Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gaming for Nepal

Drive Thru RPG is running two sales on PDF bundles of gaming supplements with all sales going to support charities doing emergency relief in earthquake stricken Nepal.

So go buy some gaming stuff and help the people of Nepal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bernie for president?

The political commentariat is all a-twitter (even those not on Twitter) with the news that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is going to announce his candidacy as a Democrat for president tomorrow.  Now, I do not think for a moment think that Bernie has a snowball's chance in hell of securing the Democratic candidacy, let alone winning the presidency.  And I also think he is more useful in the long run where he is in the Senate as one of the few genuinely progressive voices (along with Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the upper house, but I am still all in favor of him running.

The biggest reason to support his candidacy is that it will force Hillary Clinton to tack left now and stay more on the left side of the spectrum until well into 2016.  I am not exactly a Hillary fan.  Don't get me wrong, I think she is vastly superior than any of the members of the present Republican clown car who have either declared or are about to.  But I find her untrustworthy, a little too close to Wall Street, and like her husband a little too keen on triangulating her positions to what sounds best to get elected.

Ever since the 2012 election it has been obvious that she is going to run and there has been an aura of inevitability surrounding her march to the Democratic candidacy.  Having at least one serious challenger is good for her campaign in that it will actually make her organization have to work in the spring of next year and therefore find out earlier if there are any problems that need fixing before general.

The other thing is that while she is truly center-left in her politics I think she's too center and not much left and having to respond to an avowed socialist like Sanders will require her to start articulating more progressive positions especially in spheres of taxation, income inequality and entitlement programs.  To quote President Harry Truman:

I've seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn't believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

After eight years of a Democratic president, if Clinton goes out and campaigns too far to the center that she sounds like a fake Republican the electorate will decide they may as well have a real Republican in that case.  Then gods help us all.

That's why I like the idea of Bernie Sanders running for president.  He will make sure we have a truly Democratic candidate on the ballot in November next year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Words of Wisdom

After spending this morning dealing with my insurance company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles I am reminded of something one of my college history professors said after a test on the Roman Empire: "No matter how much they act like asses, it's not a burrocracy,"

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

The first preview video of the BBC's seven part adaptation of Susanna Clark's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been released.

It looks visually beautiful and I am looking forward to it being broadcast on this side of the pond.

Which is rather odd because I really detested the book.  When I first heard about it my thought was "Magic in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars?  Where do I sign up?"  But I have tried on three occasions to read the novel and don't think I've ever gotten farther than a hundred pages.  The problem, as far as I'm concerned is Ms. Clark wrote Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as a pastiche of the novels of Jane Austen.  And I detest Jane Austen!

I couldn't get past the mimicked writing style.  There was a good story there, I could tell.  I just could not enjoy it.

That is why I'm looking forward to this adaptation.  While the dialogue appears to ape Jane Austen's (and hence Regency) style because it is a visual medium I won't get bogged down in various descriptions of people, places and things in Austenesque novels that I find so tedious and can sit back, watch what was previously, tediously described in words and enjoy the story.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Heinlein and me

One of the common complaints from the Sad Puppies is that nowadays Robert Heinlein could not get published.  I think this is nonsense, at his best he was technically an excellent author and a great storyteller.  But this isn't about Puppygate but rather how Heinlein got me into science fiction.

My dad was always a big science fiction fan and when I was growing up there were always books by Heinlein and Isaac Asimov (his favorites) lying around the house.  When I was nine years old I picked up his copy of Starship Troopers and devoured it.  At ten I swiped his copy of  The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and fell in love with it.  At this age I was too young to really pick up on the problematic parts of both books and just considered them good space stories.  That these were my first two SF novels probably explains a great deal about me.

Nevertheless I think dad was slightly appalled at my choices and pushed me towards Heinlein's juveniles.  I know I read most if not all of the juveniles at this time but most don't seem to have stuck with me.  I remember enjoying Space Cadet but was not overly impressed with The Rolling Stones.  Eventually I moved on to SF by other authors but whenever I was bored I kept coming back to my first two books.  When I was in eighth grade we had an assignment to do a book report and create diorama based on the book.  Mine was the battle with the Skinnies in the first chapter of Starship Troopers.  This probably explains a lot about why my teachers thought about me the way that they did,

About this time I got interested in board wargaming and again RAH via my dad is to blame.  Dad had a copy of the old Avalon Hill Starship Troopers wargame.  He never really got into it but I thought it was really cool and basically appropriated it for myself.  In fact I still have it stored away someplace.  It hooked me on the hobby and I was soon saving my money to buy my own hex map and cardboard chits wargames.  First on SF&F themes but later historical ones too and I still enjoy the hobby.

I didn't get back to reading more Heinlein until I went to college.  I read the Future History short stories. I loved Time Enough For Love, especially the Notebooks of Lazarus Long sections.  I was disgusted with the sexism of Glory Road.  And I tried several times, then and since, to read A Stranger In A Strange Land but I could never get into it despite everyone saying it was his master work.  Apparently RAH thought it wasn't his best work either, so I guess I'm in good company.

I was in college in the mid-Eighties and this was when his later, weirder works were coming out.  I liked the setting of Friday if not the actual story.  While he had always had a tendency towards author tracts in his books it became more obvious near the end as the story gave way to the characters philosophizing.  In short, I got bored.

And it was in college that I finally became aware of the really problematic, if totally polar opposite, politics of Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and they became less and less of my go to reads when bored.  Basically I finally grew up and grew past Heinlein.  I haven't really read any thing by him in about fifteen years when I re-read Number Of The Beast shortly after moving to Nevada and was mildly amused by the fact that the major characters get married in Elko.

So while I owe Robert Heinlein and my dad a great deal for getting me into both science fiction and wargaming, I find that I cannot really be one of his defenders.  As I said the man could write a good story in his prime but he just became too weird and too controversial for my tastes.

Two final notes.  First, I have never seen Paul Verhoeven's film adaptation of Starship Troopers nor do I ever intend to.  Aside from pumping up the already fascist elements of the novel up to eleven, when I found out the Mobile Infantry wasn't going to have power armor my immediate and continuing reaction was "What's the point?"  After all it was the only real cool thing in the book,

The second is the only RAH novel I still own a copy of continues to be The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.  I still have something of a week spot for it.  Yes, I recognize it as a completely unrealistic libertarian fantasy but Manny and Mike the Computer are still two of my favorite characters in all of science fiction.

My brother also blogs

Apparently me starting this blog has encouraged my brother Dan to revive his blog, Spice Up Your Dice.  Dan is a professional chef and his blog is primarily about cooking and board gaming, his job and his hobby.  It's good.  You should read it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

That explains it

Now I know why the Puppygate post got so many posts.  File 770 picked it up and linked to it. I'm honored that they thought I was worth linking to.  Thanks guys.

A bit of family history

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio which I consider to be the cultural center of the universe.  On of the more important bits of culture from the geek perspective is Cleveland is the birthplace of Superman.

Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel, Superman's creators, both went to Glenville High School on the city's east side.  My grandfather, Milton Chenchinsky, also went to Glenville with them and was fairly good friends with both.  In fact after after Jerry Seigel's father died his family was so poor that my great-grandfather who was a baker would send my grandfather around to the Seigel household every Friday with a free challah so they would have one for their Shabbat dinner.  According to family history my great-grandfather was not particularly religious man so one gets the idea that the Seigels must have been really hard up during the Depression.

Anyway I wish I could say that Grandpa Milton stayed close to Joe and Jerry but after they sold Superman to DC comics and moved to New York they grew apart.  Nevertheless I take a certain amount of personal pride in my family's connection with a great American icon.


When I started this blog two days ago I figured it would take a while to take off and that in the beginning only my friends would bother reading it and it would get only a couple dozen hits at most.

But yesterday's post on Puppygate has had 583 views so far!  I'm kind of flabbergasted considering it was only the third post on a two day old blog.  Is this normal?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Don't be a sad puppy about the Sad Puppies

[Note: I am assuming that if you are reading this very new blog you are already familiar with the Puppygate brouhaha surrounding the Hugo Awards.  If not, allow me to recommend George R.R. Martin's very good analysis here and here and Eric Flint's excellent post here.]

I'll admit the title of the post has to do with more with me being clever than just the Sad Puppies.  The primary villain in this whole fiasco is, as far as I'm concerned, Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale) and the Rabid Puppies.  Like John Scalzi and many others, I am fairly convinced that Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson allowed themselves to get played big time by Vox Day and now they don't know how to put the monster back in the box.

But this is less about the various breeds of Puppy but rather the effect Vox Day and his slate and his tactics have had on various people in the community of fandom.  I've just finished listening to the Nerdvana Podcast's latest two part episode on Hugogate with Kevin Standlee as a special guest to explain what happened, what can be done now and what can be done in the future to fix things.  If you haven't listened to it, you can find it here and here.  Take a couple hours and listen to what everyone has to say.

Back now?

One of the things you will notice throughout the podcast is that at several points through out it that Christopher J. Garcia seems to be on the verge of tears and he is convinced that the Hugos have been irreparably tarnished and essentially destroyed.  Chris Garcia is someone in fandom I greatly admire and respect.  He's personally a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor and his knowledge of science fiction and fandom is second to none.  He won a Hugo in 2011 here in Reno for co-editing the fanzine Drink Tank after being nominated six previous times.  Anyone who was at the 2011 Hugo ceremonies and saw his acceptance speech knows just how important the Hugos are to him.

Now while I have been a fan of science fiction since I was a kid, I've only been involved in organized fandom for the last few years.  Chris, on the other hand, practically grew up in fandom.  To a large extent it's not just friends to him, it's family.  The Hugo is not just an award but the highest accolade he can receive from that family.  Therefore by Vox Day's slate and tactics he is pissing on Chris' family.  I can truly understand why Chris is so upset about this.  And I know there are a lot of other people out there in fandom who feel the same as he does.

Where Chris and I disagree is in how much damage has been done.  He thinks the Hugos are irreparably damaged whereas I think they just got an embarrassing black eye.  He thinks that the Hugo administrators failed in not disallowing the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate nomination ballots.  I agree with Kevin that the Hugos have rules for a reason and that we need to work within those rules or else we truly are the controlling clique the Puppies claim we are.

So how do I see things playing out?

Two things are going to happen this year at Sasquan.  First, there is going to be the World Science Fiction Society business meeting chaired by Kevin Standlee that will address the issue of changing the rules to prevent slating from occurring.  I don't know what those exact changes are going to be but like Kevin I hope they go for something simple like instituting a 3/6 or 4/8 rule [1].  The other is that we will know who, if anybody, won any awards.  Vox Day actually did something miraculous by inflicting his slate on the short list, he managed to unite fandom a task akin to herding cats.  I fully expect No Award to win most, if not all, the slated categories.

"But wait," I hear you cry, "Didn't Vox Day threaten to burn down the Hugos if No Award wins any of the writing or editing categories?"  Yes, he did and I fully expect him to try.  But whatever the outcome I expect that in the immediate aftermath of the results the Sad Puppies are going not so quietly get out of the business of pushing a slate.  I fully expect various blog posts from Correia or Torgerson -who have to be aware that they've been played - stating they either proved their point about a clique (if No Award wins) or crowing about their victory (if something they supported wins) and that they don't need put forward slates any more.  This will leave Vox Day floating out there without the fig leaf of respectability the Sad Puppies gave him.  Also we will have the voting and nominating numbers after the awards ceremony so there will be a better idea of just how many people are actually supporting the puppies.  We know you don't need that many people with at least supporting Worldcon memberships to get a particular work/author on the ballot because only a fraction of the supporting membership sends in nominations.

Along comes 2016 and while Vox puts forward his slate of nominees there are going to be a lot of mad fans out there who may not have nominated before who are going to next year.  I didn't nominate this year but I won't make that mistake next.  Many of my friends have said the same thing.  I don't think it will keep VD's nominees completely off the short list but there should be enough whole punched in it that there will be worthy works for the membership to vote for instead of No Award, and No Award winning again still exists as a worst case possibility, which admittedly is a second black eye.  Also in Kansas City, whatever rules changes get decided on at Spokane will be confirmed by that year's WSFS meeting.

