Slate’s Best Books of 2015 coverage Source: Underrated books of 2015: Overlooked novels, collections, and nonfiction of the year.
“It is the rear-guard action of people who believe that just because other people are coming in with different views, different interests, and different concerns, and aren’t willing to naturally accept the previous order of things, that all doom and terror and fire from the skies is happening,” John Scalzitells me.
We’re talking about the most recent skirmish in a larger war, a war for the soul of nerd culture. This one involves the Hugo Awards, a literary award ceremony, but it’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient.
Scalzi is an award-winning, best-selling novelist, the author of enormously entertaining science fiction novels like Old Man’s War and Redshirts. If you’ve read his popular blog, you’ll know he’s a passionate individual, and he seems incredibly frustrated by those in the science fiction and fantasy community who have launched this “rear-guard action.”
It’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient
Yet if you talk to the people on the other side — who have dubbed themselves the “Sad Puppies” — they will point to Scalzi as part of a larger problem within the community. Yeah, their rhetoric might be a little over the top, but they’re the ones saving the industry from political correctness and the “literati.”
These Sad Puppies are, depending on whom you ask, the saviors of the Hugo Awards from mediocre books, a bunch of bigots, or part of a cynically motivated awards grab.
Tell me what happened in 100 words or less
Science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Awards are chosen by a fan vote at both the nominee and winner stages. However, the number of people who vote at the nominee stage is small enough that a concerted effort by a small group can have disproportionate payoff.
That’s what happened with two groups purporting to support traditional space opera science fiction and politically conservative authors, who initially made up 72 percent of all nominees. Once this happened, many accused both slates of supporting racist, sexist sentiments. These voters say — accurately — that they followed the rules.
Who are the Sad Puppies?
The term Sad Puppies is used interchangeably to refer to a group of Hugo voters and a specific slate of works advanced by those awards. It’s also often — inaccurately — been used to refer to a completely separate campaign. We’ll get to the other campaign — the Rabid Puppies — in a moment.
Ann Coulter looks like a textbook feminist. Without a husband or a staff position at a major media company, she has created an enormous national brand, writing 11 New York Times bestsellers and selling over 3 million books. And although the public views her as a bigot, she’s friends with tons of gay guys and black standup comedians. Is she for real or a performance artist who poses as a conservative to make big bucks? Broadly managing editor Mitchell Sunderland went to a gun range with Ann Coulter and her best friends to find out.
Can we stop explosives guides from landing in violent hands? And if so, at what cost to free expression?
After the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was given expanded powers to pursue terrorists in the United States. Its counterterrorism force grew exponentially. Over the next decade, the number of informants and agents in the field grew to ten times the number deployed during the COINTELPRO days, when the agency launched its now largely discredited program to investigate, disrupt, and destroy groups it saw as threatening to the nation. These operatives have targeted the FBI’s recent list of enemies of the state: al-Qaeda-inspired homegrown extremists, sovereign citizens groups, white supremacists, militias, anarchists, environmental and animal rights groups, Puerto Rican separatists, and lone wolves of any stripe. The FBI counterterrorism mission is to circumvent attacks before they occur, and so controversial sting operations have become a regular means to identify and arrest suspects seen as potentially violent. These operations rely on an FBI agent or highly paid informant soliciting conspiratorial and instructional speech from a suspect, and have led to suspicions that the FBI is engaging in unscrupulous methods. The informants offer themselves as technically adept trainers and explosives experts who talk suspects into bogus plots and engage them in speech that crosses the line into conspiracy and instruction. Under ordinary circumstances, many observers think, these suspects would have neither the means nor the will to carry out terrorist attacks. The statute 18 U.S.C. § 842(p), which bans the teaching or demonstration of a making or use of an explosive weapon, has provided a way of prosecuting suspects based on their conversations about weapons and their collections of popular weapons manuals and videos not linked to any specific act or plan. A provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, 18 U.S. Code § 2339, prohibits “providing material support to terrorists” and allows related forms of speech to be used against defendants in court. Since the laws act to catch persons on pretext, dangerous instructional texts have become key in demonstrating that persons are poised on the verge of action.
