Aurora Ballot

Since I posted my Hugo nominations, I may as well post this too. (And look at me squeaking in juuuust before the deadline at both of them. *sigh* ) For those of you who don’t know what the Aurora Award is, it’s basically a Canadian Hugo for Canadians only, which we award in our Canadian hockey clubhouse while eating poutine, wearing toques, and apologizing to each other.

It surprised me that I could only nominate three things in each category; I had somehow misremembered it as being more.

Short Story

  • Shay Darrach, “Baggage Check”
  • Jennifer Giesbrecht, “All My Princes Are Gone”
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Them Ships”


  • Leah Bobet, “On Living Authors”
  • Amal El-Mohtar, “Lost”
  • Helen Marshall, “The Collected Postcards of Billy the Kid”

…And then I glanced at the other categories and was like “Nope, I have no idea what I’m talking about in these.” >__<

What Makes a Great Villain? Panel Summary

Since Rhoda asked, here is a panel summary. 😀 I was on this panel with Matt Moore, Thomas Gofton, and either Gregory A. Wilson or Rob St. Martin – one of them didn’t show up and now I can’t remember which one. UGH. As you can see, I am having a bit of trouble remembering who said what, but the actual content is still pretty fresh in my mind, so let’s see what we can do in point form, without attribution.

There was no official moderator, so the panel was a bit of a free-for-all, but I think the four of us worked together pretty well. Villains are a complex and fascinating topic, and there was only time to scratch the surface on many of their aspects.

So what does make a great villain?

  • Villains are often the most active characters, the ones who set the plot in motion
  • Villains have to be powerful enough to create a truly challenging situation for the hero
  • The villain also has to have motives that make sense, and a reason to be creating this situation
  • The villain is a “hero” in the sense of having goals and working towards those goals, and having a story where they could plausibly succeed or fail, and where the audience cares about which one happens – even if their actual goals are horrible.
  • So in some sense writers who are employing villains in their storytelling need to treat the story as if it has “two heroes” – the villain has to work towards their goal just like the hero, and to be concerned about failing, and the author needs to get just as deep into the villain’s head as the hero’s

How should the audience feel about a villain?

  • My opinion: the best villains are the ones the audience “secretly likes”.
  • Or, as another panelist put it, the ones we “love to hate or hate to love”
  • An author’s goal is to make readers want to know what happens next; wanting to see what the villain does next is part of that
  • Other panelists mentioned the opposite: villains who stuck with them because they had been awful and dislikeable and hadn’t received their comeuppance, and years after seeing the movie, they still wanted to go up to the villain and smack them!
  • Also there can be problems when a villain is more compelling than the protagonist, which is why certain 80s horror movies have so many sequels centred around the villain and not the Final Girl; the villains were the ones that audiences had questions about and wanted to see more of.

Villains and morality, part I

  • Some of the most compelling villains start out as good people, who might have stayed good if things had been even a little bit different, but a series of events and misunderstandings happens that bring the villain to a point where they are dead set against the hero, in a way that no longer has a simple solution
  • Others have a good goal (e.g. trying to save the environment) but go about it in unacceptable ways, believing the ends justify the means
  • Most (all?) great villains believe that they are the hero, and the hero is the villain; they are right and the hero is wrong
  • But villains can also be compelling when they are “moral black boxes” (e.g. The Joker or Hannibal Lecter). Their villainous behaviour becomes fascinating because it is so far from what we consider acceptable that it implies a completely alien way of looking at the world.
  • Even “moral black boxes” have to have a goal and care about something
  • For example, in The Dark Knight, the Joker wants to upset the status quo, and will allow himself to be hurt or even killed to achieve this goal

Female villains

  • About halfway through the panel, someone in the audience pointed out that all the villains we had discussed so far were men. WHOOPS.
  • This led to a lot of discussion of people’s favorite female villains
  • Fandoms suggested by the audience for having lots of interesting female villains: Batman, Disney, anime
  • Female villains are frequently sexualized in specific ways, using their sex appeal and/or apparent vulnerability as a weapon
  • Some audience members did not think this was a problem; a villain who is seen as attractive should logically be able to use that to their advantage
  • While this is logical on its face, I pointed out that not every villainous woman will happen to be conventionally attractive, nor will they necessarily have the skill set or interests that would make sexuality a good choice of weapon for them
  • Some examples of non-sexualized female villains suggested by the audience: the Borg Queen from Star Trek, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (although someone in the audience was like “what are you talking about, Ursula looks great!”), Mother Russia from Kick-Ass 2, Stephen King’s Misery, someone from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing whose name I can’t remember anymore >_<
  • There was also a very brief discussion of maternal villains
  • While maternal villains are still potentially problematic, they can be a refreshing change from compulsory sexiness
  • We agreed that we wanted to see more options for female villains in general

