The Latest Developments Regarding the 2018 Nebula Award Finalists

I promise you that the regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery review is coming, especially since they have finally found Spock (spoiler white-out). But for now, there have been some new developments on the Nebula front. For those following along at home, my previous posts on this year’s Nebula Award mini-drama may be found here and here. The second one went viral after N.K. Jemisin shared it on Twitter. I’ll also repeat some of the ETAs from my last post, for those who haven’t seen them yet.

To recap, this year’s Nebula ballot contained an unusual number of indie finalists (six in all fiction categories except for Best Novel), which in itself wouldn’t be that surprising, since the SFWA opened its membership to indie writers some time ago. A bit more surprising was that five of those six finalists were action heavy space opera or straight military SF of the “pew pew” type, i.e. not the sort of works that the Nebula electorate normally goes for. And upon closer examination, it turned out that all of the six indie finalists are members of a group called 20Booksto50K (for more explanation, see the previous posts). Camestros Felapton dug into the group and unearthed a recommendation list that is in the grey area to a slate.

Camestros Felapton dug in further and noticed that four of the six indie finalists were either published by or otherwise connected to LMBPN Publishing, a publishing company operated by Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle, who also founded and run the 20Booksto50K group, and that several other works and authors listed on the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate were also connected to LMBPN Publishing. Richard Fox, indie writer and Nebula finalist in the best short story category, also showed up in the comments to make a spectacle of himself, determined to fill every square on the SFF awards slate bingo card.

ETA: Camestros Felapton also conducts a hypothetical thought experiment to explain why the conflict of interest between 20Booksto50K and LMBPN Publishing is a problem.

Camestros Felapton has also taken it upon himself to review all six Nebula finalists for best short story. So far, he has reviewed “Interview for the End of the World” by Rhett C. Bruno (who behaves graciously in the comments and clarifies some points regarding his story), “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (where a supposed fan of Richard Fox’s shows up in the comments to explain how he really does not like that story for its unusual narrative structure), “And Yet by A.T. Greenblatt (no drama for once, just a discussion of the story), “A Witch’s Guide to Escape – A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (again no drama, just discussion of the story),  “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (once more no drama, just discussion of the story – I sense a pattern here) and “Going Dark” by Richard Fox (who is clearly not a fan of criticism of his work and once again shows up to make a spectacle of himself). Camestros Felapton also offers an summary of his reviews and finds that some finalists are not like the others.

And talking of Richard Fox, at Bounding into Comics, John F. Trent interviews Richard Fox. The interview is mostly about his books and his comic work, but Fox talks a bit about his Nebula nomination and gripes about traditional publishing and sensitivity readers.

On the front of authors and their fans behaving badly, Annie Bellet, an indie writer who found herself a Hugo finalist due to the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates in 2015 and withdrew, once she found out how her nomination had come about, spoke out strongly against the tactics used by 20Booksto50K. Today, she shared this piece of hate mail from fans/friends of Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, a finalist in the novelette category together with R.R. Virdi.

Stuff like this is just rude and awful. And everybody who has actually read Annie Bellet’s Twitter exchange with Yudhanjaya Wijeratne will see that only one party comes off badly in that exchange and that’s not Annie Bellet.

ETA: Though Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and Annie Bellet seem to have come to an understanding now, as this Twitter thread shows, once Annie Bellet clarified that she was not accusing Wijeratne and his co-author of cheating (which I never read that way, but then I wasn’t the target) and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne read about Annie Bellet’s experiences as a Sad/Rabid Puppy slate nominee.

ETA2: Meanwhile at Facebook, Mary Anne Mohanraj claims that there was a racist element to the complaints about the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate, at least regarding the nomination for Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and his co-author R.R. Virdi. Or at least, it was viewed that way in Sri Lanka, from where both Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and Mary Anne Mohanraj hail. She also explains the background of the situation for Sri Lankan writers. Found via File 770, where Mike Glyer also quotes from a good response by N.K. Jemisin refuting Mary Anne Mohanraj’s racism accusations (which I can’t seem to link to, not being a Facebook member).

Now I can’t speak for anybody else, but I for one have zero problem with Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and his co-author R.R. Virdi being writers of colour and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne being a writer from Sri Lanka. In fact, when I first saw the 2018 Nebula shortlist, their nomination didn’t stand out to me, unlike the ones for Jonathan P. Brazee, Richard Fox and Rhett C. Bruno, whose names I recognised as indie writers who write the sort of work the Nebula electorate doesn’t normally go for. However, I didn’t recognise the name of the anthology Expanding Universe as a 20Booksto50K anthology – in fact, I got it mixed up with a Strange Horizons offshoot mag called Expanded Horizons, where writers of colour and South Asian writers wouldn’t seem out of place at all. And while a nomination for that magazine would have been a surprise, it wouldn’t have been that much of one. It was only when I googled Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi, because I did not want to accidentally misgender them in my post, that the Dragon Award nominations of R.R. Virdi as well as the anthology with a very indie military SF cover and Craig Martelle listed as the editor popped up. And that’s when I got a little curious.

