Friday GPT-2: 2020 Nebula finalists

I trained GPT-2 on last year’s short fiction Nebula finalists. The result:

I walked up to the door and knocked.

“Come in, Ashcroft,” said the voice inside.

I stood beside him, still pretending to be someone I had never been before. Maybe this was how my body came to be here. I pulled the blanket closed around me and pulled at the hem of my dress. I looked down, at the queen. She was the first person I had looked at just from her side.

This was different. This was real. The way she looked straight into my face. Here I was, the other me, with no boundaries, broken.

I couldn’t see her eyes at the time, but I knew she didn’t take long to realize I was the only one.

Continue reading “Friday GPT-2: 2020 Nebula finalists”

Friday GPT-2: 2021 Hugo finalists

I trained GPT-2 on last year’s short fiction Hugo finalists. The result:

I’d like to start with an expansive one. It’ll be as broad as the Universe and as expansive as a rib cage. There can’t be too much to say about that.

And then there’s Mom, the omnipresent centre of the home—the one who’s always at home, making sure that whatever comes my way gets eaten alive by whatever comes not. The one who’s always available.

There’s been a lot of talk about Who? The Beast? The Witness? But the truth is, there’s just too much at stake to be distracted by mere terminology or a single, overarching theme. The mystery of Frodo’s true home is well-known: he’s the only one left, the one who’s always been there, the one who’s always been afraid.

So Who?

Continue reading “Friday GPT-2: 2021 Hugo finalists”

One Green Eye and One Black Eye

What grabbed me the moment I opened Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, her 1975 World Fantasy Award-winning novel, was the sheer evocativeness of the language. Like, just read this opening paragraph:

The wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once, in the king’s city of Mondor, and she bore a son with one green eye and one black eye. Heald, who had two eyes black as the black marshes of Fyrbolg, came and went like a wind out of the woman’s life, but the child Myk stayed in Mondor until he was fifteen. Big-shouldered and strong, he was apprenticed to a smith, and men who came to have their carts mended or horses shod were inclined to curse his slowness and his sullenness, until something would stir in him, sluggish as a marsh beast waking beneath murk. Then he would turn his head and look at them out of his black eye, and they would fall silent, shift away from him. There was a streak of wizardry in him, like the streak of fire in damp, smoldering wood. He spoke rarely to men with his brief, rough voice, but when he touched a horse, a hungry dog, or a dove in a cage on market days, the fire would surface in his black eye, and his voice would run sweet as a daydreaming voice of the Slinoon River. 

The world of Eldwold feels lived-in and real just on the strength of those similes. We don’t lose focus from what is ultimately a character-focused narrative for lengthy discourses as to the setting; even the titular beasts’ deeds are initially related compactly, by way of introduction. But we get enough from the sheer language of the novel to sense that we’re reading in a world that’s fully copulated and has a deep history even while the first half of the book is set almost entirely on Eld Mountain. We don’t actually visit Fyrbolg, but we have no doubt that it exists.

This is also a novel that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It tells the story of Sybel, the two she loves, and her quest for vengeance; it has no need to sprawl beyond that. I have nothing against the occasional fantasy epic but I certainly wouldn’t mind if the 217-page standalone secondary-world fantasy came back into vogue.

File #63. McKillip, Patricia A. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. San Francisco: Tachyon, [2017].

Friday GPT-2: 2021 Nebula finalists

I trained GPT-2 on this year’s short fiction Nebula finalists. The result:

Do you remember the star person from the beach? He was the smartest kid I ever seen, and I know he and his family are pretty gaunt.

But do you remember the other two people from the movie? They were the only ones who talked to me. They always called me by my birth name, like I was weird. And they always kept me company. Always with me. Over and over. Never away.

I thought about it, my hands on my hips, thinking about the letters t and u on the dollar bill. The star person from the beach was always right next to me, right next to me, like we were one big family.

