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May, 2015:

Odd Lots

Sad Puppies Summary and Wrapup

Sad Bichon Pillow - 500 Wide.jpg

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?

You bet!

Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy

Really. You can’t. Lord knows, we tried. But Dash just keeps trying to pee on the furniture, and if we hadn’t discovered Pants for Dogs, the ottoman (at very least) would now be a total loss.

So I have to grin a rather sour grin to see people suggesting that the way to defeat the Sad Puppies and others like them (which are coming, trust me!) is to shame authors who were chosen to be on their slates, and keep shaming them until they withdraw their nominations. Several authors did in fact refuse the Hugo Awards nominations that they received back on April 5. Larry Correia refused his because he was the originator of the Sad Puppies idea, and felt that benefitting from it was unseemly. That’s legit, and he gets big points for doing the right thing. Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet withdrew because they didn’t want to be at the center of the ruckus, especially one with political overtones. Bellet said it very well:

I find my story, and by extension myself, stuck in a game of political dodgeball, where I’m both a conscripted player and also a ball.

I can sympathize here. I wouldn’t want to be the ball, either, and we have to respect their decisions. Trouble is, you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. My suggestion would have been to ride it out. Nobody has blamed the authors who were on the slate (yet) and anyone who would is a moron. (Alas, the world suffers no shortage of morons. We’ll have to remain on guard.)

The more important reason for authors not to withdraw is that withdrawing gives the anti-puppies (APs) this peculiar notion that they can use social pressure (shaming) to get authors to do things their way, up to and including refusing a major honor in the field. Note very well: I am not suggesting that either Kloos or Bellet withdrew because of social pressure. I take their explanations at face value. What I’m suggesting is that a certain nontrivial number of APs may assume it, and may further assume that social pressure is a tactic that can win, going forward. I’m already hearing that the 2015 Hugos need to be “asterisked;” that is, marked as disreputable, dishonest, and something that no upright fan or author will have anything to do with. The message is pretty clear: Any Puppy nominee who keeps their place on the ballot is to be shamed and shunned.

Now we can get down to business. The first of my two points today is this: Shaming is bullying. Shaming is about fear. Shaming is thug tactics. I’ll tell you what I hear when I hear people talking about shaming authors: “Nice little career you’re starting up here. Shame if anything happened to it.” Or, another interpretation that’s pretty much the same thing: “Stay on the ballot, and you’ll never work in this town again.”

In other words, we’re supposed to use mafia persuasion to get authors to refuse nominations that just might have been influenced by slatemakers like the Sad Puppies. (What if the works are just really good?) That’s bad enough. However, if you think about it a little more, you come to my second point for today’s entry: Shaming only works on people who value the esteem of the shamer.

That’s how shame works: You know that certain people are going to be displeased with you if you do something, so you don’t do it. You don’t do it because you like / respect / want to retain the goodwill of those certain people. The problem is this: The shamers will thus force only their own people–the people who agree with them and want to be liked by them–off the ballot. The people who then move up to take the vacated slots are more likely to be sympathetic to the Puppies.

Is that what you want? Really?

There’s this peculiar notion among some people that shame is the ultimate weapon, one that works every time, on everybody. My research suggests that it works best on heavily networked depressive teenagers, which would be all of us, right? Heh. So let’s try a thought experiment: Shame Vox Day off of…anything. (Divide by zero much?) Try shaming any of the Puppy sympathizers off the ballet. I’m sure I’d hear the laughter halfway up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. See what I mean?

There may be a way to “save” the Hugos from the depredations of the Sad Puppies. I think we first we need to agree on what those depredations actually are, and no such agreement currently exists. But whether such a fix exists or not, shaming authors is not only thug-like and unethical, it comes around like a boomerang and rips you a new one by driving your own people (the only ones who might conceivably be shame-able) off the ballot.

I honestly don’t think the Sad Puppies are any kind of problem for the Hugo Awards, Worldcon, or most ordinary fans. The whole business cooks down to this: A group who broke no rules made fandom’s Insider Alpha clique lose face in a very big way. Everything in the Sad Puppies dustup follows from that.

The Puppies are unshameable. Get over the butthurt, or bad things will happen, things that have nothing to do with shame, but everything to do with money, demographics, and the shape of SFF going forward. Give me a week or so (it’s nuts here) and I’ll tell you a little more about that.

Odd Lots

The Mysterious Electric Sword

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90% of the held mail that came in while we were in Phoenix was junk mail, mostly catalogs and postcards from place like Bath Fitter. 9% was real mail, most of it (alas) bills. 1% was…weird. And cool.

One of my readers, Guy Ricklin, sent me something he bought at a garage sale years ago for a dollar because it looked like an electric sword. He asked me if I wanted it, and I said, Sure! So there it was, in and among the shoe, pet supplies, and gardening catalogs. And yup, it looks like an electric sword. A shortsword, more precisely, as the “blade” is 14 inches long. The blade part is formed sheet aluminum with the resistance element inside. The handle is some stiff black sheet material (cardboard soaked in Bakelite?) folded over, with the cord running between the two halves.

