Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans: Episodes

This page provides episodes and show notes for the SLF podcast Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans.

List of episodes

Episode 1: “Introductions”

In this inaugural episode, Mary Anne and Ben promise to introduce themselves in ten minutes, then immediately veer off into a tangle of tangents—parenting, religion, writing—setting a tone for the wild ride to come. From their beginnings as writers, to the far future extrapolations of their work, Mary Anne and Ben begin the discussion of who they are as humans.

To view the video version of the first episode, check out our YouTube channel.

Episode recorded 10 May 2020.

Episode published 22 March 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:10: Introduction to the podcast.
  2. 0:30: Starting to introduce Ben: Youth and Clarion West.
  3. 2:30: How Mary Anne and Ben met, in Seattle.
  4. 3:50: Strange Horizons, and staff not getting paid.
  5. 5:15: Identities, and gendered differences in how people identify themselves.
  6. 6:45: Parenthood, Switzerland, parenting paradigms.
  7. 9:55: Religion and community.
  8. 14:55: Starting to introduce Mary Anne. “This is not going to be a long intro.”
  9. 31:05: Mary Anne’s role and voice in the community, including Strange Horizons.
  10. 33:20: One area where Mary Anne and Ben overlap: a strong interest in community.
  11. 34:20: “When I see a problem, … my immediate impulse is to fix it.”
  12. 39:05: More differences in Mary Anne’s and Ben’s approaches, such as their different reactions to MoonFail.
  13. 46:45: Forgiveness and recovery and redemption after failures and mistakes. Also racism in sf and horror.
  14. 52:35: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  15. 53:15: Continuing the discussion of forgiveness and redemption.
  16. 1:08:00: What you’re likely to hear in episodes of this podcast, and some possible titles for the podcast. (This episode was recorded before the podcast had a title.)
  17. 1:13:50: Approaches to science fiction vs literary fiction, and plausibility, and Dr. Who.
  18. 1:23:20: Star Trek: Picard: realistic characterization and fantastical plots.
  19. 1:27:30: Ben’s rule of thumb about things persisting into the future; also cognitive estrangement and operationalizing strangeness.
  20. 1:40:20: Wrapup and credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname.

Other clarifying or explanatory links


Bonus Episode 1: “The Capitol and the Cafe”

In this episode, the hosts of MRAH explore questions of violence, pacifism, ethics, and empathy while juxtaposing a local incident against an event of national proportions.

Content warning: This episode discusses a racist attack on a business, the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, an Islamophobic insult, fascism, and other related political topics.

For the video version of the episode check out our YouTube channel.

Episode recorded 10 January 2021.