Nerdiest. Worlds. Ever.
This month’s New Horizons flyby of dwarf planet Pluto and its biggest moon Charon left a wealth of incredible data in its wake, with unforgettable pictures of geographic features such as the now famous giant “heart” on Pluto.
But the highly detailed pictures gave the New Horizons team a welcome problem: What do they call all those craters, plains and mountain ranges?
Now, thanks to maps the New Horizons team plans to submit to the International Astronomical Union (the official governing body for names of celestial objects), we know the answer.
Their names are drawn from movies, TV shows and books sure to gladden every geek’s heart — including Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Firefly, Alien, Lord of the Rings and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The New Horizons team actually asked for submissions from the public, and they were happy to oblige.
Pluto, according to IAU rules, must have its fictional names drawn from underworld mythology — so the NASA team offered the Cthulu regio (regio being a large area differentiated by its color) and the Balrog macula (dark spot), honoring Lovecraft’s dark god and J.R.R. Tolkein’s underground demons, respectively.
The campaign gods are smiling down on Ted Cruz, gifting him a feud with conservatives’ most despised news outlet at a time when most 2016 campaigns are gasping for Trump-free air.
At issue: The New York Times refuses to grant the Texas senator’s memoir, “A Time for Truth,” a place on its powerful list of bestselling books, despite his publisher’s insistence that his numbers should vault him well ahead of other titles in the top 10.
News of Cruz’s exclusion broke this week after HarperCollins, the book’s publisher, sent a letter to the Times inquiring about its omission from the list, sources with knowledge of the situation told POLITICO, which first reported the story. The Times responded by telling HarperCollins that the book did not meet their criteria for inclusion.
On Thursday, a Times spokesperson said that the book was excluded because the paper had found its sales to be mostly “strategic bulk purchases” — a common practice among political authors, but a claim hotly disputed by Cruz’s campaign.
“The Times is presumably embarrassed by having their obvious partisan bias called out. But their response — alleging ‘strategic bulk purchases’ — is a blatant falsehood,” Cruz campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler said in a statement Friday. “The evidence is directly to the contrary. In leveling this false charge, the Times has tried to impugn the integrity of Senator Cruz and of his publisher Harper Collins.”
“We call on the Times, release your so-called ‘evidence.’ Demonstrate that your charge isn’t simply a naked fabrication, designed to cover up your own partisan agenda,” Tyler continued. “And, if you cannot do so, then issue a public apology to Senator Cruz and Harper Collins editor Adam Bellow for making false charges against them.”
When al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Michael Morell was with President George W. Bush at an elementary school in Florida as the CIA’s daily briefer. The events that unfolded on that fateful day are just some of the many national security disasters that Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, has been at the center of since 9/11. The veteran intelligence official has spent much of his 30-year career out of the public eye, but he’s stepping out of the shadows to talk about his new book The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism — From al Qa’ida to ISIS.
VICE News met with Morell at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, and spoke with him about the Iraq war, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, and what he refers to as “the new era of terrorism.”
In this excerpt, Morell admits that the intelligence the CIA produced about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear intentions, which paved the way to war, was flawed. Morell is one of the first CIA officials to come clean about this fact, and to apologize for getting the intelligence wrong.
Watch the VICE News Interview with Michael Morell – http://bit.ly/1Nv6SMJ
Ted Cruz’s campaign against his Republican colleagues — especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is getting increasingly personal.
The freshman senator from Texas has never shied from attacking the men and women whom he works alongside each day. But Cruz, lodged in the middle of the 2016 GOP presidential pack, is taking his criticism of fellow Republican senators to a new level — rhetorically and in his new book out Tuesday, “A Time for Truth.”
Cruz accuses McConnell and GOP leadership of maneuvering to dry up his fundraising and plant hit pieces in the press aimed at hurting him politically. He says GOP leaders cowered from joining him in big fights over the debt ceiling, Obamacare and gun control, accusing his colleagues of “mendacity” and capitulating to Democrats to avoid bad headlines.
