Upsetting Puppies for fun and profit

Pickers04-cover-200Part 4 of Pickers is published on Saturday, finishing the serial. It’s the crazy action, big fight, obviously inspired by Mad Max 2 and Fury Road finale, and it was rather fun to write. If you’ve been putting off reading it until all four parts were released, then today’s a good day to get started on Part 1, and you should be caught up just in time.

Publishing it as a serial changed the shape of the story, and probably forced me to get it finished earlier than I would if I’d written it as a novel. There will be a revised ‘Director’s Cut’, full length novel version released some time after its Amazon exclusivity runs out, where I may change the pacing a bit to suit the new format. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a serial again, but I have got some ideas for a series of novella length tales, each self contained, but with recurring characters- the project after the one I’m currently working on.

Writing Pickers has made me think about the way I’ll build stories in the future. Other events that have been going on whilst I wrote it, have made me think again about the sort of tales I want to tell, and the characters I want to put in them. I’ve been watching the Sad Puppies, and reading a lot of commentary about them, and it’s made me change the people I write about.

You may not know who the Sad Puppies (and their friends, the Rabid Puppies) are, so I’ll attempt a quick explanation.

It’s one of those truisms, that science fiction is really about the present, not the future. Thoughtful SF has always included commentary on contemporary issues. Recently, those issues have included gender, race, sexuality and others that make certain types of reader uncomfortable. This ‘liberal crap’ is supposedly spoiling good old fashioned sci-fi, where square jawed white men rode around in phallic spaceships and rescued dizzy buxom blondes. The genre, they cry, has been subjugated to the will of ‘Social Justice Warriors’.

(They seem to think that saying someone is willing to fight for the rights of people other than themselves is an insult. That tells you almost everything you need to know about them.)

The Sad/Rabid Puppies decided they were going to save one of SF’s big awards, the Hugos, from the SJWs, by flooding the ballot with works they approved of, over ones by dirty women, foreigners and deviants. Long story short, the Hugo awards were announced on Saturday, and none of the Puppy approved works won. Somehow, they’re claiming this is a victory.

There’s a lot more detailed and knowledgeable writing on the whole farce, if you go looking for it (here’s Wired’s take).

As a writer, and a reader, I’m on the edges of SF fandom. But I’ve been following the Puppy saga (and the equally ridiculous and horrible Gamer Gate nonsense), and reading a lot of commentary on it. There’s a bias. The commentary almost all comes from the left, SJW side of the argument. Almost everything from the right, Puppy side slips into name calling and self pity quickly. I’ve learnt a lot, and I want to apply some of it to what I write. I want to be more inclusive in the characters I create and the subjects I cover. The Puppies have convinced me to let my inner SJW out.

In so many ways, Pickers is the sort of story that the Puppies say they want to champion. It’s a big, crazy adventure, where violence is far too often the answer. But it’s laden with all sort of things they’d hate.

The Pickers are a family- Remy, his daughters Maxine and Veronique, and Veronique’s husband Tony. The story is driven by the women as much, if not more than, by the men. They’re not there to be constantly rescued, or to stay in safety as the men do the daring work. Without Veronique’s intelligence and technical ability, they would not have the information that starts the adventure. Without Maxine’s bravery and gunsmithing, they wouldn’t even have survived long enough to get to the adventure.

Maxine and Veronique are mixed race. Early on in the writing, I applied one of the lessons I learnt from Puppy coverage. Far too often, when creating a character, we turn out someone who looks like us. I hadn’t quite done that- I knew Remy should have daughters- but I hadn’t really thought about their race. So I took a step back. Did they have to be white? The story was taking place in multi racial (albeit post apocalypse) Europe. Why shouldn’t they be mixed race?

This decision actually added depth further along in the story. Remy and his daughters were out in the bad lands because they had left their old home, a secure community known as The Valley. Why did they leave? Well, their mother was black, and as the only black kids in an insular white community, they were subject to the little town’s racism, even if it was rarely expressed directly. After the death of his wife, Remy’s dissatisfaction at her, and their daughters, treatment, was one of the driving forces behind their exit.

There are other elements that undermine the Puppy ideal. Without lecturing on the subject, climate change is taken as a given, the way the world got to be in such a state. No equivocation or denial for me, or some made up disaster. Maxine is bisexual, and there’s at least one polyamorous relationship. All of these add depth to the world. None of them is irrelevant or gratuitous, though that’s what Puppies would likely say about such details.

I’m carrying forward some of what I’ve learnt into my current and next projects. I’m writing a Rain and Bullets short at the moment, reviving something I started a few years ago, now that I’m more sure how it goes. In the original, I created a supporting character, an MI5 agent, and he came out white and male. As I did with Solstice, I asked if any of my friends wanted to give their name to the character, and Dennis became Amanda. Why did the agent have to be a man? They didn’t, though I hadn’t given the subject any thought in the earlier version of the story.

The project after that should be a series of novelette or novella length tales. Sort of like a television series, where every episode is mostly self contained, but there are arcs and ongoing plotlines running between them. I’ve started working out what characters are needed. None of them, yet, has gender, race, etc. specified yet. I’m working out what their role is, which archetypes they represent, first. The rest will come along later. I’m not quite rolling them up like a D&D character, but there’ll be some element of randomness in assigning sex and sexuality etc.

So, I’d like to say a thank you to the Puppies and the Gamer Gaters. Things I’ve learnt as a result of reading around the issues raised has expanded the scope of what I want to do, and the people I want to write about.

I’m not sure that’s the sort of result they were hoping for.