Archive for April, 2013

Redshirts

It’s the last day of the month and I haven’t yet talked about April’s primary book in the Great Hugo Read. Which is a stunning bit of procrastination on my part as I finished it on the third. That’s in part an indication of how much I enjoyed the book, and in part an indication of Scalzi’s writing style in Redshirts. I specify “in Redshirts” as I’ve encountered two different John Scalzis when reading his works. There’s the John Scalzi who writes military science fiction in the Old Man’s War series, which will feature in November’s secondary read, and the John Scalzi of Agent to the Stars and Redshirts. The former isn’t necessarily a serious John Scalzi, but is by no stretches as relaxed as the latter Scalzi. I mean it in now way as a knock on Scalzi to split up his writing styles. As someone still struggling to find my voice in one style of writing, I’m awed by writers who can effortless slip back and forth between styles. I enjoy serious Scalzi. I enjoy humorous Scalzi.

Ever write a word so many times it starts to lose meaning? I think that means it’s time to stop kissing Scalzi’s ass, there’ll be more time for that in November and probably next April. Let’s get into the book itself.

I loved the movie Cabin in the Woods. And I loved the movie Galaxy Quest. They’re two very different movies, but both exist to break down genre tropes. Cabin in the Woods takes dissects tropes of a very specific sub-genre of horror, those movies where a group of kids are picked off one-by-one. Galaxy Quest plays with the tropes of science fiction television and all the bits that just don’t make sense. Redshirts serves as a similar deconstruction, with characters who are the spiritual descendants of Sam Rockwell’s Guy.

Redshirts is not Galaxy Quest. Not quite. Galaxy Quest is about actors who know they’re actors and know they’re in a fictional show. Redshirts is about crewmen on a spaceship realizing they’re on a fictional show. And a poorly written one at that. The main characters of the show, the captain, the engineer, the science officer, they’re all the background characters in Redshirts. All except the ship’s version of Worf, the character beaten to a pulp every week to prove just how dangerous the situation is. In their place, the heroes of the book are the nameless grunts who walk around with their data pads and can create 90% of a miracle, needing only that brief interaction with one of the show’s stars to put them over the top.

Oh, The Box. The Box might be my new favorite device in a science fiction comedy. It’s a tough call between it and The Guide. The fun in the book is the characters learning the rules of the television show, and twisting them in their favor.

So, alright, the book is a deconstruction of the science fiction television show as told through the eyes of the nameless cannon fodder who go on missions just to get killed off. It’s funny, it’s fast paced, and I really enjoyed the last little revelation at the end of the main body of the novel. However, the full title of the book is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, and I’d really like to talk about those three codas.

This is where most readers I’ve talked to end up loving or hating the book. Depending on your approach to the codas, they either ground the story by showing the broader consequences of the story line, or they are an overt attempt to make a comedic novel more serious as awards fodder. I’ve talked to my fellow readers who feel both ways. The codas, written in the first, second, and third person, show the ramifications on the “real life” people behind the television show, how they react to meeting the characters and learning they’re creating reality, not just fiction.

I suppose a reader’s opinion of these codas is tied to how manipulated they feel by them. They’re intended to tug a little at the heart strings, a serious ending to a comedic novel. Personally, they’re where I went from feeling the novel was brain candy, well-written but with little actual substance, into being an overall stronger piece. The codas are the weight that the rest of the novel may lack, back loaded onto the end. The middle coda was the weakest of the three, in no small part due to Scalzi’s decision to write it in the second person, but it still served its purpose of seeing what happens to characters that the narrative necessarily leaves behind for the novel’s big climax.

I don’t anticipate this will be my favorite of the five nominees. I know that’s an odd thing to say with the other four still on my to-read pile. While it’s a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend, I do wish it had been something a little more. The main novel was fun, but fluffy. The codas were poignant, but divorced. I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad I’ve recently been introduced to Scalzi, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.

Next month on the Read, it’s Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon with no secondary read.

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One-Way Trip

One of the questions running through my head as I world build a generation ship is whether or not people would sign up for the voyage. How many people would be willing to uproot themselves from everything that they knew and love, from the earth itself, knowing full well that they would never return?

It’s fantastic when real life gives you answers to questions like these.

