Thoughts on the “Debarkle”

Australian blogger and science fiction genre commentator Camestros Felapton (not their real name, the pen name is taken from logical syllogisms) has taken it upon themselves to write a fairly exhaustive history of the Sad/Rabid Puppy mess in science fiction lit, calling it “Debarkle” and posting it up on their site on a chapter by chapter basis (you can find it here). It’s still being written but as a practical matter it’s beginning to wind down, as the current installments cover the era where the Pups had stopped actively trying to game the Hugo Awards and had mostly dissolved as an ongoing concern. It’s far enough along that I feel all right looking back at the events recorded in a retrospective fashion without worrying too much about new information popping up.

I’m not going to review “Debarkle” in detail here; suffice to say I think it’s reasonably accurate though with a distinct point of view, a well-sourced but somewhat scattershot retelling of events, and as someone who pops up in the narrative relatively frequently (indeed, there are a couple of chapters about me and my work), it’s interesting to see how I come across from the outside. But reading the history as it’s come along has prompted a few of my own thoughts about the events the narrative covers, and their aftermath. Note well that these thoughts will only be interesting to the extent you both know and care about the events under discussion, and I will assume people reading will know what’s being discussed. Also, these thoughts of mine are in no particular order.

1. It really does seem like so long ago now. The nonsense the Sad/Rabid Puppies (henceforth to be referred to as “the Pups”) perpetrated is largely contained in the years of 2014 – 2016, and while that’s not actually all that long ago — a mere five years since MidAmericon II, where new Hugo nomination rules were ratified to minimize slate nominating, and NK Jemisin won the first of her three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards — it feels like a distant memory now, a kind of “oh, yeah, that happened,” sort of event.

There are reasons for that, but I think the largest part has to do with the fact that the Pups, simply and bluntly, failed at every level that was important for their movement. The bifurcated goals of the Pups were to champion science fiction with a certain political/cultural point of view (i.e., largely white, largely conservative), and to destroy the Hugos by flooding the nominations with crap. They did neither very well. Toward the former, the material they slated was largely not very good, and with respect to the latter, the Hugos both still persist and remain a premier award in the field.

Their strategy was bad because it was addressing a problem that largely did not exist and was arrived at in a backward fashion, and their tactics were bad because they exploited loopholes and antagonized everyone who was not part of their clique, activating thousands of dormant Hugo voters against them. They were routed through a simple mechanism for which they had not accounted (“No Award”), and once their slating tactic was blunted by a nomination rule change, they flounced entirely.

When your only track record is that of complete failure, it’s not surprising you don’t have much of an impact. Meanwhile the Hugos have been doing perfectly well, with excellent finalists and winners in most categories, and a wider and more diverse range of authors and creators. Nor are these works or creators obscure, either to fans or the general public; of the six Best Novel finalists for the current year, four are New York Times bestsellers (and commensurately bestsellers on other lists as well), and the authors of the two that are not, have won Hugos and other awards before. The Best Series finalists add a couple more bestsellers and award winners to that stack as well. The Hugos reflect what they are assumed to reflect: What’s interesting, and to varying degrees popular, in the larger field of the genre.

Basically, the post-Pup era has been a golden one for the genre and the award they tried to brigade, and that’s a much more interesting narrative.

2. The authors The Pups put on their enemies lists have done pretty well. This is correlative, not causative, to be sure — nothing the Pups did had much to do with these authors’ critical and commercial successes, and indeed those successes are to some degree why these authors were on the enemies list to begin with — but it’s certainly interesting.

Among the several authors who qualify in this category, I’ll mention two: Me and NK Jemisin. We were particularly favorite targets of the various strains of Pups, who liked to declare that we were nowhere as popular as we were made out to be, that various politically correct forces in publishing and fandom were responsible for our successes, that the fix was in regardless of whatever tripe we published, that our actual sales numbers were terrible, and so on. Along with that was a lot bigoted nonsense; the Pups spent a fair amount of time attempting to devalue my masculinity (among other things it was simultaneously hinted that I was gay and dominated by my wife, which is a nice trick if I do say so myself), and the nonsense I got was nothing compared to what was aimed at Jemisin, a black woman.

Fast forward to 2021 and… well, I’m certainly doing just fine these days, in terms of sales, awards and career opportunities. As for Jemisin, she’s inarguably the most important speculative fiction writer of her generation (note: I’m in her generation), a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, and currently writing scripts for the upcoming big studio adaptation of her Broken Earth trilogy. Oh, and both of us are Hugo finalists this year. Now, sure, the Powers That Be may have simply decided to really go all in on faking our respective successes over the last half decade, but the simpler explanation is that, rather than being propped up by The Politically Correct Man, we’re actually good at what we do and we’re savvy enough, business-wise, to catch a wave swelling beneath us. If the Pups have shown us anything, it’s that you can’t simply brigade questionable material to success. There has to be quality there.