As for Annie Bellet’s tweets, I did not see them as singling out any of the 20Booksto50K finalists as unworthy. And though Annie Bellet’s tweets were sweary, I saw them as being directed at the slaters and not the slatees, because Annie Bellet after all knows what it’s like to be slated without your knowledge and against your will, though it’s understandable if any of the slatees read that differently. I also have sympathy for Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (and R.R. Virdi, for that matter), since it seems that they did not know why the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate was problematic. However, Wijeratne did not react well to Annie Bellet’s tweets, though he isn’t the worst behaved author in this kerfuffle by a mile. Never mind that six of the seven authors from the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate are Americans and five are white (and several of the other Nebula finalists are writers of colour and/or international writers), so you really can’t say that Wijeratne was singled out for racist reasons.

ETA3: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne shares his own view of his Nebula nomination and the aftermath.

ETA4: Brad Torgersen (remember him?) feels compelled to weigh in and present his version of the Sad Puppy saga in the comments of Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s post as well as on his own blog (Archive link). According to Torgersen’s latest version of the Sad Puppy saga, it was now all about plucky upstart indies trying to stick it to the traditionally published establishment. Torgersen also really cares about the plight of international authors, which he certainly never did before (and indeed, the Sad and Rabid Puppies kept several international authors off the ballot in 2015). Torgersen also seems to assume that everybody who opposed the Sad and Rabid Puppies was American and traditionally published, even though plenty of Non-Americans and indie authors spoke out against them. There are also some Nineteen Eighty-Four comparisons, which as Camestros Felapton points out, is kind of ironic for someone so intent on rewriting history as Brad Torgersen.

Of course, if you actually look at Torgersen’s original Sad Puppy 3 slate from 2015, you’ll see very few indies. Instead, you have Tor, Roc, Baen and 47 North in the best novel category, i.e. two Big Five imprints, a medium-sized company and one of Amazon’s publishing imprints. In the short fiction categories, you see a lot of Analog stories, a Baen anthology, two Castalia House novellas (and Castalia House is a small press) and one story each from Galaxy’s Edge, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Fireside Fiction and Sci Phi Journal. Best related work gives us yet more Baen and Castalia House as well as a small press called Merry Blacksmith Press, while the Campbell nominees are two hybrid authors and someone who had a story in a Castalia House anthology. The only actual indies on Torgersen’s original slate are Annie Bellet’s story, which was published in an indie anthology (and which, let’s not forget, was withdrawn) as well as Michael Z. Williamson’s Wisdom from the Internet and the graphic story finalist Zombie Nation. So much for Sad Puppies 3 promoting indie authors, neither of which serve as advertisements for indie publishing, because they’re both bloody awful. Oh yes, and apparently Brad Torgersen has a new book out. From Baen.

ETA5: Vox Day also weighs in on the Nebula debate, which was probably inevitable (archive link). He reposts Brad Torgersen’s post and also delcares that SFWA is irrelevant and claims that he was the first to propose admitting indie authors to SFWA. Of yes, and both Tor and Baen (now that is new) are apparently dying and Amazon is evil. In short, it’s business as usual and everything is happening once again just as Vox Day has planned.

ETA6: Jon Del Arroz decides to weigh in as well with a lengthy article at a rightwing site called The Federalist (archive link). Basically, he repeats most of the usual puppy talking points, the traditional publishing is dominated by leftwingers who want to keep conservatives out, that traditional publishing is rigging the Hugo and Nebula Awards, that traditional publishing is failing, because they publish too many political books, and that indie writers are winning, because they are writing unpolitical books that readers want to read. Now I don’t doubt that there are readers who enjoy the “kill all the aliens” military science fiction that is filling up the Kindle store, but stories about manly and usually white and American space marines killing the evil other in space are many things, but they sure as hell are not unpolitical. And let’s not even talk about the military science fiction novel with a cover that looked like a Nazi recruiting poster (and it was not alternate history – I checked) that was in the also-boughts for one of my In Love and War stories a while back. But then, Del Arroz also believes that Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert were unpolitical writers.

