I’ve spent several hours on this, which is ridiculous. I don’t even know why, except that I’m frustrated by all of the “I never said…” “He really said…” “No he didn’t, you’re a lying liar!” “No, you’re the lying liar!” and so on.
An infinite number of monkeys have said an infinite number of things about the Hugos this year. People on all sides have said intelligent and insightful things, and people on all sides have said asinine things. The amount of words spent on this makes the Wheel of Time saga look like flash fiction. File770 has been doing an admirable job of posting links to the ongoing conversation.
I wanted to try to sort through the noise and hone in on what Correia and Torgersen themselves have been saying. As the founder and current leader, respectively, of the Sad Puppies, it seems fair to look to them for what the puppy campaign is truly about.
It started off strong, but then turned into predictable message fiction.
Woah, the Puppies are gonna lose it over this:
The plot revolves around eight strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become mentally and emotionally linked and it is set to explore subjects that its writers felt science fiction shows tend to ignore or skim through such as politics, identity, sexuality, gender and religion.
This monstrosity is now available on Netflix.
It will be fun watching people twist themselves in pretzels trying to explain how the creators of the Matrix are part of a secret cabal bent on destroying Science Fiction.
Sad Puppies consigliere Sarah A. Hoyt offers the latest and greatest example of a phenomenon I’ve seen quite a lot of lately in some of the more canine-concentrated corners of the internet:
[T]he side that says things like “You’re not true fans” or “your tastes are just low” or “your writing is bad” or “Our opinion of what is good IS the maker of what is good” or “you’ll never work in this town again” or “for daring talk against us, you’ll never win a Hugo” is not the Puppy supporters.
I have a question: Who, precisely, is saying any of this?
OK, OK, there are definitely more than a few people telling the puppies’ that their writing sucks. I’ll admit that. What else would you expect? The Puppies gamed the vote for one of the most important literary awards in their field. Folks are now naturally comparing their work to seven decades of previous winners. And their work suffers by comparison. Well, yeah.
But as for the rest of it, I ask again, who is saying any this? This is not a rhetorical question. I’m looking for real live examples of real live people making these claims. Sarah? Puppies? Anyone?
We see a lot of this from puppy supporters: Link deprived posts criticizing what others have said without so much as a quote or even a name. Heck, one such post actually made it into the Hugo voter packet under the byline of a puppy poster-child.
Take another look at these lines.
“your tastes are just low”;
“our opinion of what is good IS the maker of what is good”;
“you’ll never work in this town again”;
“for daring talk against us, you’ll never win a Hugo”.
Real people don’t even speak this way. (And don’t point me to some anonymous commenter, or that one prominent blogger who may have suggested that Amazon reviews should be gamed too. Not the same, for one. A thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters, for another. These are fringe opinions at best.)
In post after post, the Puppies do battle with strawmen of their own construction.
It may be easier to fight a 2-dimension caricature of your critics, rather than the real thing, but if this is the sort of dialog the Puppies write for their fictional villains, then I can see why their work has trouble getting nominated for awards.
There are real ideas to be discussed here; real issues to be debated. Let’s leave all the make believe for the stories.
I’ve learned via Alexandra Erin, to whom I find myself linking for the second time in as many days, that the standard bearer for next year’s Sad Puppies campaign has already been selected (These people are nothing if not well-organized. Bravo.).
According to Erin, Kate Paulk has been tapped to take over the dog pound, and she’s already promised that next year’s puppy-approved slatecraft will be done in a “transparent and democratic manner”.
If this is truly the case, I have a modest proposal to make:
Let’s rock the vote.
No slates. No cheating. Just show up 7 months from now and vote for the same SJW message fiction, or the same gun-totting monster mashups, you were gonna nominate anyway. If it’s really democratic, then the outcome won’t be any different than a normal, unpuppied process anyway. Right?
I suppose we’re all Sad Puppies now.
I’ll confess, I’m just as subject to being drawn into a good-old, emotionally manipulative moral panic as the next guy – hey, I’m here writing this blog post, aren’t I? But, I must admit, I have seldom seen more time and energy put into such an incoherent, and thoroughly unenlightening, debate as The Great Canine-Related Hugo Controversy of 2015.
The word furry of the internet is crying out for someone to unpacked this melee – to take it issue by issue, and try to make sense of it. Seeing an opening in that market niche, I’m gonna take a crack at it.
Let’s start with the “original sin,” as it were, the slates.
In the beginning, there was Brad (Torgersen, best-selling author and Sad Puppies standard bearer). Brad said “Have fun!”, and – oh, yes – there was fun. (No, seriously. “Have fun” was one of the six original goals of the Sad Puppies campaign. It’s right here, in black-and-white. How’s that working out for ya, guys!?)