Episode published 25 March 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:35: Introducing the topics: A racist incident in Oak Park; the January 6 attack on the US Capitol; and Mary Anne running for office.
  2. 1:10: Disclaimer: This is a hot take on (among other things) the January 6 attacks, and Mary Anne and Ben may have changed their minds since they recorded this.
  3. 2:35: The ongoing dialogue about how we have these conversations, and how people react to misbehavior.
  4. 3:55: Background about Oak Park, the suburb of Chicago where Mary Anne lives.
  5. 5:05: L!VE Cafe, in Oak Park, which hosts events. (It’s owned by Black entrepreneur Reesheda Graham Washington.)
  6. 6:25: The racist message attached to a brick thrown at L!VE Cafe, in the context of Black candidates running for local office.
  7. 9:05: Oak Park is a liberal bastion, but this can still happen.
  8. 12:50: Venues that are willing to try to address issues openly end up looking like they’re always having social justice fights.
  9. 15:10: Connecting the L!VE Cafe attack to the Capitol attack.
  10. 16:45: The dangers of beefing up security.
  11. 18:10: Nazi-punching as one option among several.
  12. 22:45: Fanon, King, and Gandhi. Pragmatic and strategic pacifism vs philosophical pacifism.
  13. 27:10: Every time Frodo puts on the ring, it strengthens Sauron and weakens Frodo; but sometimes it also helps Frodo get away.
  14. 30:35: Violence in the name of greater good: what does it cost you long term? And is the gain worth the cost?
  15. 33:15: Deplatforming, silencing, and freedom of speech.
  16. 35:05: A distinction between conservative and liberal worldviews.
  17. 38:05: Where you allocate money says something about the society you’re trying to build.
  18. 38:30: The word liberal means very different things in the US and Switzerland.
  19. 40:25: The people who attacked the Capitol were not trying to preserve something; they wanted to tear down the system.
  20. 41:25: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  21. 42:00: Edmund Burke.
  22. 44:30: The Faustian bargain made by statist conservative Republicans.
  23. 51:30: We need a more sophisticated taxonomy.
  24. 54:35: Lots of disenfranchised people believe that the system is corrupt, and that they can’t improve it by voting.
  25. 56:55: The populist impulse to radically overthrow, and a distinction between conservatism and fascism.
  26. 1:04:30: Oak Park high school board member Matt Baron, who used a terrorism metaphor in talking about Dima Ali, a Muslim woman.
  27. 1:12:25: Fascism poses a specific unique problem, because of its attitude toward language and thinking.
  28. 1:14:45: Cancel culture, free speech, empathy, and the tendency of the internet to fall on people’s heads.
  29. 1:24:05: How Mary Anne convinced people that the library should get rid of fines.
  30. 1:29:00: Closing thoughts: You never have to excuse someone’s bad behavior to be a good ally to them. Hold them accountable.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname.

Other clarifying or explanatory links


Episode 2: “The Toilet Seat Con Hook-up”

How does examining the rules and structures of relationships help define genres such as magical realism and science fiction? In this episode, Mohanraj and Rosenbaum humorously discuss their romantic experiences and the surprising connections to how we examine and shape genres… And leaving the toilet seat up might be more significant than you think.

Content note for mention of race play and of pedophilia. Also discussion of cheating on spouses and spousal abuse and murder. And a potentially ableist remark about brain tumors and personality change.

For the video version of the episode visit our YouTube channel.

Episode recorded 13 May and 17 May 2020.

Episode published 29 March 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: In which our hosts announce the title of the podcast.
  2. 1:40: Things Mary Anne and Ben will likely talk about in the podcast: writing, community, ethics, culture.
  3. 2:10 What counts as science fiction/fantasy? Genre is (among other things) a way of talking about reader experience.
  4. 7:10: Different angles that works can be seen from: fantastical, religious, magical realism, etc.
  5. 13:45: Orthodoxy as a response to modernity. Also, differences in cultural default ideas about “magical” things and occurrences.
  6. 22:05: Using certain signals and frameworks to evoke reader expectations and sources of reader pleasure.
  7. 29:55: People’s statements about what counts as being in a genre, vs what they treat as being in the genre.
  8. 35:55: Stories that are published in a given genre but don’t have some of the usual genre signals and attributes.
  9. 44:00: Dethroning the norm.
  10. 45:40: Figuring out what game you’re playing.
  11. 47:50: People who approach relationships as a set of rules, and people who think in terms of having a fundamental trust and regard for each other.
  12. 55:55: Rules can be an indication of things that are hard to do.
  13. 1:00:35: Jealousy, insecurity, and feeling alien.
  14. 1:06:30: Treating people as they want to be treated, not as you would want to be treated.
  15. 1:09:35: Ongoing irritants in a relationship, which may not be fixed by being married.
  16. 1:14:50: Don’t pretend to let something go if you can’t really.
  17. 1:17:35: In a relationship, fights about a lot of little things may signal bigger structural issues.
  18. 1:24:35: Darius explains that Mary Anne’s laptop ran out of power.
  19. 1:24:55: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  20. 1:25:30: Rules (for sonnets, genres, etc), and how hard we hold ourselves to those rules.
  21. 1:28:15: Marriage can make a relationship much harder, and society doesn’t give us good roadmaps for what happens in a relationship after people get married.
  22. 1:33:10: The relative dearth of narrative about longterm close relationships. (Mary Anne and Ben both talk in this segment in terms of “married” vs “dating,” but I’m pretty sure they really mostly mean longterm-and-deep vs new-and-shallow, which isn’t the same distinction.)
  23. 1:45:10: Sf is trying to do more different kinds of things than literary fiction, which sometimes leaves sf a little thin on literary values like complex relationships between characters.
  24. 1:48:10: Verve and weirdness can make a story enjoyable even if the prose isn’t great.
  25. 1:53:05: Credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other clarifying or explanatory links


