Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Admin Note: Light posting for the next week

Hey all. This week is going to be centered on me moving and getting set up in some new digs and then next week from July 2-5th I'm gonna be running a number of events at Dexcon 18 in Morristown, NJ. There may be a post or two queued up between now and then but otherwise I'll be back tothe regular schedule afterwards. I'll still make sure to thank my Patrons, so if you wanted to get in on that Patreon action, now's the time to do it before the new month!

In the meantime, please check out the sites and writers linked from the blogroll on the right-hand side. They're all super neato and have the official The Code Seal of Approval.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Space Weird Thing: Charming Take On David Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Randall Munroe draws funny pictures. He also writes books. One book he wrote is named "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" and is all about explaining large ideas using only the ten hundred most used words. On YouTube, one group of people who like music and the funny pictures with words he drew called "Up Goer Five" made "Space Weird Thing", a do it yourself moving picture with music to take on a David Bowie song. It is very well done and I wanted to share it with all of you, too!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Discworld Series Will End This Fall

Terry Pratchett in 2011. Photograph: Tom Pilston
Courtesy of The Independent/REX
The last book in the Discworld series completed by the late Terry Pratchett last summer, "The Shepard's Crown", will be released September 10th of this year in the United Kingdom. According to Rhianna Pratchett, Terry's daughter and custodian of her father's works, it will also be the last Discworld novel ever, out of respect to her father's legacy, as she explained in a series:

There were rumors that a follow-up to "Raising Steam", which Mr. Pratchett announced he was working on last year but did not complete before his death, would be finished by a co-writer like Stephen Baxter, his co-writer on the "Long Earth" series. Pratchett did finish his contributions to the latest "Long Earth" series, entitled "The Long Utopia", which will be published in the UK tomorrow, with a US release date planned soon after.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Guest Post: Puppies Crying Bitter Tears

Description: Screenshot of tweets with hashtag "New Hugo
Categories" from Foz &Arthur Chu: "Best UNcritical Use of
1950s Gender Roles In Story Set 2000 Years In Future", "Best
Non-White Protagonist Portrayed By White Model On Cover" &
"The Dan Simmons Award For Best Time Traveller From
Future Telling You All Your Political Opinions Are Right".
Friend of the blog Ria, of Bibliotropic, had a lot to say about the spate of what the Puppies rhetoric has meant for them  personally as well as the field of writing in general recently. The Code is proud to present the following guest post from Ria. I also stand by everything they say here. Warning: contans swears.

"I dislike the both Puppy litter ideologies. I talked a bit about why last year, long before this current Puppy debacle began, with a post about Correia's comments on diversity in SFF. For those who don't want to read a long post about it, in a nutshell, someone who is now very strongly identified with the Puppies said, a while back, that including nonbinary characters and other forms of diversity in SFF would make for bad fiction, because doing so would come across solely as message fiction and remove any entertainment value. I objected to that, since what that amounts to in a practical sense is to erase people like me from having representation in fiction. The insinuation is that people such as myself aren't of any real value to have our stories, nor does anyone want to actually read about us or have us around. It's insulting, and it's dehumanizing.

So when this round of Puppy problems started, I admit I was already pretty inclined to dislike them, given that my experience of one of their figureheads was that he thinks people like me shouldn't play a central role in his beloved genre. And the more I read about what they stood for, the more my hackles rose. Accusations that women, people of colour, QUILTBAG folk were only getting nominations for awards due to affirmative action are galling, since what they essentially say is that these people getting nominations aren't actually as good as that straight white male over there and are only getting nominated because of quotas that need filling. If it wasn't for those quotas, that nomination would rightfully go to a dude. Comments that because certain of their books or series were popular with a certain crowd and sold well, they should totally be eligible for more award nominations. (Because quantity equals quality, I guess.)

There may be no AWARD for such well-selling books, but there is a REWARD. It's called a paycheque. A paycheque you get for doing a thing you love, which is something many people don't get to experience in their lives. That isn't to say that people with well-selling books don't deserve more than a simple paycheque. It's awesome to have fans, fan experiences, interaction, the knowledge that you're doing something people enjoy. Maybe there ought to be an award for the SFF book that sells the most copies in a year, I dunno. (Then, I suspect, there'd be a cry-out about how books released toward the end of a year just didn't have a chance, and look how many they sold the next year, so they should totally have won that award after all. Nobody gets everything.)