Continue reading “Friday GPT-2: 2021 Nebula finalists”

Friday GPT-2: 2022 Hugo finalists

I trained GPT-2 on this year’s short fiction Hugo finalists. The result:

It is at this moment that my heart aches, for I so desperately want to take his life but I can’t. I could paint over his grave, lay waste to his great-grandmother, and if I were going to make a difference for the world, I would care less what anyone thinks or what country they come from.

“Let him go,” he says. “He has to go. I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t hear us.”

There’s a quiet fraction of a second in which I want to tell him no, but I know he’s afraid of losing his voice. His eyes are so long they barely can open a single black line. He knows.

Continue reading “Friday GPT-2: 2022 Hugo finalists”

My Bookshelves

I finally got all of my books off the floor and (mostly) onto shelves!

Continue reading “My Bookshelves”

CoNZealand, Day -30: Nobody Expects the Fannish Inquisition

Normally, most people vote for Worldcon site selection on site. Normally, people have the opportunity to hear from the site selection bids in person. But we do not live in normal times, and with all site selection moving to remote this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic CoNZealand arranged a special early question-and-answer panel for the 2022 Worldcon bids about a month before the convention. What follows is a summary of the bid presentations, questions, and answers—while I have tried to stay true to what was said, I do not promise transcription-level accuracy.

Information about both 2022 bids, including both bid questionnaires, and how to vote in Site Selection can be found on the CoNZealand site.

Chicago in 2022

(Helen Montgomery, Dave McCarty; questionnaire)

Bidding for September 1–5, 2022 (Labor Day Weekend). Membership rates are to be determined, and they are planning to have installment plans be available right away, as well as a family membership plan of some sort.

The convention would be hosted by the Hyatt Regency Chicago:

  • Home to 4 prior Worldcons, more than any other venue
  • The entire convention would be held under one roof
  • It’s located in downtown Chicago
  • Changes to dining/drink options: the lobby has been redesigned since Chicon 7 (2012)
    • BIG Bar is still there
    • There’s a new bar called the Living Room
  • There are 2,032 sleeping rooms, including 123 suites and 98 ADA-accessible rooms. There are also numerous hotels nearby that can be used for overflow. Rooms are $160/night + tax. There are no additional fees; breakfast is not included but Internet is.
  • There is 240,000 square feet of conference space
  • The Riverside Exhibit Hall is 70,000 square feet.
  • The Grand Ballroom, which would be used to host large events, is 25,282 square feet.
  • Evening socializing will be in suites, not function space, with a corkage/forkage waiver.
  • Getting there is convenient via public transit.

Why Chicago?

  • There have been lots kudos for the city from various sources.
  • There are 77 unique, diverse neighborhoods with 2.6 million residents.
  • “Urbs in horto” (city in a garden): lots of parks and beaches. Highlights:
    • 1.25 mile Riverwalk (including a highly recommended tour)
    • 606/Bloomingdale Trail (2.7 miles elevated park)
  • Lots and lots of food options.
  • Parades, festivals (JazzFest would be during the Worldcon), theaters, sports (it’s baseball/soccer season)
  • 67 museums. Especially recommended: the Museum of Science and Industry and the Adler Planetarium.

Want to make sure that all aspects of Chicago’s fannish community are included, with reference to Capricon, Windycon, anime, furries, Doctor Who, gaming, comics, and WakandaCon.

This would be the eighth Chicago Worldcon. Would be chaired by Helen Montgomery, everything else is in progress. (Here there was a large list of prospective committee members in various divisions that was too long for me to write down.)

Thanks to the bid committee, CoNZealand, Choose Chicago, Hyatt Regency Chicago, OffWorld Designs, and Eek! Designs.

JeddiCon

(Yasser Bahjatt, Mohammed Albakri; questionnaire)

Except for 2007, Worldcon has always been held in the West: why not introduce it to a new culture?

Why Arabia? Lots of fantastic history: 1001 Nights, scholars and scientists side-by-side with wizards and alchemists, melting pot of cultures between east and west.

Why Saudi? You probably haven’t visited, except maybe for for business or religious reasons, but it’s opening up and becoming more welcoming to outsiders and changing lots of regulations. It’s the heart of Arabia; it has a lot of history and is moving forward rapidly.