He contends that McConnell misled him in vowing to stay out of primaries when Cruz accepted a senior-level position at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And he accuses a GOP rival, Rand Paul of Kentucky, of parroting McConnell’s talking points by seeking to “undermine” his efforts to defund Obamacare during the 2013 fight that led to the government shutdown.
“During my time in the Senate, I’ve been amazed how many senators pose one way in public — as fiscal conservatives or staunch tea party supporters — and then in private do little or nothing to advance those principles,” Cruz writes in his 342-page book.
Disparaging Washington, of course, is one of the more timeworn campaign tactics of presidential hopefuls. What’s less typical is the personal, pointed way Cruz is doing it as his campaign ramps up. He’s leaning heavily into his brand of unapologetic and confrontational conservatism, arguing that GOP leadership’s compromises with Democrats are nothing more than “surrender.”
Yet presenting himself as a polarizing figure at war with the party establishment is a risky way to try to become the Republican presidential nominee. Plus, Republicans are beginning to undercut several of Cruz’s assertions, including over his role at the NRSC, which received a giant donation from the senator’s campaign committee last fall, despite his sharp criticism of the group in his book.
Cruz’s book is in keeping with his stepped-up effort in recent days to portray himself as the one GOP candidate who’s taken on party leadership. On the Senate floor last week, he accused unnamed Republicans of “quietly celebrating” the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare subsidies. After vocally endorsing trade legislation backed by party leaders, Cruz flipped on the issue, bemoaning in an op-ed “corrupt” Washington deal making on the matter and singling out McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for misleading conservatives.
And in the opening chapter of his book, Cruz calls out McConnell and his GOP colleagues for “chicanery” by publicly opposing an increase in the borrowing limit while privately trying to let the debt ceiling increase in 2014 without their fingerprints. When he told a California GOP donor in 2014 about the debt ceiling dispute, Cruz recalls the donor saying repeatedly: “The bastards.”
“In the 2016 primary, you’re going to have 15 candidates up there going, ‘I’m conservative. No, no, I’m conservative.’ And what we see is they go to Washington and they don’t do what they said they would do,” Cruz told NPR Monday in an interview about his book. “I think the question Republican primary voters should ask is, ‘When have you stood up against the Washington cartel? When have you stood up against leaders in our own party?’”
Tech journalist Ashlee Vance once thought of South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk as a guy who talked big but failed to deliver. It was an opinion shared by many in Silicon Valley. But in recent years Musk has scored some big successes, including building the first private rocket to dock with the ISS, releasing the first all-electric sportscar, and co-founding one of the country’s largest solar energy companies.
That made Vance change his mind, and inspired him to write the new book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, which is based on more than two hundred interviews with Musk’s friends and associates, as well as dozens of hours of conversations with Musk himself. One thing that stands out in the book is how heavily Musk’s outlook was shaped by his childhood reading.
“The science fiction stuff was what really grabbed him,” Vance says in Episode 154 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, “and he won Dungeons & Dragons tournaments, and all this stuff seems to have been—it was definitely fun for him, and entertaining—but it seems to have been a calling as well. I think from a really early age he was locked in to space as this thing he had to do.”
As a teenager Musk surveyed a wide range of religious and philosophical texts, but ultimately found the most inspiration in a humorous science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
“He always points to Hitchhiker’s Guide as his guiding principle for deciding that you should find out what the big questions are, and once you do, that’s what you go tackle,” says Vance.
Musk also credits superhero comics with inspiring him to save the world, which is fitting since many in the press have dubbed him a “real-life Iron Man.” It’s a label Vance once found absurd—he says Musk’s personality is more “engineer” than “playboy”—but that as Musk continues to grow in confidence and prestige, the Iron Man comparison seems more apt.
“It’s a caricature,” says Vance, “but I feel like he’s kind of growing into it more and more over time.”