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The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 5

(This series began here.)

I held back Part 5 of this series because the Hugo nomination finalists were announced yesterday, and I wanted to see whether the Sad Puppies (and a separate but related slate, Rabid Puppies) would make their mark on the ballot. The answer is, egad: What a broom does.

But I’ll get back to that.

First I wanted to mention a little pushback on a different subtopic of the series: The Human Wave. A guy I’ve known (if vaguely) for a long time backchanelled me a short note, the gist of which was this: “So you want to destroy literary SF.”

This is a familiar tactic in many brainless headbumps I’ve seen down the years: When somebody proposes that something you oppose should be permitted, you strike back by accusing them of wanting everything except what they propose to be forbidden. This tactic probably has a name, and a place of honor in some online Gallery Of Stupid Argument Tricks. I mention it simply to point out the general level at which much discussion of SFF issues these days operates.

I told him to go back and read the series again, quoting the significant bits.

I’ll say in summary what I said here: The Human Wave is about allowing things, not forbidding things. Yes, what the Human Wave stands against is mostly a certain brand of pessimistic literary fussiness. The solution, however, is to broaden the field. Do litfic if you want. But don’t claim that litfic is the best or only thing worth writing. If the Human Wave movement pushes literary SF out of the spotlight, that’s a choice made by the readers, not me. My take: We need a much, much bigger spotlight.

Now, to the Hugo nominations. The full list from Locus is here. I’ve been a little out of touch with recent SFF (for reasons laid out earlier in this series) and am not familiar with most of them. I got a little discouraged last year when I picked up Redshirts, which turned out to be the biggest piece of crap I’d read out of all Hugo novel winners. (I have not read every single one, obviously, so bigger stinkers than that may be still be lurking somewhere in the past.)

The really, really big question on everyone’s minds today is whether the Puppies had any effect on the final ballot. Mike Glyer did an excellent summary on File 770, with more detailed analysis here. Two-digit takeaway: 71% of the finalists were on either Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies, or both. Only 24 finalists were not on either slate. A record 2,122 valid nominations were submitted. John C. Wright picked up six slots, a new record for a single year. Some other notes:

  • Brad Torgersen, coordinator of Sad Puppies 3, was very careful to keep everything legal and above-board. Even Patrick Nielsen-Hayden admitted that the Sad Puppies campaign had broken no rules.
  • Sad Puppies concept creator Larry Correia withdrew his nomination for Best Novel, received for Monster Hunter Nemesis . He did not want anyone to be able to say that he proposed Sad Puppies just to win awards. He now has the moral high ground against any accusations of corruption that will invariably be thrown his way. Larry’s a class act, in spades.
  • There will be a Sad Puppies 4, to be coordinated next year by Kate Paulk.

Heads are now exploding all over the Internet, which is the least surprising thing about the whole kerfuffle. Puppy haters are trying to figure out what changes might be made to the Hugo rules to make such a sweep impossible. The truth is that as long as you have supporting memberships who can vote, slatemakers will offer slates to their supporters. Eliminating supporting memberships would make Worldcon financially impossible. (I don’t see anybody complaining about the additional money that all those Puppy supporters added to Worldcon coffers.)

So: If you want to stop the Sad Puppies, you have to propose your own slates. (And have the followers to vote them, which is really the hard part.) Bored Beavers? Aggrieved Alligators? Mourning Meerkats? Go for it. The goal is to reduce monoculture, and broaden the spotlight. That’s ultimately what the Puppies thing is about. Let 2E20 slates bloom!


  1. TRX says:

    Through pure chance, I have read or re-read a large number of former Hugo winners and nominees over the last few years. Mostly, I never knew they’d been part of it.

    I can therefore tell you authoritatively that there were *much* worse books than Redshirts that won a Hugo, and many of the nominees would properly have been used a birdcage liner.

    It seems I’m far more familiar with the older books than the ones in the last 5 or 10 years, many of which I’d never heard of.

    HP Lovecraft probably had a line in one of his stories, something like “That which was read, cannot be unread.” Then I could quote it when trying to describe books like that.

    1. Something in the back of my mind was apparently able to unread Beyond Apollo because all I remember about it was its awfulness, which got so bad in places that I giggled. I absolutely do not like unreliable narrators, and that was only the beginning. (I’m talking to myself right now, and what I’m saying is “Don’t get me started…”)

  2. I haven’t read any fiction to speak of in the last ten or twenty years. I did go back a couple of years ago and pick up some old gems from my youth (now long past) and reread them. Those that I remembered well held up well.

    As far as new SFF material, I haven’t touched it. After burning out decades ago and not finding anything really interesting, I gave up and turned to nonfiction to increase my knowledge and have a bit of fun learning new things.

    Nonetheless, I read the entire SP series of essays here and greatly enjoyed the insight, and perhaps part of the explanation of why I lost interest in SFF. I might have to start hitting the public library again for material, just to peek.

    Now I need coffee. My fingers are undercaffeinated…

    1. I suggest Red Lightning and Red Thunder by John Varley. Vinge’s Rainbow’s End is also pretty good.

      Like you, the bulk of my reading in the last ten years has been nonfiction, but it’s been in the service of broadening my understanding of everything, especially human psychology–all in the hope of being a better fiction writer in the last quarter of my life.

  3. Larry Correia, the originator of the Sad Puppies concept, has posted a very long but very complete explanation of what he was up to, and it’s very much worth reading:

  4. TRX says:

    The Warrior/Puppy thing has become astoundingly bitter, and a number of authors on both sides who I had assumed were sensible adults have sunk to a monkey-poo-flinging level while gleefully attacking publishers, editors, and readers as well as each other.

    Meanwhile, their supporters seem to be going persecuted, defensive, and tribal.

    Of course, I personally benefited from learning how small the group who votes on the others is, and that they’re composed of “fans” and conventioneers, whose preference in novels might well be vastly different from my own. That probably accounts for most of my WTF? events when looking at the Hugo award list on Wikipedia. The Hugo award ceased to have any relevance to my ideas of a decent book long ago.

    Meanwhile, people who really should know better are sawing off the limbs they’re squatting on, shaking their fists at their enemies… there are authors on both sides whose work I like, but they seem to be devoting more time flinging poo than in writing new books. I guess one definition of “success” is “I can afford to stop working while slagging off big chunks of my potential market.”

    1. Pretty much this. I’ve been plowing through virtual reams of online discussion, trying to make sense of the psychodynamics here, and have so far failed. Brad Torgersen did a recent post on tribalism that echoes a lot of what I’ve said on the topic over the years, with a great deal more force:

      I doubt I could do better than that.

      Now, there a number of odd thoughts in my notefile on the dustup that may be of interest, and if time allows I’m going to put them together in a bullet-intensive post. No, the other kind of bullet.

  5. TRX says:

    Eric Flint joins the fray:

    He makes several observations about how awards in general have drifted from what people actually pay money to read.

    1. Yes. I definitely endorse that article. Have also been reading some tangential pieces from ESR lately. Here’s a must-read:

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