Why Jeddah? The gateway to Mecca, Jeddah is a melting pot. The name refers to the biblical Eve, who is buried here. It’s surprisingly diverse and was the launching point of a big SF movement a few years ago. Other things to enjoy: art museum, world’s highest fountain, shopping in the souqs, brand new cinemas.

Venue: King Faisla Conference Center in the King Abdulaziz University Campus. The large auditorium can seat more than 2,000 people. The art show and dealer’s room would be in the SF-looking sports tent across the street.

Vision: Put the emphasis on the “World” in Worldcon by balancing cultural representation, having talks in both Arabic and English with live interpretation, and multiple guests of honor in every category to honor cultures from around the world.

Setup: Planning on having live feeds for all programming sessions and hopefully record all of them, with multilingual audio tracks.

The bid is working with the Ministries of Culture and Tourism to develop special tours for attendees to historical/cultural sites in Saudi Arabia before and after the con.

Jeddi High Council has experience in managing events of all sizes, but hasn’t been involved in any Worldcons apart from attending.

Dates: May 4–8, 2022.

Questions and Answers

Q: Will female members of the convention be treated differently than male members? Will particular members have to be clothed differently?

Chicago: There really shouldn’t be anything except that it’s a hotel in the middle of summer.

Jeddah: There isn’t really any difference but the Saudi Public Decency Law has a dress code requirement.

Q: Why May 4?

Jeddah: The Star Wars reference is the cherry on top, but (1) September will be too hot and (2) it’s during Eid al-Fitr, so it’s an official regional vacation: more people can come, and we will have better use of facilities that would otherwise be occupied

[I was a bit disappointed that my question regarding how a May convention date would impact the Hugo nominating and voting period was not asked.]

Q: How will JeddiCon impact SF/F in the area?

Jeddah: SF/F in the region kind of died off in the mid-80s, but the new generation has new movement to export culture through SF/F. Having a Worldcon in the region would bring more attention to the genre. There have been some movies shot in the region, but the first Arabic SF TV show was just released this year.

Q: How have issues with the Chicago Hyatt staff at Chicon 7 been resolved?

Chicago: We’ve had talks with the hotel about what worked and what didn’t work, and the hotel took ownership of what went wrong and explained it to our satisfaction (had poor relationship with our convention service manager). The new CSM (Matthew) is great and we’re excited to be working with him.

Q: Chicon 7 had numerous access issues. How have you fixed them?

Chicago: The hotel took the non-ADA accessible areas out of circulation and put new, accessible function rooms in. The big accessibility chokepoint is getting into the exhibit hall, and we’ll have to work this out. But everything else should be ADA-compliant. Also at least with the Hyatt we know what the likely problem points are and can plan for them. If you had specific pain points at Chicon 7, let us know.

Q: What is the availability of assistance for mobility access, including renting mobies?

Jeddah: A lot of the rooms have workarounds but they’re not officially recognized are fully accessible (about 10% are officially recognized as such). Already working with a few companies for chairs on-site but not sure if they’ll be available to be taken offsite.

Chicago: Will have rental options for mobies, wheelchairs, etc. Guessing that there will be a pre-rental period and then we’ll have extras on site.

Q: What online virtual content do you intend to include?

Chicago: Haven’t totally decided yet, but we expect to have a pretty strong virtual component. In 2012 we had coprogramming with Dragon*Con, so we’re used to doing that kind of virtual thing. So it’s on our radar but we don’t have specifics yet.

Jeddah: Want to broadcast everything live for all the members, with at least audio streaming and hopefully video streaming. Our platform for live interpretation incorporates a live feed for sessions in both languages. Everything will be recorded for all members and stay up for as long as the server does. We also plan on having live feeds for all public spaces (e.g. the art show and dealer’s room) so online attendees can interact with in-person attendees.

Q: Does either convention believe there will be any difficulty for any member to attend based on nationality, race, sexual preference, sexuality, or current relationship status?

Chicago: There shouldn’t be, but the results of the November election will have a big impact, as well as the pandemic.