No, I didn’t plug it in. What am I, nuts? (I was tempted.) I did measure the resistance at 217 ohms, which across a 120V line would draw 0.552 amps, and dissipate 66 watts. That’s a certain amount of heat, but not a huge amount of heat.

One side of the aluminum blade (shown above) is formed and curved. The other side is completely flat and polished smooth. I’ve looked online and found nothing remotely like it. I’m guessing that you’re supposed to rub the polished flat side over something. Laundry? Hair? Pasta? Gingerbread? I sniffed it, and as you might expect of Ye Olde Elecktrickle Stuffe, the whiff of Bakelite overpowers anything that it might have been used on in its long-gone heyday.

So what is it? You tell me. Really. Guy and I and probably a number of other curious people would very much like to know.


Carol and I just got back from two weeks in Phoenix, in a house rented through VRBO. We had intended to scout out neighborhoods as part of a long-term project to buy a winter place down there. We had a daily routine: After breakfast, we threw QBit and Aero in the car and headed over to one of the local parks. (Jack and Dash don’t travel as well, so we boarded them with Grandma Jimi.) After the dogs had had enough, we got back in the car and cruised the surrounding neighborhood, noting details we would otherwise have breezed past, including For Sale signs. That night we looked up all the For Sale signs on Zillow. The next day we looked at the map and chose a different park. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On Day 2 we paused to watch a ball game of some sort, played by a crew of East Indian guys. It almost looked like baseball, and then it hit me: Cricket! I had never seen a cricket game before. I have no idea what the rules are, and I wasn’t used to seeing the pitcher bounce balls off the ground on the way to the batter. Maybe it was just that they were on a deadline or something, but the game went a great deal faster than baseball. (I’m not alone in thinking that baseball is too slow to be interesting.) So is there sandlot cricket? I’d even be willing to try that.

On Day 3 we ran into a woman walking her little dog (which I think is a dashuahua) and after talking briefly about dogs we asked her if she lived in the neighborhood and what she thought of it. She did, and told us about it, and when we said we were interviewing neighborhoods for a winter place, she let slip that she was a realtor. So although we hadn’t really intended to look at individual properties this trip, she clearly knew what she was talking about, and we spent much of the rest of our two weeks touring homes on large lots in a rectangle bounded by Hayden, Greenway, Tatum, and Shea.

One of them truly called to us, and we looked it over carefully. It has a PV solar array that can put out 5000 watts in peak sun, a fenced pool, and (critically) no stairs. A little pricier than we’d like, but then again, what isn’t? So we’re still researching it and chasing down financing. Besides, I’d have to have another workshop scratchbuilt. Have done that twice now, so a third time would be no big deal. Or so I hope.

We’ll be back there later this year and will pick up the quest again.

A marksman friend of mine drove out from California so we could punch some holes in calibrated cardboard up at the Ben Avery Shooting Range near Cave Creek. We pumped about 150 rounds total, first at 25 yards (with a .22 rifle) and then at 100 yards, with his AR-15. I did a reasonably good job, and got ten rounds into a 3 1/2″ circle at 100 yards with the AR-15, including two in the 1 1/4″ bullseye circle. The range was so crowded that several .38 rounds from other people hit our targets. (They probably struck the ground and got turned to one side or the other by hitting a rock.) There was a miserable crosswind, and I’m far from a marksman, so I’m satisfied with what I did.

It was the first long trip we took in our new 2014 Durango. That car is so comfortable that I could credibly describe it as a Barcalounger with a V8. It’s about 840 Interstate miles, and we split the run at Grants, New Mexico. I forgot to write down the average mileage for the trip down, but for the trip back it was 24.5 MPG, which I thought was pretty good for a thing this size cruising at 75-80 MPH.

Why do I want a place in Phoenix? We lived there for 13 years and considered the weather good for nine months out of the year. Then we moved to Colorado, and consider the weather good about six months out of the year. Colorado winters are getting worse, and (sorry, Certain People) based on my research I’m betting against global warming. Besides, I miss swimming pools.

I found something interesting in the pile of held mail that I brought home yesterday. More on that tomorrow.

Odd Lots

Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up

Yes, I’ve been scarce in recent weeks, but bear with me: I’m off doing something difficult but important, which I’ll tell you about later.

