Peakbagging Pictures, Part One

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m not quite sure I can get up-to-date by the end of the year, especially as hopefully I’m not done going outside for the year, Camp Fire smoke aside. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the first seven months of 2015. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part One”

On Calling Elections

It’s always fun on Election Night to see the networks balancing the urge to be first in calling a winner with the need to be sufficiently cautious and not miscall. In 2000, the former prevailed with the infamous premature Florida calls. In 2002, the networks overcorrected, taking nearly an hour to call a Virginia Senate race with no Democratic candidate. Since then, we’ve been moving back to faster calls.

This year the most notable gaffe was in a southern New Mexico House race, which networks called for Yvette Herrell (R) before realizing that there were about six thousand outstanding ballots in Doña Ana County. When counted, these (unsurprisingly) put Xochita Torres Small (D) over the top. Another error occurred in the Arizona Secretary of State race, which appears to be a case of underestimating just how Democratic the late-counted vote in Arizona was. Both California and Arizona take a while to count all of their votes, and the votes that get counted on Election Night tend to be more Republican by quite a few percentage points than the remainder.

I get frustrated when I hear people refer to calls—either by the networks or the usually-more-cautious AP—as “official”. From a legal perspective, election results are only official when certified, which can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the state. Projected winners are just that, a projection that when all of the votes are counted, X will win. (And on Election Night, we sometimes saw TV commentators committing the even greater sin of deeming an early Republican lead in the Montana Senate race meaningful without noting that the biggest counties yet to report were consistently Democratic.)

Of course, waiting for states to finish counting prevents us from having instant hot takes about what the election means. Hell, why wait for the West to even start reporting when you can extrapolate based on early returns from the rest of the country? (Democrats, of course, ended up gaining 10-12 House seats and 2 Senate seats just in Western states.)

Election projections are fun. But as a news consumer, be smart about how you interpret them.

2018 Hugo Ramblings

By now, if you care about these things you’ve probably heard about The Stone Sky‘s Hugo win for Best Novel, and the unprecedented threepeat for N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The series is well-deserving of its accolades and if you haven’t read it you should really get around to it sooner rather than later. (With the caveat that the series deals with multigenerational slavery and oppression—all of the content warnings you’d think apply, do.) Also, if you haven’t watched Jemisin’s acceptance speech (I got to watch it live!), now probably isn’t a bad time to fix that.

This is where I confess that I didn’t put The Stone Sky first on my ballot this year.

And the reason I didn’t do so is simple: One of the factors I consider for “Best Novel” is whether a work stands by itself. Being in a series is and of itself not a flaw, but I felt that there were other novels on the ballot that were better if you hadn’t read anything else.

But this isn’t a one-novel issue. Of the five other novels on this year’s ballot:

  • New York 2140 and Six Wakes are completely standalone.
  • Provenance is in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy but is disconnected from the above. It stands alone fine.
  • Raven Stratagem is the second book in a trilogy. I personally think it would work well enough even if you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit, but YMMV. (And read Ninefox Gambit.)
  • The Collapsing Empire is the first book in a series of at least two books.

I downranked The Collapsing Empire on my ballot for being almost entirely setup and deferring most of the resolution to the next book. Given that it placed second in the voting, I’m going to guess that most voters don’t share my complaints about incomplete works. (But I will still make them.)

Last year was similar:

  • All the Birds in the Sky is completely standalone.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel, but you don’t need to have read A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet first. (Although it spoils what happens to one of the latter’s characters.)
  • Ninefox Gambit is the first in a trilogy.
  • Death’s End is the third in a trilogy.
  • The Obelisk Gate is, of course, the second in a trilogy.
  • Too Like the Lightning is the first in a four-book series, but more importantly, it’s almost inseparable from Seven Surrenders.

I think the Terra Ignota universe is definitely worthy of being Hugo-nominated, but I would have much rather seen Too Like the Lightning / Seven Surrenders been nominated as one work under Subsection 3.2.4 of the WSFS Constitution. However, with a couple notable exceptions (Blackout / All ClearThe Wheel of Time), most books are nominated as novels and not as “works appearing in a number of parts”, and I can’t blame people for doing the thing that makes intuitive sense. Heck, I could go back to the 1980s and argue that Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun should have been nominated similarly (setting aside that this may only have been possible since 1998, depending on interpretation).