Jeddah: The Public Decency Law requires a minimum dress code, but we don’t anticipate issues if compliant. Said law also limits public displays of affection. Saudi Arabia has opened up but certain modesty levels are still expected.

Q: I have a friend who’s a trans man and is dating a woman. Are they going to have a problem attending your Worldcon?

Jeddah: Nothing happens unless you “go out of your way to make a scene”. Hotels don’t ask about relationships between people staying in the same room.

Chicago: We’ve got everybody in Chicago, not an issue.

Q: If someone’s doing cosplay and wants to head into the city to get dinner, is that likely to be a problem?

Jeddah: As long as you’re adhering to the Public Decency Law, nobody will bother you if you’re dressed up funny.

Q: What happens if your own country bans you from entering Saudi Arabia?

Jeddah: We’re going to be broadcasting everything online so if you can’t go or can’t get a visa (see, e.g., people that couldn’t get a visa to Dublin last year) you can still participate virtually at a different membership level.

Jeddah (in response to a follow-up about cosplay): People in Saudi Arabia are getting used to the concept — we had Comic-Con in Jeddah about three years ago. But again, it’s an Islamic country and we have the Public Decency Law.

Q: How safe is it for single female-presenting people to enter restaurants and public places solo?

Chicago: I [Helen] go to restaurants routinely by myself.

Jeddah: Jeddah is a very safe place. Saudi Arabia crime rates are very low.

Q: What about mixed groups of people?

Jeddah: There used to be restrictions where there’d be one section that was the “family section” (women, or men accompanied by women) and then the “singles section” (only men), but those laws have been lifted. However some restaurants are still structured that way.

Q: Public transit?

Chicago: It’s super easy to get around. There’s lots of info on our FAQ.

Jeddah: There is little public transit. The main public transport is the Mecca-Medina train, which can be used to get from the airport to our venue. We would also have shuttles from hotels to the convention center, and are looking at special rates via apps (Uber, etc.).

Q: What issues around freedom of expression for LGBTQ+ attendees could people run into, and how can you assure people they won’t have to worry?

Chicago: There are no legal issues. Part of our Code of Conduct is about anti-harassment, including deliberate misgendering, and there will be a reporting process for anything that happens at the convention. We have a thriving LGBT community in Chicago. If you have a specific question, ping me.

Jeddah: Nobody is going to ask about whether people staying in the same room are in a relationship. Unless there is some kind of “actual fuss that happens” this should not be an issue. Regarding freedom of expression, LGBTQ are not recognized in Saudi Arabia, so we’d say “don’t show, don’t tell.” If you’re abiding by the Public Decency Law there should not be any issue.

Q: Will you be posting the public decency laws on your website?

Jeddah: We can send the link, it’s on the official website.

Q: What about public displays of affection?

Jeddah: That’s part of the Public Decency Law. Public shows of affection are not acceptable. Regardless of same-sex, opposite-sex.

Q: Going back to the national origin question from earlier: if I have an Israeli stamp in my passport, will that cause any difficulty on entrance?

Jeddah: I really don’t know, but I don’t expect it should.

Q: Are there any known national origins that could cause—

At this point the Zoom presentation was cut off due to somebody else using the same Zoom Webinar token.

Best Series Hugo: Reading Burden

There has been a lot of discussion about the amount of reading added for the scrupulous Hugo voter by the Best Series Hugo. So I decided to try to quantify it.

The problem, of course, is that “reading added” is subjective based on the voter. (If you’re up-to-date on a series and it shows up on the Best Series shortlist, then there’s obviously nothing new for you to read.) But I think we can use two primary classifications to get some idea of how many extra works are showing up on the Hugo ballot because of the Series category. First, there’s how long the series is in total at the time of nomination, less any parts of it that appear elsewhere on the ballot. Second, there’s the totality of the series minus any parts of it that have ever appeared on a Hugo ballot. (Including Campbell/Astounding nominations as well.) Obviously not all voters in a given year will have been members of previous Worldcons (especially relevant for the longest series—I was two years old when Falling Free showed up on the ballot), but again, we’re looking for a general sense of “how much of this series is new to Hugo voters.”