The Mars One project announced last week they would accept applications and auditions to be one of four people sent to Mars to build a permanent settlement on the fourth planet. The chosen few will go on a one-way trip to the planet, setting up the colony with no intent of returning to earth. They’ll have some touch with the folks back home, but for all intents and purposes they’re off to Mars to eventually die there.

So who would want to do this?

According to io9, in the first three days they received 20,000 applications, and that number may now be above 40,000. It’s unclear how many of these applications are serious about their willingness to go, but there is an application fee meant to help fund the project and weed out fake applications. The organization behind the project hopes for over half a million applications by the time they’re done. It’s stunning. And it’s nice to see a real answer to the question: how many people are willing to leave everything behind if it means being part of a grand human adventure?

Thanks, real life. I’ll make sure to credit you in the acknowledgements.

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DTP: The Drink Transfer Protocol

Edouard_Manet_006

Early implementation of DTP, recorded by Edouard Manet

Social media creates a problem. That’s a lie, social media creates several problems. However, I am not setting out today to solve all those problems, just to propose a solution to one.

Social media creates a problem. It connects people from across the country and across the world and allows them to solve problems for each other, give each other ideas, or otherwise help in creative and academic endeavors. Which is fantastic until the conversation ends with a few fateful words.

“I owe you a drink.”

Perhaps you’ve seen those words when you follow both halves of a conversation on Twitter. Perhaps you’ve said them yourself, or had them said to you. They’re easy words to say, but five minutes later you realize, “when can I make good on that?” If you’re a writer, there are writing conferences, all with handy bars. However, it requires both the party who owes the drink and the party who is owed the drink to be at the same convention. Otherwise the promise slips further and further down the road.

So what’s the solution to this? The Drink Transfer Protocol.

This is an idea that’s been floating around my head for a while, and I wanted to get down for comment and improvement. Perhaps think of this as an RFC. The Drink Transfer Protocol (or DTP) would consist of two elements. The first would be a web front end where registered users could register drink debits and credits. The second would be a series of bars across the country willing to connect to the DTP system for the purposes of dispensing these owed drinks. Let’s say that I’ve got a sticky plot point in a novel, and I just can’t figure out my way around it. I talk about it on here and a commenter from California pops up and gives a way forward. I could then go onto the DTP website, purchase a drink, and credit it to their account. He could then go to his neighborhood DTP compliant bar, enter in his password, and could order from a menu of DTP supported drinks. The drink would be paid for through the system, so that the bar gets their money and my helper gets his drink.

Now, there are some clear downsides to this system.

First, it would require a rather robust network of bars to come on board rapidly in order for the system to take off. I would say it could start local and spread from there, but the entire purpose of DTP is that the two parties involved are not local. If the only bars participating in DTP were in, say, the Washington DC area, then both the owing and owed party could meet for the drink. Perhaps two trial cities would be necessary, located on opposite coasts, which would allow for limited and specific transfer of drinks. Or, perhaps, the best trial would be to get a bar located near that year’s Worldcon (ideally within the hotel) to be a trial site, allowing those who owe drinks but are not in attendance to transfer drink credits to those who are in attendance. Ultimately it would help to get any of the national chains on board. Oh, perhaps TGI Friday’s or Applebees wouldn’t be your first choice of where to go for a drink with someone, but it would provide at least some nationwide system roll-out. Any bar participating would require a terminal of some variety from which the recipient could access the DTP system and enter their password. An iPad or other tablet might work well for this. There would be upfront costs to the bar, and there would be standards to maintain that will be outlined in downside three.

Second, and let’s be honest, would be the problem of creeping. Virgin Atlantic has taken some justified crap this week after announcing a system by which passengers on flights from LA to Las Vegas could anonymously send drinks to each other on the flight. This creates a potentially hostile environment as, unlike a bar, a plane passenger cannot simply leave if he or she feels uncomfortable. I’m hoping there’s some opt-out system for that plan, or better, an opt-in system. Now, there would be a little less of this problem within the DTP system, as the remoteness of the drink purchasing would typically not result in a “hey baby” moment as an unwelcome drinking companion sidles across the bar, but there would be those individuals would might feel uncomfortable with the potential of anonymous drinks being posted to their account. Or those who would welcome it. The solution would be to make it entirely opt-in. One approach would be the creation of keys tied to those individuals willing to participate in the DTP exchange. Both the individual owed a drink and the individual owing a drink would have a unique hexidecimal code that represented themselves in the system. To transfer a drink, the owed individual would simply share their code with the owing individual. In the case of someone who wants all the drinks, he or she could choose to share that code with the world at large. It would be necessary that these codes could be changed if an individual decides they want suddenly increased privacy within the system, and perhaps the system could even offer one time use transfer codes for those situations where you are willing to accept one drink from an individual but do not want to encourage further drink transfers.

