Sunday, May 31, 2015

Persona by Genevieve Valentine

The problem with writing a review of Genevieve Valentine's new novel Persona is that the first and most urgent compliment I want to pay this novel might come off as a criticism.  Persona, you see, is The Hunger Games minus the actual hunger games.  To the uninitiated, this might sound as though I'm calling the novel unexciting or lacking an actual point.  But if you're like me, and you thought that the best and most interesting part of Suzanne Collins's novel was not the survival games in the arena, or the rebellion against an evil, despotic government, or the overwrought relationship troubles of teenagers--if, instead, the thing you found most fascinating about The Hunger Games was the celebritization of politics, the use of fashion, public persona, and carefully crafted ersatz relationships to shape public policy and opinion--then the idea of a whole novel focused on just that aspect of the story will probably seem utterly delightful.  Happily, Valentine seems to be of the same opinion, and even more happily, she's a sharp enough writer that there are more than enough thrills and plot twists to be found in her story, even absent the fights to the death between children.

Suyana Sapaki is a Face, in a world of the future in which diplomacy is conducted through a form of reality TV.  Instead of the UN, we have the IA, an organization where each nation is represented by a person who is more than just an ambassador.  Faces are embodiments of their nations, so personal relationships between them are both reflections of, and ways of achieving, closer business and government ties.  Rather than career diplomats, Faces are essentially well-trained models and performers, chosen for beauty, poise, charisma, and the ability to take direction well.  The IA itself is reminiscent of a high school or a cutthroat entertainment industry, with cliques, power couples, mean girls, and unexpected alliances.

It must be said that this premise doesn't make a lot of sense, and that Valentine doesn't work very hard to justify it (we never, for example, find out whether the world of Persona is a continuation of ours, with the UN having been replaced by the IA and the Face system, or whether it's simply an alternate universe).  But then, that isn't really her focus.  Rather than turn her worldbuilding efforts on explaining how this (rather ridiculous) system came about and functions, Valentine is instead focused on exploring its effect on the people trapped within it.  When we meet Suyana, she's chafing against the condescension of her handler, Magnus, a professional diplomat who sees her as little more than a trained show animal.  But Suyana, we quickly learn, is not only intelligent and skilled at reading and manipulating people, but desperate to be of service to her country, the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation, which is besieged by American business interests.  As the novel opens, she has been negotiating a public and physical relationship with the American Face, in the hopes that this will give her leverage to help her country maintain some amount of independence, particularly in the face of the environmental depredation caused by resource extraction.

As well as being an author, Valentine is a gifted blogger on a wide range of subjects, one of which is fashion.  I've always found her emphasis when writing about this or that red carpet refreshing and insightful--where other fashion commentators will focus on the details of a particular dress and who wore it better, Valentine overlays that concern with an awareness that everything we see in such events is a carefully crafted statement, that the actors (and particularly actresses) on the red carpet are working: promoting their current movie, or gunning for work in the next one, or simply trying to craft a public persona that will help them carve out a niche for themselves in a business in which youth and beauty are everywhere, but personality is a dangerous and often double-edged sword.  Persona feels like the fictionalization of these write-ups, for example when Suyana complains about the ethnic costumes she's often forced to wear, echoing Valentine's observations about the Miss Universe national costume competition:
"The IA stylists have shoved me into more beaded dresses and shawls than should ever exist.  I never get more than a C minus red carpet grade. ... The PR materials always say it's highlighting our national identity," she said. "Like there's only one.  Like anyone's interested in helping us protect it.  It can be pretty funny, so long as you don't think about it, but once you're in the chair it's not funny anymore.  Some countries get their own stylists, but if you're using the IA stable, they don't much care who they're working for, and you end up looking the way they assume everyone assumes you look."
Suyana's keen understanding of how much of her public persona is made up of stereotypes and assumptions is part of her power.  She knows how to disappear into the role of the simple native girl, but she also knows how to use those expectations to draw attention to herself when she refuses to meet them.  Valentine paints her as someone who is ambitious, savvy, desperate to make a real difference, and extraordinarily lonely.  Late in the novel, we discover that her relationship with the American Face, if it comes off, will be her first intimate contact (a revelation that also drives home just how young Suyana is).  Persona's story kicks off when, on the way to an early negotiation of the terms of this relationship, Suyana is caught in an assassination attempt.  Despite the counterfactual premise, the novel's plot is actually a fairly old-fashioned political thriller, with Suyana bouncing between one putative ally and another, trying to work out who she can trust and who tried to kill her.  This gives Valentine an excuse to not only delve into Suyana's own personality, but give us a glimpse of how other Faces--both fresh-faced newbies and old hands--deal with the pressure of a life in which there is no personal or private, and their emotional entanglements all have political ramifications.