3. The Pups have largely not benefitted commercially from their actions. During the course of the Pup nonsense, I was made aware that at least some of the industriousness of a couple of the prime movers was the belief that the noise and controversy of their actions would help drive sales, perhaps through curiosity about the work and perhaps out of the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Some of the more obscure Pups hoped to become less obscure, and the ones who were already comfortable perhaps thought they might move up a rung or two on the ladder.

And, five years later… not really? The best case scenario sees the most popular Pups more or less at the same level of sales and popularity as they were when the nonsense started; they were not hurt by it because they already had their fan bases, contracts and distribution, and their fan base was either sympathetic to their Pup positions, or didn’t know and/or care.

(The latter, incidentally, is important to note; the Pup nonsense really was inside pool and few people not deeply committed to the genre knew much about it. Almost no one in the larger world would (or does) know or care much about an internecine struggle involving the mechanics of a genre award. Bestselling writers are so because they can draw in readers outside of the relatively small base of established SF/F fandom. They weren’t going to be substantially hurt by the Pup antics.)

With that said, the relatively small base of established SF/F fandom can be important for new, struggling and midlist authors, and “new, struggling and midlist authors” describes a fair number of the Pups. I don’t think those authors did themselves any favors alienating fandom, both in actions and in their characterization of fandom at the height of the nonsense, and (for some of the more traditionally established and published authors) by associating themselves and their personal brands with actual hateful bigots. Of the main Pups who were not bestsellers before the nonsense, none of them as far as I can see have really broken out since, in terms of sales and popularity. They’re no longer new, just midlist and/or struggling. They’re not gone — lots are still publishing — but five years on, any benefit they might have gotten from the nonsense is well over and done, and there’s not much record of any benefit.

The one silver lining, perhaps, is that as time goes on the Pup events will become even more obscure than they are today, and there will be a generation of fandom that neither knows much about it, nor care about it if they do. So they have that going for them, which is nice.

4. Even if it had succeeded, the Pup nonsense was futile; the genre had already changed. To the extent that the less malignant Pups had a strategy at all, it missed the realities of the publishing world. Even if the Hugos had lacked a “No Award” mechanism and some of their work walked away with rockets, it wouldn’t have changed what was being published in science fiction and by whom… and who was buying it. Brute-force manipulation of award results, at best, devalues the award itself. But awards, while nice and occasionally useful, aren’t actually hugely significant to the bottom line of publishing. Acquisitions and sales are.

What the Pups missed (or, if they did not miss, at least severely misunderstood) was who is acquiring genre work these days and who is buying it. Hint: it’s not all straight white dudes, and indeed, it may not even be majority straight white dudes anymore. The legions of associate-to-senior editors in publishing right now and in the last decade are more diverse than they’ve ever been, less white, less male, more queer… and with a hellaciously passionate work ethic and a damn fine eye for material. They didn’t necessarily come up through “traditional” science fiction. Lots of them came up through YA or from other genres, and developed their own personal canon of works that may or may not have included “classic” SF work. When they bought work, they didn’t just buy for the audience that SF/F books were assumed to address. They bought for the audience they wanted to bring into the field. They did it in book publishing, and in short fiction publishing as well.

And guess what? It fucking worked. The Pups liked to assert, without much in the way of evidence, that “New York Publishing” was and still is on its way out (which would not be great for them, as the major publisher in the Pup space, based in North Carolina as it is, nevertheless is distributed and put into stores through a New York publisher). Someone should have told that to New York publishing, particularly its science fiction and fantasy imprints; they’re doing just fine. And not only fine: they’re minting more bestsellers and bringing in more readers to the genre and being a larger part of the cultural conversation than they have done before. Likewise, short fiction publishing features more diverse material and storytelling than ever before. Genre literature is finally catching up to where the genre is in other media, in terms of popularity and influence — in large part, I would argue, because the doors are open wide to a larger base of readers and writers.

By the time the Pups noticed this, in their profoundly negative way (not “hey, the field has more and different people in it” but “I’m not winning awards which should be mine, for reasons, waaaaaah“), it was already too late. The more diverse associate-to-senior editors were already in place, working like hell, and their books were already selling and finding and expanding audiences. The Pups didn’t think this stuff was selling, I suspect because they certainly wouldn’t read it, which is a monumental self-own. But it was selling, and is selling, and a lot of it is terrific. And a fair amount of that terrific stuff is now on the bestseller charts and in the award finalist lists.

Yes, yes, but what about the straight white man? Is there a place for him in the science fiction literary culture now? I mean, yes (waves), and even if you consider my straight white male credentials suspicious in some way, there are plenty of other examples — including the Pups themselves, who again are still publishing away, albeit in some cases not with the notability they felt they were entitled to. We straight white dudes show up in bestseller and award lists, still. We just share them more now.

This was already happening when the Pups finally noticed. And by the time they noticed, it was already too late. The genre had changed. It wasn’t just about them anymore, or more accurately, they could no longer assume that it was just about them anymore, as they had done before.