This would also keep the system from being used for intrabar transfers. That’s not its intended purpose. You want to creep on the blonde at the other end of the bar? Unless she’s got a t-shirt with her DTP hexadecimal code printed on the back, you’re not using my system. That way the bar still knows who to rebuff if the lady isn’t interested. Would some people of either gender eventually be that open about their DTP code? Perhaps. But the intention of the system is for these codes to be as private and restrictive as the user wants them to be.

Third, what is “a drink”? As intended, the DTP system would have a single unit of transfer: the Drink. The intent is not to create a transferable gift card system where the recipient is given a five dollar bar credit, it’s that the recipient can sit down at a bar and have a drink. There would be a necessary agreement between the bars participating in the system as to what qualified as a Drink, perhaps a minimum standard that some bars might choose to implement to the letter and some bars might choose to go above and beyond. I envision there would be a menu at each bar when accessing ones DTP account that specifies what counts as a Drink, but I would think a minimum would be an imported beer or a simple drink-and-mixer cocktail made from a decent, though not top shelf, liquor. Not top shelf, but not a well drink either. There wouldn’t be change, you couldn’t get a buck back from the bar or the system if the recipient ordered a domestic beer. The Drink would probably also cost the giver a little more in the system than it would in person to build a gratuity into the price. This guaranteed gratuity could be one way of bringing bars on board.

So there it is, my concept for a Drink Transfer Protocol. Unfortunately I’m more of an idea person, and would have no idea how to even start implementing this system. However, I think it is a clear solution to a problem that will only increase as people increasingly connect online.

Oh, sure, there will be those who say that part of the owed drink is the implicit understanding of the two individuals sitting down together and getting to talk over some other notions. For those individuals the old-fashioned approach of waiting until they’re in the same city can still hold. This isn’t meant to be a replacement for that. It is, however, a way for drinks to be quickly transferred from one individual to another quickly and at any distance.

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World Building Through Questions

No, this isn’t part of the World Building Questions series. Except in that it’s about world building and the power of doing so through questions and answers.

Once upon a time I was working on a novel set in or around the singularity, about 70 years into the future in an almost unrecognizable Northern Virginia. I had ideas on how big chunks of the world worked and changed, but I wanted to make sure I was focusing on the right elements of the world. So I wrote it all out, handed it out as copies to my writers’ group, and sat down with a pen and paper ready to take the questions they asked about it. What parts of the world were they curious about? What did I not have answers for? By the end of the session I had several hand written pages of questions, notes, bits and pieces of the world that people wanted to know about but I’d not thought about.

Were they all important? Yes and no.

When it comes to crafting a narrative there are two categories of information: what the reader would like to know and what they need to know. The latter are the essential details, the former are fun little additions to the story. They don’t directly influence the story, but a setting is just like any other character in that the author needs to know far more than every appears on the paper. This becomes more and more true as the setting is more and more alien to the reader. A non-magical story set yesterday, down the street from the reader? He or she knows the place well. Around the world? Perhaps less so. A century ago? A century from now? A spaceship? An alien world?

Unfortunately I don’t meet with my writers’ group as much as I once did. It’s one of those things that there’s just less time for with a baby in the house. So instead, I’m turning to you, dear readers of this blog. All three of you. After the break is a brief rundown of what I know about the GS Sarah Constant. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s those details that I think best paint a broad picture of the vessel and life on board. Then I’d be open to questions. If I know the answer, I’ll let you know. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll thank you for your question, and copy it into the part of my Scrivener file dedicated to things I don’t yet know about my setting.

Let’s begin.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Joe Hill on Writing With Kids

Lacking a tumblr myself, I can’t exactly re-tumbl this in the proper way. Is it called re-tumbling, or is that just my Twitter influence popping through. Oh god, I’m only a few sentences into this post and already revealing how terribly unhip I am with social media.