In a world in which politics is managed through the mechanism of celebrity, it's not surprising that espionage and political gamesmanship are left to the tabloid press.  Persona's second protagonist is Daniel, a "snap" who gambled that the unknown UARC Face was on the verge of a big break, and was perfectly positioned to record her murder.  Instead of staying detached, however, Daniel saves Suyana's life, and ends up on the run with her.  One can feel Valentine straining against the conventions of such a story--she knows that the predictable structure of this kind of thriller demands that Suyana and Daniel fall in love, but she also wants Persona to be the story of how Suyana takes control of her own life and career, and there's a bit of creakiness when these two impulses jar against each other.  Daniel's plot line becomes much more interesting when Suyana learns the truth about him and abandons him to the illegal paparazzi/spy agency that recruits him on the strength of his assassination photographs, which allows him to articulate the role that snaps play in the novel's world:
If he was being honest, he'd admit there was something visceral about looking at the sheer volume of secrets that Bonnaire Atelier and Fine Tailoring was holding on to.  This was unfiltered, live, prime evidence from fifteen countries, each photo waiting for the right moment to trap a hypocrite or sink a shady deal of tip the scales of public opinion.

If Daniel was sure of one thing, it was that people in charge were only ever honest when they thought they were being watched.  And there was a sea of watchful waiting power, right in front of him.  
Persona is not a perfect novel: despite being quite short, there doesn't seem to be quite enough plot to carry it all the way to its end.  And the emphasis on Daniel, who alternates point of view with Suyana for most of the story, feels unjustified by an ending that focuses almost exclusively on her, and on how she maneuvers her ordeal into a new lease on her career and her public image, finally wresting some respect and autonomy from Magnus while lying in wait for the people who tried to kill her.  The ending, in fact, cements the feeling that Persona is only the opening gambit in a longer story, and that Suyana and Daniel's adventures will continue in future volumes (perhaps comprising a Hunger Games-like rebellion?).  Still, for an opening gambit, this is an extremely promising one, introducing a sharp, tough heroine whose power is nevertheless rooted in her ability to work a crowd, charm an audience, and assemble the right outfit, and a world where these skills, instead of being devalued as they too often are in genre, are at the root of politics and diplomacy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tomorrowland

"When I was younger, the future was... different."  So says Frank Walker (George Clooney), one of the heroes of Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, in the opening narration that acts as a frame for the film's story.  It probably says everything you need to know about this movie that Frank--and the film itself--seem entirely unaware of the irony and self-contradiction inherent in a statement like this, and in case you were still in any doubt, the movie immediately flashes back to the 1964 World's Fair, where an 11-year-old Frank (Thomas Robinson) has arrived to submit his entry in a young inventors' competition--a jetpack.  When questioned about the utility of such a creation, Frank thinks for a moment, and then explains that if he were walking down the street and saw someone flying above him with a jetpack, he'd be inspired to believe that anything was possible: "Doesn't that make the world a better place?"