Episode 3: An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mary Anne interviews Silvia Moreno-Garcia about her experiences with sci-fi and fantasy growing up in Mexico, and how it’s shaped her own work.

Content note for discussion of dictatorships in Latin America.

For the video version of the episode visit the SLF’s YouTube channel. You can also read the interview here.

Episode recorded ?.

Episode published 5 April 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: Introducing this episode’s guest, Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
  2. 1:30: Silvia’s childhood in Mexico, reading her mother’s copies of sf books.
  3. 4:35: The sf scene in Latin America and Spain, then and now.
  4. 5:40: Cosmos Latinos, an anthology of Latin American sf, and other venues where Latin American sf has been published.
  5. 8:05: More-recent Latin American sf writers, and some of their tropes and themes and anxieties and modes.
  6. 12:55: Representation in publishing, and what US Anglophone editors are likely to focus on.
  7. 14:00: Into the Spider-Verse and demanding a wider variety of stories.
  8. 14:45: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  9. 15:20: Silvia’s life in Canada, and the Canadian sf-publishing scene.
  10. 20:05: Silvia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, a quest story set in 1920s Mexico.
  11. 22:15: The value of oral history, spoken knowledge-sharing, and folktales.
  12. 24:30: Omniscient narrators and Latin American culture.
  13. 27:19: Silvia’s then-forthcoming novels Untamed Shore and Mexican Gothic.
  14. 29:40: Credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other clarifying or explanatory links

Episode 4: “What Are… Humans”

What does it mean to be human? What do we mean when we call ourselves humanist? And what does secularism and the idea of God have to do with it all? This episode represents Mary Anne and Ben’s attempts at clarifying what they mean by being humans.

Content note for a comparison (in passing) of meat-eating to baby-killing.

For the video version of the episode visit: https://youtu.be/JZFe0UaE2gk

Episode recorded 24 May 2020.

Episode published 12 April 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: This episode’s intended topics: humanity and humanism.
  2. 1:35: Sri Lanka’s colonial religious history and Mary Anne’s family’s Catholicism.
  3. 7:15: The problem of evil, and free will. “Omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent: choose two.”
  4. 11:00: Mary Anne’s Confirmation and St. Kateri.
  5. 13:00: Mary Anne is now agnostic.
  6. 13:40: Ben is not a secular humanist.
  7. 16:10: The realist world and the supernatural world, and science as a tool for predicting recurring patterns in nature.
  8. 19:50: Diane Duane’s Star Trek novel The Wounded Sky, in which the characters encounter a “protoGod.”
  9. 24:45: Supposedly-but-not-really secular aspects of Christian-focused cultures.
  10. 27:00: What counts as supernatural.
  11. 31:10: More on the supernatural, and on God and science.
  12. 37:05: Humans telling stories to try to make sense of things.
  13. 38:35: The rise of subjectivity; understanding the universe as subjective reality; our mediated/filtered view of the universe.
  14. 41:45: Ben doesn’t mind having many worldviews, as long as they’re useful.
  15. 46:30: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  16. 47:05: An addition from Ben in April, summarizing his earlier argument.
  17. 47:50: Treating humans as more important than animals. [Mary Anne and Ben seem to be using the word humanism here to refer to this concept, though that’s not the usual meaning of humanism.]
  18. 52:05: The ethics of animal testing and human testing.
  19. 1:00:30: Willingness to sacrifice far-away people for the benefit of oneself or people one is close to; also, the trolley problem.
  20. 1:05:45: Trolley problems, the Kobayashi Maru, and Cold Equations; and how oversimplifying can get in the way of considering complexity.
  21. 1:13:50: What kind of person do I want to be? “What is the next right action?” Setting up structures that produce habits.
  22. 1:20:10: Benjamin Franklin’s plan to establish better habits.
  23. 1:21:50: Posthumanism and bodies. “Do I want to be uploaded? I don’t even want to be on Twitter!”
  24. 1:28:25: The effects of human bodies on human systems.
  25. 1:31:15: Credits.

