(Three Bodies at Mitanni) Production Notes

People who follow my blog may recognize Seth Dickinson’s name, because I often gush about him over there. He’s one of my favorite short story writers, and so I was super-chuffed when he agreed to let me podcast Three Bodies At Mitanni. If you’d like to see more of his writing, most of it is available at his website.

I’ve posted my thoughts on this story on a discussion thread at the /rational subreddit. They do contain spoilers for the story!

Due to a number of technical screw-ups on my part, this was one of the most frustrating and time-consuming episodes I’ve put out. I’m still not entirely happy with it, but I believe the strength of Dickinson’s writing will carry the day.  And also the help of my fantastic voice actresses, who helped to save this with their talents as well.

An interesting difference between print and audio – when there’s a reveal of “That’s it!” in print you can quickly jump back to the end of the previous paragraph to refresh yourself as to what the “it” is. This is especially handy when the reveal is at the end of a list of neurological phenomena. In audio form, long lists of technical terms tend to get tuned out. In fact, in print it isn’t even that necessary to scan back, since in print you can see that the paragraph is at its end. You know the thing at the end is the big thing you need to pay attention to.

In audio you can’t see the end approaching, you don’t have that signal that the thing you need to pay attention to is here now. The list just ends suddenly, and you realize too late that the last bit was the important part, and it’s a lot harder to rewind a few seconds in audio than it is to scan back in print. I tried to ameliorate that by putting a wee pause before the “smoking gun” item, and upping the volume a bit, and slowing down & lowering the pitch of the typing. Hopefully these cues helped to draw some attention to that last item as it was being said. If not, at least it was repeated soon after.

In unrelated news, my second published story is now available. It’s just a little flash piece, 600 words, but I’m still super happy someone liked it enough to pay money for it! It’s available at Evil Girlfriend Media for those who are interested.

Finally, regarding the Afterwards episode, some listeners from outside the USA expressed confusion as to what the heck Voldemort was talking about. It’s a tribute to an old song, which is simultaneously quite popular and also a long-running joke. One can hear it here.

The Hugo Post

What are the Hugo Awards?

The Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious Science Fiction and Fantasy awards. They are also the only ones awarded based on popular vote. Every year the World Science Fiction Con attendees vote for the works they liked best in the previous year. And since the convention travels around the world, and not everyone who wishes to attend can be physically present every year, anyone is allowed to purchase a Supporting Membership rather than attending in person, and can still cast a vote that way. That means that for a nominal fee, any Science Fiction or Fantasy fan in the world can vote for the works they liked best that were published in the previous year.

Is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality eligible?

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a serially published work, whose final instalment was published in 2015. Under the WorldCon rules, this means it is eligible for a Hugo at the 2016 WorldCon. Per Section 3.2.4 – “a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part.” There was a minor kerfuffle  in 2014 when The Wheel of Time was nominated for Best Novel, as it consists of 14 books published over 13 years. The nomination was allowed, but not without objection. However HPMoR should receive no such objections, as it is very clearly a serial work of the type that this rule was originally written to explicitly allow.

And yes, fanfiction is eligible. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. First, there is no rule against it. Perhaps more importantly: well-regarded fanfiction has been nominated before. Peter Watts’s “The Things” is an explicit fanfic of “The Thing” and was nominated in 2011. (Incidentally, you should go read it. It is rationalist, short, available free online, and ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC) John Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a barely-disguised fanfic of Star Trek (the original series), and won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Obviously fanfic is eligible.

But is HPMoR the best work of 2015?

I’ve been participating in the Hugos for a number of years. Every participant gets five nominations they can use to nominate works they want to be considered for the Hugo Award. I can’t definitively say that Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is the best work published in 2015. I have not read every work published in 2015. And my opinion is just one of many. However, I can say that HPMoR had a profound impact on my life, much more than most fiction I read. And it was certainly within the Top Five Most Important Fictional Works To Me That’s Eligible For a 2016 Hugo Award. Among the five nominations I get for Best Novel of 2015, there’s no way HPMoR wouldn’t deserve one of them.

If HPMoR made an impact in your life, and you truly enjoyed it, I encourage you to participate. As long as it was meaningful to you, you can nominate it. Once it has been drawn to the attention of the wider SF-reading world, we can let the world’s fans weigh it along with the other nominees to decide if they think it’s deserving of the award. And, of course, we’ll be reading the other four nominees and giving our input as well. Personally, I think HPMoR has a good shot.

Why do this?

First, because you get to be a part of SF History! That in itself is pretty fun!

Second, voters get a packet that contains many of the nominated works in e-format. (Usually not all of them though). This makes it easy to read all the nominees, and exposes you to a lot of very good stories that you often wouldn’t have picked up on your own. If nothing else, it lets you be part of the conversation. If this is your first time supporting the Hugos, you get to experience the process. If you choose to attend as well, you get to be in a hugely geeky major con that’s a lot of fun and meet fellow HPMoR fans IRL!