Bird is probably best known for directing Pixar's The Incredibles, still the best superhero film ever made despite--or perhaps even because--of its deeply uncomfortable political subtext.  Tomorrowland shares The Incredibles's retro-futuristic aesthetic (which, to be honest, probably looks better in animation than in live action--there's a rather pronounced uncanny valley effect that speaks very loudly to the problems with how people in the 60s imagined the cities of the future), and its overt politics, but it does not manage the earlier film's flawless amalgam of message and story.  The Incredibles is a troubling work because its story is so compelling and so well-constructed that it all but forces you to buy into its quasi-fascist worldview, without ever truly coming out and stating it.  Tomorrowland is a clunkier piece of storytelling, at points so loaded with infodumps, and so fond of the genre trope in which the protagonist is launched (quite literally) into a new world, that I found myself thinking of it more like a two-hour pilot for a TV series than a feature film--the whole thing feels more like setup for a story than the story itself.  It's also a lot more blatant about its message, which is delivered in canned speeches at several points throughout the movie.  If, like myself, you find that message questionable (or at least founded on questionable assumptions) then the film's baldness can be taken as a point in its favor, since it makes it easier to argue with.  But it's hard not to regret The Incredibles-level work that we might have had with a more canny writer (Tomorrowland's script is credited to Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jeff Jensen) at the helm.

After a rather protracted opening segment in 1964, in which young Frank is given a pass to the titular Tomorrowland--a place of technological wonders and flawless urban planning--by a mysterious little girl called Athena (Raffey Cassidy), the action flashes forward to the present, where our heroine is the effervescent, scientifically-minded teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson).  The daughter of a NASA engineer who still dreams of going into space, Casey spends her nights trying to sabotage the deconstruction of a local launch platform, and her days frustrated by the litany of hopelessness--political, environmental, and cultural--fed to her at school.  "How can we fix it?" she demands of her flustered teachers.  When she's given a glimpse of Tomorrowland, she becomes obsessed with reaching it, which puts her in the path of the grown-up Frank and of Athena, who turns out to be childlike robot (this means, among other things, that the main romantic plotline in the film is between Clooney and a ten-year-old girl; in fairness to Tomorrowland, the handling of this is less weird than it might have been--largely because Cassidy is great and consistently steals the show out from under her two co-stars--but still pretty weird).

To actually describe the progress of the plot from the moment our three heroes are brought together--which involves being pursued by homicidal androids and lots of bouncing from one point on the globe to another--is to draw attention to how inessential most of it is.  The point seems to be mainly to provide excuses for kinetic action setpieces (which are well done but eventually a little repetitive--there are only so many times Frank can bundle Casey up into something that isn't supposed to function as a vehicle only to reveal that that's what it is), and for the cynical Frank to bounce off the optimistic Casey.  At some point, the end of the world comes into play--the people of Tomorrowland built a machine that shows the future, which revealed that the Earth is doomed.  When they tried to warn humanity, they instead discovered that the subliminal images of apocalypse they transmitted were being embraced, used as fodder for pop culture and an excuse to do nothing about the world's problems.  In disgust, they shut themselves away from the world, but Frank insists that there is still hope--that people like Casey, with their boundless capacity for optimism, are capable of changing the future, and that it is in fact the narrative of hopelessness being fed to the world that is creating that hopeless outcome.  If Tomorrowland provides the world with an image of hope and a better tomorrow, Frank and Casey insist, it will inspire people to create it.

There's a certain class of science fiction fan who will eat up Tomorrowland and its message with a spoon, and it should be said that there's a lot worth celebrating in the film.  Simplistic as it is, the message that it's important to believe in the possibility of change is a worthwhile one, and the fact that it's placed in the mouth of a girl, and a technically-minded one at that, is refreshing and laudable.  But if you're like me, you'll probably also find Tomorrowland unbearably hectoring, and it's worth examining why.  To me, it all comes down to Frank's thoughtless assertion about how he had a better class of future back in 1964.  You need to be pretty damn arrogant to expect that fifty years on, people should still desire the same future you dreamed of as a child, and pretty damn ignorant too--jetpacks are actually a really bad idea, and people in 1964 could not have imagined the microchip and telecommunications revolutions that have made such incredible changes in the world (allowing, for example, a woman in Israel to speak to people all over the planet at the speed of light).   