Works mentioned

Other clarifying or explanatory links

Episode 5: “Two Months into the Pandemic: A Snapshot”

A historical episode of sorts: Mary Anne and Ben talk through the the personal effects that the pandemic and lockdown were having on them and their families, two months in. The two also ruminate on their own familial and cultural health anxieties and how they’ve come into play during these unprecedented times.

Content note for brief discussions of domestic violence and genocide.

For the video version of the episode, click here.

Episode recorded 27 May 2020.

Episode published 19 April 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:55: Introducing this episode.
  2. 3:35: Jewish history of pogroms, expulsion, and health anxiety.
  3. 6:15: Ben’s shtetl-focused tabletop RPG Dream Apart, and health issues in the shtetl.
  4. 09:00: The evil eye.
  5. 11:30: Mary Anne’s relative lack of health anxiety. Also some history of vaccination and disease.
  6. 16:05: Masks and messaging around masks, and Mary Anne’s responses to the pandemic.
  7. 24:40: Mary Anne’s “I must save the world” complex.
  8. 26:35: Ben didn’t feel like there was much he could do.
  9. 29:10: Swiss people being told to stay inside.
  10. 31:40: The pandemic vs other major crises, such as genocide and global warming.
  11. 36:00: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  12. 36:35: The consequences of shutting down.
  13. 45:30: Different people’s different risk assessments, and Mary Anne feeling the need to leave the house.
  14. 49:30: Ben’s situation, in which his wife Esther was at higher risk of transmitting to others, so Ben did the grocery shopping, but was very anxious about it.
  15. 54:20: Ben is trying to go easy on himself in terms of productivity.
  16. 56:20: Anxiety about going to the store.
  17. 58:00: Mary Anne has always had a sense that she wouldn’t live past 50.
  18. 1:00:35: Mary Anne’s instinct is to get involved, even if that means exposure to risk. 
  19. 1:04:15: Esther saw the psychological toll on Ben, and they started sharing the shopping.
  20. 1:05:25: Ben is feeling the acute absence of a lot of in-person supports that he relies on.
  21. 1:07:35: Ben’s experiences in Switzerland during the pandemic, and attempts to be gentle with himself.
  22. 1:09:30: In a global disaster, it’s OK to acknowledge that you’re not OK; also, the ways in which Zoom doesn’t replace in-person interaction. 
  23. 1:14:05: Mary Anne’s summary. 
  24. 1:19:25: Ben’s summary.
  25. 1:24:45: Credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other clarifying or explanatory links

Episode 6: “Jed Hartman, Pt. 1: Conversational Cultures”

In his first appearance on the show, Jed Hartman converses with Mary Anne and Ben about the complexities of communication, which include everything from social mobility to ask/guess culture. As is their tendency, Mary Anne and Ben take these topics into the realm of science fiction and fantasy, asking what a realistic encounter with aliens would look like.

Episode recorded 30 August 2020.