Ahem.

Anyway, Joe Hill, author of Heart Shaped Box and the upcoming NOS4A2, was tackling some questions on his tumblr over the weekend when this one came up:

Poppachaos asks: How did you find time to write when your boys were younger? I’m the primary caregiver for my 15 month old son and can’t manage it. Short of locking myself away at night and never seeing my wife, I’m running out of ideas.

Anyone who follows me or this blog knows this is my biggest writing hurdle. I’m not going to post Hill’s entire response here, you can go read it over on his tumblr, but it boils down to a key point: Make your writing fit your life, don’t try to make your life fit your writing. This is, he notes, a period in time when “[j]ust getting a good night’s sleep is a major triumph.”

He suggests figuring out projects that can be written in shorter bursts, fit into the little nooks and crannies of new parenthood. Campbell nominee Chuck Wendig said similar on Sunday afternoon, tweeting:

Right now, I’m clearly at the point where I’m getting used to the fact that my writing will be burst driven. For now, at least. And that’s fine. In some ways it’s working for me, bursts are great for world building little elements of my generation ship. I’ve actually got ideas for what could be little burst stories within that world, including some fairy tales. I suppose the real transition is away from looking at what I’m not getting done to focus more on what I am getting done.

So I’m going to make it a goal at the end of every day to find something positive to say about my writing progress for that day and tweet it out. Even if it’s not something I would have counted as “progress” in pre-baby times. Think of it as a daily State of the Writer. Today it might be as simple as coming up with how Red Riding Hood would be rewritten after 300 years on the Sarah Constant. For anyone else that a daily writing affirmation might help, join me with the hashtag #DidToday.

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World Building Question: Where Am I?

Last time in the World Building Questions I talked about the differences between noon, 12pm, and how those two concepts evolved. In doing so I very briefly touched on Universal Time, offsets, and the fact that timekeeping on the globe centers on a spot to the south-east of downtown London just off the Themes River. This is Greenwich, specifically the Royal Observatory therein. More specifically, the line running up the middle of the front door to the roof peak overhead. This is the origin point for Greenwich time, and it serves as such because the British figured out Longitude at sea first. Which has a lot to do with noon. So there’s a fitting transition from asking questions about how we keep time on planet earth to how we keep directions.

Let’s talk generally about the ideas of latitude and longitude first. The earth is a sphere. That’s the first of several lies in this post, but it’s an extremely helpful lie.  Around this sphere humanity has drawn two imaginary lines and defined these as origin lines. One is the equator, the other is the Prime Meridian. Locations are then defined by how far north or south they are from the equator, and how far east or west from the Prime Meridian, given in degrees. On earth we call these two measurements latitude and longitude, respectively. Lines of latitude circle the globe, parallel to the equator. Lines of longitude run pole to pole, converging at each end.

The equator is a pretty easy and logical defining line, it’s a circle around the earth perpendicular to the axis of rotation where the days don’t really vary in length and equidistant from the poles. To determine how far north or south of the equator you are, whether at land or at sea, simply look at the sky. For centuries, ancient navigators have known which heavenly bodies to consult and measure to know just where they are in relationship to the equator. The problem is…once you know your latitude is 20 degrees north of the equator, that’s great, you’re somewhere on 19,250 mile long line circling the earth. Where on that line are you? What’s your longitude?

Longitude is harder to work out that latitude. There are no clear celestial signs for how far east or west one has traveled. The easiest way to work it out is through a clock. Here’s how. First you find a clock that keeps reliable time. Then you set that clock to 12pm when the sun is directly overhead. Now, start traveling east or west until noon the next day. Noon, not 12pm on the clock, I’m still being serious about that distinction. When the sun is overhead, look at your clock, and you know how far east or west you’ve traveled by the time shown. How?

Well, it takes 24 hours for the sun to circle the earth. A circle is 360 degrees. If you divide 360 by 24 the result is 15 degrees. So, for each hour that the clock is off, you’ve traveled 15 degrees of east or west latitude. If the clock shows a time before 12pm, you’ve traveled east, if it shows a time after 12pm, you’ve traveled west.

There you have it. Noon tells you where you are. Segue complete!

