Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stross, Neptune's Brood (outtake)

A bit of a paper I'm working on that grew far too long and far too whimsical and babbly for the paper.

1.

Perhaps Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood also deserves a fresh look. Stross emphasizes the debt theme within and around the book, and he’s drawn on David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. But as he readily admits, with everything else he’s juggling in that novel, what he has written is definitely not Debt: The Novel. The sense of the injustice of being born into debt certainly comes through, but besides that, things play out more or less within the conventional moral framework where by and large it's wrong not to pay your debts. Economic obligations map onto moral obligations. That's a framework which Graeber explodes in ways too interesting to try to summarize (read the book).

On the other hand, Stross’s currency system is also extremely interesting for a totally different reason: the way it questions the relationship between money, liquidity and sovereignty in an inter-state system.

Stross has effectively three currencies, but for simplicity, I’ll forget about medium money. Fast money is the kind of money we’re used to: it’s a unit of account and a medium of exchange, it circulates readily. Stross supposes that this kind of money just doesn’t work on the vast timescale which interstellar settlement implies, so he imagines slow money, which can “survive the gulfs of time and space involved.” For colonising stars, terraforming planets, and so on, slow money is used. Slow money is extremely stable, has a very, very low interest rate, and is used for contracts on a timescale of millennia. Every transaction must be verified by a party in another star system. (Imagine that to update the blockchain, you have to wait for a progress bar that takes decades. This is perhaps the first time I've encountered science fiction that uses the hard limit imposed by the speed of light as a kind of advantage, a resource around which a technology can be built).

Now, back in the real world, there is something quite mysterious about the way money operates transnationally. Let me try and estrange it a bit (if that’s the right word). This side of the room be Country A, England. And this side be Country B, Narnia. There are a set of institutions in Narnia that determine, by their own weird and somewhat arbitrary rituals, that some of you have a certain number of points, and you have a certain number of points, and so on. (Demand-driven money creation, we could call it). There are also institutions that say you have to have a certain number of points at certain moments in your life – for paying rent, for paying taxes, perhaps – or you’ll get in trouble. There are also institutions that enforce (potentially violently) almost all agreements you Narnians make among yourselves when those agreements mention points. So: the sovereign exercises its monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a territory to nudge you into acting as if those make-believe points were real.

And indeed, in a way, they therefore are real. So it makes some sense that you Narnians may be prepared to give up tangible things (Turkish Delight chocolates, for instance) in order to earn Narnia points, even if they are just arbitrarily made up.

But why on earth are the Englanders here prepared to give you their tangible stuff and labour in return for your points? 

Why would they do that, when they can see plainly that you just made them up? You won't allow the Englanders to make up Narnia points. (They have their own made up points, thank you very much). Englanders: don't you think accepting Narnia points in exchange for real things could be a bit of a slippery slope? You have no say over how many Narnia points exist. So what if Narnia decided to make up enough points to own everything in England?

Perhaps what we’re seeing is a polite euphemism for a differential in military power: England is likely to offer things for sale in Narnia points in proportion to the number of military bases Narnia has in England. "Hey England, gimme that! Here's your point, ha ha ha!" Narnia won't push it too much, of course, or England might start acting out. The delicate balance is to make them servile without making them sulk.

And perhaps there’s another delicate balance, as England accumulates more and more of these Narnia points, and therefore the possibility of gradually coming to own big chunks of Narnia. If you Englanders tactlessly spend your points on enough prime real estate -- buying up Cair Paravel and Deathwater Isle and Harfang and so on -- then Narnia may flex its muscles and say, "Now hang on. I think you’ve been taking these points a bit too literally. All points are not equal. In fact, you could say there are two kinds of points: the fast points, which is the day-to-day business of international trade, in other words (once the balance of trade has been calculated), you Englanders handing over some of your oil and GPS units and your clothing and getting nothing but points in return. But when you try to respond by gradually purchasing a big chunk of us, well! That’s more of a slow points matter. That starts to infringe on reasons of state, on sovereignty. And for slow points matters, we have Aslan on speedial." And Aslan swivels round in his swivel-chair and growls, "Sorry guys, there's no way we're going to let you redeem your long term trade surplus for a major say in Narnian civic affairs. We decide how much slow you're allowed in return for your fast, and it won't be much. We're the ones with the military bases, after all."

(By the way: does this ever happen? Basic mainstream economics of international trade tells us that trade imbalances are self-correcting, because exchange rates adjust so that over time if you're exporting more than you're importing, your currency appreciates, makes your exports less competitive, and gives your importers more purchasing power. But there are a lot of factors involved, and this self-correction might not happen. It might not happen, for instance, if an institution in England decides it's going to mop up all those Narnia points that are washing around, for instance by using them to purchase Treasury bills from Aslan.

More fundamentally, though, I find it difficult to know how to assess whether there really is any self-correcting mechanism that ensures that the tangible stuff that Narnia and England do for each other tend to equalize over time. I think it's pretty easy to imagine scenarios in which the balance of trade self-corrects, but you can tell at a glance that there's still horrific inequality in what each country does for the other. You know: England exports millions of units of clothing, textiles, footwear, furniture, plastic products, ceramics, electrical gizmos, and to balance it out, Narnia exports one unit of "inspection of military bases by Aslan" of equal value).

Well, I think that is an important mystery about money in the international system, and Stross is bringing it out in a quasi-allegorical way by emphasizing the vast gulf between star systems. It's important that the military power differential idea doesn't quite fit here. Stross insists that, “There is no sensible way to profit by invasion and conquest.” Nor is any tangible back-and-forth trade really possible: they’re mostly restricted to beaming information. (Beaming information, with Stross’s assumption of mind uploading, does also include what you might call human capital, or humans). It's a way of reminding us how weird it is that money even works at all across the boundaries of Westphalian sovereign states. Perhaps it's sort of a way of asking: is there a way of explaining the feasibility of money across Westphalian sovereign states, except by reference to military bullying?

2.

I'm not sure I'm competent to reconstruct the finance and economics around Stross's slow money. Maybe one day I will be! Here's a stab at it anyway. Comments appreciated, of course.

Stross does seem pretty clear that these are different kinds of money, i.e. different currencies, associated with different spheres of exchange or transactional orders (starships are never for sale in fast money, and ice-cream is never for sale in slow money. What we're grouping together as "fast money" might actually be various currencies, shortlived from the perspective of ponderous old slow money). So let's imagine a conjectural conjectural history about the origin of slow money as a currency.

I think it might have to be a conjectural conjectural history about establishing new a sphere of exchange. A powerful state charters a special new bank, which raises capital by selling perpetual bonds in the bank itself. These are bonds that never mature, so actually in a lot of ways they're like stock. Subscribers may take some heavy-handed persuasion to buy them, because although the perpetual bond itself is denominated in ordinary fast money (so you get fast money if you sell it on the market), it pays its coupons in slow money, which is an entirely new unit of account. Nobody knows what it is, and nobody trusts it. Even worse, the conversion between slow money and fast money is just appalling: I'm not sure how you ensure that except via price floors, and then you run into the problem that slow money is supposed to be more enduring than any particular legal or regulatory regime. Never mind, perhaps that aspect of it doesn't need to last. The main difference between a perpetual bond and a stock is that, unlike dividend payments, the bond's coupon payments won't be discretionary. Every bondholder knows exactly what their future stream of slow money payments will be. Perhaps this is even hard-coded into the technology, a bit like Bitcoin growth. The bank doesn't need discretionary powers over the slow money it pays out, though because it's never going to run out of slow money. It's the source of the stuff, the wellspring, uniquely permitted to print slow money.

So that's where slow money comes from. Where does it go? Slow money is only redeemable for anything at all by the chivvying of the government. The government creates tax and other incentives for certain kinds of producers -- starship builders and their suppliers and their suppliers -- to do some of their business in slow money. If you're doing anything remotely connected to interstellar colonisation, you suddenly find you can do a hell of a lot better if you start invoicing in a mixture of slow and fast money, using the slow money to pay suppliers and fast money to pay employees. These are of course probably the same firms the government strong-armed when they raised the capital for the bank (or at least institutional investors who are associated with them).

But the slow money takes horrifically long to move around. You can barely call it circulation. It oozes. Firms have to get used to a new way of doing business, where a significant proportion of their balance sheets is unconfirmed, beyond standard audit techniques. The whole thing is probably a logistics and an accounting nightmare.

But this government is strong and durable and pretty bent on driving these reforms through, and eventually you do get a new sphere of exchange and a new a banking infrastructure established. At that point, perhaps things can change. Perhaps the charter can be relaxed, and instead of a single creator of slow money (a slow money central bank) you can have many banks that issue those special perpetual bonds -- a self-regulating trans-epoch industry? -- perhaps? Anyway, assume that things are liberalised a little, perhaps by default as the particular government or civilisation that set the system in motion collapses, while the system itself survives. The way the sphere of exchange evolves -- whether it stays closely mapped to starship building and so on, or whether it becomes commensurable with other stuff -- is probably definitively shaped by its slowness. 

The notion that slow money is actually "slow" is problematic, because after all, what is to stop me from issuing IOUs denominated in slow money and circumvent the whole get-a-third-party-in-a-nearby-star-system-to-verify-it business?

The notion that slow money is "backed" by anything is also problematic, insofar as any legal regime or institution that could implement its redeemability must be more fragile and shortlived than slow money itself. (You could say the slow money banks are the exception, but we have to assume that their own fortunes rise and fall: at any given moment we can't rely on them to have any real power or assets other than slow money itself).

But slow money does have historical ties with star settling, ties which are so strong that by now we should be thinking of it as part of the deep technological know-how of that activity. To settle stars, you have to understand aerospace engineering, terraforming ecology, and slow money economics.

The notion that it is "stable" is also difficult to wrap my head around: it must surely be quintessentially volatile when priced in terms of any other asset, since on the timescales we're talking, those asset classes blink in and out of existence. On the other hand, perhaps from day-to-day the price of slow money in terms of fast money doesn't change much. It is pretty much immune to speculation. People don't buy slow money because they think the price is going to go up tomorrow. (They might conceivably buy slow money because the price is going to go up next century).

But before I go too far down this route: one of the problems is that Stross mentions slow money's very low interest rate. He doesn't seem to mean inflation.

Is this an interest rate on a loan? Let's say that a special investment company that holds a lot of slow money agrees to loan you, a star settling enterprise, the slow money you need to get your colony up and running. It will take twenty years from the time the loan is approved for you to actually get the money for definite (it has to be signed by a nearby star). It will also take twenty years or so from the moment you repay the loan for the investor to know for certain that you really have repaid it. Then there's the bit in the middle, where you actually have the money and do something with it, which will also take years and years and years. One argument is that because this an intrinsically long term loan, so it's intrinsically higher risk, so the interest rate should be higher.

Or perhaps we are, after all, talking not about a kind of currency, but about a kind of bond. So instead you could imagine that the three types of money are actually all the same currency, divided into three types of bonds. Or, fast money means "cash," medium money means ordinary bonds with 30-ish year maturities, and slow money means bonds with maturities of 1000 years. These bonds would be issued by star settling companies, and purchased by, say, pension funds that are trying to match their asset portfolios with their liabilities on that kind of time scale.

But then, wouldn't a bond only be as stable as the currency it is issued in?

Perhaps their yield contains some provision to deal with the vicissitudes of currency, including its collapses. E.g. (I'm just making stuff up now, there's no hint of this in the novel) they could be multicurrency bonds, and there could be a fixed formula by which certain currencies fulfilling certain criteria are added to or taken out of the bond along the way to maturity. When your 1000 year bond matures, none of the currencies you bought it in exist, but so long as they didn't all fail at once, your bond has gradually been translated into something of vaguely comparable value today.

3.

The whole thing could be an elaborate pun on "sunshine trading." In sunshine trading, high volume transactions are pre-announced to the market, allowing the market to prepare itself. This has the potential to reduce confusion, uncertainty, volatility, and get-rich-quick speculation. Perhaps slow money involves a similar attempt at transparency, using not just sunlight, but light bouncing between many stars.