5. The Pup movement is what entitled mediocrity looks like. Which is not to say that the Pups were (or are!) uniformly mediocre writers. Some of them had gotten on to finalist lists on their own steam with their stories and prose, and got decent-to-glowing reviews for their work, and of course sold from all right to very well indeed. But fundamentally the Pup movement was about resentment: Resentment about not winning awards. Resentment about sharing the genre with others. Resentment about having to compete, and being outcompeted. Resentment that had they started their careers 20 years earlier, they might have had more acclaim and baubles. Resentment that says that if you can’t have the success you want, exactly how you want it, then you are entitled to make sure no one else has it either; that you would rather burn something to the ground than to have someone else get it.

At the end of the day, everything about the Pup movement was “I can’t compete, I don’t want to compete, and also, I shouldn’t have to compete, the whole set-up is inherently unfair, so I’m justified in wrecking it.” And that line of thinking is the product of mediocrity, whether or not the prose in question is fine and fair. I don’t know whether that can be fixed, or whether the Pups want to fix it at this late point. Five years on, however, it doesn’t much matter.

— JS

69 Comments on “Thoughts on the “Debarkle””

  1. Mallet is out; please behave.

    Also note that I expect most if not all of the Pups to object strenuously to this piece and the characterizations of their motivations (if they read it at all, and who knows? Maybe they won’t). And, well, of course they would. Bless their hearts.

  2. As the 2015 Hugo Administrator, I can tell you that five years (or six years since it affected me directly), is not nearly enough to for me to forget it.

    I used to enjoy administering the Hugos (I’ve done it four times)–2015 was a shit show that destroyed any joy I had regarding the Hugos. in the long run, the Puppies didn’t affect the field, but they sure affected me.

  3. What’s also really amazing is how utterly myopic and insular the Pups were in their worldview: They thought they were on some great crusade when in reality they were trying to just be the biggest fish in a small pond. All they really managed to do was actually bring even MORE attention to the very writers they despised. Not only that, but they also inadvertently brought International SF/F to the mainstream (hello, Cixin Liu!). Oh, and there was also a one-off joke from Game Grumps.

  4. John Lorentz:

    I think that’s a very relevant point: In the larger culture, to the extent that the Pup nonsense was known, it’s already largely forgotten. But for a fair number of folks in fandom, it will never ever be, because it was an attack that felt direct and personal. So, really, the worst of all possible worlds for the Pups.

  5. It was, however, the only thing I’ve ever been involved with that has show up both as a question on jeopardy and a song on Doctor Demento.

    So there’s that.

  6. On reflection, having a an “Original Puppy” on board who’s out-of-genre schtick is questioning the holocaust and promoting white nationalism might have been a good sign of, if not who the majority of the Puppies were, at least who they decided to join with to build the movement.

    And he had a legion of fans. And he (and other Pups) worked with mmore really bad people. Actual villains, not just entitled white whiners.

    The pups gave wide open welcome arms to that dude who-shall-not-be-named, and beyond the general shitty attempt to manipulate the hugos, that’s a good part of what sunk them.

    People don’t like crypto-nazis. It’s that simple.

  7. To me, one of the truly fascinating things about the Puppies is how badly they, as supposedly professional writers, misjudged their target audience.

    On the surface, I should have been an ideal “recruit” for their cause. Straight white male in my sixties, not reading as much modern SF/fantasy as I used to because the styles have changed and I haven’t really kept up with them, a reader who still harbors a great fondness for the truly old guard: Doc Smith, Clifford Simak, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, H.P. Lovecraft, C.L. Moore, Campbell, Asimov, others.

    And yet…
    …and yet, I’m self-aware enough to realize that the field passing me by is nothing personal, it’s more a choice I made myself. And while I remember being twenty years old and thinking nothing other than sex would beat winning a Hugo Award, were I offered a Hugo now for a story, my first reaction would probably be, “I don’t have to fly on Delta to pick it up, do I?”

  8. Josh Jasper:

    Indeed, they had been warned. They didn’t listen, because why would they? They saw themselves as competent people who could handle that dude. Which that dude used to manipulate them utterly.

  9. Weren’t the Dragon Awards created, or at least instigated, by the Puppies? They won a bunch of the first year, and Correia still won some recently, though for the most part they’ve transitioned to mostly non-Puppy-connected writers (and they always had some, because Terry Pratchett’s last work and some recent Harry Turtledove were going to win categories.)

    But argh, I’m glad they’re basically gone.

  10. timeliebe – Central NY – Dreaded Spouse-Creature to bestselling fantasy author Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS, THE CIRCLE OPENS, BEKA COOPER: A TORTALL LEGEND series), a co-author of TORTALL: A SPY'S GUIDE, Co-author with Tamora Pierce of Marvel's WHITE TIGER: A HERO'S OBSESSION for Marvel Comics. Contributing Editor for VIDEO Magazine during the 1990s, Columnist for C/Net 1999 - 2002.
    TimELiebe

    I look at it being of piece of Trumpism, along with GamerGate, and its ultimate effects were to draw into sharp relief just how entitled Mediocre Straight White Men feel:

    https://imgflip.com/i/5mqqva

  11. The Dragon Awards weren’t instigated by the puppies, but by Dragon Con higher-ups wanting to have an award associated with the convention. The puppies were happy to claim it as their own, but recent years’ results have shown that that’s not the case.