Tomorrowland's argument is that the future that we in the present imagine is inherently worse than the one that golden age SF imagined.  To my mind this is stretching the point quite a bit--I refuse to believe that no one was writing post-apocalypse in the 1960s, and as popular as the genre is today it doesn't hold a candle to the popularity of the inherently hopeful superhero genre.  But even if we accept the film's premise, to argue that this shift comes down to nothing but a personal failure of the present generation is to ignore some very important political realities.  Frank is a baby boomer, a member of a generation who enjoyed unprecedented government protection of their rights and safety, a social safety net, and huge public works projects, and who then turned around and pulled the ladder up after them; there's a reason why young people today, facing a future of debt, inequality, and environmental collapse, don't feel like imagining a rosy tomorrow.  Setting the film's backstory in 1964 also puts it just on the cusp of immense social upheaval that would, quite reasonably, have changed the way that we imagine our future in ways that the movie for the most part doesn't acknowledge--though the final scene shows Frank and Casey recruiting people of many different ethnicities from all over the world, in the body of the movie the cast is entirely white (with the exception of an evil robot played--impeccably, of course--by Keegan-Michael Key).  Most importantly, Tomorrowland seems to take it as a given that the imagined future of 1964--that secret world of jetpacks, monorails, and shining concrete-and-glass skyscrapers--is inherently good, and I don't think the film earns that assumption.

At their worst, dystopia and utopia have exactly the same problem.  They are both stories about an elite.  When Frank arrives in Tomorrowland, he's told that it's a place where the bright and energetic can build a better tomorrow without "politics and bureaucracy" getting in the way.  This is, of course, exactly what you get when half a dozen bright people who can't imagine that there's anything they don't understand get together and decide that no one in the history of humanity has had the idea they're having right now (as usual, XKCD already has this dynamic pinned down).  When you actually get out in the real world, however, with its seven billion inhabitants, politics and bureaucracy become, not impediments, but necessary tools for getting anything done.  Often, the ideas that seemed so brilliant on paper turn out to be unworkable when you have to apply them to actual human beings, who aren't willing to let you overturn their lives for the sake of an experiment.  There's a certain type of science fiction writer who seems to find this terribly depressing, and who instead of trying to write about human society in its full, dizzying complexity, decides that they can tell their readers something meaningful about the world by removing all but a tiny fraction of a percent of the people who live on it, whether by positing an apocalypse, or, as Tomorrowland does, by whisking its heroes off to a magic world where only the smart, special people get to go.

When you actually put that world on screen, however, it becomes clear just how unreal this vision is.  The Tomorrowland that Frank and Casey see never looks like a real city.  It's too designed, too homogenous, too clean.  Real cities grow in patchwork.  They develop in response to the needs of their inhabitants (if we're lucky, that is).  It's completely unsurprising when Casey arrives at the real Tomorrowland and finds it abandoned, unmaintained, full of broken glass and crumbling concrete.  This is what happened to the grandiose urban planning projects of the 60s, the ones that thought they could design new humans to live in them--all that's missing is the graffiti.  So it's more than a little unbelievable that the movie ends with Frank and Casey restarting the Tomorrowland project, planning to bring people to that city of the future that now looks like a forgotten, overgrown past.

I found myself comparing Tomorrowland to another recent kids' film, Big Hero 6.  Though technically a superhero movie, it shares many qualities and preoccupations with Tomorrowland.  Like it, it's a story about the struggle between despair and hopefulness (albeit on a personal level, with the hero struggling to find a way to overcome his grief over the death of his brother, and the villain having succumbed to despair after losing his daughter), and also like Tomorrowland, it is a story about inventors, about young people who believe they can change the world through the force of their intelligence and ingenuity.  But where Tomorrowland imagines that the only way to achieve this is to whisk its dreamers away from the mundane, troublesome world that is holding back their brilliance, Big Hero 6 is determined to stay connected to it.  Its imaginary setting of San Fransokyo is everything that Tomorrowland wants to be but isn't--a vibrant, multicultural, livable city where people of all classes and backgrounds meet.  Its inventor characters aren't cut off from the world, but working in the middle of it and responding to it, creating things that people around them might find helpful and useful.

