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You all know the cliche.  The aliens inevitably say “Resistance is futile”. They then go on to illustrate this in some horrifying manner (melting the dog, eating someone’s brain) after which our hero dutifully demonstrates the limits of futility.

Today, more people are telling us that existence is futile.  Eoghann over at Solar Flare says there’s no SF Fandom anymore; the folks at TOR are analyzing the implications of feces found floating in cool aid on ‘Hard’ SF and the classics have become historical documents.  (While on the email list WHOSE NAME SHALL NOT BE MENTIONED, some people are saying that historical documents are unimportant.)

Oy. Vey.

Eoghan highlights the splintering of fandom. From the FANS ARE SLANS ’30s and ’40s (when FAN meant you shared letters with other fans, communicated through fanzines and letter columns and everyone was intersted in SCIENCE FICTION) to the niche-market, electronically-isolated present, where, apparently, the purpose of fandom is to find individuals who are exactly like you. So you can all agree that some television show featuring SF stereotypes IS, in fact, the MOST brilliant thing to ever have been created and why oh why are they cancelling it and how oh how can we get them to create more direct-to-DVD episodes – so we can watch them and then sit around discussing how it is, in fact, the MOST brilliant thing ever created…

Somehow, fandom has migrated from a small click of nerdy, geeky, opinionated, argumentative, often strange, always creative individuals into a gaggle of gum-popping California girls who all wear the same fashions, all have a poster of the same teen heart throb over their vanities and who spend endless hours text-messaging each other about how like, awesome, like, each other are.

I always thought fandom itself was the niche. The purpose of being was to

 A: confirm the fact that you weren’t the only one in the world who was crazed enough to read and enjoy that stuff

B: confirm that, not only weren’t you not crazed but, in fact, you were an extremely enlightened, forward-thinking individual, smarter than the average primate, someone with special insight into the future and an asset to the community. You were a resource, not a drooling village idiot

C. express yourself. If that meant orgies in room 714 – what the heck, you’re an enlightened member of society. Those not interested will be in the lobby or sitting in the hall (along with those not invited). This was FANDOM. Normal societal constraints do not apply.  We’re going to a better place called ‘the future’, check your mundane reality at the door

D. to find someone to argue with. Argumentation hones the critical thinking skills, the debate skills, even social skills. Arguing with the wage slave on the bus to work over whether Stranger in a Strange Land really was the best thing ever written in the history of mankind is just. not. satisfying. You can have a knock-down, dragged-out barroom brawl with a kitten, but is it really going to satisfy your ego in the morning?  FANS are intelligent, critically thinking animals.  You want to try and convince one of them that your favorite author is better than their favorite author? Bare knuckles time, folks.   Besides, it is NOT possible to discuss the relative merits of 16 different proposed methods of FTL travel with the average man on the street.  Nor is it socially acceptable to invent new religions whilst simultaneously trying to win an elevator race.  

Interaction.  INTER. It used to be that the only ‘shared’ interest was this nebulous thing called Science Fiction. What that encompassed was up for discussion – lots of discussion.  Now we’re expected to focus in on one television show, or one movie, or one anime or one game, find the other people who are equally hypnotized by that same thing and isolate ourselves from everyone and everything else so that we can wallow in the wonderousness of our fetishized fetish.

Seems like the only cross-fertilization that’s still going on is that orgy in room 714. To which no one was invited.  I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what to call the activities that take place at an unattended orgy.

***

I agree with Jo. The singularity is not going to happen and authors concerned about having to explain why they still have real people inhabiting their stories post-singularity should just relax.

Why won’t it happen? Because most of the takes on ‘what the singularity means’ are Frankensteinian horror stories, and as we’ve seen time an again, new technologies are never expressed by their extremes; TNT didn’t blow up the world, nor is it being used solely for the benefit of mankind.

Machine intelligence and human augmentation will likewise express themselves in some middle ground.  The self-aware Skynet that evolves itself past all human understanding is just as likley to develop the viewpoint that respect for all intelligent species is the proper moral position as it is to develop the idea that we can be used as batteries.  Some people will become augmented beyond all recognition, but if they get too uppity, the billions of non-augments scraping out existence in their forgotten slum worlds will pull them down.