Try as they might, I’d say even the Puppies are having a hard time pretending this whole spectacle is still any fun. The heavy-hearted hounds seem genuinely surprised by the spontaneous backlash that their skullduggery has sparked, looking especially caught off guard by the seemingly sizeable, and utterly organic, movement to vote “No Award” rather than endorse any puppy-related works. Now, some Puppies have even gone so far as to warn of a counter-backlash, threatening a so-called “nuclear option” that will – wait for it – Destroy the Hugos, Once and For All!
On the surface, the Puppies seem to have a point. These much maligned mongrels insist, quite correctly, that they’re hardly the first folks to campaign for the Hugos, or even publish lists of recommended offerings. In response to these facts, many puppy-opponents have quibbled over what constitutes a “slate”, or argued that what really matters is influence, not intent. But I must admit, I find these arguments, ultimately, unconvincing.
Putting aside the reasoning behind the Puppy slates – which is, admittedly, thoroughly objectionable to many of us all on its own – I’ve yet to see anyone offer a cogent, clearly articulated explanation for what makes the machinations of these melancholy mutts categorically different than what’s been done, without controversy, in years past.
I’d like to humbly suggest that the anti-puppies have been sucked into debating a strawman. While most of the prominent denunciations of the dispirited dogs have focused on their use of slates, the real problem with the pessimistic pups isn’t about slates at all, but rather tactical voting.
By linking their Hugo recommendations to a larger cause – namely, putting those insufferable progressives in their place – the Puppies have effectively encouraged their small-but-loyal pack of supporters to nominate works based on a political agenda – not the works themselves, not even their own individual preferences. That’s the issue. Not campaigning for particular works, but rendering the works themselves a meaningless consideration.
If anyone doubts that this was the predictable, and actual, result these campaigns, ask yourself this: The Puppies recommended dozens of potential nominees, garnering 61 of 85 Hugo nominations in the categories where they participated. They claimed to be promoting a diverse list of works, featuring a range of voices in contemporary SF/F. Well, if the Puppies’ lists were so diverse, how could their supporters have possibly all agreed that each of these offerings was of one the best works of the year? Hundreds of people agreeing on all, or nearly all, the same choices? 61 nominees in common? Based purely on merit and personal taste? C’mon.
Does anyone really believe that most Puppies even read, saw or listened to most of the works they nominated? How many posts have we all read where the Puppies lament the elevation of “message” over “merit”? Is the irony lost on everyone involved that this is precisely what the Puppies claim to hate?
It certainly seems lost on Sad Puppies founder Larry Correia. After helping to engineer the greatest tactical voting scheme in Hugo history, Correia recently declared, ever so breathlessly, that he simply could not believe that he actually had to urge all Hugo voters to read the works that been nominated before voting for the award. But, dude, your supporters voted to nominate these works without reading them either!? What the frack!?
Now, some will no doubt respond that the Puppies are merely fighting fire with fire. They’ll point to calls to promote more diversity and inclusiveness in SF/F, and shout “the other guys did it first!” Just read Sad Puppies captain Brad Torgersen himself. Brad claims the Hugo Awards have been “quietly gamed” for decades by the social justice cabal.
Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.
Brad’s wildly dismissive and insulting language aside, this argument ignores a couple of basic facts.
First, the hundreds of people required to successfully “game” a Hugo nomination vote absolutely precludes such a thing being done quietly.
Second, this line of thinking assumes that the only way to promote diversity is through tokenism. That, in turn, betrays a complete and utter lack of understanding of the issue at hand.
In the Hugo voting process, like in many aspects of life, what often matters more than merit is being seen. The single best way to promote diversity and inclusiveness is to ensure that the work of traditionally underrepresented groups is seen and considered (not “victim” groups, by the way, as Brad chooses to style them). In other words, how about we give a little more time and deliberation to those who’s work may not fit the formula cooked up by an old boys club to which they do not belong?
In the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, this is exactly what been happening in recent years. Influential writers and opinion leaders have been raising awareness about what they see as great work* by, or about, women, people of colour, the LGBT community and others. There is no conspiracy involved. No one is forcing these works down anyone’s throats. No one is calling for Hugos voters to push works of certain ilk, merits aside.
No one, that is, but the Puppies themselves. Huh.
How ’bout we think about that before next year, eh?
Check this space: In coming days, I’ll be looking at why popular awards like the Hugos diverge so greatly from what puppy supporters would expect, and what the Puppies ultimately seem to want from all this.
I don’t read sci-fi fanzines, but I’m perusing my Hugo voting packet, and serious considering voting for The Revenge of Hump Day based on zine name alone.
(Though, shouldn’t it really be Revenge of The Hump Day? Amirite?)