The problem I see with most of the Puppy stuff is that their message seems very unclear. First it appeared to be, "The Hugos are a stupid award full of politics I disagree with and all given to books I don't want to write or read. ...So how come I never win one?" Then it started to be about affirmative action accusations, about women and non-white and non-straight people swooping in and stealing awards that should go to more deserving folk. Then the hypocrisies really started coming to light, where Puppies would insult authors they disagreed with, very personally, but as soon as there was any retaliation against even their politics they'd cry defamation and abuse. At the end of it all, what I can see is that the Puppies stand for only the Puppies, and to hell with anything else. And by "to hell with," I mean largely that they'll insult and threaten people who don't toe the Puppy party line. it's fine and dandy for someone to come in and defend the Puppies and say, "Look, all they're saying is that they think their works should be judged as being just as valid as anyone else's, and that people are free to do as they please so long as he can do the same."

Sounds good on paper. And utterly out of context.

Because major Puppy authors are being allowed to write and publish the books they do. They're not being blocked from selling them. They may not qualify for awards, but hell, so do the vast majority of books published in a year. Big damn deal. The idea that everyone should have an award is a very liberal thing, and given that the Puppies seem to have a beef with politically liberal things, you'd think they'd be a bit more on board with a meritocracy. Nobody is imposing their ideals on the Puppies. The world can, amazingly, have multiple things in it, some of which by default disagree with other things. But the accusations made by them are harmful. Painful. Dismissive. And are largely focused on gender issues, sexuality, race, and a whole load of other things that make people say yes, there's some godsdamn bigotry happening here.

People love to say that so-and-so can't possibly be racist because they have black friends. Okay, so, by that logic, no heterosexual man can be sexist if they're married to a woman. Oh, wait, LOGIC DOES NOT COMPUTE! Someone can have black friends and still be racist. And since what a person writes and what a person believes aren't always walking along hand-in-hand, a person can also write about a black woman being just as kick-ass as a white man, but when they throw out n-word jokes at parties, sorry, that's still being racist.

I think some of the major Puppy supporters miss what a lot of people miss about prejudice. They hear the word sexism and assume that sexism comes in only one form: overt. You're only really sexist if you state that women are inferior to men and they shouldn't be allowed to do man things and should stay at home and quietly raise the kids. If you don't believe that, then you're totes not sexist. Except that sexism can also come in the form of believing that a woman only got an award nomination because she's a woman, which has the unspoken opinion that she didn't get it because she did something worthwhile. And since gender is brought into it, what's also unspoken is that she didn't do something as well as a man. Which means the award should rightfully go to men.

Sometimes bigotry is about what you don't say. It's about what you don't even think consciously. Sometimes this shit is so ingrained in you, thanks to a hundred and one different factors, that you don't even realise you're denigrating someone. Likewise, with racism and thinking you're only a racist if you want to bring back lynchings and banning black people from being around white people. There's no other way to be racist. Except that there is, and many of the Puppy opinions about race are very damn racist.

Surely there's going to be someone who wants to jump in and say, "Oh, fine, so you think all straight white men are worthless and wrong all the time, then." And no, I don't. And it's just a little bit ridiculous to say so. It's a bizarre extrapolation from my arguments. The fact that some straight white men have done some shitty-ass things doesn't make them wrong about everything. Just in the same way that I'm transgender doesn't make me right about everything. Including things involving gender politics.

Changing the subject a little, another thing that weirds me out about Puppy stuff? The way they seem to think that the Hugos have this liberal bias toward books that only talk about what liberals want talked about, and how nobody's actually reading these books. And how the voters at Worldcon are some elite subgroup of liberals who earned their voting privileges by, I dunno, helping an elderly Asian woman across the street to get to her ACA-funded doctor's appointment or something. That stuff straight-up ignores facts that are easily corrected. 30 seconds on Google will net you dozens of reviews for these books, showing that yes, people are reading them. Got the money to go to Worldcon? Great, here are your rights to vote on the Hugos and make your voice heard. It's not like you have to pass a liberal test or something in order to get these things. You pay money. And you read books. So the idea that books are winning a prestigious award when nobody's reading them because they suck so bad is just a touch ridiculous.