But mostly I believe that eventually, the majority of human beings will recognize that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we ought to do something.  Oh hey, I can be tied into the net 24/7! Boring. You know what?  Today, I’m going for a walk in the woods and I’m not even going to share the experience on YouTube, or Twitter or Flickr or Photobucket. I’m just going to listen to the birds chirp and the brook babble

People only think that they’re ‘multi-tasking’ or making themselves more aware and more tied in with the devices they carry, the filters they set up, the bots, the aggregators. In actuality, they are creating a more LIMITED awareness for themselves. The necessity of having to create filters in order to be able to handle the data overload doesn’t enhance, it restricts your awareness to what you think you need to know right now. The problem is, none of us knows ‘what we need to know’.

Like the new generation of fans that’s only interested in what they’re interested in.  They’ll never be exposed to the next great thing because they’re too busy obsessing. 

We’ll wake up. Eventually, being a person will be more important than being tied in.  Besides – do you really want to electronically ‘experience’ an orgy comprised of nerdy, geeky, opinionated, argumentative, often strange, always creative, individuals?

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Rick Moen is working on this piece that compares Kudzu (that asian vine that’s choking the South) with legislative proposals that seek to ban gay marriage – particularly the California ballot initiative that’s coming up.

The essay itself contains some interesting links as well – items worth perusing if this whole issue doesn’t strike you as religious zealotry trying to shove its way down your throat.

Rick’s piece highlights the amazing genetic diversity that is the human race, and points out that, by virtue of the manner in which our genes get together to make US, the California Proposal could very well result in legalizing marriages between “same sex” couples.

This results from the fact that physical appearance, identification, sex organs and even fertility can be misleading, once we begin to look into all of the genetic ‘anomolies’ that can crop up.  (A man may be a man, function as a man, identify as a man and yet be genetically female – without the prerequisite of a sex change operation.)

I just love it when reality – uncovered and revealed in all its glory through the wonders of scientific investigation – confounds the bible thumpers. 

Defense of (traditional) marriage acts are nothing more than the religiously inspired trying to make non-believers toe their line.  As this site (referenced in Moen’s piece) illustrates, most of the arguments against gay marriage, when rendered for clarity, come down to ‘my god says’.

I’m always fascinated by the disconnect that occurs at this juncture: why can’t they see that what ‘your god says’ wasn’t heard because YOUR god wasn’t talking to ME.  YOUR god doesn’t talk to a lot of people.  In fact, YOUR god isn’t talking to MOST of the people.  They’re listening to someone else and the messages are not the same. (Full disclosure: no gods have ever talked to me – or I wasn’t paying attention, which isn’t surprising considering the mess at least one of them supposedly made for me to live in.)

I see it as a problem with a simple solution: they want to believe gay marriage is bad – don’t marry someone of the same sex.  Of course THEY don’t see it that way.  Live and let live – despite its biblical origins – is apparently not a growth strategy.

***

Science Fiction content here?  Hmmm, let’s see.  Rick is a fan and a member of the email list WHO’S NAME SHALL NOT BE MENTIONED.  Gender, sexual identity and illicit sex  are popular genre themes.  (Speaking of which, if you had sex with an alien who’s sex was identitifed as the same as yours, would it be defined as homosexual sex?  Bestiality? Rishathra?)  The genre is supposed to appeal to those with open minds and a bit of intelligence, and because, if we were living in the right kind of world, the only place you’d find something as dunderheaded, illogical and insane as the CA Marriage proposal would be in a science fiction story.  (And it would be the bad guys proposing it…)

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Hey – maybe SFAwards Watch and IO9 will want to pick up on this one:

Glyer reveals in File 770 that the Secret Masters of Fandom have been talking about something called SCOOTERS.

I haven’t puzzled out the entire acronym, but I’m pretty sure that the first two letters stand for Secret Code.

Mike cleverly conceals whatever hidden message there is to be found in his entry by placing SCOOTERS into the context of a supposed conversation about handicap access at conventions. Of course, we have no real idea of what he’s talking about because the message itself can only be found on the SMOFs reading list which is, you know, kind of SECRET.