Episode published 26 April 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: Introducing Jed: former Strange Horizons fiction editor; Mary Anne’s sweetie; edited Ben’s first story.
  2. 3:15: Conversational dynamics, cultural protocols, and interruptions.
  3. 7:00: Swiss and Sri Lankan conversational cultures.
  4. 9:55: Conversational dynamics in Ben’s family.
  5. 12:15: Making sure everyone in the conversation is enjoying themselves.
  6. 13:55: Hospitality and asking for food.
  7. 14:50: Ask culture vs guess culture.
  8. 18:35: Geographical mobility in America and Switzerland.
  9. 22:00: The constant-surveillance aspect of Sri Lankan culture.
  10. 22:45: Ritualized manners and hierarchical relationships built into language.
  11. 26:00: Whether to thank family or not.
  12. 29:25: “Tentifying”: making phrasing more tentative.
  13. 32:05: Women in positions of power get pushback about how much time they have; women aren’t supposed to say no.
  14. 37:35: Politeness rituals are in the eye of the beholder.
  15. 41:50: Love languages.
  16. 45:00: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  17. 45:40: If you’re from ask culture, guess culture can chafe.
  18. 46:15: Erotica writing and having conversations about sex.
  19. 47:40: Ben’s early interactions with his now-wife Esther, in a context that wasn’t home for either of them.
  20. 49:50: Women aren’t supposed to admit they like sex.
  21. 50:20: Worldbuilding, linguistic patterns, and First Contact miscommunication.
  22. 51:40: Several examples of humans interacting with aliens in sf books and movies.
  23. 55:55: Mary Anne’s aliens tend to start out too human.
  24. 56:55: Aliens as portrayed in sf tend not to be even as different from the writer’s culture as other human cultures are. “We don’t have a universal translator between ask culture and guess culture.”
  25. 1:01:45: “Higher-order” beings, and complexity.
  26. 1:06:15: The “Alien Sex” slideshow at sf conventions, which consists of information about real-world insect sex.
  27. 1:08:05: Star Trek, Star Wars, inherent racial traits in aliens, and lazy worldbuilding.
  28. 1:11:50: Mary Anne and Ben have complementary problems coming up with, respectively, worldbuilding and story.
  29. 1:13:05: Alien furniture, and ways to suggest deeper alienness than is immediately evident.
  30. 1:14:50: Universal translators in sf, and real-world automated language translation.
  31. 1:19:45: When we’re creating stories, sometimes the first ideas that come to mind include cliches and clumps of received knowledge, crusted with prejudices.
  32. 1:25:10: Jed’s closing notes; especially mentioning Juliette Wade’s “Darmok”-like story “Let the Word Take Me.”
  33. 1:26:15: Mary Anne’s closing notes: Sometimes it’s OK to not pay attention to boring stuff. Also, getting worldbuilding help from your community.
  34. 1:33:30: Women in a mostly-male math department.
  35. 1:34:55: The tension between maintaining a talking-with-friends feel on this podcast and awareness of a potentially worldwide audience.
  36. 1:37:50: Credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other clarifying or explanatory links

Episode 7: “Cons in a Time of Pandemic”

Bonding over their complex feelings on Star Trek, Mary Anne and Ben share their thoughts on how conventions have been forced to adapt and evolve in a time where large crowds and gatherings are largely a thing of the past. Cons are an important part of Mary Anne and Ben’s personal and professional lives, so will things ever be the same?

Episode recorded 3 June 2020.