People have pointed this out before. I'm not the first. But this info seems to slide off people on the Puppy side of the fence because it doesn't mesh with what they see. It's not a flawless system. No system is. But some accusations are very easily refutable, and I'm not even sure where they came from beyond, "I'm not winning this award, so it must be a conspiracy against my politics." At the end of all this, I want the whole damn thing to be over. I want people to stop insulting each other for daring to like a different subset of SFF than they do. There's room for a lot of opinions here. A lot.

And that includes both conservative "men doing manly things" fiction AND fiction involving nonbinary people in stories that look like they can right out of a liberal buzzword dictionary. Doesn't make either of them good or bad by default. That's the trick for the author to manage. You can make a terrible idea into a good story, and a great idea into a terrible story. So yeah, I dislike the Puppies on both a personal and political level, because they're largely insulting, ignorant, and seem like they'd be a lot happier if people like me shut our mouths and let them get on with doing what they do unopposed, but damn, am I ever eager for this bullshit to stop!"

Ria is an agender ex-pat Brit currently living on the east coast of Canada, along with 5 cats and a glorified budgie named Albert. When not reading and reviewing books on bibliotropic.net, Ria can often be found obsessively playing video games, being an amateur photographer, or experimenting with various fibre arts.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road In 60 Seconds

Hey all, I've been a little under the weather this weekend I'll be a bit busy the next day or so assisting my Roommate To Be in getting up the new apartment,so posting might be a little light. In the meantime,please enjoy this excellent fan video which gives a succinct summation of Mad Max: Fury Road in just under a minute:

That's it. That's the movie, folks!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Tor Books Threw Its Women Employees Under The Bus

Description: Drawing of a hand with index finger raised
and other fingers clenched in a fist. Text beneath it reads "That
finger's wagging at you.
Irene Gallo is the creative director of  science-fiction publisher Tor Books, as well the associate publisher of its sister website Tor.com. Tor.com has been praised for its diversity and its depth of authors featured and its breadth of stories,articles and other material, and a lot of that can be attributed to her at the helm. I have alluded to another science fiction group:the self-described "Sad Puppies" and the "Rabid Puppies".

Those were two groups (one of them led by a hack white surpremicist) that felt that "social justice warriors" were flooding Hugo Award nominations with nominations and crowding out deserving writers, so the groups' counter-action was... to abuse nomination rules to push a slate of nominations and crowd out deserving writers, up to and including recruiting GamerGaters.

Irene Gallo made a statement on her personal Facebook page when asked for her take on the Puppies: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

So the Rabid and Sad Puppies supporters flooded her boss, the publisher of Tor, Tom Doherty. So he felt the need to address the remarks made on her personal Facebook page by... throwing her under the bus and apologizing to the spurned Puppies. Don't read the comments unless you like wading through crap.

There are two paragraphs in his official statement as publisher of Tor that stand out:
“In short, we seek out and publish a diverse and wide ranging group of books. We are in the business of finding great stories and promoting literature and are not about promoting a political agenda... Tor employees, including Ms. Gallo, have been reminded that they are required to clarify when they are speaking for Tor and when they are speaking for themselves. We apologize for any confusion Ms. Gallo’s comments may have caused. 
Let me reiterate: the views expressed by Ms. Gallo are not those of Tor as an organization and are not my own views. Rest assured, Tor remains committed to bringing readers the finest in science fiction – on a broad range of topics, from a broad range of authors.”
What's odd is that Editor at Tor Books Patrick Neilsen Hayden called the Sad Puppies evil. Best aelling author John Scalzi-- yes the same John Scalzi that signed a 10 year deal with Tor Books for 3.4 million-- has publicly feuded with Vox Day (the white supremacist behind the Rabid Puppies slate) and called him a bigot. Neither of these high profile men had these actions or statements repudiated in public statements from Tom Doherty.

In fact,Tom Doherty's been quiet about a lot of things done by men at Tor. It’s also worth noting that Jim Frenkel, who sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women - including authors, fans, SF community members and editors got to keep his job, even though high-level people at Tor knew about his harassment. In fact, it took Elise Matthesen going public with her account of being harassed by Frenkel at WisCon, for Tor do anything...and that "anything" was allowing Frenkel to resign instead of being fired.Tom Doherty never released any statements on the matter.