The best measurement would be word count, but I don’t have access to word counts for much of these series (having done my reading in hardcopy). Still, I think the counts I can provide are indicative.

2017

Series Total Length New to the Ballot
The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone 5 novels 3 novels
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey 6 novels 5 novels
The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire 10 novels, 1 novella, 5 novelettes, 4 short stories 9 novels, 1 novella, 5 novelettes, 4 short stories
The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch 6 novels 6 novels
The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik 9 novels 6 novels
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold 16 novels, 4 novellas, 1 short story 5 novels, 2 novellas, 1 short story
TOTALS 52 novels, 5 novellas, 5 novelettes, 5 short stories 34 novels, 3 novellas, 5 novelettes, 5 short stories

Notes:

  • My copy of the 2017 Hugo packet is currently inaccessible so please let me know if there is anything I missed with these!
  • The Craft Sequence nomination also included two interactive games.
  • The Vorkosigan “short story” is the interstitial matter in Borders of Infinity. I excluded “Weatherman” because it’s more-or-less the first part of The Vor Game.
  • The “new to the ballot” column is particularly silly for the Vorkosigan Saga because the only new work since Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was a Best Novel finalist was Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Feel free to discount accordingly.

2018

Series Total Length New to the Ballot
The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells 5 novels, 4 novellas, 5 short stories 5 novels, 4 novellas, 5 short stories
The Divine Cities, by Robert Jackson Bennett 3 novels 3 novels
InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire 6 novels, 2 novellas, 18 novelettes, 11 short stories 6 novels, 2 novellas, 18 novelettes, 11 short stories
The Memoirs of Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan 5 novels, 1 short story 5 novels, 1 short story
The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson 3 novels 3 novels
World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold 3 novels, 6 novellas 1 novel, 4 novellas
TOTALS 25 novels, 12 novellas, 18 novelettes, 17 short stories 23 novels, 10 novellas, 18 novelettes, 17 short stories

Notes:

  • This was a great year for the category in promoting works that mostly had been overlooked by the other Hugo categories. However this increased the total reading required by the typical Worldcon voter by a lot.
  • The Stormlight Archive‘s novels are all very long, so it’s probably more accurate to count them twice or thrice.
  • I excluded “Edgedancer” from the Stormlight count since it was not referenced in the series’s Hugo packet submission.

2019

Series Total Length New to the Ballot
The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older 3 novels 2 novels
The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross 9 novels, 2 novellas, 2 novelettes 9 novels, 1 novelette
Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee 2 novels n/a
The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire 10 novels, 3 novellas, 5 novelettes, 4 short stories 2 novels, 2 novellas
The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard 2 novellas, 10 novelettes, 15 short stories 1 novella, 6 novelettes, 14 short stories
Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers 2 novels 1 novel
TOTALS 26 novels, 8 novellas, 17 novelettes, 19 short stories 14 novels, 3 novellas, 7 novelettes, 14 short stories

Notes:

  • Revenant Gun, Record of a Spaceborn Few, and The Tea Master and the Detective are excluded from this listing because they were already on the ballot in Novel and Novella.
  • The “new to the ballot” column is likely overstated to the extent that most readers will have read A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before A Closed and Common Orbit, and also that it is unlikely that readers will have only read short-fiction Laundry works.

2020

Series Total Length New to the Ballot
The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey 8 novels 2 novels
InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire 8 novels, 4 novellas, 21 novelettes, 11 short stories 2 novels, 2 novellas, 3 novelettes
Luna, by Ian McDonald 3 novels 3 novels
Planetfall series, by Emma Newman 4 novels 4 novels
Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden 3 novels 1 novel
The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson 3 novels 3 novels
TOTALS 29 novels, 4 novellas, 21 novelettes, 1 short stories 15 novels, 2 novellas, 3 novelettes

Notes:

  • You could argue for including additional short fiction for both The Expanse and Luna. I omitted them due to lack of reference thereto in the voter packet.