Alright, it’s a little more complicated than that. Not the math, the math is simple to derive. The difficulty is in that first step: finding a clock that keep reliable time. That’s not too difficult in the year 2013, however clocks of a sufficiently reliable accuracy are a relatively new invention. Clocks of a reliable accuracy that will retain that accuracy while at sea are newer yet. And here is where I’m going to reference A History of the World in 100 Objects, a fantastic podcast and audiobook and hardback that I’ve talked about on this blog before. If you’re curious about history, grab this! The 100 objects range from millions of years old to only three years old, presented chronologically. Object 91 is a ship’s chronometer from the HMS Beagle voyage that brought Darwin to the Galápagos Islands.

What John Harrison did was to invent a clock, a chronometer, that would go on accurately telling the time set in Greenwich, despite the constant movement of the ship and, just as important, despite any fluctuations in temperature and humidity. It was a great feat of precision engineering, but Harrison’s chronometers were pioneering, high-quality instruments, made in tiny numbers and affordable only by the Admiralty. Then, around 1800, two London clock-makers managed to simplify the mechanisms of his chronometer, so that virtually any ship – and certainly the whole of the Royal Navy – could carry them as routine equipment.

First Sea ClockThe image over to the right is one of John Harrison’s first clocks intended for use at sea, not one of the simpler devices that followed. It is the Creative Commons released image I could find.

So this is all well and good, there’s some nice math involved, and I like math. But why is the Prime Meridian where it is, and not one of the infinite other equally arbitrary lines of longitude? When I made that post about noon, I said that the Greenwich Meridian was the Prime Meridian “because an Englishman figured out longitude at sea.” I was London clock makers who perfected the ship’s chronometer, it was the Royal Navy that first used it, and they needed a point to use as their baseline when setting all the chronometers that would go on all the ships. So they chose the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

It doesn’t entirely answer the question, though, as it only explains why the British chose the Greenwich Meridian. Why did the rest of the world accept this meridian? Simple. They voted on it. In 1884 a conference was held in Washington, DC for the purpose of defining which arbitrary north-south line would be the arbitrary north-south line. 26 nations were invited, 22 voted for the Greenwich Meridian, and the motion passed.

Do I even need to say that the French were one of those opposing. They used their own meridian which ran through Paris, and kept it until 1914. Which means the Prime Meridian has been an international standard for less than a century. Which makes it slightly older than the full international adoption of the modern calendar, but puts it squarely on the list of things you might have thought were international standards longer than they actually have been.

One equator, one Prime Meridian. That’s also how we can know where we are on an arbitrary, but internationally agreed upon, scale of latitudinal and longitudinal measurements. Certainly we now have more sophisticated ways of determining our location, such as GPS, but it all comes down to clocks and the sun.

How do you know where you are at sea without a way to calculate longitude? Answer is, you don’t. Not really. Oh, the best navigators could guess by using a process called dead reckoning which relies on knowing three things: where you were, what heading you were on, and how fast you were going. If I traveled 50 nautical miles east-northeast, I can put a dot on a map 50 nm east-northeast of the dot I drew yesterday. Which was based on the dot the day before. And the day before that. It’s a series of educated guesses which allows errors to compound. Yet it brought Columbus to the new world and back again.

I’ll admit, while a fun transition from time to direction, this is a harder post than usual to come up with world building questions for.

I could posit a planet in tidal lock to its sun has an interesting set of non-arbitrary meridians. It has an equator, and it has the delineation between day side and night side. Since the sun doesn’t rise or set, its position in the sky would always provide an exact location on the day side. The night side would have to rely on purely stellar navigation. This is actually the case in Frederick Pohl’s book Jem, which has a “heat pole” and a “cold pole” instead of a North and South pole, representing the points farthest from the day/night line.

I could posit an uninhabited alien world. Would a human colony on a new planet use its first outpost to define a prime meridian for the planet?

I could posit an inhabited world. Would an alien race come up with another way of defining a point on their globe? I can actually think of one. Start with the equator around the center of the globe, then rotate it a given number of degrees about a set axis. A point on the globe could be defined by the angle of rotation and the distance from the equator. I’m not sure that makes sense as I’ve written it, I might try to diagram it if it doesn’t.

I suppose the world building lesson is that north and south, as we define them, are easy on a rotating body. East and west are a little harder. A society that navigates with something like latitude would need a way to compute that latitude, whether technical, biological, or magical.

