Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

SP4 Logo 500 Wid.jpg

After the appalling 2015 Hugo Awards ceremony (google “Hugo Awards asterisks”; I can’t bring myself to write about it) there arose a litany:

The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
(Repeat until purple.)

Except…they didn’t. The losers were the poor writers who would likely have won the award if the Worldcon Insider Alphas hadn’t decided to burn the award down rather than let people they disapproved of win it. The even bigger losers were the Hugos themselves, which are now proven to be political proxies for a bogglingly stupid culture war that most of us would prefer not to fight.

The biggest losers of all were the hate-filled tribalists themselves, Alphas down to their shitflinging Omega footsoldiers, who got their asses handed to them in a big way and threw the only tantrum that they could. Now, I don’t know precisely what to make of it, beyond my longstanding contention that tribalism will be the end of us all if we’re not careful. What I can say with fair confidence is that it isn’t over. (More on this later.) What I can say with complete confidence is that the Sad Puppies won big on several fronts:

  • They brought the cobwebbed machinery behind the Hugo Awards out into the open where everybody could look at it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • They made everyone aware of the curiously obscure fact that you don’t have to go to Worldcon to vote for the Hugos. All you need is $40 (soon to be $50, I think) and an Internet connection.
  • They exposed corruption that’s been going on for quite a number of years, and I’m not talking about inclusiveness, or diversity, or clever (if silly) experiments with pronouns here. (That’s a separate issue.) I’m talking about the fact that a derivative and mostly boring novel like Redshirts can only win a Hugo via corruption.
  • They alerted everyone to the fact that Worldcon and traditional SF fandom are rounding errors compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy SF and fantasy. Too few people nominate and vote for the awards to make corruption impossible and the awards themselves meaningful.

That’s a lot, right there. That would be enough, in fact, to persuade me that the Puppies won. But the Sad Puppies did something else: They created the nucleus around which a whole new fandom is crystallizing. People who took that lonely walk away from SFF suddenly realized that lots of other people were taking the same walk, and for the same reasons: Modern print SF is for the most part dull, dudgeon-rich message pie, and fandom is ideologically exclusionary and mostly under the control of a handful of high-volume haters. (I and many others have been called fascists one too many times.) If you have the unmitigated gall to have libertarian or (gasp!) conservative leanings, there is no place for you at that table.

Well, alluvasudden there’s a brand-new table.

In part (like most of everything else these days) it came from Amazon. The NY imprints have a powerful bias against fiction with libertarian or conservative themes. While they were the gatekeepers, there was little to be done. Now, with indie-published ebooks generating close to half of all ebook sales, authors can make fair money (or even a good living!) without bending the knee to Manhattan culture. They don’t even need ISBNs. They do have to rise above a pretty high noise level, but that’s a technical challenge: If you write well and understand the nature of the game, you will be noticed. The more you write, the more you’ll be noticed, and the easier it becomes.

What didn’t come from Amazon came from Google. The commotion generated by the Sad Puppies’ sweep of the Hugo nominations got a lot of attention. Commotion does that; it’s almost a physical law. People who hadn’t followed the SF scene for many years (if ever) discovered Web forums and new authors whose vision of SFF was far closer to their own.

Ironically, most of that commotion came from the Sad Puppies’ opponents, who could have strangled the Puppies in their sleep simply by keeping their mouths shut. But no: They had to vent their tribal butthurt, and in doing so recruited thousands of brand-new Puppies to the cause.

This new fandom centers around a crew of writers who (I suspect) give the New York imprints nightmares: Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, John C. Wright, Peter Grant, Cedar Sanderson, Brian Niemeier, Amanda Green, Kate Paulk, Tom Knighton, R. K. Modena, Dave Freer, and many others whose work I’m only beginning to sample. Some have books from the tradpub imprints (Baen especially) but all are indies as well. I’m linking to their Web forums here so you can discover them too. Additional sites of interest include collaborative webzines like The Mad Genius Club, The Otherwhere Gazette, and Superversive SF. (Several of the above authors contribute to all three sites.)

At least one SF convention leans libertarian: Libertycon, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There may be more than that, especially among the smaller gatherings. I don’t know, but I’m always looking. I think there’s a lot of upside in smaller, in-person meetups held in local pubs and other gathering places, and if I can’t find one in Phoenix I may well start one. I’m intrigued by reports from the major Puppy authors who have attended various media cons around the country. Sarah Hoyt’s is instructive. The boggling crowds at events like ComiCon are more diverse by far than attendees at traditional literary cons, and much, much younger. There is way more interest in textual SFF at the media cons than I expected. It’s not all movies and comic books. Now, I’m not sure how much I’ll be attending media cons; Worldcon-level crowds make me a little crawly, and the media cons draw eight to ten times more people. What stood out in those reports for me was the fact that people at the media cons were actually having lots of pure freeform fun, not searching desperately for something to be offended about.

