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Cool Kids

Let’s start with some context:

Basically, Maynard believes that “those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: ‘Does it tell a good story?'” So he proposed a new award to recognize storytelling, with rules allowing a Judging Committee to “disqualify any work [up to three per category] they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story.”

I’m all for stepping up to create an award to fill a perceived gap. Maynard’s proposal led to a lot of discussion and debate, as well as a fair amount of criticism, particularly criticism of the proposed “trust levels” required to vote, and the Judging Committee’s role in arbitrarily disqualifying stories with the wrong emphasis. In the comments, Cat Valente proposed awards based on aspects of storytelling — best ending, best twist, best villain, etc.

There was more back-and-forth. Maynard commented, “I really do feel like the cool kids have swooped in and taken away my accomplishment,” and later, “Cat’s category list is unavailable. The cool kids took it away from the nerds.” Maynard went on to explain what he meant by cool kids in fandom:

Fandom has its nerds and its cool kids, too. The cool kids get invited to Worldcon parties and get nominated for Hugos (except this year, obviously). The cool kids get GoH invitations to cons. The cool kids have people squeeing over them whenever fans gather.

Both Valente and Erin pushed back against the Cool Kids/Nerd divide (linked above).


I think we’ve all seen some of what Maynard’s describing. Drop Neil Gaiman into a convention, and you get the rock star effect. People swarm Gaiman to the point that he can’t just enjoy a convention anymore. Or look at people like Seanan McGuire or Larry Correia, who get invited to be guests of honor at various conventions where they’re recognized and celebrated and, well, honored. We can all think of someone who, if we find out they’re at an event, we immediately perk up and say, “Oh, cool!”

But it’s not because of some high school nonsense, splitting people into cool kids and nerds. (Or Eloi and Morlocks, or whatever other disparaging labels are being used this week.) It’s because people like McGuire and Correia created art that other people really, really liked. And that’s awesome. Yay, art!

Jay Maynard is also known as Tron Guy. Because of the costume he created, he’s been on Jimmy Kimmel Live, South Park, and Tosh.0. That’s awesome too. Yay, art! But he feels like he’s one of the nerds, not one of the cool kids.

We’ve all felt out of place at a convention, or stood there wishing we could be part of a conversation without knowing how to join in. We’ve felt, like Maynard, that we were stuck at the nerds’ table, looking longingly across the cafeteria bar to where the Cool Kids of SF/F are hanging out. We’ve felt awkward and out-of-place, we’ve said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and we’ve felt like a complete ass.

That’s not about whether you’re a nerd or a cool kid. That’s part of being human.

Anakin - If you're not with me, then you're my enemy.

Side note – is it me, or does Anakin look a lot like Heath Ledger as the Joker in that pic?

I get that a lot of us struggled growing up. We felt excluded, and we envied those who were more popular, more successful, more comfortable with themselves and their friends. Most of us continue to struggle. It’s part of being human. But this whole “Nerds vs. Cool Kids” thing is bullshit. It’s the same artificial and simplistic us vs. them, left vs. right, puppy vs. anti-puppy, Hero vs. Villain garbage that’s been poisoning people for ages.

There will always be small-minded people trying to divide the world into Us and Them. Some of these folks have found that dispensing poison earns them attention and followers.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to drink it.

Cat Valente is nerdy as hell. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack. Which was also awesome. She is nerd and cool kid and fan and celebrity.

So is Jay Maynard. Maybe not in the same way or at the same times or in the exact same proportions, but really, how boring would that be?

I hope Maynard and others find a way to remove the poison from themselves, and from their interactions with others.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
It is endless isn't it.
Sep. 15th, 2015 06:00 pm (UTC)
I think it was Charlie Stross who called Neil a human Katamari.
Sep. 18th, 2015 01:02 am (UTC)
That is pretty much the perfect description.
Sep. 15th, 2015 06:10 pm (UTC)
Uch. I feel like I've heard the "poor persecuted nerd v. evil cool kid" from people on the "fake gamer girls" thing, the GamerGate BS, and now this. And you know what?

If you're out of college and still defining yourself like you're in the fucking Breakfast Club, then you are every atom as pathetic and useless as the ex-QB who, at forty, is still talking about the time senior year when he made the winning touchdown. "Glory Days" inverts pretty nicely, and high school was a long time ago for most of us, Spanky. Grow. Up.

tl;dr: seriously, Maynard, how old are you?
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC)
Sep. 15th, 2015 10:25 pm (UTC)
Lord. And I get imposter syndrome, and low self-esteem, and all that, but this particular framing device? No. Shut up. Five years younger than my dad is *way* too old to be whining about how you didn't have a Prom date.