Therefore by 2017 it becomes a battle of attrition between Hugo supporters (whether "social justice warriors" or just people who enjoy a good story) and Vox Day and his horde of Visigoths (with apologies to the actual Visigoths) on a playing field where the rules no longer favor his gaming the system.  At this point Kevin believes, and I agree with him, that we can eventually wait out Vox until he gets bored and decides to find something else inside or outside of fandom to destroy.  Chris seems to be of the opinion that Vox can just keep buying supporting memberships for his friends in an attempt to swamp serious voters.  Perhaps he's right but the more Vox tries, the greater the chance is that we can actually nail him him for explicit vote buying and then ban him and his supporters within the WSFS rules.

Like I said earlier, I don't have Chris' history with fandom and I am looking at this very dispassionately from my view as a politics junky who does statistics for a living.  We are looking at a couple painful years but I don't think the Hugos are a lost cause.

Finally, I would like to say that I hope I am interpreting Chris Garcia's feelings and opinions on this correctly.  I am basing it largely on what he said on the Nerdvana Podcast and what he has publicly written.  If I'm wrong, I hope he will set me straight.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates a mature adult from the various puppies.  They can have strong opposing opinions and discuss them rationally and if one person or another is in the wrong they should be willing to admit so.

[1] If you haven't listened to the entire podcast, there are several proposals that would change the number of finalists slots and the number of works/people you can nominate in those slots.  So rather than the present five nominees for five slots there would be six slots and you can make three nominations in each category or eight and four if that's the way things go.  That way it makes it, if not impossible, at least very hard for a group of people to completely control who gets all the nominations in any given category.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Play nice

So far no one has noticed the blog, which makes sense since it just went live about 10 minutes ago  But one thing I should have added in my first post is that if anybody actually reads this and comments I expect everyone to act like mature adults.

Feel free to disagree with me.  Feel free to disagree with other commenters.  But be polite.  No name calling.  No ad hominem attacks.

I reserve the right to delete comments I interpret as inappropriate and to ban multiple offenders,  In the end, this is my blog and I have the final say about what goes on here.

In Which I Blog

The recent much ado in science fiction fandom known variously as Puppygate and/or Hugogate has inspired me to start blogging.  I'm on Facebook but it's not very good when it comes to long form writing.  So here I am trying my hand at writing my thoughts on a semi-regular basis.

First of all, if you don't know who I am, my name is Arthur Chenin,  I'm a 40-something divorced father of a 10 year old boy.  I work as an institutional research analyst in the planning & budget office of a major land grant, research university.  In short I do statistics for a living.

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and although I now live in the wilds of northern Nevada I still consider Cleveland to be the cultural center of the universe.  I attended Miami University (the one in Ohio) where I studied political science and history.

I am a life-long geek with the standard interests in science fiction and fantasy as well history.  Which raises the question, just what is this blog about?

  • Science fiction & fantasy in all its forms: books, film, television, et cetera.  My tastes are kind of all over the place.  I like a good space opera and epic fantasy as much as a serious exploration of the effects of technology on humanity.
  • SF&F fandom as a subculture including conventions, people and events involving it.
  • Gaming, primarily role-playing and board gaming.  Also I like doing historical miniatures gaming.  However don't expect much about video games, I don't own any consoles and they rarely capture my attention.
  • History, especially the Napoleonic Wars and the Austro-Hungarian Empire but pretty much anything that catches my fancy.
  • Also some alternate history both serious academic questions of  "What if" as well as my present obsession with steampunk.
  • Occasionally I will indulge in political rants.  I am a registered Democrat though my actual beliefs are probably closer to a European-style social Democrat.  Politics will undoubtedly become the subject of more posts as we get closer to an election.

Like I said, I want to post semi-regularly.  Ideally that would be daily but I suspect knowing myself that many days can go between posts.

So that's it for now.  Thanks for reading.

PS And thanks to my dear friend Smooches for help with the name for the blog,