The bottom line is that a vast and mostly invisible network of new friendships happened as a result of the Sad Puppies phenomenon. I’m reading more SFF now than I have in a decade. The Paperwhite helps, of course, as does the “toss-it-in-the-cart” pricing that predominates in the Kindle store. I’m corresponding with other writers whom I’d not met before. I’ve learned that indie publishing can work, and work well. (Thanks, Sarah!) I’m hearing others saying more or less the same thing about the Sad Puppies universe: “It was like coming home.”

And it’s not over.

No sirree. Sad Puppies 4: The Embiggenning is well underway, run by Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green. These are formidable women; I pity the poor tribal troll who tries to call them “female impersonators.” The logo once again is from Lee “ArtRaccoon” Madison. Sad puppies Frank, Isaac, and Ray from last year’s logo have returned, this time bringing their new robot friend Robert with them. Robert isn’t the least bit sad. He has no reason to be.

His side is winning.

(More thoughts on this issue of a new SFF fandom as time/energy allow.)


  1. William Meyer says:

    In our age, everything is either a cause or a right. It is wearing, extremely.

    The Cunning Blood is the first (relatively) new SF I have read since can’t remember when. Well, not quite. I did sample a couple of fairly appalling Amazon Firsts.

    Where once we had Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Silverberg and others, we now see Stephen King lumped into SF. And there is a pantheon of would be SF authors out there, churning out… well, stuff. I have not found the patience nor energy to wade into it all. Too disappointing.

    Your list of authors here may lead me to some SF which I will find worth my time. For that, thank you.

    1. Erbo says:

      You’ve touched upon a big issue with indie publishing…or rather, highlighted an ancient principle, known as “Sturgeon’s Law.” (“Ninety percent of science fiction–of everything–is crap.”) When you have a world where anyone can put a bunch of words down and put it up on Amazon for 99 cents, you’re going to get an awful lot of sheer dreck.

      The key is figuring out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, people are working on solutions to that. Jeff calling out a list of good authors is a simple example; there will be others, possibly more sophisticated, in the future.

      1. 50 years of buying mass-market paperbacks suggests that indie publishing has no lock on Sturgeon’s Law for SFF, heh.

        Amazon’s stack-ranks for Kindle books aren’t fail-safe, but it’s a very good place to start. You have to read the reviews as well.

        The categories are important. Tastes and emphases differ; not everyone loves urban fantasy, even if it’s well-done urban fantasy. Vampires and zombies have always puzzled me, but some folks just eat ’em up. (As Eric knows well, zombies are comedy platinum. And if I could figure out an angle on vampires, they’d get the same treatment. I’ve worked out a fine sendup of hipsters for a future Stypek adventure starring Stypek, Tuggur, and Poundfoolish the Philosopher-Clown. Have another sendup for genies in the works. And banshees, don’t get me started…)

        It would interesting to create a system that could look at a story and identify other stories similar to it across a number of axes. That would take some pretty sophisticated algorithms, but just giving it a shot would be a helluvan education.

        Bill, take a look at Larry Correia, John C. Wright, and Jim Butcher. Those might be a good fit for you. Correia writes hard SF in fantasy clothing, but it’s good rousing adventure and internally consistent; I’d say the polar opposite of Harry Potter. I much enjoyed the MHI books and am working on the Grimnoir series now, and so far like it even more. The work of moving has me way behind on my reading, or I’d offer more thumbnails on works by the people I listed in the entry.

      2. Matt says:

        I think that sort of crowd-sourced curation is exactly what he’s talking about in the bottom half of this post. And the interwebs give us a certain advantage there that didn’t exist in the past – we get daily or near-daily “free samples.” if you don’t like the writing on the author’s blog, then maybe treat novels and perhaps recommendations by that same author with caution.

        My own reading of newly published works had gotten very, very sparse after I grew disillusioned with Scalzi and the Tor machine. I spent a lot of time waiting for new Dresden and Bujold, and rereading older works I knew I was going to enjoy. Once I fell in with the Sad Puppies project via several of the blogs, I began to discover a LOT of new material that came highly recommended. Do I like it all? No. Do I like a LOT of it? Absolutely. Do I wish some of the new authors whose stories I enjoy had better – or at least, more transparent – prose styles? Yes… but many of them are improving with time and experience. Peter Grant leaps to mind as an example. I haven’t revisited Chris Nuttall since I didn’t particularly enjoy the first Empire’s Corps book several years ago, but he’s published and sold a bazillion more since then so he must have gotten a lot better as well, and I’ll definitely take another look since I’ve seen several recommendations online from people I trust. And then I think back to some of the greats: Asimov for instance, was definitely not a stellar prose fiction stylist. But is there anyone who has been a fan for any significant length of time that doesn’t at least recognize a mention of the “Three Laws of Robotics?” His work was formative for many of us when we were young; it’s the grand ideas that count, much more than the style. Some artistic facility in the execution, too — that’s icing on the cake.