I’d really like to know what this passage is code for -

“So the problem for the Worldcon is not the expense, but having to front the money…”

Could this have anything to do with Hugo voting restrictions? Front the money from whom, to whom and for what?  It’s further illuminated by this later passage -

Denconvention seems to have given that help to fans who planned in advance. The question really is what future Worldcons should provide for these last-minute needs, if anything.”

Fronting money?  ‘Help’ to fans? Could Worldcon be paying fans to join so that they’ll “vote the right way” come Hugo Awards time? 

I’m thinking that the ‘advanced planning’ referenced in the above means ‘smart enough and connected enough’ to get on the SMOFs list. So that you can request a payout.

Don’t believe me when I say something is up? Check this out:

“The best suggestion I saw in the recent discussion on the Smofs list was Sharon Sbarsky’s idea…

(Sharon) “…If the idea catches on, then more spare scooters could be rented.”

‘Spare Scooters’ indeed.  Don’t need the code book for that one! But in case you do – ‘spare scooters’ is obviously the insider’s outlandishly punny name for ‘non-worldcon-attending fans’ and ‘renting’ is the stand-in for buying their vote…

You could check me on all of this, but you’d need to be a SMOF to get at the source material, and we’re all sworn to secrecy…

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How We Plan To Put Men On The Moon/JFK The Last Full Measure NatGeo 03/1964Well, as I feared, the acquisition of an RSS Reader has caused information overload.  There are far too many things to comment on, rebut, extend, investigate, research and write about, for me to know where to start.  Considering that I can’t seem to remember more than two pieces of information at a time (and I never got into the habit of taking notes because I used to be able to remember everything) I now find myself twisting in the wind of half-remembered somethings that I wanted to say something about.

Couple that with my personal desire to give credit where credit is due when someone brings nifty information my way and you end up with a large bundle of frustration.

Not to mention that the new personal schedule has now kicked in and I will be awakening at 3:30 am to drive my wife to her car pool (my night owl internal clock insists that I can get by on two to four hours of sleep a night for at least two weeks); we may all have an opportunity to discover (yet again) why my Mother banished me from the breakfast table all those many years ago.

I’m going to try to remember to take notes.  Of course, the remembering part wouldn’t be so hard to remember if I could remember what I was just talking about…

One thing I definitely want to write about is a bit of weirdness – but the last three times I’ve posted, I’ve forgotten what the weirdness was, so I’ll have to skip that one for now.

I’m definitely going to have something to say about fanzine fandom, core fandom and the SMOF list, by way of commenting on the proposed change to the Hugo Awards voting rules.

I also want to mention a couple of blogs I’ve recently been exposed to, want to comment on Obama’s impending nomination, do a little review of the documentary When We Left The Earth,mention a nifty interview over at TCSFC Radio Division and – I can’t remember the other things.

So.  Fanzines.  One of my first pieces of fanac was fanzine writing, editing and publishing.  Among my first fannish friends were Big Name Fanzine Fans like Gary Farber, Linda Bushyager, Suzle Tompkins, Fred Haskell and the whole lot of folks that they exchanged letters and APAs with.  I hadn’t noticed until recently, but the advent of the internet and programs like PDF have revitalized and extended the reach of these little personal magazines that used to be lovingly cut and hand typed onto mimeo stencils and then printed on twilltone (don’t forget the slipsheets).  If you’ve never heard of a Gestetner, you owe it to yourself to take a trip back to pre-Xerox days.  You can take a look at some ‘zines here and here: I’m sure there are other archives and collections as well.  There’s some mighty fine writing in them thar zines.  Several sites have also been/will be added to the blogroll.

Core Fandom. Apparently used to describe the folks who really TRUfanly carry the traditions of fandom with them, direct descendants of Ackerman’s Ackzample.  One of those things that if you are one, you know it and the other people who are one know it too.

As usual, fandom is not fandom without a feud or pseudo-feud.  Some Core Fans are now warring with WSFS, claiming the mantle of being the ‘real’ fandom and casting WSFS as the upstart insurgents, perverters of the propeller-beanie.  The argument seems to be that ONLY those fans involved with fanzine fandom can stake a claim on the mantle of trufandom.  Naturally, the trufans over at WSFS object to this besmirching of their honor.

And of course there are folks at WSFS who kinda-somewhat agree with the Core Fandom people and lots of fanzine fans who either kinda agree with the WSFS side or disagree with the Core Fandom side.