Villains and morality, part II

  • We continued discussing this sort of at the same time as female villains
  • Villains who are completely evil for evil’s sake (e.g. the devil) are very hard sells today
  • Post-Vietnam, and especially post-9/11, there is increasing interest by the American market, in particular, in morally gray fiction. Heroes who are not necessarily in the right, villains who kinda have a point or who retain their humanity / remain sympathetic despite doing things the hero finds unacceptable
  • This also relates to the trend of retelling old stories from the villain’s point of view, making the heroes of the story into the real villains – e.g. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked & the upcoming Maleficent movie
  • Villains reflect underlying cultural unease in this way because villains are one way in which we culturally work out some important moral questions. How should we think about people who seem to have the power & intent to harm us, or who do things we find abhorrent? How should we treat them? How hard should we work to understand their perspective? Can they be understood? How do we know if they can be rehabilitated, or if they are even in the wrong in the first place? What do we as a culture call evil, and how should we think about evil?

It was a very lively audience discussion. We reluctantly ended the panel at five minutes to the hour, mostly because I was getting worried about going overtime and messing things up for the panel that came after us. We agreed that there are whole books that can be written about villains, and that we would love to talk more about them; we have only scratched the surface.

Ad Astra Convention Report!

I am back from Dinosaurcon Ad Astra and it was AWESOME. I am not very coherent right now because of post-convention splatbrain and also some mild con crud which has been held back with Advil Cold & Sinus (I will post a more detailed summary of the villainy panel later, when I have brain again, because I know someone here asked me for that), but in the meantime here are some things that happened.

Convention Highlights

  • Meeting people who I had only talked to very briefly online before, or who hadn’t been on my radar at all, but who are SUPER COOL AND NICE. I get the sense I did less hanging out and chatting than most people do at conventions, but I enjoyed the chatting (and, when I was watching someone else’s panel, the observation of chatting) that I did do. I found out belatedly that there are also other ways to interact that would work for me (like… staying and allowing people to come up to me and ask questions following a panel/reading, instead of RUNNING AWAY at the end of my reading like a silly person) and which I will try next time.
  • Doing a reading! (I read “Transitional Chords”, a Lovecraftian music school story which is currently out of print! It was very dramatic.) Having people SHOW UP at my reading who weren’t my family or Internet friends and had no reason to be there except they thought the reading might be cool! Having these people APPLAUD VIGOROUSLY after the reading, and then tell my mom (since I was worried about looking attention-hungry or something and left very quickly, as stated) how cool it was. SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS. I WANT TO DO ALL THE READINGS NOW. <3

Convention Low-lights

  • They spelled my name wrong on all of my author material. 😛 😛 😛 EVERYONE DOES THIS. But they were super apologetic about it and gave me a Sharpie to draw the second “N” on my placard, so it was mostly just funny.
  • Showing up at Klingon Karaoke and then realizing that it had been an incredibly long day and I had no tokens to actually do the karaoke. I wanted to sing, but I was just sitting there being vague and confused and unable to figure out simple procedures, and my partner was like “Ok, let’s go back to the room.” 🙁
  • In general, I was experimenting the whole convention with how to pace myself. I wanted to be very careful since I had some pretty late night panels to do. As a result I did not see as many other panels and readings as I would have liked. I think I’ve learned some useful things about how I operate in these circumstances and will be able to do more next time, but we’ll see.
  • Making concluding remarks at my reading with a dramatic sweep of my arms, which knocked over my water bottle and spilled water all over the place. LIKE A CHUMP. 😛

Convention Huh?!-lights

  • The “How To Be an Effective Panelist” panel for new panelists at which the actual person doing the panel was 1/2 hour late. LOL. You can guess what we decided the first rule of being an effective panelist was.
  • The dude who cornered me in the dealer’s room and said, “I loved your panel! I loved the part where you said you wanted to stab yourself in the eye with a toothpick!” Um… Thanks? *blink*
  • Being fast-talked into buying Girl Guide cookies from Erik Buchanan. Wait, what? These aren’t even SFFnal. What is going on. *takes a bite* These are pretty good cookies, though.

More ephemeral emotional stuff

You guys, I’ve been to conventions before, but I’m usually a dealer’s assistant (and spending all day in the dealer’s room makes me PRETTY DAMNED LOOPY, lemme tell you). This was different. This was me dressing up in real clothes and being a professional and being taken seriously by people who are just as excited about the field as I am. Really! I was on panels with people like Julie Czerneda and Stephanie Bedwell-Grime and I had as much to say as they did! And no one thought that was weird! Also have I mentioned that PEOPLE SHOWED UP TO MY READING.