  12. ” is largely contained in the years of 2014 – 2016′ I suspect a fair number of The Pups got caught up in Trumpism and are now ‘Election Fraud’ and AntiVaxxers’ of varying degrees.

  13. geekybrownguy – Originally from Karachi, Pakistan.. now in Lakewood, Ohio, USA. A pretty standard, cliched geek... I like the usual suspects of sci fi/fantasy, am a Trekkie and a Whovian, play D&D and computer games, read lots of graphic novels. I do have an odd weakness for British sci-fi, especially some of the older classic stuff.
    Assad K

    Oh boy… imma have to bookmark that page, it’s gonna be a looooooong read…

  14. @David Gustafson

    Great comment! I’m the same generation, different gender. And I love SF but am not that deeply embedded in the insider baseball sense.

    But I have to say, these days if I crack open a sf book and all I’m reading about are white men named Biff and Steve, I am soooo done. The status quo the puppies fought for isn’t just dated, it’s so damned boring.

  15. As a Wikipedia editor (the one who maintains the Hugo award lists, actually), I get to watch the article on the Puppies (wiki:Sad Puppies), and they’ve largely forgotten it too. The article had never said nice things about them (because it is sourced to news articles, which… didn’t say nice things about them), and every 4-6 months someone will pop up and bleat sadly about how it’s just so unfair that the article cites biased sources like The Guardian and The New York Times for how the thing was viewed popularly, when those are just, like, their opinions man. And then they leave, because they’re not really invested anymore either, even enough to argue back for another minute, just momentarily sad that it doesn’t reflect their own narrative about themselves.

  16. Isaac Asimov asked his publisher over in Germany why he didn’t change the names of his main two I Robot characters to something easier for Germans. The answer was the readers associated science fiction with America. (what they called the United States)

    As I was growing up, the sf of my birth decade was affordable and findable in libraries and second hand book stores. Although I’m proud to be a member of an age with written sf having cellular telephones and diversity, my childhood is also what my idea of sf is.

    Call me a scientist, but I can like two things at once… And I tell you, I get homesick reading The Martian Chronicles.

  17. Technical note: if you read the series of posts by Camestros Felapton, which are quite interesting but also rather verbose, and IF you decide to check out some of the sources cited therein, RIGHT-CLICK and pick ‘Open link in incognito tab’ or else your browser will collect cookies from some rather fetid parts of the Interwebs.

  18. @ Hillary Rettig

    Thanks!
    Yes, I can’t quite conceive of opening a book written today and finding everyone in it straight, white & male. I think I’d keep interrupting the writer to ask, “Where’s everybody else?”

  19. As others have alluded to “everything about the Pup movement was “I can’t compete, I don’t want to compete, and also, I shouldn’t have to compete, the whole set-up is inherently unfair, so I’m justified in wrecking it.””
    The word “pup” there could easily be replaced by conservative/republican/nazi and been wholly applicable.

  20. Whew, I don’t miss those days at all. The last 10-11 years have been so vibrant for SFF and this was an unfortunate bit of childish pushback.

  21. The Puppies kerfuffle paradoxically caused more people to become aware of some works they hated. Notable examples include Chuck Tingle’s books, which got two Hugo nominations (fun but not really award-worthy), and the nomination of the Cutie Map double episode of My Little Pony : Friendship Is Magic (actually quite good; ironically, the same recognition by the Pups that got it on the ballot probably doomed it in the final voting).

    As for the Dragon Awards, they do seem a bit more open to some genres like military SF that are out of fashion among the hard core fans who vote for the Hugos, so perhaps the Pups did get a bit of what they wanted there.

  22. One good outcome of the Pup mess for me was discovering Marko Kloos. The pups put his first Frontlines novel on their list and he declined the nomination. My immediate reaction was to buy the book in support! I loved it and all of his since.

  23. Matthew D. Healy: thank you, great idea!

    This part describes me: “….activating thousands of dormant Hugo voters against them”. Only time I ever voted for the Hugo awards was during the puppy years.

    Bill Ruppert:  Same about Marko Kloos! Never heard of him before the Pups, bought his Hugo nominated  Frontlines book, and now am a fan of his writing.

  24. There’s also a rather darker aspect of the mangy curs: They so very much resented that the praise they were getting from a small coterie of purported Giants in the Field was not being immediately translated into sales, paid instructor gigs, awards, and GoH invites (with no-consequences sex) at every convention. Some of those Giants had… inflated… opinions of both the merits of their work and their Influence. (One of those Giants even capitalized the “i” in snide notes responding to criticism, more than once.)

    That the mangy curs acted, and continue to act, like a high-school lunchroom clique formed around a star running back/cheerleader whose life topped out in high school (life imitating some Springsteen song) should really surprise no one. Neither should the tactics or continuing resentment, which resemble the bathos/pathos of ten-year high school reunions all too well… or so I’ve been told, I’ve never been to a high-school reunion in over four decades.

    Of course, I’m a class traitor: Old, male, straight, military, melaninically deficient… and utterly unafraid of being called a “Liberal,” even during the depths of the Cold War. I always appreciated Le Guin, Cordwainer Smith, Tiptree, and Garcia Marquez more than those unnamed Giants (some of whose identities can be readily inferred, especially after a few dustups).

  25. Dave Creek – Dave Creek is the author of the novels ALL HUMAN THINGS, CHANDA'S AWAKENING, and SOME DISTANT SHORE, novellas TRANQUILITY and THE SILENT SENTINELS, and short story collections A GLIMPSE OF SPLENDOR and THE HUMAN EQUATIONS. He's also published the Great Human War trilogy, including A CROWD OF STARS (2016 Imadjinn Award winner), THE FALLEN SUN, and THE UNMOVING STARS (2018 Imadjinn Award winner). Dave also edited TRAJECTORIES, an anthology of stories about space exploration and its many challenges, and is the author of MARS ABIDES: RAY BRADBURY'S JOURNEYS TO THE RED PLANET, a non-fiction look at Bradbury's Martian stories. His short stories have appeared in ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT, AMAZING STORIES, and APEX magazines, and the anthologies FAR ORBIT APOGEE, TOUCHING THE FACE OF THE COSMOS, and DYSTOPIAN EXPRESS. He's also been published in the Russian SF magazine ESLI and China's SCIENCE FICTION WORLD. In the "real world," Dave is a retired television news producer. Dave lives in Louisville with his wife Dana, son Andy, Corgi/Jack Russell Terrier mix Ziggy Stardawg, and polydactyl cat Hemmie.
    Dave Creek

    I had never heard of the Puppies until they tried to place me on one of their slates without asking my permission. At least one other writer found herself in that situation, too.

    When I started up the Google machine and found references to Vox Day referring to N.K. Jemisin as “half-savage” and not being “fully civilized,” I knew I didn’t want to be associated with him in any way. Parenthetically, with all respect to our host here, I think she’s the center of the field right now, and an insult to her is an insult to us all.

    I don’t know why they were interested in my story.
    Much of what I write is “old-school” SF, with lots of aliens, “strange new worlds,” etc., told in a fairly straight-forward manner. But I’ve always made sure to have a diverse cast of characters, while avoiding trying to tell a story that isn’t mine to tell.

    I have as much enthusiasm for the old stuff as anyone of my generation — Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, et al. But I also read Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Catherynne M. Valente, Seanan McGuire, and many other younger (or at least newer) writers. I’m sure I don’t do as good a job as I might of keeping up with the new stuff, but at least I make the attempt.

  26. At least one of the Pups seemed to essentially destroy his career, insulting the publishing company that published his books (and his wife’s), and they both vanished from that publisher’s lists thereafter.

    The publisher he ankled to was no real substitute, even before they got themselves booted off Amazon.

    And it wasn’t like they didn’t need the money, so that seemed like a bad, bad set of choices.

  27. I remember the Puppies well. They pissed me off so much that I won’t touch their stuff. Of course, I won’t reward them with my attention. I like the classic authors, but also some newer ones, and I really like military SF. I don’t fit their target audience, but hubby does, and he avoids them as well.

  28. @Dave Creek: I understand why you feel the need to apologize to our host, but did you notice that he himself says much the same in this very post?

    As for Jemisin, she’s inarguably the most important speculative fiction writer of her generation (note: I’m in her generation)

  29. Dear John,

    I said most of the following — predictively — back during the Great Unpleasantness, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it now. Not like anyone remembers my deathless prose for more than about 15 minutes, if that.

    My adult life is been steeped in revolutionary politics, from the draft Resistance, through Queer Nation, to the present day. The Pups made several classic blunders, in part because they were such noobs to the game (after all, they were overwhelmingly statists).

    One of their primary objectives was to monkeywrench the system, break it by using its strengths and weaknesses against itself. That’s an acceptable, sometimes-effective tactic, and — in my judgment — they succeeded! The blunder was in not having thought about what they would do next.

    If you want to produce lasting change (of the sort you want), it’s not enough to simply smash the state. For one, it’s really hard to entirely smash a state and the remnants will regrow themselves. Even if they don’t, you don’t magically get the utopia at the end of the rainbow. You need a concrete plan of action that rebuilds from the wreckage. For another, if your masses haven’t signed on to a longer and bigger game plan, the movement falls apart.

    Attempting to repeat your past victory isn’t a solution. It’s one thing to get people to sign on for a one time “donation” and a whole ‘nuther thing to get them signed up for an ongoing “subscription.” The Pups tried to repeat their monkeywrench in the following year and the number of folks they were able to rally was insignificant.

    The other big blunder was failing to realize that human systems adapt. Smack them upside the head and they will do their best to figure out a way to not get smacked. Oft times, the way is maladaptive, dysfunctional, and even dystopian — viz., how the US has behaved both nationally and internationally post 9/11. But that’s not the revolutionary’s problem, their problem is that the tactics that work once aren’t likely to work a second time. Another reason a monkeywrench-redux was doomed to fail.

    A third blunder was hitching their wagon to a demagogue who honestly didn’t give a fuck about them but was only in it for himself. Revolutions are built around self-interest, but it has to be a shared self-interest. The cheerleaders in this particular escapade weren’t interested in anybody but themselves.

    As several other people pointed out, SFF is now such a huge market (and tent) that there is more fiction than any one person could possibly read in almost any subgenre of it that you care to imagine. Including the Pups’.

    pax / Ctein

    ( Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! )

  30. I remember reading a piece by one of the Puppies (I forget who; it was a woman I was vaguely familiar with, I think?) about why she deserved to be a top writer and get paid better and get more recognition. It was full of rhetoric about capitalism and market forces and such, and I remember rolling my eyes that she didn’t seem to understand how capitalism works! Under capitalism, nobody “deserves” anything more than what the market values their product at. That’s the whole point of having markets. She wasn’t making much money because the market (i.e. the SF/F reading public) had evaluated her work and decided that other works by other people were worth more. If she truly valued the capitalist market, then she should have analyzed what the market was buying and shifted her writing accordingly.

  31. In a way, I think sf fandom at large owes the Pups a big thank you.

    Because at core, the Pups was a wannabe fascist-like movement. I call it fascist-like, because sf fandom isn’t a nation in any discernable way, but they certainly wanted to cleanse it and return it to the good old days, and they attempted to be populist about it.

    And there is where they failed utterly, because they were bad about being populists. Imagine a puppy slate dominated by names like David Weber, David Drake, Joe Butcher, and George RR Martin. Especially given the context where more than a few big name authors within the field are yearning back to the sf of old.

  32. At least 2 of the Pups went from mid-list to not on any list at all, AFAIK. No publications since then except by Pup-centered (or even owned and operated) outfits.

    Like the saying goes: “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”
    Minus the entitlement, though.

  33. The best thing to come out of the pup is the glorious backfire of their decision to nominate Chuck Tingle for the Hugo award, provoking his wonderful “Slammed in the Butt by my Hugo Award Nomimation” and many, many more excellent feats in meta-fiction.

  34. Ironically, our hosts own work, to the extent that it features adventures in space with villainous villains and flawed heros, is solidly in the tradition of SF that the puppies thought they were defending, as evidenced by that Dragon award. The Sad ones anyway.

  35. Karl-Johan Noren is absolutely correct: at least some of the Pups were, at core, fascist. I did some research on Vox Day and he is a hard-core Dominionist, tax dodger, and misogynist. A lot of his buddies were just as bad (especially the one who appeared to be attempting to channel G.K. Chesterton).

    I also agree with Stacy: Chuckle Tingle, DeVry University’s finest massage therapist alumnus, is a national treasure. Even if he has an obsession with inanimate objects slamming people in the butt.;

  36. Glad to hear your thoughts, as one of the protagonists in the story, John. While the pups are fading from Camestros’ tale, the main bad actors are morphing into trumpists and cheerleaders for the Jan 6 insurrection. The current chapters are depressing to read, but important for that reason.

  37. @ Anna Haugen:

    “It was full of rhetoric about capitalism and market forces and such, and I remember rolling my eyes that she didn’t seem to understand how capitalism works! Under capitalism, nobody “deserves” anything more than what the market values their product at.”

    You see the same cognitive dissonance with people who whine about being “canceled”. You’re not being canceled, friend, you’ve tainted your product to the point where it’s become unsellable (and no, those are not “conservative views” you’re espousing).

    Which sometimes puts me in the awkward position of explaining capitalism to a right-winger. Privileged people really have a hard time letting go of the “I deserve this” delusion.

    @ Dave Creek:

    “I had never heard of the Puppies until they tried to place me on one of their slates without asking my permission.”

    I somehow slept through the whole Puppy debacle, and only became aware of its scope and effect through various post-mortems. Probably because the writers behind it were not terribly popular, so I interpreted it as an attempt to drum up publicity/exposure.

    Given the direction their careers have taken in the aftermath, it was a spectacular way to shoot themselves in the foot.

  38. I think Ctein makes some excellent points.

    I have always thought that part of what was going on was a reaction to the mechanisms by which the Hugo finalists had changed over the previous years–said mechanisms being, IMO, what I’d consider to be genuine grassroots organizing, or something like it. People complained about the white, cis guy-ness of the lineup, several other someones pointed out that it was a result of what the members had read, and thereafter there were regular reminders that you, too, could nominate for the Hugos, and people deliberately talking about books they’d read. Over time this had its inevitable effect.

    The pups saw this, I think, and thought that they could use the same techniques to get themselves some awards–but they failed to understand the process or how it had worked. Because they had never played that game before, as Ctein points out. They didn’t see the difference between “work to make change” and “cry discrimination and jam some stuff onto the ballot and rockets will appear.” Why would they? They never had to learn any of that.

    Anyway, yeah. Entitled mediocrity is a hell of a thing.

  39. Just popping in to say that the pups seem to have ultimately served as a pilot program for the culture wars approach rolled out in Gamergate and Comicsgate: I can’t help wondering if there was any coordination with Steve Bannon, because it reflected in microcosm the shape of politics to come.

    Also that I’m really relieved that I didn’t pick up any Hugo noms during the period so I didn’t have the dilemma of whether or not to turn them down.

  40. Note: Gamergate predated the Pups (though only with a couple months or so, I believe), and then (some of) the Pups sought allies in the Gamergate movement. If we are to look at a precursor for Gamergate within sf fandom, I think one should look to RaceFail and the Wiscon/Readercon debacle.

    I think the different outcomes between these also points to that fascist patterns of thought only thrives in an absence of real popular movements. Sf fandom is a bottom-up popular movement built around discussing ideas, and thus we had a high builtin resistance to the Pups. The gaming companies, OTOH, were simply motivated by greed and had no way to properly judge the popular support of the Gamergate movements. I believe the Comicsgaters fell sort of in-between here.

  41. I have an old friend who, at the time of The Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Nonsense, was plugged into the publishing world. She worked for Picador, and her job involved following the trends in literature; she was VERY good at her job. Back in 2017 I asked her if the Sad Puppy bullshit had shown up on her radar at all a few years before, and her reply was “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I think that’s the biggest indictment against that whole movement; it wrecked people’s lives to achieve precisely NONE of their goals.

  42. The timing actually follows on from Gamergate and Comicsgate–I remember commentary from the time about the previous linkages.

    That said, you’re absolutely correct about the Pups being a preview of politics to follow. I considered it to be as such, and when the Malheur occupation happened a few months later, I knew things were going to pieces.

  43. I will note, however, that my daughter took as course in science fiction at her university last spring and the professor referred to the Puppies. My daughter was the only one in the class who knew what they were.

  44. @ John Lorentz
    You have my deepest sympathy. I too have been through a similar debacle and I too am still scarred years later. Different continent, different field, but the same entitled white guys trying to force their views on a bottom-up organisation. Most in that movement have forgotten those events, but dealing with the vicious, hateful behaviour changed my relationship with the organistion, and I’ve not been able to take the joy that I used to have since. It’s shame, I wish I knew how to get over it, so I could share it with you, I don’t so all I can do is say “I’m sorry mate, it stinks”

  45. There is a big fact that both your original post, and the comments are missing. The Puppies were, and are still, not really about Science Fiction awards. Just like GamerGate is not really about Ethics in Video Game Journalism(TM). It’s about harassing members of the community, specifically women, queer folk and People of Color – again, exactly like GamerGate. Any measure of their success must be measured on their ability to continue to harass, or directly enable harassment.

  46. As regards Karl-Johan’s post, the Readercon situation originated with a long-standing local situation unrelated to the Puppies, Gamergate, racefail, etc. and a Code of Conduct intended for dealing with that situation which had Law of Unintended Consequences effects.

    Two situations I’m aware of with Wiscon involved specificities which had nothing to do with Puppies or Gamergate etc.

  47. Man it’s hard to believe it’s been that long now. Add me to the list of old straight white dudes who have no common ground otherwise with the pups. It’s always vaguely amazed me that folks interested in SF/F could also be so desperately attached to one (straight white) perspective. Isn’t the whole point to see things from a different angle?

    After almost fifty years as a consumer of media I find this infusion of diversity a huge payoff, not a detriment! I don’t need folks like the pups to give me the Nth variation on life as a white dude. Not only have I done it personally, I’ve read and watched stuff created in a culture that was targeting me all my life. It’s not remotely unusual for me to now turn on a perfectly serviceable tv show and nope out of it before long because I can see all the beats coming. I remember a few years back I turned on some sitcom because I liked all the actors and turned it off even before the 22 minutes of show had gone by. It was so much like everything else before it that there was no new ground being covered even though it was all being done well enough.

    I’d just feel sad for the pups and what they’re choosing to miss out on… if they weren’t committing/enabling misery for other folks.

  48. My tl;dr version of events:

    It was Larry Corriea who first showed how the Hugo Awards could be gamed, followed by Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) who subsequently encouraged enough Hugo voters to write in a slate of nominees. The effort succeeded in getting entire slates placed as Hugo finalists, and the result was a number of No Awards in said slated Hugo categories.

    I don’t believe Beale has ever cared about the Hugos or fandom. Beale wants notoriety and the attention that comes with it, and he got it. It did spur changes in how the Hugo process is done to deal with the slate voting tactic that worked, which was necessary given how vulnerable the Hugos would be to slating otherwise.

    I think those fans who had to deal with this problem and implement a solution did a fine job and they deserve our thanks.

  49. I was at EasterCon the UK national science fiction convention, when the first Puppy-infused Hugo shortlists were published. A roomful of British fans each clutching an A4 sheet muttering who? what? wtf? WTF?! WTF!!

  50. It’s funny, before the Puppies, I only somewhat followed the Hugo’s…usually it was me browsing through Barnes and Noble, and saying, “Huh, this book won a Hugo, maybe I should read it?”

    After the Puppies, I signed up to nominate and vote, every year since. I became engaged, and I discovered SO MANY new authors. Ironically, they’re mostly woman, POC’s, queer…just everything that the Puppies stood against.

    It ALSO gave me a list of author’s whose books I wouldn’t purchase or read any longer.

    So really, the whole thing was HUGE step up in the quality and diversity of what I read now, compared to what I read then. :)

  51. “the Pup nonsense really was inside pool and few people not deeply committed to the genre knew much about it”

    Not just people not committed to the genre! I’ve been an SFF fan since I was a child (I’m 35) and while I vaguely remember seeing mention of the Puppies before (probably on this very blog to be honest) I know basically nothing about what happened or who was involved. Fandom is a very large page with lots of different “homes” online and offline. What is big news to one group of fans is often little talked about or completely unknown by another.

  52. Emma Welsby: Well, if you want to read a meticulously researched blow-by-blow account of the whole thing, our host gives you a link to one right at the top of the post. I can understand if your reaction to that is “thanks but no thanks”, mind.

  53. I can’t honestly say I’ve really enjoyed the writings of the people whom the pups were railing against, but on the otherhand, I have been completely disgusted and revolted by the ones they were trying to promote. So that seems to be a clear failure on their part, and I am very happy with that.

  54. Speaking of CONventions, I have my hotel booked in another time zone to attend in October my first con in over a decade… only to find out that while I am there, the con has just this week been forced to go virtual. (Expletive deleted)

    People! If you read it on social media, then please-please-please check it on traditional media. I did so for my sister who thought that covid vaccines could cause infertility, saying to me “Social media got it from science.” A simple search engine check sufficed to show social media was wrong. To paraphrase the facts of life TV song:

    If you hear it from your brother,
    better check it with your mother,
    better get it right, get it straight tonight.

  55. Starfleet Dude: nooooooooo, you said his name! (It’s very much like saying “Voldemort,” except that it’s annoying botfests instead of true evil.)

    Karl-Johan: I’d look a lot farther back, to the expulsion of Stanislaw Lem from SFWA in the 1970s. By/at the behest of some of those self-appointed Giants. Perhaps even to the expulsion of the Futurians from fandom because some of them preferred socialist/communist alternatives to membership in the German-American Bund. Unfortunately, fandom and speculative fiction have quite the history of finding various excuses to reenact Triumph des Willens when threatened by outsiders, whether “absence of a Y chromosome” or whatever. The mangy curs earned from their elders.

  56. Dave Creek – Dave Creek is the author of the novels ALL HUMAN THINGS, CHANDA'S AWAKENING, and SOME DISTANT SHORE, novellas TRANQUILITY and THE SILENT SENTINELS, and short story collections A GLIMPSE OF SPLENDOR and THE HUMAN EQUATIONS. He's also published the Great Human War trilogy, including A CROWD OF STARS (2016 Imadjinn Award winner), THE FALLEN SUN, and THE UNMOVING STARS (2018 Imadjinn Award winner). Dave also edited TRAJECTORIES, an anthology of stories about space exploration and its many challenges, and is the author of MARS ABIDES: RAY BRADBURY'S JOURNEYS TO THE RED PLANET, a non-fiction look at Bradbury's Martian stories. His short stories have appeared in ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT, AMAZING STORIES, and APEX magazines, and the anthologies FAR ORBIT APOGEE, TOUCHING THE FACE OF THE COSMOS, and DYSTOPIAN EXPRESS. He's also been published in the Russian SF magazine ESLI and China's SCIENCE FICTION WORLD. In the "real world," Dave is a retired television news producer. Dave lives in Louisville with his wife Dana, son Andy, Corgi/Jack Russell Terrier mix Ziggy Stardawg, and polydactyl cat Hemmie.
    Dave Creek

    David Goldfarb:

    Certainly I noticed Scalzi’s comments praising Jemisin. I was agreeing with him.

  57. Maybe its just me, but in hindsight the sad puppies foreshadowed the group that has taken over the Republican party, unfortunately with way more success…

  58. “It’s always vaguely amazed me that folks interested in SF/F could also be so desperately attached to one (straight white) perspective. Isn’t the whole point to see things from a different angle?”

    This is the most confusing part for me too. How is it that green-skinned six-eyed alien overlords are plausible, but a brown-skinned non-binary character strains your suspension of disbelief?

    The future will be very diverse. Far more diverse than we can even begin to fathom at this point in time. If progress upsets you, and you’d prefer to read puerile reactionary fantasies, why go looking for them in science fiction, of all genres? There are plenty other sections in the average bookstore that cater to your taste.

  59. Ironically, I personally discovered the work of NK Jemisin via Vox Day’s comments. It was like, ‘huh. Vox Day doesn’t like this person. I should probably check her out.’ And I did, and then devoured everything she’s ever written.

  60. About diversity in SF, in the latter 1970s and 1970s the New Wave back then certainly offered more than a straight white perspective, so the puppies’ complaint that SF had gotten too diverse was always incoherent.

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