality. And I don’t think naming and shaming is going to fix that. I don’t really know what could.

    Jackie M.

    5 July 2011 at 18:30

  66. I wouldn’t have been as surprised if “Leviathan” had won the Hugo, which is a fan award and certainly many fans have parochial tastes. But that it won the Nebula was especially interesting, and telling, to me.

    Nick Mamatas

    5 July 2011 at 18:32

  67. I think my point was just that you’re likely “naming and shaming” the wrong group by pointing out Codex.

    The primary purpose of this post is to name and shame Stone – I’d like people to try and write better stories. The secondary purpose is to shame the professional writers who voted for it – I’d like people to stop voting for terrible stories. The tertiary purpose is to try and name some of those people – I’d like people to stop pretending it is nothing to do with them. I am not at all unconvinced that the Codex writers group didn’t play a role in this story winning the Nebula.

    But maybe it didn’t. Maybe everyone who voted for this story is just like Jed Hartman’s friends and are simpletons who actively hate the written word. If that is the case and they are the strongest faction currently voting in the Nebulas then perhaps you are right and we should all just give up.


    5 July 2011 at 21:16

  68. […] What’s The Opposite Of Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes? – in which I take issue with the Nebulas. 2) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke […]

    Three « Everything Is Nice

    27 October 2011 at 16:07

  69. […] Roundtable. Unfortunately the actual experience of reading the supposed cream of the crop of SF was deeply disenchanting. Similarly disenchanting was my story by story reading of three significant anthologies: The Ascent […]

  70. Is there a place I can read ““That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” so I can form an opinion. I’m curious now.

    Jason Andrew

    14 August 2012 at 01:32

  71. I think Star Ship Sofa has a podcast of it.

    Nick Mamatas

    14 August 2012 at 01:34

  72. […] What’s The Opposite Of Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes? – in which I take issue with the Nebulas. 2) Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In […]

    Four « Everything Is Nice

    24 September 2012 at 13:19

  73. […] say the comments; “devastating and brilliant”. It is a pile of shite of ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ proportions (though not actively offensive in the same way). It is a problem for SF that stories […]

  74. […] It’s all prime condition for mediocrity to flourish. For proof of that–well, does anyone really need proof that SFF is where the mediocre, the subpar, the outright bad are celebrated? George RR Martin just got a “lifetime achievement” award after all. What achievement that might be is anyone’s guess, since as far as I know he hasn’t done anything that might constitute a contribution to humanity–or even anything that might be considered innovative within genre itself. All he does is shit out soap opera. Entertaining, sure, but ultimately worthless. Which sums up most of the genre very well, and provides ready answer as to why genre will never be taken seriously outside its fandom (no, not even Nebula and Hugo winners–maybe especially not those winners). […]

  75. Hmm. Codex vs Puppies?

    Danny in Canada

    10 June 2015 at 12:22

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