Up next: how maps are centered and oriented (“Which way is up?”), and how we tell directions on a day-to-day basis, especially since we have two different sets of four directions we tend to use (“Is that my right, or your right?”).

Chronometer picture via Wikipedia user Phantom Photographer and released under Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike license.

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Hugos: A Dramatic Presentation

I’m not a Hugo voter. I never have been. It’s not an exclusive club by any means, one just needs to buy a Worldcon membership. Not even attend or intend to attend. Each Worldcon tends to offer a membership level for those who don’t plan on attending but want a chance to vote for the Hugo awards. You can, quite literally, buy a ballot. One of these years, when I feel I have the income to spare, I’ll become at least a voting member of Worldcon so that I may nominate and vote.

So I have no agency when it comes to nominating for the Hugos. Or the voting for the Hugos. Certainly I have no agency when it comes to how the Hugos are conducted, that process involves an open meeting at Worldcon so does require attendance. I say this before setting down to my main point: the Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation is broken, and needs to be fixed.

In 1958, Solacon saw the first Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation. It went to the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. This new Hugo category recognized that the basis of any dramatic presentation is its writing. Until 2002 it was a single category and winners included movies, episodes of TV series, entire seasons of TV series, and even the news coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Starting with the 2003 Hugo Awards the category was split into Long Form and Short Form, with the defining line of 90 minutes.

In practical terms this means that there’s a Hugo category for movies, and a Hugo category for television episodes. Oh, it doesn’t always work that way. Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) has included a web series, a YouTube video, even an acceptance speech from the previous Hugo ceremony. The Short Form category Hugo has been awarded to eight television episodes, the made-for-the-internet series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, and Gollum’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards. However, for the most part, it’s movies and television episodes. Since the split only two Long Form nominees weren’t movies (both were entire seasons of a TV show nominated as a unit), and only nine Short Form nominees weren’t TV episodes.

Lately that means Doctor Who episodes.

Wait wait wait, Whovians and Wholigans, before you crucify me, understand that I am one of you. I love the show. However, since the relaunch of the series, 22 episodes have been nominated. 2009 is the last year to see only two episodes nominated.

This isn’t specifically a Doctor Who problem, the show is just the latest incarnation of a phenomenon that dates back to the 1968 awards when all five nominees were episodes of the original Star Trek. Enterprise, Firefly, and Angel have also all been double nominated since the Long Form/Short Form split. With the exception of Star Trek landing eight nominations in two years, no show has ever dominated the nominations more than Doctor Who. No show has ever dominated the nominations for as long. And I think that’s a detriment to other shows and to the award.

Fringe, one of the best science fiction shows of the last decade, got its first and last nomination this year. That ties it with Community. Continuum, an original and compelling time travel drama from Canada saw no nominations. Eureka came and went without a single nomination.

I see three potential fixes for the Dramatic Presentation category. Fix number one: a cap in place for the number of episodes a series can have nominated in a single year. Yes, it would be immediately called the “Doctor Who Rule,” I’m sure. Yes, it would see some outcry, and I doubt this proposal could get through the rule amendment process. Which is a shame, as there’s plenty of fantastic science fiction on television that isn’t being recognized.

Fix number two? This is unrelated to the Who dominance. I think there needs to be a clarification of eligibility.

No video game has ever been nominated for a Hugo Award. Ever. io9 ran a series of posts about this a few months ago, and the answers ranged from “but they’re not eligible” to “should they be long or short form” to “they don’t have the same exposure.” The last issue isn’t going to go away by action of the Hugo committee, but the first two can. They absolutely are eligible, it’s right there in the text for the award. A dramatic presentation is defined as, “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music.” That there are nominators who might not know they’re eligible is hurdle one. Hurdle two can be solved by some clarification as to how to count a video game. Are we talking just the cut scenes? The full play-through length of a game? The latter is problematic because it varies from player to player.

There are other problems clarification could solve. 90 minutes is the dividing line, however the 2011 winner for Short Form was roughly 105 minutes long. In 2012, Game of Thrones was nominated as a season for Long Form, in 2013 a single episode was nominated for Short Form. Movies that are under 90 minutes, such as Safety Not Guaranteed have no clear home, ineligible for long form and likely overlooked for Short Form.

