As I mentioned a month or so ago, the whole Sad Puppies thing took me completely by surprise. I’ve been researching it pretty intensely for a couple of months now. I’m getting the impression that I’ve probably read everything useful about it, and what I’m seeing are mostly rehashes of things I’ve already read. So what I want to do today is summarize my research, then call it done and go back to my regularly scheduled life.
First, for those just tuning in, here in brief is what happened: Brad Torgersen, a writer of military SF, broadened Larry’s Correia’s notion of two years ago that more people should be brought into the Worldcon and to the Hugo Awards process. He explained how the Hugo Awards are decided, including the (suspiciously) obscure fact that $40 buys you a supporting membership in Worldcon that allows you to nominate and vote on the Hugos as well as vote on sites for upcoming Worldcons. Even I didn’t know that recent Worldcon members can download ebook versions (or at very least substantial excerpts) of most nominated works, which is a spectacular deal, and well worth the $40 whether or not you’re interested in the awards at all.
All of this was done out in the open. Nothing was sub rosa. Brad told people to go buy supporting memberships and nominate. He then presented a slate of works/artists that he and others in his orbit thought worthy of consideration, especially those who have been too obscure to be considered in the past. Brad’s slate leans heavily toward what Sarah Hoyt describes as “human wave” science fiction and fantasy; that is, fiction that embraces a wider range of techniques and themes than those popular with modern academic writing programs.
Some time in the past year, an author named Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) created his own similar slate of Hugo Awards recommendations and called it the Rabid Puppies. Vox Day is difficult to describe, much less explain. He’s a very bright guy with controversial opinions, and he suffers fools far more badly than I thought fools could be suffered. His opinions are off-topic here; don’t bring them up. He created his own slate similar to the Sad Puppies, and that’s pretty much all that matters for the current discussion.
There was some bitching about all this, just as there had been some bitching in the two previous years since Larry Correia had originally created the Sad Puppies concept. Nothing odd there; bitching about one damned thing or another has been the lifeblood of SFF fandom in all the 42 years I’ve been involved. The bitching and butthurt has gotten much worse in the last 20 years or so, which is one reason I’ve become steadily less interested in fandom, and have attended only a handful of cons since the 80s.
Then April 5 happened, and egad: The Sad Puppies recommendations swept the ballot. That’s when the hatefest began.
Some notes on terminology here: I use the abbreviation SP to stand for Sad Puppies, and to some extent the more general “puppies” notion of offering recommendation slates to the SFF-reading public. I use the term APs to indicate the Anti-Puppies, people who for whatever reason oppose the idea. I do not use the term “SJWs” for the APs because it’s inaccurate: I know people who oppose the SPs who are not themslves social justice warriors, and I suspect that the vast majority of SJWs have never even heard of the Hugo Awards, and would not care about the argument even if they had.
So that’s the short summary. Here are the points that I want to make:
- First and foremost and above all else: The Sad Puppies organizers broke none of the rules established for the Hugo Awards process. None. All the Powers agree on this, including Patrick Neilsen-Hayden and George R. R. Martin.
- There was no ballot-box stuffing. There are explicit rules against someone buying supporting Worldcon memberships in bulk and then voting them. This has been tried before, but the SPs were not doing it. Brad’s instructions to his readers were basically this: Go buy supporting memberships and vote them according to your judgment; here are some people who ought to be considered.
- One of the APs came a lot closer to ballot-box stuffing by encouraging people to buy supporting memberships for people who can’t afford them. She emphasized that no effort would be made to influence how the recipients would vote, but c’mon: People know where the goodies are coming from, and the likelihood that the recipients of these gifts agree with their benefactors on the subject approaches unity.
- The response of the APs to the SPs was venomous in the extreme. Brad Torgersen was called a racist mysogynist and much else. In truth, he’s happily married to an African-American woman whom he clearly loves and respects. The rotter haters among the APs who suggested that he was hiding his racism behind his wife and daughter did more damage to the APs’ arguments than anything the SPs said before or later. If I had to point to one single thing that turned me against the APs, it was this.
- The media tried to slam the SPs, and mostly soiled itself in the process. Entertainment Weekly actually slid into libel and had to publish a retraction. Other outlets including Salon, The Guardian, Io9, HuffPo, Slashdot etc. published accusations that were all suspiciously alike, as though someone had offered a pre-written summary for them to follow. Most egregious of several lies was the claim that the slate was composed entirely of conservative white men. In fact, there were plenty of women and non-caucasians on the slate, as well as what might be a slight majority of liberals.
- Several people hit me with the “You must condemn the Sad Puppies because GamerGate” gambit. I looked for a causal connection and didn’t find it. The SPs have been around two years longer than GG, and, yes, there is a certain amount of overlap between the two groups. There is also a lot of overlap between the gang attacking the SPs and the one attacking GG. I’m not a gamer and this entry is not about GG. I consider it off-topic; don’t bring it up.
- As I said several weeks ago, the slobbering, high-volume, high-profile hate hurled by the APs probably took the SPs from a fluke to an ongoing institution. I call this “adverse attention,” and it cooks down to the Streisand Effect: Screaming about something attracts attention that makes that something a lot more visible. The sensible response to the SPs would have been silence.
- Voting “No Award” against SP-recommended authors/artists is unfair in the extreme to those who were nominated. It’s an attempt to punish the SPs by hurting innocent bystanders, some or many of whom genuinely deserve the recognition. I predict that this strategy, if it succeeds, will destroy whatever credibility the Hugos have left.
And finally, the largest insight that I had, and the one that I think explains almost everything else:
- The fight over the Hugo Awards is really about humiliation and loss of face. The Insider Alphas (i.e., the Right Men and Right Women) of the SFF community were humiliated on their home turf, and suffered a tremendous loss of face. High-status individuals can tolerate almost anything but humiliation. Their response to loss of face is generally one of igneous fury, and where violence is possible, physical violence. The fury was tactile, and Brad Torgersen received death threats. That pretty much nailed it for me.
Eveybody’s got a theory on how to fix the Hugo Awards process, but to me the process is fine; what’s missing is about 25,000 more involved nominators and voters. A large enough voter base is unlikely to be swept by something like a slate of recommendations. Whether so many new people can be brought into the Worldcon/Hugos community is unclear, but I doubt it.
That’s about all I’m going to have to say about the Sad Puppies topic for awhile. I’m turning my attention back to writing, to the concept of the Human Wave, and perhaps to a suspicion I have that fandom is in the process of splitting. The problems of fandom are caught up in the problems of publishing. Once Manhattan-style traditional publishing becomes more or less irrelevant, fandom may become an overlapping group of online communities centered on authors and genres. Each will probably have its own awards, and the Hugos will become only one among many. Is this a good thing?