Episode published 3 May 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: Ben’s history with conventions.
  2. 2:10: Mary Anne’s first convention.
  3. 5:25: Mary Anne’s first encounter with explicit Kirk/Spock slash.
  4. 8:00: Mary Anne started going to cons more after she started writing professionally.
  5. 9:20: Ben goes to conventions to recharge his inspiration batteries, while surrounded by like-minded people.
  6. 13:30: Comparison of various different kinds of conventions and what they focus on.
  7. 16:30: How different cons handle the divide between fans and pros.
  8. 18:50: There’s a lot of variation in how different communities do conventions.
  9. 20:45: Worldcon moves to a different location each year.
  10. 22:30: Some experiences at conventions and conferences that involve people who speak different languages.
  11. 27:55: Captioning and transcription and translation.
  12. 29:20: Some countries have convention culture/communities, but others don’t.
  13. 31:15: Other genres don’t tend to have fan-oriented conventions.
  14. 34:15: Book conventions and arts festivals feel more like work; sf conventions feel more like an intersection of social and professional.
  15. 40:25: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  16. 41:00: The Sad Puppies, and the idea of sf awards as popularity contests.
  17. 44:30: The value of anonymized magazine submissions.
  18. 47:30: More about awards as popularity contests, and the pros and cons of awards, and the value of new voices.
  19. 56:10: Newer writers don’t know what they don’t know (about conventions and other things); we should work more actively to spread information.
  20. 57:50: ICFA: part academic conference, part sf convention.
  21. 58:40: Most of the cons that are happening in 2020 have gone virtual.
  22. 1:00:40: Ben strongly prefers in-person conventions.
  23. 1:05:00: The shift to asynchronous online teaching and collaborative online notetaking.
  24. 1:08:20: Thinking about ways to generate a vibrant and welcoming experience online.
  25. 1:11:25: It’s hard to have a con atmosphere while doing normal home stuff.
  26. 1:14:45: Text channels in which audiences can interact with each other during a panel or talk.
  27. 1:16:50: Advice about networking at conventions: “Tell the marketing part of your brain that it has done its job by getting here. […] And then stop worrying about that, just have fun.”
  28. 1:23:30: The usefulness of cons accretes over time; your first con can be tough.
  29. 1:31:05: Credits.

Works mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Conventions and conferences mentioned