Author K. Tempest Bradford weighs in on the matter, also pointing out that:
One thing I forgot and Mary Kowal reminded me of this morning: a Tor employee in the contracts department attacked and harassed her online over SFWA stuff a year or so ago. He backed off after what was assumed a talk from the Tor legal department, but that was only assumed. Did Tom Doherty issue a blog post about how Tor employees are supposed to act and how they need to make it clear that they are not speaking for Tor at that point? No, he did not. Even though the employee in question mentioned that he worked at Tor in contracts and had to grit his teeth or something every time he had to deal with hers. Because Mary is a goddamned Tor author... How is this supposed to make Tor authors feel? What kind of workplace/professional atmosphere is Doherty creating with this nonsense?
It seems to me that he wants women working for Tor to be seen and not heard.

Austin Walker On Video Game Critics & Influence

Description: The word JUDGE looms over a stick figure drawing
of a person frowning at a computer monitor, hands steepled.
Austin Walker has been a hot new hire for video game website Giant Bomb,and with his latest essay for the site, it's not hard to see why. In his latest editorial in the "Why We Write Series", he tackles the importance of critique, the reasons behind it and the influence of games criticism and games as entertainment.

First of all, he wants to dispel the notion of critics trying to "force changes" on unwary developers:
So, what if instead of thinking about all of this in terms of a binary relationship (either a critic forces someone to do something or they don’t), we thought about this on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is absolute disconnect from influence: A writer pens long form essays about how developers should always do whatever they want. On the other end of the spectrum is critical work demanding that devs actually be “forced” to do things. But most critique exists in between those two extremes. 
He also puts the boots to two other ideas behind pulling punches when it comes to criticism of games-- targeting and timing:

When we note that a game is filled with slurs and offensive caricatures, we’re told that we should be less offended because, hey, it's just satire. When we point out how a game leverages a history of racialized, coded imagery to elicit fear, people link us to wiki articles and explain the deep lore as justification. When a game made me spend a half hour of my real time every day just to keep my skin color on point, I was told that, no no, of course games have a problem with race, but why did I have to go after Animal Crossing...
Yes, writing about diversity and The Witcher 3 is especially complicated because of the perspectives involved. Polish history is filled with outsider groups minimizing, controlling, ignoring, and erasing the nation's unique ethnic and cultural character. At the same time, people of color in white-dominant spaces have struggled to develop the vocabularies of critical race studies and post-colonialism only to then be told to mind their tone. These things mix here in an especially volatile way. But this doesn't mean that we should shy away from addressing it, afraid of stepping on toes, afraid of what we don't know. It means we step forward in good faith, with sympathy for the other perspective, and with a willingness to incorporate the complexities of someone else's view.

He also covers ideas of American standards, media influencers, and the emotional core that drives him to write. A great read.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sherlock, Watson & Chainmail Bikinis

Description: A red-haired woman warrior locked in combat
with a lizard monster taller than she is. She holds a shield
to defend against attacks, sword ready to strike.  The armor
she is wearing is a chain mail bikini, leaving much of her body
exposed to attack.
There are two terms in literary criticism that have been used in the wider world of media fandom and fiction critiques: Watsonian and Doylian. Watsonian means looking at something from an in-universe perspective. For example: "Sherlock Holmes died in that story because he fell off a cliff," would be a Watsonian explanation. "Sherlock Holmes died because the author was sick of writing stories about the detective and wanted to start something new," would be a Doylian perspective, named after the author of the Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first used on a Bujold-Master fan discussion list and spread from there. It's basically making a difference between talking about something a character says or does and how it fits with the character's fictional world, and why or how the writer's choices fit into our real life life culture, society and circumstances.

There can be a bit of a problem in discussions of fiction when a Watsonian (in-universe) perspective is used to dismiss a Doylian (real world) criticism, and nowhere is that more apparent in both tabletop and gaming circles than the trope of the Warrior Woman Who Fights In A Chainmail Bikini.

The chainmail bikini has been a staple of pulp fantasy art since the 1930s, and has appeared in one form or another in the art and character designs of fantasy novels,tabletop games and video games ever since. Take the cover art for Runequest up there. An in-universe explanation for why the character chooses to wear a chainmail bikini because she feels powerful, almost invincible in battle, and doesn't think she really needs to wear practical armor, so what's the big deal? That would be a Watsonian view.