Although it’s been going on now for three years, I hadn’t ever heard of the Sad Puppies phenomenon until a couple of months ago, and what brought it to my attention was an ongoing rumble raging up and down the social networks and blogosphere. The rumble was just a rumble until April 4, when the Hugo Award nominations for 2015 were announced. Then, ye gods and little fishes, the Puppies swept the slate and it became Hugogeddon. I’ve already described the Sad Puppies thing here as part of a series that I’d originally intended to focus on Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave SF manifesto. It’s a movement to bring new people into the Worldcon culture and perhaps get some attention for writers who for whatever reason are never considered for the Hugo Awards. The Sad Puppies 3 effort was all very much up-front and out in the open. The most powerful man in SFF publishing, Patrick Neilsen-Hayden, stated quite clearly that the group violated no rules whatsoever.

But oh, my, the dudgeon, the squealing, the bright purple faces, the curses and threats and slobbering on the floor. Writers of considerable stature, whom I had read and long respected, lost that respect instantly and went onto my Seventh-Grade Playground Tantrum-Throwers List. They seemed to think that anyone who put forth a list of recommended authors or works was trying to dynamite the awards, and (worse) that this was a brand-new thing that had never been tried before. Well…Mike Glyer, who belongs to the Anti-Puppy (AP) faction, pointed out that slatemaking has been practiced erratically since the very first Hugo Awards season in…1953. Apparently the difference between recommendations and a slate is that a slate is put forth by people we dislike.

Takeaway: Hugo Award slatemaking is nothing new, and does not violate the rules. You have a constitutional right to be upset about it. I have a constitutional right to think of it as a nonissue. I’m not going to argue that point any further in this entry. (I doubt I will argue that point further at all. Don’t even bring it up in the comments.) I have something else in mind entirely. Let me phrase it as a question:

How in hell could a couple of mostly unknown authors turn the venerable Hugo Awards inside-out?

My answer: adverse attention. For a definition, let me quote from a textbook that I made up just now: Zoftnoggin & Wiggout’s Fundamentals of Sociometry.

Adverse attention is a rise in the attention profile of a previously obscure phenomenon caused by the actions of an entity that opposes that phenomenon. In the vast majority of cases, the triggering force is outrage, though it sometimes appears through the action of envy, pride, lust, asshattedness, butthurt, or other largely emotional psychopathologies.

This being sociometry, adverse attention may be quantified, and there is a standard unit for expressing it:

The fundamental unit of adverse attention is the streisand, defined as one previously uninterested person achieving a degree of interest in a phenomenon sufficient to compel them to email, share, or retweet information about that phenomenon to one other person in a social network. As the information propagates across a social network, the connectedness of the network influences the total amount of adverse attention that arises. For example, if each of ten previously uninterested persons receiving the information passes it on to only one previously uninterested person, eleven streisands of adverse attention have been created. If one of those previously uninterested persons has 200 followers on Twitter or 1000 Facebook friends, the number of streisands increases rapidly. In a sufficiently dense network, the rate of increase can become close to exponential until the number of previously uninterested persons asymptotically approaches zero.

I’ve seen evidence for this in the comment sections of many blogs that have criticized or condemned the Sad Puppies. A common comment goes something like this: “Wow! I never knew that you could vote for the Hugos without going to Worldcon! And I just downloaded the free preview of Monster Hunter International. This is way cool!” Zing! The world gets another Puppy.

The emotional tenor of the criticism matters too. I’ve seen a few comments that go something like this: “I’d never heard of the Sad Puppies before. I’ve been trying to figure out which side is right, but the sheer nastiness of the Sad Puppies’ critics makes me think they’re just sore losers. I’m more or less with the Puppies now.”

Then, of course, there are the hatchet-job articles (all of them roughly identical) in what most people consider legitimate media, like Entertaintment Weekly, which later retracted the article once it became clear that it was libelous. The Guardian wrote another hit-piece that fell short of libel but still misrepresented the phenomenon. These are not just blogs. These are significant publications that have a lot of readers.

And those streisands just keep piling up.

It’s something like a sociological law: Commotion attracts attention. Attention is unpredictable, because it reaches friend and foe alike. It can go your way, or it can go the other way. There’s no way to control the polarity of adverse attention. The only way to limit adverse attention is to stop the commotion.

In other words, just shut up.

I know, this is difficult. For some psychologies, hate is delicious to the point of being psychological crack, so it’s hard to just lecture them on the fact that hate has consequences, including but hardly limited to adverse attention.

My conclusion is this: The opponents of Sad Puppies 3 put them on the map, and probably took them from a fluke to a viable long-term institution. I don’t think this is what the APs intended. In the wake of the April 4 announcement of the final Hugo ballot, I’d guess the opposition has generated several hundred kilostreisands of adverse attention, and the numbers will continue to increase. Sad Puppies 4 has been announced. Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have lots of new fans who’d never heard of them before. (I just bought the whole Monster Hunter International series and will review it in a future entry.)

To adapt a quote from…well, you know damned well whose quote I’m adapting: “Attack me, and I will become more popular than you could possibly imagine.”

Or, to come closer to home, and to something in which I have personal experience: “Feed puppies, and they grow up.”

Actions have consequences. Who knew?