Of course, starting last year we have a Best Series Award! But so far that has mostly posed its own problems. N. K. Jemisin declined a nomination for The Broken Earth on the grounds that it wasn’t really fair to have multiple shots at an award for the same work, and while I would have happily voted for it, I do think she’s got a fair point that we shouldn’t just be using Best Series to award works we’ve already awarded. Indeed, the first two winners of Best Series have been Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and World of the Five Gods. Both of these awards felt to some extent more about recognizing the past than the present; Vorkosigan won Hugos in 1990 (“The Mountains of Mourning”), 1991 (The Vor Game), 1992 (Barrayar), and 1995 (Mirror Dance), while Five Gods won a Hugo in 2004 (Paladin of Souls). Obviously the more recent eligibility hooks exist (hey, I voted for Vorkosigan too) but I’m hoping that going forward we recognize series that haven’t been already recognized.

This year’s Series longlist also suggests that the rule about not nominating series that were just nominated (specifically, you need at least two new installments and 240,000 new words) isn’t clearly understood yet, given that all four Series finalists from last year that saw a new installment in 2017 made the longlist despite not being eligible. As far as I can tell, none of these finalists, except for October Daye, will be eligible next year either. I think the re-eligibility requirements are strict enough that it will prevent series coming back in alternating years, which would be bad for the award even if it would make voting in the category a lot easier. But I worry that we’ll have to dig pretty deep down the longlist to find six eligible series next year. (On the other hand, last year’s longlist only has one series that made the ballot this year. So we’ll see.)

I didn’t do so great in my desire for complete series, either, given that InCryptid placed second. I did find it interesting that it did significantly better than Seanan McGuire’s other big series, October Daye, which placed sixth last year, even though I feel (and I don’t think it’s just me) that the latter is generally stronger work. I don’t know whether to ascribe this to stronger competition last year, a different voting base, or just me having opinions that are out-of-step with everybody else again.

The Best Series award will face re-ratification at the 2021 Worldcon. As you can probably tell, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this award. I have concerns about its functionality but I’m also glad it led me to the likes of Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura that deserve recognition and that I may not have ever encountered otherwise . I am really interested in seeing how it plays out over the next couple years.

Some other quick notes:

  • E Pluribus Hugo impacted this year’s Novel ballot by replacing The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous (which got more raw nominations) with New York 2140 and The Collapsing Empire. I liked Autonomous better than the latter two (I haven’t read The Stars Are Legion yet), but I’m not going to object: besides defending against slates, one of the benefits of E Pluribus Hugo is that it ensures that more strains of fandom (at least, WSFS/Worldcon fandom) are represented and both novels have their strong supporters. (And as noted, Collapsing Empire ultimately placed second.) As I noted in a File 770 comment, one thing I found interesting is that if Raven Stratagem had received 2.58 more EPH points (and the status quo held elsewhere, which is admittedly unlikely), The Stars Are Legion would have been nominated over New York 2140.
  • The Hugo and Nebula winners this year converged in Novel, Novella, and Short Story. Meanwhile, the respective Novelette winners weren’t even on the other’s shortlist. I believe the last time the awards recognized the same winner in three of the four categories was 2012 (Among Others, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, “The Paper Menagerie”).
  • In light of Uncanny‘s well-deserved wins, I’ve seen some discussion about how the Editor – Short Form and Semiprozine categories allow two shots at Hugos for the same work. I’ve mentioned Series above, but I haven’t seen much talk about how this is also a potential issue in the Graphic Story and Professional Artist categories, where Monstress won the former and Sana Takada, artist of the same, won the latter. I don’t think this is anything worth addressing right now (Professional Artist is not frequently understood as a proxy award in the same way that the Editor awards are) but bears monitoring going forward.
  • This year’s WSFS Business Meeting didn’t make any major changes to the Hugos. The YA Award is finally named the Lodestar.
  • Judging by the longlist, the alt-right attack on the Hugos is finally over, other than their little Saturday protest. Way to protest people donating blood, dumbasses.
  • File 770 took home a well-deserved award for Best Fanzine. File 770 and its commentariat played a nontrivial role in my decision to attend Worldcon this year and it was a great pleasure to meet everybody that was at the Thursday and Friday meetups. Even if Thursday’s musical experience was an unexpected horror.
  • As may be obvious from the above comment, I had a great time at Worldcon this year. Over the course of the convention I went from “eh there is probably no way I will be able to afford to go to another one until 2021” to “… I really want to make Dublin happen.” I don’t know if I will, but I’m already starting to glance at flight prices….