Third, a number of people who may have passed over HPMoR because it was “just fanfiction” may be willing to take a closer look. Especially if a lot of the wider WorldCon-going public gives HPMoR a look and says “Hey, this is pretty intriguing!”

Fourth, as I said in the previous section, I honestly believe it deserves at least a nomination. It has been impactful on my life. I would like to do what little I can to celebrate that. Even if it doesn’t win, a nomination is a great honor.

Alright, how do I do this thing?

But before anything else, HPMoR must be nominated to the list of finalists. The nomination period is opening soon. If you want to participate, you must purchase a membership before the end of January. If this is something you want to do–don’t put it off. You’ll forget. At the very least, write yourself a note or send yourself a text. The days slip by way too fast on these sorts of things!

Register at the MidAmericaCon2.org registration page. Choose either Attending (if you can go to the con, also allows nominating & voting) or Supporting (to just nominate & vote). There are two discount categories (Military, Young Adult) which convey all the same rights as Attending but are cheaper. I would strongly encourage everyone to go in person, if they can afford to do so. It’s in Kansas City this year. I’ve gone to two previous cons, and they are a wonderful experience! I cannot recommend it enough. I’ll be going to the 2016 WorldCon in person too, so we can all meet up together! If you’d rather not, but still wish to nominate and vote, choose Supporting. Remember, register before the end of January!

What about the podcast?

You know, I’m not sure. I think the closest match is Best Fancast, “Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects”. Traditionally these go to talk-show type podcasts, where interested people talk about a subject, such as SF Signal or The SF Squeecast. Generally the fiction podcasts don’t fall into this category, because they are counted a semiprozines. But HPMoR simply is not a Semiprozine, it doesn’t fit any of the criteria. And Dramatic Presentation is really a stretch.

HPMoR is both a Podcast and a purely Fan work, so Fancast fits well. Also, in 2015 Welcome to Night Vale had 28 nominating votes for Best Fancast last year (not enough to make it an official Nominee, but enough to show up on the Long List in the Full Breakdown PDF). It is also a continuing story that is podcasted regularly, so I feel there’s a wee bit of precedent, even if it’s not fully official.

In short: Best Fancast, if you are so inclined.

[[EDIT – added in response to a question on the reddit HPMoR subforum ]]
I sort of see “encouraging a fanbase to all buy supporting memberships to Worldcon to get specific items added to the ballot” as more of a questionable action

I’d much prefer to get more people involved in WorldCon in general. I would be disappointed if people bought the membership just to get HPMoR on the ballot, and I also think that’d be a waste of money. $50 is far better spent on donating to a charitable cause if that’s your only motivation. But I love WorldCon, and I’m excited about it, and I’m trying to encourage others to share in that fun. If it’s something that seems like it could be up your alley but you’ve never done it before, this is a great year to jump in! But please don’t take it as a call-to-action for HPMoR’s sake or anything. Do it because you’re enthusiastic about SF! (if you are)

I have more questions!

First, please check out the official Hugo FAQ. If you’ve done so, or have a specific HPMoR-related question, comment here. Or write me at hpmorpodcast at gmail.com.

(122c) Production Notes

It is completed!!

Thank you to everyone! I updated a few episodes for the absolute last time (changed out the Patil twin’s voices, and Flitwick, added the epigraph, plus a tweak or two). And the whole thing is available in one giant file, or 6 really big files, at the Table of Contents. I will have lots of stats and things to say next week, so totally come back then! For now, I’ll just quote Eliezer:

“This story spreads by blogging, tweeting, word of mouth, favoriting, plugging on forums, and adding to lists; and remember, if the readers before you hadn’t taken a moment to do that, you probably wouldn’t have found this.”

If you enjoyed the podcast, please let someone who you think may enjoy it know about it as well. There is nothing that would please me more. :)

(oh, and we made the top-100 in our iTunes subcategory!)

(122b) Production Notes

To everyone who has been saying thanks for the podcast on the last episode’s comments – Thank YOU! :) You guys are great, and I feel awesome all over that there are people who enjoy the audio version. I’m sorry I didn’t reply to each one personally, but I was worried about that clogging up the comments? Even though, you know, it’s not that big a deal anyway, there’s not a ton there. I dunno, I just feel weird. Anyway, thanks again!

To everyone who has contributed to the podcast with a voice, or music, or in some other way – I’m having a mini wrap party at my place on Jan 9th. I’ve invited those people I know are in the area, but – if you are out of state, AND by some miracle you’ll be in the Denver area on Jan 9th, AND should you have the evening free and would like to come meet me and some of the other voice actors in person – please drop me a line (same email address the voice recordings/music were sent to) and I’ll invite you as well. :)

To those wanting to know what’s next for the podcast, news will be forthcoming soon.