Sep. 15th, 2015 06:59 pm (UTC)
sometimes its good to get a few of the rock stars as it were around, that way, they draw off a lot of the chaff..
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:27 pm (UTC)
Most of us are GLAD to get out of high school -- "It Gets Better" isn't something that ONLY happens to GLBT folks, y'know! I can't imagine wanting to re-create the high school experience all over again in some important part of my life.

One thing that really strikes me about all of these "alternative award" proposals is the insistence on some Inner Circle being able to "disqualify" things. It's as if they don't trust the popular-vote process.

No, actually it reminds me more of something else. There's a well-recognized phenomenon that children who are abused tend to grow up in one of two directions -- either they swear they'll never do that to anyone else, or they can't wait to be big and strong enough for it to be their turn. That's what a lot of this stuff makes me think of -- people who think they've been picked on trying to establish a context in which they get to pick on other people.
Sep. 21st, 2015 01:52 am (UTC)
Hells, yes.
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:51 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of World Fantasy in Bristol, when a group of us wound up sitting in the bar . . . and by some means I cannot recall (because really, who was going to be the first to admit this), every single one of us was sitting there thinking "holy crap, I'm getting to hang out with the cool kids!"

Because every single one of us felt like one of the nerds, and saw everybody else at the table as the "in" crowd.
Sep. 18th, 2015 01:03 am (UTC)
Clicking the :like: button for this comment.
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:55 pm (UTC)
If we define "cool kids" as "sells more books than me," and "gets more con invitations than me," then Cathrynne Valente has to be a cool kid, but so do Larry Correia and John Ringo. And Laurell K. Hamilton. And George R. R. Martin is the coolest kid around at the moment, yes?

So "sells more books/gets more con invitations than me" don't actually seem to be the metrics Mr. Maynard is using.
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:57 pm (UTC)
If you read the comment thread, Mr Maynard pretty much wallows in self-pity, especially after Cat Valente rightfully denies him the use of her idea. I realize he suffers from depression, and I sympathize, but good heavens, it's just a proposed award! Get over it.
Sep. 15th, 2015 10:17 pm (UTC)
I remember that Boskone when Steve and I were scheduled to sign at the same time that Neil -- that year's GoH -- was signing. We sat behind our table, signed what was really a Gratifying Number of our books and chatted with people who had come to see us, which took about twenty minutes. Then, we sat there, and talked to the folks who were waiting in line to have Neil Gaiman sign their books. The line went down the first floor lobby, down the sweeping Grand Staircase to the program level on the floor below, where it was long enough to disrupt traffic between panels.

They set up two more signings for Neil at the con, because he insisted that he wanted to sign everyone's books, but it was clear that his hand already hurt by the time he had to leave the first signing for a panel.

It kind of made me glad that we weren't Neil Gaiman. That kind of attention is...just brutal.
Sep. 16th, 2015 01:00 pm (UTC)
I was at that Boskone (that is, unless Neil Gaiman was GOH at more than one :-) ) . When I saw Gaiman signing there, he was at a table with Robert Sheckley - who was getting no attention at all. To Gaiman's credit, he looked embarrassed.

I think Boskone seriously misjudged how large Gaiman's fandom was at that time (early 2000s). To SF fans he was a Rising New Author, but to comics fans (especially goths) he was God.

At Readercon a couple of years ago he showed up as "Mr. Amanda F. Palmer". I took that as an "I'm off duty now" signal :-)

Edited at 2015-09-16 01:02 pm (UTC)
Sep. 15th, 2015 10:33 pm (UTC)
Speaking as one of the hundreds/thousands of fans who didn't go to an American High School on account of being a different nationality and being educated in a wholly different system, I find this attempt to assign us all such labels as irritating as hell - as another manifestation of the mindset that assumes US experience is universal and/or is the only experience that counts. An attitude by no means limited to Puppies but tediously prevalent in their thinking.
Sep. 15th, 2015 11:07 pm (UTC)
Another thing this sounds like is Phony NiceGuy whining, especially the bit about "the Cool Kids get GOH invitations to cons". Dude, if you've made yourself unpleasant to everyone around you, of course nobody is going to invite you as a GOH! Con-runners have to think about what kind of experience their GOH is likely to provide for the fans, after all.

But that lack of dates invitations could never have anything to do with the way HE acts, of course, because he's such a Nice Guy!
Sep. 17th, 2015 09:40 pm (UTC)
He still doesn't seem to get how obnoxious he's been. It seems that from his perspective, telling people they've been voting for "message fiction" (instead of voting for books they love) is some kind of fact that no one could possibly argue with, not a gratuitous insult -- even though HE'S the one who rejected Leckie's book as message fiction without even reading it. And then goes on to call Valente a thief, etc., and doesn't apologize.
Sep. 16th, 2015 12:29 am (UTC)
Side note – is it me, or does Anakin look a lot like Heath Ledger as the Joker in that pic?