Makes me wish we could go back to arguing over whether we should be using SF or Sci Fi…

I subscribe to the SMOFs email list  (Secret Masters of Fandom), which is available by application, with said application being accepted if the current members agree that you belong on the list (seems like my con activities in the late 70s, early 80s is still remembered and was enough to qualify me).

The current topic of discussion is the proposed change to the definitions of membership types in WorldCon.  WorldCon (TM) is the administer of the Hugo Awards.  The only people eligible to vote for these awards are those who have a current membership in WSFS (World Science Fiction Society), which you get by purchasing a membership to a WorldCon.

There are currently two levels of membership – attending member and supporting member.  Both types are eligible to cast nominations and votes for Hugo Awards.

There are a number of issues that come up surrounding the awards and memberships;  one on-going one is the objection some have to buying a vote (you’re not really, you’re buying a membership that gives you rights and privileges, one of which is the right to cast ballots) and another is the paucity of participation.  Votes for particular awards are typically in the several hundreds – not the several thousands you’d expect for a literary genre that has its own category on Amazon.

Now there’s a proposal to amend the membership types, the details of which are boring: Kevin Standlee has the proposal here if you are interested in the details.

The proposal has reignited the fire under Hugo voting issues:  big objections are again being raised to the possibility of special interests being able to ‘rock the vote’ (defined as a concentrated effort to purchase enough memberships to effectively guarantee a win for a particular property).  Fingers are being pointed at the people responsible for the Star Trek episode nominee this year.  Its fans are on a campaign and several SMOFs are objecting – not so much to what this particular group is doing but to the possible future dire consequences.

Here’s my take:  first, the Hugos ought to be far more representative of fandom in general, not just the very small numbers who actually vote out of the relatively small number of fans who get memberships in WSFS.  (Full disclosure: I can rarely justify the expense of a WSFS membership myself: when I have been a member, I have voted.)

Hugos are respected and utilized by publishers and such for marketing purposes: Hugo winning books have new editions rushed into print, proudly displaying the win on their covers.

So you can’t say they are a meaningless award, despite the small amount of participation.  But I believe that they would be MORE meaningful if, instead of winning on four or five hundred votes, a novel, story, artist, magazine or movie won with four or five THOUSAND votes.

In terms of marketing it just makes viral sense: rather than four hundred people telling their friends “I voted for the winner this year, check it out”, you’ve got ten times that number saying the same thing.

Then there’s the ‘buy the vote’ issue to consider.  As some have pointed out, future sales of a winning property may very well justify the expenditure of the ten to twenty thousand dollars necessary to buy a win.  We’re still discussing the formula (the Hugo voting and nominating process is a complicated one and isn’t subject to the simple solution of merely purchasing a majority of votes), but most of us agree that it is possible to do.

There are really only two solutions available to solve that potential problem.  First is to restrict voting with a set of complicated qualifying rules designed to prevent such from happening.  Possible and draconian – and still subject to manipulation.

The second solution is to make voting accessible to so many additional people that no single special interest group can possibly put together a large enough bloc to insure the success of their nefarious plans.  I’m not sure where the cut-off in terms of dollars is, but I’m very sure that if the total number of voters was in the ten to 50 thousand range, no one would bother to try.  And even if they did, their voice would only be one small one among many doing the same kind of thing and it could safely be ignored by those interested in maintaining the purity of the awards.

Arguments are made about the ‘dilution’ of the awards’ significance, but again, I disagree.  In terms of common sense, the MORE people there are who vote for something, the GREATER the perception of importance.  I believe that opening the vote up will bring in more TRUFANS, who have not participated for one reason or another, than it will people who are only interested in one specific category of award.  And even if an initial opening up of the award does bring in hordes of pseudo-fans, guess what? Many, many many of them will quickly become TRUFANS, because by participating in the vote, they will necessarily become exposed to the much wider world of fandom that exists beyond their Star Trek, BSG, Firefly or other special interest doors.

Two final arguments: first, the economic one.  Let’s suppose that WSFS makes a ‘vote for the Hugos only’ membership available for a nominal fee like, say, $10.  Will this reduce attendance at WorldCon?  Doubt. The people who purchase attending memberships in WSFS do so to attend the event and consider voting for the award as an additional benefit.  This ought to be made amply clear by the disparity between the total number of attending memberships and actual votes cast.  Those who purchase supporting memberships are either die-hard supporters of WSFS (good on you!) and do so regularly because they do so, or are folks who are hoping to attend but don’t think they’ll be able to for one reason or another.   Allowing people a ‘vote only’ membership (that’s convertible for an additional fee to supporting or attending) becomes a marketing tool for the convention. 

Think about all the bloggers and website publishers who’ll stick a mention of the Hugos on their scribblings.  More marketing.  Marketing that the customer is paying for the privilege of engaging in.

Not to mention the additional cash flow.  Its entirely possible that participation in such a program could being in enough additional cash that WSFS would be able to LOWER attending membership costs, which would obviously have a beneficial effect on actual attendance.

Last but not least:  opening up the vote is far more in keeping with the new electronic community/economy.  The basic concept seems to be to allow as many people to have a sense of ownership as possible (guided and managed).  People who have a sense of ownership spend more money and participate more regularly.  They contribute.  They give things away for free and add value to already existing products.  John Scalzi is doing something along these lines by offering free E-copies of nominees to those who can prove WSFS membership.  Imagine something along the same line that’s now available to tens of thousands.

I think, therefore, that WSFS ought to take a good hard look at creating a (managed) way in which many many more people can become eligible to vote for Hugos.  I can’t really see a downside, unless you consider raising awarness of the award a bad thing.

I just saw most of the episodes of When We Left Earth (Discovery channel).  Its a documentary version of The Right Stuff.  Some day, I’m going to gather up my DVDs of The Right Stuff, From The Earth to the Moon, Apollo 13 and this presentation, and sit down for a 24 hour session of viewing “Reasons Why My Childhood Was A LOT More Exciting”. 

Which brings me to Obama.  I’m voting for him.  He absolutely reminds me of JFK.  Worry all you want to about ‘inexperience’ (I don’t see it), believe as much as you want to of the BS the right is slinging at him (I don’t).  I’m voting for him DESPITE his apparent positions against a robust manned space program (hoping that will change) because, dammit, we need to hope again.  I’m sick and tired of the fear mongering.  This country has always been at its best when its had a goal to strive for and a vision of the future that’s bigger than our eyes can see.  We need to remember that and I believe Obama can give it to us.

Check this out.  Academicsare apparently reading me and adding me to their blogrolls.  Well, one academic anyway.  Of course this particular blog is lauding the virtues of BSG, so I don’t really know how excited I really ought to be getting, but…  I’m adding it to my blogroll to return the favor.

You might also want to check out zine dump if my discussion of fanzines interested you at all.

See.  Until I re-read the entry, I forgot all about the fact that I wanted to mention this.

This is a radio interview with H. G. Wells and Orson Welles that took place just a few short months before Welles’ (note the ‘E’) release of Citizen Kane, the movie that many regard as THE perfect piece of cinema.  (I like the movie, but THE perfect piece of cinema is Casablanca.  Sorry, Orson.)

The two things I find most interesting about the interview are: the fact that you can actually hear the voice of a man who was born in the 1800s, who incidentally wrote The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, First Men In The Moon and etc.  There he is, right there on the radio, talking and chuckling away, acting all deferential to Orson and the audience, seemingly bemused by the attention and enjoying every second of it.

The second thing I find fascinating is the mention of Hitler’s denunciation of the western democracies, using Welles’ radio production of Wells’ War of the Worlds, and the panic it induced, as an example of why the western democracies are corrupt and doomed to fall.

I wish I could find a copy of Adolf’s speech wherein he makes those accusations.  I’d like to hear how he links fear of a Martian invasion to corruption and failure.  Second only to the claims made about Hitler is Wells’ own unspoken commentary: Silly colonialists.  If you weren’t in the habit of believing twelve impossible things before breakfast, you’d have known the Martians can’t be invading because there are no Martians. 

I think he’d be just as amused today, what with school teachers burning crosses in their student’s arms and all.  The justifications for the Iraq war were just as impossible to believe as a Martian Invasion and yet our fellow country bumpkins bought them just as readily as they did the Invasion back in the 30′s.  Seventy plus years later we’re still running around with pitchforks and pulling the covers over our heads.

 

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