Of course, San Fransokyo is a fantasy (and a particularly saddening one, given that in our world San Francisco is increasingly becoming a city for the rich) but it's important to note what kind of fantasy it is.  Big Hero 6's protagonist, Hiro, can become a hero because he has the infrastructure around him that allows him to--a city where he can live and move around and experience many different walks of life, a university where he can be challenged and given tools to develop his skills, a legal system that doesn't criminalize him when he acts out after experiencing terrible loss, and which prioritizes his rights over those of corporations.  If you want an optimistic vision of the future that I'd like to sign on to, this would be it, far more than Tomorrowland's sterile playground of the elite.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Before I start talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, I should probably say that I haven't seen any of the other films in the Mad Max series, and that I'm not feeling a particular need to catch myself up.  This should not be taken as a criticism of Fury Road, which is indeed as brilliant and exhilarating as advertized, and whose gorgeous, pulse-pounding action scenes put the rest of Hollywood's blockbuster movies to shame (in particular, the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron, whose busy but weightless extravaganzas of destruction now seem almost embarrassing in comparison; one wishes that Marvel would send all its directors to George Miller for lessons).  But Fury Road is also a fairly self-contained piece of filmmaking--essentially a two-hour-long chase sequence--that neither requires nor rewards an investment in its characters or world beyond the scope of its story.  I've seen the film compared to Gravity, another gorgeous, propulsive action movie with minimal story and characters, and the comparison seems very apt.  Like Gravity, Mad Max is utterly absorbing while you're watching it, but I don't feel any particular interest in visiting its world again.

Part of this might have something to do with the fact that the film's title character often feels like the least essential thing about it.  Tom Hardy has rather quickly gained a reputation as the thinking person's action star, and fans have been waiting for him to find his breakout role, but I'm not sure that Fury Road is it.  The film begins with Max, a survivor in the desertified, post-apocalyptic hellscape in which the series is set, being captured by the henchmen of the warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who plans to use him as a "bloodbag" for one of his crazed warriors.  When one of Joe's top lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), escapes on a decked-out big rig in which she has stowed five of Joe's enslaved "wives," Max is carried along with the pursuing war party as a snack for the road.  For the rest of the film, even as he demonstrates the ingenuity and survival instincts that have kept him alive for so long, Max seems less mad than depressed, haunted by the deaths of loved ones he couldn't save, and driven to keep running and fighting not because he has any hope for the future, but because he doesn't know how to do anything else.  It's a surprisingly low-key character turn for a movie that features, among other things, an army of death-crazed warrior-boys who travel with their own death metal guitar player, suspended in mid-air before a wall of speakers that has been mounted on an off-road vehicle, the better to provide a soundtrack for their orgy of destruction.  Hardy doesn't exactly get lost in the shuffle as a result, but when the film ended with him bidding farewell to its characters and moving on, I didn't exactly feel motivated to follow.

Still, if Max feels less like a mover of the plot than someone who has stumbled into it and is just trying to get out alive, that's obviously part of the film's intention.  Fury Road is Furiosa's story.  She's the one who came up with the plan to rescue the wives, and she's the one whose backstory--she was kidnapped as a child from an idyllic, matriarchal society, a "green place" where she hopes to return--ends up driving the movie.  This fact is part of the reason that Fury Road is being lauded for its feminist credentials, and though these are obviously present (Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler was apparently brought in to consult on the script) and treated seriously, I think there's a danger of blowing them out of proportion.  A lot of what Fury Road does with regards to women--making the prime mover of the story a woman who is not sexualized or treated as the hero's prize, featuring multiple female characters, not all of whom are young and beautiful, passing the Bechdel test--is not so much revolutionary as the very baseline of what we should expect from most movies--what we would expect, if we hadn't become so accustomed to the toxic sludge of misogyny that Hollywood blockbusters have been serving up for twenty years.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more Fury Road seems not like a revolution, but like a throwback to the action films of the 80s, before the genre gained the respectability that comes from being Hollywood's primary source of revenue, back when it was still possible to put women and people of color front and center, to be weird and grotesque, and not have to worry about courting an audience made up of thirteen-year-old boys.

