The rumor has it that the infamous Sad Puppy slate by Brad Torgersen, Larry Correia and friends is going to take up a sizeable amount of the places on the Hugo shortlist. I’m neither surprised nor happy about it.
I’m not surprised, because it has been a well-coordinated campaign, and the Hugo nomination process is relatively easy to crack with tactical voting if you have a well-coordinated campaign.
I’m not happy, because–
Well, let me make a list.
1) Voting tactically for art awards is not a nice thing to do.
Voting tactically is a way to maximize your influence in tricky situations where you are in a minority. In political elections, which are about getting the right (or least-wrong) people and parties to power, every sensible person considers the tactical aspects of their voting decisions. In political elections, outcomes have real consquences, so it’s not practical to play nice (especially if that means you lose).
When it comes to art awards, I’m not so sure tactical voting is the right thing to do. Fan awards such as the Hugos are about celebrating the best (=most popular among the voters) genre works and having fun. Open calculation and tactical voting takes the good spirit out of it. I also fear that tactical Sad Puppy voting will result in a backlash of tactical anti-Sad Puppy voting in the future. If the Hugo nomination process becomes a death match between Sad Puppy and Happy Kitten slates, the whole point of the award is lost.
Some people have suggested that encouraging others to nominate a single slate is against the rules. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Bying multiple memberships, ballot-stuffing operations and the like aren’t allowed, but there’s really no way to stop WSFS members voting tactically if that’s what they want to do. It’s certainly unsportsmanlike and nothing good will come out of it, but no rule change I can think of will stop it.
2) Sad Puppies is about anti-liberal, anti-feminist identity politics.
Current Hugo-winning science fiction and fantasy literature, Torgersen thinks,
devotes time to pondering racism and ethnicity problems, gender and sexuality problems, and the doctrines of the academic complaint, as typified by gender studies, racial studies, and certain strains of socialist economic theory.
Puppies feel this is a serious problem: most contemporary SF/F is rotten and that’s the reason why it doesn’t sell anymore. Luckily, Torgersen knows who is to blame: feminists, postcolonial writers, suspicious academic types who think about complex issues too damn much. In another blog post, Torgersen gets poetic when he muses about the sorry state of current SF/F. He describes books which have science fictional covers but end up betraying readers who come look for laser blasters:
A planet, framed by galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.
A book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues. Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.
Sad Puppy campaigners complain endlessly about message fiction and how it takes all the fun out of SF/F. That’s an interesting diagnosis, because I have trouble seeing what Torgersen et al propose is going on in the contemporary SF/F landscape. If the stuff that beat Sad Puppies last year — Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Charless Stross’s Neptune’s Brood and Equiod, Mira Grant’s Parasite, Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White and others — really tries to force political messages down readers’ throats, I guess I missed that.
The novel category winner was a space opera about galactic empires and AIs with multiple bodies. Does the fact that the protagonist AI had trouble making the distinction between male and female people make the whole novel a piece of message fiction (and what’s the message exactly)? What was the message the Cthulhu-esque unicorn in the novella Hugo-winner was trying to deliver? Sadly, Sad Puppies won’t tell us.
What they do tell us is that feminists and liberals have hijacked the Hugos and us ordinary fans (who, of course, dislike feminism and liberal attitudes) have been marginalized. This is powerful identity politics.
3) Sad Puppies are not telling the truth about what their campaign is about (that being anti-liberal, anti-feminist identity politics)
Here’s the Sad Puppy party line:
We try to get both people and works onto the ballot who are both a) wholly deserving and b) unlikely to ever be there, due to Worldcon’s ever-skewing and ever-more-politicized voting trends.
I’ll have to give them that it’s is an intelligent way of spinning this. Who wouldn’t want to support the underdog?
I have never read Charles E. Gannon or Jim Butcher, but I have no reason to believe that their novels wouldn’t be wholly deserving candidates, that being professional and entertaining novels. If they make it to the shortlist, I’ll read them and then we’ll see if I like them or not.
