Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hugo Voting (Part Two)

Today is the day!  The deadline for Hugo voting is 11:59pm PDT.

I began discussing my choices in "Hugo Voting (Part One)."  I'm super excited about attending MidAmeriCon II in a few weeks, where the winners will be announced!

This is my first time voting for the Hugos and the most important thing I've learned is that Hugo voting is pretty much a part time job!  I didn't give the attention to all the works that most of them deserved, and I missed a few categories just because I didn't have time to get to them.  Time management lessons for next year, I guess.

I'll give my full list of choices below, but first a few notes on my voting strategies (see here and here for my voting strategies when it comes to actual politics).

Voting for the Best! (Along with Strategic De-puppification)

Since I oppose both the strategy and motivation of most of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, I wanted to do what I can to minimize their impact on the whole process.  I've been meaning to vote for the Hugos for years, but it was partly the Puppy controversy that motivated me to vote for the first time this year.

But on the other hand, I don't want to vote against deserving nominees just because they were nominated by Puppies.  While we can all be sure Vox Day and some other Puppies would take credit if say, Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, or Neil Gaiman win, we can also be sure that those authors can do just fine on their own.

So here's the strategy I came up with:  I voted straightforwardly for my favorite works at the first run through, but in the event that I couldn't decide between two or more works, only then did I consider whether those works appeared on a Puppy list as a tie breaker (especially the Rabids, who are far worse).  This list from File 770 was extremely helpful there.  A blog called Spacefaring Extradimensional Happy Kittens has another attempt to sort out Puppy influence.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dreaming, Principles, and Cooperation: Science Fiction, Philosophy, and Politics (Part Two)

In Part One I described the contrast between what I called principled politics and cooperative politics as well as a general discussion of whether voting for the lesser evil is a good idea.  In Part Two, I'll start with a specific application.

Clinton and Trump (Credit:

Voting for Clinton for the Sake of Sanders’s Ideals

I vote strategically and encourage political cooperation because I care about my political ideals.  I probably didn’t say this enough during all the contentious, tiresome, but occasionally fruitful discussions with friends and random strangers about the 2016 Democratic primaries. 

The following may shock some principled Sanders supporters: I basically agree with most of Bernie Sanders’s ideals, especially on issues like healthcare and education.  But I never thought he articulated a realistic plan for getting from where we are to where we ought to be.  

Dreaming, Principles, and Cooperation: Science Fiction, Philosophy, and Politics (Part One)

The Enterprise crew before the Council of the United Federation of Planets

Principled Politics and Cooperative Politics

Would you rather hold on to your principles come what may, or engage in shrewd compromise for the greater good?

How you answer the previous question says a lot about your political instincts.  Here in the US, politicians as varied as Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are more likely to lean toward the first option and to be concerned with ideological purity at the expense of compromise while politicians like Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are more likely to go for the second and to act cooperatively and strategically even if it means not achieving exactly what one’s ideals prescribe.  (Donald Trump, who seems to have neither real political principles nor a desire for compromise, is in a third category).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Spock, Death, and Mediocre Villainy: A Review of Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek: The Motion Picture ... er, I mean, Beyond
Star Trek films have always ranged in quality.  Like many fans and this ranking, I'd count Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the best and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis as some of the worst.  I personally have a huge soft spot for Star Trek IV: The One with the Whales, a silly movie with a serious message directed by Leonard Nimoy.

Star Trek Beyond (2016) falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.  The good news: it's better than Into Darkness, which I'd put near the bottom (Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan?  "Cold fusion" freezes lava?  Ugh.).

Beyond has a lot of problems (more on those in a bit), but for the most part it's a fun movie that continues to capture the essence of the old characters while it introduces new ones.  It's bittersweet to watch Anton Yelchin's Chekhov after the actor's untimely death in a car accident in June.  Karl Urban's McCoy once again steals the show as my favorite part of the new Trek films.  Sofia Boutella's Jeylah, the white-and-black alien, portrays ass-kicking innocence (think: grown-up Arya Stark in space).  Scottie has a major role in this one, which is unsurprising as Simon Pegg co-wrote the script.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tectonic Fantasy: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season is a difficult, complex, and engrossing tale.  Let me focus on the plot structure, the worldbuilding, and the major theme of living within unjust social structures.