Del Arroz also repeats that those who criticised the 20Bookto50K not-a-slate were all traditionally published authors afraid of the plucky indie upstarts, when in fact most of those who spoke out against the tactics are indie writers themselves. Camestros Felapton is very amused by the idea that he is now an “elite commentator”, by the way.

Finally, regarding Michael Anderle’s claim (restated by Jon Del Arroz in his article) that he founded the 20Booksto50K Facebook group after he was run out of several indie writer forums because of his business-minded approach, I am a member of one of the forums Anderle was supposedly run out of and that’s not how it happened. Instead, Michael Anderle showed up to post a shorter version of his manifesto. Some people asked critical questions and he flounced, never to be seen again.

ETA7: Lela E. Buis also shares her view on the 2018 Nebula finalists. She does not seem much troubled by the 20Booksto50K finalists, probably because their works are to her taste, and also seems happy that there are more male writers on the ballot. However, she is troubled by the supposed dominance of Tor, even though only eight out of thirty finalists in the fiction categories were published by Tor or Tor.com, which isn’t that much for an imprint that is the biggest English language publisher of science fiction and fantasy. So no, the Tor conspiracy does not exist. Besides four of the eight Tor finalists are in the novella category, which Tor.com Publishing dominates because of their high quality novella line, while one of the two Tor.com novelette finalists was also published as a standalone in the Tor.com novella line, though it does not quite meet the wordcount requirement for a novella. Everybody who likes novellas should be grateful to Tor.com Publishing, because they were at the forefront of the novella renaissance. However, Tor.com’s marketing dollars and the high quality of their novella line do make it difficult for other publishers (and most novella publishers are small presses or magazines) let alone indies to be noticed, which is a potential problem. Though it must be pointed out that two of the six finalists in the novella category were not published by Tor.com. Aliette de Bodard’s excellent Sherlock Holmes retelling The Tea Master and the Detective was published by Subterranean Press, while Jonathan P. Brazee’s Fire Ant was self-published.

Lela E. Buis also points out that several of the 2018 Nebula finalists are members of the SFWA board and/or candidates for office. I noticed this as well and it is potentially problematic, though it is apparently not against the rules. Besides, none of those finalists were unlikely or unexpected.

Not everybody was happy to find themselves on the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate, especially since it appears that many authors were not asked. For example, World Weaver Press, a small press one of whose books, The Continuum by Wendy Nikel, was on the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate, point out that they have no idea how the book got onto the last and renounce slating tactics.

Finally, for those who are confused what is and is not considered acceptable in putting your work forwards for awards consideration, Jim C. Hines has posted a handy overview about how to get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula Award and what is and isn’t okay.

ETA: And if you want a longer read on the subject, at Amazing Stories Steve Davidson delves into the history of science fiction fandom and explains just why slates and recommended reading lists that cross into slate territory are considering so taboo in the SFF world.

Then today, Jonathan P. Brazee, whose novella “Fire Ant” was a 2018 Nebula finalist, posted a statement at File 770. A statement by the SFWA about the issue may also be found in the same post. I encourage you to go over there and read the whole statement, because it’s well worth it. But in short, Jonathan Brazee apologises and takes full responsibility for asterisks and wink-wink nudge-nudge remarks that pushed an initially unproblematic recommended reading list into problematic territory. He also states that neither the people on the list nor the 20Booksto50K group had anything to do with it and that the mistake was his alone. Finally, Jonathan P. Brazee also offers to withdraw his nominated novella Fire Ant from consideration. It’s a classy thing to do and if every writer on the 20Booksto50K list had behaved with as much class and grace as Mr. Brazee, this situation would never have escalated as it did.

The SFWA statement confirms that SFWA is aware of the issues and that they are investigating what can be done to make the Nebula ballot more proof against slating and logrolling, regardless the intention behind it. SFWA also repeats that they want to represent all writers of science fiction and fantasy, whether indies, hybrids or traditionally published. Finally, they ask everybody to give all Nebula finalists their due consideration, regardless how and where they were published. It’s another classy response.

In the comments on the File 770 post, Camestros Felapton also shares the gist of a statement by Craig Martelle posted to the 20Booksto50K group, which is only visible to group and Facebook members. Though Martelle later posted a shorter version of that statement (apparently, he omits a lengthy anecdote about golf, which can only be a good thing) on his personal Facebook page which is visible to the public. He still has no idea why people are upset – after all, he only wants to help indie authors – and feels denigrated, even though Martelle was only tangentially mentioned in the debate. He also still hasn’t understood that a book that sells well does not equal am award-worthy book, but then that’s pretty typical for the more business minded indie authors (and certain traditionally published authors, for that matter).

I really hope that this is the last Nebula post I have to write until the winners are announced later this year.

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