If you’re interested in nominating and voting for the 2019 Hugo Awards, you can purchase a supporting membership in the 2019 Worldcon for €40 (~47 USD).

On the Hugo Award for Best Series

Last year, the WorldCon business meeting approved a new Hugo Award for Best Series. What’s eligible for this award?

A multi-installment science fiction or fantasy story, unified by elements such as plot, characters, setting, and presentation, appearing in at least three (3) installments consisting in total of at least 240,000 words by the close of 2017, at least one (1) installment of which was published in 2017.

This is, by design, very open-ended. There is no requirement that a series be completed—and that’s fine, because neither the Hugo Administrator nor Hugo voters should be expected to be clairvoyant. The 1966 Worldcon voted Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy a special “Best All-Time Series” award under the assumption that it would end with Second Foundation; in 1966, Foundation’s Edge and its progeny could not have been reasonably foreseen.

However, just because something can’t be legislated doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be kept in mind while nominating and voting. The standard I intend to apply is that to be worthy of a Best Series Hugo, a story must be fully satisfying even if no other installments are ever published. This does not necessarily mean a story must be conclusively over. For instance, while I can certainly imagine new installments in the Vorkosigan Saga, last year’s winner in the award’s trial run (and if Lois McMaster Bujold wants to write them I’d happily read them), my enjoyment of the series will not be diminished if Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is ultimately the final installment. But I don’t think a series that is clearly incomplete is award-worthy, and I’m not inclined to grant credit for future work. Everybody can think of a series that started strong and then went off the rails. I’m not comfortable coming back in the future and saying “this received the Best Series Award but you need to ignore its conclusion”. I don’t even love new books getting a “Hugo-Nominated [or Hugo Winning] Series” stamp from their publisher when the Hugo electorate hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet, although I recognize that marketers are going to pull that kind of thing regardless.

I do not intend to nominate any series that does not meet this criteria, and I urge others to do likewise. I will also likely rank any clearly incomplete series nominated below No Award, although I might consider a series whose final installment is published in 2018 before the voting deadline, as such a series would be ineligible for future nomination. And yes, I fully anticipate that I will rank something I quite like below No Award.

While I strongly believe that an incomplete series isn’t award-worthy, I’m also motivated a bit by necessary reading triage. Last year’s Best Series nominations involved, if I’m counting right, 52 novels and assorted short fiction. I might be able to read all of that in the two-and-a-half months available for voting, but it would be a close call, especially given that I occasionally like to do things with my spare time other than reading. And that’s not factoring in the six novels, six novellas, six related works, the new YA award, the Campbell Award, etc. on the ballot. (Obviously I will have read some of these already, but likely not enough to make a huge difference. I also don’t think I’ve read much from 1942, and there are Retro Hugos….) While I might want to read incomplete series that end up getting nominated (recommendations are a good thing, especially when the Hugo Packet provides free samples), I’m not going to feel pressured to do so before July.

I know I’m conflating “incomplete” with “fully satisfying if no other installments are ever published”, which isn’t completely accurate. The biggest tension here is series that are unified by setting but have neither a single overarching story nor a defined endpoint. The obvious example to me is the Discworld, which I would argue to be clearly award-worthy but also didn’t “complete” until after Terry Pratchett’s death. The old quotation about recognizing people while they’re alive to enjoy it applies. Of course, the same issues with potential future quality decline apply as well. Some questions don’t have easy answers.

While it might be difficult to find satisfactory completed series every year, N. K. Jemisin’s exceptional Broken Earth trilogy is eligible for the 2018 Best Series Hugo. I’m nominating it. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so.

Election Day 2017

I don’t have a ballot today, but these are the biggest races I’m watching.