        Best of all: this indie stuff, it’s all $2.99 or $3.99 or $5.99, not $13.99 or even $9.99. I can afford to buy a stinker now and then at that price point. I’ve actually gotten spoiled by all the sales in the last few months and I now find myself thinking twice about anything that starts with a “6”…

        Anyway, yes, the indie onslaught at Amazon is a little overwhelming, but it’s not hard to find online a community of more-or-less like-minded people to yourself who can help you separate what you will consider to be the wheat from all that chaff.

        1. I’ve pretty much decided that all my book-length work will come in at $2.99. I get $2 per sale, which is much more than I would get selling either hardcovers or (lord knows) MM paperbacks from a tradpub imprint.

          Asimov’s strength wasn’t in his prose style but in his ideas. In truth, The Gods Themselves was pretty damned good. However, I value him far more for the hundreds of science essays I read by him (originally published in F&SF, mostly) back in the 60s and 70s, which I credit with teaching me how to write good technical explanations of complex and otherwise difficult topics. (Don Lancaster’s TTL and CMOS Cookbooks took over where Asimov left off in the mid-1970s, as my interests turned hard toward digital electronics and computing.)

          Fandom was a curation mechanism since the beginning: People got together and talked about what they’d recently read and how much they liked it. The difference today is that we talk over a network rather than across the high school lunch table. In a sense we really don’t need conventions to have a useful SFF fandom. I do like talking to people in meatspace, and I’ll be doing some research on that once we move to Phoenix. I was welcomed and immediately befriended by the Puppies, which made a huge impression on me. (People who call me names, well, not so much.) One of my goals now is to Facite plus catuli! — Make more puppies! — and perhaps systematize Sarah’s notion of the Human Wave for writers.

      3. jic says:

        “The key is figuring out how to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

        True, but I don’t need major publishing gatekeepers to do it for me. And anyway, the problem is that mainstream SF&F publishers almost *only* provide wheat these days, and maybe I don’t want wheat – maybe I’m in the mood for barley, or rice, or corn, or oats, or even millet. Whatever grain I choose, the internet provides the tools to do the winnowing myself.

  2. You’re too modest, Jeff. I’m far less likely to make CHORFs toss and turn at night than you are. Then again, the whole reason they’re afraid–and if they’re not, they should be–is that indie authors no longer have to care about what legacy gatekeepers think. So we don’t.

    Brilliant take on Sad Puppies. Looks like the cusp of a preference cascade. To riff on your interpretation of the Hugo results, I see two big winners.

    Larry takes first prize. Shedding the light of day on the whole tawdry mess was his primary objective, and he’s achieved it three years in a row.

    Meanwhile, Vox achieved his secondary goal of making the CHORFs burn their own house down.

    Next year’s gonna be great.

    1. Don’t write yourself down. You’re only getting started, and I expect great things of you. So get your ass in gear and do them.

      I write too slowly to ever be really famous, though I’m going to give it a good run now that I’ve retired from publishing. Not much will happen until we’re settled in Phoenix, but then, watch out.

      Vox has this talent for living rent-free in his enemies heads. You’d think they’d find some gatekeepers for their own brain cells.

      1. Thanks for the vote of confidence. You’re not the only one I’m working hard not to let down. From those to whom much is given, much is expected.

        On that front, I can report that final revisions to my second novel are proceeding well under Jagi’s direction. Getting it right is proving to be the biggest challenge I’ve ever tackled, but the outpouring of support from many SP and superversive folks has been a great help. So thanks again.

        Good luck getting settled in. Looking forward to what you’ve got planned next. As for fame, I learned from you that it doesn’t take fame to make a good living at this racket nowadays.

        1. It takes some fame. Maybe not as much as you think. The estimable Kevin Kelly tells us we need only 1,000 fans to make a good living. Bookmark this and read it when you start feeling depressed:

          More to the point, it takes the right kind of fame. I want Jim Butcher fame, and not John Scalzi fame. The sort of fame where half the world hates you isn’t a good or useful.

          I think you understand Larry Correia’s 2-word Guide To Making Money as an Author: BE PROLIFIC. It’s hard, but he’s right. Ten novels in print seems to be some sort of sweet spot. Depending on how you define “novel,” I’ve written either two or three so far. (One has not yet been published, and won’t be until we move.) My goal is to be there inside of five years. So whatever else happens, keep writing. You may surprise yourself. It’s the best time in history to be writing SFF. Grab that pony and ride it!

          1. Rich Rostrom says:

            Remember Robert Heinlein’s “Five rules for being a successful writer”?
            Five rules for Success in Writing:

            First: You must write.

            Second: You must finish what you write.

            Third: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

            Fourth: You must place it on the market.

            Fifth: You must keep it on the market until sold.

            The on-line indie market has obsoleted 4 and 5 in his formulation; the new version would be:

            4. Publish your writing.

            5. Keep publishing your writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *