Friday Sundries: Hugo Awards, ChatGPT's "Last Hope," and Dahl De-Bowdlerized
Just some thoughts and updates about a few literary goings-on
Award Season Weirdness
Earlier this week, the Nebula awards closed their nomination period and the Hugo awards opened theirs. If you’re a Hugo voter, I’d be honored if you considered my novelette from Lightspeed, “Cale and Stardust Battle the Mud Gobblers of Hudson Valley,” for your novelette nominating needs.
If you’re in the SFF world, you know what the above paragraph means. If you’re coming from the literary world, perhaps you’re scratching your head and thinking, “What on earth is a novelette? And since when do ask for a nomination? Gauche!” This is one of the weird differences between the SFF world and literary world. (Yes “literary” is a fraught term but the alternatives are too.) These days, the borders between the two worlds are in some ways very porous. Few readers care so much about labels and many writers cross back and forth. I don’t think there’s any real difference between my Lightspeed story above and a story I’d publish in Granta or The Paris Review. But. The ecosystems of the two worlds—imprints, festivals, awards—are still very different and have their own customs and rules.
Along those lines, I’ve unpawalled an old Counter Craft issue of mine that delves into the differences between the SFF world and literary fiction awards. For example, how the big SFF awards are decided by a large body of voters and thus authors lobby for nominations—did I mention my novelette from Lightspeed is eligible?—while the major literary awards have judges and it’s considered both pointless and gauche to publicly ask for a nomination. It’s just one of those odd differences between the ecosystems. Anyway, you can read the article if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
(Oh and a “novelette” is a term for a story between the length of a short story and a novella. Typically defined as between 7,500 and 17,500 words in the SFF world.)
Dreams of ChatGPT Riches
Last week I wrote about Clarkesworld shutting down because of chatbot-written spam and how this might presage an era of ChatGPT chum clogging up the pipelines of publishing. Basically even if ChatGPT fiction remains awful, it can cause huge problems if people flood magazines and agent inboxes with it. A lot of people have been asking who on earth would do this, and some subsequent stories shed light. There were articles in the NYT, NPR, and elsewhere but the best I read was from The Verge. It includes this paragraph:
Clarke believes the spammy submissions are coming from people looking to make a quick buck and who found Clarkesworld and other publications through “side hustle” influencers and websites. One website, for example, is loaded with SEO bait articles and keywords around marketing, writing, and business and promises to help readers make money quickly. An article on the site lists nearly two dozen literary magazines and websites — including Clarkesworld and Asimov’s, as well as larger outlets like the BBC — with pay rate and submission details. The article encourages readers to use AI tools to help them and includes affiliate marketing links to Jasper, an AI writing software.
Most fiction writers will laugh sadly at the idea one can make a living writing short stories. Short fiction famously offers minimal remuneration. Magazines typically pay a few hundred bucks, if that, and most agents won’t even bother listening to you unless you have a novel in the works. But I suppose it’s not inherently irrational for a non-writer to imagine scamming magazines. A few hundred bucks isn’t much for a story you toil away over for for months. However, if ChatGPT was capable of spewing out a publishible story in one minute with no effort on the “side hustler’s” part, well, that’s not a bad return.
Thankfully for writers who actually write, this doesn’t seem to be a threat yet. The Verge article mentions how generic ChatGPT fiction is from “everyone [having] ‘piercing green eyes’” down to the titles. Sheila Williams at Asimov’s reported receiving “more than 20 short stories all titled ‘The Last Hope’” in a short span.
Another update to a recent Counter Craft post: after the near universal pushback, Puffin in the UK is going to publish the original Roald Dahl books alongside the edited versions. As I argued in my post, this was always more about corporate profits than “wokism” or whatever. And now the pupblishers have best of both worlds. They can sell both versions and got a ton of attention to boot.
Still, I think we can celebrate a minor win for art and speech as the edits to Dahl’s book were truly bizarre. If you didn’t read up on the specific “sensitivity” edits, you might assume that Puffin was merely removing racial slurs or offensive words. There’s a debate to be had about whether that’s a good way to update fiction to modern sensibilities or else a form of censorship we should avoid. Either way, the Dahl edits went far beyond that. They added in unrelated text and made edits like changing “three sons” to “three daughters.” The weirdest edit had to do with colors. “Black” and “white” were removed as colors describing… anything. E.g., The Big Friendly Giant no longer wore a “black cloak.” Who is that supposed to be helping?
In More Depressing News…
The people who killed Bookforum, one of the best places for literary criticism around, have gone a step further and salted the earth:
When I try to get to Bookforum now, it just redirects to the Artforum site. It seems incredibly petty to shut down a vast and vital site even if it is no longer publishing. Ads on the archive traffic likely would pay for the minimal webhosting costs. What can you say here? It’s just awful. And a reminder that although we were always told the internet is forever, everything online is subject to the whims of the rich.
…And Then in Better News
Let me end on a high note and say the very smart and funny Erin Somers has launched a cool magazine called Still Alive. The magazine is about people who are still alive.
It might be ridiculous, but often the best works are ridiculous ideas executed with complete seriousness. So check out Still Alive while you are still alive!
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If you like this newsletter, consider subscribing or checking out my recent science fiction novel The Body Scout that The New York Times called “Timeless and original…a wild ride, sad and funny, surreal and intelligent.”
Other works I’ve written or co-edited include Upright Beasts (my story collection), Tiny Nightmares (an anthology of horror fiction), and Tiny Crimes (an anthology of crime fiction).
I'm deeply amused at the idea of short fiction as a get rich quick scheme. It's not even a get rich slow scheme. (Although here's hoping for a solution to quickly filter out AI generated slush.)
I’m still alive! Can I be featured. Nominate me! Or is that gauche. And in case you can’t tell my tone in the comment I loved this post.