Same is not true for everything on their slate, though. I have really hard time believing that something like Wisdom from my Internet by Michael Z. Williamson that is up for the Best Related Work Hugo is wholly deserving in anybody’s opinion. The book looks like a collection of jokes from a Tea party mailing list.
Here’s an example:
How did the UN come about? “I have a great idea! Let’s build a forum where tin pot dictators can hate us for being successful, and we pay for the privilege of letting them do it!”
I kid you not.
In the fanzine category, Sad Puppies are supporting Revenge of the Hump Day by Tim Bolgeo. Bolgeo is the guy who was going to be the Fan Guest of Honor in Archon last year. His invitation was cancelled after complaints about crude ethnic jokes in his Revenge of the Hump Day zine.
I’m sorry, but these don’t sound like deserving works to me. Rather, they sounds like works Sad Puppies are supporting, because getting them on the Hugo ballot will piss off people they want to annoy. Making literati heads explode has been their rallying cry in many instances, but lately they have been white-washing the rhetoric.
4) Sad Puppy logic is shaky.
The Sad Puppies campaign of last year was run by Larry Correia, and — according to him — it was a success. Nevermind that Sad Puppy candidates lost in all fiction categories. His logic was that this result proved the evident left-wing/liberal/progressive/Stalinist/anti-fun/whatever bias evident in the Hugos. Sort of shaky, isn’t it?
If you win, it’s because your stories were the best ones. If you lose, it’s because the voters are acting unfairly and your stories were the best ones, actually. This leaves little room for the possibility that perhaps a work by some other nominee might actually be better (=more popular) than a work by you.
I don’t think they should categorically rule out that possibility. We all have our own tastes, but I have to say that stories by Brad Torgersen and Vox Day were some of the most boring (in the case of Torgersen) and awful (in the case of Day) stuff I had read in a long time. As far as the other Puppies are concerned, Larry Correia’s and Dan Wells’s works weren’t that bad at all, in my opinion, but they were still far below the awesome novels and novellas by Ann Leckie, Charles Stross and Catherynne M. Valente.
5) Sad Puppies misrepresent what people say about them.
Nobody has said that fans of commercial science fiction or fans who don’t go to conventions are not real fans and shouldn’t have a say in Hugo vote. However, for some reason that is what Sad Puppies go on and on and on and on about.
It’s not true. You can relax now.
6) Sad Puppies empower misogynists and racists.
It’s no secret that Sad Puppies are playing together with Vox Day. He’s not on the ballot this year, but the Sad Puppies and Day’s Rabid Puppies are clearly a concerted effort with some candidate overlap, similar style astronaut dog badges et cetera. For me, that is good reason for not liking SP3. Keeping Vox Day at half arm’s length is not far enough.
They are also courting Gamergate supporters, and the fishy pro-Puppy Breitbart article was actually written by the Gamergate spokesperson/journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. Dear Sad Puppies, aligning with people whose purpose is to attack feminists and throw women out of the gaming industry is not a way to make me like you or listen to what you say.
Empowering misogynists and racists is not the same thing as being one, though. I don’t believe that it’s fair to call Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia some evil -ist or another. I have seen some of that too.
Addendum: Couple of wrong reasons to dislike Sad Puppies
As an afterthought, I’d like to mention few things to counter the master list above. There’s something likeable in everything, even in Sad Puppies.
a) They want some category reforms
Brad Torgersen has written about wanting to expand the Hugos to include gaming. I think that’s a very good idea. Furthermore, there are other category reforms I’d like to see, such as cutting the editor categories (how are the voters supposed to judge them, anyway), getting rid of the confusing boundary between prozines and semiprozines, doing away with the fancast category and creating one for all podcasts (pro and fan), and so forth. Maybe a Hugo for best anthology would be nice too. In short, I’m in favor of a complete category overhaul.
b) They have brought in some new people
The more Hugo voters, the better. There’s no other way to keep SF culture alive than to get more people committed to Hugos and Worldcons. The types they have brought in might not be people I’d necessarily want to spend time with myself, BUT the fandom should be open to everybody.
Some further commentary: