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.
Sad Puppies I: Birth of Puppies: The Sad Puppies bit started with Larry Correia. He had used the tag a few times to criticize President Obama and argue about privilege before calling on his readers to nominate him for a Hugo in early 2013.
“[D]espite providing hours of explosion filled enjoyment to their readers, most pulp novelists will never be recognized by critics, and in fact, they will be abused by the literati elite.”
“Much like Michael Vick, literary critics hate pulp novelists and make them fight in vicious underground novelist fighting arenas. I actually did pretty good, until Dan Wells made a shiv from a sharpened spoon and got me in the kidney.”
Sad Puppies 1 wasn’t about slate voting; it was simply an author promoting himself and some folks he liked for Hugos. Some bits may trigger eye-rolling; other parts were amusing to read. The whole thing was clearly framed as pulp writers/explosions/excitement vs. the snobbish literary message-loving elite.
“[I]f Monster Hunter Legion were to become a Hugo finalist, elitist literary snobs around the world would have a complete come apart that something which was unabashed pulp, had an actual plot, had characters who actually did stuff, and wasn’t heavy handed message fiction dared tread into their sacred halls.” (Source)
In the end, Correia did not get nominated, though some of his recommendations did. It’s interesting to note that even then, Correia referred to it as a “stacking campaign.”
“So the Sad Puppies Hugo stacking campaign was a success for almost everybody else I pushed, but me…” (Source)
Sad Puppies II: Revenge of Puppies: Correia returned to Sad Puppies again in 2014, with the same anti-literati message.
“[Y]ou can support awesome books winning fancy Hugo awards and drive the literati insane! … No more boring, pretentious literati-wannabe dreck! … Vote for Warbound!” (Source)
“The ugly truth is that the most prestigious award in sci-fi/fantasy is basically just a popularity contest, where the people who are popular with a tiny little group of WorldCon voters get nominated and thousands of other works are ignored. Books that tickle them are declared good and anybody who publically deviates from groupthink is bad. Over time this lame ass award process has become increasingly snooty and pretentious…” (Source)
Really, the whole thing seemed to come down to Larry thinking bad, boring, pretentious stories keep winning Hugos over good, fun, pulp stories like his, so he’s calling upon his readers to vote for him and people like him, and to make literari head explodes in the process.
This time, Larry described his picks as a slate.
“Almost the entire rest of the Sad Puppy 2 slate has been nominated.” (Source)
He also got more explicit about the political motivations.
“I said a chunk of the Hugo voters are biased toward the left, and put the author’s politics far ahead of the quality of the work. Those openly on the right are sabotaged. This was denied. So I got some right wingers on the ballot.” (Source)
Among other people on Correia’s Sad Puppy 2 slate was Vox Day, who would go on to run Rabid Puppies in 2015.
Sad Puppies III: The Apupolypse Begins: In 2015, Correia handed the torch to Brad Torgersen, who said:
“I am going to slowly compile a slate. Of books and stories (and other things, and people) for the different categories. So that hopefully deserving works and artists — who tend to be snubbed at awards season — get a chance on the final ballot.” (Source)
One of Brad’s arguments was that Worldcon didn’t represent fandom as a larger whole. He posted a Venn Diagram suggesting that most Worldcon attendees aren’t even fans. (While Worldcon is a very small percentage of fandom as a whole, to suggest that most of them aren’t fans is rather silly.)
Like Larry before him, Brad saw this in part as a political battle, but also claimed to want to get worthy authors onto the ballot regardless of political ideology.
“[T]he voting body of ‘fandom’ have tended to go in the opposite direction: niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology and flavor, and ultimately lacking what might best be called visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun … To that end, SAD PUPPIES has basic objectives: Get works and authors onto the Hugo ballot who might not otherwise be there; regardless of political persuasion.” (Source)
Evolution of the Sad Puppies III Slate: A number of folks have asked exactly how the slate was put together in 2015. Brad mentions soliciting suggestions, and said, “I’ve had a great many very good suggestions, and I am mulling the potential list now.” (Source)
The final slate was announced on his blog on February 1, noting, “If you agree with our slate below — and we suspect you might — this is YOUR chance to make sure YOUR voice is heard.”
So who made the final decision in this process? One commenter on Brad’s site noted:
“This list was generated by Brad Torgersen, Larry Correia, and a few other authors. Their fans have been suggesting various works, but, ultimately, the decision of which works to include was solely that of the participating authors.”
This was neither confirmed nor denied by Brad, who claims, “SP3 is not a same-minded collective. We’ve actually had a tremendous amount of internal debate about how to proceed.” But who the “SP3 Brain Trust” includes is never clarified. Brad mentions only Larry Correia and Vox Day in that same post.
Unlike the prior two years, Sad Puppies III presented a relatively full slate, with four or five nominees in most categories. While Torgersen suggests this list was a democratic group decision, a spreadsheet posted on Google docs suggests that most of the Sad Puppy candidates were not mentioned at all in the brainstorming blog posts, and were either suggested by other means, or else were the personal choices of Brad, Larry, and Vox. There have been many questions about this, and despite Brad’s claims of transparency, I’m not aware of Brad having answered them. (I’m happy to update this if I’m mistaken.)
Updates – Two comments from Brad:
“[A]t this stage, how the slate was assembled, doesn’t really matter. The facts of the assembly have been out there since Day 1 and if you still have a problem with that … oh well.” (Source)
“[I]f you can use the internet, you can Google (within 30 seconds) the original announcement, and the request for suggestions, see the many responses in the blog thread, etc. It was a mish-mash of comments and e-mails from various sources.” (Source – Screencapped)
The Unraveling: In the beginning of Sad Puppies III, I was hoping Torgersen would try to pull things up out of the mud. Over time, he seems to have gone in the opposite direction. By February 18, he was bashing John Scalzi for what he perceived as a slight against Baen. Then there was a shot against Nick Mamatas. He put forth CHORFS as an acronym for Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics. He designated Teresa Nielsen Hayden as the CHORF Queen in a rather lengthy and over-the-top rant after Nielsen Hayden (correctly) pointed out that the Hugos are representative of Worldcon, not fandom as a whole.
TNH: When I say the Hugos belong to the worldcon, I’m talking about the literal legal status of the award. But I also know that one of the biggest reasons the rocket is magic is because it spiritually belongs to all of us who love SF.
Brad: You hear that, fans? We don’t count. The Hugo is Teresa’s personal prize. Hers, and that of the other TruFen and CHORFs. (Source)
To be fair, people were absolutely talking crap about Torgersen, too. There was crap-talking on all sides. Just like you had people in Torgersen’s blog threatening to dox folks from the “anti-puppy” side, calling them “pussy,” and so on. But Torgersen is the Head Puppy this year, and this is part of how he chose to shape Sad Puppies.
He also reaffirmed his connection to Vox Day, saying, “I don’t mind being linked to Vox, because I don’t hate and fear Vox like a little schoolgirl who’s been stung by a wasp.”
Over time, Brad began talking less about recognizing worthy authors and more about his perceived persecution and fear in the genre, his imagined war against the CHORFS, the SJWs, and so on:
Me? My cohorts in Sad Puppies? … We’re done with playing the game. We’re calling out the fear-mongers and we’re saying, ‘Go to hell, you can’t stop us, because you were never as powerful as you thought you were.’ And it’s true. A lot of this correctness crap is a tissue. A smokescreen. The CHORFs, the Social Justice scolds, the taste-maker poseurs, et al., it’s like an overlapping venn diagram of noxious people…” (Source)
He also refused to accept that people could disagree with slate and bloc voting, describing Sad Puppies as a “peasant revolution” and claiming, “100% of the opposition to SP3 can be distilled down to that single concept: snobbery.” (Source)
As word of the Sad Puppy sweep of the Hugo ballot spread, larger media outlets picked up on it, many of them unfavorably, and some of them in aggressively critical ways. Brad saw this as further evidence of conspiracy:
“I suspect some of the insider SF/F people who dislike Sad Puppies 3 decided that the best way to “win” the insider baseball argument, was to stage a broader media flare-up for the sake of fatally discrediting the “poster people” of Sad Puppies 3.” (Source)
He began accusing “The Left” and CHORFs of hounding nominees off the ballots, even when those nominees explicitly stated this wasn’t the case.
Brad: Nobody should have to be afraid of being on a list of suggestions. But Juliette (and a few others) were. Because they didn’t want to be punished for an association. Brilliant, folks! Just brilliant. Let’s make hard-working authors afraid of having the “wrong” people put those authors forward, for recognition.
Brad: You know, 1984 wasn’t supposed to be an owners manual. Juliette’s one of Analog’s bright stars. I think she deserves a Hugo. She was upset because she realized she was going to become a target — a target for the CHORFs. As soon as that hit her, she came to me and requested to be pulled. I think she’s honest about not understanding the “slate” and SP3 were the same thing. But her motivation for wanting off was all about fear. She didn’t want to have to deal with the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction’s version of the NKVD.
Juliette: Brad Torgersen, you are pretty brazen, trying to speak for me, and I would appreciate it if you never attempted to do so again. I was entirely unaware of the Sad Puppy connection … I guess I was too idealistic, thinking that Sad Puppies might be over and that you would just be talking to me about some Hugo recommendations … Just to be clear, you have clearly got no idea of my motivations and are trying to spin them to your benefit … I would never, ever have wanted to associate with Sad Puppies after last year, because of the depth of my anger over their behavior. I felt sick that you had deceived me and betrayed my confidence, and the fact that you denied having done so is irrelevant. You, and your actions, were what I was avoiding in pulling myself off the list.
I know how much time I lost on this post. I can’t imagine how much time Brad has invested in all of his blog posts, and showing up on other Facebook posts, blog posts, and on Twitter to argue with people. It feels obsessive. (And I say that having written a 2800-word post on the subject.) It looks to me like Brad’s primary focus with Sad Puppies isn’t to promote good works so much as it is to argue with everyone.
The Real Problems:
Here are some of the things Brad has pointed to as problems with the Hugo awards and fandom.
“The Hugos especially have become prone to focusing on issues-first fiction. If not outright tokenism and affirmative action, for the sake of the sexuality, gender, and ethnicity of the authors themselves. In those cases, the content of the story is practically irrelevant. It’s the box-checking that counts.” (Source)
“[T]he Worldcon tribe — or at least certain vocal members within the tribe — have gone full-retard-tribal about the affront to “their” award, and “their” convention. So it’s tribe-vs-tribe. Are you in-tribe or out-tribe?” (Source)
“maybe just be wholly transparent and call it White American Liberals Con — An inclusive, diverse place where everyone talks about the same things, has the same tastes, votes the same way, and looks at the world through the same pair of eyes. Whitelibbycon. With the trophy: whitelibbyrocket.” (Source)
“I am pretty sure the point of Sad Puppies 3 was to make the final ballot more inclusive, not less … Oh, SP3 pointedly criticized affirmative action — which makes demographics paramount over content and quality.” (Source)
“We (Sad Puppies Inc.) threatened nothing, demanded nothing, and closed no doors in any faces. We threw the tent flaps wide and beckoned to anyone and everyone: come on in, join the fun! The Puppy-kickers have threatened and demanded a great deal. They most certainly do not want the “wrong” fans being allowed to participate in “their” (the Puppy-kickers’) award.” (Source)
“It wasn’t about dialing the field back to the Golden Age as much as it was about using the extant democratic process to broaden the extent of the Hugo’s coverage; to include Hugo-worthy works (and authors, and editors, and artists) who’d ordinarily fall into the blind spots. And let’s be clear: the Hugo selection process in 2015 does have blind spots. Such as the consistent bias against tie-in novels and tie-in novel authors…” (Source)*
*It should be noted that Brad included zero tie-in works on the 2015 Sad Puppy slate.
A number of people have talked about racism/sexism and the puppies. Some directly accused Brad et al of being racist, sexist, etc. Others pointed to the number of racists, sexists, and bigots among the slates. I pointed out that the puppies had reversed a five-year trend toward gender balance in the Hugo awards.
“[T]he narrative is stupid. That Sad Puppies 3 is sexist, racist, etc. It was stupid when it was concocted. It remains stupid. It was stupid the second Entertainment Weekly stepped on its own tongue, after being spoon-fed an uproariously amateurish and error-festooned hit piece, by parties who have no regard for facts, and who were eager to smear Sad Puppies 3 and everyone associated with it.” (Source)
Part of this aspect seems to be disagreement about what constitutes racism, etc. Brad hasn’t been out burning crosses or anything. Indeed, he pointed out that he’s married to a black woman. The puppy slates included women and non-white authors.
So are Brad and Larry racist? Sexist? Homophobic? What about their slates?
I don’t see an active or conscious effort to shut out authors who aren’t straight white males.
I do see that the effect of the slates was to drastically reduce the number of women on the final ballots.
Torgersen made a now-infamous homophobic remark about John Scalzi, which he later apologized for. I don’t see this as suggesting Torgersen is a frothing bigot; it does suggest he has some homophobic attitudes or beliefs he should probably reexamine and work on.
More central to the Sad Puppies, when I see Brad railing against “affirmative action” fiction, I see a man who seems utterly incapable of understanding sometimes people write “non-default” characters not because they’re checking off boxes on a quota, but because those are the stories they want to tell, and the characters they want to write about. Dismissing all of those amazing, wonderful, and award-winning stories as nothing but affirmative-action cases? Yeah, that sounds pretty bigoted to me.
Most folks already know I think both puppy campaigns are nonsense, and their claims that they’re just doing what “the other side” used to do are wishful thinking with no evidence or basis in reality than I’ve seen. I’ve been remarkably unimpressed with most of the puppy-nominated work I’ve read so far. (One of their recs in Best Related Work doesn’t actually appear to be at all related to SF/F.) I’ll be voting accordingly, and presumably so will the rest of the voters.
There’s a lot more to it all, I know. But I’ve got deadlines, and can’t afford to spend even more time on this today. I’m sure some folks will complain that I’m cherry-picking, but I’ve done my best to find quotes that are either representative of the larger posts and comments, or else demonstrate that yes, so-and-so did say that thing you claim they didn’t say.
Enjoy what’s left of your weekend, folks!