Other clarifying or explanatory links

Responses from Jed to some specific bits of this episode

Worldcon location
It’s true that Worldcon’s location is different every year, and that it has always been mostly in the US; but it’s not quite true that it used to be just the US and the UK. For example, the first Canadian Worldcon was in 1948. The countries where it was held before 2000 were the US, Canada, the UK (specifically England and Scotland), Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands. It’s true that it’s been in more countries more recently; since 2000, it’s been in the US, Canada, Scotland, England, Japan, Australia, Finland, Ireland, and New Zealand. It has never yet been in China, although there is a bid to have it in China in 2023. It’s still in the US more than half the time. For details, see the Long List of Worldcons.
Worldcon attendance
Mary Anne said Worldcon is 7,000 to 10,000 people. That’s arguably accurate, but it depends on how you measure. Over the past 10 years, the number of in-person attendees has averaged about 5,000 people (though there’s a lot of variation). The total number of members (including non-attending memberships, who can nominate and vote in the Hugos but not attend in person) has averaged about 8,000. Before the Sad Puppies backlash in 2014, total membership (including non-attending) was rarely over 7,000. For details, see the Long List of Worldcons. (For comparison, Dragon Con has about 80,000 in-person attendees. San Diego Comic-Con has over 130,000 attendees.)
Worldcon Saudi Arabia bid
The bid was originally for 2022, but after they lost to Chicago for 2022, the people who put the Saudi Arabia bid together are now bidding for 2026. See the official list of Worldcon bids, the JeddiCon bid site, and an article about the protest against the bid on the grounds that Saudi Arabia is home to horrific human rights abuses. (For example, “homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.”) (The US is lacking in some aspects of human rights, but not nearly to the degree that Saudi Arabia is.) The protesters make clear that they are not objecting to Muslim or Arabic sf, only to the Saudi government’s policies.
Sad Puppies
The description of the genesis of the Sad Puppies in the podcast isn’t entirely accurate. Here’s a summary of how things started:
In 2013, author Larry Correia was sad that he had published a novel that he thought was great and deserved a Hugo Award, but he didn’t think it would get nominated. And so he posted a blog post asking his fans to nominate his work. He framed the proposed nomination as a way to “[annoy] the literati to no end” by nominating “unabashed pulp action” instead of “heavy handed message fic.” He saw social-justice-oriented people as “the man,” “literati snob[s],” and “the establishment,” and recommended making their “heads explode” and “[poking them] in the eye” by nominating his work. Correia also said at some point, iIrc, that he had gone to a Worldcon but everyone had ignored him, so obviously Worldcon was an in-group that you couldn’t be part of unless you were a SJW. I wish that someone had told him early on that almost all new convention attendees feel ignored and isolated if they don’t attend with friends—and I wish that con communities were more welcoming to newcomers. (But it’s a hard problem; established attendees are likely to be attending partly to get time with their friends who they rarely see, so they’re often reluctant to instead spend that time with people they don’t know.) The one thing that Correia was right about was that he said the Hugos are “a popularity contest where the nominees have been decided by [a] tiny percentage of people”—but his idea that the Hugos were run by a social-justice literati establishment was ridiculously wrong; at that same time, many social-justice-oriented people were distressed that the Old Guard of sf fandom weren’t being welcoming to them.
…Side note: The backlash to the Puppies was immense, and has resulted in many more people participating in the Hugos than ever before, and these days the nominees and winners are much more likely to be social-justice-oriented than ever before.
My views on anonymized submissions
When I first heard about anonymized submissions, a couple years into my time as a Strange Horizons editor, I liked the idea in general but was reluctant to use them. My reason was that we fiction editors were almost never (as far as we could tell) less inclined to like a story because of who wrote it, but we were often more willing to give a story a chance if it was written by an author we trusted. (For more about trusting authors, see my 2003 post about author points.) By 2006, we had considered the idea of doing an anonymized first reading pass followed by looking at names as a check before making final decisions, but we were under the impression that that wouldn’t be considered sufficiently anonymous to count as anonymous. And it would have been difficult to implement anonymized submissions using our submission system with the staff we had at the time.
Eventually, some time after I left Strange Horizons, my ideas changed in several ways. Anonymized submission systems now exist, and I now know that the first-round-anonymous approach is considered a valid approach. So next time I take submissions (which will likely be for an anthology sometime in the next couple of years), that’s the approach that I expect to use.
On a side note, I don’t recall ever saying that submissions are or should be a meritocracy. If I did say that at some point, then I apologize; I dislike that word, and I feel that it’s generally used to support inequitable policies and ideas. When I’m reading submissions, what I’m looking for is stories that I personally like. My tastes are fairly idiosyncratic; there are lots of stories that I love that most other people don’t, and lots of stories that many other people love but that I strongly dislike. So my editorial choices are a matter of my personal taste, not a matter of merit. (But my personal taste can still be affected by bias, of course.)
Regarding “You see the same names over and over” on awards
It’s true that some people have received a lot of nominations over the years, and it’s true that some people who have a large and active social-media presence seem to get a lot of nominations. (Though it’s not entirely clear whether their social media presence is a cause of or an effect of their receiving nominations, or both.) But this “same names” framing seems to imply that new people don’t appear on the awards ballots often, and that’s never been true except in a few Hugo categories. For more information, see the SF Awards Database. For example, the Hugo Award for Best Pro Artist had almost entirely the same set of nominees for many years, until recently. But in the Hugo and Nebula fiction categories, there are pretty much always works by authors who’ve never been nominated before.
Regarding the idea that without awards, “Someone who published a lot in the past would be still selling the best”
I feel that it’s worth noting that editors generally love to find and publish works by new writers. It’s exciting to “discover” and nurture a new talent. Most editors and publishers do have to pay attention to sales; but I think few if any of them would want to only publish the same authors they’ve always published. And publishers put their advertising budgets behind authors who they want to promote, regardless of awards. So it’s not only a matter of reviewers and awards.
Regarding the phrase “Young aspiring writer”
Of course, not all new writers are young, and not all young writers are new.
Regarding the lack of separation from ordinary home life that comes with online cons
This episode didn’t include discussion of what it’s like to commute to a con from home each day, instead of staying at con hotels. In my experience, commuting from home to a nearby convention can have a similar lack of separation from daily life. So if you can afford it, staying at or very near the convention venue during an in-person con is a worthwhile experience—but that makes cons even more exclusionary, because people who aren’t at the con late at night and eating meals in con venues may feel even less like part of the con.