Then again, even if we know a big transaction is about to be verified or not verified by a third party at a particular time, doesn't that just create more uncertainty?

4.

Well, I don't know.

But Stross’s conceit about slow money is intuitively plausible because (a) even if, like me, you don’t know that much about finance, you’ve soaked up the wisdom of financial economics enough to assume a three-way trade-off between risk, return, and liquidity (the ease with which an asset is convertible). So setting aside return, slow money feels solid, reliable, durable. And (b) this money asks us to do the same thing that interstellar colonization asks us to do, which is be patient. It takes time to transfer any slow money, and it takes time to convert slow money into medium or fast.

So can you design a currency to outlast the fall of a civilization? Not sure. The idea suggests to me the work of the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt, and later left wing thinkers like Agamben and Mouffe who have been influenced by Schmitt, on “the exception”: the moments or frontiers where rule of law breaks down, and the question of whether a system of law can somehow include the exception within itself.

There could also be an interesting comparison to be made with gold -- a kind of value which though socially constructed like all monetary value, also seems to have a peculiar tendency to outlast the societies in which it is constructed as valuable. It’s hard to get gold and it’s hard to fake gold, in the same way that it’s hard to settle new star systems and hard to fake settling new star systems. You could say that gold is more like money than any currency considered in isolation: at any given time and place, gold might be a store of value, a unit of account, and/or a medium of exchange; often it fails in one function or another, but if you zoom out to the big scale, it fulfills these functions better than the Zimbabwean Dollar, the German Reischmark, the Roman Denarii, the US Dollar, or the British Pound Sterling.

The puzzle about money in the interstate system is an important one, but it is also an artificial one, born by exaggerating the extent to which a state is a circumscribed territory and a unitary actor (perhaps after the fashion of neo-realism in International Relations). In fact, states are not isolated atoms, sovereignty is not absolute, and the way monetary sovereignty works is an expression of that state of affairs. In the real world, rather than Stross's Freyaverse, the "stars" are overlapping and entangled. The institutions that make up points are likely to be multinational banks, sprawling between Narnia and England. Narnia and England are also implicated not only in a web of differential hard power and actual military conflicts, but in a web of other states like Belgium and Earthsea, as well as various MNCs, treaties, trade blocs, regional economic communities, International Non-Governmental Institutions, intergovernmental organizations. Secrecy comes into it as well.

And perhaps above all, the class and class fragment antagonisms within Narnia and England are also really important motors here. Monetizing debt, for instance, can be inflationary, and while inflation can be brutal and even murderous to the poorest and most vulnerable, it also has a tendency to erode large fortunes and large debts. So for those who survive, there can be a kind of leveling aspect to inflation: one of the reasons why mainstream economics -- which I have noticed, when all is said and done, is the science of toadying to the opulent -- is so fixated on keeping inflation low. (Not that we shouldn't care about price changes, or the kind of background unpredictability that makes it impossible to dream up projects and then realize them. Is there even a concept to describe violent changes within the price structure rather than overall price rises or decreases? I’ve never come across it). To return to our earlier example, the Narnian elite may well prefer to have England gradually come to own significant Narnian assets, rather than risk devaluing their Narnia point holdings in relation to both Narnians and Englanders.

So I think Neptune's Brood, whatever else it does, quietly points out the absurdity of thinking of polities as isolated, sovereign atoms. It's not just that globalisation has made it less true. Globalisation has only been possible because it was never really true in the first place.

That'll do for now.

Elsewhere: "In Neptune's Brood, how does slow money work?"
"Hard Social Science Fiction: Neptune's Brood"

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Help me track down these stories

1.

A short story. A hoard of silver is uncovered. Some terrible events unfold (I think involving domestic abuse, perhaps murder). Toward the end somebody has an awful thought, and counts the silver. There are thirty pieces! Thirty pieces of silver!

Spooky.

2.

This one's a short story, I think, modern, I think. Maybe YA / MG-ish.