(122a) Production Notes

I had to take liberties again in this episode, because I have no idea how to translate “…” into audio. Which is unfortunate, because I LOVE “…” in text.

I could be wrong, but as far as I know using “…” as dialog was first introduced in JRPG imports such as the Final Fantasy series. It’s perfect, because anyone who reads a lot knows exactly the emotion that it conveys. The only problem is that it isn’t a word, it’s punctuation.  And as a narrator, you aren’t allowed to read punctuation. It sounds stupid. No one says “exclamation point!”, and no one should say “ellipses” or (if ya ain’t as high-falutin’) “dot dot dot”. In Chapter 20 I just left a long pause. But that wasn’t an option here, as it was both explicit dialog, and quoted in the response.

So I made do with a narrative description that I hope best captured what “…” was implying in this particular case. It’s inelegant, but I couldn’t think of a better option.

(119b) Production Notes

For me personally, one of the most interesting aspects of HPMoR is that the people who dislike it the most are the ones that would probably appreciate it the most, and yet they’ll never know that.

Allow me to explain.

Among the people you’ve tried to share HPMoR with, but who disliked it, what is the most common complaint? If your experience is anything like mine (and most of the people I know), it’s that Harry is an arrogant little brat. His first sin is treating adults like equals and expecting to be treated like an equal in kind, which for many people is ludicrous. After that is his manipulation of others, and his many proclamations that the way something is currently done is either stupid or insane and should be fixed/optimized. Like the Snitch.

Of course this is what I LOVE about Harry! I love characters who are smart, and who fight against stupidity. I’m OK with some arrogance. To be honest, I like to see some spine and hutzpah in my heroes, rather than mewling about trying to please everyone. Blah, that’s lame and boring, grow some balls and take the world by the horns!

Anyway, I chalk this up to differences in taste and move on, as do most people, but every now and then someone gets really offended by Harry and just goes off about this arrogance for tens of thousands of words.

There are early cracks in Harry’s Awesomeness though. He loses his first army battle specifically due to his feelings of superiority. He is undaunted, as befits his character, but the further we get into HPMoR, the more often this happens, and the more dramatic the consequences. I think generally this isn’t noticed by the reader, because it is gradual, and because as the reader we identify with Harry and we want him to excel and win, and so we keep making excuses for him. And he still has enough wins to make us think “See! He is right!”

Until we finally get this giant wake-up call that just slaps us all in the face and says “Hey! Dumbass! You’ve been doing this wrong the WHOLE TIME! Look, let me show you!

I’m speaking, of course, of Chapter 116, the Quidditch Chapter.

Because the Ur example of Harry being logical and smart and the rest of the world being stupid and insane is the freakin’ Snitch!! Everyone knows this! Even the most hardcore Potter fans acknowledge it.  The Snitch is ridiculous. And having Harry call it out in one of his first interactions with the wizarding world, and keep harping on it, makes me want to jump up and shout in glee. It’s also one of the things that detractors feel makes him an arrogant brat.

And in 116, it is revealed to the reader that Harry is not a special snowflake that was right all along. That there are legitimate reasons the Snitch was widely adopted, and that there’s a long history behind what makes the sport what it is. Any wizard who actually cares about Quidditch is already aware of the Snitch Situation (or “Snitch Sitch”) and is deeply concerned about what to do about it. The real problem is that Coordination Is Hard, and Harry hasn’t done anything to address that. And now, looking back on it, wow, there were so many other points in the book where this sort of thing was also the case, but Harry was oblivious to it, and I didn’t notice either.

Of course Harry isn’t privy to this big reveal. He has to wait a few more chapters before he catches up with the reader. But we’re already primed with the knowledge of his flaw, so it’s a natural progression when we see him fall right back into that same trap and nearly destroy the entire freakin world, by assuming that he just knows better than everyone else who’s ever lived. He even tries to route around Merlin’s safeguards, because of course he does, he’s Harry Potter, safeguards weren’t meant for him. It’s a good thing Merlin was careful, and that Voldemort was around to save the world from Harry’s simple assumption of superiority.

Which makes “Don’t get cocky, kid” the longest lesson taught in HPMoR, spanning the entire work. And one of the few that doesn’t have a chapter named after it. And, most importantly, it is a payload that is masterfully aimed and delivered. Most message-fic has limited utility because the majority of its readers already agree with it. HPMoR manages to snare the audience that most needs to learn this lesson by giving us the hero we most love, and then lands that lesson into our face with a 660,000 word rocket-punch we never saw coming. Question yourself. Don’t assume you’re right just because you’re smart. Don’t be so cocky/arrogant. It could cost you the world.

The people who most agree with this at the start of the story are the ones who dislike the story most, and will never find out that the story is secretly on their side the whole time. But that’s ok, because the story isn’t for them. They don’t need to learn that lesson. Those who most need it are the ones most likely to love it. Us. Because Eliezer is a genius.