As far as Cool Kids vs Nerds, here's a thing I've observed: A lot of things I used to consider "nerdy"--comic books, superhero movies, Doctor Who, Star Wars--are pretty much mainstream now. Star Wars is cool. Batman is cool. They won't get you invited to ALL the fancy parties, but they won't get you barred them either. So what does "nerdy" even mean anymore? A thing very few people have heard of? An interest that people don't understand/don't take seriously/think is a waste of your time? A lot of nerd media doesn't fall into those categories anymore.

Which I think is great! It is literally part of my actual paying job to blog about vampires and Star Wars now. It's awesome, and I feel very fortunate. I still feel like a nerd, but a moderately successful one. And I wonder if that's part of the issue--the perception of success. Is that what makes a person "cool" vs "nerdy?" I dunno. But if it is, why in seven hells would that be a bad thing?
Sep. 16th, 2015 02:48 am (UTC)
I think the answer to that is neatly summed up in an aphorism that was around when I first got into fandom, back in the 1970s: "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan."

Which is to say, for some people being persecuted makes them feel special -- it may be a negative significator, but it's still a significator, something that sets them apart from the Great Unwashed Hordes. So when the thing that always made you feel special, like you had a secret nobody knew about except a special Inner Circle, suddenly goes mainstream, then you have to look for another way to get that fix. And one way to do that is to establish another, smaller Inner Circle inside the larger group which is now not that different from the mainstream any more.
Sep. 16th, 2015 12:30 pm (UTC)
This is why I've read less and less sci-fi and fantasy over the years. Most of what I used to enjoy has been tainted by this poison.
Sep. 17th, 2015 01:34 am (UTC)
Well, yes. All you say is pretty good.

That said, people just kind of clique up. We are pretty afraid of the unknown, and this is another extension of that. Witness: many of my students who are trying to learn English really feel uncomfortable approaching students who are more fluent. Granted, that's partly a language thing. But it's also a comfort thing.

As a former high school teacher, I came to the realization that no high school kid is really responsible for their actions, so the whole cool kid/nerd dichotomy is really a bunch of young people trying to find their space. That helps me feel like I can go about anywhere and do about anything.

That doesn't excuse me from reading signals about when someone else would rather not have me insert myself. And this does occasionally happen, regardless of whether there's a good reason or not.

So, perhaps, even though most people are open and friendly, during those times when people want to be alone or with those they know, the issue is to not take offense, but be cool with yourself. Self-confidence is the true measure of the cool kid, not the approval of anyone.

Which is perhaps our real issue, internal versus external approval? Just thinkin' out loud.
Sep. 20th, 2015 06:20 pm (UTC)
I personally think the Puppies making their own award is a great idea; GRRM had a blog post on this recently, although it was about a different (... less whacky) proposition.

What really bothers me about this is the inclusion of "trusted" voters. I don't see how this is any different than the "elitism" they keep complaining about in regards to the Hugo Awards. It seems like it would be ridiculously easy for someone to make a list of people to "de-trust". I can't see this not happening, and resulting in a back-and-forth with one author's fans against the other's. It also is begging for the type of popularity contest that the Puppies insist they're against.

Even aside from Big Names and their fans getting involved, I can see this affecting lesser known people, too. There is a particular person who has been making her way up that did some pretty awful stuff in our writing group (if she didn't like you, she would circulate fake chat logs throughout the group until you either got kicked out by an admin, or in my case, where I was the admin, the rest of the group moved elsewhere; she didn't get caught out until she tried this on someone and her edits were so out of character that nobody could believe it, so they actually checked with the other person instead of taking her word for it), and she's now a slush reader for one of the top SF online pro zines. I guess if I ever submit there, I'm using a different pseud.

I'm hoping she's forgotten about me, but I mention her and her antics because she is exactly the kind of person who would get her nose out of joint because she got a bad crit or because someone else had a major writing success (basically, every time somebody started to get somewhere that she wasn't, she'd do the above), and then rally her numerous friends to keep a person out of voting. Yes, people really are that petty and vengeful.

Moving on from that, if there's an open nomination vote, why are there judging panels? It says judges will be chosen by the "Foundation Board of Directors"... and I note the statement about politics not affecting voters isn't applied to judges. Frankly, I trust this about as far as I could throw a rooted tree. The judges can disqualify up to half the category? The fuck? How is this not meant to keep people they don't like out of the running? Since these are the people who insist that there are no worthy stories winning the Hugos (and some have gone as far to say "nominated", while in the same breath exalting Larry Correia, who has been a Hugo nominee), how are judges prevented from using the Hugo nominee/award winner list as a way to exclude authors?

This is just a clusterfuck all around. (I know I'm coming in late here but dear gods.)
Sep. 21st, 2015 03:02 am (UTC)
Jim, you're right, but you're also one of the Cool Kids. You're a full-time writer who has won a Hugo and is invited to be GoH at conventions. You're no longer seated at the kid's table. What's that like?
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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