Episode 8: “Cory Doctorow”

Cory Doctorow—celebrated author, essayist, blogger-journalist, and human rights activist—visits the podcast to talk about privacy, security, monopoly power, the innate conservatism of AI, moral reckonings, technothrillers, and his latest book, Attack Surface, part of a series which motivated a generation of hacktivists, thinkers, and techies to fight for freedom and equity in our increasingly digital world.

Episode recorded 24 January 2021.

Episode published 10 May 2021.

Show Notes

Contents

  1. 0:30: Introducing Cory Doctorow, and discussing his “post-scarcity complicated utopia” Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
  2. 3:20: The subjectivity of social capital.
  3. 7:55: Someone’s positive reputation can lead others to ignore bad actions, and a negative reputation can lead others to ignore good actions.
  4. 12:15: Harlan Ellison, Trumpists, Haman, and truth and reconciliation.
  5. 15:15: Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and Starship Troopers.
  6. 21:05: C.S. Lewis, the Problem of Susan, and virtuous pagans.
  7. 24:30: Writing fiction to figure out what’s going on in our heads; things we don’t know about ourselves appearing in our writing.
  8. 29:30: If your work reveals something to you about yourself, then take the next step and act differently.
  9. 32:10: Machine learning supposes the future should be like the past.
  10. 33:05: Reduce the consequences of the platforms’ bad judgment by making them less powerful, and preventing them from buying competitors.
  11. 36:45: Stop criminalizing interoperability.
  12. 40:35: Make online communities interoperable, with freedom to move between communities.
  13. 42:55: Federalism, and communicating with the public through multiple channels.
  14. 45:55: Communities and governments deciding what things are acceptable or legal to say.
  15. 49:45: Tech companies block interoperability; we can improve things by screen-scraping.
  16. 54:20 : Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  17. 55:00: Cory’s new novel Attack Surface, and ordinary people being lax about computer security.
  18. 58:00: Cory’s YA novels inculcate in young people a view of the promise and peril of technology.
  19. 1:02:10: “Use the temporary shelter that you get from technology to create structural changes in society.”
  20. 1:04:40: Consumerism as a powerful tool.
  21. 1:06:00: Making it easy for people to do good.
  22. 1:09:40: Monopoly power can block interoperability.
  23. 1:11:10: Technothrillers that are short on technology.
  24. 1:14:30: Little Brother is still relevant because the underlying policy and technical questions are stable.
  25. 1:17:05: The technical material in Cory’s work is interwoven with the story, and is very digestible.
  26. 1:19:10: Work in corporate computing can require focusing on unimportant things.
  27. 1:23:20: In local government, it can be easy to focus on fine-grained decisions while missing big important equity issues.
  28. 1:25:45: The villains in Cory’s novels Walkaway and Attack Surface.
  29. 1:29:40: In Attack Surface, “being a good person to the people around you can mean being a bad person in the world.”
  30. 1:31:30: How do you get to a utopian fictional world from where we are?
  31. 1:34:10: Figuring out at each step what the best next step is to get to the kind of world we want.
  32. 1:40:10: Another approach: make the easiest changes first, and prototype things at a smaller scale to gain insight.
  33. 1:42:35: Writers can influence society.
  34. 1:43:40: An anecdote about Ben’s son Noah and a sit-in at the European Parliament.
  35. 1:45:00: Science fiction doesn’t predict the future, but it can help you mentally rehearse for scenarios.
  36. 1:47:30: The insufficiency of copyright as a means to compel companies to honor their deals.
  37. 1:55:40: Why Cory, Mary Anne, and Ben release their work for free (sometimes under CC licenses): people respond to generosity with generosity.
  38. 2:06:15: Credits.