(The slightly exaggerated enthusiasm with which Fury Road's feminism has been received is presumably the reason that some of the problems with how the film handles its female characters have so far been elided from its critical reception.  For one thing, the film indulges in the particularly annoying trope of a woman who has spent ages planning a heist or an escape or a rebellion, but who for some reason needs the help of the man who has just now stumbled upon the plan to carry it out.  Fury Road isn't as bad on this front as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, but it certainly knocks you out of the story when Furiosa reaches one of the crucial stages of her escape plan, and suddenly needs Max's help to get through it even though he's only been on her rig for a few minutes.  For another, though Furiosa herself isn't subject to the male gaze--she's all close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair, sensible clothes, and of course a wicked-looking prosthetic arm--the wives aren't so lucky, and it feels particularly significant that they're all young, beautiful, thin, and clothed in skimpy, diaphanous shawls (especially as we see that Immortan Joe has other wives--older, obese women who are pumped for mother's milk like literal cows--who are not part of the escape plan).  The first time we and Max see the wives, they're washing the dust of their escape off each other with a hose as their minimalistic clothing clings to their bodies and goes see-through.  In the screening I attended, the young men sitting in the row behind me did not sound as if their consciousness was being raised.)

What feels much more important to Fury Road's feminist credentials than any particular character or plot point is the very premise of the movie.  I've seen reviewers try to read Fury Road as a statement about human trafficking and sex slavery, which honestly makes about as much sense as trying to read it as a screed against pumping women for mother's milk.  Both of these plot points are merely exaggerated expressions of the true evil at the heart of the movie, toxic masculinity.  Immortan Joe treats women as possessions, brood mares, and cows, yes, but he also treats young men as cannon fodder.  His "war boys" are literally that, children raised to desire nothing but violence, taught that a glorious death in battle will secure them immortality in Valhalla, either unfamiliar with or openly hostile to all soft emotions.  Much attention is paid to their traditions, all of which are designed to glorify both Joe and the boys' sacrifice of their bodies and sanity in the pursuit of his quest, but when Joe removes his favor, the war boys are revealed as what they are: empty children incapable of grasping the complexity of the world, clinging to fairy tales told to them by an uncaring parent.  The brilliance of the movie is less in telling a woman's story, and more in so baldly demonstrating how old men with power will use young men as their tools and weapons, by teaching them to hate and fear women.

This emphasis on toxic masculinity is, however, a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, this is the dirty, diseased secret at the heart of so much of our culture (and our entertainment in particular) and it's refreshing to have it out in the open, even if the message is likely to fly over the heads of much of the audience (and some reviewers).  On the other hand, it means that Fury Road is a feminist work that is ultimately about men.  The only real character arc in the movie belongs not to Max or Furiosa, but to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a war boy who starts the movie in love with death, and ends it having learned to value kindness and friendship.  Women, meanwhile, are left inert by a story like this.  If masculinity, taken to its illogical extreme, is held up as a cult of death, then femininity--which represents emotion, compassion, and of course motherhood and the possibility of new life--is inherently good, and this leaves no room for women to change, grow, make mistakes, and of course feel angry and vengeful.  The film has the good sense to give the wives different personalities and attitudes--from the saintly Angharad (Rosie Huntingon-Whiteley), who preaches forgiveness towards the war boys, to the more militant Toast (Zoë Kravitz) who is happy to blow their brains out--but none of them, nor for that matter Furiosa, is as damaged or as angry as their situation would seem to demand.  They've all held on to their souls in a way that that the men (including Max) haven't managed to, and it's hard not to feel that this is because they are women.

Fury Road ends with Immortan Joe's death, and with Furiosa returning to his stronghold as a conquering hero.  In another movie, this might have been taken as an ambivalent, even bleak ending.  In the unforgiving world of this series, after all, one dictator isn't much different than the other.  Furiosa might not keep a harem or train child soldiers, but she'll still need workers to do the backbreaking labor of pumping water from beneath the ground, and warriors to fight off the other tribes in the area.  It feels odd to say this, but a film less committed to a feminist message might have been willing to acknowledge that a woman's victory isn't necessarily a victory for good.  (Another way in which the film's feminism obscures its other problems is the near-uniform whiteness of its cast.)  But then, in the world of the Mad Max movies, the triumph of good probably isn't a real option.  The best you can hope for is survival, and a brief respite from struggle.  This Fury Road delivers, and, more importantly, earns.  At the end of its explosive, deranged chase, you genuinely want its characters to catch their breath and feel safe for a little while, even if a moment's reflection leaves you wondering just how safe they truly are.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The 2015 Hugo Awards: A Few Thoughts as Voting Opens