It’s one thing to see this happening in parts of the Internet and another thing to see it in real life, concentrated into one place.

I’m so happy. Now if only the room would stop spinning.

Dinosaurcon 2014

Around this time of year I start to see a lot of complaints about cruel April Fools’ jokes, and how loads of people on the spectrum despise this occasion. Which is totes valid. I don’t want to be cruel. But at the same time, I have a healthy appreciation for absurdity; and the best April Fools’ jokes have much more to do with absurdity than with actually trying to fool anybody.

So, bearing this in mind:


A convention promoting the use of dinosaurs, synapsids, pterosaurs, sauropterygia, and other prehistoric beings in speculative fiction. (Sharks, crocodiles, vampire squid, etc are also accepted, due to the fact that they (a) are about as old as dinosaurs, and (b) are badass. Cockroaches, however, are discouraged.)

Friday, 6:00 pm: Applied Ethics for Apex Predators

So your protagonist is seven-ton pile of pure lethality, capable of swallowing a human in a single bite. Good for her. But, without blunting the fangs that made her awesome in the first place, how do you make sure readers look past the terrifying killing machine to see a relatable character they can root for? And how do you stop her from crossing a Moral Event Horizons simply by feeding herself? We share some tips and tricks learned from experience.

Friday, 9:00 pm: Dinosaurs and the Human Life Cycle

Were you one of those children who could list the full Greek or Latin name of every dinosaur when they were 5, or did you come to appreciate paleontology later in life? Share your stories and relate how the love of dinosaurs shaped you as a person.

Saturday, 11:00 am: Reading

A joint reading by Ada Hoffmann and Merc Rustad. Expect MANY RAPTORS, considerable squid, and some surprise sneak peeks at forthcoming work. It will be especially surprising for Merc, since I didn’t tell em e was going to be on the panel until this post happened…

Saturday, 2:00 pm: They Just Have Way More Dinosaurs Now Than They Did When I Was Five

Why is Anzu wyliei called a “chicken from hell”? Is Nanuqsaurus hoglundi cute or just a sad imitation of its larger cousins? What do you think of Pegomastax africanus‘s bristling hairdo? Catch up on the latest paleontology gossip with our team of experts.

Saturday, 5:00 pm: The Permian-Triassic Extinction

Known as the “Great Dying”, this disaster was almost twice as deadly as the famous asteroid-induced death of the dinosaurs, even though it gets less press. What happened? How did life on Earth recover? And could it happen again?

Saturday, 10:00 pm: Dino Song Sing-Along

A karaoke/filk session composed exclusively of songs from all of those awful “Land Before Time” sequels. Prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, 2:00 pm: University of Etobicoke Room Party

Come join our fun-loving local scientists for snacks, drinks, cupcakes, and the special guest appearance of 2 recently genetically reconstructed petting-zoo velociraptors. Unlike in certain movies, these girls are only three feet tall, and are covered in soft, iridescent feathers. So cute! Nothing to be scared of. What could possibly go wrong?

Hugo Nominations

So apparently listing all the things one nominated for awards is the in thing.

I have a leftover Hugo membership from last year, meaning I can’t vote, but can nominate (and frankly, nominating means more to me anyway). I skipped some categories, like novels, for instance. (I am SO BEHIND on actually reading novels that were published in the same year that I read them. It is frankly EMBARRASSING. And don’t even get me started on movies. Movies are worse.)

Here is the nominating I did do:


  • Aliette de Bodard, “The Waiting Stars”
  • Tori Truslow, “Boat in Shadows, Crossing”

Short Stories

  • Meda Kahn, “Difference of Opinion”
  • Sunny Moraine, “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More”
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Them Ships”
  • Sofia Samatar, “Selkie Stories are for Losers”
  • Carrie Vaughn, “The Best We Can”

It was tough picking just five short stories. All of them are from my earlier favorites post except Carrie Vaughn’s story, which I found on someone else’s favorites list after the fact. Stories by Kenneth Schneyer, Linda Nagata, and Nghi Vo only barely missed the top five, and of course, everything on my fairly lengthy favorites list is awesome.


Apex, Goblin Fruit, Shimmer, Stone Telling, and Strange Horizons.

Fan Artist

I’m not really an art person, but I couldn’t help but nominate Ashley Ellen Frary because I am so thrilled by her bright and colorful illustrations for Issue #1 of Plunge Magazine.

Campbell Award

This was so hard. Harder than picking just five short stories. There are so many fascinating and amazing new writers this year. I would have been much happier if there had been TEN places on the ballot, not five.

Also, I did not manage to finish reading the friggin’ enormous Campbellian Anthology in time. This is because I am a bad reader who manages reading time badly, and I should feel bad.