Somebody a bit magical-seeming comes and sells something. The price is something like "the blue from your eyes and the ring from your left finger." They show the buyer their face in a little mirror. (I think it's described as cobwebby or ashy or something). Later it happens again, only the price is something like "the red from your lips and the ring from your right finger." Eventually though there's a sort of happy ending. "He didn't have any magic, unless there was perhaps some magic in that mirror of his." The buyer realizes that they haven't actually paid these terrible strange magical prices! "What did he gain from it all?" they marvel. "What did he gain?" says the interlocutor. "Two rings, worth a fortune."

Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

And the Award for Best New Award Goes to …

I guess maybe the Puppies are to blame for the Sputnik Awards. Or at least: for the Sputnik spark.

The Hugo Awards, arguably the most prestigious literary prize in genre fiction, have been going through a bit of a funny patch. Here’s one of the Chief Puppies, Brad Torgerson, giving his side of the story:

“Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or –” SHUT UP BRAD! INSERT SHUT UPNESS!

For two years, a loose-knit fan community – the Puppies – have been eyeing up the Hugo nominations process like they’re h4ck3rz or something. Entryism! They’ve spotted the Hugo Awards’s vulnerabilities! They’ve managed to pack Hugo ballots with right-wing entries that almost nobody who votes actually wants to vote for, thereby making the Hugos like any other election.

And many of the liberal or progressive or radical science fiction and fantasy type people are really upset. Crushed. The crushedness itself is slightly nerve-wracking, actually: it’s always a bad sign when your political enemies seem to be having more fun than you are, and Sad and Rabid and Near and Quasi Puppies seem to be kind of yukking it up.

Every cloud has its Dr Chuck Tingle, of course, kissing the sky right in its kisser. And every cloud has its zany strobe of camera flashes: in this case, a bit of mainstream press attention for speculative fiction, in a you’ve-been-papped-by-like-The-Guardian-at-your-shambolic-dumpster-fire-worst kind of way. Seeing yourself the way others see you … that can be a wake-up call, right? So could Puppygate turn into speculative fiction fandom’s long, emo stare into the mirror, the one that then cuts to an inspirational training montage?

In other words, what are the Hugo Awards for?

Okay, they are something to do with having an enormous party, but if this way of having an enormous party is bumming everybody out … I don’t know, could we do it differently somehow?

Or okay, they are something to do with bestowing honour, but do we need all this honour? What is all this honour for?

Juried awards can claim that they surface books of literary merit, books that would otherwise languish in obscurity. Languish. It’s a good bet that the judges who decide awards like have read everything on the shortlist. But the Hugos are a popular vote, decided by the fans. That means the judges are anyone who is willing and able to pay at least $50 for a supporting membership of the World Science Fiction Society: giving them voting rights for both the current year’s nomination stage, the final ballot, and the right to nominate for the following year’s awards.

Anyone who is willing and able to pay, and nobody who isn’t willing and able to pay. I’ve done it twice, and felt super special and powerful, and included in a community, or an illuminati – a communinati? – and also like a total interloper and impostor. How many Hugo voters actually read everything on the novel shortlist? I sure didn’t! You guys I am barely literate.

So should we feel bad if we haven’t read all those books, or most of them? Or even some of them? How much weight should we put on a trusted recommendation, or on knowing an author’s other work? What about the fact that some books tend only to reveal themselves on re-reading? But then again, isn’t a book that really knows how to serve it even on a shallow skim something worth honouring? And if books do sometimes get honoured because it is in some sense that author’s time – maybe because they wrote a great book in a previous year that somehow didn’t nab its accolades – what are the pros and cons of that? And when you vote for a Member of Parliament in a General Election, how much do you know about all the different candidates? Have you read them, drag style?

I don't know how I'd answer many of these questions. It's plausible that it's at least an okay thing to have a big SF award that is fairly open to a lot of voters, although with some kind of filters even if they're not perfect, and where the voters have often read the book they're voting for, even if they've not exactly exhaustively examined the shortlist, and where there's enough of a critical mass that everyone can get bit excited and argue and squee, and of course have some speeches and a big party, and people can either dress up fancy, or maybe just hang around outside and be a bit sarky and check Twitter a lot, or maybe just watch it online from some other part of the world. That seems like a reasonable model.