I think all of these have a single solution, which is my fix number three. Split the category one more time so there are three Dramatic Presentation Hugos:

  • Theatrical Presentation for works originally released on the big screen.
  • Televised Presentation for works originally intended for television, with a one episode per show cap. Nominations would work the way Emmy nominations work. One episode of a longer series, one portion of a miniseries, or the entirety of a made-for-TV movie. Want a good eligibility rule of thumb? A nominee can only have a single set of opening and closing credits.
  • Special Presentation for all other presentations, including video games, animated shorts, web videos, and whatever other silliness the nominators want to include. Basically it’s a home for the other nine nominees that have been featured in the Short Form category in a fabulously eclectic category.

So I’m creating an addition award sub-category. This is with fine precedent. In 1963 the written fiction awards expanded from three categories to four. In 2002, Dramatic Presentation split into Long and Short Form. In 2007, Professional Editor followed suit.

Perhaps we’d still see Doctor Who dominating as winner of Television Presentation, but that’s not a problem. If the voters legitimately think it is producing the best episodes of television, then it should. Some might argue this makes Doctor Who even more powerful, as there’s not chance of a vote split (not that this has cost it Hugos in the past). However, it would be nice to see other shows are least get some recognition that science fiction and fantasy exist on television. And it would give a clear home to worthy nominees that live on the outskirts of the current categories.

I don’t expect any of these changes to happen, but it feels good just to talk about them. Agree? Disagree? Have any Hugo categories you’d change? I’ll be in the comments waiting to hear.

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State of the Writer: April 2013

That's right, I used the IRS building to illustrate April.

That’s right, I used the IRS building to illustrate April.

Struggling. But for good reasons. I’m finding more little bits and pieces of time to sneak in some world building or some outlining, some of which you even saw on the blog when I had that rather math-filled post not too long ago. Now it’s not so much about finding times, I know where they’re hiding, it’s a much more insidious problem: overcoming the momentum of not writing. That’s always been one of those challenges for me. When I’m writing, I’m going all guns blazing. If I step away for a while, it’s easier and easier to find excuses to not do it.

The baby.

The job hunt.

They’re easy excuses. And they’re valid and important excuses. But I don’t think they’re necessarily the all-encompassing excuses I’ve turned them into. Anyway, it’s boring to watch a guy beat himself up over stuff like this, so time to stop.

Still, little bits did get done, and in April hopefully little bits more will get done. I’m starting to have some notions for the broader plot of the first Sarah Constant book, and I need to start outlining I want to make the rough draft a Nanowrimo project.

State of the Author’s Bees: We’re getting to packages of bees around mid-month, so we’ll make our second attempt at being apiarists. Apparently it was a rough year not just for bees in Northern Virginia but all around the country. I’m not nearly experienced enough to say our hive failures were colony collapse. Hell, I know at least one wasn’t, since it got starved out by a vicious robbing. The hive that just vanished? Possible colony collapse, possibly something else. We’re still trying to work out what the inscription “Croatoan” means on the inside of the lid.

Great Hugo Read: One last reminder that we’re into the 2013 nominees, since all that got posted over the weekend. We’ve got one book that’s part of a huge series that we cannot possible catch up on (or, rather, I can’t, having read none of them), one that’s the last book of a trilogy that we can, and three that are standalone novels. We’re starting with Redshirts by John Scalzi as our primary read, and Feed by Mira Grant as the secondary read. There may be some truth to the rumor that I decided to start with the book that’s been sitting on my night stand since I got it for Christmas. I also tore through about a third of it last night, which is not my normal reading pace. Spoiler alert: I’m loving it.

The April-August schedule is here. Or here. Or over in the Goodreads group. This year’s nominees are an interesting mix with some high fantasy, some silliness, some seriousness, and some horror. I’ll be talking more about this year’s Hugo nominees and the Hugos in general later in the week, both here and on Unleaded.

Also coming up, there’s an interesting transition in my World Building Earth posts that I hope to get up this week, a natural segue between the concept of noon and the concept of directions that we’ll look at just as soon as I figure out some story telling step off questions to close the post with.

The days are getting longer. Baseball is back. I’m starting to think we’ve made it through the winter, and it’s time for bigger and better things.

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