Race Projection
Maine Question 2
Medicaid expansion
Passes.
New Jersey Governor DEM Gain. Murphy elected.
New York, NY Mayor DEM Hold. DeBlasio re-elected.
Utah Congressional District 3
Provo
GOP Hold. Curtis elected.
Virginia Governor DEM Hold. Northam elected.
Washington Senate, District 45
Kirkland, Redmond, & Sammamish
DEM Gain. Dhingra elected.

The Washington legislative seat is principally important because gaining it also gives Democrats control of the Washington Senate (and full control of the Washington state government).

I’m also going to try to keep an eye on Virginia’s lieutenant governor and attorney general races, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections, and the aggregate change in the Virginia House of Delegates, as well as any other interesting state or local results that come in.

2017 County Highpointing, and What Comes Next

MartinPyne_CountyHighPoints
My current county high point completion map.
Absent an unexpected travel opportunity, I’m done with county high points for the year. It was a fairly productive year in terms of my original goals, but there were still plenty of lessons to learn.

My big push for this year was to get most of the Lake Tahoe-area high points, and this was very successful. The only county high point that remains for me near Tahoe is Snow Valley Peak, high point of Carson City. I also tagged a few other county high points in the northern Sierras. As a result, I was able to extend my home glob into Nevada—more on that later.

I also had a multiday trip through Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon for this year’s total solar eclipse. The part of this trip that centered around the eclipse was wildly successful, as I had a wonderful view of the eclipse from the high point of Gem County, Idaho. However, I didn’t plan the second half of the trip as well as I should have. Poor weather and a lack of adequate research led to failure on Hat Mountain, high point of Lassen County, and no attempt on Eagle Peak, high point of Modoc County. In the future, I’ll do a better job of checking the weather and planning for an entire trip, although a lack of eclipse focus should help here too—I paid almost exclusive attention to making sure I’d have a clear spot to view it.

Despite the problems with this trip, I was able to extend my home glob into Oregon by ascending Crane Mountain (and Mount Rose, a couple weeks later), and added a significant amount of glob area in Oregon by ascending Granite Peak. I now stand at 48 county high points, with 39 (across three states and 86,392 square miles) connected.

So what comes next? I’m almost out of county high points that I can hike without sleeping anywhere but my own bed, so my next targets (outside of Los Prohibidos) will likely be weekend trips, with the possibility of a longer trip or two thrown in. My current priorities, in no real order:

  • I was hoping to ascend San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest point in Southern California, this summer, but after an exhausting Sunday combining San Jacinto Peak and the drive home I decided that quidditch weekends and highpointing weekends should be separate. I should be able to do this next summer, globbing both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. (Santiago Peak would also be nice if I have time.)
  • With better planning and fewer fires, the Hat/Eagle combo in far northeastern California should be a fun weekend. It would be cool to find a route up Hat that doesn’t involve the annoying descent to Lost Lake, but I can deal with that if it’s drier and I’m not worried about thunderstorms.
  • The rest of the northern tier of California is also on my high-priority list, subject to feasibility. Mt. Eddy (ultra!) is the obvious pick. Salmon Mountain and Bear Mountain would be obvious, but last I heard the road to Bear Mountain is impassible from last winter’s storms. Hopefully that will be repaired sooner rather than later.
  • As I mentioned above, Snow Valley Peak is the last county high point I haven’t ascended near Tahoe, and it’s also one of the last doable in a (very long) day from home.
  • I want to start seriously pushing towards a Nevada completion. Nevada’s easier to complete than California, due to a lack of access issues, fewer counties overall, and no apex high points. I don’t expect to complete Nevada next year but I’d like to make some headway.
  • Similarly, I’d like to extend my home glob into Idaho and connect the three counties I already have there. Unfortunately Humboldt County doesn’t have adjacency with Idaho, so that means—in addition to Cinnabar Mountain—either BM Stevenson, a notorious tire-killer, or Ruby Dome, which is reportedly both quite fun and the hardest county high point in Nevada. Again, I don’t really expect to glob Idaho next year, but 2019 maybe?
  • And finally, some inroads into the High Sierra. White Mountain Peak (14er!) would be the obvious starting point, I think. (Although White Mountain Peak isn’t actually in the High Sierra, but the nearby White Mountains.)

In the mean time, there are plenty of Bay Area peaks to climb this winter. That is, if the worst fire season anyone can remember ever ends.

Pictures from this summer’s highpointing adventures can be found on my Facebook.