Finally I settled on:

  • Meda Kahn
  • Helen Marshall
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Then I took a long, hard, conflicted look at that fifth spot on the ballot, and at my short list of other eligible people whose writing I really liked. And I thought about it. And then I wrote in my own name.

I don’t have any delusions of getting onto the final ballot with competition like this. But I’m genuinely proud of how much I accomplished for the first time in 2013. And if I don’t believe in myself, who will?

So that’s that, then.

It occurs to me after the fact that there are no men on my ballot ANYWHERE. (Well, I guess the managing editor of Strange Horizons is a man, and some folks here are genderqueer, but still.) This was totally not on purpose; I wasn’t even thinking about gender when I made these selections. Huh.

Ad Astra Convention Schedule

I’ve been keeping quiet about this, but it’s official: I’m going to be a Professional Panelist at Ad Astra, in Toronto, April 4-6.

I’ve been to conventions before, but usually as a regular person. (Actually, no, that’s a lie. Usually I’m a dealer’s assistant. Long story.) This is the first time I’ve been invited to actually, y’know, do stuff. The con staff were very good about putting me on a few, widely spaced panels so I don’t get overloaded, but I’m hoping it will work out well and I’ll be able to do more at conventions in the future. Here’s my schedule:

Writing When You Have A Day Job: Friday, 9 pm. (In which I talk about writing and grad school.)
The Writing Life: Saturday, 10 am (In which I talk about writing EVEN MORE, lol)
What Makes a Great Villain? Saturday, 9 pm (In which I geek out about Darth Vader, Disney villains, Loki*, and whoever else I am feeling excited about at that point)
Ada Hoffmann reading: Sunday, 2 pm (30 min. In which probably no one shows up except my family and then I read bits of my stories or possibly other stuff, and everyone just kinda hangs out. That’s my prediction, anyway. :D)

I doubt there are a lot of folks in the Toronto area who read this blog, but if I know you even vaguely in any capacity, I’d love to see you there!


*Since our last discussion of characters/villains on here, I’ve actually, y’know, watched both the Thor movies. So now I can have intense discussions about Loki and why he has so many fangirls without sounding like a total doofus, YAY! 😛 😛 😛

Autism News, 2014/03/23

Boycott Autism Speaks organized a #StopCombatingMe flash blog in response to the proposed renewal of the Combating Autism Act in the US. Lots of interesting posts came out of this one. The most valuable, IMO, is Emily Morson’s “Changing The Paradigm from Treatment to Education“. I’ve read a lot of posts talking about how some autism therapies can be harmful, but this is by far the most comprehensive and cogent one I’ve seen in terms of explaining why some of them are harmful and what needs to change. [TW abuse, not detailed]

More on social issues:

  • Darryl Cunningham has an informative comic about the MMR vaccine controversy (This isn’t new, but it is the first time I saw the comic, so I’m linking to it now.) 
  • Did you know that some doctors refuse to give organ transplants to disabled people because they would rather give them to able-bodied people instead? Yep. Fortunately, the busy bees at ASAN have created a toolkit to help advocates with this issue!
  • Judy Endow on passing
  • Lydia Brown on what it’s like to have violence as a special interest [TW violence, obviously]
  • Real Social Skills on representation and being a “real” disabled person
  • Anonymous on whether or not it’s good to tell your employer when your child has special needs (Spoiler alert: it’s a double bind, like every other disclosure issue. *sigh*)

More on the “what to do (and what not to do)” front:


  • Ron Suskind on how his autistic son used Disney movies to learn to navigate the world. (Warning: There is some language / framing near the beginning of the article that I am not entirely comfortable with, but if you can manage to read through that part, the middle and end are well worth it.)
  • Cynthia Kim on pronoun reversal

On Failing

These things are all different from each other:

  • Trying to do a good thing and succeeding
  • Trying to do a good thing and mostly succeeding, but with significant flaws that need to be talked about
  • Trying to do a good thing and failing badly
  • Doing something genuinely controversial (that is, a thing that some people think is really good, and some people think is really bad, for reasons that cannot be reduced to privilege/ignorance)
  • Pretending to try to do a good thing, but putting in so little effort that a fail is inevitable
  • Refusing to try at all

Not all fails are the same kind of fail. Small fails matter and need to be talked about, too. But sometimes there is a temptation to treat all fails as equally awful (I feel tempted towards this in some of my reviews, at least – maybe it’s just me) and I think we lose something important when we do that.

I want to talk about this, but I’m having trouble articulating the reasons why I want to talk about it, or even what my thoughts are.


Activism can be very complicated, in spite of people occasionally insisting that it’s simple. Especially if your understanding of human interaction is a little vague to start with.

In light of this, I really appreciate Real Social Skills’ post about how to do activism.