Nearly a month after the announcement of this year's Hugo nominations, the story has settled down from a furious boil to a steady simmer.  The best sources for ongoing discussion and the increasingly silly backpedaling from the Rabid Puppy camp continue to be Mike Glyer's File 770 and James Nicoll's LJ, but I wouldn't blame anyone for feeling overwhelmed by the sheer breadth and depth of the discussion.  The purpose of this post, then, is to highlight a few key pieces of information that are particularly relevant now that voting has opened.  I'll probably repost this once or twice as we get closer to the voting deadline.
  • Voting for the 2015 Hugo awards is now open, and will close on July 31st, 11:59 PDT.  You are eligible to vote if you are an attending or supporting member of Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon in Spokane, Washington (to clarify: members of the 2014 and 2016 Worldcons, who were eligible to nominate for this year's Hugos, can only vote for the winners if they are also members of Sasquan).  If you're already a member, you should either have received or will soon receive your membership number and PIN, which are necessary for online voting.  If they don't arrive by next week, you can get them on the PIN lookup page, or by contacting the award's administrators at this address.

  • You can become a supporting member and exercise your voting privileges at any point between now and the voting deadline.  Sasquan has experienced a massive boost in membership since the Hugo nominees were announced, almost all of it made up of supporting memberships.  Supporting members are also eligible to receive the Hugo voting packet, which will probably be released towards the end of this month.

  • Since the nominees were announced, several changes were made to the ballot.  Two of the Rabid Puppies nominees were disqualified and removed from the ballot.  Two other authors--Marko Kloos (Best Novel, Lines of Departure) and Annie Bellet (Best Short Story, "Goodnight Stars")--asked to be removed because they did not wish to be associated with the Rabid Puppies campaign.  After the award's administrators announced that the ballot was finalized, two other nominees, Black Gate (Best Fanzine) and Edmund R. Schubert (Best Editor, Short Form), announced that they were declining their nominations as well, though their names still appear.  The final ballot can be seen here.

  • There's been a lot of discussion about what the correct approach to voting should be this year.  My policy is still that, with the exception of the Dramatic Presentation categories, I will be No Award-ing all the Puppy selections (that said, I will be placing the Puppy-endorsed episode of Grimm nominated in Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form under No Award, because it isn't very good at all). Deirdre Saoirse Moen has a guide if this is how you'd like to vote.

  • In addition to No Award-ing the Puppies, there are two other categories where I will be voting No Award for all nominees.  I've already written about the Best Fan Writer category, and in addition I will not be voting to give a Hugo in the Best Novelette category, even though it contains a non-Puppy nominee in the form of Thomas Olde Heuvelt's "The Day the World Turned Upside Down."  Chance has written eloquently about the many problems with this story, which does not deserve to win a Hugo by default.

  • Speaking of Chance, she's thrown herself on the grenade of the Rabid Puppies' short fiction selections, and is reviewing them one by one with sad and hilarious results.  Her reviews are required reading, first if you like funny and snarky writing, but also if you're still under the impression that literary merit has anything to do with this campaign.

  • In addition to voting for the Hugos, supporting members of Sasquan may vote in the site selection ballot to choose the location of the 2017 Worldcon.  I would very much like to see the Worldcon come to Helsinki, so I will definitely be voting in this election, but the process is a bit complicated.  To vote for site selection, you not only need to be a member of Sasquan, but you have to pay an additional site selection fee of $40.  This fee will be converted into a supporting membership of whichever bid wins the right to host the 2017 Worldcon.  While it is possible to vote for site selection online (by scanning your ballot and emailing it to the convention), at the moment Sasquan is only taking payments for this additional voting fee via check or money order, which obviously puts international voters at a significant disadvantage.  The convention has promised that online payment will be available in a few weeks, and I'll make announcements about that, either here or on my twitter feed, when it happens.