Description: Video game renders of characters in
armor.On the left,a woman wears armor that covers
armor covering her hands, feet, legs& shoulders while
barely covering her crotch and breasts & exposed
midriff. At right, a male character in armor leaving
nothing exposed but his head.
But the artist or character designer choosing to draw her or portray her that way isn't a value-neutral choice when you look at it in a Doylist (real world) sense. Sure, in the fictional world the story takes place she's Druscilla the Invincible and her bikini symbolizes her fearlessness. But the character also exists as part of a whole trope of chainmail bikini women in fantasy battlefields that have the men warriors decked out in armor from head to toe. And THAT exists among a tradition and media landscape showing women dressed like that merely acting as decoration for men who look like the traditional badass power fantasy. In-universe, the chainmail bikini could represent the character's choice to show fearlessness. In the real world, it is the artist who is choosing to create this look for a character, and those depictions mean something else entirely.

So yes, you can totally appreciate and acknowledge just how awesome Druscilla is in her story
setting. You can't, however, make the context for her portrayal and her appearance vanish or ignore it just because you happen to like her story or her character. So if someone points out how that portrayal in the wider world is sexist, and you counter with "This armor has a practical advantage and it's the character herself choosing to wear it!" you are trying to counter a Doylian crtique with a Watsonian explanation, and that doesn't quite work. Someone pointing out the inherent sexism in chainmail bikini art and representation is also about everything else in fiction in specific and society in general that that bikini can represent. If you're bombarded with those images and these portrayals amongst the constant sea of objectification of women, and you're a woman, you can't just not exists in the world you're living in and you can't just un-see it.

When someone points out issues with sexism in a game, it doesn't make the people who play it bad people. It doesn't make the artists or writers bad people either (though it might show them to be making lazy decisions). Critiquing elements of a game isn't an attack on the game or an attack on people playing it. Criticism of something you like isn't an attack on you. And this isn't just limited to video games.As recently as 2013, the The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's (SFWA) magazine The Bulletin generated controversy with its cheesecake cover of a woman in a chainmail bikini...on the heels of editorials and columns written talking about "lady editors" and rating women solely on attractiveness and how Barbie should be a role model to women in sci-fi and fantasy because she was "dignified".

Most people protesting what they see as gratuitous elements don't want to see things banned and certainly aren't trying to censor anybody (besides, censorship is something only a government body can do)-- they'd just like it to not be the default. It would be cool to have the default be something other that just skimpy or revealing attire. It'd be nice to get a break from the constant objectification. And these critiques can open up the door to considering other things we take for granted. Why not a lithe man calling himself Dru the Invincible wading into battle in naught but a thong? Does that seem silly to you, but not so much if it were Drucilla in her chainmail bikini? Why not?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gaming Design With Kids In Mind: A How To

To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, play is the the "work" of children. And whether you are a game designer, a child psychologist, a user experience researcher, or are conducting playtesting, knowing how to approach this sort of gaming study is important. As researcher, user experience designer and author Antonia writes...
Gaming means a lot to me, not only was it my introduction to the digital world, it gave me a sense of belonging as a teenager. So any opportunity I get to work with game creation, I tend to throw myself into it, and so with research as well. This post is about some of the important tips, observations and experience I’ve had while running a research piece with kids. 
In this study, the research was to explore the usability of hand-held consoles vs tablets/smartphones with kids between the ages of 2 and 10. I had a sample size of 6. The research method was ethnography which I think is the best method when working with children. You want to learn and cocreate with them in a natural environment free of fear and stress.
Even if you don't think you'll ever be in a line of work involving playtesting or kids, the entire piece is a fascinating look at just what goes into feedback and game design, so I'd recommend you read the whole thing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Now You're Printing With Power: 3D Printer Retro Portable

Friend of the blog Drew of Drew's Robots has done some pretty awesome things with his custom designed and built 3-D printer-- a TARDIS that transforms into Optimus Prime, remote controlled walker robots, and his latest upload to Thingaverse: a little retro portable handheld console he calls the PiSP, for PiStation Portable.
My main design goal was to have good ergonomics. This design fits nicely with my large hands, with an analog joystick that I find more comfortable than a D-pad, and large illuminated buttons with nice mechanical action instead of small membrane buttons. 
The mechanical assembly is fairly simple, only two printed pieces, with nearly all the electrical parts attached to the front half. It has an internal battery charger, and can be played while charging - although you will discharge faster than you charge, so you still need to shut down to recharge fully. The second USB port on the PI is accessible, so you can plug in a USB drive to transfer roms, or an external keyboard for configuration or emulating systems needing a keyboard.
If you want to make this for yourself, you can download the files and print them out for free by visiting his Thingaverse page.

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