Weaving Plot Threads

The plot follows three threads of three characters: Essun, a woman in search of vengeance against her son's murderer, Damaya, a girl going to a school for a magic that allows people to control geological forces, and Syenite, a woman ordered to go on a mission with a man she detests.  The three threads seem unrelated at first, but they come together as the book goes on (to say how, exactly, would be an unforgivable spoiler).  This makes for a fascinating structure.

The Essun storyline is told in the second person, so that "you" do this and that.  I was a bit worried at first that this would seem gimmicky or artificial, but somehow it works and even makes for an interesting style.  You might worry that the whole book is in the present tense, but this also works surprisingly well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Busting Misogyny: A Review of Ghostbusters (2016)

Like many of the nerdy persuasion born in the 70's and 80's, Ghostbusters (1984) was practically on a constant loop on cable and VHS during much of my childhood.  So, along with a general disdain for remakes and reboots, I understand the fear that the 2016 reboot might ruin one's childhood.  What I don't understand is the blatant misogyny of some of the preemptive backlash (pre-lash?), nor the racist Twitter campaign against Leslie Jones.  More on that later.

But first: Fear not, fellow nerds of a certain age!  Ghostbusters (2016) is actually pretty good!  A lot of the jokes are hilarious, and it's a fitting homage to the original.  The whole thing is a lot of fun, far more fun than anything else I've seen this summer (especially the joyless messes of Warcraft and Independence Day: Resurgence).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

America's Terrible Week: A Few Thoughts

It's been a terrible week here in the United States.  Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Philandro Castile was killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota (a city I had previously associated with happy memories of the Minnesota State Fair).  Both appear to be part of a larger trend of disproportionate killing of black Americans by police officers.  And then five police officers were killed by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas just a few blocks from where JFK was shot.

It's the kind of heart-numbing horror that makes me want to crawl into a hole and cry myself to sleep.

I don't have anything like a coherent statement about all of this, although I've written about similar issues before (see here and here).  This time I have a few random thoughts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review of Reviews: Welcome to Night Vale, Binti, Doctor Who: Kinda, and More

It's been awhile since I posted a review of reviews.  They're a good way to gather a few reviews that are too short for a full post.  So, here's some stuff I've encountered recently!

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeremy Cranor

I finally got around to listening to some of this popular podcast on a recent road trip.  I loved it!  For the uninitiated, it's a quirky Lovecraftian take on A Prairie Home Companion (but in the desert with a healthy dose of The X-Files).

If you're worried about whether what works as a podcast would work as a novel, well... you probably should be.  This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it.  I did.  You could read this without having listened to the podcast, but it's really for fans of the podcast.

You also get some of the "serious" part of what I take away from the podcast: one way to bear the bewildering horror of our inconsequential lives in this ineffably vast universe is to step back and laugh at it once in awhile (as I also argued here with some help from the Doof Warrior).  The podcast does all this better, honestly, but the novel is a fun read.

Rating: 81/100.  See my Goodreads review.

New Publication in Comparative Philosophy

Image of Nāgārjuna (c. 150-200 CE)
My latest publication, "Nāgārjuna's Pañcakoṭi, Agrippa's Trilemma, and the Uses of Skepticism," is now available from the journal, Comparative Philosophy.  Comparative Philosophy is a peer-reviewed, online, open-access journal, which means that you can read it for free!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hugo Voting (Part One)

It's July 1!  That means lots of things.  It's Canada Day.  Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere.

And Hugo voters have until the end of the month to submit their choices for awards ranging from Best Novel to Best Fanzine.  This is my first time voting for the Hugos.  I've been meaning to do so for years, but this year I finally got it together.

Click here if you're interested in purchasing an attending or supporting membership, either of which entitles you to vote for the Hugos and allows you to download a Hugo packet that includes digital versions of most of the nominated works.  Here's the list of this year's nominees (see also this helpful version on File 770, also a nominee for Best Fanzine!).

I'll also be attending MidAmeriCon II (Worldcon) in Kansas City in August.  I'll be giving a talk on the academic track (the title will be “The Meaning of Life Among the Stars: Nolan’s Interstellar, Robinson’s Aurora, and Butler’s Earthseed," part of which will be based on this post).  Maybe I'll see you there!

How should I discharge my awesome responsibility as a Hugo voter?  I still haven't completely decided.  Here's some of what I'm thinking right now.  I'll write more later as I get through more of the lists.