Although, if that is our model, shouldn't some of that be reflected in how we talk about the accolade, once it's been awarded? Shouldn't it be reflected in how we feel about the accolade? And is that really how we feel about, say, the Hugo Awards? Hmm.

The Hugo Awards have no doubt played a crucial role in constituting speculative fiction fandom as a public from the 1950s to the present. Digital technologies have now probably taken over much of its functionality, in terms of giving people the incentives and means to stay connected. And speculative fiction itself has a momentum that doesn’t require any further acceleration force: speculative fiction is already everywhere. It's bigger than the Hugos. It’s Hollywood, baby. It’s Patreon. If WSFA memberships used to use “put your money where your mouth is” as a way of sorting the truefen from the fakers and wannabes, then Patreon now allows the same thing on a bigger scale and at a finer grain.

This could be a good thing for the Hugos, and other high profile speculative fiction awards. The Hugos, having helped to kickstart something big, are now freed up a bit. They don't have to focus on raising the profile of speculative fiction; they can do other stuff. Perhaps reflecting political dispute is actually the right thing for the Hugos to be doing right now? So ... maybe they don’t need to be ‘fixed.’ Maybe they’re … working just fine?

But! At the same time, speculative fiction’s culture wars also feel oddly parochial. Okay, if you’re reading this (see note), most of you probably on the whole want the North American liberals (peppered with North American progressives and radicals and Europeans) to win the literary prizes, and the North American alt-right (peppered with well-meaning but cossetted conservatives and outright neo-Nazis) to not win the literary prizes.

But doesn’t it feel like there could be more at stake here? As though a debate has begun, and just technocratically "fixing" the voting system -- while probably worth doing -- shouldn't be an excuse to dial down that debate?

Just for starters, the institution is called WorldCon, so could it maybe be a bit worldier? On the evidence of who actually makes it onto the nominations list, and the cities which successfully bid to host WorldCon, what ‘the world’ means here is many diverse locales around the USA – or, at best, around the Global North.

There's also the closely-connected question of which currently accessible pipelines culminate in eventually being a Hugo-contender. One nice thing about the Hugos their association with arguably the most prestigious award for baby genre writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Because of how it’s set up, it tends to go to writers who can appear in a blaze or splash (or more riskily, a blaze and a splash). For reasons I won’t get into here, I actually quite like that aspect of it, and I generally feel pretty warm toward the award … but my hunch is that citizens of the densely proliferated cultural infrastructures of fandom in North America and the UK have a real head start in concocting these meta-literary forms of blazes and/or splashes.

But more generally, discussions on how to reform the voting system so that the Puppies can never game it again are breathtakingly brilliant in their meticulousness and rigour – and mathematical analysis of mooted Hugo reforms, by Bruce Schneier and Jameson Quinn, suggest how things learnt in the context of fandom might have wider application – but desultory in their lack of any wider examination of political context.

To put it bluntly: is the fear that the Hugos is taken over by racists? Well, historically, the Hugos have been a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements by white men during the previous year. This is starting to shift, but just because you’ve provoked a right-wing backlash doesn’t mean you’ve found the hill you need to die on yet. If WorldCon really wants to put up a fight against racism, maybe it also needs to at least take a good hard look at its US-centrism ... and that $50 voting fee.

I have a sense of there being an awful lot I don't know about the history and current insider controversies and practicalities Hugos, and also of not knowing what it is I don't know. I am just a wee bit wary of, you know, treading on toes that angels fear to tread on. Which is perhaps why the energy which might have gone into a nuanced and well-informed and constructive critique has ended up pouring into a preposterous Something New instead.

Cue Sputnik! Now we need a good trophy. In 1843, after the left Hegelian political philosopher Arnold Ruge overheard Marx and his friends throwing him shade, Marx wrote to Ruge claiming that, “Ruge babes, our task is the ruthless criticism of everything that exists, babes.” Later that day, he wrote Capital. With Marx’s maxim in mind, perhaps the Sputnik Award™ trophy should be a traumatically vituperative critique of the winning novel, written “from the standpoint of redemption” (Theodor Adorno), and embedded a plexi-glass sheet?

The personal is the political: and I also like the idea of trophies being put to work in domestic space. I want to see luminaries dicing garlic on their Sputnik, as sugary squished citrus flows down their Lemonade Award, then turning to tenderize beef schnitzel with the racist face of H.P. Lovecraft. “Uh . . . I think WHUMMMM that beef schnitzel BISH is . . . actually pretty THUNK tender now THOK . . .”

In this post I've gone on for aaages about the Hugo Awards, which might give the impression that the Sputnik Awards is some kind of systematic critique-in-kind of the Hugos. It isn't really. The Hugo Puppies controversy provided a spark, which I fanned, and since then the Sputnik Awards have been blazing their own weird trail.

We're starting slowly. For one thing, the shortlisting process was pure expedience, although shortlisting could easily be a locus of all kinds of interesting experiments (a hybrid popular / juried process, at least). And politics hasn’t seriously informed this year’s selection either. If the Awards do continue in some form, then in the coming years, we’d like the shortlist to give special attention to SFF with radical democratic themes, promoting social and economic justice, and celebrating not just individual freedom, but also collective freedom.

Oh – and it’s Dungeons & Dragons themed, except with hedgehogs and stuff. It’s kind of dumb. Check it out.

Note: This text comes from the long first draft of an Interzone guest editorial. The much shorter final version, which hardly mentions the Hugos at all, appears in July/August.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Economics and SFF, Awards

A little listicle I made one day featuring, I think, no more than Star Trek, Scrooge McDuck, Tim Maughan, David Graeber, grew and grew till I realized it was, like, a database. So there's now a dedicated tab for economics in science fiction and fantasy.

I will happily take suggestions for entries or links, or any ideas really. (Economics-in-SFF-wise it is kind of ridiculous I haven't read a bit more Atwood, Stephenson, Sterling, Stross, and Robinson, so if anyone wants to donate any reviews or posts they think are relevant, please get in touch! I can be found most days at the Cafe de Gmail, ask for josephclwalton).

A long-term goal is to start including topic articles as well. Currency, Credit, Scarcity, Supply and Demand, Malthusianism, Eugenics, Diegetic Prototyping, Families, Financial Performativity, Quantity Theory, Political Economy as Science Fiction, and Topsy-Turvy Worlds all come to mind.

Secondly, over at the SFWA, Setsu Uzumé talks about Lemonade Award, the Mixy Award, and some other badassed yet goodassed awards (including the Sputnik!).  

PS: UPDATE: In fact, here's my provisional desiderata list.

Recommended to me & currently or recently on my TBR kang:

Kim Stanley Robinson, rest of The Mars Trilogy
G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen.
Ursula le Guin, The Telling.
Clifford D. Simak, "The Fence" (see this snippet)
Jack Vance, Demon Princes series (SVU)
Sarah Zettel, Fool's War.
Charles Stross, Accelerando & others.
Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
John Varley's Eight Worlds
Robert Heinlein, For Us The Living
Neal Asher, The Skinner (spline)
Anne McCaffrey
Max Gladstone
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Original Trilogy (coinshots, Atium)
Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun (circuit board currency)
Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle (exchange of expertise)
Henry Kuttner, "The Iron Standard"
Scott Westerfield's Uglies Trilogy (Smoke's food pack currencies)
Frank O'Rourke's "Instant Gold"
Geoff Ryman, Air.
Will Garth, "Men of Honor"
Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle and Reamde
Cory Doctorow's For the Win
The rest of Margaret Atwood's Maddadam trilogy
Richard Morgan, Market Forces.
John Chu, "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Proposed Trade-Offs for the Overhaul of the Barrier."
Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky
Greg Costikyan, First Contract.
Hayford Peirce, Chap Foey Rider: Capitalist to the Stars.
Lester del Rey & Frederik Pohl, Preferred Risk
Weis & Hickman's Deathgate cycle (barls currency)
Henry Richardson Chamberlain, 6000 Tonnes of Gold

Guess what? I'd be particularly interested in recommendations of economic science fiction and fantasy by women!